We are the most powerful nation in the world. There is no excuse, only corruption.

We are the most powerful nation in the world. There is no excuse, only corruption.

Health Care Industry Operates Shadow Congress of Lobbyists

Sunlight Foundation

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The Washington Post reports today that the health care industry, in its attempt to influence the debate over health care reform, has hired at least 350 former government staffers and former members of Congress to lobby on the issue. With the many connections these former government workers have, particularly former members of Congress or congressional chiefs of staff, they will have near saturation coverage of the 535 current members of Congress. They also are operating with seemingly bottomless funding. The industry is currently spending $1.4 million a week on lobbying. Perhaps, the most unparrelled lobbying campaign ever.

Now the Post story has a few caveats that indicate that this lobbying campaign is probably larger than their reporting shows. For one:

The analysis identified more than 350 former government aides, each representing an average of four firms or trade groups. That tally does not include lobbyists who did not report their earlier government experience, such as PhRMA President W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, a former Republican congressman from Louisiana. Federal law does not require providing such detail.

Lobbying disclosure reports contain a field for listing prior government work, but this field is often left empty by lobbyists with government experience. If someone like Billy Tauzin, who is the poster boy for everything wrong with the revolving door, does not list his previous work as a leading lawmaker, what hope do we have for the many lesser former government workers to list their previous government work. I’d assume that the number of former government employees working in this campaign far exceeds 350.

One other aspect of the story highlights something which we’ve discussed here, lobbying contacts. The real problem with the revolving door is the unusual amount of access that former government officials, particularly members of Congress, have to current government officials. And that includes the ability to meet, call, or email with staffers or lawmakers to push their client’s agenda. Of course, Congress does not require any disclosure of lobbying contacts, thus obscuring the role that these 350+ lobbyists are having in the process of crafting a health care reform bill that will affect everyone in the country.

If you want to see other reporting on the network of former government staffers turned health care lobbyists, we’ve been looking at the Senate Finance Committee — “the central broker in the [health care] debate,” according to the Post — and the connections each lawmaker has with health care lobbyists. You can see our visualization of Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus’ connections or our visualization of all Senate Finance Committee Democrats and their connections. I’ll be posting about the Senate Finance Committee Republicans this week.

Jane Harman Appears At AIPAC Convention

D DAY HAS ALL THE DIRT:

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Harman’s Magic Act

by dday

By a twist of fate, Jane Harman actually appeared at the AIPAC convention over the weekend, bringing full circle the recent controversy over her comments picked up on a wiretap offering help to get AIPAC staffers out of a Justice Department probe in exchange for help getting the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. She vowed to begin a crusade against illegal wiretapping and overreach from the surveillance state.

Harman has described the wiretap as an abuse of government power. But sources have told The Washington Post that she was not being surveilled; the tapped phone belonged to the suspected Israeli agent, who happened to talk to her.

“I will not quit on this until I am absolutely sure this can never happen to anyone else,” Harman told the AIPAC audience, which warmly applauded her. She said the incident was having “a chilling effect” on members of Congress who “care intensely about the U.S.-Israeli security relationship . . . and have every right to talk to advocacy groups.”

Later, she called herself a “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power”. Which, coming from Harman, is utterly absurd, a magic act where she transforms herself from a vigorous defender of executive prerogatives on wiretapping to a civil liberties zealot who wants to take down the surveillance state.

Jane Harman is a warrior on behalf of the Constitution and against abuse of power — that’s the same Jane Harman who tried to bully The New York Times out of writing about Bush’s illegal spying program, who succeeded in pressuring them not to publish their story until after Bush was re-elected, who repeatedly proclaimed the program to be “legal and necessary” once it was revealed, who called the whistle-blowers “despicable”, who went on Meet the Press and expressed receptiveness to a criminal investigation of The New York Times for publishing the story, who led the way in supporting the Fourth-Amendment-gutting and safeguard-destroying FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and who demanded that telecoms be retroactively immunized for breaking multiple laws by allowing government spying on their customers without warrants of any kind.

That is who is a self-proclaimed “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power.”

As Atrios notes, Jane Harman is primarily concerned about wiretapping of People Named Jane Harman. And her point that this represented a potential abuse of government power, which by the way is
entirely plausible, was the entire point of people like me when we decried an illegal wiretapping program that would be ripe for abuse. You know, the one Jane Harman defended.

Worse, in the “Fact Sheet” Harman is sending around to supporters in the district, she characterizes herself as, among other things, a longtime critic of warrantless wiretapping in the most fantastical way possible:

• Harman has never supported so-called “warrantless wiretaps” on Americans. “We must use all lawful tools to detect and disrupt the plans of our enemies; signals intelligence and the work of the NSA are vital to that mission. But in doing so, it is also vital that we protect the American people’s constitutional rights.” (Press release of Dec. 21, 2005 — four days after the President declassified the existence of the Terrorist Surveillance Program).

