Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ted Stevens: Pork Barrel Pig Headed to Slaughter

Ted Stevens Goes Down: The Poster Child for the Culture of Corruption and Greed on Capitol Hill

Ted Stevens, 84 years old, six term Senator from Alaska, got what he had coming, a seven count indictment for perjury about his financial records and receiving substantial gifts totaling $250,000 none reported or shown as reimbursed on his financial records subject to perjury. Substantial favors were provided by VECO, an oil services company under investigation for other corruption charges involving Alaskan politicians. VECO is alleged to have provided renovations and accessories for Stevens’ home in Alaska. Also included in the loot was a Land Rover, luxury SUV. As such, the indictment covers both inappropriate receipt of favors and covering up such receipts. VECO is alleged to have sought influence regarding Alaskan pipeline contracts and help obtaining international contracts in Iraq and Russia.

Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, is far from a sympathetic figure. For most of us, it’s about time someone of his stature gets nailed for acting above the law. Ted Stevens is the infamous sponsor of the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, the bridge would connect the town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to the Island of Gravina, with its teaming population of fifty residents. The cost to the American taxpayer would be at least $320 million, spread pit across three separate earmarks in Federal highway bills. As outrageous as this expenditure is, the Senate originally passed it with hardly a fuss, business as usual on Capitol Hill. Finally once publicized and becoming the symbol of earmark excesses, it took a full two years and much screeching and finger pointing before the bridge proposal was finally withdrawn.

Ted Stevens has become the poster child of pork barrel politics and the runaway use of earmarks to target funds for superfluous and unwarranted projects benefitting only the self-serving greedy interests of Stevens and his closest cohorts. While still Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Stevens angrily lashed out when first questioned about the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” project threatening killing other measures and delaying appropriation actions on other items if efforts continued to kill the bridge’s funding. Stevens’ arrogance and defiance made him in some circles the personification of out-of-control pork allocations; however, such out of control spending is so wide spread with members of both parties engaged in the spending orgy Ted Stevens has not become a widely reviled figure in the popular news media. That should change rapidly once the public connects this indictment with the nefarious bridge project.

The Ted Stevens scandal is surely the tip-of-the-iceberg of bloated gift receipts and other scandalous behavior in exchange for runaway earmark projects that have been bipartisan antics enriching the fortunes of members from both parties and both houses. Investigations have shown many exploits while vile and deplorable are done legally while not doing anything technically against the law, the legislators’ behavior shows wretched budgetary sense and no regard for their constituents they were elected to serve in the first place. Examples of such include the Prairie Parkway projected spearheaded by former Illinois Representative and House Speaker, Denny Hastert who became known as Hastert the Bastard for seeking to build a federally funded expressway connecting I-80 and I-88 west of the Chicago suburbs which serves no real transportation need for district residents but by virtue of having an interchange located near land from which Hastert has derived tremendous profits calls the whole legitimacy of the project into question.

Democratic Representative, John Murtha, has routinely won lucrative contracts for his district for defense appropriations never requested by the Pentagon. The name Robert Byrd, the Senate’s most senior Senator from West Virginia, has long been the poster child of pork obtaining massive federal funding for exorbitant projects through out his state. A visitor to “The Mountain State” can hardly travel from village to village without seeing some monument constructed in the name of the elderly Senator, bridges, buildings, and real estate bare his name where taxpayer money has been used as a tribute to out of control excess in his name.

Though in this election year, much will be made to paint the Ted Stevens affair as a partisan issue. It is not. Members of both parties have bellied up to the table at the Capitol Hill pig picking for decades. It’s more an issue of highly protected and privileged incumbency where senior members enhance their personal wealth and influence by gaining favor and divvying out Federal projects to further enhance their lock on power in both the Senate and House.

The Republican Party looks particularly hypocritical on this issue as part of the 1994 Republican Revolution, under the provisions of the Contract with America pledged to eliminate these wretched practices. How quickly on gaining power and tasting the fruits of their influence did they quickly illustrate Machiavelli’s principle that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

May justice be swift and harsh should Ted Stevens be proven guilty. Voters alarmed at ridiculously high taxes, deficits, and waste should hope that many more figures will be paraded before prosecutors and dealt with severely until these wretched crooks are held accountable for their behavior. Meanwhile, all voters are urged to examine their elected officials’ spending habits in assessing which candidate is worthy of their votes.

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