Supplemental: Nicholas Kristof, hard and soft!

SATURDAY, MAY 30, 2015

The role of big money in politics:
Last Thursday, Nicholas Kristof discussed the role of big money in our politics.

His column made much more sense than Ruth Marcus’ recent nervous breakdown on the same general subject. That said, we were struck by the places where Kristof was hard, and by the places where he seemed soft.

In accord with Hard Pundit Law, Kristof began his discussion of big money with You Know Who and her husband. Here’s how the column started:
KRISTOF (5/28/15): I’ve admired the Clintons’ foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I’ve moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking?

But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system. Look around:
We were struck by the delicacy of the gentleman’s conscience. He loves the work the Clinton foundation performs in the world. But he recoils from “each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Earth to Kristof: Foundations can’t perform “fine work on AIDS and global poverty” without the speaking fees and contributions which actually pay for that work. If Kristof admires the work so much, you’d think he’d try to be careful and fair in his remarks about “failed disclosure” and “the appearance of conflict.”

To what “revelation of failed disclosure” does this giant refer? We don’t know, since he never says. But Marcus’ breakdown was triggered by a “failed disclosure” which was actually an ever-so-slightly delayed disclosure—a voluntary disclosure at that, one which occurred some seventeen months before the election it has apparently undermined in the minds of delicate observers.

(Only seventeen months to go to! At such a late date, will voters have a chance to consider this recent “failed disclosure?”)

Could that be one of the “failed disclosures” which have Kristof upset? We have no idea, since he doesn’t cite any specific failure. Concerning the appearance of conflict of interest, you’d think a man who admires the foundation’s work would be disturbed by slippery allegations or insinuations of same.

But how strange! When Kristof’s own newspaper engaged in virtual journalistic fraud in the form of a 4400-word “bombshell report” about a scary uranium deal, the great man had nothing to say about the slippery behavior! Could it be that moral giants like Marcus and Kristof persistently accede to the world’s most obvious “conflict of interest”—the one which keeps them from noting or criticizing the fraudulent work of their colleagues, their friends and their guild?

(Kristof has “moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative?” In the wake of the turmoil concerning George Stephanopoulos, this statement has the tiniest feel of “delayed disclosure” itself!)

Bowing to strictures of Hard Pundit Law, Kristof began with the Clintons. To his credit, he went on from there to discuss the role of big money all through our politics. But not before he offered this left-handed acquittal:

“But the problem is not precisely the Clintons.”

The problem is not precisely the Clintons! Our great moral arbiter spoke!

The problem is not precisely the Clintons! Really, that language is rich. As he continues, Kristof cites allegedly shaky behavior by three Republican candidates. For our money, his statement concerning Candidate Rubio sounds shakier than anything his tribe has managed to pin on You Know Who, the never-ending focus of their guild’s heartfelt concern:

“Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has received financial assistance from a billionaire, Norman Braman, and has channeled public money to Braman’s causes.”

Rubio has “channeled money” to a billionaire donor’s “causes?” To our ear, that sounds a bit worse than anything that has been pinned on You Know Who and her unthinking husband. In fairness:

Reading Kristof, we have no idea what that actually means. Neither does anyone else. Is Rubio’s conduct precisely the problem? We have no idea.

In accordance with pundit law, Kristof began with the Clintons. He failed to note that they can’t perform all that good work without the fees and contributions which have him so upset. He fails to cite specific misconduct. He dismisses their case with a comic left-handed acquittal.

Especially given his admiration for the actual work the Clintons are doing, we thought his treatment of the pair was pretty tough. Compare it with the soft soap with which he seemed to cleanse big business interests.

In the passage shown below, Kristof discusses the way big corporate interests loot the American people. But his formulations strike us as soft. Suddenly, our ferocious watchdog has given away several teeth:
KRISTOF: Money doesn’t always succeed, of course, and billionaires often end up wasting money on campaigns. According to The San Jose Mercury News, Meg Whitman spent $43 per vote in her failed campaign for governor of California in 2010, mostly from her own pocket. But Michael Bloomberg won his 2009 re-election campaign for mayor of New York City after, according to the New York Daily News, spending $185 of his own money per vote.

