Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why the US has really gone broke, by Chalmers Johnson

Why the US has really gone broke, by Chalmers Johnson: ..."In an important exegesis on Melman’s relevance to the current American economic situation, Thomas Woods writes: “According to the US Department of Defense, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation’s plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over _$7.29 trillion… The amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock” (7).

The fact that we did not modernise or replace our capital assets is one of the main reasons why, by the turn of the 21st century, our manufacturing base had all but evaporated. Machine tools, an industry on which Melman was an authority, are a particularly important symptom. In November 1968, a five-year inventory disclosed “that 64% of the metalworking machine tools used in US industry were 10 years old or older. The age of this industrial equipment (drills, lathes, etc.) marks the United States’ machine tool stock as the oldest among all major industrial nations, and it marks the continuation of a deterioration process that began with the end of the second world war. This deterioration at the base of the industrial system certifies to the continuous debilitating and depleting effect that the military use of capital and research and development talent has had on American industry.”

Nothing has been done since 1968 to reverse these trends and it shows today in our massive imports of equipment — from medical machines like _proton accelerators for radiological therapy (made primarily in Belgium, Germany, and Japan) to cars and trucks.

Our short tenure as the world’s lone superpower has come to an end. As Harvard economics professor Benjamin Friedman has written: “Again and again it has always been the world’s leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political influence, diplomatic influence and cultural influence. It’s no accident that we took over the role from the British at the same time that we took over the job of being the world’s leading lending country. Today we are no longer the world’s leading lending country. In fact we are now the world’s biggest debtor country, and we are continuing to wield influence on the basis of military prowess alone” (8).

Some of the damage can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that the US urgently needs to take. These include reversing Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, beginning to liquidate our global empire of over 800 military bases, cutting from the defence budget all projects that bear no relationship to national security and ceasing to use the defence budget as a Keynesian jobs programme.

If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don’t, we face probable national insolvency and a long depression
Every gun that is made, every warship launched,
every rocket fired signifies in the final sense,
a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,
those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers,
the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.
Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
--Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said,

“Because the administration actually cut taxes as we went to war. . . this war has, effectively, been entirely financed by deficits. The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war, and of this, almost $1 trillion is due directly to the war itself ..."
Stupidity got us into this mess,
and stupidity will get us out
--Homer, The Simpsons

The $2 Trillion Nightmare - New York Times

The $2 Trillion Nightmare - New York Times: "We’ve been hearing a lot about “Saturday Night Live” and the fun it has been having with the presidential race. But hardly a whisper has been heard about a Congressional hearing in Washington last week on a topic that could have been drawn, in all its tragic monstrosity, from the theater of the absurd.

The war in Iraq will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers not hundreds of billions of dollars, but an astonishing $2 trillion, and perhaps more. There has been very little in the way of public conversation, even in the presidential campaigns, about the consequences of these costs, which are like a cancer inside the American economy.

On Thursday, the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Both men talked about large opportunities lost because of the money poured into the war. “For a fraction of the cost of this war,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more.”

Mr. Hormats mentioned Social Security and Medicare, saying that both could have been put “on a more sustainable basis.” And he cited the committee’s own calculations from last fall that showed that the money spent on the war each day is enough to enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year, or make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants, or pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers.

What we’re getting instead is the stuff of nightmares. Mr. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia, has been working with a colleague at Harvard, Linda Bilmes, to document, among other things, some of the less obvious costs of the war. These include the obligation to provide health care and disability benefits for returning veterans. Those costs will be with us for decades.

Mr. Stiglitz noted that nearly 40 percent of the 700,000 troops from the first gulf war, which lasted just a month, have become eligible for disability benefits. The current war is approaching five years in duration.

“Imagine then,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “what a war — that will almost surely involve more than 2 million troops and will almost surely last more than six or seven years — will cost. Already we are seeing large numbers of returning veterans showing up at V.A. hospitals for treatment, large numbers applying for disability and large numbers with severe psychological problems.”

The Bush administration has tried its best to conceal the horrendous costs of the war. It has bypassed the normal budgetary process, financing the war almost entirely through “emergency” appropriations that get far less scrutiny.

Even the most basic wartime information is difficult to come by. Mr. Stiglitz, who has written a new book with Ms. Bilmes called “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” said they had to go to veterans’ groups, who in turn had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act, just to find out how many Americans had been injured in Iraq.

Mr. Stiglitz and Mr. Hormats both addressed the foolhardiness of waging war at the same time that the government is cutting taxes and sharply increasing non-war-related expenditures.

Mr. Hormats told the committee:

“Normally, when America goes to war, nonessential spending programs are reduced to make room in the budget for the higher costs of the war. Individual programs that benefit specific constituencies are sacrificed for the common good ... And taxes have never been cut during a major American war. For example, President Eisenhower adamantly resisted pressure from Senate Republicans for a tax cut during the Korean War.”

Said Mr. Stiglitz: “Because the administration actually cut taxes as we went to war, when we were already running huge deficits, this war has, effectively, been entirely financed by deficits. The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war, and of this, almost $1 trillion is due directly to the war itself ... By 2017, we estimate that the national debt will have increased, just because of the war, by some $2 trillion.”

Some former presidents — Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower — were quoted at the hearing on the need for accountability and shared sacrifice during wartime. But this is the 21st century. That ancient rhetoric can hardly be expected to compete for media attention, even in a time of war, with the giddy fun of S.N.L.

It’s a new era.

Friend's death shows cost of Iraq war

Friend's death shows cost of Iraq war - Yahoo! NewsBy TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Mar 15, 1:54 PM ET

In my nightmares, the helicopters still come out of a dark sky, two black spots barely visible against the backdrop of night.

Their swirling blades grow louder until they finally touch down on earth and fall silent. They look like giant steel bugs from another planet, bulbous robots with eyes of glass coming to take away their prey: seven human beings who woke one day in Iraq not knowing they would be dead by noon.

Six American soldiers. One Russian photographer.

"Ever been a pall bearer before?" a soldier asks in the darkness.

"No," I say. "What do I need to do?"

"Just carry him

There are no lights on this American base because of the threat of attack. And so it is dark, and quiet: a heavy, physical quiet with a body and a shape, one that bears down on my shoulders and makes it hard to breathe.

The soldiers are carrying stretchers to the aircraft. I help carry the last — on it is a large black pouch containing the body of my friend.

It is much heavier than I thought.

We push the stretcher through the open door of a Black Hawk, and I lean forward to rest my palm on the bag one last time.

I close my eyes, picturing my friend's eyes closed inside. A soldier reads the 23rd Psalm.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ..."

I step back, sobbing, and the helicopter blades start up again, slowly at first, spinning faster, growing louder, irreversible clocks forcing this moment to evaporate.

As they lift off I remain behind, sitting alone on a pile of sandbags, watching them vanish into the fluorescent, speckled backdrop of eternity overhead.


Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, 3,987 American soldiers and at least 128 journalists have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led war began. But to me, they were all just numbers until last year.

I first met Dmitry Chebotayev in April 2007. Just 29, he was on assignment for the Russian edition of Newsweek and several photo agencies.

At the U.S. military press center in Baghdad, I saw him poring over an online magazine spread of soldiers patrolling a grassy palm grove outside Baqouba. I was going there, and said he should, too.

As a teenager, I had gazed for hours at history books filled with similar images from Vietnam. I had always wondered what it was like.

Dmitry, I think, was afflicted by a similar curiosity — a profound hunger for experience. The lure of a war is illogical, impossible to explain. When you feel it, going is rarely a choice.

A week later, Dmitry joined me in Baqouba. We quickly became friends.

Like him, I had a woman in my life for more than six years whom I loved but had not married. Like him, I was using the lens of journalism to explore the world.

We shared meals, drank coffee late into the night and slept on cots in a tent full of soldiers. Especially, though, we searched for stories, and in Baqouba that meant searching for the war.

One of those days, May 6, 2007, began like many others.

We got up before dawn. We moved out with a platoon of four 70,000-pound armored vehicles known as Strykers. And we spent the morning at a police station mostly bored — until Army helicopters spotted a group of men apparently planting a bomb on a street corner.

We rushed to the Strykers and drove deeper into the city.

We paused on a broad dirt road Americans called "Trash Alley."

Everything was fine, until one of the Strykers began turning left — and somebody, somewhere, set off a massive bomb buried in the sewage system underground.


In my nightmares, I can still see the burgeoning, hellish ball of smoke filling the color TV monitor inside our vehicle.

