Sunday, November 04, 2007

An F-You Sunday, peace be upon us.

Well, the last day of the Numaniyah National Police Academy was not the least exciting one. We had the graduation for the 5th Brigade, and as usual what was scheduled for 1.5 hours went 1 hour, leaving the visitors on the ground for a bit longer. That meant the National Police commander had yet another opportunity to commandeer my office and smoke in it while he discussed business with my Iraqi counterpart. I keep telling myself I should lock the office....

One of the American generals was perturbed to find out he WASN'T giving a speech (I'd always be ok with that) when he thought he was, his aide had dropped the ball, not reading or noticing a 3 day old e-mail advising him of who the Iraqi brigade commander had selected for his speakers. I won't lose sleep over that.

And then we had one of our longer exfils- the process of getting the brigade and their American counterparts out the door. This time was a little harder than usual. They started to file out and our inspection of the barracks revealed they had not left them in an acceptable state (that is speaking mildly) and had even left substantial amounts of equipment such as helmets and body armor behind. The folks doing this will then at a later date approach their leadership and the American leadership- "we don't have helmets, we don't have body armor!" This was frustrating because this brigade had met other leadership challenges fairly well. They failed on this one- their leadership initially tried to excuse their subordinates' behavior, and when realizing we weren't letting them leave until the problem was fixed, they essentially walked off. Word started getting out, and folks started moving away from the gate and back towards the barracks, but there was a group of about 100 or so chanting F- You! at a group of us there- American military, contractors, and local national interpreters. So charming. The mob psychology didn't last long, and they moved away, but it always leaves a bad taste in your mouth- these are our "friends"... Their anger was because we were not letting them leave and telling them they needed to clean their barracks. We weren't dictating spic and span- just that all the trash was out, and a very basic cleaning- but that was apparently too much to ask. So they cursed us. And their leadership was quite absent during this process- as they were through much of the barracks cleaning fiasco.

The second episode of foxtrot uniform epithets was lanced not at me, but at the contractors administering the program here. One of the American soldiers cursed "the f-ing contractors that are here just for the money." Classy. He was frustrated they weren't giving diesel to the Iraqi National Police for one of their vehicles. They weren't doing it simply because it was not a part of the contract. Such nuances were lost on the NCO- in the Army world, you don't attend to such niceties in the wild west environment we have here- you just do what needs to be done. So he lost his cool. I gave the NPs some fuel from my top secret stash of fuel, and everything was fine, but this guy showed a bit too much of himself, popping a blood vessel in his nose and dropping his gear so he could "kick some Australian's @$%^". He ignored the fact also that he could hurt himself severely if he picked the wrong Aussie.

And his anger was misdirected in terms of hating contractors, in my estimation. They are doing their job, whereas he noted, "he actually cares about the Iraqis". Well, sorry, my good man, that our country is not able to do all of the work we created with this invasion. We depend on these "f-ing contractors" because we can't get the job done ourselves. His anger would make more sense directed at others for picking this fight, for cutting the ability of the U.S. military to be self-sustaining, for U.S. leadership that tolerates and perpetuates our dependence on contractors, and so on. Yes, these contractors are well paid. They're taking the risk that the U.S. doesn't want to, and 2 of them died in July taking that risk. They are an easy, "cheap" target for angry soldiers, but they are the symptom, not the problem. Look to the U.S. leadership to understand why contractors outnumber military personnel in this war. Who created the monster that you detest?

I'm tired, too, of U.S. leadership that complains the contractors are "too expensive." It makes as much sense as professional sports owners- the ones paying the salaries, bidding up the free agents, and then complaining about their salaries. Who offered the contracts? We did. If the contractors are meeting the terms of the contract, and you still consider it too expensive, why did you put the contract in place? Either it is worth it, or it isn't. Disingenuous and talking out of both sides of one's mouth, to sign the contract, accept the services, and then express dissatisfaction at the terms and conditions that you (or your predecessor) dictated. How about saying "darn that so and so for offering that contract to so and so!"? Or "Stupid me! I knew I shouldn't have asked someone to do something for me for a certain amount of money!" Yeah, that makes sense....

