Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Corruption is relative—the Tribune's Hastert scandal suffers by comparison

Posted By on 11.14.12 at 11:35 AM

Hastert
  • Terence Guider-Shaw/Sun-Times Media
  • Hastert
Conversations with the morning paper . . .

It's the top story on the front page, so the Tribune must think it's a big deal, but I'm having trouble getting worked up over Wednesday's revelations about Dennis Hastert.

"Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has conducted private business ventures through a little-known government office that has cost taxpayers about $1.8 million, a Tribune investigation has found." Thus begins the report by Katherine Skiba and Todd Lighty.

As described by the Tribune, those business ventures involved some guys Hastert knew, didn't amount to much, and came to nothing. What was arguably improper about them is that Hastert took a few meetings in his Office of the Former Speaker and a secretary there did some business-related research and e-mailing. The Tribune explains that "federal law allows former House speakers to maintain a government-financed office for up to five years to wind down matters relating to their tenure. They are not permitted to use the office for financial gain."

The Tribune notes that Hastert, after a career in politics, is now a Washington lobbyist while drawing three government pensions. Any faithful Tribune reader is primed to think less of Hastert for this cushy setup, but the Tribune doesn't try to make a case that he doesn't have them coming. It might be that those federal laws creating the Office of the Former Speaker (Hastert's is in Yorkville, Illinois) are a boondoggle, but the Tribune doesn't try to make that case either. Nor does it try to make the case that the $1.8 million in public money that it's cost to maintain the office since Hastert left Congress in 2007 would have been any less if Hastert had taken those meetings in the local IHOP. Granted, he could have compensated the taxpayers for the time his secretary spent dealing with his private e-mail; and of course there should be a glass jar in every office so workers can throw in a buck or two every time they send or receive a personal e-mail.

But what most thoroughly undercuts the Tribune's Hastert revelations is the balance of its Wednesday news section. Below the Hastert story on page one, we read that a jury has awarded Karolina Obrycka, the bartender beaten by off-duty cop Anthony Abbate, $850,000 from the city. The jury bought the argument that a "code of silence" exists among Chicago police officers.

And on inside pages . . .

John Kass argues that President Obama needs to air out and hose down the David Petraeus-Paula Broadwell-General John Allen-Jill Kelley scandal. And don't forget Benghazi either.

Federal judge Ruben Castillo calls Daniel and John Sullivan, brothers who defrauded dozens of elderly people of their life savings and home equity, "human vampires" and sentences them to 14 years in prison.

The former comptroller of Dixon, Illinois, reportedly will plead guilty to skimming more than $53 million from the city treasury.

A weeklong army hearing into Staff Sergeant Robert Bales's March rampage in Afghanistan raises more questions than it answers. Bales is charged with murdering 17 Afghan civilians, but there's plenty of evidence that he didn't act alone.

In Zimbabwe, where diamond fields were discovered six years ago, hundreds of millions of dollars in expected state revenues are nowhere to be found, yet "elites close to President Robert Mugabe" are now "flaunting wealth far beyond their government salaries."

The "disposition matrix" is Washington's euphemism du jour for the apparently permanent campaign to identify and assassinate suspected terrorist leaders around the world. (The Tribune picked this story up from the Washington Post, which ran it three weeks ago.)

Thanks to the failure of the FDA to regulate drug compounders, more than 400 people have by now developed fungal meningitis.

On a pristine news day, someone with an exquisite nose reading the Hastert revelations might detect a faint whiff of corruption. But these aren't pristine news days.

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