Swamp Dwellers

I am an equal opportunity hater. One of the big mistakes the republicans make is the assumption that you must like whoever is opposed to whatever you hate; i.e.: if you loathe Trump you must like Biden. In fact, my hatred for them is at nearly an equal level, although I admit Trump’s phony revival preacher drawl makes me hate him just a little bit more.

The problem with the American political system is that it’s utterly hateful, top to bottom, in nearly all ways. I see a few rays of sunshine, like Rasheeda Tlaib (brilliant!), Ilhan Omar (such a nice smile! and so poised) and Alexandria Occasio-Cortez (if we have a future, she’s it) – but I wonder if anyone can survive in such a toxic and corrupting environment without eventually succumbing to its many temptations. I suspect that there are many who try to be decent human beings while they are in office, but as soon as they leave they are bombarded with offers to join the corrupt-a-thon of talking heads, consultants, and influencers.

The worst part of all of it, to me, is that it’s been made legal-but-regulated, which effectively gives people permission to engage in things that ought to strike any moral being as exceptionally skeevy. So, for example, the “revolving door” is regulated – you’re not allowed to turn around, become a lobbyist, and represent your new company to your old co-workers. Not without a cool-off period. But, since everyone knows the cool-off period, they can already be planning all the corrupt deals, book deals, board seats, etc. – it gives the newly unemployed politician something to do between rounds of golf and expense account dinners.

Just a squirt, keeps everything moving

But if it’s corrupt for Hunter Biden to take a “job” for $50,000/month sitting on the board of a foreign company, isn’t it also corrupt for some Washington insider to do the same thing? John Bolton rather obviously still has some of his old contacts, and they’ll take his calls – so that makes him a valuable person to have on board in case some procurement fewmet gets jammed in the pipeline and needs a bit of the ole quid pro quo juice. Sometimes, as we’ve seen, it just takes a phone call to release millions of dollars of delicious corruption crunch. The reason we think it corrupt for Hunter Biden to take a job he’ll never do, and is not qualified for, in return for possibly talking to daddy someday, is because it embeds the assumption that the organization Biden’s working for is willing to cut a few corners if need be, and Biden’s willing to help so he can ‘earn’ his measly $50,000/month. You can bet your ass that a Russian gas oligarch wouldn’t give Hunter Biden the time of day, assuming Hunter Biden blundered through his security cordon trying to find the rest room. These people ought to disgust us because it’s transparently obvious that they’re trading on eachothers’ connections, and none of them can be trusted farther than you can comfortably spit a live rat.

Although, when it comes to Trump and his coterie, the spitting is going the other way. See if you can wrap your mind around this: Lev Parnas feels betrayed by Donald Trump. That means he has to have been able to convince himself that he was, once, somebody to Donald Trump. In fact, he signified less to Donald Trump than a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe. That should have been obvious. These are all profoundly stupid people, in addition to being corrupt.

Which brings me to a recent profoundly stupid and corrupt person in the news. [po]

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is rejoining the General Dynamics board of directors, the contractor announced Wednesday, the latest in the retired Marine general’s moves to re-enter the world he left when he became the head of the Pentagon more than two years ago.

Could you reach over and hit the “silence” button on that corruption alarm? It’s ringing so hard it hurts my ears. I wonder if he took a pay cut because he left the administration with a boot-print on his ass?

Nope. According to the Project On Government Oversight:

As a board member he received almost $1 million in compensation from 2013 to 2016. According to the company’s 2016 proxy statement, his brother is an employee of a subsidiary of the company. In 2019, he was re-elected to the board.

James Mattis demonstrates Shaolin Monkey Style kung fu

Imagine what a message that sends to the hard-working General Dynamics employee, who does their job for the company, builds skills and seniority, and – after decades of hard work – they’re getting paid a rounding error in the salary of an incompetent with a track-record of non-accomplishment? How does that feel? Wouldn’t you want to just shank the guy in the hallway if you bumped into him? Well, that’s not going to happen because he’ll probably never show up in any hallway where there are actual employees. He’s also a top-notch investor:

Former Employer/Office: Theranos, Inc
New Title/Position: Board Member
Former Title/Position: Board Member
According to his ethics disclosure form, Mattis received $150,000 in director fees.

