Saturday, July 22, 2006


The Fault Line We're Never Supposed to Talk About

by David Sirota

The New York Times today posted an excerpt of the first chapter of Hostile Takeover as a preview to the review of the book coming out tomorrow by op-ed editor Tobin Harshaw (You will be able to see the review here tomorrow - I am headed out for a few days of vacation so, as promised earlier, I am posting my thoughts now since I have seen it already). The Times for months refused to review Hostile Takeover, preferring to try to ignore it. Only when the book hit the bestseller list did the paper realize it was embarrassing itself by its behavior. Not surprisingly, the review that the paper finally agreed to do is indeed a spectacle - and it highlights the fault lines of power that have taken center stage in American politics.

The review first tries to claim that Hostile Takeover is "directed less at the ruling Republicans than at their main opposition, mainstream Democratic centrists." That's factually inaccurate - the book is roughly 75%-25% critical of Republicans vs. Democrats, respectively, and you may recall that the Washington Post attacked the book as a Democratic Party "apologia" (I have submitted a letter to the Times' editor demanding a correction on this assertion, though I'm not holding my breath that it will be published).

The inaccuracy, of course, is no accident - it is designed to simply write off the book as just something of interest to Democrats in the upcoming election (thus, the subheadline in the piece that bemoans supposedly "more prescriptions to help the Democrats reverse their electoral fortunes"). What both the Times and Post reviewers display in their dishonest efforts to paint the book as one or another kind of partisan screed is a more fundamental desire to hide the fact that this the book is an analysis of the whole system. They don't want any systemic analysis gaining traction - because god forbid if we start talking about systemic problems, then we can actually have a real debate about the power equations that drive our broken political process and insulate the Establishment from small "d" democratic influence.

The Times review then goes into a barrage of cliched attacks calling me, among others, a "Marxist" and a "high school newspaper editor." Then, unable to hide a classic op-ed page elitism, Harshaw displays outrage that "a blogger tries to write at length" in book format. Beyond the fact that this is a dishonest tactic attempting to make readers forget that, for instance, I regularly write at length for various magazines, the sentiment is telling. Harshaw seems to say: How dare anyone other than someone with New York Times or other Establishment credentials get to write a book or have any sort of voice in our political debate?

The elitism that drips from that sentiment is backed up by the fact that the Times is forced to repeatedly admit that Hostile Takeover provids "creditable analysis" with wholly "accurate" facts and "admirably specific" policy prescriptions that are "on the side of angels." Put another way, what the Times is saying is that while it believes Hostile Takeover says is entirely accurate on the substance and completely supported by the facts, the paper's editors believe I have no right to say it, have it published in book format, or have it promoted in the political debate because I am not inside the Establishment's elite circle of accepted, polite voices who know never to actually challenge power.

That, my friends, is the fault line that is driving everything in today's politics: a battle between the people inside the Establishment whose careers rely on protecting the status quo and the vast majority of Americans who have been locked out of their own political and media debate. Of course, you don't hear that in our current political discourse - everything is always ramrodded into a debate between Democrats and Republicans, red and blue, liberals and conservatives. That's deliberate - the Establishment wants the public to think this battle is about everything OTHER than the struggle between those with power who want to preserve the status quo, and those without power who want democratic control of their country. Because if this fault line is actually brought to the front and talked about, it means a direct challenge to the powers that be.

You can see how frightened the Establishment is in how the elites treat anyone who dares highlight this fault line.

In the book world, books like Hostile Takeover, Crashing the Gates, How Would A Patriot Act?, Lapdogs and others are movement books that represent the desires, aspirations and centrist political positions of the vast majority of Americans. Books like The Good Fight and The World is Flat, on the other hand, are books that not only represent the status quo Establishment, but go out of their way to attack the nerve of those outside the Washington Beltway who want serious change. Not surprisingly, the Establishment aggressively pushes the latter in its corporate media channels, and attacks or suppresses coverage of the former.

In the electoral arena, Washington pundits and incumbent politicians are out in force breathlessly berating Connecticut voters that are backing primary candidate Ned Lamont in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (D). The Establishment is outraged that voters would have the chutzpah to believe that elections should be, well, elections - and not coronations for Senators who think they are royalty and think they can sell out their constituents with no consequences.

Even in the policy arena, this Ordinary Americans vs. Establishment s power struggle is occurring. On one side, you see millions of newly engaged citizens involving themselves in Internet activism, union organizing, and political campaigns that take on the status quo and push a policy agenda that represents the vast majority of Americans. You see courageous politicians take principled stands on specific policies that the Establishment has tried to preserve for years.

On the other side, there are organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, which is holding its "national conversation" in Denver this weekend. The group purports to represent America's political "center" but on issue after issue after issue, the organization and its highest-profile leaders have gone on record advocating for extremist national security, trade and economic policies well outside the mainstream of American public opinion. These policies, undoubtedly influenced by the group's big corporate donors, have helped destroy America's middle class and weaken America's security. The group, of course, purports to represent ordinary Americans. But they can't hide even the farcical nature of that assertion. As just one example, the Rocky Mountain News reports the DLC's supposedly "national conversation" runs "through Monday at the Hyatt Regency hotel and is not open to the public." And now the group is pitching stories to reporters trying to openly position themselves as the counterweight to grassroots political organizing and activism.