The back hatch opens, and I am trailing soldiers through a tunnel of blurred vision and dust as yellow and red smoke grenades cast bizarre shadows.

I see a dead Iraqi man lying beside his mangled bicycle, crumpled against a wall from the pressure of the blast.

I see the Stryker's wreckage belching jet-black smoke as sparks rain down from the sky. Flaming hunks of debris are scattered among body parts and charred ammunition. A surreal mist is blanketing the ground.

The blackened, flesh-strewn hulk of twisted steel is barely recognizable, upside down. A severed leg is dangling off the back.

Soldiers rush forward with stretchers, looking for survivors. Only the driver is alive, pinned inside a front compartment, his hand crushed.

I can hear things sizzling, and I feel something is about to explode.

Then, we are ambushed again.

Insurgents fire and bullets ping off the Stryker's carcass. Soldiers crouching inside it and on surrounding rooftops fire back.

When the gunshots ease, I survey the scene nervously.

I circle around one body in particular: a man in a maroon shirt, lying face up. Carefully, deliberately, I take photo after photo, capturing it at different angles. The Stryker is just behind, shadowed by a large golden-domed mosque across the street. I think this is an Iraqi civilian in a dishdasha gown, perhaps one of the attackers.

I am expecting Dmitry to come running with his camera, but he does not appear. I think soldiers are keeping him back — photographing American casualties is often taboo.

Inside an abandoned house where we seek shelter, I ask where he is.

"Out front," a soldier says. "You OK?"

I am relieved, thankful.

I know we will share these stories later: a dangerous time, a brush with death, but we escaped unharmed.

Desperate to talk to Dmitry, I wander outside again. I still can't find him, and ask somebody else where he is.

Inside the house, a dozen red-eyed, mourning soldiers are sitting against the walls, staring angrily toward the harsh light outside.

Until this moment, I am an observer.

When a soldier answers, I become one of them.

I am numb.

Dmitry is outside on the ground near the door — the one wearing the maroon shirt. His blue flak jacket, helmet and sunglasses are gone. His smashed camera is on the ground beside him. His face is covered in dust.

When I gain the strength to go out and look, he is gone. Soldiers have carried him away.

Now I want to ask him: Can you forgive me taking your picture?

And I ask myself: Why was I taking his picture, any of these pictures, at all?


For a journalist, the world unfolds as an infinite stream of events. Your job is to witness them, capture them, explain them.

But they build up inside you.

I traveled to Iraq half a dozen times for the Associated Press over the years. I saw families crouching in their homes while Americans fought on their rooftops. I heard the screams of a dying Iraqi soldier as we crawled on a roof under a boiling midday sun. I watched helicopter gunships fire rockets across a twilit sky at insurgents holed up in palm groves below.

Unlike everybody else, I was always able to hop on a plane and leave it all behind, returning to a world where you did not cringe, where you could walk — not run — down the street, without worrying about trip wires or bombs or snipers.

I was always able to leave it all behind — until Dmitry was killed.

That day, I crossed through a kind of looking glass, and saw the war in Iraq from another side.

To the daily churn of news, it was just one more tragic story.

To me, it was far more profound. It reverberated through lives thousands of miles away, changing them forever.

I think about all the stories we have written — all the headlines and statistics that comprise the daily death tolls.

I do not look at them so casually anymore


At the end of May, I traveled to Moscow for Dmitry's funeral and met his parents, sister and girlfriend.

They didn't really know what had happened, and telling them, between shots of ice-cold vodka, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. (Dmitry, it turned out, had never told his parents he was going to Iraq. They thought he was in Jordan, shooting pictures of refugees).

His death forced me to slow down my 100 mph life. In less than a year, I had traveled to Iraq twice, with 20 countries and a coup in Thailand in between.

My fiancee and I took a long vacation visiting family and friends, swimming with giant turtles in a sapphire-blue Hawaiian bay. We got married. And now she is pregnant with our baby boy.

I could not be happier — except when I think about what happened.

I have not returned to Iraq, but I've been back many times in my mind.

Often, I see Dmitry smiling.

Often, I see him dead.

In my dreams, I lean down and hold what is left of him. I do not care about the blood.

I press my forehead to his — as I did not have the chance to do — then tell him I am sorry, and say goodbye. It is important for me to recognize him, to treat him as a human being — not the object of a camera lens.

I take no pictures, and I am finally at ease.

But this is not a peaceful place.

Nearly a year later, I still wonder what we could have done differently. I feel stupid for seeking the war out. And I'm haunted by the words — "Be careful what you wish for" — that one soldier said to us the day before Dmitry died, as we resolved to go out with the Strykers again.

Now I am left with questions, memories and hundreds of digital photographs that I can no longer look at, that I cannot show anyone and cannot throw away.

I wish for the impossible: that I could open these two-dimensional worlds up, walk through them to that time, change that sequence of events.

But I know it cannot happen — except in my dreams. So I try to make the memories last, filtering through them carefully, over and over. And I often come to these:

In the last hours of Dmitry's life, we spent the morning bored, joking, hoping something might happen. We wondered if our helmets would protect us, and I knocked my fist lightly on his. "You'll be fine," I said.

Then Dmitry led the way to a sandbagged rooftop machine-gun post, where we peeked out into the palm-fringed city as the odd gunshot rang out.

I took his picture three times. Not long afterward, he took mine as I stood beside the back ramp of his Stryker, and we prepared to head out.

"C'mon," I said, begging him to take a few more. "Nobody ever takes my picture here."

"Don't worry, man," he replied in his heavy Russian accent, narrowing his eyes with a smile. "I'll take some great ones of you later."


In the dream, I want to open the black bag and see his face.

The soldiers at the morgue refuse and tell me it's too late.

"Open it!" I protest. I scream.

They say no.

Finally, they relent.

My hand zips the bag open, downward, revealing a pale discolored face, covered in dust.

I am relieved. It is not my friend.

It is not anyone I know.

Al Qaeda Also Fed Up With Ground Zero Construction Delays | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Al Qaeda Also Fed Up With Ground Zero Construction Delays | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
Al Qaeda Also Fed Up With Ground Zero Construction Delays

Al Qaeda and its affiliates: A global tribe waging segmental warfare?

Al Qaeda and its affiliates: A global tribe waging segmental warfare?: "Al"Qaeda and its affiliates are operating much like a global tribe waging segmental warfare. This paper describes the dynamics of classic tribes: what drives them, how they organize, how they fight. Al Qaeda fits the tribal paradigm quite well. Thus, continuing to view Al Qaeda mainly as a cutting–edge, post–modern phenomenon of the information age misses a crucial point: Al Qaeda and affiliates are using the information age to reiterate ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale. The war they are waging is more about virulent tribalism than religion. The tribal paradigm should be added to the network and other prevailing paradigms to help figure out the best policies and strategies for countering these violent actors....

[bth: This is an excellent report well worth reading in full and contemplating.]

The Nation - Qaeda two key figures arrested from Pakistan

The Nation: "PESHAWAR" Al-Qaeda and Taliban have received another setback when their two important aides were arrested from different places in Pakistan, sources said Wednesday.

Muhammad Rahim was arrested few days back from Lahore while Sheikh Ilyas Khel was netted from the general bus-stand in Peshawar, the sources maintained. According to them, Rahim was Osama bin Laden’s special aide, hailing from Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, while the other had worked for Laden as translator and guide during his stay in Afghanistan.

Rahim was chief of Qaeda’s team, which was engaged in negotiations with the Afghan govt-nominated commanders including Hazrat Ali in early 2002.

Ilyas Khel was an active commander of late Maulvi Younas Khalis of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan.

After the collapse of Taliban regime, Ilyas joined Commander Hazrat Ali and was posted on an important route, connecting Tora Bora with Jalalabad, through which most of the al-Qaeda stalwarts escaped from Tora Bora.Qari Bahadar, the son of Sheikh Ilyas Khel, was recently killed when the US-led allied troops attacked the hideouts of al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives in Tora Bora.

Qari Bahadar was considered amongst the budding Afghans who are leading the resistance movement. Leading political figures in Afghanistan Wednesday confirmed to the media that both Rahim and Ilyas were in the US forces custody.

However, it couldn’t be ascertained whether or not they were extradited by Pakistan either to Bagram or Guantanamo prison. Meanwhile, the US-led forces have decided to establish a permanent military camp in Tora Bora to eliminate the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.

