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Friday, November 05, 2004


foxes in the henhouse

i often write here about the dismantling of the american republic and the erosion of the constitution in letter and spirit. the insidious disintegration of checks and balances as well as ethical standards has been advancing slowly for a long time, but has perceptibly accelerated since the election of the bush administration in 2000. the mechanisms by which this occurs are sometimes plain -- acts of congress such as the war powers act, for example, or the PATRIOT act -- but at other times are more difficult to see.

one of the lamentable such processes occurring in and around the government of the united states these days is the advent of 'flex players', to use janine wedel's newly-coined term. certain highly-placed neoconservatives have made standard practice of public-private duplicity, creating legalistic shelters to house powerful conflicts of interest for personal gain at the expense of public policy.

seymour hersh also has noted such shadowy conflicts, and reported in detail on defense policy board chairman richard perle's involvement with trireme partners, an investment fund which appears to have solicited for $100mm in capital from saudi arabian investors. according to hersh, "Trireme’s main business... is to invest in companies dealing in technology, goods, and services that are of value to homeland security and defense." a letter sent to prospective saudi investors "argued that the fear of terrorism would increase the demand for such products in Europe and in countries like Saudi Arabia and Singapore."

perle's response was to promptly go on cnn and call hersh "closest thing american journalism has to a terrorist" and attempt to smear him. this, of course, stands in ridiculous contrast to hersh's record as one of american history's great investigative journalists.

vice president cheney's ongoing self-interest in halliburton is an only mildly obscured ethical breach in the same vein. structured to meet the legal minimum, yet quite obviously still retaining for him compelling financial incentive, cheney's legalistic approach allows him to claim by legal definition that he has no financial interest where in fact he does. the conflict of interest that this creates when halliburton is being awarded billions in contracts as part of an iraqi rebuilding project that cheney initiated from his office in the white house is intensely damaging to the perception of american good government.

ethics is sometimes more than adherence to legal minimums. men like cheney and perle must understand on some level that their actions, however defensible in a court of law, deteriorate the public trust. whether they care or not, i suppose, is another question.

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