The New York Times and other Establishment media try to make everything about one party or another, and about one election or another. But what is clear - and what is frightening them and their friends at their elite cocktail party gatherings - is the realization that a movement is being built that transcends both parties and any one election. This is a movement that sees the principles of standing up for the little guy and the ideology that puts regular people first not as a threat, but as a necessity to rebuilding the foundations this country was built on - foundations that are now under a vicious assault by those in the Establishment.

Even in its angry review of Hostile Takeover, the Times is forced to acknowledge that we, the people fighting for our democracy, have the facts on our side. It is a tacit admission that the Establishment well understands the crimes being perpetrated on us - and simply doesn't care to change its ways. And while Washington's pundits, lobbyists, and other assorted status quo apologists will continue to scream like little children and berate us with epithets whenever we the people assert ourselves - rest assured that the louder their temper tantrums get, the more progress we are making.


Report Raps Pentagon Equipment Sales

Report: Investigators found that Pentagon allowed sensitive military equipment sales to public

WASHINGTON, Jul. 22, 2006

By ANDREW MIGA Associated Press Writer (AP)

Undercover government investigators purchased sensitive surplus military equipment such as launcher mounts for shoulder-fired missiles and guided missile radar test sets from a Defense Department contractor.

Much of the equipment could be useful to terrorists, according to a draft report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

In June, two GAO investigators spent $1.1 million on such equipment at two excess property warehouses. Their purchases included several types of body armor inserts used by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, an all-band antenna used to track aircraft, and a digital signal converter used in naval surveillance.

"The body armor could be used by terrorists or other criminal activity," noted the report, obtained Friday by The Associated Press. "Many of the other military items have weapons applications that would also be useful to terrorists."

Thousands of items that should have been destroyed were sold to the public, the report said. Much of the equipment was sold for pennies on the dollar.

The list included circuit cards used in computerized Navy systems, a cesium technology timing unit with global positioning capabilities, and 12 digital microcircuits used in F-14 Tomcat fighter aircraft.

At least 2,669 sensitive military items were sold to 79 buyers in 216 sales transactions from November 2005 to June 2006.

"DOD has not enforced security controls for preventing sensitive excess military equipment from release to the public," the report concluded. "GAO was able to purchase these items because controls broke down at virtually every step in the excess property turn-in and disposal process."

In the report, the GAO said it had briefed Pentagon officials on its findings but that the Pentagon had no response because it had not had time to perform a detailed review.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's national security panel, will hold a hearing on the matter Tuesday. Earlier GAO reports also had found lax security controls over sensitive excess military equipment.

"During previous hearings we learned DOD was a bargain basement for would-be terrorists due to lax security screening of excess military equipment," Shays said in a statement Friday. "Based on GAO's most recent undercover investigation it looks like the store is still open."

The GAO findings were first reported by CBS News and ABC News.


NASA’s Goals Delete Mention of Home Planet

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”

David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”

Several NASA researchers said they were upset that the change was made at NASA headquarters without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.

Though the “understand and protect” phrase was deleted in February, when the Bush administration submitted budget and planning documents to Congress, its absence has only recently registered with NASA employees.

Mr. Steitz, the NASA spokesman, said the agency might have to improve internal communications, but he defended the way the change was made, saying it reflected the management style of Michael D. Griffin, the administrator at the agency.

“Strategic planning comes from headquarters down,” he said, and added, “I don’t think there was any mal-intent or idea of exclusion.”

The line about protecting the earth was added to the mission statement in 2002 under Sean O’Keefe, the first NASA administrator appointed by President Bush, and was drafted in an open process with scientists and employees across the agency.

In the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established the agency in 1958, the first objective of the agency was listed as “the expansion of human knowledge of the earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”

And since 1972, when NASA launched the first Landsat satellite to track changes on the earth’s surface, the agency has been increasingly involved in monitoring the environment and as a result has been immersed in political disputes over environmental policy and spending, said W. Henry Lambright, a professor of public administration and political science at Syracuse University who has studied the trend.

The shift in language echoes a shift in the agency’s budgets toward space projects and away from earth missions, a shift that began in 2004, the year Mr. Bush announced his vision of human missions to the Moon and beyond.

The “understand and protect” phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Hansen’s comments started a flurry of news media coverage in late January; on Feb. 3, Mr. Griffin issued a statement of “scientific openness.”

The revised mission statement was released with the agency’s proposed 2007 budget on Feb. 6. But Mr. Steitz said Dr. Hansen’s use of the phrase and its subsequent disappearance from the mission statement was “pure coincidence.”

Dr. Hansen, who directs the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a NASA office, has been criticized by industry-backed groups and Republican officials for associating with environmental campaigners and his endorsement of Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

Dr. Hansen said the change might reflect White House eagerness to shift the spotlight away from global warming.

