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That said, if you must use Firefox (and I don't blame you, it's become my browser of choice, too)
...get the "IE Tab" extension. This allows you to view problem pages with the IE rendering engine. Very cool!

Saturday, July 29, 2006


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House Conservatives: $2 For Workers, But Only If Paris Gets Millions


ThinkProgress
reported this morning that congressional conservatives were planning to
allow a vote on the minimum wage today or tomorrow, but only if it was
coupled with a poison pill provision that enacted Bush’s Associated Health Plans.

___continued...click link below >>>
CONTINUED...

New reports indicate that conservatives are ditching one poison pill in favor of another. The AP writes:


Republican leaders are willing to allow the first
minimum wage increase in a decade but only if it’s coupled with a
cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates, congressional
aides said Friday.


The estate tax — aka the Paris Hilton Tax — benefits
only the ultra-wealthy. This year, the exemption level is $2 million
($4 million per couple), which means only 5 out of every 1,000 people who die will pay the tax.


Bill Samuel, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said adding the estate tax
to the minimum wage “is the mother of all poison pills. It
can’t possibly pass the Senate.”


Sen. Edward Kennedy added, “It’s political blackmail
to say the only way that minimum wage workers can get a raise is to
give a tax giveaway to the wealthiest Americans. Members of Congress
raised their own pay — no strings attached. Surely, common
decency suggests that minimum wage workers deserve the same
respect.”





Filed under:


Posted by Faiz July 28, 2006 6:03 pm


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Banking on Poverty: Payday Lending is South Carolina's Growth Industry

Seth, over at Samaritanity has a great post about some of the reasons the poor stay poor. Like those handy rent-to-own stores with "No Credit Check" where you pay 1200 bucks for a $200 television. Or the economic risk assessment that's driving auto insurance premiums for the poor. Or my own favorite: the ubiquitous Payday Lenders.

Unlike our more enlightened northern neighbor, South Carolina has decided that the payday lending should be the century's growth industry. In fact, Loan Sharking is big business here with some of the country's biggest usurists setting up fancy corporate headquarters, like Advance America in Spartanburg. If you want to see how this new version of the Mafia's old business model works, just drive around any small town in South Carolina and look at the type of businesses hanging up their shingle in strip malls and abandoned ice cream shops.
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CONTINUED:

In Greenwood, for example, an Upstate manufacturing town of 35,000 that lost a great deal of its job base when manufacturers left for El Salvador or Indonesia, I once counted 65 payday lenders inside the highway loop that surrounds the city. They've got names like Payday Advance and Title Max (where they loan you money on the old heap that you just paid off at the buy-here-pay-here dealer). According to The State: "The number of S.C. payday stores grew by 14 percent last year. Locations in the border counties of York and Lancaster grew by 25 percent. There are now about 1,100 of them in our state. In the 12 months ending August 2004, payday lenders collected more than $150 million in fees on almost 4.4 million loans."

I once asked a local Greenwood banker about why his company, which prides itself on being the "community's bank," wasn't interested in working with me to throw these bums out. After all, they were taking his business, keeping people from opening accounts at his bank. "Hell," he laughed, "those guys give loans to people we'd never touch." When I mentioned the conversation to a friend who is a passionate advocate for the poor, he remarked, "They probably own a few themselves." Probably so.

And that's the problem. The banking industry often forms partnerships with these companies, who, under South Carolina law, can charge up to 459% on a 14 day loan. (And you thought your new ARM rate was high!) It's called "sub-prime lending" in banking parlance. In an article on Bloomberg.com, not exactly your left-wing anti-capitalist rag, they tag the practice "loan sharking." They also talk about the Palmetto State Star Loan Shark, Advance America.

"Advance America CEO William Webster, who served as chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley from 1993 to 1994, didn't return telephone calls seeking comment. In the first three quarters of 2004, the company earned $69 million on $350 million in net revenue. Its net income has soared 12-fold since 1999. In July 2004, Wachovia Corp., the No. 5 U.S. bank, and Bank of America Corp., the No. 3 U.S. bank, co-arranged a $265 million syndicated credit line for Advance America, according to SEC documents. Two months later, Advance America announced an IPO to raise $183 million." According to its website, South Carolina's Advance America earnings continue to soar.

The poor don't have the economic savvy to realize that a $15 "fee" on a $100 cash advance for two weeks is a mind-boggling 390% APR. Sometimes they take out loans to pay off their other loans (the poor's version of refinancing your mortgage to pay off your credit card debt), and they end up in a mess from which there's no escape.

Rebekah O'Connell, a consumer credit counselor at Triangle Family Services, (a United Way agency in Raleigh, N.C.) commented, "It'd be great if it was the middle class and it was just the plumber and all they need is $200 this one time to get them by. But that’s just not the reality. These are people who are really not making it. . . .They’re not fixing a blown tire or a pipe—they’re paying the rent.[Payday lenders are] taking advantage of people in time of need . . . .We’ve got to get some controls on the interest rates. Three, four hundred percent? There ought to be a law."

There ought to be. But there isn't.

posted by Deacon Tim at 11:19 PM
SOURCE:
Sacraments Wholesale

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Down the Memory Hole

Israeli contribution to conflict is forgotten by leading papers

7/28/06

In the wake of the most serious outbreak of Israeli/Arab violence in years, three leading U.S. papers—the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times—have each strongly editorialized that Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon were solely responsible for sparking violence, and that the Israeli military response was predictable and unavoidable. These editorials ignored recent events that indicate a much more complicated situation.
Continued...to "Read More" click link below

CONTINUED:

Beginning with the Israeli attack on Gaza, a New York Times editorial (6/29/06) headlined "Hamas Provokes a Fight" declared that "the responsibility for this latest escalation rests squarely with Hamas," and that "an Israeli military response was inevitable." The paper (7/15/06) was similarly sure in its assignment of blame after the fighting spread to Lebanon: "It is important to be clear about not only who is responsible for the latest outbreak, but who stands to gain most from its continued escalation. Both questions have the same answer: Hamas and Hezbollah."

The Washington Post (7/14/06) agreed, writing that "Hezbollah and its backers have instigated the current fighting and should be held responsible for the consequences." The L.A. Times (7/14/06) likewise wrote that "in both cases Israel was provoked." Three days and scores of civilian deaths later, the Times (7/17/06) was even more direct: "Make no mistake about it: Responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side...and that is Hezbollah."

As FAIR noted in a recent Action Alert (7/19/06), the portrayal of Israel as the innocent victim in the Gaza conflict is hard to square with the death toll in the months leading up to the current crisis; between September 2005 and June 2006, 144 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli forces, according to a list compiled by the Israeli human rights group B'tselem; 29 of those killed were children. During the same period, no Israelis were killed as a result of violence from Gaza.

In a July 21 CounterPunch column, Alexander Cockburn highlighted some of the violent incidents that have dropped out of the media’s collective memory:

Let's go on a brief excursion into pre-history. I’m talking about June 20, 2006, when Israeli aircraft fired at least one missile at a car in an attempted extrajudicial assassination attempt on a road between Jabalya and Gaza City. The missile missed the car. Instead it killed three Palestinian children and wounded 15.

Back we go again to June 13, 2006. Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a van in another attempted extrajudicial assassination. The successive barrages killed nine innocent Palestinians.

Now we're really in the dark ages, reaching far, far back to June 9, 2006, when Israel shelled a beach in Beit Lahiya killing eight civilians and injuring 32.

That's just a brief trip down Memory Lane, and we trip over the bodies of twenty dead and forty-seven wounded, all of them Palestinians, most of them women and children.

On June 24, the day before Hamas' cross-border raid, Israel made an incursion of its own, capturing two Palestinians that it said were members of Hamas (something Hamas denied—L.A. Times, 6/25/06). This incident received far less coverage in U.S. media than the subsequent seizure of the Israeli soldier; the few papers that covered it mostly dismissed it in a one-paragraph brief (e.g., Chicago Tribune, 6/25/06), while the Israeli taken prisoner got front-page headlines all over the world. It's likely that most Gazans don’t share U.S. news outlets' apparent sense that captured Israelis are far more interesting or important than captured Palestinians.

The situation in Lebanon is also more complicated than its portrayal in U.S. media, with the roots of the current crisis extending well before the July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. A major incident fueling the latest cycle of violence was a May 26, 2006 car bombing in Sidon, Lebanon, that killed a senior official of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group allied with Hezbollah. Lebanon later arrested a suspect, Mahmoud Rafeh, whom Lebanese authorities claimed had confessed to carrying out the assassination on behalf of Mossad (London Times, 6/17/06).

