Needed: Leaders with Fortitude

Two leaders – one the Secretary of Defense and the other the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – need to put their fortitude behind their recent acknowledgments of major problems in their domains.

Donald Rumsfeld, who was a class ahead of me at Princeton and vibrating with energy even then, has been reported in the press to have said “we are not spending our tax dollars wisely.” He was referring to the military budget. Official studies, reports and public hearings over the past 35 years have documented the huge waste in the Pentagon, driven by bureaucracy, inter-service rivalries and above all, the outside corporate military weapons industry that places its executives in high positions at the Defense Department as a matter of bipartisan routine.
In addition to mounds of studies that could reach part way to the moon, the mainstream media has reported ad infinitum on waste, fraud and redundancy costing hundreds of billions of defense dollars. Almost no enduring changes or reforms have occurred as a result. It takes someone in
charge, with high public acclaim, to get matters of structural frugality and efficiency under way. That man is Rumsfeld.

The problem is that President Bush has just demanded of Congress another $48 billion in defense programs on top of the roughly $331 billion already allocated to the Pentagon. This budget never gets squeezed of its waste; it just gets piled on like the layers of Pompeii.

And the pile after 9/11 is immense. As Senator Robert Byrd (Dem. W.Va), a long-time, self-described hawk declared, this will come at the expense of important and serious domestic programs; including health and safety.

Rumsfeld is now a television media star, given both his almost daily press briefings and an adoring covey of reporters. If the experienced Rumsfeld, on his second tour as Secretary of Defense, cannot step up to this challenge of reform and respect for taxpayer dollars being wasted, stolen or defrauded, no one in his position can. He’ll have to take on the “military-industrial complex”, in President Eisenhower’s words, by demonstrating that a wasteful defense weakens our country.

Thomas J. Donohue heads the sprawling U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Last month, at a television studio, he said off camera that Enron executives “are thieves” and that he threw the company out of the Chamber. But where has he been, since taking the helm at the Chamber more than three years ago, on the corporate crime wave reported regularly by the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Washington Post, 60 Minutes, Barron’s Financial Weekly and other major publications? Nary a peep from the Chamber condemning very bad business practices, that unprosecuted or unregulated, drive out honest business practices. Its energies are directed toward reducing or jettisoning the federal cops on the corporate crime, fraud and abuse beats. The Chamber lobbied incessantly to erase law and order with a deregulatory brush.

As a supermarket of thievery, greed and power, Enron’s practices are, as conservative commentator, George Will, put it the other day, “a systemic crisis of capitalism in this country.” Enron just had more tentacles and drooling jowls as its executives inflated earnings, sold out high and left its workers, pension-holders and investors with a bankrupt corporation.

Mr. Donohue needs to publicly denounce these practices and accounting shenanigans in a major statement and support corporate crime reform in Congress with adequate prosecutorial authority and budgets for a change. The budgets on commercial crime enforcement are tiny in thevarious agencies covering major areas of consumer, worker, environmental, investor and taxpayer protections. One year’s budget on the failed war on drugs towers immensely above all the many years of corporate violations budgets put together.

So ‘law and order’ says to the feisty Tom Donohue, boldly proclaim that you and the Chamber are supporting the efforts of the federal police (with their Congressional backers) to pursue, prosecute and convict the corporate criminals in our economy. All you would need is a robust clip file, over the past ten years, from the business press to make your case before your membership.

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