The world has never been an earthly paradise. No human being has ever been perfect. Most problems, be it personal or universal, have always resisted easy solutions. Similarly, very few of the myriad challenges that have arisen thus far in history, have been answered permanently. In the public realm, the chasm between original intentions, be they practical or utopian, and their implementations in practice have never led to unanimous approvals. Indeed, the quest for individual and universal happiness has remained the unfinished endeavor of mankind.
In reality, politics in its limitless incarnations, has always been a chain of attempts to mobilize the generally indifferent masses for an objectively or subjectively preferable cause. However, when the cause has been detrimental to human dignity, politics has inevitably turned into a rotten system of government-sanctioned criminality that legitimized the most heinous abuses of power even against its peaceful opposition. In these cases, politics became ruled by nacked force, unchecked by the law.
Today’s Hungary, thirty two years after the end of the Soviet occupation is in the iron grip of a tyrannical regime that possesses absolute contempt for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, individual dignity, and glorifies the perfection of its personification Viktor Orban, the newly minted Fuehrer of Mussolini’s illiberalism, Hitlers ethnic purity, as well as Lenin cum Stalin’s rhetoric of “class enemies.” Having established a one-party state in 2010, Viktor Orban and his party the Young Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: FIDESZ) have restored Hungary to the pre-1990 state of a Communist Commissariat. Once again, individual freedom, meritocracy and creativity have been banished to the trash heap of Hungarian history, to be replaced by prejudice, bigotry, obscurantism, unimaginable government corruption and gibberish demagoguery that are pleasing to the ears of the scantily educated but driving the young and educated away from their homeland. More alarmingly, real politics that is driven by genuine national interests and the knowledge of Hungary’s place and role within NATO and the European Union, has been replaced by the trashing of the “imperialistic” United States of America, the “globalist” European bureaucracy in Brussels and the glorification of Hungary’s checkered 20th century past, in particular the allegedly positive accomplishments of the years between the two World Wars. More importantly, all this nonsense is fanaticised by lingering revanchism and seething resentment of victimhood for losing territories in 1918 as well as 1945 to the neighboring states.
As a result, Viktor Orban and Hungary have become useless pariahs in the European Union and strategic nobodies within NATO. Thus, to compensate for his outcast status within both organizations, Viktor Orban has embarked on a duplicitous foreign policy, in which he attempts to play his very limited Russia as well as China cards against the West. Having realized that such a foreign policy route necessarily harbors great risks for him personally, he has undertaken to bribe his way into American politics. Since 2010, his government has spent in direct and indirect payments tens of millions of dollars in Washington, DC, to influence members of Congress and the Executive Branch to accept, and if possible, to spread fallacious propaganda on his behalf.
Most importantly, the Hungarian government has focused on Richard Carlson and his Policy Impact Strategic Communications that has been doing major lobbying work for Orban Viktor in Washington, DC. His son Tucker has performed a yeoman’s service for Viktor Orban by promoting the latter’s “conservative paradise” in Fox News Network as well as on Fox Nation. Moreover, the father-son duo also introduced Matthew Schlapp, the Chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to Viktor Orban. The resulting CPAC conference in Budapest, Hungary, in mid-May 2022, drew a host of Republican luminaries to Budapest, including Mike Pence, Mark Meadows, Rick Santorum, Candance Owens and Tucker Carlson among others. Very recently, the CPAC meeting in Dallas, Texas, also featured Viktor Orban as a speaker. His speech contained an avalanche of lies about his foreign policies as well as the situation in Hungary. To CPAC and Viktor Orban’s regret the American as well as the Hungarian media provided a devastatingly unflattering coverage of the mendacious speech before an almost completely empty room. To top this macabre situation, Tucker Carlson, the unfailingly corrupt and uncritical propagandist of Viktor Orban’s tyranny, apologized on his show to Balazs Orban (no relation to the Prime Minister), the Political Director of the Prime Minister’s Office, on behalf of the entire American Media for a CNN report, in which the latter characterized Viktor Orban’s speech in Romania as anti-Semitic.
To make it amply clear – Viktor Orban is not a friend of the United States of America. Neither is he a representative of Western values, such as individual freedom, free market economy and moral decency. He is every bit of a corrupt and self-serving narcissist with a perfectly sick personality. Presenting him as the lone European champion of genuine conservatism is a travesty or even ignominy for all Americans, regardless of their political or ideological affiliations and preferences. Those who promote Viktor Orban and his “Illiberal Tyranny” must look in the mirror and admit that the only corrupt illusion which is more destructive in politics than self-deception is the complete dearth of knowledge of a given situation in a country. To every Hungarian’s deepest regret, those Americans are guilty of an extremely unreasonable as well as totally unjustified affection for the Hungarian tyrant.
From time immemorial, Hungary has been plagued by quintessentially feudal nepotistic corruption coupled with institutionalized inhumanity. This deeply entrenched national corruption as well as its wicked inhumanity have culminated in lawless immorality that has perverted the political, social, economic and cultural realms at every level of public and personal lives. In politics, corruption and immorality have been compounded by a uniquely Magyar (Hungarian) ethnic schizophrenia that, in turn, has led to “doublethink” and “doubletalk.” The over four decades of Soviet military occupation and dictatorial Communist rule between 1948 and 1990, have only exacerbated the wholesale corruption, egotistical inhumanity and ruthless immorality of the nation. When independence came in 1990, Hungarians as a whole were woefully unprepared to create a real representative democracy and a free market economy. In spite of the cautious westernization permitted under Janos Kadar, the eponymous head of Communist Hungary, the country still differed radically in its political, economic and financial institutions from the West and have been separated from the European Union by its status as an occupied state. Thus, in their mentality Hungarians have remained the children of the past Communist dictatorship.
Political power, especially in a dictatorship, is like honey. It attracts the most controlling and ruthless dimwits who remain rooted in the past, while falsely pretending to fully embrace the new ideas dictated by the overwhelmingly external circumstances. These newly emerging young Communists coalesced around Istvan Stumpf, the son in law of the then Interior Minister Istvan Horvath in the late 1980s. Among them were Viktor Orban and almost all of his closest associates in the current Hungarian government. Today, after having exercised a one-party dictatorship for twelve years, they have become exactly as authoritarian as their Communist parents and grandparents were. History teaches that when political and economic corruption becomes a way of life, the entire country suffers irreparable catastrophe. Drunk with absolute power, Viktor Orban’s FIDESZ party passed a new constitution on April 18, 2011. With this unilateral act, the restoration of the one-party dictatorship has commenced. After ten self-serving amendments to this constitution, Viktor Orban has cemented the death of democracy, the rule of law, and the inability of the opposition to win elections by adhering to the hypocritical political processes of the ruling party.
The well-documented fact that Viktor Orban’s and his crime syndicate’s greed knows no limits has been demonstrated by the many government projects that are nothing but corrupt schemes to enrich himself, his extended family and a very small circle of boyhood friends, collectively referred to by the folkish black humor “the Knights of the System of National Cooperation.” Among the most glaringly corrupt government projects are the Budapest-Belgrade railway line, the upgrading and the expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant in Paks, the by now infamous Microsoft scandal, the planned construction of the campus for the Chinese Fudan University, the reorganization of public universities into private foundations, which are controlled by Viktor Orban’s strohmen, the establishment of unaccountable private foundations, again exclusively ran by his minions, and the utterly corrupt resettlement bonds, which are in reality government securities. The latter is codified by Law CCXX of 2012, as an amendment to the Law II of 2007, on the Entry and Stay of Citizens of Third States, mandates that permanent residency can be awarded to citizens of third countries whose entry and stay in Hungary is justified by his or her investments on the basis of national economic interests. While denying entry to asylum seekers from all over the world, an assortment of questionable characters from mostly Russia and China can buy their ways into the European Union by “legally” bribing Viktor Orban and his government. Coupled with a tangled web of innumerable offshore companies, these so-called national security projects are presenting and will continue to pose enduring existential threats to the security of NATO as well as the European Union, and the financial and economic stability of the continent. It goes without saying that Brussels has tried to investigate and punish this government sanctioned corruption – thus far with very limited success.