“They’re making it clear that they have the authority to make this change, that the president sets the objectives for NASA, and that they prefer that NASA work on something that’s not causing them a problem,” he said.


What Did You Expect, America?

by Susan G

Would you hire a babysitter who hates children and thinks they should be eliminated? Or who declares for years in your hearing that children are irritants who should be starved to be small, unseen and mute?

Would you hire cops who think laws are stupid and useless and should be abolished?

Would you hire a conductor for your orchestra who believes music itself an abomination?

Then why would you hire - and you did hire them, America; they are your employees, after all, not your rulers, despite their grandiose pretensions - members of a political party who think government is useless, ineffective, bloated and untrustworthy?

You've hired for your kitchen the chef who spits in your food because he despises preparing meals.

You've hired for your yardwork the gardener who sets out to kill your roses to demonstrate his assertion that they will die in your climate.

You've hired for your office the accountant who's staked his career on proving no accurate books can be kept.

In electing Republicans, America, you put people in charge of institutions they overtly, caustically loathe and proudly proclaim should not exist. Good thinking, USA, and stellar results: Katrina, Iraq, Medicare D, trade and budget deficits, mine disasters and on and on and on and ...

Conservatives have declared officially for decades that they hate public programs and love private business. Why then, do Americans profess shock when these same people run the public credit card up to bunker-busting levels to line the pockets of friendly corporations, leaving taxpayers - current and the as-yet unborn - the bill? It's the dine and ditch mentality writ large, and American citizens are the unfortunate waiters having their lowly pay docked to cover the deadbeat loss - and their future grandchildren's pay docked as well.

We are witnessing an orchestrated, unprecedented transfer of public wealth to private pockets, a national one-party feeding frenzy that's making beggars and beseechers of us all, and yet many Americans stand around muttering in a daze of semi-apathetic befuddlement about gosh darn how did all this come to be and how sure as shit, uh-huh, those Republicans shore were right, government doesn't do a the little guy a damn bit of good, no sirree bob. Better drown it some more. Cut them taxes, privatize something, anything, pronto!

Kee-rist on a pogo stick.

If you put people in charge of running a project they are ideologically committed to proving a failure, it will fail.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. But hey, I'm a Democrat. You know, one of those people who think universal quality public education is a massive good to society, that maintaining our highways and levees and bridges and dams is part of what makes this country great, that paying first-responders and nurses what they're worth helps guarantee our public health and safety, that providing for fellow citizens who fall on hard times is not only the ethical thing to do, but the pragmatic one, ensuring that this country does not incubate a permanently inflamed and disgruntled underclass ready to drop a match on a pool of social gasoline.

Here's a thought - just a thought, mind you, beloved America: Perhaps it's time to return to government the party that has an ideological stake in making it ... you know ... succeed. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to raise our sights a wee bit and elect people who think public service is more than an opportunity for the "Biggest! Fire Sale! Ever!" for their friends and loved ones. Perhaps it's time to insist on greater - if not great - expectations from the employees we decide to hire or fire every two years to carry out our will under the constitution.

As one-party Republican rule has clearly shown, when you expect incompetence, corruption and deceit from your government, you get exactly what you vote for. In spades.

Friday, July 21, 2006


ACLU: Release bridge investigation results

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the state attorney general to release the results of an investigation into a police roadblock on a major New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

In a letter to Attorney General Charles Foti, Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Joe Cook said the delay in reporting findings "makes no sense."

In late September, less than a month after Katrina hit, Foti said he would conduct a "fact-finding mission" into reports that New Orleans evacuees were blocked by several law enforcement agencies from entering neighboring Jefferson Parish by crossing the Crescent City Connection over the Mississippi River.

Witnesses have reported being turned away over a period of several days and threatened with warning shots on at least one occasion.

"It has now been eleven months since the incident occurred, and we do not have an answer from your office on the results of your investigation," Cook wrote in the letter dated Tuesday.

Foti could not be reached for comment Friday.

Officers from the Crescent City Connection's police force, the Gretna Police Department and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office blocked the bridge in the days after Katrina, preventing pedestrians from crossing.

Last year, Foti said his investigation had determined that officers fired three warning shots over pedestrians' heads.

Most of those trying to cross the river to were black, prompting criticism that race played a role. But authorities say that race was not a factor, conditions on their side of the river were unsafe and that emergency supplies were running out.

Law enforcement officials said they tried to bus many people to Metairie for medical aid, water and food. About 6,000 people were moved before fuel ran out, authorities said.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


I Don't Fucking Believe This. Flat Earth Republicans in Florida have lost their Fucking Minds. American Taliban Strikes Again.

Published on Monday, July 17, 2006 by
Florida's Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking
by Robert Jensen

One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge.

By that standard, the members of the Florida Legislature marked themselves as the folks most terrified of history in the United States when last month they took bold action to become the first state to outlaw historical interpretation in public schools. In other words, Florida has officially replaced the study of history with the imposition of dogma and effectively outlawed critical thinking.

