Am I a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic? Legally, maybe.
Reversing direction unexpectedly, the California Supreme Court has decided NOT to hear my defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times, billionaire publisher Austin Beutner, and parent company Tribune Publishing, which at the time of my firing was owned in large part by the Los Angeles Police Department pension fund.
Adding to the confusion, the Court decertified the Court of Appeals ruling against me. This means that, while I will soon be ordered to pay close to $1 million to the LA Times for their legal bills defending themselves from lying about me in two articles, I can take comfort in the fact that Rall v. LA Times will not be used to screw over other journalists under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. My case cannot be used as a precedent. It’s sort of like Bush v. Gore.
You are welcome, California journalists. You are safe.
Why did the court make the decision they made? There’s no way to tell. They issued a pair of trite phrases: “Petition for review denied; CA opinion decertified.” After five years and thousands of pages of opinions and blood and sweat and tears, that’s all she wrote.
A few weeks ago, the California Supreme Court signaled to my attorneys that it planned to kick my case down the road for at least several months due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the closure of California courts.
The most recent impeachment hearings had a clear narrative. One person did something wrong, the president. The other party did not. In Watergate, the Republicans were guilty of dirty tricks including breaking into Democratic national headquarters. With Bill Clinton, he was the one who lied under oath and had sex in the oval office. The current impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump being led by the Democratic House of representatives doesn’t have any such clear narrative.
I don’t care what they say. No way, no how will I make excuses for America’s lazy, morally bankrupt, ineffectual and cowardly politicians.
Believe it or not, asking we the people to sympathize with our crappy legislators has lately become a Thing.
Poor dears, they have so much on their plates! “Those in decision-making positions are often forced to make consequential judgments on incomplete information in a compressed period in an attempt to solve difficult and enduring problems,” Peter Wehner explains in a New York Times op-ed. “And the outcome of those decisions may well be determined by contingencies that are difficult to anticipate.” What BS. Wehner, who worked in three Republican White Houses, doesn’t explain that that “incomplete information” is no one’s fault but those very same politicians.
Beltway insiders say: “Personnel is policy.” George W. Bush’s war cabinet was so full of warmongers and militarists that it fell to a former general, Colin Powell, to serve as the token voice of moderation as the administration weighed war against Iraq. Bush’s decision to exclude pacifists from the ranks of his top officials led directly to the deaths of over a million people. Though he ran as a Democrat, Barack Obama didn’t appoint a single liberal or progressive to his cabinet. So, if there was no one in the room to point out the stupidity and injustice of bailing out the big Wall Street banks at the expense of millions of distressed homeowners and laid-off Americans, that was his own fault. It’s not like antiwar activists and Marxist economists send presidents straight to voicemail when they call.
Nevertheless the ruling political class—the very same people to whom we pay handsome six-figure salaries (and they whine that they’re underpaid) in order to solve the climate crisis, the rising inequality crisis and the crumbling infrastructure crisis yet never manage to accomplish a damn thing—want us to feel sorry for them.
Cue the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”
“When I worked in the White House,” Wehner writes, “I was struck by how many decisions involved weighing competing goods while from the outside they seemed to be simple matters of right and wrong.”
Let me fix that for him. Not competing goods. Competing interests. In the corridors of power in Washington, decision-making is not a noble struggle to determine right and wrong. It is a cynical cost-benefit analysis about which powerful people and organizations are most important to suck up to.
Government by the people and for the people? Not any more. Today’s American political class no longer bothers to pretend that they serve us. They sound more like kings and queens: The issues are too complicated for us idiots to understand. The problems involve too many factors. You do your crappy $13-an-hour job; let us do ours, which we have done for decades and will do now and forevermore. Begone!
A video that shows California Senator Dianne Feinstein being confronted at her office by a group of children supporting the “Green New Deal” in February perfectly illustrates the arrogance of America’s professional politicians. It went viral with 2.5 million views on Facebook.
As soon as one kid starts to talk Feinstein interrupts: “Well, the reason why I can’t is there no way to pay for it.”
A girl replies: “We have tons of money going to the military.”
“Well, I understand that,” condescends Feinstein. “The United States government does a lot of things with the money and they’re important things.” (Play-by-play: That’s Feinstein tacitly conceding that the first kid is right, there actually is a way to pay for it but that money is for the military, not for a Green New Deal.)
