James Risen's "Use of Iraq Contractors Costs Billions, Report Says" in today's New York Times covers what's expected in the upcoming report from the Congressional Budget Office: "that one out of every five dollars spent on the war in Iraq has gone to contractors for the United States military and other government agencies, in a war zone where employees of private contractors now outnumber American troops."
On the issue of money spent, CBS and AP note Dana Hedgpeth and Sarah Cohen (Washington Post) report on the US Commander's Emergency Response Program:
The field manual laying out the guidelines for the program is called "Money as a Weapon System," pointing up the effectiveness of cold hard cash in winning over the hearts and minds of Iraqi civilians.
The largest sum of CERP money, $596.8 million, was spent on water and sanitation projects, the Post reported. Three other categories each received more than $300 million: electricity; protective measures, such as fencing and guards; and transportation and roads.
But the Army also spent lesser sums on smaller acts of largesse, including $48,000 for children's shoes; $50,000 for 625 sheep; $100,000 for dolls; and $500,000 for action figures designed to look like Iraqi security forces, the Post reported.
The CBS Evening News aired a report by Lara Logan entitled "No Help For Autistic Children In Baghdad: Alli Abdul Suffers From Autism, But Can't Get Treatment In War-Torn Region" and text from the link and then the video:
The problem for autistic children in Iraq, Logan reports, is that almost nothing is known about this condition. Incredibly, the only doctor who did treat it, who founded a medical center in the name of his own autistic son, has fled the country. He left behind some social workers who try their best to help, but even they haven't been paid in four months. Rahna had to stop taking Alli there because the center is located in one of the most dangerous parts of Baghdad. And without the doctor it wasn't helping.
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is planning super rallies. Foon Rhee (Boston Globe) notes the August 27th one in Denver and adds:
Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who is running as an independent for president, announced today that he will hold a rally during the Democratic National Convention to open the fall debates to other candidates.
"We need serious debate," Nader says in a web video. "It's time to open the debates to third-party candidates".
Yesterday Ralph held a press conference addressing corporate crime and the so-called 'war' on drugs:
WASHINGTON, Aug. 8–At a news conference today Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader outlined his plan to empty prisons of non-violent drug offenders and fill them up with corporate criminals.
"Non-violent drug offenses are being over prosecuted and corporate crime is being under prosecuted," Nader said. "The Justice Department must begin to reverse course, crank up the crackdown on corporate crime, and end the cruel and inhumane war on non-violent drug possession."
"The criminal justice system is broken–so badly that one hardly knows where to begin describing the breakdown," Nader said. "Let's start with the war on drugs, since commentators across the political spectrum recognize its lunacy. We pour almost endless resources–roughly $50 billion every year–into catching, trying, and incarcerating people who primarily harm themselves. This insane war on drugs damages communities and drains crucial resources from the police, courts, and prisons. These resources could be better used to combat serious street and corporate crime that directly violates the public's liberty, health, safety, trust, and financial well-being. As with alcoholics and nicotine addicts, the approach to drug addicts should be rehabilitation, not incarceration."
"The current drug policy has consumed tens of billions of dollars and wrecked countless lives," Nader said. "The costs of this policy include the increasing breakdown of families and neighborhoods, endangerment of children, widespread violation of civil liberties, escalating rates of incarceration, political corruption, and the imposition of United States policy abroad. In practice, the drug war disproportionately targets people of color and people who are poverty-stricken. Coercive measures have not reduced drug use, but they have clogged our criminal justice system with non-violent offenders. It is time to explore alternative approaches and to end this costly war."
In 2004, Ralph Nader wrote President Bush urging that he grant clemency to 30,000 non-violent drug offenders. Nader's letter highlighted the three-decade-long failed, and unjust, drug war. His call for clemency highlighted a similar request made by 400 clergy members to President Bill Clinton in 2000.