Israel denied involvement with the bombing, but even some Israelis are skeptical. "If it turns out this operation was effectively carried out by Mossad or another Israeli secret service," wrote Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s top-selling daily (6/16/06; cited in AFP, 6/16/06), "an outsider from the intelligence world should be appointed to know whether it was worth it and whether it lays groups open to risk."

In Lebanon, Israel's culpability was taken as a given. "The Israelis, in hitting Islamic Jihad, knew they would get Hezbollah involved too," Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at Beirut’s Lebanese American University, told the New York Times (5/29/06). "The Israelis had to be aware that if they assassinated this guy they would get a response."

And, indeed, on May 28, Lebanese militants in Hezbollah-controlled territory fired Katyusha rockets at a military vehicle and a military base inside Israel. Israel responded with airstrikes against Palestinian camps deep inside Lebanon, which in turn were met by Hezbollah rocket and mortar attacks on more Israeli military bases, which prompted further Israeli airstrikes and "a steady artillery barrage at suspected Hezbollah positions" (New York Times, 5/29/06). Gen. Udi Adam, the commander of Israel’s northern forces, boasted that "our response was the harshest and most severe since the withdrawal" of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000 (Chicago Tribune, 5/29/06).

This intense fighting was the prelude to the all-out warfare that began on July 12, portrayed in U.S. media as beginning with an attack out of the blue by Hezbollah. While Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers may have reignited the smoldering conflict, the Israeli air campaign that followed was not a spontaneous reaction to aggression but a well-planned operation that was years in the making.

"Of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared," Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, told the San Francisco Chronicle (7/21/05). "By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board." The Chronicle reported that a "senior Israeli army officer" has been giving PowerPoint presentations for more than a year to "U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks" outlining the coming war with Lebanon, explaining that a combination of air and ground forces would target Hezbollah and "transportation and communication arteries."

Which raises a question: If journalists have been told by Israel for more than a year that a war was coming, why are they pretending that it all started on July 12? By truncating the cause-and-effect timelines of both the Gaza and Lebanon conflicts, editorial boards at major U.S. dailies gravely oversimplify the decidedly more complex nature of the facts on the ground.
SOURCE:
Down the Memory Hole

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Friday, July 28, 2006


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Analysis: U.S. military in supply swamp

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The U.S. military`s supply system has been broken for a decade and a half, and experts warn it may stay that way for years to come.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has labelled the Department of Defense`s supply management as a high risk area for 16 years. But although everyone agrees it needs urgent reform there is no real sign of that happening yet.

'The current system impedes the department`s ability to deliver the right items, at the right time, to the right place for the warfighter,' Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, said Tuesday at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.
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CONTINUED:

Voinovich, who is chairman of the subcommittee, said a GAO study had found inadequate logistics support that led to supply shortages during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The GAO report was titled 'High-Level Commitment and Oversight Needed for DOD Supply Chain Plan to Succeed.'

'As a result, the war reserves did not have enough vehicle generators, tracks for tanks, body armor, lithium batteries, ready-to-eat meals, tires and up-armored high-mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles and kits to meet the demands of the field,' he said.

The limited amount of protective gear had earlier received major criticism within the United States. The Washington Post on Jan. 12 cited forensic studies suggesting that many American soldier`s lives could have been saved in Iraq if they were properly armored. Now the Department of Defense is at last supplying troops with the required amount of armor.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, told the hearing that the Department of Defense`s supply management inefficiencies had significantly impacted upon the U.S. military`s overseas operations and placed American troops at risk on the battlefield. 'Security chain management isn`t a regional issue,' he said.

The DOD implemented a supply chain improvement plan in 2005. Alan F. Estevez, head of the Pentagon`s supply chain integration, told the hearing that the Pentagon was making improvements to the military`s chain system management. He said the department saw a 33 percent decrease in customer wait time, or how long products take to reach the client, from 24 days in fiscal year 2004 to 16 days by April 2005.

The Pentagon`s use of Radio Frequency Identification made the processing of materials more efficient. The DOD supply chain integration program is also implementing a plan to continually evaluate and examine their progress, called the continuous process improvement.

'We`re showing measurable improvement now,' Estevez said. He discussed DOD collaboration with the private sector to learn from companies` supply management techniques and create benchmarks for the department.

'In benchmarking, what you want to do is you want to learn what they`ve done and figure out how to apply it,' Estevez said. 'But we`ll probably never have the kinds of inventory turns that a Wal-Mart or a Dell or some of the other companies have.'

However, Estevez noted, the DOD and private sector were not wholly comparable because of the vital nature of DOD shipments and the fact that the department transports materiel to remote regions private businesses would not operate in.

William S. Solis, the Government Accountability Office`s director of defense capabilities management, said the DOD had made progress in supply chain improvement, though more needs to be done.

'In their effort to develop performance measures for use across the department, DOD officials have encountered challenges such as a lack of standardized reliable data,' Solis said. 'Nevertheless, DOD could show near-term progress by adding what they call intermediate measures. These measures could include outcome-focused measures for each of the initiatives or for the three focus areas.'

The focus areas involve inventory management, the tracking of shipment location and condition and the delivery system.

Solis also said it is still uncertain how the Department of Defense`s plans to improve logistics and the supply chain are aligned with each other.

'The plans were developed at different points of time, for different purposes and in different formats,' Solis said. 'So it is difficult to determine how all these ongoing efforts link together ... and whether they will result in significant progress toward resolving this high-risk area.'

Yet officials said that they expect further progress with the DOD supply management programs.

'We`re still implementing, we`re just starting to implement,' said Kathy Smith, special assistant in the DOD`s office of supply chain management.

Voinovich was more concerned over sustaining progress from the supply management improvement programs after the current presidential term ends. 'I know transformational change cannot happen in two years,' he said.

Estevez said the Department of Defense planned to keep the GAO, Office of Management and Budget and Congress updated with monthly briefings, summary reports updated monthly, and quarterly meetings if necessary.

However, the serious structural problems that Voinovich and other critics have identified, and the continuing failure of the Pentagon to come up with detailed plans to resolve them, mean the waste and logistical headaches may continue on a comparable scale for years to come.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International
SOURCE:
Analysis: U.S. military in supply swamp

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Tragedy In Boston: Big Dolts Ignore Dig Bolts

As you're probably aware, a 12-ton concrete ceiling tile broke off and
crushed a motorist in one of Boston's "Big Dig" tunnels a couple of
weeks ago. An engineer who worked on the project seven now says that he warned seven years ago that the bolts could not possibly hold the heavy ceiling panels.
John
J. Keaveney in a starkly-worded two-page memo sent in 1999 to Robert
Coutts, senior project manager for Modern Continental wrote that he
could not "comprehend how this structure can withhold the test of
time." Keaveney added: "Should any innocent State Worker or
member of the Public be seriously injured or even worse killed as a
result, I feel that this would be something that would reflect Mentally
and Emotionally upon me, and all who are trying to construct a quality
Project
."

Keaveney, in an interview last night, said that after he raised the concern, his superiors at Modern Continental,
the company then building the tunnel, and representatives from Bechtel/
Parsons Brinckerhoff, the private sector manager of the Big Dig, sought
to reassure him. They told him that such a system had been tested and
was proven to work.

He said Coutts told him, " `John, this is a
tried and true method,' " he recalled. He also raised the concern in
person with Bechtel/ Parsons Brinckerhoff officials in subsequent
conversations, but they said simply that they were doing the work to
design specifications and that the ceiling would hold.
And it wasn't his own engineering expertise that opened his eyes, but a question from a skeptical third grader:

___continued...click link below >>>
CONTINUED...

He
said he really began to worry about the ceiling after a third- grade
class from his hometown of Norwell came to visit the Big Dig for a tour
in spring 1999. He showed the class some concrete ceiling panels and
pointed to the bolts protruding from the ceiling, explaining that the
panels would one day hang from those bolts.

A third-grade girl raised her hand and asked him, "Will those things hold up the concrete?"

He
started voicing concerns among his colleagues and then to managers
after that. "It was like the [third-graders] had pointed out the
emperor has no clothes," he said. "I said, `Yes, it would hold,' but
then I thought about it."


He travels frequently and was
in New York City on a job when Del Valle was killed. He returned to
Boston July 12 and was watching the television news with this wife when
the story came on.

"I said, `Oh, my God,' that's my job," he said.

Keaveney
said he blames himself. "I am part of the problem," he said. "I failed
to open my mouth. I failed to push the letter I wrote for results. I am
partially responsible for the death of this mother."
But the problems were much bigger than just one man's failure to convince his superiors that something was wrong. A Washington Post story last weekend details the extensive system failures and lack of oversight that led to the disaster.
According
to officials, government documents and people who shaped the project
over the years, the Big Dig has not gone awry because its flaws were
unknown. It has gone awry in spite of repeated warnings about its cost
and design.

