Saturday, May 17, 2008

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died
to see the commander-in-chief playing golf.
I feel I owe it to the families to be as --
to be in solidarity as best as I can with them.

--President Bush on his war sacrifice,
giving up golf (5/13/08)"
"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say
there are twenty gods or no God.
It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg

— Thomas Jefferson"
Group News Blog

Information Dissemination: The Slow Burn in Burma

Information Dissemination: The Slow Burn in Burma: ..."Cobra"Gold ends on May 22nd, next Thursday, nothing is going to happen before then. In the meantime, we observe an international naval force slowly increasing at sea off Myanmar. Among the few ships to make port in Myanmar, India's INS Rana (D52) delivered humanitarian supplies earlier this week. The captain was quoted saying the region is in "total devastation." It will be interesting to see where the situation sits when Cobra Gold completes, because there will be some 15.000 US and French Marines in that theater potentially supported by a rather large international naval armada. The estimated number of deaths to the violence in Dufar is 375,000 total due to violence to date. We note the Red Cross believes 1/3 that many may already be dead in Myanmar, and things are about to get much worse.

[bth: I personally doubt anything like this is going to happen. No oil for one thing.]

Emptywheel » Stephen Cambone Collects on His Handiwork with CIFA

Emptywheel » Stephen Cambone Collects on His Handiwork with CIFA: "I've" long suspected that the GOP has used the Counter-Intelligence Field Activity (CIFA) as a way to spy on domestic enemies even while making their friends rich. CIFA is the organization that collected information on both Jesus' General and Quakers, then stuck it into a database without following requisite privacy protections. And then, when Congress and the Carol Lam started focusing on CIFA, its database on private citizens got quickly disappeared.

70% of its staff are contractors. And one of the early CIFA contractors was the company of Mitch Wade--Duke Cunningham's briber--MZM.

Which is why I noted, back in May 2006, that CIFA seemed like a huge improvement (from a Republican perspective) on Nixon-era domestic spying.

Back when Nixon was spying on his enemies, he used the agencies of the US government. He was using civil servants subject to congressional oversight to do his dirty work. But the newfangled Republican party learned in Iran-Contra that, if you outsource the dirty work far enough, you're more likely to avoid the oversight that will lead to discovery.


So let me connect the dots here. Republican legislators have set up this nifty scheme, whereby their buddies ply them with golf trips, swank real estate deals, and prostitutes. In exchange for that booty, they give their buddies contracts at Defense or Homeland Security or CIA. Spying contracts. Under those spying contracts, the buddies spy on American citizens, even funny bloggers and peaceniks. And although it is known that these buddies are a little sloppy with the way they spy on American citizens, they continue to get more work. ...

Which makes it all the more interesting that Stephen Cambone--the guy who feigned concern over the contracting habits of CIFA and launched an apparently bogus DOD inquiry--just scored a new contract with CIFA.

On January 7, QinetiQ (pronounced “kinetic”) North America (QNA), a major British-owned defense and intelligence contractor based in McLean, Virginia, announced that its Mission Solutions Group, formerly Analex Corporation, had just signed a five-year, $30 million contract to provide a range of unspecified “security services” to the Pentagon’s Counter-Intelligence Field Activity office, known as CIFA.


The new CIFA contract with QinetiQ expands work that Analex has provided CIFA and its various directorates since 2003. Under its first contract, according to the QinetiQ website, Analex staffers were sifting through information “from traditional to non-traditional providers, ranging from unclassified through top secret classification using sophisticated information technologies and systems specifically designed by CIFA analysts.”

The CIFA contract was awarded just two months after QinetiQ hired Stephen Cambone, the former undersecretary of defense for intelligence and a longtime Rumsfeld aide, as its vice president for strategy. Cambone is the most senior of a savvy group of former high-ranking Pentagon and intelligence officials hired by QinetiQ to manage its expansion in the U.S. market. (See boxes.)

While he was at the Pentagon, Cambone oversaw CIFA and was deeply involved in the Pentagon’s most controversial intelligence programs. [my emphasis]

So now we've got GOP cronies, in the employ of foreign companies, winning contracts from agencies they set up themselves.

Agencies that spy on American people

GoLeft TV

GoLeft TV

Thursday, May 15, 2008 » Inside Congress » Cong. Jim Moran 05.14.08 » Inside Congress » Cong. Jim Moran 05.14.08 » Inside Congress » Cong. Jim Moran 05.14.08 » Inside Congress » Cong. Jim Moran 05.14.08

Media Matters - Military analysts named in Times exposé appeared or were quoted more than 4,500 times on broadcast nets, cables, NPR

Media Matters - Military analysts named in Times exposé appeared or were quoted more than 4,500 times on broadcast nets, cables, NPR: "Summary"A New York Times article detailed the connection between numerous media military analysts and the Pentagon and defense industries, reporting that "the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform" media military analysts "into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks." A Media Matters review found that since January 1, 2002, the analysts named in the Times article -- many identified as having ties to the defense industry -- collectively appeared or were quoted as experts more than 4,500 times on ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR.

