George Bush recently requested an extra $87 billion from the US Congress to pay for the occupation of Iraq. Most of that money will go on reconstruction contracts in Iraq, and most of those will go to American firms. One of the most notable was the $500 million to support troops and extinguish oil field fires for Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, which Vice President Dick Cheney led from 1995 until 2000.
The extent of the cronyism involved in the awarding of contracts - the links between these businesses and the US administration - is quite staggering. Here's the latest revelation.
From the New York Times:
"A group of businessmen linked by their close ties to President Bush, his family and his administration have set up a consulting firm to advise companies that want to do business in Iraq, including those seeking pieces of taxpayer-financed reconstruction projects.
"The firm, New Bridge Strategies, is headed by Joe M Allbaugh, Mr Bush's campaign manager in 2000 and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency until March. Other directors include Edward M Rogers Jr, vice chairman, and Lanny Griffith, lobbyists who were assistants to the first President George Bush and now have close ties to the White House."
According to the NYT the system of awarding contracts - by competitive bidding - is stopping Iraq from getting back on its feet.
"One reason Iraq still faces blackouts is that local experts and institutions were excluded from the repair business. Instead, the exclusive contract was given to Bechtel, whose Republican ties are almost as strong as Halliburton's. And if a recent story in The Washington Post is accurate, Bechtel continues to ignore pleas by Iraqi engineers for essential spare parts."
There are some bizarre uses for the $87 billion. From The Nation magazine:
"George Bush thinks Americans should cough up $9 million to establish postal ZIP codes in Iraq. How has Iraq made it for these thousands of years without Americans helping them develop a ZIP code?
"Bush has also asked for $100 million for 2,000 trash trucks - which works out as $50,000 per truck. He wants to spend $400 million on building new jails able to hold 8,000 additional prisoners - which works out to $50,000 per bed.
"The Baghdad Fire Department seems to be a symbol for our whole approach: US taxpayers have paid for a repainting of the station, new beds, air conditioners, office equipment, a television and a DVD player So the BFD probably on the surface looks more luxurious than most American fire stations. But there were still no replacements for the fire engines and protective gear taken by looters just after the war.
"The Bush Administration request also includes nearly a billion dollars to import oil into Iraq, the country with the world's second-largest oil reserves."
While on the subject of making a packet from other people's misery. Lord Robertson (not-so-gorgeous George) is to step down as NATO's Secretary General at the end of the year. He has no plans to retire, however. Robertson will pick up a portfolio of directorships and advisory positions for companies in and around the defence industry including: half a day a week at the Royal Bank of Canada to advise them on Public-Private Finance bids, including one for £500 million to privatise Colchester barracks; deputy chair of Cable & Wireless; directorship of the engineering firm Weir; directorship of the defence firm Smiths.
When he heads off to pastures greener, will Robertson remember Bosnia? No one else does. Foreign aid for the country, still recovering from civil war, is drying up. Aid will drop from $699 million in 2000 to $218 million in 2007. Many of Bosnia's institutions and companies are deep in debt. Up to 40% of Bosnians have no job.
The platform of the Texas Republican Party - Bush's own good ol' boys - includes such measures as US withdrawal from the United Nations, retaking control of the Panama Canal, repeal of the federal minimum wage law, jury nullification and abolition of the US Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service.
At least people have the choice whether or not to vote for this crap. In Chechnya they have just held elections for a new president. Akhmad Kadyrov, the choice of Russian President Vladimir Putin, won what was effectively a one-horse race after his two likeliest opponents were 'persuaded' to withdraw. Chechnya has been fighting for independence from Russia; and about a fifth of its population has been killed, injured or displaced in the conflict.
Meanwhile in California, the electors have chucked out Democrat governor Gray Davis, spurned the other 134 candidates to replace him and picked Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's not all bad though. It cost the candidates just $3,500 and collecting 65 signatures to stand. Most seem to have relished their foray into the political field. Wonder what they would have had to fork out to win the thing, though.
It is good to see that not all crazy right-wing dogmatists have got their way. An appeals court in Nigeria has acquitted Amina Lawal, a woman convicted under sharia law of adultery by a lower court last year and sentenced to death by stoning.