A girl starts to remind Feinstein that the government is supposed to be for the people and by the people but the senator cuts her off again. “You know what’s interesting about this group,” she ’splains, “is I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that. I’ve gotten elected. I just ran…So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit.”
Whether the Green New Deal is or isn’t a good idea, it doesn’t take a PhD in environmental science to see that the planet is in deep trouble. We have to act. Congress has to act. Feinstein has to get off her ass and do something big, right away. It really is “a simple matter of right and wrong”—not to mention smart versus idiotic. Truth is, Feinstein is scared: scared of the military lobby if she tried to cut the Pentagon budget, scared of the energy lobby if she were to antagonize them. Complexity, competing issues, blah blah blah have nothing to do with anything.
“[Many Americans] believe that all politicians are knaves and fools, and that the system is endemically corrupt and rigged, and so (figuratively speaking) the village needs to be burned to the ground,” Wehner complains. “This is dangerous nihilism. But oddly enough, it is a function of expectations that are too high, not too low: It is rooted in an assumption that governing is easy, that if our leaders really wanted to solve all our problems, or if we elected people who did, they could.”
Many Americans are 100% right.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
The Washington Post recently published a revealing and heartbreaking story about forced separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents — not the Trump-ordered fiasco we’ve watched over recent weeks at the U.S.-Mexico border, but in the Midwest as the result of brutal ICE raids that have ripped families apart under Presidents Obama and Bush before him. It’s beautifully written, worthy of a literature award if not a Pulitzer for journalism.
One line leapt out at me: “Who benefits from this?”
Nora, an 18-year-old girl who lost both her parents to ICE raids and is now raising her 12-year-old brother like something out of a dark 1970s ABC Afterschool Special or a Dave Eggers story, wondered why the U.S. government carries out such vicious policies and tactics, like using offers of free food to lure poor migrants into the clutches of heavily-armed immigration goons.
“Was it American taxpayers, who were paying to finance the raid and resulting deportations? Or American workers, most of whom were so disinterested in low-paying farm work that Ohio had announced a crisis work shortage of 15,000 agricultural jobs? Or Corso’s Nursery, a family-owned business now missing 40 percent of its employees?”
OK, so the canard about Americans being unwilling to fill low-paid agricultural jobs is transparent BS. The key phrase is low-paid. If all the illegal immigrants disappeared tomorrow the labor-market version of the law of supply and demand would force agribusiness employers to offer higher wages. Plenty of Americans would be happy to pick fruit for $25 an hour. Sorry, Corso’s — if you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you deserve to go out of business.
Still, Nora’s question is a good one. Whether you believe in open borders, want Trump to build The Wall or fall somewhere in between like me (build the wall, legalize the people already here who haven’t committed serious felonies, deport the criminals), everyone who cares about immigration should know the why and wherefore of how the U.S. government carries out deportations.
Contrary to what some liberals seem to believe, there is nothing unreasonable about border control. Determining who gets to enter your country’s territory, and who gets turned away, is one of the principal defining characteristics of a modern nation-state. Just you try to sneak into Latvia or Liberia without permission and see what happens. You can probably make it into Libya, but that’s because it’s a failed state.
After you catch illegal immigrants the question is, how do you deal with them?
Some countries, like Iran, deport unauthorized persons immediately, no due process. That’s what Trump wants to do.
Others treat them like criminals. Illegal immigrants caught in Italy face a hefty cash fine and up to six months in prison.
The United States falls in between. Applicants for political asylum are theoretically entitled to a hearing before an immigration court. Economic migrants receive no due process. Both classes face lengthy detentions before removal.
Lengthy detention is the key to Nora’s question.
So who benefits?
The answer is: America’s vast, secretive, politically connected, poorly regulated $5 billion private-prison industry. “As of August 2016, nearly three-quarters of the average daily immigration detainee population was held in facilities operated by private prison companies—a sharp contrast from a decade ago, when the majority were held in ICE-contracted bedspace in local jails and state prisons,” writes Livia Luan of the Migration Policy Institute.
Crime rates have been falling for years. So prison populations have been declining too. Adding to the down trend has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in Congress; Democrats and Republicans agree that we need criminal justice reform centered around shorter sentences.
Originally sold as an innovative market-based solution to alleviate overcrowding in government-run prisons and jails for criminals, the private prison sector had been facing hard times before Trump came along. Private institutions were sitting empty. Until two years ago, private prisons had been scheduled to be phased out entirely by the federal sentencing system.
Trump made private prisons great again.
