Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Government Behaving Badly


   As I monitored the Sunday morning news programs last Sunday, as is my custom (I used to be an avid watcher of NBCs "Meet the Press," but with David Gregory at the helm now, and his propensity to not call his guests out on lies, or his not bothering to check facts, or his allowing republicans to filibuster... I don't watch so much anymore), the GSA and Secret Service so-called scandals were the lead stories on every show.
   As Cenk Uygur points out in the second clip above (along side the lovely and erudite Ana Kasparian, who graduated from California State University, Northridge in 2007, so she's actually a San Fernando Valley Girl I'm happy to say. All of us here at Joyce's Take love Ana. Watch her here take on Greg Gutfeld who ridicules NOW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nsa8QVO8III#! Fiesty!) the republicans in Congress, and the Republican Noise Machine are trying to blame President Obama for these failures. And it is true that the captain of a ship should be held responsible for the deeds for his crew, and everything that goes on on the ship, but that's what they have Captain's Mast for, to discipline crew members who have broken the rules, and I should know, I've been through a few myself. So, as the president has promised, these matters will be looked into (and I'm sure the republican's will insist, this being an election year, and all) and dealt with appropriately.
   But the republicans can and will go to the extreme (this being an election year, and all). As my friend Bill Press, of The Bill Press Show (now on Current T.V. every weekday morning from 6:00AM to 9:00AM EST), Obama will next be blamed for it raining in Washington D.C. over the weekend (if indeed it did rain, and if it didn't he be blamed for that).
   But the attention paid to these incidents by the media, I think, is severely disproportionate to the alleged infractions.
   For those subterranean rock dwellers who don't know anything about this let me briefly provide an overview of what all of the fuss is about.
   The General Services Administration (GSA) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1949 under President Truman to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies. The GSA consists of two major services: the Public Buildings Service (PBS) and the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). "The GSA supplies products and communications for U.S. government offices, provides transportation and office space to federal employees, and develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies, and other management tasks." -Wikipedia
   So, in effect, one of the GSA's duties is to cut costs for the entire federal government. That is why, when it was discovered that GSA Western Regional Commissioner Jeffrey Neeley (pictured above) organized an October 2010 trip to Las Vegas where the bill totaled $820,000 for an extravagant conference for its employees, which included $100,405.37 for the ‘pre-meeting-meeting, $5,600 for 3 private in-room parties, $79,511 for ‘light’ refreshments and beverages, $31,208 for a ‘networking’ reception, $44 per person for breakfast everyday (in Vegas?! You can get breakfast free in Vegas), $30,208 ($95 per person) for reception and dinner each night, $75,000 Team building exercises – in which bikes were assembled to donate to a Boy’s and Girl’s club, $6,325 for commemorative coins to give to every participant, etc., all at taxpayers expense, there was a twidge of an uproar.
   At least they didn't plan on keeping the bikes.
   Neely, who was put on administrative leave last month, is being investigated for other actions like personal trips labeled as official business and billed to the government as well. He repeatedly cited the 5th Amendment reserving his right not to incriminate himself when brought before the U.S. House House Oversight Committee.
   The Secret Service (the United States federal law enforcement agency charged with protecting  current and former national leaders and their families, such as the President, past Presidents, Vice Presidents, presidential candidates, foreign embassies; and protecting our currency from counterfeiting and fraud) scandal involved 11 Secret Service members and 10 military personnel accused of bringing up to 21 women back to their hotel in Cartagena, Columbia, three days prior to President Obama delivered remarks at the Summit of the Americas, earlier this month. It has been determined that none of the prostitutes were underage. Prostitution is legal in Columbia, so technically no one was breaking the law, and probably everything would have gone unnoticed if not for a business dispute between one Secret Service member who refused to pay the young lady pictured above the agreed upon price for her services, wherein the police were called and the incident brought to light. That's one dumb Secret Service member.
   At no time was the president's life put in danger over this, however, there may have been sensitive security documents or information that was unsecured during this incident with potential problems resulting, or maybe not. Still, this type of behavior is considered unacceptable for those U.S. agents involved, hence the big scandal, which of course the republicans will attempt to politicize to the best of their advantage, it being an election year and all. Several Secret Service members have already been dismissed.
   Republican Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told "Meet The Press," Sunday, that "anyone who is found to be guilty" of misconduct ahead of President Obama's trip to Colombia last weekend will be fired.
   "There are many, many agents in Colombia interviewing the women involved, interviewing the hotel employees," King said. "There [are] hundreds of Colombian police assisting the Secret Service in this. So it's going all out and from every indication I've seen from the moment this scandal broke until now, there's no attempt to cover anything over. Everything--every lead--possible lead is being examined."
   Really. How much tax payer money is being spent investigating these working ladies? And what do the investigators hope to find that they haven't already?
   "But chances are there were previous instances of misconduct, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa told "Meet The Press." "Nobody believes that something with eleven or twelve people involved couldn't have happened before," Issa said. "The real point is will we have confidence that it'll never happen again, particularly foreign nationals having access to our men and women in, in, in the Secret Service. That's the important part that the director is working on. Yes, these were prostitutes, which is awful and salacious, but they were also foreign nationals."
   Nobody believes this hasn't happened before? How presumptuous of Rep. Issa. I certainly could believe it given some evidence, and why shouldn't I? Clearly Rep. Issa, who is by no means as pure as the driven snow himself ("We are busy in Washington with a corrupt government, with a government that I said more than a year ago was perhaps -- because of the money, because of the amount of TARP and stimulus funds -- was going to be the most corrupt government in history, and it is proving to be that, just exactly that," Issa said in a Bloomberg television interview. I guess he's forgetting he is a part of that government. And he's right. The government is corrupt. We've discussed this before, dear readers. But it is not the Executive branch that is corrupt. Rather it is the Legislative Branch, Congress, of which Issa is a leader, that is ripe with corruption. Issa is projecting his own corruption onto the Obama Administration, a favored republican tactic), is intimating that President Obama has let this agency run amok, and that he will see to it that it won't happen again.
