I haven't read it all yet, but this looks like a promising reform...for executive branch officials. I won't complain--there needs to be a lot more transparency in procurement--but I can't help noting that, if all these provisions are needed to prevent unethical behavior in the executive branch, wouldn't they also do the same for members of Congress and their staffs?
Thanks to ordinary people another corrupt politician is heading to prison. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan (R) was found found guilty on all counts and faces up to 95 years in prison. I liked this article in the Chicago Tribune:
"Ordinary people like us were able to make a decision," said juror Jill DiMartino of the jury led by forewoman Sonja Chambers. Ordinary people. Those are two extremely frightening words. Boss politicians in Illinois pretend to have something in common with ordinary people, but if they did have a connection once, they lost it long ago, with their drivers and their first-class air tickets, and from having their behinds smooched by people who suck up to power.
Ordinary people need to stand up and shine the light on what those in power think they can get away with.
Ordinary people who become jurors don't usually make fortunes in public relations. So they don't spin out the too-often-repeated lie that politics as usual is no crime, just politics. Ordinary people don't bestow millions upon millions of tax dollars on their friends in government deals, or send $100 million in affirmative-action contracts to white Outfit-connected stooges, or smirk and play dumb as their family becomes wealthy beyond imagining. They don't hire unqualified 19-year-old city building inspectors, or build a patronage army in violation of federal court orders to crush any dissenting voice, or purchase millions of dollars worth of office furniture from an 11th Ward family with clout. Ordinary people don't take free vacations to Jamaica as George Ryan did, or pretend to live on $77 in cash while gambling and drinking and steakhousing their way across the country. They don't squeeze the janitors and the cleaning ladies for Christmas money.
Today the Washington Post picked up the "Reoriented Express" story that Bill Allison has been covering down the hall at Under the Influence.
Mississippi's Senators Trent Lott (R) and Thad Cochran (R) inserted an earmarked provision to relocate a Gulf Coast railroad that had recently been destroyed and then rebuilt further north to make way for a highway. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who doesn't mind knocking heads with members of his own party, is in his typical state of outrage at government waste, "It is ludicrous for the Senate to spend $700 million to destroy and relocate a rail line that is in perfect working order, particularly when it recently underwent a $250 million repair ... American taxpayers are generous and are happy to restore damaged property, but it is wrong for senators to turn this tragedy into a giveaway for economic developers."
As always you can find out why the railroad is being relocated if you just follow the money. As the Post notes:
For more than half a dozen years, Mississippi officials, development planners and tourism authorities have dreamed of the complex restructuring of Mississippi's coastal transportation system that Lott and Cochran now want to set in motion. Under the plan, the CSX line -- which runs a few blocks off the coast line -- would be scrapped. CSX would move its freight traffic to existing tracks to the north owned by rival Norfolk Southern. Then U.S. 90, a wide federal highway that hugs Mississippi's beaches, would be rebuilt along the CSX rail bed. The route of the federal thoroughfare would be turned into a smaller, manicured "beach boulevard" through cities such as Biloxi, where visitors could "spend more time strolling among the casinos and taking in the views," as the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal put it.
Allison has even more details from the Tri-State Economic and Transportation Benefits Study produced just before Hurricane Katrina devastated the coast line:
But the Tri-State Economic and Transportation Benefits Study calls for a project that's bigger than just moving CSX's seaside tracks north; it would create an additional north-south rail corridor, parallel CSX tracks that wouldn't be replaced, replace some line currently operated by the Canadian Northern Illinois Central railroad, and generally be much more ambitious in scale than the original effort to move some CSX tracks further north.
The Study goes onto to detail the other beneficiaries of the railroad relocation/highway construction. Go to Under the Influence to check it out.
An article in this morning's Washington Post, Jonathan Weissman writes of CSX rail relocation project:
The real impetus appears to be economic. For more than half a dozen years, Mississippi officials, development planners and tourism authorities have dreamed of the complex restructuring of Mississippi's coastal transportation system that Lott and Cochran now want to set in motion. Under the plan, the CSX line -- which runs a few blocks off the coast line -- would be scrapped. CSX would move its freight traffic to existing tracks to the north owned by rival Norfolk Southern.
Prior to Jack Abramoff's recent sentencing in Florida his friends and acquaintances sent the judge a stream of risible letters pleading for leniency. Abramoff would lend his friends and neighbors money, save a little girl's hamster, and use stolen money from Indian tribes to donate to your campaign committee... oh wait, forget about that last one. See, Abramoff was a good guy with a big heart who got caught up in the corrupt world of Washington. There's just something in the air here that makes you want to steal tens of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, there is a mound of evidence that shows that Abramoff was in fact of dubious character. Ken Silverstein at Harpers.org shovels some more onto that pile:
Birnbaum caught my question in today's live chat:
Washington, D.C.: Jeff, in your article today you quote three current lobbyists who all agree that Tom DeLay could make a killing on K Street. All of these quoted lobbyists are also partisan political operatives. Are their statements of support indicative of broad lobbyist support for a DeLay to K Street move or is it just partisans backing their friend? Could you give us the view of a non-Republican lobbyist? washingtonpost.com: Today's Column: Lobbyists Say DeLay Could Be One of Them Jeffrey Birnbaum: This is an excellent question. Among the best answers I got were two lobbyists who did not want to be quoted by name. Both were Democrats. But because I prefer naming my sources (for the sake of good journalism), I didn't include their responses in the column. You will be interested to learn that they split on the subject of whether DeLay would be an effective lobbyist. Both headed major law firm lobbying practices. One said that firms would be crazy to hire a person under such a legal cloud (though he understood that some firms might) and the other said, like the the others I quoted, that DeLay would surely be a hot commodity. DeLay certainly knows where the bodies are buried, this lobbyist said, and unearthing them is worth a lot to paying clients.
