And Howie Interviews Plato's Ghost
I guess now we know who left the cocaine in the White House. Fine, if it can be proven in a court, he should be sentenced, probably to another drug rehab program but I don’t give a damn what happens to Hunter Biden other than how he can be used by the GOP as a political pawn to win races. If it was up to me, I’d have him dropped out of a helicopter in the middle of the Atlantic the way one of the Argentine juntas used to do with people it wanted to disappear. But I know that’s cruel and, thank God, it will never be up to me.
I haven’t read Plato’s Republic since high school, so my memories may be a little fuzzy here, but didn’t he advocate that rulers not have “private families” (as in children of their own) so that they would be wholly devoted to the well-being of the state, not distracted by personal family concerns? Anyone else remember that? Plato was concerned that family ties could potentially influence the decisions and loyalty of rulers— meaning that they would prioritize their own families’ interests over the common good. Leaders, in his ideal state were meant to pursue wisdom, virtue and the welfare of the state. He believed— at least in my foggy memory— that by removing the potential conflicts of interest that might arise from familial attachments, rulers would be better equipped to make impartial and just decisions for the entire society. Does that sound right? I loved the idea that Jimmy Carter banned that no-goodnik brother of his, Billy, from the White House and there was something like that regarding Roger Clinton, when Bill Clinton was president. And wasn’t Neil Bush (son of George H.W. and George W.’s younger bro) involved in the savings and loan scam— Silverado Savings and Loan?— encouraging both Bushes to maintain a degree of distance from their crooked son/brother. In all 3 cases, these situations serve as examples of what Plato was talking about— leaders that become involved in familial controversies that raise ethical and legal questions, and how they handle such situations, forcing them to take focus off public policy matters.
But if hasn’t been working out for Biden, let’s try to remember that Trump was the polar opposite of Plato’s “philosopher king.” He did everything he could to raise up his children and put them in position to exploit his presidency for personal gain ignoring the whole concept of anti-nepotism laws and ethics in general. Ivanka and Jared Kushner were official advisors and their lives became gigantic and daily conflicts of interest involving her private business interests. Kushner was put in place to control Middle Eastern affairs, leading, eventually, to billions of dollars flowing into his pockets.
A few months ago, the NY Times, took a close look at the $2 billion investment the Saudi sovereign wealth fund made in Kushner’s fledging firm, Affinity Partners, 6 months after Trump was kicked out of the White House, “despite objections from the fund’s advisers about the merits of the deal”… including that the proposed asset management fee that was excessive. “Ethics experts,” wrote David Kirkpatrick and Kate Kelly, “say that such a deal creates the appearance of potential payback for Kushner’s actions in the White House— or of a bid for future favor if Trump seeks and wins another presidential term in 2024. Kushner played a leading role inside the Trump administration defending Crown Prince Mohamemed after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that he had approved the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for the Washington Post and resident of Virginia who had criticized the kingdom’s rulers.
The Saudi fund agreed to invest twice as much and on more generous terms with Kushner than it did at about the same time with former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin— who was also starting a new fund— even though Mnuchin had a record as a successful investor before entering government, the documents show.
…Robert Weissman, president of the nonprofit group Public Citizen, called Kushner’s relationship with the Saudis “extremely troubling,” arguing that his stance toward the kingdom’s leadership as a senior adviser “makes the business partnership appear even more to be both a reward to, and an investment in, Kushner.”
…Kushner, whose fund has not publicly disclosed a theme or focus, has little experience or track record in private equity. Before working in the White House, he ran his family’s commercial real estate empire, sometimes with disappointing results. His best-known deal was the $1.8 billion purchase of the office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, in 2007; the building’s mortgage became a crippling liability when the recession hit the next year.
Diplomats, investors and ethics experts noted during the Trump administration that his anticipated return to the family business injected a potential conflict of interest into Kushner’s relationship with Prince Mohammed and other oil-wealthy Arab royals. Many are major long-term investors in American real estate, and the Kushner family had courted them before.
