Friday, March 27, 2009

Still not safe to shower in Iraq

Thousands of buildings at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan have such poorly installed wiring that American troops face life-threatening risks, a top inspector for the Army says.
"It was horrible -- some of the worst electrical work I've ever seen," said Jim Childs, a master electrician and the top civilian expert in an Army safety survey. Childs told CNN that "with the buildings the way they are, we're playing Russian roulette."
Childs recently returned from Iraq, where he is taking part in a yearlong review aimed at correcting electrical hazards on U.S. bases. He told CNN that thousands of buildings in Iraq and Afghanistan are so badly wired that troops are at serious risk of death or injury.
He said problems are "everywhere" in Iraq, where 18 U.S. troops have died by electrocution since 2003. All deaths occurred in different circumstances and different locations, but many happened on U.S. bases being managed by various military contractors. The Army has has reopened investigations in at least five cases, according to Pentagon sources.

The above is the opening to Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein's "Shoddy wiring 'everywhere' on Iraq bases, Army inspector says" (CNN). Robin Acton (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) quotes Cheryl Harris, mother of Staff Sgt Ryan Maseth ("electrocuted in Iraq on Jan. 2, 2008") stating, "We're playing Russian roulette with their lives every time they step into a shower." From Acton's article:

Maseth, 24, of Shaler is among 18 people electrocuted in Iraq since 2003. The Green Beret died when a rooftop pump on his living quarters in the Radwaniayah Palace Complex charged the water flowing into his shower.
His parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against KBR Inc., accusing the Houston-based defense contractor of shoddy electrical work. KBR oversees maintenance at most U.S. facilities in Iraq.
Company officials maintain that KBR was not responsible for Maseth's death, which has been reclassified by Army investigators as negligent homicide caused by the company and two of its supervisors. The case is under military review.
"It does not surprise me that 65,000 facilities still need to be inspected. It's been 15 months and the CID (Army Criminal Investigative Division) has not closed its investigation," Harris said. "All I want is accountability, so these guys have a safe place to shower."

On the 65,000 facilities not inspected, AP quotes Senator Bob Casey stating, "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."

On another topic, Rachel e-mailed a question regarding Iraq's drinking water and that's actually best addressed in by the Government Accountability Office's report [PDF format warning] entitled "Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight" which was released this week:

In the water sector, as of July 2008, U.S.-funded projects had the capacity to
provide an additional 8.1 million Iraqis with potable water, short of the goal of
8.5 million. Even with the additional capacity, many Iraqis are without water
or have access to water that puts them at risk of diseases such as cholera and
dysentery, as evidenced by outbreaks in 2007 and 2008. According to the
United Nations, only 40 percent of children have reliable access to safe
drinking water; with water treatment plants operating at only 17 percent
capacity, large volumes of untreated waste are discharged into Iraq’s
waterways. The health risks associated with a lack of access to potable water
and proper sewage treatment are compounded by the shortage of medical
professionals in Iraq's health care system. The World Bank has estimated
$14.4 billion is needed to rebuild the Iraqi public works and water system.
Iraq has not followed through on commitments to spend more of its own
money on reconstruction efforts and faces challenges sustaining U.S.-funded
projects. As table 1 indicates, U.S. agencies have spent 87 percent, or about
$9.5 billion, of the $10.9 billion allocated since fiscal year 2003 for
reconstruction activities in the oil, electricity, and water sectors. In contrast,
Iraq has spent about 12 percent, or about $2.0 billion of the $17.2 billion
allocated for investment activities in these sectors. In addition, Iraq has faced
difficulties in sustaining U.S.-funded reconstruction projects. According to
U.S. officials, Iraqi managers lack the skill level and authority to create plans
and buy the materials necessary to sustain projects in the energy and water
sectors. Moreover, poor security has prevented the successful implementation
of long-term training programs to create the local capacity needed to operate
and maintain U.S.-funded projects.

Dana Priest participated in an online Washington Post chat yesterday and we'll note this section:

Raleigh, N.C.: Now that we're under new management, what are the chances that the U.S. will once become a signatory to the Rome Statute that governs the International Criminal Court? Will we have to repeal laws (such as the American Service Members Protection Act) to do so?

Dana Priest: The chances are not high. This is one of those taboo issues. It gets equated immediately with surrending sovereignty. So I don't think there will be any changes. Take a look at Carrie Johnson's front-page story from yesterday and you'll see other legal areas where this management isn't changing from the last management.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Gul finished a visit to Baghdad this week (the first by a Turkish President since 1976) and TurkNet quotes him stating, ""U.S. President Obama will pay a state visit to Turkey next month. There are strategic and quite important relations between Turkey and the United States. Those relations go beyond the issues concerning our countries. Turkey and the United States hold perpetual consultations about regional and international developments from Afghanistan to the Middle East. . . . Turkey and the United States cooperate with each other in the fight against terrorism. We benefit from the United States' cooperation especially in our efforts to track down terrorist camps outside Turkey. In today's world, no one can reach their targets through acts of terrorism. All illegal organizations including the PKK will be eliminated. Both the EU and the regional countries realized this fact. During my visit to Iraq last week, I held talks with both the central government officials and the regional Kurdish administration. Those talks revealed that no one will tolerate terrorism." Hillary Clinton just visited Turkey and, no, it is not a good way to spend diplomatic capital by planning a presidential visit so soon after the Secretary of State's; however, Hillary got headlines for that MidEast and European trip and Barack has a bad case of the envies. The good news is that he'll be less likely to harass the American TV viewers while overseas. But before that trip starts, viewers of CBS' Face The Nation Sunday will still have to endure the most overexposed celebrity in years. In an indication of just how tired everyone is of the celebrity-in-chief, Steve Gorman, Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney (Reuters) report, "Taking to the airwaves again to pitch his economic plan, President Barack Obama drew 40 million viewers for his latest news conference, down some 9 million from his first prime-time press encounter last month." As usual, the idiots at Entertainment Weekly are fact-free. And let's note how hilarious it is that EW continues to struggle when 'entertainment' coverage is the only magazine format not completely tanking in the current economy. It seems not all that long ago that the TV Guide faction made their split and pinned their fortunes on EW -- so ticked off that they would no longer be able to write about TV stars and their margarita pitchers they knocked over in the hotel rooms and left leaking -- drip, drip, drip -- or their naturally low intelligence (Erin Moran won the cake, espcially with her, "But I'm more the star on this show, right?" nonsense) when 'bitchy' was really allowing them to make a name for themselves. They've become as cautious and kiss-ass as the magazine they left.

