Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
They Said It:
While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
John Adams, Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, October 11, 1798.
BILL, HILL, AND OUR WHOLLY INADEQUATE GOVERNMENT.
So . . . it turns out that George Stephanopoulos gave a bunch of money to the Clinton Foundation. And it turns out that a lot of people are upset to learn of this. Stephanopoulos, a big shot at ABC News and the host of the network’s Sunday morning politics show “This Week,” now has an immense and important conflict of interest, critics claim. He never should have given the Clintons money. And if he did, he should have disclosed it. And even if he disclosed it, he never should have been allowed to interview the author of Clinton Cash, Peter Schweizer. The whole entire episode is unseemly. It’s unprofessional. It’s offensive and terrible and just really, really icky.
For our part, we agree with just about everything that Stephanopoulos’s critics claim. At the same time, however, we can’t help but wonder why anyone is even remotely surprised by any of this. Bill and Hillary Clinton have always specialized in the messy, vile, and utterly unethical. It’s who they are. It’s what they do. Or to put it another way, who didn’t know?
As for Little George, again, who didn’t know? We understand that the donations are kind of a big deal and are a violation of journalistic professional practices. But so what? Since when is this guy a journalist? He graduated from college and went right into politics, working for a Congressman. Then he worked on the Dukakis campaign. Then he went to work for then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt. Then he went to work for Clinton. When he resigned from the Clinton White House – nearly 15 years after graduating from college and after spending those same nearly 15 years in Democratic politics – he suddenly became a politics “analyst” for ABC. The rest, as they say, is history.
George Stephanopoulos is a “journalist” in the same way that Chelsea Clinton is a journalist . . . or that Hillary Clinton is qualified to be President. Like the other two, Stephanopoulos just happened to close to power. And he, like they, leveraged that proximity for all he could. His proximity to power is, in fact, precisely why he was hired by ABC News. Why is anyone surprised that he then spent the next two decades trying his damnedest to stay close to power? Again, that’s who he is. That’s what he does. Truth be told, we think that his political motivation and his desire to court and kiss-up to the powerful distinguish him from the rest of mainstream journalism only in that he, at least, is reasonably honest about his motives. They’re ALL “political operatives with bylines.” Stephanopoulos just happens to be more open about it.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a scandal here. There is. But it’s not quite the same scandal most Washingtonians seem to think it is. Bear with us a minute, and we’ll try to make some sense of the whole mess.
Way back in the 1990’s – which is to say when Bill Clinton was running the country and our oft-mentioned “new political paradigm” was just starting to take shape – we used to travel from account to account, making speeches and analyzing conditions in Washington. A staple of our presentation back then was a line about how our field, “Washington research,” would be more and more valuable in the future, given the omnipotent nature of the state. How, we used to ask, could anyone expect to know which airplane manufacturer was going to have better sales and higher profits next year, without first understanding the political forces driving the sales of such items. Let’s say the Chinese government wants 40 new airliners. Boeing has Bill Clinton and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in its corner, offering various export subsidies, gifts, “exchanges” and other fringe benefits to the Chinese, while Airbus has the various governments of the EU offering many similar inducements. Who will win? Whoever’s government puts together the best package for the Chinese. Or the best package for Bill and Hillary. That’s who.
The Clinton folks called this “commerce” which, they claimed, created economic growth. We, however, called it by its proper name, that is to say “corporatism.” Government and industry cooperate – collude, really – to engage in commercial activity, without consent from or even the knowledge of the people whom said government purportedly represents and to the detriment of any other businesses that might not be favored by the state. The Clinton crowd described it as a “win, win, win.” Boeing sold planes. China (or whoever) received planes. And Americans who needed jobs had jobs. What’s not to love? And if you just happened to be one of the favored few, they were right; there was nothing not to love.
Of course, the whole arrangement was based not on markets or customer service or quality merchandise or any of the other things that had regulated real commerce from time immemorial, but on power and proximity to it. Did Boeing build great aircraft? Could a smaller company have built better aircraft if it had the opportunity to compete for contracts? Could Boeing have made the sale on its own, without costing taxpayers countless dollars in inducements? Who knows? But more to the point, nobody cared. The economy was humming along nicely. Markets were soaring. And everything was great. Who cared about a few measly million dollars? Who cared about aeronautical or aerospace startups? Who cared about market manipulation or theoretical long-term damage to the American business environment? Certainly, nobody in Washington cared.
