Commentary Magazine


Topic: corruption

How a Fugitive Family Bought the Obama W.H., Hillary, and Menendez

President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

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President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

The crux of the story is fairly simple. As the Times report begins:

The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.

The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.

It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.

The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.

The Times notes that there are essentially two dimensions to this family story. There are the family’s “patriarchs,” Roberto and William Isaías. They ran an Ecuadorian bank until, according to Ecuadorian authorities, they ran it into the ground. They stood accused of falsifying balance sheets in order to obtain access to bailout funds. The Ecuadorian government says this fraud cost the state $400 million. They were convicted and sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.

But they are not in prison. They are in Miami. (Yes, there is a difference.) They were sentenced in absentia and won’t be extradited.

Then there is Estefanía Isaías, whose case adds to the intrigue.

Estefanía was working as a television executive. She was also engaged in what American consular officials called “alien smuggling.” She was bringing people into the country under false pretenses so they could work as maids. For that, she was barred from entering the U.S.–and from a job with a major Obama campaign bundler–until recently when her ban was overturned by the Obama administration.

So how are they all free to live in the United States? The answer is as old as time: follow the money. Here’s what the Obama campaign got:

The Obama administration then reversed its decision and gave Ms. Isaías the waiver she needed to come to the United States — just as tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the family poured into Mr. Obama’s campaign coffers.

An email from Mr. Menendez’s office sharing the good news was dated May 15, 2012, one day after, campaign finance records show, Ms. Isaías’s mother gave $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, which provided donations to the president and other Democrats. …

In 2012, the Isaías family donated about $100,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. Campaign finance records show that their most generous donations came just before a request to the administration.

And Menendez:

Ms. Isaías’s mother, María Mercedes, had recently donated $30,000 to the Senate campaign committee that Mr. Menendez led when she turned to him for help in her daughter’s case. At least two members of Mr. Menendez’s staff worked with Ms. Isaías and her father, as well as lawyers and other congressional offices, to argue that she had been unfairly denied entry into the United States.

Over the course of the next year, as various members of the Isaías family donated to Mr. Menendez’s re-election campaign, the senator and his staff repeatedly made calls, sent emails and wrote letters about Ms. Isaías’s case to Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Mills, the consulate in Ecuador, and the departments of State and Homeland Security.

After months of resistance from State Department offices in Ecuador and Washington, the senator lobbied Ms. Mills himself, and the ban against Ms. Isaías was eventually overturned.

And Hillary Clinton:

But the case involving Estefanía could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time high-ranking officials overruled the agency’s ban on Ms. Isaías for immigration fraud, and whose office made calls on the matter.

Alfredo J. Balsera, the Obama fund-raiser whose firm, Balsera Communications, sponsored Ms. Isaías’s visa, was featured recently in USA Today as a prominent Latino fund-raiser backing Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

In declaring his candidacy for president in 2007, Obama took aim at special interests “who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He continued: “They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that kind of politics is over.”

Obama has not only not changed the culture of Washington, but arguably made it more insular and susceptible to influence-buying, essentially turning the White House into eBay for ambassadorships, for example. If you’ve got your checkbook with you, Obama and Hillary and Menendez are all about constituent services. Obama’s Washington has never been for anyone other than elites and donors. And it’s never been clearer than it is today.

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Anticorruption or Power Grab in China?

After Stalin died, his longtime secret police chief, the sadistic Lavrentiy Beria, was arrested and shot in 1953 on the orders of the Politburo. A similar fate–minus, for the time being, the execution–seems to have befallen Zhou Yongkang, a former head of the Politburo Standing Committee in China with responsibility for domestic security. On the orders of President Xi Jingping, and with the compliance of the Politburo, he has been arrested and charged with a raft of offenses including bribery, disclosing state secrets, and adultery.

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After Stalin died, his longtime secret police chief, the sadistic Lavrentiy Beria, was arrested and shot in 1953 on the orders of the Politburo. A similar fate–minus, for the time being, the execution–seems to have befallen Zhou Yongkang, a former head of the Politburo Standing Committee in China with responsibility for domestic security. On the orders of President Xi Jingping, and with the compliance of the Politburo, he has been arrested and charged with a raft of offenses including bribery, disclosing state secrets, and adultery.

His arrest is shocking because in the past current and retired Communist kingpins were considered invulnerable. No longer. The Bo Xilai arrest was only a start to a wider purge of corrupt officials that Xi Jinping is carrying out. But is good government really his motive–or is he simply interested in accumulating more power for himself and is he using the anti-corruption crusade as a cover to depose various rivals?

There is division on this question among Sinologists but the bulk of the evidence points to the latter conclusion–that Xi Jinping is accumulating personal power unprecedented for any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong under the guise of fighting corruption. Indeed it is striking that, even amid this anti-corruption campaign, China is viewed in the Transparency International survey as being more corrupt than ever.

China actually dropped 20 places to rank 100th in corruption among the 175 nations surveyed. The New York Times quotes a Transparency International spokesman saying that the anticorruption drive is missing “stronger laws on bribery, access to information, whistle-blower protection, more open budgets and asset declarations.” In short, what is missing is the rule of law.

Unfortunately, it appears that China is not seeing the impartial application of rules against bribery. What it is seeing is a highly selective personal vendetta carried out by one Communist boss against other Communist bosses. That is not going to reduce the longterm questions about China’s future, which is undermined by corruption and lack of accountability and freedom

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The Worst Part of the IRS Asset-Seizure Abuse: Expect It to Continue

There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

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There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances.”

Richard Weber, the chief of Criminal Investigation at the I.R.S., said in a written statement, “This policy update will ensure that C.I. continues to focus our limited investigative resources on identifying and investigating violations within our jurisdiction that closely align with C.I.’s mission and key priorities.” He added that making deposits under $10,000 to evade reporting requirements, called structuring, is still a crime whether the money is from legal or illegal sources. The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

Not nearly enough about the policy will change, nor will the law allowing it. And there won’t be consequences for those clearly abusing this authority. The IRS simply promises to use better discretion in deciding whose bank accounts they will–literally!–raid.

If you want a description of what happens when a federal agency operates with impunity and is incentivized to go trolling for cash, this is it. And the head of the relevant IRS department, after being exposed as the chief pillager, declares that you can trust him to pillage more responsibly. Any government that condones this is fundamentally at odds with the basic pillars of liberty, including presumption of innocence, due process, and private property protections. At least The Sopranos could be funny.

As the IRS goes blundering and plundering through America’s piggy banks, it’s important to revisit how we got here. Here is the explanation of the law in the Times piece:

The practice has swept up dairy farmers in Maryland, an Army sergeant in Virginia saving for his children’s college education and Ms. Hinders, 67, who has borrowed money, strained her credit cards and taken out a second mortgage to keep her restaurant going.

Their money was seized under an increasingly controversial area of law known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agents to take property they suspect of being tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

Critics say this incentive has led to the creation of a law enforcement dragnet, with more than 100 multiagency task forces combing through bank reports, looking for accounts to seize. Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks and other financial institutions must report cash deposits greater than $10,000. But since many criminals are aware of that requirement, banks also are supposed to report any suspicious transactions, including deposit patterns below $10,000. Last year, banks filed more than 700,000 suspicious activity reports. Owners who are caught up in structuring cases often cannot afford to fight. The median amount seized by the I.R.S. was $34,000, according to the Institute for Justice analysis, while legal costs can easily mount to $20,000 or more.

Aside from the abuse of power–a pattern with the IRS, isn’t it?–this is a story about unintended consequences as well. The government put a regulation in place to catch depositors’ ill-gotten gains. Since criminals pay close attention to the laws they don’t follow, they started easily avoiding the paperwork. So the government simply cast a wider net, creating an air of suspicion around anyone who deposited less than $10,000. If that sounds like a lot of people to you, well, you’d be right, wouldn’t you?

One major objection to the sheer amount of regulation–especially that which is aimed at the financial industries–is that it virtually guarantees that anyone without a lobbyist and a D.C. lawyer on retainer will break the law fairly regularly. This is in part because so many of those laws are convoluted, nonsensical, or unconstitutional, and also because power corrupts and federal agencies have all the power.

This is your federal government in 2014: everyone’s a suspect. Madison is turning in his grave.

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“It’s Called the Department of Justice. It’s Not Called the Department of Revenue.”

