Saturday, January 10, 2009

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 01/09/2009 | Commentary: At long last, sir, have you left no sense of decency?

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 01/09/2009 | Commentary: At long last, sir, have you left no sense of decency?: ..."Take for just one specific example the claim that this administration provided unprecedented resources for veterans over the last eight years and, they say, more support than any other president in our history.

Say it ain't so, Joe.

OK: It isn't so. It isn't true. It's a bald-faced lie."

Those who try to rewrite history credit Bush with increasing veterans' benefits and transforming veterans' health care. They claim that he instituted reforms in the care of wounded soldiers coming home from his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and expanded resources for mental health services for troops coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

The truth is that Congress passed virtually every bill to spend more money on benefits for veterans over the opposition of the Bush administration. Reforms in the care of wounded soldiers came only after The Washington Post exposed the shameful warehousing of the recovering wounded at Walter Reed Army Hospital, less than five miles from the Oval Office.

Even as the Iraq War dragged on and the numbers of severely wounded troops began rising sharply, Mr. Bush's Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, a former Republican National Committee chairman, was up on Capitol Hill delivering a budget with cuts in healthcare staffing at VA and cuts in nursing home care.

Nicholson, on White House orders, blocked four congressional attempts to streamline the VA's handling of a disgraceful six-month backlog in veterans benefit claims — a backlog that's only grown worse in subsequent years.

With its eyes on maintaining public support for Bush's war in Iraq, and not on those it sent to fight it, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's Pentagon pressured the Army and Marines to discharge their wounded as fast as possible with the lowest possible disability ratings.

As a result, those who had borne the battle were abandoned to the dysfunctional VA healthcare system, in which it takes six months just to get into the system and a month or more to get a doctor's appointment.

The Bush administration grossly underestimated the flood of post-traumatic stress disorder cases coming home from combat and, when confronted with the reality of more than 320,000 new veterans suffering from PTSD, major depression and TBI, it did little or nothing to expedite their care. In fact, of the 84,000 new veterans diagnosed with PTSD, only half, or 42,000 have managed to get their disability claims approved by the VA.

Some veterans committed suicide while they awaited medical and financial help, itself evidence of the abject and disgraceful failure of the system, and the nation and the administration of George W. Bush. The VA responded by understating the numbers of veterans' suicides and then covering it up. Only after a veterans group sued it did the VA establish a suicide hotline. A heckuva job.

President Bush proposed a half-percent increase in the VA budget for fiscal 2006 after his own appointees at the agency told Congress that they needed a 13 percent increase to meet — barely — the urgent needs for medical and mental health care for the wounded coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the budget scrimped on care for our troops, the administration somehow found room for $3.8 million in performance bonuses for the top executives of an agency that was failing to do its job and fulfill our obligation to those who served and suffered.

In 2007, Bush threatened to veto a bill to boost VA spending by 10 percent, or $3.2 billion. He said that was too expensive and countered with an offer of 2 percent. After Congress passed the bill almost unanimously, Republicans included, The Decider decided to swallow it and signed the bill.

His actions and those of his crony appointees toward our veterans is a blot on our consciences. To then turn around, as the door is about to hit them in their butts on their way out, and take credit for their “good work” on behalf of those they neglected is reprehensible.

Decent people would be tortured by their consciences, but these people apparently have none, and they have no shame, either.

Fiasco at the Army War College: The sequel

Fiasco at the Army War College: The sequel | The Best Defense
I've heard from another defense expert worried about academic freedom at the Army War College. Mark Perry, author of several books on defense issues, wrote to say that a series of experiences two years ago at the college so concerned him that he sent a letter outlining his worries to the chairman of the Joi

Commenting on yesterday's item, Perry
wrote (and I am quoting with his permission):

I know about your blackballing at the Army War College. I
went to speak there, and the faculty approached me. They asked: How in the hell
did you get in here? and told me about your experience. It's worse than you
think. They have curtailed the curriculum so that their students are not exposed
to radical Islam. Akin to denying students access to Marx during the Cold War.

I concur. Not assigning the works of radical Islamicists strikes
me as foolish
. When the enemy lays out his thinking for you, read it.

asked Perry for more information, and so he added in a second e-mail:

I was a part of a three day seminar
for military public affairs experts. All of them wondered why they were having
difficulty "telling the good story of what we are doing in Iraq." It was a
tension filled three days. I was one of seven "SMEs" -- subject matter experts.
I was brought in as an expert on Hamas and Hezbollah. My role was to review why
the Israeli public affairs people had had problems "selling" the August 2006 war
against Hezbollah to the world community. I remember during the plenary session
I was one of several "interventions" (as they are called) and told them: "You
can't sell an Edsel." It was clear immediately that there were people in uniform
present who were very upset that I was invited. And after the three days it was
also clear that (at least for some few senior ranking officers) that my
expertise was not welcome -- and not wanted. I concluded that it was not simply
faculty independence that was and is a problem, but freedom of expression.

