Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Good That We Do Ain't Doing So Well - Iraq Reconstruction Projects Going Down the Tubes

A common complaint of Iraq war supporters is that the MSM "doesn't tell the success stories" of projects built and progress made. Setting aside for a moment the story of those projects which never made it off the ground thanks to rampant corruption, contractor incompetence, and diversion of funds to other "purposes", what has happened to the projects which did get built?

According to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), nothing good.

The New York Times reports that a sampling of eight Iraq reconstruction projects shows that

in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

According to the SIGIR
At the [Baghdad] airport ... inspectors found that while $11.8 million had been spent on new electrical generators, $8.6 million worth were no longer functioning.

At the maternity hospital, a rehabilitation project in the northern city of Erbil, an expensive incinerator for medical waste was padlocked — Iraqis at the hospital could not find the key when inspectors asked to see the equipment — and partly as a result, medical waste including syringes, used bandages and empty drug vials were clogging the sewage system and probably contaminating the water system.

The newly built water purification system was not functioning either.

inspections found numerous instances of power generators that no longer operated; sewage systems that had clogged and overflowed, damaging sections of buildings; electrical systems that had been jury-rigged or stripped of components; floors that had buckled; concrete that had crumbled; and expensive equipment that was simply not in use ... most of the problems seemed unrelated to sabotage stemming from Iraq’s parlous security situation, but instead were the product of poor initial construction, petty looting, a lack of any maintenance and simple neglect ... that kind of neglect is typical of rebuilding programs in developing countries when local nationals are not closely involved in planning efforts ...

Only recently has the SIGIR been allowed to come into its own as a source of rigorous audits and on-the-ground accountability for U.S. funds expended in Iraq. In early November 2006 Senator Duncan Hunter slipped language into an appropriations bill seeking to cut off the SIGIR's funding as of October 2007. Fortunately, this was reversed when the new Congress took over in January 2007, but how characteristic of the Administration to seek to squelch criticism by shooting the messenger.

Friday, April 27, 2007

So Are They Prisoners of War or Criminal Detainees?

For a brief period on Thursday, April 26th, Senator Patrick Leahy became a witness and testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the rights of Guantanamo detainees.

Leahy described the indefinite detention of hundreds of individuals as "un-American". Senators skirmish over Gitmo detainees. Thank goodness for people like Leahy and Senator Levin, who point out the hypocrisy in a system which professes the rights of the accused and yet holds them indefinitely without the right even to demand probable cause. As Levin said:

"America at its best is a beacon for human rights and human liberty, and that's how we like to see ourselves ... but much of the world sees us in a very different way when we fail to live up to the standards we profess."
The government has released well over 300 of these detainees, the so-called "worst of the worst" according to Cheney, yet the continued detention of the remaining detainees is considered justified by the nature of the accusations against them. What a crock.

We hear it over and over again: We're in a "global war on terror". Really? It's a war? Then why aren't the rules of war being followed? Why aren't the people we're detaining being considered prisoners of war and subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention?

They're not soldiers but terrorists? Well aren't terrorists criminals? Why can't we subject them to the criminal laws of this country as we used to do before the Bush Administration decided to create this legal limbo where people are neither soldiers nor criminals but something in between? How is it that we were able to try and convict terrorists like the blind sheik and his co-conspirators after the first World Trade Center bombings without sending them to an island with no recourse to the legal system? Didn't we try and convict Tim McVeigh without taking away his right to an aggressive legal defense? The law is not the enemy. Legal protections and standards of evidence and fairness are not the enemy. Again, what is our government afraid of?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bush Administration Continues Its Attack on Gitmo Lawyers

Cross-Posted to Raising Kaine

Here's an article from the New York Times describing the latest in the government's efforts to curtail and obstruct Guantanamo detainees' attorneys in their pursuit of fair hearings on the evidence for their clients. Court Asked to Limit Lawyers at Guantanamo

The government has proposed some teeny-tiny adjustments to the way Gitmo detainees are represented, to wit:

the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee’s case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.
The attorneys have been accused of "causing unrest" at Guantanamo. Well we all know how happy the detainees were to be there until all the pesky lawyers showed up. The government's hatchet man, Cmdr. Patrick McCarthy, says defense lawyers have
gathered information from the detainees for news organizations. Commander McCarthy also said the lawyers had provided detainees with accounts of events outside Guantánamo, like a speech at an Amnesty International conference and details of terrorist attacks.

