Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Bottom Line of the Iraq Study Group

Privatizing the Oil.

5. The Oil Sector
Since the success of the oil sector is critical to the success of the Iraqi economy, the United
States must do what it can to help Iraq maximize its capability.
Iraq, a country with promising oil potential, could restore oil production from existing
fields to 3.0 to 3.5 million barrels a day over a three- to five-year period, depending on evolving
conditions in key reservoirs. Even if Iraq were at peace tomorrow, oil production would decline
unless current problems in the oil sector were addressed.
Short Term
• As soon as possible, the U.S. government should provide technical assistance to the Iraqi
government to prepare a draft oil law that defines the rights of regional and local governments
and creates a fiscal and legal framework for investment. Legal clarity is essential to attract -
• The U.S. government should encourage the Iraqi government to accelerate contracting for the
comprehensive well work-overs in the southern fields needed to increase production, but the
United States should no longer fund such infrastructure projects.
• The U.S. military should work with the Iraqi military and with private security forces to
protect oil infrastructure and contractors. Protective measures could include a program to
improve pipeline security by paying local tribes solely on the basis of throughput (rather than
fixed amounts).
• Metering should be implemented at both ends of the supply line. This step would
immediately improve accountability in the oil sector.
• In conjunction with the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. government should press Iraq
to continue reducing subsidies in the energy sector, instead of providing grant assistance.
Until Iraqis pay market prices for oil products, drastic fuel shortages will remain.
Long Term
Expanding oil production in Iraq over the long term will require creating corporate structures,
establishing management systems, and installing competent managers to plan and oversee an
ambitious list of major oil-field investment projects.
To improve oil-sector performance, the Study Group puts forward the following
• The United States should encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international
community and by international energy companies.
• The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a
commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability.
• To combat corruption, the U.S. government should urge the Iraqi government to post all oil
contracts, volumes, and prices on the Web so that Iraqis and outside observers can track
exports and export revenues.
• The United States should support the World Bank’s efforts to ensure that best practices are
used in contracting. This support involves providing Iraqi officials with contracting templates
and training them in contracting, auditing, and reviewing audits.
• The United States should provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Oil for enhancing
maintenance, improving the payments process, managing cash flows, contracting and
auditing, and updating professional training programs for management and technical

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What Grand Jury Might Talk About

Elizabeth de la Vega wrote this fictional account into a Grand Jury's investigation into the lies leading us to war. The account may be fictional but the facts are not.

Deloris' Punch Line

It was rumored that Robert Allen Parker had been a professor of mathematics. It might be true. It might not. I know that he was an older man who always carried a higher calculus book in his arm and was always making notes in it. He was a gentle guy and we had a special relationship. He was very concerned about two things above all: Nuclear Weapons and Gambling Casinos. I was never sure which had priority.

His mental illness took the form of repetitive statements which I came to believe were used more as a shield. His most famous segway was, “As a gentleman and a scholar…” and then go into what ever point he might be trying to make. He had a pension and he kept a room but at the end of every month he would ask Mary Ellen (who was in charge of the community’s finances) for a short term loan. He did not ask directly, he would say his leg was feeling kind of rough. He always paid it back and he always had to borrow it back at the end of the next month.

The first time I realized he was a lot more together than he would even admit to himself was the time his landlord tried to evict him. He took his landlord to court and won. But living on a fixed income meant he needed to eat at the soup kitchen (this one was in D.C.) and he had to rely on people who he knew cared.

A lot of what he said was rambling but I felt it was a psychological smoke screen. At one point I showed him some of my artwork and it impressed him so much that he turned to me and we had a rational conversation that lasted for about five minutes before he slipped back into his defensive rambling.

Much later I went up and lived in Boston for a couple of years but came down often to visit. Every time I did he would ask me to inquire about a chair for him at Harvard.

Now we get to Deloris. Deloris was mentally ill. I just did not realize how much.

It is 1978[I must correct this error. It was 1979.]and I was running an overnight shelter for women in D.C. with five other people. The five of us lived in the same house. In case you are wondering, two men and three women. But Deloris had to live there as well. She was just unable to be out there alone and survive. I walked in the door one day and she was at the top of the stairs.

