“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, September 30, 2007

the Sunday sickness unto death rant

LI was looking up info on Blackwater, yesterday, and we came across the Virginian-Pilot profile of the company. That profile included little bios of the guys at the top of America’s Funniest Mercenary Company. It was the bio of the COO that stuck with me. Isn’t this man a posterboy of the Bush culture. I can see my face, I can see the face of 350 million of my fellow Americans, slug-like somnambulists heading towards the cliffs but with the finest of accessories … contributing another sweet 300 million dollars today, as on all days, to the mass murder of Iraqis (it is always Christmas in Iraq) … reflected in this man’s record, from the Virginian-Pilot:

“JOSEPH SCHMITZ, 49, became chief operating officer and general counsel of the Prince Group in September 2005 after a stint as inspector general at the Defense Department.
Schmitz was the senior Pentagon official responsible for investigating waste, fraud and abuse. Now he faces a congressional inquiry into accusations that he quashed two criminal investigations of senior Bush administration officials. The inquiry is continuing, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Schmitz was a special assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese III in the Reagan administration. He was awarded the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Public Service on his retirement from the Pentagon.

Schmitz’s father, John G. Schmitz, was a two-term Republican congressman from California and a prominent member of the John Birch Society, an ultra-conservative group that flowered during the Cold War. He ran for president in 1972 as the candidate of the American Independent Party after its founder, George Wallace, was paralyzed by a would-be assassin.

John Schmitz’s political career ended with the revelation that he had a mistress who bore two of his children. He then moved to Washington, where he bought a house once owned by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Joseph Schmitz’s sister, Mary Kay LeTourneau, also became embroiled in a scandal. As a married teacher in Washington state, she went to prison after being convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student with whom she ultimately had two children. The two have since married.”

Could you make things like this up? If you did in a novel, you would be denounced for creating Leftist caricatures. That Schmitz’s father’s career ended not because he was a racist and crazed semi-fascist, but because he had an affair with a younger student, speaks to the fact that there are congressional districts in which lunacy equals electability. So Joseph Schmitz was obviously set up to be an early achiever in the Great Bushian Post 9/11 Orgy. And party he did.

David Sirota and Judd Legum wrote a piece about Schmitz back when he was the Pentagon’s inspector general:

“Fact: Halliburton has overcharged taxpayers for food, accepted kickbacks for oil subcontracts, and spent taxpayer money renting rooms at five-star resorts in Kuwait.
But instead of expressing outrage the government's top watchdog, Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, last week parroted the company line, saying he believes Halliburton's problems "are not out of line with the size and scope of their contracts." He then accused the press of overemphasizing the connections between the company and its former CEO Dick Cheney, even though Vice President Cheney still collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred compensation, owns company stock options, and had his office "coordinate" Halliburton contracts in Iraq.
Why is the government's top independent watchdog deliberately sugarcoating taxpayer ripoffs? Because he, like other Bush administration officials charged with overseeing expenditures in Iraq, is anything but independent.

Instead of filling the various inspector general, comptroller, and budget officer positions in Iraq with skilled, non-partisan public servants, President Bush has packed them with partisans and cronies like Schmitz. Many of these individuals have longstanding political ties with the administration and ties to the very industries and companies that they are supposed to oversee. Here are the dirty details:

Joseph Schmitz: Defense Department Inspector General

Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz was appointed to his post by President Bush in 2001 after the Associated Press reported the office "was caught cheating" and destroying internal documents. His office has broad jurisdiction to investigate all Pentagon contracts, both in Iraq and elsewhere. But judging by Schmitz's qualifications, the White House had one thing in mind when it appointed him: political loyalty.

According to National Journal, Schmitz is the son of former California Rep. John G. Schmitz, who was a John Birch Society director. As a member of the archconservative Washington Legal Foundation, Joseph Schmitz made a name for himself as "a conservative activist" and as a lawyer for House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a court case attempting to outlaw forms of taxation. In 1992, he authored a letter to The Washington Times insinuating that the Democratic presidential nominee had connections to Russian intelligence, writing, "The KGB apparently knows more about the shady side of Bill Clinton than the American people ever will."

His short tenure at the Pentagon has been marked not only by defending Halliburton, but also by defending the administration he is supposed to be overseeing. For instance, in 2002, Schmitz refused congressional entreaties to declassify a report detailing how the administration was providing inadequate training and protective gear to troops in the event of a bio-chemical attack.”

