Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bankers kept silent over Madoff fears

Bankers kept silent over Madoff fears | Business | The Observer
Senior executives at some of Wall Street's biggest firms were convinced Bernard Madoff was a fraud as early as 2005 yet none of them alerted the authorities, documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reveal.

Leon Gross, the former managing director in charge of worldwide equity derivatives research for Citigroup, told colleagues in 2005 that he thought Madoff was being less than honest about the returns he could make for investors.

Joanne Hill, Goldman Sachs's global head of equity derivatives research, believed something was wrong with Madoff's investment scheme because the returns seemed too good to be true. Like Gross, Hill did not alert her superiors nor the regulatory authorities. She did tell friends and colleagues on Wall Street about her suspicions.

Bud Haslett of Write Capital Management, an investment firm that specialises in the kind of complex options-related strategies Madoff claimed to use, also suspected something fishy. But, again, Haslett told no one of his concerns.

Options traders at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) were so angry about Madoff's scheme that they wanted the world to know he did not use their trading platforms. However, they did not tell regulators about their suspicions.

The comments came to light in a 700-plus page dossier filed with the SEC by Harry Markopolos, the fraud investigator who tried to blow the whistle on Madoff for eight years.

Gross, Hill and Haslett were in contact with Markopolos, who claimed that each would give evidence to the SEC so long as they were never required to speak in an official capacity. If they had spoken up in 2005 many believe Madoff could have been stopped before most of the damage was done.

"If those Wall Street executives had even the smallest reason to believe Madoff was a fraud they should have considered it their duty to shout it from the mountain top," said Jake Zamansky, a lawyer representing Madoff victims.

"Back in 2005, according to Markopolos's testimony, the Madoff fraud was about $7bn and there were few small-time individual investors," he added. "When he turned himself in three years later the fraud was $50bn and dozens of retirees, charities and others had been bankrupted."

Last week, William Foxton, 65, a retired army major, shot himself in a Southampton park after losing his life's savings in a Madoff-linked fund.

Citigroup confirmed that Gross left the bank some months ago. The company declined to comment about his views on Madoff. CBOE said that Matt Moran, one of the staff named in the dossier, spoke to Markopolos many times but does not recall a conversation about Madoff. Goldman Sachs did not return calls seeking comment.

[bth: Bunch of chicken shits. Markopolos is the only  one worth a damn and he got stiffed and screwed over for 8 years.  These other shits, quick to get federal hand outs but too gutless and greedy to have stepped up for the public good for over 3 years.  Fiduciary duties are more than the letter of the law.]



Iraq vet: We're losing 'more soldiers to suicide than to al Qaeda'

The Raw Story | Iraq vet: We're losing 'more soldiers to suicide than to al Qaeda': "The Army's suicide rate is the highest it has been in three decades, and a week-long series of articles at Salon.com has been highlighting what it calls 'habitual mistreatment behind the preventable deaths.'

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday, 'In January, we lost approximately 24 soldiers in the Army to suicide. That's more folks than we lost in combat. ... We lost more soldiers to suicide than to al Qaeda.'"...

Ted Kennedy | Chapter 1: Teddy - Boston.com

Ted Kennedy | Chapter 1: Teddy - Boston.com

Las Vegas,Nevada,News,Weather,Sports,Entertainment,KTNV.com,Action News .:. Fewer conventions having ripple affect on other businesses

KTNV ABC,Channel 13,Las Vegas,Nevada,News,Weather,Sports,Entertainment,KTNV.com,Action News .:. Fewer conventions having ripple affect on other businesses: "...Gaming revenues fell every month last year and they were down nearly 19% in December which is a drop of 9.7% for all of 2008.

The worst gaming revenue decline in Nevada history."....

Inquiry on Graft in Iraq Focuses on U.S. Officers

Inquiry on Graft in Iraq Focuses on U.S. Officers - NYTimes.com
Federal authorities examining the early, chaotic days of the $125 billion American-led effort to rebuild Iraq have significantly broadened their inquiry to include senior American military officers who oversaw the program, according to interviews with senior government officials and court documents.

Court records show that last month investigators subpoenaed the personal bank records of Col. Anthony B. Bell, who is now retired from the Army but who was in charge of reconstruction contracting in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 when the small operation grew into a frenzied attempt to remake the country’s broken infrastructure. In addition, investigators are examining the activities of Lt. Col. Ronald W. Hirtle of the Air Force, who was a senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004, according to two federal officials involved in the inquiry.

