Friday, August 22, 2008

Thug on thug violence

The New York Times has real news on the front page but Stephen Farrell can't see it, despite all the space given to his "Draft Accord Said to Set Goals for Iraq Pullout." The news comes via Khalid Mohammed's front page photo of US Secretary of State Condi Rice. She's raided Elvis' closet! How else to explain the shiny, sparkly suit she wears. Couldn't someone have told her that it was career suicide for Phil Ochs when he began wear the Elvis gold suit.

Refusing to break the news that really matters, Farrell goes on for paragraph after paragraph, saying very little but you really can't tease out a story on a treaty proposal when you haven't seen it and you have no strong confirmation of what it really says, now can you?

But he's on the front page and continued on A10 and trying so hard to turn it into a story. Less time teasing it out and more time getting honest with readers (such as what is withdrawal and what isn't) would have made for a better use of time.

Also on the front page is Richard A. Oppel Jr.'s "Iraq Takes Aim at Leaders Of U.S.-Tied Sunni Groups" which is not a waste of time to read. The White House repeatedly credited the "Awakening" Council members with the small reduction in violence in Iraq. Appearing before Congress in April, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker repeatedly hailed the "Awakening" as a reason for the reduction. Oppel reports that, "The Shiite-domination government in Iraq is driving out many leaders of Sunni citizen patrols, the groups of former insurgents who joined the American payroll and have been a major pillar in the decline in violence around the nation." Throughout the article, US voices will pop up objecting. Comments made by a Shi'ite general should alarm Americans who mistakenly believe the puppet is anything but a thug himself.

Of the "Awakening" members, Brig Nassir al-Hiti declares, "These people are like cancer and we must remove them"; while Gen Nassir declares the "Awakening" are "like a drug addict who quits only to take drugs again." There's no question that the "Awakening" members are thugs; there's also no question that Nouri has put thugs in place in the Interior Ministry, the police force and more. The only difference is one group of thugs is Sunni ("Awakening") and one group is Shi'ite. The US installed the Shi'ite thugs. Elections will take place (provincial elections) at some point. A great deal of what is taking place (the targeting and arrests of "Awakening" members) has to do with Nouri & company shoring up their own power base before going into those elections.

Leila Fadel's "Key U.S. Iraq strategy in danger of collapse" (McClatchy Newspapers)reports:

But the Iraqi government, which is led by Shiite Muslims, has brought only a relative handful of the more than 100,000 militia members into the security forces. Now officials are making it clear that they don't intend to include most of the rest.
"We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently," said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Many of them were part of al Qaida despite the fact that many of them are helping us to fight al Qaida."
He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn't been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they'd be arrested, he said.

Does it sound a great deal like what Nouri's thugs have attempted (and are attempting) with Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters? It should. Fadel speaks with US General David Petraeus for "Petraeus: Iraq slows hiring of former insurgents:"

"We're not going to walk away from them, and as I said, Prime Minister Maliki committed to taking care of them," he said. "I do think it is somewhat understandable that the government struggles to hire former insurgents for its security forces or for its ministerial positions...But this is how you end these kinds of conflicts. That's why they call it reconciliation. It's not done with one's friends, it's done with former enemies."

The illegal war has not improved but you can be sure Bully Boy's worried about the little bump (provided by the "Awakening" Councils) that he had hoped to ease out (sneak out?) of office on and how it's fading.

Ali al-Mashhadani was noted in the July 31st snapshot:

Meanwhile, AP reports that journalist Ali al-Mashhadani is being held by the US military at Camp Cropper. al-Mashhadani works for Reuters, BBC and NPR. Dean Yates (Reuters) reports that (as usual) no charges have been brought against Ali and quotes David Schlesinger (Reuters Editor-in-Chief) explaining, "Any accusations against a journalist should be aired publicly and dealt with fairly and swiftly, with the journalist having the right to counsel and present a defense." From Monday's snapshot, "Sabrina Tavernise (New York Times) reported . . . 'Also on Friday, the American military acknowledged that it unintentionally killed the son of an editor for an American-financed newspaper in the northern city of Kirkuk on Thursday. The military said soldiers had been fired at from a taxi and shot back, hitting Arkan al-Naiemi, 14, in the taxi'." Saturday, Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) wrote about Arkan at Baghdad Observer noting that he "often stayed late at his father's newsroom in Kirkuk. The editor-in-chief of the weekly Voice of Villages, Ali Taha, treated his son as a journalist in training. . . . The teen listened to pop music and was obsessed with computer games. He loved the weekly trips he took with his father to sites in the area. The most recent trip was to the Dokan Dam, the primary water source in Kirkuk. He loved to stay late into the night at the Voice of Villages newsroom, a U.S. supported weekly, and help in any way he could. Who knows what he would've been when he grew up. Who knows what life he would've lived. God had other plans, his father said."

And August 5th, we noted that The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement:

U.S. military authorities should present charges against a Reuters cameraman detained since last Tuesday, or they should release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
[. . .]
A spokeswoman for the Multi-National Forces-Iraq told CPJ that al-Mashhadani was detained because he posed a security risk and that his case would be reviewed within a seven-day period that began on July 29.
"This is the third time U.S. forces have detained Ali al-Mashhadani without charge," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "The military has never substantiated any wrongdoing by him. The authorities must make evidence against him public or release him immediately."

Karin Laub (AP) reports that Ali al-Mashhadani has been released (finally) and that US Maj John C. Hall told the press the release came about "because he was deemed not to be a security threat."