In 2007, a huge forest fire burned 65,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada in California and neighboring states. The Justice Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) went after Sierra Pacific, the largest landowner in California, claiming its logging operations had caused the fire when a bulldozer hit a rock and struck a spark. Knuckling under to the enormous leverage government has in even civil litigation, Sierra Pacific, which claimed it was innocent, settled for $55 million and 22,500 acres of forest land, which was to be deeded over to the federal government.

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In 2007, a huge forest fire burned 65,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada in California and neighboring states. The Justice Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) went after Sierra Pacific, the largest landowner in California, claiming its logging operations had caused the fire when a bulldozer hit a rock and struck a spark. Knuckling under to the enormous leverage government has in even civil litigation, Sierra Pacific, which claimed it was innocent, settled for $55 million and 22,500 acres of forest land, which was to be deeded over to the federal government.

But in an almost unprecedented action this month, the chief judge of the eastern district of California, Morrison C. England, Jr., has ordered all federal judges in the district to recuse themselves from the case and has asked the chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal to appoint an outside judge, stating the possibility of a fraud upon the court by the Justice Department. A fraud upon the court happens when one party deliberately misleads the court in order to win a case. The chief judge, Alex Kozinski, is likely to oblige, as he has been seriously alarmed by what he calls an “epidemic” of prosecutorial misconduct in recent years.

Sierra Pacific claims that,

The United States presented false evidence to the Defendants and the Court; advanced arguments to the Court premised on that false evidence; or, for which material evidence had been withheld, and obtaining court rulings based thereon; prepared key Moonlight Fire [as this fire was called] investigators for depositions, and allowed them to repeatedly give false testimony about the most important aspects of their investigation; and failed to disclose the facts and circumstances associated with the Moonlight Fire lead investigator’s direct financial interest in the outcome of the investigation arising from an illegal bank account that has since been exposed and terminated.

Their evidence is the sworn testimony of two assistant U.S. attorneys, one of whom was fired from the case for raising ethical considerations and another who quit in disgust as it became plain to him that the Justice Department’s actions in this case were not to find justice but to extract a lucrative settlement, saying,“It’s called the Department of Justice. It’s not called the Department of Revenue.”

The state case against Sierra Pacific has also fallen apart. The state judge not only decided against the state’s case for lack of sufficient evidence, but also ordered it to pay $30 million in attorney’s fees. He wrote in his decision that, “the misconduct is so pervasive that it would serve no purpose for the Court to attempt to recite it all here.” But he recites enough: “CalFire failed to comply with discovery orders and directives, destroyed critical evidence, failed to produce documents it should have produced months earlier, and engaged in a systematic campaign of misdirection with the purpose of recovering money from the defendants.”

The Justice Department under Eric Holder is not only using its power for illicit reasons, it is divvying up the money with its favored pals. The stench of corruption at Justice is becoming overpowering. If this had come out prior to January 20th, 2009, it would be a front-page-above-the-fold story.

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Bridgegate, the Media, and Lessons for 2016

The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

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The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

That means that if Christie really is exonerated–which he has been insisting he would be for months–conservatives should expect the leftist press to choose a new target. Although the coverage of this scandal leaves the mainstream press looking utterly humiliated, they won’t be humbled. A good precedent is when the New York Times concocted false accusations against John McCain in 2008 intended to destroy not just his campaign but his family; after the story was called out for the unethical hit job it was, especially on the right, then-Times editor Bill Keller responded: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”

Getting called out for bias only makes the media more likely to give in to its vindictive instincts. This is the press version of an in-kind contribution, and those contributions don’t go to Republican campaigns.

In January conservative media watchers were passing around the statistics that showed the lopsided coverage the media was giving “Bridgegate” vs. the IRS scandal. One of the charts, which showed dedicated coverage over a fixed period of time, bothered reporters. In one of the unconvincing “defenses” of his fellow journalists, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza objected:

The comparison made in this chart in terms of coverage is not an apples to apples one.  The IRS story broke on May 10. That’s a full 52 days before the Media Research Center began counting the minutes of news coverage devoted to it. The Christie story, on the other hand, broke in the Bergen Record on Jan. 8, the same day that MRC began tracking its mentions in the media.

What Cillizza actually demonstrated, unintentionally, was a far worse aspect of the coverage that was tougher to quantify but jumps off the screen from Cillizza’s post. And that is the general lack of interest on the part of reporters in digging into the government’s shocking misconduct–you know, practicing journalism. The lack of curiosity has been astounding.

As our Pete Wehner wrote the other day, forget basic reporting: the press ignored a genuine piece of Benghazi-related news when it fell in their laps. That’s how the IRS developments happened too. The initial story was announced in the IRS’s attempt to get out in front of a report that had discovered the abuse of power and was going to detail its findings. The IRS decided to try to spin the news in advance to take control of the story.

And the recent revelations of the IRS’s ongoing strategy of destroying evidence during the investigation were brought to the public’s attention by the group Judicial Watch, which has been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents. The latest piece of news, that Attorney General Eric Holder’s office tried to coordinate a strategy with House Democrats to blunt the impact of future revelations about the IRS’s illegal targeting scheme, came to light because Holder’s office accidentally called Darrell Issa’s office instead of Democrat Elijah Cummings.

The difference in media coverage was only part of the story, then. The more serious part was that the media is just not doing their jobs when the target of the investigation is the Obama administration. That doesn’t mean all reporters, of course, or that they’re ignoring all stories. But the pattern is pretty clear: when we learn something about Obama administration misbehavior, it’s generally not from reporters, many of whom eventually get hired by the Obama administration.

The other aspect of the coverage gap is the type of story. Surely Cillizza thinks a staffer closing lanes on a bridge, however indefensible, is a different caliber of story than the IRS, at the encouragement of high-ranking Democrats, undertaking a targeting scheme to silence Obama’s critics in the lead-up to his reelection. Cillizza was right, in other words: conservatives weren’t comparing apples to apples. But he was wrong in thinking that stacked the deck in favor of conservatives’ conclusion; the opposite was the case.

We’ve already seen this with other prospective GOP 2016 candidates. When Wisconsin prosecutors initiated a wide-ranging “John Doe” investigation intended to silence conservative groups and voters in Wisconsin and level false allegations against Scott Walker, the media ran with the story. It turned out that the investigation was so unethical that those prosecutors now stand accused broad civil-rights violations. But the point of the coverage is to echo the false allegations against Walker, not to get the story right. So the media moved on.

And they moved on to Rick Perry, who was the target of an indictment so demented that only the most extreme liberals defended it. The point of the case, though, was to get headlines announcing Perry’s indictment. This one may have backfired because it was so insane that, aside from former Obama advisor Jim Messina, Rachel Maddow, and a couple writers for liberal magazines, the left tried to distance themselves from it. But the fact remains: Rick Perry is under indictment.

The criminalization of politics is part of the left’s broader lawfare strategy. This is the sort of thing repellent to democratic values and certainly should draw critical attention from the press. Instead, they’ve chosen to enable it.

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Will IRS’s Strategy of Destroying Evidence Pay Off?

If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

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If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

It’s a direct challenge to the media, in other words.

There are two aspects to the latest news. The first is that, according to Judicial Watch, the Justice Department believes Lerner’s records are backed up, but don’t want to put in the effort to find them:

Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe.  The Obama administration attorneys said that this back-up system would be too onerous to search.  The DOJ attorneys also acknowledged that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is investigating this back-up system.

We obviously disagree that disclosing the emails as required would be onerous, and plan to raise this new development with Judge Sullivan.

This is a jaw-dropping revelation.  The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails. There are no “missing” Lois Lerner emails – nor missing emails of any of the other top IRS or other government officials whose emails seem to be disappearing at increasingly alarming rate. All the focus on missing hard drives has been a diversion. The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be – but dishonestly withheld this information. You can bet we are going to ask the court for immediate assistance in cutting through this massive obstruction of justice.

The second piece of news is pointed out by the New York Observer:

In two elusive and nebulous sworn declarations, we can glean that Ms. Lerner had two Blackberries. One was issued to her on November 12, 2009. According to a sworn declaration, this is the Blackberry that contained all the emails (both sent and received) that would have been in her “Outlook” and drafts that never were sent from her Blackberry during the relevant time.

With incredible disregard for the law and the Congressional inquiry, the IRS admits that this Blackberry “was removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012.” This is a year after her hard drive “crash” and months after the Congressional inquiry began.

