Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The $3 Trillion Spending Spree

Conservative estimates are that the War on Terror will cost $3 Trillion.

The good people at Brave New Films have put together a video that might give you an inkling of how much $3 Trillion dollars is. If it doesn't accomplish that, it certainly illustrates how difficult it is for an individual to fill up their own $3 trillion shopping cart. Think you can do a better job than George Bush? Go for it and then pass on a gift certificate to one of your friends so they can take a turn.

(Full disclosure- okay, I'll admit it, I threw a Wii and a tropical island in my shopping cart, but the rest of my $3 trillion went to noble and peaceful causes, really!)

psssst, Do something!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Waste, Fraud & Abuse hearings; the results

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee met today in Washington for the 13th time to examine contracting abuse in Iraq and to hear the testimony of former contractors in Iraq, KBR, WWNS & CAPE Environmental.

Senator Dorgan called the current behavior of contractors in Iraq the "the greatest waste, fraud and abuse in the history of this country" and insisted that we have got to stop the fleecing of the American taxpayer.

In his opening statement the Senator from North Dakota again suggested that an oversight committee based on the Truman Committee that performed oversight during WWII. He reminded us that that Committee held 60 hearings a year and saved the US taxpayers $15 billion at a cost of $15,000. He closed by reminding us that he had:
"proposed the creation of such a Committee three times in the 108th and 109th Congresses, and regrettably the vote each time was almost exactly along party lines.
But I still believe that we need to establish a bipartisan Truman Committee, with subpoena power, to exercise the oversight that these abuses demand, and I will continue to push until we create one."
The statements of each of the witnesses, as well as video of the testimony are posted here. Take a few minutes, if you dare, to see just exactly how your tax dollars are being spent. Here are a few highlights (or would that be lowlights?) from the day.

The contractor who worked for WWN & CAPE Environmental, Barry Halley said:
While I was working with this same defense contractor, the site manager was
involved in bringing prostitutes into hotels operated by the contractor. A co-worker unrelated to the ring was killed when he was traveling in an unsecure car and shot performing a high-risk mission. I believe that my co-worker could have survived if he had been riding in an armored car. At the time, the armored car that he would otherwise have been riding in was being used by a manager to transport prostitutes from Kuwait to Baghdad. There were other employees involved in the prostitution ring as well.
Although the activities had been going on for some time, nothing was done to stop it until the contractor’s home office was informed about the prostitutes. Instead of firing the ring leader, however, the contractor merely transferred him to another project in Haiti.
Linda Warren, a former employee of Halliburton/KBR gave her testimony:
From the first day I was in Baghdad, I noticed something happening which I felt to be very wrong. KBR employees who were contracted to perform construction duties inside the palaces and municipal buildings were looting. Not only were they looting, but they had a system in place to get the contraband out of the country so it could be sold on eBay. They stole art work, rugs, crystal and even melted down gold to make spurs for cowboy boots. At first, I just watched as these KBR employees pilfered, but when I was asked if I wanted some of the items, I became very outspoken about what was happening, and informed the looters that what they were doing was stealing, and that those items belonged to the Iraqi people. I was ostracized because I started objecting to the actions of my co-workers, and was very vocal in my belief that they were looting, trafficking, and stealing antiquities.
Former KBR employee, Frank Cassaday told a compelling story of Marines being denied ice-
During my time as an ice plant operator at Camp Webster, I witnessed numerous
illegal activities and rules violations by KBR managers and employees. Ice was a very valuable commodity in Iraq that was regularly stolen and bartered for other goods. One day a convoy of U.S. Marines was going out of the area for several days and they wanted 28 bags of ice. The ice was used to keep their food and drinks cool. I watched as the ice plant foreman refused to give the troops the ice they requested and offered them only 3 bags of ice. The foreman told the troops that he was only allowed to give them 2 pounds of ice per person per day, but in fact it was the foreman who made that rule. KBR had plenty of ice that could have been provided to these troops who were going off the base into the desert.

One Marine asked me, “Why won’t this man give us ice, you do?” I told the Marine that he should tell his superior officer because the ice foreman was cheating the
troops out of ice at the same time that he was trading the ice for DVDs, CDs, food and other items at the Iraqi shops across the street.

