Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

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Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

“Ethics Training”: The Feds (and My Corporate Welfare Queen Employer) Have Some Nerve!

Anyone who pays any attention to current events is no doubt familiar with the brewing Abramoff scandal, which is merely the tip of a massive iceberg of inside-the-Beltway corruption that grows ever larger in direct ratio to the American public’s apathy and ignorance. If you work for or are subcontracted to any company that does business on any level with the federal government, you are required to take part in an annual ritual called “ethics training.” I’ve just done so, and it was an absolutely surreal experience. In fact, mere words probably are not adequate to describe it, but I’ll do my best.

“Ethics training”, while it takes as many forms as there are beltway bandits and opportunists feeding at the government slop trough, consists basically of a pedantic lecture on the evils of conflict of interest, kickbacks, and violations of export controls, followed by a “test” reemphasizing the key concepts (a test, incidentally, that the individual can take over and over again until they arrive at the “right” answer and achieve a perfect score). What strikes the “indoctrinee” (that is, the hapless employee having to sit through this mind-numbing insult to one’s intelligence) hardest, other than the rank hypocrisy behind the very idea that the federal government has any business lecturing others on ethical behavior, is the vagueness that permeates the feds’ concept of “ethics.” Many of the terms written into current federal law pertaining to government procurement, contracting, and exports lack any meaningful definition. While this is typical of most legislation-turned-statutory law, it is especially blatant in those laws pertaining to federal procurement and export controls. Why is this, one might ask.

Well, for one thing, the elected class of thieves who write what today passes for law in this decaying shell of a nation are in a very sticky spot. They have to offer up some pretense, however transparently flimsy, of upholding the highest standards of law and order while helping themselves to the lucre that is part and parcel of the process of feeding the avaricious monster that is Washington, D.C. There is, after all, no other reason for these lowlifes to even be inside the Beltway except to enrich themselves at the people’s expense. Yet while the ruling classes are certainly aware of just how brain-dead the masses are, and grateful for it, they realize that even they cannot be so presumptuous as to simply write one set of laws for themselves and another for the people. Even John Q. Public isn’t stupid enough (yet) to take something that blatant sitting down. Therefore, the rulers write a single set of laws that contains language so ambiguous, so vague, so elastic that it can be stretched, twisted, contorted, and shaped to mean whatever the rulers and their bought-and-paid-for federal courts want it to mean. Put another way, the words can be stretched and skewed to let the rulers do whatever the hell they want while on a different occasion contorted and bent to prosecute John Q. Public for doing the same thing. Heads, the State and its friends win; tails, the little guy loses.

A couple of things related to export laws really stick in my craw. First is the whole idea of “export controls” over “sensitive” or “dual-use technology.” The idea is that certain products with “dual uses” –that is, products or technologies that can have both commercial and defense uses—cannot be exported to certain “restricted” countries without an “export license” (which, by the way, is basically a bureaucratese term for “Mommy, the all-knowing, all-powerful federal caregiver, says that you may sell your product or service –THIS TIME-- to the little boy on the other side of the globe who Mommy thinks is a bad influence and whom you should generally avoid”).

First of all, name one product mankind has ever invented that can be positively said to NOT have “dual use.” I’m hard pressed to think of a single one. Hell, a can opener can be considered “dual use” without too much stretch of the imagination. Secondly, for every product to which Uncle Sam says “No, thou shalt not export thy product to [insert rogue nation du jour here]”, there is at least one other nation waiting in the wings to sell the same product or technology to the willing buyer at a price they can afford and on terms mutually favorable to all parties concerned. Thus the prohibition against exports, whether in the form of legal controls or political acts such as sanctions and embargoes, has done exactly nothing to keep “prohibited” technology out of the hands of a “rogue” nations (See “Iraq”, “North Korea”, and “Cuba” for textbook examples). The only loser in this case is the American firm, which is robbed of both competitive opportunity and revenue, although I suppose if there’s any silver lining here, it’s that loss of revenue to the company also equates to lose of tax revenue to the Washington, D.C. monster.

Even more presumptuous is the feds’ assertion that a non-U.S. firm can be held criminally liable under U.S. export laws for reselling a piece of technology or service to a “prohibited” country, even if the product they are exporting is not a product of U.S. origin and even if the non-U.S. firm’s government does not consider the purchasing nation to be “prohibited” under its own laws. Just how Uncle Sap thinks he can enforce this arrogant and probably unconstitutional law is never explained. But no matter, since it appears that very few foreign firms really give a damn about what edicts Rome-on-the-Potomac issues anyway. If the French want to sell Mirage 2000 fighter jets to Iran, they’re going to do it, regardless of whether George Dubya and his harem on Capital Hill disapprove, even if the U.S. Commerce Department asserts the claim that some of the Mirage aircraft’s components are of American origin. What is Rome-on-the-Potomac going to do? Bring democracy to Paris, courtesy of the 101st Airborne? All the Chirac government would have to do is start reciting the list of products on the U.S. export no-no list that both the Clinton and Bush administrations have knowingly sold to China over the last decade and a half. That ought to shut Uncle Sap right up.

Finally, there is the prohibition against U.S. firms participating in international embargoes against country’s that are “friendly” to the U.S. Would you care to make three guesses what country this law was tailor-made for? (Hint: the first two don’t count). If you answered “Israel”, go to the head of the class. Yes, folks, that’s right; AIPAC money bought a front-row seat in U.S. export law. Indeed, the "ethics" training course specifically mentioned our Levantine overloard as a primary example. What is means is that if your name is Ahmed al-Islami, a Palestinian-American who owns an import-export firm, and someone with Israeli connections wants, for whatever reason, to get their mitts on your product, you have to sell to them if they meet your price and sales terms, regardless of the fact that these are likely the same people who drove your family out its home and has been gunning your relatives’ children down in the streets of the West Bank in all the years since. Because Israel is on cozy terms with the Demopublican Dictatorship, you will, under penalty of imprisonment and asset forfeiture (or worse) do business with them if you have what they want. I’m hard-pressed to imagine for what other nation on earth the ruling classes on the Potomac would fight so hard for under similar circumstances at the expense of the American business owner's right to freedom of association and private property.

Let’s just say that the “knowledge” gained from this training is yet another reason that I’m accelerating my preparation to change jobs in a future nearer than I had planned for. I simply cannot continue to waste years of my life working for a company that spits in the face of everything I believe in. The private sector (or what little is left of it in this fascist-national socialist hellhole) beckons.

Oh, and by the way: I wonder if the former CIA director now on the payroll as a senior managing partner has taken this training as well. I also wonder if he’d like to lecture on the subject matter, telling the rest of us with a straight face that ethics are “non-negotiable” (a direct quote from our training course).

I didn’t think so either.