January 05, 2004

Tomorrow's Fish and Chip Paper

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch lead editorial today is titled IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION Gas gouging:

THE PENTAGON announced last week that it had fired the Halliburton Co. as the gasoline supplier for Iraq's civilian population. Furthermore, Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the action had nothing - nothing at all - to do with allegations the firm had been price gouging.

Perhaps, perhaps not. But somehow, it seems the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has already made up its mind.

Mr. Flood insisted that decision had been under consideration for months. Halliburton, under contract to the Army Corps of Engineers, has been importing daily 2 million gallons of gasoline, fuel oil and benzene for Iraq's internal needs. Meanwhile, the Defense Energy Support Center was managing fuel supplies for U.S. troops in Iraq. For efficiency's sake, the Pentagon decided to combine both operations, Mr. Flood said.

Sounds plausible, but it's fair to ask the question and investigate.

Some people are skeptical.

"Some people" should be avoided by any self-respecting news organization since some people can be found that believe just about anything. Or is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch implying that they are the ones who are skeptical?

They've got some pretty good reasons, because:

A detailed investigation was performed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that found evidence of accounting irregularities?

Auditors discovered in early December that Halliburton was charging $2.27 a gallon to deliver gasoline from Kuwait, while gasoline from Turkey was selling for $1.18;

A fact, though perhaps some additional qualifying information seems to be missing. Perhaps there are significant differences between importing gas from Kuwait and importing gas from Turkey. Who knows? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch won't tell us.

Halliburton was seeking $61 million in excess charges under its no-bid contract;

Is this another isolated fact or is it related to the last one? Who knows? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch won't tell us.

Vice President Dick Cheney used to be Halliburton's chairman; and,

Aha! That obviously means that here must be corruption here because, well ..., um ..., who knows? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch won't tell us.

The issue had become a major political embarrassment for President George W. Bush.

Or, at least, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would like us to believe it is a major political embarrassment for President George W. Bush. Otherwise, the amount of time and column inches devoted to it might prove to be an embarrassment for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The weird thing about all of this is that Halliburton, for all the lousy publicity it has gotten out of its dealings in Iraq, may actually have clean hands on this deal.

Huh? Halliburton may be innocent, despite the implication that the Pentagon and its spokesman Mr. Flood are lying or at least spinning? Halliburton may be innocent, despite a headline of "IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION Gas gouging?" Halliburton may be innocent, despite the skepticism of "some people?" Halliburton may be innocent, despite Halliburton's request for excess charges which may have been justified on it's "no-bid contract?" Halliburton may be innocent, despite the fact that Vice-President Cheney formerly actually led Halliburton? Halliburton may be innocent, despite a strong insinuation that this is a major embarrassment for the President? How can this be?

The company insists that it was ordered to buy the expensive Kuwaiti gasoline by the Corps. The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait pressured the Corps and Halliburton to do business with the Kuwaiti firm Altanmia Commercial Marketing Co. Altanmia had no oil industry experience, but does have extensive ties to Kuwaiti government officials.

But ..., but ..., it was Halliburton, formerly led by Vice President Cheney. That's all that matters, isn't it?

So it may come down to this: The government of Kuwait, rescued by the United States after Saddam Hussein seized its oil fields in 1991, may now be repaying the favor by charging the United States as much as $2.65 a gallon for oil from those fields. And Mr. Bush's State Department may be complicit in gouging Mr. Bush's Defense Department.

Bastards. So, why doesn't the St. Louis Post-Dispatch take a strong position against Kuwait or the United States State Department instead of dropping snide allegations and insinuations against Halliburton, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush? Hmmm? I guess that might embarrass Secretary Powell, and we can't have that now, can we?

Meanwhile Mr. Bush's vice president is saying he knows nothing about all of this, Mr. Bush's Democratic critics are chortling and Mr. Bush himself says he'll make Halliburton pay back any excess profits, if there are any, but he's not sure.

Maybe Vice President Cheney said that because he has the habit of telling the truth. Why is it so hard for the learned scribes at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to grasp that Vice President Cheney no longer runs the business of Halliburton? But, of course, chortling about the President's misfortune would seem to be what's important here. As to whether the President is sure or not about whether there were any excess profits, it may come as a surprise to the editorial board of the only newspaper in the 24th largest city in the US, but President Bush rightly would not track the accounting of charges on a contract let by the Pentagon. There are rules, laws, policies, and procedures for doing this, and none of them involve having the President audit the books. Perhaps Ellen Soeteber tracks the number of paper clips each employee uses at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At least that would explain the relatively paucity of thought that went into this lead editorial.

Kind of makes you wonder who's in charge.

If there are problems, I'm certain that DCAA will investigate and find them. What DCAA won't do is throw groundless accusations around so casually.

Halliburton's subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, has been paid about $800 million to import gasoline, part of a larger, open-ended, no-bid contract it received to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure. The nice thing about all of this, from the U.S. taxpayer's point of view, is that Iraq is paying for its own gasoline out of seized assets and the sale of crude oil.

Oooo, a couple of facts! How did they get in here?

The bad thing about it is that trucking gasoline across Iraq is dangerous.

Shocking! But what does that have to do with any of the bulletized "arguments" for skepticism about Halliburton offered above?

U.S. troops are spending a great deal of time guarding gasoline shipments and mollifying hostile Iraqis who must wait in lines as long as 10 hours to buy gasoline.

Wow, it must be dangerous and risky to import the gasoline from Kuwait. When the risk rises, so does the cost. Having your employees killed is a pretty good indicator of a higher risk.

All of this in a country that floats atop the world's second largest reserve of crude oil.

The key words here are "reserve" and "crude." Getting the oil out of the ground and refining it are extremely difficult right now when the infrastructure in Iraq has been neglected and sabotaged. Unless the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is ready to provide everyone in Iraq with a spigot to this sea of oil and vehicles and engines that will burn crude oil, this is nothing but a mindless utopian complaint.

No wonder they're hostile.

So that's why the Iraqi's are hostile! But if only the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would spend one-tenth the effort trying to help educate the Iraqi's as to why there are gasoline shortages and the great lengths the US is going to to try and alleviate them, instead of casually assuming that the US is always the bad guy and Bush and Cheney and Halliburton are corrupt -- for no apparent reason other than they are Bush and Cheney and Halliburton -- then maybe the level of violence could decrease to the point where the oil wells and refineries could begin functioning again.

After reading this lead editorial, some people could be forgiven for thinking that the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is nothing but a bunch of partisan hacks who are more interested in slander and innuendo than trying to give its readers some perspective on complicated, nuanced news stories.

Posted by Charles Austin at January 5, 2004 09:01 PM

I about died this morning when the Post editorialized:
"Not that a barge operation would necessarily be all bad. The bluff-dwellers don't own the land they overlook, after all, and barge traffic has long been part of the day-to-day life of the river."

Of course, they do go on to say:
"A nearby quarry owner has been dumping waste rock on the site with the blessing of the county and the property owners. The effect has been to raise part of the land out of the flood plain so that the new park's picnic areas and parking lot will stay dry.

By itself, such a project has little effect on flood levels. But many such projects along the river could cause environmental damage. It's safer to leave the flood plain undisturbed, even if a few picnic tables get their legs wet now and then."

I guess you have to choose your battles, and the Post decided to side with mother nature rather than a bunch of homeowners, who are probably (1) guilty of sprawl, and (2) rich.

Posted by: Kevin "fun" Murphy at 02:27 PM