“Deloris does not like you but Stacy thinks you are cool. Cynthia could not care less but Sylvia wants to see you dead.”

This was quite the conversation and I was not even participating. After a while she went into one of the women’s rooms and I went looking for some mental floss.

The problem with the overnight shelter was this: we had forced the District of Columbia to open it (more on that in another chapter) and they wanted us out. So what did they do? They sold the land the building was on to the Canadian Government so they could build an embassy on it in 1984 on the condition that they tear the building down immediately.

Neat, huh?

We had fifty homeless women staying each night. They evicted us. What could we do? We could have called it a day. We could have gone off and pursued careers as bankers or drug peddlers or fashion models but no. We decided to have the women move in with us. In our four bedroom two story rental. No problem.

You have to understand some things here. Homeless people have to carry everything they own. Women in general (having observed my mom) keep everything. We had a basement which was shortly filled to the brim with bags of clothing, personal keepsakes and in some cases out and out worthless things found on the street.

Oh, but I was talking about Deloris. Deloris had been living with us and had had relative privacy. Now she was sharing a very crowded house with fifty other women who were literally sleeping in each other’s laps.

Solution? Burn down the house. And that is exactly what she did.

Thankfully she did it in broad daylight.

No one was hurt. She just went down into the basement and set the bags on fire. All of them.

So at first we ended up in a Catholic grade school for about a week. The problem was we interfered with their bingo games so we had to go.

The landlord of the house we burned down found us a large first floor apartment and let us move in. (I would tell you his name but it might jeopardize his chances of being canonized.) It had two very large rooms and two small rooms. We made bunk beds with lumber. I slept on the back porch and our most remarkably crazy resident who I may talk about later moved under the back porch with her imaginary friend.

Very cozy. Thankfully it was summer. Of course someone screamed to high heaven about the fire codes (makes sense considering our recent history) so the fire department came and inspected. They decided that if the back porch had steps leading down to the ground (considering there were three other existing exits leading out of the apartment) that it would pass code. Then they went ahead and built the steps for us.

Nice guys if you ask me

It just so happens that this apartment was a mere block down the alley from our soup kitchen. We were in the 600 block of M Street N.W. and the soup kitchen was in the 600 block of L Street N.W.

But I was talking about Deloris. Yes she is still here. But someone had a brilliant idea. They did not consult me they just sort of went ahead and did it. They put her on a bus and sent her to her mother’s house in Connecticut. That worked really great until we got the phone call. Apparently Deloris’ mom knew her daughter. The conversation between Deloris and whoever answered the phone may have looked entirely normal on this end. On the other end it involved a State Trooper standing outside Deloris’ mother’s house with Deloris and her mom’s telephone while her mother was safely barricaded inside the house. We sent up money so she could get back on the bus.

Sometime later Deloris walked up and punched me right in the face. A real round house. What some people would call a sucker punch. I gently put her on the floor and told her while sitting on top of her that if she ever did that again I would punch her back. Then I let her up and she scrambled away.

The next day Robert Allen Parker happened to stop by and was on his way to the soup kitchen as was I. We walked down the alley together and Robert was half conversing and half rambling in the way he did. He always gave being coherent an honest shot with me but I could tell it was hard.

Deloris was following two steps behind me. At the end of the alley she confronted Robert while pointing at me. She was livid and stuttering, “He! He..He threw me on the gound and sat on top of me!”

Robert was visibly startled, “Why did you do that, Michael?”

“Because she punched me in the face.”

Deloris was flabbergasted, “You…Your…You’re not supposed to tell him that!”

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Assertiveness Training

Baltimore is a place of extremes. In the summer it is hot and humid. In the winter it is cold and damp. One cold winter’s day Tom, who was about 6’6” and built to carry it stumbled into the soup kitchen drunk out of his mind with a large puncture wound in his face just below the cheek bone. Our best bet was that he had fallen on something protruding out of the ground. We called an ambulance but he refused to go. He wanted a drink. Our demands on him to go to the hospital drove him out into the cold in search of drink.

