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December 22, 2008

The More the World Changes, the More it Stays the Same...

The NYT ran a long story yesterday on the utterly mundane work of bribery at Siemens. Or at least, the average reader is expected to believe it was mundane and feel bad for the poor schmuck who ended up the fall guy because he was too "ethical" to sign an oath stating he wasn't responsible for moving around millions of dollars in bribery. Apparently, the fact that he never physically handed the money to corrupt dignitaries (in far off places like Italy and Israel) is supposed to make his corruption okay.

Somewhat shockingly, bribing foreign countries wasn't outlawed in Germany until 1999. That's right, ladies and gents - a mere 9 frickin years ago. Still don't believe the tales in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?

Then perhaps you may need a refresher course in the history of transnational bribery. Strangely, the passing of another hustler was not included in the NYT obits yesterday. But the LAT managed to wax poetically about the life of Archibald Carl Kotchian. Poor Archibald was the fall guy when the USG decided to pretend to care that US corporations were bribing foreign countries back in the 70s. Check this out:

In a memoir published only in Japan, Kotchian said Lockheed was a scapegoat and that the payoffs -- common throughout the 1960s and early 1970s -- were part of the way the "game" was played overseas. He maintained that no payoffs were made to American officials and no American laws were violated.

"If we were back in those times, I'd do it again," Kotchian said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1978. "In present times, with the change in attitude and standards that are being applied now, I don't think that I would."

Ya see, ladies and gents, there is no need for individual responsibility when the whole world is built on a pile of crap. Blame your own unethical behavior on societal mores. Strangely, that defense continues to work for the capitans of industry.

Here's why I get so angry about the murky lack of morality underpinning free-trade capitalism: Integrity and Honesty are Really Important Virtues. I'm honest to a fault and I can't fathom getting ahead by playing dirty. I also can't understand how the foundation for our entire economic system is dirty politicians and hustling businessmen. No wonder the good die young - criminals seem to be running the world!

Consider these other tid-bits of news: Walmart's growth plan is buying up foreign grocery chains. It already owns the biggest chain in Central America and is on its way to purchasing the biggest chain in Chile. (Inexplicably, the WSJ thinks Chile has a recession-proof economy for reasons not explained in the article describing the buyout offer.) As an aside, the chain may need to lose part of its current name if it wants to stay honest - D&S stands for Distribucion & Servicio...but since we've already determined that dishonesty pays, may as well remake the retail chain with Orwellian glee.

Retail developers want their own handout from the fumbling government. That's right, the people who paved over paradise and put up a parking lot think it's unfair they may have to lose some money in this economic downturn. And let's face it, if bankers can get fungible money to pay millions in salary while hard-working union employees have to beg to maintain their modest incomes (at both US auto plants and government offices - where brilliant Republicans like the Cali governator want to force employees to take 24 days of unpaid vacation a year to help balance the budget!), why shouldn't the paradise pavers get in on raping the taxpayer?

I want to be clear: I'm not anti-corporation. I'm anti-corruption. And yes, I do think there is something fundamentally wrong with the corporate governance system when big wigs can honestly say that bribery was the only way to keep people in their jobs. Gone is the race to the bottom. We've already reached the zenith of human morality, now we're reaching into pure, unadulterated depravity.

If this post hasn't already pushed all the holiday cheer out of you, take a gander at this history of the Shrub administration's handling of the mortgage meltdown. My favorite passage:

A soft-spoken Texan, Mr. Falcon ran the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, a tiny government agency that oversaw Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two pillars of the American housing industry. In February 2003, he was finishing a blockbuster report that warned the pillars could crumble.

[...]Today, the White House cites that report---and its subsequent effort to better regulate Fannie and Freddie---as evidence that it foresaw the crisis and tried to avert it. Bush officials recently wrote up a talking points memo headlined "G.S.E.'s ---We Told You So."

But the back story is more complicated. To begin with, on the day Mr. Falcon issued his report, the White House tried to fire him.

An inconvenient truth was told by a government regulator. Shrub tried to replace him with "Mark C. Brickell, a leader in the derivatives industry that Mr. Falcon’s report had flagged." Alas, a pesky accounting scandal (you know, tied to that liars' game of derivatives) forced Shrub to embrace Falcon and back off his nomination of Brickell. Thankfully, for Shrub's corporate cronies, he was eventually able to replace Falcon with James Lockhart, who managed to lift the restraints on Freddie and Fannie imposed by Falcon in time to allow them to implode on the taxpayers' dime.

Amidst all this corruption, unregulated greed, misuse of shareholder and government funds, I'm supposed to believe that changing the name in front of POTUS will change the world? Sorry, Charlie, but 20 years ago was the last time I was that gullible (and then only because I thought I'd be related to the first family)...

End note conveniently missing from the printed Siemens story, but found online: the article was a joint report of ProPublica, Frontline, and the NYT. ProPublica is the investigative journalism newsroom that employs Paul Kiel who coherently explained the Madoff Ponzi scheme on Democracy Now! last week.

Posted by cj at December 22, 2008 9:01 PM


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