West Wing: The Media's Mini-Truths - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

West Wing: The Media's Mini-Truths - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News:

Barack Obama may be closer than ever to defeating Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination, but the real loser of the election campaign is the American people. They have been betrayed by cynical journalists who have constantly opted for style over substance.

A few quotes:

A journalist's twin points of references should be the real and the important….

Journalists and strategists deliver their commentaries, side by side and in harmony, on CNN and Fox News. Make way for Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's two electoral victories, who is now under contract with Fox News, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Raise the curtain for Dick Morris, once the closest adviser to Bill Clinton, who is a fixture on practically every TV channel. Cast the spotlight on Donna Brazile, who appears on CNN as a commentator on every election night -- the audience only learns in passing that she is actually a member of the exclusive Democratic National Committee and one of her party's superdelegates.

The job description of journalists and party strategists could hardly be more different. One is a seeker of truth, the other is a manipulator of reality….

For these strategists, reality is merely the raw material that they use to form whatever is useful for their candidate. They consider the love of truth to be nostalgia, and manipulating reality to be a valuable craft

Within the ranks of journalism's elite, there is an artificial hysteria that sells every halfway intelligent campaign ad as a sensation. Style triumphs over substance, which in the end reflects back on the journalists themselves. Reporters who claim that the decisive criterion of an election is whether the candidate is able to "inspire the American people" should not be surprised if similarly stiff demands are placed on them.

That may not be nice, but it's fair…

[bth: an excellent article worth a full read.]

Talking Points Memo | Childers On Track To Win It

Talking Points Memo | Childers On Track To Win It: ..."To"put this into some broader perspective, the Republicans have lost three straight Republican districts to the Democrats in by-elections this year. Hastert's district in Illinois, Louisiana 6th, and now Mississippi 1st. Each successively more Republican than the last. In Mississippi 1st, President Bush got 62% of the vote there in 2004. ...

[bth: ...could one surmise that if we looked at congressional districts and their respective votes for Bush in 2004 that we might subtract 12 percent and get an estimate of where the Dem/Rep. fault line might be?]

Republican Election Losses Stir Fall Fears - New York Times

Republican Election Losses Stir Fall Fears - New York Times: ..."Representative"Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia and former leader of his party’s Congressional campaign committee, issued a dire warning that the Republican Party had been severely damaged, in no small part because of its identification with President Bush. Mr. Davis said that, unless Republican candidates changed course, they could lose 20 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate.

“They are canaries in the coal mine, warning of far greater losses in the fall, if steps are not taken to remedy the current climate,” Mr. Davis said in a memorandum. “The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic than it was in 2006.”

The result in Mississippi, and what Republicans said was a surge in African-American turnout, suggested that Mr. Obama might have the effect of putting into play Southern seats that were once solidly Republican, rather than dragging down Democratic candidates....

[bth: that Obama might bring out the black vote in the South most definitely could change the course of elections there. Why don't these obviously intelligent Republican congressmen have the balls to stand up to their party leadership and start to do what is right for this country. Their deliberate attempt to create a financial crisis in federal government with uncontrolled spending and tax cuts is entirely irresponsible. Their handing of issues like civil liberties which southern senators in previous decades championed is all but abandoned. Their lemming like actions on the war borders on criminal negligence. If Repubicans don't want to lose the center and the middle class then perhaps they had better mend their ways and start representing middle class Americans again. And if they don't, well give them the People's Elbow and take'm out.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

YouTube - Red State Update: Hillary Clinton Racist?

YouTube - Red State Update: Hillary Clinton Racist?: ""

YouTube - Red State Update: Hillary Wins West Virginia

YouTube - Red State Update: Hillary Wins West Virginia: ""

OPEC Stands Silent While Oil Prices Spark Food Riots In Neighboring Egypt - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - OPEC Stands Silent While Oil Prices Spark Food Riots In Neighboring Egypt - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News: ..."The"crisis comes as the U.N.’s World Food Program appeals to member nations to contribute $750 million for aid to affected countries.

But as FOX News reported last week, internal documents from the WFP show a failure by OPEC nations to help out their Arab neighbor. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has committed to give zero dollars for 2008, while the United Arab Emirates has pledged just $50,000 — an amount several times less than impoverished nations like Bangladesh.

