Friday, March 24, 2006



You may have noticed that I'm a big fan of Matt Taibbi's writing in Rolling Stone. He seems to get it right. And today he got it even righter than usual! Today Matt wrote about his fine adventure of tracking down one of the most corrupt men in the U.S. Senate, Randy "Duke" Cunningham's future cellmate, Conrad Burns (R-MT).

Matt's story, "How To Be A Lobbyist Without Trying-- A Personal Journey Into Washington's Culture of Greed" was based on the absurd premise of finding someone scummy enough to allow a fake Russian energy company to drill for oil in the Grand Canyon-- and doing it at Burns' lobbyist-infested birthday bash/fundraiser.

In January, I was in Washington, D.C., interviewing an activist from a political watchdog group about Abramoff-related stuff.
"I'll tell you who's got a lot of balls," he said to me. "Senator Conrad Burns. He talked about his lobby-reform plan today, but check it out, he's throwing a thousand-buck-a-plate birthday party for himself tomorrow night. I'm surprised he didn't show up on the Hill today in a fucking Hamburglar costume."
The activist handed me a printout with the details: "Please join us for Senator Burns's Birthday!!!" It was $1,000 a ticket for organizations, $500 for individuals. RSVP Amy Miller, the Bellwether Group.
It sure would be interesting to go to that party, I thought.
"So go to the party!" said my Friend in Politics. "Just say you're a lobbyist and go. Who's stopping you?"
We hashed out a plan. All I needed to do, he said, was print out a few business cards, and maybe -- for just-in-case verisimilitude -- type out a jazzy-looking fact sheet with a plan for some bogus project my "clients" would be pushing. "But make it as ridiculous as possible," my Friend insisted. "The magic words are: 'My clients will be seeking some regulatory relief' and 'Our project has an energy-independent profile.' Trust me, a guy like Conrad Burns will pop a boner in ten seconds flat."
Jack Abramoff would later tell reporters that he and his team got "every appropriation we wanted" from the staff of Sen. Conrad Burns, who sat on a number of important committees, including Indian Affairs, and Energy and Natural Resources. Overall, Abramoff gave more to Burns than to any other politician. Though Abramoff would later claim that he himself was the "softest touch in town," in reality he probably meant he was the second-softest, after the wrinkly senator from Montana. Burns, a mean-spirited dipshit, is one of dozens of craven morons whose presence has only recently been detected, with the aid of the Abramoff scandal. Among other things, reporters combing through his record found that he once answered "[It's] a hell of a challenge" to a Montanan supporter who asked how he could live in Washington with "all those niggers."
My fact sheet was headlined crude oil in grand canyon national park. It had a nice picture of the Grand Canyon on it. I was going to be Matthew Taibbi, Government Relations adviser for Dosko, a fictional Russian firm representing various energy interests, including a fictional oil company called PerDuNefteGaz that wanted to drill for oil in the Grand Canyon. My friend ratified the plan as the perfect lobbyist's pitch: shady foreign company seeking to violate, with a long metal phallus, America's most sacred natural landmark. I'd be welcomed with open arms, he said.
I called the Bellwether Group to reserve a spot at the party. A girl named Monica swallowed my introduction but added a warning.
"We're expecting some protesters tonight," she said. "I thought you should know." "Protesters?" I said. "Gosh, what for?"
"It's a long story," she said. "We're expecting . . . two people in Jack Abramoff costumes."
"Oh, that's ridiculous," I said. "People have to grow up."
"I know, it's silly," she said. "Well, see you tonight."
By the time I showed up at the small reception hall, the angry mob that had been there at the reception had dwindled to a few sorry individuals shivering in the cold weather. I slithered past them unnoticed.
The schmoozefest was on. There were about fifty people present, all in suits and all with name tags representing everyone from the NRA to Motorola to the White House; they all started furiously shaking one another's hands and gaping at one another's name tags, like dogs sniffing each other in a Central Park run. I accosted a young girl named Kristin, who was wearing a Burns name tag, and explained who I was and what I wanted, stammering out the phrase "seeking regulatory relief" and mentioning oil in the Grand Canyon.
"You need to talk to Chris Heggem," she said.
She led me across the room and passed me off to an early-fortyish woman with dirty-blond hair who was busily engaged with three other suits. "This is the person to talk to," Kristin whispered. "She handles all of the energy and commerce and . . . the energy and commerce and, uh . . . environment."
When Heggem was finally free, I introduced myself. "I work for Dosko-Konsult," I said. "We're a Russian company. We represent a number of Russian energy companies. Specifically I work with a company called PerDuNefteGaz."
"What?" she said, leaning over.
"PerDuNefteGaz," I said. "It's a Russian oil company . . ."
"Oh, yeah," she said. "Yeah, of course."
I suppressed a laugh. My Friend in Politics had told me that everyone I met at the party would pretend to know the company I worked for. "PerDuNefteGaz" translates roughly as "FartOilGas."
I pressed on, stammering through a researched speech about my client's discovery of an "abiogenic theory of petroleum recovery" and some new surveys we'd been conducting. A sharp woman, Heggem was right there with me, even when I stopped making sense. "Basically you're using new technology, new recovery methods," she said.
"Exactly," I said. Then I laid it on her. "We're pursuing a number of projects," I said. "Including one that would involve some exploratory drilling in Grand Canyon National Park. Now, obviously this is complicated but . . . at some point in time I was hoping we could sit down and I could tell you a little more about our company and our energy-independent project."
"OK," she said. She gave me her information and told me to call her anytime. We shook hands. For a few minutes more we stood there chatting. I asked what the protesters were there for, pleading ignorance -- I'd just flown in from Moscow.
"It's all of that Abramoff stuff," she said.
"It's funny," I said. "In Russia, they can't understand . . ."
"They don't understand why this is even a big deal with Abramoff, right?" she cut in.
"Exactly," I said.
We parted; I moved through the crowd in the direction of Burns. Up close, the senator looks like little more than a big exhausted lump -- like a sack of potatoes with a mushy, half-caved-in pineapple on top.
"Senator!" I said, extending a hand. "Matt Taibbi, Dosko-Konsult. Happy birthday, sir . . ."
"Yeah," he snorted, half-assedly shaking my hand and quickly ditching me in favor of a crowd of telecom suits.
Jilted, I stood there guzzling a beer for a moment. A friendly lobbyist/advertising guy came up and struck up a conversation. We talked about Abramoff.
"I don't know if everything he did was illegal, exactly," he said. "But it was just too excessive, in bad taste."
"My clients want to drill for oil in the Grand Canyon," I blurted out.
"Well, as long as you've got the environmental-impact research, that won't be too bad," he said.
"Our research shows that less than eleven percent of marine life will be affected," I said, misquoting my own fact sheet.
"Yeah, well . . ." he said.
A few minutes later I was talking to a lobbyist and her schoolteacher husband, who were hanging around the periphery of the party. I spilled a very long spiel about our Grand Canyon project, railing against government regulation. The husband joined me in being angry about the obstacles.
"The thing is, you come up with something like that, the first thing they'll say is [here he changed his voice to a high-pitched whine] 'Oh, the animals, the animals!' Fucking New York liberals."
"Yeah," I said. "It's like the spotted owl and all that shit."
"Totally," he said.
Later on, I met my Friend in Politics, who said, "Well, at least you learned something: It costs $500 for a meeting." He paused. "And you're an utter tool, too."
"I guess it would be a lot easier for a professional like Abramoff," I said.
"Yeah," my friend said. "And he had a lot more than 500 bucks. A lot more."