It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, and both said they had nothing to hide from investigators. Yet officials say that several criminal cases over the past few years point to widespread corruption in the operation the men helped to run. As part of the inquiry, the authorities are taking a fresh look at information given to them by Dale C. Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was killed in Iraq in late 2004.

Before he was shot on a road north of Baghdad, Mr. Stoffel drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel: tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper sacks that were scattered in “dead drops” around the Green Zone, the nerve center of the United States government’s presence in Iraq, two senior federal officials said....

[bth: at last someone is getting serious - 5 years late!]


Walter Jones, GOP Congressman, Signs on to Investigating Bush

Walter Jones, GOP Congressman, Signs On To Investigating Bush
There is, in fact, an element of bipartisan support for creating of a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate illegalities from the Bush years. And it comes from within Congress.

Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, has signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by House Judiciary Chair John Conyers to establish "a national commission on presidential war powers and civil liberties."

A self-described conservative who brought "Freedom Fries" to Congress, Jones developed into one of the most vocal Republican critics of the Bush administration. He took particular umbrage at the handling of the Iraq War and the decision to prohibit photographs of returning coffins of American soldiers. Late in the past administration's time in office he was reported to have been reading Vincent Bugliosi's book, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder."

So while it is surprising to see an elected Republican official endorse the establishment of an investigatory committee to probe the Bush years, it is slightly less surprising that that official is Jones....

[bth: back in the summer of 2005 when it was treasonous to question the Iraq war, it was Jones that stood up and started asking questions.  Certain republicans have been gunning for him ever since. Personally he has my admiration as a straight shooter on some very difficult issues.]


General says security permanent in Iraq's south

General says security permanent in Iraq's south - USATODAY.com
AGHDAD — The U.S. commander who oversees most of southern Iraq said Thursday that he believes recent security gains there are permanent — and that some of his troops are openly wondering why they're still there, even though he believes their presence remains crucial.

As the Obama administration considers how quickly to pull troops out of Iraq and shift some of them to Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael Oates told reporters in Baghdad that his region of Iraq is seeing about two attacks on U.S. servicemembers each day — a 90% reduction compared with the worst periods of the nearly 6-year-old war.

Oates was asked whether the security gains made in the eight provinces he oversees are fragile and could quickly reverse course. He said no and cited the diminishing strength of Shiite extremist groups and al-Qaeda, as well as the Jan. 31 elections that were held with no major attacks.

"In southern Iraq, it's my considered opinion that (the progress) is not reversible," Oates said. The situation is less peaceful in parts of northern Iraq, particularly the city of Mosul, which commanders have called al-Qaeda in Iraq's last urban stronghold. A suicide car bomber there killed four U.S. servicemembers on Monday in the single deadliest attack on U.S. forces since May.

Violence has declined sharply in Baghdad, although car bombs there killed at least 12 people on Wednesda...

[bth: time to go]


No one home: 1 in 9 housing units vacant

No one home: 1 in 9 housing units vacant - USATODAY.com
A record 1 in 9 U.S. homes are vacant, a glut created by the housing boom and subsequent collapse.

"The numbers are further documentation of the gravity of the housing problem," says Nicolas Retsinas, head of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "This inventory is delaying any kind of housing recovery."

The surge in empty houses, condominiums and apartments is creating a wave of problems for communities desperate to shore up property values and tax revenues that pay for services. Vacant homes create upkeep and safety problems that ripple through neighborhoods.

"It has a contagion effect," Retsinas says. "A house that is vacant is often a house that is less well kept up."

A construction frenzy began pushing the vacancy rate up in 2005 but empty homes sold quickly at that time...


Friday, February 13, 2009

YouTube - GOP Leader Boehner Floor Speech Opposing Democrats' Trillion-Dollar Spending Bill

YouTube - GOP Leader Boehner Floor Speech Opposing Democrats' Trillion-Dollar Spending Bill

GIs' New Armor Too Heavy, Army Says

GIs' New Armor Too Heavy, Army Says: "WASHINGTON - Concerned that U.S. troops are already saddled with too much heavy gear, military officials will not require them to wear improved body armor until manufacturers cut the weight of the new protective plates.

The Army plans to buy 120,000 sets of the advanced bullet-blocking plates this year. This initial purchase of the plates, known as 'XSAPI,' will be stocked in Kuwait and be available if commanders need them, service officials said at a congressional hearing Wednesday."...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bulworth the luncheon rap

Crooks and Liars

Aljazeera on Kabul Attacks

Informed Comment


[bth: sad to say it but Aljazeera has better news coverage than CNN or Fox on matters like this.]

