Friday, August 19, 2005

Where's My Trip to Saipan?

I always wanted to use the phrase "knickers-twisting" in a family newspaper.

For those of you not familiar with Arizona politics, this column might be a bit obscure, but for this columnist (and lawyer), Fife Symington is the gift that keeps on giving. It also was fun that Republic columnist MacEachern published yet another piece on the Air America "scandal" in the competing paper the same day. We'll see if his outrage continues. I originally described him as "Tribune alumnus Doug MacEachern, now with some other newspaper," but my editor doesn't like snark as much as I do.

I didn't have enough room, but in line with the other guys always getting something out their side's corruption, I couldn't find the article on the Washington Post website using my weak wi-fi connection in Barcelona. Of course, the problem was that the article I remembered actually appeared in the New York Times which reported how Arizona's very own Institute for Justice head Clint Bolick got one of the Abramoff's client's trips to the Northern Marianas, then wrote an op-ed supporting their legislation in The Washington Times.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 14, 2005

The latest cause of knickers-twisting in ‘winger circles is the culpability of every liberal, everywhere, in the embezzlement of funds from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club in The Bronx, N.Y. It’s not just the amateurs, but even so-called “professional” journalists like Arizona Republic columnist Doug MacEachern, flogging this one. And, they always scold, you haven’t seen any coverage of this important scandal in The New York Times!

Here’s how the story works. Evan Cohen, then the development director at the club, also was director of the previous corporate entity behind Air America. The accounting trail is somewhat confusing, to say the least, but it appears that Cohen caused the club to loan himself and the Air America entity as much as $800,000. Most came from club accounts, but some came from club donors directly. It’s not clear how much went to Cohen and how much to Air America directly.

Air America, the attempt to create a radio network for liberals that would be just as one-sided politically and unfair to its opponents as, say, right-wing talk radio, certainly is a juicy target. After all, in two years it hasn’t come close to duplicating the “overnight success” Rush Limbaugh took two decades to achieve.

The first incarnation of Air America was poorly capitalized, and famously thrown off the air in key markets for failing to pay radio station bills. It quickly and loudly failed, amid talk that Evan Cohen wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest businessman. A new group of investors created Air America, version 2.0. The new entity acquired only the failed version’s assets, including its trade name, but didn’t assume its liabilities. The new group also excluded Cohen, who was viewed as a liability as well.

This happens all the time in business; entrepreneurs try, fail, and get to try again (and perhaps succeed eventually) because each new venture doesn’t have to repay all of the mistakes of its principals’ previous attempts. But the new Air America entity, according to ‘wingers, is different, because it -- and its key players -- have “moral liability” for everything the prior entity did.

Conservatives’ insistence on acknowledging such moral obligations appears to be somewhat selective, however. They’re demanding that the different Air America entity repay the club (or its successors; the club itself faces closure) all the money that the prior entity got -- which Air America has announced it will do -- and that everybody at Air America should acknowledge that they knew what was going on at the time, when even today the New York City Department of Investigation still hasn’t figured out what exactly happened.

Of course, these same people had no problem with Fife Symington remaining governor for years after he stopped paying his debts, which then, because of his bankruptcy, he no longer had a legal obligation to repay. They never demanded that Symington, and his political and business successors, repay the money he borrowed before his bankruptcy from the retirement pensions of those hard-working blue-collar engineers and laborers.

These critics never insisted that Fife must have known what was going on years before he finally as forced to admit his financial collapse. Apparently, only Republicans may avoid repaying debts by legal stratagems like filing bankruptcy, and their business failures must catch everybody by surprise.

But the real leap of logic is that even if the second version of Air America gets held to a higher moral standard than every other business, this failing somehow may be attributed to every liberal in America.

‘Wingers believe in collective guilt -- for liberals, anyway. But if I’m somehow responsible for what The New York Times hasn’t written about money invested in a business entity that no longer exists, then aren’t all conservatives similarly complicit in Fife’s bankruptcy, the Ohio and Illinois pension fund scandals, or Jack Abramoff’s shakedowns of Indian tribes?

Shouldn’t I get something out of the deal? Where’s my free trip to the Northern Marianas Islands or Guam (home of the original Air America investment entity!), paid for by Abramoff’s clients?

Instead, all I get are these ranting emails.

No comments: