Friday, November 25, 2011

Self-Serve Checkout

Had to chuckle at both the DNews and the Freep bringing us tales of implied public corruption on the morning that devotes itself to the worship of money and consumerism. The pursuit of material gain that comes with riches is what it's all about in the end, right? Right. Just look at the crazy Target lady, driven right over the edge of reality at the thought of going shopping. While the masses pepper-spray each other out of the way for the shiny trinket on the shelf, the real savvy consumers use lawyers and connections to help themselves to the shiny public cash till. It becomes hard to see the difference between the two after awhile.

First the DNews, who takes a closer look at one of my favorite Republican hypocrites of the past: Bundy-fighting, public-money grubbing John Rakolta Jr., who has made it a point of pride to loudly rail against the very government spending that has so generously kept him fed. Rakolta was involved with both Raleigh Studios in Pontiac that would have benefited handsomely from the previous film industry tax credits (and I'm guessing they still will under the new reduced ones), and he also found time to partake in business deals that involved construction surrounding renewable energy endeavors, courtesy of the 2008 energy legislation that brought us a RPS. Here is what I had to say about Rakolta then, when he was trashing the Michigan business climate in the pursuit of more tax cuts for himself back in 2009:

Possible GOP gubernatorial candidate John Rakolta Jr. - yes, he of big money Republican donations and the Voice the Vote Hitler ads that he was "unaware" that he was financing * wink * - has nothing but complaints about business conditions in our state, while he is busy cashing in on both the film industry AND alternative energy. Nice how these guys find a way to fill their pockets while they repeatedly dismiss the Democratic leadership that brought them these opportunities.

And here is John Rakolta Jr. today, apparently bypassing the free market once again for some free government money instead:

As federal agents investigate connections between vendors and Wayne County officials, some contractors and commissioners are questioning how a politically connected firm ended up with one of the biggest public works projects in years.

Contractors contacted by The Detroit News said they believe the Walbridge construction company was favored from the beginning for a $220 million contract to build a jail.

The county awarded "bonus" points going to companies headquartered in Wayne County, a provision bidders don't remember the county using.

Two months after commissioners unanimously approved the deal, some now say they weren't aware of close ties between Walbridge and Turkia Mullin, the county's one-time economic development chief who guided the process.

Walbridge CEO John Rakolta Jr. served on the board of a nonprofit she led that paid her a $75,000 bonus and is now under investigation by the FBI. He accompanied her and County Executive Robert Ficano last year on a business development trip to Italy and France paid for by the nonprofit.

And just guess what the bottom line was here. Was it lending conditions from a big bank? No. An offer from private investors? Oh heck no. It was money surrounding the stimulus, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, brought to us courtesy of President Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress. You know, the one that Republicans complain incessantly about as "wasteful government spending". I'm beginning to believe that if it weren't for the Democrats and public policy designed to spur on business, Rakolta would be standing in line at the soup kitchens by now. He is a master at benefiting from the government spending he supposedly hates. Time will tell if the FBI will proclaim that he finally took it too far. I'm guessing it won't.

The Freep brings us another side of the coin, a story of a state employee that went to work one week after he retired for a private firm who had just received a very lucrative state contract. It seems almost unfair to single this guy out because I'm guessing stuff like this happens all the time. There are no laws against it.

A former manager at the Michigan Department of Corrections described as the point person in negotiations for a $12.9-million energy-conservation contract went to work for the firm that won the contract a week after he retired from the state in April.

Gerald Elmblad, who was a manager in the department's physical plant division, told the Free Press that he was a member of the evaluation team that recommended in 2010 that Energy Systems Group (ESG) of Indiana be awarded the contract, but he denied a conflict of interest.

Elmblad retired with a $3,000-a-month state pension and went to work as an ESG account executive one week later.

"I retired on a Thursday. Friday is when I went to the offices and talked to them," Elmblad said in a telephone interview. "It was kind of a quick deal."

That contract? Stimulus money too. But it would be wrong to simply point at that one pot; again, this probably goes on in all sorts of initiatives. Only the names and the players change, world without end, amen.

Various politicians across the country have called for or introduced legislation to address issues such as the ones above, but usually these efforts are ignored, or are watered-down so much that it becomes a mere exercise in illusion designed to make the public think something will be done about it. It's quickly forgotten, until stories like this bring it attention, and the cycle begins again.

Can't say as you can blame anyone for thinking or behaving in this way. Just look at the reality of the social construct that surrounds the entire system. When it comes down to it, the people that act according to custom and look out for number one are the ones who come out on top. Those who are experts at deception are rewarded. Those who attempt to tell the truth, or who fight the system (think real Occupiers, not those trying to make a buck off them) are ostracized and penalized. The Rakoltas of the world at the most will receive a slap on the wrist, the truth tellers quickly find themselves on the outside entirely.

We talk of "getting the money out" of politics, but it's very hard to see how it happens. Even if there were regulations and laws, the savvy shopper would find a way around them, and it's been like that since the beginning of time. Best we can do is keep pointing it out, in hopes of changing the entire culture of this country that supports and encourages it.

And that is going to be one big, and perhaps impossible, job indeed.