Saturday, May 24, 2008

House aims at Pentagon 'propaganda' on Iraq war - Los Angeles Times

House aims at Pentagon 'propaganda' on Iraq war - Los Angeles Times: "The"House of Representatives moved Thursday to crack down on a Pentagon program that Democrats say planted false and overly optimistic news stories about the Iraq war, using military analysts who appeared regularly on television.

Acting on a 2009 defense policy bill, lawmakers forbade the Defense Department from engaging in "a concerted effort to propagandize" the American people over the war.

The amendment by Rep. Paul W. Hodes (D-N.H.), which passed by voice vote, also would force an investigation by the General Accounting Office of efforts to plant positive news stories about the war. The overall bill passed 384-23....

[bth: Thank you Rep. Hodes. Well done.]

Friday, May 23, 2008 » »

Nation's Poorest 1% Now Controls Two-Thirds Of U.S. Soda Can Wealth

Nation's Poorest 1% Now Controls Two-Thirds Of U.S. Soda Can Wealth | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "WASHINGTON"—A report on growing disparities in the concentration of U.S. aluminum-can wealth, released Tuesday by the Department of Commerce, revealed that 66 percent of the nation's recyclable assets are now held by the poorest 1 percent of the population.

According to the sobering report, the disproportionate distribution of soda-can wealth is greater than ever before, and has become one of the worst instances of economic inequality in the nation's history. Data showed that over-salvaging of cans by a small and elite group of can-horders has created a steadily growing and possibly unbridgeable gap between the rich and the mega-poor.

"Although our nation's upper middle class actually consumes the most beverages, a staggering percentage of these cans wind up in the hands of a very few," said economist Cynthia Pierce, who worked as a consultant on the three-year, $14 million government study. "It's a troubling trend. And as a tiny fraction of the population continues to maintain its stranglehold on redeemable can wealth, it's a trend that shows no sign of slowing."...

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ABC News: Iraq Audit Finds No Receipts for $8B Spent

ABC News: Iraq Audit Finds No Receipts for $8B Spent: "An"internal audit of some $8 billion paid to U.S. and Iraqi contractors found that nearly every transaction failed to comply with federal laws or regulations aimed at preventing fraud, in some cases lacking even basic invoices explaining how the money was spent.

Of the money paid during a five-year period — from 2001 through 2006 — $7.8 billion in payments skirted billing rules with some violations egregious enough to invite potential fraud, warned the Defense Department's inspector general.

The findings provided fresh fodder for anti-war Democrats, who say the Bush administration has turned a blind eye to the problem of corruption and fraud by relying too heavily on contractors to manage the war.

"There is something very wrong when our wounded troops have to fill out forms in triplicate for meal money while billions of dollars in cash are handed out in Iraq with no accountability," said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee....

[bth: so if you string the following couple of stories together one gets the picture that we handed $8 billion to Iraqis such as the Ministry of Health without any accountability. The Ministry of Health run by the Mahdi Army, Sadr's group, buys weapons and caches them next to its hospital(s) around Sadr City, like the one we bombed and like the one where the weapons cache was just discovered. ... And as Waxman says, American wounded are required to fill out forms in triplicate to get meals reimbursed at Walter Reed. What a country.]

كونا : Iraqi forces find huge weapons cache in Sadr city - الدفاع والأمن - 22/05/2008

كونا : Iraqi forces find huge weapons cache in Sadr city - الدفاع والأمن - 22/05/2008: "A"huge weapons cache was found near a hospital in Sadr city east of the capital, said a security source on Thursday.
Official spokesman in the law enforcement plan, Major General Qassem Attah told KUNA that the cache consisted of large amount of explosives, gun ammunitions, and weapons of all types, indicating that the cache was located in Al-Dakell area in Sadr city.
The Iraqi government is conducting several security missions under the banner of the peace (Salam) operation. During the operations, the Iraqi troops were ordered to arrest wanted figures and also confiscate weapons. The operations witnessed intense clashes between Al-Mhadi army militias, military wing of Al-Sadr bloc, and government troops.
Al-Sadr bloc was controlling the Health Ministry before its leader Muqtada Al-Sadr decided to pullout Sadr ministers for cabinet. (end) ahh.gta KUNA 221631 May 08NNNN

[bth; Remember that building we attacked with a missile next to all those parked ambulances and a hospital about 10 days ago?]