The real bargain is lobbying—and that’s why corporations spend 13 times as much lobbying as they do contributing to campaigns, by the calculations of Lee Drutman, author of a recent book on lobbying.

The health care industry hires about five times as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress. That’s a shrewd investment. Drug company lobbyists have prevented Medicare from getting bulk discounts, amounting to perhaps $50 billion a year in extra profits for the sector.

Likewise, lobbying has carved out the egregious carried interest tax loophole, allowing many financiers to pay vastly reduced tax rates. In that respect, money in politics both reflects inequality and amplifies it.

Lobbyists exert influence because they bring a potent combination of expertise and money to the game. They gain access, offer a well-informed take on obscure issues—and, for a member of Congress, you think twice before biting the hand that feeds you.
Is it just our imagination? Or is Kristof kinder to the corporate interests which loot the public than to the people who do “fine work on global poverty?”

Kristof does cite “the egregious carried interest tax loophole.” But when he does, he attributes the misconduct to generic “lobbyists.” He doesn’t name a specific industry. He doesn’t name a specific politician who produced this “egregious” policy.

Kristof goes all generic when egregious conduct occurs. When he specifically cites “the health care industry,” we’d say his teeth fall out.

In Kristof Speak, this industry isn’t looting the public when it swarms the Congress. In Kristof Speak, the industry is simply making “a shrewd investment.” It’s seeking out a “real bargain.”

The industry has carved out “extra profits,” he says, though he doesn’t say at whose expense those profits are gained, or to what extent those people get looted. And, having said even that much, our moral giant seems to feel that he must say something nice:

According to Kristof, these lobbyists almost seem to play a helpful role in our governance! According to Kristof, they offer their “expertise” to the Congress. They’re willing to “offer a well-informed take” on various “obscure issues.”

Without their well-informed expertise, how would poor Congress know what to do? If you end up paying three times as much for health care, you may be getting a very good deal!

Marcus wrote a lunatic’s column, her fifth in a series. Nicholas Kristof didn’t. But we’d say his column was strangely hard and soft, in ways which are so ubiquitous that very few people will notice.

Marcus is “a fan of Hillary Clinton.” Kristof admires the Clintons’ fine work.

But how strange! The Clintons aren’t precisely the problem, Kristof says. Marcus just keeps saying things which are many times worse.

42 comments:

  1. What would happen if one or two of the admirers of the Clintons actually defended them in their highly visible columns? Are they afraid they would then be attacked too? Is that a realistic fear? Would their readership decline? Would their jobs become shaky?

    What has happened to former Clinton defenders? Geraldine Ferraro comes to mind.

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    1. Geraldine Ferrarro died.

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    2. After being viciously attacked.

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  2. IMHO Bob is over-analyzing. Marcus and Kristof are Clinton supporters. They intend to endorse her and vote for her. Yet, what she and Bill did was so flagrant that they feel obliged to state their disapproval. The fact that strong supporters are criticizing the Clinton, suggests that the Clinton's did something that was clearly wrong.

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    1. Thank you David, for your fine example of obtuse thinking.

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    2. What did the Clintons do that was wrong? What did they do that was "flagrant?"

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    3. A "strong supporter" doesn't call a candidate a greedy pig. Just because someone claims to be a supporter doesn't make them one.

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  3. hardindr -- Kristof answers your question as follows: Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking? He provides links
    Clinton Foundation reveals up to $26 million in additional payments


    Fact-checking 'Clinton Cash' author on claim about Bill Clinton's speaking fees

    "Between 2001 and 2012, Bill Clinton made 13 speeches, 13, for which he was paid $500,000 or more. Eleven of those 13 speeches were at least eight years after he left the presidency while his wife was secretary of state."

    Schweizer responded, noting that Bill Clinton’s speaking fees "dramatically" went up when Hillary Clinton, now a presidential candidate, took office in 2009.

    "When you have one or two examples, it's a coincidence," he said. "When you have this many, to me it's a trend."...

    In 2014, before Clinton Cash was in the public eye, the Washington Post analyzed Clinton’s speaking fees and found he made at least $104 million in speaking fees between 2001 through 2012 -- more than half of that income came from speeches in foreign countries (though he gave more speeches within the United States).

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    1. I'll ask again, what did the Clinton's do wrong?

