Wow! Guess I hit a raw nerve some place. Wonder why? When we last left, Halliburton had refused to return my phone calls, I was digging through Post Office regulations, and we were sending lots of coffee and "Make Coffee, Not War" bumper stickers to the Marines in Fallujah. In response to my Halliburton-Support the Troops article, we received about three hundred emailsin the first week. All but three were very positive. One accused me of being a "LIAR LIAR LIAR" and said that it was obvious from my photo on the web that I was a "demo", which I guess is supposed to be disparaging (so was Ronald Reagan once!). Many folks simply said thanks, keep fighting for integrity, good coffee and the troops. I also received a great thank you letter (and a cool Iraq tee shirt!) from the Halliburton employees and Marines in Fallujah, who loved the coffee and the bumper stickers. In all fairness to Halliburton, I did find that the mail regulations preventing the shipment of coffee to certain APO military addresses was based on the rules of the particular country, not the Army or the US Post Office. I certainly understand that Muslim countries would forbid sending alcohol or pornography, but whose afraid of having good coffee mailed anywhere? Still smells funny, but I can't get any deeper than that. The other question I have been unable to dig into is the price Halliburton pays for their coffee and what they charge the government for it. Is this another $200 toilet seat story?
In any event, if the no-bid contract Hallburton got is at cost-plus (meaning whatever they pay the government pays them, plus a profit), then why not pay a little more for decent coffee when Uncle Sam is picking up the tab anyway? The Washington Post picked up the story and tried to reach Halliburton. After a few weeks, the Post received a formal, well-crafted reply by (I assume) the lawyers and marketing people at Big H. It stated, among other things, that - get this - poor Halliburton was limited in the coffee it served the troops to what was on the official list of products published by the Army. That may be, but guess who actually supplies the Army with the products to choose from to make the list? The Halliburton coffee apologists also said that they were not responsible for the way the coffee was actually brewed in Iraq. If Halliburton is not responsible for the actions of its employees, subcontractors and their ilk, who is? Folgers? Cheney? Maybe if we gave them more money they could afford to train their employees.
I have been reading quite a lot lately about Halliburton subcontractors in Iraq basically kidnapping young men and women from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and elsewhere with promises that they will work overseas at a good job - only to end up in Iraq, owing the subcontractor for the airfare and housing. No wonder they can't make good coffee. Frankly, as a businessman and as a hopefully moral person, I don't know if I can take another third world subcontractor bondage story. Whatever happened to America's internationally respected business ethics? Those "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" (nasty right wing radio talk, not mine) from Agence France Press also picked up the story (ooh, I can't help it, those accents were trez sexy!). After a few fun interviews AFP put out a story on their international wire service. The very next day I received email copies of the article from friends and fans in Turkey, England, France and Morocco. All of the replies were positive, both about our integrity in this whole affair and how wonderful it was to see that Americans did understand what was going on in Iraq, in spite of the bad press our government gets abroad. All of this hullabaloo because Halliburton wouldn't return my phone call to talk about how they might improve morale by improving the quality of the coffee they serve to the troops. Imagine what a stink would have been raised over something more serious! Some readers have asked me to get over it and get back to writing exciting accounts of foreign travel, great development projects and other interesting tales from the coffeelands. O.K., the next article will be a really upbeat account of our new North/South profit sharing plan, and how the farmers are using their share to improve their lives. Stay tuned.