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September 07, 2010

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It's nice to have one's suspicions confirmed.

I guess.

When do we start talking about consequences (criminal or Congressional investigations, etc)?

There's a cliche on project management; you can do fast, cheap, and right. And you get to pick any two. The U.S. got the negative hat trick on Iraqi reconstruction, it was unconscionably slow, it was outrageously expensive (due to corruption and outsourcing the construction), and what did get built is not even close to right.

Silly Gary, don't you know that military spending isn't actual spending? It's freedom.

Now, domestic spending that isn't helping bankers, THAT is spending.

Note that the link above about "$53 billion" appropriate by Congress for Iraqi reconstruction is broken. It's within the article I quoted, so I'm not fixing it there, but you can read plenty about that $53 billion here.

It's like a reconstruction plan inspired by "Three Kings".

It's like a reconstruction plan inspired by "Three Kings".

SPOILER ALERT (SO SEE THE MOVIE ALREADY):

Only without a bunch of Iraqis being rescued at the end.


Just from this story:

[...] A $40 million prison sits in the desert north of Baghdad, empty. A $165 million children's hospital goes unused in the south. A $100 million waste water treatment system in Fallujah has cost three times more than projected, yet sewage still runs through the streets

As the U.S. draws down in Iraq, it is leaving behind hundreds of abandoned or incomplete projects. More than $5 billion in American taxpayer funds has been wasted - more than 10 percent of the some $50 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction in Iraq, according to audits from a U.S. watchdog agency.

That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 percent for some projects.

And there are some specific examples gone into.

Speaking of Three Kings, Russell, have you followed what David O. Russell's current picture is?

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman comments on the Obama transportation measure:

Some bleary-eyed thoughts from Japan on the reported administration proposal for $50 billion in new spending:

1. It’s a good idea
2. It’s much too small
3. It won’t pass anyway — which makes you wonder why the administration didn’t propose a bigger plan, so as to at least make the point that the other party is standing in the way of much needed repair to our roads, ports, sewers, and more– not to mention creating jobs. Once again, they’re striking right at the capillaries.

Beyond all that, the new initiative is a chance for me to air one of my pet peeves: the stupidity of the claim, which you hear all the time — and you’ll hear again now — that it’s always better to provide stimulus in the form of tax cuts, because individuals know better than the government what to do with their money.

Why is this claim stupid? Because Econ 101 tells us that there are some things the government must provide, namely public goods whose benefits can’t be internalized by the market.

So suppose we’re going to put $50 billion of resources that would otherwise be idle to work. Is it better to use them to produce public goods like improved roads, or private goods like more consumer durables? That’s not at all obvious — and anyone who tells you that basic economics settles the question, that is says that devoting more resources to production of private goods is better, doesn’t understand Econ 101.

And there’s a pretty good argument to be made that we are, in fact, starved for public goods in this country, so that it would actually be a good idea to shift some resources to public goods production even if we were at full employment; in that case, we should definitely give priority to public goods when trying to put unemployed resources to work. [....]

And fortunately, the U.S. taxpayer won't be paying for any of the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

But think how much more negative reactions to the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been if Congress had actually attempted to set taxes (or cut other spending) to pay for them. Oh, the horror!

Leftists everywhere!

[...] “I think we’re in a mess in Afghanistan and I think we’re in a mess in Iraq,” said Hagel, who voted in support of the war in Iraq based on the intelligence assessments and later admitted he regretted his vote. “Our military has been more valiant and done a better job than we could have ever hoped. But we have put the military in an impossible situation.”

Hagel flatly rejects the notion — now conventional wisdom among many Americans — that the war in Iraq has been a success. “Did you see today’s paper?” he asked, holding up a front-page story in the Washington Post that described vast swaths of the country as being plagued by electricity outages.

“Look at the facts: No government, less electricity and people want us out,” Hagel pointed out. “Anyway you measure Iraq today I think you’re pretty hard pressed to find how people are better off than they were before we invaded. I think history is going to be very harsh in its judgment — very, very harsh. And I think we’re headed for a similar outcome in Afghanistan if we don’t do some things differently.”

He stands by his assessment, outlined in his 2008 book “America: Our Next Chapter,” that the invasion of Iraq is the worst American foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, and one of the five worst in U.S. history.

Hagel said the United States “made a terrible mistake taking our eye of the ball in Afghanistan when we invaded Iraq.” Now, he argues that the United States is doing in Afghanistan exactly what George W. Bush famously warned against during his 2000 presidential campaign: nation building.

“We are where we are today — going into our 10th year in Afghanistan, our longest war — because we did take our eye of the ball,” he said. “It’s becoming clearer and clearer. We really made some big mistakes during that time. I have never believed you can go into any country and nation build, and unfortunately I think that’s what we’ve gotten ourselves bogged down in.

“You can dance around that issue any way you like, but the fact is that there are billions and billions of dollars we’ve spent and are still spending, over 100,000 troops, and all the assistance we’ve got going in there,” Hagel continued. “It’s nation building. We should not nation build. It will always end in disaster.”

There's a whole lot more of Chuck Hagel there.

Speaking of Three Kings, Russell, have you followed what David O. Russell's current picture is?