Fast-forward to last week, when both Fox News and the Washington Free Beacon noted that Boeing is apparently facing some uncomfortable questions about its relationship with the Clintons. Fox News put it as follows:
When Hillary Clinton was America’s top diplomat, she also appeared at times like a top salesperson for America’s biggest airplane maker, Boeing. Traveling abroad on official business as secretary of state, Clinton often visited Boeing facilities and made a pitch for the host country to buy Boeing jets. During one visit to Shanghai in May 2010, she boasted that “more than half the commercial jetliners operating in China are made by Boeing.”
A sales plug in Russia in 2009, though, may have proved especially fruitful. While touring a Boeing plant, Secretary of State Clinton said, “We’re delighted that a new Russian airline, Rossiya, is actively considering acquisition of Boeing aircraft, and this is a shameless pitch.”
In 2010, Boeing landed the Russian deal, worth $3.7 billion. And two months later, the company donated $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation.
This chain of events is raising new questions for Clinton, and Boeing, as the former secretary of state launches her 2016 presidential campaign. The Boeing deal only adds to a growing list of business deals involving Clinton Foundation donors now coming under scrutiny.
Boeing shareholder David Almasi recently confronted CEO James McNerney about the ethics of it.
“That opens the door to charges of honest services fraud, that there was a quid pro quo between the Clinton Foundation, the State Department and Boeing,” Almasi said. . . .
But the financial connections don’t end there. Boeing also paid former President Bill Clinton $250,000 for a speech in 2012. It was a speech that was approved by the State Department’s Ethics Office — which according to an Associated Press report often approved the ex-president’s speaking engagements within days.
And in another potential trouble spot, Boeing’s chief lobbyist and former Bill Clinton aide Tim Keating hosted a fundraiser for Ready for Hillary, the political action committee raising money to help fund a run for the White House. Boeing took no issue with Keating doing so.
That’s funny, dontcha think? David Almasi thinks that “ethics” and “fraud” still matter today – and, funnier yet, still matter to anybody associated with the Clintons. We’d call Almasi’s charges “quaint,” but we know better.
Almasi, you see, isn’t just some ordinary, everyday Boeing shareholder. And nor, for that matter, is he a professional investor. Rather, he’s a political operative in his own right; the Executive Director of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research. All of which is to say that he knows how the game is played. He knows that ethics and fraud are irrelevant today, meaningless terms in the great intersection of politics and business. All that really matters is power – and proximity to it.
Almasi may have done a service to us all by exposing and clarifying the Clintons’ relationship with Boeing, but he didn’t do it on behalf of the company or its shareholders. He did it for political reasons, in an attempt to draw further attention to the Clintons’ “honest graft.” In business terms, of course, he’s wrong and the company is right. The closer the company stays to power, the better off it will be in the long run, regardless of the destructive impact on American government and American business more generally.
Now, longtime readers may also recall that we spent an inordinate amount of time in the 1990s talking and writing about Indonesia, of all places. You see, Indonesia was big news for a couple of years, largely because one of the members of its “Salim Group,” which accounted for nearly 5% of the country’s GNP by itself, was also the founder of the Lippo Group. And the Lippo Groups had interesting and longstanding relationships with a handful of folks from Little Rock, Arkansas, including, naturally, Bill and Hillary Clinton. The Lippo-Clinton connection and the fundraising scandal it produced were somewhat complicated, but were also fascinating, in that they provided a glimpse into the shadowy world that was global “commerce” during Bill and Hillary’s first stay in the White House. In a piece dated November 6, 1996 – just after Bill had won reelection – we did our very best to try to explain some of the burgeoning scandal and to describe just what that “glimpse” had shown. To that end, we wrote the following:
In 1986, the second wave of connections between the Clintons, Arkansas, and Indonesia was in full swing. Webster Hubbell of the Rose Law Firm and Mickey Kantor of the Mannatt Law Firm were both on retainer to represent Lippo Group’s interests in the U. S. Hubbell would go on to become Clinton’s Assistant U. S. Attorney General; Kantor would be Clinton’s U. S. Trade Rep, and later, after the death of Ron Brown, Commerce Secretary.
At this time, John Huang arrived in the country to serve as Vice President of Lippo Bank, Los Angeles. The Clintons were introduced to Huang through James Riady, and he too was soon considered an FOB (Friend of Bill). Huang himself would later join the Administration as Commerce Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Economic Policy, a position that would require top security clearance.