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    2. Voters can be suspicious of anything they choose. If they choose to wonder if the Clintons are prone to quid pro quo and they see large sums changing hands, they can choose whatever standard they like to hold it against them. Anything from a video of a bribe taking place, to vague insinuations in the newspaper.

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    3. Journalists are voters, yes, but there are different standards applied when they write columns. Marcus violated them.

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  4. Here's part of Ruth Marcus's complaint:

    As to Clinton’s agreement to disclose foundation donors, the position of the foundation and the Clinton campaign is that the document doesn’t include these because they’re “revenue” for services rendered, not charitable gifts.

    This interpretation makes no sense. By this logic, Vladimir Putin himself could have given the foundation $2 billion to hear Bill Clinton speak while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state , and it wouldn’t have to be revealed.

    Was this a bookkeeping glitch? (Another one, after the failure to specify foreign-government givers on IRS forms, or the previously revealed instances in which donors weren’t reported.) Or was it a calculated end-run around the disclosure agreement? I suspect the former but understand those who tend to the more nefarious interpretation.

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    1. I think the explanation makes plenty of sense, especially since the fee charged was the standard fee. That Marcus complains about this reveals her belief that the Clintons do not have the right to earn money in the same way as most other politicians have done. It is a great example of the double standard applied to the Clintons.

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  5. To say it's a double standard implies that other Secretaries of State who behaved this way were not criticized as the Clintons are. However, AFAIK no Secretary of State in US history has had a spouse receive massive amounts of money from foreign interests.

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    1. We have an unusual situation in which the spouse of a cabinet member is important in his own right. The double standard is that instead of considering this outstanding achievement admirable, you assume without any evidence that corruption is involved. Hillary Clinton finally gets the chance to hold office in her own right and you want to tell her husband he can do nothing gainful because it might look bad. Not only is that sexist but it wastes the talents of half of humanity. I don't remember anyone claiming conflict of interest when Bob Dole endorsed Viagra while Libby Dole held office. Why doesn't Hillary get to be innocent until there is evidence against her? That's the double standard.

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  6. I said it once, I'll say it again. If HRC wasn't the ex wife of a president, she would not be in this position. She happens to be very lucky to be who she is.

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  7. Here's HRC as Sec of State.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/clinton-on-qaddafi-we-came-we-saw-he-died/

    What next "Bring it on?" She sucks, really sucks.

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    1. This illustrates the problem with challenging Clinton "from the left". She must be perceived as a strong military leader to win the general election, so she cannot come across as a pacifist to those in the left who think that even bad actors must be tolerated.

      @9:05 is, of course, a Republican shill. It is a compliment to Somerby's influence that they are bothering to infest this blog.

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    2. It is evidence of your immature hero worship that you think Somerby has influence.

      Rather than Republican shills trying to bring down this blog, the best service they could do for the neo-con cause would be to fund it so it continues no matter how low Somerby's traffic sinks.

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    3. Obama and Clinton's decision to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was a terrible blunder, for two reasons:

      1. Qaddafi had voluntarily ended his nuclear development program, in exchange for US guarantees. Overthrowing him showed the world that the US is unreliable, and encouraged each country to develop its own nuclear capability.

      2. There was no plan for how to deal with Libya post Qaddafi.

      It looks like they overthrew Qaddafi simply because they could. He was weaker than Assad in Syria.

      If AnonymousMay 31, 2015 at 11:15 AM or other commenters think it was good policy to overthrow Qaddafi, I invite them to explain why.

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    4. Thank you for mentioning that it was Obama's decision, not Clinton's.

      I am tired of this "Clinton is a hawk" meme that the conservatives have been trying to spread. When you read her autobiography "Hard Choices" it is clear her goals as Secretary of State were not to overthrow anybody.

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    5. 11;15, first she was Sec of State when she mouthed that macho bullshit, not a candidate. Did "bring it on" make Bush look like a strong military leader to anyone except Karl Rove? Did HRC saying that crap appear like a strong leader?

