Bring back Spiro T. Agnew and the "Nolo Contendere Gang!"
Since we are doomed to duplicity in politics, then let the politicians be more "honest" in their dishonesty.
Ergo, my plea for a colorful crook like Agnew to spare us from the likes of the tedious Vice-President Dick Cheney.
You remember Agnew. Nixon's first Vice-President took cash in brown paper bags while he was in the White House. Then just few days later, Agnew would be photographed off the Florida Keys on a swank yacht owned, supposedly, by Bebe Rebozo.
As distasteful as Agnew was, he's more palatable than the furtive Cheney scurrying off to confidential meetings about classified matters. Then, presto, all of the big contracts go to Cheney's old employer, Halliburton.
Who's to tell what goes on behind closed doors? Everything is confidential and classified—remember? We have repeatedly been told that it "isn't in our best interests" to know what high-ranking government officials discuss in secret.
Criminals fascinate Americans. But we prefer them when they are upfront. That's why we silently root for Tony Soprano but openly hope that Enron's Kenneth Lay gets 99 years breaking rocks.
Cheney is an interesting study. Those who have observed him for years like to say, "Dick Cheney is always at an undisclosed location—even when he is sitting in front of you!"
In the fall of 2000, the Democrats let a golden opportunity slip away when the party didn't hammer Cheney on his personal voting record. Cheney voted only twice in sixteen elections in Dallas County over five years. One he missed was the 2000 Texas Republican Presidential primary won by George W. Bush.
The Democratic slogan could have been, "Why Should You Vote for Bush; Cheney Didn't?"
If the Democrats missed their chance during the last election, they have even more fodder in 2004. Cheney's indirect wheeling and dealing is making front-page news.
In August 2000, the Center for Public Integrity published a report titled "Cheney Led Halliburton to Feast at the Federal Trough"
The report disclosed that Halliburton, under Cheney's leadership, "has emerged as a corporate welfare hog, benefiting from at least $3.8 billion in federal contracts and taxpayer-insured loans" over a five year period.
According to the C.P.I. study, the U.S. Export-Import Bank loan guaranteed $489 million in credits to a Russian oil company, Tyumen Oil, whose roots are tied to KGB and Communist Party corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime.
Halliburton, ignoring State Department protests that the deal is counter to "national interests" received $292 million to refurbish a massive Siberian oil field owned by Tyumen.
Cheney always made sure that his friends in high places were well taken care of. During Cheney's five years at Halliburton, it was a generous political contributor, mostly to the Republican Party.
The company donated $1,212,000 in soft and hard money to candidates and parties, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. In the five pre-Cheney years, Halliburton gave $534, 750.
One of the most interesting insights in the C.P.I. study is a Halliburton official's prediction that "if Cheney becomes Vice President the company's government contracts would obviously go through the roof."
And lo and behold, look what's happened.
In March, even before the war started the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root Services was awarded a huge "umbrella" contract to rebuild Iraq's oil fields.
"I certainly don't think this comes as much of a surprise," said Michael Renner, a researcher at WorldWatch Institute (http://www.worldwatch.org/), commenting on the Halliburton contract, "There are lots of business opportunities embedded in this war. It represents the larger oil and energy issues at stake."
Then, last week the Los Angeles Times reported in its story titled "Halliburton Unit's Bill for Iraq Work Mounts" that Halliburton's KBR unit has been paid nearly $90 million—with the figure expected to rise—to cater to Americans rebuilding Iraq. The sum will include—but not be limited to— the cost of building prefabricated offices, showers, generators and latrines the "size of trailer homes" to the more mundane expenses of food and bottled water.
Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) have called for a General Accounting Office investigation noting that Cheney has received $13 million "in stock rights and continues to receive $180,000 annually from Halliburton in deferred compensation."
Halliburton's representative Wendy Hall denied Cheney's ties to the firm played a role in the firm being selected or considered for contracts.
Said Hall: "The vice president has absolutely nothing to do with the awarding of defense contracts, the bidding process or the current work orders."
Right! Just as Spiro Agnew had nothing whatsoever to do with bribes and kick-backs from construction and engineering firms seeking state contracts.
They were really campaign contributions, after all.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.