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“When Journalists Cry Corruption, Make Them Prove It”: Clinton Foundation ‘Scandals’ Are Made Of Smoke And Innuendo

Here are a couple of things you may not know about recent topics in the news.

First, no Secretary of State prior to Hillary Clinton had ever used a government email address or preserved their messages for posterity. And why should they? The law requiring cabinet members to do so didn’t go into effect until after Clinton left office.

(Presumably to make one-stop shopping easier for Chinese and Russian hackers. But I digress.)

Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell deleted his emails. Every single one. Condoleezza Rice has said that she simply never used email, which may even be true.

Second, as of 2011 former president George W. Bush had earned at least $15 million giving speeches mainly to corporate and Republican groups. Politico has found more recent information hard to find. It’s private and confidential.

In 2011, Bush pocketed $100,000 to speak at a fundraiser for a homeless shelter in McKinney, Texas. The shelter’s director called the event a success, adding that the former president was his usual charming self. Bush’s standard practice is that reporters aren’t invited and recording devices are not allowed.

“Relative to the Clintons, though,” Politico notes “he’s attracted considerably less attention.” Maybe that’s because George W. Bush has no close relatives running for president. So that when he accepts $250,000 for speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, it’s not an issue. This event is widely known as the “Sheldon Adelson Primary,” after the billionaire casino magnate who openly auditions GOP hopefuls who oppose online gambling and support Israel.

Anyway, aren’t they all up for sale, the candidates? Clintons, Bushes, Walkers, Cruzes, Perrys, the lot.

Open for business, every single one.

Somehow, however, what would appear the least objectionable buck raking by a presidential candidate during the 2016 campaign cycle has become the most controversial. I refer, of course, to the Clinton Foundation, Hillary and Bill Clinton’s $2 billion charitable enterprise

The Clinton Foundation is credited, among other things, with providing cut-rate HIV drugs to patients throughout the Third World, hearing aids for deaf children in Botswana, and earthquake relief in Haiti; the foundation even fights elephant poaching in Africa — reportedly a passion of Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s. (And of every other decent human being on Earth.)

Interestingly, the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold recently produced a remarkably fair, snark-free account of the Clinton Foundation and its proprietor, a veritable force of nature. Despite being a longtime acquaintance of his, like thousands of Arkansans I almost can’t comprehend the life Bill Clinton has chosen. His life of endless banquets, celebrity galas, and international jetting around would make me crazy.

But then what have I done for the destitute and afflicted? Watched a lot of Red Sox games and read a thousand novels — that’s what.

Meanwhile, the thing to understand about the swirl of innuendo and accusation concerning this remarkable enterprise is that it’s yet another “Swift Boat”-style operation. Written by a career political operative named Peter Schweizer, the book Clinton Cash amounts to little more than a conspiracy theory touted by the same newspapers that promoted the Whitewater hoax and cheered on Kenneth Starr and his leak-o-matic prosecutors.

Aptly described by Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books as an “imitation of journalism,” Clinton Cash basically assembles circumstantial evidence about various potentates and high flyers in the Clintons’ orbit. Assuming venal motives, it then leaps to conclusions unsupported by fact. In most instances, the author hasn’t even interviewed his targets.

After making a promotional deal with Schweizer, The New York Times devoted 4,400 words to a jumbled narrative involving a Canadian mining executive who’d pledged half his income to the Clinton Foundation and the subsequent sale of a Wyoming uranium mine to Russian interests.

Way down at the bottom, however, the determined reader learned that Secretary of State Clinton played no role in the deal whatsoever. At least none that the Times could find. It’s pure supposition.

The newspaper then remained silent as Schweizer appeared on conservative talk shows depicting the foundation as a giant slush fund devoting only 10 percent of its budget to charity. In fact, according to the American Institute of Philanthropy, the real number is 89 percent — an A rating.

Look, any cynic can play at this. Check out your hometown society page. That doctor’s wife at the Heart Fund gala: Is it about charity, or about people back home in Turkey Scratch seeing her socializing with a Walmart heiress? How about the architect? Does he care about sick kids, or is he about getting the contract for the new hospital wing named for the heiress?

Does Bill Clinton do all this for humanity, or does he just need more attention and admiration than us “normal” people? Does Hillary want to be president for America’s sake, or for her own?

The correct answer is all of the above.