Senior al Qaeda suspect sent to Guantanamo prison

Senior al Qaeda suspect sent to Guantanamo prison | Reuters: "A"suspected high-level al Qaeda member who helped Osama bin Laden elude U.S. forces in Afghanistan has been captured and sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The detainee, Muhammad Rahim, helped prepare the Tora Bora caves used as a hide-out for bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2001, and helped him escape during the U.S.-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, officials said.

He also tried to procure chemicals for a plan to attack U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and to recruit people with access to U.S. military facilities, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

"He is a close associate of Osama bin Laden and had close ties to al Qaeda organizations throughout the Middle East," Whitman said.

Rahim, an Afghan national, was detained in the summer of 2007, according to a statement CIA Director Michael Hayden gave to CIA employees. The CIA transferred him into Defense Department custody earlier this week, according to Whitman.

Whitman would not say where or how Rahim was initially detained. He also would not say who captured him.

But Hayden said Rahim was transferred into U.S. custody after his detention, which could mean the detainee was first held by non-U.S. forces.

"Rahim was eventually moved into U.S. custody and -- given his past and the continuing threat he presented to American interests -- placed in CIA's interrogation program," Hayden said.

A senior counterterrorism official would not describe the interrogation methods used on Rahim.

"I can't characterize the nature of his questioning (but) this detention was done in accord with U.S. law," the official said.


Rahim served as a translator and courier for bin Laden, according to U.S. officials.

Hayden said Rahim was proficient in several languages and familiar with the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that he had combat experience dating back to the 1980s -- when U.S.-backed Islamic fighters drove Soviet forces out of Afghanistan.

"Rahim is a tough, seasoned jihadist," Hayden wrote.

According to the Pentagon, Rahim began working for al Qaeda in the mid-1990s, procuring supplies and later carrying messages among the group's leaders. He carried messages for bin Laden in early 2002, Whitman said.

Prior to 2002, he worked with Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an al Qaeda commander now detained at Guantanamo. Whitman would not say whether information gathered from interrogations of al-Hadi led to Rahim's capture.

"Intelligence is one of our most important tools in the global war on terror," Whitman said.

"It's been essential in developing our knowledge of al Qaeda's structures, operations, finances, logistics and criminal activity to include safe routes, safe havens and intentions to conduct further attacks."

Al-Hadi was sent to Guantanamo in April 2007.

With Rahim, the Pentagon is now holding 16 men it considers "high-value detainees" -- a classification that indicates U.S. officials believe the capture had a significant effect on al Qaeda operations and the prisoner is capable of providing high-quality intelligence.

The military prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, holds about 280 detainees.

The last transfer into Guantanamo was in August. Al-Hadi was the last high-value detainee transferred from the CIA to the prison before Rahim.

The counterterrorism official declined to say whether there were others in the interrogation program. (Additional reporting by Randall Mikkelsen and Andrew Gray) (Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Jackie Frank)

Lewis Black Rails Against Media's Spitzer Coverage On "Daily Show

Lewis Black Rails Against Media's Spitzer Coverage On "Daily Show" - Media on The Huffington Post

Friday, March 14, 2008

McCain: Opposition to Iraq Withdrawal ‘Seminal Event’ in History - America’s Election HQ

McCain: Opposition to Iraq Withdrawal ‘Seminal Event’ in History - America’s Election HQ: "John"McCain cast his opposition to a troop withdrawal date in Iraq in historic terms Thursday during a FOX News interview, saying he would continue to fight anybody trying to end the war prematurely “every step of the way.”...

Semper Fi, Berkeley


US accused of altering Gitmo evidence

The Raw Story | US accused of altering Gitmo evidence: "A"U.S. military commander altered a report on a firefight in Afghanistan to cast blame for the death of a Delta Force commando on a Canadian youth who was captured after the shooting stopped, a defense attorney said Thursday.

The attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, made the allegation at a pretrial hearing as he argued for access to the officer, identified only as "Col. W," as well as details about interrogations that he said might help clear his client of war-crimes charges.

The U.S. military has charged Omar Khadr with murder for throwing a grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer during a U.S. military raid on July 27, 2002, on an al-Qaida compound in eastern Afghanistan. Khadr's case is on track to be the first to go to trial under a military tribunal system at this U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

The military commander's official report the day after the raid originally said the assailant who threw the grenade was killed, which would rule out Khadr as the suspect. But the report was revised months later, under the same date, to say a U.S. fighter had only "engaged" the assailant, according to Kuebler, who said the later version was presented to him by prosecutors as an "updated" document.

Kuebler told reporters after the hearing that it appears "the government manufactured evidence to make it look like Omar was guilty."

Prosecutors did not contest Kuebler's account in court and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Khadr, who was captured when he was 15, is among roughly 80 detainees the Pentagon plans to prosecute at Guantanamo. So far, roughly a dozen of the 275 men held at Guantanamo have been charged with war crimes.

Kuebler said the trial will likely hinge on statements that Khadr made to interrogators when he was held at a military prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The attorney asked to be provided with the names of the interrogators as well as what techniques they used.

His interrogators included members of a unit implicated in the December 2002 beating deaths of two Afghan detainees, named Dilawar and Habibullah, Kuebler said

The lead prosecutor, Marine Corps Maj. Jeffrey Groharing, said defense lawyers have not demonstrated that speaking with individual interrogators would benefit their case. He said the government already has provided typewritten summaries of the Bagram interrogations.

Kuebler bristled at the prosecutor's decision to withhold information it does not consider relevant to the case.

"What does he know about our case ... and what might help us prepare for trial?" he asked.

The judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, scolded both sides for not cooperating more closely on evidence-related issues that could delay the trial, currently scheduled for May. He said he would rule on most of the defense motions by late Friday.

Brownback also ordered prosecutors to provide the defense with official correspondence regarding the case between the U.S. and Canadian governments.

White House won't remove loophole allowing foreign contractors to ignore fraud

The Raw Story | White House won't remove loophole allowing foreign contractors to ignore fraud: "The"White House has indicated it will not remove a loophole quietly inserted into a budget rule which allows contractors abroad to keep silent if they observe fraud or abuse on US government contracts.

The proposed rule, put forth by the White House Office of Management and Budget last year, exempts all companies who do work overseas from a new regulation requiring US contractors to report waste, fraud or abuse they encounter while doing work for the government.

More than $100 billion in contracts have been awarded for work in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last five years.

"This sends the message that if you're going to do waste, fraud and abuse, don't do it at home, do it abroad," Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) told the Washington Post in Thursday's papers. "This was slipped in at the last minute. . . . It's obviously something you can't justify in any way, and there's no answer to why you'd allow this to occur abroad any more than you'd allow it to occur domestically. There is a question as to how and why the change was made, and we don't know the answer."...

Iraq American Death Count: Public Largely Unaware - Politics on The Huffington Post

Iraq American Death Count: Public Largely Unaware - Politics on The Huffington Post: "A"new poll from the Pew Research Center finds a staggering drop in the public awareness about fatalities in Iraq:

Public awareness of the number of American military fatalities in Iraq has declined sharply since last August. Today, just 28% of adults are able to say that approximately 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war. As of March 10, the Department of Defense had confirmed the deaths of 3,974 U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

In August 2007, 54% correctly identified the fatality level at that time (about 3,500 deaths). In previous polls going back to the spring of 2004, about half of respondents could correctly estimate the number of U.S. fatalities around the time of the survey.

(Note: the number of U.S. deaths confirmed by the Department of Defense is 3,974. Thirteen U.S. deaths are pending confirmation, for a total of 3,987).

By contrast, 84% of Americans knew that Oprah Winfrey was supporting Sen. Barack Obama for President.

The study also finds that over the same period of time, the media coverage dropped to only 3% of news:

The drop in awareness comes as press attention to the war has waned. According to the News Content Index conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war has sharply declined since last year, dropping from an average of 15% of the newshole in July to just 3% in February.

[bth: out of sight out of mind. not their kids]

Iraq war ratings slipping, yet no threat of cancellation

Iraq war ratings slipping, yet no threat of cancellation - 236 - News: "A"new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and Press has found that public awareness of the Iraq War has dropped precipitously. Surely something can be done to gin up interest among the American people...

Bush "Envious" Of Soldiers Serving "Romantic" Mission In Afghanistan - Politics on The Huffington Post

Bush "Envious" Of Soldiers Serving "Romantic" Mission In Afghanistan - Politics on The Huffington Post: "President"Bush let his inner adventurer out while discussing the state of the war in Afghanistan with military and civilian personnel. While those in Afghanistan detailed the logistical and diplomatic problems via teleconference, the President took a much more whimsical approach to their mission. Via Reuters:

"I must say, I'm a little envious," Bush said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed."

