Your tax dollars at work

If you’re a middle-class couple jointly earning between $58,000 and $117,000, you are currently forking over upward of $8,000 of those dollars to the feds, most of it withheld from your paychecks last year and irrevocably turned over to the Internal Revenue Service. Your $8,000 is the chumpiest of chump change to the government, though it could have bought you a high-end hot tub and a new high-def TV. Still, most reasonable people wouldn’t mind paying such taxes, since reasonable people know that if we are to live in a civilization, taxes are the price paid for that privilege. Interstate highways, national defense, health and safety regulation, the national parks—these and countless other government functions exist solely because we are taxed.

But it sure would lessen the pain of forfeiture of those hot tubs and TVs if the government did a better job tending to the money it takes each year.

A recent report issued by Pentagon auditors revealed the fact that Halliburton overcharged the government some $108 million on a $2.5 billion no-bid contract to bring fuel to postwar Iraq. Part of that gouging took place when Halliburton paid $82,000 to buy liquefied petroleum gas from Kuwait and then charged the government $27 million for that same petroleum. That’s a tidy markup. In fact, the word “gouging” is not a big enough word for crookedness this big. Buy an apple from a fruit vendor for 50 cents and then sell that apple to the government for $405, and you’d have a pretty good facsimile of the scam Halliburton has been running.

But that’s only overcharges. At least with overcharges the taxpayer gets something for his or her dollar. It may cost $405, but at least there’s an apple. With the current bunch in office, the taxpayer can’t even be sure of getting that apple. In addition to the hogs-at-the-trough overcharges, there’s also that little matter of some $9 billion that simply vanished without a trace. According to a report issued by Stuart Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, there are that many billions unaccounted for in Iraq expenditures.That’s $9 billion with a “B”! Nine billion with a B is the equivalent of all the taxes paid by more than a million-and-a-quarter middle-income taxpayers.

Since Halliburton has had a virtual lock on war profiteering, it’s fairly certain some of that missing $9 billion found its way into Halliburton pockets. Some of that money even may have trickled down to various Halliburton operations in California. Halliburton has offices or subsidiaries throughout the state, from Bakersfield to Ventura and from Alhambra to Woodland. Halliburton has offices throughout the world, in fact, global tentacles reminiscent of Engulf and Devour, that fictional corporation satirized in a classic old Mel Brooks movie.

Except that this is the real world, and it’s not funny. Halliburton’s corporate vision statement lists “innovative business relationships” as a key goal. The “innovative business relationships” Halliburton envisions are mostly with government officials, men like the vice president, who, as everyone knows, once headed up the company. Making big profits based on having friends in high places is not exactly an innovation, but Halliburton has taken the practice to new heights.

So, $9 billion lost. And $108 million in overcharges. That’s a lot of hot tubs, but, hey, it’s a Halliburton world. We just pay for it.