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Incompetence and scandal shock the country

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"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

-- Lord Acton (1834 -- 1902), historian

When there is no balance, the people suffer. Such is it today that the
five-year, one-party dominance of the United States has made the Republican
hegemony nearly complete. But just when it seemed that such hegemony would
necessarily translate into a policy lock-up by far-right fundamentalists,
scandal, mendacity and corruption saturate the news. The neo-conservative
movement's recent achievement -- gaining complete command of a
super-powerful and largely united Republican Party -- increasingly seems
more a national problem which has begun to irritate American sensibilities.

Arrogance has been exposed in the sudden rise of oil prices that followed
hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast. Suddenly the American people
-- who are not stupid but must sort through partisan propaganda -- awakened
to the gross rip-off perpetrated by the oil companies, which cried "victim"
to the public while recording the highest profits ever made by such
corporations.

Gross governmental incompetence and an uninvolved attitude toward the
destitute also revealed themselves. The world's surviving superpower
suddenly had a hard time protecting its most vulnerable citizens, even from
predictable bad weather. The scramble for reality attainment is
increasingly apparent at the Department of Homeland Security, with its
reputation for overreacting and giving silly advice (a la duct tape and
national defense), its director without a head for leadership and its huge
boondoggles, eclipsed only by the scores of millions of dollars that
disappeared in the razzle-dazzle of Iraq reconstruction.

Overreach is the enemy of empire, and those who have sought to re-empower
themselves at the helm of the U.S. empire in recent years clearly
overreached in their global ambitions. Policy-makers enthralled by their
own utopian visions, however rationalized, created unrealistic scenarios
with mistaken assumptions of unlimited potential.

Thus, Iraq. Iraq. Why did such promise of international solidarity after
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 so quickly dissipate? Because the
face of American arrogance suddenly pushed forward to lead the pack. Rather
than do the mature and certain thing, would-be warrior-counselors who had
never seen war up close invented reasons to follow their true-believing
decisions based on information that has proven false. At the precise moment
when America could have galvanized the world by leading for peace, it chose
instead to manufacture a threat and lead for war. Worldwide enmity and
distrust have followed. Positive perceptions of America in the
international community have lowered considerably.

The war in Iraq is now also in serious question within the general American
population. Jingoistic nationalism drowned out public debate and stampeded
the country into this arbitrary war in its hour of greatest public fear.
Easy slogans took what could have been a vigorous pursuit of enemy
terrorist networks that had actually bombed our buildings and killed our
citizens -- which the whole world supported -- to a war of occupation built
on bogus intelligence. This Iraq war, that nobody else in the world really
wanted, has been hugely costly in lives, money and international good will.
The death and mayhem inflicted, and the severe damage to American armed
forces as well as American public prestige abroad, is substantial.

America, which immediately after 9/11 was a respected superpower, could
have led for peace in the world while strictly pursuing and decommissioning
actual terrorists. Instead it now finds itself facilitating the largest
recruitment and battleground training opportunity for terrorists the world
over. Such a war is Iraq, an unnecessary enterprise for which a preferred
conclusion remains very much in doubt. Now amply documented, the
incompetence of its execution, even given its ill-advised original
decision, is substantial.

While its ultimate outcome remains to be seen, Americans are increasingly
beginning to see Bush in an entirely new light: as incompetent, uncurious
and, most damagingly, as dishonest. This is particularly stunning given the
establishment of a domestic partisan propagandistic media and
well-documented instances of media manipulation by the Bush administration.
It is a world where even the acerbic populist radio talk show host Don Imus
recently commented in his morning program: "It feels like the wheels are
coming off the car."

SCANDAL, PART TWO

The never-ending scandal of double-dealing and clearly unethical, allegedly
illegal behavior by now-notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff has torn open a
Pandora's box of Justice Department investigations. These investigations
are peeling back the cover of the Republican playbook to reveal dealings by
Abramoff with major congressional figures such as former House of
Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio,
Rep. John Doolittle of California and Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, as
cited in The Wall Street Journal.

Abramoff is being investigated by prosecutors from the Justice Department's
public integrity and fraud divisions. His dealings with these four
nationally known Republicans are at the forefront of a widening probe that
targets some 17 current and former congressional aides, at least half of
them scrutinized for their "revolving door" contracts with Abramoff after
leaving government service.

Abramoff is under federal fraud charges in Florida over a casino cruise
project. Among the most serious other questions under investigation are
possible illegal payoffs Abramoff and his partners may have made to
lawmakers and their staffs for service to their clients. Michael Scanlon, a
former DeLay aide and Abramoff partner, is now cooperating with the
influence-buying investigation. Scanlon pleaded a deal on a conspiracy
conviction, so he's now singing. More to come is expected.

The intersection with powerful conservative lobbying firms is pretty
incestuous. The easy betrayal of newly rich enterprises is insulting and
depressing. The now-obvious sense of in-grown privilege milking the country
and the rest of the world is detectable throughout this affair. This is
where Indians come in. Some casino-rich tribes look pretty gullible even if
simply for following the requirements of big-money power in America to find
themselves the most powerful of lobbyists. Judged by the company kept,
improved value judgments about consultants is highly recommended.

Others, such as the Texas tribes misled and double-crossed by the
freewheeling lobbyists, paid dearly to see their economic futures denied
and destroyed. This particular chapter in the Abramoff affair stinks to
high heaven for the national so-called Christian figure who went gunning
for Indians -- prominently, former Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed.
Reed is revealed as a player in castigating the Indian tribal efforts to
run gaming houses. He claimed to Abramoff in an e-mail message that he was
a strategist behind (then-Texas Attorney General) Sen. John Cornyn's
campaign to close down the Texas tribes.

Paid by Abramoff and Scanlon as a consultant (with casino money), Reed
lobbied his Texas preachers' network to agitate and "moralize" against the
Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua casinos in that state. The tribes' casinos were
shut down. Incredibly, Abramoff and Scanlon then hired themselves out to
the Tiguas on the premise they would help them reopen the same casino.

The restoration of status to the Texas tribes' right to secure their own
economic futures by operating gaming and other enterprises within their own
jurisdictions would be one way that the Congress might begin to reverse the
nasty scheme by which these tribes were targeted and economically destroyed
by Bush supporters in Texas. Our primary question to each member of
Congress: Do you possess the integrity to repair the damage caused by this
clearly exposed injustice by restoring to the Texas tribes their full
economic and jurisdictional rights?

For the tribes that bought his favor, deciding on Abramoff turned out to be
a costly mirage, estimated perhaps as high as $80 million. Unfortunately,
everyone suffers as the whole of the tribal gaming industry is by inference
in the crucible of negative publicity and potential public policy impact
because of the Abramoff scandal. No doubt some tribes got too big for their
britches, all too willing to attack other Indians and forgetting their
values as they built huge enterprises. They might learn that the best power
is positive publicity in the court of public opinion. And the best
publicity is that which reports on good thinking and good deeds by those
super-rich tribes, particularly toward their more destitute Indian
relations across the country.

For the Bush administration, the troubling revelations across the board
seem now deeply settled in the public consciousness. It shakes the
Republican Party at this problematic juncture, but the fact that all three
branches of government are controlled for the first time in many years by
one political party leaves no doubt as to who to question and who to blame
for the current dilemma. Americans are not likely to appreciate the range
of answers still to follow on the turbulent waves of international and
national situations created by this country's current leadership.