Thursday, March 31, 2005

An examined life: requiem for Terri Schindler Schiavo

She's dead, at last. Thirteen days after her last meal, Terri Schindler Schiavo has finally succumbed. As the horrible process went on, doctors confidently stated that she was beyond pain; thank God her doctors were not so confident in practice, and at least eased with morphine any suffering her twists and moans may have indicated.

I am Terri's friend. A young woman who, when she was able to choose her friends, might have numbered them in the dozens, can now claim them in the millions - or, more accurately, cannot deny them, even if some are friends she would never have chosen herself. What we share, we friends of Terri, is belief that even though she was critically impaired, even though she had little if any chance for improvement under the best of conditions, the fact of her humanity was unaltered. We reject the term "vegetable" as applied to a human being. We reject a "right to die" articulated on her behalf by a husband who, at best, was weary of the demands her continued life placed on him. We reject an equivalence between the enforced cessation of nourishment for a woman not ill and the turning off of machines that replace the functions of non-functioning organs. We reject the obscene notion that "quality of life" can be determined by someone outside the life in question, and that a public opinion poll ought to bear on an innocent woman's right to continue to breathe.

This is what we share: we recognize that Terri's worth did not, never did, depend on her ability to write a letter or walk across a room or talk on the phone. Her worth was not determined by, but was amply demonstrated by, her family's refusal to ignore the signs that she still inhabited her own body, however imperfectly - their continual treatment of her as their daughter and their sister.

And her worth was not diminished in any tiniest amount by her faithless husband's denial of it. His mouth formed the words "Terri's wish"; his life spelled out in bold block capitals, "MICHAEL'S WISH." Whether Terri herself would have chosen these last years is a question we can never answer; but we can certainly answer the secondary question of who believed her to have value, even in a hospice room.

I am Terri's friend, though she never knew me and I never met her. I'm swallowing past a lump in my throat, typing with tear-blurred eyes, because God refuses to waste even this sad and dreadful hour, even these long and grueling years. A pretty woman who might have lived out her days shopping and going to PTA meetings and pursuing a career inside or outside her home, God has transformed into a warning signpost at the border of the dark woods we know as the "right to die": "Beware - wild animals!"

The slippery slope is a favorite fallacy in basic logic classes. The formulation is simple: a result will inevitably follow from a starting point. The fallacious part is the inevitability, not the following. Therefore: as often in the past thirteen days as I have heard kind people suggest that Terri should have been injected with enough morphine or some other humane drug to carry her off quickly rather than allow her to linger, I cannot agree. To allow doctors to assist suicide is to grant them license to do harm at the request of the patient. The harm is final; otherwise we would be talking about a kind of sado-masochistic relationship that the well-adjusted might be able to permit though not to condone. And the myth that suicide is a private matter is one that we as a society have chosen, correctly, to repudiate. To allow doctors to assist killing that is not suicide, such as to bring about Terri's swifter death, would be to grant them license to do harm to a person at the request of another. In this case, the "other" was a construct of a demonstrably estranged husband and - most horribly - a court of law. The only grace we can cling to in the behavior of this construct was that it did not ask or urge a physician to speed Terri to her death. It killed her, not passively, but at least it did not seek professional help to do it more quickly.

One terminus - a word I choose deliberately - of this slippery slope is involuntary euthanasia. While that end is not inevitable, it is absolutely necessary that we know that one path down this wooded hill leads there. The insistence by some that this "family matter" was not the province of government is an empty one; this "family matter" strikes at the deepest convictions we hold: that life is an inalienable right; that the taking of life without due process is not permissible; that the defense of life is a proper role of governments among men; that where the rights of individuals meet in conflict, the proper role of government is to act such that the fewest or smallest rights are lost. Here, the judiciary decided that the right of a husband to speak for his wife in requesting her death, though her wishes were at best inferred from minimal conversation in questionable context by compromised witnesses, trumped the right of the woman to go on living. In essence, the right to cause death trumped the right to life, in the initial judgments. And, in later judgments, the right of the judiciary to rule unchallenged trumped the right of the legislative and executive branches to act as a check and balance on it.