According to the UK IndependentICE arrests during Trump’s first nine months in office increased 43% over a year earlier. “Many of those immigrants are funnelled into a multibillion dollar private prison system, where between 31,000 and 41,000 detainees are held each night. In many cases, those private prison corporations — led by the behemoths GeoGroup and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America — have contracts with the federal government guaranteeing their beds will be filled, or that they will receive payment regardless of whether they have a full house on any given night.”
With profits guaranteed by pro-business government contracts, Wall Street is bullish on prisons for profit. “The Trump administration’s tough-on-immigration policies are unlikely to fade anytime soon, meaning investors should expect continued strict enforcement, more arrests by ICE and the need to accommodate a growing number of arrested individuals,” an analyst advised investors.
That’s likely to continue. In a classic example of the revolving door between government and private industry, the CEO of GEO is Daniel Ragsdale, who left his post as #2 at ICE in May 2017. Talk about swampy: ICE is extremely cozy with for-profit prisons.
When your customer base is as disenfranchised, unpopular and defenseless as convicts and undocumented workers, it’s tempting to cut corners on costs for their care. Reports of abuse and neglect are even more widespread in the private prison sector than in traditional government-run lockups. “The conditions inside were very bad. The facilities were old. The guards were poorly trained. If you got sick all they would just give you Tylenol and tell you to get back to your cell,” said Adrian Hernandez Garay, who served 35 months for illegal immigration at the Big Spring Correctional Institution, a Texas facility run by the private corporation GEO. He told Vice he was fed rice and beans seven days a week. He described Big Spring as “far worse” than other prisons where he was held.
Even if you think illegal immigrants are criminals who should be tossed out on their ears, you ought to be highly suspicious of the private prison industry. After all, they don’t want illegals deported. They want them housed indefinitely in their sketchy facilities. And you’re paying the bill.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
The Los Angeles Unified School District faces big problems. Magnet schools and second language programs have failed to slow declining enrollment; each of the 12,000 kids who pulls out this year means less state funding. The sprawling bureaucracy seems unable or unwilling to respond to chronic bullying centered in the elementary schools. L.A. United is in the peculiar position of raising its budget — most recently to $7.5 billion — while still having to cut back support personnel.
L.A. Unified requires strong, decisive leadership by an education expert in it for the long haul. The last thing the district and its 640,000 students need is a narcissist dilettante with one agenda: prettying up his resume. But that’s what it’s getting in the form of Austin Buetner.
The shadowy 58-year-old hedge fund billionaire and philanthropist, a self-declared political nonpartisan (but Bill Clinton ally) who began accruing his fortune making shady investments amid the ashes of the collapsed Soviet Union under Boris Yeltsin and co-founded the shady boutique investment and consulting company Evercore Partners, recently got the nod from the school board to take charge of L.A. United’s nearly one thousand schools as superintendent. Scratch the thin surface of Beutner’s resume, however, and what you find is a Hillary Clinton-like predilection for failing upward.
“Cynics might look at Beutner’s conquest of Los Angeles — the fastest takeover of a major global city since the Visigoths sacked Rome — and suggest that Southern California’s institutions must be awfully weak to keep seeking the services of the same finance guy,” Joe Mathews sardonically observed in The San Francisco Chronicle. “They might question why he keeps getting jobs while only staying in previous ones for a short time (a year or so) and without producing a record of sustained success.”
Beutner’s first major foray into public service was as deputy mayor, but he only lasted a year at City Hall. He quit to run for mayor, but gave that up when it became clear that his candidacy had fewer takers than New Coke.
In 2014 Beutner, who had no journalistic experience and as far as we know has never even delivered a newspaper, was named publisher of The Los Angeles Times, following more than a decade of brutal budget cuts, declining circulation and diminishing relevancy. No one but the man himself knows why he wanted the job; Southland political observers theorized that he wanted to leverage the editorial page to run for mayor again or perhaps for California governor. To be fair, no one man could have fixed what ailed the Times after its long gutting — but if such a miraculous creature existed, it wasn’t Austin Beutner.
The problem as always for Beutner is that while he knows how to slap backs and twist arms in the toniest corridors of power, he has no natural political constituency amid the electorate. He “lacks…name recognition,” the Times drily reported during Beutner’s aborted 2011 mayoral run.