   Thanks Darrell!
   On ABC's "This Week," Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a ranking member of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, wondered aloud whether more female agents within the Secret Service's ranks would deter such bad behavior.
   "I can't help but wonder if there'd been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened," Collins said, calling for the agency to recruit more women and minorities.
   I'm wondering why she would consider this. Does she believe that the presence of female agents would have a mitigating influence on the 21 drunken men involved?
   Possibly. Who knows? I certainly don't. All I can say is that I hope women in the Secret Service  are treated better than their counterparts in the armed services (rape).
   Alright, I do not condone the actions of the GSA or the Secret Service and military members involved in these incidents.
   Having said that it seems to me that the republicans, and Congress in general, the media, and the executive branch which would probably include the president, has let other scandals slide that more than likely are of a greater magnitude than these two, and deserve vastly more scrutiny than they have received. Indeed, they are hardly ever mentioned and are kind of swept under the old rug as fast as possible.
   Let's start out with an easy one, and obvious. The federal government, and by that I mean the U.S. taxpayer, subsidizes oil companies to the tune of $4 to $7 billion dollars a year. That's about 11 million dollars a day, and as Kurt Vonnegut would say if he were here, "Sunday's too!" Companies like BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, are given billions to simply keep doing business as usual and make record profits on top of the subsidiaries. Why?
   Subsidies may have been a good idea a hundred years ago when they were first implemented, but they are surely not needed now, as oil corporations are all grown up and can take care of themselves. Asked why the subsidies should continue, indeed why the republicans have voted recently to continue them, they say, ending them would not affect the price of gasoline at the pump (so what?), that it amounts to a tax hike (so what?), and that it is unfair to punish one particular industry by cutting off their free money (huuh?). The fact is that the oil industries own Congress and they want the subsidies to continue, and lobby for it, and they get what they want... more of our cash.
   So according to the republicans, giving away billions to Exxon is perfectly alright, but giving hundreds a month to stay at home moms on welfare is a no no.
   What's next? Military procurement, that's what.
   There seem to be some programs, and military hardware that the pentagon no longer wants, but Congress insists they have.
   For example, "the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, ordered for the Marine Corps. This military program is not yet operational, but it’s been promised for a very, very long time. The initial order for the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was placed by the Pentagon back when Ronald Reagan was President and the Soviet Union was feared as an enemy. With an entire generation gone by, however, military contractor,  General Dynamics has yet to deliver. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is now strategically out-of-date and militarily unnecessary. The Pentagon has concluded that the vehicles simply are not needed.
   If congressional Republicans really cared about cutting spending, they would be working in cooperation with the Pentagon to end the boondoggle. They’re not. One by one, prominent Republicans are lining up to defend the wasteful spending." -Irregular Times
   Why? Because republicans believe money needs to be siphoned to military contractors, because military contractors own Congress, the contractors want the programs to continue, they lobby for it (expecially members whose districts are home to contractors who employee their constituents), and they get what they want, more tax payer dollars spent for... things we don't need.
   That's a scandal if you ask me, and nothing less.
   What kind of money are we talking about here?
   As Dr. Carl Sagan never said, "Billions and billions."
   Let's get into the trillions, shall we. The government now projects that the total cost to develop, buy and operate the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be $1.51 trillion over the next 50-plus years, or $618 million per plane, according to the Pentagon. The new estimate, based on calculations made by the Cost Assessment Program Evaluation (CAPE) office, includes operating and maintenance costs of $1.11 trillion, including inflation, and development and procurement costs of $332 billion for the aircraft, plus $63.8 billion for the engine. The F-35 has been in development for over 11 years, with some estimates of a trillion already spent, with not one plane to show for it. That's a scandal.
   And last but certainly not least, Iraq and Afghanistan.
   The most recent major report on the total costs for the "wars" in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come from Brown University in the form of the Costs of War project from last February, and are estimated at least $3.2  to 4 trillion dollars. And that's just the dollars. There's a significant amount of loss of life involved.
   All three of these actions were unnecessary. The Talaban would have handed Osama Bin Laden to us if the Bush administration had handled it correctly. If we weren't in Afghanistan we wouldn't be in Pakistan. They wanted to go to war instead. That's a scandal.
   Iraq was unnecessary all together.
   We're still spending anywhere from $190 to $300 million a day in Afghanistan for no discernable reason, except to feed military contractors. That's a scandal.
   At the start of the Iraq war the Pentagon flew over cargo planes filled with bricks of hundred dollar bills, about 100 billion worth to begin reconstruction. About $6.6 billion of that simply disappeared, presumed stolen!
   $6.6 billion!  Where's the outrage? Where's the investigation?
   According to the Commission on Wartime Contracting's final report to Congress, $31 to $60 billion plus has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan.
   $31 to $60 billion ("a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money")! Where's the outrage!? Where's the investigation?
   And why did the law that created the Commission on Wartime Contracting also dictate that it end it's activities at the end of last September? We don't need to know about this kind of thing anymore?
   I know it's an election year and all, but when we get all in a huff over the GSA and Secret Service, we need to keep in mind a larger picture.
   A picture of the things that those who are in power don't want you to see or think about.
   A picture of slight of hand, lies, deceit, and omissions, a picture of how our government really works.

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