Nader's letter recalled President Bush's substance abuse problems and noted that if Bush had been incarcerated for cocaine use he "probably would not have gone on to have the career you have had."
The letter also highlighted the rapid expansion of the prison system in the United States which now houses more than 2.1 million people–one-quarter of the world's prison population.
Clemency for non-violent drug offenders would save billions of dollars annually.
"It is urgent that the U.S. reverse the incarceration binge. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that if incarceration rates remain unchanged an estimated one of every 20 Americans and greater than one in four African Americans can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime," Nader said. "It is time to make the failed war on drugs a central issue in the American political dialogue. For too long we have let this injustice continue to grow unhindered. Taking action on clemency at the federal level will set an example for the states and begin the process of reversing this failed policy."
The Nader/Gonzalez campaign also calls for an immediate end to the criminal prosecution of patients for medical marijuana.
"The current cruel, unjust policy perpetuated and enforced by the Bush Administration prevents Americans who suffer from debilitating illnesses from experiencing the relief of medicinal cannabis," Nader said. "While substantial scientific and anecdotal evidence exists to validate marijuana's usefulness in treating disease, a deluge of rhetoric from Washington claims that marijuana has no medicinal value."
At the same time, the Nader/Gonzalez campaign supports industrial hemp as a renewable resource with many important fuel, fiber, food, paper, energy and other uses.
Industrial hemp is a commercial crop grown for its seed and fiber and the products made from them. Industrial hemp is one of the longest and strongest fibers in the plant kingdom, and it has had thousands of uses over the centuries.
"In need of alternative crops and aware of the growing market for industrial hemp–particularly for bio-composite products such as automobile parts, farmers in the United States are forced to watch from the sidelines while Canadian, French and Chinese farmers grow the crop and American manufacturers import it from them," Nader said.
Federal legislators–except for Congressman Ron Paul and a few others–continue to ignore the issue of removing it from the DEA list. It is time to allow hemp agriculture, production and manufacturing in the United States.
Nader would shift the billions saved from the war on drugs to a war on corporate crime.
Corporate crime costs Americans hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Tens of thousands of Americans are killed each year and hundreds of thousands of Americans injured and sickened each year by preventable corporate-bred violence.
From pollution, medical negligence, procurement fraud, product defects, and financial fraud, to antitrust, public corruption, foreign bribery and occupational homicide, corporate crime enforcement is widely ignored by politicians–yet acutely felt by all Americans.
The FBI estimates, for example, that burglary and robbery–street crimes–costs the nation $3.8 billion a year.
The losses from a handful of major corporate frauds–Tyco, Adelphia, Worldcom, Enron–swamp the losses from all street robberies and burglaries combined.
Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year.
The FBI estimates that, 16,000 Americans are murdered every year.
Compare this to the 56,000 Americans who die every year on the job or from occupational diseases such as black lung and asbestosis and the tens of thousands of other Americans who fall victim to the silent violence of pollution, contaminated foods, hazardous consumer products, and hospital malpractice.
These deaths are often the result of criminal recklessness. Yet, they are rarely prosecuted as homicides or as criminal violations of federal laws.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and other criminal justice experts concur that corporate crime is under prosecuted.
The decline of criminal prosecution of cartel enforcement is exemplary of the demise of corporate crime enforcement as a whole.
A recent report from the American Antitrust Institute found that the number of criminal cartel cases brought by the Division has dropped 49 percent from 1995-99 to 2004-06.
And the number of corporations charged annually dropped continuously from 1995 to 2007.
"There now is a significant and growing backlog of criminal investigations and unresolved matters," the report found.
Part of the problem lies with the fact that the Antitrust Division is underfunded and understaffed.
The report calls for a doubling of the Antitrust Division’s budget.
