Monday, January 23, 2006

The Kleptocracy, Chapter 4

Remember when the R's took over, and at a minimum they were going to run the government like a business? You know, the first president with an MBA, grownups in charge?

Well, it just seems as though we've been through this before. We've had the loggers getting their trees practically for free (actually for less than free when you count what the taxpayers are paying to build roads for them). We've had the cattle ranchers getting to graze their herds on land that we own, also dirt cheap.

Now, we have a second round of double dealing with natural gas leases. As I said, if they're going to run the government like a business, the least we should expect of them is that they could collect their bills, right? But as an article in today's Times points out, the gas companies are making more and more money but because of how they state their profits, their payments to the government have not gone up in concert with their profits. And if their rents had kept up with their real profits they would be paying $700 million more than they actually did.

I don't fully get all the details, because I don't have any advanced degrees in counting funny, but apparently it comes down to two or three main points: 1. they profits they tell their stockholders about aren't the same as what they admit to the Interior Department; 2. the system they set up to report their profits is so Byzantine that almost nobody can understand it; and 3. their pals in the Administration are telling the government auditors to audit less, and even firing auditors who do too good a job at collecting the money we taxpayers are owed.

Oh yeah, I said a second round. Actually, last time it was the oil companies. They got caught doing pretty much the same thing just five years ago. Back then they agreed to pay up $438 million, but not because they did anything wrong, of course. This time around it's probably a lot more money, because we own a lot more gas than oil. Of course, we'll probably never know the real amount because of the cutbacks in audits.

Maybe this isn't as important as Iraq or torture because nobody got killed. Still, when the government sells oil and gas that belongs to us taxpayers, we should at least get paid for it, right?

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