I could go on, but I have provided the links to the full testimony and video of the hearing held today, so the ball's in your court. April 15th was less than 2 weeks ago, a day where our taxes re-filled the governments coffers, and these examples of waste, fraud & abuse is how your tax dollars are being spent. It's not okay with me. What are you doing to raise your voice to say, STOP IT AND STOP IT NOW?

Where do you start? How about your member of Congress or one of members of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Hearing?
  • Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Chairman, Senate Democratic Policy Committee
  • Senator Richard Durbin, Assistant Majority Leader
  • Senator Jeff Bingaman
  • Senator Maria Cantwell
  • Senator Robert Casey
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Senator Claire McCaskill
  • Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
It's your tax money, is this okay with you?

Waste, Fraud & Abuse

When I saw this video of Senator Dorgan (D-North Dakota) talking about waste, fraud & abuse with regards to contracts in Iraq, the hair went up on the back of my neck.

Having worked as a Purchasing Agent for a defense contractor years back, "waste, fraud & abuse" are fighting words. Those 3 words were held over our heads like a guillotine waiting for us to trip up on some unknown or obscure sub paragraph in the procurement policy or contract. I'm pretty sure it was one of the worst offenses we could execute on the job. They held it up to us as it could relate to time cards, expense reports and especially in the area of the procurement of goods and services. To this day, I remember a phrase that was frequently noted on our purchase orders. It is the opinion of this buyer that this purchase order is fair and reasonable and is in the best interest of our company and the United States Government. I guess the current contractors never got that message.

Go get yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and take 10 minutes to watch this video from March 2008. A little research reveals that the good Senator from North Dakota has been presenting evidence of waste fraud & abuse to the Senate, requesting the implementation of a type of Truman Commission from World War II. (Then Senator Harry Truman as a member of the Senate Special Committee, the Truman Committee for short, wanted to look at wartime waste, fraud, and abuse so that the American government could get a proper handle on the federal spending that was going into mobilization and the projects that were being put on the line. The process saved American taxpayers $15 billion (in 1940 dollars).)

Others in Congress have tried to push the concept of oversight into war profiteering, but this administration is having nothing to do with that, not on their watch. Dina Roser from Huffington Post wrote that earlier this year, in January 2008,

Bush signed the 2008 Defense authorization bill into law. In it he singled out four of 2,887 sections for his now notorious signing statement. He said that these four provisions "purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as commander in chief. The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president."

What were these egregious provisions that could tie the commander-in-chief's hands and threaten our national security? They all had to do with oversight.

According to the Congressional Quarterly: One such provision sets up a commission to probe contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another expands protections for whistleblowers who work for government contractors. A third requires that U.S. intelligence agencies promptly respond to congressional requests for documents. And a fourth bars funding for permanent bases in Iraq and for any action that exercises U.S. control over Iraq's oil money.

If there is any good news in all of this it's the persistence of the legislators who have the courage to stand up to this administration and actually do their job on behalf of the US taxpayers and the troops. In addition to Byron Dorgan, of note are Jim Webb (D-VA) and Claire McKaskill (D-MO) who sponsored the Wartime Contracting Commission, patterned after the old Truman Committee.

I received a notice from the Senate Democratic Policy Committee that they are holding a hearing on corruption in Iraq reconstruction on Monday, April 28 at 2:00 p.m. Three whistleblowers who have never-before appeared before Congress will be giving eye-witness accounts of corruption by private contractors in Iraq including: the use of government equipment to transport prostitutes from to Kuwait to Baghdad in a contractor-run prostitution scheme, still-useable government equipment worth millions thrown into "burn pits" and KBR employees selling items they looted from Iraqi government buildings on eBay. We'll be live streaming this hearing on our website at http://democrats.senate.gov/dpc/dpc-video.cfm.

This is not the first hearings into waste, fraud & abuse by government contractors, not by a long shot, and hopefully, it won't be the last. We taxpayers should stand in support. We owe these hearings to the troops continue to receive short shrift with regards to the occupation.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

McCain- Anti-Choice

Before my son was killed in Iraq, the determining factor for any political candidate was their stance on abortion or choice. If a politician didn't think I deserved a choice about what happened to my body, they wouldn't be getting my vote. It really wasn't difficult. If I got past that, I would examine their platform on taxes, education, the environment, their character.

