Richard Muhammad

Firing Back

Michael Hoffman, who lives outside of Philadelphia, was three days away from leaving the Marine Corps when the order came down: He was being sent to Iraq. There was no advance notice, no extra money and, of course, no guarantee that he would come back alive.

Hoffman, like thousands of others who volunteered to serve their country, are being forced to stay long after they planned on leaving, because of the "stop loss" orders authorized by statute. The orders – which have been called "back-door drafts" – allow the military to suspend all laws and regulations and force all personnel to continue serving. The orders apply to those whose tours of duty expire and to those who are eligible for retirement.

"I just thought you leave the military and you can get called back if they need you," says Hoffman. "With the 'stop loss' orders, you never leave. They extend your contract, which is something nobody really understands when they first sign-up."

The emotional turmoil aside, Hoffman feels fortunate his extension was only a few months and he left the Marines about a year ago, without having lost much. A friend of his lost a good job with benefits and was forced to take his wife and child to live with family members after departure from military service was delayed.

Now comes a lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in San Francisco, challenging the military's controversial policy on behalf of "John Doe," a decorated veteran and married reservist in the California Army National Guard, asking his "stop loss" order overturned. The lawsuit argues that the policy, based on an executive order issued after Sept. 11, 2001, doesn't apply to enlisted personnel. It further argues that the order is only valid after war is legally declared by Congress. Among the named defendants are Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Army Secretary Les Brownlee and John Doe's company commander.

"People don't surrender (all) rights when they go into the military," says Marguerite Hiken, co-chair of the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild. "The government can't hold you indefinitely. If the war on terrorism never ends, 'stop loss' doesn't end. These people never get out. The military is saying we control you completely."

John Doe's lawyers say 12 years of exemplary, decorated military service, with nine years of active duty, is enough. His "stop loss" order could mean two years in Iraq, although he has already served a tour of duty there and alhough his contract runs out in December, say his lawyers, Michael S. Sorgen and Joshua Sondheimer.

Under a previous "stop loss" order, Doe was told that the Army would have reactivation dibs on him until the year 2043. That order was lifted when that term of enlistment ended. Doe re-upped for a short hitch in the reserves. In July, he was told his stint had been extended for two years and his National Guard unit was mobilized for service in Iraq.

"This lawsuit seeks to stop the forced retention of men and women like John Doe who have already fulfilled their service obligation to the country," says Sorgen. "Their enlistments should have ended, and they should now be entitled to return to their families." John Doe chose a limited one-year commitment in the reserves in large part to spend time with his family, the lawyers say. He has two young daughters.

"The burden of maintaining the high troop levels that we have shouldn't be on the shoulders of the people who have fulfilled their service obligation," says Sondheimer. "Perhaps over 100,000 servicemen have been subjected to 'stop loss,' since the program started." The government seems to think that there is no limit to how many times "stop loss" orders can be used, he adds.

The Department of Defense says the Army is the only branch now using "stop loss" orders. The secretary of defense delegated stop loss authority to the individual secretaries of the armed forces, said Lt. Col. Pamela L. Hart. The "stop loss program is authorized by statute and allows the military services to retain trained, experienced, and skilled manpower by suspending certain laws, regulations, and policies that allow separations from active duty, including retirement," she explains in an e-mail response to questions. About 20,000 soldiers are affected by the orders, Lt. Col. Hart says.

Some 50,000 guard and reserve troops are in the U.S. Central Command theatre, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan, says Major Michael McLaughlin, another military spokesperson. Approximately 145,000 soldiers – some 19,000 in Afghanistan and 125,000 in Iraq – are in the embattled region.

Are these "stop loss" orders a way for the military to avoid instituting the draft? If the orders were stopped, would it necessitate a draft?

"According to the Secretary of Defense, there are no plans to reinstate the draft," responds Hart. "This is an all-volunteer Army. I cannot speculate on 'what-would-happen-if' type questions."

Nancy Lessin, of Military Families Speak Out, says that the "stop loss" orders rendered whatever soldiers signed up for as meaningless. Many soldiers feel betrayed, says Lessin. Her 1,600-member anti-war group is composed of those with loved ones in the armed services.

And she questions the whether re-enlistment is "voluntary."