Yemen strikes multifaceted deals with al Qaeda

Yemen strikes multifaceted deals with al Qaeda - The Long War Journal
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently struck a deal with Ayman Zawahiri, and Yemen is in the process of emptying its jails of known jihadists. The Yemeni government is recruiting these established jihadists to attack its domestic enemies as it refrains from serious counter-terror measures against the newly formed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The tripartite relationship between the Yemeni regime and al Qaeda enables all participants to further their goals at the expense of national, regional, and global security.

Yemen releases 95 jihadists

News reports from Yemen detail a meeting in Sana'a between President Saleh and a number of so-called reformed jihadists late January. The militants demanded freedom for imprisoned associates. A presidential committee identified 170 jihadists eligible for release, and 95 were released Saturday. Other reports indicate that authorities have cleared for release a total of 300 of the 400 total suspected al Qaeda in prison.

In the latest round of negotiations, Saleh reportedly asked the militants to engage in violence against the southern mobility movement. The southern uprising is bent on achieving the independence of South Yemen and is a substantial threat to Saleh's grip on power. Tariq al Fahdli was present at the meeting, and at a later meeting in Abyan, militants brandished an official order directing the military to supply the mercenary group with arms and ammunition. Fahdli fought alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan and has been accused of complicity in the 1992 Aden hotel bombing, the first al Qaeda attack that targeted American troops. Fahdli's sister is married to Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, President Saleh's half brother and a recruiter for bin Laden in the 1980s....

[bth: an article worth reading in full.  Yemen's government has become an active tool and protector of al Qaeda in the worst way.]


Report: 'Dirty bomb' parts found in slain man's home

Report: 'Dirty bomb' parts found in slain man's home - Bangor Daily News
BELFAST, Maine — James G. Cummings, who police say was shot to death by his wife two months ago, allegedly had a cache of radioactive materials in his home suitable for building a “dirty bomb.”

According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’ home after his shooting death on Dec. 9.

The report posted on the WikiLeaks Web site states that “On 9 December 2008, radiological dispersal device components and literature, and radioactive materials, were discovered at the Maine residence of an identified deceased [person] James Cummings.”

The section referring to Cummings can be read here.

It says that four 1-gallon containers of 35 percent hydrogen peroxide, uranium, thorium, lithium metal, thermite, aluminum powder, beryllium, boron, black iron oxide and magnesium ribbon were found in the home.

Also found was literature on how to build “dirty bombs” and information about cesium-137, strontium-90 and cobalt-60, radioactive materials. The FBI report also stated there was evidence linking James Cummings to white supremacist groups. This would seem to confirm observations by local tradesmen who worked at the Cummings home that he was an ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler and had a collection of Nazi memorabilia around the house, including a prominently displayed flag with swastika. Cummings claimed to have pieces of Hitler’s personal silverware and place settings, painter Mike Robbins said a few days after the shooting....


Military struggles to track Afghans' weapons

Military struggles to track Afghans' weapons: ..."Despite policies to the contrary, the Defense Department did not maintain a complete inventory on more than a third of those weapons, according to the GAO.

Many weapons could not be linked to serial numbers, making it nearly impossible to verify receipt. And of the 41,000 with serial numbers, none could be tied to records confirming their location. The military also would forgo routine inventory checks because of staffing shortages and a lack of direction, GAO concluded.

Similar findings accompanied a review of some 135,000 weapons provided by foreign donors and managed by the U.S. military.

'Lapses in accountability occurred throughout the supply chain,' according to the report. Weapons provided by the U.S. military to Afghanistan security forces 'are at serious risk of theft or loss.'"...

[bth: I can see how we would lose track but I don't see why they were handed out without a serial number being recorded.]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

U.S. Policy On War Dead Under Review

U.S. Policy On War Dead Under Review - washingtonpost.com
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that he has ordered a rapid Pentagon review of a policy that bars the media from covering the return to the United States of military personnel killed overseas. He asked for the review after President Obama said Monday that the White House is looking into the policy.

"From a personal standpoint, I think, if the needs of the families can be met and the privacy concerns can be addressed, the more honor we can accord these fallen heroes, the better," Gates said.

"I'm pretty open to whatever the results of this review may be," he said.

Gates said that he had asked more than a year ago about changing the policy. But he said he was told that, if media were allowed to cover the fallen service members' return to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, many of the service members' families would feel compelled to attend, which would pose a financial hardship for them and slow the return of the remains.

