Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mind on they money and they money on forklifts

Back on Feb 7th, Henry Waxman (D-CA) questioned unequivocal failure and Medal of Freedom recipient Paul Bremmer in front of a Congressional Oversight Committee. The congressional session focused on 8.8 billion dollars spent in Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority that remained unaccounted for. How do you get rid of almost 9 billion with no answers as to where it went? Well, here's a good way to get rid of half of it.

That money, it turned out, was loaded onto cargo planes by forklifts in the form of $1,$5, $10, and $20 dollar bills. In case you're wondering how much 4 billion dollars weights, it's slightly over 363 tons. Yes, tons of small bills were flown into one of the least stable regions in the world, to be distributed by one of the most notoriously corrupt administrations in our nation's history, with no systems of accountability in place. Here's one of the original reports on the story from Reuters.

One of my favorite tidbits of reporting on this story came from Tim Grieve over at Salon:
"Rep. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is predictably but not unreasonably apoplectic about the shipments. 'Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone?' he asked during a hearing on the Hill Tuesday." I think the word apoplectic is hilarious. Also hilarious is the Daily Show's take on the story, available here.

I bring this almost month-old story up now because the New York Times published an Op-Ed today criticizing the coverage of this story by the Mainstream Media (MSM). I was surprised to say the least that this Op-Ed came out now, too late to serve as effective damage control, yet too high profile to be seen as anything but. A NY Times link will expire after a week or so because of that TimesSelect bullshit, but I'll give a quick synopsis of what seems like a pretty one-sided account of what happened in Baghdad.

The author of the piece is John B Taylor, former UnderSec of the Treasury and author of the book Global Finacial Warriors: The Untold Story of International Finance in the Post 9/11 World. The first part of his argument appears to be that in post-Saddam Iraq, there was a great danger of the Iraqi financial system collapsing, and that until new Iraqi money could be printed we needed to essentially flood the country with American dollars taken from Saddam's own frozen bank accounts. The second part was to print new Iraqi dinar once some sort of stability had taken told.

Now, not being an economist, I can't really attack this plan on economic grounds, and in the best-of-all-possible-worlds one could see how this theory might work. The problem that critics of this program had, including Rep Waxman, is that, according to Paul Bremmer himself, no one knows where the cash went. "Iraqi Foreign Ministries lacked good payroll records," Bremmer admits at the hearing. Contrast that with what Taylor writes in today's NY Times.

"During April, United States Treasury officials in Baghdad worked with the military and the Iraqi Finance Ministry officials — who had painstakingly kept the payroll records despite the looting of the ministry — to make sure the right people were paid. The Iraqis supplied extensive documentation of each recipient of a pension or paycheck. Treasury officials who watched over the payment process in Baghdad in those first few weeks reported a culture of good record keeping."

So either the Appointed Head of the CPA doesn't know what he's talking about, or Taylor is lying. Taylor doesn't respond directly to Bremmer's testimony in front of Congress at all in his piece. He simply pounds forward, claiming, "This success paved way for the second stage of the plan." I'm sorry, but if you are attempting to refute the media's coverage of this topic, you simply have to directly address the the genesis of the controversy, namely Bremmer's testimony.

Anyone who has worked for this administration, especially concerning the allocation of funds to Iraq, has a greater burden than usual to prove themselves trustworthy. Taylor skirts the issue, instead opting to describe the plan, claim it works, then deride the media's coverage of it. By failing to address Bremmer's words as he said them, Taylor fails to clear up the issue at hand, and adds only another temporary distraction to full public disclosure of just how wrongly the Iraqi war funds were spent. I mean it was forkloads full of cash, you gotta prove you know where it's going...