"The ability of the military to issue 'stop loss' orders is being used to get soldiers to 'voluntarily re-enlist' – it's not voluntary at all," says Lessin. Many soldiers have been told "You can re-enlist, and if you do, we'll make sure you have some duties but they'll be in the United States, you won't be going back to Iraq. But if you do not re-enlist, we are going to 'stop loss' you and make sure that you go back to Iraq,'" says Lessin.

"In this situation where our loved ones have been sent off into a very reckless military misadventure, into a war that should never have happened, into a war that is in fact about oil markets and empire building, it just sets a whole different context for what families go through," she says. Her stepson, who served in Iraq, is in the reserves and could be sent back any time over the next two years.

"These extended deployments, the stop losses, are really ruining peoples' lives," says former Marine Michael Hoffman, who is also co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

In the Business of Health and Charity

A couple of years ago, 53-year-old Curt Koehler, of Warrenville, Ill., was juggling bills and trying to pay off medical expenses for emergency visits for his children. The experience was vividly unpleasant: The hospital collection effort was unrelenting. Bill collectors pressed to either charge the bill to a credit card, or have six payments automatically deducted from a bank account, and it was difficult to get anyone on the phone to talk about other payment alternatives, Koehler said.

The kicker? The creditor was not-for-profit, church affiliated Lutheran General Hospital, a part of the Advocate Health Care system. And further, Koehler's wife is a church pastor. "There's a part of me that went, 'Wait a minute, that's from our church, aren't they supposed to be a little nicer than that?' " recalled Pastor Denise Griebler, of St. Paul United Church of Christ.

Many inside and outside religious circles are examining how faith-based hospitals balance their bottom lines and their higher calling. Given tax exemptions and other perks the hospitals enjoy, the question isn't just whether a non-profit is naughty or nice. The freebies are supposed to be tradeoffs for care for the poor and other benefits.

Bishop Paul Landahl, of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the Lutheran Church, is looking into how Advocate Health Care, a major non-profit affiliated with the Lutheran Church and the United Church of Christ (UCC) conducts its affairs. Area Lutherans will consider two resolutions on June 10 that would clarify the church position on how Advocate should treat those who need help the most.

"If this is a partnership and this is a ministry, as I keep hearing from Advocate, then the care for the poor has to have a much larger role in this whole thing," said Bishop Landahl, in an interview. The bishop, who admits the church has been removed from day to day operations of the hospital, is concerned about treatment of the poor. He is also looking into exactly how the church-hospital relationship should function.

The year-old Hospital Accountability Project, run by the Service Employees International Union, has produced reports showing Advocate charges the uninsured more for health care as insurance companies get volume discounts, and that immigrants, the poor, and low-wage income workers have faced aggressive collections and lawsuits. Advocate is an industry leader and sets the pace for others, said Joseph Geevarghese, Hospital Accountability Project director. While for-profit hospitals have been willing to change some pricing and collection practices, Advocate has stood fast, he said. State legislators and Chicago aldermen uneasy about how non-profit hospitals handle poor and immigrant patients held hearings over the past year.

"Hospitals aren't living up to this mission, non-profit mission, to do good. Instead they are beginning to act just like every other for-profit corporation," said Geevarghese.

Advocate grew out of a 1995 merger of two faith-based hospital systems rooted in the Lutheran Church and United Church of Christ. It is the largest health care provider in Illinois, with over 200 Chicago area care sites, including eight acute care hospitals, two children's hospitals, a home health care company and three of the city's largest medical groups. Advocate is the second largest private employer in Chicago, with 25,000 workers. The Hospital Accountability Project notes that its non-profit status means exemption from federal, state and local income taxes, state and local sales taxes and local property taxes.

To qualify as non-profit, a hospital must perform an educational, charitable or community service mission. Advocate has a religious affiliation, a teaching relationship with the University of Illinois and a non-profit foundation.

"Any hospital that enjoys that privilege of tax exemption needs to be able to be prepared to stand up in public and explain in detail to the public all that they do, including charity care, to earn that benefit of tax exemption and justify their existence as a benefit to the community," said Rick Wade, of the American Hospital Association. But, he added, unions are looking for places to organize and local governments are looking for tax revenue. That has meant going after some hospitals in recent years, he said. If the hospitals don't make money they can't serve anyone, Wade added.

