Daily Archives: July 22, 2011
Hey, weren’t “Blackwater” and “mercenary” a bad words during the Bush administration? Didn’t the left spend an inordinate amount of time demonizing private contract security in Iraq? Weren’t we told that wouldn’t be something we’d see in an Obama administration?
By January 2012, the State Department will do something it’s never done before: command a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade. That’s the plan to provide security for its diplomats in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. And no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret.
Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), is essentially in the dark about one of the most complex and dangerous endeavors the State Department has ever undertaken, one with huge implications for the future of the United States in Iraq. “Our audit of the program is making no progress,” Bowen tells Danger Room.
For months, Bowen’s team has tried to get basic information out of the State Department about how it will command its assembled army of about 5,500 private security contractors. How many State contracting officials will oversee how many hired guns? What are the rules of engagement for the guards? What’s the system for reporting a security danger, and for directing the guards’ response?
Yeah, nothing could go wrong with this, could it? Ackerman is asking the right questions. Civilians and diplomats running a quasi-military organization the size of a combat infantry brigade, and trying to keep it secret to boot.
Let’s be honest here – this is a private army. And since taxpayers are obviously paying for it, a little transparency (yeah, you remember that promise too, right?) would be nice.
But that’s not going to happen if the ambassador has his way. Citing jurisdictional conflicts, he’s told the IG to butt out.
And for months, the State Department’s management chief, former Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, has given Bowen a clear response: That’s not your jurisdiction. You just deal with reconstruction, not security. Never mind that Bowen has audited over $1.2 billion worth of security contracts over seven years.
“Apparently, Ambassador Kennedy doesn’t want us doing the oversight that we believe is necessary and properly within our jurisdiction,” Bowen says. “That hard truth is holding up work on important programs and contracts at a critical moment in the Iraq transition.”
So here we have this secret private army of 5,500 that is way above and beyond what is necessary to guard diplomats (something the State Department has been doing for years and years all over the world). This isn’t just about diplomatic security – not with those numbers:
They have no experience running a private army,” says Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who just returned from a weeks-long trip to Iraq. “I don’t think the State Department even has a good sense of what it’s taking on. The U.S. military is concerned about it as well.”
I would be too if I were the military. This is dangerous stuff and if they do stupid things, it could get other Americans, specifically those in the military, killed.
Of course, with this crew, you also have to ask, “how much am I getting taxed to pay for this debacle looking for an opportunity to happen?”
So far, the Department has awarded three security contracts for Iraq worth nearly $2.9 billion over five years. Bowen can’t even say for sure how much the department actually intends to spend on mercs in total. State won’t let it see those totals.
About as much information as the department has disclosed about its incipient private army comes from a little-noticed Senate hearing in February. There, the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq said that they’d station the hired guard force at Basra, Irbil, Mosul and Kirkuk, with the majority — over 3,000 — protecting the mega-embassy in Baghdad. They’ll ferry diplomats around in armored convoys and a State-run helicopter fleet, the first in the department’s history.
And here I thought we were leaving Iraq.
Ackerman lectures global warming skeptics and Congressional Republicans on the difference between “science” and “belief”. He then gives you his version of the “science” that he “believes” proves his point:
Yes, folks, fogged glasses prove it, he believes it and that settles it.
He is right about one thing – there is global climate change – just as there has been for millions and millions of years. In the end his plea is for a few measly million dollars to “save the planet.”
What’s wrong with you people – after that elegant and eloquent speech, how can you not pitch a half billion his way?
[HT: Yid with a Lid]
It is becoming clearer and clearer that Barack Obama has no real intention of tackling the government spending programs that pose the greatest risk to our future financial security. And, if he has his way, he’ll certainly agree to some cuts in spending, to at least give himself some political cover and the ability to claim he’s engaged. But if there are going to be any spending cuts, I think we all know where they’ll be if he gets his way:
“I think what’s absolutely true is that core commitments that we make to the most vulnerable have to be maintained,” [President Barack] Obama said. “A lot of the spending cuts that we’re making should be around areas like defense spending as opposed to food stamps.”
That’s not the first time recently he’s voiced that theme:
During his first-ever Twitter town hall meeting Wednesday, Obama said the Defense budget is so large that even modest cuts to it would free up dollars for other federal programs.
So it isn’t conjecture to say that his target is defense and his plan is to spend what is ‘saved’, not pay down the debt. I also think it is quite clear that he plans to drastically reduce defense spending in a time we’re involved in three wars (how’s that “weeks, not months” war going? 5 months, counting and no end in sight), and defense commitments globally.
