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01/30/2006

The Dale Stoffel mystery solved

Hazem_shaalan

Last January 22, I posed a question on this blog: Who killed Dale Stoffel?

Today—one year and one week later—I finally got something close to an answer. Deborah Hastings of the Associated Press has published a story that identifies, if not the actual trigger men, at least those who likely put the hit out on Stoffel: a shadowy Lebanese businessman named Raymond Zayna (a culprit suggested to me some time ago by a source close to Dale Stoffel) and Hazem Shaalan, the former Iraqi defense minister.

In essence, Stoffel was silenced because he'd started to kick up a fuss in Washington over millions of dollars of work that he and his business associates hadn't been paid for because of widespread corruption in the Iraqi ministry of defense. (An excellent article by Aram Roston in Washington Monthly last June adds much useful background to Hastings' story.)

But here's today's big shocker:

In May 2005, the Iraqi Supreme Board of Audit presented a confidential report on the Defense Ministry to new Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

It found that widespread fraud under Shaalan had resulted in the disappearance of virtually the entire $1.3 billion procurement budget. The report examined 89 contracts and found that all had been paid in full, via cash bank transfers, in advance of any work being done.

All were awarded to Iraqis acting as intermediaries, including Stoffel's contact, Zayna, and not to the suppliers themselves.

The finance minister called it "possibly one of the greatest thefts" in Iraqi history.

Under the Wye Oak-CLI contract, nearly $25 million had been deposited by Zayna in a Lebanese bank "contrary to general contracting provisions," the audit said.

In October, 27 arrest warrants were issued for Defense Ministry officials, including Shaalan. But by then, he had immunity from prosecution because he was a member of parliament.

He also had left the country. He lives in Britain and denies wrongdoing, though he acknowledges transferring $500 million in ministry funds to a Lebanese bank, to buy armored vehicles, he said. He ran for re-election in December and lost.

The last Bob Irey [Stoffel's business partner] heard of Zayna, the middleman remains in Iraq. He continues to bill the Defense Ministry for work done under the Taji contract.

The theft of $1.3 billion in U. S. funds, it seems to me, ought to be cause for banner headlines and congressional hearings. (And, if this piece by Ed Harriman in The London Review of Books has any validity, at least $12 billion earmarked for reconstruction in Iraq  can't be properly accounted for.)

From what I can tell, Ms. Hastings' story seems to have gotten buried by the comparatively few news outlets that bothered to carry it.

Let's hope the Stoffel saga doesn't end here.

Posted by Rodger on January 30, 2006 at 01:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

01/29/2006

Woodruff seriously injured in Iraq

Woodward

There's a report just out of Iraq that ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were seriously injured by a roadside bomb near Taji:

Woodruff and Vogt are undergoing surgery at the U.S. military hospital in Balad. Both men suffered head injuries. Woodruff sustained shrapnel wounds and Vogt was hit by shrapnel in the head and suffered a broken shoulder.

Woodruff, Vogt and their four-man team were traveling in a convoy with Iraqi security forces. They had been embedded with the 4th Infantry Division and were in a mechanized vehicle when the explosive went off. The exposion was followed by small arms fire ….

Woodruff and his crew had been traveling in a U.S. armored humvee, but then transferred into an Iraqi vehicle—which was believed to be a much softer target for attacks ….

[Both Woodruff and Vogt] were wearing body armor, helmets and ballistic glasses. Woodruff and Vogt were taken by medevac to the Green Zone to receive treatment. They were then flown by helicopter to Balad which is about a 20-minute ride from Baghdad ….

After Septermber 11, Bob Woodruff was one of the first television journalists on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Soldier and milblogger John Beard—who spent part of a tour of duty on convoys in Taji—reports:

[Woodruff] was riding in a lead Iraqi military vehicle and in the turret. This is what smells like a set up to me. Very rarely would a gunner not be in the turret of a military gun truck. The insurgency rarely ever targets the lead vehicle. The standard attack mode is hit a convoy near the center and split or disrupt the convoy and follow up with a attack on ground. Very likely someone in the Iraqi unit tipped the Sunni insurgency about the presence of the journalist in the lead vehicle.

Woodruff is undergoing surgery and he and the cameraman are both in serious condition. He probably was sent to Anaconda for surgery although there is a small CSH (combat surgical hospital) at Taji.