It was weeks before we saw him again. When we did things were much worse. His cheek was huge and oozing. He was so drunk and he smelled. Years later I would know that as the smell of gangrene. A woman who I considered to be very strong who worked at the soup kitchen, Dee Dee was there. So was Richard who was taller than me. As he stumbled toward the three of us he raised his hand to his cheek and pressed against it and a huge gob of puss oozed out and fell on the floor. Dee Dee ran out of the room, I assume to puke. I was too shocked to be sick. It was decided that Richard and I would take Tom to the hospital and Dee Dee would run the kitchen. It was a long twelve block walk. It wasn’t the distance. It was the patient.

We had to talk him into staying with us the entire way. It was a struggle. In a fair fight Tom could kick both our asses stone cold sober or drunk as a skunk, which was exactly what he was. Somehow we managed to get him to the emergency room. The staff was not as pleased as you might think to see us but they took him relatively quickly into the area we were not allowed to be in.

About five minutes later Tom came cruising out the door, through the waiting room and out into the street. There was no stopping him and the staff said there was nothing they could do.

It was months before I saw Tom again. His cheek bone had been removed.

Later I somehow ended up being the “Overnight Coordinator” of the Salvation Army Temporary Overnight Emergency Shelter in Worcester, Massachusetts. To say the least, that is a mouthful. My job was fairly simple. I was to strip and wax the floor twice a week. I had to make sure that anyone who came in after lights out was not allowed upstairs (they had to sleep in a chair.) I had to pitch anyone out into the nearest snow bank if he entered the building with alcohol in his possession. I had to get people up in the morning and make sure they took a shower before going to bed.

It was a little more complicated than that but that was the general idea.

The problem is this simple plan relies on human beings to have no problems. People who habitually get up in the morning and look for the nearest drink do not fit this simple concept in any way.

The police, if they found someone drunk who had committed no crime would often just drop the poor guy off at our door, ring the bell and leave. One night they did just that. This guy comes in who looked like he had been beaten up. He had no jacket. According to the rules I had to make him sit in a chair to sleep. Easy. I put him in a chair and he went to sleep. The problem was he would not stay in the chair. I turned around and he had fallen on the floor. Like any good employee who follows the rules I picked him up and put him in the chair. Again he went down. Again I put him in the chair.

The third time he hit the floor so hard I heard it. We are talking tile on concrete. I realized that trying to get him into the chair again would only lead to him injuring himself. I also reasoned that if he was on the floor he had no place to fall. I got a blanket and covered him to keep him warm.

I was shortly thereafter informed that I would have to pull a double shift because my relief would not be coming in. Ok, I was not digging ditches here. All I had to do was keep order, make sure nobody drank inside the building and make lunch.

Except for the guy who was unable to sleep in the chair.

I had to wake the guy on the floor up. That was not a problem. The problem was he said he had a leather coat on when he came in. The thing was I sincerely doubt he could remember coming in. He accused me of taking it which didn’t wash. If I had to I could have gotten the police to back me up but I convinced him. But he was pissed. He had no money and wanted to use the phone. Did I mention the rules in this place? I could have gotten fired for letting him but I let him. Then he wanted to make another and he did but I told him to make it short and he didn’t. I was in the middle of making lunch when I realized he had been on too long. I went into the office and made him hang up the phone. He went ballistic and started accusing me of stealing his coat. I was twenty, still skinny as shit and not a fighter.

I told him to get the hell out with such conviction (believe me, I was convinced it was either him or me) that he apologized and asked if he could stay if he just sat down and remained quiet. Seemed fair enough to me so he sat down and I continued making lunch.

All of this took place in a room of about thirty hung over men or men who were trying to stay sober.

A few days before this one of the guys had come into some money and bought himself and his best friend new coats. They were nice looking coats and they were warm. The man who was the recipient of the gift was there and quietly went to his locker and took out his old coat and gave it to the guy who I had just confronted. A little while later his ride showed up and he left.

About two weeks later one of our regulars walks in and hands me the very same coat, says somebody drove up and asked him to give it to me.

