Last week was one of the worst for Obama in his presidency. This week looks no better. Indeed, it may be a long, hot summer for the White House. As Jonathan has pointed out, the IRS scandal is growing bigger, seemingly by the minute. The Benghazi scandal is continuing to percolate.
Now, the brand-new AP scandal has erupted. This one, because the victims are newsmen, is likely to have a powerful effect on the mainstream media. If the Justice Department has been going after the phone records of AP reporters, what other reporters are having their privacy violated? Even the New York Times, which thought page 11 was just fine for the IRS scandal, put this one on page 1, above the fold. The White House is “dodging and weaving” today according to the Times.
But wait, there’s more, as the TV commercials have it.
In the wake of the latest New York City corruption scandal, the New York Times convened a panel to answer an interesting question: Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains, to our knowledge, above and disconnected from the sea of corruption around him; it is because rich politicians have less need for the money of others, and are therefore less corruptible?
Leave aside the low expectations–Bloomberg may be many things, but at least he’s no crook–and the liberal goggles through which the Times views the issue–Mitt Romney’s honest wealth makes him cold and out of touch; Bloomberg’s honest wealth makes him honest–and there is actually a very old question here about politics and the ideal nature of republican governance.
The rise and fall of Jesse L. Jackson Jr. provides an object lesson in the one kind of entitlement that Washington has yet to successfully wipe out. The former congressman pled guilty today to counts of wire and mail fraud in connection with his embezzlement of $750,000 in campaign funds. The son of the famed civil rights leader who once seemed likely to occupy Barack Obama’s Senate seat will instead soon be residing in federal prison for a few years.
He’s not the first crook to take up space in Congress and won’t be the last. But he does tell us a little about the way some of our political class regard the system over which they preside as well as the problems that can result when one parachutes into the system the way Jackson did. It also illustrates why the creation of Congressional rotten boroughs in Congress is not good for the health of the body politic.
Most politicians who run afoul of the law tend to fall into two categories.
According to the United Nations, Afghans spent $3.9 billion on bribery in 2012. According to the Associated Press report:
The cost of corruption in Afghanistan rose sharply last year to $3.9 billion, and half of all Afghans bribed public officials for services, the U.N. said Thursday. The findings came despite repeated promises by President Hamid Karzai to clean up his government… Lemahieu added the problem leads “towards alienation, frustration and a disconnect to those who should be able to give you the service provided.” Fifty percent of the adult population had to pay at least one bribe to a public official in 2012, a 9 percent drop from 2009, according to the findings, which were based on interviews last year with 6,700 Afghan adults from across the country. Meanwhile, the total cost of bribes paid to public officials increased 40 percent to $3.9 billion. That amount was double the revenue collected by the government to provide services, said [Jean-Luc] Lemahieu, head of the UNODC [U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime].
That’s nearly as much as the $4.1 billion Afghan National Security Forces need on an annual basis. In other words, if Afghanistan did not suffer the corruption problem it now does, it would be able to fund its own security forces absent endless subsidies.
There has been a lot of blowback in Afghanistan and Washington about the decision by U.S. military commanders to blacklist Kam Air, a large civilian airline, from receiving military contracts because it is allegedly used to ship tons of drugs to Central Asia. Predictably Kam Air is mobilizing its supporters, including Hamid Karzai, to denounce the U.S. action as an insult to a proud nation.
Hooey. There is nothing pro-Afghan about allowing U.S. government dollars to be used to support corruption and drug trafficking that is at odds with the values of the vast majority of ordinary Afghans. Yet for all too long U.S. spending has not been closely monitored and has gone to benefit kleptocrats and warlords, two categories that are almost synonymous in Afghanistan. Abusive government has been the Taliban’s biggest recruiting tool and U.S. failure to do more to stem the misuse of its funds the biggest mistake the U.S. has made during a decade of war.
Despite the Chinese government’s best efforts to block the spread and influence of social media, it appears that its stranglehold on information is slipping, forcing the government to take steps toward reform. Earlier this month, the Twitter feed administered by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing began to report on the dangerously toxic air quality in the capital. The New York Times reported on the government’s efforts to shut it down:
The existence of the embassy’s machine and the @BeijingAir Twitter feed have been a diplomatic sore point for Chinese officials. In July 2009, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official, Wang Shu’ai, told American diplomats to halt the Twitter feed, saying that the data “is not only confusing but also insulting,” according to a State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks. Mr. Wang said the embassy’s data could lead to “social consequences.”
