Morning Report 4/28/05
Halliburton's Military Meals 'Pretty Unbelievable'

Fox News praises the mess in Iraq, accidentally gets it right

House Democrats

Pop goes the easel: One of the posters hauled to the House floor last year by Democrats (in a vain attempt to force a full investigation) advertises the fact that Halliburton charged the public $45 for a $7 case of soda. Looks like we need a Wal-Mart in Baghdad.

Those scrambled yeggs at Halliburton are once again getting over on us with the help of their friends at the Fox News Channel.

The estimable watchdog Halliburton Watch notes Fox reporter Gregg Kelly's "Bon Appetit" puff piece yesterday about the Dick Cheney company's great job feeding the soldiers in Iraq. Kelly toured a dining room in Taji, Iraq, and told viewers:

    The company has been rocked by accusations of overcharging the Pentagon. Here, however, there's no controversy about the food's quality. In fact, some worry that all the eats might make them fat when they're at war. It all stifles that ancient military pastime—complaining about the chow.

You report, we deride. We're the ones who are complaining, pal. Halliburton's international house of profits, protected by a Bush regime that prides itself as being "conservative," continues to play hide-the-sausage with U.S. taxpayers.

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As Halliburton Watch growled last June, the company's subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) charged us millions of dollars for meals that never existed. The Defense Department's own audit agency found last June that Halliburton overcharged the government for meals by $136 million.

The vultures at Cheney's company make much of their money simply by acting as middlemen. The press has picked up on this—the print side, at least. As Halliburton Watch noted in a June 15, 2004 story about the DOD audit:

    In a related development, the Los Angeles Times reported that "the Army recently renegotiated a contract that Halliburton had with a Kuwaiti company to provide meals. By contracting directly with the Kuwaiti company instead of going through Halliburton, the Army knocked 40 percent off the cost of the contract." Once the Pentagon dealt directly with the Kuwaiti-owned company, known as Timimi Co., the cost per-meal dropped from about $5 to about $3, according to GAO Comptroller David Walker.

It's a friggin' feast for Cheney's company. CorpWatch's Pratap Chaterjee, who often gives us food for thought about the company that still pays our vice president a salary, wrote last June about whistleblowers' allegations:

    In testimony submitted to members of Congress, one truck driver explained in detail how taxpayers were billed for empty trucks driven up and down Iraq and how $85,000 vehicles were abandoned for lack of spare tires. A labor foreman said dozens of workers were told to "look busy" while doing virtually no work for salaries of $80,000 a year. An auditor related how the company was spending an average of $100 for every single bag of laundry and $10,000 a month for company employees to stay in five-star hotels.

Hungry for more details? Former Army captain Marie deYoung, who worked for Halliburton in a contracts office, blew the whistle loud and long about the company's "Tiger Team," which was supposed to straighten out criticized and scandalous subcontracts. Chaterjee wrote:

    De Young says that Halliburton paid the Kuwaiti subcontractor La Nouvelle $100 per bag for laundry services—four times more than they were paying elsewhere. That added up to more than $1 million per month. Another time, the company ordered 37,200 cases of soda at $1.50 a case, but was delivered only 37,200 cans, resulting in charges that were five times the normal wholesale cost for the drinks.

    Halliburton housed the Tiger Team at the five-star Kempinski Hotel for $10,000 per employee per month. At the same time, soldiers were required to live in tents at a cost of $1.39 a day. The military requested that Halliburton employees move into the tents, but they refused, De Young said.

Chaterjee would have had little to write about if not for the work of California congressman Henry Waxman, whose Government Reform Minority Office is the best investigative body that no one ever heard of. Waxman laid it out in a cluster of documents last year.

The House Democrats, stymied by the GOP's refusal to conduct full hearings, tries to wake up the public by hauling out charts and posters (see an example above). Those moments don't make TV news. So let's go back to Fox's Gregg Kelly for a taste of Halliburton's meals that actually were served. Again from yesterday's Halliburton Watch piece:

    In the Fox report, Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Gunter is seen eating a meal. He eagerly proclaims, "KBR does an extremely good job." The food is so good, he says, that "we've been trying to hide it from our wives." "I was talking to my wife the other day," he said. "I was like, 'Baby, it's pretty rough over here.' I said they only have nine flavors of Baskin Robbins (laughs)."

    An unidentified and non-uniformed woman is heard describing the food as "pretty unbelievable."

    The Fox reporter added to the glory of KBR's food, saying, "You know, some of this looks like a brunch, you know, at a Marriott hotel or something like that. It's pretty elaborate."

Kelly went on to praise the camp's "Chef Denzel from India" as "probably one of the few pastry chefs ever deployed to a combat zone." As Halliburton Watch adds:

    But there was no information on one of Chef Denzel's Indian compatriots who said working in KBR's dining facilities is "hell." An Indian newspaper described the facilities as "slave camps." KBR reportedly pays Indian workers $200 per month for cooking food and cleaning toilets, a puny wage that helped double Halliburton's stock price since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

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