The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Hunter Biden’s Corruption

So, this has been covered, but is worth emphasizing:

Let’s start with Hunter Biden. In April 2014, he became a director of Burisma, the largest natural-gas producer in Ukraine. He had no prior experience in the gas industry, nor with Ukrainian regulatory affairs, his ostensible purview at Burisma. He did have one priceless qualification: His unique position as the son of the vice president of the United States, newborn Ukraine’s most crucial ally.

Pretty clear. It may not be illegal, but it is corrupt influence-peddling.

Lots of people get upset at me for saying the problem with Biden, Sr., and many others, is how they prioritize family…

Recently, Hunter Biden told The New Yorker that “the decisions that I made were the right decisions for my family and for me.”

Yeah. Self-dealing and making sure your family is rich, even though they have no qualifications, is exactly corruption. Exactly.

This family worship among public servants, politicians, and even corporate officers has to end. When you’re in a position of trust, your salary and your self is all that your family should get out of it. Not a cushy goddamn job for which they are in no way qualified.

This stuff is rampant in DC and elsewhere. A ton of corruption is semi-hidden. The politician doesn’t seem to take a lot of money, but their husband or wife, or their kids and their friends, well, they’re well taken care of.

This is a large part of how routine “in-office” corruption happens. After office, of course, those who play the game are given low, seven figure salaries, but before that, they wash it through the family.

Give me bachelors and spinsters every day. Give me people estranged from their families.

Your family love is your biz, but should have nothing to do with your public service.

And because corporations have the rights they do because they are supposed to be acting in the public interest, that applies to corporations as well.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 29, 2019


Simple Humanity


  1. “the politician doesn’t seem to take a lot of money, but their husband or wife; their kids and their friends, well, they’re well taken care of.”

    Peter Schweizer (author of “Clinton Cash”) claims that 1/3 of Senators have an immediate family member working as a registered lobbyist; or else Senators have 1/3 of immediate family members working as registered lobbyists. I can’t remember which one is true, but both are bad.

    Schweizer rejects the notion of corporations corrupting Congress critters, in favor of an extortion model.

    Schweizer’s stats on the amazing stock picking ability of Congress critters, which exceeds even that of hedge fund managers, was also eye opening.

    According to Schweizer, his focus on the Clintons is because they have internationalized the big dollar grifting. He cites a 9-0 Supreme Court decision that indicates that foreign influence on American politics should be forbidden being a bi-partisan view. The Clintons found a way to cash in, anyway.

  2. Hugh

    From wiki, Hunter Biden
    Georgetown University 1988-1992
    Jesuit Volunteer 1 year 1993
    Georgetown Law School 1994 transferred to
    Yale Law School 1995-1996 graduated with JD
    Hired by MBNA (We used to call his pro-bankster dad Joe the Senator (D-MBNA), instead of (D-Del)
    By 1998 Hunter was an executive vice-president (Wow, just like How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)
    1998-2001 He worked in Clinton’s Commerce Department
    2001-2008 He worked as a lobbyist at a firm he co-founded. Somewhere in there he was CEO and Chairman of PARADIGM Global Advisors which he tried to buy.
    Also 2006-2009 put on Board of Directors of Amtrak by Dubya and so on.

    Typical career path of a powerful Senator’s son really. Raise your hands if you think he could have gotten into Georgetown and Yale or been hired by MBNA or risen so quickly there if he were the son of a truckdriver or nurse. Yeah, me either. But like I said typical. Chelsea Clinton was probably a little smarter. She did Stanford and Oxford, then got hired by McKinsey for something like a quarter million a year if memory serves, eventually ended up at the Clinton Foundation. She’s worth about $15 million compared to Hunter’s about $1 million. I don’t know if she could have gotten into Stanford on her own. She definitely got into Oxford because of who her father was. George HW Bush never would have gotten where he did without his dad Prescott but at least he had a respectable resume. His sons and their kids pretty much drafted off the family’s wealth and name. As I have pointed out, it’s not just politics and government. The media is full of sons and daughters of. The lines between class and corruption blur and at some point become the same.

  3. bruce wilder

    for your consideration (noting the place of publication)

    and, Hugh, what’s your source on Hunter’s net worth? If that’s really it, he hasn’t been spending wildly.

  4. Will

    I wholeheartedly agree…. but why stop there?

    These “charity” organizations have become a prime way to launder money garnered from influence peddling. AND they are widespread across all political persuasions. I say toss them into the compost bin as well.

    I agree that a market economy needs predators. But in the real world no matter how big and bad a predator might be, they do not have access to freezers. Each generation has to make it on their own. It seems that Darwinian concepts seem to stop at inherited wealth.


  5. NoPolitician

    Calling this “corruption” is overstating it. I’m not saying that is is proper, but it is a run-of-the-mill behavior that probably half of the USA participates in – using your influence to improve your kids, or your friends, or your political backers.

    Describing this as “corruption” as if it is the same as dangling $400 million in foreign aid in exchange for dirt on your political opponent is not proper, in an editorial sense. Yeah, Hunter Biden clearly benefited from being Joe Biden’s son. Pick anyone with a net worth of over $500k and you’ll find similar things.

  6. nihil obstet

    In a corrupt society, the fact that corruption is “run-of-the-mill behavior” does not make it not corruption.

    If you excuse any belief or behavior because everybody does it, then what fraud, slavery, genocide, or environmental destruction is not excused? The only crime is dissent.

  7. NoPolitician

    What is the use of drawing false equivalencies in order to lead moral judgement?

    A murder victim may have been issued a speeding ticket the day before her murder. Would it be proper journalism to refer to the victim of the murder as a criminal to diminish the impact of her death and/or to minimize the actions of her killer?

  8. Ten Bears

    Isn’t that sweet, we’ve got us a real live illiterate, bless its heart.

    I find Russian trolls’ attempts at American English quite humorous.

    In a Boolean sort of way …

  9. Herman


    I would go further and say that even working-class Americans engage in nepotism, it is just on a smaller scale. Asking Uncle Bob to put in a good word for your kid at the Park’s Department might technically be “corruption” but it is so miniscule that I don’t care if people do it. Everyone knows this stuff happens, we just call it “networking” when regular people do it and “corruption” when the rich do it. It comes off as resentment and envy from ordinary people who would likely do the same thing if they had power, wealth and influence.

    I normally don’t go in for naturalistic arguments but I think using whatever power you have to help your family is pretty close to a hard-coded aspect of human nature. I don’t think there has ever been a human society that did not feature this sort of behavior among both elites and ordinary people when they could manage to do it. It happened just as often in socialist countries as capitalist ones, as evidenced by how many of Russia’s post-Soviet rich are the children of old Soviet nomenklatura and a similar story exists with the Chinese princelings.

    I don’t care if elites help their family members as long as they also support policies that I like. The problem with Joe Biden is not that he is partial to his family but that he supports bad neoliberal policies. FDR was a full-blown patrician who owed much of his career to his last name and JFK was blatantly nepotistic but I would take them over almost any of the Democratic candidates running for president today.

  10. Ian Welsh

    Corruption is tolerable, to a point, when it isn’t causing problems. There are also advantages to appointing people you know and trust, again, up to a point. (That point being incompetence or self-dealing which hurts the larger group.)

    This stuff isn’t as hard coded as all that. The early and middle Roman Republic had fathers often putting their duty to Rome before their sons. Duty to the larger group can override duty to family, and the higher up you are, the more it should. That it generally doesn’t is a problem, and widely understood as a problem in various eras.

    Also, corruption that is too large destroys leadership, because it makes the people doing it lose touch with the ordinary experience.

  11. Neil M. Dunn

    I wonder how many in Congress have “institutes” (J.McCain) or “foundations”(Clintons) or other trickery for their personal wealth enhancement.

  12. Herman


    I agree with you that there is a point where corruption can become pathological. Part of the problem is that our elite preaches meritocracy but surely doesn’t practice it. But on the other hand, eliminating corruption and having pure meritocracy would be bad for ordinary people especially those at the bottom of society since they would be seen as deserving their lowly social status and all wiggle room would be closed to them.

    In a pure meritocracy if you had any blemishes on your resume, or a criminal record, or bad credit, good luck ever getting a job. To some degree this is already happening thanks to technology that screens job applicants and takes out the human element. I suspect that this partially explains why there is a large pool of hidden unemployed people who have given up looking for work and are not counted in official unemployment statistics.

    Nepotism gives ordinary people some degree of power because they can directly deal with individuals as opposed to relying on corporate or government bureaucracies that may or may not be friendly to them. People might want to punish elites for corruption but eventually it will trickle down to ordinary people and the only people who will benefit are the elites who already have advantages in upbringing, education, wealth, etc.

    I think you are right about the Roman Republic but the Romans also had client-patron networks that many people today would see as a form of corruption. I guess what I am arguing for is keeping some degree of corruption so that there is a human element to life and some wiggle room for ordinary people. I even go as far as thinking that there should always be room for cheating, theft and other forms of crime since these can be a way for ordinary and even poor people to buck the system.

  13. Ian Welsh

    Yeah. I just don’t see that we have anything close to a meritocracy. It seems to me the people at the top are vastly incompetent — at least at leading society in a beneficial way, and often even at leading corporations and what not.

    I tend to think that basics shouldn’t be tied much to jobs/work at this point. There was a time when they had to be, right now I think that’s straight wrong.

  14. Hugh

    Bruce, I googled “hunter biden net worth” and read down the list without going to the site immediately. Most of the sites I did try said his net worth was under review.

    Neil, McCain didn’t need an institute for money because his wife is rich. Rather it was more about influence. Wiki says the institute gets its funding from the likes of Wal-Mart, FedEx, Saudi Arabia, and hedge fund owner Paul E. Singer. A very conservative group. BTW Singer is a Israel hawk nutcase and into some really nasty sovereign debt stuff (Buy it cheap and then pursue full payment in courts. Think Argentina.). The institute is run in “co-operation” with Arizona State.

  15. Mike Barry

    OK tb, I’ll bite. Whoooo’s the rooooski?

  16. Willy

    Our kids are seeing all this corruption, calling it capitalism, then demanding socialism. They won’t have ever known a (somewhat reasonably) functioning capitalism as we once did.

    Or maybe the corruption is just the end game of capitalism.

  17. Ten Bears

    You know that old canard about banksters leaping to their deaths from tall buildings on Black Tuesday rats jumping ship? Just that, a canard. Didn’t jump.

    We’re back where we were at the tail of the meritocracy thread. Try to wrap my fingers around this: when I suggest we have to stop doing what we’re doing, it isn’t working, I have nothing to offer what to do otherwise … as our conditioning – our white exceptionalist meritocracy – has become so institutionalized, so ingrained down through the generations, indeed milenia, that it is near impossible to conceptualize anything different. We joke about participation trophies but dote the kid, the grandkid, that gets one. I have a few on the wall (the MS is for Mad Scientist, thank you) whose market value has been negative. I worked for ’em, raised four kids alone doin’ ’em, but hangin’ there on the wall they’re worth fuck all. Participation trophies. Sucks to keep going back to the dogs, but we have to find a way to break the conditioning before we can even begin to work on what to replace it with. [this isn’t gettin’ it]

    I fear, because I am mostly white, that the whites are going to have to suffer a near-fatal blow before we can stop doing what we’re doing, which isn’t even working for them.

  18. Ten Bears

    Addendum; there’s supposed to be a strikeout in there, trying to be a smartass shot myself in the foot… the roooskii seems to have disappeared.

    Not necessarily the whites, but western “civilization”. The worldview so ingrained we can’t even talk about it. Near-fatal because, well, maybe I don’t want to see things completely destroyed..

  19. Duder

    I hope it is now clear how pursuing impeachment against Trump based on Ukrainegate is a winning strategy for Trump’s reelection.

  20. Ché Pasa

    Yet another of so many examples of demanding the purity of Caesar’s Wife from Dems and totally ignoring — or even celebrating — the almost inconceivable corruption and lawlessness of the Rs. It’s really striking how routine this phenomenon is on the internet and how frequently it is encountered in mainstream media commentary as well.

    There simply is no way for Dems to meet the demands of their critics, so why should they bother? Doesn’t it make more sense for them to become more corrupt than they are, even though it would be impossible for them to match the corruption levels of their R colleagues?

