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 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




Janet vs. Halliburton


On Why Americans Ought to Be More Concerned About Halliburton than Janet Jackson's Breast

Claire Schaeffer-DuffyBy 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.

Learn More
Here are two Web sites that keep a keen eye on the war industry: CorpWatch and the World Policy Institute

You might also want to check out CorpWatch for their story about sweatshops in Iraq.

In the early 1990s, then secretary of defense Cheney awarded Halliburton the job of studying how to implement the privatization of routine army functions. They did their study, which, interestingly enough, morphed into a contract for a Pentagon now ready to privatize. Clinton moved into the White House. Cheney moved out and became Halliburton's CEO, taking with him his deputy David Gribbin. The two substantially increased Halliburton's government contracts until they quit in 2000 when Cheney became vice president. Taking advantage of a tax loophole, Cheney arranged to have his Halliburton earnings paid out over several years. He continues to receive at least $100,000 annually from a company that continues to get contracts with a military, fighting wars he continues to promote.

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.

Other Today's Takes by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy
Feb. 11, 04 Learning lessons from people's movements in India
Feb. 9, 04 A spy for the people
Dec. 12, 03 What about those weapons of mass destruction?
Dec. 10, 03 On war and human rights
Dec. 8, 03 The archbishop's announcement
Admittedly, war profiteering, like stripping, is an age-old practice. Both are exploitative. One is far more deadly than the other. And to be fair, Halliburton is not the only corporation making an immodest buck off the war in Iraq. The many others include Bechtel and weapons manufacturers, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, whose annual earnings of $20 billion-plus exceed what is spent in an average year on the largest federal welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a program that is meant to provide income support to several million women and children living below the poverty line.

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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