Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oversight of Iraq contract 'weak'

Bowen said as a result of the contract 'over $2.5bn in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud'

The US state department has consistently failed to properly monitor defence contractor DynCorp International's $2.5bn, five-year effort to train the Iraqi police, a government audit in Washington has found.

Stuart Bowen, the US government's special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said the department had exercised "weak oversight" of the contract, failing to watch over the money being spent on the training programme.

The report said state department officials had repeatedly said that they recognised long-standing problems and would improve management and oversight of the contract, but had "fallen far short".

"As a result, over $2.5bn in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud," the report said.

The report cited one example in which for nearly $4.5m a year, the state department assigned a 16-person security detail to protect six US contractors in Iraq who already had a team of hired guards they did not really need.

The incident is one of many described in the audit whose findings also suggest that the department remains ill-equipped to watch over the vast amount of US money still flowing into Afghanistan.

Findings 'unfounded'

In a letter released along with the report, David Johnson, a state department official, disputed the audit's central conclusion that the contract, awarded in 2004, was vulnerable to waste and fraud.

Describing the audit's key points as "unfounded," Johnson said that payments were only made to a contractor after invoices have been carefully checked.

But the report challenged that assertion, saying that for the few years of the arrangement, the department had a single contracting officer in Iraq to monitor invoices to ensure the government got what it was paying for.

Overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the paperwork, the lone officer was approving all DynCorp invoices without questioning them.

That means there is "no confidence in the accuracy of payments of more than $1bn to DynCorp" during the early stages of the contract, the report said.

There are now three contracting officers in Iraq overseeing the work, but the audit said that this was still too few and that these officers also needed more guidance on how to do the job.

Largest contract

US forces have been in Iraq since the US-led 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, the then-president.

Training Iraqi security forces, including police, has been an important element of US reconstruction efforts in the country and security responsibilities have gradually been returned to Iraqis.

Bowen said the contract awarded to DynCorp, which is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, was the largest ever managed by the state department.

The report did not judge whether or not DynCorp's training of Iraqi police had been a success or a failure.

Faith factor in Haiti aid effort

Before the January 12 earthquake devastated Haiti, numerous faith-based humanitarian organisations operated in the predominantly Catholic island.

And now groups like the Church of Scientology International, Operation Blessing and the American Jewish World Service, have expanded their presence by sending in teams of volunteers, donating food, medicines and equipment.

However, some Haitians, including Haiti's head Voodoo priest, question the true motive behind these humanitarian acts.

Al Jazeera's Sebastian Walker reports from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

Nigerians trade blame over violence

Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria are accusing each other of starting the recent clashes in which hundreds of people were killed in and around the city of Jos in Plateau state.

Nigerian police said on Tuesday that at least 326 people have died in the violence in Plateau.

However, estimates from medical and aid workers and religious and community leaders put the toll at more than 550.

Both Christians and Muslims seem to agree that a dispute over a house in a mainly Christian district of Jos sparked the unrest. The house was destroyed in the religious violence of 2008 and its Muslim owner started to rebuild it on January 17.

What the area's majority Christian Biroms and the minority Muslim Hausas strongly disagree on is over who is to blame for the killings.

Attacked with machetes

A group of Muslims gathering to bury some of the victims told Al Jazeera that those now dead were trying to escape from Christian youths last Tuesday when they were attacked with machetes.

Musa Ayiga, a resident, said a group of Christian youths came to say that the rebuilding of the house should not continue. He said a Muslim boy was then beaten up by the youths.

"When he came to his [Muslim] people and the people saw the blood on him, they were angry," he said.

The Christians, on the other hand, said fighting started after Muslims attacked a Christian woman.

There have also been claims by both Muslims and Christians that security personnel sympathetic to one side or the other have been involved in the killings.

'Absolutely false'

Shettima Mustafa, Nigeria's interior minister, said reports of military involved in the attacks was "absolutely false".

"Under this kind of situation naturally people will start peddling rumours that they think are in their favour," he told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

"But the truth of the matter is that the Nigerian military is trained in such a way that they are superior to these ethnic, religious and negative sentiments.

"When they have their orders it doesn't matter whether the man is Muslim, Christian or a non-believer - they will obey the order given to them by a superior officer."

Mustafa was non-committal on whether the government intended to investigate the accusation, saying instead: "The feeling of government is [that] there are too many inquiries into these kinds of situations. The government would rather implement what is available than to start all over with an inquiry."

More than 300 people have been arrested over the clashes.

Many of the suspects in the attacks have been sent to Abuja, Nigeria's federal capital, to be interviewed, according to police and security sources.

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's vice-president, was due to visit Jos on Tuesday. He has pledged that the organisers of the violence would be brought to justice "no matter how highly placed".