The United States leads all donors at more than a $1 billion....

Reactive Revolution: Turbocharged 'Superbombs' | Danger Room from

Reactive Revolution: Turbocharged 'Superbombs' | Danger Room from Materials can be used to replace inert metals in munitions, all different kinds of weapons. Even Explosively Formed Penetrators, or EFPs, the "superbombs" used to such deadly effect in Iraq and Afghanistan, are candidates for the reactive materials revolution.

EFPs are a close relative of shaped charges. In a standard shaped charge, explosive is wrapped around a hollow copper cone; when the charge is detonated the copper is transformed into a very narrow, high-speed jet of metal which can cut through steel armor. EFPs are similar, except that using a different shaped cone the copper becomes a large- high-speed slug. EFPs penetrate much less armor than shaped charges, but have much longer range (tens or hundreds of meters rather than just a meter or two). They also have far greater 'behind armor effect' as they punch a much bigger hole and do more damage on the other side.

EFPs are perhaps best known as roadside bombs used by Iraqi insurgents. However, as we have seen, America has its own EFP weapons, including the SLAM, or Selectable Lightweight Attack Munition, issued to Special Forces. The two-pound mine is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, so several can be carried, and when triggered the metal slug will go through 40mm of armor at 25 feet. The mine can be used in several modes, with a built-in IR motion sensor and magnetic sensor, attached to a trip-wire, or on time delay as a demolition device.

Now the makers, ATK, are looking at enhancing SLAM by supplementing the copper liner with reactive material, (warning, large Powerpoint file) with the aim of an "increased target set and effectiveness."

Increasing the target set means it will be able to attack a greater range of targets. At the moment, the SLAM is intended for use against:

APCs [armored personnel carriers], parked aircraft, wheeled or tracked vehicles, stationary targets (such as electrical transformers), small fuel-storage tanks (less than 10,000-gallon), and ammunition storage facilities.

A photo showing the effect of a Reactive Material EFP against concrete suggests that the enhanced version may be effective against structures. Depending on design, the projectile may be intended to produce a large break in a wall, or to penetrate it and generate a thermobaric-type blast on the other side. Such a device could be used to attack barracks and other occupied buildings by stealth: plant the device at a suitable distance aimed at the target, set it on timer and leave the area.

[bth: I highly recommend downloading the power points if you've got bandwidth to take down a 14 megabyte power point. What isn't explained is how the blast id dialed down in the field. In other words how do you adjust it?]

In The Know: Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists? | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

In The Know: Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists? | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
In The Know: Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists?

Ban on sex for soldiers in Afghanistan is lifted ... sort of | Stars and Stripes

Ban on sex for soldiers in Afghanistan is lifted ... sort of | Stars and Stripes: "JALALABAD"Afghanistan — Single soldiers and civilians working for the U.S. military in Afghanistan can now have sex legally. Sort of.

A new order signed by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-101, has lifted a ban on sexual relations between unmarried men and women in the combat zone.

General Order No. 1 outlines a number of prohibited activities and standards of conduct for U.S. troops and civilians working for the military in Afghanistan. Previously, under the regulation, sexual relations and "intimate behavior" between men and women not married to each other were a strict no-no. The regulation also barred members of the opposite sex from going into each other’s living quarters unless they were married to each other.

But the latest version of General Order No. 1 for Afghanistan, which Schloesser signed April 19, eases those restrictions.

The new regulation warns that sex in a combat zone "can have an adverse impact on unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline."

But sexual relations and physical intimacy between men and women not married to each other are no longer banned outright. They’re only "highly discouraged," and that’s as long as they’re "not otherwise prohibited" by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to the new order.

Single men and women can now also visit each other’s living quarters, as long as everyone else who lives there agrees, and as long as visitors of the opposite sex remain in the open "and not behind closed doors, partitions or other isolated or segregated areas," according to the new regulation.

Unmarried men and women who are alone together in living quarters must leave the door open, according to the new policy.

Men and women "will not cohabit with, reside or sleep with members of the opposite gender in living spaces of any kind," unless they are married or if it’s necessary for military reasons, the new policy states.

A cursory reading of the order would seem to suggest that unmarried men and women could have sex in their living quarters, as long as all other persons who live there agree, or if they left the door open, if they were otherwise alone. But that’s not the case, said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for Regional Command East and Combined Joint Task Force-101.

"Sex in both scenarios … would be a chargeable offense under the UCMJ," Nielson-Green said, referring to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Nielson-Green said the policy change was "not significant on a practical level" since it simply aligns General Order No. 1 in Afghanistan with similar policies in the region. Neither U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor Multi-National Forces-Iraq bar sexual relations between unmarried men and women in their version of the order, she said.