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    6. 1:01 the conservatives like the Nation
      "But we don’t need a memoir to know that, comparatively speaking, two things can be said about her tenure at the State Department: first, that in fact she accomplished very little; and second, that both before her appointment and during her service, she consistently came down on the hawkish side of debates inside the administration, from Afghanistan to Libya and Syria. She’s also taken a more hawkish line than Obama on Ukraine and the confrontation with Russia."
      http://www.thenation.com/blog/180020/left-ought-worry-about-hillary-clinton-hawk-and-militarist-2016

      or Medea Benjamin
      http://original.antiwar.com/charles-davis-ips/2015/04/22/hillary-the-hawk/

      or Mother Jones
      http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/hillary-clinton-henry-kissinger-world-order

      When has she taken the dovish side of a debate?

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    7. In 2008 she stated that she would end both wars faster than Obama (who supported a surge) and close Guantanamo immediately. She has always been anti-torture. She has supported Obama's position on Iran. Her job as Secretary of State was to keep hotspots from blowing up. She did a better job of that than Kerry

      I see her supporting whichever side will promote peace. People might differ about how to accomplish peace, but I have never heard her advocate anything else.

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  8. Probably the intellectual dishonesty of David in Ca tells us more, much more, than the familiar points of this Daily Howler Post. He is all in evil for the Republicans and he cares less than zero who gets hurt. When Ken Starr stood before Congress and said he had nothing to show for 40 Million in Tax Dollars spent on partisan nonsense but he DID have Monica,
    bad, bad people like David in Ca weren't ashamed, they were proud. The fact that this sent a child molester to rubber stamp the disastrous policies of W in Congress no doubt makes him prouder still.

    So, have most americans of decent character laughed off the cheesy scandal cottage industry much of the press collaborates with the right on sustaining? Probably. But, that's what makes the horse races we shall see.

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  9. From his sprawling campus aided by his crying analysts, Bob Somerby writes "Marcus wrote a lunatic’s column, her fifth in a series." It was his ninth in a series since writing about dumb whales not uncovering the missing PSI in a football witch hunt.

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    1. Bob, if you can't abide by commenters like 149, why did you open a combox?

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    2. @ 1:49's comment says nothing negative about Bob and it is accurate.

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  10. This article doesn't describe anything illegal, but it sure demonstrates Clinton greed.

    a blockbuster report in the New York Times proving the Clintons will do anything, and we mean anything, for money including ripping off children's education. And more.

    The NYTimes' report is long, detailed and well worthwhile reading in its entirety but in essence Clinton took his large standard speaking fee from a charity dedicated to building schools in tsunami ripped Thailand and earthquake wracked Haiti to prevent them from never being "dead broke" again.


    Read the whole article.

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    1. The money went from one charity to another. How does that demonstrate Clinton greed? And who vouched for the Thai organizers? They sound a lot like people with an axe to grind, much like you. And who vetted anything said in this article? Today one of the tabloids has a picture of Hillary with a headline claiming she has admitted to being an alcoholic. So why should anyone read any of this garbage?

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    2. Clinton's speaking fee went to the Clinton Foundation, so he didn't personally profit from the speech. I don't get the point of the article because it doesn't indicate anything illegal or unethical happened by Clinton agreeing to speak at the charity fundraiser.

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    3. So, if I understand your complaint David, the Clintons are greedy bastards, putting their own self-interest ahead of anything else. So what's the problem? Seems to me they are living theirs according the highest principles of modern day republicans. You should be admiring their ability to make so much money. I wonder why you don't.

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    4. DinC keeps posting articles from certifiable "wing nut " media outlets. Dude, you're not going to convince anyone of the Clinton's perfidy by linking to things from Breitbart's Home of Sad and Angry boys and the always laugh fable, American Thinker.
      Not a fan of the Clintons, but I can at least criticize the policies that they supported based on facts, not shoddily constructed lies.

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    5. As you noticed, Anon 10:33, the article basically quoted the New York Times. I would have provided the Times link, but it's not free, so not everyone could have read it. If you do have access to the Times, you can read their entire article at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/30/us/politics/an-award-for-bill-clinton-came-with-500000-for-his-foundation.html?_r=0

      Or, perhaps, Anon, meant to agree with Bob and myself that the New York Times sometimes seems to be a certifiable "wing nut " media outlet.

      mm -- conservatives are quite a bit more generous than liberals -- with their own money and time and effort. See http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2014/10/17/Who-s-More-Generous-Liberals-or-Conservatives or http://rt.com/usa/193952-charity-conservatives-religion-utah/

      Liberals beat conservatives at giving away other people's money. but I don't think that counts as generosity.

