Browsing the archives for the corruption category.


War in Washington

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Bush Administration, Congress, corruption, criminal justice

When I first heard about the FBI raid on Rep. William J. Jefferson’s office it didn’t occur to me there might be a constitutional issue involved. But now — surprise! — House Speaker Dennis Hastert told President Bush yesterday that he thought the raid was unconstitutional, according to Patrick O’Connor at The Hill. And House Majority Leader Boehner wasn’t happy, either.

Calling the Saturday-night raid an “invasion of the legislative branch,” House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted the case would eventually be resolved in the Supreme Court and hinted that Congress would take further action. The majority leader said Hastert would take the lead on the issue because he is the chief constitutional officer in the House.

“I am sure there will be a lot more said about this,” Boehner said.

The problem is that the FBI raid on Jefferson’s office amounted to a raid by the executive branch on the legislative branch. An editorial in today’s New York Times explains the constitutional issue:

The court-authorized search of the Congressional office of Representative William Jefferson by federal agents was as unprecedented in the 217-year history of Congress as it was alarming to lawmakers of both parties. Critics instantly suggested that Congressman Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat suspected of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, should have been spared the raid under some broad interpretation of the Constitution’s separation of executive and legislative powers.

Fuming lawmakers claim that the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause — which protects a lawmaker from politically motivated criminal harassment in the course of official business — should extend to making Mr. Jefferson’s office inviolable. …

…It’s hard to remember when the issue of separations of powers has arisen under such an explosive combination of political circumstances: an all-night search on a quiet weekend during an election-year session that has already been roiled by separate corruption investigations.

The “speech and debate” clause is in Article I, section 6, first paragraph:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

(I believe this is the same clause cited on behalf of Rep. Patrick Kennedy when he crashed his car into a traffic barrier a few days ago. It was argued that Kennedy couldn’t be arrested, and he wasn’t. However, the accident occurred at 3 a.m., and Congress was not in session at the time.)

The Findlaw annotations for this clause are here. And that takes us to the SCOTUS decision in United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169 (1966), in which Justice Harlan wrote,

The language of that Article, of which the present clause is only a slight modification, is in turn almost identical to the English Bill of Rights of 1689: [383 U.S. 169, 178] “That the Freedom of Speech, and Debates or Proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parliament.” 1 W. & M., Sess. 2, c. 2.

This formulation of 1689 was the culmination of a long struggle for parliamentary supremacy. Behind these simple phrases lies a history of conflict between the Commons and the Tudor and Stuart monarchs during which successive monarchs utilized the criminal and civil law to suppress and intimidate critical legislators. 8 Since the Glorious Revolution in Britain, and throughout United States history, the privilege has been recognized as an important protection of the independence and integrity of the legislature. See, e. g., Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 866; II The Works of James Wilson 37-38 (Andrews ed. 1896). In the American governmental structure the clause serves the additional function of reinforcing the separation of powers so deliberately established by the Founders. As Madison noted in Federalist No. 48:

    “It is agreed on all sides, that the powers properly belonging to one of the departments, ought not to be directly and completely administered by either of the other departments. It is equally evident, that neither of them ought to possess directly or indirectly, an overruling influence over the others in the administration of their respective powers. It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it. After discriminating therefore in theory, the several classes of power, as they may in their nature be legislative, [383 U.S. 169, 179] executive, or judiciary; the next and most difficult task, is to provide some practical security for each against the invasion of the others. What this security ought to be, is the great problem to be solved.” (Cooke ed.)

The legislative privilege, protecting against possible prosecution by an unfriendly executive and conviction by a hostile judiciary, is one manifestation of the “practical security” for ensuring the independence of the legislature.

The Times editorial says that invoking the Speech and Debate clause in the Jefferson raid is a stretch, and maybe it is. Yesterday Jeralyn Merritt wrote,

In Rep. Jefferson’s case, however, “separation of powers” just won’t cut it if the affidavit for the search warrant shows probable cause to believe that evidence would be found in his office. The same would apply to the President, the Vice President, their staffs, and the judiciary: If there is probable cause linking the place to be searched with an alleged crime, the search has the imprimatur of the law, is presumptively valid under the Fourth Amendment, and that is all that will be required to defeat a separation of powers claim. His private papers concerning his thoughts and votes are not off limits to a search warrant if the allegation in the affidavit is that the vote was paid for. That is bribery of a Member of Congress, and no Congressman is immune from that. Ask former Rep. Duke Cunningham.

I don’t think anyone is saying that Rep. Jefferson should be immune from the criminal justice system altogether, though. And I do not doubt the FBI had plenty of probable cause. The issue, seems to me, is whether the “speech and debate” clause creates a higher burden than standard probable cause for obtaining a search warrant for a congressman’s office. And if so, did the FBI’s warrant meet that burden? I hope one of our other fine blogosphere legal experts, like Scott Lemieux or Glenn Greenwald, will help us out.

