Friday, August 31, 2007

"The Great Iraq Swindle"

Up front, I'll say this much--I'm well aware that Rolling Stone leans left. And I'm sure Matt Taibbi, one of their political correspondents (their best, I think), leans left. Probably way left. But regardless of that, this is likely the most infuriating piece of journalism about the Iraq war that I've read in the past five years.

The Great Iraq Swindle
"Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam Hussein. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient."

I'm not going to copy-paste the whole thing here, because it's very long. But here's some bullet points:

--It took contractor Parsons two years and $72 million taxpayer dollars to build the Baghdad Police College. And what did the office of the Special Inspector General find when they audited the building? "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate; the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles." Yes, a $72 million dollar building "so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors." Parsons has made over $540 million dollars in contracts from the Iraq war rebuilding effort.

--Examples of contractors/employees approved by the Department of Defense: "a twenty-four year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock market; a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget; James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan's community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq's healthcare system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed anti-smoking campaign."

--Scott Custer and Mike Battles, calling their "security company" Custer Battles, got a $15 million contract to provide airport security for civilian flights. "But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, former inspector general of the Army Richard Ballard said, 'I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog.' When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and 'refuse to sniff the vehicles.'" Custer Battles also "found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. taxpayers as new equipment." "The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials--a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair's phony invoicing. 'It was the worst case of fraud I've ever seen, hands down,' says attorney Alan Grayson. 'But it's also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime." But, when the case went to court, the Bush administration "refused to prosecute the pair--it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money."

--"There was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. 'Yes--$100 bills in plastic wrap,' Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. 'We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while.'"

--"When Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he'd have agents go to the various stashes--a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam's former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch--withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills."

--U.S. cash shipped to Iraq: $12 billion. Weight of total shipment: 360 tons. U.S. cash unaccounted for: $8.8 billion. Weight of missing money: 266 tons.

--KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary, overcharged the government 600% for fuel shipments, and "dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as 'sailboat fuel.'"

--"When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, 'We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn't say they had to work.' Such excuses speak to a monstrous vacuum of patriotism; it would be hard to imagine contractors being so blithely disinterested in results during WWII, where every wasted dollar might mean another American boy dead from gangrene in the Ardennes."

--"The Bush administration's lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. 'For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism,' Grayson said in congressional testimony, 'it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers.' In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million."

--"When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases--a life-threatening situation for any American."

--KBR "hired civilian air-conditioning techs to fix Humvees using the instruction manual while the real Humvee repairmen, earning a third of what the helpless civilians were paid, drove around in circles outside the wire waiting to get blown up by insurgents."

--"Military law requires every company contracting with the government to fully insure all of its employees in the war zone," but many employees returning stateside with injuries from the war zone are finding that the contractors will not pay those medical/rehab bills.

"If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after American liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"What have you done?"

Fortune cookie.
My second ominous fortune cookie in just over a week--should I be worried?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My new favorite website.

(For the moment, anyway.)

- "a guide to what makes Wisconsin what it is: peculiar."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
My fortune from lunch at the Saigon Cafe in Duluth, 8.18.2007.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Mommy, wow! I'm a big kid now."

Okay, I'll admit it--I am a big, nerdy R.E.M. fan. How nerdy? I'm in the fan club. Yeah. And, brace yourself--I know all the words to "It's the End of the World as We Know It." Scary, I know. Take a minute to digest that. (Although in all honesty, I've run hot & cold with them with their more recent offerings--I love Up, but I don't think I've listened to Around the Sun since it came out in '04.)

And, I like Michael Stipe--he's kooky as hell and I think sometimes he's just weird for weirdness's sake, but his band's music has had a huge impact on my life (particularly in the college years, as my patient/suffering roommates could tell you) so I tune out the irritating celebrity friendships (Cameron Diaz? Seriously?) and try to overlook the lackluster last album or two and keep the faith.

But then, he's gotta go and do this:

It's not the fact that he's shilling for a designer that I have a problem with. It's the freakin' godawful terrible ad itself.

Where the hell was this taken? Is that a toilet he's resting his hand on? And the framing of the random stuff in the background is just...weird. And the lighting, too. (Is that string of Chinese lanterns falling down behind his head?) Was the bathroom not big enough for him and the photographer, is that why he's smooshed in the corner? Was the guy crouching down in the tub when he took this? Honestly, this looks like no thought went into it
at all. It looks like something me and my college roommates would've taken when we were drunk, running around the apartment filming our Killer Furby movies. Hell, even the Killer Furby movies looked better than this!