“Such information,” his affidavit said, “threatens the security of the camp, as it could incite violence among the detainees.”
Give the government the right to review all communications between lawyers and their clients? How could that possibly be seen as impeding the relationship between attorneys and clients? The government guys will keep their secrets and won't use the information gleaned to seize unfair advantage in their cases. Honest!

And one visit to initiate representation? Sounds reasonable. After all, the detainees have been locked up for years by generally white, non-Muslim Americans who don't speak their languages, and the lawyers are generally white, non-Muslim Americans who don't speak their languages, either, so no reason for the detainees to be suspicious of any lawyer who shows up - sometimes sporting a Jewish name - and says "let me help you. And by the way, if you do allow me to help you this is the only time we're going to talk about your case so I need to know everything. And by the way, everything you tell me through correspondence or meetings will also be told to the government's lawyers. But I'm really on your side. Seriously. Trust me. So come on, start talking."

Of course the attorneys deny that they have done the things of which they're accused. No proof offered, just the usual speculation and hinting at dark things to come. These people are wasted in the law. They should all be in Hollywood writing scary screenplays for a revival of the Goosebumps series.

I have an idea. Let's distribute the detainees around our federal prison system and CLOSE Guantanamo. Let's let their attorneys see them the way they see their non-detainee clients.

This issue is yet another "sky is falling" assertion by elements of the Bush Administration bound and determined to continue stacking the deck against the Guantanamo detainees. Here's another suggestion. Why not drop all the bulltwaddle, gather the evidence and put it out there, and hold some damn hearings with real rules of procedure and rules of evidence? Or is that just too scary a prospect for the likes of Alberto ("I know nothing, I see nothing, I hear nothing") Gonzales and this Administration?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How Do I Scandalize Thee? Let Me Count The Ways.

Cross-posted to Raising Kaine

For all the people who wished me well during my recent parotid tumor surgery - Thank You. The surgery turned out far better than anyone could have predicted, and I face the world today with a normal (albeit not very striking) face and a renewed sense of purpose.

From Tom Raum of the Associated Press comes a story of just how many scandals we've seen out of the Bush Administration. Bush Administration Awash in Scandals. Tom Raum points out that

Campaigning in 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush would repeatedly raise his right hand as if taking an oath and vow to "restore honor and integrity" to the White House. He pledged to usher in a new era of bipartisanship.

The dual themes of honesty and bipartisanship struck a chord with many voters and helped propel Bush to the White House in one of the nation's closest-ever elections. Americans re-elected him in 2004 after he characterized himself as best suited to protect a nation at war.

Now, with fewer than two years left of his second term, the Bush administration is embroiled in multiple scandals and ethics investigations.
Mr. Raum highlights the Administration's dirty little secret, which is that unquestioning loyalty to President Bush and his neocon ideology trump technical competence, trump effectiveness in government, trump the independent nature of every position from the Attorney General on down. Mr. Raum highlights
Some recent incidents:

- World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq war as deputy defense secretary, acknowledged he erred in helping a female friend he is dating to get transferred to a high-paying job at the State Department while remaining on the World Bank payroll. The revelations fueled calls from the bank's staff association for him to resign.

- Matteo Fontana, a Department of Education official who oversaw the student loan industry, was put on leave after disclosure that he owned at least $100,000 worth of stock in a student loan company.

- Lurita Doan, head of the General Services Administration, attended a luncheon at the agency earlier this year with other top GSA political appointees at which Scott Jennings, a top Rove aide, gave a PowerPoint demonstration on how to help Republican candidates in 2008. A congressional committee is investigating whether the remarks violated a federal law that restricts executive-branch employees from using their positions for political purposes.