But when journalists cry corruption, make them prove it.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 10, 2015

June 10, 2015 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Clinton Foundation, Journalism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sounds Of Silence”: What Clinton’s Do Is ‘Scandalous,’ What Republicans Do Is… Ignored

Whenever a transgression against transparency is charged to the Clintons, whether real, alleged or invented, America’s political media rise up in sustained outrage. From the offices of the New York Times Washington bureau to the Manhattan studio of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, journalists bitterly protest Hillary Clinton’s erased emails and her family foundation’s fundraising methods. And they will surely snap and snark about her “scandals” from now until Election Day.

Which under present circumstances might be justified, since she happens to be running for president — except for one glaring problem. Very few in the press corps apply the same standards to any Republican politician.

Nobody will ever get to see the thousands of messages erased from the private email account used by former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he held that high office. He got rid of them and got away with it (as most likely did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who implausibly claimed not to have used email, when the State Department asked for hers).

Or at least such is the attitude of the press and punditry, who seem to believe that the dumping of Powell’s emails is somehow “different” from what Clinton did. And it is, of course – because she turned over more than 30,000 emails, while he turned over zero. But there is no sound of furious buzzing within the Beltway over the Powell emails; instead there is absolute silence.

Do readers and viewers want to know what Powell and Rice’s emails said about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a topic of political and historic interest? Don’t they have a right to know? Well, Washington journalists who claim to represent the public interest don’t care.

And the double standard protecting Republicans extends well beyond the email “scandal.”

Consider the Clinton Foundation, whose critics complain that its fundraising has been opaque and suspect. The names of all of its donors have been posted on its website for years (except for a tiny 0.3 percent who gave to a related Canadian foundation and went unreported for arcane legal reasons).

To this day, however, George W. Bush’s foundation, which collected $500 million to build and endow his presidential library in Texas, has refused to disclose the name of every donor. The names that have been disclosed are difficult to find, unless you visit the library itself.

Like Bill Clinton, Bush began to raise money for his library from undisclosed donors while still in office, which raised ethical concerns. Bush told reporters that he might well raise money from foreign donors (which he did) and might not disclose any of their names (he disclosed some, years later). He hosted White House dinners and meetings around the country for potential library contributors, also unnamed.

Only after the London Sunday Times caught a lobbyist pal of Bush on videotape in July 2008 — soliciting $200,000 for the library from someone who claimed to represent a Central Asian dictator — did the Bush White House promise not to raise money from abroad while he was still president.

Yet this little scandal provoked no more than a few days of press coverage, a flurry of denials, and one or two tut-tutting editorials. And now that brother Jeb is running for president, nobody thinks to demand all the names of all the Bush library donors, so the press and public can gauge their potential influence on the candidate.

No, that kind of obsessive inspection is reserved for one political family. Their name is not Bush.

Those Clinton Foundation critics have gone so far as to claim that it isn’t a charity at all, despite top ratings by Guidestar and Charity Watch. A Wall Street Journal editorial snarled that any good done by the foundation is merely “incidental to its bigger role as a fund-raising network and a jobs program for Clinton political operatives.” Actually, the foundation has employed thousands of people, few of whom had any political ties, to bring vital services to the poor around the world.

But there is at least one tax-exempt entity that serves no charitable purpose, existing only to employ political aides and family members: the “Campaign for Liberty,” dubiously subsidized by campaign funds left over from Ron Paul’s political accounts.

Its employees, which include most adult members of the Paul family and most of Ron and Rand Paul’s top operatives, move between “charity” and campaign. It reimbursed Ron Paul’s expenses, even after taxpayers had already paid those same travel bills. Its current leadership is entangled in a festering scandal in Iowa, where prosecutors are investigating the alleged bribery of a local GOP official who shifted from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in 2012.

Which other presidential candidates are involved in such non-profit nastiness? How many used private email accounts and conveniently lost the archives? Voters will probably never find out – because nobody named Clinton is involved.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, May 26, 2015

May 27, 2015 Posted by | Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, Political Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Name An Accomplishment”: A Question Republicans Shouldn’t Ask

With her boffo appearance at CPAC, it became obvious why Carly Fiorina masquerades as a presidential candidate: She loves the attention! According to National Review, her CPAC remarks scored a hit, if only because she trashed Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State. Fiorina certainly proved her cred as a Fox News Republican. She eagerly parroted familiar talking points about Clinton – “Name an accomplishment!” – and accused Clinton of saying, “What difference does it make?” in response to the attack on the Benghazi consulate. Such craven willingness to lie for a cheap cheer at CPAC is all they – or we – need to know about Fiorina.