Clearly, as Moses advised his people in Deuteronomy 16:19, not to succumb to bribery, because doing so “blind the vision of the wise.” And herein is the supreme tragedy of today’s Hungary. The deadly virus of corruption has inflicted even those who supposedly have been charged with fighting theft, embezzlement, bribery, racketeering and money laundering. Corresponding to this abominable state of affairs, the Hungarian government, led by Viktor Orban, will continue to be unable to adapt itself to the core values and principles of the West. Absolute powers always dehumanize those who exercise them. Vested with tremendous political powers, Viktor Orban is convinced that he rules over instead of serving the Hungarian people. For this reason alone, he and his pitiable subjects will surely face the deadly political and economic consequences of their all pervasive national irresponsibility.
Hungary’s ninth most bizarre and absolutely unfair national elections took place on April 3, 2022. The first in 1990, was won by a group of the previous regime’s fellow travelers, who knew close to nothing about governing a country. The resulting collective disappointment brought back in 1994 the reform Communists of the 1980s. In 1998, the Viktor Orban-led Young Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: FIDESZ), formed a coalition government with the antediluvian Smallholders’ Party. In 2002, his government, riddled with incompetence and corruption, was unceremoniously booted out of power by a coalition of the politically still presentable reform Communists and an unruly collection of self-aggrandizing neoliberal titans. This unlikely coalition survived for another eight unsuccessful years, which included the worldwide economic crisis in 2008-2009. In 2010, the Young Democrats returned to power with 54% of the votes. Since then, headed by the indestructible Viktor Orban, the not so Young and definitely not Democrats have repeated the same act three more times, in 2014, in 2018, and very recently in 2022.
Regardless of Viktor Orban’s and his party’s wins, the overall situation in Hungary has remained unequivocally frightening. In spite of significant financial support by the European Union, the promised progress to democracy and a more equitable distribution of the national wealth has never materialized. Under Viktor Orban’s premiership, Hungary has been metamorphosed from a resentfully developing constitutional system into a ruthless criminal syndicate. Economically, almost 50% of Hungarians still cannot afford basic resources. Conversely, the constitutionally unrestrained and politically unaccountable Orban governments have stolen and embezzled most of the economic wealth of the country. In this manner, Hungary has again lost another decade in moving closer politically and economically to the developed member states of the European Union.
More importantly, Hungary has even regressed backward by Viktor Orban’s “Illiberal Democracy.” While he has never defined it unambiguously, life in Hungary has shown that this kind of a rogue regime means nothing but absolute power for him – made even more despicable by unbridled corruption as well as unconditional impunity for his extended family and his closest collaborators. In other words, behind the facade of “Illiberal Democracy” lurks the real Hungary, in which the mentality of centuries-old feudalistic order is mixed in a chaotic jumble with the loathsome reality of a well organized criminal syndicate. Mainly, Orban’s “Illiberal Democracy” must be rebranded as a viscerally evil “Kleptocracy.” Undoubtedly, it is highly destructive for a truly free society. Indeed, his kleptocratic “Illiberal Democracy” is the sworn enemy of real democracy and economic prosperity, because it is the mythical “Horn of Amalthea” and a genuine cornucopia of inexhaustible wealth for this Hungarian tyrant.
Foreign and domestic analyses before the elections were full of erroneous opinions regarding the present situation in Hungary. In the United States of America, leading media personalities have praised Viktor Orban and the overall conditions in Hungary. In particular, Tucker Carlson of Fox News Channel and Rod Dreher of The American Conservative, excelled in relentlessly spreading pro-Orban propaganda with outrageously fabricated reporting on the blessings of the latter’s “Illiberal Democracy,” equating it falsely with genuine democratic conservatism. Unsurprisingly, they have been unable to explain the uniquely Hungarian phenomenon of the majority’s strange behavior of repeatedly submitting themselves to a political power that keeps them in abject poverty as well as political slavery. However, anyone who desires to really comprehend the actual state of affairs, the mentality and the lives of the Hungarians should study Patty Hearst’s curious affair with the Symbionese Liberation Army of 1974.
As has been exhaustively chronicled by the media and Hollywood, the granddaughter of American media magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped on February 4, 1974. Brainwashed and abused, the 19-year old Patty Hearst joined the group to commit several armed robberies. Whether she was a victim of coercion or a converted criminal remained unresolved by her criminal trial. What is more important, however, is the undeniable fact of her impossible state of mind, namely, being simultaneously an initial victim and a duped collaborator of her submission. Her personal tragedy was straight up good versus evil.
Similarly, the majority of Hungarian and their ethnic kinfolks in the neighboring countries, consider themselves the innocent victims of the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty that decimated historic Hungary’s territory as well as its population. Predictably, they have attached great importance to the logic of good versus evil among themselves and in relation with their neighbors in the region. Thus, a nation inside and outside Hungary’s present national boundaries, has become divided against itself. Hatred, jealousy and desperation have taken hold of the Hungarian national consciousness. Collaboration with the evil “Illiberal Democracy” has been a life or death predicament for every Hungarian.
Yet, no country, no institution and no ideology can normally develop by constantly highlighting its miseries. Nor can the belief in unrealistic and fallacious historical narratives provide the people with real knowledge of themselves as well as the outside environment. This instability of the political realm has prevented the emergence of a new politics and perhaps a new conception as well as spirituality of being a Hungarian. For these reasons, Viktor Orban’s hate-filled fearmongering and divisive rhetoric might have been seen as a personal victory for him, but a tragic defeat for Hungary. Constitutionally, the new/old Orban government will be incapable of changing its corrupt ways. Understandably, such a state of affairs cannot continue much longer. Clinging to its self-defeating domestic and foreign policies, Hungary will not abandon its ambivalence and, therefore, it will remain an absurdly underdeveloped member of the European Union, in which the law of the jungle will always be superimposed on the rule of law. In the precious words of a late friend of mine, Istvan Gereben: “Hungary is and will remain for the foreseeable future a hopelessly lost cause for its long suffering citizens, the European Union and the rest of the world.”
The Michigan Court of Appeals has allowed the process of recalling Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist for abusing their powers and mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic to move ahead.
The effort to recall them is based on the argument they violated the Michigan Constitution’s separation of powers clause by continuing to issue virus-related orders through the state health department even after the Michigan Supreme Court found last October that Whitmer had abused her emergency powers, the website JustTheNews.com reported Wednesday.
The recall petitions, which Michigan’s Board of State Canvasser have already approved charge Whitmer with having exceeded her authority in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, including an extension of a promised “15-day pause” of indoor dining out over an additional two months.
“Whitmer’s continued actions which show an ‘It’s OK for me but not for thee’ mentality is not the mentality of an effective leader to bring Success and Growth to Michigan,” recall petitioner Chad Baase said.
The two Democrats have attempted to keep the recall process from moving forward by arguing in court the petitions fail to “adequately describe the authorities cited as reasons for the recall” and because the language used in them is unclear, citing as an example the use of the term “bars” to mean a public space.
The appeals court rejected that argument, “Any person invited to sign the petition would very likely envision a reference to a conventional tavern, where people can purchase and consume alcoholic beverages” while slapping Whitmer down further in the totality of its decision.
“We conclude that although the governor relied on the appearance of a string of nonsensical characters to support her challenge to the clarity of the petition language, the governor’s hasty conclusion about a word-processing irregularity does not arise often enough to compel reading the petition as featuring some gibberish in place of several normal characters that appear the rest of the time,” the court wrote.
The governor, speaking through a spokesman for her 2022 re-election campaign, said Whitmer intended to appeal the ruling in a further effort to block the attempt to recall her as she prepares to mount a bid for a second term.
While migrants from Central America stream to the U.S. border, any positive effects of Biden’s 'root-cause' strategy will be slow and incremental at best.
The journey of Central American migrants to the U.S. border — a perilous trip across thousands of miles of mountains and deserts — starts in places like the dry corridor in western Honduras.
Many of the region’s 1 million small farmers still live in adobe huts with no running water and suffer acts of humans and nature. Corrupt Honduran officials have invested too little in stabilizing or modernizing the region, allowing violent gangs to extort families. Recent droughts and hurricanes have created widespread hunger.
“It’s been one crisis after another,” says Conor Walsh, the Honduras representative for Catholic Relief Services in Tegucigalpa, the capital. “Many people have already migrated and others are evaluating whether they can stay on their farms.”
These longstanding problems throughout Central America are driving the current crisis on the southern U.S. border, where more than 170,000 migrants arrived in March in search of jobs and asylum. As the Biden administration grapples with this mounting surge, it’s also proposing a $4 billion long-term plan to attack the root causes of migration — corruption, violence, and poverty in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
The initiative is as ambitious as it is familiar. Presidents as far back as John F. Kennedy have pursued similar aims only to come up short. Joe Biden himself ran the troubled Central America initiative during the Obama administration. It encountered the same obstacles that have stymied past U.S. efforts — governmental leaders and business elites who resist good governance and anti-corruption reforms to protect their own interests, according to a study by the Wilson Center, a policy research group in Washington.