"It was nothing but problem after problem, and no
one was looking, no one cared," said A. Joseph DeNucci, Massachusetts's
longtime state auditor, whose office has since 1993 issued 20 critical
reports about the Big Dig. "I get sick when I think about it."

In
addition to the auditor's work, there were 13 negative reports during
the project's first decade by the state inspector general. More
recently, there have been hearings in Congress and the state
legislature, and financial reviews by the inspector general of the U.S.
Department of Transportation.

"This has been the most
investigated project in our history," said James A. Aloisi Jr., a
former assistant state transportation secretary and general counsel to
the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

The warnings were
overshadowed, many officials now acknowledge, by zeal among
politicians, business leaders, lobbyists and private contractors who
had a stake in the project. That eagerness to move forward coincided
with a political culture in which a series of Republican governors and
the state's independent turnpike authority have trusted a private
consultant to shepherd virtually every facet of the project, with
relatively little government supervision
. "What was missing from the whole project was outside oversight," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D).
In
the 1980's, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Frederick P.
Salvucci , concerned that the state workers would have a hard time
overseeing the project, hired a private firm, Bechtel/Parsons
Brinckerhoff, to oversee construction and inspection of the project.
The state would oversee the firm.

But when Republican Governor William Weld came into office, things changed -- for the worse:
The
year construction began, Gov. William F. Weld (R) moved into the
statehouse, possessing a faith in the private sector and a disdain for
the state workers he derided as "walruses." Supervision waned. [MA
state audity A. Joseph] DeNucci, a prizefighter and a legislator before
being elected state auditor in 1987, said: "The commonwealth abdicated
its responsibility to Bechtel."

The federal government
similarly was reducing its oversight of highway projects it funded. The
year the Big Dig's construction began, a newly enacted federal law
changed funding methods and eliminated detailed, periodic cost analyses
by the Federal Highway Administration.
And the rest, as they say, is history, a history that has already cost one life.

Source: Confined Space

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Global Teens Growing Indifferent to "Brand America"

In case you missed the memo, the stars and Stripes have seen better days.


Even before George W. Bush’s theatrical “Mission Accomplished”
cameo aboard the uss Abraham Lincoln, brand visionaries had already set
out on their grave task of sorting through the marketing ramifications
of a president gone wild. Their collective conclusion would prove
inevitable: if you want to insulate yourself against the usa’s rapidly
tarnishing global image, you’d better stop wrapping your brands in the
Red, White and Blue.



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CONTINUED...

Three years later, the tumult has quieted. Far from indicating
a reversal of America’s fortunes, however, the relative calm has more
to do with grim resignation. “America” – the brand, the idea, the dream
– just doesn’t move product like it used to.


A marketing study released early this year puts a pretty
savage point on the dilemma. Based on research conducted in the summer
of 2005, Chicago branding agency Energy bbdo ranked the “likeability”
of 54 globally-marketed brands amongst 13 to 18 years olds from a
baker’s dozen of countries, including the United States.


Of the big brands with roots in the usa, just five – Nike,
Colgate, Coca-Cola, M&Ms and Kodak – made it into the top ten.
Contrast this with ten years ago, when a comparable study conducted by
D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles discovered near-total supremacy of US
brands over the much-desired teen demographic, capturing eight of the
top ten “likeability” slots.



It’s clear that name recognition is not to blame for the
decline. In the new study, McDonald’s ranked second for name
recognition, just behind Coca-Cola, yet plunged to #32 when ranked
according to likeability. Disney and Pepsi suffered the same fate,
placing #9 and #3 for recognition, respectively, yet not even breaking
the top twenty for likeability.


“An association with the US seemed to be a drag on the
likeability of brands, despite high logo recognition,” noted Chip
Walker, executive vice president at Energy bbdo, in a January interview
with Women’s Wear Daily. “There seems to be a great ambivalence towards
America among global teens.”


alt 


While none of this spells out-and-out doom for US brands, being
forced to stop drinking from the poisoned well has left marketers
scrambling to uncover new formulas for generating teen cool.


Of the US entries in the current top ten, Nike has perhaps been
the most aggressive in shedding its mantle of Americana in favor of
“localizing” itself across the world. Hence the ongoing Joga Bonito
(Play Beautiful) campaign, featuring the likes of Brazilian footballer
Ronaldinho Gaúcho and the retired French icon Eric Cantona. Hence,
also, Nike’s move to acquire other brands that already enjoy local
caché – as with Canadian hockey-equipment manufacturer Bauer, now Nike
Bauer – or its new, $43 million sponsorship deal with India’s national
cricket team.


In a roundabout way, then, it may be tempting to prophesy that
the Brand America crisis could ultimately be a boon to those US brands
that have been coasting on borrowed cool, obliging them to fabricate
more resilient, bespoke identities that are better suited to emerging
markets.


Tempting, yes, but likely also a tad hasty, given another
major finding of the bbdo Energy study. “Marketers face big trouble,”
note the study’s authors, “62 percent of global teens are apathetic
about marketing and advertising. That is, they are not anti-brand, but
perhaps more dangerously, they just don’t care – don’t care about
wearing brand logos, don’t believe advertising, and feel there is too
much advertising in the world.”


This isn’t just a small matter of a few errant kids. The global
teen market is huge and growing – in 2002, worth approximately $170
billion in the States alone. More trenchantly, adolescence is regarded
as the ideal moment to begin cultivating “positive consideration” and
brand loyalty, right at the moment when kids begin to make independent
purchasing decisions. No wonder, then, that the specter of a
disinterested, brand-apathetic teen is to a marketer what root rot is
to a gardener: a sign of horrible, “dangerous” things to come.


Clayton Dach

source: AdBusters


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Capitol Hill Blue - Army equipment shortfalls put soldiers, nation at risk

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

Up to two-thirds of the Army's combat brigades are not ready for wartime missions, largely because they are hampered by equipment shortfalls, Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday, citing unclassified documents.

In a letter to President Bush, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said that "nearly every non-deployed combat brigade in the active Army is reporting that they are not ready" for combat. The figures, he said, represent an unacceptable risk to the nation.

At a news conference, other leading Democrats said that those strategic reserve forces are critically short of personnel and equipment.
Continued...to "Read More" click link below

CONTINUED:

"They're the units that could be called upon or would be called upon to go to war in North Korea, Iran, or any other country or region," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine who has called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

In a statement released late Wednesday, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, said much has been asked of the Army during the nearly five years the U.S. has been at war.

"I have testified to the facts about our readiness and I remain concerned about the serious demands we face," said Schoomaker, adding that the Army needs more than $17 billion in 2007 and up to $13 billion a year until two or three years after the war ends.

He said the president, defense secretary and Congress have worked closely in the past on these problems, and "I am confident we will have a way to meet the many challenges that lie ahead during these dangerous times."

Murtha and Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said they would like to see an emergency appropriation of $17 billion, but they will at least be asking for an increase of $10 billion in the $50 billion supplemental funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that the administration requested for the first few months of the 2007 fiscal year.

Schoomaker and other Army officials have been very vocal about their funding shortfall in recent weeks.

In recent testimony, Schoomaker said that in 2004 it cost $4 billion to repair or replace war equipment, but now it has reached $12 billion to $13 billion. "And in my view, we will continue to see this escalate," he said, adding that the Army is using up equipment at four times the rate for which it was designed.

Schoomaker traced the problem's origin to entering the Iraq war in 2003 with a $56 billion shortfall in equipment. The Army managed the situation by rotating in fresh units while keeping the same equipment in Iraq. Over time, he said, the equipment has worn out without sufficient investment in replacements.
SOURCE:
Capitol Hill Blue - Army equipment shortfalls put soldiers, nation at risk

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Capitol Hill Blue - Our military men and women deserve better from us

July 27, 2006 7:59 AM / FUBAR
It doesn't matter whether you agree with war or not or how you stand on the current conflict in Iraq. The way this nation treats the young men and women who put their lives on the line is disgraceful. It has reached the point where a Marine Gen.spoke out about it recently.

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by MajGen Mike Lehnert, commander of Marine Bases (West), to the Military Advisory Committee of the San Diego Chamber of Commerge in California. We think it raises valid points that are worth public discussion. Our thanks to retired Air Force Col. Richard Niemela for providing us with a copy.