"Any notion that Advocate, or other non-profit organization, profits at the expense of the poor is ridiculous," said Ed Domansky, an Advocate spokesperson. The hospital delivered $55.9 million in charity care last year and the uninsured typically pay just five percent of charges owed to Advocate, Domansky said. A very small percentage of people are sued, but a family of four earning $75,400 a year can qualify for charity care, he added. Domansky said almost all who apply for charity care get aid. But he was unable to say how many patients applied for aid, or how many people actually received it. Domansky sees the hoopla as union organizing under the guise of community service.

"Whether or not unions seek to organize workers in hospitals, non-profit and especially religious hospitals, have an obligation to serve the poor in our communities," said Kim Bobo, of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, a faith-based group that promotes higher wages, pensions and fair treatment of workers. Bobo, who is also choir director at Good News Community Church-UCC, feels Advocate should spend less time, energy and money fighting unions, and focus more on community needs and national health care reform.

The Hospital Accountability Project's union ties are well publicized and one of its stated aims is to "gain a voice for caregivers." Still, project director Geevarghese added, organized labor exists not just to gain contracts, but also to promote greater justice in society. The issue isn't organizing, but whether Advocate and non-profits live up to their missions to serve communities, he said. A soon-to-be-released report will show Advocate gets about $70 million a year in tax savings, but only half comes back in free care or services to the disenfranchised, Geevarghese said. There isn't a "profit" but money goes into executive salaries and projects like building a $200 million hospital in an upper-income white community, said Geevarghese. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is raising concerns about pricing and community benefit as it seeks to organize Resurrection Healthcare Corporation, which is affiliated with the Catholic health care system.

For Pastor Griebler and her husband, it's about more than money. The middle class couple had health insurance and met their financial obligation. They worried about how poorer people less able to negotiate with a powerful entity would fare. In early May, the Chicago Metropolitan Association of the United Church of Christ passed a "Jubilee" resolution calling for Advocate to end discriminatory pricing, put lawsuits against low income patients on hold, offer adequate charity care and respect workers' rights to form a union. One of the UCC delegates who voted for that resolution was Curt Koehler. The Lutheran resolutions express similar sentiments.

The debate about Advocate in Illinois is "a kind of watershed event. If I as the bishop have a partnership relationship in ministry with that Advocate system, then I really want to hold them accountable to what it means to be a not-for-profit," said Bishop Landahl. The church places people on the hospital's board of directors, and once-routine appointments could face much more scrutiny, said Bishop Landahl.

With about 85 percent of America's hospitals linked to some type of non-profit status, the Illinois situation is highly significant. Rick Wade, of the American Hospital Association, believes hospitals must show a "mission" concentration. Institutions need to say, " 'We're doing the very thing you created us to do' " Wade argued. Not doing that could mean trouble. In downstate Illinois, a Catholic hospital lost its non-profit status early this year. A local board that reviews property tax assessments ruled that Provena Covenant Medical Center, in Urbana, Ill., wasn't a charity because it sued patients. State authorities had rejected a similar ruling a year earlier, but decided this year that the hospital was not operating with a charitable purpose. The hospital, which employed lawsuits, collection agencies and had some debtors who failed to show for court arrested, has appealed its loss of non-profit status.

Richard Muhammad is the Chicago-based editor of StraightWords E-Zine.

Black Gloom Rising

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings has predicted record black voter turnout this November. The Rev. Jesse Jackson has called John Kerry the only "live alternative." Eleanor Norton believes blacks will overwhelmingly support Kerry because they "simply can't stomach" George Bush.

And yet, there's a growing sentiment among a lot of blacks across the country that unequivocal support should not be given to the presumed Democratic Party presidential nominee for nothing. Front-line activists are frustrated because black needs aren't being met and people want to do something about it, says David Covin, president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists. Democrats will lose if black voters aren't energized, he adds.

And unless John Kerry acts soon, black voter enthusiasm for him will wane. Al Gore won 90 percent of the black vote in 2000 and black voters could determine who wins Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana this year. Bush got about nine percent of black votes in 2000, the worst GOP presidential showing since Barry Goldwater's 1964 stand with segregationists on states' rights.