Consider Honduras, a showcase of government criminality. President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s election in 2017 was tainted by fraud. He is now under investigation by U.S. prosecutors who have brought a string of cocaine smuggling cases against prominent Hondurans. Members of the National Congress in Tegucigalpa have a habit of embezzlement, thereby robbing citizens of funding for health care, education, and jobs.
Nonetheless, U.S.-funded programs have struggled to make a difference in a nation in which government is a big part of the problem. Catholic Relief Services, for one, has helped boost the corn and bean yields and income of thousands of subsistence farmers in the Honduran dry corridor, offering a glimmer of hope. But a lack of roads, electricity, and credit for farmers means that only a sliver of them benefit from the technical aid. As a result, an unprecedented 47 percent of families in the dry corridor that stretches across Central America are moderately to severely food-deprived, according to an alarming 2017 United Nations study.United Nations World Food Program.
Now comes Biden’s crack at the region. He’s tweaking the U.S. aid playbook in hopes of a better outcome. The administration says fighting corruption is now the top priority since nothing will change until elected officials stop stealing and the governments become more accountable to citizens. Countries will have to meet stricter conditions, such as adopting governance reforms, before receiving aid, and officials face the threat of financial sanctions and revoked visas. The proposed $4 billion strategy, the biggest ever for the region, gives the administration some added leverage.
Vice President Kamala Harris heads the strategy team, which includes White House aide Juan Gonzalez and Ricardo Zuniga, the special envoy to the region. Zuniga was born in Honduras and both men worked on Western Hemispheric affairs in the Obama White House. In March, they traveled to the region and had “very frank discussions” with leaders about transparency, good governance, and anti-corruption, said one administration official.
The Treasury Department followed up those talks with sanctions in late April against Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, a Guatemalan Congressman, and Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cambara, a former official. They reportedly facilitated payments to lawmakers and judges to try to interfere with the appointment of magistrates and protect against corruption prosecutions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“You have to create a system of accountability that goes after the very corrupt elements within these governments,” added Steven Dudley, co-founder of InSight Crime, which investigates organized crime in Latin America. “The people Biden put in place have the experience and ideas, but the bridge between that and actually doing something is long.”
The get-tough diplomacy is already hitting resistance. In early April, Zuniga visited El Salvador to press the case against corruption. But President Nayib Bukele, miffed over criticism from a State Department official about his commitment to the rule of law, refused to meet with the envoy.
The snub would be familiar to a long line of presidents who have stumbled in the region. Since 1960 administrations have strategically deployed about $24 billion in foreign aid to Central America and the Caribbean.
During the Cold War years, aid was meant to reduce poverty to build support against leftist movements in El Salvador and its neighbors. It didn’t work. When the decades-long civil wars in the region finally ended in the 1990s, peace did usher in a long stretch of economic growth and declining poverty rates. In the ensuing decade, as drug trafficking and gang violence soared, the George W. Bush administration took its turn in Central America. It sent assistance to combat crime. But the programs lacked coordination and had a limited impact, according to another Wilson Center report.
The Obama administration had bigger ambitions. It expanded on Bush’s security initiative by adding governance and economic programs. The $2.4 billion “strategy for engagement” for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras began in 2014 and included 370 projects to make local officials more accountable, reduce crime and create jobs. In an op-ed supporting the strategy, Vice President Biden praised the nations’ commitment to reform and even met with President Hernandez at the White House in 2015 — an endorsement that proved too bullish.
After five years, the Government Accounting Office was blunt in its assessment of the projects that were mostly run by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Those reviewed by GAO achieved only 40 percent to 70 percent of their own technical targets, such as the number of police officers trained. Officials didn’t even bother to evaluate most of the projects or whether they helped improve governance, security, and economic opportunity.
When the biggest wave of migrants in more than a decade hit the U.S. border in 2019, the Trump administration pulled the plug on the Obama root cause strategy. USAID, now run by Samantha Power, a former envoy to the U.N. under President Obama, didn’t provide a spokesperson to comment for this story despite several requests.
Biden, who now has a second chance to get it right, faces his biggest test in Honduras. Its economy, which was once dominated by exports of coffee and bananas to the United States, has produced a number of ultra-wealthy clans resistant to the idea of cleaning up corruption.
Miguel Facusse, whose nephew served as president of Honduras, became rich from palm oil production and consumer products. But his legacy is tainted by accusations from human rights investigations that his security forces were involved in deadly clashes with small farmers over their claim to land in the region where his plantations operate.
As the economy became more service-oriented, former Vice President Jaime Rosenthal made a family fortune estimated in 2015 at $690 million from banking, telecommunications, and other businesses. But before his death two years ago, Rosenthal was indicted by U.S. prosecutors for participating in a money-laundering scheme with Honduran drug traffickers.
Honduras emerged as a cocaine transshipment point between South America and the United States a few decades ago. The 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya opened the door to more trafficking. Zelaya, a Liberal Party politician, had raised the minimum wage by 60 percent and defended the land rights of small farmers. Even more worrisome to business leaders like Facusse was that Zelaya had become cozy with leftist despots in the region and pushed to amend the constitution in an apparent attempt to extend his own presidency.
Zelaya’s ouster by the military led to a period of internal tumult, forcing the National Police to focus on restoring order, often violently cracking down on protesters. By 2015, 90 percent of cocaine coming to the United States passed through Central America, with Honduras as the major hub. More recently Hondurans have developed labs to produce cocaine, extending its tentacles in the economy, according to a report by InSight Crime.
Today, President Hernandez tops a list of Honduran politicians, military, and police officers who are under investigation or have been convicted of operating what seems like a state-sponsored drug cartel, according to the U.S. prosecutors. They say in 2013 Hernandez, who was then in Congress and campaigning for the presidency, got access to millions of dollars in cocaine from a murderous trafficker. In return, the politician allegedly told the trafficker, who was convicted in a U.S. court in March, that the military and attorney general would protect his operation. The president has repeatedly denied any involvement in trafficking.
The president’s brother, former congressman Tony Hernandez, was involved in every aspect of the cocaine trade. The end game was political power. He funneled millions of dollars in profits into National Party campaigns for three presidential elections, including the two his brother won in 2013 and 2017, prosecutors say. Tony Hernandez was handed a life prison sentence in March.
The Biden administration points to the silver linings in the dark clouds of the region’s recent history. In the last five years, an effort to root out political corruption made remarkable progress before it was quashed. In 2016, large street demonstrations over the looting of at least $300 million from the public health care system — a small amount of which found its way into Hernandez’s first presidential campaign — forced the president to set up an anti-corruption commission in partnership with the Organization of American States. The United States embraced the move with funding and political support.
The commission’s quasi-independence — it was led by Peruvian prosecutor Ana Maria Calderon Boy and others from outside Honduras — keyed its initial success. The commission set up a new unit of vetted prosecutors within the national government. It went on to reveal an embezzlement scam that later allegedly implicated more than 350 politicians, including President Hernandez, according to the Wilson report. Amid the scandal, he essentially disbanded the commission last year — a decision that brought condemnation from a bipartisan group of U.S. House leaders.
The Biden administration now aims to set up a new anti-corruption group as its main weapon. This time even more independence will be crucial if it’s to work. Zuniga, the special envoy, had discussions with nonprofits in Central America that want to form a U.S.-backed civil society commission. It would draw on the expertise of these groups in exposing corruption and operate outside the reach of national governments to shut it down. But local prosecutors would still have to pursue the cases.
“Instead of creating another commission that the governments can kick out, the United States can support nonprofits that have years of experience doing this work,” says Kurt Ver Beek, co-founder of the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras, who joined the talks with Zuniga. “We will make the corruption cases public and, along with the United States, pressure the governments to bring charges.”
The U.S.-backed effort to reform the National Police also got off to a promising start five years ago. The police served as a tool for cocaine smugglers, who easily exploited lowly paid officers with payoffs for dirty work. “Officers hijacked cars from citizens, dealt drugs for gangs, and lent out their services as hitmen,” according to a 2016 report by Ver Beek’s ASJ, the Christian nonprofit, which received funding from the State Department.
The revelation in 2016 that top police officials organized the assassination of Honduran’s anti-drug czar finally forced President Hernandez and Congress to set up another commission. Two ASJ leaders joined the group, which moved quickly to purge a remarkable 5,000 tainted and inexperienced beat cops and top officials — including six generals — equaling a third of the entire force.