By October of 1996, it had become clear to a number of people, chief among them columnist William Safire, that the DNC had accepted questionable contributions from foreign donors, including several Indonesians connected to the Lippo Group. John Huang had left his post in the Administration and had become a DNC fund-raiser. . . .
[W]hen the DNC got caught [taking illegal foreign donations], a number of potential skeletons in the Clinton Administration closet were exposed. To fully understand these, we must take a step backward and review a few foreign policy events of the last few years. By the end of this review, it will, I think, be clear by many people are tending to agree with Safire’s charge, that during the reign of Bill Clinton, American foreign policy has been “for sale.”
On the campaign trail in 1992, Clinton condemned alleged human rights abuses by the Indonesian government on the island of East Timor. During the early part of his presidency, he maintained this position and even instructed the Commerce Department to investigate the alleged abuses to determine how they might affect Indonesian trade policy.
Suddenly, however, the Clinton view changed. According to William Safire, Kantor, who was a U. S. Trade Rep. (and you might recall the former lawyer for Lippo) killed the investigation into abuses in East Timor. According to Gingrich, Kantor also took up the cause of reversing policy on East Timor and, at the same time, began pushing for renewal of MFN for China.
Meanwhile, John Huang had been hired by Ron Brown to serve the Commerce Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Economic Policy. In this position, Huang joined with Kantor in advising on foreign trade matters. Presumably, he too was in favor of reversing the Clinton policy on East Timor.
It is alleged (by Gingrich) that Clinton’s old Arkansas buddy, James Riady, also took part in advising him on East Timor. Charles DeQueljoe, President of Lippo Securities, Los Angeles, also played a role. He was appointed by Kantor to the U. S. Trade Representatives Investment and Services Policy Advisory Committee, which advises on foreign trade matters. In addition, Gingrich maintains that Clinton advisors visited East Timor with members of the Lippo Group. Needless to say, Lippo had the ear of the President. The net result was, according to the New York Times, “[a] Clinton policy of emphasizing commercial diplomacy, often playing down human rights . . . [which] has been appreciated in Indonesia and Little Rock.”
In the months to come, Ron Brown secured a $40 billion trade deal with Indonesia. This benefited not only parties in the U. S. but Indonesian investors, (e.g. Lippo Group). The administration also eventually reversed its policy on China; although Clinton had earlier indicated that he would not grant MFN to China. As a result, Brown was able to secure a $6 billion trade deal with China. . . .
Another interesting twist occurred in 1992, when candidate Clinton expressed serious reservations about reversing the trade policy with Vietnam. Two years after his election, however, this policy was reversed, and relations were (somewhat) normalized with Hanoi. It would be a stretch to accuse Clinton of bowing to foreign pressure on this policy reversal, and, in fact, the pressure came internally from a bipartisan collection of Senators (including John McCain and John Kerry) who had served in Vietnam.
It does, however, appear to be strangely coincidental that Mochtar Riady (whose “man in Washington,” John Huang, happened to be at the Commerce Department) foresaw the upswing in trade with Vietnam and a year earlier had traveled to Hanoi “to size up business opportunities there.” According to the Washington Times, “Lippo has a huge financial interest there [Vietnam] . . . [and] stood to benefit enormously from expanded trade between Vietnam and the United States.” All this leads to the question asked by the Times, “Did Lippo know what was coming, perhaps through its man in Washington, John Huang — whose top secret clearance provided access to trade negotiation strategies?”
Meanwhile, back in Arkansas, Webb Hubbell had been convicted of defrauding clients at his (and Hillary’s) Rose Law Firm. Naturally, these legal difficulties forced him to resign from the Justice Department. While awaiting sentencing, Hubbell was again put on the payroll of the Lippo Group. According to the Washington Times, James Riady claims that he felt badly seeing an old friend without a source of income; thus, Hubbell was paid $250,000. No one knows for sure what the money was for. . . .
Needless to say, it – by which we mean both the piece and the scandal it covered – went on and on . . . and on. But we suppose you get the point. Before the investigation of the whole shady business was closed, we learned a number of fun tidbits about Washington players – especially Algore. Turns out that he not only enjoyed shaking down Buddhist nuns for campaign cash, but also had trouble holding his iced tea and had to run to the bathroom so many times during a briefing from the White House counsel that he missed the counsel’s admonition that everything he was doing – i.e. raising cash from foreign sources and from his White House office – was illegal.
