A Rising Tide of Global Corruption

ATransparency International is out with its annual global corruption index and the news is not good. Around the world, according to the group’s sophisticated scoring system, democratic institutions are embattled by a rising tide of corruption.

TI’s “Corruption Perceptions Index” is the gold standard in assessing corruption worldwide. The index is drawn from comprehensive data sets of more than a dozen international organizations, including the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, Freedom House, and the Economist’s Country Risk Service. Descriptions of sources, statistics and methodology can be found here, below “Resources and Downloads.”

Because corruption operates in the shadows, hard data is elusive. TI’s index measures expert and in-country perceptions, focusing on public corruption, bribery, diversion of public funds, malfeasance and crime by public officials, transparency and accountability.

The failure to curb corruption is “contributing to a worldwide crisis of democracy,” TI says. The 2018 research shows “a disturbing link between corruption and the health of democracies, where countries with higher rates of corruption also have weaker democratic institutions and political rights.”

According to the new data, “on a scale of zero (a highly corrupt public sector) to 100 (a very clean public sector), two-thirds out of the 180 countries surveyed have scored below 50 in 2018’s CPI—meaning that the majority pass as corrupt.”

Since 2006, democratic practices have declined in 113 countries. “Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption,” says TI Managing Director Patricia Moreira.

The most corrupt country? Somalia, scoring a meager 10 out of 100 on the index.

The other top ten most corrupt countries, from the bottom up, are Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, North Korea, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest scoring region, the report notes. It struggles with “stark political and socio-economic contrasts” and rampant, longstanding corruption.

In the Middle East, another low scoring region, the situation “remains grim.” Civil liberties “continue to be under repressive state control” and “corruption remains stubbornly high.”

The least corrupt country is (drumroll please….) Denmark, with a score of 88.

Coming in one point below Denmark is New Zealand, at 87.

The rest of the top ten least corrupt countries, from the top down, are Finland, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, and Luxembourg.

But no one is perfect, not even Denmark. “While the CPI shows the Danish sector to be one of the cleanest in the world,” the report says, “corruption still exists, as seen with the recent scandals involving Danske Bank.

Russia is a mess. With a “highly corrupt” rating of 28 out of 100, Russia suffers from cronyism, a compromised judicial system, an embattled media, weak political and civil rights, and ineffective checks and balances, TI notes.

China scores a 39 out of 100. As with so many things Chinese, the nation goes its own way when it comes to crime. “Corruption has particular characteristics in China,” TI notes. It is widespread and Chinese leaders consider it “a threat to the political system,” mounting tough anti-corruption campaigns. Yet Chinese anti-corruption drives are in service of the communist regime and do nothing to strengthen democratic institutions.

How does the United States rate? With a score of 71, the U.S. is squarely in the camp of healthy democracies. But TI is sounding a warning bell, noting that for the first time since 2011, the country has fallen outside the top twenty least corrupt countries in the index. The U.S. is now at position 22. TI calls that a red flag.

The U.S. fell four points on the index from last year. This appears solely related to opinions of President Donald Trump. It’s here that “perceptions” meet bias.

Transparency International does not like President Trump, an opinion shared by much of the international elite. TI supports “protecting” the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller—never mind that the president has not taken any steps to suppress the investigation. And it worries about “threats to [the U.S.] system of checks and balances,” despite the fact that the party opposing the president just took control of the House of Representatives, and that court rulings against Mr. Trump have proceeded without obstruction since the first days of his presidency.

What’s distressing to the global elite is that the American president is utterly unlike any former president. He’s a disruptor, perhaps even an avatar of creative destruction. But two years into his presidency, the American system is functioning just fine—robust, responsive and contentious. That’s a data point worth considering when assessing the health of American democracy.

Read the full Transparency International report here.

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Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: mmorrison@judicialwatch.org

Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: jfarrell@judicialwatch.org

Suddenly Strategic Guyana


The government has fallen. The Russians are coming. The Chinese are coming. There’s chaos at the border and corruption in the capital. And a vast treasure tempts all takers. That’s the situation in small, suddenly strategic Guyana. Is anybody in Washington paying attention?