See, these corrupt assclowns don’t just get their finger in one pie; they get great big fistfuls of all the pie that goes past.

He received permission from the Marine Corps to work as a military advisor for the United Arab Emirates in August 2015. He did not receive compensation, only reimbursement for travel expenses. Mattis did not publicly disclose his relationship with the United Arab Emirates in his financial disclosure forms and his ethics agreement.
He did not receive compensation, only travel expenses? Are you fucking kidding me? Does this guy look like the kind of guy who works for travel expenses?

I just picked Mattis practically at random. There are so many. Basically, every asshole who’s ever worked in Washington has matriculated and gotten a job on some board of directors for some beltway bandit. The kind of money they are pulling down is in the Hunter Biden range. I remember when Mike McConnell left the NSA and went to Booz Allen Hamilton, walking into a partner-level title there, instantly. Being a partner means profit-sharing; a couple million bucks a year just to be prepared to maybe call someone up and apply a little squirt of quid pro quo.

Pick some random Washington asshole and punch them into Google, adding “board of directors” and see what I’m talking about. Just for giggles I tried David “lose in Iraq and Afghanistan” Petraeus: [optiv]

DENVER – September 7, 2017 – Optiv Security, a market-leading provider of end-to-end cyber security solutions, today announced two new appointments to its Board of Directors: Dave DeWalt, former FireEye and McAfee chief executive officer, who will serve as vice chairman of the board, and retired United States Army General David Petraeus. 

So he’s probably not getting $50,000/month – maybe $150.000/year – but if that company gets acquired or goes public, he’ll have a couple million dollars in shares to dispose of. Shares that would be “incentive stock options” to encourage employees for their hard work. Hard work that former General Petraeus won’t be doing. Petraeus is also a member of the board of KKR and of course he collects his 4-star general’s pension of $208,000/year. That ought to make the cannon-fodder happy, to know they were busy humping packs and dodging IEDs while the guy who helped oversee their losing the war is sitting back with his hand in a whole lotta pies. Petraeus also took a couple teaching gigs:

Petraeus appears to have learned recently after taking a six-figure annual salary to teach a weekly seminar at the City University of New York’s Macaulay Honors College. After Gawker reported on July 1 that Petraeus had initially been offered a $200,000 salary (apparently later changed to $150,000), a controversy ensued, with city and state officials criticizing the high pay.

Any of you who are reading this, who might be adjunct professors, you’ll be happy to know that Petraeus actually landed two teaching gigs in that price range. That’s pretty good for a 3-hour course with assistants and research assistants to do the grading and, uh, teachy part. I’m genuinely perplexed what Petraeus might teach.

I don’t even want to total it up, and I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know what being a partner at KKR pays (again, it’s profit-sharing) but it’s got to be substantial. Oh, the corruption! [nyt]

Mr. Petraeus joined KKR in May 2013, six months after leaving the C.I.A., at the urging of Mr. Kravis. Within the firm, Mr. Petraeus runs what is described as a small research division, the “KKR Global Institute,” which analyzes public policy and strategic risks and advises the firm on investment decisions, colleagues said.

Somewhere, Hunter Biden is crying into his latte, realizing how cheaply he sold himself.

Petraeus, like most other washed-up hasbeens (including. I suppose, your host) also charges per speech or public appearance. I’m not going to search the speakers’ bureaus for Petraeus but someone like him usually gets $50,000-$75,000 for a talk, which consists of reading a speech, eating a dinner, and getting handed a gym bag of money to put in your offshore account (if you do it Bill Clinton Style) or getting a check, depositing it, and paying taxes on it like a normal person. The amount on the check’s what’s not normal.

When Sidney E. Goodfriend, a retired Merrill Lynch investment banker who founded an organization to mentor veterans, wanted Mr. Clinton to film a public service announcement for the group, he talked his way into a meeting with the former president by promising to bring Mr. Petraeus. Mr. Clinton filmed the spot.

