Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Missing Iraqi Billions

As Republicans respond to their over-zealous pork barrel spending by seeking to cut spending on social programs that impact the least fortunate of us, one question remains missing from the radar screen; how many billions are being wasted in the war effort and what ever happened to the billions appropriated for Iraqi reconstruction?

This is not a new question. In a column published on AlterNet in the Summer of 2004,Pratap Chatterjee wrote:

"A team of auditors was dispatched to Iraq in late January this year after a string of internal reports showed that the military was wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money. They have issued eleven reports since June 25, almost all of which have pointed to the misuse of the money allocated for reconstruction, be it Iraqi or Congress-appropriated funds.

"According to two of these reports issued in late July by Stuart Bowen, the auditor-inspector general of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), not only have a full one-third of the items purchased by the Pentagon gone MIA (including the pricey generator), but a whopping. $1.9 billion or more of Iraqi oil revenue has also mysteriously disappeared.

"Embarrassed military authorities did eventually track down the missing generator and much of the money, both of which seemed to have ended up with none other than Halliburton. As it turns out they weren't missing after all; it's just that Dick Cheney's former employer had misplaced or conveniently forgotten to turn in the receipts to the correct people."

Sadly, this is one story that never seems to get into the news, or gets addressed by the talking spinners, when the budget gets discussed.

The problem is ongoing today, only with a bigger piece of change now unaccounted for.

As was recently written by Joel E. Bousely, in the American Chronicle, much of the abuse has to do with a deliberate lack of oversight from the GOP-led Congress:

"Under the leadership of the current incarnation of Republicans, corporations and defense contractors, like Halliburton, have been granted unbridled privilege. Some 8.8 billion dollars of tax-payer money has gone missing in Iraq. The defense contracting company Halliburton was one of the main benefactors of this money having received an estimated one billion dollars. Rather than taking up this issue, Republicans in Congress have largely ignored it over the protests of three key Democratic senators – Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Tom Harkin of Iowa. The military-industrial complex clearly has far too much influence in politics in Washington."

Hmmm....maybe the Democrats should hold a press conference and ask why there is non-existent oversight on some of these companies that received no-bid contracts? And why companies such as Halliburton, have not been held accountable for the billions that have been appropriated?

While the MSM generally keeps mum on Halliburton, they are all too happy to let the world know that Halliburton catered this year's Thanksgiving feast in Iraq. Factoid-driven tabloids were only too happy to report that the troops feasted on:

"* 300,000 pounds of turkey

"* 150,000 pounds of boneless ham

"* 50,000 pounds of stuffing

"* 10,000 pounds of mashed potatoes

"* 15,000 pounds of cranberry sauce

"* 10,000 gallons of eggnog

"* 30,000 pies

"Other menu items will vary from site to site and may include a medley of fresh fruits, salads, vegetable dishes and homemade baked goods."

I guess if we decide to investigate how much Halliburton budgeted for this feast, we might uncover 1 billion dollars right there alone.

I can see it now, Halliburton's spokesperson explaining how the company first had to create their own poultry farm to alleviate the logistics of bringing the turkeys into Iraq.

Is anyone ever going to cry fowl?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Kurtz Goes 0 For 2

Though I often do not share his points-of-view, I usually enjoy the daily Howard Kurtz column at the Washington Post online. Not today.

What Kurtz wrote today was precisely the type of wrongheaded posturing that I find so maddening in some of these columnists at our allegedly liberal bastions of journalism.

Today's column was apparently written in response to a new book, just out by Mary Mapes. Mapes was the fired CBS Producer who was responsible for the brouhaha over the supposedly forged documents concerning the military record of George W. Bush.

In writing about Mapes, Kurtz notes:

"In challenging those who have questioned her work -- including The Washington Post and this reporter, who is cited in the book for a triple-bylined news story recounting the mess -- Mapes displays the relentless qualities that all good diggers share. But she also opens herself up to the charge that her obsession has clouded her judgment.

"Mapes is right that the purported 30-year-old memos by Bush's long-dead squadron commander have not been proven to be forgeries, but is that the standard for broadcasting a serious charge? The documents have not been proven real, either, and endless debates about superscript and proportional spacing are not likely to change that."

