"Snakes-in-the-grass." That's what my father called opportunists who lay in wait to benefit from chaos and misfortune.
There's a nest of them in Washington, D.C.
Despite the president's fear-mongering, the Iraq War, the issue bringing Americans to the polls, isn't about democracy or freedom or terrorism. It's about money. It's about greed. It's about the despicable crime of war profiteering, where opportunists turn unreasonable profits on the sale of essential goods during wartime.
A political adage says to find the source of power, follow the money. That's easy to do in the Bush administration, where Republican cronies reap obscene profits on the backs of our troops in harm's way. Proof is abundant.
Blackwater, a private contractor with longstanding ties to the Republican Party, was paid to provide security and mercenary forces in Iraq. After Fallujah, where a fuel convoy with insufficient security was attacked and four Americans burned, mutilated, and hung from a bridge, Blackwater called upon its Republican friends in Washington to block an investigation and then received $221 million in new government contracts, including $21 million to provide security for Paul Bremer, former U.S. administrator of the Iraq occupation (a job the U.S. military could have done).
C.A.C.I., a private IT contractor tied to the Republican Party, received $54 million for translators and "interrogators" - answerable to no one - at Abu Ghraib prison. That one cost us more than money.
L-3 Communications Titan, a good friend to the Republican Party, got $2 billion to provide Arabic linguists in Iraq. The "linguists" had no training or security clearances, endangering our troops.
Halliburton/KBR, a private contractor whose former CEO was Vice President Cheney, was hired to provide oil, gas, construction, and support services in Iraq. Time Magazine reported that Cheney's office staff coordinated Halliburton's multi-billion dollar deal.
Under the guise of reconstructing Iraq, Halliburton collected billions of dollars in no-bid, pre-selected, sole-source defense contracts. It was found guilty of favoritism, rule-breaking, unsupported charges in excess of $1.8 billion, hundreds of millions of dollars in improper charges, and $1.4 billion in over billing.
Pentagon auditors, calling it a "scam," found that a Halliburton contract for troop support listed costs such as 6-packs of soda for $45; $100/duffel bag laundry charges; and $7,000/month vehicle leases for Halliburton employees.
Defense contract audits showed that besides overcharging taxpayers, Halliburton operated under a "cost plus" system (whatever the company spent would be reimbursed and above that, a profit guaranteed) - a sweet deal: the more taxpayer dollars Halliburton spent, the more money it made, to the tune of $18.5 billion.
The list of war profiteers could go on. For every torturous day our troops "stay the course," immoral profiteers collect millions of taxpayer dollars.
Our Republican Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., are helping them. Here are a few key Republican votes regarding war profiteering:
Dodd Amendment No. 3313 (Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-CT) 6/16/04: To prohibit use of contractors for certain Dept. of Defense activities; to establish limitations on the custody of prisoners. (The Secretary of the Navy insisted that using private contractors without accountability for prisoner interrogations "is a problem. We must stop it.") Republicans in support: 0. Defeated.
Leahy Amendment No. 3292 (Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT) 6/16/04: To prohibit profiteering and fraud relating to military action, relief, and reconstruction. Leahy said, "To prevent illegal and immoral acts that undermine our military; to ensure that no corporation can have obscene profits while our military are putting their lives on the line for our country." Republicans in support: 0. Defeated.
Dorgan Amendment No. 2476 (Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND) 11/10/05: To establish a special Senate committee to investigate contracts (including no-bid and sole-source) in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dorgan said, "Oversight responsibility belongs in the U.S. Congress and it isn't happening." Republicans in support: 1 (Ensign voted against). Defeated.
Waxman Amendment No. 746 (Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA) 3/16/06: To prohibit future contracts to any contractor who has overcharged the government by $100 million or more in Iraq. Republicans in support: 11 (Congressmen Gibbons and Porter voted against - unbelievable!) Defeated.
Dorgan Amendment No. 4230, 6/14/06: To eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in Federal contracting; to force real contract competition. (A previous amendment to crack down on contract cheaters and war profiteers was enacted by the Clinton administration but rescinded by the Bush administration). Republicans in support: 0. Defeated.
Dorgan Amendment No. 4292, 6/20/06: To establish a special Senate committee to investigate contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and fraud and abuse in military contracting to private contractors. Republicans in support: 1 (Ensign voted against). Defeated.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said: "Where is our outrage that American tax dollars are being wasted and our men and women in uniform are being short-changed? Our soldiers putting their lives on the line are more sacred than any big, huge, no-bid corporation."
Without donning a uniform, without shouldering a rifle, without spilling our blood on foreign soil, we can change our nation's course. On Tuesday, let's send a message to Washington - Americans in support of snakes-in-the-grass: 0.
• Marilee Swirczek lives, works, and votes in Carson City.