Monday, August 13, 2007

August 3, 2007 - August 10, 2007

August 3, 2007

Gunga Din Takes a Vacation

You may talk o' gin an' beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;

But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.

Sure, you turn the lights out if you're going away on vacation for a month. But the Iraqi parliament apparently went a step further when they left for a month away from away from the troubles in Baghdad – they turned off the water too.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Much of the Iraqi capital was without running water Thursday and had been for at least 24 hours, compounding the misery in a war zone and the blistering heat at the height of summer...Residents and local officials said large sections of the city had been virtually dry for six days because the electricity grid can't provide enough power to run water purification and pumping stations. (Full story)

Oh, and did I mention it's 117 degrees in Baghdad this week? Of course, it is a dry heat.... which is one of those good news, bad news facts. This year it's extra dry heat. Here's an inconvenient fact – it's drier in Baghdad this August than it was five Augusts ago when Saddam the Sadist ran the place. Back then, (before the Iraqis were liberated,) they had water every day. They also had electricity at least 18 hours every day.

Today Iraqis consider themselves lucky if they get 2-hours of juice a day.

That was before August 1. Now it's down to an hour of electricity a day, and no water. Not a drop. Not for even a minute a day.

And did I mention it's 117 degrees there now? So hot that even the pampered members of Iraq's useless-as-tits-on-a-boar parliament skipped town for the month.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the US Congress is about to bug out for a month as well. And you can be sure President Bush will be flying air-condition Air Force One, well-stocked with bottled water, to Texas for his annual Crawford ranch vacation as well.

At least the Iraqi parliament had an excuse most of us can at least understand, if not approve of – it's hotter than billy-blue blazes in Iraq in August, and they're tired of dodging hourly assassination attempts.

What's Washington's excuse for skipping town?

Simple.. in a word their excuse is ... “Petraeus.”

Democrat or Republican, just ask them what the hell they're waiting for before calling an end to Bush's Vietnam and, to a person, they'll chirp “General Petraeus.” They'll explain that they understand you are hearing a lot of bad news about what's going on in Iraq, but that such “anecdotal” reports are not useful. They are waiting to hear the real deal from our man on the ground there, General David Petraeus, when he reports to Congress in September.

Well, should you run into one your elected reps during, what we can assume will be their cool and well-hydrated August vacation, you might mention that, unless the 8-million severely under-hydrated folks in Baghdad are lying about their current “living” conditions, we don't need to wait for General Petraeus' report. We already know enough to know that that the US's misadventure in Iraq has failed.
And now we learn that we've even failed as Baghdad's Gunga Din. After four years, $600 billion dollars, 3700 dead US soldiers and who knows how many tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, we/they can't even provide the hot, thirsty, and increasingly dirty, Baghdadians the most abundant resource on earth --- water.

So it's a 117 degrees in Baghdad, and the public water system is dry as a bone.

Let's repeat that until it sinks in:

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

What could General Petreaus possibly tell us in September that would mitigate, explain or justify that single fact? What could he possibly report that would convince congress and the American people that 136,000 US troops and half a trillion dollars of our treasure have produced, or can produce, positive results for Iraq or the Iraqi people when one month before his testimony it's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water service in that nation's capitol city?

How can he explain away an elected Iraqi parliament that leaves it's own people in such dire – life threatening – conditions to go on vacation for a month? A parliament that since it was elected has produced not a single piece of useful legislation. A parliament whose members, family, friends and militias have stolen more US aid money than they've invested into their nation's infrastructure. How do you think they're paying for those vacations aboard – trips they try to disguise as official business or for medical treatment. Even when the Iraqi parliament has not declared a mass vacation, up to half of them don't show up for work because they are off gallivanting the globe.

"More than half the members of parliament, ministers and senior officials are on vacation, sick leave or on official assignment abroad" at any given time, a government official said on condition of anonymity. "It is common practice now that they spend more time abroad than in their offices. The main reason is their fear of being targeted inside the country." (Full Story)

So if you are unlucky enough to run into one of our vacationing members of Congress this August, here's all you have to do. Walk right up to them and, when they reach out to shake your hand, grab and don't let go. Look them right in the face and recite the following:

“It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

What the holy hell are you waiting for?”

August 2, 2007

All Fall Down

I wonder how many of those Minnesota commuters were listening to news on their car radios as they approached the I-35W bridge yesterday afternoon? Those who were probably had just listened to GOP members of the House urging their Democratic party colleagues to hurry up and pass legislation re-authorizing the “Terrorist Surveillance Act.”