Critics of the Pentagon policy view it as a means for blocking images that underscore the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as preventing coverage that honors those killed. Obama was asked about the issue in Monday's news conference and said, "We are in the process of reviewing those policies in conversations with the Department of Defense, so I don't want to give you an answer now before I've evaluated that review and understand all the implications involved."
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-- Ann Scott Tyson

[bth: This stupid policy was not about protecting the families or honoring the dead.  This policy was reactiviated in November 2003 after a meeting between Rove and Bush in preparation for the 2004 re-election bid. In very early November a cover story of the sunday issue of the NYT (I think it was Nov 2) got publicity showing the funeral of Lt. David Bernstein at West Point.  I know because our funeral for PFC John Hart was the last one before the policy changed at Arlington National Cemetery.  You can find reference to the change in policy during that period from an NPR story where I was interviewed about our opinion at the same time the speech writer for President Reagan was interviewed.  His position was that Reagan was able to honor the dead from the Beirut bombing and concurrent with the ridiculous ban on photos by Bush was a decision to ban all senior military and administration personnel from war funerals. This is why military funerals today are almost entirely carried by local news. Bush decided to hide the bodies, hide the cost of the war and just about this time the story broke that Rumsfeld was using a machine to sign his condolence letters to the families.]


Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army'

Al Qaeda's paramilitary 'Shadow Army' - The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda has reorganized its notorious paramilitary formations that were devastated during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Al Qaeda has reestablished the predominantly Arab and Asian paramilitary formation that was formerly known as Brigade 055 into a larger, more effective fighting unit known as the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

The Shadow Army is active primarily in Pakistan's tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, and in eastern and southern Afghanistan, several US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The paramilitary force is well trained and equipped, and has successfully defeated the Pakistani Army in multiple engagements. Inside Pakistan, the Shadow Army has been active in successful Taliban campaigns in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, and Swat....

[bth: worth reading in full]


Michael Yon: How much is Afghanistan Really Worth to Us?

How Much is Afghanistan Really Worth to Us?
... As we enter a new fighting season in Afghanistan this year, we need to know that the President has our backs. Not just that he is behind us, but that he is covering our six and ready to politically and economically pounce on those who hamper our efforts. We need to know that the President is fully engaged in this fight, that he is there to win and for the long haul, that he listens and takes close counsel from our senior military, and that he has faith that we can make this process work. But eight years from now, this thing will not be over.

We must also understand that Afghanistan is what it is. The military is acutely aware that Afghanistan is not Iraq. The success we are seeing in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly occur in Afghanistan. If we are to deal with moderate elements of the AOGs (armed opposition groups) we must do so from a position of strength, and this means killing a lot of them this year, to encourage the surviving “reconcilables” to be more reconcilable.

Predicting the trajectory of a war is fraught with peril, like predicting next season’s hurricanes. Anything can happen, and often what changes the course of a war has little or nothing to do with the war. For instance, a failing global economy, or supervention of some chain of events perhaps still unimagined could cause the Af-Pak war to become less relevant. Caveats behind us, it seems that 2009 will see the sharpest fighting so far. That much has been clear for some time, and 2009 is now within our headlights. We can already resolve from the fog much of what is likely coming this year. Imagining what is beyond the headlights, my guess is that 2010 might bring the sharpest fighting of the entire war. My guess is that 2010-11 will likely be crucial years in this process, and that many allies will be making decisions during those years whether to stick it out or to punch out. By the fall of 2010, we should be able to resolve whether our renewed efforts under President Obama are working or failing.

The Great Game continues, but it’s no game for the people who are fighting it.


Taliban Haven in Pakistani City Raises Fears

Taliban in Southern Pakistan Raise U.S. Fears - NYTimes.com
... Even more intriguing, American officials say, is this prospect: diminishing the Taliban leadership in Quetta and weakening its influence over Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan might open the way to engage more moderate Taliban politically.

“The challenge has always been to exploit some cleavages between the top leadership, which we’ve ruled out of bounds in terms of reconciliation, and the layers one or two layers beneath them,” said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former South Asia specialist for the State Department.

In recent years, there have been some significant successes in the hunt for Taliban leaders. Pakistani operatives tracked Mullah Dadullah, a senior aide to Mullah Omar, as he crossed the Afghan border in May 2007, and he was later killed by American and Afghan troops.

Yet most of the arrests in Pakistan have coincided with visits by senior American officials.

