Monday, October 1, 2012

"Drift" by Rachel Maddow ! [ excerpt ]

To former vice president Dick Cheney.  
Oh, please let me interview you.

Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be
dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.
 War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and
armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bring-
ing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the dis-
cretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing
out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means
of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the
people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in
the inequality of fortunes and the opportunities of fraud growing out
of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals en-
gendered by both. No nation could reserve its freedom in the midst of 
continual warfare.

Those truths are well established. They are read in every page which
records the progression from a less arbitrary to a more arbitrary gov-
ernment, or the transition from a popular government to an aristoc-
racy or a monarchy.
James Madison, “Political Observations,” April 20, 1795


Is It Too Late to
Descope This?

in the little town where i live in hampshire county,
Massachusetts, we now have a “Public Safety Complex” around the
corner from what used to be our hokey Andy Griffith–esque fire
station. In the cascade of post-
9/11 Homeland Security money in
the first term of the George W. Bush administration, our town’s
share of the loot bought us a new fire truck—
one that turned out
to be a few feet longer than the garage where the town kept our old
fire truck. So then we got some more Homeland money to build
something big enough to house the new truck. In homage to the
origin of the funding, the local auto detailer airbrushed on the side
of the new truck a patriotic tableau of a billowing flaglike banner, a
really big bald eagle, and the burning World Trade Center towers.
The American taxpayers’ investment in my town’s security 
didn’t stop at the new safety complex. I can see further fruit of 
those Homeland dollars just beyond my neighbor’s back fence.
 While most of us in town depend on well water, there are a few
houses that for the past decade or so have been hooked up to a
municipal water supply. And when I say “a few,” I mean a few: I
think there are seven houses on municipal water. Around the time
 we got our awesome giant new fire truck, we also got a serious
security upgrade to that town water system. Its tiny pump house
is about the size of two phone booths and accessible by a dirt
driveway behind my neighbor’s back lot. Or at least it used to
 be. The entire half-
acre parcel of land around that pump house
is now ringed by an eight-
tall chain-
link fence topped with
 barbed wire, and fronted with a motion-
sensitive electronically 
controlled motorized gate. On our side of town we call it “Little
Guantánamo.” Mostly it’s funny, but there is some neighborly 
consternation over how frowsy Little Guantánamo gets every 
summer. Even though it’s town-
owned land, access to Little
Guantánamo is apparently above the security clearance of the
guy paid to mow and brush-
hog. Right up to the fence, it’s my 
neighbors’ land and they keep everything trim and tidy. But in-
side that fence, the grass gets eye-
high. It’s going feral in there.
It’s not just the small-potatoes post-
9/11 Homeland spending
that feels a little off mission. It’s the big-
ticket stuff too. No-
 body ever made an argument to the American people, for in-
stance, that the thing we ought to do in Afghanistan, the way 
 we ought to stick it to Osama bin Laden, the way to dispense
 American tax dollars to maximize American aims in that far-
away country, would be to build a brand-
new neighborhood in
that country’s capital city full of rococo narco-
chic McMansions
and apartment/office buildings with giant sculptures of eagles
on their roofs and stoned guards lounging on the sidewalks,
 wearing bandoliers and plastic boots. No one ever made the case
that this is what America ought to build in response to 9/11. But
that is what we built. An average outlay of almost $5 billion a
month over ten years (and counting) has created a twisted war
economy in Kabul. Afghanistan is still one of the four poorest
countries on earth; but now it’s one of the four poorest countries
on earth with a neighborhood in its capital city that looks like
New Jersey in the 1930s and ’40s, when Newark mobsters built
garish mansions and dotted the grounds with lawn jockeys and
painted neo-
neoclassic marble statues.
 Walking around this Zircon-
studded neighborhood of Wazir
 Akbar Kha
¯n (named for the general who commanded the Af-
ghan Army’s rout of the British in 1842), one of the weirdest
things is that the roads and the sewage and trash situation are
palpably worse here than in many other Kabul neighborhoods.
Even torqued-
up steel-
frame SUVs have a hard time making it
down some of these desolate streets; evasive driving techniques
in Wazir Akbar Kha
¯n often have more to do with potholes than
potshots. One of the bigger crossroads in the neighborhood is an
ad hoc dump. Street kids are there all day, picking through the
newest leavings for food and for stuff to salvage or sell.
There’s nothing all that remarkable about a rich-
neighborhood in a poor country. What’s remarkable here is that
there aren’t rich Afghan people in this rich Afghan neighbor-
hood. Whether or not the owners of these giant houses would
stand for these undrivable streets, the piles of garbage, the
sewage running down the sidewalk right outside their security 
 walls, they’re not here to see it. They’ve moved to Dubai, or to
the United States, or somewhere else that’s safer for themselves
and their money. (Or our money.) Most of these fancy proper-
ties in Wazir Akbar Kha
¯n were built by the Afghan elite with
profits from the international influx of cash that accompanied
the mostly American influx of war a decade ago—
 built to dis-
play status or to reap still more war dollars from the Western
aid agencies and journalists and politicians and diplocrats and
private contractors who need proper places to stay in the capi-
tal. The surges big and small have been good to the property
barons of Wazir Akbar Kha
¯n: residential real estate values
 were reportedly up 75 percent in 2008 alone. Check the listings
under Kabul “villas” today and you’ll find properties priced from
$7,000 to $25,000 a month with specs like this: four floors, a
dozen rooms, nine toilets, three big kitchens, sleeps twenty.
No one sold the American people on this incarnation of 
 Wazir Akbar Kha
¯n as one of the desired outcomes of all those
hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent in Afghanistan. But it
is what we have built at Ground Zero Afghanistan. Whatever we
 were aiming at, this is the manifest result.
Consider also the new hundred- million-
dollar wastewater
treatment facility in Fallujah, Anbar Province, Iraq, which pro-
 vides only spotty wastewater treatment to the people of that city.
In 2004, after the US military all but demolished Fallujah in the
deadliest urban battle of the Iraq War, it was decided that the
 way to turn the residents of the recalcitrant Sunni Triangle away 
from Al-
Qaeda and toward their country’s fledgling govern-
ment would be to build a sewage system for all of Fallujah. The
initial $33 million contract was let to a South Carolina company 
in June 2004, while the city was still smoldering. There was no
time to waste. The Bush administration’s Iraqi Reconstruction
Management Office identified the sewage system as a “key na-
tional reconciliation issue.” The goal was to have it up and run-
ning by the beginning of 2006.
Nearly five years after the deadline, having clocked in at
three times its initial budget, there was still not a single resi-
dence on line. Accordingly, the plan was “descoped”—
to serve just a third of the city. In the midst then of 
doing a third of the work for triple the money, there was talk
of walking away from the project without connecting even that
third of Fallujah residences to the aborted plant. We had
 built a sh**-
processing plant that didn’t process sh**.

