Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sun and Sanity

Published on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 by

Ralph Nader

This is the second week of protests, led by Bill McKibben, in front of the White House demanding that President Barack Obama reject a proposed 1700 mile pipeline transporting the dirtiest oil from Alberta, Canada through fragile ecologies down to the Gulf Coast refineries. One thousand people will be arrested there from all fifty states before their demonstration is over. The vast majority voted for Obama and they are plenty angry with his brittleness on environmental issues in general.

Following the large BP discharge in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama gave the OK to expand drilling over 20 million acres in the Gulf and soon probably in the Arctic Ocean. He delayed clean air rules over at EPA. Following the worsening Fukishima nuclear disaster last March in Japan, he reaffirmed his support for more taxpayer guaranteed nuclear plants in the U.S. adding his Administration’s hopes to learn from the mistakes there.You can see the corner Obama is in because he didn’t come out strongly for major solar, wind power, energy conservation and immediate retrofit programs in 2009. (photo: Living Off Grid)

He proposed an average fuel efficiency standard for 2005 at 62 miles per gallon, quickly conceded to industry’s objection and brought it down to 54 mpg. The industry’s trade journal Automotive News calculated the loopholes and brought it down to “real-world industry wide fleet average in the 2025 model year” of about 40 mpg. No wonder the auto companies effusively praised Obama’s give-it-up negotiator, Ron Bloom at the Treasury Department of all places.

Were Obama to look out his White House window and see the arrested and handcuffed demonstrators against this $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, he might think: “This will upset my environmental supporters, but heck, where can they go in November 2012?”

He is right. No matter what Mr. Obama does to surrender environmental health and safety to corporatist demands, they will vote for him. They certainly won’t vote for the Republican corporate mascots. They wouldn’t vote for a Green Party candidate either. This is not only the environmentalists’ dilemma, it is the liberal/progressive/labor union dilemma as well. They have no bargaining power with Obama.

He did not propose a carbon tax when the Democrats controlled Congress in 2009-2010. Even Exxon prefers a carbon tax to the corruption-inducing complex cap and trade bill the House passed only to have the Senate sit on it. So doing nothing on climate change is soon to be followed by approval of the destructive tar sands pipeline which will add significantly to greenhouse gases.

Pipelines have been busting out recently in California, near Yellowstone and in Pennsylvania. People died and water was polluted. Pipeland standards are old, weak and hardly enforced by the tiny pipeline safety office at the Department of Transportation. Obama hasn’t been pushing for needed money and stronger standards with tougher enforcement.

Over-riding, in Obama’s mind, is being accused of blocking job formation. But had he pushed for a major public-works program in 2009, as many economists still beg him to do, he wouldn’t be in the position of being called a job-destroyer. He also is sensitive to rebuttable charges that he would be preferring future oil from unfriendly countries abroad to Canadian oil.

You can see the corner he is in because he didn’t come out strongly for major solar, wind power, energy conservation and immediate retrofit programs in 2009. Instead he swallowed the oil industry line that his proposed energy policy should be a mix of fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar and conservation in that order. No, Mr. Obama, some energy sources are too superior in too many ways to be a part of this manipulative greenwashing propaganda displayed in oil company newspaper ads.

Even nature contradicts Mr. Obama. Obama’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently gave a pass to the Indian Point Unit 2 Reactor, a menacingly-troubled reactor 30 miles north of Manhattan, after its inspectors discovered a refueling-cavity liner had been leaking for years at rates up to 10 gallons per minute. Just last week the strongest earthquake in 140 years struck the east coast. Even though the liner’s “sole safety function is the prevention of leakage after a seismic event,” according to David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the NRC did not require the plant’s owner to repair the design defect.

This is only one of many defects, inspection lapses, close calls, corrosions, and ageing problems with many U.S. nuclear plants that Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu and President Obama have not seriously addressed. This is the case even though the news from Fukishima becomes worse every week. More food is found contaminated. Radiation readings at the site reached their highest level in August. Now the Japanese government is about to declare a wide area around the nine destroyed or disabled nuclear plants uninhabitable for decades to come due to radiation.