Although U.S. students are typically taught a sanitized version of history in which the inherent superiority and benevolence of the United States is rarely challenged, the social and political changes unleashed in the 1960s have opened up some space for a more honest accounting of our past. But even these few small steps taken by some teachers toward collective critical self-reflection are too much for many Americans to bear.

So, as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.” That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as “knowable, teachable, and testable.”

Florida’s lawmakers are not only prescribing a specific view of US history that must be taught (my favorite among the specific commands in the law is the one about instructing students on “the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy”), but are trying to legislate out of existence any ideas to the contrary. They are not just saying that their history is the best history, but that it is beyond interpretation. In fact, the law attempts to suppress discussion of the very idea that history is interpretation.

The fundamental fallacy of the law is in the underlying assumption that “factual” and “constructed” are mutually exclusive in the study of history. There certainly are many facts about history that are widely, and sometimes even unanimously, agreed upon. But how we arrange those facts into a narrative to describe and explain history is clearly a construction, an interpretation. That’s the task of historians -- to assess factual assertions about the past, weave them together in a coherent narrative, and construct an explanation of how and why things happened.

For example, it’s a fact that Europeans began coming in significant numbers to North America in the 17th century. Were they peaceful settlers or aggressive invaders? That’s interpretation, a construction of the facts into a narrative with an argument for one particular way to understand those facts.

It’s also a fact that once those Europeans came, the indigenous people died in large numbers. Was that an act of genocide? Whatever one’s answer, it will be an interpretation, a construction of the facts to support or reject that conclusion.

In contemporary history, has U.S. intervention in the Middle East been aimed at supporting democracy or controlling the region’s crucial energy resources? Would anyone in a free society want students to be taught that there is only one way to construct an answer to that question?

Speaking of contemporary history, what about the fact that before the 2000 presidential election, Florida’s Republican secretary of state removed 57,700 names from the voter rolls, supposedly because they were convicted felons and not eligible to vote. It’s a fact that at least 90 percent were not criminals -- but were African American. It’s a fact that black people vote overwhelmingly Democratic. What conclusion will historians construct from those facts about how and why that happened?

In other words, history is always constructed, no matter how much Florida’s elected representatives might resist the notion. The real question is: How effectively can one defend one’s construction? If Florida legislators felt the need to write a law to eliminate the possibility of that question even being asked, perhaps it says something about their faith in their own view and ability to defend it.

One of the bedrock claims of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment -- two movements that, to date, have not been repealed by the Florida Legislature -- is that no interpretation or theory is beyond challenge. The evidence and logic on which all knowledge claims are based must be transparent, open to examination. We must be able to understand and critique the basis for any particular construction of knowledge, which requires that we understand how knowledge is constructed.

Except in Florida.

But as tempting as it is to ridicule, we should not spend too much time poking fun at this one state, because the law represents a yearning one can find across the United States. Americans look out at a wider world in which more and more people reject the idea of the United States as always right, always better, always moral. As the gap between how Americans see themselves and how the world sees us grows, the instinct for many is to eliminate intellectual challenges at home: “We can’t control what the rest of the world thinks, but we can make sure our kids aren’t exposed to such nonsense.”

The irony is that such a law is precisely what one would expect in a totalitarian society, where governments claim the right to declare certain things to be true, no matter what the debates over evidence and interpretation. The preferred adjective in the United States for this is “Stalinist,” a system to which U.S. policymakers were opposed during the Cold War. At least, that’s what I learned in history class.

People assume that these kinds of buffoonish actions are rooted in the arrogance and ignorance of Americans, and there certainly are excesses of both in the United States.

But the Florida law -- and the more widespread political mindset it reflects -- also has its roots in fear. A track record of relatively successful domination around the world seems to have produced in Americans a fear of any lessening of that dominance. Although U.S. military power is unparalleled in world history, we can’t completely dictate the shape of the world or the course of events. Rather than examining the complexity of the world and expanding the scope of one’s inquiry, the instinct of some is to narrow the inquiry and assert as much control as possible to avoid difficult and potentially painful challenges to orthodoxy.

Is history “knowable, teachable, and testable?" Certainly people can work hard to know -- to develop interpretations of processes and events in history and to understand competing interpretations. We can teach about those views. And students can be tested on their understanding of conflicting constructions of history.

But the real test is whether Americans can come to terms with not only the grand triumphs but also the profound failures of our history. At stake in that test is not just a grade in a class, but our collective future.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center He is the author of "The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege" and "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" (both from City Lights Books). Email to:


This Modern World


Judge rejects US request on eavesdropping lawsuit

By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal judge rejected on Thursday a request from the head of U.S. intelligence and other government officials to dismiss a lawsuit against AT&T which alleges the firm illegally allowed the government to monitor phone conversations and e-mail communications.

AT&T asked the court in late April to dismiss the case, and two weeks later the U.S. government also asked the federal judge to dismiss it, citing its state secrets privilege.

U.S. director of intelligence John Negroponte told the court in a filing that disclosing the information in the case "could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."

In a 72-page ruling, Judge Vaughn Walker rejected that request regarding a case that has highlighted the domestic spying program acknowledged by

"The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret," the U.S. District Court for Northern California judge wrote. "Public disclosures by the government and AT&T indicate that AT&T is assisting the government to implement some kind of surveillance program."