Iraq's ports thriving, now that the government's in charge

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 05/22/2008 | Iraq's ports thriving, now that the government's in charge: "Khor"al Zubair, Iraq — Iraq's principal ports, which were plagued by corruption, theft and insecurity while under the control of militia-linked port guards, have registered a dramatic increase in trade, revenues and productivity since the government took control following its March military offensive, according port officials and a British military spokesman.

The sign on the door at the main port offices Kahor al Zubair about 25 miles southwest of the southern city of Basra is a sign of the new times: "By orders of Mr. Prime is absolutely prohibited to take any wages, bribes or collect any money inside the port."

It would be a tall order in any port, but in Basra, where government, commodities producers, and private companies import and export products, including food rations, through its three Gulf ports, it signals determination to halt the extortion and looting associated with the so-called Facility Protection Forces, government guards who were linked to militias.

Basra is the center of Iraq's wealth, home to its major ports and 90 percent of the nation's oil. Now the ports are "completely" under government control, said Maj. Tom Holloway the British military spokesman in Basra.

Import and exports have doubled since the military operation started in late March and security for the port was transferred to Iraqi Army control, Holloway said.

"The productivity within the ports just by stopping these dirty practices increased by 100 percent," Holloway said.

The military operation launched in late March by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki involved thousands of Iraqi Security Forces, embedded U.S. and British units and coalition airpower in a plan that was seen widely seen as ill-planned and ill-timed as it unfolded.

But since the flood of some 33,000 Iraqi Security Forces descended upon Basra, a cautious optimism has emerged in the city, once dominated by Shiite militias. Headquarters of groups such as the Vengeance of God, an Iranian-linked group and the Mahdi Army, loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr have been overrun by Iraqi Security Forces.

The groups were feared in Basra as deadly morality police, enforcing a strict form of Islam. They killed on a whim and took what they wanted, residents said.

The change at the ports has been dramatic.

At Um Qasr, revenue has doubled, said Talib Abdullah Bayesh, the port director. Prior to Maliki's operation, dubbed "The Charge of Knights," Bayesh said he felt his hands were tied. Political parties interfered in port operations and violated the security of the port, he said, and stealing was rampant.

"Now the director can move freely and professionally without the interference of anyone," he said. "In addition the situation is now very different because no one, no political party interferes in the work of the port."

At the entrance to another of the Basra ports, Khor al Zubair, a old sign still hangs from an overpass declaring: "Death to America the Enemy of the People." Guards at Khor al Zubair were dismissed because of their known loyalties to the Mahdi Army, said Kadhim Fenjan, the director of port operations at Khor al Zubair.

The guards forced truck drivers to pay an illegal tax as they entered and exited the port daily, and may have used the funds collected to support militant activities in the city, Fenjan said. Similar taxes were collected at the other ports.

"We changed the system, we had problems before," said Kadhim Fenjan, the director of port operations who was put in the position temporarily to replace his corrupt predecessor. "We have plenty of security in our port now."

Fenjan was brought in just three months ago and has been weeding out corruption, he said. Just Thursday he ordered nearly 3,000 bags of rice meant for food rations to be pulled from distribution. The rice was rotten and had been substituted for good rice when employees pretended to check the quality of the shipment, Fenjan said.

Since Saddam Hussein's regime fell Iraqis have complained that the food rations meant to sustain their family were often rotten and unusable if they ever reached their destinations.

The military's takeover also has meant greater security for port employees.

