“Two Kinds Of Truth”
By Fred Mittag
The November Ojocarried a mischievous piece that attacked the Congress of the United States. The real issue is not whether it published some falsehoods, but rather, the motivation. I think it was because the falsities of the piece were based on truth.
Several years ago, when I was living in Guadalajara, a retired English professor sent me something about President George W. Bush. He had taken an article from the New York Times, complete with the president’s picture, and changed a few sentences in the article. I forwarded that manipulated article to my e-mail friends and then learned what had happened.
I immediately sent out a correction, but I also explained why the nefarious alteration was believable, given the history and character of George W. Bush. And so I was duped. There is such a thing as a curve of behavior. If one is duped by poor evidence, one is a fool. If one is duped by things that are in character, then that is entrapment – not a noble thing.
I knew the professor intended a fun joke, but I didn’t think it was funny. I knew him through a political discussion group, and at our next weekly meeting, I let it be known to the group that, in my opinion, the professor had been more dishonest than funny. He groaned and said, “Uh, oh. Payback time.” I’m happy to say we remained friends.
“Betcha Didn’t Know” (November, 2015) stated that “Children of the U.S. Congress members do not have to pay back their college student loans.” What loans? All a congressman had to do was put a child on the payroll of his or her staff. The child attended college and was not in Washington at all; yet, received a staffer’s salary to pay for college expenses – and more – even a fancy life style.
Well, that was until 1967, when Congress passed a law against nepotism. But guess what? No problem. The law did not cover hiring relatives for campaign work. And that’s what congressional service is all about these days – accepting a lot of campaign cash and being a puppet to special interests. Ever heard of Citizens United – the infamous Supreme Court decision?
Campaign contributions now pay for the college education of members of Congress. Members of Congress hire their children for their campaigns. The children are at their colleges, not in Washington doing anything political. Also, colleges are desirous of cultivating good relationships with their congressmen. Generous scholarships not available to other students are a way to do this. Ivy League universities offer what are called “Legacy Scholarships.” It means if a student’s family has given gifts to the university, or a parent was a graduate who became politically influential, then the children are admitted without the academic standards or fees required of other students who have no political influence.
As for retirement and pay, there are so many ways for a congressman to make money legally, that retirement is a moot question. Some congressmen own large farms. They vote to cut food stamps, but at the same time, vote for an increase in farm subsidies. For a few congressmen, this farm subsidy means literally millions of dollars. Examples are available in Tennessee and California. Yes, millions of dollars – and they happen to be Republican farm owners.
When the Treasury Department called a meeting of a congressional financial committee to inform them that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in trouble, some of the members rushed immediately from the meeting to advise their brokers to sell short.
They had information not available to other Americans, and selling short means that they would profit if the value of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac dropped – and the value did drop – precipitously. The congressmen exploited the situation to get rich, using a political advantage that gave them insider information.
There is the infamous revolving door. Congressmen who sit on committees dealing with various corporate concerns are rewarded upon leaving Congress. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) sat on a financial committee and was responsible for repealing Glass-Steagall, which led to the financial meltdown of 2008. When he left the Senate, he became a board member of the world’s largest bank.
Many departing congressmen are hired as lobbyists, where they make far more money than the congressional job ever paid. Trent Lott, a former Majority Leader (R-Mississippi) left the Senate to take a lobbying job – before a time limit for a lobbying job would take effect. When a resolution came up that would require a congressman to wait a couple of years before becoming a lobbyist, one congressman complained, “This is an interruption of my career path.” What he was saying was that he had no interest in representative democracy. He was only interested in his “career path.” That is hardly the voice of a “public servant.”
As a matter of prudence, when it comes to the U.S. Congress, one is better off to assume the worst. Mark Twain understood this well, as did Will Rogers.