Asian economies seeing growth accelerate: IMF

WASHINGTON — Asia's developing economies are seeing acceleration in 2010, led by China's 10 percent growth rate, the IMF forecast Tuesday as the region recovers swiftly from a global downturn.

The emerging economies in the region are set to grow at an average 8.4 percent this year as well as in 2011, compared with the 6.5 percent in 2009, the International Monetary Fund said in its World Economic Outlook update.

China's growth was likely to slow to 9.7 percent next year after posting 10 percent this year and 8.7 percent in 2009, the IMF said.

The Washington-based fund said "key emerging economies in Asia are leading the global recovery" as the region.

India is expected to join China in providing impetus to growth in Asia this year and in 2011.

India should post 7.7 percent growth in 2010 and 7.8 percent next year after managing 5.6 percent last year, according to the IMF projections.

Japan is poised to emerge with a growth of 1.7 percent in 2010 -- unchanged from the last forecast -- after a sharp 5.3 percent contraction last year, the IMF said, adding that Asia's richest economy could accelerate to 2.2 percent next year.

Gross domestic product in China returned to double-digit growth in the fourth quarter of 2009 at 10.7 percent, according to the Chinese authorities last week.

And it surpassed the government's target of eight percent, a level that is seen as crucial to foster job creation and stave off social unrest in China's urbanizing population of 1.3 billion people.

But China's biggest rise in inflation in 13 months underlined the broader challenges of breakneck growth, and came as the IMF and World Bank warned anew that the country could face an economic bubble.

Asia's growth forecast is above that for the world's emerging and developing economies of about six percent in 2010 following a modest two percent last year.

The IMF sees more rapid output in 2010 for the world's developing economies.

"Stronger economic frameworks and swift policy responses have helped many emerging economies to cushion the impact of the unprecedented external shock and quickly re-attract capital flow," it said.

Caldwell becomes fourth consecutive African American Super Bowl coach

Caldwell becomes fourth consecutive African American Super Bowl coach

Caldwell joins Smith, Dungy and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin as the four black head coaches to participate in the Super Bowl.

Last season, Tomlin led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the franchise’s sixth world title with a thrilling victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Tomlin was also the fourth first-year head coach to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Caldwell became the fifth rookie head coach to do so last Sunday.

Topic: Black babies, boys less likely to be adopted

Did you see this: a new study finds black babies and boys are less likely to be adopted. And yet, as this article explains, people will often throw their racial or gender biases out of the window if they can get a good deal on the babies they’re less interested in. Surprised? Shocked? Let the debate begin.

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/25/black-babies-boys-less-likely-to-be-adop ted/

Obama's State of The Union Speech To Address Child Credit, Student Loans

On Wednesday, President Obama will give his annual State of the Union Address. His speech is will highlight several initiatives designed to aid families in the ailing economy. He will also address the health care overhaul which is in danger of becoming another casualty of partisan politics.

The speech, though still not entirely complete, is expected to bring ways of job creation and shaking up an economy that has been rocked by recession, plummeting stocks, and major job loss. The speech is seen as vital to the President’s standing. The recent win by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts only underlined voter discontent Obama’s increasing unpopularity.

America saw a little of what was to come in the State of the Union on Friday as a fighting Obama sought to defend his policies. This was the second leg of the “White House to Main Street” tour which was started as an effort to bolster job creation and get in touch with the average blue-collar worker.

In a town hall outside of Cleveland, OH, Obama addressed an audience of Americans from all walks of life. He took questions and sought to allay fears that America was not recovering from the recession. He talked about new initiatives to help foster job growth and relieve debt. These are the same initiatives that Obama put forth Monday to include in his State of the Union Address.

The initiatives are extensive and include among others a child care tax credit, which would give families who make under $85,000 annual income a credit $900; there is also a proposed cap on federal loan payments for recent college grads; an automatic paycheck deduction to help workers save their money versus spend it; increased financial aid to the elderly; and tax breaks for small businesses.

The initiatives are designed to help out the middle class who have struggled under the ailing economy. The cost of the plan, as usual, may prove a sticking point for approval. Though as a whole, costing less than usual government expenditures, this may not help with Obama’s image as a spendthrift. There is, however an effort to help in job creation. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a $154 billion to do just that.

Obama’s top priority, health care reform, will naturally also be addressed. However, how Obama will tackle the issue remains to be seen. The issue has caused much ire among citizens and politicians alike. In a time when the deficit is already sky high, a health care overhaul seems excessive for many.

If all goes well Barack Obama's State of the Union should be a spur for getting America out of the recession and putting more jobs on the table. One thing is sure: it will definitely be a test of the Obama’s performance as President.

Written by Lani Shadduck

Massachusetts not about health care

Published by Michael Foxglove

I’m getting a bit sick of commentary suggesting Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race was a thumbs down for Obama’s universal health care package.

It wasn’t.