Of course you can always rely on the left to support such an idea. Ezra Klein tries to be “objective” about it, but it is clear what the intent of his “the US military in two charts” post is about at the Washington Post. Klein has taken the charts from The Economist. Let’s take a look. Chart one shows military spending as a percentage of all military spending in the world:
Another way to break it down is US 43%, rest of the world 57%. Or there’s a whole lot of military spending going on in the world, and we do a lot of it.
But we’ve known that for decades. What the chart doesn’t tell you, for instance, is how much China’s spending has increased. China’s defense budget for the past few years has seen double digit jumps, with the only year in single digits being 2010 when it only increased the budget by 7.5%. This year, it’s back in double digits at 12.7%. So that wedge you see in this static chart is a rapidly growing wedge. As China’s economy has heated up over the years, so has China’s military spending.
Russia too is increasing its spending on defense. It plans on spending $650 billion on its armed forces over the next 10 years.
France, on the other hand, has been cutting its level of military spending consistently over the years since 1988. But a country that isn’t cutting its spending and which now spends more of its GDP on the military than does France, is Iran.
The point, of course, is that while it is evident that we spend an inordinately larger amount than any other country on defense, we’ve done that because we’ve assumed an international role that others can’t fill or we don’t want them to fill.
And that’s an important point. One reason that we’ve generally seen a peaceful 50 or so years (with most wars being of the regional, not world wide, type) is because we’ve been the country which has shouldered the burden of keeping the peace. Peace through strength.
Obviously there is certainly an argument that can be made that we shouldn’t have to shoulder that burden and it’s time we gave it up. But as soon as you say something like that, you have to ask, “but who will fill the role”?
Certainly not the Third World Debating society known as the UN. They’re inept, corrupt and incompetent. And certainly not NATO – as Libya has proven, they can’t get out of their own way.
So who keeps Russia in its place and stands up to China as that country flexes its newly developed muscle? What about Iran? Or North Korea?
That’s the problem with being about the only country standing of any size after a world war.
So we have to ask ourselves, is it in our best interest to back out of our pretty dominant role and cut back drastically in our spending in that area? If we answer yes, we have to ask who we trust to pick up that slack. I know my answer to that – no one. But rest assured that power vacuum will indeed be filled. A dilemma for sure.
We lead the world in spending but do not have the largest military – not by a long shot. In fact, our entire military is just a bit smaller than the Chinese Army alone. Looking at that, and considering the spending chart, what would it tell you?
It would tell me we spend the majority of our money on technology. It costs money – and a lot of it – to maintain our level of superiority. We spend it on things like 5th generation fighters, state-of-the-art naval vessels, and the like. Programs that are designed not only to give us the technological edge on the battlefield, but also to deter would-be enemies from even trying, given their inability to match our capabilities. It is obviously an intangible – we can’t really measure how much this has saved us from brutal and even more costly wars – but with the budget battles and the fiscal crisis, we’re in a position where we certainly have to clearly state our priorities. Obama has stated his.
Is there room in our defense spending to make some cuts. Yes, of course there is.
But let’s be clear, to quote Obama. Defense spending is 4.7% of GDP and it is approximately 20% of the federal budget. But it is time for a third chart:
Entitlements (i.e. “mandatory spending”) total 56% of our budget – and growing. And we’ve so overspent that we’re spending 6% on interest alone. So 62% of the budget – as designed by those brilliant legislators we’ve elected decade after decade – is untouchable by law. That leaves 39% that these yahoos want to “balance the budget” on. The elephant in the room is ignored to go after the dog. And only part of the dog. We have a president who prefers the other end of the dog to the part that has teeth.
All of that to get to this question – Obama talks about core commitments in his first statement above: Is it a core commitment of the government of the United States to protect and defend the citizens of the country as outlined in the Constitution of the United States, or is it a core commitment to take other people’s money and redistribute it?
Because that’s the choice we’re talking about here. Make the commitment to national security and, within reason, the cost that entails, or, as Barack Obama seems comfortable with doing, throw it under the bus in favor of redistribution of income instead. While serving what he calls the “most vulnerable” he’ll make us all vulnerable.
More on this subject later, but that’s a pretty good start to the discussion.
This should be interesting to watch unfold, given the propensity of Europe to pretend it hasn’t a problem regarding terrorism (i.e they’re much more inclined toward the "lawfare" model and thinking of all of this as criminal behavior requiring only police action rather than terrorism):
Hat tip to looker who sent the link and who is pretty sure this wasn’t the work of Norwegian separatists demanding a free Narvik or Viking revolutionaries.
In the meantime, here’s the prime suspect:
The AP also reports that a Norwegian prosecutor filed terror charges this week against an Iraqi-born cleric for threatening Norwegian politicians with death if he is deported from the country. The indictment centered on statements that Mullah Krekar — the founder of the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam — made to various media, including the American network NBC.
