Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’
By Eamon Javers
Tuesday, 21 Jun 2011 | 7:30 PM ET
CNBC Washington, DC Correspondent
The New York Fed is refusing to tell investigators how many billions of dollars it shipped to Iraq during the early days of the US invasion there, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction told CNBC Tuesday.
The Fed’s lack of disclosure is making it difficult for the inspector general to follow the paper trail of billions of dollars that went missing in the chaotic rush to finance the Iraq occupation, and to determine how much of that money was stolen.
The New York Fed will not reveal details, the inspector general said, because the money initially came from an account at the Fed that was held on behalf of the people of Iraq and financed by cash from the Oil-for-Food program. Without authorization from the account holder, the Iraqi government itself, the inspector general’s office was told it can’t receive information about the account.
The problem is that critics of the Iraqi government believe highly placed officials there are among the people who may have made off with the money in the first place.
And some think that will make it highly unlikely the Iraqis will sign off on revealing the total dollar amount.
“My frustration is not with the New York Fed, it is with the Iraqis,” said Stuart Bowen Jr., the Special Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR). “They haven’t been sufficiently responsive.”
As for the New York Fed’s position of secrecy about the total amount transferred to Iraq, Bowen said, “We understand it in the sense that it’s a foreign account and the account holder, according to their own rules, must provide permission.”
A spokesman for the New York Fed issued a statement to CNBC Tuesday evening. “The New York Fed has cooperated closely with SIGIR during its investigations and will continue to do so, in accordance with our policies related to disclosing customer account information, which generally includes receiving the consent of the account holder,” the spokesman said.
The impasse comes as the inspector general continues a massive and years-long investigation into what happened to billions of dollars in cash that left the New York Fed and vanished during the US occupation.
It was one of the largest shipments of cash in history. And the inspector general says that if the money was stolen, that would represent the largest heist in history.
According to a 2007 investigative report by Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele in Vanity Fair magazine, the cash originated from a little-known Fed vault located at 100 Orchard Street in East Rutherford, NJ, the largest depository of American currency in the world.
On Tuesday, June 22, 2004, the duo reported, unmanned vehicles loaded a tractor-trailer truck with pallets of $100 bills — weighing 30 tons and worth $2.4 billion — and that truck headed out onto New Jersey Route 17 bound for Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, DC.
There, the money was transferred to a C-130 transport plane and flown to Baghdad.
The cash transfer on that one day was just one of several such shipments of currency to Iraq, and the inspector general is trying to determine just how much was sent, and how much was stolen once it arrived in Iraq.
“We don’t have access to the Federal Reserve account to know how much money actually came out of the Fed,” said Jason Venner, the inspector general’s chief auditor. “They won’t tell us.”
Venner said that the inspector general plans to make a formal request of the Iraqi government to release the account information during a meeting in Jordan next week of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, the body that oversees development funds for Iraq.
Determining the total amount of money that has gone missing — and who was responsible for losing it — is much more than an academic question. Some Iraqi government officials have threatened to sue the United States over the missing money, arguing that the government had a fiduciary obligation to apply appropriate financial controls, and is therefore liable for any losses.
If that effort overcomes the many legal challenges it would face, the lost money would have to be replaced — at the US taxpayers’ expense.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Tom Gjelten
As governments across the Arab world look for ways to calm their angry populations, one challenge in particular stands out: how to address the spiraling cost of food.
Coincidence or not, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt came just as world food prices hit a record high. The World Bank reported this week that the cost of food is now at “dangerous” levels.
High prices are far more burdensome for people in the developing world because they typically spend a much higher percentage of their income on food. Many also buy raw food commodities — grain rather than packaged bread, for example — and it is those commodity prices that have increased most dramatically. Wheat prices have doubled in the past six months alone.
“Many households are buying raw rice,” notes Joseph Glauber, chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “They’re milling it themselves. For them, a big increase in [raw] rice prices or a big increase in wheat prices is translated into a sizable increase [in food costs].”
In an interview with member station WAMU’s Diane Rehm, World Bank President Robert Zoellick described the high cost of food as an “aggravating factor” behind the unrest in the Middle East, even if it is not a primary cause.
“You had a large unemployed population and people clearly fed up with the political system,” Zoellick said. “But one of the reasons I think this is an important issue today is, those countries are going through something between transitions and revolutions. That’s where I’m most concerned about food now.”
Many governments in the Arab world subsidize the purchase of food already, but not nearly enough to counteract higher prices. If those governments now increase those food subsidies again in response to the rising discontent, they will be hard-pressed to improve delivery of other public services.