The purge was a watershed moment showing that Hondurans could topple a fortress of criminality. But four years later drug smugglers are beginning to penetrate the police again, forcing good officers to choose whether to take a bribe or a bullet. “Traffickers tell cops, ‘I’ll kill you if you don’t help me, or take a bunch of money,’” says Ver Beek, a Cornell University-trained sociologist. “So they take the money.”
American agencies funded other projects such as community policing to reduce crime in Honduras, which a decade ago had the highest murder rate in the world. In her congressional confirmation hearing, Power, Biden’s new USAID administrator, pointed to the agency’s record of crime-fighting in the country as a bright spot to build on. “In districts where USAID had programming aimed at curbing violence, there was a drop in homicide rates,” she told senators in March. “That is encouraging.”
However, extortion of businesses by criminal gangs — a major driver of migration — may be getting worse. Gang members approach small businesses, such as barbers, food merchants and taxi drivers, and demand a small monthly payment that keeps going up until the owner can no longer pay it and flees. Hondurans refer to extortion as a “war tax,” which victimizes as many as half of all small businesses, Ver Beek estimates.
While officials pilfer public funds and gangs drive businesses to close, it’s no wonder that half of the Honduran population remains almost locked in poverty. The high rate hasn’t improved much over the last decade and is twice the level of neighboring El Salvador. As the Obama administration learned, foreign aid alone can’t do much to help kids escape this poverty trap.
USAID’s Future Employment program had ambitions in 2016 to train 7,500 at-risk youth in Honduras and place half of them in jobs to lure them away from gangs. The program struggled to find enough recruits in tough neighborhoods and enough employers willing to take a chance and hire them. Then the Trump administration cut off funding for projects across the three countries. By the end of 2019, fewer than 1,000 participants had found some employment, mostly in retail, in the year following training, according to a USAID evaluation.
While they certainly benefited from a job in the short term, their prospects of upward mobility are dim without more support from the Honduran government. For instance, the country has a federal minimum wage law that’s set above the poverty line and could help close the inequality gap. But almost half of employers ignore it and the government does little to enforce it, academic studies show.
“We have not produced the same kind of results that I’ve pointed to when it comes to physical security and crime,” Power said of USAID’s economic programs. “Hopefully we can begin to make a dent.”
Power could start by changing the way her agency runs projects in places like Honduras, nonprofit veterans believe. Aid experts have criticized the agency for hiring U.S. and international contractors to administer most of the program funding. The setup marginalizes local organizations that better understand on-the-ground issues and misses an opportunity to develop local advocates to push for reforms, says Sarah Bermeo, who specializes in foreign aid in Central America at Duke University.
“U.S. contractors are certainly overused compared to their ability to deliver results,” Bermeo says. “There is certainly room to improve outcomes by increasing the involvement of local groups in the design and implementation of AID-financed efforts.”
Meanwhile, migrants from Central America are streaming to the U.S. border. The increase that began a year ago has accelerated under Biden, threatening to top 1 million this year, the highest total in more than a decade. Biden’s root-cause strategy won’t change anything at the border in the short run. Advocates say progress will be incremental at best and measured in decades, not years.
“It’s going to be difficult but not impossible for the administration,” says Ariel Ruiz Soto, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “The U.S. investment has to occur over decades for there to be a real change.”
The effort to knock off U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski – the last legitimately pro-life Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives – was a multi-year project undertaken by some of the progressive movement’s most important and influential organizations. When it finally succeeded, it automatically conferred rising star status on the woman who beat him.
Now that woman – US. Rep. Marie Newman – is midway through her first term in Congress and finds that star tarnished by allegations she promised a job to a potential primary opponent in exchange for him agreeing not to enter the 2020 Illinois Democratic congressional primary.
According to CBS’s Chicago affiliate, WBBM-TV, Iymen Chehade, a Palestinian-American adjunct professor at Columbia College Chicago, is suing Newman saying she agreed to give him a well-paying job on her staff if he stayed out of the primary “so she could win more easily.”
Newman won the 2020 Democratic nomination for Illinois’ 3rd congressional district seat with 47.3 percent of the vote against three other candidates including Lipinski, in no small part by emphasizing her support for legalized abortion. There’s no way to tell if an additional candidate might have made a difference in either 2018 — when Lipinski eked out a win, 51-49 percent — or in 2020. Given that Newman’s eventual margin of victory over Lipinski was just about 3,000 votes, the possibility exists that the presence of one more office-seeker on the ballot might have produced a different outcome.
Newman, Chehade’s suit alleges, promised him a government job with a $135,000 to $140,000 salary and the twin titles of “foreign policy advisor” and “legislative or district director” if she won. This was memorialized in an employment contract entered into in December 2018 in which he agreed to help her as an “informal advisor” to draft her campaign stance on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“Newman was conscious of the fact that there was a large Palestinian-American community in her district and that her chances of success in the Democratic primary would improve if she had significant support within that community,” the suit he filed against Newman charges. Through a spokesman, Newman denied what Chehade claims in his suit.
“Mr. Chehade was never and has never been a candidate in a congressional race for Illinois’ 3rd District. Mr. Chehade was not hired in part because he not only misrepresented his qualifications but was ill-suited for a senior role in a congressional office, as demonstrated by his interactions with Ms. Newman and her campaign volunteers,” the spokesman told Chicago’s Channel 2.
“In fact, in the summer of 2019, Mr. Chehade explicitly conveyed to Ms. Newman over the phone that he could not work with her. It was only after several months of no direct communication between the two that Mr. Chehade contacted Ms. Newman pleading to her to hire him in her official office,” the unidentified spokesman continued, claiming also that Chehade had “spent over a month making false statements to the press.”
The suit, of course, is not Newman’s only problem. What Chehade has alleged is bigger than just a dispute between him and the congresswoman over her failure to live up to an employment contract, says noted election law attorney Cleta Mitchell.
“It is a criminal offense under federal law to promise a job or appointment of any kind for the purpose of securing support for a candidacy. If the facts of the complaint have any merit whatsoever, the FBI should be investigating this matter. In addition, the Office of Congressional Ethics should open its own investigation, which it can do without any third party filing a complaint,” Mitchell says. “OCE has the authority to open the investigation on its own and that is what they should do. This is the kind of law-breaking we’ve come to expect from leftists who preach about how idealistic they are when, in reality, they are just partisan thugs. “
The man generally considered the most powerful and possibly the most corrupt politician in Illinois abruptly resigned his seat in the state legislature Thursday after being denied another term as Speaker of the State House of Representatives.
Michael (Mike) Madigan, who for years has ruled the Illinois Democratic Party and political machine with an iron hand said he would give up at the end of February the seat he’d held for half a century as concerns mounted over what the Chicago Tribune called “a sprawling federal corruption probe” into events in which it has been suggested Madigan may have been involved.
The scandal that eventually brought the powerful Democratic leader down erupted after federal prosecutors said leaders of Commonwealth Edison had bribed Madigan associates in exchange for help from his political organization passing legislation deemed favorable to its interests. One of those most closely involved in the scheme was former state representative and ComEd lobbyist Michael McCain, whom the Tribune described as being “One of Madigan’s closest confidants.”
Madigan has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the scheme. Nonetheless, it is the straw that broke the camel’s back of a career that saw him looming large over every aspect of Illinois politics. More than a handful of his Democratic colleagues cited the scandal as the reason they could not vote to give him another term as Speaker.
“It’s no secret that I have been the target of vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements lifting up the working people of Illinois,” Madigan said in a statement. “I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interests of the people of Illinois.”
His speakership, which began in 1983, lasted nearly 40 years and is one of the longest on record anywhere in the United States. Before his colleagues declined to re-elect him, the closest he ever came to losing his grip on power came in 1994 when, as part of the Contract of America election the Republicans won control of the Illinois Legislature for a single term.
His replacement as Speaker, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, is seen as a Madigan loyalist who, in a statement thanked him for his “sincere and meaningful contributions to our state.”
“Under him, we’ve had strong, sustained Democratic leadership in Springfield,” Welch said, referring to the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, and the abolition of the death penalty, which began in earnest under former GOP Gov. George Ryan.
“Now we must build on that with a new generation of leadership focused on racial and gender equity in all dimensions, improving government transparency, and leading with the kind of conviction, compassion, and cooperation expected by our constituents,” Welch continued.
