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Featured Column
Week of 1.16.2006
"I am just looking for an honest man"
          One day in ancient Athens Diogenes was walking around the Agora thinking about things. He was never the happiest of men, but on this particular day he carried an even heftier load than usual. His shoulders slumped and his head hung low as he walked past the hawkers and sellers shouting for his attention. Diogenes was famous in Greece. Most knew of him as the great philosopher and thinker.
          On this day Diogenes had awakened with a potent realization of man’s shortcomings. Since early morning his thoughts had centered on the reality of man’s existence. He bathed, had a small glass of goat’s milk and then strangely lit a torch and carried it above his head as he walked towards the Agora.
          As he walked absentmindedly his scorn for what man had become grew stronger. His eyes stared at the ground as he walked through the Agora and out to the green countryside, still carrying the flaming lit torch in the middle of a sun-filled day. Upon reaching the sea he turned back and walked again through the Agora.
           He was frowning as he thought of his fellow man and the disdain he felt for man’s folly, pretence, vanity, social climbing, self-deception and artificiality. He was disgusted with much of human conduct.
          As he passed a stand of clay pots the seller turned towards him and asked, “Diogenes, why do you appear to be so sad and why do you carry that torch on this bright day?”
Diogenes appeared startled, looked towards the man and replied, “I am just looking for an honest man.” 
          Diogenes smiled at the seller and continued his walk. The seller whispered to himself, “Good luck, old man, good luck.” 
          Maybe it’s time for a group of modern-day Diogenes to walk through our malls and the halls of Congress in search of an honest man, and, in particular, an honest politician. 
          During recent days we’ve seen California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham disgraced for accepting out and out bribes. He took gifts of houses, boats, trips, furniture and hundreds of miscellaneous items in return for his votes and influence.
          Now we have big-shot Tom DeLay trying to prove his innocence of abusing his office. And, what could be the biggest scandal in Washington history starting to unfold, with the Jack Abramoff affair, we could be in the midst of a scandal that would make the Watergate matter look like a kindergarten snit.
           The information coming out now reveals a stinking, sordid, account of how Abramoff maneuvered government officials and others in Washington to transfer millions of dollars in fraudulent fees from his clients into the cash drawers of the political establishment in Washington. E-mail records and other documents put on the internet by the committee, help to create a picture of political corruption that rivals any other in United States history.
           What is unique is that the corruption that is usually hidden from our eyes and ears has been brought out into the open by the Congressional Hearing process.
          The Feds must have grabbed Abramoff by the “you know whats” to have him make a plea bargain at which he admitted to criminal acts including wire fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe various public officials.
           Abramoff was an influential Republican lobbyist. He was part of the transition team when Bush came to the White House in 2001. The guilty pleas on these felony charges followed the plea bargains of several former Abramoff associates – Michael Scanlon, Adam Tivor and David Safavian.
           Abramoff’s plea bargain listed his bribing at least one Congressman, although there are plenty more concerned whether they will be implicated.
           Something’s stinky, folks. For example, it is reported that a large corporation got contracts it wanted and was able to get department regulations lifted after some intervention by Abramoff with White House officials. Visits to meet with President Bush were among the favors Abramoff provided for clients – who could pay the price.
           Considering the smell coming off the events in Washington, my nose wrinkles when I see politicians like Senator Edward Kennedy grill seemingly upright and honest men like Supreme Court nominees John Roberts, Jr. and Samuel Alito. These two men have lived lifetimes of worth and yet they sit in front of these politicians, who are obviously playing to the television cameras and endure insults and questions of their honesty and rectitude. Perhaps the roles should be reversed and these two men of honor should be asking the questions of the politicians regarding their veracity and honor. I’m not sure of how many members of Congress could remain in office if they were subjected to the same inquisition as these proposed members of our highest court.
           Since the year 2000 the amount of registered lobbyists in Washington has doubled to 34, 750. A Bush aide leaving the current administration can get a job with a lobbyist firm and get a starting salary of $300,000. These lobbyist companies will pay well for knowledge and influence.
          Hewlett-Packard recently doubled their budget for contract lobbyists to $734,000 in order to get help passing Republican backed legislation which would allow Hewlett-Packard to bring back to the U.S. a dramatically lowered tax rate and as much as 14.5 billion in profit from foreign subsidiaries. The lobbyists did their job and saved Hewlett-Packard millions in taxes.
           The question remains – how many more of our politicians have their hands out? Are guys like Tom DeLay and “Duke” Cunningham the only ones that dared to accept gifts of houses, boats and fancy vacations or does the stain of corruption spread wider?
          Could it be possible that there are only a handful of politicians who accept bribes; who accept vacations to the hot spots of the world, who sit in fancy box seats at football games, who sail in luxurious yachts on the high seas, who live in opulent homes far above their means.
           The irony in Washington is that there are the politicians on one side of the room throwing rude, mean and petty questions at good men like John Roberts, Jr. and Samuel Alito. Shouldn’t these roles be reversed? And if they were, how many of the politicians would pass an inquiry about their honesty, pretence, vanity, self-deception and artificiality?
           It is time for Diogenes to light his torch and walk the grounds of Congress and continue his search for an honest man.
The smell of politics
      Ron was born in the Bronx, New York. He was raised in Southern California and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for three decades. He attended Inglewood High School and U.C.L.A.. His youthful goal was to become a major league baseball player. In Hawaii Ron played on a series of championship softball teams. He is an active tennis player.
      Ron’s career began at the Inglewood Daily News where as a youngster was enrolled in a publisher training program. He served as an advertising salesman, circulation manager, writer and layout and design staffer. He has been a newspaper publisher at the Oregon City Oregon Enterprise Courier, the Beloit Wisconsin Daily News, the Elizabeth, New Jersey Daily Journal and This Week Magazines (Hawaii).
      Ron lives with his wife, Marilyn, in San Diego, California. His two children, Douglas and Diane also live in the San Diego area. Ron’s interests range far and wide and are reflected in his columns diverse topics.
     
Ron Cruger