Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More questions raised

I have nothing against Toyota and, in fact, drive a 2007 model that's held up very well and given me no problems. But watching snippets of the testimony of the company's CEO and president Akio Toyoda today before Congress and hearing him say "sincere regrets" just didn't ring right to me.

First off, his culture places meaning to those words and I did not expect him to cry if anyone thinks that's my issue.

My issue is the whole thing -- his testimony, the problems -- just do not make sense.

I think the US government was lax in monitoring (and maybe corrupt) but I also think the problem is even deeper than we know and that's what I got from the snippets.

If you missed it, The NewsHour has a good clip here and you can see their coverage of it at the website (their coverage, broadcast on TV tonight, is not yet posted).

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, election madness continues, more alleged 'Ba'athists' are banned, rumors swirl about who is meeting with which country, the US peace movement gears up for action next month, and more.

"I don't know anything about police training but I think if I had a 2.5 billion dollar contract, I could figure out how to train police. That is outrageous," declared US House Rep Russ Carnahan today as he
chaired the House Committee on Foreign Affair's Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight. The subcomittee heard from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen this morning about contracting issues, specifically the lack of oversight. We'll note this key exchange.

Stuart Bowen: This is the top story, Chairman Carnahan. We looked at this four years ago and the problem that we identified four years ago was lack of contract management -- raised in our first audit, issued in the first month of 2007. Then we got into the whole contract and found it was inauditable and so we issued a review in October saying the State Dept asked for three to five years to put things in order because it was just a mess. And then we went in in 2008 to see if there were remedial measures and there were but then we go in last summer and find the same problem, 3 person in country overseeing a contract that is spending hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars. And more-more disturbing the lack of clarity about who is supposed to do what. The in country contracting officer representative my people interviewed said, 'Well invoice accountability is being done back in Washington.' Ask them, they say it's being done in Iraq. Huge vulnearbility.

Chair Russ Carnahan: And with regard to the contractor, Dyncorp, describe how that contract was initially awarded.

Stuart Bowen: It was an existing contract that was held by the State Dept that was, that was used. I don't have the specific facts of the bidding, but it was -- it was -- it was in 2004 and used to apply to this -- to this program at the level of 2.5 billiion. And again as I said it was DoD money that went into it so I think DoD was looking for a vehicle that is could use to spend this money and it did so. I think there are some questions about that process. It certainly shows how bifurcated or disjointed both the source of the money, the contract management of the money and then the execution of the contract. All different places. Uh-uh, it shows, I think, just the lack of clarity in stabilization reconstruction contracting.

Chair Russ Carnahan: In your reviews, to what extent can you account for how that money has been spent?

Stuart Bowen: Uh, we're looking at the execution of it now. My auditors in Iraq today are reviewing that matter and the outcomes, which are an important question for you, we will answer in a later review.

Chair Russ Carnahan: And you expect that report out when?

Stuart Bowen: By July, no later than July.

Chair Russ Carnahan: I'm going to yield to Judge Poe.

US House Rep Ted Poe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. [To Bowen] Which of our government agencies, in your opinion, was most irresponsible about money? DoD, State Dept, USAID

Stuart Bowen: I think that the State Dept did not carry out its contract oversight responsibilities sufficiently enough. In this particular contract we're discuss -- discussing is the most egregious example and the most disturbing point is it hasn't remediated that weakness sufficiently today.

We attended three hearings today and I'll try to pick up the VA one tomorrow. But this hearing was the most sparsely attended by the press. It was scheduled opposite big-ticket or 'hot topic' hearings such as Senator Carl Levin's hearing (Senate Armed Services Committee) on contractors in Afghanistan which is where the bulk of the press went this morning. I was not at that hearing but I have the opening statements of the Chair (Levin) and the Ranking Member (John McCain) and have spoken to Senate staffers about it. Some of the statements and questions are built around a hope that something was learned about contracting in Iraq -- with attention to oversight and cost effectiveness. For example, McCain declared, "Too many scarce tax payer dollars were squandered in the rebuilding of Iraq. I hope we have learned lessons from our experience there." No, there have been no lessons learned. That was obvious throughout the hearing Bowen testified at today.

