"A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain." -William James
The House Ethics Committee has just voted to confirm there is "clear and convincing" evidence that Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has violated at least eleven different Congressional ethics rules. His violations include failing to pay taxes on his property in the Dominican Republic, illegally transforming a rent-controlled residential apartment into a campaign office and using his status as head of the Ways and Means Committee to secure funds for his public policy center.
What is the punishment recommended by the Commitee for this Congressman's criminal and unethical behavior? Censure! That's right folks. Rangel will be forced to stand on the floor of the House in front of his peers, in the narrowest sense of that word, and be lectured to by its Speaker, which will either be Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner depending on the timing.
I'm not sure exactly what the Speaker would say in this censure, which Representative Butterfield (D-NC) had the nerve to label an "extreme" punishment, but rest assured that the following is the gist of the message which will be sent:
"From one corrupt Congressman to another, congratulations on successfully fleecing the American people and abusing their trust for years, without suffering any real consequences for your actions. We could have forced you to resign from Congress, or maybe even subjected you to criminal prosecution for tax fraud, but you and everyone else here knew from day one that would never happen. Drastic measures such as those would threaten to expose the systemic corruption in this institution, and could very well subvert our entire operation!
No, not one person here wants to see that happen... but we will censure you for your actions. Take this punishment as a signal old man. You have "served" the people for decades now, during which time you siphoned off your fair share of political rents. Now, it's time for you to move over and make room for some of the new guys. After all, there's a learning curve to this here game, and plenty of eager politicians who are dying to play."
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) is also up for a hearing before the Ethics Committee in a few days, on the charge that she diverted TARP funds to a financial institution in which her husband had a financial stake. What are the chances that she escapes the hearing with nothing but a slap on the wrist like her buddy Rangel did? Vegas oddsmakers would probably give you a 100 to 1 for taking the other side of that bet. I keep naively hoping that Congress will decide to dismiss the Committee's recommendations and throw the book at Rangel, Waters and all others like them. After all the bickering and rhetoric leading up to the 2010 elections, you would think that the House Republicans would at least go after corrupt Democrats with full force.
That is, of course, until you realize that the Republicans have just as much to lose from harsh punishment as Rnagel and Waters do. They are the new face of the House, will most likely be the new face of the Senate in 2012 and perhaps even of the Presidency. These people didn't get to where they are now by ignoring the cardinal rule of American politics - accountability for one means accountability for all. The game has clearly defined rules and very strict boundaries that no one must cross. If everyone was held accountable for their "sloppy" or "stupid" actions, as Rangel described his, or for their "acts of ommission" and "failing to carry out [their] responsibilities", then who would be left to make wise policy decisions for the American people? Well, that's how the deeply embedded insitutional players think anyway.
How many times over the past decade have we had to put up with meager settlements, petty fines, symbolic reprimands or absolutely no punishment for blatantly criminal activities? Whether it be high-level executive officials frabricating intelligence and sanctioning torture, top bank executives committing systemic fraud and laundering drug money or legislative officials accepting bribes and abusing their authority, we have seen it all spontaneously come to light and then be buried in the depths of public consciousness just as quickly. Any real puishment for these actions would lead to the end game in short order, because once they give us an inch, they know we'll quickly take a mile. Indeed, to sacrifice the weakest link is to sacrifice the entire chain.
*All facts sourced from the following CNN article
Ashvin Pandurangi, third year law student at George Mason University
Website: "Simple Planet" - peakcomplexity.blogspot.com (provides unique analysis of economics, finance, politics and social dynamics in the context of Complexity Theory)
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