God lets nothing go to waste, not even this sad and dreadful hour, not even these long and grueling years. We will reap - something - from this hour, from these years. God cherish Terri's soul, and God help us choose the right path down this wooded hill.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Halliburton Part II(b): The performance

Continuing in my exploration of Halliburton's role in the rebuilding of Iraq, I want to move on (so to speak), first, briefly, to the issue of cost-plus contracting for government work.

The LOGCAP contract is described at length here:

  • The cost-reimbursement pricing structure of the LOGCAP contract is
    necessary to provide the flexibility and responsiveness required to support military
    contingency operations. Under a cost-reimbursement type contract, there are no preestablished prices and services. Instead, there are “estimated” and “target” costs, but the Government is obligated to pay the contractor for all incurred costs which are reasonable, allowable, and allocable to the contract. Under all cost-reimbursement type contracts, including the LOGCAP contract, the Government assumes the majority of the risk related to the cost of performance. Because of this, intensive monitoring and oversight of the contractor’s costs are required when a cost-reimbursement type contract is used.
  • For LOGCAP services during an EVENT, the Government (i.e., appropriate
    military commander or MACOM) identifies its requirements and submits them to the
    contractor through the Government contracting officer. The contractor then quickly
    develops a rough order of magnitude (ROM) estimate of the costs and provides this
    cost estimate, along with an estimated performance time schedule, back to the
    Government. After the rough estimates of costs and performance times are reviewed,
    adjusted if necessary, and accepted, the necessary funding must be provided by the
    organization requiring the support.
  • These funds, along with the statement of requirements, are provided to the
    Government contracting officer who then reviews the funds and services to ensure that
    they conform to contracting and financial policies. After this check is completed, the Government contracting officer may issue an order to the contractor to perform the work. The prices for the services are still not firm, since the contractor remains entitled to reimbursement of his incurred costs. A partnership among the contracting officer, the contractor, and the organization receiving the support is formed to constantly monitor and control costs while ensuring responsive, effective services.
  • Contractor profit is expressed in terms of a base fee and an award fee which
    is payable for performance. An award fee pool is available to the contractor for above average performance under the LOGCAP contract. An award fee plan has been
    developed to focus contractor effort towards the areas of performance, coordination,
    flexibility, responsiveness, and cost control. The contractors performance is monitored by an appointed LOGCAP Award Fee Board. The Fee Determining Official (FDO) is the Commander, CETAD. The Award fee Board meets on a periodic basis to evaluate
    the contractors performance and recommends an award fee to the FDO. MACOM
    personnel may input to the Board during both planning and contingency execution
    phases. Input on contractor performance is encouraged from supported commanders
    and from the Government contracting officer staff in the area of operations.

In other words, the perception that Halliburton did a lot of work, presented the government with a bill, and received a check in return leaves out many steps and significant oversight. Importantly, the oversight is provided by government contract administrators, who are not only not appointed but often career civil servants, and therefore not likely to have been in Halliburton's or Cheney's pocket, barring outright bribery of individual administrators, which I've never seen alleged. My experience with the Feds and with private contracting, from both sides of the table, would tend to indicate the opposite, in fact: with so little to hold over the heads of contractors, those responsible for administering contracts seem to wield their one weapon - oversight - with a good deal of determination. That is to say, government administrators can get high on power, not to put too fine a point on it and not to offend any who may read these lines; given that the monies in question are Our Tax Dollars, I'd rather have the contract admin staff scrutinizing each expenditure than rubber-stamping invoices any day.

On to Halliburton's performance under LOGCAP (see my earlier post for a discussion of LOGCAP). Recall that the time period in question involves Halliburton's second time around: Halliburton was re-selected for the LOGCAP contract in 2001, after having been the LOGCAP contractor during the Clinton administration from 1992 (at LOGCAP's inception) until 1997.

Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense under Bush 41 from March 1989 until January 1993. It's widely reported, but citations are vague to invisible, that in 1992-ish Cheney commissioned Brown & Root to perform one or two studies on military outsourcing, then awarded Brown & Root a contract (LOGCAP) that essentially gave them everything that their own study or studies concluded was optimal. As we have seen, the military takes a different view: LOGCAP, conceived in 1985 as a set of regional contracts for military support, wasn't working well. The need for several prime contractors, one for each region, was inefficient, both logistically and in terms of contract administration. In addition, local commanders resisted the presence of untrained civilian personnel in their areas of operations. It had already been concluded that a single global contract was the way to go. I'm having the devil's own time finding detail on the study or studies referenced; however, it's clear that Brown & Root, as a major oilfield services provider with the means to perform considerable additional support functions, would have been a logical choice for LOGCAP in the era of Desert Storm.

