Congress: Your Money is Our Money

Insider trading in Congress! Stop the presses! Actually, the press started on this earth-shattering revelation a few months ago.

Much to the chagrin of Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and others, last November “60 Minutes” aired a segment based on a new book by Peter Schweizer—affiliated with the Hoover Institution—that charges our public servants with serving their own private interests with respect to investments they make. More galling was the disclosure that representatives routinely have their money in industries that bribe them with campaign contributions for the pork they bring home to constituents.

In other words, the standard operating procedure of Congress. In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama scolded the legislative branch for failing to legislate. And clearly, he had been watching Steve Kroft.

“Send me a bill that bans insider trading by Members of Congress,” Obama demanded sternly, repeatedly calling for the body to place bills “on my desk.” Congress seemed to emit a groaning boo—as evidenced by captured video in a posting on the Atlantic, which contrasted the broad public support for barring our representatives from gaming the system too much with congressional rejectionism.

The dispatch by John Hudson goes on to quote Rob Portman, a Tea Party-endorsed senator repping Ohio, who plainly states, “It’s all transparent — if you own stock, you have to report it.” Problem solved. Ironically, Rep. Pelosi harshly reacted to the CBS report, claiming it had fallen victim to some kind of right-wing hoax. (Full disclosure: this reporter did research for them; by the way, Sen. Kerry, who has an interest in defying Obama’s call, sounds Russian when his voice is played backward.) Schweizer quoted Kerry as saying, “I think what he’s talking about is avoiding conflicts of interests, which we should do,” which hardly takes political courage. Of course the people we send to Washington should not have conflicts of interest.

Yet how is insider trading an altogether new story—although it gives the reader a little more color? (The story, at the time it first went on air, elicited a huge wave of viewer mail from outraged citizens across the country and across political persuasions.) The reaction from Congress is understandable, which makes it seem all the more strange that as an institution it balks at the idea it hold itself to the same standard it holds the country. In any case, Obama at least rhetorically set the bar for what most Americans consider ethical and responsible behavior on our behalf and on our dime.

I am a twenty-something wannabe bohemian living in Brooklyn and dreaming of a world in which people still read words and writers get paid to write them.  From Sicilian and German Jewish extract — whic ...read more

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