It does seem that the raid on Jefferson’s office after months of leaving, for example, Tom DeLay and Randy Cunningham alone, smacks of political exploitation. First, as the Times editorial says, the Abramoff and Cunningham cases “suggest a pervasive, systemic form of corruption that does not seem to be at play in the Jefferson inquiry.” The FBI says it has a videotape of Jefferson accepting a $100,000 bribe, and that they found $90,000 of that bribe in his freezer. Seems to me they already had plenty of evidence for a prosecution. Could it be that the White House ordered the raid because the Bushies wanted Jefferson’s alleged corruption to get big headlines? Dumb question, huh?

According to CNN,

FBI agents searched Jefferson’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building from Saturday evening to early Sunday afternoon, bureau spokeswoman Debra Weierman said. One government official told CNN the search marked the first time FBI agents have searched a lawmaker’s Capitol Hill office.

Weierman would not comment on what agents removed from Jefferson’s office. But in the papers released Sunday, investigators stated they were searching for faxes, notes, telephone records and other forms of communication, as well as ledgers and computer files related to meetings and travel.

In an earlier statement, [Jefferson’s lawyer Robert] Trout called the search of Jefferson’s office “outrageous” and said it was not necessary.

“There were no exigent circumstances necessitating this action. The government knew that the documents were being appropriately preserved while proper procedures were being followed. We are dismayed by this action — the documents weren’t going anywhere and the prosecutors knew it,” he said.

However, a redacted copy of the search warrant and affidavit stated that federal investigators were unable to obtain the records relevant to the investigation inside Jefferson’s office and, “left with no other method,” proceeded with the search.

I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that if this goes to the SCOTUS the FBI will have to argue that there was something Jefferson was hiding in his office that they really, really needed for an indictment and prosecution, and that they had exhausted other methods of obtaining this something. Had Rep. Jefferson refused to honor a subpoena, for example? [Update: Jefferson had refused to comply with a subpoena, according to the Associated Press.] I don’t know if the “speech and debate” clause renders a congressman’s office inviolable, but I would think the clause places a burden on the executive branch to show that the raid was not frivolous or politically motivated.

Carl Hulse wrote in yesterday’s New York Times that the raid seems to be part of a pattern:

Lawmakers and outside analysts said that while the execution of a warrant on a Congressional office might be surprising — this appears to be the first time it has happened — it fit the Bush administration’s pattern of asserting broad executive authority, sometimes at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches.

Pursuing a course advocated by Vice President Dick Cheney, the administration has sought to establish primacy on domestic and foreign policy, not infrequently keeping much of Congress out of the loop unless forced to consult.

“It is consistent with a unilateral approach to the use of authority in Washington, D.C.,” Philip J. Cooper, a professor at Portland State University who has studied the administration’s approach to executive power, said of the search.

“This administration,” Dr. Cooper said, “has very systematically and from the beginning acted in a way to interpret its executive powers as broadly as possible and to interpret the power of Congress as narrowly as possible as compared to the executive.”

But Republicans in Congress have been pretty much OK with being stomped on by the executive branch. Why are they fighting back now? Laura Rozen writes:

In a city that has become so hyper, Beria-like politicized, House GOP leaders have overwhelmingly sided with a House Democrat looking at face value pretty vulnerable to corruption charges in protesting the unprecedented FBI weekend raid on Rep. Jefferson’s office as a sign of what lawmakers claim is executive overreach. But the strange thing is, lawmakers would ostensibly have total oversight responsibility for the FBI, through the power of the purse, the power of writing legislation, subpoena power, confirming nominees, etc. If they’re concerned about alleged FBI overreach, they can haul in to testify not just FBI director Mueller, but his boss Alberto Gonzales. So what is really going on here? Perhaps a shot across the bow? Or is it panic?

But I can’t believe Bush’s boy Alberto would allow the FBI to raid Republican offices looking for incriminating evidence. Not when they are so desperate to win elections this November and keep Congress in Republican hands.

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Why We’re Better

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blogging, corruption

When Republicans get caught at corruption, righties say …

Democrats do it too!
It’s liberal media bias! (And Democrats do it too!)
Leftie bloggers get a trip to Amsterdam! (I haven’t yet heard what nefarious quid pro quo was demanded by the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions.)
Liberal news bias. Our guy just made a mistake.

Or, they say nothing. On several active rightie blogs I got no hits at all for “Abramoff,” “Cunningham,” or “Tom DeLay.”

When Democrats get caught in corruption, lefties say,

Looks like he’s guilty.
He’s not the only Democrat with ethical problems.
It was stupid, and he got caught. He should resign.
The guy belongs in jail.

Sorta gives you a clue which side drinks the most Kool Aid, huh?

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Higher and Higher

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corruption, criminal justice, Republican Party

David Schuster is on Countdown telling Keith Olbermann that there may be a connection between Jack Abramoff and the phone jamming scandal. Details to come as soon as I sort them out.

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Hello? Karl?

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Bush Administration, corruption, criminal justice, elections, Republican Party

New evidence of the utter moral bankruptcy of the Bush Administration is coming along to light so fast it’s hard to keep up. This morning’s clue comes to us from Larry Margasak of the Associated Press:

Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show.

The records show that Bush campaign operative James Tobin, who recently was convicted in the case, made two dozen calls to the White House within a three-day period around Election Day 2002 — as the phone jamming operation was finalized, carried out and then abruptly shut down.