And frankly, the whole thing has a very "look, Mommy, I used the big boy potty all by myself" vibe to it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And that's a LOT of Cherry Coke.


1. The Wilco show scheduled in Duluth for tonight got postponed until 9/4, because the guitarist caught...the chicken pox. Bummer. But as much as it sucks not having a bright shining beacon of goodness to look forward to anymore this week, it must suck a considerable amount more to be an adult...with the chicken pox. Yikes.

2. My new cameras showed up over the weekend. I've had my eye on these for a while, and caught them on sale, no less. (They're not digital, they're old skool 35 mm buggers.) Presenting the one with the fisheye lens, and the one with the colored flash:

3. Yesterday, I pre-ordered this:

4. And, some of you may remember a semi-cryptic e-mail from me a few weeks ago, regarding an item that would be showing up at my house in 5-7 weeks. Well, it got here early.

The telenovella
La Madrastra...on DVD. 345 Coke points, people. 345 Coke points. And worth every single sip of Cherry Coke. Bruno, whenever we want!!!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

We're having a crime wave, a tropical crime wave...

Not really. But you've got to admit, summertime police blotters in the Daily Press do kick things up a notch. Some recent excerpts:

Sunday, 2:51 A.M.:
911 call received from an intoxicated person, nothing actually wrong.

Sunday, 11:27 A.M.:
Call for assistance about a vehicle trapped in a car wash in Cable, vehicle later removed without assistance.

Sunday, 7:07 P.M.:
Report of a man passed out behind shed at the elderly building with a 40 oz. bottle.

Sunday, 7:50 P.M.:
Caller states someone approached her, yelling and accusing her of antagonizing his dog.

Monday, 11:58 A.M.:
Caller states that he seems to have a family of raccoons living in the ceiling of his home.

Monday, 9:48 P.M.:
Report of two high school age kids in front of the school with shovels.

Monday, 10:28 P.M.:
Caller reports that he sent gold coins to someone and he has received no money in return.

Monday, 10:37 P.M.: Caller reported someone harassing her dogs.

Tuesday, 12:07 P.M.:
Caller reported that she'd placed a "for sale" ad in the paper for a vehicle, and that a suspicious caller had offered to send her a large check for the car if she'd "send back the change."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What I've been up to.

Sorry for the lack of updates over the past few weeks--here's a mish-mash of what I've been up to.

I've been in Duluth...
Movies in the park.
(Movies in the Park)

Rose garden.
Rose garden.
(Rose Garden by Leif Erickson Park)

At Carlson's downtown.
Joe at the book store.
Freud sign.
(At Carlson's Used Books in downtown Duluth--still epic, but cleaned up a bit compared to how I remember it being when I frequented the place during my college years)

View toward downtown.
Burning yellow sun.
Looking out from Park Point.
Rock fight!
(Hanging out by the lake)

I've been at Brownstone Days in Washburn...
Carnival goodness.
The Steak Pit.

I've been hanging around the house...

Frog & Toad's Excellent Adventure.
(The frogs that hitched a ride to the last City Band concert in town tucked away in the folds of my mom's lawn chair, and who she lovingly ferried back home in her jacket pocket.)

(So I bought this cheesy "Mom" plastic floral cemetery marker for 10¢ at Walmart a few months ago, kidding my mom about how I was going to stick it out in the yard one day when she wasn't looking. And lo & behold, I come home from work one evening to find that someone's already beaten me to the punch! haha)

Toivo, in all his glory.
(Toivo, in all his glory.)

I went to watch the cigar boat races in Bayfield...
Cigar boat races in Bayfield.
Jack Links boat.
Watching the race unfold.
Birds aplenty.

And, I went out to the racetrack to watch cars race one Friday night, too.

Lining up.
Bugs and dust.
Dewey, representin'.
(That's Dewey out there, in the navy blue shirt. It was Amsoil night at the races--the synthetic oil company Dewey works for was sponsoring the festivities.)


The crowd goes wild.
(The crowd goes wild. From left: Uncle Jimmy, my mom, Aunt Linda, Linda's daughter Sherry, and Grandma Rosie.)

Oh--and have I mentioned that Emily & her family were in from Montana?
Clearys at the beach.