Editor opinion

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Giving the Navy credit

Forget your Visa or MasterCard. Cancel the Diners Club and American Express. What the country needs to kick start the economy is a boatload of those U.S. Navy credit cards.

Have you heard this story? If not, just ask our U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the old whistleblower himself. He's fit to be tied.

It seems Navy brass have been jet-setting around, using their government credit cards to hire hookers at brothels, gamble in casinos, get plowed at ritzy cocktail lounges, buy expensive jewelry, and hang out at Yankees and Knicks games.

In short, Naval personnel have taken up where their most recent former commander in chief left off.

Unfortunately, as taxpayers, we are left to pay off the Vegas prostitutes after these Naval heroes, um, drop anchor in a friendly port.

Investigators initially reported the credit card abuses to the Navy in 2000, but even after that, according to a new study, the Navy travelers piled up over 1,180 transactions for "personal" uses of government cards as of last March, totalling nearly a quarter of a million bucks.

The Navy lads aren't alone in their creative use of public money. Last summer, the feds admitted that some 200 Army personnel had used government credit cards to get cash advances that they then used to buy "lap dances" at the strip clubs around their bases.

In all, over 12,000 card charges have been red-flagged in the study of just one small corner of the military system.

It brings a whole new meaning to the term "peace dividend."

It also appears that the Navy had piled on over $510 million in travel card charges since 2000, and that $65 million in military credit card accounts has been defaulted on by defense department employees.

Hookers, booze, lap dances, diamonds, gambling, Lakers games - no wonder Grassley is upset. That's supposed to be a lifestyle reserved for his fellow Congressmen, or at least until Motley Crue gets back on the road.

At least the Navy folks have been trained well in stamina - the report finds that just two brothels in Nevada account for 80 government credit card transactions in a short span of months, totaling $13,250.

I'm no math major here, but that divides out to $166 per docking. We really have to find those guys a cheaper hobby.

I also have to wonder exactly why the Navy is commercially flying so many enlisted men to the middle of the desert southwest. Are there a lot of destroyers docked at Las Vegas to be looked after?

Let's see here, the report has 199 Naval dudes making purchases at jewelry stores for $20,800 (it's possible that diamond stud belly rings are required Naval uniform, but I doubt it somehow). Almost 250 used the cards at "adult" emporiums, 80 wrote off gambling losses of nearly $35,000. Seventy-two bought themselves fancy cruise vacations (what, a guy pulling a hitch in the gosh-darned Navy can't think of anything to do with his free time but buy boat rides?)

A whopping 502 Navy personnel treated themselves to entertainment tickets - most showing a taste for the New York Yankees and L.A. Lakers. (I would think the Mariners would make more sense.)

At least a couple had the good culture to take in "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway, a solid step up from the hookers if no less expensive.

Grassley is, of course, having a hissy fit. He likes to use the term "gentlemen's clubs," but my research indicates that the places of favor are known as "The Bottoms Up Club," "Madame Butterfly" and the famed "Chicken Ranch."

I'm not sure how many gentlemen you will find in those places, Chuck.

Grassley says going there on the public's charge card is "a new low."

Really. We always knew the government was *#@!#* us, but we thought that was a figurative term used at tax time.

Grassley wanted to kick some blue-clad butt, but the Navy top brass said that the credit card abuses are a few "unique and isolated" cases not to be worried over.

After months of heat, the military finally agreed to bring the worst of the offenders to the teller's window to pay back their long-overdue abuses of those credit cards.

I've got a better idea. Anybody who used our tax money for hookers or lap dances could be sent to the front lines if our country decides to march into Iraq.

Let them explain to the courageous fighting men and women who have been suffering hardships abroad defending their country about those rugged training exer-cises at The Chicken Ranch.

If they survive the friendly fire, they can come home to the local VFW halls and try to explain it to those veterans who served before them in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War.

Those people didn't run up charge accounts, they paid the bills for freedom.

I suppose news of the free brothel services, booze and pro sports games might just serve to pick up the pace of enlistment among certain adolescent male populations, but I'm sorry, we're going to have to put a stop to it, boys.

Mr. Grassley is going to have a stroke if this keeps up, and we don't want that on our heads.

It's possible that this is the worst PR move for the Navy since that awful "Village People" song, but we should also keep in mind that the vast majority of servicepeople are honest and trustworthy.

It seems a dozen thousand or so must have missed the day they covered that in boot camp. You'll find them at the Bottom's Up Lounge right about now, defending their nation's honor.