I Spy…Nothing Good

The discreditation of the United States Constitution – in favor of spying and other extra-judicial conduct – began early in the Bush administration and continues in today’s headlines.

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Six Guns Blazin’

Following Russia’s invasion of South Ossetia in support of South Ossetia’s bid for independence from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Bush sent his head wrangler, Vice President DIck Cheney – a real cowboy, come to think of it – off to Georgia to let the Russians know who was boss.

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Baked Alaska?

It was a wonderful week for women and it more than made up for the fact that Hillary Clinton is neither the Democrats’ presidential nor vice-presidential candidate.

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The Wandering Anti-Terrorist Funds

One of the purposes of anti-terrorism funds is to fight terrorism. There is, of course, a lot of money available for that purpose, and sometimes it is so tempting to use it for purposes other than those prescribed by Congress, that the temptation cannot be resisted.

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Border Patrols

August 2008 was a banner month for passports. They played a significant role in world events that garnered them rare publicity. Two of the events demonstrated how easy a government can make it to get passports and one demonstrated how difficult it can be.

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Bush, Babes and Human Rights

No one felt sorrier for George Bush than I did. He gave a perfectly wonderful speech in Thailand and was done in by the timing. Since he made the speech the same day that the military tribunal in Guantánamo rendered its verdict in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan timing made him sound the perfect fool.

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The Games, The Smog, The Promises

Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, was asked whether awarding the games would affect China’s human rights policy. She said there was no evidence to support that. She was right. Smog, traffic and press freedom have fared no better than human rights.

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KBR Revisited-Again

For every time she shouted “fire!”
They only answered “Little liar!”
And therefore when her aunt returned,
Matilda and the house were burned.
– Hilaire Beloc, Matilda

At first it seems outrageous. Then the reader puts it in perspective. In a war that has cost millions of Iraqi lives and more than 4000 American lives, a handful of deaths is not that big a deal.

The most recent disclosure that 13 soldier were killed – not because of enemy fire, land mines, defective or inadequate body armor or humvees that were inadequately protected – is literally a shock since the deaths that were caused by a surge. Not the surge in troops of which George Bush was so proud. No, it was an electrical surge that was not planned and, in a well managed war, would never have happened.

The reports of the deaths were almost unnoticed and might still languish in the graveyard of Bush mistakes alongside the corpses he helped create, were it not for the death of Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth.

In January of this year Sgt. Maseth was taking a shower on his base in Baghdad and was electrocuted because of defective electrical wiring. At first the army explained to Sgt. Maseth’s mother that her son had an electrical appliance with him in the shower that caused his electrocution. That, as so much else associated with this war is, was a lie.

Maseth was electrocuted because a water pump in the building was not properly grounded and when the shower was turned on he was zapped with a powerful surge of electricity. The sergeant was not the first person to be electrocuted. According to Pentagon documents more than 12 other people have been electrocuted on U.S. bases in Iraq and many more injured by electrical shocks. In one barracks there were almost daily reports of its inhabitants receiving electrical shocks. And, in early July of this year an electrical fire resulted in the destruction of 10 buildings.

According to the New York Times an Army survey of February 2007 noted “a safety threat theater-wide created by the poor-quality electrical fixtures procured and installed, sometimes incorrectly, thus resulting in a significant number of fires.”

The first thing one is tempted to do when learning of something like this is to assume it is the fault of contractor Kellogg Brown Root. That is because KBR is the poster child for what went wrong with private contractors in Iraq. Among other things, it charged for food it did not serve the troops, it failed to build a pipeline for which it was paid $75.7 million and failed to deliver safe water for hygiene uses.

Some people may wonder how one company can get so much wrong. The answer is since the war began it has been paid more than $24 billion and has 40,000 employees in Iraq. That affords it lots of opportunity to perform incompetently and it has taken advantage of many of them. More are on the way. KBR was recently awarded a part of a $150 billion contract for restoring the oil fields in Iraq. It will develop the southern oil fields while two other companies, one of which, Parsons, which has had its own share of shoddy performance, will develop those in the northern part of the country.

It would not be fair to blame KBR for Sgt. Maseth’s death just because it was responsible for the Radwaniya Palace Complex (RPC) where he died. That is because KBR not required to act prophylactically. Reporting on the palace electrocution, CNN reported that KBR said its contract hold KBR responsible for “fixing potential hazards.” It was only required to fix things after they broke down.

KBR and the Pentagon would probably agree that a shower that electrocutes the bather is a shower that has broken down but the only way that can be discovered is after someone has been electrocuted. Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said the company found no link between its work and the electrocutions. As is sometimes the case when KBR explains what happens, not everyone agrees with its self-analysis.

Ingrid Harrison, an official with the Pentagon’s contracting management agency was quoted in the Times as saying: “KBR has been at [the palace] for over four years and was fully aware of the safety hazards, violations and concerns regarding the soldiers’ housing.” KBR, said she, “chose to ignore the known unsafe conditions.”

Electricians who were formerly employed by KBR said their repeated warnings to their superiors as well as to military personnel about unsafe electrical conditions were ignored. That probably explains why 283 electrical fires took place between August 2006 and January 2007. There should be fewer in the future. The Times notes that “senior army officials have ordered electrical inspection of all buildings in Iraq maintained by KBR. Chris Isleib, a spokesman for the Pentagon said: “We consider this to be a very serious issue.”

He got that right. KBR, as usual, got it wrong. It won’t affect its shareholders – only the soldiers who have died or been injured and the taxpayer who pays the company for its incompetence.

Judging Liars

When your commander-in-chief is a man whose lies have ruined millions of lives, a drop or two of bad water is hardly anything to get excited about. Nor is a bit of plagiarism. . . .

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Missing Money in Iraq

As the recent hearings show, by not tracking the purposes of the disbursements, there is no risk of embarrassing anyone because of the failure of the recipient to satisfactorily complete the work for which it was paid.

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