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Sunday, July 14, 2024

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America’s Truth, Justice Vanished 3.22.2006

By Christine Cote

When my children were small, one of the most important lessons my husband and I wanted to teach them was a respect for the truth and why it was important.
We were pleased to overhear my son school his younger sister at one point by telling her if you lie you get in trouble twice — once for the original “offense” and a second time for the lie.
It occurs to me now that even before he was 10, my son understood that if you lied somehow the truth would surface.
If you read reports on what is happening outside of this county, you will see that truth is finally surfacing in some very disturbing places.
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, an institution that is supposed to be preparing students to enter fields where lives and health are at stake has been the center of scandal since last year.
An ongoing investigation into charges of political influence peddling, violating state law with no-bid contracts and favorable deals to insiders is bad enough.
It was reported last week that another Medicaid scandal has been uncovered that has led to the suspension of a top finance official at the university’s primary teaching hospital in Newark.
Last December, the university was charged with $4.9 million in fraudulent billing in a federal complaint. It reportedly avoided prosecution by agreeing to oversight by a federal monitor.
The new billing questions may involve as much as $50 to $70 million in over billing.
Last year James Lawler, the hospital’s chief financial officer, resigned just before the charges of Medicaid fraud were brought.
Along with these reports, is news of the suspension of Robert Thompson, the director of the state Division of Taxation, along with his deputy and the assistant director of compliance.
These men are subject to a state ethics investigation because of liquor, meals, spa treatments, New York show tickets and golf outings they received from the company that had a $10-million contract with the state to collect delinquent taxes.
That contract expired Feb. 28, but it is also alleged that in addition to those personal perks, the company overcharged the state more than $1 million with the knowledge of Treasury officials.
I could go on and remind you of the Enron trial that is now underway and the problems with lobbyists and our leaders in Washington, but it just seems that deceit and corruption have replaced traditional notions of honesty, integrity and ethics at all levels of our society.
We have people getting jobs with false resumes who go along until someone finds them out, if at all. The level of cheating by students at colleges and universities has also been bemoaned in recent years.
I am part of the generation that grew up watching Superman on black-and-white television and we could all spout his slogan, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
It seems that the trend is that truth is no longer synonymous with the American way.
We like to think that we are above the corruption that occurs in the Third World, where money often has to change hands to get a particular result, but to my thinking it is really just a matter of degree.
We are more clever in hiding deceit. In a society based on the rule of law, we can hire experts to find wrinkles in those laws, like the accountants who set up all those neat partnerships for Enron so it could hide its real financial picture from not only the public but from its own shareholders.
The American spirit of applauding individual effort seems to have fostered a “What’s in it for me?” or “What can I get out of it?” philosophy of life, which seems to have drowned out that inner voice we all have that tells us the difference between right and wrong.
One CPA has commented that the scandal in the Treasury is a result of privatizing the collections of delinquent taxes rather than hiring more state employes, faulting the Legislature and claiming the director was fair to deal with and the industry will be sorry to see him go.
But that only illustrates another concept of the new American Way, “somebody else is to blame, it’s not my fault.” 
Didn’t these men think it was wrong when they were getting all those perks? They were all making over $100,000 a year. Surely they could have afforded to entertain themselves.
I think of the poor taxpayers who were at the mercy of that collection agency that was busy spending close to $20,000 on our officials and billing over $1 million more than it was due and hope that most of them got fair shakes.
All we can do is to keep teaching our children about the difference between lying and telling the truth, and try to practice it in our daily lives, and try not to be corrupted by the new American Way of deceit that is okay if its gets someone what they want.
We can also demand more of our public officials and keep a closer watch on those corporations that control not only the private sector but are prominent in the public arena as well.

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