Privatization Kills: Troops Electrocuted In
Iraq, Cheney's Former Company To Blame
hyperlinked to sources. For all
sources, see the data
sources today include: the New York Times, CNN, Reuters, commondreams.org,
msnbc.com, npr.org, the Associated Press, the Boston Globe and Fox News.
tell you about a couple of tragic incidents.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a military investigator recently told
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
moment, I'll tell you about the military's investigation of this whole matter,
and give you more evidence of KBR wrongdoing.
soldiers are being electrocuted and shocked on military bases throughout Iraq.
What's the military doing to protect them?
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.
could have lost
hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and bonuses.
But it has gotten even more
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?
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Electricians formerly employed by KBR said their repeated warning to
superiors about unsafe electrical conditions were ignored.
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
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.
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
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
What's wrong with this picture?
Some Democrat Senators are at least
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
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.
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.
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
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.
not just electrical.
probably caught some of the stories in the news over the years. Sen. Dorgan has
had a front row
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
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.
you know what, in the widest frame, it's not just bad apples, a bunch of bad
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
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
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
Wow, talk about the fruits of
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.
George W. Bush of course took the
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
We'll all be better off for it,
except those who won't be able to make a huge profit at our expense.
Debunking Right-Wing Lies About U.S. Corporate
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Sources for this segment include
mediamatters.org, and the website of the federal Government Accountability
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
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
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%.
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
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
So as you see once more, an
un-debatable, unequivocal Fox fact is, like all right-wing assertions,
inaccurate, untrue, a lie.