So the IRS attempted to destroy evidence of the emails after the investigation began, and those emails might still exist somewhere beyond the reach of the government officials in charge of destroying the evidence. Again, this is a direct challenge to the media: the IRS is expecting either a pass or scandal fatigue to play to their advantage. That is, they are hoping to set a precedent that the government can get away with heavyhanded abuse of its power so long as it destroys enough of the evidence once an investigation commences.

It is especially a challenge to the press if it’s true that the emails still exist but the government doesn’t want to go through the hassle of finding them. It’s actually more brazen, in some ways, than even trying to destroy them. It’s the sign of a government with nothing but pure contempt for the people. As Walter Russell Mead argues:

But if Fitton’s claim is true, then the IRS scandal really has arrived, and it is difficult not to conclude that we are dealing with a genuine constitutional crime. This wouldn’t be a matter of bribes or personal blackmail or sexual misconduct or any of the ordinary forms of corruption that are unfortunately far too common. Rather, it’s about the deliberate use of the power of the federal government to go after political opponents, and then a desperate attempt by others to cover it up. We’re still hoping that this story is exposed to a lot more light (and perhaps less heat), but the more we see, the worse and worse it looks.

Indeed, it would go beyond the sadly all-too-routinized forms of corruption, which are bad enough. The newest round of revelations describe a government agency (and its elected allies) not only thoroughly corrupted but also insistent on its entitlement to stand above accountability. The allegations warrant front-page headlines from the country’s major newspapers, surely. So where are they?

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Why Billions to Rebuild Gaza Will Go to Waste Yet Again

Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

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Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

Serry, who apparently inhabits a parallel universe, blithely asserted that the UN has successfully monitored projects in Gaza in the past and can do so today as well. This, of course, is the same UN that was shocked to discover Hamas rockets stored in three UNRWA schools in Gaza–and then promptly handed the rockets back to Hamas. It’s the same UN that allowed Hamas to booby-trap a UN clinic, resulting in its destruction when Hamas blew it up to kill nearby Israeli soldiers. It’s the same UN whose Gaza teacher’s union–i.e., the people who educate students at UNRWA schools–is run by Hamas, which controls all 11 seats on the union’s board, and whose “educators” include prominent members of Hamas’s military wing. And it’s the same UN whose own auditor recently released a damning report on the UN Development Program’s procurement in Gaza.

Inter alia, this report found that contract employees performed “core” procurement tasks that only regular staffers are supposed to perform, including for “significant” construction projects; that the UN wasn’t “monitoring and recording actual work” performed by contract employees handling “core” functions; that at least $8 million in construction spending was falsely recorded at far lower prices, thereby shielding it from scrutiny by higher-level officials who must approve major outlays; that many payments and receipts weren’t recorded; and that UNDP didn’t use an electronic fund transfer system that would let it monitor bank transactions and detect those “not made by UNDP.” In short, contrary to Serry’s assertion that “UN construction materials were not used for the [Hamas] tunnels,” the UN has no clue what was happening at its construction programs in Gaza.

Thus believing the UN could effectively monitor Gaza’s reconstruction is like believing cats can guard cream. Yet the main alternative–entrusting this task to the Palestinian Authority, bolstered by some unspecified “international monitoring and verification mission,” as the EU-3 proposes–is equally unrealistic.

Writing in The New Republic this week, Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky made a thoughtful case for the PA alternative, despite acknowledging that the PA is “monumentally corrupt.” And in principle, I agree with them. The fact that education, health, welfare, and development are currently largely handled by UNRWA encourages dysfunctional Palestinian government; Palestinian leaders can get away with being corrupt, irresponsible, and even diverting massive resources into rockets and tunnels precisely because the international community takes care of providing basic services to the public. Thus it’s long past time to defund UNRWA and force Palestinian governments–whether the PA or Hamas–to take responsibility for their own people.

But as veteran reporter Khaled Abu Toameh wrote this week, the idea that PA President Mahmoud Abbas can reassume control of Gaza now is ridiculous. First, he can’t afford to be seen as returning to Gaza “aboard an Israeli tank.” Second, Hamas remains the dominant military power in Gaza; Abbas’s forces are incapable of doing anything Hamas opposes, and even trying would be dangerous: Over the past month, Hamas has shot dozens of members of Abbas’s Fatah party just for daring to leave their homes. In other words, the PA can neither stop Hamas from firing rockets nor prevent it from diverting reconstruction aid. So all its return to Gaza would do is free Hamas of responsibility for day-to-day governance and allow it to focus all its energies on preparing for the next war.

In short, no international monitoring system can keep Hamas from rebuilding its war machine as long as it remains the dominant force in Gaza. And since the international community is vehemently opposed to letting Israel wage the kind of military operation needed to destroy Hamas, that means the billions it will soon spend to rebuild Gaza will be as wasted as all the previous billions were: All the gleaming new buildings will be destroyed again in another few years, when the next war erupts.

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More Stalling from the “Most Transparent Administration Ever”

The job of an inspector general is to root out fraud, waste, and abuse in the various government departments, boards, agencies, etc. It was the Treasury IG who blew the whistle on Lois Lerner and the IRS for discriminating against conservative groups.

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The job of an inspector general is to root out fraud, waste, and abuse in the various government departments, boards, agencies, etc. It was the Treasury IG who blew the whistle on Lois Lerner and the IRS for discriminating against conservative groups.

Under the Inspector General Act of 1978 IGs have a right to unimpeded access, “to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other material available.” Only another federal law explicitly limiting access can override that. And yet the Obama administration is doing its level best to impede the investigations of several inspectors general, at the Department of Justice, the EPA, and the Peace Corps.

The situation is so bad that no fewer than 47 of the 73 inspectors general in the federal government, almost two-thirds of them, have written a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Thomas Carper, chairmen of the relevant congressional committees, to complain about the stalling tactics and refusals to provide documents for specious reasons, such as attorney-client privilege. (As the government is the client, a government attorney has no right to claim privilege when another part of the government, the IG, asks for access.) According to Rep. Issa, the letter is unprecedented. “This is the majority of all inspectors general saying not just in the examples they gave, but government wide, they see a pattern that is making them unable to do their job.”

The lawlessness of the Obama administration seems to have no bounds and yet the mainstream media has shown little interest in this story. The “paper of record” has not covered it at all. Had this happened in the Bush administration, it would have been front-page-above-the-fold news.

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Narendra Modi for President!

Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, promised in his campaign to clean up the notoriously slovenly ways of the Indian bureaucracy. According to the Washington Posthe is doing exactly that. As the Post explains:

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Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, promised in his campaign to clean up the notoriously slovenly ways of the Indian bureaucracy. According to the Washington Posthe is doing exactly that. As the Post explains:

Babudom [“Babu” is the nickname for a member of the upper echelons of the bureaucracy] is now in peril. Modi signaled as much in the early days of his administration, when he summoned about 70 of the government’s top civil servants, gave them his personal cellphone number and e-mail address, and said it was time for work. A circular appeared the next day with what has been called Modi’s “11 Commandments” — orders to clean work spaces, shorten forms, weed out old files and review goals.

When the Home Ministry (roughly the equivalent of the Department of the Interior) cleaned out 150,000 files, they found some that went back to the British Raj. Then they allegedly compiled a list of bureaucrats known to frequent golf courses and stay at five-star hotels and sent it to the prime minister’s office. It seems to be working. About 200 babus were members of the elite Delhi Golf Club. Many have now resigned from the club and others are teeing off at 5:30 a.m. The prime minister is given to calling ministers on their landlines just to make sure they are in their offices.

Barack Obama is totally uninterested in managing the government he heads. That’s why he only finds out about, say, the mess at the Veterans Administration when he reads about it in the papers. But that’s part of the president’s job whether he likes it or not. And Republican presidential hopefuls for 2016 would be well advised to take a leaf from Modi’s playbook. The federal bureaucracy is nowhere near as corrupt, convoluted, rule-ridden, and slothful as the Indian one, which is the gold standard of bureaucratic inertia and dysfunction. But it is corrupt, convoluted, rule-ridden, and slothful enough. The federal government was last fundamentally reorganized in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the Hoover Commissions. The world has changed profoundly in the last sixty years and the government has not. Promising thoroughgoing government reform and reorganization, while riding herd on the bureaucracy, is a winning issue.