Currently Conrad Burns-- still unindicted for all the bribery cases he has been involved with-- is the least approved of senator in the whole U.S. The brand new Survey USA report, which ranks every senator by approval and disapproval, shows Burns at the very bottom of one list (approval- 38% doing even worse than Kentucky's Jim Bunning who is rumored to have passed away in 2005) and in the #1 slot on the other list (disapproval- 52%, the only senator in the entire U.S. with an over 50% disapproval rating). Burns does even worse than the formerly least admired senator, also a crook, Rick Santorum (R-PA). Burns' (In comparison, the same survey shows that Burns' Montana colleague, Max Baucus, is approved of by 57% of the same people polled.) Last July I wrote about a grassroots Democrat in Montana who could beat Burns. His name is Jon Tester and 8 months later he looks like a better candidate now than he did then. Please check him out.


The best source of information about Montana's crookedest politician is Matt Singer at LEFT IN THE WEST and he's a got a doozy today. I'm sure Montanans, who already give Burns the lowest approval rating of any sitting U.S. Senator anywhere, will be thrilled to learn that their still unindicted junior senator thinks the heart and soul of America is corporate lobbyists in Washington, D.C. What a gross concept! After Bush urged a swarm of big bucks Republican lobbyists who ambled over from K Street to support Burns at his fundraiser, Burns himself blurted out "All these faces are familiar faces." [Wow-- he's not only corrupt; he's also too stupid to understand that that's the problem!] "They warm the cockles of your heart."


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