Back to the 'latest' draft of a treaty, Paul Richter and Ned Parker, "U.S. and Iraq close to a troop withdrawal deal" (Los Angeles Times, link has text and video):

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki in Baghdad's fortress-like Green Zone, downplayed expectations that approval of an agreement was imminent.
"We'll have agreement when we have agreement," Rice told reporters, addressing speculation that a deal was near.

I'm not sure Condi's downplaying so much as she's pointing out the basic facts. Fadel and Jonathan S. Landay stick to the basics in her reporting of this story here.

Kyle asks that we again note "Bob Herbert's World" from Ralph's Daily Audio -- independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's audio commentary:

This is Ralph Nader. The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has a problem.
He's written numerous columns complaining about presidential candidates and their campaigns ignoring serious policy issues. It's as if no one else is running for president in Bob Herbert's world other than Barack Obama and John McCain.
In a recent article that he wrote in the New York Times, he complains about how the two major candidates and their campaigns are ignoring the problems of the cities: the poverty, the transportaion problems, the lack of repair and expansion of public works and facilities, the crime. He complains that the mayors have been complaining that they have been abandoned by Washington, citing a recent gathering of city mayors that he attended.
In one of these gatherings he cites the mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, John Robert Smith saying that he believes the nation should devote the same level of commitment to developing a first-rate passenger rail system as was marshalled for the interstate highway system in the Eisenhower era. Well, the Nader-Gonzalez campaign has taken a strong stand for the expansion and modernization of passenger rail as a way to save energy, to reduce casualties on the highway and to provide more immediate evacuation of the cities in case of a calamity or a natural disaster.
But to Bob Herbert, the Nader Gonzalez campaign which supports almost one-for-one so many of the issues that he advances and champions doesn't exist. To him, the Nader-Gonzalez campaign or any progressive third party campaign doesn't exist in his column so I say to Bob Herbert, "At least level with your readers, Mr. Herbert, tell them that you think the two major parties, Republican and Democrat, own all the voters and there's no one else on the ballot. At least level with them."
This is Ralph Nader.

And Megan notes this from Team Nader:

Banking on Congress


Banking on Congress .

This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) officials are pushing various agencies charged with regulating banks, such as the Treasury’s Office of Thrift Supervision to more aggressively give problem banks lower ratings than they may now be receiving from regulators. Regulators give banks a rank between 1 and 5. Well-managed banks get a 1, problem banks receive a 4 or 5. The FDIC wants to see more banks getting 4s or 5s.

In late July, I wrote to U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass. to suggest that they jointly hold hearings on the FDIC’s ability to deal with potential bank failures in the next several years. In the letter, I noted that in a March 10, 2008 memorandum on insurance assessment rates, Arthur J. Murton, Director of the Division of Insurance and Research for the FDIC stated:

While 99 percent of insured institutions meet the "well capitalized" criteria, the possibility remains that the fund could suffer insurance losses that are significantly higher than anticipated. The U.S. economy and the banking sector currently face a significant amount of uncertainty from ongoing housing sector problems, financial market turbulence and potentially weak prospects for consumer spending. These problems could lead to significantly higher loan losses and weaker earnings for insured institutions.

FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair, however, has been singing a more upbeat tune. She recently said, "The banking system in this country remains on a solid footing through the guarantees provided by FDIC insurance. The overwhelming majority of banks in this country are safe and sound and the chances that your own bank could fail are remote. However, if that does happen, the FDIC will be there - as always - to protect your insured deposits."

Despite these reassuring words, the recent failure of IndyMac highlights the need for tough Congressional oversight. Banking experts have indicated that the cost of the collapse of IndyMac alone will be between $4 billion and $8 billion. The FDIC has approximately $53 billion on hand to deal with bank failures. This amount may not be adequate, given the cost of IndyMac and given the approximately $4 trillion in deposits the FDIC insures.

Congressional oversight of the financial services industry and its regulators should be a topic priority for Congress. I even suggested several questions that should be put to FDIC officials such as:

1. Was IndyMac on the list of "Problem Institutions" before it failed?

2. Were the other banks that failed this year on the FDIC list of "Problem Institutions"?

3. What is the anticipated cost of dealing with the failures of the other four banks that failed this year?

4. As of March 31, 2008 the FDIC reported 90 "Problem Institutions" with assets of $26 billion. What is the current number of "Problem Institutions" and what are the assets of these "Problem Institutions"?

5. How many banks are likely to fail in 2008 and 2009 respectively?

6. What is the estimated range of costs of dealing with the projected failures?

7. What will the effect of higher losses than those projected be on the FDIC’s estimate of the proper reserve ratio?

8. What are the FDIC's projections for reserves needed and potential bank failures beyond 2009?

9. Is the FDIC resisting raising the current rates of assessments on FDIC insured banks so that the cost of any significant bailouts will have to be shifted to the taxpayers?

10. Does the Government Accountability Office (GAO) believe that the existing rate schedule for banks to pay into the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) is set at the proper level?

It would also make sense for Congress to revisit the FDIC's current approach to setting reserve ratios for banks.

The FDIC is not likely to address its own inability to clearly assess the current risks posed to depositors and taxpayers by the high-rolling, bailout-prone banking industry.

When Congress reconvenes after Labor Day it would be prudent for Senator Dodd and Congressman Frank to focus on the FDIC and our nation’s troubled banks through some tough no-holds-barred hearings. These two lawmakers are going to have to hear from the people back home soon.

Neither Senator Dodd nor Congressman Frank have responded to my letter of July 23, 2008.



The e-mail address for this site is

 jonathan s. landay
 mcclatchy newspapers