Friday, September 19, 2008

Barack and Franklin Raines deny their involvement

Starting with Tuesday's US House Committee on the Budget's hearing on Iraq's Budget Surplus.  We're focused on the first panel where the witness was the Government Accountability Office's Joseph A. Christoff.  Tuesday's snapshot covered some of the statements by the committee chair John Spratt Jr., US House Rep Chet Edwards and US House Rep Lloyd Doggett.  Tuesday night, Mike noted some of US House Rep James McGovern's questioning as did Wednesday's snapshot which also noted Bob Etheridge, Dennis Moore and Tim Bishop.
Marion Berry: I also think anytime we have a hearing like this, we should first and foremost recognize the contribution and sacrifice that our men and women in uniform and their families have made and we should never ever fail to be appreciative of that.
Joseph Christoff: Absolutely.
Marion Berry: And show that appreciation in every possible way.  As I've listened to this testimony and we can talk about numbers, we can talk about policy and all of those things -- it seems to me that we're in a situation where it reminds me of a bumper sticker you see from time-to-time: "DON'T FOLLOW ME, I'M LOST."  You just said a while ago, that there's not a plan.  I don't know who doesn't have a plan.  It seems to me to be pretty obvious that nobody does.  I cannot imagine a more ridiculous situation than we're in right now.  I would like to think from some of the things you've said that we may actually have a reasonable expectation that it'll get a little better but at the same time we don't have any reason to think it's going to be cleared up and every thing's going to be in really good shape over there in the next few years.  Don't know how you define "few."  I'd say anything under five years.  But I just -- I don't see any, I'm like Mr. McGovern, I don't see any way to end this.  We just keep pouring money into that place.  We continue to make deals that no responsible person would enter into, it seems to me.  And we thank you for bringing us this information too, at least letting us know what is really going on as best as you're able to determine it and I'm confident that you've done that.  And we appreciate all of that.  Beyond that, I think it's time for the Congress, the American people, the administration and anyone else in a position of responsibility to being to start figuring out how we're going to get out of there and how we're going to bring this to a conclusion because the American people can't stand much more of it.  And I thank you for the work that you've done.
We have two more Democrats to note.  Other than Pete Ryan (Ranking Minority Member), Republicans elected to skip to the first panel. 
Allyson Schwarts: I also thank you for this information.  And it's important for us to be having this hearing today and I thank the chairman for doing it because we -- and in some ways, you're offering suggestion on how we can see our way out of this if we just really look at things really quite differently which is that -- as has been pointed out, you pointed out and many of the speakers before me have pointed out -- we have, we're looking at working with the Iraqis to make sure that they use their almost $80 billion surplus to start spending their money on reconstruction.  And I was particularly struck that recently there was a -- I guess it was back in August -- some discussions about rebuilding police stations in Iraq and spending American dollars to do that.  I have to say representing the city of Philadelphia and the suburbs, I go to police stations and fire stations all across my district and they need reconstruction.  And so instead of a president saying we're going to spend our dollars on reconstructing our police stations and helping our first responders we're spending American dollars on reconstruction in Iraq when the Iraqis are actually sitting on $79 billion.  Now you talked about the politics of why it hasn't happened but my question really is how can we -- is there a way for us to, one, start to say  -- we've tried to in Congress -- to say Iraqis should start paying for reconstruction.  I believe the last bill we passed actually had the condition of their spending 50%
Joseph Christoff: Right.
Allyson Schwartz:  -- on going forward on that.  Is there anyway that you would actually -- that we could insist upon that happening?  Is there a way that we could get back some of these dollars that we're spending now that are committed into the future?  We were led to believe several years ago that we would not have to pay for this war at all.  And that's been pointed out as well.  And yet we are right now spending billions of American tax payer dollars to reconstruct Iraq when Iraq has the money.  And adding insult to injury we're spending a whole lot, every American family, on the price of gasoline that we're buying from the Iraqis. I mean something about this picture just isn't right no matter how you feel about this war or our going into it.  I've been asked just recently this weekend was asked about how we could -- why we're not doing enough to make sure that we get the Iraqis to spend their money on reconstruction.  And I understand the politics of it.  And I understand even the difficulties on some of the buerocrats.  But even if we lend expertise even if we help them figure out how to do this -- why -- is there more that we could be doing to make sure that going forward the Iraqis are spending their money, particularly the surplus  -- $80 billion dollars surplus, rather than the American tax payer on reconstruction of basic infrastructure for the Iraqi people which we all agree needs to get done.  But why not the Iraqis?  And why is this administration -- that's political. What could we be doing even from your perspective to make sure that going forward this is really a changed world, we're not spending American tax dollars on reconstruction, the Iraqis are?
Joseph Christoff: Well let's just talk about this concept of trying to get repayment for perhaps what we did.  I think we began in 2004 with good intentions.  With good intentions to the fact that the Iraqis at that time did not have the resources.  So when you appropriated the $18.4 billion dollars in IRRF 2 (Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund) it was "to jump start the reconstruction process" under two premises that generaly did not pan out.  One that it would be a benign environment where you could do reconstruction without violence and secondly the Iraqis would step up to the plate and third the international community would contribute.  Those premises never really panned out until quite frankly recently where we see the Iraqis now have a substantial amount of money.  I shouldn't say recently. They had surpluses in '05, '06 and '07 as well because they didn't spend on the investments.
Allyson Y. Schwartz: But you're making a good point, if things are more secure if the issues around violence allows them to do some of this reconstrutcion without spending so many dollars on security can we actually get them to both repay us and get them to pay going forward?
Joseph Christoff: Yeah, I don't know if we want to take back our generous contributions to try to jump start -- because I thought they were good intentions back in 2004. But again going forward I do think you should have the healthy debate about cost sharing.  And you began it with the roughly three billion dollars that you put and the restrictions you put on the economic support fund -- that it should be a dollar for dollar cost sharing. The State Department in two weeks has to send a report to the Congress certifying that the Iraqis are engaged in cost sharing on the ESF so it will be interesting to see exaclty  how the State Department can confirm that that is actually occurring
Allyson Y. Schwartz: I should say not just interesting but also important to our financial security here at home and to respond to the Amercian people that we've actually said that there had to be cost sharing dollar for dollar and it will be important for us to see that that is actually happening going forward.   And of course we'd like to see at some point the Iraqis pick up much more of the reconstruction if not all of it.