"Neither the Democrats nor Republicans have served black people," asserts Bennett Johnson, coordinator of the National Black Political Coordinating Committee, which includes prominent activists like author and publisher Haki Madhubuti of Chicago-based Third Word Press. Its goal is to flesh out a black agenda, and then publish and distribute a voter guide in book form. The agenda is likely to include a host of topics absent from the current presidential debate: Reparations, AIDS, criminal justice system reform, police brutality and racial profiling.

The desire, say activists, is to push black voters to turn out with a focus on issues and maintain activism, even in non-election years. The off-year activism is a way to promote real change and strengthen political muscle to flex when election time comes, they add.

"Black youth, Latino youth and other progressive youth believe we should have our own independent agenda that speaks to our social, economic and political conditions," says Min. Benjamin Muhammad, of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. The group is backed by hip hop mogul Russell Simmons and uses top stars to draw youth to voter registration and issue forums.

Min. Muhammad, formerly known as Rev. Ben Chavis, says that while his group wants to focus on long-range solutions, it also must pay attention to the upcoming elections. "The established parties will have a deaf ear -- unless we have a movement strong enough to sway elections and get commitments before the election. Right now, our issues are not even on the table," he says.

So at summits, conventions and "ndabas," the discussions have begun on how best to influence the national debate. The National Black Agenda Convention, held in Boston in March, drew state lawmakers, activists and political stalwarts like Richard Hatcher, the former mayor of Gary, Ind. A National Hip Hop Convention is slated for June 16-19 in Newark, and hopes to inspire young political organizers and voters. The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, which has registered thousands of young voters, plans major summits July 20 in Boston as the Democrats meet, and Aug. 30 in New York, when the GOP comes to town. Smaller local groups are also meeting, as are advocates for reparations, who are hosting a series of "ndabas," or "big sit-downs," to raise awareness and hash out a common strategy for financial and other redress for slavery.

"What good does it do to have George Bush's cousin in the White House? I don't know what 'Anybody but Bush’ means,'" says Dr. Conrad Worrill, of the National Black United Front, which is organizing and promoting the ndabas. Worrill insists that John Kerry at least endorse H.R. 40, a proposed measure sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) calling for a study of reparations. The bill has languished in congressional committee for a decade. Worrill won't go so far as to say blacks should boycott Kerry or sit out the election, but his terse "Blacks should vote their conscience" is a non-endorsement of the candidate.

Kerry has said he opposes reparations, but supports affirmative action. Worry about his appeal to African-Americans is seeping out from mainstream Democrats.

"It surfaced recently in off-the-record conversations between reporters and some key black Democrats who question whether the party's presumptive presidential nominee is doing enough to energize black voters," wrote DeWayne Wickham, a USA Today columnist, in a May 6 column. "Kerry's closest campaign advisers, these Democrats say, are lily white -- a charge that Kerry's supporters dispute. For weeks now, the Kerry campaign has tried -- and failed -- to put this matter to rest. In March, the Massachusetts senator met with the Congressional Black Caucus and assured its members that they would have input in, and access to, his campaign, the group's chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told me."

Much of Kerry's message at an April 29 National Conference of Black Mayors luncheon could have been delivered anywhere. He talked about jobs, education, and the need for a new direction. There was no focus on hot topics like police brutality and reparations.

That same day grumbling about the lack of diversity at the top of the Kerry campaign was reported. Soon, Kerry added several black staffers, with two at the top level of his campaign. His senior advisor to the Democratic National Committee is an African-American woman. "We knew this (criticism) was going to happen," says a staffer for a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, offering a candid view in exchange for anonymity. Black congressmen have raised the issue, but not much has happened, he says.

"Nobody should mistake our conversation within our party for where our people are on John Kerry," counters Eleanor Norton, delegate to Congress from the District of Columbia. Blacks are drawn to Kerry and the more the GOP attacks him as a liberal, the more attractive he is to blacks, she says. Norton argues that Kerry's campaign is still in the early stages and they understand that no Democrat can win the White House without "hugely disproportionate numbers" of African-American votes.