"It is absolutely vital at the time of a heightened threat environment to realize the present system simply is not as responsive as it needs to be in terms of providing the flexibility and speed in acting on actionable intelligence," pronounced White House spokesman, Tony Snow.

Maybe that's what the victims thought was happening as the bridge collapsed under them yesterday -- that “the terrorists,” had struck again. After all, since 2001 terrorism has been about the only threat to American's safety, lives and wellbeing this administration mentions -- and they mention it often.

So, as those poor folks dropped 65 feet towards the Mississippi below, surely they must have figured that was the cause of their pending misfortune – terrorism.

Those who survived the fall quickly learned that it wasn't terrorism at all. What killed or almost killed those Americans wasn't al-Qaead but al-George and his administration's neglect, mismanagement, misdirection and mis-allocation of our nation's attention, priorities and resources.

The day before the I-35W span collapsed we learned that the war in Iraq will eventually drain the US treasury of somewhere between $1- to $2 trillion dollars. Not a dime of that will be available to perform critical, and already too-long delayed, repairs to the tens of thousands of bridges and overpasses that carry tens of millions of Americans every day.

In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers reported that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five-year period to repair American's crumbling bridges, highways and other critical public infrastructure.

We didn't, we haven't and we likely won't do that. Instead that money is being spent to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, much of which will either be promptly blown up by Iraqis themselves or simply left to rot.

U.S. overseers and Iraq rebuilding failures
International Herald Tribune -- July 26, 2007: The report, issued Wednesday, is the first of a planned series of audits of Western contractors that have received large slices of the roughly $40 billion in U.S. taxpayer money that has been spent on the troubled program to rebuild Iraq. Previous audits have looked at individual projects but never the performance across Iraq of a single contractor. (Full Story)

Meanwhile, back here at home, a giant 83-year old steam pipe blows leaving a huge crater in the middle of a New York City street, a 40-year old bridge in America's heartland collapses during rush hour, our air traffic control system can just barely operate, saddled by failing, antique computer systems and a shortage of runways. Meanwhile air passengers become accustomed to sleeping on cots at terminals as an ever-growing number of flights are delayed or canceled.

Over at the NOAA another day of reckoning looms. Even as global warming threatens more Katrina-type hurricanes, there are no replacements being readied for America's aging fleet of weather satellites.

I'm not going to belabor the point. You get it. The bottom line is that you are more likely to be killed or injured on American soil by a falling bridge or plane or by falling into a giant sink hole than by a terrorist. And not just a little more likely, but exponentially more likely.

As I write this I am waiting to hear what George Bush is going to say about yesterday's bridge collapse in a scheduled morning news conference. We know what he would have said had a terrorist flown a plane into that bridge. He would have come out swinging, demanding that we “connect the dots,” to discover how such a thing was allowed to happen. He would also use the opportunity to demand more money to fight terrorism and support for proposals to trim back more of our domestic rights so he can protect us from just that kind of threat.

And, we'd likely go along with him too. He is certainly not going to suggest we need to "connect the dots." on yesterday's bridge collapse, because those dots lead right to Oval Office and Congress.

Yesterday's disaster wasn't terrorism. Al-Qaeda didn't take down that bridge. Nor will al-Qaeda bring down who knows how many other bridges, killing who knows how many more Americans in the years ahead. No it wasn't. The "terrorist" this time wasn't al-Qaeda. It was the Bush Administrationm, and Congress' misplaced priorities that killed those Americans yesterday. It was the product of the fatal combination of imperial hubris, military/industrial primacy and the blind greed military spending it fosters once it gets on a roll.

How ironic that it was Dwight D. Eisenhower who championed and built American's interstate highway system back in the 50's.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, was enacted on June 29, 1956, when a hospitalized Dwight D. Eisenhower signed this bill into law. Appropriating $25 billion for the construction of 40,000 miles of interstate highways over a 10-year period, it was the largest public works project in American history to that point.

The money was handled in a highway trust fund that paid for 90 percent of highway construction costs with the states required to pay the remaining 10 percent. It was expected that the money would be generated through new taxes on fuel, automobiles, trucks and tires. It is said he drew six lines (three vertical and three horizontal) on a piece of paper and told his people to base their freeway system on it. (Full)

It was also as Eisenhower who, on leaving office tried to warn us of the danger created at the nexus of politics, business and the military.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Eisenhower was, of course prescient. We ignored that warning and so it has come to pass. The proof lies among the bodies and wreckage of the I-35W bridge. What Ike could not foresee was that this ascendant military-industrial complex would end up also destroying the crown jewel of his administration -- our national highway and transportation system.

