Political influence, in Virginia and ‘all creation, U.S.A.’

Bob McDonnell, governor before today’s Clinton satrap, became the first chief executive of Virginia to be convicted of a crime last week, being found guilty on 11 of 14 corruption-related charges. Now he faces prison time for his connections to Jonnie Williams, the now-retired CEO of Star Scientific, a chemical company operating somewhere close to the line between pharmaceuticals, supplements, and various other things — they were among the first to develop dissolvable tobacco lozenges (here is a picture of Lindsay Lohan at the launch party for them).

According one of the better articles on the relationship, by Peter Galuszka, that was actually an attempt to shore up the business in the midst of a patent battle with R.J. Reynolds, regarding what is claimed to be a way to process tobacco to be less carcinogenic when smoked, the invention of which reportedly involved Williams microwaving tobacco in his kitchen.

Needless to say, he’s an adaptable man, and much as George Washington switched to wheat when he proved to be an inept tobacco planter, at the time the scandal broke Star Scientific was marketing a new product said to be in part for smoking cessation, which is currently tied up by the FDA.

It behooves someone in an industry that straddles so many different types of regulatory regime to have powerful friends. When besieged rich people get political, sometimes bad things happen.

Here’s this, from Daniel Aaron’s review of Tobacco Culture by T.H. Breen, in the London Review of Books:

Why did shrewd practical agriculturalists and men of affairs believe, or pretend to believe, that their agents would think and act like Virginia gentlemen? According to Breen, the planters’ quixotic notions of world trade left them totally unprepared to cope with the consequences of fluctuating prices and the vagaries of the international market after the 1750s. Nor could they appreciate the dilemma of the tobacco merchants, caught in an intricate credit system in which a safe margin of liquidity meant the difference between survival and bankruptcy. To extend old loans or grant new ones was risky even in prosperous times: to do so during periods of slack trade or panic was to commit financial suicide. So the planters, who normally lived beyond their incomes and in the boom years went on buying sprees, were unceremoniously called upon to pay up – and not in depreciated Virginia paper currency either, but in sterling.

There is something both ludicrous and poignant in the planters’ outraged response to this turn of events. Since the middle of the century, they had felt uneasy and guilty about their mounting arrears, but hadn’t elected to make their debts a public issue. Only after the tobacco merchants seemed prepared to give up private negotiation and to air their complaints in public – the ultimate humiliation – did the planters accuse their treacherous friends of conspiring to seize their property and reduce them to beggary. It was the merchants, they rationalised, who had lured them into debt with assurances of easy credit, urged them to buy more land and slaves, discouraged them from shifting to other crops. The respected Landon Carter spoke for his peers when he lumped all merchants together as a ‘Profession that kicks Conscience out of doors like a fawning puppy’.

With the politicising of the tobacco culture, the language and sentiments of the Country ideology figured more obtrusively in the planters’ private and public utterances. Heretofore they had kept business and politics in separate compartments, quarrelled with the merchants, not the government. Even their accumulated resentments against the former did not change them automatically into revolutionists (Breen attributes their anxieties less to the size of their debts than to a diminishing trust in themselves and their moral soundness), but in time these self-described victims of a London merchant cabal merged their private wrongs with Virginia’s. The ‘Country idioms’ they used more or less unconsciously to express their injured feelings ‘now provided a powerful emotional justification for national independence’.

They were, in other words, the sort of people that the Soviets were trying to stay in the good graces of during the Spanish Civil War, with the party formally supporting democracy, rather than revolution.

As for McDonnell, he was a theoretically formidable politician; one that looked good on paper, but even substantive issues aside, some things struck me as strange, like wearing an ascot at his inauguration, or how, despite being Catholic, he went to law school at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, which for an otherwise moderate Republican could, perhaps uncharitably, be read as a calculating and ambitious choice.

USA Today’s line on the gift scandal is basically, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” claiming the real scandal here is state laws that don’t crack down effectively enough on this kind of thing, according to the progressive Center for Public Integrity. Definitely read Brian Kirwin’s thoughts. These two from Virginia blogs are good also.

*****

But, let’s face it, nefarious influence in the Virginia Executive Mansion is not nearly so dangerous as when it’s at the Brookings Institution. Consider this from a report in the New York Times last week about foreign lobbying in the international relations policy establishment in DC:

The arrangements involve Washington’s most influential think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council. Each is a major recipient of overseas funds, producing policy papers, hosting forums and organizing private briefings for senior United States government officials that typically align with the foreign governments’ agendas.