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    6. "....conservatives are quite a bit more generous than liberals..."

      You're an ass and a bull shitter. You make that assertion based on a half-assed conclusion from your first source:

      **************
      Overall, the states in which people gave the highest percentage of their adjusted gross incomes were also states that voted for Romney, while states in which people gave the lowest percentage of their adjusted gross income went for Obama. The top 17 states for rate of giving all went for Romney. - See more at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2014/10/17/Who-s-More-Generous-Liberals-or-Conservatives#sthash.O4V93OZ
      *****************

      How you can extrapolate from an aggregate total by state, to the bullshit conclusion that "conservatives are quite a bit more generous than liberals" is beyond me.

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  11. Conservative trolls here are gleefully attacking Clinton"from the left" and the campaign has barely started. This is why Sanders and other "progressives" are doing damage to Democratic prospects. Sanders will not be nominated but how many votes will he and Warren supporters help conservatives peel away by supplying ammo to guys like David and whoever was quoting the Nation above?

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  12. I like the joke where a reporter asks Clinton about how much money he had made in a year. "Why, that's more money than the President of the United States made," noted the reporter. "I had a better year than he did," quipped Clinton, scarfing down a hot dog between puffs off a big Cohiba.

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    1. That joke was Babe Ruth and Herbert Hoover.

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  13. So Somerby suggests Ruth Marcus writes as if she is a lunatic having a nervous breakdown. And why, exactly is that?

    Because Marcus has suggested, repeatedly, that it is unseemly for Hillary Clinton, in between service as Secretary of State and her candidacy for President, to give speeches for six figure remuneration to companies which might seek favors from the administration she might head if elected.

    Repeatedly in his attacks on the "lunatic" Marcus, Somerby has left out of his presentation the key points made by Marcus.

    She notes that conservative columnist William Safire labeled the practice of ex-Presidents giving paid speeches a "foreign revolving-door ripoff" when Ronald Reagan started it. She details how Clinton and the Bushes expanded the practice. The she states what, in her opinion, makes things worse in Hillary Clinton's case as an ex-Secretary of State.

    "What once screamed sleaze now is considered post-presidential business as usual. ....

    So what’s the problem when Hillary Clinton gets in on the act? It is the difference between being firmly on the exit side of the revolving door and being poised to circle back in. The former presidents are formers. They’re cashing in on the past.

    But Hillary Clinton has, she hopes, a political future. And that counsels prudence. Just because companies are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars doesn’t mean you need to take the money."

    The Clinton's knew, since 1992, of the scrutiny of their personal finances beginning with Whitewater. And they knew that scrutiny would not stop with Bill's departure from the White House because
    Hillary elected to pursue high office herself.

    The response of the Clintons and their tribal followers is that they are unfairly targeted for either doing nothing wrong and/or for doing nothing that should be considered wrong. With that mindset it is perfectly logical for them to assume doing further things that might raise eyebrows (and generate political attacks and bad press) is simply more of this unfair treatment and continue down the same path.

    Marcus's concern is clear: "Because to take the check is to invite suspicions that they are seeking to curry favor with you, in your future role. And that your actions were influenced by this largesse."

    That is less insanity on Marcus's part than it is stupidity on Clinton's for not laying off a little of the personal lucre while still pursuing the Presidency herself for a decade and a half.

    But for Somerby there is a way to describe his multiple posts on the topic. Considering how he has accused journalists of bad practices, tribalism, and being slaves to personal wealth and career advancement at the behest of "plutocrats" who "own" them, one word stands out.

    Somerby is a hypocrite.

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    1. While I can agree with everything you say here, doesn't Bob have a point? If Marcus can say that HRC is hurting her chances to win for our side by taking money for charity, isn't it equally true that Marcus is hurting our chances to win in 2016 by riding this issue? Marcus can surely provide advice to HRC without posting it in the media. The primary reason I can think of for this behavior is that she just doesn't want HRC to win. That is her choice, but you can't then pretend that Marcus is somehow supporting HRC.

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