There was also a shooting in a “youth camp” outside Oslo (I put youth camp in quotes because “youth” is often a euphemism used to designate young muslims. It is not at all clear if that’s the case with this shooting).
NRK state TV reports that one person has been arrested at a Labor party youth camp ouside Oslo where at least 5 people were injured when a man wearing a police uniformed opened fire.
Let’s see what this brings.
UPDATE: A CNN breaking news email (confirmed by Norway’s NRK) says a 32 year old Norwegian man is in custody for the two attacks today which police in Norway are saying are linked. As Dud points out in the comments, this may end up being a local crazy and not some terrorist group (although some group calling itself “Helpers of Global Jihad” claimed responsibility and then apparently retracted their statement).
A little reminder:
We are currently in the middle of a war against carbon based energy being waged by the current administration to do precisely what Obama promised as a candidate. Raise energy prices. The method is irrelevant to him. No “cap and trade”? Fine. He’ll find other ways. And that’s exactly what is happening as we speak.
For instance, via the EPA. Background – apparently the EPA released its new proposed “Cross-state Rule” on July 7th – a couple of weeks ago – after previously sending it around for comment. The rule is scheduled to go into effect on January 1st of 2012. It is 1,323 pages long. It seems they threw a new requirement into the mix that was not in the original proposed rule and that none of the energy generating owners knew was coming. It would require many to shut down. The Electric Reliability Coalition of Texas picks it up from there:
ERCOT’s May11 report to the Public Utility Commission on the impact of the proposed environmental regulations did not address the impact of SO2 restrictions on coal plants in ERCOT because these restrictions on Texas were not included as part of the EPA’s earlier rule proposal. We have not had time to fully analyze the entire 1,323-page Cross-State Rule released July 7 or to communicate with the generation owners regarding what their intentions will be. However, initial implications are that the SO2 requirements for Texas added at the last stage of the rule development will have a significant impact on coal generation, which provided 40 percent of the electricity consumed in ERCOT in 2010.
Our concern is that the timing of the new requirements – effective Jan. 1, 2012 – is unreasonable because it does not allow enough time to implement operational responses to ensure reliability. We fear that many of the coal plants in ERCOT will be forced to limit or shut down operations in order to maintain compliance with the new rule, possibly leading to inadequate operating reserve margins with insufficient time to reliably retrofit existing generation or build new, replacement generation.
So the EPA pushes out a new reg with drastic limits on SO2 that were not in the original draft of the regulation. If left unchanged it will, per ERCOT, cause many coal-fired plants to shut down or limit their generation. And with 40% of electricity generated by coal in Texas, that will be a significant loss of generating power. Texas will then have to buy what it can’t generate itself and consumer prices will do precisely what candidate Obama hoped – and planned- for them to do. Now think of this and its effect across the country.
Right in the middle of a recession (he’s not the only one trying his best to shut down coal).
Of course that isn’t the only facet of the war on carbon based energy being waged by this administration. Oil and gas also have seen what has now become to be called a “permatorium” on offshore drilling enforced by the administration. Using the Deepwater Horizon blowout as its excuse, the administration has slowed permitting to a crawl and is dragging its feet as slowly as possible to, one suspects, fulfill Obama’s desire.
Study after study have shown that opening the process back up to at least the speed in which it was previous to the accident could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue. A real step toward jumpstarting the economy. Just yesterday another study made that very point:
Faster permitting of offshore oil and gas projects could create nearly 230,000 new jobs in 2012 and boost the economy by $44 billion, including a surge in tax revenue, according to an industry-funded study released Thursday.
The report by IHS CERA said job growth would extend beyond the Gulf Coast states, boosting employment indirectly as far away as California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Georgia.
The study, funded by the Gulf Economic Survival Team, a group of largely Louisiana-based energy and business interests, looks at data on the pace of permitting by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement through April 30.
That’s six months after the end of a federal moratorium on offshore drilling, which the government imposed after last year’s Deepwater Horizon accident killed 11 workers and triggered a 5 million-barrel oil spill.
Permit approvals take 95 percent longer now than before the spill, the study says.
You can read the study for yourself here [pdf]. But that last number is telling. There’s no reason for it. The industry has stepped up and raised the bar significantly on safety. The numbers quoted in the study projecting jobs and revenue are for 2012. What administration concerned with jobs wouldn’t leap at such low hanging fruit? This one. Compared to historical trends, pending exploration plans are up by nearly 90%, approvals are down by 85% ,and the approval process has slowed from an average of 36 to 131 days.
And there’s no reason for it.
Meanwhile, what we have is tough to get to market. Take West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil.
As for WTI, inadequate pipeline infrastructure makes it difficult to get the stuff out of North America — and that depresses its price, especially when demand is also weak. Its problems could also get worse before they get better. Output from North America is growing faster than expected. Canadian producers, for example, recently said output will grow from 2.7 million barrels a day to 3.4 million by 2014 and North Dakota production is surging. Meanwhile efforts to build new pipelines are mired in political controversy.
