If we lived in a somewhat sane civilization, the all encompassing mass media obsession with the intel agency narrative that Russian meddling in the 2016 election (and apparently every other non-establishment American political movement) represents a serious threat to democracy, journalists and thought leaders might take a step back and look at the overall nefarious influence of foreign money throughout our incredibly corrupt society. But since we don’t live in a sane civilization, we’ll just continue to scapegoat Russia for everything while letting predatory homegrown oligarchs and their political couriers off the hook. After all, that seems to be the point.
I for one will not allow this nonsense to proceed without strenuous objection. It’s ridiculous to the point of comical that we’re turning a Russian troll farm spending $100,000 on clownish Facebook ads (like the one below) into a national security issue, while the Trump and Clinton campaigns spent a combined $81 million on Facebook ads. Moreover, 56% of the so-called sophisticated Russian ads were run after the election was over. We’re being told with a straight face that a Russian troll farm helped swing the U.S. election by spending a grand total of $44,000 on ridiculous Facebook memes.
This is a total joke. Only an childish culture with a subconscious imperial collapse fantasy would discover that a Russian troll factory ran the above and conclude it represents an existential threat to the Republic. Indeed, such a response is characteristic of a people completely unwilling and unable to deal with any of the very real and pervasive problems plaguing our society.
That said, foreign governments regularly do pay to access and influence American politicians, and I consider this a nefarious influence on our society. You just might be stunned to discover it’s not Russia doing most of this “meddling.”
The inspiration for this post came after I read a disturbing piece published at The Intercept titled, Bernie Sanders Wants Congress to End U.S. Support for Yemen War. Saudi Lobbyists Fought Similar Measure Last Year.
The article notes how each time there’s a bipartisan push in Congress to stop the U.S. government from actively aiding the Saudis in their genocidal campaign in Yemen, Saudi money swoops in to line the pockets of American lobbyists in order to prevent Congress from doing the ethical and constitutional thing.
The entire article is worth reading, but here’s what really caught my attention. Take a look at the kind of money the Saudis are throwing around D.C. to ensure the U.S. government remains committed to supporting a barbaric slaughtering of civilians in Yemen.
In September, Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.; Tom Massie, R-Ky.; Mark Pocan, D-Wisc.; and Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced a similar War Powers resolution to try to force a vote on U.S. support for the war in Yemen. Senior members of both parties, including Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the Democratic minority whip, initially opposed that effort, as The Intercept first reported in October.
That measure also met with stiff resistance from the Saudi government, which maintains one of the largest lobbying operations in Washington. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, a lobbying firm initially hired by the Saudi government on a $100,000-a-month retainer, met with key lawmakers to influence the resolution.
Yes, you read that right. $100,000 per month, and that’s just one lobbying firm. Compare that to the $44,000 or so a Russian troll farm spent on 2016 election ads in total and you’ll see what a pathetic farce that whole narrative really is. Foreign government bribes swimming around the D.C. swamp are in fact a major problem, but it’s one we’re not tackling while distracted with the “Putin is responsible for everything wrong in our society” fiction.
To get a sense of how pervasive and insidious foreign government money is in our society, I strongly suggest you read the following article published by Politico a month before the 2016 election: Want to Be a ‘Foreign Agent’? Serve in Congress First.
There are so many interesting and troubling revelations in this piece, such as the fact that 11% of Congressional members who left Capitol Hill since 1990 have lobbied for or otherwise represented a foreign government, foreign-owned company or think tank.
Of the 1,009 members of Congress who have left Capitol Hill since 1990, 114 of them — just over 11 percent — lobbied for or otherwise represented a foreign government, foreign-owned company or think tank, according to a POLITICO review of records filed with the tiny DOJ office charged with enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a 1938 law passed to deal with the threat of Nazi propagandists in the United States.
Why isn’t Rachel Maddow screaming about this every night? I think you know.
Let’s now take a look at some numbers.
A Politico review of FARA spending records shows that Middle Eastern monarchies and former Soviet bloc nations, including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Hungary, are becoming some of the top spenders on Washington lobbying — and they’re often hiring former members. Saudi Arabia, for instance, reported $1 million in spending in 2000; last year, it reported more than $13 million, part of a ramp-up in lobbying that’s made the kingdom one of many up-and-comers in the Washington foreign influence game.
The Saudis spent $13 million in 2015 to sustain political support for the U.S. government’s insane and suicidal Middle East foreign policy, but we’re now having a societal breakdown over chump change spent by Russian trolls on “Buff Bernie” Sanders cartoons.
