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Down from Gingrich

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A few years back, former Arkansas Congressman Ed Bethune stayed busy as an “ethics adviser” to Newt Gingrich, who was virtually ethic-proof. You’d think a man couldn’t sink much lower, but now Bethune’s a lawyer for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the feral House majority leader. DeLay has been admonished by the House Ethics Committee for linking political donations to legislative favors (or, realistically, for doing it more openly than is considered polite); for siccing federal aviation authorities on Texas Democrats fleeing DeLay’s plan to redistrict them out of existence, and for offering to support the House candidacy of a Michigan lawmaker’s son in return for the lawmaker’s vote for a Medicare prescription drug bill that benefits drug companies and harms senior citizens. In a better-ordered world, such behavior would invite criminal prosecution, but this is a bitterly divided Washington, and the mild scolding DeLay received was probably as much penalty as could be expected. Bethune crowed that DeLay got off with no charges filed, no special counsel appointed, and no investigative subcommittee. Bethune knows about avoiding penalties. During the Great S and L Caper, some presidents of failed S and L’s were prosecuted, among them Jim McDougal, a friend of Bill Clinton whose tiny Madison Guaranty failed at a cost to taxpayers of $73 million. Republican regulators went after McDougal hard. On the other hand, no charges were ever filed in the case of First Federal, the state’s largest S and L, which had been headed for a time by Bethune, the chairman of the Republican State Committee. First Federal eventually went under at a cost to taxpayers of $833 million. Even when an FBI memo said that First Federal was “believed to have much greater prosecutive potential than Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan,” Republican officials remained firmly uninterested in pursuing the matter. Bethune left First Federal before it was taken over by federal regulators, getting out with a $368,000 settlement after only eight months on the job. Jim McDougal died in prison. Not until the election was over did we come to appreciate Dale Morfey. Had we known earlier, a kind word from the Times might have pushed him over the top in the 3rd Congressional District race. Or over 3 percent anyway. (He got 2.6.) A few days after the election, Morfey was fired from the Fort Smith printing company where he’d worked for 27 years. A policeman escorted him from the plant. Morfey said he’d protested a new random drug-testing policy that the company planned to impose on its workers. He called it “dehumanizing … Corporate America has assumed the position of slave master.” Right you are, Dale. And the policy is no more tolerable because the masters have taken to calling the slaves “associates.”

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