Cheney left office along with Bush 41 in January 1993. In 1995, he became CEO of Halliburton. Did he get the job because of his political connections? What good would they have done in the Clinton era? Surely "It's time for a change" should also have meant that any sweetheart contracts awarded under G.H.W. Bush would not be renewed under Clinton. So unless Halliburton was unfairly awarded LOGCAP in 1992 only because Cheney took a liking to them and the Clinton administration, which actually signed the LOGCAP contract, failed to notice the dearth of substance in the rationale for hiring Brown & Root, I have to conclude that Cheney's CEO-ship was not the result of Brown & Root's LOGCAP status in 1995.

Cheney resigned as CEO of Halliburton in 2000, having aggressively moved the company into the international sphere. Halliburton, like many other corporations during the '90s, benefited greatly from the global marketplace, and under Cheney's leadership became a world player where before it had been much more a national one. LOGCAP was up for re-award in 2001, after Cheney had already "cashed out" of Halliburton, to the extent that he could, in preparation for the 2000 Presidential race. Cheney's deferred compensation package (one common reason for a CEO to receive deferred compensation rather than a lump sum would be to avoid too great a cash outflow in one quarter, for instance) was structured in such a way that he would not benefit if Halliburton stock went up, and he took out insurance to protect his investment in the event that it went down. Further, he is donating the after-tax proceeds from the exercise of his stock options to charity. Link here - a sort of "hostile witness" link that nevertheless states my point.

The re-award of LOGCAP to Halliburton in 2001, as I stated in my earlier post may well have been colored by 9/11. I have not yet found a timeline to indicate how long the contract-award process is - it could easily be over a year, which would mean it would have been initiated by the (possibly lame-duck, depending on the timing) Clinton White House, on schedule. But even if the entire process took place under Bush 43, the Halliburton award still makes sense: the winner had to be an American company, it had to be able to provide oilfield services, it had to face the very real possibility of work in a Middle East combat zone with fast-moving military operations going on all around it. Who better? Who had last performed under these circumstances? Who was now, by dint of '90s growth and investment, that much more able to meet the military's needs?

Now, there are other issues one could discuss here, particularly CEO compensation, government contracting procedures, and the use of civilian contractors in war zones. But there's no noteworthy wrongdoing going on. Is there small-scale manipulation and abuse of the system? I wouldn't doubt it; but those things happen at levels far below CEO/VP, as anyone who's seen an episode of M*A*S*H involving making a phone call home or getting barbecued ribs shipped overseas can easily recall.

Next up: overcharges.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cri de coeur

I'm anguished. I think Terri Schindler Schiavo may die, unspoken-for. The attempts to speak for her continue to echo in not just metaphorical but real halls of justice; but her death is one day closer now, and another door has just been bolted shut.

I don't know the truth of the matter; I know that her family has mustered impressive testimony and affidavits that, at minimum, call for her reevaluation based on modern neurology, not the decade-old opinion of a non-neurologist doctor neurologist [corrected 4:33PM EST 3/23/2005 - my apologies] who, in the words of the Rev. Robert Johansen in the National Review Online, "seems to have a knack for finding PVS. Cranford also diagnosed Robert Wendland as PVS. He did so in spite of the fact that Wendland could pick up specifically colored pegs or blocks and hand them to a therapy assistant on request. He did so in spite of the fact that Wendland could operate and maneuver an ordinary wheelchair with his left hand and foot, and an electric wheelchair with a joystick, of the kind that many disabled persons (most famously Dr. Stephen Hawking) use. Dr. Cranford dismissed these abilities as meaningless. Fortunately for Wendland, the California supreme court was not persuaded by Cranford’s assessment." Dr. Cranford diagnosed Terri Schindler Schiavo as in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, after a mere 45-minute examination; a second doctor, Dr. Peter Bambakidis, afforded her half an hour. PVS is generally diagnosed over months of observation, not minutes.

