Show me the money, or at least some receipts scribbled on the backs of old envelopes and grocery bags.
This week, we were treated to the spectacle of the former U.S. civilian overlord of Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, squirming in the hot seat as he attempted with little success to explain what he did with 363 TONS of newly printed, shrink-wrapped $100 bills he had flown to Baghdad.
That's $12 billion in cold, hard American cash, and no one, especially Bremer, seems to know where it went.
L. Paul Bremer III, the former U.S. occupation chief in Iraq, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on waste, fraud and abuse dealing with Iraqi reconstruction. Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq, is at right. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
It may be an urban legend, but the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, the Illinois Republican, is widely quoted as saying: "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." If he didn't say it, he should have.
Bremer, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in totally screwing up the first two years of the Iraq Occupation, said that a lot of the cash was delivered to ministries of the Iraqi government to meet payrolls that were patently fraudulent.
The Department of Defense's special inspector general for Iraq, Stuart Bowen, said that a 2005 audit he conducted found that in some ministries the payroll was padded with up to 90 percent "ghost employees" - people who didn't really work there or perhaps didn't really exist.
Bremer said that he decided to provide the money to meet those payrolls, even though he knew they were bogus, for fear of starting riots and demonstrations among the Iraqis, real and imagined.
After all, the former czar told the representatives, it wasn't really our money anyway. It was Iraqi money - oil earnings and bank accounts seized from Saddam Hussein's government - that we were holding in trust.
I can think of no period in American history when we sat idly by while $12 billion just disappeared, poof, without a paper trail; without heads rolling; without someone going to prison.
And all this was happening at a time in the war when American soldiers and Marines were going without properly armored vehicles, without lifesaving body armor and even without some of the weapons they needed.
What does it take for the American people's gag reflex to kick in? When do we begin to realize that this is only the tip of an iceberg of fraud, waste, abuse and corruption perpetrated on a monumental scale by the Bush administration, its buddies among the military contractors and their handmaidens on Capitol Hill?
The cost of this war is swiftly building toward a trillion dollars. How much of that was siphoned off by crooked and incompetent contractors, greedy defense corporations and Iraqi crooks in a government that we created and installed?
No one in the congressional hearing has yet asked Bremer or the inspector general how much of that $12 billion in cash was handed out to American contractors in Baghdad, although that question begs to be asked and answered.
During the dark days of World War II, Congress established a Committee on War Profiteering and put a little-known senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman, in charge. Truman, a veteran of combat service in World War I, was a bulldog.
His committee went after not only those who stole money but also those who provided shoddy or worthless equipment and supplies for our troops. He had the power to shut down an offending company or contractor, and he used it.
Where's our Truman Committee today? Where are the righteous representatives of the people charged with standing guard over our troops and our money?
We've wasted $600 billion on a war that we're losing, day by bloody day, at a time when our president presents a federal budget that cuts Medicare to find billions for more that war. The Decider boasts that if we do things his way, America's wealthiest individuals won't have to pay even one dollar more in taxes.
Meanwhile, the people's representatives, on both sides of the aisle, round up the contributions they need for re-election by putting themselves in the pockets of the very robber barons they're supposed to be investigating, interrogating and policing.
Perhaps we should let a no-bid cost-plus contract to Halliburton to construct large additions to the country club federal prisons to accommodate a population explosion in the years ahead. Or, for convenience sake, maybe we could just add a prison wing to the $500 million George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
© 2007 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service sources