- Julie MacDonald, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service but has no academic background in biology, overrode recommendations of agency scientists about how to protect endangered species and improperly leaked internal information to private groups, the Interior Department's inspector general said.

Today I spoke to a client who started to complain about the Bush Administration, but then remembered that she was speaking on a government phone from her government agency. This life-time employee has had drilled into her head the separation between political advocacy and the performance of her duties as a government employee. She breathes, thinks, and channels the Hatch Act. You couldn't say the same for Lurita Doan and the other high ranking Bush appointees who have turned their agencies into private sounding boards for and advocates of Bush Administration policies. Wherever one turns there is evidence of undue influence, overreaching, and cooptation of the most essential regulatory federal functions. And then there are the scandals. Does Paul Wolfowitz have a sense of shame? A sense of limitation on his endless sense of right to self-gratification and self-aggrandizement? Is his only qualification to hold his office his unquestioning loyalty to the Bush Administration and the policies which flow therefrom?

What of Alberto Gonzales, the chief apologist for and architect of the Bush Administration's torture policies? Does he have any sense of shame? Is he aware of any obligation other than his unquestioning loyalty, repaid by Bush's bottomless boosterism, to the Bush Administration and its Bill of Rights curtailing Constitution crushing policies?

Today I read of the defection of Pete McCloskey from the Republican Party. He left the Republican Party, to which he and his family had been founding and sustaining members since the time of Lincoln, and joined the Democratic Party, complaining that
it seems that every Republican presidential candidate is now vying for the support of the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells rather than talking about a return to the values of the party I joined nearly 59 years ago.
Traditional conservatives who value the philosophy of the original Republican Party should indeed be worried. They have been replaced by neocon ideologues and members of the new Inquisition and America is much the poorer for it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Living With A Parotid Tumor

I've been pretty busy working lately, which accounts in part for why there haven't been any new diaries, but there is also the knowledge that in a few days I will be having surgery for the fifth recurrence of a medical oddity known as a parotid tumor. For all the normal people out there who have never heard of the parotid gland, it is the largest salivary gland in the human body, a matching set on each side of the head, and is perilously close to the facial nerve and nerves controlling things like eyelids and ears and whatnot. Four times I have had a form of tumor called a pleomorphic adenoma, a benign and largely painless thing which just keeps growing until it is taken out. My four surgeries took place starting in 1974 and continuing to 1983, with varying degrees of success. After nine years of surgeries just about every other year I decided to simply ignore the next recurrence, which started when I was about 26 years old and when my family and career were just getting started, and has been growing inexorably to this, my fiftieth year. Time for it to go.

The problem with parotid tumors is that sometimes they can "go south". In other words it is possible for my benign pleomorphic adenoma to become a carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma. This, and the fact that the darn thing is really sticking out of my head now, covered only by a hank of my graying, thinning hair, means it is time to take out the trash. The surgery is on April 19th. In a few months I will undertake radiation treatment, whether or not the biopsy is bad, in order to try to prevent or at least delay another recurrence. Each recurrence increases the possibility of a malignancy developing. The problem with radiation treatment is that there is some research indicating that a recurrence after RT is more likely to be malignant than it would have been if the RT hadn't been undertaken, but by the same token that is only if there is a recurrence. At this point the likelihood of a recurrence if I do not have the RT is 100% and if I do have the RT it's more like 50%. I'd rather take a chance of a bad recurrence for the opportunity to have no recurrence, instead of sitting around waiting for the inevitable next recurrence without the RT.

So the tumor's coming out in an outpatient procedure. If all goes well I'll be up and running around after a few days. If not so well, then I may have some problems with my eyelid - the transgenital nerve which controls the eyelid runs through the tumor - and my eyelid would not be able to close. There's always a danger of facial paralysis, but for some reason this does not bug me as much as the thought of having a Pinkerton eye (we never sleep!). If my lid is affected then it may affect my sight, which will in turn affect my ability to do close work. If the facial nerve is damaged I may look like I have Bell's Palsy, but as long as I can talk, see, and swallow I can live with the idea. It no longer frightens me, as it did when I was a young litigator starting out, that my looks could be so affected. Guess we'll know after Thursday.