For more on the celebrity-in-chief, see Cedric's "Starlet Barack" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! THE NEW PIA ZADORA!" as well as Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Celebrity President"

Celebrity President

Turning to public TV, tonight (on most PBS stations, check local listings), NOW on PBS examines immigration. On Washington Week, Gwen sits down with NYT's Peter Baker, Slate's John Dickerson, Jeanne Cummings and Washington Post's Spencer Hsu. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

The Internet Is Infected
Lesley Stahl reports on computer viruses that propagate on the Internet and infect PCs, which enable their creators – often called cyber gangs – to learn the information they need to electronically rob bank accounts. | Watch Video
The African lion, already down as much as 85 percent in numbers from just 20 years ago, is now in danger of becoming extinct because people are poisoning them with a cheap American pesticide to protect their cattle herds. Bob Simon reports. | Watch Video
Steve Kroft profiles the Cleveland Cavalier's superstar, LeBron James, who at only 24, is already among an elite handful of athletes who command tens of millions a year in playing and marketing fees. | Watch Video

ADDED: Also on PBS (program begins airing tonight, check local listings for date and time in your area), The New Agenda's Amy Siskind appears on Bonnie Erbe's To The Contrary. After NOW's Kim Gandy embarrassed herself last week (as did Eleanor Holmes Norton, see "The Katrina goes to . . .") acting as a film critic (who didn't know the plot of the film she was critiquing) and pimping the concept that the only woman who should have a baby was a woman legally married to a man -- no, that's not feminism -- Amy Siskind's appearance should be a huge improvement. And for those who missed last week's program, it's available online now at To The Contrary and if you watch it, grasp that Eleanor and Kim were supposed to represent the 'left'. It was no surprise that such a restrictive notion might come from the right (actually, Sophia Nelson, from the right, had a less restrictive notion of motherhood), it was appalling to watch Kim and Eleanor rush to attack single women (adults and underage teenagers) and to attack women in committed partnerships (either male-female pairings or female-female ones) . And Rebecca's correct (see her "kim gandy is an idiot & other topics"), the trashing of Angelina Jolie did not sit well with me because I have known her since she was a child and I do not find it 'cute' or 'funny' when she's trashed. But, while that's true, it is equally true that, as Ava and I pointed out, Angelina has been in a committed relationship for four years now. With Brad and yet that's not good enough for Kim Gandy. Before Kim Gandy trashes another woman for the legitimate choices she makes, maybe Kim Gandy might try dealing with her own personal demons -- if she did, she wouldn't be stress eating so and wouldn't have put on approximately forty pounds in the last six months. She crossed a serious line and it's not one a president of NOW should ever cross. And for anyone whining about 'poor Kim' and her weight, it's not my fault she's fat, I didn't force-feed her.

And finally Iraq's Foreign Affairs Ministry notes:

25 March, 2009

Foreign Minister Receives Syrian Counterpart and Holds Joint Press Conference

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zerbari received on Wednesday Mar.25th. 2009 at Baghdad International Airport, Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Mualim and the accompanying delegation, in an official visit to Iraq.

Then Foreign Minister and his guest went to the Prime Minister's Office and met with the Prime Minister Nuri AL-Maliki , both sides discussed different aspects of the relations between the two countries and stressed on need of a political will and raise it to what is suitable for the position of the both neighboring countries , Foreign Minister AL-Mualem conveyed the regards of Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad and the Syrian leadership and Syrian people to the Government and people of Iraq and congratulations for the success of the provisional elections .

Then Foreign Minister Zebari escorted his counterpart to the Ministry headquarter where a round of political, security and economic issues discussions took place. Foreign Minister explained the development of the political and security process and stated that this year is very important to Iraq because Iraq will witness local and parliamentary elections , statistics and census of population and Foreign Minister clarified to his guest the increase of Arab , regional and international openness with Iraq is a positive sign for returning Iraq to its place .

The Syrian Foreign Minister Al-Mualem stressed on Syria's support to Iraq and Iraq's right to host the next Arab Summit in Baghdad stressing on the importance to coordinate the stances between Iraq and Syria in Doha Summit and addressed the importance of agreeing with Iraq in energy file and the rest of the issues in condition of providing political will of the two sides.

Then Foreign Minister and his guest held a press conference addressing the most important issues between both sides and answered the questions of the journalists.

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