"The expectation is that troops should behave professionally and responsibly at all times," Nielson-Green said, adding that while the new regulation does not condone sex, it "does recognize that such behaviors happen, and if they result in any chargeable offenses, then appropriate actions will be pursued."

"The bottom line is that the troops are responsible for their own behavior," Nielson-Green said. She declined to "speculate" on the conditions under which soldiers could engage in legal sexual behavior.

The UCMJ contains several provisions under which sexual relations are prohibited between men and women. For instance, married persons cannot engage legally in sex with anyone other than their spouse, or they can be prosecuted for adultery. Sexual relations between subordinates and higher-ranking personnel are prohibited within the same chain of command. Sexual relations between officers and enlisted personnel are generally prohibited as well. Homosexual relations are completely prohibited under the code.

Nielson-Green said the new policy does allow commanders to make the provision on sex more restrictive, as long as they have approval from the CJTF-101 commander.

In eastern Afghanistan, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is nearing the end of its 15-month deployment, won approval to stick with the old policy that bans sexual relations between unmarried soldiers.

Maj. Will Helixon, the brigade judge advocate, said the issue was basically one of fairness.

"After we’ve treated the soldiers this way for a year, it’s not really right to change," said Helixon said. "That’s the bottom line."

According to Helixon’s staff, 28 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have been punished for having sex in Afghanistan or for violating the no-entry rule in the past year. Those punishments ranged from letters of reprimand to field-grade Article 15s.

At Forward Operating Base Fenty, near Jalalabad, the reaction of soldiers to the lifting of the sex ban was mixed. Some soldiers declined to comment. Others said they were married, so the change would not affect them. Some thought it simply create more problems. "I think it’s a bad idea," said Pfc. Shane Inman, 30, of Fort Dodge, Iowa. "I think there’s going to be a lot more pregnancies going around. Not that there already isn’t. But at least they won’t get in trouble for it."

Sarcos XOS exoskeleton to be tested by US army in ‘09 (Sarcos + XOS + exoskeleton)

Sarcos XOS exoskeleton to be tested by US army in ‘09 (Sarcos + XOS + exoskeleton)

Reward for wanted terrorist drops -

Reward for wanted terrorist drops - "The"U.S. government has reduced by millions the reward for the capture or killing al Qaeda in Iraq's leader because he's no longer worth the price tag, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The value placed on Abu Ayyub al-Masri dropped from $5 million to $1 million last year and then in February was trimmed to $100,000, Pentagon officials said.

Al-Masri, called "the Egyptian" and also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, took the reins of Iraq's al Qaeda offshoot in June 2006, after a U.S. missile strike killed his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The reduction of reward money knocked al-Masri off the U.S. State Department "Rewards for Justice" program list and placed him on a Department of Defense list for people with lower bounties, Pentagon officials said....

Monday, May 12, 2008

Military adds armor to vehicles as roadside bombs surge

The Associated Press: AP: Military adds armor to vehicles as roadside bombs surge: "The"U.S. military is reinforcing the sides of its topline mine-resistant vehicles to shore up what could be weak points as troops see a spike in armor-piercing roadside bombings across Iraq, The Associated Press has learned.

The surge in attacks is putting the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) to the test, and so far they are largely passing. Statistics reviewed by the AP show that while bombings involving the deadly penetrating explosives have jumped by about 40 percent in the past three months, deaths in such bombings have dropped by as much as 17 percent.

Officials attribute much of the decline in deaths to the increased use of MRAPs, pronounced "M-raps." To date, about a half-dozen troops have died in incidents that involved the new bomb-resistant vehicles, and several of those deaths occurred in rollovers rather than from explosives penetrating the armor.

Military officials spoke on condition of anonymity about the statistics because some are classified. Details of specific incidents often are not provided, making it difficult to determine which type of vehicle is involved in each roadside bombing.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said that commanders are increasing safety training to help troops better learn how to handle the heavy, ungainly vehicles.

"We're emphasizing the limitations of the vehicle's handling and the importance of understanding the lessons learned after some close calls," said Boyce, adding that the training also focuses on how to get out in an emergency. In addition, officials stress the importance of inspecting and using seat belts.

Meanwhile, at Camp Arifjahn in Kuwait, the military is reinforcing some MRAPs with additional side armor — and it shipped as many as 20 of the newly upgraded vehicles to the battlefront in April. An additional 30 are to go into Iraq beginning this month.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Hadley, who is overseeing the upgrades in Kuwait, said not every MRAP is getting the additional armor, which increases the vehicle's weight by as much as 5,000 pounds. The extra protection, he said, is being added to vehicles destined for hot battleground areas.