Disclosure: Violating journalism’s traditional wall between the editorial and business sides of the operation, Beutner fired me as the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist as a favor to his biggest political ally, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, because I had made fun of the cops. Overeager to please the fuzz, he even published a pair of articles about me that pretty much defined the word libel. I’m suing him and the Times for defamation and wrongful termination.
Beutner’s dealings with the LAPD, whose pension fund purchased substantial shares of the Times’ parent company during the short Beutner era, may be one of many moving parts of what school board member Scott Schmerelson, who voted against Beutner for the superintendent post, was referencing when he complained that the board majority failed “to exercise due diligence regarding Mr. Beutner’s lengthy and tangled business affairs.” Quoting Schmerelson, the Times lazily allowed: “Schmerelson did not cite an example, but Beutner, who is wealthy, has wide-ranging investments and a complex business background.”
Now this creepy dude is running the schools. Which prompts a few questions.
Beutner is loaded. He doesn’t need the job. Why does he want it? (Although he’s apparently not so much of a billionaire that he turned down the job’s $350,000-a-year paycheck.)
Will he last more than a year this time?
Will there be parent-political blowback from the, to be charitable, less than transparent way that he won the support of the school board over Vivian Ekchian, the incumbent interim superintendent and career educator?
Asked the first question, Beutner responded, as he often does, with a stream of pablum: “It’s about the kids. My own roots, my mom was a teacher, my dad worked very, very hard to make sure that I had a great public education. It’s that common place — it’s the community place, the commonplace, the community connects. And if we can provide students that same opportunity I had with a great public education, what a gift, what an honor to be able to work towards that.”
In other words, who knows what Austin wants? The most obvious answer is that Beutner is a wannabe political animal who recognizes his biggest political problem: no one knows who he is. Being perceived as having turned around the schools might be leveraged into a mayoral or even gubernatorial run. Perhaps he’ll want to connect his business allies to lucrative contracts supplying the district; if so, he would merely be following up such fiascoes as the district’s 2013 plan to issue iPads to every student, which devolved into scandal. Beutner is a proponent of charter schools, but he faces a dilemma there: every student who transfers to a charter school takes away more revenue from the traditional institutions.
The Beutner-aligned Southern California media universe isn’t spilling much ink on the aftermath of the Ekchian snub. But a lot of parents, not to mention women reveling in the #MeToo movement, felt rubbed the wrong way by the appointment of a rich white male educational neophyte over a woman with 32 years of experience working within L.A. Unified, where she began as a teacher assistant.
“The man you’re about to choose has no history of success anywhere,” warned ex-school board president Jeff Horton. “What that says to all of the educators that you depend on to deliver your product is, ‘We don’t really care whether a person knows about education. We have other criteria — which are connected with our donors and our backers.’” The majority in the 5-2 vote received a total of $15 million in donations from the charter lobby.
One thing is certain: even for a miracle worker, it will take a lot longer than Beutner’s usual year-long tenure to demonstrate significant improvement in the district. Times columnist Steve Lopez lists the issues: “Falling enrollment, rising pension and healthcare costs, academic struggles, billions in deferred building maintenance at hundreds of schools, political division on the board and an ongoing philosophical difference between charter school supporters and those who believe they are draining traditional schools staffed by union teachers.”
Here’s the rub: even if Beutner somehow manages to make a dent in L.A. Unified’s longstanding problems, there’s no metric in place to judge success that everyone agrees upon. Knowing Beutner — as you can imagine, I’ve studied him closely — I’d lay better-than-even odds that, as ever in search of a quick score to pump up his political prospects, he’ll throw up his hands and walk away again before long.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
President Trump is under fire and we’re all shocked shocked SHOCKED that his shithole mouth called the (predominantly black) nations of Africa “shitholes,” helpfully comparing them to (predominantly blonde) Norway to make sure nobody missed the point. To drive home just how pissed off people are about this (and rightly so), Trump’s shithole comment overshadowed news that the government accidentally told the citizens of Hawaii they were about to get nuked. As George W. Bush would say, that’s some weird shit.
This is a big deal unless you’re reading this more than a few days after this writing, at which point Trump will have raised more hell with some new idiotic utterance that makes us forget about this one.
Speaking of hell-raising: I managed to raise a few social-media hackles recently when I posted the following: “I honestly don’t understand why people are so depressed about Trump. Policy-wise, he isn’t much different than Obama. Trump is truth in advertising: he is an asshole, our country acts like an asshole. No need for phony smiles, PC rhetoric.”
