Thieves Like Us
When they asked the outlaw Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he put it to them straight: "That’s where the money is."
It is of course physically–not to mention politically–impossible for the weasel-wording cadres of the Bush Regime to give a straight answer to anything, but if they could be forced to cough up the truth behind the conquest of Iraq, their reply would be identical to Sutton’s. For although the cadres–and the media commentariat–have thrown up a dust storm of grandiose moral, strategic and ideological "reasons" for the war, each passing week brings new proof that the whole murderous farrago boils down to one thing: loot. "Follow the money"–Deep Throat’s abiding Suttonian wisdom–is definitely the key to penetrating the grubby mysteries of the Bushist cargo cult.
Let’s begin by following the money from the mounting pile of dead bodies in Iraq to the silk lining of Dick Cheney’s trouser pockets. This month the mainstream American press woke up to the long-established fact that Cheney is still receiving oodles of boodle in "deferred compensation" from his old firm, Halliburton, which just happens to be the biggest gorger at the Iraqi trough. These "revelations" forced the grim-visaged veep into a furious spin cycle: the terms of the deal were set before he took office, he’ll give all the money to charity, his probity is irreproachable, blah blah blah–the usual soft-soap, swallowed whole, as usual, by the media.
So bold was his defense that last week Bushist minions called on critics to issue a formal apology to the poor maligned unelected multimillionaire war profiteer (and former business partner of Saddam Hussein). But even granting the ludicrous assumption that Cheney was actually telling the truth about this particular arrangement–which only involves chump change of a few hundred thousand dollars, after all–the fact is that Halliburton is using a back door to fill their former chief’s coffers with ***millions*** in blood money pumped directly from the corpses of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
This profitable arrangement was found hiding in plain sight last week by investigator Maggie Burns of the Progressive Populist. While the media mandarins were gulping soap, Burns committed the increasingly rare act of journalism by checking out Cheney’s financial disclosure forms. These show that Cheney has a minimum of $18 million invested in The Vanguard Group, a leading mutual fund. (Given the deliberately vague, vast ranges of the "disclosure" forms, this nest-egg could be as high as $87 million. We mere mortals are not meant to know).
Vanguard, as it happens, is the 10th largest shareholder in–oh, you guessed already!–Halliburton. The fund owns 7.6 million shares in the firm, worth about $176 million. Thus any government contract that swells Halliburton’s bottom line does indeed pour war profits straight into Cheney’s bulging bank accounts. No amount of soap can wash away that fact. Meanwhile, five of the other top 10 shareholders in Halliburton have big bucks parked with our old friends The Carlyle Group, where George Bush Senior hangs out his shingle as a pricey corporate shill (and former bin Laden business partner). So Bush family coffers are definitely not forgotten when Halliburton goes to war.
But do let’s be fair. After taking a bit of mild heat for larding Halliburton, Bechtel and other Bush-blessed firms with billion-dollar no-bid contracts, the Regime announced it was "opening up" competition for war pork. The new rules give potential contractors all of three days–or even sometimes as much as seven whole days!–to put together bids for major projects totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, the NY Times reports.
Oddly enough, most companies not already on the ground in Iraq are finding it difficult to meet these luxurious deadlines. "Oh, your company can’t come up with specs for rebuilding the entire national highway infrastructure of Iraq in just three days? Too bad; guess we’ll have to give it to Bechtel then. Here ya go, Bechs–and by the way, thanks for that campaign check, pal! See ya at the ranch this weekend!"
Now this system of conquistador cronyism is going global. In a desperate bid to get some outside help in cleaning up the ungodly, bloodsoaked mess they’ve made, the Bushists struck a UN deal last week that will allow foreign countries who contribute to the sacking–sorry, the reconstruction–of Iraq to funnel the cash to their own politically favored firms, the Guardian reports. Naturally, the Bushist occupation junta will "coordinate" the gobbling at this new trough, making sure the White House Vanguardians get their cut. At last, a form of internationalism that Bush can embrace!
But the sweetheart deals get sweeter yet for Homeland gobblers like Halliburton. First, most of the insider pork is being doled out in "cost-plus" contracts, with a company’s profits tied to a project’s "expenses." The more costs they ring up, the greater the profit: it’s a green light for overruns, and a license to loot the public treasury. But that’s not all: the profits from these scams are being kept secret–not only from those habitual saps, the American people, but also from the Constitutionally mandated oversight of Congress, the Seattle Times reports.
Secret deals with pals and patrons, secret profits that can’t be traced, mutual funds to launder the money–and plenty of cannon fodder to do the wetwork and take the blowback: Bush has turned America into a den of thieves.
CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. His CounterPunch piece on Rumsfeld’s plan to provoke terrorist attacks came in at Number 4 on Project Censored’s final tally of the Most Censored stories of 2002. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org