Why are lobbyists, who are attempting to retain their credibility and "integrity" in the face of mounting influence-peddling scandals in Washington, thinking of hiring the scandal-plagued former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX)? Jeff Birnbaum of the Washington Post reports from a lobbyists' dinner where Tom DeLay was "the elephant in the room":
While dinner participants were praising the many good deeds they do, other lobbyists around town were expressing their eagerness to hire DeLay. As long as he isn't forced to wear an orange jumpsuit (and possibly even then), those lobbyists said, DeLay could easily become a lobbyist himself and make a lot of money. That isn't exactly what you'd call the gold standard of integrity.
These lobbyists would love to bring DeLay's prodigious talent at manipulating the political process to ram bills through the Congress to their respective lobbying firms. Here are some choice quotes from these virtuous lobbyists:
"He could come over here and be my boss if he wanted to be." - Charles Black, chairman of BKSH & Associates "He would be an enormously successful lobbyist. I can't think of anybody who has more friends on Capitol Hill or, more important, more understanding of the process and the rules on Capitol Hill." - Wayne Berman, Federalist Group LLC "Tom would find a lot of places where he would be quite sought after downtown ... He's beloved by the House Republicans. If he wanted to do it, he would find a lot of people interested in hiring him." - former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN), Clark & Weinstock
As it turns out these lobbyists aren't exactly the most nonpartisan folks in town. They each have the same reason to like DeLay so much. Black is a former advisor to Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush, a political consultant to Sens. Bob Dole and Jesse Helms, and serves on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union. Black also lobbies on behalf of the controversial Lincoln Group, the contractor assigned with putting pro-American propaganda into Iraqi newspapers. Berman was the subject of much controversy during the 2000 election when, as a top Bush fundraiser, he was asked by the campaign to cease fundraising activities due to his connections to a major corruption scandal in Connecticut. He is currently a loobyist for ChevronTexaco. Weber, a former Republican congressman and Project for a New American Century signatory, recently lobbied on behalf of the Dubai Ports company DP World in the battle to acquire a number of major American ports.
These quoted lobbyists are all partisan political operatives, not mere representatives of the lobbying community writ large. These quotes represent the bias of their partisan affiliation more than an actual appraisal of Tom DeLay's worth and risk in moving to K Street. But then again, these guys might just think that Tom is a victim of a witch hunt targeting Christians.
NOTE: Birnbaum will be doing a Live Discussion at the Washington Post website at 1 pm if you have any questions for him.
One of the first things I do when I'm investigating something is to collect--and, of course, to read--as many relevant documents as I can. Establishing a paper trail is a useful exercise for any number of reasons, not least because it gives you a sense of the chronology, and understanding of the issues involved, leads on who to ask for more information, and government agencies put out reams of reports and documents on their work.
The "Reoriented Express" -- the effort to move a stretch of railrod track owned by CSX from its current position, somewhere between a quarter and a half mile from the beaches of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, to an inland position -- has generated its share of paper. There was a 1995 report prepared for the Gulf Regional Planning Commission, followed by a report and Web site set up by the Gulf Coast Railroad Relocation Project. That latter report was the first to note the prohibitive price tag for moving the railroad inland; it offered rough cost estimates for three different inland routes:
The test alignment within Corridor 1 has a unit cost of $36.0 million per mile, and a total cost of $2,683,695,296.
The test alignment within Corridor 2 has a unit cost of $22.8 million per mile and a total cost of $1,804,661,425.
The test alignment within Corridor 3 has a unit cost of $22.8 million per mile and a total cost of $2,437,212,170.
- According to Florida Today, Florida Congressman Dave Weldon (R) said that "he had no idea that Edwin Buckham" had a stake in Map Roi when he wrote a $1.55 million earmark to Florida Tech, of which $500,000 went to Map Roi. The original Los Angeles Times story quoted a university newletter that pronounced, "U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon was instrumental in bringing Map Roi to Florida Tech."
- The Washington Post reports on a taxpayer funded junket that Senators Arlen Spector (R-PA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) are on right now to visit "the actual birthplace of the matzoh ball." Okay, they're also talking about drug interdiction, guest worker plans, and global warming but it's Passover so I had to go with the matzoh ball angle.
- The West Viringia media has been picking up the Mollohan story. Here's a story from the West Virginia State Journal.
Sorry for the title of this post--I was looking for a play on "the devil is in the details," (devil in the digest? Satan in the summaries?), and this one is hardly satisfactory.
Buried at the bottom of a column in today's Washington Post was a shorter version of this item:
Senator Asks Navy to Aid Shipyards Hit by Katrina
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is pressing the Navy to pay for hurricane damage to Northrop Grumman Corp. shipyards in his home state that the firm's insurer won't cover.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, which Cochran chairs, added language to an emergency spending bill that could force the Navy -- against its wishes -- to give the company, the service's No. 1 shipbuilder, as much as $500 million.
The Navy says it is negotiating with Northrop on payment of some damage costs. The emergency spending request that the House approved directs the Navy not to pay costs that insurance may cover.
Northrop is suing Factory Mutual Insurance Co. of Johnston, R.I., for denying claims to its shipyards in Pascagoula, Miss., but says it needs the money now.
Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman employs 10,000 workers at its Ingalls unit in Pascagoula.