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Obama’s Awful Poll Reflects His PR Strategy

The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Americans believe Barack Obama to be the worst post-World War II president demonstrates that, in a perverse way, Obama’s PR strategy is working. The key part of the poll, which shows Americans overall coming to the realization that Obama’s presidency has been disastrous, is that a majority consider the president to be incompetent. Where would they get that idea? From the president himself, to judge by his characteristic responses to the manifold corruption and abuse-of-power scandals emanating from his White House.

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The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Americans believe Barack Obama to be the worst post-World War II president demonstrates that, in a perverse way, Obama’s PR strategy is working. The key part of the poll, which shows Americans overall coming to the realization that Obama’s presidency has been disastrous, is that a majority consider the president to be incompetent. Where would they get that idea? From the president himself, to judge by his characteristic responses to the manifold corruption and abuse-of-power scandals emanating from his White House.

Quinnipiac writes: “American voters say 54 – 44 percent that the Obama Administration is not competent running the government. The president is paying attention to what his administration is doing, 47 percent say, while 48 percent say he does not pay enough attention.” This is, in general, the president’s own strategy at work.

Back in May, the Washington Free Beacon’s David Rutz compiled a supercut of Obama and his spokesmen claiming he learned about various scandals from the media:

The latest ugly story that the White House claims Obama only learned of from the news is the VA scandal, where veterans’ hospitals around the country have mistreated or forgotten veterans seeking medical care.

“If you mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your network out of Phoenix, I believe we learned about them through the reports,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney Monday. “I will double-check if that’s not the case. But that’s when we learned about them, and that’s when, as I understand it, Secretary Shinseki learned about them and immediately took the action that he has taken, including instigating his own review — or initiating his own review, but also requesting that the Inspector General investigate.”

The story about the Justice Department seizing records from the Associated Press? The news that the IRS had deliberately targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status? The Fast & Furious gun-running scandal? That time the plane flew over Manhattan without authorization?

Obama learned about all of it on the news.

Obama has had to choose between two unpalatable options. Either he was aware of what he and his administration were doing, or he wasn’t. The latter is absurd and not remotely credible in some cases, but Obama sees it as preferable to the former, which would be openly admitting to the corruption the rest of the country sees unfolding practically daily.

Some attempts to absolve the president from his own presidency have been downright comical. Here, for example, was David Axelrod last year echoing conservative and libertarian critiques of the government in defense of Obama:

SCARBOROUGH: He’s saying to those at the University of Chicago’s school of politics, to students, to others, when they’re talking about looking at the IRS scandal and what an administration should or should not do.

AXELROD: Look, it’s an interesting case study because if you look at the inspector general’s report, apparently some folks down in the bureaucracy — you know we have a large government — took it upon themselves to shorthand these applications for tax-exempt status in a way that was, as I said, idiotic, and also dangerous because of the political implications. One prima facie bit of evidence that nobody political was involved in this, is that if anybody political was involved they would say: are you nuts?

Part of being president is there’s so much underneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast.

Obama’s defenders are so desperate to avoid blame that they’ll even, as a last resort, take refuge in the idea that conservatives are right about the size and scope of the federal government. It’s true that government is so unwieldy as to insulate it from accountability and thus foster unmanageability and ultimately corruption. But this does not absolve the left. After all, Obama and his party want to continuously, recklessly expand the government even while claiming that doing so makes it impossible to govern properly.

And in this way Obama’s defenders end up indicting their hero (and themselves) anyway. The corruption they are enabling either helps them politically, as in the case of the IRS targeting Obama’s opponents, or perpetuates a fiction necessary to the liberal project, such as the Veterans Affairs scandal in which the failures of government-run health care were covered up rather than admitted while veterans died waiting for care.

Obama’s defense, then, has been incompetence. Perhaps that’s the silver lining in this poll, though also a warning: it might only be his incompetence that saves him from an even worse rating.

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Are Lois Lerner’s Emails Really Lost?

I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

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I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

John Hinderaker at Power Line has a great deal of experience in accessing emails in the course of legal discovery. He’s blunt: “The Obama administration is lying, and lying in a remarkably transparent way.” He points out that even if the email server were erased after a period of time, the IRS has elaborate protocols for the permanent storage of all electronic communications. Hinderaker also notes that even if a hard drive crashes, the information stored on it can usually be recovered. He politely offers to help:

One more thing: if it were true that the only copies of many thousands of emails existed on Lois Lerner’s desktop computer–which is certainly not true–and that computer’s hard drive crashed in 2011, the emails would in all probability be recoverable. Even if Lerner threw her computer into a lake, which has been known to happen. One of the world’s most famous data recovery firms is located here in the Twin Cities, and I would be happy to send Barack Obama the name and phone number of a person who, in all likelihood, could recover Lerner’s “lost” emails from her supposedly crashed hard drive. Even if the computer has been lying at the bottom of a lake since 2011.

Fox and Friends this morning reported that in addition to nightly email backups and permanent storage on another medium, IRS regulations require individuals to make paper backups of anything that falls under the rubric of a “federal record.”

The administration is desperately hoping that by making this public on a summer Friday afternoon, it will all have blown over by Monday morning, especially with the onrush of other news stories, such as the gathering debacle in Iraq, and the latter-day children’s crusade on our southern border. I doubt that will happen. I think enough elements of the media smell blood. If the Obama administration is caught in a bald-faced lie here, its political support might well collapse, just as Nixon’s did in the fall of 1973. That would sell a lot of newspapers.

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Where Is America’s Anti-Corruption Strategy?

Boko Haram’s kidnapping schoolgirls and its threats to sell them like chattel horrifies the international community, highlights the dangers of certain strains of Islamist thought, and has led to a decision to utilize American assets to help locate the hostages. There may be much more to the story than simply the headlines, however. It’s no secret that Nigeria is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Indeed, some reports place the embezzlement by Nigerian leaders at $400 billion since 1960.

A report in the Italian daily Il Foglio yesterday highlighted the rumors that Boko Haram couldn’t have conducted its operation without the complicity of corrupt officials. The Open Source Center provided a translation:

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Boko Haram’s kidnapping schoolgirls and its threats to sell them like chattel horrifies the international community, highlights the dangers of certain strains of Islamist thought, and has led to a decision to utilize American assets to help locate the hostages. There may be much more to the story than simply the headlines, however. It’s no secret that Nigeria is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Indeed, some reports place the embezzlement by Nigerian leaders at $400 billion since 1960.

A report in the Italian daily Il Foglio yesterday highlighted the rumors that Boko Haram couldn’t have conducted its operation without the complicity of corrupt officials. The Open Source Center provided a translation:

Some sources, that Il Foglio has spoken with, referred to the possible involvement of members of the police and the intelligence services in transforming the high school students into human shields, to prevent the intervention of the military. The second reason that makes international intervention necessary is the high level of corruption in the country, from which it is alleged that the jihadist groups, led by Abubakar Shekau, also profit. These groups allegedly benefit from consolidated collusion among certain political and government circles. On Sunday came news alleging that the former Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, had his passport withdrawn on direct orders from the President, Goodluck Jonathan, and that he has been prevented from leaving the country to go to France. Sanusi was suspended in February from his post as Governor of the central bank, after accusing the national oil company of having fraudulently siphoned off more than 14 billion euros from public funds. Some of these funds allegedly later ended up, according to our talking-partners, in the hands of important political and government figures, as well as — and this is even more deplorable — in the hands of Boko Haram, in order to guarantee the security of oil installations. Obviously Lamido Sanusi was allegedly stopped, before his departure for France, by none other than the men from the “Secret Service for the Security of the State.” In other words, the security service that is most compromised with the Boko Haram jihadists.

Just because a European paper says it doesn’t make it true, nor does it diminish the ideological and theological component to Boko Haram. But it is important to recognize that corruption likely enables such groups to thrive, be it Boko Haram in northern Nigeria or Osama Bin Laden monitoring al-Qaeda from Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Back in 2005, I wrote a piece for Lebanon’s Daily Star calling corruption the real bane of the Middle East. I shouldn’t have limited that to the Middle East, however. While terrorism victimizes hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, corruption impacts hundreds of millions. It threatens to unravel all that has been done in Afghanistan, and it continues to undercut Iraq’s growth and development. While the State Department often talks about the need for foreign aid, it does far less to explain how that aid will be shielded from the impact of corruption or, indeed, whether flooding a country with money and resources might actually make that corruption worse. The World Bank, for its part, is no better: rather than address growing corruption, it simply ignores it or covers it up.