During the lunch in which I
was approached by the faculty (three in all), I was told that my experience was
not surprising. "The AWC is creating a closed idea environment by their policy
of not allowing new ideas in here," I recall one faculty member telling me. That
statement, it seemed to me at the time, was a little too general. I had good
contacts in the Pentagon, with very senior commanders and was reassured by them
afterwards that my AWC experience was unusual. It would not have happened at
Leavenworth, I was told. In the wake of this, . . . I wrote to Admiral Mullen
and made my concerns about the AWC known to the set of senior retired military
that can influence him. I do not know that anything has happened to address the

This was two years ago now -- you can see
it still bothers me. It's very bad for our military, so very bad for our

Full disclosure: Perry and I share a publisher, Penguin
Press. Fuller disclosure: I didn't realize this until 30 seconds ago, when I
took down from my shelf his recent book Partners in Command, about
Generals Eisenhower and Marshall.

Thomas E. Ricksnt Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen.

[bth: Mr. Perry provides further confirmation of the situation Ricks reported.]

Israel 'shelled civilian shelter'

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israel 'shelled civilian shelter': "Israeli forces shelled a house in the Gaza Strip which they had moved around 110 Palestinians into 24 hours earlier, the UN quotes witnesses as saying.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called it 'one of the gravest incidents' since the beginning of the offensive.

The shelling at Zeitoun, a south-east suburb of Gaza City, on 5 January killed some 30 people, the report said.

Israel says it has looked into the allegations and they are unfounded.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said no Israeli soldiers had been in the area on the day the incident was supposed to have happened."...

[bth: it appears the foreign ministry spokesman is disassembling. There were none present because it was shelled. He is not denying the killing, just the proximity.]

As night falls on the 15th day of offensive; 854, including 230 children, 90 women killed - International Middle East Media Center - IMEMC

As night falls on the 15th day of offensive; 854, including 230 children, 90 women killed - International Middle East Media Center - IMEMC: "As night fell on Gaza on Saturday, the army continued its illegal offensive for the fifteenth day killing 854 Palestinians, including 230 children, 93 women, 92 elderly, 14 medics and three journalists. At least 3681 Palestinians, 50% of them children and women, were wounded, 500 seriously, Dr. Moawiya Hassanen of the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported."....
SWJ Blog
Daily Kos: State of the Nation

Crooks and Liars

Crooks and Liars

Attack on Iran would threaten U.S. army in Iraq -

Attack on Iran would threaten U.S. army in Iraq - "WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- An Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran could bring about the loss of the army that the United States still keeps deployed in Iraq.

If I sound like the Roman politician Cato in repeating this warning endlessly, I do so with reason. The destruction of an entire American army in Iraq would mark a historic turning point. It would prove to be America's Syracuse expedition -- echoing the fate of the army that the classical Greek democracy of Athens lost in Sicily around 414 B.C. The Syracuse expedition is what the Iraq war has resembled from the start."....

[bth: Lind's analysis is worth a full read and a shiver.]

Pentagon denies arms shipment to Israel linked to Gaza fighting - Haaretz - Israel News

Pentagon denies arms shipment to Israel linked to Gaza fighting - Haaretz - Israel News: "The U.S. military has sought to hire a merchant ship to deliver ammunition to Israel this month, tender documents show, but the Pentagon said the shipment was not linked to the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

A Pentagon spokesman said the ammunition was for a U.S. stockpile in Israel. The U.S. military pre-positions stockpiles in some countries in case it needs supplies at short notice.

In the tender documents, the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as 'ammunition' on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January."...

[bth: so let's just say for discussion purposes that this is a coincidence in timing and not a resupply shipment. Can someone at the Pentagon postpone this? Calling Sec. Gates. How much bad publicity can this shipment buy? Good grief.]

