The Next Klondike
“George Sigalos, a Halliburton executive, recently gave a speech at a conference in Washington for businesspeople who hoped to obtain government contracts in Iraq. Many in the crowd had paid nearly four hundred dollars to attend, drawn by descriptions of Iraq as “the next Klondike,” as James Clad, an official with the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency, put it.”
LI urges readers to link on over to Jane Meyer’s article about Halliburton in the New Yorker. As any anti-war obsessive knows, the old American strictures against war profiteering have entirely vanished under the beneficent regard of the Bush administration, which seems to have rediscovered the old time-y virtues of Tammany Hall and the Teapot Dome. However, one is a little surprised by the gleeful rubbing of hands among the mafia of corrupt players. They all find the very idea of contributing to Republican causes in order to ensnare government contracts to be a normal, and even a patriotic, method for transforming war into profit. At one time, the decencies were adhered to – the State was not considered a rube to be duped in public at least; the gentlemen from Morgan and Dupont would, when hauled before committees, usually make some statements indicating one’s patriotic duty and the like. That was before the Rand-ian revolution in D.C., where the selfish interests of the millionaire are considered justification in itself for any action, from mindless tax cutting to bombing Middle Eastern countries and stealing their oil. We live in the age of bald faced robbers, and none is balder, or has more face, than Cheney. Mayer traces his present behavior back in his career – from his time as Defense Secretary, where he targeted Defense cuts that would solely effect Democratic districts, to his free and easy days under Donald Rumsfeld under Nixon, where he dispensed with the bureaucracy at the Office of Economic Opportunity and outsourced business to his cronies. Ah, and before that, he was a little spy on campuses, working for some anti-communist nut – a delightful tidbit in a wholly despicable resume. One funny note – quail hunting seems to have been very very good to Cheney. He was elevated to the lucrative CEO post at Halliburton after going quail hunting with the directors. Currently, he has a suit pending before a Supreme Court that includes Anthony Scalia, with whom – you guessed it – he recently went quail hunting. The suit is to decide whether the documents relating to Cheney’s energy policy task force – basically, a pollute and profit venture – should be made available to the public.
There is some justification for engaging private companies in taking over services previously done by the government. That justification rests on the idea that competition, which is the vehicle through which the private sector theoretically operates, will bring down costs and create efficiencies.
Yet somewhere along the way, this justification gets lost. Halliburton has won the majority of its very, very profitable contracts because, the Pentagon claims, nobody else can do what Halliburton does. Even the Army Corps of Engineering – which claimed to have made its decision to reward Halliburton with contracts that are misleadingly said to be worth 1.2 billion dollars, since the contracts will ramify into other contracts – has lately backtracked:
“WASHINGTON — Faced with price-gouging allegations involving Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, the Army Corps of Engineers now acknowledges it acted alone in awarding Halliburton new business.
The corps initially suggested that experts from other U.S. agencies played an important role.
The Army Corps of Engineers told The Associated Press that the corps — not an evaluation team cited on its Internet site — chose Halliburton for a contract worth up to $1.2 billion. The corps is refusing to release records showing on what merits it made the decision.”
So the justification for outsourcing matters that used to be done by the Pentagon to private firms is that, being competitive, these firms will be more efficient; and the justification for selecting certain specific firms – like Halliburton – is that there is no competition for what they do. Wonderful. This, in a nutshell, is a new branch of logic in the field of justification – Bush logic. In other words, this is outsourcing without competition. Another word for this is developing a machinery to reward those in power now with the profits of the decisions they make, supposedly for the public, by ensuring their future recycling in private ventures – which will use their connected status to continue the parasitizing of Government monies. One of Mayer’s sources aptly sums up what is going on. After detailing the (sad, to me) profiteering done by Jack Kemp (a man who LI used to think was, at least, a morally decent sort) by creating a jack off company to consult about Iraq and oil – as if Jack Kemp knows jack all about either subject – and showing how former General Franks is now profiting from having headed U.S. forces in Iraq in April (apparently, Franks thinks of war as a sport –with himself, now, as an athlete out for commercial endorsements), Mayer writes:
“Franks’s lawyer, Marty Edelman, confirmed his client’s participation: “That is correct. But it is my understanding that he won’t be dealing with Iraq or the military for a year” (to comply with government ethics rules). Asked how Kemp and Franks had joined forces, Edelman said, “It seems like everyone on that level knows each other.” Edelman himself is now on the advisory board of Free Market Global.
Kemp’s second project, in which he said he would play an advisory role, is something called al-Ruba’yia. He describes it as a two-hundred-million-dollar fund to be invested in various ventures in Iraq, from energy to education. He is trying to attract American investors. Kemp is well positioned for this task: his political organization, Empower America, counts among its supporters some of the current Bush Administration’s top figures. Donald Rumsfeld, for example, is a former board member. “It’s like Russia,” the businessman said. “This is how corruption is done these days. It’s not about bribes. You just help your friends to get access. Cheney doesn’t call the Defense Department and tell them, ‘Pick Halliburton.’ It’s just having dinner with the right people.”
These people are so, so depressingly obvious that LI runs out of words to deal with them. The hand faulters -- the letters dissolve into their individual and irreducible sounds . How to build the right word, the one that will rid us of this beast?
PS -- also see the WP story about Cheney and Scalia's hunting expedition. It does contain one truly hilarious graf. After giving space to Scalia's reasons for not recusing himself from the case in which Cheney is asking the court to shut down requests to see what happened at the Energy policy group he formed, the paper says:
"Scalia's view may have described ethical norms in a clubbier Washington. But in today's climate, his off-court activities with Cheney were denounced by legal ethicists and editorial writers. "
A clubbier Washington? And when, pray tell, was that? The present era is about as clubby as D.C. has ever been.