Corruption did not cause Boko Haram nor create al-Qaeda, nor does it alone explain the Taliban. Nevertheless, the failure of the West to create a comprehensive strategy to root out corruption enables the phenomenon to spread like a cancer, depressing societal immunity, and enabling groups like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda a broader ability to act. Rather than throw millions of dollars at problems as they occur, perhaps it is time for Secretary of State John Kerry to outline what America is doing to weed out corruption among its aid recipients, and the metrics if any that the State Department is using to judge its success.

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Who Buys Votes? Incumbents, Not the Rich

The furor over the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission handed down yesterday revolves, as I wrote earlier, around the problems liberals have with the First Amendment’s protections of political speech. But what liberals claim they are seeking to protect is the integrity of our democratic process from those seeking to buy the votes or the influence of public officials. Given the stringent rules that exist to limit the behavior of officeholders, the line between making your voice heard and a corrupt quid pro quo can be hazy at times, but it is still there. Yet what often goes unnoticed or is, in fact, tolerated, is a different sort of corruption that is far more common than millionaires purchasing members of Congress. As Byron York wrote yesterday in the Washington Examiner, the ability of incumbent politicians to raid the public treasury for expenditures to buy the votes of certain constituencies is not only legal, it is the most decisive form of campaign finance available.

York went to Louisiana to report on the uphill race of Senator Mary Landrieu, an ObamaCare supporting Democrat seeking reelection in an increasingly deep red state. Polls show her in a dead heat against likely Republican opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy. But, as York found out, a lot of people whom one would think would be working to defeat Landrieu—including at least one local GOP official—are backing her. Why? Because Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate, has been lavishing some of New Orleans’ white suburbs—whose swing voters will probably decide the election—with a deluge of federal money, including a loan forgiveness provision inserted into a Homeland Security Appropriations bill, and every manner of post-Hurricane Katrina disaster funding known to the federal government.

While the ability of incumbents to use earmarks to feather their own political nests was supposedly banned by new rules, it appears Landrieu and most of her colleagues are undaunted by the regulations that were supposed to make it harder for members of the House and Senate to selectively fund favored constituencies while portraying themselves as hard-working servants of the people. As York makes clear, Mary Landrieu is buying more votes in Louisiana with taxpayer money than any Republican with access to the checkbooks of the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson ever could.

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The furor over the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission handed down yesterday revolves, as I wrote earlier, around the problems liberals have with the First Amendment’s protections of political speech. But what liberals claim they are seeking to protect is the integrity of our democratic process from those seeking to buy the votes or the influence of public officials. Given the stringent rules that exist to limit the behavior of officeholders, the line between making your voice heard and a corrupt quid pro quo can be hazy at times, but it is still there. Yet what often goes unnoticed or is, in fact, tolerated, is a different sort of corruption that is far more common than millionaires purchasing members of Congress. As Byron York wrote yesterday in the Washington Examiner, the ability of incumbent politicians to raid the public treasury for expenditures to buy the votes of certain constituencies is not only legal, it is the most decisive form of campaign finance available.

York went to Louisiana to report on the uphill race of Senator Mary Landrieu, an ObamaCare supporting Democrat seeking reelection in an increasingly deep red state. Polls show her in a dead heat against likely Republican opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy. But, as York found out, a lot of people whom one would think would be working to defeat Landrieu—including at least one local GOP official—are backing her. Why? Because Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate, has been lavishing some of New Orleans’ white suburbs—whose swing voters will probably decide the election—with a deluge of federal money, including a loan forgiveness provision inserted into a Homeland Security Appropriations bill, and every manner of post-Hurricane Katrina disaster funding known to the federal government.

While the ability of incumbents to use earmarks to feather their own political nests was supposedly banned by new rules, it appears Landrieu and most of her colleagues are undaunted by the regulations that were supposed to make it harder for members of the House and Senate to selectively fund favored constituencies while portraying themselves as hard-working servants of the people. As York makes clear, Mary Landrieu is buying more votes in Louisiana with taxpayer money than any Republican with access to the checkbooks of the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson ever could.

Political machines have always thrived at what might euphemistically be called “constituent service” since the earliest days of the republic. The men who ran Tammany Hall were able to dominate New York politics and loot the city’s coffers with impunity for more than a century because they were always willing to give a little of the money in their control back to loyal voters for minimal services or charity while they kept most of it for themselves. The same applied to every other political machine in the country. But while we think of legendary thieves like Tammany’s George Washington Plunkett as in no way comparable to many of those who serve in our government, his concept of “honest graft” has more in common with the way Landrieu and other contemporary politicians play fast and loose with the rules than most of us would like to admit.

Like Plunkitt, Landrieu, who is part of a political dynasty in Louisiana, views the federal budget as a piñata waiting to be broken open for her benefit. The ability of senators and members of the House to lavish money on people they want to curry favor with—and deny it to those they don’t care about—remains the biggest ethical dilemma facing the nation.

You can call that constituent service, but after the excesses of the last decade in which both parties plundered the federal treasury and created our massive budget/entitlement crisis, Congress was supposed to have turned the page and adopted a more fiscally sound approach to governance. Landrieu’s stands on the issues, especially on ObamaCare, have left her out of step with the views of most Louisianans. But York’s reporting leads him to believe that her ability to manipulate allocations and use taxpayer dollars to buy the votes of Louisianans is enough to make the difference between winning and losing in November.

Liberals can complain all they want about the efforts of large donors to support conservative causes and candidates, but neither the Kochs nor Adelson can boast of the kind of efficient vote buying that Landrieu is practicing on the banks of the Mississippi. Even more to the point, while those billionaires are trying to influence elections with their own money, pork-barrel politicians like Landrieu are doing it with yours.

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The Silver Lining in Israel’s Legal Dramas

The conviction of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges, stemming from his tenure as mayor of Jerusalem, no doubt dismays his supporters who were hoping he would stage a political comeback. It also, no doubt, dismays many Israelis who must be wondering about the quality of their political leaders.

Olmert is, of course, just the latest senior Israeli figure to be convicted of crimes. Former president Moshe Katsav is now serving a prison sentence for rape. Former finance minister Abraham Hirschson was sent to jail for five years in 2009 for “stealing more than $500,000 from a trade union he led before becoming a cabinet member.” Another former cabinet minister, Shlomo Benizri, was sentenced the same year for taking tribes. Former defense minister and general Yitzhak Mordechai was convicted in 2001 of two counts of sexual assault. Others, such as former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been tried and acquitted.

So should Israelis be worried that they are being governed by a pack of crooks and predators? Undoubtedly corruption is a problem in Israeli politics–as it is everywhere. But Israel still ranks head and shoulders above its neighbors on any measure of governance and (no coincidence) on economic performance.

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The conviction of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges, stemming from his tenure as mayor of Jerusalem, no doubt dismays his supporters who were hoping he would stage a political comeback. It also, no doubt, dismays many Israelis who must be wondering about the quality of their political leaders.

Olmert is, of course, just the latest senior Israeli figure to be convicted of crimes. Former president Moshe Katsav is now serving a prison sentence for rape. Former finance minister Abraham Hirschson was sent to jail for five years in 2009 for “stealing more than $500,000 from a trade union he led before becoming a cabinet member.” Another former cabinet minister, Shlomo Benizri, was sentenced the same year for taking tribes. Former defense minister and general Yitzhak Mordechai was convicted in 2001 of two counts of sexual assault. Others, such as former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been tried and acquitted.

So should Israelis be worried that they are being governed by a pack of crooks and predators? Undoubtedly corruption is a problem in Israeli politics–as it is everywhere. But Israel still ranks head and shoulders above its neighbors on any measure of governance and (no coincidence) on economic performance.

The latest Transparency International survey of global corruption puts Israel at No. 36 out of 177 countries. It is far behind clean government leaders Denmark and New Zealand, but it is ahead of every other country in the Middle East except for UAE and Qatar, where corruption is a lot more difficult to measure because it is hard to know where public revenues end and royal family income begins.