Big labor leaders whose alliances with Madigan were the source of his power also complemented the outgoing Speaker. Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter called him a “steadfast, dedicated, and courageous champion of workers and their families in Illinois for a generation,” the Sun-Times reported.
Despite his resignation, Madigan remains a significant player in Illinois politics – at least for the time being. He spawned a political dynasty that includes his adopted daughter Lisa, the Illinois Attorney General from 2003 to 2019. He will remain chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and will continue to be the Democratic Committeeman for Chicago’s 13th Ward which, according to published reports, gives him an outsized role in picking his successor.
The federal probe into state corruption and any possible role Madigan may have played in it is expected to continue.
This past year was one of the most tumultuous in memory. Widespread economic collapse, social and societal upheaval, violent riots, an acrimonious election cycle, and a worldwide pandemic are just a few of the major sources of upheaval.
These sorts of massive disruptions to the norm create opportunities for change and improvement. Some use those opportunities productively to work for solutions that fix real problems and improve lives. But sadly, many use these disruptions to cynically advance their own agenda while feigning concern for the plight of others. Unfortunately, organized labor falls into this latter group.
In a time when so many Americans desperately want a job and a way to fund the hopes, dreams and aspirations of their family, too many union leaders are slamming the door shut on the very people they claim to serve. To make matters worse, too many union leaders are also padding their own pockets and working to advance their own power and influence at the expense of their members.
Here are a few recent examples. Dennis Williams, the former president of United Auto Workers (UAW), pled guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the union. And this scandal was preceded by his successor at the UAW, Gary Jones, admitting that he helped steal more than a million dollars from union workers. That’s a bad trend line!
James W. Cahill, a powerful and politically well-connected union leader, was indicted on racketeering and fraud charges. Federal prosecutors allege that he and others accepted bribes to aid companies that had hired nonunion labor. So the charges include accepting under the table money to work against your own members. But we are supposed to believe that the union is working to help union workers.
Chuck Stiles, the Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division, has allegedly been taking large annual payouts of $65,000 for a “phantom job” on top of his $150,000 annual salary. These allegationsdon’t come from some union-hating critic, they come from an active member of the Teamsters Union. On top of that, there are allegations that Stiles’s son has also received a difficult-to-explain $10,000 payout from union funds.
This sort of double self-dealing, if true, is very troubling and it raises the question — are these unions really representing their members or are they simply pretending to, and then enriching themselves while carrying on the charade.
The cynicism doesn’t end with corrupt payments or self-dealing. For example, Stiles has decided to try to leverage the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to increase support for the struggling labor movement. Yet the labor movement has not historically been the friend of racial minorities. And Stiles has no history of supporting minority candidates or causes. Interestingly, a public photo of Stiles in blackface has also recently emerged. So the idea that Stiles has some deep commitment to helping blacks or other minorities is a little hard to swallow. It is a fair question to ask — how serious and how sincere is this newfound interest in minorities and their economic welfare?
More than five million manufacturing jobs disappeared from the American economy between 1999 and 2011. The exodus of good paying jobs continued through 2016. China was the single biggest factor. This massive jobs exodus harmed working-class blacks, yet BLM has been silent on China and refused to support policies that would reverse our economic losses to the Communist Country. Instead, they’ve focused on odd conspiracy theories about obesity and diabetes in the black community — as if that has been more consequential to black employment and poverty than jobs being exported abroad.
Given all that has transpired, when BLM and unions claim to be teaming up to protect and promote the interests of working-class blacks, a huge dose of realism is needed. Who actually benefits when unions “team up” with BLM but they both refuse to actually do what is needed to promote good paying manufacturing and other skilled labor jobs? It won’t be minority workers.
Someone who claims they support workers, must point to how they’ve helped make real improvements in the lives of workers — more jobs, higher wages, etc. This is not the track record of unions or BLM in the past two decades. They have done a good job of enriching themselves and raising money and obtaining political power for themselves. But where is the evidence that they have done anything for the average American worker — black or white? And why haven’t they supported policies that have actually worked and benefited American workers — and particularly minority workers?
These questions answer themselves. Both unions and BLM do more posturing than actual good, and they are teaming up hoping to hide this inescapable truth so that they can continue to prosper while feigning concern for those they claim to represent.
The Hon. Richard Neal
U.S. House of Representatives
2309 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC. 20515
Dr. Mr. Chairman,
Your recent comments about the need to investigate criminal wrongdoing by public officials and the importance of transparency to American government have not gone unnoticed.
As you know, allegations of just such wrongdoing and the lack of transparency have arisen over the last two months based on emails found on a personal computer belonging to Hunter Biden — the son of Vice President Joseph Biden — a computer whose authenticity has been established by the FBI.
As you also know, public record has established beyond doubt that vice President Biden repeatedly took his son on official trips to foreign nations and that soon after such trips his son’s companies we’re receiving millions in contracts from government related entities in those nations. Additionally, it is also public record that when one of those companies came under investigation for corrupt practices by a foreign government vice president Biden intervened and forced that government to shut down the corruption probe and fire the prosecutor by threatening to deny the country and its people US foreign aid. This, as you know, is indisputable since Vice President Biden openly boasted on camera about his effectiveness in getting the corruption prosecutor fired.
Now, however, graver questions have arisen about the suspect activities of the vice president and his son. Disclosure of the emails from Hunter Biden’s computer show him speaking openly about paying out money to the rest of the family including his father who was apparently referred to — and these are just two examples— as “the big guy” or someone entitled to his ten percent.
Already, of course, Vice President Biden has a serious credibility problem on this issue, having said flatly that he never discussed such business matters with his son. Evidence from the computer emails as well as testimony from one of his son’s former business colleagues who attended meetings with Vice President Biden show his emphatic denial is now one of the boldest falsehoods ever told an American public life.
In any case, we hope that you would welcome the chance to assist Vice President Biden in laying to rest any allegations that he was using his office and official travel to influence foreign governments or entities to benefit his son’s businesses. And to answer this question: Was any of that income received by Vice President Biden or other family members?
Thus, we hope that in view of your strong demand for transparency and disclosure you will endorse our suggestion that your committee ask for vice President Biden’s bank records and those of the rest of his family over the period of his vice presidency and immediately thereafter. In this way he can put to rest any allegations including concerns about how he acquired his extensive personal wealth and his large estate.
If members of the committee from both sides as well as their legal counsel could be permitted to examine the records and then report to the Congress this would do much to clear the air. Moreover, if you took this initiative as a member of the Democratic House leadership this would do much to show that your interest in full disclosure and investigating corruption extends to members of your own party.
As you know, when these allegations arose during the presidential campaign, media organizations – some of whom still claim they are serious news organizations – rushed to protect Vice President Joe Biden who was their chosen candidate by imposing a news blackout on this information.
But that won’t last now – the public is going to want to know the truth. This is your chance to serve the cause of integrity and transparency in public office as you’ve talked so much about the past few years.
The American people have a right to this information and we are hopeful that you and the Vice President will see the advantage of the full disclosure suggested by our proposal before demands for a special counsel become deafening.
Frontiers of Freedom
Americans for Limited Government
Institute for Liberty
American Business Defense Council
cc: Rep. Kevin Brady
Rep. Lloyd Doggett
Rep. Devin Nunes
Rep. Bill Pascrell
Rep. Mike Kelly
Rep. Mike Thompson
Rep. Adrian Smith
Rep. John Larson
Rep. Tom Reed
Rep. Earl Blumenauer
Rep. Vern Buchanan
Rep. Danny Davis
Rep. Jackie Walorski
<< CLICK HERE TO SEE FRONTIERS OF FREEDOM’S PRESS RELEASE >>
THE PUBLIC WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT A “NEWS BLACKOUT” ON LAPTOP EVIDENCE IMPOSED BY MEDIA FOR THEIR “CHOSEN CANDIDATE” IN 2020 ELECTION.
“ONE OF THE BOLDEST FALSEHOODS EVER TOLD IN AMERICAN PUBLIC LIFE” SAYS LETTER ABOUT BIDEN’S EMPHATIC DENIAL OF DISCUSSION OF BUSINESS MATTERS WITH SON, citing evidence from laptop emails and testimony from Hunter Biden business colleague who attended meetings with Joe Biden present.
IN ADDITION TO CHINA AND MOSCOW PAYMENTS TO HUNTER BIDEN, BIDEN FAMILY BANK RECORDS MAY SHED LIGHT ON JOE BIDEN’S INTERVENTION IN UKRAINE TO SHUT DOWN CORRUPTION PROBE INTO SON’S COMPANY BY DENYING US FOREIGN AID TO GOVERNMENT AND UKRAINIAN PEOPLE .