The additional armor is shipped in kits to Kuwait and installed on the MRAPs, which only recently arrived at a facility dedicated to outfitting the vehicles with antennas and equipment before being sent to troops.

Roadside bombs have long been a primary killer of troops in Iraq, and in May 2007 Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that the speedy purchase of MRAPs was the Pentagon's top acquisition priority. The vehicles have a V-shaped hull and sit about 36 inches off the ground, so when a bomb explodes the blast is directed out and away from the troops riding inside.

Congress has provided more than $22 billion for at least 15,000 of the vehicles the Defense Department plans to acquire, mostly for the Army. The Marine Corps, citing reduced violence in Iraq and the awkward size of the vehicles, has already announced it wants only 2,300 — 1,400 fewer than initially planned.

The vehicles cost between $500,000 and $1 million each, depending on their size and how they are equipped.

"We will continue to improve the quality of the armor protection on the vehicles," Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes said in an AP interview this week. "Our strategy will be a combination of improving the fleet that is already fielded over in combat, as well as putting additional capability on in the factory."

Speakes, deputy chief of staff for Army resources and equipping, was in Iraq recently and got to test drive one of the MRAPs and talk to commanders about their use. Roughly 3,000 of the vehicles are in Iraq now, with thousands more to be delivered in coming months.

Speakes said that Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, told him that using the MRAPs has saved the lives of about 40 of his soldiers. Lynch's troops control a large region south of Baghdad.

"We naturally are conscious of cost, and conscious of how much America has sacrificed to put all that capability in the hands of soldiers," said Speakes. "But when you hear a division commander just say 'thank you ... I estimate you've saved 40 of my soldier's lives,' it kind of puts it all in a different perspective."

Details of deaths related to the MRAPs are not readily available. But one soldier died early this year when his MRAP hit a very large, deeply buried roadside bomb and overturned. The soldier was the gunner, and he was sitting atop the MRAP, so it was not immediately clear whether he died as a result of the explosion or the rollover.

In other instances, one service member who was not wearing his seat belt was killed when a bomb exploded near his vehicle, and two soldiers were killed when their MRAP overturned. No other details were available.

Finally, in what may be the only instance in which explosives penetrated the MRAP, two soldiers were killed last week when the MRAP they were riding in was hit by what appeared to be one of the highly lethal explosively formed penetrators, called EFPs.

One or two other troops may have been killed previously in incidents that involved earlier, less heavily armored versions of the MRAP.

The spike in the use of EFPs can be tied in part to the surge in violence last month in Sadr City and Basra. U.S. and Iraqi troops have been battling Shiite militias there, including many armed with Iranian-made weapons.

According to military statistics, in the past three months:

_ EFP incidents in Iraq jumped by nearly 40 percent, while casualties related to those attacks went down by about 17 percent.

_ Overall roadside bomb incidents in Iraq increased about 10 percent, while casualties dropped by more than 40 percent.

_ Roadside bomb incidents in the Baghdad area, including Sadr City, rose by about 20 percent, and casualties went up 30 percent. Fighting spiked recently due to battles with Shiite militia members in Sadr City.

_ In the Baghdad area, EFP incidents increased by about 17 percent, while casualties fell by 43 percent.

Officials said that the bulk of the casualties around Baghdad during April were the result of the armor-piercing explosives.

[bth: MRAP sides are vulnerable to EFP and RPG attacks. Side grating will mitigate most RPGs but not EFPs. Watch for more side firing EFP attacks on MRAPs]

Drive in Basra by Iraqi Army Makes Gains - New York Times

Drive in Basra by Iraqi Army Makes Gains - New York Times: ..."The"principal factor for improvement that people in Basra cite is the deployment of 33,000 members of the Iraqi security forces after the March 24 start of operations, which allowed the government to blanket the city with checkpoints on every major intersection and highway.

Borrowing tactics from the troop increase in Baghdad, the Iraqi forces raided militia strongholds and arrested hundreds of suspects. They also seized weapons including mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and sophisticated roadside bombs that officials say were used by Iranian-backed groups responsible for much of the violence.

Government forces have now taken over Islamic militants’ headquarters and halted the death squads and “vice ‘enforcers’ ” who attacked women, Christians, musicians, alcohol sellers and anyone suspected of collaborating with Westerners.....

Nevertheless, few Basra residents trust that the change is permanent or that the death squads have been vanquished.

Asked how long it would take for Basra to slip back into lawlessness if the army departed, Afrah, a 20-year-old theater student at Basra’s College of Fine Arts, replied, “One day.”

Capturing a mood that flits between bad recent memories, giddy relief and brittle future expectations, she added, “It is over, but it could come back any moment, because the people who are doing the intimidation on the streets, sometimes they are your neighbor and you trust them.” ....