Anyway, that's the way it is. So rather than stockpiling duct tape and plastic to protect yourself from a terrorist attack, it might be wiser to stock your cars with a helmet and life preserver for yourself and each passenger.

Video of the Day

Lying Under Oath For Dummies

Truth can be a cruel mistress. Sometimes a Lorrena Bobbit kind of cruel mistress. As such truth must be treated with both care and suspicion.

I know this runs contrary to what your parents, teachers and ministers may have taught you, that telling the truth is always the right thing to do.

Not so.

You should, of course, always tell any truths that are either harmless which benefits you. That's a no-brainer.

But there are circumstances when telling the truth can get you and/or your friends in a lot of trouble. At times like that it's perfectly logical to do whatever is necessary to avoid telling truth.

That's the purpose of this primer. Think it as, “Truth-telling 2.0 – A Guide For Adults and Public Officials.”

In our nitpicking times you may someday find yourself in legal jeopardy. Say you've done something wrong (as in “illegal”) and you are about to be put oath and asked about it. You've going to have to swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

But you know that if you live up to that oath there's going to be hell to pay for it. Only a fool would voluntarily step up, tell the truth and himself or herself in jail. (Okay, you may be a crook. But you're no fool.)

So what to do?

I am happy to report that there are ways out of this jam. But you have to employ them skillfully and without a hint of hesitation or embarrassment. ,

Under such circumstances, the last thing you want to do is to start coughing up the unvarnished truth. Still, the worst thing you can do though is just cook up a bunch of outright lies. Lies can be disproved with stuff called “evidence.” So you need to avoid concoction lies.

While lying is your only way out, it's how you lie that will make the difference between getting away or getting a bunk above some guy with “Mad Dog” tattooed on his forehead.

There are four basic techniques to address your little problem:

1) Try to avoid taking the oath
Say, Congress wants to question you under oath about something they think you did.

Pretend to be offended by the implication that, unless put under oath, you may lie. (How dare they! etc. etc.)

Tell them you'd be happy to talk to them any time they want, at their convenience, at your office. Your secretary will provide coffee and pastries and they can ask as many questions as they want about anything they want. (Make sure the press knows about this "offer.")

But – and this is critcally important – besides not being put under oath, you also don't want a transcript made of your answers. Explain that you want the conversation to be open, frank and relaxed, and feel and that a transcriber would cause people to “pull their punches,” and stifle the kind “openness that can put all these groundless accusations to rest once and for all.”

The real reason, of course, is that the last thing you want is a transcript of your answers, since you know you're guilty and that it's almost certain your answers won't exactly jive with subsequently discovered “facts” and the testimony of others.

When such “contradictions” materialize – and you know they will -- you need to be able to “deny ever saying anything like that,” and be able to accuse your interrogators of “twisting” your words and “taking them out of context.” Without a certified transcript of your original testimony, they'll be screwed. (Better them than you.)

To review:
- No oath means no perjury.
- No transcript means not having to “amend” your earlier answers to fit newly revealed “facts.”

2) Seek refuge in “The Fuzz Zone.”
If gambit #1 doesn't pan out, and you are forced to testify under oath, prepare well ahead of time. In particular spend some quality time with your attorney going over what “facts” are okay to remember and which you need to “forget.”

(Noteworthy: Since your attorney can never be forced to rat on you, this is one time during the process you need to break down and tell the truth. Your attorney can then help you decide which truths can free you and which will land you in the slammer should you “remember” them under questioning.)

But you must deploy this tactic selectively to avoid damaging your credibility.

For example, let's say you are asked this kind of question:

“How long have you served as (insert your job title or position here)?

Consider softball questions like that as an opportunity to prove your truthful nature by answering them honestly. Doing so will show that “you're not afraid of the truth.”

But, there are questions that you cannot answer truthfully without putting yourself in legal jeopardy.

For example, say you are confronted by a document key to the allegations against you:

“Your signature is on this document. Did you read it before you signed it?”

Here is where to dive for cover in the “Fuzz Zone.”

“Yes, that's my signiture. But I sign a lot of documents during any given day. Aides prepare them, bring them to me, provide me a summary of what they involve and, unless something raises a red flag, I sign them. Some times I read them, but often I do not. I just scan them and sign them. If I read every document put in front of me all day that's all I'd get done. In this regard, while that is my signature, I have no independent recollection of this document.”