The policy challenge is complicated, but the basic economic problem is simple: The supply of food is not enough to meet the demand.
Across the world, food stocks are down in part because of unfavorable weather, ranging from drought to floods, in Russia, Pakistan, Europe, North America and Australia.
“Production of many crops was affected negatively by these unfavorable weather developments,” says Abdolreza Abbassian, the chief food and grain economist for the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. “This has led to tighter markets, and prices are reflecting that.”
The demand for food, meanwhile, has been growing, especially in big developing countries like China.
“Sixty percent of all soybeans traded in the world go to China right now,” notes the USDA’s Glauber. “Forty percent of all cotton goes to China, and … a fifth of all vegetable oil.”
This imbalance between tight supplies and growing demand inevitably pushes food prices up.
But government policies also play a role. World Bank officials intend to make that point during the current meeting in Paris of finance ministers from the Group of 20 industrialized and developing countries. Among the issues to be discussed is the imposition of food export limits, another factor in rising world prices.
In the U.S., government corn policies are part of the problem. Since 2006, the U.S. Congress has used tax credits and industry mandates to divert part of the U.S. corn crop to the production of ethanol, a biofuel.
The ethanol tax credit costs U.S. taxpayers $6 billion a year. It also drives up food prices. The more ethanol is produced, the less corn is left to feed livestock or people. The key justification for the ethanol policies is to reduce dependence on imported oil, but the policies come at a cost.
“It sets up a trade-off or conflict between the perceived national security benefits of providing a substitute for imported crude oil versus the increased food prices,” says Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University. “There is no doubt at all that expansion of the ethanol industry has increased the cost of producing meat, dairy, eggs and food around the world.”
The U.S. government now requires oil companies to blend ethanol into their gasoline products. It gives them a tax credit for each gallon of ethanol they produce, and it limits ethanol imports. According to Babcock’s calculations, the policies together push the price of corn as much as 40 percent above what it would otherwise be.
It is one more factor contributing to the spiraling cost of food around the world and causing hardship for food consumers in the Middle East and beyond.
Read the entire article HERE.
Transcript of Interview:
Heard on Morning Edition
February 18, 2011 – STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It’s MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I’m Steve Inskeep.
People rising up in the Arab world have been demanding political rights, but the timing of these uprisings may have a lot to do with economics. We’re going to hear a lot this morning about the changes still underway in one of the most critical regions of the world. And we begin with a simple world-wide fact: the cost of food is rising.
NPR’s Tom Gjelten reports on what’s behind the increase and what nations, including the U.S., could do about it.
TOM GJELTEN: Perhaps it was a coincidence, but the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt came just as world food prices hit a record high. Consumers here in the United States may not have noticed, but for people in the developing world, the impact has been dramatic. They spend a much higher percentage of their income on food. They also buy raw food – grains rather than packaged bread, for example – and it’s those commodity prices that have jumped the most.
Joseph Glauber is chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mr. JOSEPH GLAUBER (U.S. Department of Agriculture): Many households are buying raw rice, they’re milling it themselves, so for them a big increase in rice prices or a big increase in wheat prices, you know, are translated into a sizable increase.
GJELTEN: World Bank president Robert Zoellick this week said he thinks the spiraling cost of food is an aggravating factor behind the protests in the Arab world, even if not the primary cause. Here was Zoellick discussing the unrest on NPR’s DIANE REHM SHOW.
Mr. ROBERT ZOELLICK (President, World Bank): You had a large unemployed population and people clearly fed up with the political system. But one of the reasons that I think this is an important issue today is, those countries are going through something between transitions and revolutions, and that’s where I’m most concerned about food now.
GJELTEN: With governments facing new political pressures, how they respond to rising food costs will be a key challenge. Many subsidize the purchase of food already, but not enough to counteract higher prices. And if governments now increase those food subsidies, they’ll be harder pressed to deliver on other services.
So it won’t be easy for governments to address this fundamental economic problem: the supply of food is not enough to meet the demand for food.
Abdolreza Abbassian of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization attributes the food shortages in part to bad weather.
Mr. ABDOLREZA ABBASSIAN (UN Food and Agriculture Organization): From Russia to Pakistan to U.S., Canada, North Europe, and before the year ended in Australia, so production of many crops were affected negatively.
GJELTEN: Meanwhile, the demand for food goes up because there are more people to feed.
Economist Joseph Glauber points to big developing countries like China.
Mr. GLAUBER: I think 60 percent of all soybeans traded go to China right now, 40 percent of all cotton goes to China, and even things like vegetable oil, about a fifth of all vegetable oil.