Nearly fifty years ago, the industry regulator and vigorous promoter, the Atomic Energy Commissions estimated that a class nine nuclear meltdown in the U.S. would contaminate “an area the size of Pennsylvania.” That was before we had dozens of even larger ageing nuclear plants whose owners are brazenly pressing for license extensions beyond the normal life expectancy of many over-the-hill nuke plants. Please face up to it Mr. President.

At moments of reflection, those 1000 citizens standing tall before the White House must look up at the sun and all the forms of available renewable energy it gave this planet zillions of years ago and wonder how nuts our life-sustaining star must think Earthlings have been all these years.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Buildup Master Plan May Change


ASSISTANT Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel confirmed to Senator Judi Guthertz that the Guam military buildup plan will likely be different than what is reflected in the 2010 Record of Decision.

Pfannenstiel was responding to Guthertz’s requests for a copy of the current draft plan for review, which, according to Guthertz, has been “circulating for months in Washington.”

According to a press release from Guthertz, the Navy had originally said the finalized plan would be released in early July, following a congressional mandate. The General Accounting Office has been given a draft of the master plan, Guthertz said.

However, Guthertz said that according to Pfannenstiel, changes may be made before the new document is finalized and released to the public, due to the budgetary climate in Congress.

Pfannenstiel said the Navy’s commitment to possessing less land after the buildup than before would “require further adjustments to land-use plans.”

“Although it may not reflect the current state of play and potential future adjustments, we are willing to discuss with you the draft [master plan] associated with the decisions memorialized in the [Record of Decision],” Pfannenstiel wrote.

In response, Guthertz said that “more than ever, we must engage the [Department of Defense] and other federal stakeholders on all buildup plans to ensure the best interests of the people of Guam are met. I welcome Secretary Pfannenstiel’s offer and hope to review the draft plan with her as soon as possible.”


“We view this as a continued opportunity to offer Guam’s input to a process that is too often closed until decisions are made,” Guthertz said. “We’ll keep pushing until we achieve that ‘win-win’ outcome for all the parties involved in the buildup.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, R-OK, publicly stated he wants to cancel the military buildup and close Department of Defense-funded schools.

Coburn presented his “Back in Black” plan to save $69.5 billion by reducing military spending overseas, including Guam.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Windfalls of War: Pentagon's No-Bid Contracts Triple in 10 Years of War

Published on Monday, August 29, 2011 by

Taxpayer is the loser when Pentagon doesn't require competition among contractors. "The lack of competition is a scandal," says one expert.

by Sharon Weinberger

As U.S. military deaths and injuries from roadside bombs escalated after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon rushed to find solutions.

A U.S. Marine prepares for patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan, where a decade of war has meant billions in profits for defense contractors.Todd Pitman/APCompetition is normally the cornerstone of better prices and better products, but the urgency of dealing with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, has been cited to justify a number of sole-source contracts to companies promising quick solutions over a decade of war.

One such company was Tucson-based Applied Energetics , which markets a futuristic weapon that shoots beams of lightning to detonate roadside bombs. The company won over $50 million in military contracts for their lightning weapon, all without full and open competition, even though there was another company marketing similar technology. Despite test failures, the company, in part thanks to congressional support, continued to get funding.

In August, the Marine Corps, which was on the verge of awarding the company yet another sole-source contract for the lightning weapon, cancelled the latest $3 million deal after the commander of the unit in Afghanistan decided it didn’t meet their needs.

In the meantime, a competitor, called Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems , an Indiana-based firm with its own lightning-based counter-bomb technology, says it’s had good results with only a fraction of the federal funding that Applied Energetics has received—$1.5 million. The company is preparing to test its technology at a military range. “We did our own development based on state grants” and federal funds, says Pete Bitar, the head of the company. “I cashed out my 401(k).”

The bomb fighting contract is a small example of a problem that’s been exacerbated by 10 years of war: awarding contracts without competition. While the Pentagon says its overall level of competition has remained steady over the past 10 years, publicly available data shows that Defense Department dollars flowing into non-competitive contracts have almost tripled since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. According to analysis by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, the data shows that the value of Pentagon contracts awarded without competition topped $140 billion in 2010, up from $50 billion in 2001.

