Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Crack of Daylight
Glenn Greenwald of might not be my favorite commentator out there, but I'm coming to think he's the most important--a true liberal of principle who's as comfortable calling down righteous thunder on "his" side as on the pseudo-conservative Christianists who triply loathe him as a lawyer, a progressive, and a gay man. Yesterday, he noted this Huffington Post story on how the effort in Congress to de-fund ACORN could trip up some of the biggest, baddest Beltway behemoths:
The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to "any organization" that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

In other words, the bill could plausibly defund the entire military-industrial complex. Whoops.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman both popped up quickly, with 20 fraud cases between them, and the longer list is a Who's Who of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.

Greenwald was back at it today, talking with Rep. Grayson about his probably quixotic but incredibly revealing effort:
I spoke with Rep. Grayson this morning regarding the consequences of all of this. He is currently compiling a list of all defense contractors encompassed by this language in order to send to administration officials (and has asked for help from the public in compiling that list, here). The President is required by Constitution to "faithfully execute" the law, which should mean that no more contracts can be awarded to any companies on that list, which happens to include the ten largest defense contractors in America. Before being elected to Congress, Grayson worked extensively on uncovering and combating defense contractor fraud in Iraq, and I asked him to put into context ACORN's impact on the American taxpayer versus these corrupt defense contractors. His reply: "The amount of money that ACORN has received in the past 20 years altogether is roughly equal to what the taxpayer paid to Haillburton each day during the war in Iraq." [emphasis in original]

The irony of all of this is that the Congress is attempting to accomplish an unconstitutional act: singling out and punishing ACORN, which is clearly a "bill of attainder" that the Constitution explicitly prohibits -- i.e., an act aimed at punishing a single party without a trial. The only way to overcome that problem is by pretending that the de-funding of ACORN is really about a general policy judgment (that no corrupt organizations should receive federal funding). But the broader they make the law in order to avoid the Constitutional problem, the more it encompasses the large corrupt corporations that own the Congress (and whom they obviously don't want to de-fund). The narrower they make it in order to include only ACORN, the more blatantly unconstitutional it is. Now that they have embraced this general principle that no corrupt organizations should receive federal funding, how is anyone going to justify applying that only to ACORN while continuing to fund the corpoations whose fraud and corruption is vastly greater (not to mention established by actual courts of law)?

I have two reactions to this story: gratitude that it exposes the profound hypocrisy in our political system, and despair at both the near-certainty that nothing substantial will come of this effort--after all, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Gumman contribute to Democrats too... and maybe even more so at the near-total silence of both the mainstream media (here's the one tiny story I saw through a Google News search for "ACORN Grayson") and ostensibly progressive entities such as the Congressional Black Caucus at a cynical measure largely aimed, after all, at their core constituency. (Of less surprise is that there's been nary a peep from the ostensibly anti-corrupt, small-government protest tea-party crowd on this one. After all, it can't be blamed on Obama.)

It's hard to fathom what might bring together disaffected elements of the political public to significantly reduce the massive corruption in our system, and even more difficult to imagine how this might be accomplished absent socioeconomic disruptions that would inflict enormous human suffering. But it has to count for something that people are out there noting the hypocrisy, keeping track of the routine foulness of even a relatively progressive national government such as the one now in power. Doesn't it?


The Navigator said...

This is a fantastic, delicious story. It's sad that it won't get wider play - as you note, the defense contractors are obviously way, way too influential with both parties for this to go anywhere. (I'd love to see Bernie Sanders make some hay with this but, irony of ironies, he's busy using his time trying to get the Dems to enforce party discipline on cloture votes for health care.) As I've probably mentioned before, even my liberal Dem congresswoman from a safe Dem seat without a big defense plant in her district voted for the 1995 GOP military appropriations bill, a true obscenity, because of all the indirect benefits to defense subcontractors in her district. Oh well. I'm glad at least AI&S is part of the effort to publicize this.

David said...

Which pretty much means you got to read about it... but yeah.