Eight days ago, I was present in the audience when Tom Brokaw addressed the 2006 Stanford graduating class. After the initial pleasantries and one-liners, Mr. Brokaw said something unexpected. He told the class that they were the children of privilege, fortunate to be attending one of the finest educational institutions in the country, the anointed because they had both the test scores for admittance and parents who were able to afford their tuition. He noted that they could likely expect rapid advancement in almost any endeavor they choose and that they were destined to lead the most powerful country in the world. The class was beaming.

And then Brokaw reminded them that the liberties and freedoms they enjoyed were being defended by young people their age that did not have their advantages. That at this time thousands of men and women were fighting, dying and suffering debilitating injury to ensure that the rest of us could live the American dream.

There was an uncomfortable shifting in the seats, followed by slow but growing applause from the audience.
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When we sent my son to Stanford four years ago, we filled out a form asking for demographic information. One of the questions for the parents said, what is your profession? After it was a list of about thirty professions including doctor, lawyer, congressman, educator, architect. Military was not listed so I filled in “other.”

My son was the only graduate who had a parent serving in the armed forces. As I was introduced to his friends’ parents, it was interesting to watch their reaction. Few had ever spoken to a member of the military. One asked me how my son was able to gain admittance with the disadvantage of having to attend “those DoD schools.” Many voiced support for our military and told me that they’d have served but clearly military service was not for their kind of people.

This year of the so-called elite schools, Princeton led them with nine graduates electing military service. Compare that with 1956 when over 400 of the Princeton graduating class entered the military. Most of the other Ivy League schools had no one entering the military this year. I wonder how many of you know the young people who are serving today. I wont embarrass anyone by asking for a show of hands to ask how many really know a young enlisted Marine who has been to war. I’m going to try to give you a better feel about those who serve our nation.

Our Marines tend to come from working class families. For the most part, they came from homes where high school graduation was important but college was out of their reach. The homes they come from emphasize service. Patriotism isn’t a word that makes them uncomfortable. The global war on terrorism has been ongoing for nearly five years with Marines deployed in harms way for most of that time. It is a strange war because the sacrifices being levied upon our citizens are not evenly distributed throughout society. In fact, most Americans are only vaguely aware of what is going on.

That isn’t the case aboard the Marine bases in Southern California where we see the sacrifice everyday as we train aboard those open spaces that you covet for other purposes. Many of our Marines are married and 70% of our married Marines live in your communities, not aboard Marine bases. These Marines coach your soccer teams. They attend your places of worship. They send their kids to your schools. However, in many ways they are as different from the rest of the citizens of Southern California as my son was different from the rest of the students at Stanford.

One of the huge differences between the rest of society and our Marine families, is when Marine daddies and mommies go to work, some of them never come home. The kids know that. The spouses know that. Week after week we get reports of another son, father, husband who won’t be coming back. During the past four years, over 460 Marines from Southern California bases have been killed by the enemy. 107 more have died in Iraq and Afghanistan due to accidents. 6500 have been wounded some of them multiple times.

You will never know or meet Brandan Webb age 20 or Christopher White age 23 or Ben Williams age 30. They were all assigned to First Battalion First Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, California. They were some of the Marines who died this week out of Marine bases in Southern California.

Last Friday, we hosted a golf tournament at Camp Pendleton to raise money for wounded Marines. There are a lot of expenses that the government cannot legally pay for from appropriated funds. The people who attended the tournament genuinely wanted to help and we invited a couple of dozen wounded Marines to golf with them. As I watched the teams leave for a shotgun start, I saw three Marines sitting by themselves and went over to talk to them. Clearly they’d been told by their chain of command that this was their appointed place of duty. They were sitting in the sun chatting, probably not unhappy with the duty but mildly uncertain as to why they were there. I asked them why they weren’t golfing and they said that they’d never learned. No one in their families ever played golf and that this was the first time they’d ever been on a golf course. I asked them how many times they’d deployed. One of the young men had just returned from his third deployment and had been wounded every time. The others teased him for being a bullet magnet. I asked him if he was going to stay in and he thought for a moment what to say to a general and he said, “I think I’d like to try college. No one in my family has ever gone.”

I asked these Marines if I could buy them a beer. They looked at me and smiled. One of them said, “We can’t ask you to break the rules sir. None of us are 21 yet.”

They seemed much older. As I left them I wondered about a policy that gives a young man the power of deciding who will live and who will die but won’t let him drink a beer. I thought about these young Americans who had never shot golf but had shot and killed other men in order to carry out foreign policy.

On the 10th of August we will open a wounded warrior barracks at Camp Pendleton. Few taxpayers’ dollars were used. We were able to raise the money through the Semper Fidelis fund to house those Marines who no longer need to be hospitalized but who suffer debilitating injuries and need follow-on care. Heretofore, when regiments left for the war, they left their non-deployables behind. These Marines often had to live in WWII era barracks with open squad bays and gang heads down the hallway. Those having limited mobility found it difficult and uncomfortable. It was no way to treat our wounded warriors. We’re fixing it.

Now let me introduce you to another enlisted Marine. His name is Brendan Duffy. Brendan was an infantry Marine. Like so many others, Brendan had dreams of going to college but no means to do so. While he was in the Corps, he immediately began using his Montgomery GI bill benefits by enrolling in Mira Costa College. Though deployed soon after signing up for college, he took his textbooks to war. Last month he received Mira Costa’s highest award for academic excellence, the Medal of Honor for Academic Excellence. Brendan described studying pre-calculus while fragments from explosions struck the sandbag shelter he was in. Brendan left the Corps this week and has been accepted to the University of California Los Angeles to study math and economics.

Later this morning I’ll be meeting with educators across the California University system. We are trying to make California more veteran friendly. California hosts 40% of the combat power of the Marine Corps and 40% of the Marine veterans who leave the Corps do so out of Southern California bases. 96% have participated in the Montgomery GI Bill and are eligible for benefits but only a small number enter the California University system. That’s because California, unlike other states did not provide any veterans preference or even reach out to veterans. These combat veterans score in the top 50% of their age group, are drug free and morally straight but are lost to California and return to other states that aggressively work to attract them.

Several months ago, I along with senior leadership of all the Services, met with Governor Schwarzenegger and told him that California was not an education friendly state for military veterans. To his credit, he is trying to change that and this meeting today is a natural outgrowth of his support.

In Iraq, the media talks about the casualties. They seldom report the successes. I don’t think that this is intentional. It is just more difficult to quantify progress and reduce it to a sound bite.

Some of you may recall almost exactly two years ago when a four man sniper team from 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines was killed on a rooftop in Ramadi. It made news because sniper teams aren’t supposed to get ambushed and because an M40A1 sniper rifle was now in the hands of the enemy.

Over the next two years, that rifle was used against Americans and we wanted it back. Last week, a 21 year old Marine sniper from 3rd Battalion, Fifth Marines out of Camp Pendleton observed a military aged male videotaping a passing patrol of amphibious assault vehicles near Camp Habbaniya. After radioing the patrol and telling them to stay low, the Marine watched the man aiming a sniper rifle that looked remarkably like his own.

He killed the enemy sniper with one round to the head. Seconds later, another insurgent entered on the passenger side and was surprised to see his partner dead. That hesitation was enough time to allow Sgt Kevin Homestead age 26 to kill the insurgent before he could drive off. When the Marines went down to inspect the scene, they saw that the sniper rifle was one of their own. It was the same M-40A1 sniper rifle looted from the 2/4 sniper team exactly two years earlier.

We are making progress in Iraq. The Iraqi Army is more capable each month. In the Anbar province we have brought the 1st Iraqi Division – the most capable of the Iraqi formations – to the former British RAF base of Habbaniyah – between Fallujah and Ramadi. We are standing up the 7th Division. In Baghdad, Iraqi brigades own parts of the city and are reporting directly to the US Army Division commander as component units.

The Iraqi Police are the essential element – and the most difficult challenge. In any insurrection, the insurgent specifically targets the local security elements of the government – because they are essential to maintaining control via interaction with the community, intelligence gathering, and law enforcement against petty and organized crime, traffic control. These police units are having good success in places like Fallujah. Ramadi is a different kettle of fish. Some of the police departments haven’t been paid in months and the intimidation campaign is in full force.

My Chief of Staff, Colonel Stu Navarre formerly the Commander of the 5th Marine Regiments told me this story. One day in December, the Ramadi Police Dept Operations Officer (#3 in the pecking order) did not come to work. When we inquired, he told us that the day before his 10 year old son had been kidnapped after school and transported to the north side of Ramadi. He was called by the kidnappers and advised of his son’s location. When the Operations Officer arrived at the location, he found his son alive, with a note pinned to his shirt, “If you go to work tomorrow, you will never see your son again. We know where you live.” I wonder how many of us would show up for work with that kind of intimidation.

