Bad Theatre

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In a Wall Street speech today, President Bush called for more penalties for "corporate criminals" and a crackdown on boardroom scandals. The mighty conqueror of Afghanistan (excepting Osama bin Laden) and cosmic injustice has promised to "end the days of cooking the books, shading the truth and breaking our laws."

Is the government going to abolish Social Security? No.

As reported by the Washington Post,

Confronting a wave of corporate wrongdoing that has undermined investor confidence and threatened political damage to the White House, Bush said, "We will use the full weight of the law to expose and root out corruption."

Notice the key phrase in the above quotation: threatened political damage to the White House.

Do not think for a minute that the White House cares to do any more than cover its behind.

This bit of cheap Washington theatre would be palatable if it were not so obscenely laughable.

Consider, for example, the oxymoron of "government accounting." There is no such thing.

Perhaps you have heard of the Pentagon "budget." Or Social Security.

Perhaps you have heard of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The bureau, custodian of millions of dollars of tribal trust money, um, well — cannot account for the money. The B.I.A. is unable to account for millions, and possibly, billions of dollars which are allegedly held in trust for the poorest of the poor.

(In 1887, the Congress decided that it would administer leases of Indian land, and mail checks for the royalties to each Indian family. Right. Not surprisingly, 115 years later, the government’s "accounting" system has been shown to be, well, a bit deficient).

Oops. Time to shell out the tax dollars, to the tune of $625,000 to cover the fine for contempt of court, imposed by a federal judge when Clinton appointee Bruce Babbit and the Bureau refused to comply with a court order to turn over records. "The most egregious case of government misconduct I’ve ever seen," to paraphrase the judge.

And let us not forget to mention the millions spent by the government on legal fees.

Despite the utter joke of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, of Social Security, and of the Pentagon budget, the Emperor Bush rattles his sabre about "corporate criminals."

Puh-lease. At least in the corporate world, fraud is the exception. The profit motive provides a natural disincentive against fraudulent accounting. Corporations go out of business when they mismanage money.

Not like the government.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2002 David Dieteman

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