Monday, March 20, 2006

Is It A Crime If Everybody Does It?

The Duke Cunningham--Mitchell Wade bribery scandal is notable for a number of reasons. Yet, to me, one of the most significant facts is that it reveals to us (more accurately, "reminds us") how crooked the entire federal budget really is.

Mitchell Wade had enough money ("profits") from his existing contracts to give significant dollars to a crooked politician. That means that he was bilking the government out of far more than whatever he was willing to give away in bribes. It also means that his "legitimate" business activities weren't so legitimate after all. Think about it: Wade viewed government contracts as a guarantee of excess profits -- that's what made them worth the risk of breaking the law. And that's why he had extra money lying around that could be "invested" in bribes rather than reinvested in the business. In fact, the only problem with Defense contracts is that you have to figure out ways to waste enough money so that you can plausibly show modest profits on the accounting books. Otherwise, somebody might start paying attention.

Then again, maybe nobody pays attention. It seems that whenever there is a government failure -- health care, Hurricane Katrina, Iraq -- there is a huge amount of outright theft involved. As someone once observed:
"The Republicans came to Washington to 'drain the fetid swamp of the federal government.' It didn't take them long to realize that it wasn't a swamp after all -- it was a hot tub!"
Now, let me see ... who else has used government connections to get rich, fabulously rich, through defense and other government contracts? Oh yeah. Dick Cheney and Halliburton.

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