The problems he is addressing regarding lack of oversight are the same ones he first noticed in 2004, the same ones he flagged in his early reports are still being flagged today. What is the point of having an Inspector General over reconstruction if they have no power? And Bowen obviously has no power or else he doesn't know how to use it. The same mistakes do not get called out over and over unless no one's taking the issue seriously. And if John McCain or Carl Levin are really hoping that Iraq 'lessons' can be taken to Afghanistan, they better get serious in hearings and oversight about what's going on in Iraq still in terms of the lack of oversight on US monies spent.

Not only do they need to pay more attention to it, so does the press. Again, this Subcommittee hearing that Russ Carnahan chaired this morning? Barely attended by the press.
Kat plans to cover an aspect of it at her site tonight and Wally's going to sit in for Rebecca tonight and cover another aspect of the hearing.

March 7th, elections are supposed to be held in Iraq. These are Parlimentary elections and the Parliament will then select a prime minister. Yesterday,
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered) offered a report on the campaigning:Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Nouri al-Maliki is Iraq's unlikely strongman. Initially seen as a weak compromise candidate when he was installed as prime minister four years ago, Maliki is now accused by his rivals of being a dictator in waiting. To secure another term, he needs to win big in Iraq's Shi'ite south. On a multi-city tour of the region this past week, Maliki told the crowds that he is a man who can deliver.Nouri al-Maliki: We have achieved security. We've signed huge oil contracts which will give Iraq money. I'm not telling you that we want to achieve something, we have already achieved something.Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Maliki's coalition, called "State of Law," did well in provincial elections last year but more recently his popularity has waned according to some Iraqi analaysts. A series of high profile terrorists attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere have called into question his security credentials and what some call his heavy-handed approach to governance has also provoked criticism. Maliki's main rival in the south is the Iraqi National Alliance It includes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI, and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc. ISCI's leader, Ammar al-Hakim, was also campaigning in the south this week. Speaking to a crowd in Diwaniyah, he said the time is right for change. Ammar al-Hakim: Iraq deserves better than what it has now. With the grace of God and your help, the Iraqi National Alliance will be able to revive this country.Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Both sides are using whatever means they can to secure votes. In last year's provincial elections, Maliki won significant support from so-called tribal support councils that he established. In return for money and positions, tribal leaders promised to deliver votes for the prime minister -- and they did. Of the process thus far, Olivia Ward (Toronto Star) offers this recap, "The election started with a call for unity, which gradually unravelled with scores of people killed in bombings, candidates targeted for assassination or attack, and up to 400 would-be candidates disqualified under a 'de-Baathification' law meant to prevent a resurgence of Saddam Hussein's supporters."


AFP states that the coalition led by al-Maliki and the one led by Allawi are the two chief rivals based on a new National Media Centre poll and they note the NMC "is linked to Prime Minister Maliki". Ayad Allawi is a candidate running. UPI reports unnamed 'sources' are saying that both "Tehran and Damascus would back Allawi" as the next prime minister. If false, the rumor may come from Ahmed Chalabi who is mentioned in the article. UPI claims "sources" for the rumor. Alsumaria TV, reporting the same claim, relies on a "source" -- "an informed governmental source speaking on condition of anonymity". If that source is indeed Chalabi, it would explain why Ammar al-Hakin is also targeted -- the unnamed insists that al-Hakim is in league with Allawi. Earlier this week Muhanad Mohammed, Waleed Ibrahim, Aseel Kami, Rania Elgamal, Souhail Karam, Mohammed Abbas and Richard Williams (Reuters) reported on Allawi's trip to Saudi Arabia spawning rumors (for some) and accusations within Iraq. Iran was worried as demonstrated by Press TV's report on the visit today.


