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A Tale of Two Senators

January 20th, 2011 · No Comments · Economics, Politics, Wars and Militarism

One is tough; the other is a slug. You decide which is which.

Does anyone remember the old commercial about the guy who drives the guy to the snowplow? How does the guy who runs the snowplow actually get to the snowplow? The answer in that case happened to be Volkswagon.

But there is often a question: who does for the person who does for others? Who watches the person who watches you? Who makes sure that the people at IRS who make sure you pay your taxes…are paying theirs?

In large organizations that person is called an Inspector General. His job is to audit what people in a large organization are doing, mostly spending, and determine that no foxes are entering and leaving the hen house.

We have been fighting two wars now since 2002. We raised no taxes to pay for it. In fact, given the recent tax cuts for the rich, and they are tax cuts, no matter how anyone wants to spin it, we have had three major tax cuts for the rich at the cost of the rest of America.

It is our collective cost…we all pay for the rich to have these tax cuts for one simple reason…we have no money. So, in order to pay for tax cuts of $700 billion dollars, a country already in debt by $13 trillion dollars actually has to go to another country and borrow the money.

So we all borrowed $700 billion basically to give tax cuts to people who have had tax cuts of between $43,000 to as much as $1.2 million or more in tax CUTS…just the amount of their refund checks…each year–for ten years. And in 2010, we did it again, borrowing the money from China to do it.

So we have to look at where we are spending money and try to save some. One of the biggest and most wasteful segments is in military contracts. We learned by the careful investigation of Senator Claire McCaskill and others, that most of the military contracts for Iraq turned out to be what are called “sole source” contracts…no-bid contracts…which means one company got the job and no one else got to bid on doing it for less money.

In Afghanistan, we have a lot of military contractors….$56 billion worth of contracts in Afghanistan to restore and build the infrastructure of the country. And so we need someone to audit that spending. Not that a patriotic organization like, say, Halliburton…good old boys from Texas…not long ago run by our very own Vice President…Dick Cheney would cheat the government. (So patriotic that they recently moved headquarters to Dubai.)

Actually, in the sense of complete disclosure, Halliburton did, you may recall, steal from the government. After having been given $12.5 billion in government contracts to do work for the U.S. in Iraq, they simply have no shame.

You will recall that a Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, was accused of all kinds of mischief, including overbilling or not delivering…some such thing…rations for American soldiers in Iraq. Overcharged the government by tens of millions.

This was a company, which before Dick Cheney got involved, had only about $350 million in government contracts. But between the time he left government as Secretary of Defense and returned to government as Vice President, he had increased government military contracts for Halliburton to $3.5 billion.

Then, he saw to it that Halliburton got another $7.5 billion in sole source contracts. Isn’t it interesting that everyone said we have no reason to go into Iraq except Cheney. And interesting that Cheney had made about $40 million from providing contracts to Halliburton, and interesting that Halliburton would get more if we went into a war with Iraq, and they did.

But for greedy people there is never enough. That is why criminals get caught. They think it will never end. For people like Cheney, it never does, because their whole life’s work is to steal legally by draining the American government of every last drop. It was nothing new for Halliburton, the Texan oil billionaires who think that laws do not apply to them.

In fact, Halliburton has been fined $791 million dollars for various actions, such as over billing the U.S. Army, creating oil spills, causing deaths through oil spills, contaminating large areas of land and refusing to clean up super-fund contamination sites, bribing foreign governments, sexual and racial discrimination…and something like 23 more lawsuits having to do with ethics that are still underway. Their entire business is seeing how much they can get away with. Like the shoddy job done on the BP oil spill.

So, if you wonder…how can they get away with this and still get contracts, you would have to look to Congress, to the Department of Defense, to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and to Dick Cheney. They are quite likely very large recipients…the politicians…of Halliburton’s political largesse. Yes, it stinks.

Back to Afghanistan, the two Senators in question are presiding over hearings (this was last November 18th in the old Congress, in 2010) and they come upon one General Arnold Fields. Major General Fields is the Inspector General for the organization that is supposed to be overseeing the allocation of funds in Afghanistan. Fields was formerly a Major General in the Marine Corps, no small accomplishment. But he is not an auditor.

Senator Claire McCaskill, in the other corner of this knock-down, drag-out conflict, is an auditor and a damned good one. She was the elected auditor for the State of Missouri for a number of years before she was a Senator. Also in her corner, sitting on the stool urging her out into the ring but not necessarily engaged in the fight, is Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Brown is not an auditor. He is not an accountant, nor even, given the way he acted during this hearing, even a concerned citizen. He is, whoopee, a real estate attorney and he has had considerable government experience as a State Senator in Massachusetts. He is not a complete novice and he’s no dummy. But his attitude is one of someone who has been roused from sleep by his wife to ask a neighbor what ever happened to that lawn mower he loaned the neighbor several years before.

We’ve spent over a one trillion dollars…for certain…on the Iraq and Afghan wars since 2002. During that same period, we averaged an additional $500 billion, half a trillion each year and every year for military operations outside Iraq and Afghanistan. So we are not talking about someone’s used lawnmower. We are talking about an amount of money that would substantially cut our budget deficit, an amount which, if it had not been spent, would have greatly reduced the impact of the Recession and an amount of money that would easily put all of our workers…all of them…back to work and industries necessary to employ them back in operation. That’s what we’re talking about.

Don’t believe what you see here. Believe Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, who, rated by other economists, is our leading economist, a long-time Nobel laureate. These are his calculations. In fact, his calculation is that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have, in immediate and short-run costs, as well as long-run costs, already dialed in a $3 trillion total for these wars, even if they stopped tomorrow.

