GOP Government Setting New Standards For Corruption.

While most of the nation’s attention is focused on the immigration ban, the level of this administration’s corruption has been largely overlooked. It began even before Donald Trump took office when he became the first presidential candidate since Gerald Ford who refused to release his tax returns. As you no doubt recall, the reason given was that his returns were being audited by the IRS. But, after his election, Trump now claims that only the media are interested.

Why is he the first president in 40 years to break with tradition? Likely because his returns will show that he is not as successful as he claims and that, as many have reported, he owes a fortune to Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin.

But that is only one example of Trump’s new standard for lack of transparency.

It is now know that Trump used his campaign to funnel $14 million into his company coffers. Following his election, he refused to place his business interests into a blind trust to prevent conflicts of interest. This is important because Trump has business dealings around the globe – any one of which could violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause (Article 2, Section 1) which is cause for impeachment. Despite such concerns, immediately following the election, Trump used a phone call with the Japanese prime minister to request special handling of a hotel permit.

More worrying is the fact that Trump’s transition team tried to eliminate all Inspectors General which are responsible for investigating misconduct, waste, fraud and abuse of government procedures. The moment Trump was sworn into office (actually, it was the majority of Americans who were doing the swearing), Trump was in violation of the terms of his DC hotel lease. Eric Trump’s recent trip to Uruguay for Trump’s business interests cost taxpayers $97,830 in hotel bills (at a Trump Hotel, of course) for his accompanying security. And not to be left out, Melania’s attorneys argued as part of her libel suit against the Daily Mail that a story cost her a once in a lifetime chance to make millions in her business pursuits based on her new status as First Lady.

And the Trumps are not alone with their disregard for ethical standards.

The very first act of the new GOP-controlled Congress was to try to eliminate the independent Congressional ethics office with an early morning vote. They were stopped only when Democrats called attention to the vote and when Trump tweeted his displeasure (likely not with the action itself, but with the appearance of his complicity).

Despite reports from US intelligence agencies that Vladimir Putin interfered with our elections by ordering the hacks of the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee, the DCCC, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and by paying young adults to serve as pro-Trump social media trolls, Congress has refused to authorize a special prosecutor to investigate. In fact, they have given the reports far less attention than the multiple investigations of Benghazi. And though, Republicans were horrified by Clinton’s use of a private email server, they seem totally unconcerned that Trump’s White House advisers are using private email accounts.

Moreover, many of Trump’s cabinet nominees and White House advisers have long-time ties to Putin. Trump himself has spoken in glowing terms about Putin and has drawn parallels between Putin’s strong arm tactics and the US. There are credible reports that Trump is being blackmailed by Putin as a result of a dossier on Trump’s actions while visiting Russia. In addition, there are allegations that Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s state oil company, offered Trump ally Carter Page a 19 percent stake in the company in exchange for Trump’s lifting of US sanctions on Russia. Though the economic sanctions have not yet been lifted, disregarding Trump’s executive order removing sanctions on the sale of cyber-technology to the Russian intelligence agency, there are reports that 19.5 percent of the Russian oil company was sold to anonymous buyers through a labyrinth of shell companies – a fact that should give us pause since it equals the exact amount promised to Trump plus the requisite brokerage fees!

In addition, White House insiders have reported that the Oval Office recorder was turned off during Trump’s phone conversation with Putin (shades of Tricky Dick Nixon). Yet Congress still refuses to have a serious investigation into Trump-Putin ties.

Domestically, Congress and Trump plan to gut Dodd-Frank, the law designed to prevent another financial meltdown such as the banking collapse of 2008. Trump overturned the fiduciary rule put in place by former President Obama to require financial planners to work in the best interests of their clients. The Senate confirmed Trump’s unqualified nominee for Secretary of Education likely due to the millions donated by DeVos and her family to help elect Republican candidates. And the Senate has voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank anti-corruption rule – a decision that benefits only too-big-to-fail banks and other large, multinational corporations.

Of course, there is much more.

Congress has promised to repeal the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. There are bills to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and The Department of Education. And, given Trump’s cabinet nominees, it would seem that many other government agencies and departments, including the Labor Department, Energy Department and Health and Human Services are earmarked for destruction.

It cannot be said loud enough or repeated often enough: THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

Still Gutless After All These Years.

The Democratic Party can claim a number of major accomplishments for the American people. It’s the party that led the US out of the Great Depression. It’s the party that created Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It stood behind workers in their fight for labor unions. And it passed the Civil Rights Act at the risk of alienating Southern voters.