Your fellow Americans in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing a superb job in the most dangerous places on earth. They believe in what they are doing. The majority of the sergeants, corporals, and privates enlisted after 9-11. They knew what they were signing up for. They want to deploy in defense of the nation. We are sending best leadership to the combat zone. Service in Iraq/Afghanistan has become the norm for our Marine and Army leaders, and an essential part of their experience/qualifications for advancement. Finally, the American people have continued to demonstrate an unprecedented level of support for their fellow Americans in uniform – as well as the understanding that these young men and women are executing the policies of their elected representatives.

Reconstructing an entire nation takes time. Think about our own experience during the American Revolution. Despite having a homogeneous nation with no incipient insurgency, it was thirteen years from the Revolution to the ratification of the Constitution. We seem to have forgotten that it takes time to build institutions.

Introduction of a stable, representative form of government in Iraq is revolutionary in its impacts on the region and the world. Iraq is at the center of the Mideast, the Arab world, and Shia Islam. Iraq has been, and will continue to be a major producer of natural resources – especially oil. It is at the center of the chess board. Iraq separates two sponsors of terrorism – Iran and Syria – and with Afghanistan – isolates Iran. It is no coincidence that Muammar Qadaffi has sensed the change in the wind and sought to distance himself from terrorism and WMD and become a legitimate player in world politics.

The Iraqis are capable of running Iraq. Today, thousands of young Iraqis are lining up to become soldiers and policemen – despite constant, highly lethal attacks on recruiting stations, police stations, and army checkpoints. Concurrently, there is no more dangerous job than being a candidate for office or an elected official in Iraq. We should not underestimate the absolute danger to any Iraqi that steps up to plate for law, order, and progress. The enemy is absolutely committed to winning. For him, there is really no other option. He also understands that the center of gravity is the commitment of the American people.

One of my major concerns is quality of life issues for our Marines, Sailors and their families. We are making significant progress but we have a long way to go.

We are building 1600 more homes at Miramar to give our Marines and Sailors decent places to live. California is a beautiful State. It is also extraordinarily expensive and we are the gypsies in your castle often driving 50 or 60 miles one way to because those are the only places that our junior Marines can afford to live.

We are replacing worn out World War II vintage barracks that we make our single Marines live in. When I took over, I visited some of the open squad bay barracks at Camp Horno in Pendleton. A young Marine corporal and veteran of the fighting in Iraq looked at me and said, “Sir, I lived better in Fallujah.” That hurt but he was right. A couple of weeks later I had a chance to talk to the Commandant and tell him the same story. I told him that at the rate we were replacing barracks, we wouldn’t have decent enlisted quarters until 2036. To his credit, he listened and we now plan to have them replaced by 2013. This won’t come without a cost because the Marine Corps doesn’t get more money to build barracks, we have to realign our priorities and not buy other things that we need. It was a significant decision by our senior leadership but the right thing to do.

With our Navy partners we are going after Pay Day Lenders. Pay Day Lenders are the parasites found outside of our military bases in Southern California who prey on young Marines and Sailors because the lenders know they are uninformed consumers. Pay day lenders take advantage that California has some of the weakest laws in the country. In North Carolina, pay day lenders are limited to 36% annual percentage rates of interest. Here in San Diego we regularly see rates of 460% and I have seen rates as high as 920% being charged legally against our service members. Service members go into a cycle of debt. Ultimately because we expect our Marines to be financially responsible, their ability to reenlist, compete for good jobs and keep a security clearance is effected.

Let me be clear. Pay day lenders are not providing our Marines with a service. They are parasites, bottom feeders and scumbags. One of them sent me a note recently telling me that he was a member of an honorable profession and that I should back off. He told me that a pay day lending institution had been found in the ruins of Pompey after Mount Vesuvius erupted. I responded to him that archeologists also found a whore house and that antiquity did not bequeath virtue. It is a shameful practice.

We also recognize that military leaders have a responsibility to educate our service members and their families about sound money management. We are doing that. We are using our base papers, information campaigns and personal intervention to tell them that there are alternatives to the pay day lending institutions.

Both the State and Federal legislatures have heard our message as well and there are bills making their way through the process to significantly curtail the excesses of payday lenders. I know that many of you came here today to find out what I would say about the airport situation at Miramar. So as not to disappoint you, let me be clear.

The Marines came to Miramar ten years ago as a result of a BRAC decision and four subsequent BRAC rounds determined that the interrelationship of the Marine and Navy bases in Southern California provided a capability that was unmatched anywhere in the country. The Marine Corps uses its bases as a projection platform for combat power. 25,000 Marines from California bases are presently deployed in harms way and over 3,000 of them are from Miramar.

Through the years, we have accommodated our neighbors’ development needs. Often we allowed infrastructure that was unpopular elsewhere but vital to the community. San Diego’s primary landfill is located at Miramar. A nuclear generation facility sits aboard Marine Corps property at Camp Pendleton and powers 2.2 million Southern California homes. We want to be good neighbors and work hard at it.

We examined the proposal for joint use of Miramar carefully, provided all data requested and saw that data ignored. Joint use does not work at Miramar. Thus the real issue is whether you want a civilian airport at Miramar or Marines.

If you want us to leave, you should say so. However you must understand that no matter what names are used to describe us in the Union Tribune, the decision whether or not to leave do not rest with the military leadership in Southern California. It rests with your elected leaders and most of them have clearly put defense needs above local requirements and said no to Miramar. The decision rests with the appointed civilian leadership in the department of defense. They’ve said no as well.

Sadly this controversy has effected local civil military relations. There is no way you can sugar coat it or pretend otherwise. But we are here. If our leadership tells us to leave we will. We will take our Marines, our families, our wounded and if necessary we will dig up our dead. However right now our leadership says we stay. And whether or not we remain in San Diego, the Marine Corps is committed to protecting your liberties and your freedoms.

We know that this is a difficult issue. We know that we have many friends in San Diego but we also know that we have others who see the economic potential of development of the military installations. They say that they love the military but would rather love them somewhere else than in their backyard.

If you take nothing away from this talk, I’d hope you understand and appreciate what a remarkable group of young people currently serve in your Armed Forces today. Want to know what Marine Generals talk about when we are together? We talk about what a remarkable privilege it is to lead these extraordinary Americans.

I started by mentioning Tom Brokaw. His book coined the phrase, “The Greatest Generation” and our nation responded in kind. Twenty years from now we may recognize that this young generation currently serving has the same qualities of greatness.

On the battlefield today are future CEOs of corporations, university presidents, congressmen, state governors, Supreme Court justices and perhaps a future president of the United States.

Take the time to meet one of these young people. You won’t be disappointed.


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Capitol Hill Blue - Our military men and women deserve better from us

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Capitol Hill Blue - Growth of national pessimism

By ANN McFEATTERS

For two centuries we Americans have believed we could solve just about any problem. With our belief in our values, our natural resources and our sheer energy and determination to succeed, we have felt unstoppable.

That remarkable can-do spirit is under grave assault.
The dreary war in Iraq is just one obstacle that is undermining our national optimism. The $18 billion we have spent to try to rebuild Iraq as we promised, has disappeared into a sinkhole. Much of the money was spent on security, even as the country is increasingly more convulsed in chaos. Large sums disappeared into corrupt hands. We cannot provide adequate sewage, water or electricity, so we are sending more soldiers at a cost of billions more dollars. Dire predictions that Iraq could cost U.S. taxpayers $1 trillion dollars no longer seem outlandish.
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The disastrous Hurricane Katrina shocked everyone around the world not just because it sank a beautiful old city and impoverished thousands of Americans, but also because the nation fumbled its response so badly. Now we have new reports saying that money has been misspent, victims are still housed in trailers, and the lesson the Federal Emergency Management Administration has learned is that next time (and there will be a next time) it will give families $500 instead of $2,000 to make a clean start.

The nation's most expensive public works project _ Boston's Big Dig _ has become a deadly embarrassment. In a nation renowned for building the Panama Canal, a tunnel collapse in a major city has focused attention on whether the bolts designed to hold up giant concrete slabs were adequate.

When the tsunami hit Indonesia in December 2004, killing 170,000 people and making thousands more homeless, the people of the world opened up their hearts and wallets and gave billions of dollars. Now there is yet another report saying the international aid effort, prodded by United States, has largely failed. Only $1.5 billion has been spent of the $8.5 billion that has been pledged, and much of the housing that has been built has been shoddy. Some has even been torn down.