But blacks will support Kerry, partly because of their feelings regarding Bush, she says. "Blacks are angry at Bush for not even mildly tapping into community concerns. It is African-Americans who see John Kerry as the best bet to beat a man we simply cannot stomach and that man is George Bush," Norton says.

Min. Louis Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam, warns against just saying yes to Kerry. "I say to black leadership: Don't herd our people to the polls before you put before Sen. Kerry an agenda that is in the best interest of the masses of our people. If you betray our people and the suffering masses that want relief, then your leadership is finished," he declared May 3 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Farrakhan mostly criticized President Bush for letting neo-conservative influences lead him into Iraq and warned about the need for a just U.S. foreign policy. But the outspoken leader didn't spare Kerry. "How, Sen. Kerry, can you heal the racial divide by sweeping the principle of justice under the rug?" asked the Minister, citing reparations, health insurance, racial profiling and police brutality as issues Kerry could address.

"Kerry will get the majority of the black vote, but the question is how large the turnout will be," says Covin, of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists. With black concerns absent from public discourse, Kerry should be pushed to clearly state his positions on racial issues, or else it will affect voter turnout, Covin adds. Black turnout has generally been higher than white turnout since about 1982, noted Covin. Democrats have received the benefits of that turnout, but like Kerry, they've always worried about alienating white voters as well, Covin says. "Democrats are afraid to scare white folks but no Democratic candidate has won a majority of white votes since 1964. They can forget it," he says.

Speaking With Many Voices

A meeting of diverse non-profits in Washington, D.C. on March 15-16 helped breathe life into often-frustrated activists pushing to improve the plight of the downtrodden, increase peace, economic and racial justice and champion assorted social justice causes.

But the gathering of progressives-to-moderates, civil rights and faith-based groups doing voter registration, education and mobilization called by the non-profit National Voice was more than a progressive love fest. It was a chance for an often-fractious bunch to consider the broad canvas of social good they paint upon -- and a common concern.

That common concern is a vast one: the state of American democracy. Several hundred people attended the summit for discussions, workshops, speeches and Ben & Jerry's ice cream breaks. National Voice is a 10-month-old group based in Minneapolis that is devoted to assisting non-partisan, non-profit and community groups with civic participation. It will not exist after this election season.

The task for 2004 will be getting more folks engaged in the political process and breaking through cynical messages at a time when people want change and want to be connected, activists and analysts asserted. The participating groups do not endorse candidates, but they clearly envision a world with protections for workers and the environment, a less antagonistic foreign policy, and different federal spending priorities.

Labels, Language and Operational Unity

Putting the organizations assembled in a nice box wasn't easy. Is the NAACP voting arm a civil rights group or progressive group; is the National Council of Churches a faith group, "prophetic" group or progressive group? Regardless of labels, the clear consensus in meeting rooms and lunches was that the needs of ordinary people are going unmet.

"A whole of people who never saw themselves as poor -- working families -- are losing income, losing jobs. Jobs are being shipped everywhere else," said Jim Wallis, executive editor of Sojourners magazine and convener of The Call to Renewal, a faith-based group devoted to poverty eradication.

"All of our faith-based providers are overwhelmed. The soup kitchens and shelters all report tremendous increases in need and decreases in resources," Wallis said.

The meeting was a pretty diverse group but all feel this year is critical, he said.

"For us, it means the religious issues, so-called, in this election are not reduced or narrowed to marriage amendment, Ten Commandments in Alabama courthouses, prayer in schools and abortion laws. Poverty is a religious issue. A just foreign policy is a religious issue. We don't want God and morality hijacked by the religious right," Wallis added. He faults the Democrats for keeping faith out of framing of issues and faults the GOP for largely limiting faith discussions to sexual issues.

Like others, Wallis saw strength in the diversity of the gathering, which ranged from the anti-war group Code Pink and the venerable NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to the League of Pissed Off Voters, young upstart activists who published the book "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office."

Adrienne Maree Brown, co-editor of "How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office," left hopeful about "pushing progressive work forward." That means a values system that defines what is progressive independent of any political party, she said. In their book, Brown and co-editor William Wimsatt blast former President Clinton for trade pacts that cost jobs, for kicking women off welfare without promised childcare, and massive incarceration. They also blast Bush and his crew for spending deficits, misplaced security policy and the voting debacle in Florida.