The current crisis began in December when a single member of the Guyanese ruling coalition switched to the opposition in no-confidence vote that brought down the government. MP Charrandass Persaud earlier had been spotted around the capital looking to buy $1 million in gold, selling his SUV, and handing over the keys to his law office. Immediately after the vote, he hopped a plane for Canada.

Allegations flew on social media that Persaud had been bribed to switch his vote. Persaud denied the charge. That $1 million in gold he was looking to buy? Well, yes, true, Persaud said, but that was on behalf of a client.

The motive for bringing down the government?

New elections.

The powerful opposition People’s Progressive Party desperately wants a seat at the table carving up Guyana’s sudden new wealth. ExxonMobil has discovered vast oil reserves off the Guyana coast, a discovery set to transform one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Millions of dollars have started to flow into Guyana. Soon it will be billions.

The government has struggled to create the institutions and laws to manage the money. (Judicial Watch reported on the situation in August.) Opposition politicians complain that the current government was taken to the cleaners by ExxonMobil. “They sold our patrimony,” said PPP leader Bharrat Jagdeo. Despite attempts at reform and reconciliation, Guyana politics is largely dominated—and at times bitterly divided—between the Indo-Guyanese PPP and the Afro-Guyanese People’s National Congress. The PNC dominated the most recent government—until December.

Neighboring Venezuela was quick to declare its interest in the Guyanese political developments. A day after the no-confidence vote, the Venezuelan Navy intercepted an ExxonMobil research ship in Guyanese waters.

Consider it a warning. Venezuela and Guyana have been disputing territory for decades, but this is different. Venezuela is falling apart, Guyana is oil rich, and the Maduro regime in Caracas may be looking to divert attention from its domestic troubles. “Is Venezuela willing to start a Caribbean war?” asked geopolitical risk analyst Scott MacDonald.

“Making the situation more complicated is the involvement of the major powers in the region,” MacDonald noted.

Russia is a longtime ally of Venezuela. In December, two Russian heavy bombers, sophisticated Tu-160 Blackjacks, landed outside Caracas in a show of support for the Maduro government. Russian media reported that the Kremlin is eyeing the Venezuelan island of La Orchila in the Caribbean as a forward operating base. Guyana’s foreign minister expressed alarm, saying he was “very concerned” about the development.

China has a major stake in Venezuela. Increasingly, that’s looking like a bad bet. China pumped more than $62 billion into Venezuela in the past decade and “suffered huge losses,” reports the South China Morning Post. “Many of its 790 projects in Venezuela have failed, the victim of corruption or debt defaults. Caracas has also struggled to repay Beijing in oil shipments, despite debt-for-oil deals.”

China has invested in Guyana too, though not on the scale of its Venezuelan adventure. It has poured money into traditional Guyanese extractive industries like logging and mining. It has invested in roads, bridges and an airport. It is eyeing Guyanese banking, has invested in offshore oil, and signed loan and infrastructure development agreements.

In an ambitious move, China is seeking to open a new road from Brazil through parts of Guyana’s largely undeveloped interior—a major undertaking that would transform parts of the Brazilian Amazon and Guyanese interior. “The Brazil transport link would dwarf previous [Chinese] projects and open up development of [Guyana’s] interior, thought to hold important deposits of gold, bauxite and rare earths,” noted the website Dialogo Chino. Environmentalists are alarmed.

Friends of Guyana warn about the confluence of forces coming to bear on the country. Caracas and Beijing are powerful players in Guyana, and China may find the country “a malleable ally,” Dialogo Chino warns. ExxonMobil is wielding increasing economic power. And Russia has a long history of fishing in troubled Caribbean waters.

But the real danger comes from within. As Latin America analyst Evan Ellis wrote recently, the Charrandas Persaud political defection is “potentially the first shot in a destabilizing fight between Guyana’s ethnically Indian and African communities to control the spoils from a tidal wave of money” as offshore oil production gets underway.

