Thursday, May 07, 2009

From our You Can't Make This Stuff Up Dept.: If Tom Ridge becomes the next senator from Delmarpenn, who's gonna lobby for Albania?


Click on it to enlarge, and then scroll down, scroll down, scroll down, almost all the way, and . . . there, stop! This is former Pennsylvania governor and "founding" Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's "registration statement" under the "Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended." And who is he representing? Albania, fercripessakes? (I swear I'm not making this up. Heck, you're looking right at it!)

by Ken

So I was reading this DailyKos diary by Jed Lewison about how Tom Ridge "will announce whether or not he's running for Senate within the next two weeks." Now I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Tom Ridge. In fact, the one question about him that interests me is that of his actual existence, as opposed to being, say, some sort of mass hallucination escaped from a particularly wicked Tom Tomorrow cartoon. Doesn't most everyone in a Tom Tomorrow cartoon look (and for that matter talk) like Tom Ridge?

[As always, click to enlarge.]


1. The Empirical Proof

Get together a pile of stuff, like gumdrops and twigs and pennies and rotten eggs and tomatoes, and systematically hurl the stuff at the alleged Tom Ridge (note the creepy, dead-on resemblance between the "real" Tom and every character in the Tom Tomorrow cartoon strip above). If the stuff goes right on through, we've proved once and for all that there really is no such thing. However, if the stuff is interrupted in its trajectory by the alleged Tom Ridge, that just proves that there's something there, not that the something is an actual living, breathing person.

2. The Scientific Proof

With a chisel or a hacksaw or something, chop off a chunk of the alleged Tom Ridge and shoot it over to the lab for scientific analysis. (Just to be safe, you might want to break off a chunklet and send it to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. I don't mean to cast aspersions. I'm just saying, better safe than sorry. Am I right?) In theory, the lab should be able to tell us not just whether there is such a thing as Tom Ridge, but what sort of thing it might be. Would plastic sheeting and duct tape be sufficient to protect us against it?

Now, since our Tom has been dragged into the Arlen Specter story, I'll play along -- up to a point, anyways. Here's Jed Lewison's take:
[I]f Ridge does decide to run, he's going to need to figure out in which state, because it turns out he has a claim on running in at least three of them.

In a June, 2008 foreign agent registration filing, Ridge listed Maryland as his residence and said that his firm, Ridge Global LLC, was a Delaware corporation. Ridge was also governor of Pennsylvania, leaving him with at least three 2010 races he could consider:

  1. Maryland, where he would challenge Barbara Mikulski
  1. Delaware, where he would try to fill Joe Biden's old seat
  1. Pennsylvania, where he would challenge Pat Toomey for the GOP nomination, and if he won, whoever wins the Democratic primary

In addition to showing that Ridge lives in Pennsylvania Maryland and incorporated his firm in Delaware, the document also shows that in 2007 Ridge earned nearly a half-million dollars representing the foreign government of Albania.

Perhaps more notably, even though Ridge was paid that money in January and November of 2007, he didn't report it until June 2008.

All the polls say that Ridge could mount a viable campaign in Pennsylvania. But as this document shows, if Ridge does run, his opponents will start out with serious questions to raise with him.

Now the question of which state our Tom is fit to represent doesn't much engage me. Is there any state, short of "torpor" or perhaps "disengagement," he could be imagined to be "fit to represent"? Have we really forgotten the frightening lesson of watching the man take his place as his pal George W. Bush's homeland security czar, coming to Washington with the reputation of being "really smart" and performing as a total buffoon? (Can someone who was set to be replaced by Bernie Kerik be said to have ever really existed?)

Nevertheless, we'll kick our Tom's Senate prospects around a bit, right after this dramatic pause to register astonishment . . .

Hey, what the fuck was that? Ridge earned nearly half a million smackeroos representing the government of Albania?

Albania??? Holy Enver Hoxha, Batman!

No, we have not slipped into some cheesy Mad Magazine parody. As a matter of fact, though, if we were attempting some such cheesy parody, and were trying to make up the most preposterous and most pathetic imaginable foreign "entanglement" for our Tom, I have no doubt that Albania would be near or at the very top of our list of possibilities.

So now we know that for 11 months in 2006-07 our Tom was, um, Tirana's man in D.C. For the benefit of anyone who isn't already convulsed with laughter, here is Besar Likmeta's account (on World Politics Review, Sept. 11, 2006) of what our Tom was hired to do:
The primary function of the former secretary's new job is to make the case for the accession of Albania into NATO in Washington. A government spokesman clarified that Ridge will engage a team of consultants and offer his connections to make known Albania's reforms in the United States, while forging homeland security and good governance strategies. In addition to his security expertise and Washington connections, [Albanian Prime Minister Sali] Berisha is hoping to exploit Ridge's experience as Governor of Pennsylvania. In a country in profound need of structural reforms, Ridge is expected to consult with the government on strategies to reform education, the judiciary, agriculture and information technology.

Let me stress: I am still not making any of this stuff up.