"The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one," he continued. "But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security."

The judge cited what public officials, including Bush, and the media have already said in public about the eavesdropping program.

"If the government's public disclosures have been truthful, revealing whether AT&T has received a certification to assist in monitoring communication content should not reveal any new information that would assist a terrorist and adversely affect national security," Vaughn wrote.

"Confirming or denying the existence of this program would only affect a terrorist who was insensitive to the publicly disclosed 'terrorist surveillance program' but cared about the alleged program here.

"AT&T could reveal information at the level of generality at which the government has publicly confirmed or denied its monitoring of communication content."

In its February lawsuit the privacy rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation said the program allows the government to eavesdrop on phone calls and read e-mails of millions of Americans without obtaining warrants.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would order the government to stop the program.


Bush Uses NAACP Speech To Promote Estate Tax Repeal, Doesn’t Utter The Word ‘Poverty’

President Bush addressed the NAACP today for the first time in his presidency. Speaking on behalf of his friend, multi-millionaire conservative BET founder Bob Johnson, Bush used the opportunity to promote the repeal of the estate tax on the ultra-rich:

One of my friends is Bob Johnson, founder of BET. He’s an interesting man. He believes strongly in ownership. He has been a successful owner. He believes strongly, for example, that the death tax will prevent future African-American entrepreneurs from being able to pass their assets from one generation to the next. He and I also understand that the investor class shouldn’t be just confined to the old definition of the investor class.

President Bush’s “death tax” pitch demonstrates his stunning disconnect from the African-American community. According to an American Progress analysis, just 59 African-Americans will pay the estate tax this year, and that number will drop to 33 in 2009.

Meanwhile, as of 2004, 24.7 percent of African-Americans lived under the poverty line (up from 22.7 in 2001) — that’s more than 9 million people. The number of times Bush mentioned “poverty” in his speech: 0.

(UPDATE: Alternet has the video)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


U.N.: 14,000 Iraqis killed in 2006

Holy city bomb kills 45; Armed robbers hit Baghdad bank

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- More than 14,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq in the first half of this year, an ominous figure reflecting the fact that "killings, kidnappings and torture remain widespread" in the war-torn country, a United Nations report says.

Killings of civilians are on "an upward trend," with more than 5,800 deaths and more than 5,700 injuries reported in May and June alone, it says.

The report, a bimonthly document produced by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, covers May and June, and includes chilling casualty figures and ugly anecdotes from the insurgent and sectarian warfare that continues to rage despite the establishment of a national unity government and a security crackdown in Baghdad.

The report lists examples of bloody suicide bombs aimed at mosques, attacks on laborers, the recovery of slain bodies, the assassinations of judges, the killings of prisoners, the targeting of clergy -- all incidents dutifully reported by media over these three-plus years of chaos in the streets.

The U.N. agency says it has been made aware since last year of the targeting of homosexuals, "increasingly threatened and extra-judicially executed by militias and 'death squads' because of their sexual orientation."

The intolerance propelling the anti-gay prejudice extends to ethnic and religious minorities and others whose manner of dress doesn't meet the standards of religious extremists.

"On 28 May, an Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players were shot dead in Baghdad allegedly because they were wearing shorts. Similar threats are said to be made to induce men to conform to certain hair styles or rules regarding facial hair," the report says.

Women face intolerance -- and violence -- as well.

"In some Baghdad neighborhoods, women are now prevented from going to the markets alone. In other cases, women have been warned not to drive cars or have faced harassment if they wear trousers. Women have also reported that wearing a headscarf is becoming not a matter of religious choice but one of survival in many parts of Iraq, a fact which is particularly resented by non-Muslim women."

Academics and health professionals have been attacked, spurring them to leave the country or their home regions, causing a brain drain and a dislocation in services.

"Health care providers face difficulties in carrying out their work because of the limited supply of electricity and growing number of patients due to the increase in violence," the report says.

Kidnappings have been part of the chaotic Iraqi scene since the insurgency began, with many hostages killed even after a ransom is paid. The abductors are not only motivated by sectarianism or politics; organized crime appears to be involved with some of the kidnappings.

"On some occasions, sectarian connotations and alleged collusion with sectors of the police, as well as with militias, have been reported to UNAMI. Although there are no reliable statistics regarding this phenomenon, because Iraqis often are afraid to report such crimes to the police, the kidnappings are likely a daily occurrence," the report says.

For children, the "extent of violence in areas" other than the Kurdish region "is such that likely every child, to some degree, has been exposed to it," it says.

"In one case the body of a 12-year-old Osama was reportedly found by the Iraqi police in a plastic bag after his family paid a ransom of some 30,000 U.S. dollars. The boy had been sexually assaulted by the kidnappers, before being hanged by his own clothing. The police captured members of this gang who confessed of raping and killing many boys and girls before Osama," the report says.

Cultural symbols

"Civilian casualties resulted mainly from bombings and drive-by shootings, from indiscriminate attacks, in neighborhood markets or petrol stations, or following armed clashes with the police and the security forces," the report says.

"Civilians were also targeted or became unintended victims of insurgent or military actions.

"Terrorist acts against civilians have been aimed at fomenting sectarian violence or allegedly motivated by revenge and have targeted members of the Arab Shia and Sunni communities, including their cultural symbols, as well as markets in Shia neighborhoods."

Figures from the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad and the Ministry of Health show that the total number of civilians killed from January to June was 14,338.

In late June, the Ministry of Health "acknowledged information stating that since 2003 at least 50,000 persons have been killed in violence and stated the number of deaths are probably under-reported." the report says.

"The Baghdad morgue reportedly received 30,204 bodies from 2003 to mid-2006. Deaths numbering 18,933 occurred from 'military clashes' and 'terrorist attacks'" between April 5, 2004, and June 1, 2006.

The report also notes the probes by the United States into the alleged killings of 24 civilians in Haditha by U.S. troops as well the deaths caused by military operations throughout the country.

Other developments

At least 45 people were killed and 60 others wounded Tuesday morning when a suicide car bomber detonated in a busy Kufa marketplace where day laborers gather, Iraqi police said.

The attack took place around 7:30 a.m. near a Shia shrine.

Kufa is considered a holy place by Shia Muslims and is just outside Najaf, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms on Tuesday stole 1.24 billion Iraqi dinars (about $675,000) from Rafidain Bank in western Baghdad early Tuesday afternoon, Iraqi emergency police told CNN.

An in the northern city of Kirkuk, a roadside bomb killed six policemen, Kirkuk police said. Another police officer was wounded in the incident, which occurred at 11:30 a.m. in Hawija.

On Monday, in a coordinated attack in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, at least 40 people were killed and wounded dozens, and small-arms fire killed a U.S. soldier in the capital.

The incidents took place as Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence festers in and near Baghdad.

The killing of a U.S. soldier on Monday -- which occurred at 12:55 p.m. (0955 GMT) in western Baghdad -- brought the number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war to 2,548. The soldier was from Multi-National Division Baghdad.


Report Faults Safeguards in Religion Program

WASHINGTON, July 18 — The Bush administration’s program of financing social service initiatives run by religiously affiliated groups lacks adequate safeguards against religious discrimination and has yet to measure the performance of the groups, a new Congressional report says.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, did not find evidence of a widespread diversion of government money to religious activity from social services, which had been a concern of some critics of such religion-based initiatives.

But in looking at 10 federal programs, the researchers found that only four gave an explicit statement to religious organizations about protecting the religious liberties of the people they serve.

“The Bush administration has a responsibility to make sure that federal taxpayer dollars are not being sent to organizations that discriminate, but it is failing to uphold that responsibility,” said Representative George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, in a written statement. “As a result, we don’t know if Americans who are eligible for services are missing out on them because of their religious beliefs.”

Alyssa J. McClenning, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said the program protected the separation of church and state.

“Grantees are provided with an explicit statement of the safeguard prohibiting the use of direct federal funds for inherently religious activities,” Ms. McClenning said by e-mail.

Mr. Miller and Representative Pete Stark of California, the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Health of the Ways and Means Committee, requested the report in September 2004.

Robert W. Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University who is an expert on religion-based initiatives, said the report described problems that many had anticipated.

The Bush administration, Professor Tuttle said, has declined to provide clear information about what constitutes so-called “inherently religious” activities that would violate the separation of church and state.

In 2001, the administration created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In the 2005 fiscal year, the federal government awarded more than $2.1 billion to religious organizations, according to Mr. Stark’s office.

Part of the administration’s argument for broadening the participation of religious groups in social services has been that they perform as well as or better than their secular counterparts, experts on the initiatives said. But the accountability office report found that only one of 15 pilot programs examined had completed an evaluation of its outcomes.

“Congress didn’t put enough emphasis’’ on measuring results, said Representative Mark E. Souder, Republican of Indiana, who is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, which oversees the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. “The administration has been lax on this, but it is improving.”

The report found that the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Labor took issue with a recommendation that articulates safeguards against religious discrimination.

“They stated that such a requirement would involve singling out faith-based organizations for greater oversight and monitoring than other program participants on the basis of presumed or confirmed religious affiliation,” the report stated. “In our view, creating a level playing field for faith-based organizations does not mean that agencies should be relieved of their oversight responsibilities relating to the equal treatment regulations.”


Katrina Audit Shows Fraud, Abuse

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 19, 2006; 12:24 AM

WASHINGTON -- The Homeland Security Department wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars last year on iPods, dog booties, beer-making equipment and designer jackets, congressional investigators have concluded.

More than 100 laptop computers and a dozen boats also bought by Homeland Security employees are missing, the investigators found.

Poor training, lax oversight and rampant confusion over what employees are allowed to buy with government-issued purchase cards left Homeland Security "vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse," according to a draft report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative and auditing arm.

The report was to be released Wednesday by a Senate panel that oversees the department.

