Posted tagged ‘Corruption’

Sex vs. Money: Sex Makes The Front Page; Money Counts.

December 20, 2011

So another Republican “family values” stalwart turns up gay as a goose. (h/t yuriwho at GOS)

My first reaction was that the seemingly endless GOP of sexual-bigotry-fail is becoming regular enough to resemble how I remember the what the DJ back home in the Bay Area  said about the weather for six months at a time:  “Coastal fog, extending inland night and morning, clearing by midday.”*  And then the announcer would continue,  “Oh, and you can tell its spring:  Mr. and Mr. Joe and James Doe called in this A.M. to report the first sighting of a Republican politician up in the Castro in full seasonal plumage:  chaps, suspenders and not much else.”

OK — I made that last part up, but you get the idea.

Which is to say that I’ve almost completely stopped paying attention to GOP “family values” guys’ same-sex stumbles.  Mayor Greg Davis (R) of Southaven, Miss is certainly in a heap of trouble, all of it of his own making.  The hypocrisy involved is nauseating, but surplus to requirements.  The actual governance of those involved so often contains more than ample evidence of the gap between rhetoric and action that one’s outrage circuits should trip long before we get to the queston of where the parties of the second part place their genitals.

I can’t say I’m entirely immune to the joys of schadenfreude, though.  When those most determined to crush the everyday happiness of others get caught, I do chortle a bit.  It’s not kind, I know:  all sorts of folks get hurt by the toxic collision of the closet and ambitions at odds with one’s self.  But still, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t break out a malicious grin.

This latest case, though, reminds me why that’s such a treacherously easy response.  There’s a reason I don’t care about politician’s sex  lives.  It lies hidden in plain sight in this fact in the report on Mayor Davis:

Greg Davis, the Republican mayor of Southaven, Miss., is embroiled in a spending scandal after state auditors requested receipts for $170,000 (U.S.) in improper charges he made to the city.

That’s the nub of the story.  Mississippi state officials found that Davis stole a ton of money from a town of fewer than 50,000 people.

That his spending spree included “a $67 charge at a store called Priape, which bills itself as “Canada’s premiere gay lifestyle store and sex shop,”  is hardly the point.  Rather, it is that this politician used his power to rob the citizens he allegedly served.  His friends and those from whom he derived power got to share in some fine meals. (Davis is reported to be a good tipper, which I suppose is a mark in his favor, even if it was OPM that fueled his generosity.)  There was  mention of pineapple mojitos — an aesthetic error I might forgive in a friend, but not here.

And, oh yeah, one register slip for some sex toy that set him (or rather Southaven) back about .04% of the total he misappropriated.

Politicians of all parties get caught up in this sort of thievery, of course; it’s only the gay/family values thing that is distinctively a trope for the modern GOP.  But I’ll go all partisan and mean here and say that the belief that government exists not to govern, but to transfer wealth from public to private hands is clearly a GOP crusade these days.

So if simple corruption knows no party — and it doesn’t, I’ll say again — this case reminds me that the legal corruption of our politics these days does make that distinction.  Democrats are hardly blameless — not when you look at the inadequacy of the assignment of risk and loss in the banking and housing crisis, for example. But their sins are venial to the mortal ones with which the Republican party seems bent on for just one example, raising middle class taxes to preserve the tax advantages of the rich.

So, yeah, I’m still grinning about the petard explosion that has lifted the miserable Mayor Davis off the deck.  But it’s a distraction, and as such more useful to the GOP than to those fighting to reclaim even a sliver of public space from those who would rob my son of what his father enjoyed as if by right.

*I swear.  I thought the scene in L.A. Story where the Steve Martin character pre-records the weather report was, in fact, industry practice in my part of the world.  Boston, as they say, is different.

Image:  John James Audubon, American Robin c. 1832.

Real Americans Game Their Expense Accounts: Palin Travel Edition

October 21, 2008

If I were Sarah Palin, I’d be looking for that IRS letter anytime now.

If I were John Cole, I’d be fililng this under something like this heading– but I’m not, so just think of the best epithet for yourselves.

Image:  George Parker Greenwood, “White Star Liner Adriatic,” 1889.  Source, Wikimedia Commons.

The Real McCain: Mark Salter/Andrew Sullivan edition

October 20, 2008

Andrew Sullivan takes (in my mind, justified) umbrage* at Mark Slater’s complaints about his coverage of Senator McCain.

But the more interesting passage in Salter’s ululation before Jeffrey Goldberg comes just before the offending (to Andrew) remarks.  Salter claims:

“I think the media is driven by a need to see this history happen. And I think they’ve rationalized it, they think they’re on the level with McCain, that he’s not the old McCain. But he is the old McCain. He just doesn’t know what happened to the old press corps… “

I actually think Salter has a point here, just not the one he thinks he has.

John McCain has long claimed a special list of attributes: he is experienced — which is to say knowledgeable in a particularly useful real-world way; he has the capacity to command; he gets things done; and above all, he is consistent, true to himself, moral.

The record, long before this campaign, shows otherwise.  He did not have a strong command resume as an officer; he was reckless at critical moments as a flier (multiple plane crashes and the rest).

His judgment on critical real world issues has often been demonstrably poor:  not just Iraq, but his recent performance in the financial crisis has revealed what appears to be a characteristic lurching from reaction to reaction, exactly the opposite of the reasoned analysis experience is supposed to inform. He has an incredibly thin record of legislative accomplishment for a three decade-member of congress and so on.

And above all, his claim of righteousness, of a quality of purity of thought and deed and heart that exceeds that of mortal congressfolk is a self-deluding fantasy.  You don’t have to look to the current campaign to see this.   You don’t have to look back to the Keating Five.