Karl? Karl? ‘Zat you, Karl?

The phone jamming scandal goes back to the 2002 midterms, when Tobin’s operation used repeated hang-up calls to jam phones at a Democratic Party get-out-the-vote center. Tobin was working on behalf of then-Rep. John Sununu Jr., who won a narrow victory over Gov. Jeanne Shaheen for a U.S. Senate seat. A week before the election the race had been too close to call.

The prosecutors in Tobin’s case did not make the White House calls part of their case, although the phone records were an exhibit. “The Justice Department has secured three convictions in the case but hasn’t accused any White House or national Republican officials of wrongdoing, nor made any allegations suggesting party officials outside New Hampshire were involved,” writes Margasak. Apparently the Bush Justice Department prosecuted the case as narrowly as it could. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee spent millions on Tobin’s defense.

Besides the conviction of Tobin, the Republicans’ New England regional director, prosecutors negotiated two plea bargains: one with a New Hampshire Republican Party official and another with the owner of a telemarketing firm involved in the scheme. The owner of the subcontractor firm whose employees made the hang-up calls is under indictment.

The phone records show that most calls to the White House were from Tobin, who became President Bush’s presidential campaign chairman for the New England region in 2004.

The case is back in the news because the Dems are bringing a civil suit alleging vote fraud (ya think?). Republicans say there are always lots of calls flying around between Republicans on election day.

A Democratic analysis of phone records introduced at Tobin’s criminal trial show he made 115 outgoing calls — mostly to the same number in the White House political affairs office — between Sept. 17 and Nov. 22, 2002. Two dozen of the calls were made from 9:28 a.m. the day before the election through 2:17 a.m. the night after the voting.

There also were other calls between Republican officials during the period that the scheme was hatched and canceled.


Josh Marshall suggests
there is “a nexus between the phone-jamming case and the Abramoff scandal,” although it’s not clear to me where the connections are. But check out the TPM “Grand Ole Docket” page.

Update: Why I quit using Google AdSense — The Peking Duck also has a story about Tobin and Phonegate today, but check out the ad in the screen-captured Google adstrip:

Too funny.

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Schadenfraude

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Bush Administration, corruption

Brian J. Doyle, the Deputy Press Secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., was caught in an internet pedophile sting operation.

On March 12, 2006, Doyle contacted a 14-year-old girl whose profile was posted on the Internet, and initiated a sexually explicit conversation with her. The girl was actually an undercover Polk County Sheriff s Computer Crimes detective. Doyle knew that the girl was 14 years old, and he told her who he was and that he worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. During future online chats, Doyle gave the undercover detective posing as a 14-year-old girl his office phone number and his government-issued cell phone number, so that they could have telephone conversations, in addition to their online chatting. Doyle used the Internet to send hard-core pornographic movie clips to the girl and used the AOL Instant Messenger chat service to have explicit sexual conversations with her. The investigation revealed that the phone numbers given to the detective were in fact Doyle s, and that the AOL account used was registered to Doyle. Doyle also sent photos of himself to the detective, which were not sexually explicit but did serve to further positively identify him.

On many occasions, Doyle instructed the victim, whom he believed to be a 14-year-old girl, to perform a sexual act while thinking of him, and described explicit and perverse sexual acts he wished to have with her, in addition to sending her numerous obscene .mpg files (digital movies). He also had sexually explicit telephone conversations with a detective posing as a child on his office line and cell phone. He attempted to seduce the girl during their online chats, encouraging her to purchase a web cam so that she could send graphic images of herself to him, and promised her that he would likewise send nude photos of himself. Many of the conversations he initiated with the victim are too extraordinary and graphic for public release.

Doyle was arrested and spent last night in a county jail. And I’ll bet the scriptwriters for Law & Order: SVU are already working this little item into a future episode. Not to mention The Daily Show writers …

Here are some reactions from around the blogosphere.

This rightie blogger couldn’t comment without taking a swipe at liberals:

Glad they caught the idiot; he was a security risk as well as a pervert. As was Scott Ritter, not that any of the liberal blogs linking this story will make that connection.

I guess in Rightie World, being right about WMDs makes you a security risk. But Taylor Marsh makes some connections with a congressional hearing also held yesterday.

… when the news hit about a pedophile living and breathing inside our own Homeland Security department, I had a sort of meltdown. I put up the breaking story, then took a moment to think about it all. It’s not a comfortable subject to contemplate when you know the gory details.

Today, Justin Berry told a story of how he had given Bush’s Justice Department the names of over 1,500 people who he’d had sexual experiences with over the time he ran his web porn site. To this day, the Bush Justice Department has done NOTHING. That’s right, nothing. Joe Scarborough covered that tonight on his show. I didn’t watch it all, but he said he was going to give out the phone number for the Justice Department so parents could demand action. I hope they do because no one has been paying attention and this has been going on since 1997.

However, I simply cannot get my head around the fact that the Bush administration has taken no action at all.

“Taken no action at all” seems to be the standard Bushie operating procedure. Next we’ll hear that “no one could have anticipated” that some guy uploading hard-core porn on his DHS computer would have been a pervert.