The Fuzz Zone, you see, is where memory “fails” you. It's your ultimate legal redoubt, a safe place where you can lie under oath with near complete impunity.

When asked a question that requires forgetfulness you gain entry to the Fuzz Zone with answers like this:

“I have no particular recollection of that meeting.”
“I don't recall that conversation.”
“I have no independent recollection of that.”
“I do not believe I said that.”
“I don't recall making that remark.”
“I have no memory of seeing that memo.”

Shouldering Responsibility without Shouldering Guilt
If you were the head of an agency or organization at the time of the matter being investigated you can still enter the Fuzz Zone, but must do so with greater care. In particular you need to avoid answers that make it appear you are trying to avoid responsibility for things that happened under your command. When faced with a question where forgetfulness may lead to such suspicions, be proactive -- assume responsibility first, then “forget.”

“As the person in charge I take full responsibility for what happened. It was my responsibility to make sure such things don't happen, they did anyway, and I take responsibility for that. As soon as I became aware of this I took steps to assure they never happen again. But, having said that, I have no independent recollection of personally having anything to do with the events (meetings, memos, emails, orders, statements, etc) you mention.”

Terms like “no independent recollection” are particularly useful when the questions center on matters in which you suspect confirming evidence may exist or is likely to surface later in the investigation.

When confronted with proof of prior knowledge, you can go back to your original answer;

“I believe I testified that I had no independent knowledge. Of course, at some point I learned about it by reading of it or being told about by others. But until then, as I testified under oath earlier, I had no independent -- that is personal -- knowledge of the matter.”

If asked who told you, you reply, “I don't recall.” If you want to get fancy you can throw that question back at the questioner;

“But if you know you know and can refresh my memory on that maybe we can move past this issue.”

Such a reply, while appearing pretty checky under the circumstances, is actually a safe gambit, since you know that no one told you, that you knew all along – something your questioner can't prove.

How sweet is that? “I don't recall” -- the lie that cannot be proven. No one can look inside your head and prove or disprove the state of your memory. So say it as often as you must to keep your ass out of jail -- “I don't recall.” It's a dodge that, while it may wear thin with prosecutors, is the gift that keeps giving for the guilty.

3) The “You know I am precluded from answering...” Gambit
This technique only works if you can credibly claim to be in possession of state secrets or privileged executive matters.

When using this technique it is extremely important that you appear “pained” that you cannot simply answer the question. As you “struggle” with your response be sure to insinuate that your answer, were you free to provide it, would fully support your claim of innocence.

“Sir, there is nothing I would love more than to answer that question. But, as you know, I am legally precluded from doing so.”

This technique, if properly deployed, not only protects inconvenient truths, but can recast you from suspected perp to hostage of circumstances beyond your control. (“If only I were free to answer...”)

A variant on this gambit is the “I can't answer that because it involves a matter that part of a pending investigation,” technique. This can be used by those of you involved some way in law enforcement or law enforcement agencies.

There are two “pending investigation” dodges.

1) “I can't discuss anything that's currently under investigation.'
2) “That's a part of a matter from which I am recused.

Those of you working in law enforcement, including the Dept of Justice, are in a prime position to employ this technique to your benefit. If you have prior knowledge that someone is fixing to put you under oath about something you'd prefer not being asked under oath, simply open an internal “investigation” into the matter. If that isn't enough, recuse yourself from that investigation too. Now you've erected two firewalls between having to decide whether to tell the truth and go jail, or commit perjury and go to jail. you and telling the truth.

4)Taking the Fifth
This is you last-resort gambit. When someone refuses to answer, “because it may incriminate me,” it's a surefire way to appear guilty as sin. So, use this gambit only when techniques 1 through 3 are unavailable to you.

Such circumstances may include:
  • When hard evidence has already been presented that proves you did it.
  • When your co-conspirators up the chain of command warn you that any reduced punishment you might negotiate in return for your testimony against them, will pale in comparison to what they'll do to you when they they get their hands on you.
  • When your co-conspirators up the chain of command can credibly assure you that be “taken care of” in return for your silence.

One final rule of thumb to keep in mind. The old saying, “The truth shall set you free,” is misleading as it ONLY applies when the “particulars” of your case allow it.

Sometimes the truth will NOT set you free, quite the opposite. In such circumstances you need to avoid telling the truth as though your freedom depends on it... which it likely does