Senators said more than 10,000 Homeland Security employees carry purchase cards for business-related expenses _ with a spending limit that was raised to $250,000 for emergencies after Hurricane Katrina hit last Aug. 29. Aides said the audit covered expenses for a five-month period both before and after Katrina.

But investigators found that employees received scant training on how to use the cards, were given little or lax supervision and were told to follow spending guidelines that differed among the 22 agencies that make up the department.

The department spent $435 million with the purchase cards in the 2005 budget year, compared to $296 million in 2004, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Tuesday evening. But he said only a fraction of the expenses were improper, noting that the department has disciplined about 70 employees amid 1.1 million purchases.

"Comparatively, we're talking about a small number of bad apples," Knocke said.

Among the expenses that investigators described as abusive or otherwise questionable:

_More than 2,000 sets of dog booties, costing $68,442, that have sat unused in storage since emergency responders decided they were not suited for canines assisting in Gulf Coast recovery efforts.

_Three portable shower units for $71,170 from a contractor who investigators said overcharged the government. Customs and Border Protection agents could have gotten similar showers for nearly a third of the price _ and faster.

_12 Apple iPod Nanos and 42 iPod Shuffles, worth $7,000, for Secret Service "training and data storage." Because the Shuffles cost less than $300, the Secret Service said they were not required to track them to ensure they were used properly.

_37 black Helly Hansen designer rain jackets, costing nearly $2,500, for use in a firing range that the Customs and Border Protection purchaser later acknowledged shuts down when it's raining.

_Conference and hotel rooms at a golf and tennis resort at St. Simons Island in Georgia, worth $2,395, for training 32 newly hired attorneys when they could have used a nearby federal law enforcement training center.

_A beer brewing kit and ingredients for more than $1,000 for a Coast Guard official to brew alcohol while on duty as a social organizer for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. "The estimated price for a six-pack of USCG beer was $12," the investigators noted, adding: "Given that the six-pack cost of most beers is far less than $12, it is difficult to demonstrate that the Academy is achieving cost savings by brewing its own beer."

Investigators also noted that Customs and Border Protection wasted up to $464,586 by buying meals-ready-to-eat over the Internet instead of contracting through the Pentagon, as is standard procedure. And they found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot locate 107 laptops, 22 printers and two GPS units worth $170,000. FEMA also cannot find 12 of 20 boats the agency bought for $208,000.

Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, said the department will begin enforcing new spending guidelines in the next several weeks that should eliminate much of the confusion and make sure buys are strictly supervised. Violators could have their cards taken away, be forced to repay expenses and face disciplinary action, he said. "We take very seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Knocke said.

The senators who ordered the investigation _ Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. _ described Homeland Security as negligent in preventing the shopaholics among its ranks. The two lead the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Homeland Security "left the door wide open for these abuses," Collins said.

Added Lieberman: "That is hard to believe."


Kristol Suggests People of Iran Would Embrace U.S. Attack, Triggering Regime Change

This morning on Fox, Bill Kristol continued to escalate his calls for war against Iran, stating, “We can try diplomacy. I’m not very hopeful about that. We have to be ready to use force.” Kristol claimed the people of Iran would embrace “the right use of targeted military force.” He added that military force could “trigger changes in Iran,” causing them to embrace regime change. Watch it.

Kristol’s argument is a regurgitation of what he argued would result from the Iraq war. This is what wrote on the pages of the Weekly Standard in the days leading up to the Iraq war:

We are tempted to comment, in these last days before the war, on the U.N., and the French, and the Democrats. But the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam’s regime. … History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.


KRISTOL: We have to be ready to use military force against Iran, if it comes to that. Think what this crisis would be like given what we now know about the Islamic Republic of Iran, its regime, its recklessness, its close, close ties to terrorist groups. Think what the world wore would be like with an Iran with nuclear weapons. This is a very interesting moment in that respect. You know? We are in a way lucky that Iran has revealed its aggression, its recklessness, its terror ties before they succeeded in becoming a nuclear power. We have to stop them from getting nuclear weapons. We can try diplomacy. I am not hopeful about that. We have to be ready to use force.

QUESTION: You know, the down side, though, you know very well, to all of that being that we’re involved in Iraq and Afganistan. Also that Iran is much different than Iraq. It’s huge and more formidable.

KRISTOL: It is, but also the Iranian people dislike their regime. I think they would be – the right use of targeted military force — but especially if political pressure before we use military force – could cause them to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power. There are even moderates – they are not wonderful people — but people in the government itself who are probably nervous about Ahmadinejad’s recklessness.

This is why standing up to Iran right now is so important. They’re overreached. They and Hezbollah have recklessly overreached. They got cocky. This is the moment to set them back. I think a setback to Hezbollah could trigger changes in Iran. People can say, wait a second, what is Ahmadinejad doing to us. We’re alone. The Arab world is even against us. The Muslim world is against us. Let’s reconsider this reckless path that we’re on.


Bush Uses First Veto To Guarantee That Embryonic Stem Cells Will Become Trash, Rather Than Life Saving Cures. American Taliban Strikes Again.