As the world's only current superpower, the United States was expected to lead the efforts to stop the killing in the Middle East. The rest of the world is shocked that the Bush administration is not calling for a ceasefire, saying it would be meaningless without totally disarming Hezbollah. The United States is supplying its ally Israel with weapons while denouncing Iran and Syria for supplying Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying unsuccessfully to be an objective arbiter.

New polling indicates only 30 percent of Americans say they think the leaders of other countries respect President Bush. Ten percent say the war in Iraq has made diplomatic efforts in the rest of the Middle East easier, while only 27 percent believe that staying in Iraq will make this country safer from terrorism. Americans have long supported Israel, but now the country is split; 39 percent want the government to continue its public support for Israel, but 40 percent want the U.S. government to say or do nothing to help Israel. And 61 percent of Americans surveyed said they believe the current crisis in Lebanon will lead to a larger war in the Middle East.

Bush answers that his goal is democracy for everyone, and that it is wrong to say that people in the Middle East are not ready for it or do not want it. Everyone wants to be free, he argues.

But nobody is free where bombs are exploding, missiles are flying, schools and businesses are shuttered, people are dying and fear is palpable. That's the situation in Baghdad and Beirut and Haifa and too many other cities and villages.

No wonder Americans are again becoming isolationist. No wonder they fear this president has proven himself adept at worsening old hatreds while he tried to spread democracy through preemptive use of force, ridiculing international coalitions and relying on unilateral U.S. military action.

The only way the current war in the Middle East will end with a viable stability is with an international force to stop the fighting that involves soldiers from many countries, including Russia, China, Europe, other Arab nations, Great Britain and the United States. Hezbollah, which has embedded itself in parasitical fashion in Lebanon in an effort to annihilate Israel, and Israel, which attacks with malicious venom whenever it feels threatened, cannot be left to resolve this war themselves.

Badly weakened at home and abroad, bouncing helplessly from one crisis to another, Bush may not be able to muster the American can-do spirit and coalition-building the world needs right now. But he should stop mouthing platitudes and try. National pessimism is a dangerous toxin.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com.)

© Copyright 2006 by Capitol Hill Blue

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Detainee Abuse Charges Feared

Shield Sought From '96 War Crimes Act
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006; A01

An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.
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In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.

Gonzales told the lawmakers that a shield is needed for actions taken by U.S. personnel under a 2002 presidential order, which the Supreme Court declared illegal, and under Justice Department legal opinions that have been withdrawn under fire, the source said. A spokeswoman for Gonzales, Tasia Scolinos, declined to comment on Gonzales's remarks.

The Justice Department's top legal adviser, Steven G. Bradbury, separately testified two weeks ago that Congress must give new "definition and certainty" to captors' risk of prosecution for coercive interrogations that fall short of outright torture.

Language in the administration's draft, which Bradbury helped prepare in concert with civilian officials at the Defense Department, seeks to protect U.S. personnel by ruling out detainee lawsuits to enforce Geneva protections and by incorporating language making U.S. enforcement of the War Crimes Act subject to U.S. -- not foreign -- understandings of what the Conventions require.

The aim, Justice Department lawyers say, is also to take advantage of U.S. legal precedents that limit sanctions to conduct that "shocks the conscience." This phrase allows some consideration by courts of the context in which abusive treatment occurs, such as an urgent need for information, the lawyers say -- even though the Geneva prohibitions are absolute.

The Supreme Court, in contrast, has repeatedly said that foreign interpretations of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions should at least be considered by U.S. courts.

Some human rights groups and independent experts say they oppose undermining the reach of the War Crimes Act, arguing that it deters government misconduct. They say any step back from the Geneva Conventions could provoke mistreatment of captured U.S. military personnel. They also contend that Bush administration anxieties about prosecutions are overblown and should not be used to gain congressional approval for rough interrogations.

"The military has lived with" the Geneva Conventions provisions "for 50 years and applied them to every conflict, even against irregular forces. Why are we suddenly afraid now about the vagueness of its terms?" asked Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

Since the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, hundreds of service members deployed to Iraq have been accused by the Army of mistreating detainees, and at least 35 detainees have died in military or CIA custody, according to a tally kept by Human Rights First. The military has asserted these were all aberrant acts by troops ignoring their orders.

Defense attorneys for many of those accused of involvement have alleged that their clients were pursuing policies of rough treatment set by officials in Washington. That claim is amplified in a 53-page Human Rights Watch report this week that quoted interrogators at three bases in Iraq as saying that abuse was part of regular, authorized procedures. But this argument has yet to gain traction in a military court, where U.S. policy requires that active-duty service members be tried for any maltreatment.

The War Crimes Act, in contrast, affords access to civilian courts for abuse perpetrated by former service members and by civilians. The government has not filed any charges under the law.

The law's legislative sponsor is one of the House's most conservative members, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.). He proposed it after a chance meeting with a retired Navy pilot who had spent six years in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton," a Vietnamese prison camp. The conversation left Jones angry about Washington's inability to prosecute the pilot's abusers.

Jones's legislation for the first time imposed criminal penalties in the United States for breaches of the Geneva Conventions, which protect detainees anywhere. The Defense Department's deputy general counsel at the time declared at the sole hearing on it in 1996 -- attended by just two lawmakers -- that "we fully support the purposes of the bill," and urged its expansion to cover a wider range of war crimes. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill by voice vote, and the Senate approved it by unanimous consent.

The law initially criminalized grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions but was amended without a hearing the following year to include violations of Common Article 3, the minimum standard requiring that all detainees be treated "humanely." The article bars murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." It applies to any abuse involving U.S. military personnel or "nationals."

Jones and other advocates intended the law for use against future abusers of captured U.S. troops in countries such as Bosnia, El Salvador and Somalia, but the Pentagon supported making its provisions applicable to U.S. personnel because doing so set a high standard for others to follow. Mary DeRosa, a legal adviser at the National Security Council from 1997 to 2001, said the threat of sanctions in U.S. courts in fact helped deter senior officials from approving some questionable actions. She said the law is not an impediment in the terrorism fight.

Since September 2001, however, Bush administration officials have considered the law a potential threat to U.S. personnel involved in interrogations. While serving as White House legal counsel in 2002, Gonzales helped prepare a Jan. 25 draft memo to Bush -- written in large part by David Addington, then Vice President Cheney's legal counsel and now Cheney's chief of staff -- in which he cited the threat of prosecution under the act as a reason to declare that detainees captured in Afghanistan were not eligible for Geneva Conventions protections.

"It is difficult," Gonzales said in the memo, "to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to bring unwarranted charges." He also argued for the flexibility to pursue various interrogation methods and said that only a presidential order exempting detainees from Geneva protections "would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution." That month, Bush approved an order exempting those captured in Afghanistan from these protections.

But the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld effectively made Bush's order illegal when it affirmed that all detainees held by the United States are protected by Common Article 3. The court's decision caught the administration unprepared, at first, for questions about how its policy would change.

On July 7, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a memorandum ordering all military departments to certify that their actions in the fight with al-Qaeda comply with Article 3. Several officials said the memo, which was reviewed by military lawyers, was provoked by the renewed threat of prosecution under the War Crimes Act.

England's memo was not sent to other agencies for review. Two White House officials heavily involved in past policymaking on detainee treatment matters, counsel Harriet Miers and Addington, told friends later that they had not been briefed before its release and were unhappy about its language, according to an informed source. Bradbury and Gonzales have since drafted legislation to repair what they consider the defects of the War Crimes Act and the ambiguities of Common Article 3.

Several officials said the administration's main concerns are Article 3's prohibitions against "outrages upon personal dignity" and humiliating or degrading treatment. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters on July 12 that he supported clearing up ambiguities so that military personnel are not "charged with wrongdoing when in fact they were not engaged in wrongdoing."

Several advocates and experts nonetheless said the legal liability of administration officials for past interrogations is probably small. "I think these guys did unauthorized stuff, they violated the War Crimes Act, and they should be prosecuted," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based group that has provided lawyers for detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ratner said authorized interrogation techniques such as stress positions, temperature extremes and sleep deprivation are "clearly outlawed" under Common Article 3. But he added that prosecutions are improbable because the Justice Department -- which has consistently asserted that such rough interrogations are legal -- is unlikely to bring them. U.S. officials could argue in any event, Ratner said, that they were following policies they believed to be legal, and "a judge would most likely say that is a decent defense."

Some officials at the Pentagon share the view that illegal actions have been taken. Alberto J. Mora, the Navy's general counsel from 2001 until the end of last year, warned the Pentagon's general counsel twice that some approved interrogation methods violated "domestic and international legal norms" and that a federal court might eventually find responsibility "along the entire length of the chain of command," according to a 2004 memo by Mora that recounted the warnings. The memo was first obtained by the New Yorker magazine.

