Washington Babylon — September 11, 2009, 9:56 am

Joe Wilson and the Belgian Arms Maker

First off let me say that I’m not picking on Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina because he called President Obama a liar. I’m all for the breakdown of political decorum and think democracy would be far better off if politicians from both parties were ruder. For example, imagine if the Democrats had had the courage to call President Bush a liar instead of voting to support the Iraq War. No, I picked on Wilson yesterday because he’s an extremist and today because despite his posturing as a model of political rectitude, he’s a typical pay-to-play hack.

Consider Wilson’s relationship with Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FNH), a Belgian arms maker. Earlier this year, public records show, Wilson secured a $2.5 million earmark in the defense appropriations bill for the Special Operations Combat Assault Rifle (SCAR), which is made by FNH.

Since 2004, FNH has spent more than $500,000 lobbying for the SCAR, employing the services of a firm called the American Business Development Group to seek funding for the assault rifle. The firm has headquarters in Washington and several state offices, including one in South Carolina.

Since 2003, William Skipper, the president of American Business Development Group, has donated $8,800 to Wilson’s campaign. And Skipper also gave the only individual contribution this year to the Carolina Majority PAC, which is Wilson’s personal Political Action Committee.

“Working extensively on national defense issues with Congressional Committees and senior Federal officials, Mr. Skipper has earned a reputation for American BDG as the leading defense-oriented firm in Washington,” say his bio on the firm’s website. “He has played a critical role in bringing new technologies to the modern warfighter and has testified before Congress on issues related to the Department of Defense and Armed Forces.”

Skipper’s contribution to Wilson’s PAC — for $5,000, the legal maximum — was made on March 10, 2009. Earmark requests for the appropriations bills were due five days later. So FNH’s lobbyist was handing Wilson a check at virtually the same time that Wilson was asking for $2.5 million in federal funds for the lobbyist’s client.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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