"It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.

Meanwhile, over 40 Taliban insurgents were killed in a battle in Southern Afghanistan, and six Afghani civilians were killed in a suicide bombing aimed at an American convoy

[bth: I'm sure that romantic part really went over well with the front line troops especially from this president. His romantic vision of war, almost Theodore Roosevelt like contrasts with his real life service going AWOL. Strange contradition.]

U.S. using new strategy for Iraqi inmates

U.S. using new strategy for Iraqi inmates - ..."Stone said prison officials and U.S. personnel used a tactic of creating alliances with some of the more moderate prisoners to get an early release provided they demonstrate the willingness to shun violence.

Moderate prisoners would be separated from the more violent extremists entering the prison population in order to provide a foundation for the reconciliation process by taking each case into consideration on an individual basis.

"Then we begin to work with both sides of that population -- extremists and the more moderate -- to defeat any insurgency that was going on inside the theater detention facility," Stone said.

Stone also noted prisons began offering voluntary literacy and education programs and opened the facilities to allow 1,600 family visitations every week.

The number of detainees engaging in violent confrontations with other detainees and prison officials is down and slightly less than 9 percent of those detainees released are recaptured and incarcerated, Stone said.

[bth: this 9% figure suggests to me that we are rounding up a lot of innocents and incarcerating them. Our repeat offender rate in the US is closer to 2/3rds if I recall correctly.]

Polls key to security in Iraq's Anbar: US General "BAGHDAD"Provincial elections must be held as soon as possible if violence is to be kept at bay in Anbar, once Iraq's bloodiest province but now hailed as a major security success story, a top U.S. military official said.

Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in the western province, said local polls, due to be held by October 1, could bolster peace but a delay could trigger a return to the violence which almost tore it apart.

"There is some potential for violence if citizens' expectations for new elections are not realized," Kelly told Reuters in an e-mail interview.

Most Sunni Arabs boycotted provincial polls in 2005. Many joined with al Qaeda to form the backbone of an insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces in Anbar, scene of some of the fiercest fighting since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

There has since been a remarkable turnaround in security in the province, in large part due to a decision by Sunni tribal leaders to turn against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda because of its indiscriminate killing and strict interpretation of Islam.

However, tribal chiefs and the men they ordered to protect the province against al Qaeda are now straining against a local political system they say does not represent them, and does little for reconstruction and employment in Anbar.

"If elections in Anbar are delayed until 2009, problems could result. Multi-National Forces West supports the holding of transparent and fair elections in the province as soon as the government of Iraq finds it practical," Kelly added....

Iraqi security forces already undertake the bulk of security operations in Anbar, and Kelly this week told reporters of his aim to close some of the province's larger U.S. military bases.

Some 4,000 men patrol Anbar at the request of the tribal sheikhs, a movement the U.S. military backs, calling the men "concerned local citizens" (CLCs) or "Sons of Iraq".

While tribal leaders' frustration with local politicians grows, the CLCs increasingly complain of low pay, and demand to be drafted into the Iraqi security forces. What happens to CLCs after the U.S. withdraws from Anbar will be crucial.

Kelly said there was no promise made to CLCs to include them in Iraqi security forces, and instead highlighted the need for greater development in Anbar to provide jobs to absorb them. Tribal sheikhs say politicians have done nothing on this front.

"There is a correlation between unemployment and security and stability in Anbar ... a common request we hear from both the government and tribal leaders is to help them provide jobs for their people," he said.

U.S. commanders say they expect about 20 percent of the 90,000-odd CLC members to be taken into Iraq's security forces

Al Qaeda and other insurgents remain a threat to Anbar, said Kelly, who predicted they could be planning major attacks to draw media attention back to their former stronghold.

The biggest challenge to a complete security handover was a lack of long-term logistical support for Iraqi forces, such as regular pay, fuel supplies and spare parts, he said

]bth: it would seem to me that jobs and a military logistical system are two things we could control or influence in a favorable way.]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Belmont Club: Blowed up real good

KBR: Dirty Water, Dirty Deals

STLtoday - News - Editorial / Commentary: "A"hundred years from now (maybe longer if John McCain is elected president), when the history of the Iraq war finally is written, students will want to know how KBR Inc. got away with with war profiteering.

How did this firm, whose employees have time and again been hauled into court and accused of fraud by government inspectors, continue to prosper? And prosper it has: After being spun off in April 2007 by Halliburton, its former parent company, KBR took in $8.75 billion in revenue for the year, of which $520 million was profit.

Not bad for government work.

With $16 billion in outstanding contracts related to the Iraq war, KBR continues catering diverse parts of the sprawling war, providing everything from pizza parlors and hamburger joints in a desert to millions of rounds of ammunition and millions of gallons of fuel. KBR employees or subcontractors have washed a million sets of dirty BDUs and GI uniforms and have built thousands of showers and hundreds of barracks rooms. In so doing, some people in the company have made out, as the apt cliche goes, like bandits

"I happen to think we have seen and are seeing the most significant waste, fraud and abuse in the history of this country," Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., said Monday. "And, regrettably, most of the federal government seems to be asleep. That is especially true of this [Bush] administration."

As a unit of Halliburton, KBR came under fire pretty much from the moment the Iraq war began five years ago. The company and some of its people have been under investigation almost that long. Most recently, KBR has been accused of supplying contaminated water for troops to bathe in (and expensive monogrammed towels for them to dry with). Employees have been indicted for fraud and bribery in federal court in Rock Island, Ill.

And according to an investigation by The Boston Globe, the company has long been using a shell company in the Cayman Islands to duck Social Security and Medicare taxes for its employees. Not paying these taxes gives KBR a competitive advantage when it bids for government work, but it leaves employees with fewer Social Security benefits and adds to the long-term Medicare costs of the government. While legal, the practice is not the kind of slick maneuver that the government should tolerate among its contractors.

The fundamental problem with the KBR contracts is the same one that has plagued much of the federal government since the Reagan years: a misplaced faith in the inherent goodness of free-market systems.

This theory reached its apotheosis during the first Gulf War. Under a contract system devised by Dick Cheney, who was secretary of defense in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, military support services first were outsourced to Halliburton. After that Bush administration was voted out of office, Mr. Cheney became Halliburton's chief executive.

After Mr. Cheney returned to government in 2001 as President George W. Bush's vice president, the second Iraq war started, and business got very brisk. As The Chicago Tribune reported recently, the value of all Army contracts (not just KBR's) went from $23.3 billion in 1992 to more than $100 billion in 2006. Meanwhile, the number of Army contract compliance investigators — people assigned to make sure contractors do what they're hired to do and do it right — was dropping from 10,000 in 1990 to 5,500 in 2008.

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee held hearings on the subject of contracting in Iraq. Witnesses included David M. Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, and Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the Pengaton's special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

The committee was told that "significant," "widespread" and "rampant" fraud and corruption in U.S. contracts in Iraq are costing taxpayers billions of dollars and that administration efforts to prosecute those responsible have been grossly insufficient.

The hearing got very little press coverage; people are so used to waste, fraud and abuse that they barely pay attention. And 100 years from now, students will study the Iraq war and learn that KBR got away with it because people didn't care

Audit to cite FBI privacy abuses

The Raw Story | Audit to cite FBI privacy abuses: "The"FBI improperly obtained personal information about Americans as part of terrorism investigations in 2006, but steps were taken by the agency to prevent future privacy abuses, an upcoming Justice Department report says.

The long-anticipated audit, to be released Thursday, is expected to show a fourth consecutive year of privacy breaches by FBI agents using so-called national security letters to gain access to telephone, e-mail, and financial records of Americans and foreigners without a judge's approval.

Officials familiar with the report say it will note that the lapses all took place before the FBI and Justice Department enacted broad new reforms in March 2007 aimed at protecting individual privacy rights.

The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine follows a similar audit he released last year. That report found 48 violations of law or rules during 2003-2005 in the bureau's use of national security letters.

Fine estimated that there could be 3,000 more such violations among the more than 143,000 FBI requests for information during that period.

Additionally, last year's audit found that the FBI had underreported to Congress how many national security letters were requested by more than 4,600. Fine blamed agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.

Thursday's audit largely is expected to mirror last year's findings, FBI Director Robert Mueller said in Senate testimony last week.

National security letters, as outlined in the USA Patriot Act, are administrative subpoenas used in suspected terrorism and espionage cases.