Third 'Human Terrain' Researcher Dead

Third 'Human Terrain' Researcher Dead | Danger Room from
For the third time in eight months, a social scientist with the Army's Human Terrain cultural research program has died.
In early November, while on patrol in an Afghan village, Paula Loyd was doused with a flammable liquid, and set on fire. She suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. Loyd was rushed to a nearby medical center, where she was treated by a burn specialist. Shortly thereafter, Loyd was evacuated to the military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and then to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. But after a two month struggle, she was overcome by her injuries.

This is the latest in a series of attacks on Human Terrain personnel. In May, Michael Bhatia, an Oxford-trained political scientist working in eastern Afghanistan, was killed, along with two soldiers, by a roadside explosive. Less than two months later, a bomb detonated inside the Sadr City District Council building in Iraq. Social scientist Nicole Suveges was inside. She and 11 others died instantly.

The small staff of the Human Terrain program is "reeling" from this latest death, one employee tells Danger Room. "Paula dearly loved Afghanistan -- it showed in the way her face lit up whenever she spoke of it. In the field, her work was stellar, and more than that, she was deeply kind, too. We'll miss her terribly."

The incident that took her life continues to have repercussions, here in the United States. Shortly after Loyd was burned, her assailant, Abdul Salam was allegedly shot in the head by Don Ayala, Loyd's Human Terrain colleague. Ayala was then taken into custody, and charged with 2nd degree murder in U.S. District Court. A Virginia grand jury is scheduled to hear Ayala's case, by the end of the month.

[bth: with apologies to Noah Shachtman for ripping his article in full, I think it deserves exposure. Paula Loyd needs to be remembered.  Her suffering, her death on behalf of the people of two countries.  Seeing Ayala being charged and Paula Loyd killed by some scumbag like Abdul Salam; one wonders if there is justice in this world.  Salam wasn't killed by a transit cop in Oakland, he was killed in retribution in a war zone for burning Paula Loyd alive.  Pardon please Mr. Presidents - Karzai, Bush, Obama ... Anybody? Anybody give a damn?]

MO-Senate: Bond to Retire

MO-Senate: Bond to Retire - The Fix: "Missouri Sen. Kit Bond (R) will retire in 2010, a decision that hands Democrats a prime pickup opportunity in a state where the party has made strides in recent years."...

[bth: this is a real loss. Sen. Bond gave a damn about the treatment of enlisted personnel. He went to bat for them on several occasions. Besides his interest in troopers' equipment (or lack thereof) and the treatment (or lack thereof) of wounded and returning veterans, he went to bat in October and November 2008 for enlisted personnel to investigate the apparent destruction and cover up of records involving the friendly fire deaths of two soldiers in 2006. The records involving the dead soldiers in 2006 were destroyed under order in October 08 apparently by Col. George at Ft. Carson the same day a story came out by Mark Benjamin of Salon showing video of an evident fratricide killing of two soldiers by a tank commanded by a general who was promoted coincidentally (not) the same week in Oct 08. At least Bond gave a damn, which was far more than can be said about the officers in charge of those enlisted personnel - or most of the Senate for that matter. .... We should be looking into a persistent pattern of cover ups involving fratricide. It is being under reported to the detriment of surviving soldiers as no lessons are learned by officers if their transgressions or errors are covered up. For the families of the dead, a lesson learned may be the only thing that gives their sons' deaths meaning - that his comrades might be bettered and protected. But then that required some one give a damn. Sen. Bond did. Now he too is going away. ]

5 Somali Pirates Drown With Their Share Of $3 Million Ransom

5 Somali Pirates Drown With Their Share Of $3 Million Ransom: "MOGADISHU, Somalia — Five of the Somali pirates who released a hijacked oil-laden Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a reported $3 million ransom after their small boat capsized, a pirate and port town resident said Saturday.

Pirate Daud Nure says the boat with eight people on board overturned in a storm after dozens of pirates left the Sirius Star following a two-month standoff in the Gulf of Aden that ended Friday."...

[bth: Proof there is a God.]

Georgia, US sign strategic accord

The Raw Story | Georgia, US sign strategic accord: "The United States and Georgia signed a strategic partnership accord here Friday in a reaffirmation of US support for Georgia's sovereignty after its war with Russia in August.

The charter shows the way to boost 'cooperation in defense, trade, energy security, strengthening democratic institutions, people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges,' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the signing ceremony."

"The United States supports and will always support Georgia's sovereignty and its territorial integrity as well as its Euro-Atlantic aspirations," she said before signing the document with her Georgian counterpart Grigol Vashadze.

"The pace of Georgia's integration with NATO should depend on the desires of Georgians themselves and on Georgia's ability to meet NATO's standards," Rice said.