John Aravosis notes Doyle’s past role in airport security.

Steve Soto:

At the deputy Press Secretary level, Doyle was likely an appointee of the Homeland Security Secretary. So either Tom Ridge or Michael Chertoff get the “credit” for this putz drawing a government check spinning the media on how great DHS is.

Egalia, Tennessee Guerilla Women:

No wonder Republicans don’t believe in evolution. Instead of evolving, they devolve from corruption and cronyism to nauseating creepiness.

Don’t they background check anybody in the Bush Administration? Oh, yeah, I remember, they check to make sure their cronies carry bibles.

Another rightie blames the Left:

First off, why would this guy be so stupid? As you read the article, you’ll learn that he gave the “14-year-old” (an undercover Polk County Detective) his personal phone numbers and name and position in government to this would-be little girl, and even sent photos (not sexually explicit) of himself to her. Again, if the allegations are true, how could someone working for DHS be so stupid, especially when the left says that Bush and Cheney are sitting in their offices spying on all of our calls trying to take away our rights…. don’t you think Doyle would have been more careful?

Yeah, if you’re going to be a pedophile, be a little more discreet about it, OK?

The Talking Dog comments on “restoring honor and integrity to the government.

Captain Ed on “The Gang That Couldn’t Vet Straight“:

I’m not sure what’s going on at the Department of Homeland Security, but significant background checks certainly are not. The agency first slated to be run by Bernard Kerik until the press performed his background check instead of the White House has another winner on its hands, a deputy press secretary with a late-night hobby.

A couple of issues come to mind. First, it may be that this was Doyle’s first arrest, in which case vetting wouldn’t necessarily have tagged him as being a problem. However, as I understand these matters, it is highly unlikely the 50-something Doyle became a pedophile recently. It’s more likely he’s been one most of his life. If this is his first arrest, a whole lot of people have been looking the other way for a long time.

Remember what I said about Evil not wearing a big E on its T-shirt? Mr. Doyle may be a sweet and charming guy to most of his acquaintances. No doubt he doesn’t fit stereotypes of what a child molester is like. Cognitive dissonance would have brushed away the clues. This is not a political phenomenon. Maybe somewhere there’s a soc-psych study that argues conservatives are more prone to cognitive dissonance than liberals, but absent hard data I wouldn’t make that claim. Liberals are not immune.

However, there must have been clues. Doyle wasn’t even trying to be discreet or hide his identity.

Second, the Bush Administration has a long-established pattern of hiring people based on party or personal loyalty rather than experience. It’s not what you know, but who you know, that counts with Bushies, and not just in DHS.

So no wonder they can’t “vet straight.” No doubt the “vetters” are crony hires who aren’t qualified for their jobs.

Update: See firedoglake.

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The Hammer Falls

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Congress, corruption

Heh.

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Abramoff Gets Minimum Sentence

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corruption, criminal justice, Republican Party

William Branigin just posted this story at WaPo

Jack A. Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist at the center of a major corruption scandal, was sentenced in Miami today to five years and 10 months in prison for his role in the fraudulent purchase of a fleet of casino cruise ships. An associate received the same sentence.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff, 47, and his former partner, Adam R. Kidan, 41, after considering their pleas for the shortest possible prison terms. Each laid most of the blame on the other for the scam, in which they faked a $23 million wire transfer to obtain financing for the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos from an owner who was later shot to death in a gangland-style hit.

The maximum sentence was seven years six months. However, he’s yet to be sentenced on other charges, for fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. Abramoff pleaded guilty to those charges in January.

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“Free Fraud Zone”

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Bush Administration, corruption, Iraq War

We’ve known for some time that the Iraq “reconstruction” effort was doomed by incompetence and corruption, and that billions of dollars are unaccounted for. But there are some details in today’s Guardian that stunned even me.

Let’s start here:

At the start of the Iraq war, around $23bn-worth of Iraqi money was placed in the trusteeship of the US-led coalition by the UN. The money, known as the Development Fund for Iraq and consisting of the proceeds of oil sales, frozen Iraqi bank accounts and seized Iraqi assets, was to be used in a “transparent manner”, specified the UN, for “purposes benefiting the people of Iraq”.

I may have read that before, but I wasn’t aware of it. Anyway, we’ve got $23 billion in Iraqi money —

Because the Iraqi banking system was in tatters, the funds were placed in an account with the Federal Reserve in New York. From there, most of the money was flown in cash to Baghdad. Over the first 14 months of the occupation, 363 tonnes of new $100 bills were shipped in – $12bn, in cash. And that is where it all began to go wrong.

“Iraq was awash in cash – in dollar bills. Piles and piles of money,” says Frank Willis, a former senior official with the governing Coalition Provisional Authority. “We played football with some of the bricks of $100 bills before delivery. It was a wild-west crazy atmosphere, the likes of which none of us had ever experienced.”

Sorta gives “play money” a new meaning.

The environment created by the coalition positively encouraged corruption. “American law was suspended, Iraqi law was suspended, and Iraq basically became a free fraud zone,” says Alan Grayson, a Florida-based attorney who represents whistleblowers now trying to expose the corruption. “In a free fire zone you can shoot at anybody you want. In a free fraud zone you can steal anything you like. And that was what they did.

