AUSTIN, Texas -- Sometimes it helps to draw back from what's going on, to see if any patterns emerge from the chaos of daily events. In the news biz, attempts to see the Big Picture are known as thumbsuckers and regarded with appropriate contempt.

On the famous other hand, it's also sometimes the only way to see the much bigger stories that seep and creep all around us without anyone ever calling a press conference, or issuing talking points, or having gong-show debate over them.

Everybody and his dog in the political commentating trade now agrees the Bush administration is experiencing hard times -- the going is getting tough, and Bush is getting testy. Bush always gets testy under stress. This is not news.

It seems to me what we are looking at was put best by noted journalist Billy Don Moyers, formerly of Marshall, Texas, who was home last week and observed that the Republican right came to Washington to start a revolution and stayed to run a racket. It has become a game of ideological flim-flam, a scam in which all manner of distracting hoo-hah -- abortion, judicial activism, even "the war on terra" -- is used to obscure the fact that the government has been taken over by people who are using it to make money for themselves and their friends.

In the business world, this is called "control fraud," and it refers to an organization, like Enron or Tyco, that is rotten at the head. One of the key figures in this web of malfeasance is Jack Abramoff, the super-lobbyist, top fund-raiser for Bush's re-election and close buddy of Rep. Tom DeLay, himself the architect of the "K Street Strategy" to convert the entire business lobby into the fund-raising arm of the Republican Party in return for whatever legislative favors the major donors want.

Abramoff is also the close ally and former college roommate of Grover Norquist, a key right-wing political activist and major leader of the "movement conservatives" in Washington. Abramoff has also bragged that he contacted Karl Rove on behalf of Tyco.

Tim Flanigan, Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general, left the White House Office of Legal Counsel in December 2002 to become the top lawyer for Tyco. Flanigan hired Abramoff to lobby for Tyco. He was to work against proposed legislation that would take away tax breaks from "Benedict Arnold" corporations that locate in tax havens outside the United States in order to get out of paying corporate taxes. Tyco is based in Bermuda.

Abramoff told Flanigan he would use his contacts with both DeLay and Karl Rove, "Bush's Brain," to lobby for keeping the tax breaks for Tyco.

Think about it. Bush now proposes to put in as second in command of the Justice Department, which is investigating this whole mess, the man who is Tyco's lawyer and who hired Abramoff. If Flanigan is confirmed, that will mean the five top appointees at Justice have zero prosecutorial experience among them. But Flanigan does have the only quality that truly matters in a Bush appointee: absolute loyalty to the administration.

Washington, D.C., is theoretically covered by the largest concentration of journalistic talent anywhere in the world. This is just a straight, old-fashioned corruption story of the sort theoretically uncovered by many Washington reporters earlier in their lives at various city halls. Did everyone forget how it's done?

Equally, the arrest of David Safavian, former head of procurement at the White House Office of Management and Budget, for having impeded justice by lying or covering up material facts opens up all kinds of lines of inquiry. Safavian was previously a partner in Norquist's consulting firm Janus-Merritt. Safavian also worked with Abramoff at another law-lobbying firm.

One definition of Establishment journalism is relying solely on press conferences held by people with public office and power. With the exception of The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, the Washington press corps appears to be standing around waiting for word from the official investigation. Why aren't they ahead of the official investigators?

Seems to me we have all mourned the descent of politics from the noble (if messy and comically picturesque) doings of democracy into a system of legalized bribery. Taking huge campaign contributions from special interests and doing legislative favors in return is so common one barely blinks at it.

Rep. Roy Blunt, the man Republicans chose to temporarily replace DeLay while he's under indictment, tried to alter a Homeland Security bill in 2003 with a last-minute provision to benefit the cigarette company Philip Morris. Philip Morris had not only contributed heavily to Blunt's campaign, it also employed both Blunt's girlfriend and his son. DeLay gets indicted, and the Republicans replace him with another DeLay.

The executive branch scandals seem to me to be a new and more sinister level of corruption. I can't wait to have Tim Flanigan investigate them.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.