Following last year's audit, the Justice Department enacted guidelines that sternly reminded FBI agents to carefully follow the rules governing national security letters. The new rules caution agents to review all data before it is transferred into FBI databases to make sure that only the information specifically requested is used.

[bth: the FBI flagrantly violating our civil rights because it can. No one is holding it to account, not the president, not the courts, not the congress. A stunning silence from all including the public. We let our personal liberties - won in battle - be handed over to the state.]

Fired for speaking the truth

Fired for speaking the truth - The Boston Globe: "IT"IS a worrisome sign that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had to accept the obviously forced resignation of Admiral William Fallon, chief of the United States Central Command. Even if Gates was right to say, as he did Tuesday, that it would be "ridiculous" to take Fallon's departure as an augury of war with Iran, the fate of the outspoken admiral suggests that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have learned nothing about the value of letting uniformed military chiefs speak their minds, particularly when they disagree with questionable administration doctrines.

more stories like this
White House denies Bush stifling dissent on Iran
Bush sending Rice, Gates to Moscow March 17-18
Head of US forces in Mideast resigns
Top US commander in Mideast retires early
Commander in Mideast says officials will need time this summer to reassess Iraq
As Central Command chief, Fallon presided over US military operations in the Middle East. In a recent Esquire article that precipitated his ouster, he sagely observed that in this region, "where five or six pots are boiling over, our nation can't afford to be mesmerized by one problem" - an assertion that has been interpreted as a rebuke of Bush's approach toward Iran's nuclear aspirations.

It is possible that Fallon's fall was not the result of his holding dissenting views on Iran or, for that matter, on the pace of a drawdown for US troops in Iraq. Apparently he doomed himself by airing those views, repeatedly, in public. Gates intimated as much when he termed speculation about radical policy differences a "misperception."

Instead, Gates implied he had to uphold a tradition that permits the military brass to voice policy differences only in private. Once those dissenting views have been heard and rejected, dissenters are expected to salute, swallow their pride, and accept as final the judgment of the commander in chief.

There are good reasons for this tradition. It helps preserve civilian authority over the military. The expectation that generals and admirals will voice their criticisms only privately may also help ensure that advice given to a president or defense secretary will remain confidential. In theory, such confidentiality can encourage candor.

In this particular case, however, the usual strictures against airing policy differences in public should not have been enforced. For one thing, the Bush administration has a history of stumbling into grievous strategic errors when it has refused to heed sound public warnings from senior military leaders. Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the administration effectively fired the army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, after he testified to Congress that more than 400,000 troops would be needed to maintain order in the aftermath.

Perhaps even more to the point is the validity of Fallon's advice. He recommends patience and "engagement" with Iran, a quicker reduction of forces in Iraq, and more attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan. For these views he should be heeded, not fired.

[bth: Fallon is fired and the report showing no link between al Qaeda and Saddam is deep sixed. No politics here. No truth either. Nothing to see here folks, move along. Go to the mall.]

McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam

McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam: "Senator" John McCain hailed as a spiritual adviser an Ohio megachurch pastor who has called upon Christians to wage a "war" against the "false religion" of Islam with the aim of destroying it. ...

[bth: we've got to break this cycle of faith based foreign policy. If we don't then some president will say that God told him to declare war. ... Oh, that just happened. Never mind.]

Rapid Report: Pentagon Report on Saddam's Iraq Censored?

Rapid Report: Pentagon Report on Saddam's Iraq Censored?: "ABC"News' Jonathan Karl Reports: The Bush Administration apparently does not want a U.S. military study that found no direct connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to get any attention. This morning, the Pentagon cancelled plans to send out a press release announcing the report's release and will no longer make the report available online.

The report was to be posted on the Joint Forces Command website this afternoon, followed by a background briefing with the authors. No more. The report will be made available only to those who ask for it, and it will be sent via U.S. mail from Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia.

It won't be emailed to reporters and it won't be posted online

Asked why the report would not be posted online and could not be emailed, the spokesman for Joint Forces Command said: "We're making the report available to anyone who wishes to have it, and we'll send it out via CD in the mail."

Another Pentagon official said initial press reports on the study made it "too politically sensitive."

ABC News obtained the comprehensive military study of Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism on Tuesday. Read the report's executive summary HERE.

The study, which was due to be released Wednesday, found no "smoking gun" or any evidence of a direct connection between Saddam's Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist organization.

The report is based on the analysis of some 600,000 official Iraqi documents seized by US forces after the invasion. It is also based on thousands of hours of interrogations of former top officials in Saddam's government who are now in U.S. custody.

Others have reached the same conclusion, but no previous study has had access to so much information. Further, this is the first official acknowledgement from the U.S. military that there is no evidence Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda.

The study does, however, show that Saddam Hussein did much to support terrorism in the Middle East and used terrorism "as a routine tool of state power." Saddam's government, for example, had a program for the "development, construction, certification and training for car bombs and suicide vests in 1999 and 2000." The U.S. military is still dealing with the fall-out from this particular program.

The report says Saddam's bureaucrats carefully recorded the regime's connections to Palestinian terrorists groups and its financial support for the families of suicide bombers.

The primary target, however, of Saddam's terror activities was not the United States, and not Israel. "The predominant targets of Iraqi state terror operations were Iraqi citizens, both inside and outside of Iraq." Saddam's primary aim was self preservation and the elimination of potential internal threats to his power.

Bush administration officials have made numerous attempts to link Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaeda terror group in their justification for waging war against Iraq.

"What I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaida terrorist network," former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations February 5, 2003.

On June 18, 2004 the Washington Post quoted President George W. Bush as saying: "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," Bush said.

"This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda," The Washington Post quoted Bush as saying. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda."

"We know he's out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization," Vice President Dick Cheney said on NBC's Meet The Press March 16, 2003.

"But the cost is far less than it will be if we get hit, for example, with a weapon that Saddam Hussein might provide to al-Qaeda, the cost to the United States of what happened on 9/11 with billions and billions of dollars and 3,000 lives. And the cost will be much greater in a future attack if the terrorists have access to the kinds of capabilities that Saddam Hussein has developed," Cheney said.

''There is no question but that there have been interactions between the Iraqi government, Iraqi officials and Al Qaeda operatives. They have occurred over a span of some 8 or 10 years to our knowledge. There are currently Al Qaeda in Iraq,'' former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a interview with Infinity CBS Radio, Nov. 14, 2002.

[bth: if truth is the first victim of war, then trust must surely be the second.]
Informed Comment

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Joint Strike Fighter's price tag going up, auditors say | 03/11/2008 | Joint Strike Fighter's price tag going up, auditors say: "Lockheed"Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter, already the most expensive weapons program ever, is projected to increase in price by as much as $38 billion, congressional auditors said Tuesday.

That would bring the cost to develop and build 2,458 U.S. aircraft to $337 billion, 45 percent above the estimate when the program started in October 2001.

“Midway through development, the program is over cost and behind schedule,” Michael Sullivan, who tracks the program for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, told two panels of the House Armed Services Committee that oversee military spending.

The 12-year development period is entering its most challenging phase. This includes starting test flights, proving out millions of lines of software code, finishing design of the three different models and refining manufacturing processes at Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors.

Sullivan said the Pentagon has identified billions of dollars in unfunded requirements, continued delays and “substantial” production inefficiency by Lockheed and engine maker United Technologies Corp.’s unit Pratt & Whitney that will increase costs.

At $337 billion, the Joint Strike Fighter would be more than twice the price of the Pentagon’s second most expensive weapons program, the $160 billion Future Combat System....

[bth: these weapons systems have become too expensive to build and deploy in combat. Each plane will cost $137 million!]
Crooks and Liars

Air Force seeks more fighter drones

Air Force seeks more fighter drones - "The"Air Force wants to bolster the budget for its deadliest drones by more than 60%, reflecting increasing demand for unmanned planes to track and kill insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to documents and a top combat commander.

The Air Force is seeking $540 million for Predator and Reaper aircraft, up from $334 million in 2008. The remotely controlled planes' ability to linger over a target for as long as a day, provide images of insurgent activity to commanders and fire weapons to kill them is changing the nature of combat.

"What we're able to get with our Predators and our Reapers is persistence," said Lt. Gen. Gary North, who runs air combat operations across Africa and parts of Asia, including Afghanistan. "With the Reaper, we get an increased lethality."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has seen the unmanned planes in Iraq and watched them piloted remotely from Nevada, has prodded the Pentagon to field more of them, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

"He has gained an appreciation for what an incredibly effective war-fighting tool they are," Morrell said. "He has made it his personal mission to get the guys in the field as much of this capability as possible."...