And despite repeated pledges to reform the process, non-competitive contracts are a hard habit to break. According to federal data, the Pentagon’s competed contracts, based on dollar figures, fell to 55 percent in the first two quarters of 2011, a number lower than any point in the last 10 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

There are a number of legal loopholes that allow the Defense Department, as well as other federal agencies, to avoid competition and to select a single company to provide the desired goods and services. In some cases, there may be only one legitimate supplier of needed goods, or the government can argue that it has “an unusual and compelling urgency,” and that holding a competition would have a detrimental impact on government operations or national security.

But those exceptions have become increasingly abused, according to numerous studies. In fact, an analysis of over a dozen government reports and investigations, and interviews with eight former government officials and experts, found a number of concerns about DOD competition practices — attributable in large part to the past 10 years of war. Those include:

  • The use of large umbrella contracts to purchase goods and services that could be competed individually, thus resulting in lower price;
  • Justifying sole source contracts by citing an “urgent and compelling need,” when in fact the urgency stemmed from the agency’s lack of planning for requirements that have been known for years.
  • Extending large contracts as a “bridge,” rather than re-competing them.
  • An overall failure to utilize competition in cases that could result in cost savings and better performance.

These alarming trends have not gone unnoticed. Sole-source and other noncompetitive contracting practices at the Pentagon have been the subject of numerous investigations by the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Department’s Inspector General, and the Commission on Wartime Contracting, among other government watchdogs.

The consequence, according to those investigative agencies and commissions: wasted dollars, lower quality goods and services, and in some cases, outright fraud.

Reports of limited and no-bid contracting, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, captured headlines in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, when companies like Custer Battles, later convicted of fraud , were given sole-source security contracts for security and reconstruction, including one worth $16.5 million to provide security at Baghdad International Airport. Among the accusations eventually levied against the company, which had no prior track record, was that it charged grossly inflated prices, in part by using fictitious companies to “lease” equipment to the government.

In his 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama railed against such contracts, accusing them of wasting taxpayer dollars, and promised to rein in such spending.

In 2009, President Obama followed up those campaign promises with a memo directing a broad overhaul of government contracting, including limits to sole-source and non-competitive contracting. “Excessive reliance by executive agencies on sole-source contracts (or contracts with a limited number of sources) and cost-reimbursement contracts creates a risk that taxpayer funds will be spent on contracts that are wasteful, inefficient, subject to misuse, or otherwise not well designed to serve the needs of the Federal Government or the interests of the American taxpayer,” the president wrote in the 2009 memorandum , citing reports by multiple government agencies. Moving back to full and open competition, the memo continued, could save the government billions of dollars. But in two-and-half years, the Obama administration has made no progress in competing military contracts.

Even the Pentagon’s senior leadership has acknowledged the problem: a 2010 memo by Undersecretary Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s senior procurement official, called for greater competition, along the lines of the earlier Obama memo, and promised the Pentagon would make its contracting process more open to competitive bidding. “Maximize the use of multiple-source, continuously competitive contracts,” a briefing accompanying the memo states.

However, campaign pledges and memos have made little headway in combating the problem. “The lack of competition in the Defense Department is a scandal,” said Charles Tiefer , a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a member of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ultimate question is whether non-competitive contracts are due to trends beyond the Pentagon’s control, such as the lack of qualified competitors and the urgency of wartime contracting, or whether they are the result of poor policies and procedures. The Pentagon maintains that its competition rates are lower because of the nature of the things it buys: large weapons and major systems that then have large follow-on contracts that must, by their nature, go to the original supplier. “These high-dollar non-competitive procurements significantly impact the Department's overall level of competition to produce the 61.7 percent competition rate for FY2010,” says Cheryl Irwin, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

The GAO, in multiple decisions, has said that “failure to plan” for a procurement that results in an urgent need does not constitute a basis for a sole source competition, and has, on a number of occasions, sided with protesting companies that argue the only urgency was an agency’s failure to conduct a timely competitive procurement.

One report commissioned by the Pentagon’s Office of Industrial Policy and conducted by the federally-funded Institute for Defense Analyses appears to suggest it’s a systemic problem. “We found that the use of short-term contracts and modifications to fill the gap in services between the end of one contract and the beginning of the next is a significant source of sole source contracts,” the report concluded.

