Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Duke" Cunningham - the most corrupt Congressman ever.

Ken Silverstein at Harpers Magazine writes about the greed and corruption which is on display in the new book The Wrong Stuff: The Extraordinary Saga of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the Most Corrupt Congressman Ever Caught. He asked Marcus Stern, one of the authors of the book, six questions about Cunningham and published the reported answers in his article in Harpers.

I had not realized that Cunningham was so blatant as to sit down to lunch with Mitchell Wade (the man who was bribing him,) pull out a piece of Congressional stationary, and list on one side the amount of the contract he would get for Wade (in $ Millions) and on the other side list how much he expected back as a "gift" for each contract. For the first $16 million contract Wade was to provide a yacht. (Wade did provide the yacht, later renamed the "Duke - Stir" by Cunningham.) Then Cunningham expected Wade to give him $50,000 for each further million dollars of contract up to $50 million. After that there was a volume discount. For contracts above the $50 million total Cunningham only expected a $25,000 "gift" per million dollars of contract.

How utterly crass! A volume discount? On bribes? You give volume discounts to favored customers to keep them from going to the competitors. Who was Cunningham competing with? [Think about it.] Then the idiot Cunningham actually wrote all this down. After all that, he even had Mitchell Wade pay for the meal. That was item one in the article.

Questions two and three are quite interesting, but question four is especially so. It is where the Marcus was asked how early in his life Cunningham displayed his greed.
We looked at his childhood in the 1940s–he was an average kid, maybe with a penchant for bullying, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then in 1972 he shot down three MIGs over Vietnam in seven minutes and was shot down himself. He returned home to the U.S. a war hero, to parades and honors and awards. Almost immediately you begin to see a mixture of greed and entitlement on his part. He was quickly nominated for the Navy Cross, the highest medal the Navy awards, but he and his radioman went to their commander, Ron McKeown, and said they wanted to hold out for the Medal of Honor. McKeown was stunned, he told them you don’t hold out for the Medal of Honor, you die for it. McKeown told us that Cunningham wanted the Medal of Honor because it came with a lifetime stipend, which we calculated would have been about $100 per month. Under great pressure he accepted the Navy Cross but according to his wife he always felt cheated by that.
I find Item 5 especially interesting.
5. Has Cunningham expressed remorse for his crimes?
Cunningham feels railroaded and widely blames his predicament on Mitch Wade, his co-conspirator, and on the media. At his sentencing on March 3, 2006, he told the court that repentance will be a lifelong endeavor, that “no man has ever been more sorry,” and that he “accepted responsibility” for his crimes. But after he was sentenced and taken away to a jail in San Diego, he told the deputy federal marshal who put him in his cell, a guy named Dave Dallaire, that it was all a misunderstanding and that he had been “ramrodded.” His wife, Nancy Cunningham, said in an interview with Kitty Kelley last year that he claimed he was innocent, had been railroaded by the government, that he had signed the plea agreement under duress, and that he even thinks he will pardoned by President Bush. He lied up until the moment that he pleaded guilty and engaged in cover-up practices, clumsy as they were. There’s no reason to think the tears he shed in court were genuine. I received a letter from him last September that was filled with rage at the media and at Mitch Wade.
The Psychiatrists have a label for this kind of behavior. It is "Narcissistic Personality Disorder." Here is a good thumbnail definition:
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a pattern of self-centered or egotistical behavior that shows up in thinking and behavior in a lot of different situations and activities. People with NPD won't (or can't) change their behavior even when it causes problems at work or when other people complain about the way they act, or when their behavior causes a lot of emotional distress to others (or themselves? None of my narcissists ever admit to being distressed by their own behavior -- they always blame other people for any problems). This pattern of self-centered or egotistical behavior is not caused by current drug or alcohol use, head injury, acute psychotic episodes, or any other illness, but has been going on steadily at least since adolescence or early adulthood. [ From Narcissistic Personality Disorder.]
There are nine criteria in Paragraph 301.81 of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual IV (DSM-IV) that apply to this diagnosis. A person meets the diagnosis if they meet five of the nine criteria.
1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

Translation: Grandiosity is the hallmark of narcissism. So what is grandiose?

The simplest everyday way that narcissists show their exaggerated sense of self-importance is by talking about family, work, life in general as if there is nobody else in the picture. Whatever they may be doing, in their own view, they are the star, and they give the impression that they are bearing heroic responsibility for their family or department or company, that they have to take care of everything because their spouses or co-workers are undependable, uncooperative, or otherwise unfit. They ignore or denigrate the abilities and contributions of others and complain that they receive no help at all; they may inspire your sympathy or admiration for their stoicism in the face of hardship or unstinting self-sacrifice for the good of (undeserving) others. But this everyday grandiosity is an aspect of narcissism that you may never catch on to unless you visit the narcissist's home or workplace and see for yourself that others are involved and are pulling their share of the load and, more often than not, are also pulling the narcissist's share as well. An example is the older woman who told me with a sigh that she knew she hadn't been a perfect mother but she just never had any help at all -- and she said this despite knowing that I knew that she had worn out and discarded two devoted husbands and had lived in her parents' pocket (and pocketbook) as long as they lived, quickly blowing her substantial inheritance on flaky business schemes. Another example is claiming unusual benefits or spectacular results from ordinary effort and investment, giving the impression that somehow the narcissist's time and money are worth more than other people's. [Here is an article about recognizing and coping with narcissism in the workplace; it is rather heavy on management jargon and psychobabble, but worth reading. "The Impact of Narcissism on Leadership and Sustainability" by Bruce Gregory, Ph.D. "When the narcissistic defense is operating in an interpersonal or group setting, the grandiose part does not show its face in public. In public it presents a front of patience, congeniality, and confident reasonableness."]