Health care was not an issue in the Massachusetts senate election. Why? Because in 2006 state-wide health care and coverage was enforced by Massachusetts law. Wikipedia’s summary states:

It requires nearly every resident of Massachusetts to obtain health insurance coverage. Through the law, Massachusetts provides free health care for residents earning less than 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and partially subsidized health care for those earning up to 300% of the FPL, depending on an income-based sliding scale.

There were many speculative reasons for Brown’s win. Including the fact he was identified by voters as a liberal, and [Mr Key take note] his Democratic opponent took a holiday in the middle of the campaign.

But Obama’s health care (and other progressive) policies weren’t the factor Conservatives would like the U.S. citizenry and the world to believe.

Sean “Diddy” Combs Gives His 16 Year Old A MAYBACH

Justin Dior Combs had one fantastic 16th birthday bash thrown by his father Sean “Diddy” Combs. The festivities topped anything followers and crew of MTV’s show ”My Super Sweet Sixteen” have ever witnessed. With cameras filming, “Diddy” gave Justin a Maybach, a $350,000 sports sedan and $10,000 cash.

The party lasted all weekend. Friends and family gathered to celebrate Justin’s rite of passage into driving age. Highlights included performances by rappers L’il Kim, Fabolous, and Jim Jones.

Justin had the generosity to donate the cash to Haiti Relief Efforts. With a car like this, perhaps Justin should have pocketed the cash for future speeding tickets. Afterall, he is just learning how to drive…

iPhone To End Exclusivity Deal With AT&T

Business Insider reports that Apple will announce the end of its exclusivity deal with AT&T this week.
AT&T captivity is the single biggest reason foks who don't buy iPhones don't buy them, so this would be big. It would also be unexpectedly early--most analysts aren't expecting Apple to open up to other carriers until the middle of the year. (We'd be surprised to see Apple actually end the exclusivity on Wednesday, but it seems plausible that they would announce the end...)
It's believed that the end of the AT&T deal may be tied to the expected launch of the iTablet (or whatever it will be called.)

2 Metro Workers Struck, Killed on Track

Two track workers died in Maryland on Tuesday after they work struck by a piece of heavy equipment while they working on a section of the Red Line. Service from Shady Grove and Rockville have been suspended while officials investigate the deaths.

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority said two male technicians were hit by a diesel-powered truck called a prime mover at about 1:45 am. The employees were installing new train control equipment along an outbound portion of the track in the direction of Shady Grove.

One of the workers died on the scene while the other one was taken to an area hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries. The identities of both employees have not been released while their families are notified.

Metro is providing free shuttle bus service to commuters who plan to travel between Shady Grove and Rockville. However, it has warned of delays along the Red Line because of the deaths.

"Customers are encouraged to avoid the Shady Grove and Rockville Metrorail stations, if possible, and to use the nearby Twinbrook and Grosvenor-Strathmore Metrorail stations to catch a train," it said in a statement.

The fatalities come seven months after the worst accident in Metrorail's 33-year history. Nine people died and 80 others were injured after two six-car Red Line trains crashed into each other in June last year.

Crash pilot 'flew opposite way'

The pilot of an Ethiopian Airlines plane which crashed into the sea shortly after take-off from Beirut performed "a very fast and strange turn before disappearing from the radar", Lebanon's transportation minister has said.

All 90 people on board are feared dead.

Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi said the pilot flew in the opposite direction to that recommended by the Beirut control tower after taking off at 2.30am local time on Monday, during a night of lightning and thunderstorms.

The tower "asked him to correct his path but he did a very fast and strange turn before disappearing completely from the radar", Mr Aridi said.

It was not clear why that happened or whether it was beyond the pilot's control.

Like most other airliners, the Boeing 737 is equipped with its own onboard weather radar which the pilot may have used to avoid flying into thunderheads.

No survivors have been found more than 24 hours after the crash. Emergency workers have pulled bodies from the Mediterranean Sea and the numbers reported so far range from a dozen to more than 20.

Searchers were trying to find the plane's black box and flight data recorder, which are key to determining the cause of the crash.

An aviation analyst familiar with the investigation said Beirut air traffic control was guiding the Ethiopian flight through the thunderstorms for the first two to three minutes of its flight. The official, who asked not to be identified, said this was standard procedure by Lebanese controllers to assist airliners departing from the airport in poor weather conditions.

Ethiopian Airlines said the pilot had more than 20 years of experience. It did not give his name or details of other aircraft he had flown. It said the recovered bodies included those of Ethiopians and Lebanese, as well as two Britons.