The fact that Israel is actually able to prosecute and convict former prime ministers and presidents is a stunning achievement which would be unthinkable in most countries where leaders wind up in the dock only when their regime is overthrown. (Think Egypt.) While Israelis do have some cause for concern about the quality of their politics, on the whole, I would argue that they should take pride in their ability to hold political leaders to account. While the neighboring Arab states may well crow over Olmert’s conviction–there is no love lost for him because of his role in directing the 2006 war against Hezbollah–their populations, reading the news, may well wonder why their own politicians aren’t being exposed for their far greater thievery.

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Turkey’s AKP Should Be Diplomatic Pariahs

The Turkish-American relationship was once tight, and rightfully so. Whatever Turkey’s domestic problems and its democracy deficit, it was a strong ally. It fought beside the United States and against Communist aggression in the Korean War, and was one of only two NATO countries to share a border with the Soviet Union. Turkey was also a source of moderation in an increasingly immoderate region, and stood in sharp contrast to countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Without any appreciable oil resources, Turkey also transformed itself into an engine of growth through innovation and free-market enterprise.

Alas, today, Turkey is no longer much of an ally. While its supporters cite its contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, it has often operated at cross purposes with the rest of ISAF. Of greater concern is:

  • Turkey’s embrace of Hamas;
  • Turkey’s support not only of the Muslim Brotherhood but also of that group’s most radical factions;
  • Turkey’s efforts to help Iran bust sanctions, apparently, if recent revelations are to be believed, for the personal profit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle;
  • Erdoğan’s support for al-Qaeda financiers such as Yasin al-Qadi; and
  • Turkey’s material support for al-Qaeda-linked factions in Syria and the free passage it gives international jihadists transiting into Syria.

There is, of course, much, much more, and these don’t even begin to touch Turkey’s domestic transformation into a police-state dismissive of basic freedom.

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The Turkish-American relationship was once tight, and rightfully so. Whatever Turkey’s domestic problems and its democracy deficit, it was a strong ally. It fought beside the United States and against Communist aggression in the Korean War, and was one of only two NATO countries to share a border with the Soviet Union. Turkey was also a source of moderation in an increasingly immoderate region, and stood in sharp contrast to countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Without any appreciable oil resources, Turkey also transformed itself into an engine of growth through innovation and free-market enterprise.

Alas, today, Turkey is no longer much of an ally. While its supporters cite its contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, it has often operated at cross purposes with the rest of ISAF. Of greater concern is:

  • Turkey’s embrace of Hamas;
  • Turkey’s support not only of the Muslim Brotherhood but also of that group’s most radical factions;
  • Turkey’s efforts to help Iran bust sanctions, apparently, if recent revelations are to be believed, for the personal profit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle;
  • Erdoğan’s support for al-Qaeda financiers such as Yasin al-Qadi; and
  • Turkey’s material support for al-Qaeda-linked factions in Syria and the free passage it gives international jihadists transiting into Syria.

There is, of course, much, much more, and these don’t even begin to touch Turkey’s domestic transformation into a police-state dismissive of basic freedom.

Many analysts, diplomats, and journalists privately recognized Turkey’s transformation, but whether because of a desire for access, cynical self-censorship as their think-tanks raised money from businessmen affiliated with the prime minister, or outright denial, many refused to declare publicly the change inside Turkey they privately acknowledged (the same holds true with Qatar, but no one has ever confused that state with a democracy). The ostrich-syndrome changed, of course, with the bombshell revelations of corruption and investigations that accompanied the divorce between Erdoğan and his one-time backer, powerful Islamist thinker Fethullah Gülen.

Whatever the motivations for making public the Erdoğan administration’s corruption, there are few who doubt the evidence regarding corruption is truthful. Perhaps that is why Erdoğan in recent weeks has redoubled his efforts to block any public discussion of the topic. In recent days, Erdoğan’s political party, which dominates parliament, has passed a law requiring all Internet providers to obey the government-appointed president of the State Communications Board or his state-appointed deputies to shut down any website or webpage they find objectionable within four hours. Because there is no longer a judicial process to seek a shutdown, Turkey now finds itself in the same category as China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. So much for liberalizing and moving closer to Europe.

In addition, social media will be subject to bans based on keywords. Mention “bribery” or “corruption” on Facebook or Twitter, and the state will delete your entire account. To the State Department’s credit, it has expressed concern regarding the new Internet regulations, although the message from the U.S. embassy regarding recent events has been decidedly mixed.

Erdoğan has gone even farther in recent days. It has now emerged in Turkey that, while traveling in Morocco last June, he called the television station Habertürk to demand the manager remove coverage of an opposition leader. Alas, this has become a pattern. Last Tuesday, the official Turkish state broadcaster TRT cut its coverage of parliament during a speech by the opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. As soon as Kılıçdaroğlu’s speech ended, live coverage of the parliamentary session resumed.

Then, in order to quash coverage of the corruption allegations against several of Erdoğan’s hand-picked ministers, he changed procedure to prevent the case going to parliament, which addresses issues-based ministers’ immunity. The AKP-dominated parliament would not have allowed the prosecutions to continue at any rate, but by bypassing parliament, Erdoğan prevented publication of the details of the charges.

Nevertheless, the stories of corruption keep pouring in. In order to save an ailing media company owned by a close friend of the prime minister, Erdoğan reportedly had his minister of transportation ask several contractors doing business with his government to donate a total of $630 million to a pool. An armored car circulated to pick up the cash. Several businessmen had to take out loans from Ziraat Bankası, a government bank, to pay their shares.

What can be done? What happens in Turkey has never stayed in Turkey. When Turkey was liberalizing and developing as a democracy, successive U.S. administrations treated it as a model. Now that Turkey is reverting to a dictatorship, and a terror-supporting one at that, it is important to criticize its trajectory with the same vehemence with which the United States once supported it. Rather than supplicate to Turkey or provide bully pulpits for Erdoğan and ministers involved in corruption, it is time to treat them—and their representatives in the United States—as pariahs. Rather than meet senior U.S. officials, they should be offered face time only with desk officers or lower-ranking diplomats. Congressmen should re-think their participation in the Congressional Turkey Caucus, unless they really wish to endorse that for which Turkey now stands. And institutions and think-tanks which seek to profit off their partnership with Turkey should be shamed in the same way that those soliciting money from Iran, the Assad regime in Syria, or the Kremlin would.

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The Problem of the Middle East’s First Sons

The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

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The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Moammar Gaddafi had Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, held by the new Libyan government and wanted by the International Criminal Court; and Hosni Mubarak had Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, both awaiting trial on various corruption charges (despite being acquitted in one case last week). Ailing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s eldest son Bafil is facing trial in Great Britain for defrauding investment partners in Iraqi Kurdistan, while younger son Qubad is neck deep in the family business. Iraqi Kurdish regional president Masud Barzani’s eldest son Masrour is, in theory, the intelligence chief for the autonomous Kurdish government. In practice, according to conversations with human-rights monitors, he uses his position and the security forces he has under his control to ensure businessmen understand that he and his family should get a piece of the pie. When Masud Barzani’s second son Mansour Barzani lost $3.2 million gambling in one of Dubai’s illegal casinos, the Kurdish leader quickly cut short an official visit and left the United Arab Emirates. The pattern continues: Iraqis resent the involvement of Ahmad Maliki, the son of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in businesses which benefit from his father’s position. Such business dealings and relationships go without saying in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf with the exception, of course, of Oman whose ruler Sultan Qaboos is unmarried and has no children.

It is true that such a pattern is not limited to the Middle East. While his father Kofi Annan was secretary-general of the United Nations, Kojo Annan sought to profit from UN deals. And both Africa’s dictatorships and its nascent democracies also see sons of presidents and rulers seeking to cash in on their fathers’ positions.

It may be fashionable to look the other way and pretend such corruption does not occur. Western universities go farther and happily welcome donations of questionable money to honor dictatorial dynasties. But building false images of such countries does no favors, nor does it reflect well on a new generation of rulers that they encourage their sons to accumulate as much money as possible rather than distinguish themselves as doctors, lawyers, or other professionals.

Erdoğan has been fond of describing Turkey as a democracy and bragging for more than a decade about the reforms he claims to have implemented. If attorneys are allowed to question Bilal Erdoğan and, if warranted, force him to face justice as a man equal to any Turk or Kurd in Turkey, then he should be congratulated for standing on principle. If he wants his son to stand above justice, however, then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirms the notion that Turkey is no democracy and  he himself is little more than yet one more self-important Middle Eastern potentate.