What has always troubled me about the Mapes saga, the true tragedy, is that it caused everyone to stop investigating the real issue....nobody can be found to support Bush's contention that he did indeed fulfill his requirements to the National Guard.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I am of the school that a Rovian dirty trick resulted in the planting of this document. How else to explain the almost immediate pouncing upon this by a cadre of right-wing bloggers? It was instantaneous, as if they knew what to look for.

And, lo and behold, as soon as this fiasco broke, the Bush record was brought off the table. What a brilliant way to call a halt to the charges that Bush evaded service. Those who had the right to challenge the service record were suddenly put on the defensive, despite the fact that there is still nobody who can say they served alongside Bush during the dates in question. It totally fits the Rovian gameplan.

Apparently, it was fine to dispute the service of a hero candidate, John Kerry, but off limits to find out if the President actually showed up for duty.

The fact that reporters no longer thought it acceptable to challenge the many holes in the Bush service record justifies Mapes' fears. Because of this, Mr. Kurtz just becomes another administration mouthpiece by assuming Mapes is only raising her voice out of greed, for her book's sake. Those questions that CBS raised have still not been answered. These questions were being raised long before the Rather piece aired. But nobody was able to broach the subject again after the GOP attack. Why does that not seem to bother anyone? It would be one thing if the question of Dubya's service had been first brought up by Rather, but it wasn't. It had been news fodder way before that telecast.

Later in the column, Kurtz even tops himself.

Judith Miller, the reporter who went to jail and eventually lost her job to defend a smear campaign, is referred to this way:

"Miller deserves credit for her willingness to go to jail rather than testify about her conversations with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Yet she continues to defend her decision to leave jail 85 days later and testify, despite criticism that this undercut her original stance."


Miller "deserves credit" for helping to facilitate a smear campaign? Since when is being a willing participant in the cover-up of political dirty tricks akin to protecting the source of say, a whistleblower? To me, not being able to differentiate between the 2 is the real travesty.

Exactly what journalistic ethics was Miller honoring when she became so cozy with the administration that she transformed herself into an extension of their agenda?

Incidentally, the title of today's Kurtz column was "Journalists Who Won't Give Up."

How interesting that Kurtz doesn't see how that applies to him as well.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Dems Let Murtha Twist In The Wind

If anything demonstrates the dilemma that rank-and-file Democrats have with the wax figures that pass for party leaders, one need only look to the treatment of Rep. John Murtha.

Rep. Murtha, who has generally been described as "a hawkish Democrat" and a highly-decorated military hero held a press conference yesterday.

At that event, Rep. Murtha spoke out very passionately about the fact that America needs to pull our forces out of Iraq. In calling for the pull-out, Murtha said the following:

"The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq. But it's time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region."

So, how did the Democrats respond? By running for cover. Talk about the folks who really cut-and-run.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, in a column entitled "An Unlikely Lonesome Dove," described the cowardly reaction:

"It was a lonely day for once-mighty Murtha, who has long served as Democrats' conscience on military matters because of his moral authority on the subject. But Democrats were cutting and running yesterday -- not from Iraq, but from Murtha.

"'I don't support immediate withdrawal,' came the statement from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"Aides to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hinted that she would back Murtha, but when she finally spoke, it came out as 'Mr. Murtha speaks for himself.'"

There were other, even harsher reactions. All of them from a party that evidently plans to spring an actual plan on Iraq just in time for the 2006 mid-term elections. How transparent.

The GOP has noticed the unfortunate reaction by Democrats and are now calling for a vote in the House because they know the Dems are too chicken to go on record opposing the occupation.

The truly pathetic component of all this are that polls show that the majority of Americans want us out of Iraq. And yet, because they have a unified message, Republicans will be able to win the PR war that a vote to pull out of Iraq is a cowardly "cut-and-run." Has anybody heard anything resembling a unified Democratic response to the fallacious cut-and-run charge? Has anybody been vociferously delivering the PROPER message that to question the patriotism of those that dissent is truly the unpatriotic position? Of course not, they smugly believe things will take care of themselves.

You don't get much more spineless than the Democrats have behaved over Murtha. We need to address our politicians and let them know we are taking note.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Are The 'Times' A-Changin'?

Just as I had written the old grey lady off she surprises me.

