Daily Archives: November 14, 2003

Republicans Find Depths To Sink To That You Never Imagined Existed

I could almost offer this without comment since it speaks so eloquently for itself:

It is an unusual charity brochure: a 13-page document, complete with pictures of fireworks and a golf course, that invites potential donors to give as much as $500,000 to spend time with Tom DeLay during the Republican convention in New York City next summer — and to have part of the money go to help abused and neglected children.Representative DeLay, who has both done work for troubled children and drawn criticism for his aggressive political fund-raising in his career in Congress, said through his staff that the entire effort was fundamentally intended to help children. But aides to Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader from Texas, acknowledged that part of the money would go to pay for late-night convention parties, a luxury suite during President Bush’s speech at Madison Square Garden and yacht cruises.

And so campaign finance watchdogs say Mr. DeLay’s effort can be seen as, above all, a creative maneuver around the recently enacted law meant to limit the ability of federal officials to raise large donations known as soft money.

“They are using the idea of helping children as a blatant cover for financing activities in connection with a convention with huge unlimited, undisclosed, unregulated contributions,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a Washington group that helped push through the recent overhaul of the campaign finance laws. (emphasis added)

And other Repugs think this is such a good idea that they’re copying it:

Already Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, is planning to hold a concert and a reception in conjunction with the convention as a way of raising money for AIDS charities

Marvelous. What can you say? Without throwing up, I mean. Here are the advantages (as if you couldn’t guess):

Mr. DeLay’s charity, Celebrations for Children Inc., was set up in September and has no track record of work. Mr. DeLay is not a formal official of the charity, but its managers are Mr. DeLay’s daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro; Craig Richardson, a longtime adviser; and Rob Jennings, a Republican fund-raiser. Mr. Richardson said the managers would be paid by the new charity.************

But because the money collected will go into a nonprofit organization, donors get a tax break. And Mr. DeLay will never have to account publicly for who contributed, which campaign finance experts say shields those who may be trying to win favor with one of the most powerful lawmakers in Washington. (emphasis added)

Beautiful, ain’t it? A bloody work of art–rip-off art. Amazing. Just when you think they’ve hit bottom, they dig down to a new substrata. At this rate, they’ll break into the Fires of Hell in about a week.

But here’s a bonus: Michael Slackman, the NYT reporter who wrote the piece, characterizes DeLay’s brainstorm with breathtaking understatement. After listing the various charitable activities DeLay promises–

Mr. DeLay, among other things, is offering donors private dinner with himself and his wife; the chance to participate in a golf tournament; a late-night party with a rock group; access to a luxury suite for elected officials and donors; as well as the yacht cruise, tickets to Broadway shows and more. Other elected officials are welcome at all of these events.

–he characterizes the scheme this way:

But by holding events at the convention — and working under the auspices of a charity — Mr. DeLay has stepped into an ethical gray area, election law and tax law experts said. (emphasis added)

“Ethical gray area”? Um, yeah, that’s one way of putting it. Another is “an unethical, midnight black area, a nightmare of depravity, greed, and arrogance, an area running with plague and pus, and a disgraceful display of cold-hearted selfishness worthy of Ebeneezer Scrooge.”

But I understate.

Clark Proposes Fighting Al Qaeda with the Saudis

Emma Goldman has has a post up on her blog, Notes on the Atrocities, on Wesley Clark’s proposal to team with the Saudis to fight Al Qaeda. She says:

Wes Clark wants to team with the Saudis to defeat Al Qaida. Hmmm. I’ll admit that when I was in school, I was generally reading about Tolstoy and Mahavira–not foreign policy. That said, I’m pretty sure this is a really bad idea. Let’s start with the obvious: what is the best-case outcome? The Saudis are going to root out Osama? Apparently, that’s what Clark is thinking:

General Clark said the joint United States-Saudi commando force would be similar to groups formed by the American military and police forces in Colombia while he oversaw United States military operations in Latin America.

Again: hmmm. Columbia’s our model for success with this scheme? I’m still not seeing the wisdom.

The way I see it, there are only downsides. Al Qaida’s main target was initially the Saudis, whom Osama thought were traitors to his brand of Wahabism. As Afghanistan and Iraq fester with the gangrene of terror, I don’t see how teaming up with the Saudis helps the situations there. But far worse is that joining with the Saudis completely undermines the US’s stated goal of bringing Democracy to the region. It reeks of political expediency at the risk of long term consequences. If the US is genuinely concerned about fostering democracy in the region, it needs to team with nations at least inclined in that direction. The Saudis are probably last on that list, behind even Iran. She makes a valid point. Saudi Arabia may be our biggest oil provider and best friend in the region (tell me again how those two things aren’t connected), but it’s also a horrendous despotism with a long history of supporting Arab terrorists with both money and weapons. Clark is probably figuring that the Saudis’ attitude is about to change now that they’ve become targets, and there’s something to be said for that pov, but it’s a dangerous game.

Arab govts like the Saudis tend to play both ends against the middle, maintaining lines into all opposing camps as a matter of policy. On top of that, the various players at high levels of the Saudi regime have vastly differing agendas and it’s extremely difficult to tell who’s on which side at any given moment–much more difficult than in Columbia. Where in Columbia the players’ loyalties and allegiances are well-known and switching sides is unusual, in Saudi Arabia–as in other Arab govts–alliances shift constantly with the changing winds; an enemy today could be a friend tomorrow and vice versa. It’s difficult for a native to keep track of, impossible for a foreigner who didn’t grow up in that atmosphere.

This raises the specter of a scenario in which the tactics and strategies of anti-terrorist forces would have to be shared with people whose allegiance couldn’t be taken for granted; vital information (the Middle East is a sieve) could easily make its back-channel way to the very groups that are the target of an operation, frustrating if not disemboweling the whole enterprise. That isn’t a reason not to make the attempt, but it should give one pause.

Nothing in the Middle East is as easy as it might look. A joint effort with Saudi Arabia may look good on paper, but the reality is that the Saudi govt has been and remains riddled with terrorist sympathizers, and–as Emma points out–playing footsie with a dictatorial regime tends to give our insistence that we want to promote democracy in the area a black-eyed ring of hypocrisy.

This certainly isn’t enough to make me decide not to vote for him, but it sure is sufficient grounds for hesitation. What’s he thinking?