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“How ‘Public Servant’ Hastert Got His Riches”: An Indictment Of D.C.’s “Revolving Door” Money Culture

Not-so-frequently Asked Questions About the Hastert Indictment.

It’s clear that the indictment of Dennis Hastert has raised more questions than it’s provided answers. But I suspect a lot of people are asking the wrong ones. Hastert’s “misconduct” may turn out to be of sexually predatory nature, in which case talk of how much his reputation is worth is picayune compared the nature of the crime. But there are questions about what he did that are applicable to the entire industry he represents.

The most obvious question, that’s also the least relevant for most Americans: What is the “misconduct” that Hastert is alleged to have been trying to cover up?

This is an important question, to be sure, but indicting Hastert on the financial charges and lying to investigators rather than on whatever misconduct occurred seems to indicate that those charges were the best investigators could come up with. Presumably, if the misconduct was illegal, they’d have mentioned that—and indicted him for it. If the conduct was sexual abuse, as sources are saying, then the statute of limitations has run out. It follows that Hastert wasn’t paying hush money to stay out of jail, he was protecting his reputation.

A better question, and one that many Washington watchdogs leapt on quickly: How did Hastert happen to have enough money lying around that paying out $3.5 million was even within the realm of possibility?

Hastert’s ability to participate in the blackmail is, after all, itself a general indictment of D.C.’s “revolving door” money culture, in which former lawmakers move easily from government into lobbying. In Hastert’s case, the ability to profit off of one’s legislative position is especially galling: While in office, Hastert used the earmarking process to turn his investment in some Illinois farmland into a profit of 140 percent when a federal highway project just happened to make its way through those very fields. Indeed, it was this instance of a completely legal form of insider trading that helped prompt Congress to end earmarks.

And, of course, Hastert made even more money once he was out of office. One study found that, on average—and when the information is publicly available—former lawmakers get a 1,425 percent raise when they make the jump from Capitol Hill to K Street. Hastert, who was worth between $4 million and $17 million when he left Congress, was making $175,000 as a representative. His K Street bump would be to almost $2.5 million a year.

Okay, he made his money as a lobbyist, doing presumably sneaky lobbyist things. That raises the next question: How can Hastert’s reputation even be worth $3.5 million?

Hastert is a former member of Congress known to have profited off of a shady land deal and he’s a registered lobbyist—these are already the two professions that Americans regard as the most disreputable careers available. They are literally last (lobbyist) and second-to-last (congressman) on Gallup’s list of what jobs Americans regard as “honest” and “ethical.” What would one have to do to be thought even less of?

Given the ickiness of what has been reported, it might not be good to think about that question too hard, so let’s turn that question on its head: What kind of reputation could be worth spending $3.5 million to protect?

To consider $3.5 million a reasonable sum to spend on protecting one’s reputation, presumably it has to be worth a lot more than that. And, indeed, in the context of the lobbying world, $3.5 million just isn’t that much money. Especially considering that Hastert was apparently making pay-offs over time. Special interest groups spent almost 1000 times that—$3.2 billion—in 2015 alone. If Hastert viewed protecting his reputation as a kind of investment in future earnings, $3.5 million is on the scale of buying an alarm system for your home, not buying a whole other house.

And, it’s important to remember, what Hastert was covering up with that hush money was not a “reputation” as an average citizen might conceive of it: something akin to honor or trustworthiness or fidelity. A lobbyist’s reputation, after all, actually hinges on his or her established lack of principles. A lobbying client for someone who is a former member of Congress is paying a premium for that person’s willingness to engage in barely-legal favor-trading. A lobbyist’s prices go up the more corrupt he is. Who wants to hire an honest one?

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, May 30, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Dennis Hastert, Lobbyists | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dead Man’s Switch”: Is Edward Snowden Blackmailing America?

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who has spent the last several weeks disseminating Edward Snowden’s revelations about National Security Agency eavesdropping practices, caused a stir this weekend with an interview he gave to Argentina’s La Nación.

