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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- In war, the powerful make money, not sacrifices. They grab the bucks. Ducking the bullets and dying is someone else's responsibility. In Iraq, for the first time in our nation's history, the bill for a war is being deferred, passed on as a painful burden of debt for another generation.

A handful of politically connected military contractors -- most with close ties to the Bush White House -- are raking in billions of dollars with no-bid, cost-plus contracts, often with little, if any, scrutiny from government auditors.

After the capture of Baghdad, the American taxpayers provided billions of dollars in cash, bundles of fresh hundred-dollar bills shrink-wrapped on pallets and flown to Iraq to bribe and pay off politicians and contractors picked by Vice President Dick Cheney's main man, the thoroughly corrupt Ahmed Chalabi. No accounting for the money was ever even attempted.

We are still pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight. Sen. John McCain, the Republican's presidential candidate, says he's prepared to wage war in Iraq for a "hundred years" and hand the tab over to wage-earning Americans.

McCain, like President George W. Bush, does not hesitate to squander staggering sums of money to pay for a struggle that will never be decided militarily. But they both balk at spending a relatively small sum of money -- $52 billion over 10 years -- to improve veterans benefits.

Last week, the Senate approved a measure that would significantly boost education benefits for veterans. The proposed new GI Bill, modeled on the World War II-era program, would cover college tuition, room and board, and provide a $1,000-a-month stipend to veterans who have served on active duty for at least two years.

The White House, Pentagon and McCain are worried that expanding education funding for veterans will lure many men and women from active duty at a time when the military is having difficulty retaining people.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., both Vietnam War veterans, drafted the measure attached to the bill financing another year of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There are no politics here," Webb said. "This is about taking care of people who have taken care of us." Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the democratic presidential hopefuls, both supported the expansion of veterans benefits. McCain missed the vote, but has said he supports a far more limited benefits package.

Bush, as usual, says he only wants "a responsible war funding bill" and any broader legislation, including other congressional priorities, is unacceptable to him. Bush demands a "clean bill" for his dirty war.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wisely noted, "When it comes to Iraq, it appears that money is no object for President Bush. Yet when it comes to important priorities here at home, he turns into Ebenezer Scrooge."

Bush wants to block more spending for veterans just as a Pentagon audit shows the U.S. Army spent $8.2 billion dollars on contractors in Iraq and almost none of the payments were made according to the federal government's own rules. In some of the contracts there is no record of what, if anything, was done for the payments.

Described as "perhaps the masterpiece of elliptic paperwork," The New York Times examined a document entitled "Public Voucher for Purchases and Services Other Than Personal." It "indicates that $320.8 million went to 'Iraqi Salary Payment' with no explanation of what the Iraqis were paid to do."

That's OK with Bush, but he doesn't want an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans.

Obama spoke on the Senate floor on the veterans benefits, respectfully nodding to McCain's military service and years as a prisoner of war. But Obama said he "can't understand why (McCain) would line up with the president in opposition to the GI Bill."

In a written rant typical of a grumpy old man, McCain said he "will not accept from Sen. Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures for those who did."

Of course, McCain would never use those words to describe Cheney, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and the whole cadre of "chicken hawk" supporters of the war in Iraq who relentlessly sought deferments to escape the "responsibility to serve our country" during the Vietnam War. Obama was too young for Vietnam and never sought a military deferment.

It was a bad week for McCain, and he finally had to renounce the endorsement of Rev. John Hagee, the popular televangelist and peddler of hate and intolerance for whose support McCain groveled.

McCain -- surely at the behest of Karl Rove, a key campaign adviser -- has been courting the support of the radical rapture wing of evangelicals. The rapture crowd is linked to neoconservatives, with their shared wild ideas about using force to transform the Middle East, launching an attack on Iran, creating fortress Israel and doing nothing to help the Palestinians.

McCain accepted Hagee's support, knowing the reverend had called the Catholic Church "the Great Whore" and had labeled Muslims "parasites" with a "mandate" to kill Christians and Jews.

The final straw for McCain came when a recorded sermon Hagee gave in the 1990s emerged. Hagee said Hitler was a "hunter" sent by God to expedite his will to have the Jews re-establish the state of Israel. Hitler was doing the Lord's will, chasing the Jews from Europe and shepherding the chosen people to Palestine.

Scoring a monotheistic hat trick of bigotry against Catholics, Muslims and Jews, Hagee's intolerance finally reached a critical mass for McCain. The senator belatedly rejected Hagee's support, but only after he had become a political liability. One man who did not see Hitler as doing God's will was Franz Jaggerstatter, an Austrian farmer who defied the Nazis and refused induction into German army. His conscience and courage cost him his life.

Jaggerstatter opposed the Nazis on religious grounds and refused to serve in the army after receiving conscription papers. He was executed, beheaded in Berlin in 1943. He is now Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter, beatified last October in St. Mary's Cathedral in Linz, Austria.

Joseph Ratzinger lived in a Bavarian village a short distance from Jaggerstatter's hometown of St.Ragegund. Now Pope Benedict XVI, young Ratzinger was drafted into the German army and served briefly until he deserted in 1945 and ended up as an American prisoner of war.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton noted that history in a talk he gave marking the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter on War and Peace.

It was May 21, which happened to be Jaggerstatter's feast day. Gumbleton was a founder of Pax Christi USA and served as its first president. He is a prophetic voice for peace and still travels to hot spots around the world seeking non-violent solutions and championing the plight of the poor and the persecuted.

The Pastoral Letter contained challenges including "a presumption against war" for settlements of disputes, "a statement that nuclear deterrence could only be justified as a short term strategy on the road to disarmament," support for "immediate, bilateral, verifiable agreements to halt the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons systems," and a denunciation of pre-emptive, offensive war.

"We have failed the challenge," Gumbleton said. "The church in the U.S. has failed." He fears "a war that will end our planet as we know it" unless we urgently change direction and start "living up to the call of the Pastoral Letter."

Gumblelton said "the letter would not be able to be written today" because of changes in the Catholic Bishops Conference that do not encourage discussions of many controversial issues and narrow the participation in teaching decisions.

For speaking out on behalf of the victims of clerical sexual abuse and calling for the extension of the statute of limitations in these cases, the Vatican, at the urging of cowards in the American hierarchy, punished Gumbleton and removed him as pastor of St. Leo's Parish in Detroit. He's too charitable and forgiving to say this, but it is true.

Gumbleton has been a bishop for 40 years and is the longest-serving bishop in the United States. But these days he is banned from speaking on church property in many dioceses. Most of the bishops who shun Gumbleton belong to country clubs, spend more time golfing than helping the poor, and probably voted for Bush and will vote for McCain.

Gumbleton continues to challenge the powerful and stand up against war. Prophets get into trouble.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 27 2008