The arrest of Mullah Obeidullah, the former Taliban defense minister, in Quetta in February 2007 coincided with the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is unclear whether Mullah Obeidullah is still in Pakistani custody or was secretly released as part of a prisoner exchange to free Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, who was kidnapped last February and released three months later.

Mullah Rahim, the Taliban’s top commander in Helmand Province, was arrested in Quetta last summer two weeks after Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a top C.I.A. officer visited Islamabad to confront Pakistani leaders with evidence of ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But an American intelligence official said last week that Mullah Rahim was no longer in custody.

“The dilemma at the moment,” said Seth Jones, a terrorism analyst at the RAND Corporation, “is that some elements of the Pakistani government continue to support the Taliban as a proxy organization in Afghanistan.”


Petraeus Leaked Misleading Story On Pullout Plans: IPS Analysis

Petraeus Leaked Misleading Story On Pullout Plans: IPS Analysis
...The military source provided the following carefully worded statement: "We were specifically asked to provide projections, assumptions and risks for the accomplishment of objectives associated with 16-, 19- and 23-month drawdown options." That was exactly the sentence published by McClatchy the following day, except that "specifically" was left out.

The source also said Petraeus, Odierno and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had already reached a "unified assessment" on the three drawdown options and had forwarded them to the chain of command.

But a White House official told IPS Monday that the Petraeus account was untrue. "The assessments of the three drawdown dates were not requested by the president," said the official, who insisted on not being identified because he had not been authorised to comment on the matter. "He never said, 'Give me three drawdown plans'."

McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reported a similar account from aides to Obama. "Obama told his advisors shortly after taking office that he remained committed to the 16-month timeframe," Youssef wrote, "but asked them to present him with the pros and cons of that and other options, without specifying dates."

That suggests that the only specific plan for which Obama requested an assessment of risks was the 16-month plan, but that he agreed to look at other plans as well.

The sentence given to this writer as well as to McClatchy bore one obvious clue that the request for the assessments of three drawdown plans did not come from Obama: the sentence used the passive voice. It also failed to explicitly state that the request in question was made during the meeting with Obama.

Petraeus did not respond to a request through the intermediary to say who requested the studies and whether they had been proposed by the military commanders themselves. McClatchy's Youssef also noted that it is "unclear who came up with the idea..." of the 19- and 23-month withdrawal plans.

By implying that Obama had requested the three plans without saying so explicitly, the sentence leaked by Petraeus seems to have been calculated to create a misleading story.

One of Petraeus's objectives appears to have been to counter any perception that he is seeking to undermine Obama on Iraq policy. Petraeus wishes to remain out of the spotlight in regard to any conflict regarding withdrawal over the Iraq issue. "He has been very careful to keep a very low profile," said the military officer close to Petraeus, "because this is a new administration."

But the Petraeus leak also serves to promote the idea that Obama is moving away from his campaign pledge on a 16-month combat troop withdrawal, which has already been the dominant theme in news media coverage of the issue. That idea would also justify continued sniping by military officers at the Obama 16-month plan as too risky.

In a new book, 'The Gamble', to be published Tuesday, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks confirms an earlier report that in his initial encounter with Petraeus in Baghdad last July, Obama had made no effort to hide his sharp disagreement with the general's views. Obama interrupted a lecture by Petraeus, according to Ricks, and made it clear that, as president, he would need to take a broader strategic view of the issue than that of the commander in Iraq.

Ricks, who interviewed Petraeus about the meeting, writes that Obama's remarks "likely insulted Petraeus, who justly prides himself on his ability to do just that..." That strongly implies that Petraeus expressed some irritation at Obama over the incident to Ricks.

On top of the interest of Petraeus and other senior officers in keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for as long as possible, Petraeus has personal political interests at stake in the struggle over Iraq policy. He has been widely regarded as a possible Republican Presidential candidate in 2012....


Pentagon reports U.S. troop obesity doubles since 2003 - USATODAY.com

Pentagon reports U.S. troop obesity doubles since 2003 - USATODAY.com: "WASHINGTON — The number of troops diagnosed as overweight or obese has more than doubled since the start of the Iraq war, yet another example of stress and strains of continuing combat deployments, according to a recent Pentagon study."....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TPM: News Pages | Talking Points Memo | Mullen: No more than 30K new troops in Afghanistan

TPM: News Pages | Talking Points Memo | Mullen: No more than 30K new troops in Afghanistan: ..."'I don't see us growing a force well beyond the 20,000 to 30,000 for Afghanistan — American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines — beyond that 30,000 or so,' Mullen told about 800 soldiers and specialists gathered for a town hall meeting.