The accord, similar to a strategic agreement Washington has recently signed with Ukraine, risks raising tensions with Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in August last year.

Post-war tensions between Russia and Georgia are already running high.

Saakashvili on December 22 hailed the US-Georgia treaty as a "historic" move that will allow the two countries' relations to progress towards a new stage.

An analyst with the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, Tornike Sharashenidze, said last month "the accord in question is not about creating military guarantees for Georgia's security. It's mostly of moral force."

The US signed similar strategic partnerships with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1998, when the three countries were seeking to join NATO in the face of fierce opposition from Moscow.

The US-Baltic Charter was seen as a key tool in moving the countries towards membership in NATO, which they joined in 2004.

[bth: So what the hell did we sign here? Is it an accord, a partnership, a strategic agreement, a "support of the territorial integrity" of Georgia? I don't think the US Congress was involved with this and I'm sure the Russians are now going to find a way to get even. With respect to Georgia, its government has been less than responsible in its dealings with Russia and I don't want the US pulled into that mess by irresponsible leaders - Georgian or American.]

KBR seeks to blame Army for death of its own drivers

The Raw Story | KBR seeks to blame Army for death of its own drivers: "In a strange twist to a lawsuit filed against Halliburton and its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, the company has named the US Army and Iraqi insurgents responsible for the deaths and injuries to the firm's truck drivers in Iraq.

Families of the dead and injured drivers accused Halliburton and KBR of sending their relatives into combat zones in 2004 knowing they would be attacked and possibly killed.

Halliburton and KBR's lawyers say they won't force the Army to defend itself in court, but are employing a Texas law that lets juries consider whether other parties bear some responsibilities for victims' injuries."...

[bth: KBR is unbelievable. Imagine ripping off the US government for going on 8 years and then inserting the Army into their lawsuit. Forget the fact that KBR ran empty trucks to keep their billings up. Forget the fact that they defrauded the government with hopped up fuel bills. Forget the fact that they sent their drivers on know combat runs by lying to them about field conditions. KBR's predecessor companies, Kellogg and Brown & Root were also involved in ripping off the government in Vietnam. There is a long history here of relationships between KBR and US President's from Texas - LBJ and the Bushes. Obama needs to end our less than proper relationship with KBR by holding that firm accountable before it flees the country.]

Rice says it is 'hard' for Israel to spare civilians in Gaza

The Raw Story | Rice says it is 'hard' for Israel to spare civilians in Gaza: "US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday 'it's hard' for Israeli troops to shield civilians in Gaza because the area is so densely populated and Hamas uses people as human shields.

'It is very difficult in circumstances like Gaza, which is a very densely populated area,' Rice told reporters when asked if Israel is living up to its humanitarian obligations during its two-week military offensive in Gaza."....

[bth: Hamas is awful - thugs and murders. However, Israel's recent actions are way over the top. It is not hard to see how America would be held accountable for Israel's actions in Gaza. 4 dead from rockets - 400 dead in Gaza from Israeli retaliation? We give them the weapons and we fail to acknowledge the reality on the ground - the 100:1 kill ratios - and we fail to even offer sympathy to the civilians trapped in that open air prison called Gaza.]

New Footage of Oakland Man Murdered By BART Cop : Indybay

New Footage of Oakland Man Murdered By BART Cop : Indybay

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Army sorry for 'John Doe' letters to relatives of war dead -

Army sorry for 'John Doe' letters to relatives of war dead - "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Army is apologizing to thousands of Army families who received letters beginning 'Dear John Doe' after losing a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan."

Some 7,000 letters were sent in late December to notify families of services or gifts surviving family members can receive from nonprofit organizations that help families of fallen soldiers, according to an Army statement Wednesday.

The letters also had improper address information at the top of the correspondence. Instead of the receiving family's name and home address, the letters said "Army Long Term Case Management."

The letters were printed by a contracting company and sent by the U.S. Army Human Resources Command's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Center in Alexandria, Virginia. The center issued a formal apology Wednesday, according to the statement.

"There are no words to adequately apologize for this mistake or for the hurt it may have caused," Brig. Gen. Reuben D. Jones, Army adjutant general, said in the statement. "It is important the original intent of the letter is not lost. The organizations mentioned are dedicated to honoring loved ones and recognizing their sacrifice and commitment," the apology continued.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. is sending a personal letter to the thousands of families who received the improperly addressed letter, according to Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman....