“It wouldn’t have happened without David,” Mr. Goodfriend said.

In Kazakhstan, Mr. Petraeus accompanied Mr. Kravis, who addressed graduate business students at Nazarbayev University, an event the school’s website said was “attended by a host of Kazakhstan’s ‘Who’s Who’ in finance, banking and policy making.”

That’s the rarefied world of pay for access/retired ex-policy-maker influence. You make a phone call, squirt some quid pro quo, and things break free and happen. Or, if you’re Donald Trump, you hire troglodytes like Giuliani and Parnas. Trump’s mistake is that he consistently favors the cheap shit.

Here’s a fun article about working directly for David Petraeus: [vice]

After Petraeus showed up, my life and the life of every soldier under his command went to complete shit. Back then, the ever-calculating Petraeus, who had married the West Point superintendent’s daughter after graduating, was on his way up. The general’s star was within reach – he was only one rank away – and being in command of the “Devil Brigade” (our brigade), was absolutely vital to getting him there. During his tenure with the 504th, he had to kiss and lick as many hairy, hemorrhoidal assholes as possible. He had to guffaw and slap all the right backs; he had to seriously impress. He had to do whatever was necessary to reach the pinnacle. No bridge too far for that son of a bitch. Can do. Will do. Yes sir, whatever you want, sir.

Petraeus is famous for writing the army’s COIN (counter-insurgency) manual. What’s really sad about that, to those of us who follow COIN and military theories, is Petraeus basically lifted the whole thing from a French/Algerian theorist from the 40s. If you’re remotely interested in this stuff, you must read Adam Curtis’ piece on counter-insurgency poseurs: [ac] Basically, counter-insurgency doesn’t work, but there are always new assholes coming along and re-inventing “hearts and minds” and “clear and hold” (techniques invented by the Mongols and Romans) and re-branding them. That Petraeus’ reputation is for re-inventing basic COIN ideas tells you how devoid of basic ideas the pentagon is.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I had a high school friend who joined the Air Force. He said that he was in a meeting once with all the AF types on one side of the table, and the contractors on the other side. He added up the combined experience on his side vs. the other side, and it will be no surprise that the contractors had many, many times the combined experience of the military negotiators. And of course, most of the contractors had originally started on the other side of the table, so they knew their opponents’ constraints better than their opponents did.

  2. Dunc says

    See, these corrupt assclowns don’t just get their finger in one pie; they get great big fistfuls of all the pie that goes past.

    Did you ever encouter a site called theyrule.net? They took a bunch of publicly available data on company boards and poured it into a flash-based network visualiser so you could explore how all these fuckers interconnect… It’s very incestuous. The site’s still there, but I don’t think it’s been updated since about 2010 and I don’t have a browser with flash installed any more, so I couldn’t tell you if it still works.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    IF (I dunno) Hunter Biden exercised a reasonable amount of go-getterness, he might well have parlayed his daddy’s Rolodex into a functional network of high-level gossip and open doors – exactly the sort of access a company like Burisma would need and, at $50K/mo, a much better bargain than any of the mainstream Beltway lobbying shops.

    Sure, Hunter B had an unfair advantage in being born on second base, but so far nothing has come out indicating he did anything illegal or even, by US hierarchy standards, unethical or lazy.

  4. lorn says

    I’ve always been on the outside looking in but in my life it has always been this way. From the right cliques and clubs in high-school, private schools were usually another step up, to the frats in whatever tier college you got into, and on up. Track it back and its about 75% who your family was and how much money or power they had. Where you ended up was largely determined by where you started. Even as far back as the 50s this country, that places a huge emphasis on meritocracy and bootstraps, has remarkably little actual class mobility. And it has only gotten worse.

    Track some of those rags-to-riches stories down in detail and you often find a benefactor. An uncle or great aunt that had some connections and or significant wealth. Strings get pulled, words get said, and doors previously closed open. Doors few people even know about open up and the path gets far, far smoother.