    Let’s face it, our political and governing systems are themselves motivations and conduits for corruption. They’re set up that way. They’re meant to be that way at every level. Periodically, “reform” movements waft through the systems and for a time the appearance of corruption and the incentives to become corrupted are lessened, but they never go away. They’re built in. Along comes — say — a Reagan intent on overthrowing the previous reform and sure enough, the road back downhill into the muck and mire is smooth and straight.

    Inevitably, the system reverts to type. And here we are, with the most overtly corrupt administration, top to bottom, in modern American history, yet so many are endlessly fretting over the relatively marginal corruptions of its opponents. The Bidens, the Clintons, and very soon, the Obamas. None of whom, by the way, are currently in positions of political power, all of whom were subject to intense criticism when they were in office — as it should be.

    If we acknowledge that the system itself is the problem, not the individuals in office or out of it as the case may be, as previous reformers have done, then we may come to recognize what to do about it. I think it should be obvious by now that tweaks around the margins to reduce or suppress corruption and its effects are temporary solutions at best, and something more radical is called for. Trashing one faction of the duopoly while letting the other side slide is evidently not the answer as it simply enshrines and institutionalizes the worst levels of corruption and its effects as standard.

    Ian may (tongue in cheek) be calling for monk and nun-like celibacy and Puritan probity from our politicians — an interesting and impossible reform — but at least it’s a concept of what’s needed overall. Too many observers and critics see the problem solely through a partisan lens, insisting that the problem is purely a matter of one faction’s corruption, and getting rid of them would solve it. No, the problem is intrinsic. And it gets worse, the more the focus is not wholistic.

    We’ve been headed toward autocracy for some time. In other times and places, autocracy or its variants has been seen as the solution to myriad political problems. If only there were a Good Emperor in waiting….

  21. Will

    Neil: “I wonder how many in Congress have “institutes” (J.McCain) or “foundations”(Clintons) or other trickery for their personal wealth enhancement.”


    That’s what I mean by “charities”. They are nothing more than influence peddling and money laundering. Policy making that has been weaponized financially.

    A healthy nation can only tolerate so many parasites and hangers-on. The US is far from healthy. Between political corruption and inherited wealth we are overrun with the infantile and inane. People get rich for all the wrong reasons and then pass the money along to their equally worthless demon offspring.

    It’s a sad situation.


  22. NoPolitician

    I do not support Biden for president.

    The reason I made my point (criticizing describing Biden as “corrupt” because his son had opportunities and positions that wouldn’t have been available to the son of a line cook) was because I think that defining “corruption” in that broad way creates incredible cynicism among voters, and it diminishes the concept of true political corruption (either explicit or implicit quid pro quo)

    That definition of corruption means “they’re all corrupt”, and that tends to make people not want to participate in democracy or the political process (i.e. voting).

  23. Mallam

    A reasonable and arguably correct point, NoPolitician. Anyone trying to conflate this in a context where Trump is president serves Trump’s political interests. It’s an implicit way of calling Joe Biden corrupt, which he most definitely is. But not here or for this.

    Also, anyone seeing what is playing out as “good for Trump” has lost their mind and is a member of a cult. If it takes out Joe Biden too, well that sucks for Joe Biden, but most voters will immediately see through it for what it is.

    Meanwhile we have a criminal Attorney General globetrotting around Europe planting evidence into his “counter investigation” as part of a criminal conspiracy to cover up for Russia and Trump (and Roger Stone and Paul Manafort). Trump’s kids are getting hundreds of millions of dollars bailing out their corrupt business deals and facilitating money laundering. That is the focus here, any conflation here is absurd and will create more cynicism and greater victory for the rising fascists.

  24. “Meanwhile we have a criminal Attorney General globetrotting around Europe planting evidence into his “counter investigation” as part of a criminal conspiracy to cover up for Russia and Trump (and Roger Stone and Paul Manafort).”

    Is that so? Well, he should be ashamed. Why doesn’t he just plant evidence right here in the US? Does he not realize what a ginormous carbon footprint jets have? What would Greta Thunberg think?

