Washington Babylon — March 1, 2010, 10:10 am

Defining Deviancy Down

Over the past month or so, the Supreme Court, Congress, and government agencies have taken a number of steps that, collectively, “define deviancy down” (in the words of one Washington observer) by lowering ethical standards to the point where they are either meaningless or unenforceable.

The Citizens United case has already been widely discussed here and elsewhere. In it, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects buying access to elected officials. “Ingratiation and access are not corruption,” the Court said.

Then the House Ethics Committee ruled that members of Congress can statutorily direct government agencies to give federal money to their campaign contributors in the form of earmarks as long as they can provide a legitimate reason for spending the money. That standard is useless — every earmark request can be rationalized by the member of Congress who gets it as being for a company in his or her district, and that it will create jobs.

Meanwhile, Congressman Charles Rangel is getting his wrist slapped for taking two corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. “Speaker Pelosi’s pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ has to be regarded as an abject failure,” said my source, who asked to speak off the record. “If she really wanted to drain the swamp she could force Charlie Rangel to step down as chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee (he clearly lied under oath to House Ethics Committee investigators) and change the Rules of the House of Representatives to prevent members from accepting campaign contributions from entities to whom they earmark funds.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission last week released a notice of proposed rule-making that would essentially gut the existing tough ethical standards and replace them with significantly less rigorous ones.

The bureaucratic language makes it hard to understand the significance, but, basically, the existing regulations strictly prohibit FEC commissioners from creating the appearance of giving unfavorable treatment to any person or organization for partisan or political reasons. That standard would be significantly weakened under the new proposed rule.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount the company paid each of its 140 top executives last year:

$5,300,000

Between one fifth and one half of England’s leisure horses are obese.

Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today