Exclusive report: Soldiers need loans to eat, report reveals - Home News, UK - The Independent

Exclusive report: Soldiers need loans to eat, report reveals - Home News, UK - The Independent: "A"highly sensitive internal report into the state of the British Army has revealed that many soldiers are living in poverty. Some are so poor that they are unable to eat and are forced to rely on emergency food voucher schemes set up by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Some of Britain's most senior military figures reacted angrily yesterday to the revelations in the report, criticising the Government's treatment of its fighting forces.

The disturbing findings outlined in the briefing team report written for Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, include an admission that many junior officers are being forced to leave the Army because they simply cannot afford to stay on.

Pressure from an undermanned army is "having a serious impact on retention in infantry battalions", with nearly half of all soldiers unable to take all their annual leave as they try to cover the gaps.

The analysis, described by General Dannatt as "a comprehensive and accurate portrayal of the views and concerns of the Army at large", states: "More and more single-income soldiers in the UK are now close to the UK government definition of poverty." It reveals that "a number of soldiers were not eating properly because they had run out of money by the end of the month". Commanders are attempting to tackle the problem through "Hungry Soldier" schemes, under which destitute soldiers are given loans to enable them to eat.

The scheme symbolises a change from the tradition of soldiers getting three square meals a day for free. Now hard-up soldiers have to fill out a form which entitles them to a voucher. The cost is deducted from their future wages, adding to the problems of soldiers on low pay.

The controversial Pay as You Dine (PAYD) regime, which requires soldiers not on active duty to pay for their meals, has seen commanding officers inundated with complaints from soldiers unhappy at the quality of food that they get and the amount of paperwork involved.

Senior officers warn in the report that "there is a duty of care issue" and add that the "core meal" provided to soldiers on duty "is often not the healthy option". The confusion of which soldiers even qualify for free meals while on duty is revealed in the admission that "in some areas the soldier has to pay and then claim back and in others the duty meal is included in the contract".

General Dannatt has vowed to take action. He said, "I am determined that PAYD must be made to work to both the financial and physical well-being of those who are fed."

Despite numerous assurances by the Government to look after wounded soldiers, the report warns of deep resentment over a cap on the amount of compensation that wounded soldiers receive. It outlines the "deep frustration" at the inadequate amount being spent on accommodation.

The level of accidental deaths also comes under fire. "Ten potentially avoidable accident fatalities in operational theatres in one year [2007] is not acceptable," said General Dannatt.

He added: "I am concerned at the comments from the chain of command, some elements of which clearly believe that they will lose influence over their soldiers and that this will impact on unit cohesion." He also described improvements to equipment as being of "little use" because there is not enough for soldiers to be trained in using it until they are deployed.

Army chiefs and politicians claimed the document proved the Government was failing to meet its responsibilities towards Britain's servicemen and women, laid out in the Military Covenant. They say it is a damning indictment of an army that is losing its edge and close to breaking point as it struggles to keep pace with fighting a war on two fronts.

Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP and former army colonel, said the report reinforced widespread anxieties over conditions for the troops and that many top-ranking officers are breaking ranks to express their fears. "I've been talking to some very senior officers recently, all of whom privately have said to me that the Army is running on empty; the money has run out," Mr Mercer said. "The manpower situation is in crisis, and the so-called Military Covenant is abused at every turn. The thing that really worries them is the manpower situation and the fact that the MoD seems to be in denial about it."

Colonel Bob Stewart, a former commander of British forces in Bosnia, said the Army was struggling with overstretch and undermanning. He added: "It's inevitable that the British Army is actually woefully imbalanced ... badly equipped, particularly for training, and quite honestly I'm afraid to say it is losing its edge as a top-rate army in the world because it cannot maintain it."

Major General Julian Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands war, said: "There are certain ministers that may be very honest and care and want things done, but the problem is whether they are being given support from the very top, and I sense that they are not. We all know where the money comes from, the Treasury and the Prime Minister."

Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led the Desert Rats into Iraq during the first Gulf War, said the report raised serious questions about the Army's ability to meet its commitments. He said: "I would be very concerned about the strain on the armed forces remaining at this level of deployment in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It cannot be sustained for longer than perhaps another two years."

An MoD spokesman yesterday tried to gloss over the report, which was based on months of interviews with thousands of soldiers and their families between July 2007 and January 2008. He attempted to play down the degree of poverty among soldiers, many of whom earn £16,000 a year, and added: "Briefing team reports contain the unedited views of individual soldiers, some of which reflect widespread opinion, while others are isolated views. The reports are published widely and the feedback given by lower ranks in the Army helps CGS to stay firmly in touch with life across the Army."