At a July 13 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Air Force's top military lawyer, Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, affirmed that "some of the techniques that have been authorized and used in the past have violated Common Article 3" of the Geneva Conventions. The top military lawyers for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, who were seated next to Rives, said they agreed.

Researchers Julie Tate and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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Orcinus - "Beyond Politics" - the results of rightwing trash talk

Thursday, July 27, 2006

One of the really offensive aspect of the right-wing drumbeat of eliminationism is that so many of its purveyors -- notably Rush Limbaugh and his many imitators, including Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin -- try to slough off criticism of the nastiness of the things they say and write by pretending that it's just "entertainment," or merely a "joke".

The crude reality, of course, is that the things they say are not only deeply personal, they play out in the real world by poisoning our personal lives as well as our public discourse. Pretending afterward that it was all "just kidding" is palpable disingenuousness.

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And the right-wing response -- claiming that liberals are responsible for the poisoning of the public well -- is especially offensive because it not only serves to disguise, but provides a positive justification for, the escalation of this kind of rhetoric into real action.

In upstate New York's Orange County, a left-leaning city councilwoman named Gail Soro is reaping the consequences of this kind of rhetoric:

The bent windshield wipers annoyed her. The sex toy glued to her windshield back in June made her furious. But finding a horse's head in her swimming pool yesterday hit Wawayanda Councilwoman Gail Soro right where she lives.

It left her angry and frightened last night, as state police scoured the Orange County town for suspects. They were treating it as a case of harassment and trespassing, at the very least.

Soro and her husband, Ed, were in the pool until about 8:30 p.m. Monday night. Yesterday morning, they noticed the water looked a bit dark. They thought that an animal might have died in the pool.

Ed Soro grabbed the skimmer, raised a dark object from a corner of the pool and called out to his wife as he dragged it to the surface: "That's a horse's head."

She quickly went back into their house. "I was hysterical," she recalled last night.

As the day went on, her hysterics gave way to anger. The stunt with the windshield wipers and the sex toy both happened at Wawayanda Town Hall, where Soro is the lone Democrat on the five-member Town Board.

But the horse's head was brought to their home, while they slept, where their grandchildren come over to swim.

Soro, to her credit, is not backing down:

Gail Soro sent her own message last night: She won't be chased out of office. She's up for re-election next year, and she's running. Soro's been right in the middle of tussles over growth and planning that are the hot-button issues in the town.

Still, she wondered if her story would discourage others from running for office.

"Who would want to put up with this?" she said.

Republican Councilman Dave Cole acknowledged that he's knocked heads with Soro, but he flatly condemned what was done to her yesterday.

"This isn't politics. This is beyond politics," Cole said. "This is beyond the pale."


Credit Councilman Cole with recognizing that this kind of thuggery has no place in American politics.

Too bad he doesn't also take the time to note that the conservative movement's chief figureheads are the folks most publicly fomenting it.

[Hat tip to Rob.]

UPDATE: Edited to reflect that this Orange County is in New York, not California.

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NO QUARTER: Is the Turkish Mafia Mucking Around in America?

Mike Mejia

French filmmaker Mathieu Verboud is set to release a new documentary for European television this fall, which will reveal important new insights into the case of former FBI translator and president of the National Security Whistleblower’s Coalition Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds, a Turkish-American whose wrongful termination lawsuit was suppressed by the government’s invocation of the all-too-common “state secrets privilege”, reported to her superiors espionage and deliberate mistranslations on the part of fellow Turkish translator, Melek Can Dickerson. It seems Ms. Dickerson had relationships with targets of FBI investigation working at the Turkish Embassy and the American Turkish Council, a fact which meant that anything she translated was likely to be false. However, instead of receiving a promotion for bringing Ms. Dickerson’s’ espionage to the attention of her bosses, Edmonds was fired after she went in frustration to the U.S. Senate. The FBI refused to investigate Edmonds’ claims, at least in part, because the contract linguist had discovered quite a messy scandal: the content of the mistranslated documents revealed that some very powerful people in the U.S. government, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, were connected to foreign organized crime. Even worse, these foreign criminals connected to the high and mighty in the U.S. were also connected internationally, through the heroin trade and associated money laundering, to international terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.

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Okay, take a deep breath and take a step back: it’s not a pretty picture. According to what we know so far from Sibel Edmonds’ many interviews and from the groundbreaking story on her case from Vanity Fair, “An Inconvenient Patriot” , Edmonds found that within the U.S. a nest of Turkish spies, some working at the Turkish embassy, others affiliated with namely the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), the American Turkish Associations (ATA) and the American Turkish Council (ATC), were involved in espionage, bribery, illegal lobbying, drug trafficking and the infiltration of U.S nuclear research labs. Separately, from a former CIA Counterterrorism official, Phillip Giraldi, who himself was once based in Turkey, we know that some arms sales meant for Turkey and Israel were actually meant for resale to countries like China and India- and perhaps even to international terrorists- using fake end-user certificates. So we have Turkish nationals at the Embassy and NGOs stealing U.S. secrets for sale to the highest bidder, re-selling arms meant for Turkey, bringing in drugs from Europe, and pouring money into bribes and lobbying activities.

To understand how these activities fit together- Americans must first understand what Europeans call the Turkish ‘deep state’. In 1996, a car crash in a town called Susurluk revealed “link between politics, organized crime and the bureaucracy” in Turkey. As it turns out, its crippled economy in the 1990s meant Turkey had become the European equivalent of Colombia- a state almost completely dependent on the Turkish mafia and by extension, the Southwest Asian Heroin trade. Which is where the Turkish ‘deep state’ comes in- it becomes very difficult to determine where the ‘government’ ends and the ‘mafia’ begins. What we do know from Sibel Edmonds and other sources is this: Turkey’s secular establishment, including the Turkish military and intelligence services (MIT), as well as political parties associated with former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, appear to have been more connected to the Turkish mafia than the Turkish Islamic Parties that Washington abhors. Furthermore, it appears from reading into some of Edmonds’ statements that the Turkish mafia was partnered with Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda network in the drug trade- meaning Turkey’s secular establishment was more connected to al Qaeda- pre/9-11- than were the Islamists in Turkey. Which is quite ironic, to say the least.

If you think this story sounds too convoluted to be true, and you feel the instinct to dismiss Edmonds’ claims, think again. Every investigation into the whistleblower’s charges- from the Senate Judiciary Committee to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General Report, has found that Edmonds’ story is corroborated within the FBI, which means her translations, not those of Melek Can Dickerson, were the correct ones. This also means that the aforementioned Turkish organizations, and certain Turkish diplomats, were indeed under FBI investigation. And all this put together means that people like Dennis Hastert probably were- and perhaps still are- on the payroll of Turkish ‘deep state’ interests.
A recent article published in the U.K. Guardian about the well-connected Kurdish Baybasin clan also gives important backing to the former translator’s story. The article details how Europe’s “Pablo Escobar”, Huseyin Baybasin, has “alleged that he had received the assistance of Turkish embassies and consulates while moving huge consignments of drugs around Europe, and that Turkish army officers serving with NATO in Belgium were also involved." This information, of course, dovetails most precisely with what Sibel Edmonds has been hinting at for over 3 years now; that targets of FBI investigations linked with the Turkish embassy and Turkish organizations were involved in narcotics trafficking. It is clear the Baybasin gang and the secular factions in Turkey had a seemingly symbiotic relationship, with the government providing the traffickers diplomatic passports and thus free reign to travel around the world without fear of prosecution. Also involved in the scandalous Turkish drug running are the very notorious, Pope-killing Grey Wolves, a fascist organization connected to human rights abuses in Turkey.

As for who else besides Hastert might have been on the payroll of Mr. Baybasin and friends- we turn next to the Executive Branch. In an interview with Chris Deliso of antiwar.com, Edmonds hinted at key roles played by some powerful unelected officials-important Neoconservatives like Marc Grossman of the State Department, and Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, formerly of the Defense Department. If we hit the rewind button and go back to a CBS 60 Minutes’ interview in October, 2002, we remember the ex-contract linguist stated that Turkish targets of FBI investigation had spies inside the U.S. State Department and at the Pentagon in order to “obtain the United States military and intelligence secrets.” It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that Grossman, Feith and Perle might have been the persons to whom she was referring in 2002. Furthermore, the language specialist has repeatedly stated in past interviews that investigations into pre-9/11 terrorist financing activities were blocked “per State Department request”, leaving open the question whether it was Mr. Grossman, then Undersecretary of State for European Affairs, who actively hindered investigations into the Turkey-Bin Laden link.