The Guardian provides examples of fraud perpetrated by contractors like Custer Battles, a security company set up by Scott Custer and former Republican Congressional candidate Mike Battles.

Custer Battles also set up fake companies to produce inflated invoices, which were then passed on to the Americans. They might have got away with it, had they not left a copy of an internal spreadsheet behind after a meeting with coalition officials.

The spreadsheet showed the company’s actual costs in one column and their invoiced costs in another; it revealed, in one instance, that it had charged $176,000 to build a helipad that actually cost $96,000. In fact, there was no end to Custer Battles’ ingenuity. For example, when the firm found abandoned Iraqi Airways fork-lifts sitting in Baghdad airport, it resprayed them and rented them to the coalition for thousands of dollars. In total, in return for $3m of actual expenditure, Custer Battles invoiced for $10m.

Remarkably — well, no, not remarkably, as we’re talking about the Bushies here — the U.S. government has done nothing to recover any of this money. It has been left to private individuals to sue Custer Battles for damages. So far Custer Battles has been ordered to cough up more than $10 million in damages and penalties.

And Custer Battles was merely a drop in an ocean of corruption. Iraq became a cash free-for-all. “From one US controlled vault in a former Saddam palace, $750,000 was stolen. In another, a safe was left open. In one case, two American agents left Iraq without accounting for nearly $1.5m.”

Perhaps most puzzling of all is what happened as the day approached for the handover of power (and the remaining funds) to the incoming Iraqi interim government. Instead of carefully conserving the Iraqi money for the new government, the Coalition Provisional Authority went on an extraordinary spending spree. Some $5bn was committed or spent in the last month alone, very little of it adequately accounted for.

One CPA official was given nearly $7m and told to spend it in seven days. “He told our auditors that he felt that there was more emphasis on the speed of spending the money than on the accountability for that money,” says Ginger Cruz, the deputy inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction. Not all coalition officials were so honest. Last month Robert Stein Jr, employed as a CPA comptroller in south central Iraq, despite a previous conviction for fraud, pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal more than $2m and taking kickbacks in the form of cars, jewellery, cash and sexual favours. It seems certain he is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a further 50 criminal investigations under way.

And then there is good, old-fashioned Bushie cronyism. Jobs were awarded on the basis of loyalty to Bush rather than on the basis of experience. So those that weren’t stealing were wasting money out of sheer ignorance. One of the most mind-boggling examples of this (not mentioned in The Guardian article) was putting the $13 billion reconstruction budget in the hands of recent college graduates with no relevant experience. These people were hired because they’d posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation. (A Pentagon spokesman said there was “no organized effort to hire Republicans.” Snort.) Ariana Eunjung Cha wrote in the Washington Post (May 23, 2004),

Several had impressive paper credentials, but in the wrong fields. Greco was fluent in English, Italian and Spanish; Burns had been a policy analyst focused on family and health care; and Ledeen had co-founded a cooking school. But none had ever worked in the Middle East, none spoke Arabic, and few could tell a balance sheet from an accounts receivable statement.

“The group’s primary responsibility was to hand out money,” Eunjung Cha wrote.

The Guardian provides another example:

How is it possible that after three years of occupation and billions of dollars of spending, hospitals are still short of basic supplies? Part of the cause is ideological tunnel-vision. For months before the war the US state department had been drawing up plans for the postwar reconstruction, but those plans were junked when the Pentagon took over.

To supervise the reconstruction of the Iraqi health service, the Pentagon appointed James Haveman, a former health administrator from Michigan. He was also a loyal Bush supporter, who had campaigned for Jeb Bush, and a committed evangelical Christian. But he had virtually no experience in international health work.

Even now, three years later, the Iraqi health service is a shambles, and many hospitals lack basic medicine and equipment. But here’s the kicker:

The coalition’s health programme was by any standards a failure. Basic equipment and drugs should have been distributed within months – the coalition wouldn’t even have had to pay for it. But they missed that chance, not just in health, but in every other area of life in Iraq. As disgruntled Iraqis will often point out, despite far greater devastation and crushing sanctions, Saddam did more to rebuild Iraq in six months after the first Gulf war than the coalition has managed in three years.

See Riverbend for details. Back to The Guardian:

Kees Reitfield, a health professional with 20 years’ experience in post-conflict health care from Kosovo to Somalia, was in Iraq from the very beginning of the war and looked on in astonishment at the US management in its aftermath. “Everybody in Iraq was ready for three months’ chaos,” he says. “They had water for three months, they had food for three months, they were ready to wait for three months. I said, we’ve got until early August to show an improvement, some drugs in the health centres, some improvement of electricity in the grid, some fuel prices going down. Failure to deliver will mean civil unrest.” He was right.

Of course, no one can say that if the Americans had got the reconstruction right it would have been enough. There were too many other mistakes as well, such as a policy of crude “deBa’athification” that saw Iraqi expertise marginalised, the creation of a sectarian government and the Americans attempting to foster friendship with Iraqis who themselves had no friends among other Iraqis.