I'm sick over it. I'm heartbroken. If you don't know that Terri Schindler Schiavo responds to instructions, that she discerns and turns toward familiar voices even over music and unfamiliar voices, that she shows preference for some pieces of music over others by consistently vocalizing during them, that she has been denied even the basic range-of-motion physical therapy that would help to straighten her limbs for over a decade, that nurses testify that she has been spoon-fed in the past and has not choked but that the court ordered medical personnel to desist from feeding her this way because she might choke, that she has never choked on her own saliva yet does not drool, that a bone scan appeared to show broken bones for which she was never treated, yet her husband's desire to have her cremated immediately after death has been upheld by the same court over the pleas of her family to preserve her body for examination first... well, now you do know those things. If you remain convinced that she does not deserve a hearing in a court that has not patently demonstrated itself as unfriendly to her, and that her husband, with his common-law wife and their two children, is her proper advocate, well, my living will will explicitly keep you from my bedside.

I don't want to sow division, honestly I don't. But where there is this much question, should we not err on the side of life rather than death?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sideline on Heinlein - UPDATED

I keep running across the Dean.

I started reading Heinlein when I was about eleven, if I recall - his juvies, of course, probably with Have Space Suit, Will Travel among the first. I plowed through them as fast as I could; my dad, a lifelong fan, owned many, possibly most, of the juveniles, and nearly all of the adult fiction Heinlein had published by that time. I read Glory Road, my first Heinlein "grownup" book, in one summer day when I was about 12, and Stranger in a Strange Land at about 14 or 15, having worked my way through the less odd selections before then. In retrospect I'm surprised it took me that long - and in fact my memory may be faulty; I'm going from "sense memories" of what my bedroom looked like while I was reading each book, and to tell the truth, none of these memories are all that definitive. I can say for certain that I read The Number of the Beast when it was first published; I read the serialized first chapter in the now-defunct Omni magazine, rushed out and got the book as soon as it was available in paperback (impecunious as I was), and read it in a hurry just before the family moved to England when I was about to turn 16.

In all that time I never met another kid who had read Heinlein.

I continued to buy his books as soon as they came out, and to track down the few I didn't already own; I even took a course in college in which he was the subject of a unit. (I was deeply disappointed by it, but I have to admit that the prof who taught the course finally articulated for me the pattern I'd known about for close to a decade by that time: the three-stage Heinlein character.) I'm writing aobut him now because I just came across a new(?!) book of his in the library, some 15 years after his death. It's his first "novel," though Spider Robinson, who wrote its intro, was correct in calling it a series of lectures loosely knit together by a story line. It's more like a long cultural essay than a novel. And I've been discovering over the past year or so that Heinlein is much more popular in the blogosphere than I ever thought he was among "real" people. Selection bias? No doubt... but still, his contribution to the cultural landscape that's under construction even now appears to be profound.

I understand there's a biography in the works. I can hardly wait to read it - all my sordid questions answered. Virginia Heinlein, who I just discovered was his third wife rather than his second, was my hero for years, though all I knew about her was her wavery reflection in his books and the contents of one intro to The Past Through Tomorrow. Finding out about her is really more of my reason for wanting to read the bio than finding out about him.

More, post-Schiavo: Robert Heinlein gave me my politics, by and large. He gave me the hope of a bright future for humanity. He gave me my respect for the great literature of the English-language tradition. For a while, he gave me a kind of uneasy agnosticism, before C.S. Lewis gave me back my faith. But in some realms, what he tried to give I have refused to accept.

One of those areas is euthanasia. Heinlein as personified by his third-stage characters, the crusty old men who people his books, regularly championed ending one's life on one's own timetable. Of course, many of his characters were doctors themselves, or had easy access to aother means of suicide, and none, ever, grew senile. Brief discussions of senility in his books inevitably led to the characters' unanimously concluding that if such a fate were to befall them, would someone please put them out of their misery... And his reasoning was that once the mind is gone, the soul, or self, ought to go too - he was never too clear about where the soul resided (except in one short story, where he, tongue-in-cheek, put it in the pituitary gland), but clearly he thought that a senile person was still "in there," suffering tortures because he was unable either to think or to leave.