Moreover, if you think this sort of money doesn’t change minds, think again. For example, it didn’t take all that much Turkish cash to completely shift the stance of former presidential candidate and ex-“representative” Dick Gephardt on Armenian genocide.
Take Turkey’s most prominent Washington lobbyist — Gephardt, a former House minority leader and two-time contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. During his time in the House representing Missouri, Gephardt was a champion for the Armenian-American community’s top priority in Washington: getting Congress to adopt a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman government in the run-up to World War I as a genocide.
It has been perennially opposed by the presidents of both parties — Obama promised on the campaign trail to recognize the genocide, but has not done so — thanks to vociferous opposition from Turkey, a member of NATO that has been critical in the U.S. military’s ability to wage war in the Middle East.
But after joining the private sector and taking Turkey as a client, Gephardt made a striking turnabout, lobbying his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to vote against the genocide resolution. His backflip on the issue has earned him charges of hypocrisy and even a boycott campaign by Armenian-Americans, as the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported earlier this year.
So what, you say? Gephardt isn’t in Congress anymore, he’s just a private citizen. What’s he selling then? Access.
Of course, hiring big-name former lawmakers doesn’t always get a foreign government much bang for its buck; some current and former government officials say that former members often don’t provide much more than an expensive method of securing the meetings that capable ambassadors and diplomats should be getting themselves. (For all its seeming intrigue, some FARA work is mundane. Ambassadors, for instance, will hire lobbyists to meet their yearly quotas for meetings with top officials, said one lobbying source.)
Part of the job — particularly with less-than-democratic governments — is managing expectations about how the U.S. system works. But also lobbyists benefit when foreign governments get worried about relatively minor legislative events, which can mean dollar signs for U.S. firms.
Above all, it’s about access — securing meetings with lawmakers and administration officials that a country’s official diplomatic representation in Washington will sometimes struggle to secure.
There you go. Foreign governments are paying intermediaries (lobbyists) to arrange meetings with the very people elected to serve as representatives of the American people. Every minute a Congressional member spends with a Saudi lobbyist is a minute he or she can’t spend on issues that affect the daily lives of the U.S. public. Is that Russia’s fault too? [Not only that, s/he is adjusting his policies to the interests of his financial patron, not the ordinary citizen.—Ed]
FARA’s a total joke and, as outlined in the Politico article, has enormous loopholes that are constantly exploited. To prove the point, the Justice Department has brought only seven criminal cases using FARA from 1966 to 2015. In other words, the law’s a total joke.
Foreign governments should not be allowed to pay for access to U.S. politicians, and that’s a big part of what’s going on here. It’s an insane thing to permit, particularly since most of these countries have extensive diplomatic relations with the U.S.
The Saudis don’t need to pay to talk to the U.S. President due to the petrodollar, but they know it’s important to line the pockets of as many people in D.C. as possible to generate overall goodwill and ensure access to some extra meetings when uncomfortable legislation emerges. This is an abomination and should be completely illegal.
The next part in this series will highlight and discuss the egregious amount of foreign government money also flowing into U.S. think tanks, which then play a major and shadowy role in U.S. policy debates.
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Things to ponder
While our media prostitutes, many Hollywood celebs, and politicians and opinion shapers make so much noise about the still to be demonstrated damage done by the Russkies to our nonexistent democracy, this is what the sanctimonious US government has done overseas just since the close of World War 2. And this is what we know about. Many other misdeeds are yet to be revealed or documented.
Parting shot—a word from the editors
The Best Definition of Donald Trump We Have Found
In his zeal to prove to his antagonists in the War Party that he is as bloodthirsty as their champion, Hillary Clinton, and more manly than Barack Obama, Trump seems to have gone “play-crazy” — acting like an unpredictable maniac in order to terrorize the Russians into forcing some kind of dramatic concessions from their Syrian allies, or risk Armageddon.However, the “play-crazy” gambit can only work when the leader is, in real life, a disciplined and intelligent actor, who knows precisely what actual boundaries must not be crossed. That ain’t Donald Trump — a pitifully shallow and ill-disciplined man, emotionally handicapped by obscene privilege and cognitively crippled by white American chauvinism. By pushing Trump into a corner and demanding that he display his most bellicose self, or be ceaselessly mocked as a “puppet” and minion of Russia, a lesser power, the War Party and its media and clandestine services have created a perfect storm of mayhem that may consume us all.— Glen Ford, Editor in Chief, Black Agenda Report