Tuesday, June 16, 2009

America’s eternal pandemic of utter corruption

America’s eternal pandemic of utter corruption

Think of it as a really lethal swine flu or flu for swine, not a made up one to instill fear in the population, but as the Washington Post reports Lawmakers Reveal Healthcare Investments.

In fact I quote: “Almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark healthcare legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in a sector that could be dramatically reshaped by this summer’s debate.”

Members with personal investments in corporations affected by coming legislation, America’s highest priority, according to Obama, include our Congress’s “most powerful leaders and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers in key committee posts. Their total healthcare holdings could be worth $27 million . . . congressional financial disclosure forms released yesterday require report of only broad ranges of holdings rather than precise values of assets.” Does that make you feel sick? Me, too.

Why, even old Senate Majority Leader, hang-dog Harry Reid, Dem from Las Vegas, excuse me, Nevada, has $50,000 invested in a healthcare index. Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a health committee senior member has something between $254,000 and $560,000 of stock in major healthcare companies like Bristol-Myers, Squibb and Merck. Now, being a pandemic this corruption attacks swine on both sides of the aisle. Representative Jane Harman (D-Calif), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (drafting that chamber’s legislation), held some $3.2 million in over 20 healthcare companies as of last year’s end.

But, being a true pandemic, this corruption does not only limit itself to healthcare business. Regarding the inglorious War on Terror, which President for Change would like to continue in Afghanistan, writer Jeremy Scahill reports US War Privatization Results in Billions Lost in Fraud, Waste and Abuse. Read on . . . then read the whole article.

“At a hearing in Washington today, the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan is releasing a 111-page report that represents its ‘initial investigations of the nation’s heavy reliance on contractors.”

According to a release on the hearing, “More than 240,000 contractor employees, about 80 percent of them foreign nationals, are working in Iraq and Afghanistan to support operations and projects of the U.S. military, the Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Contractor employees outnumber U.S. troops in the region. While contractors provide vital services, the Commission believes their use has also entailed billions of dollars lost to waste, fraud, and abuse due to inadequate planning, poor contract drafting, limited competition, understaffed oversight functions, and other problems.

“These statistics support a recent DoD report on the extent of the US reliance on contractors. That report also found that there has been a 23% increase in the number of ‘Private Security Contractors’ working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which ‘correlates to the build up of forces’ in the country. In Iraq, the Pentagon attributes the increase to better accounting. There are currently more private contractors (counting both armed and unarmed) in Afghanistan (68,197) than US troops (40,000). In Iraq, the number of contractors (132,610) is basically equal to the number of US troops.

“The single greatest beneficiary of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary. KBR has been paid nearly $32 billion since 2001. In May, April Stephenson, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, testified that KBR was linked to ‘the vast majority’ of war-zone fraud cases and a majority of the $13 billion in ‘questioned’ or ‘unsupported’ costs. According to Agency, it sent the inspector general ‘a total of 32 cases of suspected over-billing, bribery and other violations since 2004.’

“According to the Associated Press, which obtained an early copy of the commission’s report, ‘billions of dollars’ of the total paid to KBR ‘ended up wasted due to poorly defined work orders, inadequate oversight and contractor inefficiencies.’

KBR is at the center of a lethal scandal involving the electrocution deaths of more than a dozen US soldiers, allegedly as a result of faulty electrical work done by the company. The DoD paid KBR more than $80 million in bonuses for the very work that resulted in the electrocution deaths.

“Among the other scandals involving KBR that the commission is investigating is a questionable contract to rebuild a large dining facility at Camp Delta in Iraq. . . .”

KBR is Kellogg, Brown & Root, Halliburton’s spun-off subsidiary, the company that Dick Cheney headed up as CEO for many years, with many checks still coming after he left to become vice president, and as KBR/Halliburton kept getting contracts awarded under the non-standards described above.

But let’s return to the Washington Post for a little back story on banking and the Senate, lest you think they just screw you on healthcare. “On the Senate banking committee, at least a half-dozen senators had significant investments in companies that benefited from the $700 billion bailout legislation that the panel helped draft last fall. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) reported $18,000 to $95,000 in investments in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bonds, and also that he sold at least $15,000 in Fannie ‘step-up’ bonds at the end of last year. The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Miss.), reported holding $260,000 to $850,000 in money market and retirement accounts with Countrywide, Citigroup and Wachovia.”

How about that Dick Shelby? He’s got a major flu for swine case. If our political leaders are up to their armpits in this corruption, is it any wonder that Wall Street should be the casino it is? Here’s a little taste of The Rise And Fall of AIG’s Financial Products Unit, a group of swine who help synthesized the derivatives virus. Enjoy.

So what’s the bottom line? It seems we need massive doses, inoculations of honesty, character, ethics, morality, suppression of greed, choosing right from wrong. I can’t remember those qualities in the very air we breathe since I was kid in post WW II years. We had won a war against the Nazis. Four hundred thousand Americans gave their lives to do that. We were world-class heroes, not world-class crooks, which is not to say that even then the germs of corruption weren’t growing inside us. This as the OSS morphed into the CIA, a private dark ops organization for the president and his National Security Council.

Nevertheless, the wonder years of my boyhood did come with a sense during WW II that we were all in this America together. That we shared its goals, its dreams, its hopes, even though segregation haunted the armed forces, the Klan raged in the south, and so on. There still was some sense that people in high places, i.e., Roosevelt, then Truman, then Eisenhower, even heads of corporations, owed their best efforts to the people of America who elevated them to the top. This was a time that saw the GI Bill, which enabled servicemen to go to the best colleges in America. A GI could also get a mortgage easily for a starter house. And we were rebuilding Europe, alas somewhat in our image. There was some form of social contract with leaders and people to the do the right thing.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Reagan, B-actor, strings pulled by his handlers, it was all a pile of rubbish, those values, that sense of sharing, that common dream. And it has been duly reported that it was all downhill since. The pandemic of corruption had struck. Deregulation hit, banks sold themselves out. Legislation to monitor markets was torn up and thrown on the garbage pile. And a new kind of American emerged, the Mr. Me American, who thought of his wealth, his family, his piece of private money, his piece of vigorish on the system. Well, it’s come full circle now, when you have the Washington Post, a mainstream newspaper, reporting side by side with blogs about the ceaseless, daily corruption top down, like a trickle-down economics that will wash this country out to sea if it doesn’t stop.

Yet in the midst of this, I read that for the first time in decades, savings have gone up 6 percent. Americans are putting away money, not continuing to be guinea pigs to the pandemic of debt. Perhaps this candle in the darkness marks a turning point. The point people realize when enough is enough, when borrowing on your soul is not an option, and when assets can be liabilities, and when liabilities are not assets to be flicked with a stroke of the computer from the red side of the balance sheet to the black. Let’s hope. Hope for a sign that we are not as morally bankrupt top-down as we are economically and that the root cause of corruption can be gotten hold off and stilled, eradicated for some period of time.

Let’s hope that when a leader swears an oath to serve, he means serve not just serve himself. That when a CEO takes the corner office he’s not Ken Lay there to screw every employee, stockholder and customer that got him there. And let’s hope Lay really is in that coffin that got him off the hook of a lifetime jail sentence as his underling Robert Skilling does his 25 years of hard time and hopefully, hopefully, learns right from wrong. As the saying goes, “physician, heal thyself.”