The Independent Newsweekly
|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|February 13, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 200
By Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, NCR contributor
All right, I admit it. I didn't watch the Superbowl or the half-time number with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. I missed the flash of breast that happened so quickly family members, who did see it, said they thought, "it was a mistake." But for TV abstainers like me there was no avoiding "the event." Jackson's bare breast has gotten daily coverage and sparked a national clamor for improving broadcast standards. Since the Superbowl, the FCC has logged in a whopping 200,000 phone calls from offended Americans.
I'm for decency and screening out vulgar entertainment but the furor over this one baffles me. As a mother who nursed four children, I never thought of breasts as . . . well . . . so newsworthy. Besides, I've been fretting over a rip-off that's far more costly to the American public than Justin Timberlake's little maneuver. The war profiteering of Halliburton and its subsidiary, Brown and Root.
Now there's a scandal for you.
When Jackson and Timberlake used prime-time TV to slip in a little sleaze, many viewers were asking, "What's the message here?" We need to put the same question to Vice President Dick Cheney.
What's the message here?
In December 2001, Kellogg, Brown and Root secured a 10-year deal with the Pentagon known as the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). Only two companies, by the way, were invited to the bidding. The contract is a "cost-plus-award-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity service" which means, I am told by those who study these matters, that the federal government has an open-ended mandated to send Kellogg, Brown and Root anywhere in the world to run for-profit service operations for the military. The War on Terror as well as the war in Iraq have really put Kellogg, Brown and Root on the map. It is in Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and even Uzbekistan, providing everything from base construction to laundry and mail service for U.S. troops.
Janet Jackson may have let her bodice down, but Kellogg, Brown and Root upped their costs big time -- and charged us. That's a little inappropriate, don't you think?
The Pentagon argues that privatizing military support operations saves American taxpayers money. Investigative journalist Pratap Chatterjee is not sure. Chatterjee, who writes for CorpWatch, has been ogling Halliburton for quite some time, and he can tell you a lot about the company's nasty habit of over billing, besides the little slip-up of overcharging for gas in Iraq. Here are just a few examples. Kellogg, Brown and Root charged four times its projected cost for a military operation in Bosnia, billed for four times the number of meals served to troops in Saudi Arabia, and last February paid $2 million in a settlement suit to the Justice Department that alleged the company defrauded the government during the mid-1990s closure of Fort Ord in Monterey, Calif.
I realize that corporate ledgers are not as titillating as breasts, but we need to pry open these books and get all hot and bothered. We need to do so because of the children in our living room and everywhere else. As for trash TV, the solution is simple. Unplug.
Schaeffer-Duffy, a longtime contributor to NCR, is a part-time writer and full-time member of the Sts. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker in Worcester, Mass.
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