But there is a growing dissent being expressed on military websites. Pay remains a major issue for both soldiers and officers. One describes the pay as "appalling, disgusting and pathetic".

Douglas Young of the British Armed Forces Federation said: "People are leaving the armed forces for financial reasons. There's no question about that."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said, "Junior ranks in the armed forces have terrible salaries when you compare them to people starting out in the police service or fire service. How on earth are you supposed to recruit and retain people unless you offer a decent salary?"

CBS: America’s infrastructure is crumbling

Raw Replay - Revisiting History: "Unless"more funding and effort are put into saving the nation’s infrastructure, it will continue to crumble, say experts. An estimated $1.5 trillion over the next five years could be needed to avoid large-scale disaster.

“When infrastructure declines, we’re going to become a second-rate country,” says engineer and former New York City transportation commissioner “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz.

“No matter where you live, there are critical infrastructure issues,” says David Mongan, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “In some cities, bridges, roads, power lines, pipelines; are simply too old. In others, the explosive population growth has outpaced [their] infrastructure’s ability to satisfy the needs.”...

[bth: infrastructure has been deliberately underfunded. It will be resolved by a catastrophic failure and crisis. Why? Because the federal government has been deliberately underfunded with 'tax cuts' and left to bankrupt itself. The idea is that financial catastrophe fill prevent democrats from increasing spending when they are in office. This is deliberate. The deficit is systemic and predictable. So some bridge into NYC or an equivalent will have to be declared a disaster before we move forward.]

Sadr City Bomb Squad: Looking for Trouble Before It Explodes - New York Times

Sadr City Bomb Squad: Looking for Trouble Before It Explodes - New York Times: "The"bland job description is “route clearance,” but it is one of the most unglamorous and dangerous missions in Iraq. Creeping along the scarred streets of Sadr City, the soldiers search for roadside bombs around the clock, using bright spotlights at night that make them a big, bright target.

“We are lit up like the sun at night,” said Specialist Chance Guzman, a forklift driver in a St. Louis scrap yard before his National Guard unit, the 1138th Engineer Company, deployed to Iraq from Missouri.

He spoke after a night mission during which his platoon found two bombs, or improvised explosive devices, as they are known by the military, avoided the blast from a third bomb, took gunfire from an alley and eluded two mortar rounds.

The unit’s mission was crucial as fighting continued last week between American soldiers and Shiite militias in Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite neighborhood. As they have done successfully to tamp down violence in other parts of Baghdad, American forces are erecting a massive wall that is to be a dividing line between the militia-controlled areas to the north and the safe zone American and Iraqi forces want to establish to the south.

Route clearance teams have been opening the way for the construction while working to keep the streets south of the barrier free of bombs that the militias keep trying to sneak into trash heaps, wedge against curbs or otherwise hide in the ample debris in the streets. Most of the time the soldiers find the bombs before they explode, but sometimes the bombs find them, producing powerful blasts that rock their armored vehicles and reverberate through the streets.

“Given where we are at, the amount of action we are seeing and the amount of detonations on the vehicles, we are amazingly fortunate,” said Lt. Carter Job Roberts, the leader of the company’s 27-member First Platoon.

Good fortune, however, is a relative notion in Baghdad. Several members of the platoon have already earned Purple Hearts, and one gunner was lost to a rocket-propelled grenade. “We’re bullet magnets,” said Specialist Michael Jason McMillan, a Missouri college student whose studies have been interrupted by two deployments to Iraq. He was hit by shrapnel in the arm and above the lip while manning the turret during a mission in October but was soon back on duty. ...

[bth: this is an article well worth reading in full]

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How Defense Research Is Making Troops More Effective in Wartime -

How Defense Research Is Making Troops More Effective in Wartime - "When"Army patrol leaders in Iraq prepare to go out on missions in Baghdad, their last stop at headquarters is a computerized map on which they outline the area where they will operate. Then they watch as icons emerge, showing, in grim detail, the lurking dangers.

By clicking on those, they can bring up not only sites of past hostile action but also photos and background on local leaders -- some to see and others to avoid -- videos of hostile and safe places, and reports from previous patrols, says Brian Slaughter, a retired Army first lieutenant who served as an armored platoon leader in Iraq in 2004. Slaughter took part in developing the computerized Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR).

Before TIGR, patrol leaders had only intelligence passed down from higher commands, primarily the locations of previous attacks. "Soldiers love it," Slaughter said. "TIGR picks up everything. Now they have their own tool at company level that pulls up a wealth of information that helps determine their safest route."

When the troops return from patrols, they feed information back into the system, adding to the data available to the next patrol leader, he said.