GJELTEN: That supply/demand imbalance pushes prices up.
But government policies are also important. World Bank officials intend to make that point when they meet this weekend in Paris with finance ministers from the planet’s top economic powers – the G-20. They will highlight the practice of limiting food exports, for example. That also drives up prices.
Here in the United States, government corn policies are part of the problem. Since 2006, through tax credits and mandates, the U.S. Congress has set aside more and more of the corn crop to make ethanol, a biofuel. The ethanol tax credit costs U.S. taxpayers $6 billion a year. Plus, the more ethanol is produced, the less corn is left to feed livestock or people.
Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, says the justification for promoting ethanol production is that it means less dependence on foreign oil. But there is a cost.
Professor BRUCE BABCOCK (Iowa State University): It sets up basically a conflict between the perceived national security benefits of providing a substitute for imported crude oil versus the increased food prices. Because there’s no doubt at all that expansion of the ethanol industry has increased the cost of producing meat, dairy, eggs, and food around the world.
GJELTEN: The U.S. government now requires oil companies to blend ethanol into their gasoline products. It gives them a tax credit for each gallon of ethanol they produce. And it limits ethanol imports.
Economist Bruce Babcock says these policies together push the price of corn as much as 40 percent above what it would otherwise be – one more factor contributing to the spiraling cost of food around the world and causing hardship for food consumers in the Middle East and beyond.
Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.
Chris Martenson describing himself:
“First of all, I am not an economist. I am trained as a scientist, having completed both a PhD and a post-doctoral program at Duke University, where I specialized in neurotoxicology. I tell you this because my extensive training as a scientist informs and guides how I think. I gather data, I develop hypotheses, and I continually seek to accept or reject my hypotheses based on the evidence at hand. I let the data tell me the story.”
By Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
August 3, 2010
MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: War With Iran
We write to alert you to the likelihood that Israel will attack Iran as early as this month. This would likely lead to a wider war.
Israel’s leaders would calculate that once the battle is joined, it will be politically untenable for you to give anything less than unstinting support to Israel, no matter how the war started, and that U.S. troops and weaponry would flow freely. Wider war could eventually result in destruction of the state of Israel.
This can be stopped, but only if you move quickly to pre-empt an Israeli attack by publicly condemning such a move before it happens.
We believe that comments by senior American officials, you included, reflect misplaced trust in Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu.
Actually, the phrasing itself can be revealing, as when CIA Director Panetta implied cavalierly that Washington leaves it up to the Israelis to decide whether and when to attack Iran, and how much “room” to give to the diplomatic effort.
On June 27, Panetta casually told ABC’s Jake Tapper, “I think they are willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically … as opposed to changing them militarily.”
Similarly, the tone you struck referring to Netanyahu and yourself in your July 7 interview with Israeli TV was distinctly out of tune with decades of unfortunate history with Israeli leaders.
“Neither of us try to surprise each other,” you said, “and that approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to.” You may wish to ask Vice President Biden to remind you of the kind of surprises he has encountered in Israel.
Blindsiding has long been an arrow in Israel’s quiver. During the emerging Middle East crisis in the spring of 1967, some of us witnessed closely a flood of Israeli surprises and deception, as Netanyahu’s predecessors feigned fear of an imminent Arab attack as justification for starting a war to seize and occupy Arab territories.
We had long since concluded that Israel had been exaggerating the Arab “threat” — well before 1982 when former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin publicly confessed:
“In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
Israel had, in fact, prepared well militarily and also mounted provocations against its neighbors, in order to provoke a response that could be used to justify expansion of its borders.
Given this record, one would be well advised to greet with appropriate skepticism any private assurances Netanyahu may have given you that Israel would not surprise you with an attack on Iran.
Netanyahu believes he holds the high cards, largely because of the strong support he enjoys in our Congress and our strongly pro-Israel media. He reads your reluctance even to mention in controversial bilateral issues publicly during his recent visit as affirmation that he is in the catbird seat in the relationship.
During election years in the U.S. (including mid-terms), Israeli leaders are particularly confident of the power they and the Likud Lobby enjoy on the American political scene.
This prime minister learned well from Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon.
Netanyahu’s attitude comes through in a video taped nine years ago and shown on Israeli TV, in which he bragged about how he deceived President Clinton into believing he (Netanyahu) was helping implement the Oslo accords when he was actually destroying them.
The tape displays a contemptuous attitude toward — and wonderment at — an America so easily influenced by Israel. Netanyahu says:
“America is something that can be easily moved. Moved in the right direction. … They won’t get in our way … Eighty percent of the Americans support us. It’s absurd.”