For the record, there's nothing 'wrong' about ties with their neighbor Saudi Arabia. For example,
Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Feb. 16th that their Embassy in Riyadh was doing workshops including their Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Ghanim Alwan al-Dumaili, doing a lecture on his work with NASA. And February 17th their Embassy in Tokyo hosted "the monthly meeting of Council of Arab Ambassadors. During the meeting the Charge d' affaires a.i. reviewed developments in Iraq and general elections which [are] to be held on the seventh of next March and the Iraqi government's keeness on the success of this national event." Yesterday Michael Wahid Hanna (World Politics Review) observed, "Iraq has also mismanaged its diplomatic relations with its regional counterparts. Most conspicuously, on separate occasions Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hampered international efforts aimed at thawing Iraqi-Saudi relations by lashing out intemperately against the Saudi monarch. Al-Maliki's rhetorical excess also reversed the historic re-establishment of full diplomatic relations with Syria in the aftermath of catastrophic coordinated bombings in Baghdad in August 2009." So the panic or alleged panic over Allawi seems a bit inflated at best. Tariq Alhomayed (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reminds, "The attacks made by the Dawa party and the supporters of the ruling regime in Iraq on Dr. Ayad Allawi can only be understood by recalling an important issue which is that Allawi's visit to Saudi Arabia came at a time that reminds the Iraqi electorate that Nuri al-Maliki's government is isolated from the Arab world, and this is something that has led to the isolation of Iraq as a whole. Of course, this is something that is troubling to the Dawa party followers and the State of Law coalition, especially since the Iraqi elections are just around the corner." Let's leave Allawi for a moment to note Chalabi. Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) explains today, "So you thought that Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami's Accountability and Justice (De-Ba'athification) Committee had done all they could to wreck Iraq's elections and advance their political agendas? Not even. Yesterday, in what al-Hayat calls a surprise move, Lami announced that the AJC had named 376 military, police and intelligence officers for de-Ba'athification. The list includes a number of important people in senior positions." Lynch offers his take on it which is that Chalabi is setting a trap because al-Maliki either drums out the latest group of 'Ba'athists' or else he looks like a sympathizer (with does not play for the "State Of Law" political party).

al-Maliki, Allawi are only two thought to be vying for prime minister.
Reuters notes the two and others thought to be in the running: Bayan Jabor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Adel Abdul Mahdi, Ahmed Chalabi, Jawad al-Bolani, Qassam Daoud and Raad Mawlude Mukhlis. Reuters also examines some of the political alliances. The Ahrar Poliltical party issued the following today:

Yesterday on the Race to Parliament programme, Ayad Jamal Aldin declared that the Iraqi government has lost control
The leader of the Ahrar Party announced that the government had failed the Iraqi people by failing to tackle three major problems: a census, the constitution, and national reconciliation.
He blamed corruption for this failure and stated that Ahrar has a plan to unite Iraq and end bribery and dishonesty.
Ayad Jamal Aldin said: "This government has lost control and has been overrun by corrupters and outsiders intent on dividing and destroying Iraq.
"Ahrar is the only party to have a credible and detailed plan to end the violence and intimidation that every Iraqi faces every day. We will create a united Iraq with water, jobs, and electricity.
"On March 7 the Iraqi people have a choice. They can vote for more corruption, more violence, and more division. Or they vote for change, with jobs, security and unity. A vote for Ahrar is a vote for change."
Watch the video
here.
For further information, contact:

Ahrar Media Bureau Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942
press@ahrarparty.com

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

While some alleged 'Ba'athists' are being banned,
Hannah Allam, Warren P. Strobel, Laith Hammoudi and Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy) and Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) report that candidate Abu Mahdi al Mohandas is campaiging on the stand 'I'm an enemy of the American government.' He tells McClatchy and the Monitor, "I was told, officially, by the speaker of parliament and a high-ranking Iraqi official that it's preferable I don't show up before the election because they couldn't assure I was protected. Since 2005, the Americans have conveyed a message through an Iraqi mediator that they'll kidnap or assassinate me." (Allam, Hammoudi and Arraf reported Monday on what may have been violence targeting a campaign -- link has text and video.)

Now back to Allawi.
Andrew England (Financial Times of London) reports that he is accusing the current government in Iraq of "reviving sectarianism" through the previous bannings and they quote him stating, "It's a beginning of going back to the drawing table where they started sectarianism. You can sense it unfortunately, in the political landscape again. If this sectarianism becomes an issue, which it already is, and continues to do so then definitely we will slip into more violence and this may lead to a civil war." Meanwhile ever since John Jenkins, British Ambassador to Iraq, made it a 'hot topic,' military coup in Iraq just doesn't go away. The latest to wade in is Adil Abdel-Mahdi, Iraq's Shi'ite vice president. DPA reports that he has expressed concerns about "militarization" in Iraq and what that could mean for the country's future, noting, "There is a historical precende in this case. The country is set for military coups." Iraq has another vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi. Waleed Ibrahim and Rania El Gamal (Reuters) quote al-Hashemi declaring today, "(Reconciliation) is one of the projects that the government has failed at unprecedentedly and . . . the reason is that there is no real intention for national reconciliation. There is no real will for reconciliation."

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .

Bombings?