That was in 2004. In 2005, Sirota resigned. The LA Times had a story about the two cases that were being ‘investigated’ by Congress - which is a form of euthanasia for criminal conduct, popular in the omni-corrupt precincts of D.C. Look like you are punishing the guilty, and take contributions from them for your next campaign, the yacht that you’ve always wanted, and a paint job for your house – it’s the D.C. mantra. In any case, this is what the Times reported:

“The first of the criminal investigations in which Schmitz allegedly intervened involved John A. "Jack" Shaw, the former deputy undersecretary of Defense for international technology security.

Shaw, who was the subject of a series of articles in The Times last year, tried to manipulate a lucrative contract in Iraq in 2004 to favor a telecommunications company whose board included a close friend, according to whistle-blowers who worked for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Shaw had signed an unusual agreement with Schmitz that gave him some investigative authority. Shaw told U.S. officials in Iraq that he was conducting investigations under that agreement during a trip to Iraq in December 2003. The results of those investigations were later used in his effort to push for contracts of firms tied to his friends and their clients, according to the whistle-blowers.

Shaw, who was forced out of office last year after refusing to resign, has denied any wrongdoing.

Schmitz referred the whistle-blowers' accusations to the FBI, despite the protests of senior criminal investigators in his office who had already found "specific and credible evidence" of wrongdoing by Shaw, according to Grassley's letter.

The FBI has not placed a high priority on the investigation, which has since stalled, according to one person with knowledge of the case.”

I think this was one of the most beautiful of the numberless small crimes committed under the Bush administration by a Bushie. It is so clever! And there is a certain John Birchy sadism to it – take the goody goody procedure and use it to line the pockets of your regular nosepickin’ goldbrickin’ chum, with whom you can discuss the latest from Rush and lament the good old days of Jim Crow – who could resist? Certainly not a man whose elevation to the post of ‘inspector general’ gives new meaning to the phrase, you are doing a heckuva job.

And it is no surprise, given the way the mesh has been woven, that this man is now on the margins of the Blackwater massacre, as the very Zelig of far right mania. Vanity Fair has published a new investigative report on the ‘loss’ of about 9 billion dollars by the CPA during the period that Schmitz was inspector general. Here are some excerpts:

“To be fair, the C.P.A. really did need money desperately, and it really did need to start spreading it among the traumatized Iraqi population. It also needed to jump-start Iraq's basic services. As the C.P.A. demanded ever greater amounts of cash, the pallets of $1, $5, and $10 bills were soon replaced by bundles of $100 bills. During the C.P.A.'s little more than a year of life, the New York Federal Reserve Bank made 21 shipments of currency to Iraq totaling $11,981,531,000. All told, the Fed would ship 281 million individual banknotes, in bricks weighing a total of 363 tons.

After arriving in Baghdad, some of the cash was shipped to outlying regions, but most of it stayed in the capital, where it was delivered to Iraqi banks, to installations such as Camp Victory, the mammoth U.S. Army facility adjacent to the Baghdad airport, and to Saddam's former presidential palace, in the Green Zone, which had become the home of Bremer's C.P.A. and the makeshift Iraqi government. At the palace the cash disappeared into a vault in the basement. Few people ever saw the vault, but the word was that during one short period it held as much as $3 billion. Whatever the figure, it was a major repository of the banknotes from America during the brief time the cash was under the care of the C.P.A. The money flowed in and out rapidly. When someone needed cash, a unit called the Program Review Board, composed of senior C.P.A. officials, reviewed the request and decided whether to recommend a disbursement. A military officer would then present that authorization to personnel at the vault.”

And there is this:

"There was corruption everywhere," said one former military officer who worked with the C.P.A. in Baghdad in the months after the invasion. Some of the Iraqis who were put in charge of ministries after Saddam's fall had never run a government agency before. Their inexperience aside, he said, they lived in constant fear of losing their jobs or their lives. All many cared about, he added, was taking care of themselves. "You could see that a lot of them were trying their best to get a quick retirement fund before they were ousted or killed," he added. "You just get what you can while you're in that position of power. Instead of trying to build the nation, you build yourself."

Did any withdrawals from the vault pay for secret activities by government personnel? It is an obvious possibility. Much of the cash was clearly destined for American contractors or Iraqi subcontractors. Sometimes the Iraqis came to the palace to collect their cash; other times, when they were reluctant to show up at the American compound, U.S. military personnel had to deliver it themselves. One of the riskier jobs for some U.S. military men was to fill up a car with bags of cash and drive the money to contractors in Baghdad neighborhoods, handing it over like a postal worker delivering mail.