Unfortunately, the field of candidates hasn't passed on all of their platforms, and certainly not those on the national level, so you hold your nose and hope the ultimate "winner" will not be that bad.

Obama & Clinton both pass the "choice test". But, now in the 6th year of the occupation in Iraq, the determining factor is foreign policy, or even more narrow, how soon does a candidate plan on ending the occupation and bringing the troops and the subcontractors home from Iraq? While both Clinton & Obama said that as Commander in Chief, they would change the mission in Iraq and withdraw the troops, their timetable doesn't come close to what I think should happen. So, maybe Obama gets a B-, Hillary gets a D- (her hawkish attitude with regards to Iran should give her a failing mark, but her current statements on Iraq save her from an F, even though I don't think she means them), and bringing up the rear with an F for his comments that 100 years, or more in Iraq would be okay with McCain. He said he didn't really mean that, but he I think he did, so he gets an F on his foreign policy.

McCain does not pass the "choice test" either- another F. Back in 1999, McCain spoke to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco saying "I'd love to see a point where [Roe v. Wade] is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force x number of women to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations." Not bad for a centrist. But wait, fast forward to 2006 when the senator declared that he does not merely favor overturning Roe, but supports a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in almost all circumstances. I guess the Straight Talk Express left the station because when McCain recently appeared on "Meet the Press," he claimed that he has "always been pro-life, unchanging and unwavering." I wonder why he cannot keep track of his stand on such an important issue.

Frankly, the thought of John McCain as the 44th president of the US scares the hell out of me, possibly even more than the last 8 Bush years have.

Note to the voters who say that if their Democratic candidate (generally Clinton) is not nominated, they will vote for McCain. Please think again and reconsider the repercussions of the 3rd term of Bush policies that McCain will ocntinue. The US and the world cannot afford it, not in blood, not in treasure and not in standing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Petraeus-Crocker Show Gets the Hook

I'm turning this over to Frank Rich from the New York Times today. Well said, Mr Rich.

The Petraeus-Crocker Show Gets the Hook

THE night before last week’s Senate hearings on our “progress” in Iraq, a goodly chunk of New York’s media and cultural establishment assembled in the vast lobby of the Museum of Modern Art. There were cocktails; there were waiters wielding platters of hors d’oeuvres; there was a light sprinkling of paparazzi. Then there was a screening. We trooped like schoolchildren to the auditorium to watch a grueling movie about the torture at Abu Ghraib.

Not just any movie, but “Standard Operating Procedure,” the new investigatory documentary by Errol Morris, one of our most original filmmakers. It asks the audience not just to revisit the crimes in graphic detail but to confront in tight close-up those who both perpetrated and photographed them. Because Mr. Morris has a complex view of human nature, he arouses a certain sympathy for his subjects, much as he did at times for Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary, in his Vietnam film, “Fog of War.”

More sympathy, actually. Only a few bad apples at the bottom of the chain of command took the fall for Abu Ghraib. No one above the level of staff sergeant went to jail, and no one remotely in proximity to a secretary of defense has been held officially accountable. John Yoo, the author of the notorious 2003 Justice Department memo rationalizing torture, has happily returned to his tenured position as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. So when Mr. Morris brings you face to face with Lynndie England — now a worn, dead-eyed semblance of the exuberant, almost pixie-ish miscreant in the Abu Ghraib snapshots — you’re torn.

Ms. England, who is now on parole, concedes that what she and her cohort did was “unusual and weird and wrong,” but adds that “when we first got there, the example was already set.” That reflection doesn’t absolve her of moral responsibility, but, like much in this film, it forces you to look beyond the fixed images of one of the most documented horror stories of our time.

Yet I must confess that, sitting in MoMA, I kept looking beyond the frame of Mr. Morris’s movie as well. While there’s really no right place to watch “Standard Operating Procedure,” the jarring contrast between the film’s subject and the screening’s grandiosity was a particularly glaring illustration of the huge distance that separates most Americans, and not just Manhattan elites, from the battle lines of our country’s five-year war. If Tom Wolfe was not in the audience to chronicle this cognitive dissonance, he should have been.