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How to Cheat Americans in Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan has often been upheld as a model of stability in Iraq. Last month, it held largely free, even if limited elections. (Masud Barzani, facing a two-term limit, in tin-pot dictator fashion, simply decided to extend his second term so as to remain regional dictator). And while there’s much to that assessment—last week’s quintuple car bombings notwithstanding—Kurdistan has also become perhaps the most corrupt region within Iraq, which already is a pretty corrupt place.

Seldom, however, are the mechanisms of corruption exposed in great detail in the West. That has changed in an ongoing court case involving Bafil Talabani, the eldest son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Basically, a U.S.-based company won a contract to supply power plant equipment to the Kurdistan Regional Government for $187 million. The U.S. firm had an agreement with an offshore company to act as their agent for a commission of around $60 million, but Talabani and other Kurdish officials maneuvered to cheat the Americans out of their money. The court records allege in great detail how this occurred.

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Iraqi Kurdistan has often been upheld as a model of stability in Iraq. Last month, it held largely free, even if limited elections. (Masud Barzani, facing a two-term limit, in tin-pot dictator fashion, simply decided to extend his second term so as to remain regional dictator). And while there’s much to that assessment—last week’s quintuple car bombings notwithstanding—Kurdistan has also become perhaps the most corrupt region within Iraq, which already is a pretty corrupt place.

Seldom, however, are the mechanisms of corruption exposed in great detail in the West. That has changed in an ongoing court case involving Bafil Talabani, the eldest son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Basically, a U.S.-based company won a contract to supply power plant equipment to the Kurdistan Regional Government for $187 million. The U.S. firm had an agreement with an offshore company to act as their agent for a commission of around $60 million, but Talabani and other Kurdish officials maneuvered to cheat the Americans out of their money. The court records allege in great detail how this occurred.

Corruption remains a huge problem across the region, perhaps greater than terrorism even, and it remains a huge impediment in Kurdistan both for its own democratic development and for the bilateral relationship between Erbil and Washington. How sad it is, in effect, that so many family members of senior Kurdish politicians would mortgage the future of their region (and, perhaps one day, country) for the sake of a quick buck. Or a couple million of them.

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For ObamaCare’s Enemies, the Law

In my discussion recently of the scourge of bureaucratic lawmaking during the Obama administration, I’ve generally focused on federal agencies enacting rules that could not be passed by Congress, thus undermining the democratic process. But another important problem posed by the “rise of the fourth branch” of government, in Jonathan Turley’s phrase, is the treatment of duly passed legislation that simply empowers federal regulators without limiting them.

That’s not necessarily the fault of Congress, though it is a warning to those who seek to pass complex pieces of legislation. In the case of ObamaCare, it is simply the president who has decided that he has the power to suspend and postpone parts of the law at will, or else hand out waivers to favored constituencies. Though the beneficiaries of such governance seem obvious–the president and those who receive the favors they request from him–there is actually a third group whose members benefit greatly: the crafters of the law.

Conservatives often talk about the ill effects of moral hazards in politics. And the Hill reminded us over the weekend that the more complex the law, the more ad hoc its implementation, the more room for its interpretation, and the more troubled its legal groundwork, the more the crafters of the law stand to gain. The worse the governance, the better off its practitioners, at least in certain situations, will be. The members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare may not understand the law, but those who wrote it do–and are cashing in on the regulatory monstrosity:

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In my discussion recently of the scourge of bureaucratic lawmaking during the Obama administration, I’ve generally focused on federal agencies enacting rules that could not be passed by Congress, thus undermining the democratic process. But another important problem posed by the “rise of the fourth branch” of government, in Jonathan Turley’s phrase, is the treatment of duly passed legislation that simply empowers federal regulators without limiting them.

That’s not necessarily the fault of Congress, though it is a warning to those who seek to pass complex pieces of legislation. In the case of ObamaCare, it is simply the president who has decided that he has the power to suspend and postpone parts of the law at will, or else hand out waivers to favored constituencies. Though the beneficiaries of such governance seem obvious–the president and those who receive the favors they request from him–there is actually a third group whose members benefit greatly: the crafters of the law.

Conservatives often talk about the ill effects of moral hazards in politics. And the Hill reminded us over the weekend that the more complex the law, the more ad hoc its implementation, the more room for its interpretation, and the more troubled its legal groundwork, the more the crafters of the law stand to gain. The worse the governance, the better off its practitioners, at least in certain situations, will be. The members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare may not understand the law, but those who wrote it do–and are cashing in on the regulatory monstrosity:

ObamaCare has become big business for an elite network of Washington lobbyists and consultants who helped shape the law from the inside.
 
More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010….

“Healthcare lobbying on K Street is as strong as it ever was, and it’s due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act seems to be ever-changing,” Adler said. “What’s at stake is huge. … Whenever there’s a lot of money at stake, there’s a lot of lobbying going on.”

The voracious need for lobbying help in dealing with ObamaCare has created a price premium for lobbyists who had first-hand experience in crafting or debating the law.
 
Experts say that those able to fetch the highest salaries have come from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or committees with oversight power over healthcare.

The most telling quote in the story, and the one that explains why ObamaCare belongs in the discussion of unaccountable bureaucracy usurping congressional authority, is this:

“Congress is easy to watch,” said Tim LaPira, a politics professor at James Madison University who researches the government affairs industry, “but agencies are harder to watch because their actions are often opaque. This leads to a greater demand on K Street” for people who understand the fine print, he said.

The delays and postponements and waivers so far have made it pretty clear that the Obama administration finally understands just how harmful ObamaCare is, but this hasn’t troubled them so much because they don’t feel bound by the law. The administration is the law, with regard to ObamaCare.

What recourse do you have if you are not part of Obama’s favored constituencies to whom the law doesn’t apply? You have the courts. In a sign of how problematic ObamaCare really is, it appears headed back to the Supreme Court because of the law’s unconstitutional abridgement of religious freedom. As the Hill reported late last week:

ObamaCare’s birth control mandate is putting the president’s signature legislative issue on a fast track back to the Supreme Court. 



Lawyers on both sides of the issue say the high court will almost certainly have to rule on the controversial policy, possibly as early as its next term. 



Two federal appeals courts have come down with opposite rulings on an important question related to the policy: whether for-profit businesses and their owners have the right to challenge in court the requirement that businesses provide contraception as part of their insurance coverage.

As Jonathan wrote in June, the high-profile case of the Hobby Lobby, a chain of stores owned by religious Christians, won a key victory this summer, though there have been setbacks in other similar cases. But the Hill story points out just why the battle over the contraception mandate is so important:

“Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” the 10th Circuit asked. “The kosher butcher, of course, might directly serve a religious community … But we see no reason why one must orient one’s business toward a religious community to preserve Free Exercise protections.”



The administration’s position, and that of some appeals courts, has been that the religious freedom of the owners of a corporate entity does not transfer to the company itself. That is, there is a separation between the business and its owners, and religious freedom applies to the latter. A company can’t pray, goes the simplistic logic.

Of course, the 10th Circuit judges had it right. The contraception case is important because it will set precedent on the issue, and will determine whether United States law considers religious practice a privilege, not a right, when it conflicts with the government’s agenda. In this way, it won’t be much different from the rest of ObamaCare’s arbitrary and corrupt implementation.

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Why Everyone’s Talking About John Sopko

If you read this morning’s edition of three of our prominent national newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, you may have noticed something: the sudden necessity of talking about a man named John Sopko. The Times and the Post each run different-but-not-really pieces intended to profile Sopko and his work. The Journal takes a slightly different tack, talking about Sopko through the most recent and newsworthy aspects of his work.

So who is John Sopko? Here is the Times’s lede: “John F. Sopko is a 61-year-old former prosecutor who believes ‘embarrassing people works.’ ” But the Kabul dateline is the tipoff. Sopko is in Afghanistan as the inspector general for American-led reconstruction efforts. He is in charge of keeping the bureaucracy honest, and he is not well-liked by his compatriots there; the Post calls him the “the bane of the existence of American bureaucrats scrambling to bring the war to a dignified end.” What Sopko is finding out firsthand is that political leaders love to talk–and often, only talk–about rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in any system. Everyone loves the idea of oversight.