Never ever should jounalist be allowed to replace gunners in the turret of vehicles in a military convoy. This is why.

As dangerous as the turret gunner was this was the prized seat for all our American gunners over there. Crazy bastards love to ride the turret gun.

Taji itself is the site of the Iraqi General called "Chemical Ali" home base. There are Americans, Australians and the home of the first Iraqi division at Taji. I spent 6 weeks there in March/April 2005.

Taji is also the town where contractors Dale Stoffel and Joe Wemple were ambushed in December of 2004.

Please join me in praying for Woodruff and Vogt's speedy recovery.

UPDATE: Woodruff and Vogt have been upgraded to stable condition following surgery and are due to be transported to Germany, probably tonight. Michelle Malkin has a list of soldiers killed or injured by IEDs in Iraq in the past week. Please add them and their families to your prayers.

Posted by Rodger on January 29, 2006 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

01/28/2006

Yo, Senator! You tryin' a make me look like a cafone?

Santorum2

It's like watching a shouting match on the kindergarten playground.

First, Senator Harry Reid issued a shrill press release on lobby reform in which he dusted off the old fox-guarding-the-henhouse analogy: "The idea of Republicans reforming themselves is like asking John Gotti to clean up organized crime."

One suspects Reid forgot the Dapper Don died of cancer in prison in 2002 and that he was half-remembering John Kerry's line from the third presidential debate: "Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country."

At any rate, so pleased was the minority leader with his little turn of phrase that he used it again that evening on PBS's "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" to attack Rick Santorum: "Having Senator Santorum talk about [lobbying] reform is like having John Gotti talk about doing something about organized crime."

Santorum—who's the son of an Italian immigrant* (in much the same by-the-way fashion that John Kerry served in Vietnam)—understandably took offense at the distinguished senator from Nevada's comment: "While you may think my leadership in the Senate's effort to reform the country's existing lobbying laws is fair game for attack, my ancestry is not," Santorum said in a letter to Reid. "I join leaders in the Italian-American community in expressing outrage over the repeated slurs aimed at millions of us."

The Order of the Sons of Italy in America echoed Santorum's outrage: "For the Senate minority leader to associate the highest ranking Italian-American in the Senate with a criminal like John Gotti is beyond any political issues that may exist between the two parties," the group says. "It shows a profound lack of respect for a Senate colleague as well as the nation's estimated 26 million law-abiding Italian-Americans." (The Columbus Citizens Foundation of New York City has issued a similar statement.)

Reid has subsequently apologized for the press release:

"I am writing to apologize for the tone of this document and the decision to single out individual senators for criticism in it," the Nevada Democrat wrote in a letter yesterday that said he regrets "the current political climate in which policy disputes escalate too quickly into personal condemnation."

But, interestingly, there's been no apology at all to Santorum. In fact, quite the contrary:

Jim Manley, Mr. Reid's spokesman, said he thought Mr. Santorum was being "thin-skinned" about his ties to lobbyists.

"Who knew he was Italian?" Mr. Manley said.

Manley's non-apology strikes me as roughly the equivalent of Jim Seif asking "Who knew Lynn Swann was African-American?"

While I can't really get too worked up about defending a guy who compared the sacrifices of young men and women in uniform to displaying a Santorum bumper sticker on your car, I do think the senator's entitled to an apology comparable to the one his colleagues received.

So … Harry, tell Ricky you're sorry for calling him a goombah. And don't let me catch you doing it ever again.

*Albeit an Italian immigrant who earned his living as a clinical psychologist.

Posted by Rodger on January 28, 2006 at 03:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rich white guy sings the blues

Seif

Bill Scranton can't seem to catch a break.

A member of the founding family of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the son of a popular governor, Bill was tailor-made for politics: handsome, Yale-educated, articulate and quick witted. He was a shoo-in for the governor's mansion in 1986—having served two terms as lieutenant governor under the affable Dick Thornburgh and facing off against a three-time loser, Bob Casey.

Then he bumped into another young politician who grew up in a town that bore his family name: Jim Carville (of Carville, Louisiana).

Carville, as Casey's campaign manager, produced a now-legendary ad that depicted Bill as a former pot-smoking hippie in the thrall of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In less than a week, Bill's poll numbers tanked—and Casey squeaked into office in November on a razor-thin margin of 79,000 votes.

After the defeat, Bill went into a two-decade, self-imposed political exile, first in California and later in his home town of Scranton.