The last Congress member to question Christoff was Marcy Kaptur.  Pay close attention to his final answer to her.  She's asking for very basic information, stats and figures (including arrests) and that information, according to Christoff, isn't public.  It recalls his earlier comment to House Rep Tim Bishop who merely asked about the possible impact of the de-Baathifcation legislation (passed but not implemented) which resulted in Christoff informing Bishop that it was classified information he could not reveal in an open hearing.  What are the possible effects of that legislation -- labeled a benchmark by the White House -- can't be made public.  Now Bishop and Kaptur both have clearance.  They can get the information as members of Congress.  But what Christoff's testimony repeatedly underscored was how much information is being kept from the American people.
Marcy Kaptur: I've been looking over one of the charts that we've been provided that shows the increase in spending by the people of the United States on the war in Iraq and I think everyone knows that every year it gets larger.  I remember Secretary [Paul] Wolfowitz coming up before our defense committee saying that we didn't have to worry about this because it would all be paid for. Well, where is he now?  I have no idea where he is but he certainly wasn't correct in those statements which I think influenced a lot of the members of this Congress to vote in the way that they did.  But one of the bits of information that I have here, that I want you to clarify for me deals with the, what appears to me to be two structures operating in Iraq -- one by the United States and one by the government of Iraq.  It says: "While the United States has spent 70% of the $33 billion that it has allocated for  key security, oild, water and electricity sectors." In other words, we're spending down the money that the American people have allocated for this.  Iraq has only spent 14%  of the $28 billion it allocated to those sectors or less than 3% of the 10 billion that it had programmed from the year 2005 to 2008.  So as I read these numbers and I'm looking at the expenditure of our dollars and we look at how much we have spent versus how much they have spent, it seems to me then that there may be two structures operating in Iraq: The American paid for structure and then the Iraqi structure. Because how could the Iraqis be doing such a poor job?  Is my perception correct that in fact there are two structures operating there?  
Joseph Christoff: Well in terms of the --
Marcy Kaptur: For electricity, for water, for oil and security>
Joseph Christoff: Well in terms of how things are spent, obviously when the US spends its money, the majority of that is being spent through the Corp of Engineers -- they've been the big builder using US appropriated dollars.  So they're using Corp of Engineering contracting, procurement, budgeting procedures.  When you look at how the Iraqi government is spending its resources, it's going through its own ministries -- oil and electricity, water  -- to try to do the types of contracting and procurement.  So yes there are seperate procedures because there are seperate pots of money.  
Marcy Kaptur: I appreciate that because if in fact oil production has gone up it's been because of US expenditures because obviously the Iraqi expenditures aren't locking in.
Joseph Christoff: Right.  Most of the money on oil infrastructure has been the US funding.
Marcy Kaptur: Then why would Iraq sign its first contract with China? You have any --
Joseph Christoff: I don't know. 
Marcy Kaptur: -- clarity on that?
Joseph Christoff: No.
Marcy Kaptur: And Royal Dutch Petroleum, Royal Dutch/Shell is the next one they signed a deal with? I just find all of this very, very strange.  Could you also tell me in terms of the sabatoge and the smuggling --
Joseph Christoff: Mmh-hmm
Marcy Kaptur: -- it's estimated by some that at least a third of what is occurring in the oil sector -- and again, it's unclear to me who is really managing the oil sector? Is it the US dollars that have been allocated or is it the Iraqi dollars that really have a handle on what is happening in the oil sector?  But regardless, if you have any comments on that I would appreciate it, of the dollars being expended, why is so much being smuggled out of there?  Who doesn't have control of what's happening in the oil fields?
Joseph Christoff: Well I think actually the smuggling and the diversions have declined over the past couple  years.  The biggest problem that occurred back in 2006 was massive smuggling -- estimates of up to two million dollars out of the Baiji refinery because there was not sufficient protection forces around it.  The US and the Iraqi government have responded by putting more protection forces around the majory refinery in Iraq at Baiji and also trying to set up these oil facility police forces that are trying to manage and protect the oil pipelines and the infrastructures particularly in the north. But there are still interdictions that are occuring because you can't cover everything and --
Marcy Kaptur: May I ask you, sir, who hires those security officers for those oil installations?
Joseph Christoff: Yeah, right now it's the Ministry of OIl but it's supposed to eventually be subsumed in the Ministry of Interior's police forces
Marcy Kaptur: But if we look at the expenditure of Iraqi dollars to do all of this, it looks like the US contracted operations are spending their dollars down without them, Iraq wouldn't be able to function.  Am I correct?  If you just pulled the US contracts and llet them fly on their own.
Joseph Christoff: Well we have lots of reconstruction projects in all of the critical sectors including the oil sector so we have been investing over the past several years in trying to build pipelines, trying to improve the refinery capacity -- a lot of individual projects have added up to billions of dollars.  The Iraqis are trying to spend more money in terms of the oil sector.  One of the problems with the Ministry of Oil is that, unlike the Ministry of Electricity,  it has not developed any type of a plan to determine what its needs are, its priorities and exactly where it should be spending its future resources. And the Ministry of Electricity has a pretty good plan.  The Ministry of Oil does not yet have a plan to try to set its own priorities.  And he himself has estimated that he needs $30 billion to try to improve the oil infrastructure in Iraq.
Marcy Kaptur: I know my time has expired. If I wanted to read one clear report on what is really going on inside the Iraqi oil sector what would I read?
Joseph Christoff: Inside the Iraqi oil sector? 
Marcy Kaptur: For security officers.  Who's paying for it, how much is being smuggled, who did the smuggling, was anybody aprehended?  Where do I find that?  
Joseph Christoff:  Well I'd probably have to go back to some of the CIA reports that I read that you wouldn't be able to read in public domain.
Marcy Kaptur: Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
 Again, Kaptur is asking for very basic information.  She's not asking for information on how to build a weapon.  Stats is all she's asking for and she's informed that the information isn't for the public.  The operations Christoff is reporting on are paid for by the tax payer and the tax payer is repeatedly told that things are 'improving' in Iraq.  So why is very basic information being kept from the tax payers.  And if, dropping back to Bishop's question, the US anticipates that there will be some awful bloodbath as a result of the de-Baathification legislation, since the White House has labeled it a benchmark and since it has yet to be put into effect, shouldn't both the American people and the Iraqi people have a right to know the projections that have been made on that?
[. . .]
Staying with politics,  this weekend's NOW on PBS offers:
How have women in politics changed America and the world? NOW on PBS investigates with an hour-long special hosted by Maria Hinojosa: "Women, Power and Politics: A Rising Tide?"