    How dare he!! If he absolutely felt compelled to plant evidence in Europe, he should have sailed there, ala Thunberg.

    BTW, do you have any evidence of Barr’s phony evidence? One can’t be too careful, you know.

  25. Willy

    Our leadership is highly competent at hiring the right people to persuade the persuadable mob that it’s always the other teams fault. The rest of it, not so much.

  26. bruce wilder

    Yeah, conflation. Terrible thing to conflate. Terrible!

    Why not just get a frontal lobotomy?

    We are so far past “both sides do it” now.

    Vulgarity is really not the supreme sin in my book.

    People who whine about “emoluments” but could not figure out that the Clinton Foundation was not much of a charity do not impress me with their passionate moral acumen at this late date.

    Ukrainegate is Russiagate 2.0, another nothing burger cooked up by the worst people for the worst reasons. Go along with this manipulative nonsense if you like, but realize that you are complicit.

  27. edmondo

    “Also, anyone seeing what is playing out as “good for Trump” has lost their mind and is a member of a cult.”

    Really? I can hear Trump now telling his rallies that “only one” candidate has been “judged by the entire US Senate and found NOT GUILTY of corruption”. Shit, that line is so good, I may vote for him myself.

  28. Stirling S Newberry

    Biden is not going to be President. He is dying, and Bernie is ailing.

  29. different clue

    Stirling Newberry says Bernie is ailing. But if any of us little people were to ask Mr. Newberry what he thinks Bernie is ailing with and why he thinks so, he would not deign to answer that question. We little people are not worthy of the Great Mr. Newberry’s notice or concern.

    If anyone else here thinks he/she has seen evidence of Bernie ailing, they could bring that evidence here . . . if they think they have any evidence.

  30. Ten Bears

    Breaking: Sanders hospitalized

    Sen. Bernie Sanders, 78, has been hospitalized in Las Vegas, Nevada.

    “During a campaign event yesterday evening, Sen. Sanders experienced some chest discomfort. Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery and two stents were successfully inserted. Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits. He will be resting up over the next few days,” said Sanders’ senior adviser Jeff Weaver on Wednesday in a statement. “We are canceling his events and appearances until further notice, and we will continue to provide appropriate updates.”

  31. ponderer

    I think there are two separate issues. One is access, getting a job with a familial reference. The other is outcome. If Hunter Biden wasn’t on the board of some company being investigated for fraud, it wouldn’t be much to talk about. If his dad hadn’t withheld 1 billion dollars from an entire country it would be the same. I think anyone could have taken that job and blown the money on blow and hookers just as good as Hunter while the company swirled around the drain.

    The first issue is pretty minor and does little damage to society. The second, keeping unqualified incompetents in positions that could be easily filled by better people is the real tragedy. It reminds us all just how unfair our society has become, drives hate for the rich and well connected well beyond pitchfork territory. Watching the rich fail upwards has become part of life. It’s directly enabled by our tribalism. Since both parties do it, all someone has to say is how bad Trump is (or what every other you prefer), people forget all about a little “minor” corruption, and it continues to go on. The Clintons and Obamas have made their fortunes on the backs of the powerless, but did you see that Tweet the other day lets talk about that?!!?

    For this, and most other things, I blame partisans of all stripes. Biden is the Democrats problem, along with Clinton and everyone else they’ve let through. The Bushes, Regan, belong to the Republicans. Trump being investigated for every thing and unfairly at that, I don’t think you can blame the Partisans on. If only the rest of DC were subject to the same scrutiny..

  32. bruce wilder

    when the talk turns to corruption, i always think first of George Washington Plunkett, he of Tammany Hall whose preferred epitaph was, “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

    One man’s “corruption” can be another man’s opportunity. If your standard of purity allows no -side-benefit to anyone, it is hard to know how you would organize politics. Ian’s suggestion that he would prefer politicians who were childless or unmarried is surely said partly in jest. Celibacy was tried by the Catholic Church to no particularly good effect that I can see.

