Sunday, March 12, 2006

Military Monetary Madness

In the demented world of government contracting and military procurement, it's not just the Navy who spend like drunken sailors. The administration of George W. Bush has turned out to be Hawg Heaven for anyone who is on the inside and who can get their hooks into the lucrative racket of providing the military with supplies for our burgeoning and bloody new Oil Empire in the Middle East.

Iraq alone is now estimated to cost almost a billion dollars a WEEK. Knight-Ridder newspapers recently conducted an extensive investigation into exactly where all those billions were going. Concentrating in the food and food service sectors, their journalists made some startling discoveries.

The Pentagon has long been synonymous with waste, of course, but the results that the newspaper chain uncovered were nothing short of appalling. Competitive bidding has been replaced by the "streamlined" (the military's term) procedure known as the "prime vendor" system, wherein a handful of companies with the right political connections to the ruling Republican party get the lion's share of the gravy.

The Pentagon paid $20 each for plastic ice-cube trays that once cost 85 cents. A supplier was paid more than $81 each for coffee makers that for years were purchased from the manufacturer for $29. Charcoal grills were purchased for $290 each; the same item was available for $129 retail at the local K-Mart. (I'm sure our GIs get plenty of opportunities to backyard barbecue in Baghdad.)

Toilet paper for officer's and civilian johns in the heavily fortified Green Zone works out to $22 per roll. Jello for the officers' mess works out to $45 per serving in the dessert line. Luxury items such as T-bone steaks and lobsters are also on the menu at most Green Zone officer's messes at knock-down prices. A full steak and lobster dinner costs $2.50 at the Operation Iraqi Freedom's media cafeteria in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, now in the Green Zone, but it costs Uncle Sam over $400 to get it all on the table for the hungry news-hounds from Fox News and CNN covering the latest CENTCOM spin conference.

Meanwhile, out in the field, the actual soldiers are dining for weeks at a time of MRE's (Meals, Ready To Eat, the modern version of C-rations). They still don't have sufficient armor for their vehicles, leading to deaths and injuries every week from Hadji Reb's roadside bombs and RPGs. They're running out of small-arms ammunition--not surprising since under the "Spray and Pray" rules of engagement, the squaddies are shooting up 250,000 rounds per "insurgent" killed,--so the Pentagon has to buy back our own 5.56 and 7.62 ammo from Israel, which we simply gave to the Jews to begin with. No figures are available on how much that's costing us.

The key to the corruption appears to be the "prime vendor system," i.e. the clique of Dick Cheney's cronies who have had a virtual lock on almost every contracted Federal dollar for the past five years ever since Jug-Ears took office. "Prime vendor" Lankford Sysco Food Services, one of the worst offenders, sold the government nine refrigerators for $32,642.50 each. Halliburton Corporation is, of course, the king and emperor of all Crony Contractors, but there are other smaller fry swimming and feeding in the wake of the Bush administration's sinking ship.

Instead of receiving competitive bids or buying directly from manufacturers as it once did, the Pentagon now uses middlemen who set prices. (Anyone care to guess at the racial heritage of the businessmen running those "consulting firms?") It's the equivalent of shopping for weekly groceries at a convenience store.

Refrigeration units are, of course, of especial importance in the desert heat of Iraq. MGR Equipment of Inwood, N.Y., which makes a special seven foot freezer unit, charged the Army $17,267 for each one. MGR is run by long-time Republican activist Gerold Ross (Rothstein). What's so special about those seven-foot units? Their purpose is to keep dead bodies of American soldiers from rotting away in the heat until the mangled remains can be packed in sealed coffins for transport back to America--coffins that journalists are forbidden by law from photographing. Talk about your vultures feeding...


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