See the show on television this weekend or watch online STARTING SATURDAY
 [. . .]

Show Description: 
Given the hoopla surrounding Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton's historical political ascendance, why does the U.S. rank so low among countries for percentage of women holding national office? On Friday, September 19 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), in a one-hour special, NOW's Maria Hinojosa talks to women leaders around the world and here in the United States for an intimate look at the high-stakes risks, triumphs, and setbacks for women leaders of today and tomorrow.
Among these women are President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, the first woman leader in Latin America who did not have a husband precede her as President, and former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen, now in a tight race for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

We also travel to Rwanda, where, 14 years after a horrific massacre left nearly one million people dead, women make up nearly half of parliament; and to Manhattan, where ambitious high school girls are competing in a high-stakes debate tournament.

"Women, Power and Politics," is also about the personal journey of mother and award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa as she strives to answer the question: "What does to mean to be a woman in power?"

Watch a preview and excerpt of this special program at this web address:

Use this directory tool to find out where the show is airing in your area:

The NOW website ... will feature web-exclusive commentary from noteworthy women including Maria Bartiromo, Sandra Cisneros, and Tina Brown; a personal essay from Maria Hinojosa; an interactive debate over Sarah Palin's candidacy; as well as opportunities for all women to post and share their stories of ambition, success, and discouragement.

(The "interactive debate" over Sarah Palin's candidacy is live now ...)

1 comment:

Leads Online said...

This does not suprise me at all that Obama has another close "friend" that is SO STINKING CORRUPT and bad for this country! Now Raines, it was Jim Johnson, Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko and the America hating Rev. Wright.

Americans need to wake up and see the Kool-aid the Barry Obama camp is pooring for them. Pure garbage.

Nobama....Keep the Change