In popular usage, the terms narcissism, narcissist, and narcissistic denote absurd vanity and are applied to people whose ambitions and aspirations are much grander than their evident talents. Sometimes these terms are applied to people who are simply full of themselves -- even when their real achievements are spectacular. Outstanding performers are not always modest, but they aren't grandiose if their self-assessments are realistic; e.g., Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, was notorious for boasting "I am the greatest!" and also pointing out that he was the prettiest, but he was the greatest and the prettiest for a number of years, so his self-assessments weren't grandiose. Some narcissists are flamboyantly boastful and self-aggrandizing, but many are inconspicuous in public, saving their conceit and autocratic opinions for their nearest and dearest. Common conspicuous grandiose behaviors include expecting special treatment or admiration on the basis of claiming (a) to know important, powerful or famous people or (b) to be extraordinarily intelligent or talented. As a real-life example, I used to have a neighbor who told his wife that he was the youngest person since Sir Isaac Newton to take a doctorate at Oxford. The neighbor gave no evidence of a world-class education, so I looked up Newton and found out that Newton had completed his baccalaureate at the age of twenty-two (like most people) and spent his entire academic career at Cambridge. The grandiose claims of narcissists are superficially plausible fabrications, readily punctured by a little critical consideration. The test is performance: do they deliver the goods? (There's also the special situation of a genius who's also strongly narcissistic, as perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright. Just remind yourself that the odds are that you'll meet at least 1000 narcissists for every genius you come across.) [More on grandiosity.]

2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Translation: Narcissists cultivate solipsistic or "autistic" fantasies, which is to say that they live in their own little worlds (and react with affront when reality dares to intrude).

3. Believes he is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

Translation: Narcissists think that everyone who is not special and superior is worthless. By definition, normal, ordinary, and average aren't special and superior, and so, to narcissists, they are worthless.

4. Requires excessive admiration

Translation: Excessive in two ways: they want praise, compliments, deference, and expressions of envy all the time, and they want to be told that everything they do is better than what others can do. Sincerity is not an issue here; all that matters are frequency and volume.

5. Has a sense of entitlement

Translation: They expect automatic compliance with their wishes or especially favorable treatment, such as thinking that they should always be able to go first and that other people should stop whatever they're doing to do what the narcissists want, and may react with hurt or rage when these expectations are frustrated.

6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends

Translation: Narcissists use other people to get what they want without caring about the cost to the other people.

7. Lacks empathy

Translation: They are unwilling to recognize or sympathize with other people's feelings and needs. They "tune out" when other people want to talk about their own problems.
In clinical terms, empathy is the ability to recognize and interpret other people's emotions. Lack of empathy may take two different directions: (a) accurate interpretation of others' emotions with no concern for others' distress, which is characteristic of psychopaths; and (b) the inability to recognize and accurately interpret other people's emotions, which is the NPD style. This second form of defective empathy may (rarely) go so far as alexithymia, or no words for emotions, and is found with psychosomatic illnesses, i.e., medical conditions in which emotion is experienced somatically rather than psychically. People with personality disorders don't have the normal body-ego identification and regard their bodies only instrumentally, i.e., as tools to use to get what they want, or, in bad states, as torture chambers that inflict on them meaningless suffering. Self-described narcissists who've written to me say that they are aware that their feelings are different from other people's, mostly that they feel less, both in strength and variety (and which the narcissists interpret as evidence of their own superiority); some narcissists report "numbness" and the inability to perceive meaning in other people's emotions.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him

Translation: No translation needed.

9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes

Translation: They treat other people like dirt.
This pattern seems quite obvious to me. My second wife was a narcissist. I was unaware of this until after our divorce, when I tried to understand what went wrong. Oddly enough, she got her Masters in Social Work while we were married and it was she who introduced me to the DSM-IIIR (upgraded now to the DSM-IV.) She met eight of the nine criteria.

The key is the grandiosity. Very clearly this describes Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Another element that shines out like the headlight from an oncoming freight train is the refusal to take responsibility for what happens to him. It is always the fault of someone else. The whole thing is wrapped around ego defense. There is an inherent feeling of inadequacy, and the defenses include presenting (and believing) the grandiose fantasies and never, never, never admitting any failure. With such perfection (unrecognized by lesser people) it always must be the fault of some other person.

These people are really dangerous. They also do not ever look to themselves as the cause of the problems they face, so they can never get better. They lie, they manipulate, they grab what they want and they ignore the havoc they leave behind themselves by blaming others for going after them. See it?

Cunningham is utterly blatant. G. W. Bush has so many protective handlers around him that it is difficult to be sure he fits the same pattern. But I strongly suspect that he does.

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