So somebody persuaded Prime Minister Berisha that the man he needed to grease his country's way into NATO was . . . Tom Ridge??? (Do I really need to point out how well that worked out?) And for the asking price of $40K a month, our miracle man was, in addition, going to strategize the reform of Albania's educational system, judiciary, agriculture, and information technology?

Oh, good grief, is there anyone who thinks our Tom even knows how to spell all these words?

I can't help wondering how this contact was made. Are we really supposed to imagine that the prime minister's brain trust, while picking its collective brain, scoured the ranks of "the connected" in D.C. looking for just the right "enabler" -- and came up with Tom Ridge??? Did some genius dash off a fax to Jack Abramoff's talent shop asking for a recommendation?

Or, heaven help us, did our Tom perhaps solicit the gig?
Hello, my name is Thomas ("Tom") Ridge, and I am a 60-year-old boy who by way of "experience" served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania and two years as the very first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security. I would like to offer my services -- at any job you can think of, like mowing your lawn in summer, and maybe running a lemonade stand, and shoveling your driveway in winter. I am a hard worker, a "self-starter," and I am determined someday to make something of myself.

So if that's the pitch, and we're Young Tom, where do we send it? Here's a thought: If we look at the alphabetical list of United Nations members, we find under "A":

Antigua and Barbuda

Given the, er, situation in Afghanistan in the earlier years of this century, wouldn't it be understandable -- as we imagine our enterprising Tom planning to send out his first cold mailing -- if he gave that country a discreet pass? (Perhaps we can find out whether he made contact with folks in Algeria and Andorra?)

Now, however the contact was made, it appears that our Tom and his new Albanian clients reached a meeting of the minds in early September of 2006. And in case you were wondering, it appears that you can sign a contract to represent a foreign government without asking anybody's permission, as our Tom did. However, the rules -- okay, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938, as amended, if you want to be technical -- say that you've got to file the appropriate registration form with the Dept. of Justice "within 10 days of signing the contract and before performing any duties for the client" (as reported by Roll Call).

This is problematic, as Jed Lewison suggests. It appears that Tom of Albania was on Tirana's payroll, at that $40K a month, from Oct. 2006 through Aug. 2007, and duly filed his registration form with the DoJ on, um, let's see, well, again according to Roll Call: "The time stamp on Ridge's registration stamp with the Justice Department is dated June 12, 2008."

Let's take a second to do the math. I don't have the exact date of the contract-signing, but Besar Likmeta wrote in his above-cited Sept. 11, 2006, World Politics Review report:
In a statement made during a joint press conference at the prime minister's office Sept. 4, Berisha announced that Ridge had agreed to join his government's efforts to become part of [NATO], while providing much needed advice in the fight against organized crime and corruption.

So if we figure the contract was signed by Sept. 4, ten days takes us to Sept. 14, 2006. Sure enough the DoJ received our Tom's FARA form right on time on . . . um, June 12, 2008. Okay, that's stretching the 10-day reporting deadline just a tad. By roughly 637 days according to my quick count. (Remember, 2008 was a leap year.)

What's more, the eventual FARA registration form did not appear spontaneously. It seems that to get it, the DoJ -- "after press accounts surfaced noting Ridge's connection to the country," according to Roll Call -- had to rattle our Tom's cage to get the, er, slightly late paperwork produced. (By the way, those "foreign agents" are also subject to periodic subsequent reporting requirements. Of course in this case the association had already been terminated by the time it was reported.)

That's right, the Bush DoJ! Long since converted, under the watchful eye of VP "Big Dick" Cheney, into Your One-Stop Shop for Legalized Republicrookery. How dumb or crooked would a Republican have to have been to fall afoul of the Bush DoJ's enforcers?

Fortunately, our Tom had a simple, logical, understandable explanation when the feds put the screws to him about his Albanian lobbying activities. He didn't know he was supposed to register. Why, that could happen to anybody! Never mind that this is the man who had been, in those angst-ridden years of the first term of the Bush regime, first as President Bush's homeland security adviser and then as our very first secretary of Homeland Security, the point man in the protection of, you know, the security of the homeland.

Okay, so the need for paid agents of foreign governments to register somehow escaped our Tom's notice. At least he understood the color codes for those national-security alerts we got every time the Bush regimistas felt the need to promote panic in the American body politic. Or anyway he knew somebody who understood the color-coding.


There are, it appears, folks who take our Tom more seriously than I do. Just yesterday Political Editor Chris Stirewalt wrote of the possibility of Tom's entering the Pennsylvania GOP Sentate jamboree against anti-tax loon Pat Toomey:

Last week, the conservative former congressman was looking at a likely primary win over Specter followed by a possible victory over a lesser-known Democrat in the fall.

Now, Toomey is the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination but is facing a double-digit loss to Specter next November.

Many Republicans are now hoping that Ridge — former mayor of Erie, former congressman from the western part of the state and former popular two-term governor — will jump in the race.

Prominent GOP operatives who know Ridge and Pennsylvania politics tell me that there are two controlling issues for the 63-year-old former Homeland Security boss: his loss of income from giving up his private security consulting firm and his ability to beat Toomey.