I don't know what happens inside the mind of a senile person, or one - like Terri Schindler Schiavo, with profound brain damage. But I am confident of this: that with every devaluation of humanness on functionalist grounds, we are closer to involuntary euthanasia. I won't go so far as to say that involuntary euthanasia will be the needful outcome, someday, of Terri's death, but I will say that I fear even the first steps down this path, because these first steps are the easy ones.

Just as I argued all through Terri's long ordeal that where doubt existed as to where she, the elemental she, resided, we ought to shrink from any action that might evict her, so to speak, since we poor humans don't possess the ability to knit body and soul together and give them life, I say the same about the old and the damaged. Since we don't know where our humanity resides, we ought by default to conclude that it resides in the part of us that we have no power to create, but only to destroy. And then we ought to protect those whose functional humanity is no longer obvious.

It's possible that I may grow senile in my old age, or that I may suffer some injury someday that will render me as uncommunicative and possibly as unconscious as Terri Schindler Schiavo (I can't quite bear to let her married name stand alone). It's possible that I will be either terribly weary or terrified inside my own head - seeking release from torment. But here's the rub: I will be granted that release, someday. There's no need for men to provide it; it will come. Catholic tradition created "purgatory" and made it a sine-qua-non for sinful humans; who am I to be released from some form of it, simply because some doctor has that power? God's mercy will provide my release, in God's time. It's not for me to rush it.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Halliburton Part II(a): The contract

Part II in what I hope will be an ongoing series.

According to a July 14, 2003, article in the National Review,

Waxman has made three basic accusations about the Halliburton deal. The first is that it was signed without appropriate competition. The second is that it called for Halliburton to be paid under an arrangement that — Waxman says — often results in overcharges to the government. The third objection is that it is a questionable use of federal money because of what Waxman calls Halliburton's "troubling" performance record.

This is a better and clearer framing of the Halliburton side of the debate than I posted previously. The other side of the debate, the "Cheney connection," I'll leave for another post. But for now, let's examine the first of these three points, no appropriate competition.

As I've opined elsewhere, there's at least one compelling reason to "sole-source" a contract in an emergency or wartime situation: time. I myself have had to do it, back when I was in a position to recommend the awarding of contracts. I had no signatory authority myself in this dinosaur-age job of mine, but it was my responsibility to determine whether a contract ought to be sent out to bid, a process that could take weeks to months even for little jobs, or be awarded to a known contractor upon their submittal of a bid that looked reasonable based on my experience. I'd like to point out that even my penny-ante sole-source contracts (the biggest was about $300K, if I recall) would never have been awarded to an unknown quantity, and were awarded only under two circumstances: (a) a right-now emergency such as a fuel spill that had to be cleaned up immediately, or (b) an ongoing part of a work scope that the sole source had already performed, such as a maintenance contract following installation of a remediation system.

The US military, being smarter than I am and, apparently, either smarter or more in need of a mechanism for sole-sourcing things than my company was, has come up with an alternative: LOGCAP, the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program. In brief, LOGCAP is a way to keep a contractor "on retainer." The Army Corps of Engineers' regulation concerning LOGCAP is here, but to summarize, LOGCAP provides for vetting civilian contractors in peacetime or under non-emergency conditions, through competitive bidding, so that they can be used quickly and effectively in wartime or in emergencies for the many tasks that a downsized military is no longer able or "willing" (I use this term not because the Corps, for instance, would turn up their noses at any task - these are the people whose official motto translates as "Let us try," not "Let us evaluate" - but because as a fighting force first, our military is best used elsewhere than putting out oilfield fires, for instance) to perform. LOGCAP enables the military to ensure several things ahead of time:

  • that a contractor has the capability to perform the most likely required work scope in an area, based on the military's best peacetime guess as to what wartime needs will be;
  • that a contractor's personnel have current security clearances and required training (such as annual OSHA refreshers, for instance, where needed);
  • that rapid-response and contingency contracting is streamlined so that the unforeseen can be dealt with;
  • that vendors for foreseeable supplies are available and hold agreements with the contractor;
  • that communication lines between the military and the contractor are pre-established;
  • that documentation requirements are known and acknowledged in advance of need...