“Snowden has enough information to cause more damage to the U.S. government in one single minute than any other person has ever had in the history of the United States,” Greenwald told La Nación‘s Alberto Armendariz (my translation). He goes on to talk about how Snowden has to avoid landing in the custody of the “vengeful” U.S. at all costs, how Russia is a good place for him for now, and how Snowden’s objective is letting the world know how the NSA is violating privacy rights. Snowden is not out to destroy the U.S., Greenwald says. If Snowden dies, however, Greenwald adds, watch out:

He has already distributed thousands of documents and made sure that various people around the world have his complete archive. If something happens to him, these documents would be made public. This is his insurance policy. The U.S. government should be on its knees everyday praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if anything should happen, all the information will be revealed and this would be its worst nightmare. [La Nación, my translation]

In an interview with The Associated Press, Greenwald elaborated on what Snowden is sitting on: “In order to take documents with him that proved that what he was saying was true he had to take ones that included very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do.” These documents, Greenwald added, “would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it.”

Greenwald’s interview with La Nación reached the U.S. largely through a Reuters article that reported the quotes in English. Greenwald was annoyed enough by this act of translational journalism that he responded in a blog post at The Guardian:

Like everything in the matter of these NSA leaks, this interview is being wildly distorted to attract attention away from the revelations themselves. It’s particularly being seized on to attack Edward Snowden and, secondarily, me, for supposedly “blackmailing” and “threatening” the US government. That is just absurd. That Snowden has created some sort of “dead man’s switch” — whereby documents get released in the event that he is killed by the US government — was previously reported weeks ago, and Snowden himself has strongly implied much the same thing….

That has nothing to do with me: I don’t have access to those “insurance” documents and have no role in whatever dead man switch he’s arranged. I’m reporting what documents he says he has and what precautions he says he has taken to protect himself from what he perceives to be the threat to his well-being. That’s not a threat. Those are facts…. The only people who would claim any of this was a “threat” or “blackmail” are people with serious problems of reading comprehension or honesty, or both. [Guardian]

That explanation didn’t impress Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, who said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday that the comments from Greenwald (or “that reporter”, as he calls him) about the U.S. getting on its knees are “out of line.” Despite the considerable respect he has for The Guardian, Bernstein added, “that’s an awful statement, and the tone in which he made it.”

It’s one thing to say that Mr. Snowden possesses some information that could be harmful, and that could be part of the calculation that everybody makes here. It’s another to make that kind of an aggressive, non-reportorial statement [that] a reporter has no business making. [Bernstein on Morning Joe]

That, too, prompted a response from Greenwald: “I realize Carl Bernstein hasn’t done any actual reporting for a couple decades now, but he should nonetheless take the time to read what he’s opining on.” Reuters gave “a complete distortion of what I actually said,” Greenwald told Politico. “The point I made is the opposite one: That Snowden has been as responsible as a whistleblower can be in ensuring that only information the public should know is revealed.”

Let me get this straight, said Elaine Radford at The Inquisitr. Snowden is sitting on the documents that would cause the worst damage to the U.S. in its entire history, and he’ll unleash them if anything happens to him — nice government there, pity if anything should happen to it — but it’s not blackmail?

First, “considering that the United States wouldn’t go on its knees to Nazis, Nikita Khrushchev, or Osama bin Laden, Greenwald seemed to be expecting a bit much,” Radford said. Second, if he’s trying to make Snowden more sympathetic to Americans, asking America to get on its knees is pretty counterproductive — “most of us think we settled that one sometime around 1776.” But the big point, is “I don’t see how you can take the claim as anything other than a threat of blackmail.”

Like any other reporter, Greenwald is entitled to report what his source has claimed. Greenwald may even have a duty to report it if Snowden is in fact trying to blackmail the United States into dropping its criminal case against him. That in itself seems perilously close to the crime of extortion to me….

