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By Bill Gallagher

"To have what we have, we speak not what we mean." -- William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure."

DETROIT -- Understand the greed, self-dealing, conflicts of interest, squandering of taxpayers' money, waste, raids on the public treasury -- all wrapped in a litany of lies -- and you have a handle on how the Bush administration operates, and how money greases this despicable machine.

It is impossible to keep up with the political-insider maneuvers, influence-peddling, favoritism and cronyism underway in the slimiest administration in more than a century.

And for Bush and company, everything is done deliberately and with clear purpose, controlled or manipulated in fine detail. Accidents, coincidences and surprises simply don't happen. Only the truth threatens this operation.

The chaos in Iraq, with its $87 billion price tag for the American people, has become a feeding trough for corporate pigs with intimate ties to the Bush administration.

The rebuilding of Iraq is riddled with pork-barrel politics, and Bush friends and cronies of our Iraqi puppets are wallowing in the slop of American cash. The "nation-building" is a disgraceful means for a handful of corporations and individuals to make big, quick bucks and hide the greed as "necessary" to make Iraq safe and peaceful.

The money drain is staggering. By the end of 2003, the war and occupation in Iraq and continuing expenses in Afghanistan could top $120 billion, all in direct payments. The U.S. taxpayers are stuck with that entire tab, paid with borrowed money and debt our children will have to endure. Other nations are kicking in a modest $13 billion, mostly in the form of loans.

When our government ignores and insults most of the rest of the world, we shouldn't be too surprised when they don't jump in to help our Iraq protectorate.

Halliburton gets good news from the Pentagon that the company's no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq's oil production will continue into next year. The company Vice President Dick Cheney once headed has already raked in $1.59 billion and Halliburton's future and good fortune in Iraq are assured.

Cheney and his old outfit insist everything is on the up and up, and that thoughts of favoritism and collusion are just so unfair. Halliburton is charging the U.S. government $1.59 for each gallon of imported fuel. The Iraqi national oil company says it can get the same stuff for 98 cents a gallon.

Once you get over the incongruous notion that we have to import fuel into an oil-rich nation, you then have to buy Halliburton's convoluted, contorted explanation that the price is fair and the company has this special expertise in buying the imported oil. Profiteering, anyone? Perish the thought.

Chevron, the oil giant that once named a tanker for Condoleezza Rice, is now merged with Texaco and the combined company is one of the first to dip into Iraq's post-war oil wealth.

National Security Adviser Rice, a leading advocate of the war and propagator of the "Iraq is a nuclear threat" myth, was a Chevron director between the Bush I and Bush II administrations. Like many in the Bush crowd, she sees public service and serving the interests of corporations, especially in the energy industry, as a seamless garment. Work a little for one, then the other and back again. It's all essentially the same interests, and the money's great.

ChevronTexaco was selected by the Iraq State Oil Marketing Organization as one of six international oil companies to purchase Iraqi oil. Nearly 50 companies competed for the prized purchasing rights for 10 million barrels. Lucky ChevronTexaco got to suck up 2 million barrels, the first "Texas Tea" from Iraq to be sold free of sanctions since 1990.

But wait. The Iraqis made their own decision. No favoritism here. It's just coincidence. Sure. Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon darling and source of a stream of phony information, has his hands on all kinds of deals now. From oil to telecommunications networks, Chalabi is dishing out the goodies for his cronies in Iraq and favored U.S. corporations. Money and greed are the driving forces. Rebuilding Iraq is an afterthought.

The Pentagon, through the Coalition Provisional Authority, the colonial government, handed the contract to build a wireless phone network for government officials and aid workers in the Baghdad area to MCI.

You recall that MCI used to be called WorldCom and the company went belly-up in one of those accounting fraud scandals that ruined so many lives. MCI had next to no experience in building wireless networks, but got the no-bid contract nonetheless. Chalabi's buddies and Motorola, a Pentagon pet, got another big chunk of the action for permanent communications.

The fat cats who are cashing in certainly paid up-front for the privilege. Major donors to George W. Bush's election campaigns and other Republican causes are the big beneficiaries of the public dollars being spent there.

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit research group, tracked more than 70 U.S. firms and contractors involved in reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 1990, those companies and their employees have donated $49 million to national campaigns, with most of that money going to the GOP.

President Bush topped the list, getting more than $500,000 for his 2000 campaign from the companies that are now sucking up the tax dollars.

The report is the result of a six-month investigation, and notes that the Pentagon, State Department and Agency for International Development were hardly eager to provide complete and accurate information about the contracts. Much of what the Center for Public Integrity did learn was squeezed out using the Freedom of Information Act.

The New York Times says this first comprehensive look at companies involved in Iraq "provides evidence that the process for handling big contracts has often been secretive, chaotic and favorable to companies with good political contracts."

The difficulty of sorting through the contracts, the Times reports, "confirms that many, if not most, of the contracts handed out for work in Iraq were awarded through a process that was inscrutable to outsiders and often without competitive bidding."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher defended the way our money is being spent, saying with a straight face, "The decisions are made by career procurement officials. There is a separation, a wall between them and political-level questions when they're doing the contracts."

Rewarding their friends and political supporters is what this White House does best. For example, the deal now being cooked to give Boeing a contract to lease aircraft for use as refueling tankers, a little procurement shuffle that could bring the giant weapons manufacturers a cool $100 billion dollars.

New York Times columnist and conservative pundit David Brooks smells the pork: "This deal isn't just shady -- it's the Encyclopedia Britannica of shady. It's as if somebody spent years trying to gather every sleazy aspect of modern Washington and cram it all into one legislative effort."

Leasing rather than buying is the key to the deal that will give Boeing a sweetheart contract and provide jobs in some key congressional districts, but will stick the taxpayers with a bill $5.7 billion more costly than actually buying the planes.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert from Illinois, home of Boeing's headquarters, is a big supporter of the plan to squander billions. Over in the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens included the lease deal in a defense spending bill. That was one month after he took in $22,000 in campaign donations from 30 Boeing executives at a Seattle fund-raiser.

The Office of Management and Budget and Pentagon budget analysts initially were howling, saying the planes were way too expensive and leasing a bad precedent.

But then the White House got involved and the opposition went poof. The Washington Post reports that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, acting under specific instructions from the president, intervened in the dispute and told the nay-sayers to shut up and sign onto the corporate welfare deal.

It will take years to sort through it all. But, in the end, we'll find out just how the Bush administration sacrificed public good for private gain in Iraq. When and if the violence ever subsides over there, teams of independent government auditors will have the enormous task of trying to figure out who got the money and where it was spent.

The downing of an American helicopter from ground fire, resulting in at least 15 deaths, shows how bad the situation is in Iraq. More have been killed after the declaration of the end of "major hostilities" than before.

In a repulsive act of political cowardice, the president disavowed any connection with the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier when he delivered his end-of-the-war message. Instead, "Top Gun" turned into pop gun, and he blamed others for his own triumphalism.

"The 'Mission Accomplished' sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln saying their mission was accomplished," the president smirked. What a pitiful lie, and with Honest Abe's name in the same sentence!

Later, a spokeswoman admitted the White House, which always controls every detail of the president's appearances, had produced the banner and placed it on the deck.

George W. Bush tries to spare himself from political embarrassment by blaming brave men and women who risk their own lives. What a man!

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com November 4 2003