No Comment — March 14, 2008, 3:02 pm

Public Integrity, Redefined

Some of my readers complain that I am contributing to the feeding frenzy surrounding Spitzer-Gate, and that I should show a bit more perspective. Message heard. So here’s some perspective.

While a platoon of FBI agents were staking out the Mayflower Hotel in order to nab Spitzer in his tryst with a hooker (not named Cinnamon), here’s a good example of the Bush Administration’s astonishingly venal corruption which is not being investigated or acted upon. This reflects the morality of the current Justice Department, which can’t find the resources to look into the gang rape of a young woman from Houston, but is delighted to spend untold amounts catching a Democratic politician in consensual sex in a swanky hotel. No question in my mind about who the real perverts are.

So let’s turn to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD. If the Bushies arrived in Washington in 2001 with a political spoils mentality—a conclusion which few would dispute at this point—then the goings-on at HUD would rival the destruction of FEMA for the vaunted position as Exhibit A. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson is a prototypical “loyal Bushie.” He is described as a “longtime personal friend” and as a former neighbor of the president, and he appears to put that personal rapport above just about everything.

We have to congratulate Jackson for being candid. As the Dallas Business Journal reports, Jackson articulated his criteria for awarding contracts in explicitly partisan political terms:

“He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,” Jackson said of the prospective contractor. “He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something … he said, ‘I have a problem with your president.’

“I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t like President Bush.’ I thought to myself, ‘Brother, you have a disconnect — the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn’t be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don’t tell the secretary.’

“He didn’t get the contract,” Jackson continued. “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.”

Of course, the litmus test that Jackson described, and which he actually applied, happens to be against the law. But no matter. The Justice Department is far too busy staking out love trysts at the Mayflower to be bothered with anything as trivial as corruption of the process of awarding federal contracts. After all, John Ashcroft himself knows the benefits of being a loyal Bushie and getting massively profitable non-bid contract awards. This is the way things are supposed to work: the rewards are supposed to flow to those who demonstrate loyalty. For those who don’t join the home team, tough luck.

Of course, Jackson not only fired a contractor because the contractor dared to speak publicly in a manner critical of President Bush, he also awarded a massive discretionary contract to Shirlington Limousine & Transportation Inc., which, as my colleague Ken Silverstein unearthed, was linked closely to Brent Wilkes and was used to transport congressmen, CIA officials and prostitutes to their rendez-vous with hot tubs, among other things.

And as U.S. Attorney Carol Lam quickly discovered, launching a criminal investigation into these matters was a career-stopper. You don’t look into the home team. Conversely, several of Lam’s U.S. attorney colleagues have learned how to play the game: if you focus on the love lives of Democratic politicians, you can keep your job, and you might well climb further up the Justice Department’s ladder than your abilities might otherwise warrant.

After the uproar over his Dallas Business Journal remarks, Jackson publicly insisted that he “didn’t touch contracts.” But the Center for American Progress lists a series of businessmen with close personal and financial ties to Jackson who have received no-bid contract awards from HUD.

Still, the most interesting recent disclosures about how things work at HUD emerged on Wednesday in the Washington Post.

After Philadelphia’s housing director refused a demand by President Bush’s housing secretary to transfer a piece of city property to a business friend, two top political appointees at the department exchanged e-mails discussing the pain they could cause the Philadelphia director.

“Would you like me to make his life less happy? If so, how?” Orlando J. Cabrera, then-assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, wrote about Philadelphia housing director Carl R. Greene.

“Take away all of his Federal dollars?” responded Kim Kendrick, an assistant secretary who oversaw accessible housing. She typed symbols for a smiley-face, “:-D,” at the end of her January 2007 note. Cabrera wrote back a few minutes later: “Let me look into that possibility.”

What’s all this about? It seems that Secretary Jackson was eager to persuade the Philadelphia Housing Authority to sell a vacant lot that it owned to Kenny Gamble, a close personal friend of Jackson’s. The Authority wasn’t interested in selling. They quickly ran into a buzzsaw of bureaucratic problems with HUD. In a lawsuit, the Authority has charged that all of this was motivated by Jackson’s personal pique over their failure to give his buddy a sweet deal.

The emails obtained by the Post suggest that the charges have teeth.

Now you might think that charges that a cabinet officer corruptly used his office for personal benefit, interfered with contract awards for political purposes, and broke a contract because he disliked the contractor’s political views, would come to the attention of the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice and would be the subject of an investigation.

But you’d be wrong. They’re far too busy staking out love trysts at the Mayflower Hotel and launching massive investigations into junior college teachers who underperform their teaching plans. They understand the priorities of the Bush Administration perfectly. The Administration has its own understanding of the word “integrity.” And Secretary Jackson is a prime example of just what that word has come to mean.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2017

The Year of The Frog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dead Ball Situation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Document of Barbarism

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Destroyer of Worlds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Crossing Guards

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I am Here Only for Working”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Destroyer of Worlds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
Article
Crossing Guards·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

Illustration by Richard Mia
Article
“I am Here Only for Working”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

— Karl Marx

Photograph from the United Arab Emirates by the author. This page: Ruwais Mall
Article
The Year of The Frog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
Article
Dead Ball Situation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Minimum square footage of San Francisco apartments allowed under new regulations:

220

A Disney behavioral ecologist announced that elephants’ long-range low-frequency vocal rumblings draw elephant friends together and drive elephant enemies apart.

The judge continued to disallow the public release of Brailsford’s body-cam footage, and the jury spent less than six hours in deliberation before returning a verdict of not guilty. The police then released the video, showing Brailsford pointing his AR-15 assault rifle at Shaver while a sergeant asked him if he understood that there was “a very severe possibility” he would “get shot.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today