Former workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

WASHINGTON — KBR employees working in Iraq stole weapons, artwork and even gold to make spurs for cowboy boots, two former company workers told Senate Democrats on Monday.

Appearing before a Democrats-only panel looking into allegations of contracting abuses in Iraq, the witnesses accused their former co-workers of widespread improper activity.


Linda Warren, former employee of KBR, shows the flag she brought back from Iraq during testimony on Capitol Hill on Monday. Warren said many of her colleagues stole numerous items while doing reconstruction work in Iraq.
SUSAN WALSH
: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Read moreFormer workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

DynCorp Manager Used Armored Car To Transport Hookers in Iraq

Some explosive testimony this afternoon from a panel of whistleblowers testifying before the Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee on contractor abuse in Iraq.

A contractor died when a DynCorp manager used an employee’s armored car to transport prostitutes, according to Barry Halley, a Worldwide Network Services employee working under a DynCorp subcontract.

“DynCorp’s site manager was involved in bringing prostitutes into hotels operated by DynCorp. A co-worker unrelated to the ring was killed when he was travelling in an unsecure car and shot performing a high-risk mission. I believe that my co-worker could have survived if he had been riding in an armored car. At the time, the armored car that he would otherwise have been riding in was being used by the contractor’s manager to transport prostitutes from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Other revelations:

– Kellogg Brown & Root contractors used to destroy countless quantities of still-usable equipment that was difficult to transport in “massive burn pits” that were “burning 24 hours a day.”

– KBR’s ice foreman “was cheating the troops out of ice at the same time that he was trading the ice for DVDs, CDs, food and other items at the Iraqi shops across the street.”

– When KBR whistleblower Frank Cassaday reported weapons looting, he was placed in a jail tent by KBR security.

– KBR employees looted Iraqi palaces for treasure to sell on eBay.

Monday, April 28th, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Source: Muckraked

Wall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin

April 28 (Bloomberg) — As farmers confront mounting costs and riots erupt from Haiti to Egypt over food, Garry Niemeyer is paying the price for Wall Street’s speculation in grain markets.

Commodity-index funds control a record 4.51 billion bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans through Chicago Board of Trade futures, equal to half the amount held in U.S. silos on March 1. The holdings jumped 29 percent in the past year as investors bought grain contracts seeking better returns than stocks or bonds. The buying sent crop prices and volatility to records and boosted the cost for growers and processors to manage risk.

Niemeyer, who farms 2,200 acres in Auburn, Illinois, won’t use futures to protect the value of the crop he will harvest in October. With corn at $5.9075 a bushel, up from $3.88 last year, he says the contracts are too costly and risky. Investors want corn so much that last month they paid 55 cents a bushel more than grain handlers, the biggest premium since 1999.

Read moreWall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin

U.S. Credit Card Debt Soars to Unprecedented Heights

WASHINGTON—Studies indicate that credit card defaults and related write-offs increased drastically since 2006. Today, lenders write off 33 percent more in credit card debt than they did two years ago.

Statistics show that about 35 percent of all credit card holders are already exhibiting signs of possible default. Late credit card payments result in fees many consumers can’t afford.

Credit card debt accelerated to unprecedented heights since bank loans began to dry up due to mortgage defaults. Total U.S. credit card debt reached almost $800 billion in November 2007, up from around $680 billion in March of last year, according to the latest available government statistics.

In the aftermath of the U.S. mortgage crisis, the credit card bubble may be next to burst. In the past few years, banks have aggressively marketed credit card ownership and usage to consumers with limited income and low credit scores. Credit card standards remain lax, while loan standards have tightened to a degree.

Read moreU.S. Credit Card Debt Soars to Unprecedented Heights

Gasoline May Soon Cost $10 a Gallon.

Big New Shock at the Pump Forecast by Two Analysts

Get ready for another economic shock of major proportions — a virtual doubling of prices at the gas pump to as much as $10 a gallon.

That’s the message from a couple of analytical energy industry trackers, both of whom, based on the surging oil prices, see considerably more pain at the pump than most drivers realize.

Gasoline nationally is in an accelerated upswing, having jumped to $3.58 a gallon from $3.50 in just the past week. In some parts of the country, including New York City and the West Coast, gas is already sporting a price tag above $4 a gallon. There was a pray-in at a Chevron station in San Francisco on Friday led by a minister asking God for cheaper gas, and an Arco gas station in San Mateo, Calif., has already raised its price to a sky-high $4.62.

Read moreGasoline May Soon Cost $10 a Gallon.

Ted Turner Repeats Call For Population Curb

Says diminishing farmland will lead to food riots, despite being behind corn-based ethanol push

Says diminishing farmland will lead to food riots, despite being behind corn-based ethanol push
Billionaire Globalist Ted Turner, who earlier this month predicted that global warming would eventually lead to cannibalism, has repeated his call to curb population growth, claiming that disappearing farmland will cause food riots, despite the fact that Turner himself is behind the push to grow corn-based ethanol, an industry the UN has blamed for food shortages and increased poverty.