The Snowden “worst damage” dead man’s switch threat seems to suggest that Snowden has plans to destroy America by some sort of hacker attack or release of harmful information if he doesn’t get his way. You know, I don’t want to hang a guy because a reporter gave a bad interview. But c’mon. If the Snowden “worst damage” comment actually reflects how Edward Snowden thinks, it’s way past time to stop calling this man any kind of hero. [Inquisitr]

 

By: Peter Weber, Senior Editor, The Week, July 15, 2013

July 16, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A False Equivalency: Don’t Blame ‘Both Sides’ For Debt Impasse

Washington has many lazy habits, and one of the worst is a reflexive tendency to see equivalence where none exists. Hence the nonsense, being peddled by politicians and commentators who should know better, that “both sides” are equally at fault in the deadlocked talks over the debt ceiling.

This is patently false. The truth is that Democrats have made clear they are open to a compromise deal on budget cuts and revenue increases. Republicans have made clear they are not.

Put another way, Democrats reacted to the “grand bargain” proposed by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner by squawking, complaining and highlighting elements they didn’t like. This is known throughout the world as the way to begin a process of negotiation.

Republicans, by contrast, answered with a definitive “no” and then covered their ears. Given the looming Aug. 2 deadline for default if the debt ceiling is not raised, the proper term for this approach is blackmail.

Yet the “both sides are to blame” narrative somehow gained currency after Boehner announced Saturday that House Republicans would not support any increase in revenue, period. A false equivalence was drawn between the absolute Republican rejection of “revenue-positive” tax reform and the less-than-absolute Democratic opposition to “benefit cuts” in Medicare and Social Security.

The bogus story line is that the radical right-wing base of the GOP and the radical left-wing base of the Democratic Party are equally to blame for sinking the deal.

Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that in the Obama-Boehner proposal, there would be roughly three dollars’ worth of budget cuts for every dollar of new revenue. Don’t pause to ask whether it makes sense to slash government spending when the economy is still sputtering out of the worst recession in decades. Instead, focus narrowly on the politics of the deal.

It is true that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi howled like a blindsided politician when she learned that entitlement programs were on the table. But her objections — and those of Democrats in general — are philosophical and tactical, not absolute.

Progressives understand that Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable on their current trajectories; in the long term, both must have their revenue and costs brought into balance. Pelosi’s position is that each program should be addressed with an eye toward sustainability — not as a part of a last-minute deal for a hike in the debt ceiling that covers us for two or three years.

It’s also true that Democrats believe they can win back a passel of House seats next year by highlighting the GOP plan to convert Medicare into a voucher program. They don’t want Republicans to be able to point and say, “See, the Democrats want to cut Medicare, too.”

There’s nothing in these Democratic objections, however, that couldn’t be creatively finessed. You can claim you haven’t actually “cut” a benefit, for example, if what you’ve done is restrained the rate at which its cost will grow. You can offset spending with new revenue, and you can do so in a way that gives low-income taxpayers a break. Democrats left the door open and these options could have been explored.

The story on the Republican side is entirely different. There are ways to finesse a “no new taxes” pledge, too. Instead of raising tax rates, you close loopholes in the name of reform; you add an enhancement here, a “user fee” there, and you can manage to get the revenue you need and still claim you haven’t voted to raise taxes.

But Republicans are taking the position that not a cent of new revenue can be raised, no matter the euphemism. Some Democrats, yes, are being scratchy and cantankerous. But Republicans are refusing to negotiate at all. That’s not the same thing.

I understand why President Obama, in his news conference Monday, chided “each side” for taking a “maximalist position.” For political and practical reasons, it’s advantageous for him to be seen as an honest broker.

Meanwhile, though, the clock ticks toward Aug. 2 and the possibility of a catastrophic default becomes more real. And no one should be confused about what the president confronts: On one side, grousing and grumbling. On the other, a brick wall.

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 11, 2011

July 12, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Immigrants, Journalists, Lawmakers, Media, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Press, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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