[bth: As a Gold Star family I'll make this statement. In the last year, I've been impressed with the work LTC Graham has done to repair the rift that developed with the Army. In prior years things had been deplorable with caskets showing up on airport conveyor belts and Rumsfeld signing form letters. There was also the lies with regard to causes of death which may have improved post Tillman though the verdict is still out on that one. I was particularly impressed with the long term care and casualty affairs work in October and November 2008 which I witnessed first hand in Washington DC. It counts for a lot. Lord knows the world isn't perfect and all the Gold Star Families know this. Intent counts for a lot and saying your sorry also counts with us. Gen. Casey has done that. On behalf of myself, I simply say, 'apology accepted.']

: Iraqi cleric urges attacks on US troops over Gaza

The Associated Press: Iraqi cleric urges attacks on US troops over Gaza: "BAGHDAD (AP) — Anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday urged reprisals against American forces in Iraq to protest Israel's Gaza offensive, as Arab anger grows over civilian deaths in the Palestinian territory.

The strongly worded statement signaled a threat by al-Sadr's militia fighters to renew violence against American troops after months of relative calm."...

[bth: at what point does Sadr forfeit his life? Personally I think he crossed the line a long time ago.]

Fiasco at the Army War College | The Best Defense

Fiasco at the Army War College | The Best Defense: "I blurbed his book, he blackballed me

Did faculty members at the Army War College curtail their criticism of the Iraq war for fear of institutional retaliation?"

That seems to be the bottom line in a situation I stumbled across just a few days ago. A friend passed along a 2005 e-mail note in which Steven Metz, chairman of a department at the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, urged several of his colleagues to blackball me because of my coverage of the Iraq war. "We all need to avoid Tom like the plague," Professor Metz advised.

I was surprised by this in particular because the last time I heard from Metz last year, he was asking me to blurb his new book on the Iraq war, which I did, as you can see here. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but it is more than a little disappointing for him to denounce me privately and then turn around and ask me for help selling his book publicly.

But more important is what Metz's note may say about the state of academic freedom at the Army War College. When I asked him why he would urge his colleagues to shun me, he quickly apologized via e-mail and explained that it had to do with the political climate at the college back then. In fact, he explicitly blamed the strained relationship between the Army and its civilian overseers under then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "[A]t the time -- with growing sensitivity to criticism by Rumsfeld and the Army's attempt to make peace with Rumsfeld after Shinseki left -- several members of SSI had been verbally flogged after interviews with you when the stories portrayed [sic] as more critical of the administration than we intended. We were worried about what might happen to SSI, even frightened for the organization. Many of us, including me, simply stopped doing interviews. Luckily, the climate eventually changed."

Metz went on to tell me that he now thinks he was wrong to tone down his criticism of the conduct of the Iraq war back then. "Today I believe that I should have been more critical of the unfolding disaster in Iraq and simply borne the consequences. As government employees, we walk a fine line between being critics and 'part of the team.' In 2005 I, at least, lost the sense of balance."

Maybe it is time for the commandant of the War College to issue a statement emphatically reaffirming his institution's commitment to academic freedom?

Update: Metz responds below.

[bth: the comments on the original post are worth reviewing. So Thomas Ricks was blackballed by the War College in 2005. What a surprise. The total failure of personal integrity and courage within the Army officer corp and the War College in the period 2003-2006 was just stunning. Because of this the public lost faith in the official views and commentary coming from the Pentagon; body armor went lacking, MRAPS were delayed, armored humvees were continually undermined except for a righteous outcry from the public and the military families. The establishment within the Army needed to grow a pair but they didn't. So they were under pressure. No shit.

Well if integrity and courage fail when they really matter, what good are they and does it exist at all any more within the professional officers corp? Take a close look at Gen. Marshall as an example of integrity and courage in politically difficult ties. This generation simply has not had a Marshall. Integrity has a high price personally for professors and officers. There isn't a free ride. That it was lacking is a testament to how valuable and rare it is - rarer than physical courage I've sadly found - and how noticeable it is by its absence in the current corp.]

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Report: Al-Qaida No. 2 blames Obama for Gaza fight - Yahoo! News

Report: Al-Qaida No. 2 blames Obama for Gaza fight - Yahoo! News: "CAIRO, Egypt – Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader lashed out at President-elect Barack Obama in a new audio message Tuesday, accusing him of not doing anything to stop Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip, according to an intelligence monitoring center."...

[bth: curious statement. He is also trying to stir up trouble in Egypt.]

