Next Tuesday Americans will be deciding whether
to hand over even more of our government to corporations that have been
plundering America -- such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank,
Wellpoint insurance, Massey Energy, and Halliburton, the giant oil
Not every large corporation is irresponsible, of course, but
plunderers that get away with it gain a competitive advantage over the
more responsible, and thereby lead a race to the bottom.
Case in point: The staff of the presidential commission investigating
the BP oil spill has just revealed that Halliburton executives knew the
cement it was using to seal BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well was likely
to be unstable but didn't tell BP or act on the information.
In a letter to the commission's seven members, the staff found that
the failure of the cement was a key factor in the blowout that caused
millions of barrels of crude oil to escape into the Gulf of Mexico. (Not
the sole factor, of course; most of the blame for the disaster, says
the staff, still rests with BP and Transocean, the company BP hired to
drill the well.)
Halliburton has not sat out this election. Last May, as Congress
began investigating its role in the disaster, its political action
committee made 14 contributions -- 13 to Republicans and one to a
Democrat. Many were involved in the investigation; others had
responsibility for overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf. It was the
biggest donation month for Halliburton's PAC since September 2008.
Halliburton, in case you've forgotten, is not exactly a model
citizen. It has evaded U.S. taxes and export bans through foreign
subsidiaries; admitted to bribing foreign officials (a subsidiary paid
$2.4 million to a Nigerian government official in exchange for favorable
tax treatment); conceded in an internal memo (leaked to the Wall Street
Journal) its cost controls for government contracts in Iraq were
"antiquated" and its procurement "disorganized; was found by Pentagon
auditors to have overcharged estimated at $27.4 million for meals served
to American troops at five military bases in Iraq and Kuwait (in one
camp billing for an average 42,000 meals a day but serving only 14,000).
The list of Halliburton's crimes goes on and on. And yet, somehow,
Halliburton goes on piling up profits. How? Because of its deep
connections to Washington.
Dick Cheney hadn't had any experience in the oil business when he
became Halliburton's CEO in 1995. But he did have experience in
government -- as George H.W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. And those
military ties were invaluable to the company. Under his reign,
Halliburton rose from 73rd to 18th on the Pentagon's list of top
contractors, and the money garnered from government-sponsored agencies
(such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the
Export-Import Bank) soared from $100 million in the five years prior to
Cheney's arrival to $1.5 billion a few years after.
As vice president to George W. Bush, Cheney made sure Halliburton's
stunning performance would continue (Cheney continued to receive checks
from the company). According to congressional inquiries, Cheney's vice
presidential office was instrumental in forcing the Environmental
Protection Agency to remove sections on climate change from reports in
2002 and 2003 (a process Christine Todd Whitman, then the E.P.A.
administrator, subsequently described as "brutal.") The Bush-Cheney
administration also sought to control or censor congressional testimony
about climate change by federal employees, and tampered with other
reports in order to inject uncertainty into the climate debate.
Which brings us back to the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Halliburton's
executives knew the cement it used to seal the well was filled with mud -- but Halliburton said nothing presumably because doing the job correctly
would have cost too much. And, hell, Halliburton is in business to make
Halliburton isn't on the ballot next Tuesday, but it might as well be.