Gary's link makes me think of a simple and effective cost-cutting measure for the DoD.

What we need is a zombie army. They work cheap, they don't need much in the way of support (just some fresh brains now and then) and there is a vast and self-replenishing population of dead people to draw on.

It's the army that sustains itself, anywhere and anytime.

We could have zombie border guards, too. That would keep those sneaky illegals on their toes.

Just keep them outside our own borders. Posse commitatus and all of that.

The only tiny flaw I see in your plan, Russell, is the army we need to guard the zombie army.

And no one will go to jail for this. No one important, anyway. Awesome.

I didn't spend a lot of time on Gary's links, but it looks like the wastage was in the 5-10 billion neighborhood. Is that right? Does someone have a quick and authoritative link that shows a different number?

If I'm reading Gary's post right, as high as $13 billion in Iraq alone. Plus an unknown % of the $30 billion spent in Afganistan.

Of course, if you think the entire Iraq War/occupation/ongoing mission of whatever was a waste (and believe that Afganistan should have been a far more limited operation), this is simply a few drops in the bucket.

It still pisses me off.

McKT: If you're talking about the original $9 billion, "wastage" is too kind--we don't know enough to know whether it was wasted, evaporated, or got stolen. It just disappeared.

Interesting, and not entirely unrelated:

Washington, D.C. has become a vast wasteland of computer contracts. The U.S. government spent $81.9 billion in 2010 on information technology and much of that money is misspent, crippling the ability of government to do the jobs with which it has been entrusted.

There's a video of a speech at the link which is interesting to watch or just listen to.

Thanks, Slarti. The gov't that wastes 13 billion in Iraq is the same gov't that wastes money by the billion here at home. Yet, we would fund the one uncritically.

?

Seems to me that people criticize governmental waste constantly. Even liberals, in my experience (though less so than their conservative counterparts). There seems to be a massive blindspot when it comes to military adventures.

If the government is corrupt & inefficient at home, it stands to reason that it would make a mess of things abroad as well. If true, one would expect people to be very reluctant to take over other people's countries. And yet...

But the real point is that the Iraq war itself was a massive waste/mistake/awful policy. That the reconstruction (the only part I thought might do any good) was wasted is just an added irritation.

Slarti, I really wonder how the federal government compares to large private organizations in terms of computer wastage.

My wife has just started a grad school program. She has had to waste days of her time because the university has really really bad IT. She has 8 different accounts using four different usernames. We both went to a school that did IT right so we had no idea that apparently (based on recent conversations with friends), almost all universities screw up their IT/administration to a degree that boggles the mind.

Judging by someone's comments on EVERY GODDARNED THREAD TODAY, that someone must have just paid his quarterly self-employment tax or something.

My wife is an IT project manager. She recently took over a project that was a mess. They recently had to increase the budget by about 50% for that project. It's a pretty damned important one that should have been under plenty of scrutiny. Yet all sorts of things were missed, swept under the rug, etc. It's taken her months to figure out all the things that are screwy, and it'll take her more months to fix them.

The people most responsible for the mess moved on (one left first and then brought the other over). They will suffer no consequences whatsoever.

Hmm, that sounds familiar.

Judging by someone's comments on EVERY GODDARNED THREAD TODAY, that someone must have just paid his quarterly self-employment tax or something.

No, my fricking state franchise taxes--cleaned me out, as a matter of fact, but that's part of it. Actually, I have a bit of free time and haven't dropped by in a couple of days.

Instead of attempted/failed image joke, should've gone with "Texas? More like TAXAS, am I right?"

Better hook into that all-seeing eye while you still can.

Well, at least the dragon tank has historical precursors. Look at some renaissance designs. and Germany might have build tanks in the 1000-1500 t range, had the project not been stopped by Speer. The war could have been far shorter, had the German industry been converted to building these.

Tangentially related:

Today the Sunlight Foundation launched analysis that reveals more than $1.3 trillion in federal reporting data from 2009 is broken. These data inaccuracies account for 70 percent of the total $1.9 trillion in government spending data reported last year.

I suspect there's not much history to show that The Center Cannot Hold, but there's some.


Hopefully unrelated, one of the wierdest true headlines I'd ever seen (swiped from one of my Facebook friends):

Giant hay bale kills former ELO cellist

Tragic, needless to say.

The only tiny flaw I see in your plan, Russell, is the army we need to guard the zombie army.

Details.

Also, from my experience, large and/or complex IT projects go south on a fairly regular basis pretty much anywhere they're attempted. Public sector / private sector, same-same.

It's hard to do large and/or complicated things. Not impossible, just hard.

Spencer Ackerman: Who’s Really Responsible For Afghan Corruption? You:

You pay your taxes, right? Well, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues in a new paper (.pdf) that the explosion of U.S. cash — $450 billion in ten years, thrown into a country with a $29 billion annual GDP – put Afghanistan on a path to institutional dysfunction. With more foreign money than the capacity to absorb it, corruption in Afghanistan became “the real internal system of national politics,” not a deviation from it. The narco-palaces of Kabul; the millions squirreled away to Dubai to protect warlords’ assets; the villagers shaken down by police officers — that’s all on us. [....]

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Whatnot


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