Obama era expected to end taboo on gays in US military - Yahoo! News

Obama era expected to end taboo on gays in US military - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON (AFP) – Sixteen years after Bill Clinton tried to end restrictions on gays in the military, the US armed forces under Barack Obama may be forced to give homosexuals the same welcome as non-gays.

Under president Clinton, the policy that once saw homosexuals discharged from US military service evolved to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' allowing gays to remain in the military so long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation.

Obama has pledged to overhaul current law.

'The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited,' reads an entry on the president-elect's transition website."...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Graphic Firing Table
Graphic Firing Table

Somalia: Islamists take over bases vacated by Ethiopian soldiers

Garowe Online - Home: "MOGADISHU, Somalia Jan 3 (Garowe Online) - Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militiamen have began taking control of military bases vacated by withdrawing Ethiopian troops, Radio Garowe reported Saturday.

Sheikh Abdirahim Isse Addow, the ICU spokesman, told reporters that ICU militia took over bases in Huriwa, Howlwadaag and Hodan districts, all located in the capital Mogadishu.

'We sent forces to the bases to take over security control in those districts,' the ICU spokesman said.

Hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers were seen loading up their army trucks and preparing to leave Mogadishu, ending a two-year military occupation that triggered a bloody Islamist rebellion.

Somalia's interim government was established in 2004 and has largely failed to restore order. Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned last week and many expect a new 'unity government' to include ICU moderates.

However, Islamist hardliners like Al Shabaab have vowed to continue the war against the Somali government and its allies even after Ethiopian troops leave the country."

[bth: quietly we lose Somalia again. Does anyone care?]

Canadian troops kill suspected car bomber Canadian troops kill suspected car bomber: "KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canadian troops have shot dead a suspected suicide bomber who tried to drive an explosive-laden sport utility vehicle into their patrol north of Kandahar city.

Soldiers were on a bomb-sweeping patrol when an older model Toyota Land Cruiser pulled out from a blockade and raced toward them, said Major David Warnke, commander of Task Force Kandahar's anti-bomb squad.

The attack happened Jan. 1 at about 2 p.m. in the district of Shah Wali Khot, a military news release says, which is 23 kilometres north of Kandahar city.

Maj. Warnke said Canadian soldiers repeatedly warned the driver to stop before opening fire. A photograph of the vehicle shows its windshield riddled with bulletholes.

Canadian troops found three large explosives — two 250-kilogram and one 100-kilogram Russian aircraft bombs — when they searched the vehicle.

The blast would likely have killed everyone within 260 metres, Maj. Warnke said, but it could have killed people up to 1,500 metres away. Based on the size of the explosives and the method of attack, he said the bomber likely targeted Canadian troops."....

The Raw Story | CORRECTION: 'Leaked' Gaza bombing video misdated

The Raw Story | CORRECTION: 'Leaked' Gaza bombing video misdated: "On Sunday, RAW STORY ran video of a bombing in Gaza purported to be recent footage leaked from an exiled Palestinian blogger.

The footage is the aftermath of a devastating bombing taking place in a market, said to have been taken on Saturday. According to Haitham Sabbah, it was taken 'immediately after a terrorist Israeli air strike hit a busy market where kids with their mothers and fathers were searching for food to eat from one of the local markets early on Saturday 03, Jan 2009.'

The source was in error. The footage was actually taken on September 23, 2005 at the Jabaliya refugee camp, described as a bombing of a parade that killed at least 15 Palestinians. Israel denied responsibility, and the ruling Palestinian Fatah blamed Hamas.

We apologize for the error."

Bush first ex-prez to face limit on Secret Service protection

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 01/04/2009 | Bush first ex-prez to face limit on Secret Service protection: "WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush's 'after-life,' as Laura Bush calls the post-presidency, is shaping up to be pretty comfortable, with a Dallas office, staffers, Secret Service protection, a travel budget, medical coverage and a $196,700 annual pension, all at taxpayers' expense.

However, Bush will be the first president not to benefit from one former lifetime benefit: Secret Service protection.

'He'll be the first one to receive it for 10 years,' said Malcolm Wiley, Secret Service spokesman. Congress changed the law in the 1990s so that any president elected after Jan. 1, 1997, and his or her spouse will receive the federal protection for only 10 years."....

[bth: not maintaining secret service protection on a former president is stupid.]

Sunday, January 04, 2009

'IDF operations in Gaza affecting Hamas command-and-control'

...."Hamas operatives are in the hospital and have disguised themselves as nurses and doctors," one official said.

OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin told the cabinet that Hamas was using mosques, public institutions and private homes as ammunition stores.