Another experienced health worker, Mary Patterson – who was eventually asked to leave Iraq by James Haveman – characterises the Coalition’s approach thus: “I believe it had a lot to do with showing that the US was in control,” she says. “I believe that it had to do with rewarding people that were politically loyal. So rather than being a technical agenda, I believe it was largely a politically motivated reward-and-punishment kind of agenda.”

Which sounds like the way Saddam used to run the country. “If you were to interview Iraqis today about what they see day to day,” she says, “I think they will tell you that they don’t see a lot of difference”.

In addition to the $23 billion in Iraqi money that was supposed to be used for reconstruction, Congress allocated more than $20 billion in American taxpayer money for Iraqi reconstruction. What has $43 billion dollars accomplished? It’s hard to know from here, because what the U.S. government says and what non-government observers say are, um, not in the same ball park. This recent Scripps Howard article, which blames the insurgency for the fact reconstruction has “stalled,” says the Iraq Project and Contracting Office in Baghdad started out with a list of 5,000 necessary infrastructure projects.

Of those, 2,750 have been started and more than 2,000 have been completed, said [Retired Rear Adm. David J.] Nash, now president of the government group of a major construction company, BE&K Inc.

“Rather than this constant din you hear that nothing has happened, that’s not true,” he said, pointing to the weekly reconstruction update that shows completion of 825 schools, 302 police facilities and 13 hospitals among other successes.

It may be that these facilities are now beautiful and functioning well, but I’m sure you’ve heard the anecdotes about school “reconstruction” that amounted to little more than a coat of paint. As I said, it’s really hard to get an accurate picture of what’s going on over there. The Scripp Howard article continues,

The shortfalls in infrastructure were detailed in a recent report by Stuart Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

Of 136 water sector projects, only 49 will be completed, and most of those involving sewerage, irrigation, drainage and dams have been canceled. Of 425 electricity projects, only 300 will be completed and only 2,200 megawatts of additional power will be delivered instead of the 3,400 megawatts that had been planned, Bowen told senators last month.

One interesting omission from the Scripps Howard article is mention of the $23 billion in Iraqi money. It only talks about the $20 billion in American money. It’s like the $23 billion never existed.

This is from a February 17 Reuters article by Sue Pleming, “Rice grilled over Iraq rebuilding pace, costs“:

With water, sewer and electricity services below prewar levels in Iraq, a leading Democrat told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday that patience was waning over the pace and cost of rebuilding efforts.

Congress has given more than $20 billion for projects aimed at improving Iraq’s dilapidated infrastructure and winning over Iraqis with better utility services, and Rice told lawmakers that conditions were better.

But in three key areas — access to drinking water, electricity and sewer service — Iraqis are worse off than before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, according to statistics released last week by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

I love Condi’s response:

Rice, who had told the committee more Iraqis had access to sewerage and water services than before, argued that what the United States had improved was “capacity” and the United States had made a difference.

“I think this may be an issue of whether we are talking about delivery or capacity. We have increased the capacity for clean water for several million Iraqis,” she said.

Awesome. The woman has a genius for bullshit.

Last week, the special inspector general for Iraq rebuilding, Stuart Bowen, told Congress that only 32 percent of Iraqis had access to potable water versus 50 percent before March 2003. The share of Iraqis with access to sewer service had dropped to 20 percent from 24 percent prewar.

Before the war, Iraq had the capacity to produce about 4,500 megawatts of power, while the capacity was now 3,995 megawatts, the inspector general said.

As I said, many are blaming the insurgency for the problems with reconstruction. But it’s my understanding that the slowness of reconstruction is a major cause of the insurgency. It’s not the only reason, but if Iraq had been reconstructed competently and efficiently it would have made an enormous difference.

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Follow the Money

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Bush Administration, corruption, National Security

The Associated Press reports that

Under a secretive agreement with the Bush administration, a company in the United Arab Emirates promised to cooperate with U.S. investigations as a condition of its takeover of operations at six major American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The VRWC echo chamber is dutifully putting out the word that security concerns about the United Arab Emirates managing major American ports was just so much scare-mongering.

As I noted at the end of this post, some smart people have been saying this deal wouldn’t really compromise port security. But even if we take security issues off the table, there are other reasons to be alarmed about the UAE ports deal.

For example, note the second and third grafs in the AP story:

The U.S. government chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.

In approving the $6.8 billion purchase, the administration chose not to require state-owned Dubai Ports World to keep copies of its business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to orders by American courts. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate requests by the government.

Josh Marshall writes,

But even if the fears are more nativist than real, it seems like the White House will still not leave critics hanging — if nothing else, on old-fashioned and true-to-form insider and cronyism grounds. …

… The failure to require the company to keep business records on US soil sounds like a pretty open invitation to flout US law as near as I can tell. Forget terrorism. This is the sort of innovative business arrangement I would think a number of Bush-affiliated American companies might want to get in on. Perhaps Halliburton could be domiciled in Houston, pay its taxes in Bermuda, do its business in Iraq and keep its business records in Jordan.