    In college a dormie had several positions on corporate boards. He wasn’t particularly flashy about it but he never struggled for money. We knew about the checks that showed up quarterly. He always had a couple thousand in reserve. Sometimes seemed shocked that the rest of us didn’t. Professors would get phone calls and their attitude toward him would change.

    As far as I know it has always been this way. Rome, and a whole lot of our present military, are structured around patronage. In the army anything above colonel was typically more political than martial. Every major war involving an existential threat is the same; start by tossing out the dead wood.

    We haven’t faced a real war since WW2. This sort of corruption tends to build on itself around low level conflicts. The movie “Catch-22” had it right. Old money families, ring-knockers, fifth generation colonels with their eyes on stars, and always, always an endless string of overdressed consultants who want to run it all as a “business” (properly pronounced: scam).

    There are other organizing principles. The evangelical Christians have tried to exert control over the US military. It has been uneven. They have taken over large swaths of the Air Force. They focused on the academy and the strategic forces. I hear it is hard to get ahead in the AF without ‘Christian credentials’.

    White Nationalists have been infiltrating and seeking control over Army special forces over the last forty years. SF, of all descriptions and branches but particularly the more elite units, have long been almost exclusively white.

    But in broad strokes you are right. There is a club and most of us are not in it. Patronage runs a lot of it. Old money families, political dynasties, and entrenched power bases hold most of the cards. And there are other organizing systems. All of them promote from within. All of them jealously guard their prerogatives to pick and chose who gets promoted, who gets a job, who gets hired by the highest paying contractors, and which contractors (based on prior affiliations) get the most favorable reviews and contracts. “The old bump and grind”

  5. says

    Track some of those rags-to-riches stories down in detail and you often find a benefactor. An uncle or great aunt that had some connections and or significant wealth. Strings get pulled, words get said, and doors previously closed open. Doors few people even know about open up and the path gets far, far smoother.

    It’s amazing how few people notice this. I listen to podcasts all the time and some of them are (e.g.: Alec Baldwin’s) about creative types; there are a lot of stories like “so-and-so knew so-and-so and I got the part and after that my career took off.”

    The evangelical Christians have tried to exert control over the US military. It has been uneven. They have taken over large swaths of the Air Force. They focused on the academy and the strategic forces. I hear it is hard to get ahead in the AF without ‘Christian credentials’.

    Yeah, I have heard that, too. Curtis LeMay was particularly bad – he stacked SAC with evangelicals. It turns out evangelicals like the idea of dropping nukes on people. Go figure.

  6. lorn says

    Insiders, club dwellers, typically the most problematic are those either most cossetted by the status quo and those most afraid of change. Loads of overlap there.

    I’ve been having a nagging foreboding. Lets assume the good guys win. Come November 03,2020 ( I had to look up the date ) it all goes swimmingly. Democrats take the Whitehouse, Senate, and expand their advantage in Congress. It is all goodness and vertical light.

    Except on November the 4th Trump wakes up realizing that on the voters have spoken and he is SOL. Save for the Electoral College, that doesn’t do its job until December 14th. Does he go Saudi (like MBS ) on the electors to get them to vote his way? Calling them all to a remote location for a months ‘re-education’ and light torture. He seems to have the power. Given that he is still president and commander of all military and executive , police, functions until January 20, 2021. If he tried it who would we turn to? Call the cops?

    Okay, let’s say Trump and his cronies aren’t that savvy. He doesn’t go after the electors. Are we to assume he is going to ‘go gentle into that good night’ between December 14 and January 20?

    If he refuses to step down what is the military going to do? The evangelicals have a strong foothold in the strategic nuclear forces, and they feel that after fifty years of mere lip service Trump has substantially advanced many of their sweetest Dominionist dreams. He has thwarted LGBT advances, gotten conservative and pro-life judges into the judiciary, had Christianity essentially declared a protected status, and stuffed the SCOTUS with evangelical approved puppets. With Trump in the Whitehouse with nothing to lose and evangelical Christians, who naturally tend toward apocalyptic thinking and who think of him as both ‘God’s chosen one’ and benefactor for recent victories, sitting in command bunkers and silos …

    How does all this play out?

    Interesting times.

Leave a Reply