Well, we have a week to clean and repair, tie down loose ends, and then the fun starts again with a basic training group. At least I'll get to sleep in for a few days. 5am wake ups are no fun.

Here's an example of the type of thing contributing to the "problems of f!#$% contractors"....

New York Times
November 4, 2007 Pg. 1
Even Cut 50 Percent, Earmarks Clog A Military Bill
By Marilyn W. Thompson and Ron Nixon

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 — Even though members of Congress cut back their pork barrel spending this year, House lawmakers still tacked on to the military appropriations bill $1.8 billion to pay 580 private companies for projects the Pentagon did not request.

Twenty-one members were responsible for about $1 billion in earmarks, or financing for pet projects, according to data lawmakers were required to disclose for the first time this year. Each asked for more than $20 million for businesses mostly in their districts, ranging from major military contractors to little known start-ups.

The list is topped by the veteran earmark champions Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is the chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, and Representative C. W. Bill Young of Florida, the top Republican on the panel, who asked for $166 million and $117 million respectively. It also includes $92 million in requests from Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, a committee member who is under federal investigation for his ties to a lobbying firm whose clients often benefited from his earmarks.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, requested $32 million in earmarks, while Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader, asked for $26 million for projects in the $459.6 billion defense bill, the largest of the appropriations bills that go through Congress.

As promised when they took control of Congress in January, House Democratic leaders cut in half from last year the value of earmarks in the bill, as they did in the other 11 agency spending measures. But some lawmakers complained that the leadership failed to address what it had called a “culture of corruption” in which members seek earmarks to benefit corporate donors. Earmarks have been a recurring issue in recent Congressional scandals, most recently the 2005 conviction of Representative Randy Cunningham, Republican of California, for accepting bribes from defense contractors.

“Pork hasn’t gone away at all,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, an earmark critic who cites the “circular fund-raising” surrounding many of them. “It would be wonderful if this was a partisan issue, with Republicans on the right side, but it is really not. Many of these companies use money appropriated through earmarks to turn around and lobby for more money. Some of them are just there to receive earmarks.”

Congressional earmarks are for programs that are not competitively bid , and the Bush administration has complained that they waste taxpayer dollars and skew priorities from military needs, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror.

Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, though, sees the costs of earmarks as less of a problem than their potential for abuse.

“The fiscal fallout of earmarks is trivial,” he said. But they can lead to “conflicts of interest, the irrational and unconstructive allocation of resources, or their use by Congressional leaders as carrots and sticks to buy votes for larger measures that clearly lack majority support on the merits.”

The House version of the military bill includes 1,337 earmarks totaling $3 billion, the most Congressional earmarks in any of the spending bills passed this year. A conference committee is now reconciling House and Senate versions. The Senate added $5 billion in earmarks, but it is difficult to determine the sponsors because it has no disclosure rules.

About half of the House military earmarks go to universities, military bases and other public institutions; the other half to businesses and nonprofits. For the first time, members submitted written requests for each project and statements attesting that they had no personal financial interests in them. Previously, earmarks often were inserted anonymously. The New York Times analysis of earmarks used data compiled by the Washington-based watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense along with campaign contribution and lobbying records.

Democrats consider earmark reform a success, since they have significantly reduced their cost and brought “disclosure so constituents can see what their members have asked for,” said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi. “That’s one of the things we wanted to change, to bring more openness.” But the House Republican Conference contends that Democrats still use earmarks as a secretive slush fund to reward contributors.

Mr. Murtha has drawn much attention this year, first as he bitterly opposed the legislation requiring disclosure of earmarks, then continued his habit of submitting dozens of requests, most benefiting his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. (He asked for 47 earmarks.) Two Republicans said he threatened to block them from getting any earmarks when they questioned one of his requests. “You’re not going to get any, now or forever,” he warned Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who eventually received a written apology from the Pennsylvania congressman.

The Republican Conference chairman, Adam H. Putman of Florida, said Mr. Murtha’s behavior has been “like watching a throwback in time.”