Nader/Gonzalez would crack down on corporate crime and violence with a 12-point program:
1. Increase Corporate Crime Prosecution Budgets: The Department of Justice’s corporate crime division and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been chronically and pitifully underfunded and therefore do not have sufficient resources to combat the massive often reported corporate crime wave in the United States. This results in inadequate investigation, settlement of cases for weak fines and ignoring many corporate crime violators completely. There needs to be a strong corporate law-and-order will in the White House.
2. Ban Corporate Criminals from Government Contracts: The US should enact a tough, serious debarment statute that would deny federal business to serious and/or repeat corporate lawbreakers. The federal government spends $265 billion annually on goods and services. These contracts should not support corporate criminals. These standards should also apply to procurement contracts in Iraq.
3. Crack Down on Corporate Tax Avoidance: The US should punish corporate tax escapees by closing the offshore reincorporation loophole and banning government contracts and subsidies for companies that relocate their headquarters to an offshore tax haven. The IRS should be given more power and more budgetary resources to go after corporate tax avoiders. Publicly-traded corporations should be required to make their tax returns public.
4. Democratize Corporate Governance: Shareholders should be granted the right to democratically nominate and elect the corporate board of directors by opening up proxy access to minority shareholders and introducing cumulative voting and competitive elections. Shareholders should be given the power to approve all major business decisions, including top executive compensation. Shareholders should be treated as the owners of the corporation–since, in fact, that is what they are.
5. Expand Corporate Disclosure: Corporate sunshine laws should be enacted that require corporations to provide better information about their records on the environment, human rights, worker safety, and taxes, as well as their criminal and civil litigation records.
6. Rein in Excessive Executive Pay: Shareholder authorization should be required for top executive compensation packages at each annual shareholder meeting. Stock options, which now account for about half of the executive compensation, should be counted on financial statements as an expense (which they are). Tax deductions for compensation 25 times above the compensation received by the lowest paid worker in a corporation should be eliminated, as recommended by the famous business guru Peter Drucker. Insiders like Warren Buffett say excessive corporate executive pay is associated with inflated profits and other accounting deceptions.
7. Fix the Pension System: Corporations must be held more responsible for the retirement security of their employees. At a minimum we need to give workers a voice on the pension board; not require workers to stuff their 401(k) plans with company stock; and give workers the right to control their 401(k) plans. In addition, an Office of Participant Advocacy should be created in the Department of Labor to monitor pension plans.
8. Restore the Rights of Defrauded Investors: Repeal the self-styled securities reform laws that block defrauded investors from seeking private restitution, such as the private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which allowed the aiders and abettors of massive corporate crime (e.g., accountants, lawyers, and bankers) to escape civil liability.
9. Regulate Derivatives Trading: All over-the-counter financial instruments, including derivatives, should be subjected to the same or equivalent audit and reporting requirements as other financial instruments traded on stock exchanges. Rules should be enacted regarding collateral-margin, reporting and dealer licensing in order to maintain regulatory parity and ensure that markets are transparent and problems can be detected before they become a crisis.
10. End Conflicts of Interest on Wall Street: Enact structural reforms that separate commercial and investment banking services and prevent other costly, documented conflicts of interest among financial entities, such as those that have dominated big banks and security firms in recent years.
11. Track the Extent and Cost of Corporate Crime: The Department of Justice should establish an online corporate crime database. Also, just as the FBI issues an annual street crime report, "Crime in the United States," it should also publish an annual report on corporate and white collar crime with recommendations.
12. Foster a National Discussion on Corporate Power: Establish a Congressional Commission on Corporate Power to explore various legal and economic proposals that would rein in unaccountable giant corporations. The Commission should seek ways to improve upon the current state corporate chartering system in a world of global corporations and propose ways to correct the inequitable legal status of corporations as "persons." The Commission would be led by congressionally-appointed experts on corporate and constitutional law, and should hold citizen hearings in at least ten cities followed by a public report and recommendations.
In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a message to Congress calling for a similar inquiry–The Temporary National Economic Commission–said that a government controlled by private economic power "is fascism."
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