“Name an Accomplishment” is a game that everyone can play, however, and I daresay that Hillary Clinton and her avid defense team have plenty of answers. As for Fiorina, she came close to wrecking Hewlett-Packard, a major U.S. technology firm whose owners and shareholders hope never to see her face again. Many of her former colleagues there consider her utterly without qualifications for any role in government, no matter how small. (They make her sound like a pretty awful person, too.) Beyond her dubious résumé, Fiorina’s most memorable achievement was the moronic “Demon Sheep ad,” nominated by NPR’s Ken Rudin as “the worst political ad ever” – aired with her approval, of course.

Few former secretaries of state can actually point to a single, world-historical achievement distinguishing their tenure. Clinton went far, and not just literally, toward restoring American prestige and alliances after the nadir of the Bush administration.

As for Bush’s secretaries of state, both share responsibility for bringing this country to a very low point: Colin Powell with his infamous UN speech on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a decision that he has since disowned; and Condoleezza Rice, with her “mushroom cloud” fakery and a long series of lies on the same topic. Hundreds of thousands dead, still more grievously wounded and left homeless, trillions of dollars squandered, and a violent Islamist movement rising from the ruins: Now there’s a whole series of accomplishments! Neither Powell nor Rice is likely to be remembered for much else.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, February 27, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | CPAC, Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Are Our Memories Really So Short?”: It’s Impossible To Reconcile Members Of The Bush/Cheney Team Pretending To Have Credibility

Politico published a piece over the weekend about President Obama’s challenges in Iraq, which was otherwise unremarkable except for a quote about midway through the article.

“This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” said Doug Feith, a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration.

“They were pretty blase,” Feith said of the Obama team. “The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”

The piece added that Feith would, true to form, like to see the White House deploying a “residual force” to Iraq.

That Feith disagrees with the Obama administration hardly comes as a surprise, but what was striking about all of this is the context of his criticisms: Politico presents Feith’s condemnations as if they have value. Indeed, Feith is presented to readers as a credible voice whose assessments of U.S. policy in Iraq have merit.

The article never mentions, even in passing, that Feith was a national laughingstock during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration, getting practically everything about U.S. policy in Iraq backwards. General Tommy Franks, the former Commander of the U.S. Central Command, once famously referred to Feith as “the dumbest f***ing guy on the planet.”

And yet, there Feith is in Politico, taking shots at Obama, without so much as a hint that news consumers may – just may – want to take his perspective with a healthy dose of skepticism, given his humiliating track record.

Of course, my point is not to pick on Politico alone. It’s not the only major news organization that’s stumbled into familiar mistakes. Take the major Sunday shows, for example.

Bill Kristol, for example, was on “This Week” yesterday, sharing his criticisms of Obama’s handling of Iraq – and no one laughed in his face. On “Meet the Press,” viewers saw Paul Wolfowitz. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made not one, but two Sunday show appearances, popping up on “Face the Nation” and “State of the Union.”

When most media professionals reflect on the period preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there’s a general consensus that it was not American journalism’s finest hour. News organizations needed to be skeptical, but weren’t. Reporters needed to push back against dubious sources, but didn’t. Nearly everyone in the business realized that we’d all have to be better next time.

Over the weekend, then, it was hard not to wonder: are our memories really so short?

More broadly, it’s nearly impossible to reconcile members of the Bush/Cheney team pretending to have credibility. Feith is an easy target, but he’s hardly the only one: Dick Cheney is offering guidance to congressional Republicans on, of all things, foreign policy; Donald Rumsfeld still shows in face in public and is sought after in GOP circles; and Condoleezza Rice presents herself as a successful former official.

The political world never fully came to terms with the scope and the breadth of the Bush/Cheney failures. In more ways than one, we’re still dealing with the consequences.

Update: Regina Schrambling reminds me that Paul Bremer has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. It’s another piece of a twisted mosaic.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 16, 2014

June 17, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Appearances Are Deceiving”: Vastly Overblown, Susan Collins Is No Independent Moderate

I have always thought that Maine Senator Susan Collins reputation as a moderate voice of bi-partisan reasonableness was vastly overblown. That prejudice was confirmed again this week as Collins prostituted her credibility as a centrist to the gang bang Republicans, led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are waging against UN Ambassador Susan Rice.