“There are a lot of different problems being caused by an ever-increasing number of people in a finite-sized world,” Turner told CNBC’s Bob Pisani. “The resources of the planet just can’t keep up with the demand and I’m afraid this going to be more commonplace. I’m afraid we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. It’s very complicated I do want to say.”

Watch the video.

“We’ve had warnings for a number of years,” Turner said. “Grain stocks have been dropping every year for the last 10 years or pretty close to that – the reserves. And, the environment in so many different areas is being – the pressure being put on it by the ever-increasing number of people and the number of people using more stuff and more energy – that’s what ‘s leading to global climate change and the over-fishing of the oceans,” he added.

Read moreTed Turner Repeats Call For Population Curb

OPEC president sees $200 oil possible

ALGIERS (Reuters) – OPEC President Chakib Khelil does not rule out oil prices reaching $200 a barrel, even though supply is adequate, because the market is driven by the dollar’s slide, Algerian government newspaper El Moudjahid reported on Monday.

“Questioned about a possible rise which would go to $200, the minister did not rule out this eventuality, explaining that this rise is indexed from now on to the fall in the dollar or to the rise in the dollar,” El Moudjahid reported.

“In terms of fundamentals, stocks are high, demand is easing, supply is satisfactory. Therefore normally, without geo-political problems and the fall of the dollar, the prices of oil would not be at this level,” he was quoted as saying.

Khelil, a former World Bank official, is also Algeria’s Minister of Energy and Mines.

He added: “The prices are high due to the fact of the recession in the United States and the economic crisis which has touched several countries, a situation which has an effect on the devaluation of the dollar, and therefore each time the dollar falls one percent, the price of the barrel rises by $4, and of course vice versa,” he was quoted as saying in brief remarks to journalists on Sunday.

He added that: “If this (the dollar) strengthens by 10 percent, it is probable that (oil) prices will fall by 40 percent.”

If the U.S. economic situation improved from now to the end of the year “that would help the market to stabilize.”

“But I don’t think that an increase in production would help lower prices, because there is a balance between supply and demand and the stocks of gasoline in the United States have recorded a surplus and are at their highest level for five years.”

The independent El Watan newspaper reported Khelil as saying that if the dollar’s value on currency markets stayed as it was at present, then oil prices would be expected to remain at between $80 and $110 a barrel.

(Reporting by William Maclean; editing by James Jukwey)

Mon Apr 28, 2008 5:59am EDT

Source: Reuters

The food crisis begins to bite

Rioting in Haiti. Rationing in America. Queues in Egypt. Protests in Afghanistan. As the price of food continues to soar, the impact is being felt by people around the globe

CHINA

The roaring economy and an ever expanding middle class have had a particularly profound effect on food prices, particularly rice and wheat. Because of industrialisation, rice planting fell from 33 million hectares in 1983 to 29 million by 2006 and China now imports more than ever, placing a major strain on international supplies. Despite freezing prices, rampant inflation means the cost of food has risen by 21 per cent this year.

USA

In a land where supposedly the rich are thin and the poor are overweight, one of the largest cash and carry stores, Sam’s Club, announced this week it would limit customers to take home a maximum of four bags of rice. The move came a day after Costco Wholesale Corp, the biggest US warehouse-club operator, limited bulk rice purchases in some stores and warned that customers had begun stockpiling certain goods.

NORTH KOREA

Even during times of relative stability, North Korea has shown itself to be inept at feeding its population. During the 1990s a famine caused by poor harvests killed an estimated two to three million people. On Wednesday the World Food Programme warned that the country could again be plunged into famine because of the spiralling cost of rice and there was an estimated shortfall of 1.6 million tons of rice and wheat.

EGYPT

Up to 50 million Egyptians rely on subsidised bread and this year Cairo has estimated it will cost $2.5bn. But with the price of wheat rocketing in the past year there are fears the country has plunged into a “bread crisis”. Queues are now double the length they were a year ago. Inflation hit 12.1 per cent in February with prices for dairy goods up 20 per cent and cooking oils 40 per cent

VENEZUELA

Latin American countries were some of the first nations to voice their concern at rising wheat prices, particularly after thousands of people in Mexico took to the streets at the beginning of 2007 to take part in the so-called “Tortilla Protests”. This week the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba’s vice-president flew to Caracas to announce a joint $100m scheme to combat the impact of rising food prices on the region’s poor.

BRAZIL

On Wednesday Brazil became the latest major rice producer to temporarily suspend exports because of soaring costs and domestic shortages. In recent weeks Latin American countries and African nations have asked for up to 500,000 tons of rice from Brazil which will now not be delivered. Brazil’s agricultural ministry has said it has to ensure that the country has at least enough rice reserves to last the next six to eight months.

