Transcript #148-1

Privatization Kills: Troops Electrocuted In Iraq, Cheney's Former Company To Blame


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Your sources today include: the New York Times, CNN, Reuters,,,, the Associated Press, the Boston Globe and Fox News.


Let me tell you about a couple of tragic incidents.


Back in 2004, Ron Vance was a sergeant in the California Army National Guard.  This 57-year-old was stationed in Iraq, and went into the shower.  He was knocked out cold by an electrical shock which caused burns on his back and shoulders.


Staff Sgt. Christopher Lee Everett was in the Texas Army National Guard in 2005, when he was electrocuted in Iraq while using a power washer to clean a vehicle.  His death was caused by a short circuit in the device.  He was only 23 years old.


Green Beret Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth was stationed at a base in Iraq that used to be one of Saddam's palaces.  This 24 year old Pittsburgh native stepped into the shower in January 2008.


The water pump was not properly grounded, and when he turned on the shower, a jolt of electricity shot through his body and electrocuted him….

…The surging current left burn marks across his body, even singeing his hair. Army reports show that he probably suffered a long, painful death.

A final one:


Just last October, a 21 year old soldier in Iraq suffered a severe shock, in another shower facility.  Army military police officer private first class Justin Shults was knocked unconcious and suffered third-degree burns over 13 percent of his body.


"We have to worry about getting blown up by IEDs ... and getting in gun fights and everything," Shults said. "You don't expect to get burned from a shower trailer."  [source]

Now even though I opposed our invasion of Iraq, and think we should be withdrawing far more rapidly than Obama apparently intends, that doesn't mean I don't want our troops to be safe.


So was there a common thread linking these incidents?  Were they caused by Al Qaeda saboteur electricians?  Sunni insurgent electrical terrorists?


No, they were the fault of Dick Cheney's old cronies.  The common thread here is that the multinational corporation KBR did the electrical work on the facilities and equipment involved in these and other incidents.


Who exactly is KBR, you might want to know?  KBR originally was called Kellogg Brown & Root.   It used to be a subsidiary of Halliburton, including when Cheney ran that oil services conglomerate.  In 2007 KBR became a stand-alone company.


Now I'm sure it has nothing to do with Dick Cheney being Vice-President at the time, but KBR enjoyed a virtual monopoly in Iraq for military service contracts.  It's gotten at least a whopping $24 billion so far.  Among other things, these contracts are for providing basic services on military bases in Iraq.


The four incidents I told you about, aren't the half of it.


According to current Pentagon estimates, at least 18 U.S. soldiers have been electrocuted in Iraq since 2003.


Hundreds of other troops have suffered electric shocks.


And faulty electrical work has caused hundreds of fires and other damage at American bases in that country.


This all became public after Staff Sgt. Maseth's electrocution death.


His parents filed a wrongful death action against KBR. They accused the multinational of not properly maintaining the building's electrical system.


What's come to light is, that KBR was aware of the electrical problems in that building.  Another soldier had suffered electrical shocks there.


As a military investigator recently told CNN:


A competent electrical contractor and electrician would have gone to that job site and tried to discover why pipes could have been energized…[T]hen Ryan Maseth would not have been electrocuted.

In a moment, I'll tell you about the military's investigation of this whole matter, and give you more evidence of KBR wrongdoing.  Stick around.






So soldiers are being electrocuted and shocked on military bases throughout Iraq.  What's the military doing to protect them?


At first the most serious it got was something called a "Level III Corrective Action Request."  That's the step before suspending or terminating a contract.


KBR could have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and bonuses.


But it has gotten even more serious.


Army investigators have concluded that a Green Beret electrocuted in a shower in his barracks in Iraq was the victim of negligent homicide in a case involving the largest American contractor in Iraq, according to a written statement from one investigator.

In a[n] … e-mail message written to the mother of the Green Beret, Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, who died last January, an Army investigator stated that the cause of death had been changed from accidental to negligent homicide for the purpose of the investigation.