This led to a discussion comparing Trump not just to Obama, but other American presidents. There were lots of great comments. Still, I was struck by something that few people seem to be aware of — America’s rich history of presidential assholery. Given how wicked smart my readers are, I was surprised to hear some of them refer favorably to Trump’s predecessors.
Trump is a thieving, lying turd. In that respect, he is as presidential as it gets. Going back to Day One, the United States has been led by white males behaving badly.
George Washington was worth more than half a billion in today’s dollars — riches he accumulated in large part by exploiting his political influence to loot federal coffers. He joined the Masons, married well, scored a few lucky inheritances and invested the loot in real estate along what was then the Colonies’ western frontier in Indian territory that he came across as a young land surveyor.
GW’s acreage was on the wrong side of the Appalachian mountains — but not for long. Talk about conflict of interest: as commander of the revolutionary army and president, he promoted settlement of the west by whites that pumped up the value of his early investments. The fact that those whites were engaged in genocide bothered Washington not one whit.
Even on the Left, some Americans point to Lincoln as a pillar of moral rectitude. But Honest Abe suspended the ancient writ of habeas corpus; in 2006, a militaristic asshole named George W. Bush relied on Lincoln’s 1863 precedent to abolish it altogether.
Since nothing in the Constitution bans secession, Southern states enjoyed the legal right to leave the Union. Defying the Constitution, Lincoln went to war — illegally — to bring them back. Not only was the Civil War a bloodbath, it left us with a nation that remains politically and culturally fractured to this day. Blacks were 13% of the population of the Confederacy. Had Lincoln chosen peace, a slave uprising might have brought down the Old South — and killed a lot of racists.
Lincoln cheated in the 1864 election by playing both sides of the secession. To justify the war, he claimed the breakaway states were still part of the Union, yet didn’t count Southern electoral votes because they would have cost him reelection.
You name the president, I’ll name at least one unforgiveable sin.
If that’s a great president, give me a shitty one.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
They got Al Capone for tax evasion — only tax evasion. It wasn’t very satisfying for his prosecutors. But they couldn’t prove murder or racketeering. So they got him where they wanted him: behind bars. It wasn’t elegant. But they got the job done.
Congressional Democrats need some of that prohibition-era pragmatism. They want Donald Trump impeached. But unlike Capone’s tormentors, Dems are largely ignoring Trumpy crimes they can prove in favor of those they can’t — Russian “election hacking” that may not have happened at all.
Democrats seem determined to maintain their status as a political version of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Day after day, Democratic leaders and their allies in corporate media have been going on and on about how “Russia hacked the election.” Exactly what they mean by “hacking” has been so frustratingly vague, and solid evidence so consistently absent, that it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re making it all up or, à la Bush and the WMDs in Iraq, conflating what they suspect with what they know.
This throw-hacking-allegations-at-the-wall-and-hope-they-stick approach has fed a dark alt-right media narrative about an attempted “deep state” coup against a democratically-elected president who won despite the virtually universal contempt of the gatekeeper class.
As the Dems derp around deep in the weeds of their confused and confusing Russia hacking narrative, they’re neglecting the much tastier, low-hanging impeachment fruit they could easily use to hasten the day when D.C. Metro cops frogmarch The Donald out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: straightforward corruption.
Russian hackers may have accessed a U.S. voting machine company. But even the spooks who accuse Russia of “meddling” — whatever that means, no one seems able to articulate — say they didn’t affect the election results. Hillary would have lost anyway. So why is this even a thing? Anyway, there’s almost certainly no tie there to Team Trump. Perhaps not a nothingburger, but useless to Democrats hell-bent on impeachment.
Then there’s the DNC emails posted by WikiLeaks. As I’ve noted before, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange said he didn’t get them from Russia. Also at WikiLeaks, Craig Murray says they were handed to him by a pro-Bernie DNC staffer. So it was a leak, not a hack. Anyway, even if Russia gave them to WikiLeaks — which looks doubtful — we should thank Team Putin for revealing just how venal and corrupt the DNC was when they decided to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination.
Telling the truth about lying DNC scoundrels who belong in prison is “meddling”?
If so, I’ll take more meddling, please.
The Democrats are right about one thing: there’s lots of smoke. They’re wrong about the type of fire.
The real Trump-Russia connection to look into is about a corrupt quid pro quo. It goes something like this: Trump aides tell their Russian contacts in 2016: if our guy wins the election, we’ll drop U.S.-led economic sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea. In return, you let our guy build as many ugly hotels in Russia as he wants. They might also forgive millions of dollars his businesses owe to Russian banks and oligarchs.
