Did you ever visit an area where there are healing Sulphur baths?
Saratoga Springs used to be such a place…though it is now famous for horse racing and as a summer spot for the wealthy. Not that far away geographically but light years away culturally, there is Sharon Springs where the still-active healing waters attract the orthodox Jewish community.
When you first arrive in Sharon Springs the powerful, horrid odor of sulphur is all but overwhelming. You cannot escape it. You want to gag. It seems everywhere and never-ending. And then in a day or two as if by magic, you no longer smell that odor. Your sense of smell has adjusted and you forget about it.
That is what politics in America is all about today.
Lying to the public has become acceptable. The lies are increasingly blatant, the working methodology of both parties, the latest fashion in government.
The smell of lies – mendacity Tennessee Williams called it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – is everywhere … throughout the entire political spectrum. Supreme Court decisions… the actions or inactions of Congress. Governors. Mayors. State Legislators. And as for the White House…well…why discuss the obvious…it is all too redundant.
Sometimes the lying is so obvious it seems we are living in a George Orwell’s 1984, where up is down, big is little, black is white.
And as the lying increases, we become desensitized, and begin to accept that lying is just part of the landscape in America. Big business does it. Government does it. Politicians do it. And as we adjust to all of this, and seem powerless to stop it, we weaken…we become less as a nation and as a people.
THE SUPREME COURT
The lies are found in a split decision by the Supreme Court where we are supposed to believe that major corporations spewing gobs of money to buy political favor must be regarded and treated as private citizens able, under the Constitution, to do just such a thing. Citizens United is not just terrible law, the lying premise is insulting.
Yet because the public outcry was too weak to convince a badly divided government to overturn it (despite the constant ‘complaints’ (all lies, really) of our politicians that we must get rid of big money in politics, what exists today is worse than ever. The money-flow into politics is out of control and seemingly, in command.
Worse, the impact of Citizens United has emboldened the Supreme Court to make an even more flagrantly bad decision regarding elected government officials…a decision which all but permits the behavior of influence-buying…or as we like to call it in New York ‘pay to play’.
In June,2016 the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction of Bob McDonnell, a former governor of Virginia, for corruption and by so doing, made it more difficult to successfully prosecute public officials for that crime.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, narrowed the definition of actionable conduct to such acts as filing a lawsuit or making administration decisions. He said that what he termed routine political courtesies, while often seeming ‘tawdry’- such as arranging meetings between business people seeking favors for fundraising support and legislators or urging underlings to consider a matter where special considerations exist or might exist- are generally not actionable even when the people seeking those favors actually give the public official gifts or money.
According to Roberts and the Court these ‘arrangements’ are little more than routine political behavior and should not be the basis for corruption charges.
McDonnell, a Republican who served as Governor from 2010 to 2014, was convicted of using his office to help a local businessman who had provided McDonnell and his wife with luxury products, loans and vacations worth more than $175,000. The gifts were legal in Virginia and the question was whether they were part of a corrupt bargain in which McDonnell opened doors for his businessman friend. He was convicted by a lower court but that was overturned by the State’s highest court and so reached the Supreme Court.
When all the legal language in the case is translated the result is this: the Supreme Court said that unless it can be shown that a government official used undue pressures to help a constituent in a matter before any government agency, it is not automatically an illegal act no matter how distasteful (or worse) it may seem.
This very narrow ruling has already had consequences here in New York.
Mayor Bill DeBlasio has had a very difficult year and a half on a number of fronts and issues. The most serious was the news that he and his administration had been guilty of using undue influence on a deal which permitted a private developer to buy cheaply and then resell at an enormous profit a property which was supposed to remain in the nonprofit domain in perpetuity. A Grand Jury had been called to consider the matter and testimony was being taken.
Further there was the publicly acknowledged act of DeBlasio seeking financial assistance from various people doing business with the city for the support of upstate Democratic candidates who were running for the State Senate. This was a DeBlasio attempt to help the Democratic Party take control of the State Senate.
Several weeks ago Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and US Attorney Preet Bharara announced that they were dropping all action against the Mayor on these issues. Their action was based on the Supreme Court McDonnell decision. They said they were concerned that this precedent made conviction difficult to achieve. They are, in fact, Democrats who seemed to be about to prosecute a sitting Democratic Mayor and one wonders what if anything, a Mayoral election year meant to their decision…but we speculate here.
For all intents and purposes, it could be suggested that Andrew M. Cuomo could be New York’s Governor for life…unless of course, he got bored…or… becomes a candidate for President.
Republicans in New York City and State are a dying breed. As the party itself becomes narrower and narrower in its world view on social causes, the party loses voters and influence. In time, one wonders about the values and qualifications of their candidates; if deals are made to make certain rewards available if candidates remain unqualified and certain to lose.
In recent years it seems that way.
As for Cuomo, he more than any Governor in recent history has had the power, personality and experience to do the one single thing that New York State needs to once again be the Empire State: assemble a clean and effective government at all levels, in all communities throughout the State…
The history of corruption in New York’s Democratic Party is legendary. As Andrew or his friend DeBlasio like to say of everything they do: corruption is ‘historic’.
Cuomo thinks that the people of New York don’t care if government is corrupt. His need for command and control is so deeply seated that he has made no effort to do anything about the ‘pay to play’ government he runs but mouth some mush about ethics reform; reforms he has no intention of supporting because he puts nothing in his multi-billion dollar State budget to support any action at all. And yet he keeps pretending that he will…as he pretends to want to see a Democratic controlled State Senate and then does little to help make that happen.
Maybe he believes with Karl Rove that if you keep telling the same story over and over again, the people will believe it even if it is a lie. The best example of that lie is that tax cuts for the rich and ‘job makers’ will mean more of their money coming into the economy to help grow it. That lie goes all the way back to the 1980 Reagan years and still keeps coming at us despite the fact that it never happens. And never will.
Will this lying in government ever stop? Only when each person running for office believes in the job as a public service not a lifetime career.