That's good to hear, isn't it?


Also good is a widespread inspection regimen the Army has instituted.  That operation is called Task Force SAFE, an acronym for Safety Action for Fire and Electricity.


It better be a widespread effort, because of the enormity of the problem KBR and the Bush administration's right-wing privatization policy has caused.


The military is racing to inspect more than 90,000 U.S.-run facilities across Iraq to reduce a deadly threat troops face far off the battlefield: electrocution or shock while showering or using appliances.

90,000 facilities!


There have been some preliminary findings, none of them pretty, by the teams of master electricians who are searching for electrical dangers.


This information is from Jim Childs, himself a master electrician and the lead civilian in the inspections.


Childs said they've gone through 30,000 buildings, and more than half "failed miserably."


Over 8,000 were so serious that they were given what's called a "flash" warning.  Repairs have to be completed in four hours or the facility must be evacuated.


And yes, the majority of them were wired by KBR.


Conducting the rest of the inspections is expected to take the rest of the year.


With life threatening risks still undoubtedly remaining in thousands of locations, Sen. Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, recently made a good point:


Just imagine getting the news that they've done 25,000 facilities, but your son or daughter is in the 65,000 they haven't done.

Indeed, according to the Army there are still reports of two fires a day,  which I guess is better than the five fires a day previously, but still nerve-wracking.


Listen to Jim Childs:


It was horrible -- some of the worst electrical work I've ever seen…We got a ton of buildings we know probably aren't safe and we just don't have them done yet…It's Russian roulette. I cringe every time I hear of a shock.

Playing Russian roulette with our troops lives.  Up next, more about KBR's wrongdoing.  And, what does right-wing philosophy have to do with all this?  Keep it right here. 






More on KBR:


First is the incredible level of incompetence.  Jim Childs says that in one location,


I had them pull a switch out of the wall to look at a switch, and when they pulled it out of the wall, the wires fell out of it.

Childs says he figured that was the exception.  Wrong.


We pulled the one next to it. They fell off.  It was just very, very poor quality work.

According to another government source, even KBR's repairs were shoddy:


[F]ixes were only temporary and not done to ensure no future problems would arise.

KBR deliberately ignored known hazards.


A government official told the New York Times that KBR had been working at the old Saddam palace where Maseth was electrocuted for four years and


was fully aware of the safety hazards, violations and concerns regarding the soldiers’ housing [and] chose to ignore the known unsafe conditions.

In addition:


Electricians formerly employed by KBR said their repeated warning to superiors about unsafe electrical conditions were ignored.

Here's maybe the worst of all.  KBR should have known, and probably did know, that  all this mayhem would result from the very way it went about staffing its work force.


An investigator said of the Maseth incident that there is


credible information ... they failed to ensure that work was being done by qualified electricians and plumbers, and to inspect the work that was being conducted.

Moreover, KBR didn't even hire incompetent Iraqi electricians. It used crews from outside Iraq "with very little supervision by anybody."


Now, maybe you're wondering, what does KBR have to say about all this?


Exactly what you might expect.


KBR's usual mantra goes like this, which they've repeated again and again:


KBR’s investigation has produced no evidence that KBR was responsible for Sergeant Maseth’s death. We have cooperated fully with all government agencies investigating this matter and will do so in the future.

Last month KBR rolled out a new excuse:


What is important to remember is the challenging environment in which these issues exist.

The electrical standards in Iraq are nowhere near those of Western or U.S. standards.

But this excuse doesn't fly.


Good ol' Jim Childs says KBR built and KBR also wired the majority of buildings on US bases in Iraq:


They installed the housing units, they installed the electrical, they installed the wiring. They installed it all. And it's wrong. It's all put in wrong.

Is KBR saying that Iraqi electrical codes allow showers to electrocute people?  I hadn't heard that about Iraq before.


Does all this get you as disgusted as it does me?



So where we're at today is:


The SAFE electrical inspections are continuing in tens of thousands of structures in Iraq, searching for shock and electrocution hazards caused by KBR's bad work.