It is “indisputable” that Biden misused foreign aid since he “openly boasted on camera about his effectiveness in getting the corruption prosecutor fired.”
Letter says Ways and Means Committee Chairman and House Democrats now have a chance “to show that your interest in full disclosure and investigating corruption extends to members of your own party.”
Washington DC – A coalition of conservative leaders are demanding that House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal and other House Democrats who have been trying to obtain President Trump’s tax returns to ask Vice President Biden for bank records during the period of his Vice Presidency and immediately thereafter. The group says such records could help lay to rest concerns that he used his office and official travel for personal benefit and explain emails by his son referring to payments to Biden and other members of the family.
One of the signers of the letter, George Landrith, President of Frontiers of Freedom, said “We think Chairman Neal and Vice President Biden should welcome the chance to clear the air. Our letter speaks for itself and we hope Members of Congress join in our demand for a full and honest review.”
The signers of the letter include:
George Landrith – President, Frontiers of Freedom
Richard Manning – President, Americans for Limited Government
Andrew Langer – President, Institute for Liberty
Seton Motley – President, Less Government
Horace Cooper – Co-Chairman, Project 21
Saul Anuzis – President, 60 Plus
Dick Patten – President – American Business Defense Council
For more info contact: Ruth Holmberg via e-mail or 703-246-0110, ext. 1306.
<< CLICK HERE TO READ THE COALITION LETTER
REFERENCED IN THIS PRESS RELEASE >>
# # #
The British author Joanne Rowling of the fantasy series Harry Potter has introduced the Dementors in Harry Potter and the Prisoners of Azbakan. These hooded humanoid characters have been depicted in the movies as skeletal figures with the ability to fly unconstrained by the laws of physics. They are the prison guards of Azbakan whose task is to create utter hopelessness and even suicidal self-hatred by the inmates. Their destructive energy can be spread like a virus through the air and also by invisible, yet direct contacts with humans. Arabella Figg, a character in OP8 describes them thus: “Everything went cold….and I felt…as though all happiness had gone from the world…and I remembered….dreadful things.”
Viktor Orban’s Hungary is Joanne Rowlings’s Azbakan and the metastasizing fatal cancerous tumor gnawing on the body politic of NATO and the European Union. He and his very small circle of co-conspirators, better defined as his accomplices in setting up and running his criminal enterprise, are the Dementors of the Hungarian people.
Since his party FIDESZ has been brought back to power by a two thirds majority in the Parliament in 2010, and have been kept in power through a new and taylor made constitution as well as election frauds in 2014 and 2018, Viktor Orban has had a deliberate plan to kill every aspect of Hungary’s fledgling democracy. His diabolical legal and extra legal schemes of demoralization of the population have been designed to reduce the entire nation to profligate imbecility. His so-called “illiberal democracy” has stripped the citizens of their chance to vote out his government by free elections devoid of voter fraud, ballot stuffing, and the forced inclusion of ethnic Hungarians in the local and national elections from the neighboring countries.
His and his accomplices shameful corruption has impoverished Hungary and has kept the bulk of the nation as near to abject poverty as seemed appropriate for a modicum of societal tranquility. Politically, Viktor Orban has pursued a host of tactical opportunities that has aimed at propping up his autocracy. His means have included every conceivable move, including cozying up to dictators from the east, such as the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Russia, Valdimir Putin, and a colorful assortment of really nasty authoritarians from the former Soviet Union. Domestically, the tactics that Viktor Orban has employed have been drastic. He and his accomplices have ruined the health industry and destroyed almost the entire educational system. As a result, most of the experienced physicians and qualified nurses have left Hungary, and teachers have lost their jobs in the thousands. Thus, the difference between the general condition of Hungary now and the days before 1990, is one of degree, the latter state might have been better than the former.
Yet, no economic decline or financial troubles appear to rattle the consciousness of Hungary’s Dementors. As in Rowlings’s masterpiece, Viktor Orban and his accomplices possess no soul and know no mercy. Stealing and embezzlement are continuing unabated. His boyhood body from his home village Lorinc Meszaros and his son in law Istvan Tiborcz have become billionaires. Clearly, they are Viktor Orban’s premier Strohmen. His previous financial guru Lajos Simicska fell out of favor years ago, because he became too powerful and knew too much about Viktor Orban’s and his accomplices’s shenanigans. For his alleged and actual sins, Simicska was destroyed as a businessman and completely ruined financially.
A lot already has been written about Hungary’s new emergency legislation due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to giving unlimited powers to Viktor Orban both in scope and duration, the legislation eliminates every vestige of democracy, freedom, independence, and individuality. Again, as in Rowlings’s masterpiece, Hungarians have been relegated to zombie existence. This condition will not change until Viktor Orban and his criminal gang continue to possess absolute powers.
Adding insult to injury, the European Union has never taken decisive actions against Hungary. However, if Brussels does not intervene, Viktor Orban will continue to weaken the cohesion of the organization. The founding values of the European Union are at stake. More importantly, he is not entirely alone. The states of the former Soviet bloc, with few exceptions, are as corrupt, if not even more, than Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
The United States of America has not fared better against Hungary than the European Union. The current administration has sent to Budapest an amateur whose understanding of Hungary is near zero. His only dubious accomplishment is that he has made a fool of himself by becoming the lapdog of Viktor Orban. In this manner, the White House and the State Department have been deprived of objective and unbiased information about the situation in Hungary. Clearly, Viktor Orban represents a very serious threat to NATO as well as the European Union. The time is running out for corrective actions. The Hungarian people are getting more and more desperate. The possibility of a bloody upheaval against VIktor Orban’s autocracy is real. To prevent it should be high priority for Brussels and for Washington too.
The first House Judiciary hearing featured three professors in favor of Trump impeachment, one against. The three anti-Trump witnesses elaborated their definitions of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and all came to the conclusion that Mr. Trump was guilty as charged of the three principal charges advocated by the House Intelligence Committee report on its “investigation”, namely, bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power.
Jonathan Turley, the lone expert opposed to impeachment, advocated caution and against proceeding with the current case because it has no solid evidentiary basis and no bipartisan consensus of wrongdoing – hallmarks of the previous two modern cases of impeachment. As expected, the questioning was conducted along partisan lines.
My own analysis of the testimony is as follows: while the definitions of impeachable offenses and the historical context offered by the pro-impeachment scholars were impressive, their facile acceptance of the hearsay testimony provided by the witnesses in the Intel Committee was alarmingly biased. There was no appreciation of the due process violations or the lack of any first-hand testimony to the President’s alleged behavior.
The argument that the President’s refusal to allow administration officials who had such knowledge to testify in the one-sided Committee setting constitutes obstruction of justice and, by implication, an admission of guilt is a meaningless and circular argument.
As Turley pointed out, conflicts between the two branches of government – in this case the extent of Executive Privilege – are traditionally settled by the third branch of government, the Courts. The Democrats’ reason for not pursuing this course is that it would take too long – so what’s the hurry? The coming election, of course. Another circular argument. Turley’s underlying argument, that this entire episode is the product of rage rather than reason, could not be more accurate.
If there is no direct evidence of the President’s intentions available, that leaves the transcript of the conversation with the Ukrainian President as the chief exhibit. That conversation does indeed contain the American President’s request of the Ukrainian President that he look into the Biden affair of 2014. The issue therefore is how to understand the context of that request.
Given the fact that the military funding for Ukraine had been held up by the administration pending the outcome of their elections, the Dems are claiming that Trump’s “request” was in fact a threat to continue that delay unless the Ukrainian agreed to initiate the Biden investigation. It has been established that the President Zelensky was not aware of this delay at the time of the call. Nor did such an investigation ever take place. And the grant was authorized and took place less than two months later.
The fact that several lower level diplomats didn’t agree with this tactic and were not informed about its goals –and further made up their own unflattering rationale to explain it — does not constitute evidence.
The alternative context for President Trump’s request is that he was aware of the substantial opposition of the previous Ukrainian government toward his election and the involvement of Ukrainian technology in the whole Hillary Clinton episode of the missing 30,000 emails. He apparently felt that this new reform government could possibly uncover some useful information about that issue. The Biden affair was widely reported at the time (2014) and apparently connected to the corruption of the previous Ukrainian government in Trump’s mind.
