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Schubart: Tolerance Of Corruption

We call out corruption in our partner nations yet are myopic to how corruption threatens our own. It’s time for us to acknowledge how deeply corruption is taking root here at home.

Our seventy-four thousand-page tax code has become a collection of special favors to powerful interests, incomprehensible to all but costly accountants and tax attorneys. To add insult to injury, three hundred and sixty-seven of the Fortune 500 operate tax subsidiaries in foreign tax havens. Apple has booked nearly two hundred and fifteen billion dollars in sales offshore to avoid slightly more than sixty-five billion in U.S. taxes.

Pharma has flooded the nation with opiates, making illegal drug cartels look like amateurs. Law enforcement hunts down street dealers and our criminal justice system locks them up for decades, while Pharma’s influence with law makers and regulators ensures impunity.

Purdue Pharmaceutical’s former president, Michael Friedman, has pled guilty to misdemeanor charges for misbranding Oxycontin as “non-addictive” and paid a pocket-change fine of several million dollars in lieu of jail time.

Pharma’s successfully opposed legislation that would reduce the tax burden on Americans by allowing Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate drug volume discounts. According to Open Secrets, since nineteen ninety-eight, Pharma has spent collectively almost three billion dollars to influence congress. In related lobbying, hospitals, HMOs, nursing homes, and healthcare professionals spent another three point six billion.

In the same period, banking, securities and insurance spent three point seven.

Recently, we watched the CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, try to explain his bank’s criminal behavior in opening half a million unwanted credit card accounts for its retail customers. Fifty-three hundred low-wage workers were fired for this malfeasance. Stumpf has since resigned. Wells Fargo has paid ten billion dollars in fines over the last few years, which with their profit margins, is viewed as a cost of doing business.

And we might as well admit that the NRA now controls enough legislators to block legislation that would prevent known terrorists, criminals, and the mentally ill from buying guns. Murder and suicide are among our few rising crimes.

By its nature, corruption eats slowly away at the fabric of a country’s “rule of law” and, here at home, at our trust in democratic government. Like cancer, it exists long before it is diagnosed and, like cancer, outcomes are improved with early detection. We can’t afford to pretend that our democracy can survive this metastasizing corruption much longer.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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