I've done limited work on a military facility. Dealing with the above requirements is surprisingly onerous (maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was) and involves slinging a whole different lingo from civvy life. Setting as much up before H-Hour as possible is, IMHO, a terrific way to solve the hydra-headed problem of accomplishing competitive bidding when it's feasible so you can forego it when there's no time, teaching civilian companies the "Army way" before they actually need to know it, and using procurement people's time effectively. Again drawing on my own contracting experience - which was a lemonade stand compared to what the military has to do - a simple, ongoing one-year monitoring contract took, probably, on the order of half as much time and effort to develop, send out for bids, evaluate, and award as a brand-new complicated remediation system installation contract. Not a good use of time unless you're very price-sensitive indeed, which, in the case of LOGCAP, has to play second fiddle to operational preparedness (the simple contracts are dealt with in other ways).

So to Halliburton. LOGCAP was established in 1985, and a combination of its first use and a "conspiracy" of world events quickly established that it ought to be a single global contract, not one contract per area of operations as it was envisioned at first. According to this Army history paper on LOGCAP, Brown & Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton, purchased according to Halliburton's website in 1962) was competitively awarded the first global LOGCAP contract in 1992 from a field of four companies. In 1997, following the Balkan conflict, Brown & Root lost the LOGCAP contract to DynCorp Services. The website says that this contracting change was due to Brown & Root's poor performance in the Balkans; however, the military history cited above implies that the LOGCAP contract term was up in 1996 and the contract was due to be re-competed at that time anyway. However (and interestingly), the DoD, under Clinton, determined that to remove Brown & Root from Bosnia, where they, by then, had extensive experience, would be counterproductive. So Brown & Root was awarded a sole-source contract for that theater only, which remained in force until 1999. At that time, the Bosnia contract was sent out again for full competitive bid, and Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) won it.

After 9/11, specifically in December 2001, KBR was again awarded the LOGCAP contract in competitive bidding; the military history above says that at the time of 9/11, "[Army Materiel Command (AMC)] was concluding another recompete of the LOGCAP contract," which, if it's not a straight statement that the recompete was already in the works, is certainly a strong implication thereof. The HalliburtonWatch website attempts, in contrast, to make a connection between Dick Cheney's being elected vice president, 9/11, and KBR's award of the contract. It's not out of the question that 9/11 fed into AMC's decision to award the contract to KBR; after all, it was Brown & Root who had so successfully fought the Kuwait oilfield fires after Operation Desert Storm, and the military was clearly embarking upon operations in the same theater and under some of the same conditions. DynCorp, it must be noted, is not an oilfield services provider.

The upshot is, Halliburton-as-KBR did not simply receive carte blanche to start sending invoices from Iraq to Washington; they won a scheduled, competitive contract to supply varied services to the US military in 2001 on a cost-plus basis with a profit margin of 1-3 percent.

A separate, and I gather initially confidential, contract, known as RIO for "Restoring Iraqi Oil," was awarded to Halliburton on a sole-source basis. This contract's workscope involves or involved evaluation of the threat of oilfield fires and disruption, dealing with any such disruption, and rebuilding of oilfield infrastructure and oil production. Is it unreasonable that the prime LOGCAP contractor on-scene, not coincidentally one of the world's largest and best oilfield services providers, with tens of thousands of employees already in theater and a supply network already established, would be awarded this contract?

Enough. "No competition" is true only in the narrowest sense - as if McDonald's or WalMart or Lloyd's could do the same jobs and should have been given the opportunity to bid. Next post: I'll be looking into the second and third Waxman allegations: the inappropriateness of cost-plus contracting and Halliburton's performance record.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Halliburton Part I: Framing the question

OK, so I'm going to do my poor best to research The Halliburton Question, using internet sources pretty much entirely because (a) it'll be an interesting exercise to see what's out there, and (b) it's a whole lot easier than trying to do library research with all my kids in tow. Several things to note:

1. It's gonna take me a while. I'm quite out of practice in doing research, and I have significant other demands on my time.
2. Anything and everything I come up with will be filtered through my interpretations, though I'll do my best to be objective. I don't think Halliburton is lily-white, nor that Cheney has never spoken an untrue word, but I also don't hold any corporation nor any politician to that high a standard - in this respect I guess I'm not a "good neocon," being more of a realist than an idealist.
3. I'll update as I can by adding new threads, and I'll try to keep track of where I was on the previous update!