Unfortunately, Bill chose to mount his comeback in the same year that celebrated Steeler wide receiver Lynn Swann would elect to throw his helmet into the ring. A primary campaign—which, in most years, would have been a cakewalk for someone with Bill's credentials—has turned into nightmare alley.

After firing two campaign managers, Bill last week had to fire a third. Jim Seif—who has long imagined himself a Republican Carville—learned painfully last Wednesday that hardball trash-talking has to be carefully modulated, particularly when the tv cameras are rolling:

Seif: The—uh, uh—Bill Scranton has—and I've known him for 30 years now—as much integrity as any person I've ever known. And that means intellectual integrity as well. His decision on the primary was made after a great deal of thought, a great deal of anger that one of the candidates had been captured by Senate leadership, by the party, by others, and directed into pretending he had the victory sewn up and pretending that he was the outsider. In fact, the rich white guy in this campaign is Lynn Swann. He's the one that hangs around the, uh …

Swann staffer Ray Zaborney: That's one of the most ridiculous and insulting things that I think I've heard in politics. You're two-for-two tonight—two of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard in politics.

Oops.

Inside an hour, Bill had fired his third campaign manager of the race and was looking for a fourth.

Were Bill the frontrunner in the race, his campaign might be able to rebound from Seif's gaffe. But with a decision from the Republican State Committee on whether to endorse a candidate or have an open primary (which last happened in 1978, the year Bill first ran for statewide office) due any day, I'm predicting the party's eminences grises will use the opportunity to end an already-costly primary battle.

Right now, 2010 looks to me like a much more promising year for rich white-guy candidates in Pennsylvania.

NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I did some campaign speechwriting for Bill Scranton back in 1978; I also worked with Jim Seif on the staff of the Thornburgh-Scranton campaign. For what it's worth, I don't think Jim has a racist bone in his body. He's always struck me as somebody who'd love to be a "tough pol" but has too much decency bred into him to ever quite make the cut. It's a shame his two-week career as a campaign manager had to end in Trent Lott-Earl Butz fashion.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has trenchantly dissected the Seif affair:

We've come to expect such unthinking race-based smears from the Left. Now, we're witnessing the odious spectacle of a Republican operative engaging in the same sort of slander against a fellow Republican. Seif's sanctimonious comments about fighting for a colorblind society make his defiant defense of his flippant attack all the more galling. National Republicans ought to follow in Scranton's footsteps and condemn Seif's remarks as vigorously as they condemned similar attacks by Democrats on black GOP Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

I think Michelle and the whole center-right blogosphere is right to give Jim Seif a thorough drubbing. There's an automatic presumption by the left and the MSM that any person of color (or any member of an ethnic minority, for that matter) who supports Republican values is a traitor to his roots. What's all the more disturbing in this instance is that a well-respected Republican would help to perpetuate that odious notion.

That said, I want to reiterate that the racist tenor of the remark isn't characteristic of the man I know (or at least used to know). Regardless, it will almost certainly be the event by which Jim's 40-year political career is remembered.

UPDATE: California Conservative offers an interesting defense of Jim Seif:

For those readers who don’t know anything about Lynn Swann, he’s rich, he’s famous, he plays golf, he hangs out at the country club, evidently, where he rubs elbows with politicians and other power brokers. Oh, yeah, and he’s a Republican.

Who has not heard this (or similar) description applied generally by liberals to the image of most conservatives? It’s the perpetuation of a stereotype. Democrats would have you believe that only they represent the poor and the “people of color.” Fortunately, many know better.

We believe it was Seif’s genuine intention to merely turn the stereotype on its head. No malice or disprespect intended. Certainly not being “racist.” As campaign manager, one could argue, he was looking to score points for his candidate by pointing out the irony.

I buy his point that Seif was trying to turn a stereotype on its head. And I feel pretty confident, knowing Jim, that his intention wasn't to make a racial slur. But he could have easily accomplished the same objective—without any racial overtones—by substituting the words "well-connected" for "white."

Jim was right to suggest that Scranton—though politically more experienced than Swann—is much more the outsider. He's been out of the Pennsylvania limelight some for two decades now and doesn't have strong name recognition here in the Western end of the state, where dissatisfaction with Rendell is highest. Swann, by contrast, is well tied into both the Pittsburgh establishment and the Bush White House—and would very likely have captured the Republican State Committee's endorsement on February 11 even without Seif's help.