"Fraud" was simply another word for "business as usual." Of 8,206 "guards" drawing paychecks courtesy of the C.P.A., only 602 warm bodies could in fact be found; the other 7,604 were ghost employees. Halliburton , the government contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, charged the C.P.A. for 42,000 daily meals for soldiers while in fact serving only 14,000 of them. Cash was handed out from the backs of pickup trucks. On one occasion a C.P.A. official received $6.75 million in cash with the expectation he would shell it out in one week. Another time, the C.P.A. decided to spend $500 million on "security." No specifics, just a half-billion dollars for security, with this cryptic explanation: "Composition TBD"--that is, "to be determined."

The pervasiveness of this Why-should-I-care? attitude was driven home in an exchange with retired admiral David Oliver, the C.P.A.'s director of management and budget. Oliver was asked by a BBC reporter what had happened to all the cash airlifted to Baghdad:

Oliver: "I have no idea--I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't--nor do I actually think it's important."

Q: "Not important?"

Oliver: "No. The coalition--and I think it was between 300 and 600 people, civilians--and you want to bring in 3,000 auditors to make sure money's being spent?"

Q: "Yes, but the fact is that billions of dollars have disappeared without a trace."

Oliver: "Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah, I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?"

And here is a beautiful story of what a difference a little hundred million or so can make. Ask not what you can do for your government, but what it can do for you – and have faith. And feel faith in your heart. And know that Jesus is Lord. And remember that, when asked, the creeps and morons – the merchants of death group – will attribute their good fortunes to – themselves. Their hard work. Their self reliance. Always. It was hard work. It was brains. These are, in the hushed words of the Heritage Foundation type, the "successful". Usually accompanied by Uriah Heeplike hand gestures. So it is with Custer and Battles:

“The name was derived not from Little Big Horn but from the names of the company's owners, Scott K. Custer and Michael J. Battles. Both were former army rangers in their mid-30s, and Battles also had once been a C.I.A. operative. The pair showed up on the streets of Baghdad with the blessing of the White House at invasion's end, looking for a way to do business. At the time, the only American civilians who could gain access to the city were those approved by President Bush's staff.

The Battles half of the team brought the White House access, secured when Michael Battles became the G.O.P.-backed candidate in the 2002 Rhode Island congressional primary for the privilege of losing to the Democratic incumbent, Patrick Kennedy. Battles not only lost the primary but was fined by the Federal Election Commission for misrepresenting campaign contributions. Nevertheless, he forged important political connections. His contributors included Haley Barbour, the longtime Washington power broker and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who is now governor of Mississippi, and Frederic V. Malek, a former special assistant to President Nixon, who survived the Watergate scandal and went on to become an insider in the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations.

The C.P.A. awarded Custer and Battles one of its first no-bid contracts--$16.5 million to protect civilian aircraft flights, of which at the time there were few, into Baghdad International Airport. The company faced immediate obstacles: Custer and Battles didn't have any money, they didn't have a viable business, and they didn't have any employees. Bremer's C.P.A. had overlooked these shortcomings and forked over $2 million anyway, in cash, to get them started, simply ignoring long-standing requirements that the government certify that a contractor has the capacity to fulfill a contract. That first $2 million cash infusion was followed shortly by a second. Over the next year Custer Battles would secure more than $100 million in Iraq contracts. The company even set up an internal Office of Corporate Integrity. "Integrity is a core principle of Custer Battles' corporate values," Scott Custer stated in a press release.”

And so it goes. Will there be a reckoning? In truth, after 60 years of intense war culture, democracy is bound to fray, to be fatally attracted to that quarter of the country that ardently wishes its dick was a Glock 18c. Even though that quarter of the country spends its life getting well out of the way of any real encounter with danger. Still, the presence of such masses of money does insure that D.C. stays reliably corrupt, and will continue to fight with itself until, exhausted, it gives up - and no Blackwater thug is charged with murder, no ex-Pentagon millionaire with theft. It is a different world. And a worse one.

1 comment:

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"Halliburton , the government contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, charged the C.P.A. for 42,000 daily meals for soldiers while in fact serving only 14,000 of them"

Maybe all are ghosts. But maybe some are working a much larger secret prison camp system than we yet suspect. No way to know. Enough money has vanished to finance very considerable, and very profitable, and very criminal, activities.