IVORY COAST

Some of the worst instability resulting from high food prices has been felt in West Africa. One person was killed and dozens were injured last month as riots tore through Ivory Coast after the prices of meat and wheat increased by 50 per cent within a week. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was forced to cut taxes to halt the disorder. Violent protests have also broken out in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

AFGHANISTAN

There have been street protests about the soaring cost of food in a country almost entirely reliant on imports of wheat. Already utterly impoverished, the plight of Afghans has worsened because Pakistan has cut its regular flour supply. The government has sought to assure citizens that there is sufficient food and has set aside $50m for additional imports. The price of wheat has risen by around 60 per cent in the last year.

THAILAND

The price of rice in the world’s largest exporter rose to $1,000 a ton yesterday and experts warned that it will continue to rise. This is because of the massive demand from the Philippines which is struggling to secure supplies after India and several other producers halted exports. The government has said it can meet the export requests. Indonesia has said it is withholding purchases for a year because prices are so high.

EAST AFRICA

Hundreds of thousands of poor Africans in Uganda and Sudan are to lose out on a vital source of food after one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations said it was cutting aid to 1.5m people. Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, blamed soaring costs and countries failing to live up to aid commitments for the fact that the number of people the charity can help will fall by almost a quarter.

INDIA

The country as added to the problems facing many countries in the region by halting its export of rice, except for its premium basmati product. This has left countries normally reliant on Indian exports, such as the Philippines, searching for alternative supplies. India has more than half of the world’s hungriest people and its priority is to safeguard domestic supply. But it too has watched as the cost of food has soared, not just rice but cooking oil, pulses and even vegetables. India has this year forecast a record grain harvest but experts warned farm productivity will have to rise much faster if the nation is to feed its 1.1bn people and avoid a food security crisis. Around two-thirds of India’s population are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods but agriculture is growing much more slowly than the overall economy.

HAITI

The poorest country in the Western hemisphere has seen a three to four-fold increase in the number of so-called boat people trying to leave because of food shortages. Already gripped by wretched poverty, the food crisis triggered riots that led to the death of six people. Haiti’s wretched food security situation is a result of “liberalisation measures” forced on the country after former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was returned to power.

THE PHILIPPINES

The government has been desperately trying to secure alternative sources of rice to counteract the decision of a number of nations to halt rice exports. The country’s National Food Authority, which handles rice imports for the government, has now said it plans to increase imports 42 per cent to 2.7m tons this year. This could cost $1.3bn if it does not increase the price of the subsidised rice it is selling to people. But the Philippines is responsible for producing 85 per cent of its own food and international experts believe the country will handle this crisis. The government has also been encouraging consumers and even fast food restaurants to be more frugal and be careful not to waste food. The government is confident it will be able to source sufficient supplies from Vietnam and Thailand.

EUROPE

Less vulnerable to food price fluctuations than emerging nations, but food prices across Europe have nonetheless increased. In Britain wholesale prices of food have increased by 7.4 per cent over the past 12 months, roughly three times the headline rate of inflation. According to the government’s own statistics grocery bills have gone up by an average of £750 over the same period, the equivalent of a 12 per cent rise.

By Jerome Taylor and Andrew Buncombe
Friday, 25 April 2008

Source: The Independent

Investigators: Millions in Iraq contracts never finished

WASHINGTON – Millions of dollars of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete, federal investigators say.

The audit released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provides the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion. It also comes as several lawmakers have said they want the Iraqis to pick up more of the cost of reconstruction.

The special IG’s review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. About 112 of those agreements were ended specifically because of the contractors’ actual or anticipated poor performance.

In addition, the audit said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children’s hospital in Basra, only to “essentially terminate” the project in 2006 because of monthslong delays.

Read moreInvestigators: Millions in Iraq contracts never finished

Food Riots and Speculators

Food riots have broken out across the globe destabilizing large parts of the developing world. China is experiencing double-digit inflation. Indonesia, Vietnam and India have imposed controls over rice exports. Wheat, corn and soy beans are at record highs and threatening to go higher still. Commodities are up across the board. The World Food Program is warning of widespread famine if the West doesn’t provide emergency humanitarian relief. The situation is dire. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez summed it up like this, “It is a massacre of the world’s poor. The problem is not the production of food. It is the economic, social and political model of the world. The capitalist model is in crisis.”

Right on, Hugo. There is no shortage of food (This is disinformation – The Infinite Unknown); it’s just the prices that are making food unaffordable. Bernanke’s “weak dollar” policy has ignited a wave of speculation in commodities which is pushing prices into the stratosphere. The UN is calling the global food crisis a “silent tsunami”, but its more like a flood; the world is awash in increasingly worthless dollars that are making food and raw materials more expensive. Foreign central banks and investors presently hold $6 trillion in dollars and dollar-backed assets, so when the dollar starts to slide, the pain radiates through entire economies. This is especially true in countries where the currency is pegged to the dollar. That’s why most of the Gulf States are experiencing runaway inflation.

Read moreFood Riots and Speculators