Olympic medalist Marion Jones was sentenced to six months in jail yesterday on two counts of perjury, after admitting to lying to federal investigators about her steroid use. Following the serving of her sentence, Jones will be on probation for two years and serve 800 hours of community service.
Somehow, I am reminded of Martha Stewart. Perhaps because in both cases, the judges wanted to impress on their defendants and the public the seriousness of lying.
“I want people to think twice before lying,” Judge Karas said to Marion Jones. “I want to make them realize no one is above the law.”
“Lying to government agencies during the course of an investigation is a very serious matter,” said Judge Miriam Cedarbaum at Martha Stewart’s sentencing. “A term of incarceration is justified and appropriate in this case.”
Lying to investigators and obstruction of justice are, it goes without saying, against the law. Jones pled guilty, and a jury convicted Stewart. Both begged for mercy from their respective judges and some would argue that their sentences were lenient. I won’t argue that point. (I won’t even talk about the dozens of (male) athletes who consistently denied steroid use, and who received only suspensions or a slap on the wrist, although I’m sure someone will – and should). Instead, what I’d like to talk about is Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and middle-class outrage.
One dead giveaway of a middle-class person is obvious sticker shock. When we see the prices at a high-end restaurant, or a brand name clothing store, our eyebrows raise and our mouths fall open in disbelief. We can’t help it. Our middle class sensibilities began when we first heard the word ‘no’ and realized that it applied to us. In prepubescence we learned that work is hard, money doesn’t grow on trees and that one day we, too, would appreciate generic cans of surprise fruit and “slightly-off” bargain basement jeans, even if we did have to hem two inches from one leg, or cover a cigarette burn on the calf with a Peace patch.
When we got our first minimum wage paycheck from that summer job we needed “in order to learn what responsibility means”, we began to understand that there’s no such thing as easy money. We began to look at price tags in terms of labor hours: a two-hour T-shirt, an eight-hour concert, a 40 hour leather jacket.
Now, as hard-working adults, we budget even our spontaneity. We faithfully add $10 a week to our Christmas Club accounts, and keep a cookie jar of “mad money” that rarely goes past two digits. Our impulse to buy the latest gadget is tempered by knowing we’ll have to pack our lunches for the next six months. And anytime we have to write a check that has more zeroes before the decimal point than after, we feel a little faint.
While it’s true that many of us are stunned by the $9,000,000,000,000.00 (nine TRILLION) dollar debt of our Bush-plundered nation, we understand democracy in action. When the majority of our peers (or the U.S. Supreme Court) hands us a President, he belongs to all of us, come prosperity and good times — or scandal, corruption, and war. We understand the give-and-take of taxes and government budgets, and know that eventually, even if it takes decades ( and it will), we’ll work together to ease this astounding debt.
It’s the obvious pillaging of our communal coffers by private corporations that really throws us into apocalyptic shock, and topping the list of thieving, ink-stained hands are those belonging to Dick Cheney’s pals at Halliburton.
Even though Halliburton moved their base of operations out of the U.S. in March, 2007 and into the friendlier country of Dubai so that they could save paying taxes on the billions of dollars of profit they enjoyed through their no-bid U.S. contracts – and even though they divested themselves of their most controversial subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), last April – Halliburton continues to be a source of angst for many Americans, particularly those who don’t like being gouged, exploited, lied to, railroaded, evaded, and shut out.
The list of Halliburton’s crimes and misdeeds against America is staggering. Billions of dollars are missing, billions more were wasted. Among the charges spelled out in Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) hearings held from 2003-2006:
* Halliburton billed taxpayers $1.4 billion in questionable and undocumented charges under its contract to supply troops in Iraq, as documented by the Pentagon’s own auditors.
* Halliburton charged taxpayers for services that it never provided and tens of thousands of meals that it never served.
* Halliburton employees burned new trucks on the side of the road because they didn’t have the right wrench to change a tire — and knew that the trucks could be replaced on a profitable “cost-plus” basis, at taxpayer expense.
* Halliburton chose a subcontractor to build an ice factory in the desert even though its bid was 800 percent higher than an equally qualified bidder.
* Halliburton actively discouraged cooperation with U.S. government auditors, sent one whistleblower into a combat zone to keep him away from auditors, and put another whistleblower under armed guard before kicking her out of the country.