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If you read this morning’s edition of three of our prominent national newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, you may have noticed something: the sudden necessity of talking about a man named John Sopko. The Times and the Post each run different-but-not-really pieces intended to profile Sopko and his work. The Journal takes a slightly different tack, talking about Sopko through the most recent and newsworthy aspects of his work.

So who is John Sopko? Here is the Times’s lede: “John F. Sopko is a 61-year-old former prosecutor who believes ‘embarrassing people works.’ ” But the Kabul dateline is the tipoff. Sopko is in Afghanistan as the inspector general for American-led reconstruction efforts. He is in charge of keeping the bureaucracy honest, and he is not well-liked by his compatriots there; the Post calls him the “the bane of the existence of American bureaucrats scrambling to bring the war to a dignified end.” What Sopko is finding out firsthand is that political leaders love to talk–and often, only talk–about rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in any system. Everyone loves the idea of oversight.

Sopko also clearly knows the value of publicity. The coincidental placement of A-Section stories on him in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal on the same day is testament to that. But Sopko’s penchant for publicity doesn’t endear him to those under his watchful gaze. In fact, it seems his profiles were, in part at least, a result of his need to push back on the grumbling inspired, in circular fashion, by his need for publicity. As the Times explains:

He and his team spend their days cataloging the waste, mismanagement and fraud that have plagued American reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.

Then they go out and publicize what they have found — aggressively. If they upset the generals and diplomats running the war, so much the better. Most officials “would love to have it all triple-wrapped in paper, classified and slipped under a door so it goes away — then they don’t have to do anything,” he said during a recent interview.

He added, “I’m into accountability.”

Sopko also sat for an interview with the Post, and they paint much the same picture:

“I didn’t take this job to be liked at the State Department or USAID or the Department of Defense,” he said in an interview. “We’re the umpire. My job is to call strikes.”

Bureaucratic battles within America’s wars are legion. But none has played out quite this publicly, and all sides agree that the stakes could hardly be higher. To a large extent, the U.S. ability to disengage smoothly from Afghanistan and retain influence after combat troops leave — by the end of 2014 — will depend on the work U.S. agencies are able to accomplish, as well as the amount of political will and confidence in the mission they can engender.

But it’s the Journal article that seems to do the most to legitimize the Times and Post articles. The Journal has always tended to take a slightly different approach to the same stories other papers cover, and in this case the Journal’s article on Sopko is a perfect companion piece to the others.

The Post explains that the office of inspector general for Afghan reconstruction had alternated between ridicule and vacancy. Sopko came in and fired up his staff, warning that the clock was ticking on the mission. The Journal article offers one example of the misbehavior uncovered by the newly energized office under Sopko’s leadership:

American anticorruption officials are investigating an alleged criminal ring working for U.S. Special Operations Command in southern Afghanistan that may have defrauded the U.S. government of more than $77 million, according to court documents and government officials.

Federal officials have frozen $63 million held in bank accounts around the world linked to a young Afghan businessman who allegedly bribed two foreign contractors to secure contracts to transport food and fuel for the U.S. military in southern Afghanistan, according to documents unsealed by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The Afghan, Hikmatullah Shadman, is at the center of a continuing investigation that also could ensnare Americans working for the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, said John Sopko, the special U.S. inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

“We’re not done with this matter in the least,” said Mr. Sopko, who spearheaded the legal action to freeze and seize Mr. Shadman’s bank accounts.

As Max Boot and Michael Rubin have written numerous times here at COMMENTARY, there is both the need and the ability to clean up Western efforts in Afghanistan. On that note, I think it’s worth restating Michael’s point from February on corruption and USAID waste/mismanagement in Afghanistan: “Terrorism impacts a small number of people, but corruption is a cancer on a whole society.”

That is exactly right, and that seems to be Sopko’s perspective. He has taken on a sense of urgency as well because the mission is indeed running low on time. I don’t think many of those complaining about Sopko’s intensity or publicity-seeking fully appreciate just how much of a black eye it will be for America’s reputation if after a decade-long nation building project we leave behind well-fed corruption rings and warlords with deeper pockets as our legacy. There is only so much control our agencies have, of course, in Afghanistan. But surely conducting themselves with transparency and integrity is not too much to ask.

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Dissolve USAID and Revamp Foreign Aid

Last month, I wrote about how much money the United States has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan—not in terms of the military mission, which I continue to support, but rather because of the misguided notion that development assistance and foreign assistance bring security.

The problem with foreign assistance runs deeper. Many proponents of aid point out that the United States gives a smaller percentage of its GDP to foreign assistance than many smaller states. Speaking at the National Defense University last month, President Obama bought into this trope.

I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures that there is. That’s true for Democrats and Republicans–I’ve seen the polling–even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. In fact, a lot of folks think it’s 25 percent, if you ask people on the streets. Less than one percent–still wildly unpopular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. 

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Last month, I wrote about how much money the United States has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan—not in terms of the military mission, which I continue to support, but rather because of the misguided notion that development assistance and foreign assistance bring security.

The problem with foreign assistance runs deeper. Many proponents of aid point out that the United States gives a smaller percentage of its GDP to foreign assistance than many smaller states. Speaking at the National Defense University last month, President Obama bought into this trope.

I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures that there is. That’s true for Democrats and Republicans–I’ve seen the polling–even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. In fact, a lot of folks think it’s 25 percent, if you ask people on the streets. Less than one percent–still wildly unpopular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. 

The complaint about foreign aid is dishonest for several reasons.

  • First, Americans give far more in charity than do their European counterparts: Just because aid is not coming from the government does not mean it is not American assistance.
  • Second, Sweden may at first glance give a higher proportion of both its GDP and budget, but when push comes to shove, America still gives more. To be blunt: the U.S. military does more to save people than to kill them. The U.S. military formed the backbone of tsunami relief in the Indian Ocean basin during the 2004 tsunami, and restored airport operations to enable relief in Haiti following that country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. If the cost of such operations is factored in, then the United States gives much more. (As an aside, sequestration and the resulting lack of naval readiness will mean that victims of the next massive natural disaster may have to fend for themselves, unless Swedes, Danes, or Norwegians find their own aircraft carrier.)
  • Many extremists—and most terrorists—are actually quite well-off and educated. The 9/11 bombers, for example, came from privileged upbringings, and the Boston bombers had access to a better education than many other residents in Boston. If policy were based strictly on the data, then the path to counter-terrorism would be to de-emphasize education and encourage poverty. I say that with tongue in cheek, of course, but it is important to recognize that ideology drives terrorism, not simply grievance or poverty. Just throwing money at countries does not make America more secure.

Foreign aid may represent less than one percent of the federal budget, but that alone is not justification for waste. Simply put, neither the State Department nor the White House have, across administrations, been able to propose metrics to demonstrate that foreign aid as currently distributed actually improves American security or furthers American interests. Most of the money is simply wasted on bureaucratic bloat, ill thought-out projects, conferences, or amorphous goals that provide no lasting benefit for the people. Management of aid money is notoriously bad, especially when people like disgraced former mayor and diplomat Andrew Young is put in charge.

While American administrations across parties will often pay lip service to democratization, a major problem with foreign aid is it actually promotes poor governance. Building schools, hospitals, and housing should be the job of the government, not a foreign aid organization. If such basic responsibilities of government are assumed by outsiders, then corrupt governments have no disincentive against pursuit of counterproductive social agendas or terror sponsorship.

The simple fact is that foreign aid has:

  • Encouraged corruption and poor governance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Been the bane of Palestinian development. The best way to encourage the Palestinians to develop a functioning economy and responsible state would be to wean them off outside assistance altogether and eliminate UNRWA.
  • Passage and implementation of the Kerry-Lugar amendment and provision of its nearly $7 billion in assistance has increased rather than decreased anti-Americanism in Pakistan.
  • Failed to promote responsible government in Egypt. Rather than throw a lifeline to the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be an American interest to see the Muslim Brotherhood fail and retire disgraced. No, Egypt is not too big to fail.

Rather than continue USAID as it is now structured, dissolve the organization. The time has come to defer items such as “capacity building” (whatever that means in practice) to endowments and NGOs, and dispense with contributing any development assistance to any state which votes with the United States less than—let’s say arbitrarily—80 percent of the time at the United Nations. There might be notable exceptions: Let the U.S. focus on disaster relief—where Washington can actually win hearts and minds—or promoting foreign direct investment by American companies which will benefit far more people at home and abroad than do USAID programs now.

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