In the Khour Zubair harbor on a recent afternoon, men worked to unload ships unconcerned about the time. Since the operation began in late March to battle Shiite militias who'd imposed strict Islamic law and ruled the street with weapons, Basrawis feel more comfortable roaming the streets.

Employees here no longer hurry to leave by 6 p.m. so they won't get caught on the dark roads when kidnappings and killings were more likely.

"We're free to go and come now," said Mohammed Abdou, 23, a foreman at the Khour Zubair port. "In the past the drivers had to pay just to enter to do their job. Now we can leave late at night without the worry of kidnappings or killings."

[bth: if true this is a major step in the right direction.]

Powerful Iraqi cleric flirting with Shiite militant message

The Associated Press: Powerful Iraqi cleric flirting with Shiite militant message: "Iraq's"most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

But — unlike al-Sadr's anti-American broadsides — the Iranian-born al-Sistani has displayed extreme caution with anything that could imperil the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The two met Thursday at the elderly cleric's base in the city of Najaf south of Baghdad.

So far, al-Sistani's fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.

All spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject....

[bth: a big shift is coming.]

From the Frontline

From the Frontline

Democrats seek Iraq embezzlement probe

The Raw Story | Democrats seek Iraq embezzlement probe: "Two"Democratic senators have asked the Treasury Department to investigate allegations that Iraqi leaders have embezzled or misspent billions of U.S. tax dollars intended for the country's relief and reconstruction.

In a May 20 letter to Stuart Levey, the department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island called the scope of corruption within the Iraqi government staggering.

Levey's office, they said, should examine whether any Iraqi officials have set up bank accounts outside of Iraq "that might contain ill-gotten proceeds."

Citing recent congressional testimony from Arthur Brennan, a former State Department official, the senators said the inspector general of the Iraq's ministry of health had steered as much as $1 billion in medical supplies onto the black market and then pocketed the profits.

According to Brennan, it's likely some of that money is financing insurgent groups such as the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr....

[bth: these senators already know the answer to the question. They just want it to be public and official.]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Iraqi forces load up on U.S. arms -

Iraqi forces load up on U.S. arms - "Iraq"is becoming one of the largest customers for U.S. arms, as the country turns from Soviet-bloc weapons to pricier but more sophisticated American weapons.
Iraq's government has committed nearly $3 billion for U.S. weapons and equipment over the past year. "This is a substantial amount of money that they put on the table," said Joseph Benkert, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for global security affairs.

The increase in Iraqi arms and equipment purchases has helped makers of such U.S. military staples as the Humvee, the Pentagon's workhorse vehicle, and the M-4 and M-16 rifles, military contract records show.

That puts Iraq among the top current purchasers of U.S. military equipment through the foreign military sales program, records show. Benkert said the deals are helping to cement the future relationship of Iraq to the United States.

Iraqi officers saw the superiority of U.S. equipment in the 1991 Gulf War and during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said John Pike of, a military think tank. "We took on the Iraq army twice and we made short work of them both times," he said....

US report on Iranian weapons in Iraq 'delayed significantly'

The Raw Story | Journal: US report on Iranian weapons in Iraq 'delayed significantly': "In"a little-noticed story, the Los Angeles Times reported two weeks ago that American promises to offer proof that Iran was arming Iraqi militants had fallen through.

"A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran," wrote the Times' Tina Susman. "A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding. ... When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all."

Now the Wall Street Journal has added a fresh twist to the mystery of the alleged Iranian arms, writing that "the U.S. military, in a shift, has postponed the release of a report detailing allegations of Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents, according to people familiar with the matter."

According to the Journal, "The military had initially planned to publicize the report several weeks ago but instead turned the dossier over to the Iraqi government, these people said. The Iraqis are using the information to pressure Tehran to curb the flow of Iranian weaponry and explosives into Iraq, these people said."