While advising Trump, Kushner developed a friendship and informal alliance with the Saudi crown prince… In Washington, Kushner had also helped broker $110 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia over 10 years. He helped protect those and other weapons deals from congressional outrage over the murder of Khashoggi and the humanitarian catastrophe created by the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.
Yesterday, Wall Street Journal reporters Dion Nissenbaum and Summer Said wrote that, as expected, the investment has been a bust. With Saudi, Emerati and Qatari approval, Kushner was interested in investing in Israeli start-up companies. He hasn't managed to— although, now, a year later, he claims he’s going to.
With Trump again the Republican front-runner for president, his son-in-law’s work is drawing new attention in Washington, where Democrats have accused Republican lawmakers of turning a blind eye to Kushner’s business dealings and focusing instead on questions about the work done by President Biden’s son, Hunter.
…When pressed on the issue, some Republicans have criticized Kushner, who had little experience in the field when he started Affinity.
“I think that what Kushner did crossed the line of ethics,” Rep. James Comer (R-KY) said earlier this month on CNN.
Saudi Arabia invested $2 billion with Kushner, making it Affinity’s largest investor. The kingdom agreed to pay Kushner tens of millions in management fees each year— even if he didn’t invest the money, said some Saudi officials involved in the deal.
The arrangement isn’t uncommon in the industry, but some Saudi officials viewed it as inappropriate for someone of his experience level. Mohammed overruled those concerns, said the Saudis involved in the deal.
Critics say that Kushner’s ability to collect substantial fees while making few investments fuels concerns that the Saudi money was payback for helping the kingdom in the White House and an effort to secure access to the Trump family if Trump returns to the White House in 2025.
“It appears to be money for nothing,” said Norm Eisen, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. “In the absence of material transactions, this goes beyond a raised eyebrow to profound concerns about possible impropriety and quid pro quos.”
…The slow pace of investments created tensions inside Affinity, according to people close to the firm. Kushner hired 30 people to work at Affinity, which included a mix of veterans from private-equity firms and former Trump administration officials with little experience in the field. Kushner grew impatient with some on his team as they struggled to find investment opportunities, creating a high-pressure environment, these people said.
Let’s go back to Plato. Looking at this, he would have likely emphasized the importance of justice, ethics, and virtue in both individual and governmental actions; that was his thing. He'd argue that individuals in positions of power and influence have a moral obligation to prioritize the well-being of society over personal gain. He'd question whether the Saudi investment aligns with principles of justice and serves the common good. Using Socrates as a device, and drawing from his ideal of philosopher-kings, Plato might advocate for leaders who are knowledgeable, wise and genuinely concerned with the welfare of the state and its citizens. He'd question whether the investment decisions reflect qualities of good governance and whether those involved have the necessary expertise and ethical integrity to make such decisions. He'd raise concerns about conflicts of interest and potential undue influence.
There's no doubt Plato would look at this and immediately stress accountability in decision-making. He'd certainly raise concerns about conflicts of interest and undue influence, while encouraging Kushner, bin-Salam, congressional leaders and even Trump to fulfill their civic responsibility by acting in ways that benefit the greater good. If he wasn’t dismembered, he'd question whether the investment aligns with the civic duty of public figures to prioritize the welfare of the community over personal financial gain. Given Plato's critique of oligarchies, he'd surely rail against the concentration of wealth and power and its potential to undermine democratic values and social equality and he'd also question whether the $2 billion contributes to such a concentration, while, no doubt noting that it would perpetuate inequality.
By the way, if I remember correctly, Señor Plato was also concerned with the long-term stability and well-being of the state. He’d probably have something to say about the potential consequences of the investment for the economic and social fabric of the two societies, considering whether it supports sustainable growth and stability. Plato would look at Kushner— and through him, Trump— as someone entangled in the affairs of both government and commerce and would want to examine this through the lens of justice, virtue and good governance. So… I had a little chat with Plato’s ghost this morning. We’ll call him Plato.
Me: Kaliméra, foverós filósofos. [Oh sorry, let me switch back to English: “Good morning, awesome philosopher.”]
Plato: What you want? Why you bothering me?
Me: Um… Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of our illegitimate ex-president, took a huge investment from a foreign power. I just e-mailed you the details.