* Under its no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure contract, Halliburton overcharged by over 600 percent for the delivery of fuel from Kuwait.
Before he became Vice President, Cheney sold his stock in Halliburton to the tune of $20 million, and assigned any future profit to an irrevocable charitable trust. The question is not whether Cheney is now profiting from government contracts – the answer would appear to be no – the question is how Halliburton became the beneficiary of such wealth in the first place.
It can hardly be denied that Halliburton has a long history of corruption and war profiteering. Under Cheney’s guidance, the company engaged in fraudulent accounting practices, which added $89 million dollars in revenue to their bottom line. Halliburton paid 7.5 million as a settlement to the Securities Exchange Commission to avoid a lawsuit, even as former employees stepped forward to indicate the problem was much deeper and more pervasive than the SEC originally thought.
While Cheney was leading Halliburton, millions in allegedly illegal payments were made to Nigerian officials by Halliburton’s subsidiary, KBR, for the construction of a natural-gas plant in Nigeria. There’s also the $73 million dollars that Halliburton is accused of making when, again, under Cheney’s reign, they defied U.S. sanctions and did business with Iraq, Iran, and Libya. Then there’s the $7 billion dollar no-bid contract awarded to KBR, and more – so much more that we, the wide-eyed, mouth-agape middle class have to wonder — who’s going to jail?
While judges are busy making big public examples out of small-time crime mavens like Marion Jones and Martha Stewart, the wheels of justice in Washington seem to have skipped off the wagon .
In 2005, Senate Republicans defeated a measure that would have established a special committee to investigate Halliburton, but promised that hearings would be held by a subcomittee of the Armed Services Committee, led by John Ensign, R-NV. They also stated that Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction would conduct an investigation. Two years and two months later, the American public is still waiting.
Bunnatine H. Greenhouse is waiting, too. Greenhouse, you probably (don’t) recall, was the chief civilian procurement executive for the Army Corps or Engineers, who was removed from her job after criticizing the no-bid contract the U.S. signed with Halliburton-KBR. “I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper abuse I have witnessed,” said Greenhouse during the DPC hearings. Those strong words, coming from a twenty-year government veteran, have faded into the background of diversionary politics, including overall debate about the Middle East and Senate tub-thumping during an election year.
Those of us who remember Whitewater – the Republican-led witch hunt against the Clintons which took 12 years and cost taxpayers $70M (and which Ken Starr, lacking sufficient evidence, gleefully turned into a sex scandal) – have to wonder at the hypocrisy. The Clintons lost money on the Whitewater venture, and it was their own money, not the U.S. taxpayers. In the end, fourteen people were convicted on various charges, many not related to Whitewater. There was no evidence of financial or ethical wrong-doing by either Bill or Hillary Clinton.
Where’s the call to investigative arms with Halliburton and KBR? Where’s the fiery outrage of the conservative moralists now? How is it possible that those who claim to hold taxpayer money in higher regard than their “tax and spend” liberal counterparts have turned a blind eye to the outrageous thefts perpetrated by Halliburton and company?
The same right-wing politicians who screamed impeachment over one President’s private sexual activity, have stood in vocal and voting solidarity with a President and Vice-President who have lied to the American people, thrown our military into an unjust war, brought the country to the brink of financial ruin, usurped the U.S. Constitution with the Patriot Act, arrogantly defied the Geneva Convention, ignored the United Nations, advocated torture, and broken both promises and treaties.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the demagogues of the right-wing have turned blind, deaf and dumb when it comes to the abuses of Halliburton and Company, but we are. We’re surprised that the issue of anabolic steroid use received more Congressional attention in 2003, 2004 and 2005 than the issue of billions of missing dollars and Halliburton’s war profiteering. But what really throws us for a loop is the spinelessness of the Democrat-majority Congress we elected in 2006, which has not stood up to the Bush administration as we expected it to, or taken the type of swift, immediate action we wanted to stop the hemorrhaging of U.S. tax dollars.
Election year or not, divided or not, our nation owes its taxpayers a strict accounting, and it’s the job of Congress to ensure that we get one, and to see to it that those who are responsible for perhaps the largest and most collusive theft in the history of the United States are brought to bear.
That would be an example worth setting.