All of those things took strong leadership.

But in recent years, Democrats in Congress have been content to read the tea leaves (aka public polling) before taking a step.

Following a succession of failed presidential campaigns in the 1970’s and 80’s, the party became hesitant to take strong, principled stands. Certainly, many Democrats have offered support for gay rights and women’s rights. Most have supported labor and jobs initiatives. Democrats have supported education and environmental groups. They have supported government regulation of financial markets, pharmaceuticals, food safety and more.

But Democrats have also allowed Republicans to block presidential appointments and legislation. They have allowed an unelected political operative (Grover Norquist) to dominate economic policy with his no new taxes pledge.They have allowed Republicans and their Tea Party parasites to dominate the political narrative. Worse, like their Republican opponents, too many Democrats have become dependent on large corporations and special interests for campaign donations.

The rare exception to this pattern of weak-kneed governing is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.

It’s time for Democrats to show they can do more. They need to show they’re willing to take strong, principled stands regardless of the consequences; to push big initiatives such as rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, creating a modern and efficient electrical grid, and creating a modern rail system. Initiatives that would create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs and push the US back into a leadership position for decades to come.

It’s time for our Attorney General to prosecute and jail those on Wall Street who crashed our economy by engaging in high stakes gambling with depositors’ money. It’s time for Congress to reform our tax codes and eliminate corporate incentives that send jobs and cash offshore. It’s time to punish those who evade taxes by parking money in the world’s tax havens.

Yes, the GOP-controlled House will likely try to block such initiatives. It shouldn’t matter.

If Democrats show a commitment to do what’s right; if they put the needs of our nation above special interests; if they clearly explain the benefits of their initiatives; if they draw a stark contrast between themselves and the opposition; if they show they are serious about exposing and punishing corruption, they will dominate the political landscape for generations.

Governing should not rely on political polls. I trust the American people to recognize honesty and strength. If our representatives do the right thing, they will almost certainly be re-elected. If they don’t, they deserve to lose.

Yes, Virginia, There Is Corruption.

The now almost daily revelations of deceit and corruption by Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell are a smorgasbord of everything wrong with politics. Indeed, it seems everything that could go wrong has gone wrong in Virginia.

McDonnell accepted $145,000 from Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., the owner of a Virginia-based nutritional supplement company. In addition, he and his wife have reportedly accepted favors and gifts amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. In return, McDonnell allegedly offered unparalleled access and support to Williams. For example, McDonnell offered to host a launch party at the governor’s mansion for Williams’ product. And, according to new allegations, McDonnell helped Williams arrange meetings with other state officials.

Clearly, this is an example of government for sale. In any state, at any level of government, such activities meet the definition of influence peddling.

What makes McDonnell’s actions all the more astounding is that, by pushing a law requiring a vaginal ultrasound for any woman considering an abortion in Virginia, McDonnell made himself the center of attention. Could he really be so greedy and arrogant that he thought he could hide his corruption despite such attention?

Obviously, the answer is yes.

McDonnell has become a poster boy for governmental corruption. As such, he should immediately resign. And, if the allegations can be proven in court, he should spend a considerable time in prison where he, too, may learn what it’s like to be forced to accept an unwanted invasive procedure.

A Fine Example Of An Arizona Conservative.

Last Tuesday, a federal jury convicted former Arizona Congressman “Slick” Rick Renzi on 17 counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy, extortion, racketeering, money laundering and making false statements to insurance regulators. He was acquitted on 15 other felony charges because some evidence was ruled inadmissible.

I was especially interested in the outcome of the case, since the Republican’s conviction confirmed my character judgment. You see, Renzi represented my congressional district, and I became convinced of his corruption after my very first exposure to Mr. Slick. Indeed, only months afterward, rumors of Renzi’s abuse of power began to surface.

Renzi was indicted on charges that, while in office, he tried to force a mining company to purchase a former business associate’s land as part of a federal land exchange for copper mining. When the mining company balked, he engineered another federal land swap that included a payment of $4.6 million for land owned by James Sandlin, who then paid Renzi $733,000 for his help.

Renzi was also charged with embezzling more than $400,000 of customer premiums from his insurance business in order to fund his 2002 congressional campaign.

“Former Congressman Renzi’s streak of criminal activity was a betrayal of the public trust and abuse of the political process,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in a statement released after the verdict. “Mr. Renzi now faces the consequences for breaking the laws that he took an oath to support and defend.”

Sadly, Renzi’s conviction isn’t the end of political corruption in Arizona. But it’s a start.