But once Seif injected skin color into his comments, he changed (if you'll pardon the expression) the whole complexion of the debate. And, unfortunately, he helped reinforce all the liberal cant one hears nowadays about African-American Republicans being Uncle Toms, Oreos, house slaves and the like.

In short, while Scranton may actually be the "dark horse" in this particular race, once Seif ventured down the "white Swann" path, his (and his boss's) goose was effectively cooked.

(PETA please note: No animals were in fact harmed in the making of the preceding sentence, although the English language was tortured within an inch of its life.)

Posted by Rodger on January 28, 2006 at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

01/27/2006

Happy Birthday, Wolfgang!

Mozart

Making people smarter and healthier for 250 years …

Posted by Rodger on January 27, 2006 at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

01/26/2006

No spit zone

Oath_of_the_horatii

I haven't had much to say about Joel Stein's infamous column in The Los Angeles Times, because his ignorance of all things military is so tragically self-evident. If a cursory reading of the piece weren't enough to convince you of the fact, Hugh Hewitt's radio interview of Stein certainly should:

HH: We have troops in Yemen, Mongolia, Djibouti, all across the globe in the Global War on Terror. Do you support those troops?

JS: It really...uh, the straight up troops? Or do you mean like...it really depends on the activity, but no, I don't...I don't believe that our forces should be a police force.

HH: And so, you would withdraw from everywhere in the world?

JS: But again, I think you've had people on your show, and you've got people much smarter than me, obviously, who are against the war. I mean, just have a simple argument against the war, for the war isn't what I mean to do with that column at all. I think that's been hashed out over time, and...

HH: I want to make sure I quote it correctly. "I don't support our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car." Evidently, supporting the troops is a bumper sticker position?

JS: It's not. Supporting the troops is. I think a lot of people have bumper stickers, and really don't do anything else, and are against the war, and have the bumper sticker anyway.

HH: And at the end, "I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after Vietnam." That's big of you.

Stein is so completely outmatched by Hewitt that, were it a boxing match rather than an interview, you'd expect the referee to step in at any moment and stop the fight. Still, it makes for a fascinating exchange.

But the last word on Stein's column belongs to Lt. Col. Steve Russell, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq (unspat upon, we trust, by Mr. Stein):

Mr. Stein’s tragedy is not his clear conviction but rather that he steals freedom from his sacrificing countrymen. He sees no moral dilemma with that—which is indicative of an attitude prevalent among some self-proclaimed, high-browed, educated types that believe there is somehow a moral superiority in non-involvement. To defend his position, Mr. Stein is critical of what he calls ‘American imperialism.’ To borrow what he surely intended as a denigrating analogy, we can indeed see parallels in attitude if not government and conquest.

Rome had its internal critics. So did Greece. But when the vast majority of Romans began to view the finer points of life as morally superior to the lower points of necessity, Roman youth lost their appreciation for what held Rome together in the first place. Soon, hired or conquered levies replaced Romans in the ranks. Why should Romans fight wars that they could not see any reason for fighting? After all, what impact did they have in Rome?

Eventually, the theory of a moral superiority in non-involvement met the cold steel of non-theoretically superior sword thrusts from Vandals and Huns that replaced Romans in the Roman empire.

It's a brilliant riposte. You owe to yourself to read every word.

UPDATE: Okay, well, maybe not entirely the last word.

Posted by Rodger on January 26, 2006 at 01:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

01/25/2006

Sticker shock

Santorum_2

Pity our men and women in uniform. Yesterday, they were assaulted from the left. Now we find that their sacrifices are being trivialized from the right.

At a recent campaign event in Pennsylvania, Republican Senator Rick Santorum described their service to our nation this way:

And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?

And no, he wasn't talking about a Support our Troops bumper sticker. He was talking about a Santorum for Senate bumper sticker. (Skeptics can watch the video in Quicktime here or in Windows Media here.)

Plainly, Pennsylvania's junior senator—long the poster boy of K Street conservatism—has come to believe that what's good for Santorum is good for America. This November, he'll have the chance to see if his constituents agree.

HT: Santorum Exposed.

UPDATE: In this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Senator Santorum denies that he was ever part of the "K Street project." Meanwhile, Chuck Muth—no fan of Rick Santorumargues: "There is nothing sinister about the K Street project …. It's just the way the game is played in your nation's capital.  It's always been that way.  And it always will."