The Iraqi government, which has close ties to Iran, has found itself in the middle of growing tensions between that nation and the United States and is under increasing US pressure to take a firm stand with Iran on its alleged support for militant Shi'ites within Iraq.

The Journal added that US military spokespeople were unable to say when the report -- which allegedly includes both photographs of Iranian-made weapons and descriptions of interrogation sessions with captured militants -- would be released. "Another military official said in an interview that the report could be delayed significantly, noting that it was "'in the hands of the [Iraqi central government].'"
Crooks and Liars

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

His history, public and private, always entwined with our own -

His history, public and private, always entwined with our own - "It"seems as if he’s been with us always, his history, ours; his voice, his views taken for granted like some permanent landmark that would forever be part of life’s landscape. Now, a medical bulletin changes everything. Mortality, always there in his own mind, has potentially arrived with the cruelest of phrases: Malignant brain tumor.

So, Edward Kennedy, at 76, rests comfortably in Mass. General, waiting for tests and treatment that will put a number on his days. He is, this very public man, part of the last, unique chapter of a great sprawling American story shared by whole generations.

He is a walking compendium of history, political and personal - as if the two could ever be separated given his last name. He can sit on the front porch of his home in Hyannisport, beneath the cloudless sky of a crisp autumn day and clearly recollect the long gone morning in the summer of 1944 when a priest and a soldier arrived to tell the family that the eldest boy, the one to first carry the father’s dream, Joe, was dead at war; his plane exploded over the English Channel. The end of chapter one.

“Oh yes, I remember,” Ted Kennedy told me once. “My mother was in the kitchen and dad was upstairs. I remember clearly.”

The deaths, the disappointments, the wins and losses, the tragedies, the historic along with the self-inflicted, have all been there like open, very public wounds that halted a nation and, with one, road-blocked any ambitions Ted Kennedy had of gaining the White House.

We have all been there for the ride. The country has careened across the decades with the man. From Dallas to Los Angeles to Chappaquiddick and Palm Beach, very little has happened outside of the harsh glare of publicity.

But the man has endured and today he remains the most accessible and familiar of our politicians.

In Bedford this morning, a man named Brian Hart greets the day with an added measure of grief, knowing Kennedy as something more. Hart is a transplanted Texan, a conservative Republican and in October 2003 he and his wife lost their only son, Pfc. John Hart, to the ill-planned and ill-fated war in Iraq.

On a cold day in November, after their boy was killed in a Humvee that offered the protection of tissue paper, the Harts buried their noble son in Arlington National Cemetery. The father, turning from the grave, saw the familiar face of a man he’d never met.

“That’s the first time I ever met Sen. Kennedy,” Brian Hart once told me. “I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall and he didn’t know me. He came out of respect for John’s service.”

Brian Hart was outraged at the Pentagon’s indifference and incompetence. Like thousands of other soldiers, John Hart, 20, had been sent to battle without the best equipment he might have had.

“Within one month after John’s death, I had several meetings with Sen. Kennedy and he started Senate hearings and he changed things for a lot of other soliders who might be dead today if it were not for him,” John Hart said. “You tell me: Is that being a liberal? I would do anything for Sen. Kennedy.”

Now it is October 2006 and Ted Kennedy, days from being re-elected for the eighth time, is home again in Hyannisport. It is a spectacular Cape Cod day, the water glistening beneath a late fall sun. The senator’s boat, the Mya, sits in the harbor, perhaps 500 yards in the distance, swaying with an Indian summer breeze.

“When you’re out on the ocean, when the color of the sky and water change and you’re sailing,” he was asked. “Do you ever see your brothers?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ted Kennedy answered, his eyes welling with tears. “I see them all the time.”

And so too, we see Teddy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Exclusive: Cash-strapped army's equipment shortage crisis -

Exclusive: Cash-strapped army's equipment shortage crisis - "The"cash-starved Army is sending troops to war without training them to use hi-tech dressings because there aren't enough available.

