Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Dick Cheney and Halliburton

Tricky Dick the Second, Part Two


From the White House website, here is part of his biography, paid for by your tax dollars:

Vice President Richard B. Cheney

En Español

Closeup photo of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who is listening intently to the President in a meeting in the Oval Office. White House Photo by Susan SternerVice President Richard B. Cheney has had a distinguished career as a businessman and public servant, serving four Presidents and as an elected official. Throughout his service, Mr. Cheney served with duty, honor, and unwavering leadership, gaining him the respect of the American people during trying military times.

Mr. Cheney was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 30, 1941 and grew up in Casper, Wyoming. He earned his bachelor's and master's of arts degrees from the University of Wyoming. His career in public service began in 1969 when he joined the Nixon Administration, serving in a number of positions at the Cost of Living Council, at the Office of Economic Opportunity, and within the White House.


Mr. Cheney also served a crucial role when America needed him most. As Secretary of Defense from March 1989 to January 1993, Mr. Cheney directed two of the largest military campaigns in recent history - Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East. He was responsible for shaping the future of the U.S. military in an age of profound and rapid change as the Cold War ended. For his leadership in the Gulf War, Secretary Cheney was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George Bush on July 3, 1991. […]


How about that.  Mr. Bush gave Mr. Cheney the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Note that this text, quoted from the White House web site on 2/17/2004, states that “Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East” were “two of the largest military campaigns in recent history.”  How quickly they forget.


Pointing out absurd statements on the White House website is not what this article is about.  This article is about our vice president and his connections to Halliburton.  What prompted me to write this is that I had dinner with my father tonight (at Madras Masala, on Maynard street in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)  He is a military veteran who served in an elite unit in WWII.  He spent much of his professional career working with persons who were legally detained, either because they were mentally incompetent to stand trial, or they had been convicted of crimes, then adjudicated guilty but mentally ill.  So he tends to be rather level-headed.  The feathers are not easily ruffled, you might say.  But tonight he was upset.  He was upset because he had been reading an article  by Jane Meyar in this week’s New Yorker Magazine.  He has seen plenty of criminals: murders, kidnappers, etc.; but even with all that experience, somehow the New Yorker piece bothered him deeply.  Here is an excerpt:


The Vice-President has not been connected directly to any of Halliburton’s current legal problems. Cheney’s spokesman said that the Vice-President “does not have knowledge of the contracting disputes beyond what has appeared in newspapers.” Yet, in a broader sense, Cheney does bear some responsibility. He has been both an architect and a beneficiary of the increasingly close relationship between the Department of Defense and an elite group of private military contractors—a relationship that has allowed companies such as Halliburton to profit enormously. As a government official and as Halliburton’s C.E.O., he has long argued that the commercial marketplace can provide better and cheaper services than a government bureaucracy. He has also been an advocate of limiting government regulation of the private sector. His vision has been fully realized: in 2002, more than a hundred and fifty billion dollars of public money was transferred from the Pentagon to private contractors.


In a question-and-answer piece  with the author, Jane Meyar, Ms. Meyar elaborates on the way in which Mr. Cheney finessed traditional right-wing politics to achieve a goal that is decidedly contrary to conservative values:


AMY DAVIDSON: Some of Halliburton’s defenders have said that there aren’t any other companies that are up to the job. Is that a fair point?

JANE MAYER: This is a fair point, but it raises other questions. The original reason for bringing private military contractors in to handle these jobs for the Pentagon—rather than having the government do them itself—was that the rigors of a competitive marketplace were supposed to drive down costs. But if there is virtually no competition then the situation is more monopolistic than competitive, and cost efficiencies are lost. So it’s not much of a defense of the current system to say that no other companies can do what Halliburton can.

AMY DAVIDSON: Cheney became very rich very fast at Halliburton. In the 2000 Vice-Presidential debate, he said that his success owed nothing to the government. Did it?

JANE MAYER: The government helped make Cheney rich. While Cheney was in the private sector, working as Halliburton’s C.E.O., he spent a great deal of his time personally lobbying for government credit guarantees, and he increased the number of subsidies to the company hugely. So, after years of championing the private sector and opposing big government, Cheney’s own business career was very much dependent upon the federal government.


The original article and the web-only question-and-answer session are both nicely written.  Perhaps too nice.  I am going to go ahead and say what Ms. Meyar seems to imply.  Cheney duped the American People into subsidizing a company that already was hugely profitable.  One that, by the way, still pays Mr. Cheney over one hundred thousand dollars a year.  Under the guise of privatization, he positioned Halliburton to be in a position to accept a no-bid contract.  Conservatives went along with this, because privatization is supposed to be a good thing.  It leads to competition, which saves money.  But in the end, there was no bidding, and no competition.  We have seen the results, with revelation of three big scandals involving Halliburton in Iraq (and other smaller instances of fiscal misconduct), we see that privatization is not all it is cracked up to be. 


I do not mean to imply that Cheney was involved in the scandals.  I doubt he was.  But he did set the stage that allowed it to happen.   I’m not saying that one hundred thousand dollars a year would influence Cheney in any way.  Lord knows, that’s pocket change for him.  Indeed, it is not even his actions as vice president that bother me.  What bothers me, and what had gotten my father upset, is what he did when he was in the Administration of Bush 41.


JANE MAYER: When Cheney was Secretary of Defense, during the first Bush Administration, he oversaw a redesign of the way that corporate America services the military. Halliburton was paid $3.9 million to draw up a plan for the way a private company could provide military support to U.S. troops all over the world. Then, in the last months of that Administration, Halliburton was awarded the Army’s contract to provide those very same services. The company’s familiarity with the process, the experts I spoke to said, gave it the inside track on what has turned out to be billions of dollars of government business. Cheney is unlikely to have been involved in choosing Halliburton in any detailed way, but even his supporters acknowledge that he oversaw the shift to providing so much business to a single company. This ties him to the story today.


Of course, we could get upset about the accusations that Halliburton was involved in a $180,000,000 kickback scheme  in Nigeria, at a time when Mr. Cheney was  the CEO of Halliburton.  But this has not been substantiated, and it is old news anyway.  Besides, could we really make a suspect of someone who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

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