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Barack Obama's presidency

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Making an Example of Charlie Rangel

By Danny Schechter
August 1, 2010

Editor’s Note: Washington politicians go hat in hand to Wall Street financiers for campaign cash. The Bush Family got 12 years in the White House thanks to the largesse of money launderer Sun Myung Moon (and his Washington Times), the con-men at Enron, the alleged fraudsters, the Wyly Brothers, and a host of other well-heeled crooks.

But it is two members of the Congressional Black Caucus – Reps. Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters – who are being dragged out to the woodshed to be taught some old-fashioned lessons in ethics. In this guest essay, Danny Schechter addresses the Rangel case:

Charles Rangel must die, politically that is. He has become an embarrassment to a House Speaker who vowed to “clean the swamp” of congressional corruption.

It took him 80 years but Harlem’s war-hero-turned-congressional-elder, Charles Rangel, is this week’s media poster boy for all the ills of an institutionally corrupt system.

He must be purged so that honesty can be seen to prevail in an institution that only enjoys a 22 percent approval rating.

Oh, the damage he’s done to the “reputation” of the House. How dare him lie on his rental application – a crime, which if enforced widely – would indict half of his fellow New Yorkers.

And never mind, no one is talking of indicting his landlord who winked at the transgression. Remember, wherever there are takers, there are also givers.

So, Charlie must die. He had stuffed his Merc in the wrong parking lot. He has violated every sense of propriety as Michael Wolf noted so earnestly:

“Charlie Rangel, one of the most successful political figures of his generation in New York, is now, in the Washington Post’s estimation, a ‘pariah.’ He’s a pariah partly because — quite unable to believe he is no longer a man of far-reaching influence, a fixer of legendary power — he has down to the wire refused to get out of the way of Democratic efforts to get him out of the way.”

This pariah must die politically to cleanse Washington of its sins. He must be tried although no one imagines an acquittal in that Star tribunal of distinction, the Ethics Committee. It’s another Alice in Wonderland moment: “first the sentence, then the trial.”

Rangel’s guilt is a foregone conclusion. You can incept it. He is to meet the fate of the man he replaced, the indomitable Adam Clayton Powell who, like many of those able to make it in Harlem, sneered at the white man’s pretensions, and the way they had for years the means to control his ways.

Powell went down in his audacious style after decades of flouting their hypocritical standards. Harlem stood with him then as they stand with Charlie today. Lose him and they lose what power he had accumulated over decades of maneuvering,

Today, the media waxes indignant, sneering at the prospects of the fall of a prominent Democratic pooh-bah, loving the conflict of it all, the rhetorical showdown at the OK corral on the Hill, the hoped for blood in the halls.

(Charlie, didn’t you know that you dissed NBC’s Luke Russert, the son of media avatar, the late Tim Russert. For that uppity sin alone, you must go!)

What nerve: you declined to voluntarily fall on the knife!

Meanwhile, most of America yawns. This is a movie we have seen before,   and will again,  as the Center for Responsive Politics explains in report after report about the pernicious power of money in politics — and not just to fund a legacy center at a public university in Harlem.

Television had its shark week this summer and now TV News has its Charlie Rangel implosion week. Last week, the center reported on the real corruption which has little to do with late taxes on a Dominican villa or a few airline rides.

“Federal campaign contributions from lobbyists are slightly down this election cycle compared to the same time period before the last midterm election. But Democrats are pulling in more lobbyist cash – just as Republicans did when they held the majority in both houses of Congress.

“Twenty-eight members of Congress and congressional candidates have received at least $100,000 from lobbyists during the first five quarters of the 2010 election cycle, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows.”

That was July 13. Here are the stories topping their “open secrets” blog as I write:

Wyly Brothers, Top Republican Bankrollers, Accused of Massive Fraud
Charles Wyly Jr. and Samuel Wyly, Texas businessmen and brothers who are among the most generous campaign donors to Republican political candidates and causes, were today hit with a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit accusing them of fraud worth hundreds of millions of dollars.... (Continue)

Republicans Thwart New Campaign Finance Disclosure Rules As DISCLOSE Act Fails Procedural Vote in Senate

Etc. Etc.

These disclosures don’t have one snarky over-the-hill GQ-styled old-line politician to “expose” and sneer at. They are about institutional patterns of corruption, bipartisan corruption, the way business is done every day and in every way.

Unfortunately, that’s considered a ho-hummer, boring, especially without the larger-than-life personality pathologies we love to hate.

Moreover, that is not yet a scandal, with no trials slated to hear the substantial evidence of collusion, conflicts of interest and vote-selling.

Sadly, WikiLeaks has yet to dump a treasure trove of cancelled congressional checks and IOUs. There must be at least 92,000 of them buried somewhere.

So, by all means, let’s pillory Charles Rangel and hang him to the congressional dome but don’t call it a lynching. That’s passé.

Meanwhile, let’s also not call for trials for those who wrecked the economy, who pedaled the sleazy subprime loans, and who laughed all the way to the bank before they plundered them too.

Hands off Wall Street; prosecute the pols instead.

Last week, in this post-racial paradise of ours we had Shirley Sherrod to demonize. This week, it’s Charlie Rangel. 

The heat of summer is addling our brains. So it’s time to kick a congressman and give Charlie his comeuppance. We have to believe that when and if he is made an example of, all will be right with the world.

News Dissector Danny Schechter created the DVD, “Plunder The Crime of Our Time” and a companion book to expose the crimes of Wall Street. See Comments to

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