And they’ll remain mired in political controversy as long as this administration is in power. Slowly, but surely, a nation with huge energy resources is being strangled by a government and President who want to intentionally raise energy prices. Inadequate pipeline infrastructure means less product makes it to market. Less product in the market place means higher prices for what does make it there. Who pays? Consumers.
However, proposals and applications to build pipelines, submitted in 2008, still await action:
In September 2008 TransCanada applied to build a new pipeline — the Keystone XL — to bring diluted bitumen from the oil-rich tar sands of Alberta to thirsty American refineries on the Gulf Coast. It is hardly a radical proposal. Canadian crude has been flowing to the U.S. for decades. Another Canadian company — Enbridge — operates the Clipper pipeline across the Canadian border to Chicago. In July 2010 TransCanada began operating its Keystone pipeline from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma, which is a major storage and pricing depot…TransCanada estimates that building the pipeline will mean more than $20 billion — $13 billion from TransCanada itself — in investment and 13,000 new American jobs in construction and related manufacturing. The company also expects more than 118,000 "spin-off" jobs during the two years of construction. TransCanada says it has signed building contracts with four major U.S. unions. It projects that construction will generate $600 million in new state and local tax revenue and that over its life the pipeline will generate another $5.2 billion in property taxes. The Energy Policy Research Foundation in Washington estimates that by linking to the XL, oil producers in North Dakota’s Bakken region will enjoy efficiency gains of between $36.5 million and $146 million annually. Lower transport costs will mean savings for Gulf Coast refiners of $473 million annually if the pipeline meets conservative expectations of shipping 400,000 barrels per day.
Jobs and revenue (in addition to those previously cited in the study), there for the taking, and this administration sits and waits.
And of course, the newest controversy to hit the energy community as to be used as an excuse not to act has to do with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. This is a 64 year old technology that has been used in the US on over a million wells. Suddenly, after news of massive new findings of natural gas in shale formations, it is a problem. And, of course, once it can be officially designated as a problem area, it must be investigated and regulated by the federal government. Complaints of ground water contamination have derailed the exploitation of these energy assets while the politicians argue, dither and delay. With those delays, again, go thousands upon thousands of potential jobs for Americans.
Name a reason for the sorry shape our economy is in and the government’s apparent refusal to aggressively move to help the energy industry create hundreds of thousands of jobs? Review that video again. It’s not long, but it plainly gives you the reason.
Is that what your government is there to do?
CNN Money headlines an article “US loses 1.3 billion exiting Chrysler” and then says:
U.S. taxpayers likely lost $1.3 billion in the government bailout of Chrysler, the Treasury Department announced Thursday.
The government recently sold its remaining 6% stake in the company to Italian automaker Fiat. It wrapped up the 2009 bailout that was part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program six years early.
"The fact that the company has done so well — that they were able to go out and raise private capital to repay us the loan so quickly, is really the big story," said Tim Massad, Treasury assistant secretary for financial stability.
If the company has done so well, why are taxpayers out $1.3 billion?
Well apparently because the government couldn’t wait to sell their shares to a foreign company, Fiat, giving the Italian automaker a majority share in Chrysler:
Fiat paid the Treasury a total of $560 million for the remaining shares, as well as rights to shares held by the United Auto Workers retiree trust. Fiat now owns a 53.5% stake in the company.
And CNN continues to propagate the myth that Chrysler paid back its loans early:
Originally, the government committed a total of $12.5 billion to the struggling automaker, Old Chrysler, and the company’s newly formed Chrysler Group. Of those funds, $11.2 billion have been returned through principal repayments, interest and cancelled commitments, the Treasury said. The new Chrysler Group paid back $5.1 billion in loans in May.
Actually that’s not at all the case:
The Obama administration already forgave more than $4 billion of that debt when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Taxpayers are never getting that money back.
The Obama administration’s bailout agreement with Fiat gave the Italian car company a “Incremental Call Option” that allows it to buy up to 16% of Chrysler stock at a reduced price. But in order to exercise the option, Fiat had to first pay back at least $3.5 billion of its loan to the Treasury Department. But Fiat was having trouble getting private banks to lend it the money. Enter Obama Energy Secretary Steven Chu who has signaled that he will approve a fuel-efficient vehicle loan to Chrysler for … wait for it … $3.5 billion.
So, to recap, the Obama Energy Department is loaning a foreign car company $3.5 billion so that it can pay the Treasury Department $7.6 billion even though American taxpayers spent $13 billion to save an American car company that is currently only worth $5 billion.
There’s your story. Taxpayers mugged again by the Obama administration. Film at 11.