By Sunday afternoon, the IDF had divided the Gaza Strip into two segments, in a move aimed at cutting off the flow of arms, supplies and fighters to the northern part. Palestinians reported that IDF tanks had taken up positions near the former settlement of Netzarim and troops had began surrounding Gaza City...
Global Economy Matters: December's JPMorgan Global PMI Shows Just How Far The Infection Has Spread
Well, here's the chart I think everyone really need to see (below). The JPMorgan Global Manufacturing PMI hit 33.2 in December, a series record. More to the point you can get a comparison between what is happening now and the 2001 "recession lite" with only a swift glance, and, of course, the 2009 long recession is only just getting started.

Now let's stick it alongside the one Paul Krugman put up last week of the US Great Depression:

Arguably, what we can see here is that the current collapse in industrial activity is starting to get near the US historic one in terms of proportions, but we still aren't quite there yet. What we could note that JP Morgan in their monthly report suggest that the present rates of output are equivalent to an annual fall of between 12% and 15%. Really to compare with the fall in the US we need to get up into the 20% region, but remember the global index is based on an average for 26 countries, and some of these are much worse than others (Japan, Spain, possibly Russia) and will already be around the 20% annual contraction rate in December. The point is also that the situation is still deteriorating, so hang on a bit, since it is not at all excluded that we will hit a 20% annualised contraction rate for the whole aggregate 26 sometime during the first quarter.

"The second half of 2008 has been dreadful for global manufacturing and the sector enters the new year mired in its deepest recession for decades. Manufacturing will therefore continue to weigh on world GDP figures, with December PMI data consistent with a drop in global IP of around 12%-15% saar as indexes for output, new orders and employment slumped to record lows."

"The weakest performance was registered by Japan, whose output and new orders indexes fell to levels unprecedented in the histories of any of the national manufacturing surveys included in the global manufacturing PMI."

"Employment fell for the fifth successive month in December, and to the greatest extent in survey history. All of the national manufacturing sectors recorded a drop in staffing levels, most at series-record rates including all of the Eurozone nations, China and the UK. The sharpest falls in employment were signalled for Denmark, Spain, the US, Russia and the UK."

And watch out for the deflation backslap:

"The Global Manufacturing Input Prices Index posted 31.3, its lowest ever reading. The rate of deflation was especially marked in the US, were purchase prices fell to the greatest extent since June 1949. Rates of decrease in costs hit series records in the Eurozone, Russia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Denmark."....

[bth: very scary analysis and a new blog worth tracking.]

Manufacturing Cools Around the World -

Manufacturing Cools Around the World - "From Australia to Asia and Europe to the United States, the message on Wednesday in the latest economic reports was clear: manufacturing continued to slump amid the worst slowdown since the Great Depression."

In the United States on Friday, a crucial measure of manufacturing activity fell to the lowest level in 28 years in December. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said its manufacturing index was 32.4 in December, down from 36.2 in November.

“Manufacturing activity continued to decline at a rapid rate during the month of December,” said Norbert J. Ore, chairman of the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. This index was at the lowest reading since June 1980, when it was 30.3 percent.

“This report indicates that the U.S. economy was on even weaker footing than commonly believed as 2008 came to a close,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR. “Moreover, the signal from the export orders index is that the rest of the world is right there with us. Hardly a signal for economic recovery anytime soon.”

In addition, Mr. Ore said, “new orders have contracted for 13 consecutive months, and are at the lowest level on record going back to January 1948.”

The new orders index was 22.7 percent in December, 5.2 percentage points lower than the 27.9 percent registered in November.

No industry sector surveyed reported growth in December; the jobs sector was particularly grim. The employment index was 29.9 percent in December, a decrease of 4.3 percentage points from November. That was the lowest reading since November 1982.

In Europe, a closely watched index of purchasing managers showed manufacturing hit a low in December, falling to 33.9 from 35.6. Any reading above 50 signals growth, while a reading below 50 indicates contraction in manufacturing. Similarly grim readings in Australia, China and India highlighted how the Asia-Pacific region has become caught up in the global turmoil.

In China, the purchasing managers’ index by the brokerage firm CLSA showed the manufacturing sector had contracted for a fifth consecutive month. The survey showed the steepest decline in its history.

With five back-to-back purchasing index readings signaling contraction, “the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 43 percent of the Chinese economy, is close to technical recession,” said Eric Fishwick, head of economic research at CLSA in Hong Kong, in a note with the release.

