24 May 2009

The arrogant habits of rule.

I swiped that spectacular turn of phrase from a John F. Burns piece in the New York Times called Beneath a British Scandal, Deeper Furies. Burns' article is an examination of a Sunday Telegraph investigation of widespread corruption in the House of Commons.
Ministers of Parliament were cleaning their country estate's moats at taxpayer's expense. Moats! ferfucksake. Trimming hedges around their helipads, buying home theaters, prescription glasses for spouses, insurance for their antiques, a new roof, a duck island for their pond — these entitled bastards thought it was the working public's purpose to pay for their private amenities. Some of these dicks were expensing their relative's apartments, expensing for mortgages that didn't exist, and being repaid double for taxes paid. One jagov was given taxpayer money to run a "constituent office" that was 370 miles from his constituency, and another was paid to hire a chauffeured car to drive him around the bleak slums in his own constituency.
Here's the part that amazed me: among "The Saints" (MPs who are not deemed by the investigation to be gouging) is Hilary Benn, whose government salary is the equivalent of $225,815. Mr. Benn claimed $67,033 over four years for his second home. According to the investigation this is one of the good guys with reasonable expense claims
Wait — what? A guy pulling down a quarter-million annually also needs a massive taxpayer subsidy? Yes of course, because the representative must have a "constituency home" in the area they represent, and a second in London near Parliament. I suppose a modest amount for a practical temporary dwelling is reasonable where commuting is impossible, but some of these assholes already live nearby. Take MP Alan Keen. Mr. Keen expenses his home 20 minutes commute from Parliament. He also expenses another home located...wait for it...nine miles away. 
It seems that nothing is beneath Mr. Keen. He also put his son on the payroll. The UK doesn't have any restrictions on Parliamentarian's nepotism. Get the kids to stuff a few constituent-response envelopes, and suddenly their expenses are converted to public expenses. According to this London Evening Standard report, 30 elected officials shamelessly engage in nepotism — because they can
Mr. Burns writes:
There have been no angry mobs storming the House of Commons, nor much of anything in the way of organized protest. But the mood of anger is palpable in every pub and on every bus and train. It concerns far more than the latest scandal, touching grievances that have been building gradually for at least 30 years — perhaps for nearly a century — about the growth of a self-serving political class, arrogant habits of rule and an inward-looking cadre of senior civil servants, for all of which the most appropriate adjective seems to be “high-handed."
To say the least.
As I read about our cousin's latest scandal I couldn't help but consider our local version of this problem. In Kansas City we have a mayor who, since his election, has decided that he is above the law, and neither bound by his own employment contract nor even the Constitution of Missouri. Having lost the argument in the council, he petulantly removed the Office of the Mayor from City Hall to his private home and also sued the city. More recently, he's just quit attending to his public obligations to pursue his entrepreneurial side-business.
Mayor Funkhouser has done all of this is in his high-handed and mistaken belief that as an elected official, he has the absolute right to engage in virtually any kind of behavior that he may, at his sole discretion, choose to engage in; but particularly in his absolute right to create a co-mayor position for his wife, and a government job for his daughter's summer break.
I admit I gladly voted for Funkhouser because I believed that he would be different from our last imperial mayor who required chauffeurs and bodyguards, and spent her term mostly figuring out ways to transfer taxpayer money to rich private commercial property developers. I also gladly signed the Funkhouser recall petition because the only way he was different was that he was worse.
Despite the Memorial Day holiday, City Hall will be open on Monday for a single purpose: to receive those recall petitions. The organizers claim they'll have enough signatures. I hope they do.
The question then becomes who will succeed to the office? Another member of the self-serving, inward-looking, high-handed political class who fail to even notice their arrogant habits of rule?

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