[bth: I'll give it to Gates, at least he's thinking. The Air Force doesn't like pilotless planes, but when you assess things, these cost effective drones work whereas the new high priced fighters haven't played a role in Iraq since the opening days. UAVs are here to stay because they work.]

U.S. examines laptops seized in Ecuador raid - - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

U.S. examines laptops seized in Ecuador raid - - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "The"Bush administration is examining the contents of a laptop computer captured in Ecuador, which reportedly documents pledges by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to guerrillas fighting the Colombian government....

Another Bubble

Ethnic dispute tears al Qaeda, Hayden says 

Ethnic dispute tears al Qaeda, Hayden says - - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper: "Internal"divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing "fissures" within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Mr. Hayden, an Air Force general, also said that al Qaeda regrouped in the past two years inside tribal areas of Pakistan and linked up with Pashtun regional extremists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Bin Laden is now an "iconic" figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

"And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying" among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

"Keep in mind, he's a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter," he said....

Zawahri, however, has been "more active," said Mr. Hayden, noting that the chances of getting Zawahri are better because "the more active you are, the more vulnerable you are."

Several of al Qaeda's operational leaders have been killed or captured, including Abu Laith al-Libi in late January.

The tribal regions of Pakistan "have become more of a safe haven for al Qaeda," and "there is more of a nexus between al Qaeda and various Pashtun extremists and separatist groups than we seen in the past," Mr. Hayden said.

"It's a threat to Afghanistan, it's a threat to Pakistan, and frankly, it's a threat to the United States," Mr. Hayden said, noting that Western-appearing terrorists are being trained there.

Al Qaeda has less space to operate in the area than it had in 2003 to 2005. But beginning with a Pakistani government agreement with local tribes in September 2006, terrorists began training and operating more freely, he said...

[bth: Fallon's objection to the surge is that it took all our reserve troops and undermanned our troops in Afghanistan. He viewed Pakistan with its nukes and the unaddressed OBL threat as our main focus. Instead we are blowing our financial, moral and political will on Iraq. I'm deeply worried that Cheney's trip to the Middle East coinciding with Fallon's resignation means we are about to see a geographic expansion of the war toward Iran/Lebannon/Hamas and Syria. The Saudi's want it. The Israeli government wants it. I don't think the American public has a say.]
Crooks and Liars

Citing Faith, Bush Defends War Action

Citing Faith, Bush Defends War Actions - New York Times: "President"Bush delivered a rousing defense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Tuesday, mixing faith and foreign policy as he told a group of Christian broadcasters that his policies in the region were predicated on the beliefs that freedom was a God-given right and “every human being bears the image of our maker.”

In a 42-minute speech to the National Religious Broadcasters convention, Mr. Bush called upon European allies to step up their efforts in Afghanistan, and conceded that recent security gains in Iraq “are tenuous, they’re reversible and they’re fragile.” Still, he insisted his troop buildup there is succeeding.

“The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency,” Mr. Bush said, to a standing ovation. “It is the right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision.”...

[bth: a fucking faith based foreign policy. One hopes we've moved beyond religious wars but I'm not at all sure we have. Between Islamic mass murderers, Zionist zealots and Christian Faith Based Fools its a wonder we've survived at all. Hell next thing you know, we'll be legalizing torture.]

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fallon Resigns As Mideast Military Chief

My Way News - Fallon Resigns As Mideast Military Chief: "The Navy admiral in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan announced Tuesday that he is resigning over press reports portraying him as opposed to President Bush's Iran policy.

Adm. William J. Fallon, one of the most experienced officers in the U.S. military, said the reports were wrong but had become a distraction hampering his efforts in the Middle East. Fallon's area of responsibility includes Iran and stretches from Central Asia across the Middle East to the Horn of Africa.

"I don't believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility," Fallon said, and he regretted "the simple perception that there is." He was in Iraq when he made the statement.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Pentagon news conference that he accepted Fallon's request to resign and retire from the Navy, agreeing that the Iran issue had become a distraction. But Gates said repeatedly that he believed talk of Fallon opposing Bush on Iran was mistaken....

Gates said he did not think it was that article alone that prompted Fallon to quit. Rather, Gates thought it was "a cumulative kind of thing" that he and Fallon had failed to put "behind us."

It is highly unusual for a senior commander to resign in wartime. Fallon took the post on March 16, 2007, succeeding Army Gen. John Abizaid, who retired after nearly four years in the job. Fallon was part of a new team of senior officials, including Gates, chosen by Bush to implement a revised Iraq war policy....

Some Democrats in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, seized on Fallon's resignation to assert that it reflected an effort by the Bush administration to stifle dissenting opinion.

"I am concerned that the resignation of Admiral William J. Fallon, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and a military leader with more than three decades of command experience, is yet another example that independence and the frank, open airing of experts' views are not welcomed in this administration," Reid said.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the White House played no role in Fallon's move.

"People should not misconstrue this as the price to be paid for speaking out within the Pentagon," Morrell said. "This is not indicative of a hostile environment toward free thinking. This is indicative of what sadly became a perception problem that dogged Admiral Fallon - this perception that he was in a different place than the president and the administration when it came to Iran."

President Bush praised Fallon in a statement. "During his tenure at Centcom, Admiral Fallon's job has been to help ensure that America's military forces are ready to meet the threats of an often-troubled region of the world, and he deserves considerable credit for progress that has been made there, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan," Bush said.

Gates dismissed as "ridiculous" any notion that Fallon's departure signals the United States is planning to go to war with Iran. Pressed on that point, he said, "As I say, the notion that this decision portends anything in terms of a change in Iran policy is, to quote myself, ridiculous."

Morrell said it was too early to speculate on a successor to Fallon, who was a surprise choice for the job when Gates selected him on Jan. 5, 2007, calling him a great strategic thinker and innovator. The post had never before been held by a Navy admiral....

[bth: holy shit. This is bad and disturbing news. The only two sane guys in the bunch have been Gates and Fallon. Now Fallon is gone supposedly over the Esquire article? I read the article cover to cover. That isn't enough to make a man like Fallon resign. Fallon must have believed he was going to get the axe this spring as some have been speculating. I really worry now about the prospect of a move by Bush in the last half of this year to push into something very stupid committing the country and in particular the next president to a continuation of his disasterous course.]

Excalibur Round Debuts in Afghanistan

Excalibur Round Debuts in Afghanistan: "Soldiers"fired the first 155mm GPS-guided Excalibur artillery round in Afghanistan Feb. 25.

The GPS-guided Excalibur round was given the proper grid coordinate to seek out and destroy a target using the Enhanced Portable Inductive Artillery Fuse Setter by placing the system on the tip of the round and sending a digital message containing the coordinate for the round to find.

"The Excalibur round travels farther and is designed to hit targets that conventional ammo does not always hit," said Army Staff Sgt. Darius Scott of C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment.

The Excalibur was fired using the M-777A2 155mm howitzer. The M-777 is designed to be a digitally programmed weapon and is about 9,800 pounds lighter than the more commonly used M-198 Howitzer and is reportedly more accurate.

"The main purpose of the M-777A2 is that it is more able to help the units in the Korengal Valley by providing more timely and accurate fire," said Army Capt. Ryan Berdiner, 28, commander of C Battery, 3rd Bn., 321st FAR.

"By using the Excalibur, we are mitigating a lot of collateral damage that other rounds may cause," said Scott....

[bth: if true this is going to be very significant]

Iranian Students Urge Kidney Donations to Raise Funds for Bounty on Israeli Officials - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - Iranian Students Urge Kidney Donations to Raise Funds for Bounty on Israeli Officials - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: "TEHRAN"— Iranian students are offering rewards totaling a million dollars for the execution of three top Israeli military officers over the deadly strikes on Gaza, and they are encouraging fellow Iranians to donate their kidneys to raise the funds, the student news agency ISNA reported on Monday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad spy agency director Meir Dagan and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin are the targets of the bounty. They are blamed for last month's assassination of Hezbollah mastermind Imad Mughniyeh.

The rewards were announced by the Justice Seeking Students Group on Sunday at a ceremony in Tehran entitled "setting the bounty for the revolutionary execution of the designers of state terrorism," ISNA said.

The bounty for Defense Minister Barak is set at $400,000 while those for Dagan and Yadlin are $300,000 each, AFP reports. It is not clear where the funds will come from....