This interpretation seems more consistent with known facts than the State Department’s “presumption”. However, a fair and balanced investigation might prove otherwise, as Professor Turley asserted. Unfortunately, the Dems don’t have time for that.
Stay tuned while this sad story continues to unfold.
Column: How wealth and cronyism transformed American democracy
Ironies pile up. Both participants in the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky are outsiders whose fame catapulted them to high office. Foreign policy experts assumed their similar profile would promote goodwill and understanding. That was incorrect. This star-crossed encounter has damaged the careers of both men. It also has thrown light on the nature of their societies.
Reality TV star Trump leveraged social media and anti-establishment politics into a takeover of the Republican Party. In his television show Servant of the People, comedian and filmmaker Zelensky portrayed a high school teacher whose rant against the political class goes viral and becomes the basis for a successful presidential campaign. Servant of the People debuted in 2015 and proved disturbingly prescient. In a double case of life imitating art, both Trump and Zelensky wound up portraying versions of Zelensky’s character Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko in real life.
What is real life? These days it is hard to tell. The impeachment drama commingles fact and fantasy, ineptitude and insinuation, in a plot that may be more familiar to Ukrainian audiences than to American ones. The opening scene of Servant of the People takes place on a balcony in Kiev overlooking the Maidan. Three oligarchs discuss the forthcoming elections and the rival candidates they support. At the end of the day, the trio concludes, all that matters is they maintain control of the political process. That’s not how it works out.
The show is a comedy. And there are certainly humorous aspects to the present situation. But, if you watch Servant of the People on Netflix today, the parallels between its storyline and contemporary politics are glaring and serious. The fictional conversation described above could have taken place in certain quarters of the United States in 2015, in London in 2016, in Kiev in 2019. It cannot be a good thing that American democracy has taken on some of the characteristics of the Ukrainian version.
In a sense it is fitting that a former province of the Soviet Union beset by corruption, cronyism, and war has become the crux of Democratic efforts to impeach Donald Trump. This beleaguered country is not only a crossroads between West and East, Europe and Eurasia, NATO and Russia. It is also a field from which America’s bipartisan elite has reaped considerable bounties in contracts and directorships, in consulting and lobbying. What has been happening in Ukraine for decades is emblematic of the self-dealing and self-seeking that has exhausted voting publics and inspired populists across the world. Unexpectedly, Trump’s relation to Ukraine threatens the viability of the movements it helped create.
Just as Trump needn’t have broken any laws for the Democrats to impeach him, Hunter Biden needn’t have violated any statute to symbolize the cronyism of America’s political class. It takes the willing suspension of disbelief to argue that politics had nothing to do with the appointment of the son of the vice president to the well-compensated board of an oil and gas giant two months after he was kicked out of the U.S. Navy for cocaine abuse.
And it requires unblinking partisanship to deny that both Republicans and Democrats, from Paul Manafort to Greg Craig, from BGR Group to the defunct Podesta Group, have profited from connections to Ukraine’s various governments and officials. “If you want me to leave the U.S. on Monday 6/16 and return on Friday 6/20,” Democrat Tad Devine wroteRepublican Rick Gates in reference to a Ukraine job in 2014, “that would be 5 days at $10G/day for $50,000.00. You would need to make the travel arrangements, and transfer the $50G before the trip.” That’s top dollar for someone who once consulted a socialist.
For decades, the economies that emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Empire have been playgrounds for American political professionals to deploy their tricks of the trade, their skills at campaign management and public relations, in lucrative arrangements. Perhaps we should have expected these politicos might return home with pieces of post-Soviet political culture in their carry-ons: love of intrigue, of information operations conducted in digital and social media, of conspiracy theories, of national populism and of socialism, of high-dollar payouts made against the backdrop of gray-zone conflict between authoritarian and democratic states. The vocabulary of American politics has appropriated Russian terminology: maskirovka and kompromat, nomenklatura and czar.
This influence is manifest in the conduct of impeachment so far. Anonymous whistleblowers from within the intelligence services trigger investigations of the president. The speaker of the House announces an impeachment inquiry but does not call the roll. The quasi-official status of the investigation allows the Democratic majority to minimize Republican involvement. Hearings are secret. Selective leaks to media drive the impeachment narrative and consolidate partisan support for the president’s removal. To speak of narratives rather than evidence is to acknowledge our postmodern condition, where interpretations are more powerful than facts.
From Varsity Blues to Jeffrey Epstein, from China and the NBA to Ukraine and Hunter Biden, Americans are taking a crash course on the ways in which powerful people manipulate the system for personal advantage and globalization merges political cultures as well as economies. What has been uncovered as impeachment rolls on does nothing to spur confidence in the integrity of our system. America is exceptional, but our elites are not. Today we are all Ukrainians.
Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the allegations that Attorney General Bill Barr is now somehow “implicated” in the Ukraine controversy because he spoke with counterparts in England, Italy, and Australia about assisting in the investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham. If those calls were truly about the Durham investigation, it would be entirely proper for Barr to ask for such assistance. I have always maintained that the Congress has a legitimate interest in investigating the Ukraine controversy. However, the chorus of recriminations on the Barr matter reveal the hype triggering much of the hypoxia.
Here is the column:
With all of the breathless headlines of the last two weeks, it is astonishing that the entire city of Washington is not swooning from hypoxia. Much of the media have blasted out the news that Attorney General William Barr is “implicated” in the Ukraine scandal, after sources said he pressed leaders in Australia, Italy and England to supply evidence about the origins of the Russia investigation. Esquire Magazine was a tad more descriptive, proclaiming Barr was now “far up s–t creek” because of his calls.
Yet not only is there a valid reason for such calls, but they could indicate that the creek could become a storm of sorts for Democrats over the coming weeks. The calls made by Barr were reportedly linked to the ongoing investigation by United States Attorney John Durham into the origins of the Russia investigation. It is not uncommon for an attorney general, or even a president, to ask foreign leaders to assist with ongoing investigations. Such calls can shortcut bureaucratic red tape, particularly if the evidence is held, as in this case, by national security or justice officials. A call to request assistance for the Durham investigation would “implicate” Barr in nothing other than an official investigation.
I supported the appointment of a special counsel after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. I also supported an investigation into the origins of the FBI investigation. The country is divided on the merits of both with legitimate concerns raised on each side. With the start of a House impeachment inquiry, it is more important than ever to have transparency along with a review of both investigations.
Moreover, Durham could answer some disturbing aspects of the origins of the Russia investigation, including the mysterious role of Professor Joseph Mifsud. Efforts by Durham to gain cooperation from Australia, England, and Italy likely concern figures such as Misfud. The professor seemed eager and focused in revealing that there were “thousands of emails” in the hands of the Russians in conspicuously opportunistic meetings with key figures.
An academic from Malta, Mifsud has long been tied to Russian interests and appears at critical moments throughout the Russia investigation. He met with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in both Rome and London. In one of those meetings, he referenced the existence of hacked emails.
We have never established the real facts or loyalties of Mifsud. Some have suggested that he may have been a Western asset working for American, British, or Italian intelligence services. Fueling that speculation was the fact that the special counsel report indicates Mifsud lied repeatedly to investigators on sensitive national security issues. While Robert Mueller charged others for minor discrepancies in the stories that they told investigators, Mifsud somehow escaped any such charge.
Information on Mifsud would be found in countries like Australia, England, and Italy, as would be information on the work of former British spy Christopher Steele. The Clinton campaign paid him and an American opposition research firm a large sum of money to seek dirt on Trump, including Russian and other foreign sources. Such information is not easily shaken loose without a high level prompt from someone like Barr.
However, many of the very same figures in Congress and in the media who previously called for full disclosure of every aspect of the Russia investigation are now criticizing the effort to gather evidence in the Durham investigation. It appears the public “right to know” does not extend that far. The reason is that a key report by Durham likely would come at a most importune time in advance of the 2020 election.
Democrats already are moving to impeach Trump on the Ukraine matter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have told fellow Democrats to focus on Ukraine instead of on Russia conspiracy or obstruction, which led to more than two years of investigation. One reason for this is that Trump would be able to call his own witnesses during a Senate trial, particularly with a Republican majority dictating the rules. If the Russia investigation winds up as part of an impeachment trial, then Trump would be able to use these reports and earlier disclosures to place the conduct of the Obama administration under the spotlight before the public.