Instead, soldiers learn about the two new bandages and a tourniquet when they are on the Afghan or Iraqi front line.

The Mirror has seen files listing shortcomings which could put lives at risk.

Other problems include:

Cramped armoured ambulances making it difficult for medics to perform basic life support procedures on the critically injured.

Poor training for drivers which experts fear is leading to fatal accidents in war zones.

Lack of ammunition to train troops to fire the Army's standard issue 7.62 calibre general purpose machine gun.

In the 255-page document a medical officer recently returned from Basra said: "The newly issued...combat application tourniquet, emergency bandage and haemorrhage control bandage are very effective. They are, however, difficult to get hold of for predeployment training.

"This needs to be changed to enable all to get hands-on practice."

He said of their Bulldog armoured ambulance: "The ability to perform basic life support was limited due to space above the stretcher."

The document revealed infantry recruits are unable to fire the 7.62 calibre machine gun in training in the UK as "the budget does not cover 7.62mm rounds for this purpose".

The head of the Army's School of Infantry, Brigadier David Clements, warns in the report there is now a "significant" and "widening gap" in the training troops need and what they are getting.

The report will renew fears the military covenant - government care in return for armed forces putting their lives at risk - has been seriously eroded.

Last night a senior Army commander just back from Afghanistan's notorious Helmand province said: "Some of the training troops are getting before being sent to war zones is below par or non-existent. You cannot expect troops being sent to dangerous places to learn on the job.

"Yet because of a shortage of funding that is what they are having to do. There is no doubt in my mind this has cost lives and caused serious injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq and it is intolerable."

Last night a senior defence source said: "Soldiers are going from training to their regiments without being adequately prepared because of a lack of resources.

"Regiments are then expected to bring the soldiers up to scratch but the fact is those battalions are simply too busy and are too undermanned to carry out that training."

Two weeks ago a legal ruling said sending ill-prepared or poorly equipped troops into combat breached their human rights.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

YouTube - Robot playing air hocky - Developed by Sarcos

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YouTube - Greifen Force Feed Back Glove

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BAE bosses held in US over corruption allegations | World news |

BAE bosses held in US over corruption allegations | World news | "Two"senior BAE Systems executives were detained by US authorities investigating corruption allegations, it was revealed today.

The defence firm's chief executive, Mike Turner, and a senior colleague are understood to have been held as they arrived in the US on business this week.

The pair were questioned while documents and personal electronic equipment – including laptops and Blackberries – were examined before being released.

The US justice department acted at Houston airport in Texas as part of its investigation into a £43bn arms deal between BAE and Saudi Arabia.

The company has been accused of making illegal payments to key officials from the regime - although it has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

There was outrage in December 2006 when the British government announced that the Serious Fraud Office was dropping its probe into the al-Yamamah deal.

The then-attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, and prime minister, Tony Blair, insisted continuing would have caused "serious damage" to UK-Saudi relations and put national security at risk.

However, the high court has since ruled that the SFO acted unlawfully in abandoning the case, while authorities in the US have pressed ahead....

Army whistleblower: Palestine hotel on target list in Baghdad

:: - Southern Illinois' Homepage ::: "More"than five years have passed since the invasion of Iraq, since President Bush stood under the "Mission Accomplished" banner on that aircraft carrier. While these fifth anniversaries got some notice, another did not: the shelling of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, by a U.S. Army tank, on April 8, 2003. The tank attack killed two unembedded journalists, Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish television network Telecinco. Couso recorded his own death. He was filming from the balcony and caught on tape the distant tank as it rotated its turret and fired on the hotel. A Spanish court has charged three U.S. servicemen with murder, but the U.S. government refuses to hand over the accused soldiers. The story might have ended there, just another day of violence and death in Iraq, were it not for a young U.S. military intelligence veteran who has just decided to blow the whistle.