Digby writes,

What a tangled web. It certainly appears that the UAE has us wrapped around their little fingers, doesn’t it? And it’s not just that they are “both a valued counterterrorism ally of the United States and a persistent counterterrorism problem.” They are holding something else over our heads as well (again via Atrios):

    But he said he would withhold judgment on the deal’s national security implications until after today’s briefing. The United Arab Emirates provides docking rights for more U.S. Navy ships than any other nation in the region, Warner noted. He added: “If they say they have not been treated fairly in this, we run the risk of them pulling back some of that support at a critical time of the war.”

This is obviously a very complicated relationship, which explains why Bush was singing kumbaaya around the drum circle yesterday asking everyone to give peace a chance.

See also Jane Hamsher at firedoglake. And if you missed David Sirota on Countdown last night, you can find a link to the video on his blog. David discusses other quid-pro-quo business arrangements the White House has going on with the UAE. There should be a transcript of this program available later today at the MSNBC site.

Further, I’ve yet to see significant follow up to the fact that two administration officials, Treasury Secretary John Snow in particular, who helped put this deal together have a vested interest in the outcome. Nor have I seen a satisfactory answer to the charge that the deal was shoved through without observing a legally mandated review period. Once again, it seems the Bush White House thinks those pesky little legal details don’t apply to them.

It also seems to me this episode relates to what I wrote last night about a column by David Ignatius in the Washington Post. Trying to explain why so many in the Middle East are turning toward Islamic nationalism, Ignatius writes,

… as elites around the world become more connected with the global economy, they become more disconnected from their own cultures and political systems. The local elites “lose touch with what’s going on around them,” opening up a vacuum that is filled by religious parties and sectarian groups, Sidawi contends. The modernizers think they are plugging their nations into the global economy, but what’s also happening is that they are unplugging themselves politically at home.

Sidawi’s theory — that connectedness produces a political disconnect — helps explain some of what we see in the Middle East. Take the case of Iran: A visitor to Tehran in 1975 would have thought the country was rushing toward the First World. The Iranian elite looked and talked just like the Western bankers, business executives and political leaders who were embracing the shah’s modernizing regime. And yet a few years later, that image of connectedness had been shattered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution, whose aftershocks still rumble across the region. The Iranian modernizers had lost touch with the masses. That process has been repeated in Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority — where the secular elites who talked the West’s line have proved to be politically weak.

I think there’s a variation of this same dynamic going on here. We have, on the one hand, the corporate rush toward globalization to maximize profits, enabled by Washington politicians from both parties. But we also have, on the other hand, politicians who play on our concerns about this process to get themselves elected. Democrats have to mollify the old hard-hat, Union base as their manufacturing jobs are outsourced. And many Republicans are walking a policy tightrope — exploiting nationalism and xenophobia to get themselves re-elected even as, behind closed doors, they work on behalf of global corporate power.

Digby brings up a good example of the latter:

Bush has been playing politics with this complicated situation for years now, saying things like “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.” He spent the entire presidential campaign taunting John Kerry for allegedly requiring a “global test” and using his applause lines like a bludgeon:

    I will never hand over America’s security decisions to foreign leaders and international bodies that do not have America’s interests at heart.

    … the senator would have America bend over backwards to satisfy a handful of governments with agendas different from our own.

    This is my opponent’s alliance-building strategy: brush off your best friends, fawn over your critics. And that is no way to gain the respect of the world.

More examples where that came from.

Now, the question is, will the nationalistic, xenophobic Bush base be able to rewire themselves and think “War With Oceana — So Yesterday“? Or will other politicians, seeing an opportunity, attempt to attack Bush from the right to siphon off some of his supporters?

Unrelated: This is a hoot.

Update: See Claudia Long: ‘When assholes collide: Bush, Dubai, corporatists and the right-wing noise machine

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The Port Thing, Continued

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Bush Administration, corruption, National Security

Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged presents evidence that Treasury Secretary John Snow stands to make a great deal of money in the Dubai port deal (why am I not surprised?).

More on the port deal, from an editorial in today’s New York Times:

The Bush administration has followed a disturbing pattern in its approach to the war on terror. It has been perpetually willing to sacrifice individual rights in favor of security. But it has been loath to do the same thing when it comes to business interests. It has not imposed reasonable safety requirements on chemical plants, one of the nation’s greatest points of vulnerability, or on the transport of toxic materials. The ports deal is another decision that has made the corporations involved happy, and has made ordinary Americans worry about whether they are being adequately protected.

It is no secret that this administration has pursued an aggressive antiregulatory agenda, and it has elevated corporate leaders to its highest positions. Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department convened the panel that approved the ports deal, came to government after serving as the chief executive of the CSX Corporation, which was a major port operator when he worked there. (After he left, CSX sold its port operations to Dubai Ports World.)

At the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson points out that allowing our ports to be run by a foreign government are just part of a pattern:

We’re selling our harbors to an Arab government. Our biggest Internet companies are complicit in the Chinese government’s censorship of information and suppression of dissidents. Welcome to American capitalism in the age of globalization.

Here the market rules. National security and freedom of speech are all well and good, but they are distinctly secondary concerns when they bump up against our highest national purpose, which is maximizing shareholder value.

Ooo, first-rate snark, Mr. Meyerson. You’d make a good blogger.