[bth: what a country Iran is. Kidneys for killing.]

NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data -

NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data - ..."Largely"missing from the public discussion is the role of the highly secretive NSA in analyzing that data, collected through little-known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Supporters say the NSA is serving as a key bulwark against foreign terrorists and that it would be reckless to constrain the agency's mission. The NSA says it is scrupulously following all applicable laws and that it keeps Congress fully informed of its activities.

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

The NSA's enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world's main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called "black programs" whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions.

It isn't clear how many of the different kinds of data are combined and analyzed together in one database by the NSA. An intelligence official said the agency's work links to about a dozen antiterror programs in all.

A number of NSA employees have expressed concerns that the agency may be overstepping its authority by veering into domestic surveillance. And the constitutional question of whether the government can examine such a large array of information without violating an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy "has never really been resolved," said Suzanne Spaulding, a national-security lawyer who has worked for both parties on Capitol Hill.

NSA officials say the agency's own investigations remain focused only on foreign threats, but it's increasingly difficult to distinguish between domestic and international communications in a digital era, so they need to sweep up more information.

The Fourth Amendment

In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, then NSA-chief Gen. Michael Hayden has said he used his authority to expand the NSA's capabilities under a 1981 executive order governing the agency. Another presidential order issued shortly after the attacks, the text of which is classified, opened the door for the NSA to incorporate more domestic data in its searches, one senior intelligence official said....

The State of Iraq: An Update - New York Times

The State of Iraq: An Update - New York Times: "IRAQ’S security turnaround has continued through the winter. The question for 2008 is whether Iraqi security forces can preserve and build on this improvement as they increasingly bear more of the responsibility as the number of American troops declines (and as refugees and internally displaced Iraqis try to return to their homes).

Iraq’s economy is propped up by oil. Attacks against oil fields and production plants are dropping fast (down to one a month this year, after averaging 5 to 10 a month previously), allowing modest increases in output. Still, basic health and education indicators, as well as sewage and water and irrigation services, show little improvement, and unemployment is high.

The most intriguing area of late is the sphere of politics. To track progress, we have established “Brookings benchmarks” — a set of goals on the political front similar to the broader benchmarks set for Baghdad by Congress last year. Our 11 benchmarks include establishing provincial election laws, reaching an oil-revenue sharing accord, enacting pension and amnesty laws, passing annual federal budgets, hiring Sunni volunteers into the security forces, holding a fair referendum on the disputed northern oil city of Kirkuk, and purging extremists from government ministries and security forces.

At the moment, we give the Iraqis a score of 5 out of 11 (our system allows a score of 0, 0.5, or 1 for each category, and is dynamic, meaning we can subtract points for backsliding). It is far too soon to predict that Iraq is headed for stability or sectarian reconciliation. But it is also clear that those who assert that its politics are totally broken have not kept up with the news.

Jason Campbell is a senior research assistant at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at Brookings. Amy Unikewicz is a graphic designer in South Norwalk, Conn.

[bth: there may be good news on the Iraqi political front after all. The Brookings Institute Studies are linked on the right of my blog. I haven't looked at them in several months. They are updated monthly or quarterly. I'll have to check them out. What I like about them is that they tend to use a variety of objective measures and to use a lot of them and then roll them up into some meaningful trend lines.]

Al-Qaeda Commander in Northern Iraq: We Are in Dire Straits

MEMRI: Latest News: ..."The"Next Few Months Will Prove Decisive

On the change in Al-Qaeda's strategy and the continuation of attacks, Al-Jaza'iri said: "It is clear that the strategy [of capturing cities and turning them into Al-Qaeda bases] has failed, so today we are fighting a guerilla war, or, as some call it, 'street fighting.' The efficacy of this [strategy] has been proven in various contexts. We have been instructed to focus our attacks on targets that are strategically and morally important to our enemies, on the eve of the U.S. election campaign."

He continued: "...It is the type of attacks and the way they are planned that will be changed. Accordingly, we will be focusing on operations that cause the maximum pain and bewilderment to the enemy. This [shift] will open a new page in the fighting, which you will notice on the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Iraq..."

Addressing Iraq's Sunnis, Al-Jaza'iri said: "The next few months will prove decisive, and by Allah! We have prepared for this - we have humiliated the Crusaders, and have made their blood flow in the streets... And what is to come will be even worse and more bitter. Therefore, I say to those who claim that we have failed, or are paralyzed...: You will receive our answer in the next few weeks..."

[bth: so expect an increase in attacks on US forces in ways we have not anticipated beginning around March 19. Also the article is worth reading in full.]

Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 03/10/2008 | Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida: "An"exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.

The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam's regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East, U.S. officials told McClatchy. However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.

The new study of the Iraqi regime's archives found no documents indicating a "direct operational link" between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion, according to a U.S. official familiar with the report.

He and others spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because the study isn't due to be shared with Congress and released before Wednesday.

President Bush and his aides used Saddam's alleged relationship with al Qaida, along with Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, as arguments for invading Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed in September 2002 that the United States had "bulletproof" evidence of cooperation between the radical Islamist terror group and Saddam's secular dictatorship.

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell cited multiple linkages between Saddam and al Qaida in a watershed February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council to build international support for the invasion. Almost every one of the examples Powell cited turned out to be based on bogus or misinterpreted intelligence.

As recently as last July, Bush tried to tie al Qaida to the ongoing violence in Iraq. "The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims," he said.

The new study, entitled "Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents", was essentially completed last year and has been undergoing what one U.S. intelligence official described as a "painful" declassification review.

It was produced by a federally-funded think tank, the Institute for Defense Analyses, under contract to the Norfolk, Va.-based U.S. Joint Forces Command....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oklahoma State Rep. Goes on Anti-Gay Tirade

Crooks and Liars

Counter-Terrorism: Waiting For Americans To Leave

Counter-Terrorism: Waiting For Americans To Leave: "March"10, 2008: U.S. troops in Iraq can see the next round of Iraqi terrorism taking form. Next time, it will mainly be Shia Islamic radicals, trying to terrorize their way into power. Muqtada al Sadr, the head of the radical Mahdi Army, may be a little slow, but he's not stupid. He finally figured out that his primary asset is time; sooner or later the US will be gone, having rid the country of al Qaeda and the most militant Sunni groups. Then all he has to deal with will be the moderate Shia. ...

KBR Named In Report On Soldier Illnesses, Contaminated Water Found At Iraq Posts Operated By Former Halliburton Subsidiary - CBS News

KBR Named In Report On Soldier Illnesses, Contaminated Water Found At Iraq Posts Operated By Former Halliburton Subsidiary - CBS News: "Dozens"of U.S. troops in Iraq fell sick at bases using "unmonitored and potentially unsafe" water supplied by the military and a contractor once owned by Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, the Pentagon's internal watchdog says.

A report obtained by The Associated Press said soldiers experienced skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses after using discolored, smelly water for personal hygiene and laundry at five U.S. military sites in Iraq.

The Defense Department's inspector general's report, which could be released as early as Monday, found water quality problems between March 2004 and February 2006 at three sites run by contractor KBR Inc., and between January 2004 and December 2006 at two military-operated locations.

It was impossible to link the dirty water definitively to all the illnesses, according to the report. But it said KBR's water quality "was not maintained in accordance with field water sanitary standards" and the military-run sites "were not performing all required quality control tests."

The report said KBR took corrective steps and was providing adequate water quality by November 2006. But military units at the two sites they controlled were still failing to perform required quality control tests and maintain appropriate records by that time.

"Therefore, water suppliers exposed U.S. forces to unmonitored and potentially unsafe water," at the military sites by late 2006, the report said.

The problems did not extend to troops' drinking water, but rather to water used for washing, bathing, shaving and cleaning. Water used for hygiene and laundry must meet minimum safety standards under military regulations because of the potential for harmful exposure through the eyes, nose, mouth, cuts and wounds.

The KBR sites were Camp Ar Ramadi, Camp Q-West and Camp Victory. The military sites were Logistics Support Area Anaconda and Camp Ali.

The inspector general's study confirmed AP reports on the contaminated water in early 2006 and provided additional details on the scope of the problem at the Iraq bases. In January that year, interviews and internal company documents disclosed the problems at Ar Ramadi and showed that KBR employees could not get the company to inform base residents. ...