New elections are slated for March. Guyana is “one of Latin America’s most strategically overlooked countries,” Ellis writes, and U.S. policymakers should be stepping in to help. That’s an argument that makes sense on both strategic and humanitarian grounds.

The first task, Ellis notes, should be to help Guyana avoid “a descent into ethnic violence and chaos.” U.S. government agencies, non-government organizations and the media should be on the ground and on the lookout for corrupt actors seeking to manipulate the election through modern social-media and cyber techniques, or old-fashioned bribery and intimidation.

Washington’s history in Guyana is not covered in glory and even-handedness toward all political parties is essential for a successful U.S. role. Beyond the election, Ellis notes, “the U.S. should work with the Guyanese government to identify how it can best help it to strengthen its institutions and processes, including support for planning, management, and oversight of Guyana’s oil revenues.” That means transparency, accountability, fair elections, and strengthening the rule of law.

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Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: mmorrison@judicialwatch.org

Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: jfarrell@judicialwatch.org

New York’s War on Religious Education

New York State has opened the door to a war on religious education. New guidelines from the state’s Department of Education are framed as applying to all “religious and independent schools” in New York, but no one is fooled. The changes are aimed right at New York City’s freewheeling Orthodox Jewish seminaries, known as yeshivas. More than 100,000 students attend yeshivas in New York City.

The new guidelines revisit the “substantial equivalency” statute that has kept the peace in New York schools since 1897. Non-public schools can educate their students as they see fit, provided the education is “substantially equivalent” to public schools. The new guidelines change the equation. Math must be taught every day. English, science, and social studies must be taught. Schools must provide samples of teaching schedules, textbooks, and lesson plans. Non-compliant schools risk withdrawal of funding for things like textbooks and transportation, and students ultimately could be forced to go to another school. Students that resist transfer risk being declared “truant” and legal steps to challenge parental competency could follow. The new mandates will be enforced by inspections from local school district officials.

The guidelines, wrote two Orthodox educators in the Wall Street Journal, are a shocking power grab by secular forces. They “empower local school boards to evaluate private schools and to vote on our right to continue educating our students.” The new curriculum requirements demand “so much time that it crowds out Torah study, our sacred mission.”

The controversy began when dissident former yeshiva students started raising concerns about the quality of their education. Members of the Orthodox community concede that some yeshivas need improvement. But when you’ve been in business for 1,500 years, give or take a few centuries, change comes slow. And as history as shown, it’s a very bad idea to tell a Jew how to run his religion.

New Yorkers of all stripes were quick to recognize the threat to religious freedom. Ed Mechmann, director of public policy at the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, wrote that the new regulations would “give local school boards virtually unlimited power over private religious schools. There is no protection against government officials who are hostile to religious schools or who just want to eliminate the competition.”

A majority of the New York City Council — not a group known for its theological fervor — complained in a letter to the state Education Department about the “unprecedented incursion into private schools’ curricula” and warned it to refrain “from threatening to remove student-based funding from schools that do not acquiesce to these guidelines.”

In New York City, the Orthodox community is a powerful political force, often delivering critical votes in closely fought elections. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio opened a probe in 2015 following complaints about sub-standard education from the yeshiva dissidents. But the investigation went nowhere. De Blasio’s own investigations commissioner, Mark Peters, looked into the controversy, only to be fired later by the mayor.

The new guidelines put the mayor back in the yeshiva hot seat and could revive the dormant investigation. They seem sure to ignite more controversy. School inspections are slated to begin in February. The yeshiva establishment says it won’t cooperate with inspectors, ditto from New York’s Catholic school leadership. That’s going to be a big problem.

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza told the New York Times he’s starting the inspections with yeshivas that have barred city officials or have been noted in complaints about poor education standards. Carranza said the de Blasio administration intends to “move aggressively and get this taken care of.”

Don’t bet on it.