    Plunkett was referring primarily to his ability to profit from foreknowledge concerning the routes taken by New York’s then-burgeoning transit system. It is notable that the transit system still got built; the gain to Plunkett was part of a benefit to the community. Biden’s efforts to “strengthen” bankruptcy were tied only very loosely and distantly to Biden’s wallet; but, he was aiding predators to immiserate those caught in a debt vortex. So, no bad where Biden was concerned; let the consequences be ignored.

    You can be very pure and eager to seem pure, and still manage to be deeply destructive. John McCain, who played pure on teevee, campaigned against the custom of earmarks, as if any politics of trying to accomplish something was prima facie to be despised.

    What I see in Hunter Biden and the Ukraine is the effect of a corruption that has diffused not thru a family or a mafia but thru an entire political class, maybe the whole socio-economic class of feckless liberals described with such effect by Thomas Frank. It is a class that benefits from the destruction of the nation-state and so celebrates globalization as cosmopolitan. And, it feels secure in its ability to manipulate the public by means of propaganda storytelling that is increasingly absurd but always full of synthetic “outrage”.

    Its partisans lose their moral perceptiveness staring at the sheer complexity of the operations of its institutions of diffuse responsibility and relentless propaganda. So, like Mallam above, they disparage “conflation” and refuse to see things as they are. On a granular level, members of this class benefit, but rarely can be said to have participated in a discrete “quid pro quo”. Even when they are caught dead-to-rights, they may be excused for “having friends”, as Senator Menendez was in New Jersey. For this class, righteousness is meaningless, so they promise “transparency” — surely the beginning of an exercise in sleight-of-hand.

    The game is not being played by individuals, the game is being played by a class, cooperating together like members of a club providing mutual assistance and working toward a common goal of fleecing the rubes while celebrating their own superior virtue. Never mind that the foreign policy of the U.S. is to create perpetual war to enhance the value of defense contractor stocks. Pay no attention to the former Senator from MBNA and the bankruptcy bill. Pay no attention to the Swamp’s bipartisan feeding frenzy in the deeply troubled Ukraine. And, god forbid that anyone should “conflate” — challenging the convenient “outrage” ginned up around one questionable narrative by pointing to a closely adjacent example of similar and probably worse behavior.

  33. Hugh

    “If we acknowledge that the system itself is the problem, not the individuals in office or out of it as the case may be, as previous reformers have done, then we may come to recognize what to do about it.”

    The system is corrupt and degenerate, but each and every individual still remains culpable who took a cut from it.

  34. Hugh

    Re Sanders, he had placement of two cardiac stents. I have not seen which cardiac artery was involved nor the degree of blockage. It is very unlikely that the blockage was complete. His chest pain derived from some ischemia. You can go 80-90% stenosis (narrowing) before you develop symptoms. Usually you think of the LAD, the left anterior descending cardiac artery, which services the left ventricle, the workhorse of the heart. That two stents were placed may indicate the length of stenosis or more than one stenotic locus as well as an excess of caution. The principal complication is that stenosis will reoccur at the end of the stent. If this is to occur, it often happens within the first week. So in a week if there are no complications, Sanders should be good to go.

  35. Mallam

    I cited Murray Waas reporting here a few posts ago. Looks like The Washington Post is confirming that reporting:

    The relationship, which Giuliani acknowledged in an interview this week with The Washington Post, stems from a shared interest in a narrative that undermines the rationale for the special counsel investigation. That inquiry led to Manafort’s imprisonment on tax and financial fraud allegations related to his work in Kiev for the political party of former president Viktor Yanukovych.

    Giuliani’s effort is gaining traction on Capitol Hill. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, have announced their renewal of an inquiry into any coordination between Ukraine and Democratic Party officials. 

    Manafort, who is serving a 7½ -year term in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, has continued to express support for Trump, and Trump has never ruled out giving him a pardon.

    Trump’s push on a July 25 call to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the matter, and also probe former vice president Joe Biden, triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House. Many of the accusations Giuliani has been making about Ukraine recycle those that Manafort’s team first promulgated. 

    Giuliani joined Trump’s legal team in April 2018 to help defend the president against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, and the former mayor said he launched his own investigation into Ukraine late last year, which led him to consult with Manafort. He said he has not spoken directly to Manafort in two years.

    But this is “good” for Donald Trump, according to the conspiracy theorists.

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