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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beamed Up and Booted Out

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WASHINGTON -- For the second time since the American Civil War, Congress has expelled one of its own. On July 24, the House voted to kick out its most controversial member, James Traficant.

Traficant was an Ohio sheriff in the 1980s when the FBI caught him on tape accepting bribes from organized crime figures. But he convinced a jury that the $168,000 he'd collected was all part of a one-man sting operation he was running. His acquittal brought him instant fame and soon a seat in Congress.

On Capitol Hill, Traficant wore cheap 1970s suits and a wildly unruly haircut. He was famous for his barely coherent one-minute rant, often punctuated by cries of "Beam me up, Scotty!" (That's a reference to the old science fiction TV series "Star Trek." Traficant was in exasperation begging a spacecraft to transport him off the planet's surface.) "When I walk on the floor for the final execution I'll wear a denim suit," Traficant had said of Wednesday's hearing (sadly, he dressed conservatively). "I'll walk in there like Willie Nelson, John Wayne, Will Smith, 'Men in Black,' James Brown."

More than a master of stream-of-consciousness oratory, Traficant was also known for using his staffers the way Russian generals do conscripts: One testified his boss had demanded half of his salary, $2,500, as a monthly kickback for being hired, while others testified to having reluctantly wielded pitchforks on the Traficant family farm.

So Traficant is gone. But I can't help thinking his crime was not just being corrupt, but being loudly erratic (and violating Democratic Party discipline). Because if quiet corruption was punishable by expulsion, who'd be left?

Consider Democrat James Moran of Virginia. This is a man who once seized an 8-year-old in a chokehold, saying the boy was about to steal his car. (The boy said he was just admiring it). Moran has taken some odd loans over the years -- $25,000 from a drug company lobbyist, $50,000 last year from a founder of America On-Line.

The Morans would burn through money, according to documents in their bitter divorce. He accuses her of "recklessly profligate spending," she him of "wasting the family assets on his stock market gambling." In 1995 and 1996, Moran lost $120,000 in high-risk stock trading.

By 1998, as The Washington Post reported three weeks ago, the Morans were nearly $700,000 in debt and juggling two dozen credit cards. Then MBNA Corp., a major credit card lender, came to their rescue with a $447,500 home refinancing loan that favorably consolidated debts -- the largest mortgage package MBNA gave to a single borrower that year. Experts interviewed by the Post called it a terrible deal for MBNA -- at least from a business point of view.

But lo and behold: Four days after the deal was finalized, Moran became co-sponsor of an MBNA-favored bill to make it harder for people (outside of Congress) to escape credit-card debts. Soon he was speechifying that "The time honored principle of moral responsibility and personal obligation to pay one's debts has been eroded. ... Some people are taking these credit cards in, they sign up, they max it out, whatever they can charge. ... They pile debt up, and then they get themselves relieved from paying off their debt, and oftentimes they can go right back to doing it all over. It needs to be fixed."

Beam me up, Scotty!

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a fellow with the Nation Institute. [ www.thenation.com]