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Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: mmorrison@judicialwatch.org

Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: jfarrell@judicialwatch.org

FOIA Goes to the Supreme Court

The Freedom of Information Act is headed to the Supreme Court. FOIA is a critical tool in the fight to make government more transparent and accountable. In 2017, the federal government fielded more than 800,000 FOIA requests. Many were shot down immediately as falling under one or more of the nine categories that Congress exempted from disclosure under FOIA, including broad swathes of information related to national security, law enforcement, personal privacy, privileged communications, and confidential commercial or financial information. A good overview of FOIA exemptions can be found here.

The new case on the Supreme Court docket, Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, is focused on FOIA’s Exemption 4, trade secrets and commercial information. The exemption protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and that is privileged or confidential.”

Want to know how a federal contractor is making use of your tax dollars? Interested in the activities of a federally regulated financial entity? You’re in Exemption 4 territory.

Our FOIA friends at MuckRock note that the upcoming case could “either cement the public’s right to know or severely restrict the ability to track the flow of tax dollars into private companies.”

The case began in 2011 when the Sioux Falls Argus Leader decided to take a look at where food stamp money is spent. The newspaper filed a FOIA request with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, these days referred to as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Argus Leader asked the USDA for the name, address, store type and annual SNAP sales figures for every participating store from 2005 to 2010.

The public has “a right to know how much taxpayer money grocers, gas stations, big box retailers and others get by participating in the federal food stamp program,” the newspaper has written.

“SNAP is a humongous program,” the newspaper noted in a supporting document filed later in the case. It provides more than 40 million Americans with average monthly food assistance of about $125, a $70 billion annual total. SNAP recipients use an official SNAP debit card for purchases.

The taxpayer stake in SNAP is clear. “Under SNAP,” the Argus Leader noted, “the money flows from the taxpayer to the government to the eligible SNAP households to the SNAP retailers from whom the food is purchased. The crux of the government program is that the government–with taxpayer dollars–buys groceries for low-income families from stores that wish to do business under the program.”

Enter Exemption 4. Responding to the Argus Leader FOIA, the Agriculture Department released names, store type and addresses, but declined to produce the yearly sales figures. The department argued the sales figures were exempt from disclosure because they constituted confidential business information.

The newspaper appealed the decision, the USDA ignored the appeal–typical FOIA behavior from the feds, alas–and the Argus Leader sued.

You can read the sad timeline of the case here. After a district court judge sided with the newspaper’s argument that disclosure of the sales figures would not cause substantial competitive harm to retailers, the USDA threw in the towel, agreeing to disclose the numbers.

That’s when food industry lobbyists stepped in. The Food Marketing Institute filed an emergency motion with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene. An Eighth Circuit panel heard the case and it too ruled in favor of the newspaper.

The wheels of FOIA turn slow. Seven years had passed since the Argus Leader’s original FOIA request. You can see the game here: run out the clock, grind down the requester.

But the lawyers were not done. After failing to get the entire Eighth Circuit to take up the matter, FMI filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, asking it to review the case.

The High Court accepted the case. It’s on the docket for April.

Scotusblog  notes that the Supremes are likely looking to “resolve at least five circuit [court] splits over Exemption 4’s “confidentiality” term and whether the “substantial-competitive-harm” claim test is satisfied.

MuckRock warns that if the lower-court decisions “are overturned, lack of access to this data will continue to hold back public spending accountability and nutrition research around the country–and provide corporations a powerful tool to keep public data proprietary in other cases.”

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 Judicial Watch is the nation’s leading litigator of FOIA actions.

Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: mmorrison@judicialwatch.org

Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: jfarrell@judicialwatch.org

The Murders in Indian Country

On August 19, 2017, 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Graywind disappeared in Fargo, North Dakota. The upstairs neighbor immediately was a suspect: she had been acting strangely and texted LaFontaine-Graywind earlier that day. Savanna was eight months pregnant, with swollen feet. Her car was in the parking lot, her wallet was at home: wherever she went, she wasn’t planning to go far.

Eight days later, her body was found in the Red River. Her baby had been cut from her womb.

