Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Recent Indictments / Ethical Concerns in Congress

I'm struck by the recent revelations and confessions of bribery and corruption in Congress. Yes, it's surprising that I'd be struck by it NOW since it's not an entirely new thing. However, I think there are three key things to keep in mind in the midst of all this criminality. First of all, while there are certainly some bad actors in the Congress (including Duke Cunningham who just stepped down after admiting to extensive bribery charges), most members of Congress and their staff are in office to do what they think is right for the people the represent. Of the 535 members of the House and Senate, only a handful are in any way implicated in the latest controversies. The remainder are working 24-7 to help their constituents -- whether you agree with their definition of "helping" is a different story. Don't paint Congress as an institution with the same brush as these few "scofflaws".

The second thing I'm thinking about is the fact that there's something about the insulating nature of Congess and the power that members of Congress hold that leads some of them to forget that they are accountable. The best way to remind them that they are accountable is to participate in the process! Which leads me to my third point, that the silver lining in this cloud is the fact that we're learning about these improprieties, and those that are at fault are, for the most part, compelled to admit to their crimes. More openness in Congress has led to more accountability -- and that can only be a good thing.

Overall, the revelation of improprieties (and the related public uproar) reflects an important trend. I think we're moving toward an environment where decisions are made by members of Congress in concert with the people who they represent, and less influence by special interest.

Be sure your members of Congress are accountable to you by participating in the process -- not as a naysayer and skeptic, but as an open and engaged citizen.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Giving Thanks

Recent debates have reminded me of this lovely image of the U.S. Senate, circa 1850, where one can see the various staid and responsible members of the Senate attacking each other with pokers and other bric-a-brac.

This time of year, one always thinks about what we should give thanks for. Family. Friends. Dogs. Well, I'm inclined to give thanks for the fact that members of the U.S. Congress have stopped fighting and decided to go home. Yes, I know they'll be back, but frankly, the acrimonious debates have been getting to me lately. Perhaps everyone just needs a time-out. I know that always helps when our dog Xena gets a little out of control.

Perhaps, citizen advocates can help remind members of Congress that while debate in the U.S. Congress is supposed to be lively and informative, it's not supposed to include weapons, either physical or verbal. A little decorum, a little understanding and a lot of seeing things from the other's perspective might be useful as we head into the holiday season.

Just a thought.