According to Think Progress, the presumably independent-minded Collins repeated GOP talking points when she announced she’d have a hard time supporting Rice as the next Secretary of State if President Obama nominated her after comments she made on the Sunday talk shows two days after the Sept. 11 Benghazi terror attacks.

“It’s important that the Secretary of State enjoy credibility around the world, with Congress and here in our country as well,” said Collins, “and I am concerned that Susan Rice’s credibility may have been damaged by the misinformation that was presented that day. That’s one reason, as I said, that I wish she had just told the White House no, you should send a political person to be on those Sunday shows.”

Collins had no misgivings about confirming Condoleeza Rice when she was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the nation’s top diplomat, as Think Progress notes, despite the political role she played misleading the American people during the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq.

According to Think Progress, Collins “hammered home various GOP talking points” about concerns that Rice may have acted overly political in providing an overview of the Obama administration’s knowledge in the aftermath of the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and said that damaged Rice’s credibility to be the top State Department official.

Susan Collins is the political equivalent of the Great White Hope – that ever-elusive Republican who at least appears to be open towards working with Democrats on the other side. But appearances can be deceiving, and in our rush to anoint Collins as another Great Compromiser in the tradition of Webster, Clay and Calhoun we may fail to recognize the partisan wolf who resides in a moderate sheep’s clothing.

I learned that the hard way two years ago when I attended an awards dinner in Boston honoring historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Maine Senator Susan M. Collins.

I’d gone to the dinner along with 1,400 of New England’s movers and shakers to hear Goodwin, one of my heroes, reminisce about the joys of historical story-telling. But it was Collins who left the biggest impression with remarks that opened a window into the civil war currently raging for the soul of the Republican Party.

Collins has a reputation as an independent-minded moderate in a party that’s become ever more extreme over the past 15 years, a distinction she will briefly share with the two other New England “moderates” departing the Senate in the next Congress — Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Collins said all the right things to this New England audience about what makes our region’s politics unique: the retail style of living-room campaigning, the Town Meeting history of direct citizen involvement, the premium New Englanders place on no-nonsense Yankee problem-solving, and the hands-across-the-aisle tradition of bi-partisanship.

I did find it telling, though, that the only senators Collins mentioned by name were Lieberman, Dodd, and Kennedy: a turncoat, a lame duck and the dearly departed.

Given Collin’s reputation “as a thoughtful, effective legislator who works across party lines to seek consensus on our nation’s most pressing issues” (as the dinner’s program intoned) it was not surprising that Collins would be introduced by our evening’s host as the person who had followed in the footsteps of that other famous free spirit from Maine, Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

Smith, who detested Senator Joseph McCarthy from the start, is perhaps best known for the ringing “Declaration of Conscience” she delivered on the floor of the Senate on June 1, 1950, which earned her the epithet “Moscow Maggie” from McCarthy and his staff.

Her gauntlet was thrown less than four months after McCarthy’s own infamous Wheeling, West Virginia speech, in which he announced he had in his possession a list of Russian agents in the employ of the US government.

Smith’s Declaration attacked both the HUAC communist witch hunts then underway as well as laid out what Smith believed were the basic principles of “Americanism:” the right to criticize; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; and the right of independent thought.

Smith was a loyal Republican who said the Truman Administration had “lost the confidence of the American people” and should be replaced. But in words that now form an indelible part of American political history, Smith also said that to replace Truman “with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny – Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”

In her speech, Collins showed she has a long way to go if she wants to wear Maggie Smith’s mantle of patriotic, public-spirited statesmanship. Collins complained about the toxic partisanship poisoning politics in the nation’s capital, the loss of civility eating away at personal relationships, the extremism overtaking both major parties, and the vilification that awaits anyone (a.k.a. Collins herself) who tries to walk and work across party lines.

“I don’t know who first described politics as the ‘art of compromise,’ but that maxim, to which I have always subscribed, seems woefully unfashionable today,” said Collins. “Too few want to achieve real solutions; too many would rather draw sharp distinctions and score political points, even if that means neglecting the problems our country faces.”

Noble sentiments, all. But then you realize that the person who wants to “draw sharp distinctions” and “score political points” while neglecting “the problems our country faces” is Collins herself.