The study, which looked specifically at contracts for services, found that there wasn’t a lack of qualified companies; rather, nearly a quarter of the sole-source awards were justified based on “bridge contracts” that extended existing contracts without competition. “For sole source contracts there does appear to be a problem, not with the industrial base or with competition, but with DOD practices and policies,” the report concluded.

Noncompetitive, sole-source contracts are by no means unique to the Pentagon. Other agencies have been accused of giving short shrift to competition, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which awarded over half of its immediate post-Hurricane Katrina contracts without full competition, according to one congressional report. But based on total dollars, the Pentagon, according to publicly available data analyzed by iWatch News, lags behind all other major departments in competitive contracting. The Pentagon's competition rate of about 61 percent places it will below other agencies. The State Department in 2010 competed almost 75 percent of its contract dollars, the Department of Homeland Security competed almost 77 percent, and the Energy Department competed 94 percent.

Nevertheless, sole source contracts, ranging from training to equipment, continue to be handed out on a near daily basis, often with little explanation beyond a stated “urgent requirement.” On July 18 of this year, DRS Technical Services of Herndon, Va., received a contract worth nearly $20 million for training and mentoring Afghan police.It was the only bid solicited for the contract, according to the Pentagon.

A spokesperson for Army Contracting Command said the sole source contract, which was actually for fielding communications equipment to Afghan police, was due to an “urgent requirement that necessitated an award to the incumbent DRS pending competition.” That same contract was also the subject of a 2009 DOD Inspector General investigation, which criticized the contractor’s and the Army’s inventory controls.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Democrats defend budget bill, $180M bond


SPEAKER Judi Won Pat said it’s unfortunate Governor Eddie Baza Calvo would say she and her Democratic colleagues are not paying attention to the “working poor,’ since the budget the Legislature passed includes a $180 million bond, of which $120 million will be used to pay out 2010 and prior-year tax refunds to “our residents who are suffering daily.”

The $180 million bond borrowing does not allow the governor to borrow to pay for corporate taxes.

Last week, after the Legislature passed the budget bill in a narrow 8 to 7 vote, Calvo said he would likely veto an “incomplete and disastrous budget.”

“I’d like the governor to explain exactly what he means by ‘disastrous and incomplete,’” said Won Pat, stressing the Legislature passed a fiscally responsible budget that would weather any unpredictable outcome the U.S. Congress might enact that would affect Guam in terms of federal funding for the island.

“The budget that passed was reasonable. We didn’t raise the debt ceiling, so there is a $45 million cushion that we can borrow if anything unpredictable comes out of Congress. We’re seeing what’s happening in the U.S. In January, we’ll know how we’re tracking. If the governor passes this budget, there is the opportunity for him to borrow another $160 million,” said Won Pat.

Calvo said he was concerned about the lawsuit filed against the government for unpaid tax refunds.

“Senator Pangelinan has said time and again what measure the government is making to show good faith efforts that we’re paying out the tax refunds. We as lawmakers understand our role and we will remain firm in moving this government forward with fiscal responsibility,” said Won Pat.

“There is uncertainty over what cuts the U.S. Congress will make and how it will affect us. We need to prepare for this. Cautious optimism prevailed during our budget session and I hope the governor rethinks his immediate reaction to veto this budget.”

She said Congress’ intentions for Guam will be clearer in January, and the budget bill wasn’t just about the borrowing of the bond, but a durable bill with clauses that would displease the governor.

One such provision is the $8 million insurance rebate Calvo’s SelectCare would have to pay back to the government and GovGuam employees. “By signing the bill, he is agreeing that a rebate is owed. That’s one reason why I think he’s going to veto it,” said Won Pat.


Won Pat said if a budget fails to pass, a shutdown in government services is possible. In reaction to those lawmakers who voted against the budget bill, Won Pat asked: “Do they want to shut down this government?”

Senator Ben Pangelinan said he didn’t know why the governor would not sign the bill into law since it includes the authority to borrow the money to pay prior-year tax refunds to individuals.

Last week, the governor targeted Won Pat, Vice Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz, Senator Rory Respicio and Pangelinan, saying they were keeping tax refunds from the people.