Adrienne Kinne is a former Army sergeant who worked in military intelligence for 10 years, from 1994 to 2004. Trained in Arabic, she worked in the Army translating intercepted communications. She told me in an interview this week that she saw a target list that included the Palestine Hotel. She knew that it housed journalists, since she had intercepted calls from the Palestine Hotel between journalists there and their families and friends back home (illegally and unconstitutionally, she thought).

Said Kinne: "(W)e were listening to journalists who were staying in the Palestine Hotel. And I remember that, specifically because during the buildup to 'shock and awe' ... we were given a list of potential targets in Baghdad, and the Palestine Hotel was listed. (P)utting one and one together, I went to my officer in charge, and I told him that there are journalists staying at this hotel who think they're safe, and yet we have this hotel listed as a potential target, and somehow the dots are not being connected here, and shouldn't we make an effort to make sure that the right people know the situation? And unfortunately, my officer in charge ... basically told me that it was not my job to analyze ... someone somewhere higher up the chain knew what they were doing."

She said the officer in charge was Warrant Officer John Berry.

Kinne's account directly contradicts the official line of the U.S. government. On May 2, 2003, Colin Powell, then secretary of state and a former general in the Army, visited Spain. He said of the Palestine Hotel: "We knew about the hotel. We knew that it was a hotel where journalists were located, and others, and it is for that reason it was not attacked during any phase of the aerial campaign."

If Powell was telling the truth, then why was the hotel included on the list of targets that Kinne says she read in a secure e-mail? Or was he just parsing words by saying it wasn't a target during the "aerial campaign"? ...

We covered up Iraqi bomb attack which destroyed a £30million Hercules, admits MoD| News | This is London

We covered up Iraqi bomb attack which destroyed a £30million Hercules, admits MoD| News | This is London: ..."In"reality, the aircraft was blasted by a string of at least five bombs buried next to the runway, the Board of Inquiry report reveals.

They exploded just before it touched down in darkness - destroying aircraft systems, injuring passengers and setting fire to the wing close to the fuel tanks.

Those on board had a lucky escape because the pilots' night vision goggles were temporarily blinded by the explosions and the burning aircraft veered off the runway at more than 100mph.

Commanders decided they could not secure the hostile area of Maysan Province long enough to repair the badly- damaged Hercules and it was blown up to stop it falling into enemy hands.

The Board's findings congratulate RAF officials on their "well-reasoned" cover-up of the incident last February, lying to the media and the public to minimise interest and 'denying the enemy the opportunity to exploit the situation' for propaganda purposes.

The report highlights the way insurgents were able to sneak up to the airstrip in south-eastern Iraq - which was in regular use by the RAF supplying ground forces - and to plant five bombs next to the touch- down point. These were missed by soldiers who 'cleared' the site ready for the Hercules to land.

A similar RAF aircraft had been shot down by insurgents north of Baghdad in January 2005, with the loss of all ten servicemen aboard.

On that occasion insurgent groups issued grim footage of the wreckage, boasting of their success. The MoD was anxious to avoid another enemy propaganda coup.

The losses have put pressure on the remaining Hercules aircraft, which are supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have led to problems with maintaining parachute training for the Army.

The Board of Inquiry report describes the drama as the Hercules was riddled with shrapnel from the blast, knocking out key equipment on the flight deck. One soldier on board was only saved from serious injury by his body armour.

All the soldiers and RAF crew scrambled out of the burning aircraft and huddled in the dark, trying to contact their commanders.

Another Hercules offered to pick them up, and then lost radio contact-The pilot opted to land anyway-not knowing the runway was littered with debris and flanked by 5ft-deep bomb craters. The second aircraft was damaged on landing but able to recover those on the ground and take off again.

The report says British forces were at fault for "pattern setting" in the way they used the airstrip, helping insurgents predict where and when the Hercules would land.

Group Captain Paul Atherton, station commander of the Hercules fleet at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, praised the crew of both aircraft for responding "quickly and decisively."

[bth: pretty hard to put lipstick on this pig of a situation.]