Israeli columnist Gideon Levy wrote that the video shows Netanyahu to be “a con artist … who thinks that Washington is in his pocket and that he can pull the wool over its eyes,” adding that such behavior “does not change over the years.”
As mentioned above, Netanyahu has had instructive role models.
None other than Gen. Brent Scowcroft told the Financial Times that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had George W. Bush “mesmerized;” that “Sharon just has him “wrapped around his little finger.”
(Scowcroft was promptly relieved of his duties as chair of the prestigious President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and told never again to darken the White House doorstep.)
If further proof of American political support for Netanyahu were needed, it was manifest when Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Graham visited Israel during the second week of July.
Lieberman asserted that there is wide support in Congress for using all means to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power, including “through military actions if we must.” Graham was equally explicit: “The Congress has Israel’s back,” he said.
More recently, 47 House Republicans have signed onto H.R. 1553 declaring “support for Israel’s right to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by Iran … including the use of military force.”
The power of the Likud Lobby, especially in an election year, facilitates Netanyahu’s attempts to convince those few of his colleagues who need convincing that there may never be a more auspicious time to bring about “regime change” in Tehran.
And, as we hope your advisers have told you, regime change, not Iranian nuclear weapons, is Israel’s primary concern.
If Israel’s professed fear that one or two nuclear weapons in Iran’s arsenal would be a game changer, one would have expected Israeli leaders to jump up and down with glee at the possibility of seeing half of Iran’s low enriched uranium shipped abroad.
Instead, they dismissed as a “trick” the tripartite deal, brokered by Turkey and Brazil with your personal encouragement, that would ship half of Iran’s low enriched uranium outside Tehran’s control.
The National Intelligence Estimate
The Israelis have been looking on intently as the U.S. intelligence community attempts to update, in a “Memorandum to Holders,” the NIE of November 2007 on Iran’s nuclear program. It is worth recalling a couple of that Estimate’s key judgments:
“We judge with high confidence that in fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. … We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons …”
Earlier this year, public congressional testimony by former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair (February 1 & 2) and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Ronald Burgess with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. James Cartwright (April 14) did not alter those key judgments.
Blair and others continued to underscore the intelligence community’s agnosticism on one key point: as Blair put it earlier this year, “We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build a nuclear weapon.”
The media have reported off-the-cuff comments by Panetta and by you, with a darker appraisal — with you telling Israeli TV “… all indicators are that they [the Iranians] are in fact pursuing a nuclear weapon;” and Panetta telling ABC, “I think they continue to work on designs in that area [of weaponization].”
Panetta hastened to add, though, that in Tehran, “There is a continuing debate right now as to whether or not they ought to proceed with the bomb.”
Israel probably believes it must give more weight to the official testimony of Blair, Burgess, and Cartwright, which dovetail with the earlier NIE, and the Israelis are afraid that the long-delayed Memorandum to Holders of the 2007 NIE will essentially affirm that Estimate’s key judgments.
Our sources tell us that an honest Memorandum to Holders is likely to do precisely that, and that they suspect that the several-months-long delay means intelligence judgments are being “fixed” around the policy — as was the case before the attack on Iraq.
One War Prevented
The key judgments of the November 2007 NIE shoved an iron rod into the wheel spokes of the Dick Cheney-led juggernaut rolling toward war on Iran. The NIE infuriated Israel leaders eager to attack before President Bush and Vice President Cheney left office. This time, Netanyahu fears that issuance of an honest Memorandum might have similar effect.
Bottom line: more incentive for Israel to pre-empt such an Estimate by striking Iran sooner rather than later.
Last week’s announcement that U.S. officials will meet next month with Iranian counterparts to resume talks on ways to arrange higher enrichment of Iranian low enriched uranium for Tehran’s medical research reactor was welcome news to all but the Israeli leaders.
In addition, Iran reportedly has said it would be prepared to halt enrichment to 20 percent (the level needed for the medical research reactor), and has made it clear that it looks forward to the resumption of talks.
Again, an agreement that would send a large portion of Iran’s LEU abroad would, at a minimum, hinder progress toward nuclear weapons, should Iran decide to develop them. But it would also greatly weaken Israel’s scariest rationale for an attack on Iran.
Bottom line: with the talks on what Israel’s leaders earlier labeled a “trick” now scheduled to resume in September, incentive builds in Tel Aviv for the Israelis to attack before any such agreement can be reached.
We’ll say it again: the objective is regime change. Creating synthetic fear of Iranian nuclear weapons is simply the best way to “justify” bringing about regime change. Worked well for Iraq, no?
Read the entire article HERE.