"It's important that we not get caught up in the party game so that we can have objective opinions," Brown said. "We have to be critical of all sides and issues and approaches."

Brown sees the need for extended conversations in the future, not just sporadic get-togethers. Others held the same view, eager for collaboration that doesn't violate their tax status and some kind of effective partnership. Though it was unclear how that would unfold, plans are at least in the works for a media campaign to promote common values.

The short-term mission is increasing voter turnout and dealing with things like voter intimidation at the polls. Eddie Hailes, Jr., a senior attorney with the Advancement Project, said the summit helped groups learn about voter purging and other barriers to voter participation. Advance work will need to be done to overcome these hurdles once voters are registered, Hailes said.

Internal differences will also have to be ironed out if significant collaboration is to take place. Darshan Khalsa, of South Asian American Voting Youth, felt more outreach and agenda setting with communities of color was needed. She enjoyed the meeting, but said more inclusion is needed. Otherwise, there is "buried resentment, buried anger, eventual splintering and you lose the groups you start with," she said.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners feels more understanding of progressive religious groups is needed. These groups offer a point of view and commitment that are important and can help frame issues, he said.

"Could this be a good year for progressives? Yes, it could be," said analyst David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank. Bositis (who didn't attend the meeting) admitted his analysis was "somewhat speculative" given elections are months away.

"Bush has really energized people on the center-left. During the 2000 campaign, he tried to hide the fact that he was a far-right conservative. But once he was in office, after a couple years it became very, very clear that this guy is an ultra-conservative," Bositis continued. "The numbers of people alarmed by that have grown, and grown, and grown. This could be a year where progressives make big gains."


Richard Muhammad is the Chicago-based editor of StraightWords E-Zine, and former managing editor of the Final Call newspaper.

For-Profit Patriotism

Halliburton, a high-powered company formerly led by Vice President Dick Cheney, is under fire. Company employees allegedly overcharged the military for gasoline brought in to Iraq from Kuwait, accepted $6.3 million in kickbacks for steering subcontracts in Iraq to a Kuwaiti firm and stiffed the government for meals not served to soldiers. The company has received billions in Pentagon contracts to handle non-combat tasks, like laundry, meals and base-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, say analysts.

The Defense Department and State Department opened probes of Halliburton in late February.

"The Pentagon's decision to investigate criminal wrongdoing by Halliburton is commendable and an important first step," said Chris Kromm, co-director of the Campaign To Stop the War Profiteers. But, he continued, the scandals around Halliburton and other military contractors warrant a full inquiry into the politics, contract decisions and performance of firms given billions of taxpayer dollars.

"Recent revelations about questionable billing and procurement practices have raised important questions about the quality of government oversight in Iraq and whether the Bush administration is adequately protecting the interests of American taxpayers," said Keith Ashdown, of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted as a result of unscrupulous conduct by contractors, lax government controls and oversight. A bipartisan, independent commission is needed to review the performance of contractors under existing contracts and monitor the letting of subcontracts," Ashdown said.

The first defense contractor jailed for shady dealings was in 1672; George Washington condemned war profiteers in 1778, said Rañia Masri, Ph.D., director of the Southern Peace Research and Education Center. She noted that President Truman commissioned a probe into WWII profiteering and it's time for another.

"No war would offer any authority for a carte blanche. Especially not a war that has been founded on lies and deliberate misleading of the public," Masri added, in an e-mail response to questions.

Profiteers are most concerned with making money and see an opportunity for wartime price gouging, analysts said.

Halliburton: Making Life Easier for Warmongers?

"Anywhere you go where the U.S. Army has to deploy on short notice, Halliburton is there," said Frida Berrigan, co-author of a World Policy Institute analysis of military spending.

World Policy Institute senior research fellow Bill Hartung, who co-wrote the report with Berrigan and whose book, How Much Are You Making On The War Daddy? A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration was published last year, isn't satisfied.

"There probably needs to be a vigorous criminal investigation of Halliburton at this point. There should be congressional hearings with subpoena power to look, not just at Halliburton, but at all the contracting in Iraq," said Hartung. "For that to happen there would have to be a big public outcry," he conceded.