Mr. Morris’s movie starts fanning out to theaters on April 25. We don’t have to wait until then to know its fate. Sympathetic critics will tell us it’s our civic duty to see it. The usual suspects will try to besmirch Mr. Morris’s patriotism. But none of that will much matter. “Standard Operating Procedure” will reach the director’s avid core audience, but it is likely to be avoided by most everyone else no matter what praise or controversy it whips up.

It would take another column to list all the movies and TV shows about Iraq that have gone belly up at the box office or in Nielsen ratings in the nearly four years since the war’s only breakout commercial success, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” They die regardless of their quality or stand on the war, whether they star Tommy Lee Jones (“In the Valley of Elah”) or Meryl Streep (“Lions for Lambs”) or are produced by Steven Bochco (the FX series “Over There”) or are marketed like Abercrombie & Fitch apparel to the MTV young (“Stop-Loss”).

As The New York Times recently reported, box-office dread has driven one Hollywood distributor to repeatedly postpone the release of “The Lucky Ones,” a highly regarded and sympathetic feature about the war’s veterans, the first made with full Army assistance, even though the word Iraq is never spoken and the sole battle sequence runs 40 seconds. If Iraq had been mentioned in “Knocked Up” or “Superbad,” Judd Apatow’s hilarious hit comedies about young American guys who (like most of their peers) never consider the volunteer Army as an option, they might have flopped too. Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires.
This is not merely a showbiz phenomenon but a leading indicator of where our entire culture is right now. It’s not just torture we want to avoid. Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.

That’s why last week’s testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker was a nonevent beyond Washington. The cable networks duly presented the first day of hearings, but only, it seemed, because the show could be hyped as an “American Idol”-like competition in foreign-policy one-upmanship for the three remaining presidential candidates, all senators. When the hearings migrated to the House the next day, they vanished into the same black media hole where nearly all Iraq news now goes. If the Olympic torch hadn’t provided an excuse to cut away, no doubt any handy weather disturbance would have served instead.

The simple explanation for why we shun the war is that it has gone so badly. But another answer was provided in the hearings by Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, one of the growing number of Republican lawmakers who no longer bothers to hide his exasperation. He put his finger on the collective sense of shame (not to be confused with collective guilt) that has attended America’s Iraq project. “The truth of the matter,” Mr. Voinovich said, is that “we haven’t sacrificed one darn bit in this war, not one. Never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people that we lost.”

This is how the war planners wanted it, of course. No new taxes, no draft, no photos of coffins, no inconveniences that might compel voters to ask tough questions. This strategy would have worked if the war had been the promised cakewalk. But now it has backfired. A home front that has not been asked to invest directly in a war, that has subcontracted it to a relatively small group of volunteers, can hardly be expected to feel it has a stake in the outcome five stalemated years on.

The original stakes (saving the world from mushroom clouds and an alleged ally of Osama bin Laden) evaporated so far back they seem to belong to another war entirely. What are the stakes we are asked to believe in now? In the largely unwatched House hearings on Wednesday, Representative Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, tried to get at this by asking what some 4,000 “sons and daughters” of America had died for.

The best General Petraeus could muster was a bit of bloodless Beltway-speak — “national interests” — followed by another halfhearted attempt to overstate Iraq’s centrality to the war on Al Qaeda and a future war on Iran. He couldn’t even argue that we’re on a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people. That would require him to acknowledge that roughly five million of those people, 60 percent of them children, are now refugees receiving scant help from either our government or Nuri al-Maliki’s. That’s nearly a fifth of the Iraqi population — the equivalent of 60 million Americans — and another source of our shame.

The prevailing verdict on the Petraeus-Crocker show is that it accomplished little beyond certifying President Bush’s intention to kick the can to January 2009 so that the helicopters will vacate the Green Zone on the next president’s watch. That’s true, but by week’s end, I became more convinced than ever that in January we’ll have a new policy that includes serious withdrawals and serious conversations with Mr. Maliki’s pals in Iran, even if John McCain becomes president.