More to the point, we learned – again! – that the way to make money in the 1990s was to get close to power and then to leverage that power to your advantage. Some entrepreneurial types will tell you that the key to capturing market share is to build a “better mousetrap” . . . or a better passenger plane . . . or a better . . . whatever Lippo did. But that’s sooooo passé. At least two decades ago, the real key was to cuddle up to the Clintons and then sit back and watch the cash roil in.
Again, fast forward to last week. And again, take a look at the “news” reported almost exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon. To wit:
An Indonesian tobacco magnate secured U.S. government assistance for his foundation after donating to Hillary Clinton’s and hiring lobbyists, themselves Clinton Foundation donors, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The Putera Sampoerna Foundation, founded by the Indonesian tobacco heir Putera Sampoerna, got the U.S. government to underwrite millions in loans offered by the foundation and secured high-profile support for its activities from Sec. Clinton and other senior federal officials.
Sampoerna’s financial ties to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and some of its major supporters could raise additional questions about its donors’ favorable treatment by the State Department while Clinton helmed the agency.
The PSF is one of those donors: it has contributed between $1,000 and $5,000 in 2008. Clinton Foundation spokesman said that the donation was a membership fee for the Clinton Global Initiative’s 2008 meeting in Hong Kong.
According to PSF’s website, Bill Clinton personally invited them to represent Indonesia at the meeting.
At that meeting, PSF made a $7-million commitment to education efforts in Indonesia. The funding did not go through the Clinton Foundation, but a press release touted the commitment and Bill Clinton’s role in “convening” businesses and nonprofits to steer money towards major policy goals.
That convening power is a frequent tool of the Clinton Foundation, according to Peter Schweizer, whose book Clinton Cash sparked a recent controversy over donors to the foundation. “The Clintons’ ability to convene various public and private interests around a common cause or project does create leverage for getting things done in the global arena. But [it] also creates opportunity for moving a lot of money around with very little accountability,” Schweizer wrote in his book. . . .
Sampoerna expected easy approval of the deal on the U.S. end. However, it did not go as planned. So he turned to a lobbying firm with deep ties to Sec. Clinton.
Ickes & Enright is run by Harold Ickes, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and a senior staffer on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, and his wife, Janice Enright, also a former Clinton White House official and a top Hillary 2008 operative.
Those last two paragraphs are kinda the kicker there. The Free Beacon undersells Harold Ickes, we think. Yes, Harold Ickes was White House Chief of Staff, but he was a great deal more as well. Among other things, Harold Ickes was a labor lawyer who represented New York Teamster Local 560. As such, he was the guy who introduced Bill and Hillary to Ron Carey, the disgraced former President of the Teamsters whose reelection campaign swapped cash with the Clinton reelection campaign, helping Bill win a second term and earning Carey a lifetime ban from his former union for corruption. Ickes also introduced Bill and Hillary to Arthur Coia, the likewise disgraced head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), yet another union federation that was crooked and which raised funds for Bill’s reelection in 1996. Most notably, Harold Ickes was one of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s oldest friends, closest advisers, and most willing co-conspirators. As the New York Times put it just after Ickes left the White House:
For 25 years Ickes, 58, has been a friend of Bill Clinton’s. But he has also been something else. Ickes has been caught up in so many of Clinton’s scandals and crises that he came to describe his function in the White House as ‘‘director of the sanitation department.’’
As campaign manager of Clinton’s ‘92 New York campaign, he persuaded the state’s Democrats to stick with Clinton while Gennifer Flowers strutted luridly through the national imagination. (His persuasion saved Clinton’s candidacy.) He was present in the most famous opening scene in Presidential literature, the first few pages of ‘‘Primary Colors,’’ when the candidate charms the pants off everyone in Harlem. (Ickes is given the pseudonym ‘‘Howard Ferguson 3d’’ but other than that, he says, the author Joe Klein took the scene straight from life.) At Clinton’s behest Ickes came to Washington in 1994, ostensibly to work on health care, but was instead handed the Whitewater file and told that it was now his problem. As the 1996 election approached Ickes helped guide his friend Jesse Jackson to the decision not to run, and then he put together the most wildly successful, and most successfully wild, money-raising operation ever conducted by the Democratic Party.
Ickes devised the Clintons’ fund-raising operation. He brought the aforementioned John Huang into the campaign finance business. He coordinated the whole thing. And when the time came for another Indonesian billionaire to get what he wanted from Bill and Hillary, Ickes was the guy that got the job. To coin a phrase, who didn’t know?