In the aftermath of the Judy Miller fiasco at the New York Times, I had pretty much divorced myself from the paper. The holier-than-thou editorials on Miller while she remained incarcerated were too sanctimonious to bear. The only articles I checked out were the op-ed pieces from Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, which were no longer available for free online. Fortunately, the Truth Out blog is permitted to reprint the pieces, so that was as far as my dosage of the Times went.

Today, however, the Times takes a major step forward. Not only do they shatter the RNC talking points that perpetuate George W. Bush's continued lies on pre-war intelligence and the way it was handled, but they offer a cliff notes version of why they are lies, and what the truth is. It is a very useful editorial to refer to when contacting papers to rebut the fallacious charges the GOP is putting forth.

The name of the game for Democrats needs to be constantly preparing co-ordinated, fact-based responses that not only are reactive and effectively answer past attacks, but are also pro-active as well. With every volley we need to make the GOP respond to counter-charges of our own.

In recent years, Democrats have been pitiful when under attack. Maybe we are starting to get our groove back. Better late than never.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Frist 'Doesn't Care' About Secret Prisons

The behavior of the GOP leadership continues to look increasingly out of touch with mainstream America. How else to explain the latest rant of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Today, the AP reported that Frist is more concerned about the leak of the secret prisons than the existence of these illegal prisons themselves.

Consider that the CNN Headline to the story was "Frist Concerned More About Leaks Than Secret Prisons."

Quite frankly, that will resonate about as badly as the news that Dick Cheney has become a lobbyist for torture.

It would be one thing if he both wanted to get to the bottom of the leak, and also wanted to find out why we in America have secret prisons that apparently operate outside the boundaries of oversight and law. But he doesn't want to know about these prisons, where it is presumed that anything goes.

In response to just such a question, Frist said that he is "not concerned about what goes on."

Does he think that Americans also don't care?

The only answer for this bizarre rush to investigate is that this is the GOP strategy to take heat off the administration over the Plame outing. One would have to assume that they feel it was a Democrat who leaked the information to the Washington Post and this gives them something to sink their teeth into.

The problem though is that this will keep the issue of those secret prisons in the news and I suspect that most Americans will no doubt feel that secret prisons are something that this country should not tolerate. I could be wrong, but I would think that there would be more outrage that the prisons exist, than that they were exposed. This is a no-win for the GOP. To equate this type of leak, with the outing of an agent, is laughable.

My God, who is advising these fools?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Why Is The Press Protecting Cheney?

There are few columns I see as indispensible, but at the top of my list is Dan Froomkin's weekday "White House Briefing," that appears in the Washington Post.

Froomkin was one of the very few to initiate a discussion on Col. Lawrence Wilkerson's comments on a Dick Cheney 'cabal' last month.

I previously devoted an entire entry to the lackadaisical media response to this revelation by Colin Powell's former chief-of-staff.

Today, Froomkin remains optimistic and suggests that the media, which he says eventually caught on to Col. Wilkerson's initial remarks, will eventually latch on to the most recent revelation.

I disagree, but more on that in a second.

Froomkin wrote the following about the newest comments from Wilkerson:

"On NPR yesterday, the former chief of staff to the secretary of state said that he had uncovered a 'visible audit trail' tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office."

Upon linking to the Froomkin column, there is supportive audio evidence of the comments, though no official transcript is yet available.

At the time the column was posted, on early Friday afternoon, Froomkin wrote that the only news service to cover the story thus far, was Agence France Presse. By the way, you've got to love the accompanying Cheney photo that Yahoo! has on their site, to go with the AFP story.

Unlike Froomkin, I don't think the media responded well at all to Col. Wilkerson's major revelations. What Wilkerson was alleging had earth-shaking implications; that Dick Cheney and a group of power-mongers hijacked this administration and essentially were doing un-precedented misdeeds that went, and still have gone, unchecked.

If a stain on Monica Lewinsky's dress can be front page material, why not this??

At the time of this post, I checked Google News for all stories matching 'Wilkerson' and 'Cheney,' and I have 417 hits. At the same time, a search of Madonna wielded over 4,000 hits.

The latest story may catch on, but the point was, this should be headline 'in-your-face' news. And it is not.

Since Froomkin posted, the most recent Wilkerson story has spread a the CBC and Editor & Publisher, but it has not spread nearly fast enough. Why is this not on every front page?

As for Cheney, I think that the Washington Post was on to something, when, in an October 26th editorial, they labelled him as the "Vice-President for Torture."