And, the Army hasn't yet decided whether to accept its investigator's recommendation that Staff Sgt. Maseth's death be changed from accidental to negligent homicide on KBR's part.  We're now waiting to see if the Criminal Investigation Command will issue a legal opinion that there's probable cause to refer the case to the military court system or the Department of Justice.


Oh yeah, there's one more thing I need to tell you before we expand the frame of this entire story.  You'll never guess who was just awarded a big, fat, shiny new contract to do electrical work in Iraq.  Stay tuned.






After all you've just heard about KBR's misdeeds, this may be hard to believe, but Dick Cheney's old buddies have just been awarded  a new $35 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers.  KBR will design and build a new convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq.  This obviously involves major electrical work.


What's wrong with this picture?


Some Democrat Senators are at least speaking up:


Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the new KBR contract was inappropriate. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said he has formally asked the Corps of Engineers whether it was confident KBR could accomplish it and whether the Corps had any alternatives.

"This is hardly the time to award KBR a new contract for work they've already failed to perform adequately, and which put U.S. soldiers at even greater risk," Dorgan said in a statement.

I certainly hope the approval of this contract came from some Bush administration holdover, not from anyone Obama appointed.


Now Sen. Dorgan also said that the electrical work in Afghanistan should be looked at.


Taking that as a cue, I want to expand the frame here wider and wider.


First of all, faulty and deadly electrical work isn't KBR's only sin.


Among other things, there are problems with its food service contract, a pipeline it was supposed to build, and safe water it was supposed to deliver.


And then there's exposing our troops to a toxic chemical, sodium dichromate, which was piled around a faciilty the troops were guarding.  KBR knew it was there.  Yet one soldier says they were told it was only slightly more toxic than baby powder.  Another soldier relates how when KBR officials arrived to do an inspection, they exited their vehicles wearing full chemical suits.  That surprised the soldiers waiting for them, who were dressed in their battle fatigues.


Expanding the frame a bit wider, it's not just KBR.


The Army SAFE inspections have found problems with every contractor whose work was inspected.


It's not just electrical.


You've probably caught some of the stories in the news over the years. Sen. Dorgan has had a front row seat.


Dorgan…said he has chaired 18 oversight hearings on contracting abuses and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan, exposing "billions of dollars in wasteful spending," shoddy work by private contractors, and unsafe water supplies.

And it's not just poor work, it's killing people directly.  I'm sure you remember the incident where Blackwater security guards opened fire and killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.  The guards have been charged in that case.


And you know what, in the widest frame, it's not just bad apples, a bunch of bad contractors.


It's the entire privatization process itself, that right-wing ideology that says government can't do anything properly, that we should turn over as much as possible to private companies, and they'll do a better job, and cheaper.




You may remember hearing about American civilian truck drivers being paid $100,000 a year in Iraq.  A soldier could drive the truck for a fraction of that cost.


Perhaps more critically, private contractors aren't in Iraq to protect the troops.  They're not there to enhance the mission.  They're there to make money.  Shortcuts and shoddy work make them more money, if they don't get caught.  Some businessmen are honest.  Some aren't. This isn't a risk worth taking in life and death situations.


I as you, would soldiers do such lousy work that it could electrocute their buddies, or even themselves?  Of course not.


The truth is, these 18 military men were electrocuted so Dick Cheney's old cronies could make huge profits.


With the right-wing going on all the time about how they love the troops and support the troops, this provides a good example of how they show their love and support.


Another negative about privatization: having all these jobs done by hired civilians allows the US to avoid increasing the size of the military.  Growing the military would probably require a draft, which the right knows could put a significant damper on their ability to foment foreign wars.


And there's the issue I've heard Thom Hartmann often mention.  If your cooks and electricians and other service personnel are civilians hired by a contractor, then they're an additional burden to protect in a war zone.