The data added to the flood of statistical evidence from across the Asia-Pacific region showing that activity was slowing faster than previously thought as demand withers in the United States and Europe.

Australia’s manufacturing index showed a seventh month of contraction, and a similar survey in India showed activity down for a second month in December. In South Korea, December data showed exports plummeted 17.4 percent from a year ago.

President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea pledged on Friday that the government would go into emergency mode to pull the country out of its economic crisis.

And in Singapore, the economy shrank 12.5 percent in the last quarter of 2008 from the previous period, causing the trade and industry ministry to lower its growth forecast for 2009. The ministry now expects Singapore’s economy to shrink up to 2 percent, with only 1 percent growth at best. Previously, it had expected up to 2 percent growth.

The worsening data, combined with a stream of company profit warnings, production cuts and layoffs, raises the pressure on policy makers to step up their efforts to bolster their economies.

India on Friday cut its main interest rate by a full percentage point, to 5.5 percent, and took a series of steps to bring more money into the country. It also raised the limit on overseas investments in corporate bonds to $15 billion, from $6 billion, and will contribute 200 billion rupees ($4 billion), to increase the capital of state-run banks.

Countries across the region were widely expected to make more interest rate cuts in coming weeks.

“China’s economic outlook for 2009 will be best characterized as ‘getting worse before getting better,’ laying the foundation for a firmer recovery in 2010,” said Qing Wang, chief economist for Greater China at Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong.

Mr. Wang expected growth to continue to slow in the first six months, before stimulus measures could take effect. “The authorities have already made delivering economic growth a top policy priority by adopting a campaign-style policy execution approach,” he said. ...

60 Percent of Kurdish Women in Iraq Circumcised

60 Percent of Kurdish Women in Iraq Circumcised: "TUZ KHURMATU, Iraq -- Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor's house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. 'I do this in the name of Allah!' she intoned."

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan's genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan's mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq -- and one of the few places in the world -- where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament's refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women.

"When the Kurdish people were fighting for our independence, women participated as full members in the underground resistance," said Pakshan Zangana, who heads the women's committee in the Kurdish parliament. "But now that we have won our freedom, the position of women has been pushed backwards and crimes against us are minimized."

Ms. Zangana has been lobbying for a law in Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region with its own government, that would impose jail terms of up to 10 years on those who carry out or facilitate female circumcision. But the legislation has been stalled for nearly a year, because of what women's advocates believe is reluctance by senior Kurdish leaders to draw international public attention to the little-noticed tradition.

The practice of female circumcision is extremely rare in the Arab parts of Iraq, according to women's groups.

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post

This seems quite bad ... economic data on global manufacturing

Brad Setser: Follow the Money » Blog Archive » This seems quite bad …
There is a real risk that the worst financial crisis since the 30s will lead to the sharpest global downturn since the 1930s. The latest ISM survey is rather grim. The New York Times reports:

“Manufacturing activity continued to decline at a rapid rate during the month of December,” said Norbert J. Ore, chairman of the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. This index was at the lowest reading since June 1980 when it was 30.3 percent. In addition, Mr. Ore said, “New orders have contracted for 13 consecutive months, and are at the lowest level on record going back to January 1948.”

The new orders index was 22.7 percent in December, 5.2
percentage points lower than the 27.9 percent registered in November.
No industry sector surveyed reported growth in December; the jobs
sector particularly grim. The employment index was 29.9 percent in
December, a decrease of 4.3 percentage points from November. That was
the lowest reading since November 1982

Emphasis added. The US index for new orders is at a sixty year low.
Korea’s manufacturing output is shrinking faster than in the
Asian crisis. Russian manufacturing is poised to shrink more rapidly
than in 1998. China, Japan and Europe are all looking at manufacturing
contractions too. JPMorgan’s global PMI is at — as one
would expect — a record low. Edward Hugh reports that this should translate into a 10% plus contraction in global manufacturing output.

I guess macroeconomic volatility is not a historical relic after all.

My colleague Paul Swartz and the team at the CFR’s Center for Geoeconomic Studies have pulled together a set of charts to help track the current contraction
by comparing current data to the average of past recessions. I
personally found the charts useful — and I would be interested in
your feedback as well. Are there indicators that we should be tracking
that we aren’t? And are there indicators that we are tracking
that aren’t that interesting? I am pretty sure Paul will be
updating the charts regularly. Adding in the results of the latest ISM
survey on Monday is an obvious first step …

[bth: if sustained, we are indeed heading for a depression in prices as unemployment.]