When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey almost a decade ago, it promoted itself as a clean alternative after years of governance by corrupt parties and politicians. Many Turkish politicians made no secret of their desire to hold seats in parliament in order to shield themselves behind parliamentary immunity. The most prominent case was Cem Uzan, who created a party and almost bought his way into parliament after, as courts subsequently confirmed, he defrauded Motorola of more than a billion dollars.
AKP leader and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies, however, have been just as corrupt. As mayor of Istanbul and subsequently prime minister, Erdoğan accumulated tens of millions of dollars; as of 2008, before he completed his take-over of the judiciary, he faced 13 separate corruption cases. He retains immunity so long as he remains in parliament, but as soon as he leaves office, he is fair game for any independent prosecutor who remains. So too are his cabinet ministers who together face almost three dozen separate corruption probes. One Wikileaks cable reported AKP informants accusing several trusted Erdoğan aides—most notably current Minister for European Affairs Egemin Bağış—of corruption. Regarding Erdoğan, it said, “We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.”
Back in July, I wrote about the billions of dollars in aid given to the Palestinians by the United States and the continued lack of institution building with that money. I asked where the money goes, and noted that Jonathan Schanzer and Elliot Abrams were among those calling attention to Palestinian corruption by testifying at a congressional hearing on the subject. Corruption seems to be one of the prominent money wasters in Palestinian governance.
But it would be inaccurate to say the people don’t see any of the money. In fact, those who take part in the ongoing terror war against Israel see their share of it (a share that goes to their families if they choose “martyrdom” through suicide bombing). A portion of the Palestinian budget, and of foreign aid from some of Israel’s enemies abroad, is earmarked each year for violence. How much does such activity permeate Palestinian bookkeeping? The Times of Israel gives us a clue:
From the moment the International Olympic Committee (IOC) turned down the request to commemorate the deaths of Israeli Olympians killed in Munich forty years ago the tone was set for how the games would portray the international community. The Olympics are meant to spotlight sportsmanship and patriotism, but have given the games and many of their participants black eyes on the world stage.
The anti-Semitism exhibited by the opponents of the Munich moment of silence weren’t the only instances we’ve seen so far. Members of the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to Israelis. Commentators on Al-Jazeera derided Israel as the Israeli delegation entered the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. The Palestinian Olympic chief applauded the IOC’s decision to forgo a moment of silence for the Munich 11. Israeli swimmers were left without a security detail at a training camp outside of London, even in the wake of the Burgas terror attack. The London Olympics’ website couldn’t quite understand where the city of Jerusalem lies, first awarding it to “Palestine” as its capital, leaving Israel without a seat of power. The list of offenses against the Jewish state unfortunately goes on, and equally unfortunate, given how much time is left in the Olympics, there will no doubt be more to follow.
Even amidst the flurry of overt philo-Semitism that is the hallmark of President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive, some remnants of his less appealing foreign policy stands persist. One such anomaly is the administration campaign to restore American funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). U.S. law required Obama to cut off UNESCO after it admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full voting member of the group as part of the Arab effort to make an end run around the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian push for recognition of their independence without first making peace with Israel fizzled, but the president’s ardent love for the UN and its constituent agencies made him regret the fact that he was obligated to punish UNESCO.
There is little chance that Congress will amend the law so as to allow the flow of U.S. taxpayer cash to resume. But those supporting such a move got a boost recently when Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” did a segment intended to spoof the cutoff. The satire complimented UNESCO’s own efforts to persuade Americans that they are a collection of non-political do-gooders whose efforts are being hampered. But as Claudia Rosett writes in an important piece in The Weekly Standard, the truth about UNESCO is a familiar story for those who follow the world of international non-governmental organizations. The corruption of the agency and, in particular, its efforts in the African nation of Gabon (which was the focus of “The Daily Show’s” skits), serves as a warning of how the world body wastes American money intended for charitable purposes.