He added: 'It's got to be met with a commensurate surge from the other agencies, particularly the State Department, in order for us to start generating success in 2009.'

Mullen's comments mark the first time he has capped the number of soldiers to be sent to Afghanistan amid some predictions that the U.S. will be there for at least a decade.

An estimated 33,000 U.S. troops currently are in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon is set to announce at least three more brigades — about 16,000 soldiers — to be deployed in coming months. In all, the Pentagon said it expects to send about 60,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan."...

[bth: what resources does the State Dept have available?]

CQ Politics | Thanks for Your Business: Defense Contractors Spent $340,000 on Events Honoring Gates

CQ Politics | Thanks for Your Business: Defense Contractors Spent $340,000 on Events Honoring Gates: "Pentagon contractors, their lobbyists and lobbying groups spent more than $340,000 on parties and other events to honor Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in 2008, according to recent congressional filings.

Among them were six companies that accounted for more than a quarter of the Pentagon’s procurement budget during the 2008 fiscal year. These groups, which spent $125,000 hosting events honoring Gates, received a total of more than $91 billion in defense contracts, according to the Federal Procurement Data System."...

Ex-Hostages Talk About Obama and Iran | Newsweek International Edition | Newsweek.com

Ex-Hostages Talk About Obama and Iran | Newsweek International Edition | Newsweek.com: ..."Yet Precht maintains that the United States must 'find a way to relieve Iranians of their insecurities. We have to stop talking about regime change,' says Precht. 'Obama should tell his envoy to tell Iran that we accept Iran and we're not interested' in changing its leadership. Indeed, an assurance not to meddle in Iran's internal affairs was part of the agreement that won the freedom of the hostages, at last, in January 1981.

As this suggests, nothing is likely to change before the rhetoric does. 'Iran is the only country in the world that gathers thousands of people every week to shout 'Death to America!' ' says Gary Sick, who served on the National Security Council in 1979. 'It's foolish and no one takes it seriously. But what if we had a rally in Washington every week and we all shouted, 'Death to Iran!'? What would they think about that?'

'The language has to change,' says Sick. 'If Iranians want to be treated with respect, they have to behave respectfully themselves.'"

Army Suspends Germ Research at Maryland Lab - NYTimes.com

Army Suspends Germ Research at Maryland Lab - NYTimes.com: "WASHINGTON — Army officials have suspended most research involving dangerous germs at the biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., which the F.B.I. has linked to the anthrax attacks of 2001, after discovering that some pathogens stored there were not listed in a laboratory database.

The suspension, which began Friday and could last three months, is intended to allow a complete inventory of hazardous bacteria, viruses and toxins stored in refrigerators, freezers and cabinets in the facility, the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The inventory was ordered by the institute’s commander, Col. John P. Skvorak, after officials found that the database of specimens was incomplete. In a memorandum to employees last week, Colonel Skvorak said there was a high probability that some germs and toxins in storage were not in the database."...

[bth: astounding that this poor accounting has continued for 8 years]

Talking Points Memo | Robert Reich

Talking Points Memo | Breaking News and Analysis

Monday, February 09, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: FBI Raided Lobbying Firm Connected to Murtha

ABC News: EXCLUSIVE: FBI Raided Lobbying Firm Connected to Murtha
....The FBI searched the Virginia headquarters of the PMA Group in November, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. PMA was founded by former Murtha aide Paul Magliochetti and specializes in winning earmarked taxpayer funds for its clients.

Good government groups have long criticized Murtha's cozy relationship with a handful of lobbyists and defense firms, ties that see millions of dollars in government spending go out from Murtha's office, and hundreds of thousands in campaign donations come in. Murtha has said his earmarking has helped revive his economically depressed district.

PMA is the second company with close ties to Murtha to be raided by federal agents recently. In January, agents from the FBI, the IRS and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service searched the office of Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems, as well as the homes of the firms' founders. The companies reportedly have received over $100 million in earmarks, thanks to Murtha's efforts....

Latin American Herald Tribune - General Motors to Invest $1 Billion in Brazil Operations -- Money to Come from U.S. Rescue Program

Latin American Herald Tribune - General Motors to Invest $1 Billion in Brazil Operations -- Money to Come from U.S. Rescue Program: "SAO PAULO -- General Motors plans to invest $1 billion in Brazil to avoid the kind of problems the U.S. automaker is facing in its home market, said the beleaguered car maker.

According to the president of GM Brazil-Mercosur, Jaime Ardila, the funding will come from the package of financial aid that the manufacturer will receive from the U.S. government and will be used to 'complete the renovation of the line of products up to 2012.'

'It wouldn't be logical to withdraw the investment from where we're growing, and our goal is to protect investments in emerging markets,' he said in a statement published by the business daily Gazeta Mercantil."...

The Saudi-isation of Pakistan

The Saudi-isation of Pakistan: ..."For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Mughul architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam (Wahhabism) is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.

This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state used Islam as an instrument of state policy. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for academic posts in universities required that the candidate demonstrate a knowledge of Islamic teachings and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. Today, government intervention is no longer needed because of a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – still in an amorphous and diffused form –"...

[bth: well worth reading in full]

News Analysis - A Visit to a U.S. Ally, but an Increasingly Wary One - NYTimes.com

News Analysis - A Visit to a U.S. Ally, but an Increasingly Wary One - NYTimes.com: ..."Those kinds of failures, and the fact that none of the top leaders of the Pakistani Taliban have been killed, have prompted sharp criticism of the army from politicians aligned with Mr. Zardari. In a televised interview, one such politician, Hasham Baber, a member of the Awami National Party — which controls the North-West Frontier Province — accused the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the army of being allies of the militants"

...

Some Pakistani strategic planners, however, interpret Mr. Obama’s plan to send more troops to Afghanistan as a direct threat to Pakistan, and in particular to its nuclear arsenal.

The belief, according to a senior Pakistani military officer, is that additional forces in Afghanistan would spill over into Pakistan. “Afghanistan is irrelevant,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The American troops are designed to create a mess in the tribal areas and in Pakistan, and take the nukes.”...

“The Indo-U.S. deal,” she said, “signified to the Pakistani military that while Washington saw its ties with Pakistan in tactical terms, the strategic relationship was forged with India.”

To overcome qualms in Pakistan about the United States, Mr. Holbrooke is likely to emphasize Washington’s plans for a drastic increase in aid to the country’s educational, health and judicial systems, all areas that the United States has supported in the past, but to little effect because of deep corruption.

In line with legislation for the assistance written by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he was in the Senate, Mr. Holbrooke will insist that the flow of aid depends on Pakistan’s determination to act against terrorism.

Pakistanis see that condition, too, as demeaning. “An approach that treats Pakistan from the paradigm of ‘hired help,’ rather than valued ally,” Ms. Lodhi wrote in a Pakistani daily paper, The News, “should be unacceptable to Islamabad.”

National Security Team Delivers Grim Appraisal of Afghanistan War

National Security Team Delivers Grim Appraisal of Afghanistan War - washingtonpost.com
MUNICH, Feb. 8 -- President Obama's national security team gave a dire assessment Sunday of the war in Afghanistan, with one official calling it a challenge "much tougher than Iraq" and others hinting that it could take years to turn around.

U.S. officials said more troops were urgently needed, both from America and its NATO allies, to counter the increasing strength of the Taliban and warlords opposed to the central government in Kabul. They also said new approaches were needed to untangle an inefficient and conflicting array of civilian-aid programs that have wasted billions of dollars.

"NATO's future is on the line here," Richard C. Holbrooke, the State Department's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told attendees at an international security conference here. "It's going to be a long, difficult struggle. . . . In my view, it's going to be much tougher than Iraq."

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, said the war in Afghanistan "has deteriorated markedly in the past two years" and warned of a "downward spiral of security."....

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Commentary by Galloway: It's time for the change we were promised

McClatchy Washington Bureau | 02/06/2009 | Commentary: It's time for the change we were promised: ..."With only a couple of exceptions, both of them from the state of Maine, Capitol Hill has been swept clean of all but the most hard-line, unreconstructed, die-hard Republicans. There's no point for a Democratic president to engage them in anything but hand-to-hand combat.

People voted for Barack Obama because he promised change; because he promised to clean up the corrupt political culture in Washington; because he said he'd be different.

They want to see evidence of that change, and it must come quickly as the nation sinks deeper into recession and flirts with depression. Last month, more than 600,000 Americans lost their jobs. Last month, hundreds of thousands of others lost their homes.

All the Republicans can do is whine that the economic stimulus bill has become, of all things, a 'spending bill.' They overlook the fact that the only one thing that can stimulate an economy in free fall is government spending; that is, injecting money into the sectors of our economy where folks are losing their jobs, their savings and their houses.