[bth: this is an old story. The whistle blower was fired. The contractor was admonished, paid and nothing further happened other than a general denial. That the illnesses and infections couldn't be traced to bad water is true in the strictest sense. Good to see that the inspector general is being so 'fair'. After all who would possibly prove that bathing in contaminated water could, maybe, God willing cause illness.... One wonders what KBR was being paid to do if it didn't matter? Until these bastards are thrown in jail this will continue. There is a total lack of accountability here and the US military is complicit in it. It seems to think truth is bad for morale.]

Mondoweiss: Unreconstructed Neocon Wurmser Decants 'Regime Change,' Holy War, and 'Goodbye to 2-State Solution' to a Thin Crowd

Mondoweiss: Unreconstructed Neocon Wurmser Decants 'Regime Change,' Holy War, and 'Goodbye to 2-State Solution' to a Thin Crowd: "Going"into the basement conference room of a law firm on 6th Avenue in New York yesterday to hear former Cheney adviser David Wurmser speak on "What's at Stake for the West in Lebanon?" I was afraid that the subject, Lebanon, and six years in the White House meant that I would see a domesticated Wurmser, there would be no sign of the firebreather who once pushed for the Iraq war by saying that "craven, fawning" western politicians had "appeased" Arabs who had modeled themselves on Nazis.

Not to worry. Speaking to an audience of about 70 gathered by the Middle East Forum, Wurmser said we are on our way to a catastrophic war with Iran whether we like it or not. He poured the straight old 150 proof moonshine from the old neocon jug. His extremism was untempered by the experience of the last six years.

What are the 3 things he would tell John McCain if he were his adviser?

"Let me just bluntly answer that. One, abandon the two-state solution statement that we have right now vis a vis the Palestinians. Two--Well, let me start with number one. Number one is an open, publicly expressed regime-change strategy in Iran. Two, an open expressed regime-change strategy in Syria. 3, abandoning the two-state solution policy we've had frankly since the 9/11 attacks..."

(Yes, Israel is always first for the neocons, then they hide the salami.)

And barely a word about what has happened in Iraq. I believe Wurmser mentioned Iraq only once substantively (must check the tape)--as a triumph that we had failed to solidify when we had cravenly asked the U.N. for permission to occupy post-invasion, thereby signaling our weakness to the Muslim world. And indeed Wurmer's argument for a military confrontation with Iran, sooner not later, sounded a lot like the argument for a military confrontation with Iraq. The people want democracy. They look to the mighty west to provide it. We can't disappoint them. I suppose they will welcome us with flowers.

The good news about the event is that the room in the basement of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel was only half-filled with mostly older people (and mostly Jews, my Jewdar told me, and even Wurmser seemed to acknowledge, when he said that everyone there follows the news from Israel/Palestine closely), and the roundish balding bespectacled true believer at the podium seemed purely historical. He conceded that George W. Bush has no appetite for a military confrontation with Iran (I wonder why!).

But let me report straightforwardly what Wurmser had to say.

All the reports from Europe and the State Department (which he derided as "Foggy Bottom") that Iran is becoming more moderate are false. Yes Iran is changing, but it is actually moving from "a pure theocracy to what is now essentially a theofascist state" that seeks confrontations with the west, and "a stream of victories," from Lebanon to Gaza, culminating in "destruction." "We're headed for a major conflict with Iran, it won't end nicely." The sooner we bring it on, the less horrific it will be. ...

[bth: reading the stream of commentary attached to the original article is worth the time.]

Female marine gets historic Silver Star

Female marine gets historic Silver Star: "A"19-year-old medic from Texas who braved insurgent gunfire to pull her comrades to safety will become the first woman in Afghanistan and the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star.

Army Spec. Monica Lin Brown used her body to shield five wounded comrades and pull them to safety after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees last April, the military said.

"I did not really think about anything except for getting the guys to a safer location and getting them taken care of and getting them out of there," Brown said Saturday at a U.S. base in the eastern Khost Province.

She said ammunition going off inside the burning Humvee was sending shrapnel in all directions, so she helped drag the soldiers away from the vehicle.

"I was in a kind of a robot mode, did not think about much but getting the guys taken care of," she said.

Eventually, she helped move the wounded some 500 yards away and treat them onsite before putting them on a helicopter for evacuation. "I did not really have time to be scared," Brown said. "Running back to the vehicle, I was nervous [because] I did not know how badly the guys were injured. That was scary."

Brown, of Lake Jackson, Tex., is scheduled to get the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for valor, this month.

Pentagon policy prohibits women from serving in front-line combat roles - in the infantry, armored or artillery divisions, for example. But the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no real front lines, has meant female soldiers take part in close-quarters combat more than in previous conflicts.

McCain’s Daunting Task - New York Times

McCain’s Daunting Task - New York Times: "Buried"inside Sunday’s papers was a noteworthy election result. In a special election to replace former Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, first-time Democratic candidate Bill Foster emerged victorious. George Bush easily carried the district in 2004, as has every recent G.O.P. presidential candidate.

This Democratic pickup suggests that, for now, we’re in an electoral environment more like 2006 than 2004. Foster’s eight-percentage-point improvement on John Kerry’s 2004 performance in the district mirrors the general shift in the electorate from 2004, when Bush won and the Republicans held Congress, to 2006, when the Democrats took over Congress and ran on average about eight points ahead of the G.O.P. Most surveys have shown the Democrats retaining that sizable advantage over the last 16 months. Saturday’s special election would appear to confirm these polls.

This isn’t encouraging for G.O.P. prospects in 2008. Nor is this: It’s rare for a party to win a third consecutive term in the White House. The only time it’s been done since World War II was in 1988. Then the incumbent, Ronald Reagan, had a job approval rating on Election Day in the high 50s. George Bush looks likely to remain stuck in the 30s. Factor in the prospect of a recession (the bad housing and job market reports at the end of last week were politically chilling) and the fact that a large majority already thinks the country’s going in the wrong direction. Add to the mix a huge turnout so far in the Democratic presidential primaries, far above that for the Republican contests, even when both parties still had competitive races....

[bth: I think this race is going to be closer than Kristol projects]


HILL'S SCHEME MACHINE - New York Post: "With"the two Democratic presidential candidates seemingly poised for a duel to the death, and one of the two being Sen. Hillary Clinton, you can be sure of one thing: The stage is set for some world-class skullduggery.

Indeed, the procedural funny stuff is no doubt already under way.

Take last Thursday's decision in Puerto Rico to switch from a caucus - a format that so far has favored Sen Barack Obama - to an outright primary, Clinton's stronger suit.

And wouldn't you just know it? The party chairman in Puerto Rico is an ardent Clinton backer. Hmm . . .

Now, that contest won't be held until June 1. Meanwhile, the next big battleground is Pennsylvania, with some 188 delegates (including superdelegates) up for grabs. It's slated for April 22.

And it's ripe for shenanigans.

Indeed, Gov. Ed Rendell - a diehard Hillary loyalist whose wife owes her job as a federal appellate judge to Bill Clinton - is the kind of guy who, as Carrie Budoff Brown wrote on, "knows where to find votes."

Rendell has ardently opposed all efforts to fight voter fraud.

Last month, citing bad weather, he extended the deadline for filing delegate slates. That unilaterally helped Hillary, whose delegates hadn't all filed yet; Obama's folks, by contrast, completed all their filings on time.

Then, of course, there's the monster fight over whether to redo the primaries in Michigan and Florida. The Dems' national bosses banned delegates from those states because they broke party rules and held their primaries too early. But then (as we noted last week), rules don't really mean much to Democrats, particularly those like Clinton.

As these - and other - matters are hammered out, Obama would be wise to beware of ceding any advantage.

That can happen not only in determining what to do about Michigan and Florida but also in any new attempt to change the rules in remaining contests.

And, of course, in the race for superdelegates, who are free to vote as they like.

Beyond that, there are the cheap shots and the low blows - as, for example, when Clinton hedged on whether Obama is a Muslim, acknowledging that he isn't one "as far as I know."

Let's face it: The Hill-and-Bill machine has a record of scandal and sneakiness that runs all the way back to Arkansas. And the potential for dirty tricks is huge.

In the end, the outcome of the Democratic race may depend on the meaning of the word "is" or, say, on the whereabouts of the Rose Law Firm billing records . . . (Hey, don't blame us for dredging down that deep. It was Clinton flack Howard Wolfson who was talking about special prosecutor Ken Starr last week.)

Fortunately for Obama, he's a veteran of Chicago's seedy politics, and so he's likely prepared for what may be in store.

But far better if everyone just played fair from the start.