Perle and Feith are an interesting case in this hidden scandal. Their consultancy, International Advisors (IA), has done extensive work for the Republic of Turkey, though it is questionable who is paying the invoices. Ms. Edmonds rhetorically asked the question of Phoenix radio personality Charles Goyette in January 2006, “For what [were they paid]? One could imagine, hypothetically, that passing state secrets might be one “service” provided to the Turkish mafia/government by IA. But would Perle and Feith have gone beyond that? Would they have introduced the Turkish mafia types to Denny Hastert, and counseled “deep state” interests in how to skirt U.S. campaign finance laws? After all, the Turks were reported to have made their initial payments from 1996-1998 through “unitemized (less than $200) contributions”, after which they allegedly delivered suitcases of cash to the Speaker’s front door. Someone had to teach them the intricacies of campaign finance law: was it IA? What we do know is that Perle was a key architect of the Israeli/Turkish alliance forged in the late 90s, and that Edmonds case also is connected to the AIPAC spy scandal- leaving lots of room for speculation on how the rest of the story pans out.

As messy and ugly as this, for lack of a better phrase, “Turkish DeepState Gate” scandal appears, the consequences of continuing to do nothing about it- of allowing the government’s outrageous use of ‘state secrets’ to insure Dennis Hastert, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Marc Grossman and others are never investigated, could be horrific. Ms. Edmonds plans to take petitions to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming months to finally force full and open hearings on her case. She will try to do the type of lobbying that does not involve foreign bribery or ill-gotten gains. This will be the simple type of petitioning guaranteed of every citizen in the Constitution under the First Amendment, a long forgotten portion of the Bill of Rights. Americans aware of the situation can only hope, and do everything in their power to insure, that Ms. Edmonds’ type of lobbying prevails.

Mike Mejia is a freelance writer with a Master’s in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, where he specialized in International Trade and Arms Proliferation. He currently resides in an undisclosed location in the American Heartland and can be contacted at lenlarga@yahoo.com .

Posted to "No Quarter" by Larry Johnson on Thursday, 27 July 2006 at 19:13
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NO QUARTER: Is the Turkish Mafia Mucking Around in America?

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Report Says Homeland Security Dept. Mishandled Contracts to Raise Wage

A report says that amid a surge in spending, $34.3 billion in contracts were mismanaged
by Nicole Gaouette

WASHINGTON — Contract spending by the Department of Homeland Security has surged by billions of dollars since the agency's creation in 2003, but contracts have been plagued by large-scale waste, abuse and mismanagement, according to a bipartisan congressional report.

The agency has repeatedly planned contract projects improperly, has increasingly awarded them without adequate competition, and has not had enough staff to monitor contracts after they have been signed, the report said. Moreover, costs have frequently spiraled beyond initial estimates, which department personnel sometimes set misleadingly low, the report said.

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The report, prepared by staff of the House Committee on Government Reform, pointed to a case in which the Border Patrol paid $20 million for camera systems and related gear that malfunctioned or were never installed.

It said a $10-billion border security program meant to track visitors' U.S. entries and departures was not able to monitor exits and was vulnerable to unauthorized access.

Describing a $1-billion Transportation Safety Administration contract with Unisys Corp. in August 2002 to upgrade computer networks, investigators said Unisys overcharged taxpayers by billing up to $131 an hour for employees who were paid less than half that amount.

And TSA staff had privately estimated the cost of the Unisys contract at $3 billion to $5 billion but told congressional officials it would cost $1 billion because the lower number "would be more palatable."

"The Department of Homeland Security has a critical mission. Unfortunately, its acquisition structure and workforce challenges, as our report shows, betray serious weaknesses that are impeding the ability of DHS to protect the homeland," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the committee.

The panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles, said: "Reckless spending, poor planning and weak oversight have undermined crucial homeland security projects and wasted hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Virtually everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. We're less secure and deeper in debt because of the outrageous mismanagement of these contracts," said Waxman, who described the report as the first comprehensive assessment of the administration's record on homeland security contracts.

Department spokesman Russ Knocke criticized the report for using the TSA example, which predates the agency's creation, and said the department had saved more than $2 million through strategic sourcing since 2004.

"We take very seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Knocke said, adding that it was a priority for Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The report comes on the heels of recent investigations that revealed widespread credit card fraud and abuse of the funds earmarked for Hurricane Katrina victims. Multiple Katrina-related investigations are ongoing. The accounts of fraud and abuse, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's failures during that crisis, have led Congress to demand changes in FEMA.

The continued problems have caused some lawmakers to grow frustrated with the fledgling department, which was cobbled together out of 22 separate agencies after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The report was based on a review of about 350 reports by government auditors and investigators, many of which had not been publicly released. It identified 32 contracts totaling $34.3 billion that were plagued by waste, abuse or mismanagement.

In a measure of how much money has poured out of the department, the report noted that agency spending rocketed from $3.5 billion in 2003 to $10 billion two years later. Over the same period, the percentage of contracts the agency awarded without full and open competition increased from 19% to 55%, the report said.

"Contract mismanagement at DHS has a steep cost for the taxpayer," the report said. "Competition in federal contracting protects the interests of taxpayers by ensuring that the government gets the best value for the goods and services it buys."

Amid the reports of problems, the department is continuing toward large contracts, including a $2-billion project to design, build, test and operate a border security system.

© 2006 The Los Angeles Times

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Report Says Homeland Security Dept. Mishandled Contracts to Raise Wage

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The Neocon Resurgence

The delusional US mindset that made the Iraq war a disaster has resurfaced in Lebanon
by Sidney Blumenthal

Once again the Bush administration is floating on a wave of euphoria. Israel's offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon has liberated the utopian strain of neoconservatism that had been traduced by Iraq's sectarian civil war. And the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has propelled herself forward as chief cheerleader. "What we're seeing here," she said, "are the birth pangs of a new Middle East." At every press conference she repeats the phrase "a new Middle East" as though its incantation is magical.

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Her jaunt to the region is intended to lend the appearance of diplomacy in order to forestall it. As explained to me by several senior state department officials, Rice is entranced by a new "domino theory:" Israel's attacks will demolish Hezbollah; the Lebanese will blame Hezbollah and destroy its influence; and the backlash will extend to Hamas, which will collapse. From the administration's point of view, this is a proxy war with Iran (and Syria) that will inexplicably help turn around Iraq. "We will prevail," Rice says.

The administration has traditionally engaged in promiscuous threat conflation-- al-Qaida with Saddam Hussein, North Korea and Iran in "the axis of evil," and now implicitly the Shia Hezbollah with the Sunni Iraqi insurgency. By asserting "we" before "will prevail," Rice is engaging in national interest conflation.

According to the Rice doctrine, the US has deserted its historic role as ultimate guarantor of Israel's security by acting as honest broker among all parties. Rather than emphasizing the importance of Lebanese sovereignty, presumably a matter of concern to an administration that had made it exhibit A in the spread of democracy in "a new Middle East," Rice has downplayed or ignored it in favor of uncritical endorsement of Israel's offensive. Rice's trip is calculated to interpose the influence of the US to prevent a ceasefire and to give Israel at least another week of unimpeded military action.

To the Bush administration, the conflagration has appeared as deus ex machina to rescue it from the Iraqi quagmire. That this is patently absurd does not dawn on those who remain in thrall to the same pattern of thought that imagined the invasion of Iraq would be greeted with flowers in the streets of Baghdad. Denial is the basis of repetition.

This week has seen the publication of Fiasco, by Thomas Ricks, the military correspondent of the Washington Post, devastating in its factual deconstruction. The Iraqi invasion, he writes, was "based on perhaps the worst war plan in American history." The policy-making at the Pentagon was a "black hole," and resistance by the staff of the joint chiefs to disinformation linking Iraq to 9/11 was dismissed. After the absence of a plan for postwar Iraq, blunder upon blunder fostered the insurgency.

In one of its most unintentionally ironic curiosities, the Bush White House has created an Office of Lessons Learned. But the thinking that made possible the catastrophe in Iraq is not a subject of this office. The delusional mindset went underground only to surface through the crack of the current crisis. There are no lessons learned about the blowback from Iraq; about Iraq's condemnation of Israel and its sympathy for Hezbollah; or about the US unwillingness to deal with the Palestinian Authority that made inevitable the rise of Hamas; or the counter-productive repudiation of direct contact with Syria and Iran.

Indeed, Rice is ushering in "a new Middle East," one in which the US is distrusted and even hated by traditional Arab allies, and its ability to restrain Israel while negotiating on behalf of its security is relinquished and diminished.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is the author of "The Clinton Wars." Email to: sidney_blumenthal@yahoo.com

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
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The Neocon Resurgence

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