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Rant #412
(published December 11, 2008)
by Thomas Sullivan
I look down at the paper in the Anchorage airport and think "here we go again." The feds are searching the home of Ted Stevens, the senior senator from Alaska, for evidence of corruption. Ted is under suspicion of shady dealings with oil companies in Alaska, which really isn't surprising—given his decades long ties to the industry the guy likely fills his swimming pool with oil when the price of water rises. These events are taking place at the same time that Senator Murkowski is being investigated for a sketchy land deal. Some long-term contributor/developer has sold her a stretch of prime riverfront land at half the market value. Murkowski unleashes a sob story to the press about how her kids miss Alaska, have given up so much to live in DC, they just love Alaska (always campaigning, even in a crisis) blah blah blah. No one is buying it.

This property approach to corruption is the way that less than bright politicians attempt to avoid oversight. It rarely works. John Roland, the incarcerated former governor of Connecticut, had work done on his summer cottage a few years ago. The improvements were paid for by the Tomasso Brothers, an incorporated version of the mob posing as a construction company seeking state contracts. It almost makes you appreciate guys like William Jefferson in Louisiana, who had $90,000 chilling in his freezer when the feds did their search.

Looking at the paper I shake my head in disgust. The 2006 midterm elections were supposed to address these problems. While the Republican washout was largely due to the Iraq war, people were also sick of the corruption in Congress. When Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham was caught partying with floozies on a yacht that his contributors had renamed "The Dukester," people seemed to realize we'd hit bottom.

But nothing seems to have changed. Congress did pass an ethics reform bill which now makes it illegal for a member to under-represent his actual number of strokes on the golf course. Real change is still absent, and we're close to the point where C-Span might need to add a laugh track to the speeches they film. So, fresh and effective measures are now required.

Not to boast, but I have the perfect idea. My last perfect idea was to put little fans, like the ones you see spinning on the top of pinstripe hats, on top of cars. Use the airflow to recharge a battery. I was amazed that no one had thought of this until a friend versed in physics told me that the wind drag would negate the added benefits. I now hate physics, even more than I did in college after the second time I dropped the class to avoid failing. But my idea to end congressional corruption is free from the pesky restraints of the laws of nature. It has a real chance to come to fruition.

I will admit that my idea isn't novel, but rather is an adaptation of the popular TV show To Catch a Predator. For the uninitiated, this show is a form of vigilante justice where volunteers pose online as underage girls and draw adult predators to an empty house. When some poor bastard shows up with a lump in his pants and a six pack of wine coolers, a game show host look-alike busts into the room with a camera crew and belittles the voyeur. The cops take the guy away and everyone in his town now knows what he did.

It's a devastating technique that raises a host of issues including entrapment and privatized law enforcement. But it's also brutally effective. The groundwork has already been laid, so all we need to do is rename the show as To Catch A Senator and get moving on corruption. I've already set out an early episode:

A college student posing as a representative of Jack Daniels Midland (a fictitious corn giant) contacts a senator from Iowa and tells him he's interested in helping with his upcoming election. The JDM rep is "terribly concerned about America's fuel future" and thinks ethanol could be "the green way to energy security that harnesses the patriotic spirit of the American farmer." The college kid is good—a theater major, he's playing the part with a perfect Midwestern twang in his voice and even drops a sly comment about boll weevils. It's not stated openly, but it's obvious the JDM rep wants something in return. They might call them "contributions," using the language of a Girl Scout fundraiser, but both men know this is a payoff, with favors expected.

The senator claims that he needs guaranteed anonymity after what happened to the Dukester, and the college kid doesn't miss a beat. He arranges for the senator to meet with Chet, a corn farmer who will act as an intermediary.

The show scrambles to find a burly man that can fit the part. They find a grad student at a nearby Ag college and pack him into jeans, boots, and a flannel. There's no time to train him on driving a tractor, which is a necessity—things need to appear completely authentic after that accident where the actor slipped and fell off the oil rig. The senator from Louisiana got spooked and started asking questions.

The Iowa senator's car pulls up to a silo in the middle of nowhere. The grad student rumbles toward the car, manning a dented 1950's tractor. He stalls out twice, but keeps his cool. Jumping out of the cab he shakes the senator's hand and says, "The damn GPS is on the fritz." This kid's got poise.

Thinking money, the senator doesn't seem to notice anything amiss. He gets right down to business.

"What sorta cash are you guy's talking?" he asks, shifting nervously in his thirty year old tweed coat. "I've got a tight race coming up, especially after that little episode with the sorority girl. Damn cell phone cameras. I need some big numbers, here."

The grad student jumps in confidently. "We need tax breaks on the first 80 million barrels, subsidies for two years, and legislation mandating 80 million barrels a year until 2020." He pauses to let the information sink in. It's a tall order. "And for that," he continues, "we'll guarantee your election. Blank check from JDM. Push polling. Whatever you need."

The senator sighs and says, "Jesus, this business has gotten so damn expensive." He looks down the rows of corn and thinks about that indoor rainforest he's already on the hook for. He's getting too old for this crap.

The senator hears a rustle in the tall corn behind the tractor and looks over warily at the plants. It's probably just the breeze. He takes off his bifocals, rubs his eyes, and says, "I also need something for the wife and kids. They're still pissed." He looks at the sea of green and says, "Throw in one of those Halloween mazes in the corn here and we've got a deal."

When the grad student agrees, the corn erupts. Five cameramen burst past the tractor pointing cameras with blinding lights. The senator spins, just in time to see a man with a huge, cheesy mustache jamming a microphone into his face.

Geraldo Rivera barks out, "Senator, how do you feel?"

The senator swallows hard and notices that he doesn't feel anything. He knows he's done. As the camera lights burn into his face, he realizes that he's been devoured by his own greed and vanishing integrity.

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