'Chemical Ali' executed in Iraq for ordering gassing of Kurdish village

Iraqi officials on Monday executed [press release, in Arabic] Ali Hassan al-Majid [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], better known as "Chemical Ali," for ordering the Kurdish village of Halabja gassed in 1988. Government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh stated that al-Majid had committed crimes of mass murder and premeditated bodily harm against the Iraqi population. Al-Majid was convicted [JURIST report] earlier this month of ordering the gassing and sentenced to death. The gassing, which killed 5,000 Kurds, was part of the wider Anfal campaign [JURIST news archive] against Kurds in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime, and is considered one of the worst attacks on the ethnic minority.

Al-Majid had received three prior death sentences. In March, al-Majid received his third death sentence [JURIST report] for his role in the 1999 killings of protesters who rioted in Baghdad and Amarah following the alleged assassination of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr. In December 2008, the Tribunal sentenced al-Majid to death [JURIST report] for his involvement in the repression of Shiites in southern Iraq during the Saddam regime. Al-Majid was also sentenced to death for another killing of Kurdish Iraqis using chemical weapons during the Anfal campaign.

South Carolina Lt. Governor Compares Poor People to Stray Animals

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is in hot water, after comparing people on government assistance to "feeding stray animals." After receiving an e-mail about the article from a friend in South Carolina (Elliot Millner), I was taken aback, wondering just how far things are going to go before we realize that we still have a race problem in America.

The comments were made during a town hall meeting Friday. Bauer stated that poor parents of children on free or reduced lunch should be required to attend parent-teacher conferences or their children should not be fed. He also made some shocking comments about controlling the reproductive habits of the poor, since he apparently seems to feel that "they don't know any better." Given that Bauer is from the same state as South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson (the one who disgraced the presidency by yelling, "You lie!" during an address by President Barack Obama), I am starting to wonder what breed of politician exists within the fine state of South Carolina.

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed," Bauer said, according to the Greenville News. "You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better."

Bauer, who is running for governor of South Carolina, stated that the government can't keep giving money away without expecting something in return. He also claims that poor people should lose their benefits if they fail drug tests and that parents should be required to be active in their children's lives.

"There's no way that I was trying to tie animals to people, but what I was trying to talk about is the dependency culture, and just like when you feed an animal, you create a dependency," he said.

South Carolina's Democratic Party chairwoman, Carol Fowler, had a lot to say about Bauer's comments:

"I don't think it should be the lieutenant governor talking at town hall meetings," said Fowler. "None of those parents are listening to that. I guess they'll hear about it when their child's lunch gets cut."

When it comes to South Carolina Lieutenant Andre Bauer, the bottom line is this: 1) Bauer's comments were undeniably and inexcusably sick. I am not sure how a politician can sleep at night, after arguing that the children of his adversaries should go without food. Any politician who believes in cutting the food supply of a child because of the behavior of their parents has no business being in anyone's elected office. While we can all agree that parents should be involved with their children, there is no one standing at Andre Bauer's doorstep comparing him and his kids to animals who should have their "behavior curtailed" by the government.

2) Lt. Gov. Bauer's comments about managing the breeding decisions of the poor were incredibly dangerous. Lt. Governor Bauer's references to the breeding habits of the poor as being similar to that of stray animals implies that he fails to see the humanity in his fellow Americans. Also, his arguments about curtailing the breeding habits of the poor sound dangerously close to advocating genocide. He seems to believe that having wealth implies that you are more human than the person next to you, which might make Bauer the least human of us all.

3) Andre Bauer's words are a reminder of larger problems in our society when it comes to race. No, Lt. Gov Bauer didn't mention black people in his comments, and there are many poor whites in South Carolina. But as a black man who grew up on free and reduced lunch, I can't help but feel that he was talking about me and my mother, who spent a short time on welfare. At the very least, African Americans are disproportionately represented in the category of Americans that Bauer is comparing to stray animals. Adding Bauer's comments to those of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, and Former President Bill Clinton, the resounding theme is that America has a terrible racial problem that it is refusing to acknowledge. It is for that reason we've created the National Conversation on Race.

4) Comments like Bauer's reflect a lack of personal responsibility on the part of the middle and upper class:
For some reason, we feel that poor people have a monopoly on bad parenting. While there are many poor parents who neglect their children, I've seen scores of children from wealthy families being neglected as well. I've also seen divorces, illegitimate children and all kinds of arguably immoral behavior being committed by the middle- and- upper-class across America. The idea that Bauer seems to feel that the behavior of America's poor should be regulated by the government shows that he somehow believes that the rich should not be subject to the same restrictions. While he might argue that reliance on government assistance is a legitimate reason for government-sponsored behavior modification, the truth is that many of America's wealthy bankers and businessmen are highly dependent upon government assistance and corporate welfare as well. In fact, as a politician, Bauer himself gets most of his income from the government.

Lt. Governor Andre Bauer needs to be removed from office for his comments. His words remind us of Nazi Germany, where many felt that the breeding of Jews should be controlled. He is an embarrassment to the state of South Carolina and a disgrace to our nation. I want to see him gone.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition