Saturday, January 31, 2009

Russian newspaper mourns another murdered reporter

My Way News - Russian newspaper mourns another murdered reporter
MOSCOW (AP) - The dead loom over the morning editorial meeting at Russia's leading investigative newspaper. Novaya Gazeta's staff is trying to plan the next issue and editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov is in an understandably foul mood.

In a corner hang photos of four reporters he has lost in the past eight years - one beaten to death, one allegedly poisoned, two shot - the most recent on Jan. 19.

It's not easy to put a paper out these days, Muratov says.

"There's usually a lot of jokes, laughing, talk about ideas. But our batteries are totally spent," says Muratov, 47, billows of pipe smoke filling the long pauses. "How can there be any sort of (normal) frame of mind when a journalist is being buried?"

That journalist was Anastasia Baburova, a 25-year-old cub reporter. She and a human rights lawyer were shot execution-style by a masked man with a silenced pistol as they walked together a few blocks from the Kremlin.

In a country considered one of the most dangerous for journalists, no Russian newspaper has suffered like Novaya Gazeta. In a country where most media have been cowed into submission, no other newspaper publishes such probing investigative articles and acid commentary about government corruption, police-state politics and Chechnya war abuses.

"Every two or three years, we lose someone," says Elena Kostyuchenko, a 21-year-old investigative writer for the paper. "But you just have to write, write, write and keep writing. You have to."

Some 16 journalists have died in contract-style slayings or under suspicious circumstances in Russia since 2000. Many more have been assaulted or threatened.

Under Vladimir Putin, who became president in 2000 and now is prime minister, the TV networks watched by most Russians were taken over by the state, their news operations highly sanitized. Big-selling newspapers are either sympathetic to the Kremlin or owned by Kremlin-allied business groups.

Of the many free-spirited papers that sprang up when the Soviet Union collapsed, Novaya Gazeta - meaning New Newspaper - is a rare survivor.

Its most high-profile loss was Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter who savaged the Kremlin for its conduct of the war on Chechen separatists. Her shooting outside her Moscow apartment in 2006 provoked worldwide condemnation and major embarrassment for the Kremlin.

Three Chechens - two brothers and a former police officer - are on trial but the prosecution is not offering a motive or identifying any mastermind, leading Novaya Gazeta and others to claim the trial is a cover-up. Putin has claimed the killing was hatched abroad to discredit Russia.

The paper's first fatality, in 2000, was Igor Domnikov, who wrote about regional corruption. He was attacked with a hammer. Seven members of a criminal gang were convicted of his murder in 2007. The lead defendant claimed a regional governor had Domnikov killed for criticizing him. The governor was not charged.

In 2003, Yury Shchekochikhin died of a severe allergic reaction, but colleagues claimed he was poisoned. Shchekochikhin, 53, wrote about high-level corruption and investigated the deadly 1999 bombings of apartment blocks.

In the latest killing, it appears lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who specialized in defending Chechens, environmentalists and human rights activists, was the primary target and Baburova may have been killed after she tried to intervene.

Many at Novaya Gazeta are convinced that nationalist or fascist groups are behind the latest attacks and the paper's own blog is full of anonymous postings celebrating the killings. Others suspect the involvement of security agencies, citing past incidents when Novaya Gazeta's phones were tapped or in 2000, when its computer hard drives were stolen....

[bth: I used to wonder why the Russians were so willing to surrender their rights to the state, then I watched the same thing happen here in the US for 8 years and I wonder no more.  People fight for their freedoms or they lose them.]

The murder of another russian journalist - Anastasia Baburova

Mike Ditka, Rocky Bleier get message out in Tampa veterans hospital --

Mike Ditka, Rocky Bleier get message out in Tampa veterans hospital -- "TAMPA — 'Steelers' was the second word Kevin Kammerdiener spoke once he came out the coma that lasted six weeks.

' 'Hi' was the first, and 'mom' came way later,' Leslie Kammerdiener said Thursday as her eyes gazed at her son in his wheelchair. 'He has 25 words in his vocabulary right now.'

'Thanks' is near the top of that list."

That was the word Kammerdiener tried to speak several times to Mike Ditka after "Da Coach" signed a football and posed for pictures Thursday during a visit to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. After exchanging fist bumps with Rocky Bleier, who had signed a yellow "Terrible Towel," Kammerdiener mouthed the same words of gratitude toward a legend from his favorite team, the Steelers.

"I've been here 243 days, and this is one of the better ones," Leslie Kammerdiener said.

Her son, an Army private in the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed in Afghanistan, lost a significant part of the left side of his brain May 31 when a suicide bomber drove into his Humvee. The explosion blasted Kammerdiener 35 feet into the air, sending his helmet flying. He landed on his head.

Doctors expected Kammerdiener, 20, to be in a vegetative state the rest of his life if he ever woke up at all.

"So he's doing phenomenal for somebody we never thought would be here," Leslie Kammerdiener said hopefully.

She hails from East Brady, Pa., an hour north of Pittsburgh, and she's homeless now because she had to quit her job to take care of her son. For the last five months she has lived here at the Fisher House residential polytrauma center.

Super Bowl week means different things to different people across America. For Kammerdiener and the 20 other families living in this facility, it has meant the chance to hear from people such as Ditka and Bleier, who have stopped by to offer hope in a place where it can be hard to find.

"This is better for me than it is for them," Ditka said. "It brings me back to reality. I'm a great patriot. I love this country, and anybody who served this country like these guys did, I'll do anything for them."

You won't find patriotism on any NFL injury reports. Its health around the league never has been better.

When the Steelers won the AFC title at Heinz Field, one of the first things Ben Roethlisberger did was thank the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ditka's group, Gridiron Greats, recently aligned with the Special Operations Warrior Foundation to increase fundraising and awareness for retired NFL players in need. Look no further than Thursday's announcement that Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, will toss a ceremonial coin before Super Bowl XLIII for more evidence.

With the former team of Pat Tillman, whom some have compared to Bleier, in the Super Bowl, the flag-waving has intensified. All week the tragic tale of Tillman has been revisited to pay tribute to a man who gave up the NFL to defend his country and ultimately lost his life in 2004.

Perhaps no living soul symbolizes the connection between the NFL and the military more than Bleier, who was drafted and sent to Vietnam after graduating from Notre Dame.

On Aug. 20, 1969, Bleier's platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy, and he took shrapnel in his right leg from an enemy grenade. Bleier spent eight months in Ft. Riley, Kan., recovering in a hospital similar to the one he visited Thursday.

His four Super Bowl rings in tow, the former Steelers running back made eye contact with every wounded soldier he met and delivered his patented message: Never give up.

"I can have empathy for what they're going through," Bleier said. "They don't want you to feel sorry for them. They just want you to understand and treat them as a normal person."

So Bleier spoke to Lukas Shook, a 21-year-old Army private, like a guy who pulled up a bar stool next to his wheelchair. He laughed when Shook asked what position he played.

"Have you heard of Terry Bradshaw? Have you heard about Franco Harris?" Bleier said. "I was the other guy."

Shook smiled. He was on duty Nov. 30 in Baghdad when a rocket exploded about 15 feet away. All he remembers was being dragged back to a bunk and feeling blood roll down his face.

"That's when I thought I was going to die," Shook said.

He suffered a head injury and vertebrae fractures so severe that doctors told him he would never walk again. He still wears a breastplate that covers his entire torso. But as Shook firmly shook hands with Bleier, he reported he has begun walking as much as 50 feet without crutches.

On the other side of the room, Ditka was visiting with Jeremy Miller's wife. Miller was flying a Black Hawk helicopter during a routine training exercise at Ft. Campbell, Ky., when it collided with another chopper. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and spinal damage that confines him to a wheelchair.

That was 13 years ago.

"What can I do for you?" Ditka asked.

At that point Ditka stepped aside so he wouldn't block a picture of soldier Mark Lalli posing with Bleier's four Super Bowl rings on his fingers. Lalli, 23, also was wearing two bracelets on his right wrist that belonged to the pilots who didn't survive his helicopter crash. It happened in Aviano, Italy, after Lalli had spent a year in Iraq.

Though a Cleveland native, Lalli was among the first to start chanting "Rocky! Rocky!" as Bleier began to head for the door.

Outside the room, Ditka's face turned redder than usual as he marveled at the progress Kammerdiener, in particular, had made since Da Coach's last visit a few months ago.

"Incredible … his head was basically, half of it was gone," Ditka said. "They'll probably never get back to 100 percent, but the love and cheer they get here, that's special. Not to honor these people and not to remember them this week would be a disgrace."

Faces of Remembrance - Bedford, MA - Bedford Minuteman

Faces of Remembrance - Bedford, MA - Bedford Minuteman: "It all starts with the eyes. They are the focal point for Gina Johnson when she begins working on a portrait of a fallen soldier.

“I’m what you call a volunteer-aholic,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve been a volunteer since I was in middle school and always included my kids. Now that my kids are in college, I wanted to have something that was a little bit more committed – something ongoing.”"

Johnson, who is the office manager for The Legacy at Arlington Center at 438 Massachusetts Ave., has since started with the eyes of 44 Bay State troops who have lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan, all of which will be on display from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 30, at the American Legion Hall, 162 Winn St., Burlington.

There is no charge for the portraits, which she does, she added, simply to offer some joy to the families of soldiers who have lost their lives.

Johnson credits her brother, Paul Roth, a Burlington resident, with moving the project forward in order to present the portraits to family members and the public in general.

A day after seeing a tribute to fallen soldiers online, Johnson learned the fiancé of a former art student had been killed in Iraq.

“He was my first soldier,” she said.

That soldier was Army Staff Sgt. Joan J. Duran of Roxbury. He was killed on Aug. 10, 2007 in Iraq.

On the Web site, Johnson read stories on the lives of these men and women.

“The very first one I read was [Army Spec.] Matthew Boule,” she said. “His family then wanted to do something to ‘pay it forward.’ And that’s my whole concept.

“His parents were inspired to do something,” she added. “Each of these parents wanted to do something to keep their memories alive. I chose to put a face to that list and make it even more powerful.”

Johnson calls her project “Operation Home Ties: Faces of Remembrance.”

“The name came to me because of the yellow ribbons that are put up for all our hometown heroes in hopes that they’ll return,” explained Johnson. “How sad was it that parents were interviewed at the worse time in their lives. I wanted to do something that would give them joy again.”

Art, Johnson said, has always been a part of her life.

“Art has always been in my family,” she said. “I’m the seventh out of eight [children]. It’s a gift that I share all the time.”

Johnson also completed a portrait of Sgt. 1st Class Keith Callahan of Woburn, who lost his life in Iraq on Jan. 24, 2007. Callahan was the first Woburn son to lose his life in combat since the Vietnam War.

Johnson finished the initial portrait and delivered it to his mother, Joan. At her request, Johnson completed several portraits of Callahan with family members, including his widow, Dody, and the couple’s children: Tyler, 13, Devin, 8, and twins Brooke and Brady, 6.

“I love them. She just captured the essence of him,” said Joan, who presented the portraits to her daughter-in-law and grandchildren as Christmas gifts.

“They were just overwhelmed with it,” she said of their reaction.

Last Mother’s Day, Johnson presented Joan with a portrait her and Keith.

“She’s been very good to me,” said Joan, adding she plans to attend the event at the American Legion.

Johnson typically has an audience while working on the portraits, thanks to the benevolence of Peter Mamakos, owner of The Restaurant at 489 Main St. in Woburn.

After completing the first portrait, Johnson said she needed to find a “home base” to continue her work and decided to approach Mamakos with the idea of working there one night each week.

“That’s where I’ve been for eight months. Every Monday I sit in there and the patrons watch what I do,” she said. “I gave my e-mail address and the address of the restaurant so parents could send their pictures to me.”

Johnson also expressed thanks to the many patrons at The Restaurant, AC Moore, her employer, Robert Mirak, as well as the many donors who have helped her obtain the supplies needed to complete the portraits

Mamakos, she added, is also providing food to the American Legion for the event Friday.

Most of the portraits are done in uniform, but a few are of troops wearing civilian attire, but Johnson works with any photo made available to her.

“They’re really done quite well,” said Robert Hogan, director of Veterans’ Services in Burlington. “When I saw it, I was impressed how close to the details she was.”

Hogan will be present for the first public viewing of the portraits at the American Legion hall.

“The Legion was willing to do it because veterans were involved,” he said.

State Sen. Ken Donnelly and Rep. Charles Murphy will also be attending the event and the Legion’s chaplain, the Rev. Francesco Passamonte will be on hand to bless the photos and the souls of the soldiers who have died.

“I hope the average person will come down to look at the pictures and put a face to the name of these young men. They’re still children in some cases,” said Hogan. “She’s doing a wonderful thing with this...

[bth: Gina's work was very nice and very well put together. The link to this article provides a link to her 44 portraits. Very impressive and a kind act which was appreciated by the families we know.]

NATO orders leak probe after Afghan drug report | Reuters

NATO orders leak probe after Afghan drug report | Reuters: "BRUSSELS, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The NATO secretary-general has ordered an investigation after a German magazine published a purported classified document from the alliance's top commander calling for the targeting of all Afghan drug traffickers.

The online version of Der Spiegel magazine said it had obtained a classified document in which U.S. General John Craddock said all drug traffickers could be attacked, whether or not evidence connected them to the Taliban insurgency."...

Gates testimony shows why Afghanistan is no cake walk

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 01/27/2009 | Gates testimony shows why Afghanistan is no cake walk
... Calling Afghanistan America's "greatest military challenge," Gates said the U.S. no longer could maintain the broad goal of nation building, as it did under the Bush administration. Instead, the goal must be for Afghanistan to no longer be a place where terrorists can plot attacks on the U.S.

To do that, U.S. and NATO forces must train Afghan security forces so they can take the lead, Gates said. He conceded, however, that maintaining those forces could cost as much as $4 billion in a country whose economy earns only $800 million a year.

Gates, wearing a brace after surgery on Friday to repair a torn tendon in his left arm, also called on NATO to provide more training, money to support the Afghan forces and more "caveat-free forces," a reference to the limits individual countries place on the deployment of their troops. He also said, however, that the overall military operation in Afghanistan needs more streamlined leadership and that a 40-member coalition made it harder for the U.S. to set the course there.

Gates also said he's concerned about civilian causalities, but he didn't back away from using airstrikes, which are some of the most common causes of civilian deaths.

He stressed that if the U.S. is seen as an occupying force, rather than one supporting the Afghan forces, "we will set ourselves up for failure."

Yet Gates also spelled out the U.S. push into southern Afghanistan, saying it must stop the Taliban from profiting from an expanding drug trafficking network. He also endorsed offering poppy farmers alternative crops, such as wheat.

"The Afghan people must believe this is their war and we are there to help them. If they think we are there for our own purposes, then we will go the way of every other foreign army that has been in Afghanistan," Gates said....

[bth:  Afghanistan is so poor one wonders if we would do better leveraging our financial strenght over military - give farmers wheat to grow instead of opium, spend a few billion on jobs, start buying water and fuel supplies locally...]

How compromise got no votes from the right No Nothing Party

Unity Goes Obama for the Repbulican Party, Progressives Cheer Getting Screwed | The Agonist
... let me do the numbers.

Number of Republican Votes for the Stimulus Bill: 0
Number of Depression Dog defectors: 11

Obama isn't a Democrat giving things up to get Republican votes, he's a conservative mugging liberals for a conservative agenda that includes:

1. War in Afghanistan
2. Paulson's version of TARP where taxpayers buy all bad assets.
3. Slash social security and Medicare
4. Tax Cuts
5. No Comprehensive Health Care, but huge subsidies for Health Insurance companies instead.

Taken as a whole, Obama is offering small concessions to the left, in return for trillions of dollars that are coming directly out of the pockets and veins, of ordinary people. He couldn't even come up with a bit of money to help poor women pay for birth control pills. But he could cave on Pay-Go. Pennies for the people, pounds for the powerful.

Right now, your liberal leadership is selling the country out for little things. Game theory has something to say about this, it is called the stag hunt.

A stag hunt is when there are two choices, cooperate for a large objective, or go for a smaller objective you can get yourself. People will chase rabbits unless there is something that makes chasing the stag really worth while. Absent messaging, the best strategy devolves down to hunting rabbits until the other side hunts stag, then you get the rabbits, and the half the stag pay out. Of course, this doesn't happen absent some other pressure. So everyone lives on rabbit while the stag is out there.

That's what Obama is offering: the chance for liberal groups to sell out for 2 billion here, a million there, a minor concession here. In return, Obama gets all the big things. All of them. It isn't the Republicans who are stopping this - their votes are irrelevant. It is the Unity Ponies and the Blue Dogs who are the problem. But the Liberal Blogosphere, wants to hunt the rabbit of bashing Republicans. Now bashing Republicans is fun and easy. They say the stupidest things, they break their word, they break the law, they undercut their own principles. Remember how the Republicans screamed that even thinking that Bush might fail was treason? Well there's Rush "cheerleader for failure."

However the right wing isn't going to provide any votes. None. Obama said he wanted 13 Republican votes in the Senate. He could barely get that many blue dogs in the House.

Until the left wakes up and realizes that their brand is on the line, and that Obama needs to move well to the left on major issues, both for the pragmatic reason of liberal policies work, and right wing policies don't - and for the political reason that liberals are going to supply his votes, things are not going to get much better, and long term they will be much worse. Because after Obama is finished doing the Unity thing all over your Social Security, and has sucked up all the losses of the elites, they won't have a use for him, and all the Wall Street money will slush back over to the Republicans, who will win an election. And then the real damage starts.

Time is running out, it is probably too late already....

Iran says Obama's offer to talk shows US failure

Iran says Obama's offer to talk shows US failure: "US President Barack Obama's offer to talk to Iran shows that America's policy of 'domination' has failed, the government spokesman said on Saturday.

'This request means Western ideology has become passive, that capitalist thought and the system of domination have failed,' Gholam Hossein Elham was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.

'Negotiation is secondary, the main issue is that there is no way but for (the United States) to change,' he added.

After nearly three decades of severed ties, Obama said shortly after taking office this month that he is willing to extend a diplomatic hand to Tehran if the Islamic republic is ready to 'unclench its fist'.

In response, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a fresh tirade against the United States, demanding an apology for its 'crimes' against Iran and saying he expected 'deep and fundamental' change from Obama."...

[bth: morons.]

Your request is being processed... Somali American Youth Who Joined Jihadists: FBI Deserves Blame (WardheerNews Editorial)

Somali American Youth Who Joined Jihadists: FBI Deserves Blame (WardheerNews Editorial)
...The US government has included Al-shabab to its foreign terrorist list on February 29, 2008, by a directive that the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, signed. The directive designated al-Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

It is disconcerting to learn that both the FBI and the Somali community did little to stop the anguish of boys disappearing from their homes. This is so because there is no meaningful cooperation between FBI and the Somali community either in Minnesota or elsewhere in the country. If any cooperation existed, protecting young Somali-American boys from exploitation by "terror networks" amongst us could have been a lot easier.

Both the FBI and the Somali community are at fault here and deserve serious criticism. For one, the FBI could be blamed for sleeping at the wheel in that it had failed to unveil a "network of terror" that has been transporting high school kids from North American cities to Somalia. It should have taken a little effort on the part of FBI to find out the adults who assist 17-year-old kids from our own American inner cities get their US passports, collect transport allowance amounting $3,000 each, a well arranged rout to Mogadishu, Somalia. But the FBI has royally failed in making any dent on a "network of terror" in our midst.

Some of the challenges the FBI faces include how to unveil the identities of all those adults involved, where they reside, and whether they are Somalis or a combination of Somalis and other nationals. Without witch-hunt, the FBI must seriously investigate the role of local mosques ran by extremist-leaning Islamist activists, if any, and the role they play in organizing infrastructural network for this particular operation. Unveiling these networks is a key component of national security as well as helping our vanishing Somali-American youths.

The Somali community also must shoulder some of the responsibilities. It is inescapable not to admit that someone belonging to the Somali community is facilitating this troubling operation....

[bth: for the FBI to be effective it has to establish, prior to a crisis, lines of communication with these vulnerable and fearful communities.  We need information to act.  Now we have 20 young potential American terrorists; one already a suicide bomber.]

Virginia M. Moncrieff: Under Taliban, Pakistan "Going To The Dogs"

Virginia M. Moncrieff: Under Taliban, Pakistan "Going To The Dogs": ..."'The speed with which the Taliban movement is destroying peace and progress of the country is heartrending and baffling,' he says. 'The government right now is so unstable that it can hardly confront the demon of Talibanization. Is there any solution? Well it certainly is not more US across the border attacks for they inflict pain and give the Taliban an excuse to further expand. The only solution then is to strengthen the democratic government, do away with the remnants of Pervez Musharraf and the retrogressive religious politicians and help the federal and provincial governments improve coordination. This seems an arduous process but unless these things are done the country essentially is going to the dogs.'"

[bth: one wonders when the people of Pakistan are going to have enough of these killers and fight back]

Friday, January 30, 2009

YouTube - Red State Update: Obama Week One--Inauguration, Secret Oath

YouTube - Red State Update: Obama Week One--Inauguration, Secret Oath

U.S. Says Jailed C.I.A. Mole Kept Spying for Russia -

U.S. Says Jailed C.I.A. Mole Kept Spying for Russia - "WASHINGTON — Since 1997, Harold Nicholson has been locked in a federal prison in Oregon, the highest-ranking officer of the Central Intelligence Agency ever convicted of espionage."

But even as federal inmate No. 49535-083, Mr. Nicholson never really retired as a Russian spy, federal prosecutors say. In an indictment unsealed Thursday, Mr. Nicholson and his 24-year-old son, Nathan, were charged with using jailhouse visits, coded letters and clandestine overseas meetings to sell more secrets to the Russians over the last three years, in a scheme Mr. Nicholson hatched from his prison cell....

[bth: shouldn't a traitor like this be executed?]

Peta's Veggie Sex Gambit

PETA's Veggie Sex Super Bowl Ad Rejected By NBC (VIDEO)
The New York Post's Page Six reports that NBC has rejected a Super Bowl ad from animal rights organization PETA due to its hypersexualized nature:

NBC pulled the plug on a PETA pro-veggie commercial planned for the Super Bowl because it "depicts a level of sexuality exceeding our standards," according to NBC Universal's advertising standards executive, Victoria Morgan. The ad, which carries the tagline, "Studies Show Vegetarians Have Bet ter Sex," shows lingerie-clad stunners getting "intimate" with vegetables....

[bth: the video linked commercial is worth the watch.  So people say, well PETA is just over the edge with this, but what they really accomplished was getting a couple of million dollars in advertising for free by not getting accepted as an add for the Super Bowl.  Very clever.]

Army suicides at record high, passing civilians

Army suicides at record high, passing civilians - Yahoo! News
WASHINGTON – Stressed by war and long overseas tours, U.S. soldiers killed themselves last year at the highest rate on record, the toll rising for a fourth straight year and even surpassing the suicide rate among comparable civilians. Army leaders said they were doing everything they could think of to curb the deaths and appealed for more mental health professionals to join and help out.

At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008, the Army said Thursday. And the final count is likely to be even higher because 15 more suspicious deaths are still being investigated.

"Why do the numbers keep going up? We cannot tell you," said Army Secretary Pete Geren. "We can tell you that across the Army we're committed to doing everything we can to address the problem."....Graphic shows active duty Army suicides from 1990 to 2008; 1 ...

[bth: keep in mind that the army was twice as large or thereabouts in 1990.  If the graph had plotted suicides per 100,000 or something, the graph would have been even more startling.]

Report: Army To Recall 16,000 Sets Of Body Armor

Report: Army To Recall 16,000 Sets Of Body Armor | AHN | January 30, 2009
Kris Alingod - AHN Contributor

Washington, D.C. (AHN) - The U.S. Army plans to recall 16,000 sets of body armor after an audit by Pentagon inspector general Gordon Heddell said these had not been properly tested, according to a report by the Washington Times.

Heddell has yet to
release the report and is due to brief the chairman of the House Rules
Committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D--NY), about the findings. Slaughter
has been actively involved in issues of body armor shortage and the
quality of vests American troops are being issued.

The armor to
be recalled were manufactured between 2005 and 2007 and make up only
1.6 percent of all the armor the Army has bought, the Times quotes an
unnamed Pentagon official as saying. No deaths or injuries have been
reported because of the armor, the official added.

protective gear for troops have been a primary concern to Democratic
lawmakers, most notably Sen. Ted Kenendy (D-MA), since the start of the
war in Iraq in 2003. The case of John Hart, a Massachusetts soldier who
died in a Humvee after an ambush in Kirkuk, became a rallying point for
Kennedy and Bush administration critics who decried the lack of body

Last April, Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson, deputy to the
acting assistant secretary for acquisition, refuted reports that the
Army had issued body armor that had not been properly tested. In
testimony before Congress, Thompson had said, "The Army has tested all
of the body armor and all of the body armor that is issued to the
Soldiers today has passed the rigorous test and it is the best body
armor that is available in the world today; and I can say that without
qualification. Of all high-priority programs, force protection is our
number one priority."

Days before leaving office, Bush's lawyer told Rove not to turn over any documents

The Raw Story | Days before leaving office, Bush's lawyer told Rove not to turn over any documents
.. At its heart, Fielding's letter reflects President George W. Bush's decision to continue to argue that "[t]he President and his immediate advisors are absolutely immune from testimonial compulsion by a congressional committee," even after leaving office, citing a 2007 memorandum the Justice Department prepared. Ironically, the memo was prepared by the very department that Congress is trying to garner information about.

Rove's immunity, Fielding says, thus "arises from the President's position as head of the executive branch and from Mr. Rove's position as a senior advisor to the President."

A similar letter was sent to the attorney for former White House Counsel Harriet Miers telling her not to appear at a scheduled deposition with the House Judiciary Committee. Miers, the Bush White House argues, also has "absolute immunity" as a presidential advisor.

The trouble for Rove and Miers -- and ultimately President Bush -- is that the Administration is losing the battle in court. After Rove refused to show up for a subpoena the Judiciary Committee issued last year, the House of Representatives' lawyers sued to compel testimony, asserting that immunity should not apply in Rove and Miers' case....

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blackwater to be forced out of Iraq

The Raw Story | Blackwater to be forced out of Iraq: "'The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy's primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday,' The Washington Post reported from Mosul early Thursday.

'Iraq's Interior Ministry conveyed its decision to U.S. officials in Baghdad on Friday, in one of the boldest moves the government has made since the Jan. 1 implementation of a security agreement with the United States that sharply curbed American power in Iraq,' the Post added. 'Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday..."

EXCLUSIVE: Army to recall armor

Washington Times - EXCLUSIVE: Army to recall armor
The Army will withdraw from service more than 16,000 sets of ceramic body armor plates that the Pentagon's inspector general believes were not properly tested and could jeopardize the lives of U.S. service personnel, The Washington Times has learned.

A Defense official, speaking on the condition that he not be named, said the Army is acting proactively while challenging the contention of Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell that the armor could be unsafe.

"This decision reflects the Army's commitment to do everything within its power to be sure only the very best equipment is fielded to its soldiers," the official said.

He said, however, that there have been no reports of defects in the plates or deaths or injuries resulting from their use. The plates are being recalled so that soldiers will not worry that they are wearing unsafe armor, he said.

The equipment in question was manufactured between 2005 and 2007 and accounts for 1.6 percent of the 1.9 million plates that the Army has purchased to date, he said.

The recall was announced a day before the inspector general's office is to brief the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter. Mrs. Slaughter, New York Democrat, has focused on the issue of body armor failures and procurement.

"Two years ago, I asked the Department of Defense Inspector General to make sure that the U.S. Army was doing their due diligence in ensuring that the quality of body armor being used by our Armed Forces meets the very highest standards to save lives," Mrs. Slaughter said in a statement.

"The first report we received from the Inspector General was totally inadequate. We expect that this report will be more accurate. I will keep fighting tooth and nail to hold the Army accountable to our men and women in uniform and their families."

In April, after receiving a report on the subject, she said, "During a time of war, it's shameful that the Army would not scrupulously ensure that every piece of equipment is properly tested, especially a fundamentally life and death product such as body armor. ... I demand that those who negligently and callously gambled with the lives of our brave men and women in uniform be fired immediately."

Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the inspector general, said Wednesday, "We do have a body armor report and it will be out within the next few days."

He declined to discuss the findings or say to what extent troop
deaths or injuries might have resulted from armor that had not been
properly tested.

A Defense official who is familiar with the issue said that the
"Army is going to push back" against the report and accused the
inspector general of "digging until something was found that was not
very solid."

Late Tuesday, Army and Defense officials were still submitting
information to the inspector general's office challenging the findings,
another Defense official told The Times.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report and the findings had not been made public.

In March, the inspector general found that the Army did not follow
federal requirements in procuring body armor components and identified
deficiencies in 16 of 28 Army contracts.

Maj. Clifford Yarbrough, who served with the 3rd Special Forces
group in Afghanistan, told The Times that his unit, along with other
Special Forces and the Delta Forces, were issued titanium plates. These
plates, which are ordered by these special units under a separate
budget, can withstand multiple hits by the enemy and have saved many
lives, said Maj. Yarbrough, who now teaches at a high school in

The major, who has two enlisted sons, said that the ceramic plates
issued to Army and Marine Corps personnel do not provide sufficient
protection against close enemy fire.

"Interceptor vests are not fielded with the interceptor titanium
that give the men more enhanced protection," he said. "We had guys who
were engaged, and short of a 50 caliber, it would stop everything. They
got a little trauma from the bruising. Normally, those rounds would go
right through them."

Roger Charles, a retired Marine and editor of DefenseWatch, the
Internet news magazine for Soldiers for the Truth, a nonprofit
foundation representing front-line troops, has investigated the body
armor issue for 3[1/2] years and said that the Army's failures have
placed the "men on the front lines at risk."

"There is no question in my mind ... that the Army and Marine Corps
have issued inferior body armor to our troops," he said. "It's their
lives that are at stake, and their lives are worth getting them the

Army officials have said that they stand by the body armor that the
service issues and plan to release additional information to challenge
the audit.

In March, the inspector general found that in 11 of the 28
contracts, adequate files were not kept and that it could not be
determined whether the best informed decisions were made regarding
procurement of body armor.

The March audit was limited to Army and Marine body armor contracts
and orders awarded between January 2004 and December 2006 valued at
more than $5.2 billion.

[bth: So the army waits years to recall the plates even though they have a problem.  They wait until the week before the report is released.  Same thing happened with the marines in 2005 in a similar story.  What this shows is that it takes a public display of failure to cause the recall and not the fact that the army found it had allowed the issuance of defective plates endangering soldiers to cause the recall.  My sources are telling me that this story will get worse before it gets better and that the testing process itself was doctored.]

Doctors Spooked by Israel's Mystery Weapon

Doctors Spooked by Israel's Mystery Weapon | Danger Room from
Critics continue to press the case that Israel committed "war crimes" in its war with Hamas, because of the civilian casualties in Gaza. Ironically, many of these wounds may have been caused by a weapon designed to reduce collateral damage. Not that the Israelis admit they have the thing.

We first reported on Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions in 2006. The weapons originated as an offshoot of a bunker-busting program, when it was found that adding tungsten powder to explosives seemed to increase the blast effect over a small area. The powder was acting as micro-shrapnel which only carries for a few feet (compared to hundreds of feet for larger fragments), so the result was dubbed the "focused lethality munition" (FLM) which does massive damage in a small area and nothing outside.

There are a large number of reports from Gaza that suggest this type of weapon has been used, and, unfortunately, caused civilian deaths. There are reports and pictures of victims peppered with small particles, and descriptions which are consistent with very localized blast....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Recruiting stand-down ordered - Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times

Recruiting stand-down ordered - Army News, opinions, editorials, news from Iraq, photos, reports - Army Times: "Army Secretary Pete Geren has ordered a stand-down of the Army’s entire recruiting force and a review of almost every aspect of the job is underway in the wake of a wide-ranging investigation of four suicides in the Houston Recruiting Battalion.

Poor command climate, failing personal relationships and long, stressful work days were factors in the suicides, the investigation found. The investigating officer noted a “threatening” environment in the battalion and that leaders may have tried to influence statements from witnesses.

“There were some things found that are disturbing,” said Brig. Gen. Del Turner, deputy commanding general for Accessions Command and the officer who conducted the investigation."...

[bth: finally someone is paying attention ... or at least gives enough of a damn to look at the problem]

ABC News: High-Flying Citigroup Grounds Plans for $50M Jet

ABC News: High-Flying Citigroup Grounds Plans for $50M Jet: "The high-flying execs at Citigroup caved under pressure from President Obama and decided today to abandon plans for a luxurious new $50 million corporate jet from France."....

And this week, ousted Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain said he would personally cough up the $1 million he spent on remodeling his office after his brokerage was rescued with billions in taxpayer cash. ...

[bth: these sorry MFs just don't get it. They are so detached from the reality of average Americans. There is a point where you realize that they just don't care. The American taxpayer is viewed as a chump by these CEOs.]

Saudi authorities rearrest ex-Guantanamo inmates

Khaleej Times Online - Saudi authorities rearrest ex-Guantanamo inmates
RIYADH - Saudi authorities have rearrested nine Islamist militants, including former inmates of the US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the interior ministry said.

The ministry in a statement late Sunday said the nine Saudi nationals had undergone a rehabilitation programme for Islamist militants arrested in the kingdom and for returnees from the notorious US prison.

‘Since the start of the rehabilitation programme, nine people, who had taken part in the programme, have been rearrested,’ a ministry official told state news agency SPA.

‘Some of them had returned from Guantanamo,’ the official added.

The comments come in the wake of reports that two men who had been released from Guantanamo and went through the rehabilitation programme had resurfaced in Yemen and had rejoined Al-Qaeda.

On Friday the US-based SITE monitoring service reported that two men released from Guantanamo have appeared in a video posted on a jihadist website.

A US counter-terrorism official told AFP that one of the two, a Saudi identified as Abu Sufyan al-Azdi al-Shihri, or prisoner number 372, has been elevated to the senior ranks of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

[bth: I may be mistaken but it seems that the same couple of guys that showed up in the video are the ones mentioned here.  So while it looks like a few to some of the Gitmo guys are in fact returning to terrorism, there is also a fair amount of double counting going on. ... See the post made a couple of items below this one where the case is made that thousands were recruited because of Gitmo. That is the bigger issue if one goes by numbers.]

Let's take a good look at Iran

Sic Semper Tyrannis : Let's take a good look at Iran
"CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta should consider a bipartisan review of intelligence collection concerning Tehran. Since the Obama administration is reviewing policy options toward the Islamic republic, it would seem sensible to know what Langley's actions have produced. Policy built on weak intelligence and analysis obviously isn't a good idea. " Gerecht


Reuel, like nearly all CIA alumni, continues to instinctively believe that the CIA IS the intelligence community. Such old think" is pathetically out of date in a world in which Admiral Blair made it very clear at his installation ceremony that Leon Panetta will be one of his several subordinates.

But, this is clealy a case of "mind over matter." Blair does not mind and the "ancien regime" of CIA nostalgics do not matterr.

Nevertheless, Reuel has a good idea. There is little that is as important as the truth about Iran. The Israelis have one view of things and the US intelligence community has another. Reuel undoubtedly prefers the Israeli view.

Admiral Blair, not Panetta, would be wise to order just such a review as Gerecht suggests.

What should it be called? Ah. Perhaps "National Intelligence Estimate - Iran" would be a good title. pl

[bth: this post from Col Lang's Sic Semper Tyrannis blog is on the mark.  We need a re-look that seeks truth about Iran.]

Gitmo recruited thousands of terrorists, says US interrogator

The Raw Story | Gitmo recruited thousands of terrorists, says US interrogator
..."Once again, they've failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies," the professor asserts. "Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantanamo--much less were they released from there."

Last night, Olbermann asked Matthew Alexander why the Pentagon would use the idea of former Gitmo inmates engaging in terrorism to try to keep the prison open.

"Whether [the number of detainees that are suspected terrorists] is 68 or 100, that number pales in comparison to the number of fighters that have been recruited to al-Qaeda because of Guantanamo," Alexander responded. "That number would be in the thousands. The number one reason that I consistently heard while in Iraq that foreign fighters gave for coming there was 'torture and abuse occurring in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo'... If we seriously want to undercut one of al-Qaeda's best recruiting tools, the best thing to do would be to close Guantanamo Bay."...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

U.N. crime chief says drug money flowed into banks

U.N. crime chief says drug money flowed into banks - International Herald Tribune: "The United Nations' crime and drug watchdog has indications that money made in illicit drug trade has been used to keep banks afloat in the global financial crisis, its head was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Vienna-based UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in an interview released by Austrian weekly Profil that drug money often became the only available capital when the crisis spiralled out of control last year.

'In many instances, drug money is currently the only liquid investment capital,' Costa was quoted as saying by Profil. 'In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.'"...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost - Read Print
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

[bth: thinking of my friend Sen. Kennedy this evening.  Miles to go.]

Halliburton to pay $559 million to settle bribery probe | Reuters

Halliburton to pay $559 million to settle bribery probe | Reuters: "HOUSTON (Reuters) - Halliburton Co will pay a $559 million fine to end an investigation of its former KBR Inc unit if the U.S. government approves the settlement, the largest penalty against a U.S. company for charges of bribery under federal law.

Halliburton, once headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, said it was awaiting final approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle claims that KBR violated anti-bribery laws by paying kickbacks to Nigerian officials.

Under the settlement, Halliburton would pay $382 million to the Department of Justice and $177 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 'disgorgement.'"...

Robo-forklift keeps humans out of harm’s way

Robo-forklift keeps humans out of harm’s way -- Researchers in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are working on a better way to handle supplies in a war zone: a semi-autonomous forklift that can be directed by people safely away from the dangers of the site.

Currently, when supplies arrive at military outposts in war zones such as Iraq, people driving forklifts unload the pallets and put them into storage, and later load them onto trucks to take the material to where it’s needed. These forklift operators must often scramble for cover, slowing the work and putting them at risk.

When completed, the new robotic device will provide a safer way to handle pallet-loaded supplies of everything from truck tires to water containers and construction materials, says Matt Walter, a CSAIL postdoctoral researcher with a lead role in the project. The device is designed to operate outdoors on uneven terrain such as gravel or packed earth.

In Iraq, it has not been uncommon for workers to “have to abandon the forklift three or four times a day because they come under fire,” Walter says. “A lot of the work could be automated,” thus alleviating people’s exposure to danger, “but it’s a very difficult task.”...

Combat injuries hobbling ability to deploy U.S. soldiers --

Combat injuries hobbling ability to deploy U.S. soldiers -- "WASHINGTON - Top Army officers are concerned that a growing number of soldiers are medically unfit to deploy to war, a development that could affect President Barack Obama's campaign vow to increase U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan.

At least 20,000 Army soldiers are on 'nondeployable' status, a number that has grown by several thousand in the past six months, the Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, told reporters yesterday.

Many have muscle or bone injuries from carrying heavy loads in combat, Chiarelli said.

It is common for infantry soldiers and Marines to carry combat loads of more than 100 pounds for extended periods over rough terrain, especially in Afghanistan."

You can't hump a rucksack at 8,000 feet for 15months and not have an effect. The body can't take that," said Chiarelli, a four-star general who commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq and all ground forces there....

Combat loads for infantrymen have been slowly increasing for years, with the addition of body armor that can weigh more than 30 pounds and gear such as the M-4 carbine, which is lighter than the once-standard M-16 rifle but with five ammunition magazines weighs about 12 pounds.

Other commonly carried gear includes a helmet with attached night vision device (4.3pounds), a 1-liter water bladder (8 pounds), as well as radios and extra ammunition. Marines often carry at least one day's supply of water.

Laboring under all that weight, the number of soldiers sidelined with stress fractures, chronic muscle or tendon inflammation and similar problems "has continued to inch up, and that is a concern when you're seeing the force at the level we are now," Chiarelli said.

For years, the Pentagon has sought ways to reduce the burden that soldiers carry. But in the counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where troops often patrol on foot and where firefights often are at close range, they have been issued more ammunition and added body armor.

Nevertheless, Chiarelli promised, "We're going to try to find a way to lighten the soldier's load."

Swat Taliban summon government officials to sharia courts - The Long War Journal

Swat Taliban summon government officials to sharia courts - The Long War Journal: "The leader of the Taliban-controlled district of Swat in Pakistan's northwest has ordered more than 50 political and tribal leaders to appear before a sharia court within a week or face 'dangerous consequences.'

Mullah Fazlullah, Swat's radical Taliban leader, issued the order in a broadcast over his illegal FM radio channel after convening the Taliban shura, or council.

'They (the political leaders) have destroyed peace in Swat and they should be tried in the Taliban's sharia courts,' Fazlullah said in the radio broadcast, according to a report in The Hindu. 'If they do not appear in the courts, they will face dangerous consequences.'"...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tomgram: Nick Turse, Are the Army's Days of the Future Past?

Tomgram: Nick Turse, Are the Army's Days of the Future Past?: ....

"But as one panel discussion drew to a close, one of the top-ranking enlisted men in the Army, a highly decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror, made a startling admission. He was discussing the typical pack-laden, weapons-toting, up-armored U.S. soldier 'goin' up and down the mountains of Afghanistan right now.' As he pointed out, that grunt could not haul one more piece of gear. 'Nor is there a soldier,' he continued in a burst of candor, 'that, currently configured, can keep up with al-Qaeda because we're chasing guys that are armed with AK-47s and tennis shoes.'"

I asked him later whether it made sense to spend close to $20,000, the average price today to kit up (as the British might say) a soldier who can't keep up with the insurgents he is meant to track down. Has anyone considered, I asked, going back to the $1,900 it cost to outfit a less encumbered grunt of the Vietnam War era who could, assuredly, have kept better pace with today's guerillas.

As I learned at this conference, however, questions like these go nowhere in a big hurry. Instead, he backpedaled quickly, declaring that, in Afghanistan, "we're gettin' it done." A colleague of the same rank, and fellow GWOT veteran, quickly jumped in, pointing out that today's bulky body armor has saved a lot of lives. As for today's insurgents, he said, "Yeah, I can't run the mountain with them, but I'll still get them -- eventually."

The big-picture lesson seemed to be that current Army technology has made American wars feasible, but interminable. Heavy body armor has helped keep U.S. combat deaths down to a level acceptable to the American public; but, of course, the same bulky gear helps ensure that fast-moving insurgents, who already know the land well, live to fight another day. And, since the enemy is unlikely to be caught on foot, U.S. troops become ever more reliant on air or artillery strikes that are likely to kill civilians in rural Afghanistan and so recruit more insurgents. The scenario suggested is one that's already in operation: an endless cycle of American failure and foreign carnage enabled, implemented, and exacerbated by recent technological innovations.

On paper, advances in Army science and technology research tended to sound scary and look impressive. In practice, as the 26th Army Science Conference showed, seeing is believing. I had expected everything to be big, bad, and bellicose; what I found fit better with what we already know about the realities of an over-bloated, over-stressed, over-strained Pentagon. While glossy brochures and programs were festooned with pictures of the black-clad Future Force Warrior, Army robots, and dazzling screen shots of video-game-like simulators, these gilded graphics couldn't obscure the disappointing realities and air of desperation lurking just below the surface of the conference.

So I left Orlando with more questions than answers when it comes to the future of the U.S. Army.

Is there any possibility that holography will really revolutionize Army communications early enough to matter? Or is this just an area where taxpayers are funding needlessly militarized science projects?

Will the mildly absurd dream of an environmentally-safe explosive be realized anytime soon? Will the Army's future consist of battalions of armed Terminators, as many fear, or will the next generation of robots cost a fortune and bleed out like BEAR?...

Al-Jazeera drew US viewers on Web during Gaza war

The Associated Press: Al-Jazeera drew US viewers on Web during Gaza war: "DOHA, Qatar (AP) — American viewership of Al-Jazeera English rose dramatically during the Israel-Hamas war, partly because the channel had what CNN and other international networks didn't have: reporters inside Gaza.

But the viewers weren't watching it on television, where the Arab network's English-language station has almost no U.S. presence.

Instead, the station streamed video of Israel's offensive against Hamas on the Internet and took advantage of emerging online media such as the microblogging Web site Twitter to provide real-time updates."...

Overall, the station's Web video stream saw a 600 percent jump in worldwide viewership during the Gaza offensive — and about 60 percent of those hits came from the United States, according to the station's internal numbers.

Outside figures also point to big gains in U.S. online interest, suggesting the war gave the Arab station its first significant chance to break into the American market....

[bth: I don't think a trend like this reverses. It is an unintended consequence. People seek truth where they can find it and if it isn't coming from US television its coming from the internet and overseas. It is a sad commentary about the poor state of American journalism when Al-Jazeera provides more accurate news than CNN.]

Recruited for Jihad? | Newsweek International |

Recruited for Jihad? | Newsweek International | ..."That suspicion is now shared by counterterrorism officials and the FBI, who are probing whether al-Shabab or other Somali Islamic groups are actively recruiting in a few cities across the United States. The officials say as many as 20 Somali-Americans between the ages of 17 and 27 have left their Minneapolis homes in the past 18 months under suspicious circumstances. Their investigation deepened when one of the missing men, Minnesotan Shirwa Ahmed, blew himself up alongside other suicide bombers in Somalia last October, killing dozens of al-Shabab's political opponents and civilians. Ahmed had also prayed at Abubakar, and within weeks the FBI put the imam of the mosque, Sheik Abdirahman Ahmed, on a no-fly list. Among the questions investigators are asking: Who persuaded the young men to go? Who paid for their flights? And what role, if any, has the mosque played in their alleged recruitment?"...

[bth: the Newsweek article provides a pretty compelling case for at least 20 Somali Americans being recruited for terrorism perhaps as sleepers.]

To Combat Obama, Al-Qaeda Hurls Insults -

To Combat Obama, Al-Qaeda Hurls Insults - ..."The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda's skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.

With Obama, al-Qaeda faces an entirely new challenge, experts say: a U.S. president who campaigned to end the Iraq war and to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who polls show is well liked throughout the Muslim world."....

[bth: it would be a terrible shame if we lost this opportunity]