Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trading with Our Enemies–Treason or Patriotism?

From Bloomberg News: the Koch Brothers flouted U.S. law prohibiting trading with enemies of the U.S. They did business with Iran, who funded the recently convicted underwear bomber and other terrorists far more competent and dangerous. The person who uncovered the wrongdoing was a Koch employee whose job it was to check company compliance with laws and ethics. When she found non-compliance she was quickly transferred and subsequently fired.

Is this new? No. Unique? Not at all.

Trading with the enemy used to have the quaint label of "Treason", but no longer. When Dick Cheney was chief executive of Halliburton, his company traded with Iran too. They broke explicit U.S. laws in doing so. A grand jury was empaneled and a Senate Committee reported on the lawbreaking, but Mr. Cheney did not go to jail. Maybe because he'd become George W. Bush's Vice President.

Forbes magazine reported on Halliburton's ingenuity in evading laws. But Halliburton isn't the only company mentioned. Dell, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft are also tagged. Treason? Corporations are (thanks to the Republican majority in the Supreme Court) legally classified as "people" ––except when they commit treason. Then they aren't people and are immune from capital punishment.

A BBC report from 2002 shows Cheney was also linked to charges of stock manipulation and corporate fraud. Again nothing happened. He was Vice President.

A good summary of the corruption at Halliburton under the leadership of Dick Cheney and during his period as Vice President when he fed contracts to the company and continued to receive payments from the company can be found at Business Ethics magazine.

This way of doing business may be treasonous but it is commonplace and seldom punished. Halliburton has since moved its headquarters to Dubai as a way of evading American taxes, regulation and legal liability. It still earns its billions off the American taxpayer but it keeps its offices and profits safely offshore.

CBS Marketwatch published this in 2003, as America went to war:

"When individual Americans are accused of helping terrorists, they're thrown in jail and their names are dragged through the mud. But when major U.S. corporations are caught trading with the enemy, they get just a slap on the wrist from the government. In the past two weeks, the government has revealed that 57 companies and organizations have been fined for doing business with terrorists, despots and tyrants."

"However, neither the government nor the companies are forthcoming with the public about the details of the illicit trade with rogue governments like Iraq, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Sudan."

Not done yet. This article from The Guardian outlines how the father of George H. W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush helped finance the Nazi war machine, funneling investment money to the companies that used slave labor to prepare Germany to invade Poland, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Belgium Norway, and rain bombs on London. His firm helped build the war machine that precipitated the global war that killed (by conservative estimates) 60 million people. This financing of the Nazis was legal until war broke out. The war declaration finally made it a crime and the capital investments were seized in 1942. He lost lots of money but Senator Bush didn't go to jail. Why was Prescott Bush less immune than Dick Cheney?

There's another kind of treason that doesn't involve aiding fascist dictators bent on destroying America. If it's homegrown is it more patriotic? Prescott Bush was also one of the Wall Street figures behind a 1934 plot to overthrow the Roosevelt presidency. Here is a recent BBC program about the plot which nearly turned America into a fascist state.

Today's Wall Street bigshots may be losing the ability to be traitors here at home. They've exported so many jobs and so much of our manufacturing muscle to China that America isn't really worth overthrowing anymore.

It will be interesting to see whether Immelt does anything to repair his anti-American record. This article in Foreign Policy Magazine asks the same question. He's now in charge of restoring the American jobs picture, hired by Obama much as Wall Street pirate Joseph Kennedy was hired by FDR to set up the SEC. Who knows the criminals better than these guys?

Getting back to massive criminal extortion, and back to the Koch Brothers–––the Koch Bros have now been implicated in the 2008 spike in gasoline prices––at a time when demand was slack and supply was sufficient prices still went to record highs. How much did these manipulations steal from Americans? And how much did this theft of household liquidity contribute to the near collapse of our economy in late 2008?

This is predatory behavior similar to the kind of market gaming that Enron traders laughingly executed against the utilities customers of California.

Listen to those tapes, reported years later when obtained by CBS News, and you get a sense of the cold-bloodedness of the traders involved, and the cold-bloodedness of the game Enron set up and exploited. Enron did its damnedest to bankrupt the largest state in the nation rather than let up when public finances imploded and citizens suffered rolling blackouts.

"They're f------g taking all the money back from you guys?" complains an Enron employee on the tapes. "All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?"

"Yeah, grandma Millie, man"

"Yeah, now she wants her f------g money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed right up her a------ for f------g $250 a megawatt hour."

Traders or traitors? Businessmen or criminals? It's hard to tell the difference. Sometimes, not often but sometimes, corporations are run by psychopaths. (I covered this in an earlier post.) When this happens, it happens because there's lax regulation, because there's a sense of impunity, because the government watchdogs have been defanged and defunded, and there's too much money available to be stolen. When this happens it's very hard for an ethical company to compete. And there are ethical companies. Most corporations are pretty good employers and good citizens. By cracking down on the bad actors wouldn't we be helping them? Maybe a few good corporations should join the protests on Wall Street.

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