“The Legislature, led by Speaker Won Pat, Vice Speaker Cruz, Majority Leader Respicio and Budget Chairman Pangelinan, unfortunately passed a budget that will leave Guam further in debt, and keep hundreds of millions of dollars of your money away from you,” said Calvo’s press secretary, Troy Torres.

Torres said the governor will continue fighting for all the tax refunds for every person owed a refund.

“We cannot believe Sens. Won Pat, Cruz, Respicio and Pangelinan can just ignore people who are suffering, struggling and begging for their own money. The most disturbing part about this is the government has not been able to pay tax refunds because of the budget deficits the past three years these senators created. Yet, when they had a chance to right this wrong, they just shut people out and threw the cries and pleas of the working poor to the side,” said Torres.

“The $120 million bond would pay only 30 percent of the tax refunds owed. What about everyone else,” according to Torres.

Won Pat said the $120 million from the bond borrowing plus the $105 million in the budget bill, both for tax refunds, is enough to pay 2010 and prior-year tax refunds to Guam’s working families.

Sen. Dennis Rodriguez Jr. was the only Democrat who voted against substituted Bill 145, along with the six Republican lawmakers: Senators Tony Ada, Frank Blas Jr., Chris Duenas, Sam Mabini, Mana Silva Taijeron and Aline Yamashita.
“The governor cannot, in good conscience, enact a law that will leave people behind. He will likely veto this disastrous budget proposal,” said Torres.

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce last week joined Guam’s mayors and vice mayors in endorsing Calvo’s plan to borrow $344 million.

The Chamber’s executive board members are expected to formally sign an endorsement at their board meeting this week, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office.

The budget bill was engrossed last Friday and will be transmitted to the governor.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

2010 Census: NMI population down 22%

Press Release from (Marianas Variety)

(Office of the Governor)
— The Fitial administration yesterday announced that the U.S. Census Bureau has released the 2010 Census population counts for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The official count on April 1, 2010, indicates that the CNMI’s population was 53,883 or a decrease of 22.2 percent from the 2000 Census population of 69,221.

The population counts were provided to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial by U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves.

Percentage wise, Rota represented the largest decrease in its population with a 23 percent drop from 3,283 in 2000 to 2,527 in 2010. Saipan nearly mirrored Rota’s results with a 22.7 percent dip from 62,392 in 2000 to 48,220 in 2010. Meanwhile, Tinian’s head count is down to 3,136 from a head count of 3,540 representing a decrease of 11.4 percent.

A breakdown of Saipan’s population by election district shows an almost equal population for districts 1 and 3. Census data for District 1 indicates a count of 15,160 and 15,624 for District 3. The results for the other districts in Saipan are as follows: District 2 – 6,382; District 4 – 3,847; District 5 – 7,207.

In August of 2010, the CNMI Local Census Office was lauded by the U.S. Census Bureau for being the first insular area to complete its census operations.

The Census Bureau noted that it was grateful to the CNMI government for its hard work, efforts and dedication to ensure that the Census Bureau mandate to successfully conduct and complete the 2010 Census of the CNMI. The 2010 Census sought to establish an updated count of everyone living in the United States and its territories, including the CNMI, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census is conducted every 10 years. The CNMI has participated in the U.S. Census since 1950.

Fitial expressed his appreciation to Director Groves for the timely release of the 2010 Census results as the CNMI will now have a more updated and precise population count for any needed reference.

“I am very much pleased to receive the CNMI’s Census population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau director,” said Fitial. “As I understand it, the more detailed results including the islands’ demographic profile won’t be ready for release until next year. That forthcoming report will be significant as it will show the sets of basic demographic, social, economic and housing characteristics for the commonwealth.”

As part of the 2010 Census, the CNMI worked with the Census Bureau to undertake the arduous effort that sought to enumerate and gather detailed data on population and housing characteristics.

Census data are used to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year, and to help government and community leaders make decisions about what services to provide.

“Once the 2010 CNMI Census results are fully completed and released, the CNMI will be better poised to get its fair share of federal funding opportunities,”. Fitial said. “The 2010 Census will ultimately be a guiding hand as to how opportunities are proportionately distributed to all the states and territories.”