General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker define victory as “sustainable security” in Iraq. But both Colin Powell and Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said last week that current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are unsustainable and are damaging America’s readiness to meet other security threats. And that’s not all that’s unsustainable. An ailing economy can’t keep floating the war’s $3-billion-a-week cost. A Republican president intent on staying the Bush course will find his vetoes unsustainable after the Democrats increase their majorities in Congress in November. No war can be fought indefinitely if the public has irrevocably turned against it.

Mr. McCain says Americans want “victory,” whatever that means today, and yes, they would if it could be won on the terms promised by Mr. Bush five years ago — fast, and with minimal sacrifice. It’s way too late to ask for years of stepped-up sacrifice now in the cause of a highly debatable definition of “national interests.”

This war has lasted so long that Americans, even the bad apples of Abu Ghraib interviewed by Mr. Morris, have had the time to pass through all five of the K├╝bler-Ross stages of grief over its implosion. Though dead-enders like Mr. McCain may have only gone from denial to anger to bargaining, most others have moved on to depression and acceptance. Unable to even look at the fiasco anymore, the nation is now just waiting for someone to administer the last rites.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

It's Time for a Filibuster

As a member of the Board of MFSO (Military Families Speak Out), I heartily support this effort. I hope you will do the same.




"Let me be clear: there is no military solution in
Iraq, and there never was. The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops. Not in six months or one year - now."

-- Sen. Barack Obama,September 12, 2007

"Our message to the president is clear. It is time to begin ending this war -- not next year, not next month -- but today."

-- Sen. Hillary Clinton,July 10, 2007

On the campaign trail, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton both say that the war in Iraq needs to end. Military Families Speak Out has one question for them: what are they doing now as sitting United States Senators, to bring our loved ones home from Iraq?

Military Families Speak Out is an organization of almost 4,000 military families with loved ones who are serving in Iraq, ready to deploy or re-deploy, have been wounded physically and/or psychologically, or have died as a result of the war in Iraq. We know first hand the devastation of this war.

We are more than five years into a war that Clinton and Obama say should never have begun. Over 4,000 U.S. troops and, by some estimates, over a million Iraqi children, women, and men have died in this unjustifiable war. Countless more have sustained devastating life long injuries to their bodies, minds, and spirits. More are killed and wounded every day. The suicide rate among active duty and returned Veterans is skyrocketing. We simply can't wait nine more months for a new President to begin a process for ending this war.

And we don't have to: Congress has the power to end the war in Iraq now. The President can't spend a dime on this war without the approval of both houses of Congress.

A single act of bold leadership by Senator Clinton or Senator Obama could be instrumental in ending this war. When the Senate takes up the next war funding bill, either one of them could lead a filibuster, refusing to stand down until their colleagues agree to vote against any bill that provides funding to continue the war rather than funding specifically for the swift and safe return of all our troops from Iraq. They wouldn't even need a majority of their colleagues to back them up -- all they need is 40 Senators prepared to unite behind their leadership and block additional funding to continue the war from making it through the Senate.

Democrats and Republicans alike have routinely used filibusters and the threat of filibusters around important issues. What could be more important that ending the war in Iraq?

If Senator Clinton and Senator Obama aren't willing to use the power they have now as U.S. Senators to end the war, what makes anyone think they will exercise bold leadership on January 20, 2009? If they fail to take action to stop funding the war that is killing our troops and the Iraqi people, we can only conclude that when their campaigns talk about ending the war, they are just using the memory of the fallen, the sacrifices of our troops, and the grief and pain of our families, for political gain.

As military families, we appeal to the American people: Call Senator Clinton, Senator, Obama, and your own two Senators and urge them to use the power of the filibuster to block any bill that continues to fund the war in Iraq rather than funding the swift and safe return of our troops. We also call on Congress to appropriate the funds needed for our troops to get the care they need when they return.

Senator Hillary Clinton -- (202) 224-4451
Senator Barack Obama -- (202) 224-2854
Senate Switchboard -- (800) 828-0498

Click here to find out who your Senators are.

Click here to sign our online petition.