Morning Report 9/23/05 The End Times and Profits of Doom


As Hurricane Rita nears Gulf coast, more looting spotted in D.C.

Storm watch: Hurricane Rita’s path, projected this morning by the National Weather Service. Noted are Halliburton‘s HQ in Houston; Wal-Mart‘s HQ in Bentonville, Arkansas; Edmond, Oklahoma, where former FEMA director Mike Brown was assistant to the city manager, not “assistant city manager”; and Bartlesville, Oklahoma, my hometown.

Oil speculators are pissed off this morning as Hurricane Rita weakened slightly, but they’re probably not as unhappy as the families of elderly Texans who were killed as their bus exploded on Interstate 45 while they were fleeing Houston.

Monumental traffic jams — meaning more pissed people — hampered rescue crews from getting to the scene. CNN’s early reports indicate at least 20 people killed when the bus burst into flames in the middle of a paralyzing gridlock on the highway. KWTX-TV in Waco reports “multiple fatalities” and adds:

Some of the passengers were reportedly on oxygen, and oxygen tanks may have helped fuel the fire, which burned for a long period of time.

At least helpless people were being bused to safety, unlike the situation before Hurricane Katrina, when the race to safety was so one-sided that at least tens of thousands of poor, black people living in New Orleans were neglected.

Meanwhile, in another class of Americans, the oil speculators, there was the odor of disappointment this morning when the price of crude oil dropped as Rita at least temporarily weakened into a Category 4 hurricane. The AP’s Christopher Torchia writes:

Crude-oil prices slipped for a second day Friday on relief that Hurricane Rita had weakened, but traders still worried that the storm could damage the heart of U.S. oil production along the Texas coast.

While forecasters said the storm could slow further by the time it reaches land, analysts say lesser winds still pose a serious threat to oil rigs and refineries. Worries remain about a direct hit on the Texas coastline, home to more than a quarter of U.S. refining capacity.

Houston is smack-dab in Rita’s path, but any pain Halliburton feels in its headquarters there are offset by record profits for the company and its executives. Current CEO Dave Lesar, who succeeded Dick Cheney, has seen his stock value increase by $78 million since the unjustified invasion of Iraq.

No surprise there. The numerous probes of Halliburton — though no major one yet by Congress — have revealed that, among other things, Halliburton billed taxpayers $45 per single case of soda and $1 million to house 100 employees for three months in a Kuwaiti hotel.

Now, the former FEMA director, Joe Allbaugh, is scuttling around in Katrina’s wake to get more contracts for Halliburton. Thankfully for America, Allbaugh’s college roommate, the toxic clown Mike Brown, who succeeded him as FEMA director, is out of our harm’s way.

But there’s more bad news as Rita approaches landfall. Just as Hurricane Katrina fouled the water supplies in New Orleans, Rita is sure to screw up the water in Houston, Galveston, and elsewhere. Not to worry: Cheney’s company — it still pays him — has a lot of experience in dealing with contaminated water in the Bush regime’s other Gulf war.

Once again, Halliburton’s Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) appears to be soaking us. As HalliburtonWatch reported Tuesday:

Former KBR employees and water quality specialists, Ben Carter and Ken May, told HalliburtonWatch that KBR knowingly exposes troops and civilians to contaminated water from Iraq’s Euphrates River.

One internal KBR e-mail provided to HalliburtonWatch says that, for “possibly a year,” the level of contamination at one camp was two times the normal level for untreated water.

Numerous Halliburton employees did great jobs in discovering and investigating this huge problem:

“I discovered the water being delivered from the Euphrates for the military was not being treated properly and thousands were being exposed daily to numerous pathogenic organisms,” Carter informed HalliburtonWatch.

Carter worked at Camp Ar Ramadi, located 70 miles west of Baghdad in the notoriously violent Sunni Triangle, but he says water contamination problems exist throughout Iraq’s military camps. He helped manage KBR’s Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), which is a water treatment system designed to produce potable water from a variety of raw water sources such as lakes, lagoons and rivers. ROWPU is supposed to provide the troops with clean water from Iraq’s Euphrates River.

William Granger of KBR Water Quality for Iraq reached this conclusion in an e-mail after investigating Carter’s complaint: “Fact: We exposed a base camp population [military and civilian] to a water source that was not treated. The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River.” Granger admitted that the contamination was “most likely … ongoing through the entire life” of the camp, but that he was “not sure if any attempt to notify the exposed population was ever made.”

So when Halliburton’s health and safety department found out, the company went into action, right?

Wrong, according to what whistleblowers, in the tradition of people like Bunny Greenhouse, say:

In a company e-mail last March to his superior, Harold “Mo” Orr, coordinator for Halliburton’s health and safety department said, “We have determined that the military [Command Surgeon] has not given any kind of signoff on the military ROWPU [as required by the military SOP] nor has KBR ever inquired about this before. This was only discovered thru the investigation of possible contamination by Ben Carter who is right now in charge of the ROWPU.”

Orr’s request for further investigation into the matter was overruled by KBR’s health, safety and environmental manager, Jay Delahoussaye, who said in an email that the initial health hazard turned out to be “erroneous” and that “corrective measures” were taken and “No KBR personnel were exposed to contaminated water.”

But Granger responded with another e-mail, saying it was unclear whether corrective action had been taken. He said it was “highly likely” that someone from KBR finally started chlorinating the water this year, but that “there is no documentation” to confirm it. Nor is there documentation to show KBR is testing the water three times per day as required by the military, Granger said.

Carter noted that chlorination still wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem:

[R]aw sewage is routinely dumped less than two miles from the water intake location, in violation of military policy and procedure. “Chlorination of water tanks, while certainly beneficial, is not sufficient protection from parasitic exposure,” Carter said in an email to Granger, who is still employed with KBR.

A Halliburton flack told the watchdog group that the allegations of contamination were “unfounded.” But HalliburtonWatch points out:

Soldiers are often evacuated out of Iraq for non-combat related illnesses. The Association of Military Surgeons found that 9.1 percent of soldiers evacuated in 2003 suffered from problems of the digestive system; another 6.4 percent had nervous system disorders; 6.1% suffered urological problems; and 8.3 percent suffered from unknown illnesses.

In the early months of the war, the Army sent a team of investigators to probe a series of mysterious illnesses. Earlier this month, Canada reported an outbreak of gastrointestinal problems among soldiers serving in Afghanistan, where KBR is also involved.

Halliburton’s executives have no doubt stocked up on safe water ahead of Hurricane Rita, and I guess our soldiers should stick to the bottled stuff too, even at Halliburton’s prices.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 23, 2005

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