Mari Maeda, a project manager for TIGR, said the system also allows departing units to transfer tactical information to their replacements. The changeover to new groups in the past required PowerPoint files, spreadsheets and many bound volumes of data, she said.

"Now, with TIGR, they can do a virtual tour of the neighborhoods," Maeda said, and quickly pass along "15 months of knowledge." ...

[bth: an excellent and long over due addition.]

Group News Blog: Fighting in Sadr City Ending?

Group News Blog: Fighting in Sadr City Ending?: "In"a move the should curtail violence within rocket range of the Green Zone, Moqtada al Sadr's people have agreed to allow Iraqi troops into Sadr City. Provided they no longer arrest members of the Mahdi army without warrents. The deal hinges on heavy weapons. Maliki's troops are to restrict themselves to searching for heavy weapons (Rocket Launchers, Mortars, and Artillery, etc.)

It also would be a startling turnaround in fortunes for Maliki, who'd been widely criticized for picking a fight with Sadr's forces, first in the southern port city of Basra and then in Sadr City.

Members of Maliki's Dawa Party and the powerful Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq met with Sadr officials on Thursday and Friday to come up with a 14-point agreement to end the weeks of fighting, which has hindered the flow of food and water into Sadr City. The agreement was then passed to Sadr and Maliki for final approval, said Baha al Araji, a Sadrist legislator.

Hundreds of people have been killed and hundreds have been wounded in the fighting, which included frequent U.S. airstrikes. At least 8,500 people have been driven from their homes, and thousands of others have been forced to stay inside, too frightened to flee.

A government supporter said the Sadrists were brought to the table by the anger of Sadr City residents. On Thursday, the Iraqi military ordered Sadr City residents to evacuate in apparent preparation for a major offensive push.

"It is not the government who pressured the Sadrists into entering this agreement," said Ali al Adeeb, a leading member of the Dawa party. "It is the pressure from the people inside Sadr City and from their own people that will make them act more responsibly. -- McClatchyDC

Once more it's Sadr that has made a deal. Once more he shows he is control of the game.

Can we go home now?

abu muqawama: Lion's Roar: Next Stop Mosul

abu muqawama: Lion's Roar: Next Stop Mosul: ..."So"it looks like things are really gearing up for a major showdown up north. There are two rival theories about the timing here.

Hypothesis 1: Maliki is strutting his stuff. According to this narrative, which is likely to be the dominant one coming out of MNF-I and the Iraqi government, Maliki has clearly reached a new level of confidence. After initially stumbling in Basra, he managed to turn things around there (with a little Iranian help), and his willingness to go after Shia militants has built up a reservoir of political capital with Sunnis. According to this view, with clashes in Sadr City winding down as a consequence of reaching a ceasefire favorable to the Iraqi government, Maliki is striking while the iron is hot, exploiting his new found cross-sectarian support to go after Sunni groups affiliated with AQI up north.

Hypothesis 2: Maliki needs the troops. Whereas the first hypothesis sees Basra and Sadr City as enabling Mosul, a second theory reverses the causality and suggests that Sadr City was a constraint on Mosul--a constraint that had to be ended before moving on AQI. This line of thinking would suggest that Sadr City had become a quagmire that could not be resolved militarily and was absorbing Iraqi army assets that were needed up north. According to this view, Maliki settled on a ceasefire that was favorable to Sadr to free up resources to shift to Mosul.

Dr. iRack isn't sure which theory he buys yet. He'll be on the look-out for evidence supporting one interpretation over the other.

Journalist facing fines urges press to protect 1st Amendment -

Journalist facing fines urges press to protect 1st Amendment - "A"former USA Today reporter facing fines for failing to reveal her sources for stories about the 2001 anthrax attacks said Saturday that news organizations need to go on the offensive in the fight to protect the First Amendment.

"As we all know, the news business is on a collective nervous breakdown," Toni Locy told a coalition of open-government and press groups. "It's time to stop running. It's time to turn and fight. If we don't fight for the First Amendment, who will?"

Locy, who now teaches journalism at West Virginia University, spoke at the annual convention of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

She said the country needs a shield law that would protect reporters from having to reveal their sources.

"The First Amendment needs some help," she said. "In this environment that we're in now, it needs some help."

Locy is appealing an order from U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton that requires her to pay as much as $5,000 a day until she gives up her sources for stories about the government's investigation of the anthrax attacks. ...

"Saturday Night Live's" Message From Hillary Clinton: "I Have No Ethical Standards" (VIDEO) - Media on The Huffington Post

"Saturday Night Live's" Message From Hillary Clinton: "I Have No Ethical Standards" (VIDEO) - Media on The Huffington Post