Most of the money comes from countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, particularly the oil-producing nations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Norway, and takes many forms. The United Arab Emirates, a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House. Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.

… The scope of foreign financing for American think tanks is difficult to determine. But since 2011, at least 64 foreign governments, state-controlled entities or government officials have contributed to a group of 28 major United States-based research organizations, according to disclosures by the institutions and government documents. What little information the organizations volunteer about their donors, along with public records and lobbying reports filed with American officials by foreign representatives, indicates a minimum of $92 million in contributions or commitments from overseas government interests over the last four years. The total is certainly more.

The president of CSIS, which contrary to the Times report is actually not headquartered that near to the White House, it’s more than halfway to Dupont, says despite admitting to taking funding from 13 foreign government donors, “stressed that he did not view it as lobbying — and said his group is most certainly not a foreign agent.”

Whatever you say, pal.

The report claims the various think tanks may be in violation of federal law for not registering as foreign agents. It could be very interesting if they’re forced to do so.

Washington’s foreign policy community doesn’t like it when you point these things out, as I found out when I pointed out that the Free Beacon is chaired by someone once, and perhaps still, on the payroll of the Georgian government. This is just how things are done, don’t rock the boat. The experts are in control, just send laywers, guns, and money to every backwater in the world, which are to be regarded as restless provinces.

Justin Raimondo has more here — “the buying of America’s thinktanks by rich foreigners – is part of the price we pay for our empire.”

Henry Dampier rightly points out that a significant stake in the Times itself is owned by a Mexican television magnate. He adds:

The problem with democracy goes beyond the issue of suffrage. What it does is create an enormous bureaucracy with a big and vulnerable surface area. Populists, foreign agents, and organized conspiracies can push the state this way and that way, in part because there are so few permanent interests that control that state. There is so much hidden complexity that it makes controlling corruption an impossible goal.

Because no one owns the state, the costs to corruption are close to nil, and the profits are significantly more than nil. Since no one has a permanent interest in the state, it exists as an engine of exploitation to be exploited by its own managers, rather than a system to be maintained in perpetuity for its owners.

*****

I leave you with this poem because more people ought to know it:

EXPANSION, by James T. Du Bois

Met a feller t’other mornin’
Most amusln’ sort o’ cuss;
Hed a cur’us style about him :
Cert’t’y could’nt well be wuss.
I says: “Where you hall f’m pardner?”
An he smiles In knowin’ way,
An replies in forren lingo:
“Porto Rico, U. S. A.”

Seen a feller down on Broadway,
With a shockin’ head o’ hair,
An’ a lot o tropic garments
An’ a most outlandish air,
“Whur’s he from?” a feller shouted,
But before we’d time to say.
This yere heathen turned an answered:
“Honeyluler, U. S. A.”

Met a feller yere on Olive,
With a somber-e-ro on;
Had a lot o’-shaggy whiskers;
Nearly all his clothing gone.
Stopped an asked me for a quarter;
Says: “My home is faraway.”
“Where you from?” The varmint answered:
“Santiago, U. S. A.”

Seen a feller at the Southern,
who a heavy iron oox;
Had a top coat lined with bearskin,
Wore a dozen pair o socks.
Sized him up to be a miner,
Judgin’ by his awk’ard way;
Seen him write in big cha-rac-ters;
“Circle City, U. S. A.”

Seen a saddle-colored heathen, . –
Wearin’ earings in his nose;
Linen cuffs around his ankles;
Most indecent lack of clothes.
“Where’d this heathen spring frum?”
I inquired in lofty way;
An’ he had the nerve to answer:
“Frum Manila, U. S. A.”

“Gee!” I says, “I never heard of
These yere cannybuls before!”
Air these heathens to be voters? ,-
Will ye stan’ fur any more?
Next you know, you ask a feller
Where he’s frum, and he will say,
With a lordly kind o flourish:
“All Creation, U. S. A.”

The only difference between Bob McDonnell and the State Department is that McDonnell will likely go to prison for his undue influence-taking. You can bet the mandarins of CSIS, Brookings, CGD, and so on will be clamoring for appointments come the next administration. And they’ll probably get them.

The big question you should be asking is, who speaks for Americans in all of this?

(Image credit Ron Cogswell)

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