And it gets worse. According to a 2008 report by the Special
Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, about 10 percent of the money paid to Iraqi subcontractors for the Fallujah projectended up in the hands of “terrorist organizations.” According tothat same report, residents near two particular pump stations“[might] become angry” if the system ever did come on line, because “funding constraints” made “odor control facilities”impractical. Even households that were not part of the collec-tion system would still be subject to what the Iraqi minister of municipalities and public works delicately called the “big stink.”The eighty-page report also noted, with dry finality, “The projectfile lacked any documentation to support that the provisionalIraqi government wanted this project in the first place.” When, finally, late in 2011, seven years into the project, at acost of $108 million, we managed to get a quarter of the homesin Fallujah hooked into that system, this partial accomplish-ment was not met with resounding huzzahs. “In the end it would be dubious to conclude that this project helped stabilize thecity, enhanced the local citizenry’s faith in government, builtlocal service capacity, won hearts or minds, or stimulated theeconomy,” the Special Inspector General said in 2011. “It is dif-ficult to conclude that the project was worth the investment.” A hundred million American dollars, partially diverted to thegroups fighting US troops, to build (poorly) a giant, unwanted wastewater-treatment project that provides nothing but the“big stink” for three-quarters of the city. No one would argue forsomething like this as a good use of US tax dollars. But it is infact what we bought.Here at home, according to an exhaustive and impressivetwo- year-long investigation by the
Washington Post,

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