• Harman introduced the LISTEN Act (H.R. 5371) with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to add resources to the Justice Department to ensure the issuance of individualized warrants under FISA. (Press release of May 11, 2006).

• Harman, Senator Obama, and Speaker Pelosi supported amendments to FISA to expand protections to US citizens, and give limited court-reviewed immunity to telecommunications firms that prove they relied in good faith on what they believed was a valid order to produce records. (Vote date of June 20, 2008).

She must think we’re all idiots. That vote of June 20, 2008, the amendments to FISA to “expand protections to US citizens,” in addition to providing retroactive immunity for the telecoms for breaking the law, actually granted sweeping new powers to the federal government, including the ability to “conduct mass, untargeted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States, without any individualized review, and without any finding of wrongdoing.” The fact that this lack of oversight or judicial review could lead to abuses of surveillance power has been confirmed by reports that the NSA overstepped its legal authority to wiretap by intercepting the private emails and phone calls of Americans, problems which grew “out of changes enacted by Congress last July in the law that regulates the government’s wiretapping powers.” The fact that Barack Obama supported that bill, considering that he was massively criticized by progressives for that FISA vote, doesn’t exactly help the cause.

Harman’s record on wiretapping is well-known and her efforts to wiggle out of it are frankly laughable. And the rest of her record, as demonstrated by Swing State Project today, shows her to be among the top 20 Democrats voting less liberal than what their districts would support. That, more than this hypocrisy on civil liberties, is why she’ll draw a primary challenge next year, should she choose to run again.

The Official Failures of Rebuilding Iraq

Official history details failures of rebuilding Iraq
Sunday, December 14, 2008
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BAGHDAD: An unpublished, 513-page federal history of the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.

“Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” the first official account of its kind, is circulating in draft form here and in Washington among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials. It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag – particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army – the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures.

In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces – the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.”‘

Powell’s assertion that the Pentagon inflated the number of competent Iraqi security forces is backed up by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of ground troops in Iraq, and L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the top civilian administrator until an Iraqi government took over in June 2004.

Among the overarching conclusions of the history is that five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the U.S. government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program on anything approaching this scale.

The bitterest message of all for the reconstruction program may be the way the history ends. The hard figures on basic services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed.

By mid-2008, the history says, $117 billion had been spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, including some $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer money.

The history contains a catalog of new revelations that show the chaotic and often poisonous atmosphere prevailing in the reconstruction effort.

When the Office of Management and Budget balked at the U.S. occupation authority’s abrupt request for about $20 billion in new reconstruction money in August 2003, a veteran Republican lobbyist working for the authority made a bluntly partisan appeal to Joshua Bolten, then the Office of Management and Budget director and now the White House chief of staff. “To delay getting our funds would be a political disaster for the President,” wrote the lobbyist, Tom Korologos. “His election will hang for a large part on show of progress in Iraq and without the funding this year, progress will grind to a halt.” With administration backing, Congress allocated the money later that year.

In an illustration of the hasty and haphazard planning, a civilian official at the U.S. Agency for International Development was at one point given four hours to determine how many miles of Iraqi roads would need to be reopened and repaired. The official searched through the agency’s reference library, and his estimate went directly into a master plan. Whatever the quality of the agency’s plan, it eventually began running what amounted to a parallel reconstruction effort in the provinces that had little relation with the rest of the U.S. effort.

Money for many of the local construction projects still under way is divided up by a spoils system controlled by neighborhood politicians and tribal chiefs. “Our district council chairman has become the Tony Soprano of Rasheed, in terms of controlling resources,” said a U.S. Embassy official working in a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood, referring to the popular TV mob boss. “‘You will use my contractor or the work will not get done.”‘

The United States could soon have reason to consult this cautionary tale of deception, waste and poor planning, as both troop levels and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are likely to be stepped up under the new administration.

The incoming Obama administration’s rebuilding experts are expected to focus on smaller-scale projects and emphasize political and economic reform. Still, such programs do not address one of the history’s main contentions: that the reconstruction effort has failed because no single agency in the U.S. government has responsibility for the job.

Five years after the invasion of Iraq, the history concludes, “the government as a whole has never developed a legislatively sanctioned doctrine or framework for planning, preparing and executing contingency operations in which diplomacy, development and military action all figure.”