Only Ridge and his accountant know the answer to the first question. Would ending a political career on a high note be worth the aggravation of candidacy and giving up his chance to make some big dough?

On the second question, though, there’s some hard data.

Recent polling has shown that Toomey enjoys a 40 percent favorable rating among Pennsylvania Republicans and a 3 percent unfavorable rating. Compare that with a 78 percent favorable and a 5 percent unfavorable rating for Ridge. In other words, if Toomey means to have any chance at winning a primary, he would have to attack Ridge.

“Ridge is still in rock star territory with numbers like those,” one prominent GOP pollster said. “The only way [Toomey] can beat him is to light him up — and that will cap his own favorables.”

National conservatives see Ridge as vulnerable because he is a pro-choice, social moderate. And while that may have disqualified him from being John McCain’s running mate, the Pennsylvania GOP hasn’t changed so much that it would limit his prospects there.

As we are frequently reminded, in eerily identical terms, our Tom was a popular two-term governor of his home state. We may yet find out just how popular he is. I can't help thinking this is one of those deals where maybe he was, and perhaps still is, famous for being popular and popular for being famous, and Pennsylvanians may have been happy enough to pull the lever beside his name because they recognized the name, on account of his being so famously popular and popularly famous -- thereby freeing them from having to think about the whole business too hard. Quite possibly they had more important things on their minds.

On one question there is no serious question. People are making an issue of our Tom's Maryland residency, suggesting that it's somehow inappropriate for him to run for office back home. Never mind that Senate residency requirements are flexible to the point of nonexistence, and people have been known to run in states to which they have infinitely flimsier connections. Our Tom was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and apart from his military (and, later, congressional) service spent roughly the first 56 years of his life as a resident -- up to the point when he was called to full-time federal government service by his pal from their time as fellow governors, George W. Bush. (Now this business of being a pal of George W. Bush, I see no problem with that weighing heavily in his disfavor.)

Of course there is that Maryland residence, so if our Tom wants to have at Senator Mikulski, that's okay by me. For that matter, I'm even okay with the Delaware connection. Better still, why doesn't he run in all three states? On the understanding, of course, that if he winds up representing two or even all three states, he does so at only one salary, and with only one staff, at least in Washington (I suppose there would need to be separate staffs in each of the states), meaning that we would in effect get two or even three empty suits for close to the price of one!

In these economically still-parlous times, how can we resist a deal like that?

UPDATE: It Looks Like Ken's Albania Exposé Has Driven Tom R From The Race!

Tirana's man in DC has has bowed out leaving the Republicans stuck with either the hard right unelectable Pat Toomey or the squishy rubber stamp Jim Gerlach, who needs to find a new job since he'd be unlikely to hold his House seat next year (having won with 51% in 2006 and 52% in 2008). Or, if they ask nice, maybe Specter would come back. At this point, maybe the Democrats would even give them a nice dowry to take him off their hands! (Don't forget to vote in the straw poll today!)

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At 8:51 AM, Blogger john said...

"two or even three empty suits for close to the price of one!"

what a hoot!
great piece of satire
you hit a lot of moving targets

At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Second that john!

MORE caffeine KENi!

Plus I just saw that the empty suits don't want to take the pay cut.

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

"In addition to his security expertise and Washington connections, [Albanian Prime Minister Sali] Berisha is hoping to exploit Ridge's experience as Governor of Pennsylvania. In a country in profound need of structural reforms, Ridge is expected to consult with the government on strategies to reform education, the judiciary, agriculture and information technology."

Okay, snark aside: how good was Ridge as a PA governor? I mean, the Albanians must have had some reason for approaching him. And while sheer stupidity can't be completely ruled out, since we are dealing with elected politicians, it's certainly possible that they liked his record. Which you never address.

Mind, if he was goofball, or a wingut loon, or a bankster friend, all bets are off.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Tom is definitely not a wingnut -- it's not for nothing that the Far Right really does hate him. His positions on social issues qualify him as that sinful commodity, a "moderate" Republican.

I'm really not qualified to evaluate his record as governor, which is fondly remembered by PA Republicans, but my general impression is that he had the good fortune to face fairly straightforward, not-hotly-contested challenges.

I'd be profoundly surprised, by the way, if the Albanians know anywhere near as much as I do about Governor Tom's record. I'd still love to know how the contact came about, but there's not much doubt in my mind that the Albanians thought they were buying "influence" -- from his imagined network of powerful contacts from his Homeland Security time, not to mention his famous "palship" with the then-president of these United States. I'm certainly not aware that anyone has ever claimed our Tom had any expertise in any of the areas the Albanians supposedly paying him to reform.

It could be, of course, that there is a movement afoot in Albania for major overhaul of all those things they were supposed to have been paying our Tom to help them with. That movement would be a fairly secret one.

I'm not sure we know how/why exactly the Albanian payoffs came to a sudden END after those 11 months, but I have a feeling the poor dears came to the realization that they were being scammed -- though quite possibly it was a case of self-scamming, for having somehow imagined that paying Tom Ridge that $40K/month was going to get them into NATO.



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