AUSTIN -- We live in a great nation. The police blotter of the Mill Valley Herald in California informs us that the constabulary there had to be called out on account of a citizen "dressed like a penguin" who was "standing on a street corner playing a ukulele." Makes me proud to be an American.

What does not make me proud to be an American is a specific twist in the Jack Abramoff/Tom DeLay scandal -- in fact, this makes me want to urp despite the fact that I have a strong stomach when it comes to political corruption. Practice, practice, practice, that's what Texas provides when it comes to sleaze and stink. Who can forget such great explanations as "Well, I'll just make a little bit of money, I won't make a whole lot"? And "There was never a Bible in the room"?

But this is a reach too far, just that little extra that takes normal putrid corruption and moves it to the ranks of "Excuse me, I have to throw up." Both Abramoff and DeLay and many of their web of colleagues have consistently used nonprofit organizations ostensibly formed for charitable purposes to launder money, to move peculiar proceeds and to pay for high-flying perks. Come on, guys, give us a break -- if you're going to make a mockery of democracy and show your mastery at flipping money, wiring the system and fixing the odds -- please don't use charitable organizations designed to help crippled children to do it.

That's Bad Taste.

According to Associated Press, Tom DeLay "visited cliff-top Caribbean resorts, golf courses designed by PGA champions and four-star restaurants, all courtesy of donors who bankrolled his political empire.

"Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often getting there aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests.

"Public documents reviewed by the Associated Press tell the story: at least 48 visits to golf clubs, and resorts with lush fairways, 100 flights aboard company planes, 200 stays at hotels, many world class, and 500 meals at restaurants, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.

"Instead of his personal expense, the meals and trips for DeLay and his associates were paid with donations collected by the campaign committees, political action committees and children's charity the Texas Republican created during his rise to the top of Congress."

How cynical does that make you? When I hear Speaker Dennis Hastert is returning his campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff or "donating it to charity," I wonder which little charmer of a Republican campaign fund masquerading as a charity he's sending it to.

The DeLay Foundation for Kids was set up 18 years ago and works on behalf of foster children. But it is also a way for companies to give unregulated and undisclosed funds: It's a way for companies to get into DeLay's good graces or, as Fred Lewis from Campaign for People says, "another way for donors to get their hooks into politicians."

Meanwhile, Abramoff was even more cavalier about "charity." He created the Capital Athletic Foundation supposedly to help inner-city children through organized sports. There is no evidence any of the money ever went to that purpose, but The Washington Post reports it went to a sniper school for Israelis on the West Bank, a golf trip to Scotland for Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and a Jewish religious academy in Columbia, Md. Abramoff's hapless Indian clients were generous contributors: I wonder if he thought it was funny that Indians would more likely identify with Palestinians than Israelis.

Believe it or not, there are nonprofit organizations in this country where the CEO barely makes more than the janitor, where nickels and pennies are saved so the clients or the cause can get a little more. There are nonprofits where good and faithful servants have spent decades devoting their entire lives to helping those less fortunate than themselves -- without ever going to a cliff-top Caribbean resort. There are nonprofits where extra-bright young people from top schools work for peanuts because they want to make a better world. While Jack Abramoff padded his bills and falsified expenses to tribal clients, there are people who work for minimum wages on Indian reservations to help some of the poorest people in America get a minimally decent chance at life.

Abramoff and DeLay and their crummy hangers-on haven't just cheated and lied. They have dishonored the work of many, many people who are devoted to helping others without even expecting a decent salary for it.

So, here's to a few of them here in Austin off the top of my head -- the cheesy, sleazy, brass "charity" of conscienceless climbers can never touch the real gold of all you do: Tom "Smitty" Smith, Peyton Wimmer, Sheila Enid Cheaney, Charlie and Pauline Sullivan, Ernie Cortes, the "twisted sisters" at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Sister Patty Tenorio, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Casa Marianella, D'Ann Johnson, the Texas Observer, the Breast Cancer Resource Center and so many, many more. You are heroes.

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 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.