Posted by Rodger on January 25, 2006 at 09:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Osama's Book Club

Rogue_state_blum_2

In the latest Osama bin Laden audiotape, there's an interesting reference:

If you (Americans) are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you. And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book "Rogue State," which states in its introduction: "If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the United States: First I would give an apology to all the widows and orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American interference in the nations of the world has ended once and for all."

As  Dan Darling has noted in his excellent analysis of the tape, the quote isn't taken from Rogue State, but another anti-U.S. screed by the same author: Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. "This indicates that bin Laden is not only familiar with Rogue State," writes Darling "which has been published in Arabic in Egypt and Lebanon, but that he may have Blum’s works in their entirety, once again indicating that he has been doing a great deal of reading since his disappearance in December 2001."

What it also indicates—as did the Michael Moore–My Pet Goat reference in the previous tape—is that bin Laden and his followers derive much of their worldview from America's moonbat left.

Blum—whose book now ranks at number 21 on Amazon—doesn't seem at all discomfited by the fact that his thinking is admired by a man responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 innoncent Americans on September 11. "I would not say that bin Laden has been any less moral than Washington has been," he told an interviewer.

Elsewhere Blum remarks:

Osama bin Laden and I happen to share an intense dislike for certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy and a liking for a certain book of mine. The American Empire needs to be corralled before it kills again, and bombs and tortures. If his ‘endorsement’ helps me to get my message to a lot more people, why should I reject it? The more people who are turned off by the empire’s crimes, the sooner the empire will fall.

To which I would add that the more people who are turned off by the reflexive blame-America-first mentality, which has become a staple, not only of Blum, Chomsky et al. but also of many Democrats who frankly should know better, the sooner we'll be able to confront, clearsightedly, the true axis of evil.

As Blum's comment evidences, not all jihadists wear turbans.

Posted by Rodger on January 25, 2006 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

01/24/2006

Nigeriana

Egip_in_nigeria

Another oil company has been attacked in Nigeria:

Eight policemen and one civilian were killed on Tuesday when an armed gang in military fatigues attacked the offices of the Italian oil company Agip in Nigeria and robbed a bank.

It was not clear if the attack, in the southern city of Port Harcourt, was carried out by the same group that has kidnapped four foreign oil workers and crippled Nigerian oil output by a tenth during a month-long campaign of violence in the world's eighth largest exporter.

Meanwhile, there's a report that agents of Nigeria's secret service have captured two suspects in the kidnapping of four expatriate Shell Oil employees by Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

Last week, the group—led by bin Laden admirer Mujahid Dokubo-Asari—vowed more attacks, so it's fairly safe to assume that the assault on Agip is their work.

Don't look for oil prices continue to drop—at least not until President Olusegun Obasanjo's government demonstrates that it can get a handle on the security situation in the Delta.

Posted by Rodger on January 24, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tainted love

Patty_murray_sings

Here's some seriously twisted logic for you:

Sen. Patty Murray said Friday that returning contributions from Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff would "taint" the tribes.

The state's senior senator, a Seattle Democrat, said there was nothing wrong with accepting more than $40,000 in campaign donations from out-of-state tribes represented by the disgraced lobbyist.

Abramoff's excesses have been halted, and Congress is considering myriad ethics reforms, she said.

The donations, from 1999 to 2005, placed Murray second among Senate Democrats and ninth overall in the Senate, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., organization that tracks money in politics.

Murray's logic (borrowed in part, it would seem, from Howard Dean) seems to run somehting like this: If I didn't accept the money directly from Abramoff but only from one of his clients (the tribes), then I shouldn't have to return it. In fact, if I do return it, I will makes the tribes look corrupt in having made the contribution to me.

This might make some sense if the tribes hadn't visibly profited from their support of Senator Murray. But that's simply not the case. A statement on her own website notes: "Murray has been a staunch supporter of legislation that affords Native Americans their right to economic self-determination, and has consistently voted for legislation that increases federal funding for tribes."

At a 2004 meeting with tribal leaders in Washington, DC, Murray said: “I’m proud to be your partner here in the United States Senate, and I know that by working together, we ensure that tribes get the respect and the support they deserve.”

Oh, Patty. As the song says, we love you, though you hurt us so.

Posted by Rodger on January 24, 2006 at 12:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)