Cutting taxes for comfortably employed, well-off Americans who, if they have any sense at all, will promptly deposit the savings in their bank accounts, won't stimulate a damn thing but gratitude for the Republican Party.

President Obama has a bully pulpit. He needs to talk turkey to the people who elected him. He needs to tell the Republicans to take a hike. He needs to use the whip on his own staff and advisers, who should be inspecting potential appointees with a proctologist's gusto.

He needs to pursue an agenda that's anything but business as usual, and he needs to get cracking on it right now.


[bth: right on.]

NATO commander: Afghanistan drug raids imminent

NATO commander: Afghanistan drug raids imminent: "MUNICH — In an effort to strike at a key income source for Taliban militants, the top NATO commander said Sunday that operations to attack drug lords and labs in Afghanistan will begin within the 'next several days.'

Gen. John Craddock, who also heads the U.S. European Command, also said that the U.S. and its allies are making progress in their efforts to fill the need for more troops, equipment and intelligence gathering in Afghanistan. He, however, would not disclose any specific commitments he got this weekend as world leaders met at a security conference here.

NATO defense ministers, during a meeting last fall in Hungary, authorized troops in Afghanistan to launch the drug attacks, but there had been questions about whether allies would be willing to follow through. Money from Afghanistan's booming illicit drug trade has been blamed for pumping up to $100 million a year into the coffers of resurgent Taliban fighters.

'Activities and actions will occur soon that will be helpful,' Craddock told reporters. 'We've got to get started.'"...

Tomgram: The Empire v. The Graveyard

Tomgram: The Empire v. The Graveyard
... Hand it to the Bush administration, in the last seven-plus years the U.S. has essentially inflicted a version of the Soviets' "Afghanistan" on itself. Now the Obama team is attempting to remedy this disaster, but what new thinking there is remains, as far as we can tell, essentially tactical. Whether the new team's plans are more or less "successful" in Afghanistan and on the Pakistani border may, in the end, prove somewhat beside the point. The term Pyrrhic victory, meaning a triumph more costly than a loss, was made for just such moments.

After all, more than a trillion dollars later, with essentially nothing to show except an unbroken record of destruction, corruption, and an inability to build anything of value, the U.S. is only slowly drawing down its 140,000-plus troops in Iraq to a "mere" 40,000 or so, while surging yet more troops into Afghanistan to fight a counterinsurgency war, possibly for years to come. At the same time, the U.S. continues to expand its armed forces and to garrison the globe, even as it attempts to bail out an economy and banking system evidently at the edge of collapse. This is a sure-fire formula for further disaster -- unless the new administration took the unlikely decision to downsize the U.S. global mission in a major way.

Right now, Washington is whistling past the graveyard. In Afghanistan and Pakistan the question is no longer whether the U.S. is in command, but whether it can get out in time. If not, when the moment for a bailout comes, don't expect the other pressed powers of the planet to do for Washington what it has been willing to do for the John Thains of our world. The Europeans are already itching to get out of town. The Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Indians… who exactly will ride to our rescue?

Perhaps it would be more prudent to stop hanging out in graveyards. They are, after all, meant for burials, not resurrections.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

[bth: a disturbing article worth reading in full]

Obama puts brake on Afghan surge - Times Online

Obama puts brake on Afghan surge - Times Online: "PRESIDENT Barack Obama has demanded that American defence chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge.

There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy.

The Pentagon was set to announce the deployment of 17,000 extra soldiers and marines last week but Robert Gates, the defence secretary, postponed the decision after questions from Obama.

The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in “the tank”, the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: “What’s the endgame?” and did not receive a convincing answer."

Larry Korb, a defence expert at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, said: “Obama is exactly right. Before he agrees to send 30,000 troops, he wants to know what the mission and the endgame is.”

Obama promised an extra 7,000-10,000 troops during the election campaign but the military has inflated its demands. Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama’s “Vietnam quagmire”.

If the surge goes ahead the military intend to limit the mission to fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and leave democracy building and reconstruction to Nato allies and civilians from the State Department and other agencies.

The United States has been pushing Britain to send several thousand more troops but there is just as much disagreement and confusion among British defence chiefs over the long-term aim. Gordon Brown is set to receive a full briefing this week.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the army chief who will step down this summer, has insisted that troops need a rest and believes he can send only one battlegroup, senior defence sources said....

[bth: have we lost Afghanistan?]

Support for Karzai wanes

Informed Comment

ALjazeera on Pakistan Supply Routes

Informed Comment