But if you come under attack and it's trained soldiers doing those jobs, they can all grab rifles and join in the fight, not be a burden to be protected.


Along those lines, the Wall Street Journal reported that there have been conflicts between U.S. troops and private security forces in Iraq, and, that some private security force personnel were taking orders from…the Taliban.


Wow, talk about the fruits of privatization.  Electrocution, chemical exposures, increased cost, security risks.


All to further both right-wing ideology, and the desire to make a buck.


And remember: the ideology the right espouses is always in the service of making a buck.


During a war, making money from all the bloodshed is called war profiteering.  During World War II, FDR spoke out against war profiteering and took stringent measures against it.


George W. Bush of course took the opposite tack.


It's time for Obama to reverse the privatization trend, not only in the military, but throughout government.


In the civilian realm as well, let people whose primary goal is to do the job and serve the public, perform the work that needs to be done, not those for whom maximizing profit is the most important consideration.


We'll all be better off for it, except those who won't be able to make a huge profit at our expense.




Transcript #148-2

Debunking Right-Wing Lies About U.S. Corporate Tax Rates


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Sources for this segment include, and the website of the federal Government Accountability Office.


Here's a QuickBlast for you:


The right wing is obviously on a full-bore attack against President  Obama and every policy more progressive than Attila the Hun.


There's the true insanity like this from Mike Huckabee:


audio: Mike Huckabee

The budget that Barack Obama and the administration is proposing is one that is full of, essentially, government grab.  That's what it's about.  It's grabbing the last vestige of liberty right out of the lives of each American.

Grabbing the last vestige of liberty from Americans!


How do you respond to such hyperbolic nonsense?  Probably not worth even trying.  If your friendly local right-winger is repeating and believing such thoughts, he or she is probably beyond hope.


I'm going to address here a more prosaic GOP falsehood you're likely to hear.


It's a right-wing talking point going around about corporate taxes, which as you know, the right always wants to lower.  Listen to Neil Cavuto on his Fox program.  The audio is a bit choppy.  The number you might have trouble making out is 35%.


audio: Neil Cavuto

But there were a couple of things I did want to correct -- who am I to correct the president of the United States on -- but when he referred to the fact that looking at our corporate tax rate structure and that there isn't room for rates to grow, because they are low, was a bit of a misstatement here. Our corporate tax rates in this country, at a high 35 percent, are the highest in the industrialized world. That is un-debatable and unequivocal. We have the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world, so I don't know where the president got that particular piece of information.

Un-debatable and unequivocal.


Except it's wrong, or better, a misleading half truth.


Our statutory tax rate is high.  Statutory, as in, the bare-faced number on the books, before all the exceptions, exemptions, credits and the like which can and will reduce it.


Here's what the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, the GAO, wrote in its August 2008 report:


Statutory tax rates do not provide a complete measure of the burden that a tax system imposes on business income because many other aspects of the system, such as exemptions, deferrals, tax credits, and other forms of incentives, also determine the amount of tax a business ultimately pays on its income.


The average U.S. effective tax rate on the domestic income of large corporations with positive domestic income in 2004 was an estimated 25.2 percent.

That figure is lower than several other developed nations.


In fact, I'm looking at a chart from the World Bank, hardly a bastion of left-wing propaganda.


It shows the statutory vs. effective tax rate of the G8 and 3 other nations.


Only Russia and France have a lower effective tax rate than the US.  The Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, India, China, Brazil, Japan and Italy all have higher effective corporate tax rates than the U.S.  That's despite the fact that our statutory tax rate is the highest.


And Cavuto also misstated what Obama said.  Obama was clearly invoking the statutory vs. effective tax rate issue when he explained:


[O]n the books, the rates in the United  States are high. In practice, depending on...what kind of accountant you can hire, they're not so high.

Cavuto apparently wasn't listening very carefully.  But do right-wingers ever?


So as you see once more, an un-debatable, unequivocal Fox fact is, like all right-wing assertions, inaccurate, untrue, a lie.



Podcast Home Page