Monday, January 25, 2010

One Special Inspector General report buried, one noted

Today the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has released the [PDF format warning] report entitled "Department of State Grant Management: Limited Oversight of Costs and Impact of International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute Democracy Grants." (Note, page one of the report carries the date January 26, 2010.) What's the 37 page report dealing with? An estimated $248 million in tax payer dollars that the State Dept turned over to the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the form of 12 grants. The Dept's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) has not tracked the $248 million as noted on page two of the report: "While IRI and NDI stated they have assessed the impact their grants have had in achieving grant objectives, DRL has not required that IRI and NDI provide these assessments in progress reports, as required by the grant agreements."

SIGIR "found that only 41% of the grant funds were actually spent on direct program activities. More than 60% of IRI's expenditures and almost 50% of NDI's expenditures were for security and overhead costs; mostly security. NDI spent almost one third of its funds on security, and IRI spent more than one half of its funds on security. Thus, only approximately $47 million of the approximately $114 million was spent on direct program activities."

It needs to be noted that when the term "security" is used in Iraq in terms of an "expense," that does not merely refer to contractors, it also refers to the paying off various 'bodies' (militias, thugs, etc.).

What are these two groups we're talking about? The report defines them as "nonprofit, nonpartisan" and notes the groups insistence that they exist "to advance freedom and democracy worldwide" -- such a sweet way to put it. From Lisa Ashkenaz Croke and Brian Dominick's 2004 article entitled "Controversial U.S. Groups Operate Behind Scenes on Iraq Vote" (The New Standard):

Even as the White House decries the ominous prospect of Iranian influence on the upcoming Iraqi national elections, US-funded organizations with long records of manipulating foreign democracies in the direction of Washington’s interests are quietly but deeply involved in essentially every aspect of the process.
"As should be clear, the electoral process will be an Iraqi process conducted by Iraqis for Iraqis," declared United Nations special envoy, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, in a September 14 statement to the Security Council. "It cannot be anything else."
But in actuality, influential, US-financed agencies describing themselves as "pro-democracy" but viewed by critics as decidedly anti-democratic, have their hands all over Iraq’s transitional process, from the formation of political parties to monitoring the January 30 nationwide polls and possibly conducting exit polls that could be used to evaluate the fairness of the ballot-casting.
Two such groups -- the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) -- are part of a consortium of non-governmental organizations to which the United States has provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in post-Saddam Iraq.
Both groups publicly assert they are nonpartisan, but each has extremely close ties to its namesake American political party, and both are deeply partial to the perceived national interests of their home country, despite substantial involvement in the politics of numerous sovereign nations worldwide.
NDI is headed by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who took over the chair from former president Jimmy Carter. Republican Senator John McCain chairs IRI. Both groups have highly controversial reputations and are described throughout much of the world as either helpful, meddlesome, or downright subversive, depending on who you ask. In some places their work has earned praise from independent grassroots democracy advocates, but in many Third World republics, both groups have been tied to alleged covert plans to install US-favored governments.

The SIGIR report declares the State Dept "awarded grants to NDI and IRI to conduct democracy-budiling activities in Iraq." Really? What does the American have to show for those $248 million? The monies were awarded from August 2004 through June 2009. Shouldn't there be some benefits visible to the naked eye by now?

A lot's made out of the work or 'work' they do to 'advance' women's rights. But look at the grants and the dollar amounts speak for themselves. Both organizations were awarded $1.8 million dollars each in May 2008 for "Women's Democracy Initiative." It's the lowest grant either group received. The grant money starts flowing in 2004 and it's not until May 2008 that people stop to think about Iraqi women? Sort of tells you the priorities right there.

The IRI receives approximately $113.7 million in US tax payer dollars while the NDI received approximately $134.5 million in US tax payer dollars. That's the money they received just for Iraq -- please keep that in mind. They suck up millions and millions of tax payer dollars -- largely under the radar -- for 'work' in various countries around the world.