No, the most devastating single news report of this campaign cycle is to me the one the New York Times released documenting McCain’s routine corruption over many years as the lead Senator regulating — and picking winners and losers — at the very funky intersection between Washington politics and Indian gaming.  Go back and read it, and you will see a perfect illustration of an ordinarily unprincipled man, bowing to personal connections and enriching his friends through the arbitrary exercise of an essentially unchecked little trove of power.

All this is to say that McCain now is the same as he has ever been — just as Salter says; the only problem is the man he was is the man he is — an entitled, ambitious guy who thinks it his due to be President.  The only question from the beginning of this campaign was whether or not the press would notice that this emperor has no clothes.

And here again, Salter’s right.  The press has changed, even though McCain has not. The old press corps were willing enablers of the McCain fantasy.  Two things then happened:  Obama’s formidably disciplined campaign worked hard to put before the press their alternate view of McCain’s “reality,” and McCain himself — not a seraph, not an angel of Lord of Sedona — chose to run a campaign that would pit his virtue against the anti-American moral squalor of the elite press.

Marc Ambinder wondered at the time if calling out the press with 60 days to go to the election was a good idea.  It was not; it finally liberated an increasingly large number of observers from their fixation on the shadows on the wall of the cave.

So here’s to Mark Salter.  Articulating the problem is the first step to recovery, my man.

*what a glorious word, derived from the Latin umbra, meaning shade or shadow, working its way through medieval French to a first usage in English in 1426, as a more or less direct translation of the Latin.  250 years later, its journey through the minds of native speakers has transformed it to the point where it takes on its modern meaning, referring to the suspicion or feeling of having been slighted — first documented in 1680.  Having just spent the last two years writing about the late seventeeth century, I do understand just how useful such a meaning would have been in a society blessed with polemicists like Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe.

Image:  Men inspecting the first air crash near Toronto, 1911.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

How not to pay for science…Mass Legislature edition

May 20, 2008

From The Boston Globe today:

The governor’s initial proposal sought to empower a panel of industry specialists and academic leaders to decide how to spend $1 billion over 10 years in several targeted areas, much like a similar program in California. But lawmakers in the Senate and House decided how and where to dole out large portions of the $1 billion that would be spent in the bill, which could emerge from a conference committee as early as this week, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for specific projects, even giving names to individual buildings and grants.

House lawmakers earmarked $49.5 million to build a science center at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, though the school currently has no science graduate programs. The college is, however, the alma mater of Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a North Adams Democrat who wrote the House legislation and has frequently joked at press conferences and legislative hearings that “spending $1 billion doesn’t go quite as far as it used to.”

This is how to waste a lot of cash … though of course, that’s not how the state reps see it:

In addition, legislators have designated $12.6 million for a highway interchange near Andover, and $12.9 million for a sewage treatment plant in Framingham, money designed, they said, to spur local development for life sciences companies.

“We are responsible for the public dollars,” said Representative Michael J. Rodrigues, a Democrat from Westport and cochairman of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Caucus. “Our job is to spend money where we as legislators feel [it] is necessary.”

Err, yeah…but necessary for what?

The Mass legislature is famously a machine-driven body, so it’s no surprise that Gov. Deval Patrick’s attempts to inject a little rationality into the budget process gets eaten alive.

But this is a symptom of the larger problem that big or biggish science has faced for a while now. At least part of the SSC’s problem, for example, was that it was an example of a kind of mega-earmark, packed off to the open fields of Texas as part of a political game that lost any opportunity to take advantage of whatever economies might have been gained by marrying the new machine to Fermilab’s existing infrastructure. More generally, in this kind of effort, in which the government is trying to pick research targets for their economic potential is a fraught task for anyone, including the academic and industry insiders who were originally to be in charge of spending the state’s cash.

But still, if there are plenty of problems with peer review, including the difficulty new players face in getting potentially valuable ideas funded. But there is no doubt in my mind about two things:

First, that an imperfect system in which knowledgeable insiders try to drive research is better than having a bunch of Beacon Hill horsetraders spend the goodies…and

Second, that the larger issue here is that we have, so far, even in this research-rich, science-intensive Commonwealth of Massachusetts, failed to create the kind of civic science culture we need. It takes suasion, a shared set of assumptions to create circumstances in which it is understood, even beneath the Sacred Cod, that you don’t treat a science funding bill as a public trough.

To put it another way, Gary Hart and Warren Rudman issued a report last year on the state of US science and math education and research. They wrote,

“The inadequacies of our systems of research and education” posed a threat to U.S. national security greater “than any potential conventional war that we might imagine.”

This is the issue, I think, of which the Mass House display of ordinary venality is only a system. If this view were actually part of the common currency of political conversation, we might actually buy a little knowledge, instead of a sewage treatment plant.

Paying for science means deciding that it is affirmatively worth spending money now on an endeavor in which payoffs come often indirectly and over years.

Easy enough to say, isn’t it. Not so much to do.

(BTW — to recapitulate what I wrote here: this is why McCain is so singularly a bad prospective President for science, and hence, if you buy Hart/Rudman, for our long term national security. He has made a series of promises and policy decisions — especially his lethal combination of much more spending for Middle East wars and the military in general, accompanied by his commitment to exploding deficit tax policies — that means that all US discretionary spending, including all federal science support would have to starve to enable him to keep his word.)

(Also, please note, for those of you who think I may take an excessively partisan view of the world:  this is Democrat on Democrat folly, with the old-line House Democratic Party machine pushing back against yet one more smart, able, idealistic, reformist Democratic Goo-goo governor

Image: William Hogarth, “The Humors of an Election: the Polling,” 1754-55. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Source: Wikimedia Commons.