Reuters notes a Baghdad bombing which claimed the life of 1 "senior judge". KUNA identifies him as Justice Mohammad Abdulghafour and notes that he "specialized in cases of terrorism".

Shootings?

Reuters notes 1 female employee of the Independent High Electoral Commission was wounded in a Baghdad shooting.


In my mind I can't study war no more
Save the people
Save the children
Save the country
-- "Save The Country," written by
Laura Nyro, first appears on her New York Tendaberry album, also a hit for The 5th Dimension

Turning to the US, yesterday, a protest against the continued wars and their toll on humanity took place in New York. The demonstration was staged by NYC Peace Grannies. Joan Wile is the founder of
Grandmothers Against the War and has written the book Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace. She was part of the demonstration and has written "Rain-Drenched, Wind-Tossed New York City Peace Grannies Hold Memorial For The 1,000 Dead G.I.s in Afghanistan:"
It seems as if most of our U.S. populace has forgotten that U.S. soldiers are dying in Afghanistan. Focused on Tiger Woods' sex life and, more understandably, the seemingly endless, unresolvable health reform and jobs battles in Washington, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be ignored.
However, a group of New York city peace grannies and their supporters DO remember, and they publicly so acknowledged on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the just-announced grim tally of 1,000 U.S. soldiers' loss of life in Afghanistan. The event was coordinated by Grandmothers Against the War and the Granny Peace Brigade. Members of Peace Action New York, Veterans for Peace, The World Can't Wait, the Gray Panthers, Brooklyn for Peace, and the Raging Grannies attended as well.
On the cold, wet and windy evening, approximately 30 mostly elderly people assembled in front of Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to pay tribute to the 1,000 American G.I.s sacrificed in the wrong-headed war in Afghanistan. They also mourned the many Afghani deaths caused by our missiles and bombs.
The great actor-author, Malachy McCourt , opened the proceedings with a powerful speech lambasting the tragic expenditure of life and resources in the hopeless pursuit of peace through war. A statement of support by NY State Senator Bill Perkins, who had to be in Albany with the legislature, was read. Following that, the vigil members read the names of deceased soldiers AND deceased Afghani civilians to the accompaniment of a single muffled drum beat.
It was startling and extremely saddening to hear that so many of the Afghanis whose names were read were small children. One wondered: How can we feel morally justified in waging a war that causes so many innocent people to die whom we are supposedly protecting?
Strangely enough, the police erected a barricade around the anti-war stalwarts. This had never been done before in the six plus years that Grandmothers Against the War, the Vets for Peace and the Granny Peace Brigade have been holding a weekly Wednesday vigil on that Rockefeller Center site.
The soggy Peaceniks then walked down Fifth Avenue and over to the Times Square recruiting station where the Raging Grannies sang familiar songs with their revised anti-war lyrics. They kept singing despite the fact that several policemen insisted that the group leave. Finally, thoroughly soaked and shivering, the hardy old folks (and a few young ones) dispersed.
It is worth quoting part of Sen. Perkins' statement: "It is obvious that the lessons of the unjust war launched by the previous Bush administration have yet to sink in on the current administration. Each day the goal of honorable victory will be ever more elusive. The goal of an honorable peace for a dishonorable war will continue to have its price."
As I write, one day later, the tragic number of our young military dead in Afghanistan has climbed to 1,006.

A.N.S.W.E.R. and other organizations are sponsoring March 20th marches in DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The march is to demand the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Students for a Democratic Society are another organization that will be participating and they note:

While the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is growing ever larger, the occupation of Iraq is still raging, nearing its seventh anniversary. With over 4,300 US soldiers and over 1.3 million Iraqi civilians estimated dead, something has to be done to stop this senseless slaughter.
This year Students for a Democratic Society will hold a national week of action March 15th to 20th where students will organize protests and direct actions at campuses across the country in opposition to the ongoing, brutal occupations.
The need for a vibrant anti-war movement has rarely been felt more than this very moment, while the United States drops trillions of dollars into unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, during the worst economic crisis in 80 years. Students are struggling to pay for school while tuition skyrockets, and states lose billions of dollars to two continuing occupations.
On Saturday, March 20th, SDS will participate in a massive National March & Rally in D.C. hosted by A.N.S.W.E.R. to finish the week of action with tens of thousands of people in the street!
We're calling on students and youth from across the country to join us the week of March 15-20th in demanding: Fund Education, Not Occupation!
For more information visit:
http://sdsantiwar.wordpress.com/