“He’s a classic old-bull appropriator, basically showing a level of arrogance in which he breezily dismisses House rules, dismisses public inquiry and defies the spirit of disclosure,” Mr. Putnam said.

About $111 million of Mr. Murtha’s earmarks are for businesses and nonprofits closely aligned with him. He recruits defense firms and jobs to his economically depressed district and often pushes earmarks for them.

“I don’t make apologies for having earmarks,” Mr. Murtha, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told members in August. “When we see something that we think is not as valuable as something else is, we change it.”

Firms benefiting from Mr. Murtha’s help have given at least $437,000 to his campaign since 2005, with about $110,000 streaming in just before this year’s March 16 request deadline.
Some of Mr. Murtha’s earmarks are relatively small amounts for companies trying to gain a foothold in defense contracting, but few details about their projects are provided. KDH Defense Systems of Johnstown makes Navy body armor and Army elbow pads in a converted bra factory, and Mr. Murtha asked for a $2 million earmark to help the company improve its bulletproof vests. Another earmark would provide $3 million for KDH to develop a “waterways threat detection system.”

The company’s lobbying firm is KSA Consulting, which employed Mr. Murtha’s younger brother, Kit, until 2006. The firm has contributed $4,000 to Mr. Murtha’s campaign since 2005.
Eight companies on Mr. Murtha’s earmark list use a different lobbyist, the PMA Group, whose principals include Paul Magliochetti, a former aide to the defense appropriations subcommittee. The firm took in $840,000 in fees this year from those clients. PMA and its employees have given $58,600 to Mr. Murtha’s campaign since 2005, according to contribution records.

Mr. Murtha included four earmarks worth $10 million for Concurrent Technologies Corporation, a Johnstown-based nonprofit run by major contributors that has won $226 million in earmarks since 2004, according to figures compiled by the taxpayers watchdog group. Concurrent also relies on other lawmakers for support, getting $8 million more in earmarks, including one worth $1.5 million from Mr. Young, whose district in Florida has a Concurrent office. Mr. Young said the company did valuable work for Special Forces.

A Concurrent spokeswoman, Mary T. Bevan, said it was premature to discuss specific earmarks. “Congressionally directed funding is a small part of CTC’s overall revenues,” she said in an e-mail message.

In recent weeks, Concurrent has drawn attention, along with its sister operation, Commonwealth Research Institute, over whether Commonwealth paid a contract official for a no-show job while he awaited approval for an Air Force post. The man, Charles D. Riechers, died in an apparent suicide after a Congressional committee raised questions about the payments.
Mr. Young requested earmarks for 51 projects totaling $117 million. All but 15 requests benefit defense firms.

The Florida congressman has collected about $150,000 in contributions since 2005 from companies for which he earmarked projects in this year’s bill. Unlike Mr. Murtha, he received only one contribution — a $2,000 donation from the political action committee of DRS Technologies — in the days before the earmark deadline. A DRS spokesman said the company’s PAC bought a ticket to a Young fund-raiser.

Mr. Young said that his earmark numbers were high because as ranking subcommittee member, he also seeks earmarks on behalf of other Republicans.

He said he made requests only after “personal contacts to the various agencies” to make sure the projects were legitimate. “I want to make sure we are not putting money into something the Pentagon does not feel they need,” he said.

Mr. Lewis, whose relationship with a lobbying firm is now under federal scrutiny, got $85,500 from six companies for which he sponsored earmarks. Science Applications International Corporation, which received a $4 million earmark, donated $5,000 two weeks before the earmark deadline.

Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer each had 10 earmarks in the bill. Five of Ms. Pelosi’s earmarks went to companies in her district, as did six of Mr. Hoyer’s.

Ryan Alexander, director of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the public deserved disclosure of the cost and purpose of each earmark. It is important, she said, to judge earmarked projects against other priorities, “particularly in a time of two wars and so many demands on our resources.”

Barclay Walsh contributed reporting.

And I enjoyed this one, challenging many republicans' claims as conservatives (and challenges Congress to step up) as they seemingly support a widening of presidential powers related to war- not a traditional conservative stance.