Hartung also believes defense industry executives need to face real penalties. "As it is now, every time Halliburton is caught with its hand in the cookie jar, all they've done is basically given back the money that they were caught with. It's sort of like somebody going and robbing a liquor store, getting caught and they say, 'Oh, sorry. Let me give the money back.' But not ever being penalized, [they] knock off the next liquor store," he said.

Halliburton has wasted money on everything from monogrammed towels to overpriced vehicle leases, Hartung said.

According to Hartung's analysis, Halliburton's prime contracts with the Pentagon jumped almost 700 percent, from $483 million in fiscal year 2002 to $3.9 billion in fiscal year 2003. That does not include a $1.2 billion contract to rebuild oil infrastructure in southern Iraq, approved amid concern about wrongdoing. The Pentagon awarded $209 billion in prime contracts in FY 2003, with the overall defense budget soaring to $400 billion a year and climbing, said Hartung.

Scaling the Ivory Tower

The combination of upcoming presidential elections, powerful Republican chairmen of congressional committees who don't want investigations, lawmakers devoted to pet defense projects, political donations and a revolving door for military industrial complex players, policy planners and foundation leaders who shuffle in and out of government make a formidable enemy.

Richard Perle, a noted hawk, resigned from the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board on Feb. 18. Perle, a longtime associate of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was a Reagan-era assistant secretary of defense and tutored 2000 presidential hopeful George W. Bush. He helped craft the Bush "war without end" doctrine, pushed for unilateral invasion of Iraq and painted a rosy picture of success. The invasion has been a bloody mess and Perle's personal business dealings are questionable. In March 2003, Perle stepped down as Defense Policy Board chair, an advisor to the secretary of defense, amid charges he used his clout to solicit business. Last December, questions arose over a $20 billion scheme to have the Air Force lease and retrofit Boeing planes as aerial refueling tankers. Perle backed the deal, but failed to disclose financial ties to Boeing, whose CEO later resigned as news broke of Boeing offering a job to the Air Force procurement official negotiating the tanker deal.

"The policies that are being put together about how to defend our country are being made by much too small a group of people," said Hartung. "They have a tendency to kind of exaggerate the threats to the country in ways that tend to benefit their institutions, their former companies.

"They have repeatedly overestimated and misunderstood what are the real threats to our nation. In the 1990s, when the terrorist threat was growing up, they had not a word to say about terrorism," he said. Their current policy miscues have alienated potential allies against terror, hurt relations with the United Nations and damaged America's world image, with the U.S. now seen as a "global bully," he said.

The Perle resignation may be a PR ploy because of the spotlight put on Halliburton, but what's needed are grassroots action and attacks from Democrats. "If Bush is perceived as basically letting Halliburton get away with this, basically favoring this company at the expense of our troops in the field, he may pay a political price in November," said Hartung.

A Democratic president would still face the military industrial complex, but Bush's crew has gone overboard and reigning in contractors would be a start, he said. Beyond that, the Democrats need an agenda for reforming defense spending and curbing political cronyism, Hartung added.

Increased military spending and "preventive war" mean huge trade and budget deficits, and having money drained from other programs, while countries will need to arm themselves against an ever more aggressive United States, Hartung warned.

"Companies like Halliburton make going to war way too easy," said Frida Berrigan. "When so many of these tasks are privatized, we operate under an illusion. The American people think, 'oh, this war's easy.' The reality is this is a very costly war, but it's much more costly in terms of dollars at this point, than in terms of lives."

But, she added, the lives of Americans are being lost.

Richard Muhammad is the Chicago-based editor of StraightWords E-Zine, and former managing editor for The Final Call newspaper. He can be reached at Straightwords4@yahoo.com.

Voices from the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride

History is a powerful witness in the lives of nations that captures success and failure; moments of pride and episodes of shame. The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, which kicked off Sept. 20, builds on the noble history of the U.S. civil rights movement and efforts to perfect an imperfect democracy. In the 1960s, white and black Freedom Riders boarded busses and headed south to challenge unjust laws that deprived African Americans of their rights and to test the truth of the declaration that we are created equal and endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights. Their determination, courage and sacrifice led to the downfall of segregation in interstate travel and helped topple legal segregation.

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