Saturday, March 22, 2008

While You Were Out, March 22

A recurring section dealing with the news that happens while the media occupies itself with the horse race.

Meeting Quotas

Street vendor Israel Rodriguez went fishing last month and never came back. Two days later, his family found his body buried in a plastic bag, classified by the Colombian army as a guerrilla fighter killed in battle.

Human rights activists say the Feb. 17 death is part of a deadly phenomenon called "false positives" in which the armed forces allegedly kill civilians, usually peasants or unemployed youths, and brand them as leftist guerrillas.

A macabre facet of a general increase in "extrajudicial killings" by the military, "false positives" are a result of intense pressure to show progress in Colombia's U.S.-funded war against leftist insurgents, the activists say.

Colombia and its President, Alvaro Uribe, are supported by billions of dollars in United States military aid in its ongoing battle with leftist guerrilla group, FARC. And it is in an effort to maintain that support the Uribe government seems to be meeting (intangible) quotas through rather dubious means.

Activists in the US claim that the US is not "doing enough, as required by law, to bar US funding to Colombian military units that have drawn allegations of the killings and other human rights violations."

Sabotaging Anti-Fraud Legislation:

Last May, facing growing cases of fraud and increasing spending overseas, the Justice Department introduced plans to force companies to notify the government about evidence of contract abuse worth $5 million or more. Currently, contractors report evidence of abuse on a voluntary basis, and the number of company-reported fraud cases has declined steadily over the past 15 years.

By November, after it left the Justice Department and was published in the Federal Register, the proposed rule specifically exempted "contracts to be performed outside the United States."

The Justice Department and the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction have asked the exemption be eliminated before the rule becomes law. Additionally, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has threatened to block the loophole in the federal budget if the administration does not do away with it.

OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy has repeatedly declined to comment on the loophole or how it was added to the overall fraud crackdown.

That's right, the administration managed to slip a statute exempting overseas contracting firms from reporting fraud into a bill that was specifically designed to do just the opposite. Ballsy. Do we need any more evidence that the United States as a country isn't the primary concern for this administration? If so, more will probably follow shortly.

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