Wednesday, January 4, 2006

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There's money and then there's Abramoff money

Last month I prophesized some nausea inside the Beltway if Jack Abramoff cut a deal. And now it appears that has come to pass.

Howard Fineman provides a pithy but accurate explanation in MSNBC on why Abramoff will be so damaging:

[T]he thing that jumps out at me is the figure $20,194,000. If I read the fedís plea-agreement papers correctly, thatís the amount of cold cash that the Republican lobbyist siphoned from Indian tribes and stashed in his secret accounts.

You may not believe this, but in this city, that is an unheard of amount of money for a lobbyist to haul in ó and the number itself signifies a troubling change in the nature of life in the capital of our country.

The denizens of D.C. deal in trillions of dollars. But they are YOUR dollars: tax receipts and federal spending. Lawyers and lobbyists here do well. Still, they havenít generally been in the same league as money-power types in, say, New York or Los Angeles. This was a city in which official position meant more than a plush vacation home; in which a Ph.D. or J.D. meant more than a BMW. Traditionally, the locals have been more like Vegas blackjack dealers than the greedy people sitting on the other side of the table.

Well, Abramoff jumped the table ó and the result will be the biggest influence-peddling scandal to hit Washington in recent times.

I don't buy Fineman's thesis that a third party movement will be born, but he's right about the money and the social mores of DC.

UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan really doesn't like Fineman's third party suggestion. He's probably right, but I think the term "insipd" is a touch overblown. To play devil's advocate, the current set of conditions -- massive deficits, disenchantment with Congress, official scandals, a Bush in the White House -- do evoke the environment that allowed Ross Perot to make a splash in 1992. That's a long way from a real third party, but it's not nothing either.

posted by Dan on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM


I love the quote about a PH.D. and a J.D. in Washington. Having just been in Washington, at a family event in which a top foreign affairs lobbyist and a top foreign affairs analyst was present, I must agree.

This is probably why I want a PhD/JD.

posted by: amechad on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

There's something about this story that hits close to home for me: the number of Congressional staff said to be possible targets in the Abramoff investigation.

I was Congressional staff in a former life, and can say with complete confidence that no lobbyist I ever dealt with ever thought I was important enough to bribe. Something has clearly changed in Washington since then.

posted by: Zathras on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

I liked the Republican lobbyist label. Who knew Republicans needed lobbyists? Are there Democrat lobbyists also? I thought the parties were supposed to use the candidates they elected to influence the other politicians.

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]


I am pleading with you--don't do it! Let me tell you from experience--a Ph.D. will close more doors than it opens in DC, UNLESS it is sandwiched inbetween real-life jobs (get the BA, then work, then get an MA, then work, etc.), gotten from the right school (not necessarily the best--GWU is preferable to Harvard, local connections are all) and under the auspices of the right advisor (connections again). If you already know all this, congrats. If you don't...don't say no one warned you.


Bribery is such an ugly word. Abramoff had lots and lots of good friends, and friends invite you to their parties, skyboxes, resort villas, etc., right?


Not that I AT ALL wish to excuse scumbag Abramoff and his cohort--rot in hell, the lot of youse--but I have to protest the tone of much of this journalism in one critical respect. Abramoff et al did not rip off poor unsuspecting Native Americans. Those guys are running a monumental racket under government protection at the moment and Abramoff bought muscle to keep the competition out of their territory. Solution: throw all the bums in jail and then actually debate whether we as a nation want casinos all over the place, and if the answer is yes, then we need to rationalise the system. Why the hell should gambling be legal in Vegas and Atlantic City, on reservations and riverboats, but nowhere else? This is madness and it must stop. Dirty money corrupts government everywhere. We are not immune. Native Americans can no longer get a pass. This ain't Bingo.

posted by: Kelli on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

The plea deal is nothing but a duck and cover for murder(most specifically the mob hit on Gus Boulis)& the back room deals with gambling interests and the mafia.
Doubt Abramoff will be investigated further for the murder of Boulis.
But-it is not the first time someone in politics got away with murder.
Oh well- let's just throw in the towel and join Bush's fun game of Texas Hold 'em.

posted by: trudy on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Why is a Ph.D. so bad? Anyway, I have to figure out what would be a good thing to do and workable both in the US and Israel.

posted by: amechad on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Amechad, some things to know about a Ph.D.

1) Your chance of getting it is less than 50%, IF you are a very well prepared person. Most people drop out/flunk out. My 50% is a generous estimate.

2) It will take from 5-7 years.

3) Your most likely failure mode, after your first year, will be burn-out and exhaustion.

4) You don't have to get a Ph.D. in the same field as your BS or MS degree.

5) The most important two things which you can do are (a) talk to many people in the real world who are where you want to be, to see what education you need, and (b) talk to as many people in academia as possible, in as many fields as possible, about what educational path you should take.

posted by: Barry on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

massive deficits

Massive, huh? 2.6% of GDP isn't massive, certainly not if you look historically.

posted by: John Thacker on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

Well, it depends why you are looking at the history. Today's deficits have to be considered in light of future obligations we have now, and were for example 20 years further off 20 years ago. Moreover large debt continually added to is less expensive when interest rates are very low, as they have been for some years now but will not always be.

One can make a case for running large deficits for a limited period in pursuit of great objectives, like ridding the world of Hitler. Large deficits run every year just to fund normal government operations are another matter. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the explosive growth of the tech sector in the 1990s bailed us out of the deficit problem we got ourselves into in the previous decade; not only is there no guarantee we will be so lucky again, but the chances of our being that lucky are actually quite small.

posted by: Zathras on 01.04.06 at 02:43 PM [permalink]

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