Rather than leverage her moderate standing to call out the bad behavior she claims to loathe, as Maggie Smith once did, Collins would rather trade on her reputation for evenhandedness in order to advance the Republican Party’s partisan prospects — whether it was in the 2010 mid-term elections two years ago or to pile on against Ambassador Rice today.

The great tragedy in America today is that there are so few leaders — in politics, the media or public life — who have the credibility to stand above the fray and be heard across partisan lines.

Every game needs it umpires and politics is no exception. However much we might genuflect to the Will of the People, we still need those adults who stand ready to mediate our disputes and differences, whose commitment to honesty, impartiality and disinterestedness is so obvious and so deep that we trust them implicitly to call balls and strikes and tell us “and that’s the way it is.”

Susan Collins was among those few we looked up to for an unbiased appraisal of current conditions – or as unbiased as is humanly possible in these hyperpolarized times. And that is why it was so dispiriting to find her making such patently self-serving remarks.

The far right of the GOP obviously got to her. That’s the most charitable explanation I can give for her obscene assertions that she’s never seen such “divisiveness and excessive partisanship” in the Senate before – ever. Or that partisan rancor is why the American people are so angry with incumbents — “particularly those who are in charge.”

Or that the reason Republicans “overuse the filibuster” is that Republicans are routinely shut out in a Senate that “used to pride itself on being a bastion of free and open debate.” Or that the way to promote greater harmony between parties is with “divided government and a more evenly split Senate.”

That’s right, to get along better what the county needs most is to elect more Tea Party Republicans who would see their own party spontaneously combust rather than see someone other than a far right extremist get elected. And those are South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s words, not mine.

Collins devoted her speech two years ago to New England’s political values and traditions. So, it’s only fitting, I think, to point out that while New England may indeed be the home of the elitist East Coast Establishment, with its Blue Bloods and Boston Brahmins who care more for the pedigree of one’s forbearers than the pedigree of one’s ideas, the New England ruling classes were also able to develop, however grudgingly, a tradition of public-spirited public service that contrasts sharply with the kind of narrowly ideological leadership historically found in other regions of the country, most notably the hierarchal, self-serving plantation-owning South, whose feudal ways have always made it the natural antagonist of scrappy, inventive New England.

New England’s WASP establishment did react with alarm, if not horror, to the invasion of Irish Catholics and others in the middle decades of the 19th century. And the nativist Know-Nothing Party that sprung up in reaction at that time (much like the Tea Party today) remains a black stain on the region’s legacy.

But from that experience, and the simple need to get along, New England’s conservative political elites gradually adopted the habits of a responsible leadership class, one rooted in the genuinely conservative values that promoted social peace and harmony by mediating differences between their community’s competing ethnic groups and classes.

The fact that New England is now considered the most liberal region of the country shows how easily certain American understandings of liberalism and conservatism can overlap. And this is the origin of New England’s liberal, nobblesse oblige brand of “Rockefeller” Republicanism that is now virtually extinct, whose leadership traits were unlike those habits developed by the ruling elites in other regions of the country, like the South, where the political establishment there found it expedient to preserve its privileges and power through divide and conquer politics that, rather than mediate differences, sought to provoke antagonisms within the population instead.

Much the same dynamic is playing out within a Republican Party today as it finds itself divided between those few moderates who see the connection between the responsibilities of national leadership and the need for cooperation and compromise — understanding that the only sustainable society is an inclusive one — and those rigid ideologues of the radical right who view compromise as a sign of betrayal to both cause and party, while they wall themselves up in their gated communities of body, mind and spirit.

Extremism is on the march everywhere, wrote Walter Lippmann during the calamities of the 1930s as civilization itself seemed to be coming apart because the liberal democracies had been tried and found wanting – both in their “capacity to govern successfully in this period of wars and upheaval but also in their ability to defend and maintain the political philosophy that underlies the liberal way of life.”

Yet, who is ready to stand up for the liberal way of life now? In 1950, a Republican Senator from Maine stood on the floor of the US Senate to denounce her own kind for shamelessly exploiting “the Four Horsemen of Calumny – Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”

Sixty years later, her successor stood before New England’s elite and embarrassed her region, its governing traditions and herself when she shamelessly exploited impartiality and civility itself for a few more votes.


By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, November 30, 2012

December 1, 2012 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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