At Huffington Post, David Sirota writes,

The harsh reaction from the Bush administration to the proposal to rescind the deal should be a red flag. This administration is unquestionably the most corporate-controlled administration in recent history, meaning its reactions are usually tied directly to the reactions of Corporate America. And the fact that the White House is ignoring its own security experts and reacting so negatively to Congress’s opposition to the deal means this cuts to the much deeper issue of global trade policy – an issue that trumps all others for Big Money interests, even post-9/11 security.

In a previous post, I noted how the Bush administration is simultaneously negotiating a “free” trade agreement with the UAE – the country tied to the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11. The administration was negotiating this deal at the very same time it tried to quietly slip this port security deal under the radar. It’s not surprising few in the media or the political system have mentioned that simple fact – as I note in my upcoming book Hostile Takeover, the political/media Establishment’s devotion to “free” trade orthodoxy is well documented, and the Establishment’s desire in this current scandal to make sure a discussion of trade policy never happens is obvious.

Sirota quotes Michael Chertoff, among others: “We have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system.” This is the bleeping Homeland Security Director saying this. Technically he may be right, but Chertoff is supposed to be focused on the security end of the equation. The fact that he’s defending the UAE deal and lecturing us about the global trading system shows us where the Bush Administration’s priorities lie. And they don’t lie with We, the People.

And so any attempt to stop the UAE port security deal fundamentally threatens the Tom-Friedman-style “free” trade orthodoxy that says we must eliminate all barriers to trade – even those that protect national security. When you realize that, President Bush’s threat to use the first veto of his presidency on the UAE port security issue suddenly becomes not so surprising. He is proudly defending what Jeff Faux calls “The Party of Davos” or John Perkins calls the “corporatocracy” – that is, the multinational interests who have bankrolled Bush’s entire political career, and who desperately rely on the American government preserving a “free” trade system that subverts all other concerns to the corporate profit motive.

Let’s go back to the Harold Meyerson column. Once upon a time, writes Meyerson, there really was such a thing as corporate responsibility. This existed back in the day when the (mostly unionized) labor force remained within U.S. borders. But no more. And other nations designate certain industries as being too sensitive or strategic to outsource to other countries or sell to foreign interests. But not the U.S.

And, increasingly, the “interests” of financial institutions and corporations have become the “nation’s” (i.e., government’s) interests. They’re the ones creating the nation’s wealth. But since more and more high-paying jobs are going overseas, that wealth is staying in the pockets of corporate top management and shareholders.

Further, since labor is being outsourced to countries with repressive governments, like China, it can be said that corporations are profiting from the suppression of rights.

After all, when American business goes to China to have a machine built or a shirt stitched or some research undertaken, it is in no small reason because the labor is dirt-cheap. This is partly the result of the nation’s history of poverty and partly the result of repressive state policy that views all efforts at worker organization — as it views all efforts at establishing autonomous centers of power — as criminal. Were the current labor strife in China to escalate, were the nation plunged into turmoil in an effort to create a more pluralistic society with actual rights for workers, what would the attitudes of the U.S. corporations in China be? Would Wal-Mart, which does more business with China than any other corporation, object if the Chinese government staged another Tiananmen-style crackdown? Would other American businesses? Would the current or a future administration levy any sanctions against China? Given the growing level of integration of the Chinese economy and ours, could it even afford to?

Put another way, we are all compromised by the way our corporations are making their profits. Meyerson continues,

To the extent that American business or our government even attempt to square this circle, the argument they most frequently adduce is that modernity — that is, the integration of a nation into the global economy — will transform that nation into a more pluralistic democracy. China, however, is determined to manage its integration on its own repressive terms. And, more broadly, modernity hasn’t always guaranteed the flourishing of democratic pluralism — a lesson you might think we’d learned after that nastiness with Germany in the middle of the past century.

Indeed, at the heart of the Bush administration’s theory of democratic transformation, we find two non sequiturs: that integration into the global marketplace leads to democratic pluralism, and that elections lead to democratic pluralism. Yet China and the Arab nations of the Middle East tend to refute, not confirm, these theories. Elections and economic integration are both good in themselves, of course, but absent a thriving civil society, they offer no guarantee of the kinds of transformation that these nations sorely need.

But outsourcing and other business practices may be compromising us. I have argued that much of our middle-class standard of living is being floated on the economy and policies of the past.

… a lot of us are still benefiting from The Way America Used to Be Before Reagan. Boomers like me are still benefiting from the fact that our fathers got free educations on the GI Bill and our newlywed parents got cheap housing and cut-rate mortgages from other government programs, for example. Our parents’ prosperity got us off to a good start and put us on the road to security, equity, and stock portfolios. In a very real sense, many of us today are living better lives because government in the 1940s and 1950s effectively responded to the needs of citizens.

But those days are long gone, and their effects are running out of steam. Many generations of Americans were more affluent than their parents. I think perhaps that pattern is about to be broken.

Well, I’ve wandered a bit afar from the UAE takeover of ports. I note there are some smart people here and there arguing that the deal wouldn’t really compromise port security. Maybe, maybe not. Even so, this episode is symptomatic of much that is wrong with our government today.

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