There was an older man who stayed there all the time. When I first met him he was sober. Then he started to drink. One night he came in so drunk I did not think it was him. He had a bottle of rubbing alcohol in his pocket. Had I obeyed the rules he would have been pitched out in the snow, placed on the banned list and probably would have frozen to death somewhere lonely. What I did instead was put him to bed after his shower. I saved the bottle.

In the morning I sat down with him and showed it to him. “This is what you were drinking last night.”

“No! I have been bad before but never that bad!” But he knew it was true and stopped drinking for a while.

Then one morning he came in drunk as a skunk barely able to stand. He had a puncture wound under his left cheek. I did not have a car but I got a ride to the hospital. All he wanted was a drink. Same old story.

Not this time.

I sat on him as they stitched him up. He was admitted. Not only was he admitted but they placed him in a nursing home.

Why I Started Smoking.

At seventeen, having been politicized over the course of being exposed to a number of ideas I decided it was about time I did something. I went to the Peace and Justice Center in Baltimore and asked what they thought I could do. The straight answer was, “Go work in the Soup Kitchen.”

Hmmm. Ok, that was not what I was expecting. After thinking it over I decided to give it a try. I went down one Saturday to a non descript row house on Saint Paul Street and walked into a large front room that had been converted into a dinning room with about twelve tables that would each serve four people. The room was filled with older men and a few women dressed in worn overcoats eating bowls of soup. There was a bustle about the place but it was relaxed. The back room was just as large but it was a kitchen with a serviceable stove, a refrigerator, a deep freeze and a three compartment sink. It was separated from the dinning room by a half door with a platform on it. Soup was served from here and there was no limit until the food was gone.

Some people who came in to eat were drunk. Most were not but many of those who were not had the shakes. They had not yet gotten around to scraping up the money for their first drink of the day.

It was 1973 and I was, to say the least, naïve. I had no idea these people did not have a place to live. In fact I did not realize this for a long time. I assumed everybody had a place to sleep. Homelessness was not on my radar. It was not an issue in this country. Most people took it for granted that if you had a problem the government would take care of you.

I was about 6’3” and weighed about 120 lbs. Not exactly intimidating. I was a teenager and the men who came in there were, for the most part World War II Veterans. Not hard to figure out that although they probably welcomed my efforts their respect for me was somewhat limited. “You’re still a kid! You don’t know anything!”

Indeed I was a kid and I had a lot to learn. So I spent a long time there. Almost two years. I learned a few things along the way. I was going through a lot of personal chaos with my mother at the time. I probably spent more time talking and learning than anything else. I helped cook and clean but I talked more. I also listened.

I had a lot of respect for the people I worked with. John Fogarty ran the place. He was a Johns Hopkins Grad who later went on to be on the executive staff of Congressman Peter Rodino (D) New Jersey, the guy that got the tapes out of Richard Nixon. Mid Town Churches Community Association owned the building and paid John a stipend. If I recall correctly the whole thing was John’s idea and he went to them with it and they approved it.

One day these two young guys came in with what they insisted was their vegetarian dog and had a vegetarian meal. So did the dog. To me these guys were so whacked out they mesmerized me. They were hitch hiking around the country. They were hippies and I am certain they did plenty of drugs whenever they could find them.

One of the guys was in desperate need of a pair of pants. His were badly torn. He was John’s size. John traded pants with him right there in the kitchen in such a low key and nonchalant way that even though I was standing right there I almost missed it. The respect I had for John was enormous. He had an easy laugh and listened to me. No matter how long I prattled on he had time for me. We spent a lot of time together and he had me to his house often for dinner with him and his two roommates.

John smoked. He smoked Pall Malls. He smoked a pipe. He really seemed to enjoy it. I had been on my mother for years to stop. After a few months I began to wonder what he got out of it. That background noise of the cigarette companies trying to get me to smoke was without a doubt a contributing factor. So I started smoking. I still do. I still enjoy it. I just wish I never started.

The thing is after I started it was much easier to get into a conversation with the guys who came into the kitchen. They would ask me for a cigarette and talk to me. If someone on the street asked me for a quarter, I could offer them a cigarette and they would be happy I offered. In a way it was part of my becoming an adult. It will also have plenty do with me becoming one of the dearly departed as well.

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