Congress's Unused War Powers
By George F. Will
Sunday, November 4, 2007;
Washington Post
Page B07

Americans are wondering, with the lassitude of uninvolved spectators, whether the president will initiate a war with Iran. Some Democratic presidential candidates worry, or purport to, that he might claim an authorization for war in a Senate resolution labeling an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit a terrorist organization. Some Democratic representatives oppose the president's request for $88 million to equip B-2 stealth bombers to carry huge "bunker-buster" bombs, hoping to thereby impede a presidential decision to attack Iran's hardened nuclear facilities.
While legislators try to leash a president by tinkering with a weapon, they are ignoring a sufficient leash -- the Constitution. They are derelict in their sworn duty to uphold it. Regarding the most momentous thing government does, make war, the constitutional system of checks and balances is broken.

Congress can, however, put the Constitution's bridle back on the presidency. Congress can end unfettered executive war-making by deciding to. That might not require, but would be facilitated by, enacting the Constitutional War Powers Resolution. Introduced last week by Rep. Walter B. Jones, a North Carolina Republican, it technically amends but essentially would supplant the existing War Powers Resolution, which has been a nullity ever since it was passed in 1973 over President Richard Nixon's veto.

Jones's measure is designed to ensure that deciding to go to war is, as the Founders insisted it be, a "collective judgment." It would prohibit presidents from initiating military actions except to repel or retaliate for sudden attacks on America or American troops abroad, or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens abroad. It would provide for expedited judicial review to enforce compliance with the resolution and would permit the use of federal funds only for military actions taken in compliance with the resolution.

It reflects conclusions reached by the War Powers Initiative of the Constitution Project. That nonpartisan organization's 2005 study notes that Congress's appropriation power augments the requirement of advance authorization by Congress before the nation goes to war. It enables Congress to stop the use of force by cutting off its funding. That check is augmented by the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits any expenditure or obligation of funds not appropriated by Congress, and by legislation that criminalizes violations of the act.

All this refutes Rudy Giuliani's recent suggestion that the president might have "the inherent authority to support the troops" even if funding were cut off. Besides, American history is replete with examples of Congress restraining executive war-making. (See "Congress at War: The Politics of Conflict Since 1789," a book by Charles A. Stevenson.) Congress has forbidden:
Sending draftees outside this hemisphere (1940-41); introduction of combat troops into Laos or Thailand (1969); reintroduction of troops into Cambodia (1970); combat operations in Southeast Asia (1973); military operations in Angola (1976); use of force in Lebanon other than for self-defense (1983); military activities in Nicaragua (1980s). In 1993 and 1994, Congress mandated the withdrawal of troops from Somalia and forbade military actions in Rwanda.

When Congress authorized the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those complicit in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress refused to adopt administration language authorizing force "to deter and preempt any future" terrorism or aggression. The wonder is that the administration bothered to seek this language.

The administration's "presidentialists" -- including the president -- believe presidents are constitutionally emancipated from all restraints regarding core executive functions, particularly those concerning defense and waging war. Clearly they think the rejected language would have added nothing to the president's inherent powers.

Congress's powers were most dramatically abandoned and ignored regarding Korea. Although President Harry S. Truman came from a Congress controlled by his party and friends, he never sought congressional authorization to send troops into massive and sustained conflict. Instead, he asserted broad authority to "execute" treaties such as the U.N. Charter.

For today's Democrats, resistance to unilateral presidential war-making reflects not principled constitutionalism but petulance about the current president. Democrats were supine when President Bill Clinton launched a sustained air war against Serbia without congressional authorization. Instead, he cited NATO's authorization -- as though that were an adequate substitute for the collective judgment that the Constitution mandates. Republicans, supposed defenders of limited government, actually are enablers of an unlimited presidency. Their belief in strict construction of the Constitution evaporates, and they become, in behavior if not in thought, adherents of the woolly idea of a "living Constitution." They endorse, by their passivity, the idea that new threats justify ignoring the Framers' text and logic about shared responsibility for war-making.

Unless and until Congress stops prattling about presidential "usurpation" of power and asserts its own, it will remain derelict regarding its duty of mutual participation in war-making. And it will merit its current marginalization.

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