Crony capitalism — the only kind there is!

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Campaigning in 2000, George W. Bush promised to bring integrity to the White House after the scandal-plagued Clinton-Gore years. “In my administration,” he promised, “we will ask not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves.”

Apparently, Bush has rethought the question, and believes the public deserves a bipartisan culture of sleaze after all. He enters the final years of his tenure in a climate of corruption so unbridled that former Nixon aide John Dean has written a book about it called Worse Than Watergate.

War hawks: lies and hardball. The biggest spotlight at the moment is on the White House, where senior adviser Karl Rove is under a cloud and I. Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby, who was Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff and national security adviser, has already been indicted and forced to resign. The two are implicated in blowing the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in retaliation for her prominent husband’s questioning of Bush’s war policies.

Rove is an accomplished kingmaker for George II, with skills even Machiavelli would admire. A Time correspondent called him “probably the most influential and important political consultant to a president that we have ever seen.”

Libby’s political mentor is neoconservative ideologue Paul Wolfowitz, Bush’s former deputy secretary of defense and an architect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wolfowitz jump-started Libby’s career with a job in the Reagan administration.

Although neither Rove nor Libby was elected, both have exercised a chilling influence on U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Whatever they have been up to, it was never supposed to make the front page. But by destroying Plame Wilson’s shell of secrecy, they ultimately cracked their own — and some of the ugly inner workings of supposed “democracy” are exposed.

Their scandal begins with Bush’s State of the Union address in January 2003, which he used to justify the coming invasion of Iraq. In his speech, Bush warned that Saddam Hussein had “recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” But Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador to Iraq and Gabon and Plame Wilson’s husband, had been sent to Niger by the CIA and found that claim to be counterfeit. And, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, he said so.

Eight days later, Plame Wilson’s classified status as an undercover CIA agent began surfacing in the press. Reporters later acknowledged being clued in by Rove and Libby.

On October 28, 2005, a grand jury indicted Libby on five counts related to the two-year probe into the leak. Rove escaped indictment, but is still being investigated. And mutterings about Cheney’s possible role are growing louder.

Buying and selling elections and power. Meanwhile, slimy deeds in the halls of Congress are also coming under scrutiny.

In September and October 2005, Texas grand juries indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on charges of conspiracy and money laundering.

In Texas, it’s against the law for corporations to contribute to individual campaigns. But, in 2002, DeLay was determined to capture a Republican majority in the state legislature. He arranged for $600,000 in corporate donations made to a state political action committee to be used illegally to support candidates, and organized the funneling of another $190,000 to campaign war chests through the Republican National Committee in Washington. It worked; the Republicans won their majority — and then promptly approved DeLay’s proposal to gerrymander U.S. Congressional districts in Texas for greater Republican control at the federal level.

DeLay, who resigned as majority leader with the first indictment, is also being investigated by a Senate panel for his connections to lobbyist “Casino Jack” Abramoff. Another un-elected major player, Abramoff is well-known for sending DeLay and other legislators off on expensive expeditions, like golf trips to Scotland.

Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon (DeLay’s former press secretary), have a large clientele of Native American casino operators. These clients have enriched them by more than $82 million — much of which Abramoff fraudulently diverted to his own pet political projects, while calling his Indian clients “monkeys,” “troglodytes,” and “fucking morons” in personal memos.

In August 2005, a grand jury in Miami indicted Abramoff on charges of fraud and conspiracy linked to the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. In September, David Safavian resigned as director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy days before being arrested on charges of lying and obstructing the Abramoff probe.

That same month, the Securities and Exchange Commission went public with its investigation of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for insider trading.

Democrats are shocked — shocked! GOP strategist Vin Weber is understandably worried about the Democrats gaining traction thanks to the Republican troubles. “I think that the Democrats are unable to exploit issues like energy, taxes and Iraq because they have nothing to say,” he has commented. “The problem with the issue of corruption is the opposition party doesn’t have to have anything to say. All you’ve got to be is the other party.” What a cynical but truthful commentary on U.S. politics!

Of course, when the Democrats have power, the way they abuse it is different only in the details.

And sometimes not even those. On the day in late 1998 when Clinton began the vicious, four-day “Desert Fox” bombing against Iraq, how did he justify it? With unsubstantiated claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

And forget the ridiculous sideshow scandal about Clinton’s fling with Monica Lewinsky, and even the dubious Whitewater hysteria. But remember, for instance, the selling of overnight stays in the Lincoln bedroom to Democratic National Committee donors for $150,000 a pop?

Let’s talk issues: Today’s Democrats voted for today’s war on Afghanistan and Iraq. But they are happy to let the Republicans take the blame for the fiasco it has become. They also voted for the Patriot Act, and only occasionally express concern for its subversion of constitutional rights. Presumed presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton is not only backing away from defending abortion rights, but calls for more troops in Iraq.

In a system in which “greed is good” and war drives the economy, lies as the basis for imperialist war and graft as the foundation of capitalist elections are built in. Corruption is business as usual. The names and the ruling political party may change, but the game is the same.

The ball’s in our court. Is Bush right? Have working and poor people gotten the government we deserve?

It’s up to us to prove him wrong. And not by replacing Bush and Cheney in 2008 (if they last that long) with their Lite versions, courtesy of the Democratic Party.

Because the problem isn’t only the visible scum at the top: it’s the toxicity of the whole swamp. Time to drain it dry!

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