“Hard Lessons” was compiled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, led by Stuart Bowen Jr., a Republican lawyer who regularly travels to Iraq and has a staff of engineers and auditors based here. Copies of several drafts of the history were provided to reporters at The New York Times and ProPublica by two people outside the inspector general’s office who have read the draft but are not authorized to comment publicly.

Bowen’s deputy, Ginger Cruz, declined to comment for publication on the substance of the history. But she said it would be presented Feb. 2 at the first hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which was created this year as a result of legislation sponsored by Senators Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, both Democrats.

The manuscript is based on about 500 new interviews, as well as more than 600 audits, inspections and investigations on which Bowen’s office has reported individually over the years. Laid out for the first time in a connected history, the material forms the basis for broad judgments on the entire rebuilding program.

In the preface, Bowen gives a searing critique of what he calls the “blinkered and disjointed prewar planning for Iraq’s reconstruction” and the botched expansion of the program from a modest initiative to improve Iraqi services to a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

Bowen also swipes at the endless revisions and reversals of the program, which at various times gyrated from a focus on giant construction projects led by large Western contractors to modest community-based initiatives carried out by local Iraqis. While Bowen concedes that deteriorating security had a hand in spoiling the program’s hopes, he suggests, as he has in the past, that the program did not need much outside help to do itself in.

Despite years of studying the program, Bowen writes that he still has not found a good answer to the question of why the program was even pursued as soaring violence made it untenable. “Others will have to provide that answer,” Bowen writes.

“But beyond the security issue stands another compelling and unavoidable answer: The U.S. government was not adequately prepared to carry out the reconstruction mission it took on in mid-2003,” he concludes.

The history cites some projects as successes. The review praises community outreach efforts by the Agency for International Development, the Treasury Department’s plan to stabilize the Iraqi dinar after the invasion and a joint effort by the Departments of State and Defense to create local rebuilding teams.

But the portrait that emerges overall is one of a program’s officials operating by the seat of their pants in the middle of a critical enterprise abroad, where the reconstruction was supposed to convince the Iraqi citizenry of U.S. good will and support the new democracy with lights that turned on and taps that flowed with clean water. Mostly, it is a portrait of a program that seemed to grow exponentially as even those involved from the inception of the effort watched in surprise.

On the eve of the invasion, as it began to dawn on a few U.S. officials that the price for rebuilding Iraq would be vastly greater than they had been told, the degree of miscalculation was illustrated in an encounter between Donald Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, and Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who had hastily been named the chief of what would be a short-lived civilian authority called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

The history records how Garner presented Rumsfeld with several alternative rebuilding plans, including one that would include projects across Iraq.

“What do you think that’ll cost?” Rumsfeld asked of the more expansive plan.

“I think it’s going to cost billions of dollars,” Garner said.

“My friend,” Rumsfeld replied, “if you think we’re going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.”

In a way he never anticipated, Rumsfeld turned out to be correct: Before that year was out, the United States had appropriated more than $20 billion for the reconstruction, which would indeed involve projects across the entire country.

Rumsfeld declined comment on the report, but a spokesman, Keith Urbahn, said quotes attributed to him in the document “appear to be accurate.” Powell also declined to comment.

The secondary effects of the invasion and its aftermath were among the most important factors that radically changed the outlook. Tables in the history show that measures of things like the production of electricity and oil; public access to potable water, mobile and landline telephone service; and the presence of Iraqi security forces all plummeted at least 70 percent, and in some cases all the way to zero, in the weeks after the invasion. Subsequent tables in the history give a fast-forward view of what happened as the avalanche of money tumbled into Iraq over the next five years. By the time a sovereign Iraqi government took over from the Americans in June 2004, none of those services – with a single exception, mobile phones – had returned to prewar levels. And by the time of the security improvements in 2007 and 2008, electricity output had, at best, a precarious 10 percent lead on its levels under Saddam Hussein; oil production was still below prewar levels; and access to potable water had increased about 30 percent, although with the nation’s ruined piping system it was unclear how much actually reached people’s homes uncontaminated.

Whether the rebuilding effort could have succeeded in a less violent setting will never be known. In April 2004, thousands of the Iraqi security forces that had been oversold by the Pentagon were overrun, abruptly mutinied or simply abandoned their posts as the insurgency broke out, sending Iraq down a violent path from which it has never completely recovered.

At the end of his narrative, Bowen chooses a line from “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens as the epitaph of the U.S.-led attempt to rebuild Iraq: “We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us.”

James Glanz reported from Baghdad, and T. Christian Miller, of the nonprofit investigative Web site ProPublica, reported from Washington.

General Barry McCaffrey Exposed For The Ultimate Spineless Shill That He Is

THE NEW YORK TIMES

November 30, 2008

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

[Read more...]

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