Trump would have plenty to work with in such a trial. The original focus was on his campaign aide Carter Page, who ultimately was not indicted on any crime. Mueller could not find a single crime by George Papadopoulos other than a marginal false statement that led to a whole 12 days in jail. Mueller ultimately found that no Trump official knowingly dealt with Russian hackers or trolls. If Durham finds irregularities and improper conduct in the Russia investigation, it will reinforce the claim by Trump that his campaign was improperly targeted by hostile FBI officials.
Even worse is there could be a one two punch coming on the Russia investigation. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is said to be close to releasing his report on the secret surveillance targeting Trump officials. The report is expected to be both comprehensive and damaging for many involved in the start of that investigation. Durham and Horowitz will not be easily dismissed. Both are widely respected and are working with career investigators. If either finds improper conduct, it could reinforce the position of Republicans and moderate Democrats in voting against the impeachment or removal of Trump, who strongly maintains that the Obama administration not only improperly targeted his campaign for investigation but proved lax in investigating allegations against Democrats ranging from Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden.
Convicting a president in an impeachment trial requires evidence and clarity. Even if Democrats only proceed on the Ukraine call, Trump will be able to claim that he sought evidence tied to the Russia investigation to assist Horowitz and Durham in their own investigations. He will be able to call witnesses like Hunter Biden on his business dealings in Ukraine while his father handed out more than a billion dollars in aid.
It is doubtful that Democrats could resist references to the Russia investigation in an impeachment trial, which would trip the wire for Trump to bring in countervailing evidence from the Horowitz or Durham reports. Esquire Magazine could right about the nature of this river, but while it may lead to many things, clarity is not likely one of them.
Back in the old days, it was understood that reporters were supposed to hunt down stories and seek out hidden truths. There was even a name for it. A good reporter was said to have a nose for news.
So what happened? How did we reach the point where journalists presented with a major scandal — an almost self-evident abuse of power — just yawn and turn away?
Obviously, I am not talking about President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. That topic, along with the “whistleblower” complaint filed about it, has turned reporters into hornets hit with a smoke bomb. They instantly flew into an involuntary frenzy and chased after Trump and his supporters with stingers at the ready. We were assured that Trump had used the powers of the presidency to “gather dirt” on his political opponent (Joe Biden) and threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine until prosecutors there had manufactured evidence of wrongdoing by Biden and his son Hunter, who for no doubt entirely innocent reasons was drawing hefty paychecks from a Ukrainian energy company.
The mad cry of “Impeachment!” was shouted in celebratory tones throughout the hallowed halls of D.C. The narrative came together seamlessly within hours, as suddenly the Democrats in Congress and the information gatekeepers in the news media informed us with one voice that this was bad for President Trump. Very bad.
It was almost as though the facts didn’t matter. They certainly didn’t matter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who announced an “impeachment inquiry” before having read either the whistleblower complaint or the actual transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky. Nor did they matter to news anchors, editors and reporters, who somehow all magically became experts on political corruption in the Ukraine, Hunter Biden’s corporate history, and impeachment itself.
Remarkably, the public confession of former Vice President (and soon-to-be former 2020 Democratic front-runner) Joe Biden that he had applied pressure to the former Ukrainian president in order to get a prosecutor fired attracted zero interest from the lethargic newshounds at CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Nor did the fact that the actual call between Trump and Zelensky revealed no quid pro quo, no pressure, no demand from Trump other than what you would expect from any president — that the laws be faithfully executed.
Instead of expressing curiosity about why the Bidens had been the subject of a criminal investigation in Ukraine, reporters fell into lockstep with the Democrats’ impeachment narrative. Everywhere you turned for the last two weeks, whenever a reporter was talking about Biden at all, it was to talk about how he was being maligned by Trump, that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing, that the claim that he had gotten a prosecutor fired to protect his son was a “debunked conspiracy theory.”
When you asked who cleared Biden, you got no answer except the news media themselves. When you asked who debunked the claim that Biden had pressured the Ukrainian president to fire the prosecutor by threatening to withhold aid, you got no response except that other European countries also wanted the prosecutor fired (as if that proved anything). When the president stymied the impeachment narrative by releasing the transcript compiled by national security officials who listened in on the offending phone call, which proved that the whistleblower was actually blowing smoke, the media circled the wagons. The Washington Post created its own conspiracy theory that up to two-thirds of the call between Trump and Zelensky had mysteriously been elided into non-existence. I debunked that far-left conspiracy theory myself, but hardly any mainstream reporter seems interested in looking at the facts.
From ABC News: “Trump is referring to unfounded allegations that as vice president, Biden tried to protect his son by stopping an investigation into the Ukrainian company that his son worked for.”
From NBC News: “There is no evidence either Biden did anything wrong.”
You can find the same dubious claims on channel after channel, but let’s not let supposedly pro-Trump Fox News off the hook. Ed Henry, in an exchange with commentator Mark Levin about the call with the Ukrainian president, asked, “You’re OK with one president asking another president to dig up dirt on a candidate?”
When challenged by Levin for asking a dishonest question, Henry claimed, “That’s a quote from the transcript, sir.”
Actually, it’s not, but maybe Henry was relying on a transcript of the “fake call” that Rep. Adam Schiff used to punk the president during a congressional hearing about the whistleblower. It’s like a grade-school game of Telephone, where you start with a perfectly innocent conversation between two world leaders talking about political corruption and send it through three levels of hearsay, anonymous sources, and biased reporters, and you wind up at “There are naked pictures of Trump in Vladimir Putin’s safe.” Say what?
If you need irrefutable evidence of the curious lack of curiosity in the mainstream media, you need look no further than Peter Schweizer, the author of “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends.” Chapter 4 of that book is titled succinctly “Bidens in Ukraine.”
Schweizer recently sat for an hour-long interview with Levin on “Life, Liberty & Levin,” where he talked about the extensive evidence of corruption against the Bidens. If you want a real whistleblower, Schweizer is your man.
As vice president, Joe Biden had oversight of U.S. relations with just two countries for the Obama administration — Ukraine and China. As we now know, Hunter Biden had lucrative contracts with companies in both of those countries, but let’s just focus on Ukraine and the energy company named Burisma that hired the younger Biden as a consultant, adviser and board member.
“What’s important … to note,” Schweizer told Levin, “is that Hunter Biden has no background in energy, he has no background in Ukraine. He’s being hired to help them with regulatory compliance. I don’t know how he’s going to help them with that, but that’s really not the reason he was hired.”
He was being paid $83,000 a month by Burisma, which Schweizer says is “probably the most corrupt company in Ukraine” and was founded by an oligarch with funds stolen from the Ukrainian government. The rest of the story, as told by Schweizer:
“The point is that Hunter Biden joined forces with a very corrupt oligarch, got a big payday, and he got a payday that he didn’t deserve … because he wasn’t selling his expertise. He had none, and the key question here that no one seems to want to ask in the media is, ‘What was he being paid for?’ He wasn’t being paid for his expertise. What was he being paid for, and what were the Ukrainians expecting to get in return? And I think when you overlay the financial payments with the fact that Joe Biden is point person on Obama administration policy to Ukraine, was steering billions of dollars of Western money to Ukraine, it becomes crystal clear exactly why they were paying him money. They wanted access and they wanted to influence Joe Biden. And Joe Biden’s been around a long time and he had to know exactly why his son was being paid this money.”
Sadly, the Washington press corps has displayed no such awareness. Far be it from them to show the slightest curiosity in the published and unchallenged assertions by Schweizer that our former vice president was a corrupt manipulator who enabled his son to enrich himself and then helped him evade prosecution.
It is important to note that “Secret Empires” was published in March 2018, a year and a half ago. Yet as Levin elicited from Schweizer, the author has not been contacted by a single Democrat chairman in the House to testify, nor by a single Republican chairman in the Senate. The media is no more curious.
“When my book came out, it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list,” said Schweizer. “I got no contact whatsoever from the mainstream media. They don’t want to hear any of it. Part of it is there is a caste system in Washington, D.C., that they protect. Now, I think one of the reasons that there is so much animosity towards Trump … is that he represents a massive disruption to the business model of Washington, D.C., which is you come in, you juice in your family, you juice in your friends, you serve in public service, you come out rich and when you leave office you cash in even further. … [Trump] represents a threat and a challenge to that, and they don’t like it.”
The voters who elected Trump had better wake up before it is too late. The idea was to “Drain the Swamp,” not to protect the swamp critters. As Schweizer concludes, “If it’s not possible to investigate Joe Biden now, then it’s never possible to investigate him.”
We might add: If it’s not possible for the corrupt news media to do their job now, then when will they? Don’t hold your breath.