Two months earlier, Ashley HeavyRunner Loring vanished from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. A witness later reported seeing Ashley running from a vehicle on Highway 89.

The two cases are part of storm of domestic abuse and murder hitting Native American and Alaska Native women. Statistical surveys are thin, but the numbers out there indicate that Native American women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average.

In Montana alone, more than twenty-four Native Americans–most of them women–went missing in 2018, Senator John Tester said at a Senate Indian Affairs hearing last month. “We have an epidemic on our hands.”

The law enforcement response often is tepid.

“Law enforcement did not take Ashley’s case seriously, as well as other girls that have gone missing and been murdered in Indian country,” Ashley’s sister, Kimberly Loring, told Congress.

Days after Savanna’s disappearance in Fargo, a deputy sheriff told a local news outlet that there was “nothing to suggest criminal activity.”

“Where’s the problem? Is it with [the Bureau of Indian Affairs], is it with the FBI, is it with tribal law enforcement?” Tester said at the December hearing. “Why are we not finding these people? We would have a different reaction if this was a non-native.”

Tester, a Montana Democrat, and his Republican counterpart Steve Daines, are pressing Congress to come up with a solution. “Savanna’s Act” would create standardized procedures for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native American and Alaska Native women and sharpen cooperation between federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement. Inter-agency cooperation is often a big problem. The act would also upgrade Justice Department intake of information related to crimes against Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The bill unanimously passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has vowed to reintroduce it.

That’s too late for Savanna LaFontaine-Graywind. The depraved upstairs neighbor murdered her and took her baby. And it’s probably too late for Ashley HeavyRunner Loring. Her family searched the remote countryside in the heat, the cold, the rain and snow more than 120 times and came up empty. Last month, human remains were found on the Blackfeet Reservation. They have been sent to the FBI laboratory for analysis.

The discovery came one day after Ashley’s sister testified to Congress. “We are going missing,” Kimberly Loring said. “We are being murdered. We are not being taken seriously.”

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 Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: mmorrison@judicialwatch.org

Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: jfarrell@judicialwatch.org

The Mayor, the Rat, & the NYPD

The Christmas season in New York City truly is a wonderful time. Everyone seems caught up in the spirit of giving, even the crooks. This year, Christmas brought a special gift: the denouement of the long-running saga of the mayor, the rat, and the NYPD.

Once, in an only-in-New-York moment, the rat and a key co-conspirator, both Orthodox Jews, dressed as Santa’s elves and delivered pricey gifts to police officials at the center of a corruption scheme. Then there was the time they flew an NYPD deputy inspector and a detective to Vegas in a private jet with a hooker for Super Bowl weekend. And the time the rat shoved $60,000 in a Ferragamo handbag to pay off a union boss. They showered cash on public officials. They bought their police friends jewelry, cigars, and meals at pricey restaurants. They paid for trips to Rome and Israel and the Dominican Republic.

In return, the NYPD did favors for the rat, Jona Rechnitz, and co-conspirator Jeremy Reichberg. In a midtown office, the New York Times reported, Rechnitz and Reichberg met with “people seeking help with police matters.” The men would later “split the profits” after the problems were resolved. Tickets were fixed, jury duty was avoided, problems with business rivals and city officials went away. Reichberg got a license to carry a gun. Rechnitz was provided with high-speed police escorts to the airport. Police closed a lane in the Lincoln Tunnel to whisk a Rechnitz business associate into Manhattan.

Cash was bestowed on Bill de Blasio’s political campaigns–a lot of it. “Love you brother,” wrote de Blasio in an email to Rechnitz the day after his 2014 inauguration as mayor. And why not? Rechnitz himself had been showing de Blasio a lot of love, bundling more than $41,000 for the mayor’s campaign. And there was a lot more to come. The New York Post reports that Rechnitz and his allies raised upward of $250,000 for entities linked to de Blasio.

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So Long 2018, an Alarming Year in Many Ways, Particularly for the Jews

And so 2018 passes into the history books. It’s been an alarming year in many ways, including for the Jewish people.