In the Federal government, each department has an Inspector General who audits and regulates other auditors. These watchdog groups make sure no that no more money is wasted than absolutely necessary. They are the gold standard. They set the standards for all government auditors and make sure those standards are met.

Today, as you may have heard, though it seems news to Senator Brown, we have a budget crisis. It does not seem news to Senator McCaskill. As she goes through the questioning process, General Fields, the Marine, seems clearly relieved that Senator McCaskill is not armed.

What kind of tangibles are we talking about? Fields mentions one project, for example, a power generating plant in Kabul, that is a $300 million project. Why is that $300 million not being spent here in the U.S. to work on our electric grid? One has the idea that McCaskill would ask that question but already knows the answer.

So McCaskill asks Fields if he is an auditor. Answer: No. Has he done audits before, that is, has he worked with real auditors? Answer: No How many contracts do you oversee? Fields says 6,900. . How many audits have you done? Fields says that they have done 34. How many bad guys have you caught? None, says Fields. She asks him a lot of procedural questions…has he followed them. He doesn’t even seem to know what she’s talking about. Of the 7 procedural steps in an audit, he seems to be doing only a few.

How much money have you recovered, asks McCaskill? $6.6 million, says Fields. “But we’ve given you $46 million to run the (oversight) agency and you want more..” says McCaskill. Then McCaskill tells Fields about USAID, which was given only $10 million but recovered $149 million. Fields has no response.

We are sensing a boondoggle by this agency, as so for a little comic relief, Senator Scott Brown asks a couple of questions, similar to something like “How are you?” and “How is the family?” Then Brown says, in his best Humphrey Bogart voice, “I just want you to follow the money. (Louie). I just want you to find out where the money is going.” Then he adds, “I want to know if there are any bribes or payoffs and criminal activity going on.” Fields nods his head, thankfully, in the affirmative. If he had shaken his head from side to side, one wonders what Senator Brown would have done next. But he continues. Find some money, he says, “…so that we can get millions in return or at least make it a wash.” So Brown will be satisfied if it is a “wash.” In other words if this totally inexperienced-in-government-auditing-procedure General can just pay for himself.

McCaskill isn’t done with him. She asks him why he has hired a former Defense Department IG, Joe Schmitz, who has been under serious investigation for a wide variety of illegal and unethical practices while he was IG at the Department of Defense. Among other things, while still using his military rank, he signed a public editorial calling previous President Bill Clinton a traitor. That alone should have done him in, but George W Bush and Cheney knew a good lackey when they paid for one.

Suffice to say that Joe Schmitz not only disgraced himself for his incompetency and for playing politics with the IG office of the Defense Department, but he was denigrated by Donald Rumsfeld, who was the Secretary of Defense he worked under and even publicly by Senator Charles Grassely, a Republican, who had originally strongly endorsed him.

This is the guy whom Fields hires as a consultant for two months at about $45,000 a month, even though he never even visited Afghanistan or apparently even left his office. McCaskill asks Fields if he knew any of the bad stuff about Fields, who had eventually been forced to resign, and Fields says: Nope. Knew nothing about it.

So McCaskill carves up Fields leaves him out to dry. He is spending huge amounts of money and he is finding nothing. Not because he is a crook. He’s clearly a patriotic, concerned, ex-general, even though he may be a Republican ally. But the main reason is that he is incompetent as an auditor. (Fields eventually resigns on Jan. 10, 2011.)

Fields, as an auditor, is not unlike Senator Scott Brown, who has apparently voluntarily become incompetent as a Senator. He has a law degree and undergraduate degree with honors from a good university. He’s a long-time legislator at the local level, a 30 year veteran of the military reserves, and was, after all, elected Senator from a highly unlikely place. None of that means that he’s extremely bright, but he’s not stupid. So why would he appear not to care what is happening in Afghanistan?

How about Republican Neocon politics taking precedence over your tax dollars? If you look at his campaign, it was clear that he received huge support late in the campaign when the Republicans saw that he had a chance. Then the millions began to pour in, from telemarketing efforts to individual Republicans country wide from efforts by the Republican National Committee.

On top of that, big bucks came in from big PAC members and obviously from the newly empowered corporations who can pour unlimited amounts of money into a dog catcher election if that is what they decide to do. Brown said that he would be the 41st vote against health care reform. How much of the $400 million health insurance money do you think that earned him? Plenty.

So who are those big guys that Senator McCaskill is hunting and whom Senator Scott, “The Male Model” Brown is so reluctant to investigate? Who are the ones who are wasting hundreds of billions of dollars? They are the Republicans’ biggest supporters…military contractors. Brown does not want to piss off his superiors in the military. After all, even though he was in reserves for 30 years, he was just a military attorney. Those guys get no respect among gunnies.

Senator Scott Brown is not going to take them on. He will not …being a relatively simple man, a former model, heavily involved in physical conditioning…said to be a tri-athlete, he’s not going to hang around hearings that will take real intellectual effort…though he could do it…it can only hurt him with military contractors, lobbyists and rabid, pro-military Republican Senators. “Follow the money” – as they say.

So that’s the story of two Senators. One is clearly a dilettante; the other a hard working, concerned, responsible government official. Which one will be reelected? In these days, when people like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, Steve King and Scott Brown are the popular choices of the Neocon Republican Party…who the hell knows? We’re in the world of Bizarro politics—up is down and down is up.

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