March 13th, a Peace Camp will be set up in DC.
Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan (Cindy Sheenhan's Soapbox) explains some of the goals of the Peace Camp in her open letter to US President Barack Obama:

In 2005, I asked for a meeting with President Bush that was never granted, and as you know, Camp Casey in Crawford became the spark that lit a prairie fire of anti-war sentiment that swept you and your cohorts in the Democratic Party back into power and now we are coming to collect the spoils of that victory--which is not more war--but more Peace. You Democrats owe much to your anti-war base--and we will not be quiet nor be ignored as we were in the previous administration. It's time for you to pay the Peace-piper, Mr. Obama. Our demands are profound, yet simple for you to perform: troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (where three soldiers were just killed); no more drone bombings anywhere; close the permanent bases and torture prisons; and bring the mercenary soldiers home, too. We will not be closing up Camp, or the movement, until positive progress in the direction of Peace is noted. The first week of Camp (March 13-20), we are asking for a meeting with you to discuss setting up a Peace Council that you will regularly meet with that will have a seat at the table when decisions that will kill, maim, displace, or harm our troops or civilians in any way are being discussed. We also demand that this Peace Council be comprised of grassroots members of the Peace Movement and not rubber-stamp status quo worshippers, or other "Peace" Prize laureates like Henry Kissinger, who already, reportedly, has your ear. If you do not meet with representatives from Camp OUT NOW, we will be a thorn in the side of the War Machine, and we will not go away without a struggle. If you do meet with us and agree to a Peace Council, we will pack up our tents, but we will still be a thorn in the side of the War Machine until Peace is finally achieved--the only difference is that we won't be camped across the street from your home.

Yesterday we noted "foundation ugly" Thomas E. Ricks and Nir Rosen. Today Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) notes the latest bits of foundation ugly:

Thus it's no surprise that Tom Ricks, a former reporter and author who's taken up residence at CNAS, has fired the opening gambit in what is likely to be a direct challenge to President Obama by the military, by conservatives and neoconservatives, by surge-lovers and empire builders, and others, to keep US forces in Iraq.
Ricks penned
an op-ed in the New York Times entitled "Extending Our Stay in Iraq," as if the 98,000 troops there were business travelers asking the front desk for a late checkout. "Our stay"? He means, the US occupation of Iraq.
And Ricks pulls no punches. Obama should forget about his pledge to reduce US forces to 50,000 by August and to zero by the end of 2011. Instead, Ricks says, the troubling internal contradictions in Iraq -- including Iran's influence -- means that the United States should "keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come."

So much to comment on. First, Ricks is doing an 'international sweep' shortly. Dreyfuss has made college students in one country very happy because they've been arguing with Ricks' sponsor (for his talk) over whether or not he's a journalist. He's not. He's now a counter-insurgency (war on a native people) guru at a War Hawk think tank. And this professor has told the students that Ricks doesn't have an opinion because he's a reporter, told the students he's objective. So we should all be grateful that Ricks has yet again pulled his War Hawk Stub out and waived it around yet again. Second, we should be grateful for the column he wrote. We now know where Michele Flournoy stands. Most of us already suspected it but Ricks doesn't write a word that Flournoy (who left his think tank to join the administration -- where she now stalls Congress on the Iraq 'withdrawal' plan) doesn't approve of.


Lastly, TV notes.
NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):

In 1995 and 1996, 66 gray wolves were relocated from Canada to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho to help recover a wolf population that had been exterminated in the northern Rockies. The gray wolf relocation is considered one of the most successful wildlife recovery projects ever attempted under the Endangered Species Act; today there are more than 1,600 wolves in the region. But a debate has erupted between conservationists and ranchers over the question: how many wolves are too many? Last year, the Obama Administration entered the fray by removing federal protection for some of these wolves, paving the way for controversial state-regulated wolf hunts. The move has wolf advocates fuming, with more than a dozen conservation groups suing the Interior Department to restore federal protections. On February 26 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW reports on this war over wolves and implications for the area.


iraqnprall things consideredlourdes garcia-navarro
the toronto starolivia ward
dpa
hannah allammcclatchy newspapers
warren p. strobel
jonathan s. landay
laith hammoudi
the christian science monitorjane arraf
cindy sheehan
pbsnow on pbs
peace granniesjoan wile
the nationrobert dreyfuss