How under the radar? Everyone's reporting on another SIGIR report instead. August Cole (Wall St. Journal) reports on the DynCorp report froM SIGR (released later today) which notes that the State Dept is also not providing oversight there and, quoting the report, "As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud." Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) adds, "The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, which administers the six-year-old training contract, has failed to adequately increase oversight personnel of the department's largest contract after warnings since 2005 from auditors and lawmakers, Stuart Bowen, the special inspector for Iraq reconstruction, said in a new audit." Richard Lardner (AP) notes the report includes David Johnson, Assistant Secretary of State, disputing the findings. Kim Ghattas (BBC News) offers this take on the report, "The report's conclusions are alarming - not only have vast sums already been wasted but there is clearly potential for further waste. The state department apparently does not have the people or the resources needed to oversee work done by private companies through large contracts such as the one with DynCorp International. It's not the first time that the US government has got a rap on its knuckles for wasting money in Iraq. A previous report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction concluded that the Coalition Provisional Authority, set up in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war, had lost track of $9bn of funds destined for reconstruction projects."

That 'brave' 'journalist' Amy Goodman mentions one of the two reports in headlines. Wanna guess which one? But our modern Merv Griffin (Robert Redford for the hour!) has other things to do. (That's not an insult to Redford. I know him, I like him. But Robert Redford really isn't the big news this week. Tony Blair? Yeah. The audits? Yeah.) That wasn't fair, comparing it to Merv Griffin. A better comparison is Who's In The Kitchen With Dinah.

In other real news, Pfc Gifford Hurt died in Iraq January 20th. Last Thursday the US military announced: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- A U.S. Soldier assigned to United States Forces - Iraq died of non-combat related injuries as a result of a vehicle accident, Jan. 20. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .] The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." Joe Kemp (New York Daily News) speaks with Gifford Hurt's mother Lisa Davis who explains that a ceremony will take place Tuesday at Pope Air Force base and a funeral is planned for Friday ("in North Carolina") and that the day is also the anniversary of when her son enlisted in the military last year. She states, "He was going to do the max they would let him do. He would've been 65 years old, walking with a cane before they would have to get rid of him." Gifford Hurt died last week at the age of 19.

Meanwhile, the Tripoli Post reports on the recent suicide prevention conference held by the VA, "Talking at a VA-sponsored suicide prevention conference this week, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said that of the more than 30,000 suicides in US each year, fully 20 percent of them are acts by veterans. That means on average 18 veterans commit suicide each day. Five of those veterans are under VA's care." Some who take their own lives -- not all, but some -- suffer from PTSD -- often untreated PTSD. Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports that the Department of Defense, following a finding in a class action suit, has announced it will re-examine whether Iraq War and Afghanistan War veterans were denied treatment for PTSD as a result of being denied their benefits.

Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that the marines threw a ceremony to note their 'formal' departure from Anbar Province with all marines "gone in June." Robert Burns (AP) provides the reality about "the final chapter" -- noting it's been 'writen' before only for the marines to return.

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Commander of the Groin" went up last night. And I'm cross-posting this from Third, "The Revolution will be streamed?" which we'll also note in the snapshot today:


Revolution magazine ("Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA"), is attempting a viral effort:

The REVOLUTION is real. Watch it. Spread it.,

In the video, Bob Avakian covers a multitude of topics including police brutality, sexism, rape, history, imperialism, etc.

If you're a Communist, you'll probably enjoy the talk. If you're not a Communist? You need to hear the talk. You need to hear it to get another take on the issues. You may find yourself nodding along in agreement with many things (we did) or you may find yourself in disagreement. If it's the latter, good. It's good to know what you don't believe in and not just what you do.

And regardless of where you are on the political system, it is good to hear from an unapologetic Communist, from one who refuses to hide in a political closet. The US is only as vibrant as its people. When we all try to be the same (or to pretend we are) we do get conformity but we lose out on innovation.

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