Plato: OK, first and foremost, as you know, the virtue of justice must be upheld by those who wield influence. One must ask whether Kushner's decision to accept a substantial investment from a foreign source aligns with justice. Does this decision prioritize the common good over personal gain? The ethical question arises: Can one serve the state's interest while also pursuing personal enrichment? Moreover, governance requires wisdom and expertise. My ideal of philosopher-kings underscores the significance of wise leadership. We must inquire whether Kushner possesses the knowledge and discernment to navigate matters of commerce and policy. It is not merely wealth or connections that define a leader's worth, but the wisdom to make sound decisions for the welfare of all. Why did you start with Hunter Biden? What does he haveto do with any of this?
Me: Forget about Hunter Bide. It's not relevant. What I want to know is how your ideas of just governance fit in here? I undetstand you don’t know much about Señor Trumpanzee, but he’s a lifelong crook-- what you might call a malignant narcissist-- and so are his family members. Take my word for it.
Plato: Transparency and accountability, Howie, are pillars of just governance. Concerns about conflicts of interest and potential influence loom large. Transparency in dealings, disclosure of potential gains, and ensuring that decisions are made for the greater good are the marks of ethical leadership. Civic duty cannot be understated. Those who hold positions of power must bear the responsibility of benefiting society. Trump and Kushner sound like someone should ask the two of them to drink some hemlock. The welfare of the state should supersede individual enrichment.
Me: Good idea. But… well that’s another story. Is this whole deal an example of oligarchy out of control?
Plato: Bingo! Do you guys still have bingo? It doesn't matter. What matters is that the concentration of power among a few, echoes here. Does the investment perpetuate inequality and undermine the principles of equality and justice that a state should uphold? Your Congress and the voters— and whomever is in a position of influence in Saudi Arabia— must consider whether such a concentration of financial and political power aligns with the well-being of the populace. Let me just add something— Kushner, by embracing the principles of justice, wisdom, transparency, and the common good, could elevate his actions to a higher ethical plane. He needs to realize that governance and commerce intertwine, but the pursuit of virtue should be the guiding star in both realms.
Me: Look, dude, please try to understand that Kushner— let alone Trump— is not capable of putting the greater good first and embracing your suggestions. What would you suggest the next steps be?
Plato: Well, before the hemlock option, he must engage in deep self-reflection and contemplate the virtue of justice and critically assess his actions and decisions, evaluating whether they align with the principles of justice, ethics, and the common good. This introspection could lead to a greater awareness of the impact of his choices on society. He must be urged to engage in continuous learning, seeking insights from experts in governance, ethics, and economics. Gaining a deeper understanding of the complexities and implications of his decisions could guide him toward wiser choices. Kushner— and Trump— should be strongly advised to exercise prudence in their financial and business dealings, avoiding actions that may be perceived as self-serving or ethically questionable. Demonstrating self-discipline in decision-making is essential for ethical leadership and the two of them should proactively disclose their business relationships and financial transactions to ensure transparency and accountability, mitigating concerns about conflicts of interest and building public trust going forward. Evaluating whether their decisions align with the well-being of your country could guide them toward more ethical choices. They should probably stop looking for ethical advise from people like Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, that Pillow Guy and Stephen Miller and consult a new group of advisors with stronger moral compasses.
Me: Feel like suggesting a couple of names I could pass along to Trump and Kushner? People whose advice and counsel the could seek instead of the Pillow Guy's?
Plato: OK, but that's your final question. Go talk to the Oracle of Delphi or Trophonious if you need more. Or Dodona if they're busy. In any case, tell Kushner and Trump to depend on advise from ethicists Martha Nussbaum and Kwame Anthony Appiah, experienced statesmen like former president of Ireland Mary Robinson and former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed El Baradei, and human rights advocates like Malamna Yousafazai and Bryan Stevenson. Let me just add the former CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, admired for his commitment to sustainable business practices and social responsibility and Muhammad Yunus, the social entrepreneur and economist who pioneered microfinance initiatives... and two human rights scholars, Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Clooney