By declaring Trump’s election a constitutional crisis from day one, Democrats have been overreaching. Pushing the “Russia hacked the election” narrative — when there’s still no public evidence it happened at all, much less that Trump had anything to do with it if it did — is getting way ahead of the story.
If Democrats were smart, they’d focus on the corruption angle.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Despite the polls, all my instincts told me that Donald Trump would probably win yesterday’s election. Still, sometimes the establishment is right, so I had to prepare a cartoon for the possibility that I would need to post something in recognition of Hillary Clinton’s would-have-been historic win as first woman president. Here, in precolored format because why bother to color something that no one’s going to run, is the cartoon it would have run instead of today’s.
More than half of the people who managed to score a personal one on one meeting with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State donated money to the Clinton Foundation, either as an individual or through a company where they worked. “Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million,” the Associated Press reported.
Does that make Hillary corrupt?
Yes. It does.
At this writing, there is no evidence that anyone received any special favors as a result of their special access to Clinton. Not that treats were not requested. They were. (The most amusing was Bono’s request to stream his band’s music into the international space station, which was mercifully rejected.)
That’s irrelevant. She’s still corrupt.
Clinton’s defenders like to point out that neither she nor her husband draw a salary from their foundation. But that’s a technicality.
The Clintons extract millions of dollars in travel expenditures, including luxurious airplane accommodations and hotel suites, from their purported do-gooder outfit. They exploit the foundation as a patronage mill, arranging for it to hire their loyalists at extravagant six-figure salaries. Only a low portion of money ($9 million out of $140 million in 2013) makes its way to someone who needs it.
“It seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons,” says Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group.
As a measure of how institutionally bankrupt American politics is, all this crap is technically legal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not corrupt.
Public relations experts caution politicians like the Clintons that the appearance of impropriety is almost as bad as its actuality. If it looks bad, it will hurt you with the polls. True, but that’s not really the point.
The point is: access is corruption.
It doesn’t matter that the lead singer of U2 didn’t get to live out his rocker astronaut fantasy. It’s disgusting that he was ever in a position to have it considered. To put a finer point on it, ethics require that someone in Hillary Clinton’s position never, ever take a meeting or correspond by email or offer a job to someone who donated money to her and her husband’s foundation. Failure to build an unscalable wall between government and money necessarily creates a corrupt quid pro quo:
“Just got a call from the Clinton Foundation. They’re shaking us down for a donation. Should we cough up a few bucks?”
“Hillary could be president someday. Chelsea could end up in the Senate. It couldn’t hurt to be remembered as someone who threw them some money when they asked.”
This, I 100% guarantee you, was the calculus when Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hillary for a one- or two-hour speech. She doesn’t have anything new to say that everyone hasn’t already heard a million times before. It’s not like she shared any valuable stock tips during those talks. Wealthy individuals and corporations pay politicians for one thing: access.
“It’s not pay to play, unless somebody actually gave someone 50 cents to say I need a meeting,” counters DNC interim chair Donna Brazile. “No. In this great country, when you meet with constituents, when you meet with heads of states, when you meet like Bono, who I love, you meet with them because they want to bring a matter to your attention. That’s not pay to play.”
It ain’t 50 cents.
But it is pay to play. Absolutely.
Access is a zero-sum game. If I get a meeting with a senator, that’s a meeting someone else doesn’t get. I shouldn’t get a leg up over you because I donated to a politically connected, nominally charitable foundation. For that matter, I shouldn’t get a meeting you can’t get because I know someone, or because I’m famous, or whatever. Access should be, has to be in a democracy, determined solely by meritocratic criteria. Political leaders like Hillary Clinton need to be meeting with people who can offer them the best advice and who need the most help — not those who bought their way in.
Anyone who doesn’t understand that access always equals corruption, even when access doesn’t result in favors, doesn’t deserve to hold political office.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee.)
REVISED 9/13/16: In last week’s column,”At the Clinton Foundation, Access Equals Corruption,” I wrote that the charity rating agency Charity Navigator did not rate the Clinton Foundation due to its poor performance. While that was true in the past, and I relied on that previous information while researching my piece, at present the Clinton Foundation actually receives a fairly respectable rating from Charity Navigator. This essay has been revised to reflect this changed information.
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.