SAN DIEGO -- As that great American, Deep Throat, never said, "Follow the money." (The line is by William Goldman, who wrote the movie, "All the President's Men"). Keeping your eye on the shell with the pea under it is not easy when the right-wing echo chamber continually takes up new chapters in the culture wars -- the dread case of the senator who didn't, in fact, say the United States is as bad as the late Soviet Union and the equally grave perennial constitutional amendment to prevent the menace of flag desecration.

Meanwhile, largely unnoticed and unreported, the drumbeat of giveaways to big corporations continues: unnecessary tax breaks for the undeserving, more green lights for the rampant exploitation of the environment, and all manner of theft and skullduggery.

Seriously, this administration is starting to look like that old television show in which contestants lined up their shopping carts in a grocery store and, on the signal, began running around throwing every valuable item they could find in their carts. Whoever grabbed the most high-priced items won. The contestants here and now are corporations and lobbyists.

The amusing case of the congressman whose house was bought by the founder of a defense firm for $700,000 more than it was worth is being exceptionally well-reported by the congressman's hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. You will not be amazed to learn the congressman in question (Randy Cunningham) oversees the committee that grants contracts to that very defense firm.

The story gets better by the day -- the congressman lives on a yacht in D.C. owned by the defense contractor, and employees of the defense firm say they were threatened with firing if they did not give to the company PAC. Well shut my mouth!

Meanwhile, the Senate has endorsed the Bush administration's do-nothing policy on global warming by approving a measure that avoids mandatory reductions of heat-trapping pollution. These are the same bozos who refuse to require better mileage per gallon from the auto industry, even though the technology is readily available.

The Senate also passed an inventory of offshore oil and gas resources, apparently a step toward drilling in coastal waters that are now off-limits to the oil companies. See above reference to bozos.

Now here's a jewel of a giveaway to those deserving citizens, the tobacco companies. The Justice Department suddenly dropped its request from $130 billion in the long-running tobacco case to $10 billion. Justice Department lawyers say political appointees at the top of the department were responsible for the decision.

The tobacco industry contributed a total of $54.1 million in individual, PAC and soft money from 1989 through last year, according to Capital Eye, a newsletter put out by the Center for Responsive Politics. Seventy-five percent of its contributions have gone to Republicans.

In addition, the tobacco industry has spent hundreds of millions on lobbying over the same years. In 1998, the tobacco companies settled with several states for a reported $246 billion. Individual states have won settlements larger than $10 billion, yet the federal government is apparently planning to run a national anti-smoking campaign on a fraction of that. One expert witness for the government said he had been asked to change his testimony on how much such a program would cost, but refused to do so. This action has several names -- sell-out, cave-in, giveaway and payoff among them.

When this administration's Department of Interior promises you that increased grazing on public lands will improve the quality of rangelands, do you believe it? Would your answer be influenced by news that once again the advice of scientists in the field was ignored by the political appointees in charge?

A government biologist and a hydrologist, both retired from the Bureau of Land Management, said their conclusion that the proposed new grazing rules might adversely affect water quality and wildlife, including endangered species, was excised and replaced with language justifying less stringent regulation.

"They rewrote everything. It's a crime," said one of the scientists. The ranchers are happy about the proposed new regs, but how happy are they going to be when the rangeland deteriorates?

And how many times are we going to let the administration get away with just changing science to suit its own political purposes?

The R's have passed an energy bill that increases our dependence on foreign oil by 85 percent by 2025, according to a 2004 report by the Energy Information Administration. No wonder the White House has to keep changing the science in these reports.

One striking feature of the bill is a nifty little waiver for the manufacturers of MTBE that lets them avoid liability suits filed since September 2003. MTBE is a toxic substance now working its way into various water supply sources. The waiver is worth billions to the manufacturers of MTBE, who happen to be clustered in the home districts of Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Texas Rep. Joe Barton, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Surprise!

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