Dontcha just love the Clintons? In just the last week, they’ve ensnared all sorts of old friends and partners in their current mess. George Stephanopoulos is back in the news. Harold Ickes is back as well. So are the Indonesians and the American aircraft builders. If you count the New York Post column noting that Cheryl Mills (who handled Bill’s defense during his impeachment trial) is the gatekeeper to Hillary’s emails and private papers these days – and has been for more than two decades – then you have most of the old gang back together again. If we were writing a pitch for a sitcom called “That ‘90s Show,” every one of these “characters” would appear in the pilot episode. They’re all household names – at least among Clinton-watchers. They’ve all been around for the better part of a quarter century, doing all the same old things, giving all the same old excuses, and getting way with all of it. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.
And that’s sorta the point.
You’ll forgive us if we don’t think that George Stephanopoulos giving some money to Bill and Hillary Clinton is much of a scandal. As much as they’ve given him, we figure he probably owes them a little. More to the point, George is only a minor part of the real scandal and focusing on him and his “charitable donations” tends to obscure the real issues.
We have written countless pages over the years about the “iron triangle” the “sub-government model” of bureaucracy and all of the other assorted academic explanations for the relationship that has developed over the last century between the bureaucratic state and big business. In short, government bureaucrats, businesses, and moderately engaged legislators collude to set policy that is mutually beneficial to the participants but to no one else, thereby producing a government of the powerful, by the powerful, and for the powerful, and perverting the populace’s notions of representative government. This is an old and well-worn story.
Unfortunately, Bill and Hillary Clinton added a new chapter to that story in the 1990s, by getting the elected executive directly involved in the business of soliciting funds, promising favors in return, and thus making everyone in the select group rich beyond the proverbial dreams of avarice. In any other era, with any other politicians, such blatant and unrepentant abuse of power would have been considered truly scandalous – manifestly corrupt, possibly illegal, and certainly grounds for banishment from the political system and the company of decent folk. But with Bill and Hillary, the old rules didn’t apply, in part because Bill and Hillary perfectly represented and embodied the new morality of the post-modern Left, and in part because the two so brazenly embraced their roles as facilitators of power and wealth that no one seemed to question the fact that what they were doing was inarguably corrupt and corrupting.
Bill and Hillary Clinton made themselves huge players in the otherwise nameless, faceless, bureaucratic corporatist scam, turning the collusion between the state and business into a radically new and more lucrative venture that no one previously could have imagined. And since they did it while claiming devotion to the poor, the oppressed, and the abortion-seeking, they were allowed to get away with it by the rest of the ruling class, particularly the mainstream media.
And they’re still getting away with it.
The real scandal in all of this has nothing to do with donations or leveraging of power for rich and generous friends. It has nothing to do with George Stephanopoulos or journalistic ethics. It really doesn’t even have anything to do with the fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton actually seem to revel in their corruption since, in their eyes, it helps the right people and aids the “proper” causes. No the scandal here is that the American people just don’t care. As the quote at the top of this piece notes, the republic that is the United States of America was designed for a moral people, and it cannot function in the absence of morality. And the people of the United States don’t care. They don’t care about morality. They don’t care about ethics or corruption. In brief, they don’t care about their republic.
Two weeks ago, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll revealed that a majority of Americans do not believe that Hillary Clinton is trustworthy. This prompted Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin to ask if the American people were capable of electing a president they didn’t trust. Our response was to note that the American people already did so. A majority of Americans also told pollsters in 1996 that Bill Clinton was not trustworthy. And yet they re-elected him. And then they elected his wife to the Senate. And then they elected a man who would make her the nation’s top diplomat. And now they appear poised to hand her the Democratic presidential nomination and possibly elect her the White House. And all of this is in spite of the fact that their instincts about her husband’s trustworthiness proved all too prescient 19 years ago.
The American people don’t trust Hillary Clinton. They know she has leveraged her power and her husband’s not only to make herself fabulously rich, but to enrich those close to her as well. They know that this is radically unseemly, even if technically legal.
And they just don’t care.
The real ABC News scandal took place nearly 20 years ago, when the network hired George Stephanopoulos. ABC News climbed into bed with Bill and Hillary then and it has never bothered to try to climb out. Sadly, a great many Americans and a majority of Democrats – if polls can be believed – also climbed into bed with Bill and Hillary with no intention of ever climbing out – unconcerned, apparently, about what they and their republic might catch.