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Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

I was always under the impression that part of the current pop culture fascination with maritime piracy sprang from commonness of internet piracy.  People, I think, like to indulge in the 18th century fantasy of rum and plunder because it serves as a kitschy extended metaphor for their bittorrent habit.  ‘Yarrr, it be the Morrisey discography ripe for the takin’, yoho yoho’.  Often we forget that there are, you know, actual pirates still lurking the waters–and stealing Ukrainian tanks!

The story of Somali piracy as an institution is interesting.  It began as a vigilante force to protect the tuna-rich waters off the coast from international commercial fishing operations when the central government collapsed over a decade ago.  They eventually evolved from armed tax collectors to straight up pirates because it was more lucrative — quiet million dollar pay outs from counties who want their men and property back, no harm done.  In an interview with the New York Times, the Somali pirates’ spokesmen Sugule Ali claims that they didn’t know there was and estimated $30 million in weapons on the ship they hijacked, but that they simply boarded because it’s standard procedure to attack large, vulnerable vessels.

“We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

Yet another timely example of how one man’s criminal is another’s folk hero. I do not condone the pirate’s actions but admit to being struck by their romantic sort of BAMFness.  Theres something inspiring about people of a developing nation demanding ransom on the high seas from their neocolonial detractors.  If nothing else, it forces us to remember that even those we dismiss as powerless can forcefully insert themselves into international economic and military discourse.  Pushed too far, some people will arm themselves, organize, and board your frigate.

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Unmasking Alaska

Sarah Palin likes to talk about her state’s small-town, hard-workin’, frontier values.  Quoting a fascist thug in her convention speech:

“A writer observed: ‘We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.’

She continued:

“They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America … who grow our food, run our factories, and fight our wars.”

Her backers cite “Alaskan values” of “hard work and wise development,” and her husband’s political party worships at the rugged alter of privitization and frontier capitalism.

Necessary corrective:  “Hogwash.”

Let’s talk about how Alaska functions:  First, earmarks & subsidies.  Alaskans get $231 per person.  This is ten times what Obama’s fellow Illinoisans receive.  This helps prop up ridiculous projects like the infamous “bridge to nowhere” that Governor Palin was for before she was against.  The Governor also threw gobs of money at a failing state-run creamery for political reasons, and ponied up $500 million of state funds to pay off private-sector pipeline investors.  (The pipeline is at least a decade away and may not happen, leaving Alaska holding the bill.)  Because of their oil wealth, Alaskans pay no income taxes but instead receive dividend checks from the state.  Sweet deal, but so much for “Government has to get out of the way.

With all this money floating around, no wonder the place is certifiable as an ongoing criminal enterprise.  Timothy Egan’s “Moo” gives a good summary of Palin’s cronyism, not to mention the better-known corruption of Senator Ted Stevens (for whom the Anchorage airport is named) and Congressman Don Young (for whom another Potemkin bridge may yet be named.)

The McCain-Palin campaign pitches an image of Alaska as a rugged frontier state populated by hard-workin’ individualists.   Truth is, it’s more like John Maynard Keynes as imagined by Don Corleone.

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Hit up the Department of the Interior:

WASHINGTON — As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.

Best lede ever?

In a report to Congress Wednesday, DoI’s Inspector General cited a “culture of ethical failure” dominated by “conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere.”  The Inspector General named names as high as Lucy Dennett, the former Associate Director of minerals revenue management.  Minerals revenue handles oil and gas royalties amounting to over $4 billion every year.  (Ms. Dennett retired earlier this year.)

Specific allegations include violation of procurement rules by directing contracts to friends and a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.”  On the regular corruption side, department officials accepted golf and ski outings, meals, and tickets to sports events and concerts from energy companies; on the awesome! side, several officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”  As Senator Bill Nelson put it, “the government employees who oversee offshore oil drilling are literally and figuratively in bed with Big Oil.”

There’s pages more of this in the original New York Times article.  Nice to see Charlie Savage getting some rock star headlines in the Times. He’s one of a small handful of real journalists left these days, best known for his Pulitzer-winning work on signing statements at the Boston Globe back in 2006.  (He also, I am not even joking, covered the Dark Side of the Rainbow story as a young journalist in Fort Wayne.)

While we’re on the subject of real journalists, also consider Ken Silverstein’s outstanding Washington Babylon. Silverstein can be purity-troll-ish on domestic politics, but his investigative work is unparalleled and pisses off the right peopleWashington Babylon is a must-read.

And while we’re on the subject of cocaine, well…

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