Onward to Part I: Framing the question. Here are my assumptions:

1. The fact that Halliburton is a multinational corporation is insufficient indictment.
2. The fact that Cheney was its CEO for some five years is insufficient indictment, and that includes his deferred compensation - that deferred compensation is a cashflow tool strikes me as a heck of a lot more likely than that it's an ongoing bribe. I'll even go out on a limb here and state my assumption that Cheney's deferred-compensation package is NOT contingent on ANYTHING - that he's entitled to it even if he suddenly becomes a hydrogen-hugging Birkenstock-wearing Oregon-dwelling anti-oil activist.

And here's the meat of the matter: my understanding of "the controversy" is these three points:
3. Halliburton received a very large (>$1 billion) sole-source contract to provide oilfield and reconstruction services in Iraq. Why? Is the reason given sufficient to (a) explain the rewarding of the contract to Halliburton as opposed to another firm, and (b) justify its being sole-source?
4. Halliburton - or, as I understand it right now, one or more of its subcontractors - significantly overcharged the US government for services in, about, the year following the invasion of Iraq. My further current understanding is that Halliburton themselves brought the overcharges to the attention of the gov't, and that they are repaying/have repayed all overcharges. If that's not the case, why isn't it, and why hasn't Halliburton been pulled off the contract?
5. Some on the left believe that Cheney continues to use his powerful position to create opportunities for his "cronies" at Halliburton and associated firms, ranging from having better access to Iraqi oil production all the way up to taking de-facto control of Iraqi oil production, depending on the level of sanity of the opinionator (I made up that word - like it?)(and I'm also making my own bias clear as air, for everyone's convenience).

Is this framing acceptable? In the absence of comments, I'm going with it.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

An analogy I'll live to regret

...and I mean that. This is pretty much a piece of fluff to keep my hand in on this blog until I finish researching The Halliburton Question.

Here goes. Last night we went out to dinner as a family. What that means is two adults, one fairly surly almost-eight-year-old, one tired three-year-old, and one very tired one-year-old. We weren't about to attempt anything requiring sublime table manners - it was Cheeburger, Cheeburger, for any East-Coasters out there - but it was a sit-down place with cooked-to-order food. (Have you EVER seen so many hyphens in one place?)

Steve, recovering from a near-all-nighter (the hyphens continue) at work the night before, was a veritable zombie, functioning as only an experienced dad can to keep the littlest occupied while we waited for our food, but not speaking a word to me or the older two. I was fully engaged with them, one on each side, keeping the middlest (as we call her) supplied with crayons on demand, jollying the oldest along as he dealt with the angst of whether he'd made the wrooooooong decision by ordering the normal-sized burger (that comes in a "collector" car made of cardstock) over the 10-oz. burger that, if he were to finish it, would get his picture taken with a giant stuffed cheeseburger for posting on the wall. Then the food arrived and we switched functions to exhorting the oldest to slow down, nobody was going to take the food away, feeding the middlest "like a baby," as she sometimes requires in order to get any calories into her, and collecting the french fry pieces the littlest tossed in all directions. Still no chance for adult conversation, nor really for family fun.

Here comes the analogy: But it had to be done. The kids have to learn to behave in public and practice that behavior. Keeping them in the house because it's hard work to take them out will not enable them to develop the social skills they'll need in years to come. Ditto Iraq (see why I'm going to regret this analogy?).

I categorically deny that the United States should feel paternalistic about any other nation. But. In the Middle East we are - I hope - seeing the inception of a new way of thinking for that region, and we have some experience in that area: the longest and most successful experience in the world, in fact. We have to do what it takes to impart our experience to the newbies, even though it's hard, painful, and not especially rewarding for us in the short term. The long-term reward is one or more nations that can function productively in a democratic world they weren't born to - just as no child is born to socialization - with all the benefits, and the significant challenges, that derive from democracy. Showing them the proper fork, so to speak, reminding them which one it is when they pick up the wrong one, congratulating them when they choose the right one - these are things we can do not only to help the Iraqis and the others who are agitating for the same chance, but also to ensure that in future years we're not "embarrassed in public."

Okay, go ahead: rip this fluff up. I deserve it and will submit without demur.