Just How Much Bad Government Can We Take?

Like so many Americans, I watched in amazement this past Sunday as CBS’s “60 Minutes” reported on how Congress is exempted from the insider trading rules that all remaining Americans must not only adhere to, but face stiff penalties – including jail time – when these rules are broken.

This is the latest in a series of recent revelations and behavioral patterns expressed by top government officials that leave one wondering just how much bad government the nation can take. Whether it is watching our elected congressional members financially benefit from the right to avoid insider trading laws or realizing that, with just less than a week to go before the Congressional super-committee must reach agreement on how we will reduce the national debt, still no agreement is in sight; one would think the country is at its breaking point.

First, this week’s news sheds light on how many congressional members come out of their public service richer than when they went in.

It boggles the mind to know that Rep. Spencer Baucus (R- Ala.) was invited into a top-secret briefing with the Chairman of tThe Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen, wherein he learned of the grave financial crisis that was about to envelop the nation in the fall of 2008, only to leave the meeting and – within 24 hours – “short” the United States of America.

Baucus, who was the ranking member of the House Financial Services committee at the time (he is now chairman), used this mother of all stock tips to his advantage by purchasing option funds that would go up in value if the market went down. According to his federal filings, he was able to use these tips to nearly double his investment.

While Martha Stewart was treated to a stay in a federal penitentiary for using some advance information provided by a friend to trade some shares of stock, what Rep. Baucus did will never result in any jail time, or so much as a small fine, because Baucus broke no laws. He didn’t even violate the ethical requirements of the United States House of Representatives.

It turns out that when you are a member of Congress, there is no such thing as insider trading.

And it’s not just a Republican thing. There are indications that Democrats, starting with ex-Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, haves taken advantage of this perk that comes with representing the people.

Who knew you could make so much money serving in Congress…legally?

Meanwhile, the effort to ‘cleanse’ the voting roles is picking up steam throughout the nation as states under Republican control continue their efforts to use the cover of voter fraud to do all they can to take away voting rights from college aged kids and minority groups- people more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

In Texas, one of my favorites, five forms of ID are now required to register to vote. Permissible forms of identification in Texas include a Texas Concealed Handgun License, however a student ID is not a valid way to prove identity.

In Wisconsin, a law has been passed requiring photo ID that can be purchased at a Department of Motor Vehicles office if one does not possess a driver’s license. To insure that the wrong people will have a difficult time acquiring such an identification card, Governor Scott Walker has closed down DMV offices in areas with high concentrations of students and minorities, making these folks travel long distances to reach a DMV location. office.

This past week, Indiana, home of the GOP effort to kill Planned Parenthood, changed its voter laws to require photo ID.

Indeed, 35 states have now made these changes in their laws under the auspices of fending off voter fraud, despite the fact that there are only a handful of voter fraud prosecutions, most of them resulting in a finding of error rather than criminal intent. According to a report by the Brennan Center of Justice at New York University School of Law, an individual is more likely to be struck by lightning than engage in voter fraud.

Yet, so worrisome is this problem, that the GOP governors and statehouses in these states, reacting to a crisis that has never existed, found it necessary to legislate harsh identification laws (zero states controlled by Democrats have seen the value of doing the same).

As if this wasn’t enough to depress anyone with the week only half over,
we learn that Governor John Kasich of Ohio has given his oil and gas pals the right to engage in fracking—the process of injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals, under high pressure, into a drilled well to open fissures allowing natural gas to flow out of the well—in Ohio’s state parks. This, despite the fact that evidence exposed this week by Pro-Publica revealed that fracking is resulting in cancer-causing chemicals finding their way into the water supply in town in Wyoming.

Go figure that Governor Kasich has received more oil and gas political contributions than any candidate for governor in the state since 2001. He even nailed down more of this money in the 2010 election than the state’s favorite political son, Speaker of the House John Boehner.

So, how much bad government will the American public stand for?

One need not think back very far to remember the large number of Tea Party candidates elected to Congress in 2010, each earnestly promising to change the way Washington does business to fully represent the people.

And yet, so far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a bill sponsored in the House to end the practice of legal inside trading since Rep. Brian Baird of Oregon (D) proposed the same – a 2009 bill for which he was only able to find five co-sponsors. My goodness, you can propose a bill to buy only hot dogs for lunch for the next week and get more co-sponsors than five.

So, how much can these Tea Party Congressional Members be changing Washington if they are willing to serve in a Congress that permits insider trading when every other American would face jail time for the same behavior? Is this improving how Washington does business?

How does a governor of a state willingly allow gas companies to engage in fracking in the state’s public parks knowing what we know about the dangers to public health?

And how do elected officials seek to deny the most precious thing granted to every American – the right to vote for their elected officials?

Again I ask, how much more of this type of government can America handle?

While I may not know the answer to the question, there is something I do know — this is the stuff of which revolutions are made. Government is pushing it. There is a line beyond which the average American will not go.

And if we haven’t already reached that line, it certainly cannot be very far away.

Rick Ungar

Rick Ungar is an attorney in Southern California and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. He is a contributing writer at Forbes. Readers can reach him at rickungar [at] gmail [dot] com.