Pressure is mounting on the Jews from without and within, warns Adam Milstein in the Jerusalem Post. The Pittsburgh massacre was just the latest in a series of attacks coming “not only from the radical right but also from the radical left, and from radical Muslims.” Some of these attacks have come from within the Jewish community itself, Milstein notes.

What is to be done? Well, to start, sunlight is a good disinfectant.

And silence is not an option.

Read Milstein here:

https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Are-we-going-to-allow-the-Jewish-people-to-be-divided-and-conquered-from-within-575518

Best wishes for the new year,

Micah

Swamp Rules, Part II: New York’s LLC Loophole

Last week, we looked at federal efforts to combat money laundering by changing “beneficial owner” laws for various types of legal shell companies, including limited liability companies, LLCs. New York LLCs have the same transparency problems as other states–the true owners, the “beneficial owners,” are hidden behind corporate curtains.

But New York’s campaign-finance laws put a different spin on the LLC shell game, enabling millions in masked donations to pour into state races. The chief beneficiary of LLC donations? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Irony is a stranger to the governor. He has repeatedly called on the state legislature to close the LLC loophole, but has taken in more than $17 million in LLC donations since becoming governor.

Cuomo has relied on New York’s Republican-controlled Senate to block any real reform. But that changed in November, when Democrats seized control of both houses of the state legislature.

With corruption a rising concern for New York voters, Albany’s LLC loophole is getting renewed attention. Will Cuomo keep his word and close it? Or will the prospect of giving up all that money cause lawmakers’ hearts to grow faint?

Here’s how it works: in New York, an LLC is treated as a person, not a corporation. Corporate political donations are capped at $5,000 per year. But a person can donate up to $65,000 per year to every candidate for statewide office.

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Swamp Rules: Cui Bono?

Old swamps are the best swamps. Cui bono? famously asked the Roman consul Lucius Cassius, who benefits? Cassius knew a few things about swamps. He cleaned up Rome, instituted election reform, and even served as a special prosecutor. Cui bono has been a touchstone of criminal investigations for two thousand years.

Today, as in Cassius’s time, swamp benefits are matters of money and power. The stakes are enormous. The Treasury Department estimates that $300 billion in illegal cash washes through the U.S. financial system every year. Dirty money is hidden behind legal corporate structures such as shell companies, shelf companies, and limited liability entities. Congress has been trying to fix the problem for years.

There’s an “increasing flow of illegal money through our financial system,” Senator Chuck Grassley warned Congress earlier this year. “The lifeblood of criminal enterprises all over the world is their revenue. Money fuels terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, narco-terrorists and kleptocrats to grow, increase their power, and gain more influence.”

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Amazon HQ2: Magnet for Corruption, Creative Destruction

The Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes is over and the winner is Queens, New York. And some place in Virginia called National Landing. And Nashville, Tennessee.

New York and Virginia will split Amazon’s second headquarters, while Nashville gets a consolation prize operations center. The Amazon move cements Queens’ status as an icon of the new New York — dynamic, diverse, economically upward, technologically savvy, and largely low-crime. Forget about Brooklyn. The future is Queens.

But that future is about to get a massive stress test.

Deals like HQ2 are a magnet for corruption. Amazon claims the new Long Island City site will create 25,000 jobs with an average wage of more than $150,000 per year. Ditto Virginia. In exchange for this fairy tale, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio ponied up more than $1.5 billion in tax breaks and grants to be overseen by Albany’s famously corrupt political culture. The state will seize control of the land. Amazon’s construction costs will be reimbursed. Jeff Bezos gets federal tax breaks for “distressed” property, a helipad, and a partridge in a pear tree. Instead of property taxes paid to the city, Amazon says it will contribute to an “Infrastructure Fund” for local improvements “developed through input from residents during the planning process.”  Watch for Amazon-aligned groups to magically appear to game this process. Watch for Albany-aligned special interests to start putting their hands in the pie.

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