Bush on Stem Cell Veto: ‘These Boys and Girls Are Not Spare Parts’

Moments ago, Bush made a statement at the White House discussing why he vetoed a bill expanding funding for embryonic stem cell research. (The media was barred from covering the veto itself.) Bush explained, “these boys and girls are not spare parts.” Watch it:

An embryo is not a boy or a girl. It’s a cluster of about 150 cells smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. The embryos funded by the bill Bush vetoed were “created for the purposes of in vitro fertilization…which are spare or in excess of clinical need and in every single case are slated for medical waste.”

Only about 10 percent of embryos are adopted — the rest are disposed of. Had Bush signed the bill into law, they could instead be used to develop potentially live-saving cures for millions of people.


PRESIDENT BUSH: Yet we must also remember that embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are destroyed themselves. Each of these human embryos is a unique human life, with inherent dignity and matchless value. We see that value in the children who are with us today. Each of these children began his or her life as a frozen embryo that was created for in vitro fertilization, but remained unused after fertility treatments were complete. Each of these children was adopted while still an embryo, and has been blessed with the chance to grow up in a loving family. These boys and girls are not spare parts.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Bush Personally Blocked DOJ Investigation Of Wiretapping Program

Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is charged with investigating attorney misconduct, announced that it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the NSA warrantless wiretapping program because it was denied security clearance.

Previously, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would not explain why the security clearances had been denied, saying he did not want to “get into internal discussions.” But in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Gonzales said President Bush personally blocked Justice Department lawyers from pursuing an investigation of the warrantless eavesdropping program. Watch it.


SPECTER: Now when you had the first line of review, Mr. Attorney General, by OPR, why wasn’t OPR given clearance as so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice were given clearance?

GONZALES: Mr. Chairman, you and I had lunch several weeks ago, and we had a discussion about this. And during this lunch, I did inform you that the terrorist surveillance program is a highly-classified program. It’s a very important program for the national security of this country –

SPECTER: Highly-classified, very important, many other lawyers in the Justice Department had clearance. Why not OPR?

GONZALES: And the President of the United States ultimately makes decisions about who ultimately is given access –

SPECTER: Did the President make the decision not to clear OPR?

GONZALES: As with all decisions that are non-operational in terms of who has access to the program, the President of the United States makes the decision because this is such an important program –

SPECTER: I want to move on to another subject. The President makes the decision and that’s that.


House Energy Committee Commissions Political Propaganda Attacking Global Warming Science

On Friday, House Energy Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) released an impressive-looking “report” attacking a 1998 study by Dr. Michael Mann which suggested that recent global warming is unprecedented over the last several centuries. The Energy Committee report was quickly seized on by the Wall Street Journal editorial page as proof that scientific consensus about global warming is “more like group-think.”

The House Energy Committee report isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Here’s why:

1. The report rehashes criticisms that have already been discredited. The House Energy Committee report, which it commissioned from Edward J. Wegman, is not original work. Rather, it seeks to “verify” the criticisms that Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (an energy consultant and an economist) made about the Mann study three years ago. These claims have been discredited in peer-reviewed journals. McIntyre and McKitrick’s criticisms were considered by a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences – the organization created by Congress to evaluate scientific research — which concluded that the Mann study is “supported by an array of evidence.”

2. The report did not involve any climate scientists. Wegman and his co-authors are statisticians with no apparent expertise in climate science.

3. The report was not peer-reviewed. In fact, Wegman attacks the concept of peer-review, claiming the Mann study had “too much reliance on peer review, which seemed not to be sufficiently independent.” Wegman has no basis to claim that the peer review of the Mann study was not independent because peer-reviewers are anonymous. Rigorous peer review is a core principle of legitimate scientific inquiry.

Even if the Energy Committee report were accurate, it wouldn’t impact our basic understanding about climate change. The National Academy of Sciences explained “large-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the last 2,000 years are not the primary evidence for the widely accepted views that global warming is occurring, that human activities are contributing, at least in part, to this warming.”

House Energy Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow to discuss the wide-ranging implications of their report.

UPDATE: Chris Mooney has more.


The Administration's Defense for Illegal Wiretapping is Just Plain Gone

by Senator Russ Feingold

With the Administration doing so much to weaken our system of checks and balances, a lot of Americans were heartened to see the third branch of government - the judiciary - stand up to the Administration with the decision in the Hamdan case a few weeks ago. The Supreme Court made it crystal clear that all detainees have basic rights under U.S. and international law, and that the Administration has to scrap its plan to try some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in military commissions that lacked basic safeguards of fairness. As many legal thinkers, and some in this community, have pointed out, the Hamdan decision was a rebuke to an Administration that thinks it can make up its own laws. And this decision has ramifications far beyond the issue of detainees. For one thing, Hamdan completely undercuts the Administration's already weak legal argument in defense of its warrantless wiretapping program.

It is clear that the program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But Administration officials insisted unconvincingly that the authorization for use of military force (AUMF) from September 2001 had them covered - that this resolution somehow ok'd their warantless wiretapping, even though there is no such language in the resolution, and no evidence to suggest that it was intended to give the President blanket authority to order these warrantless wiretaps.

In Hamdan, the Court made it clear that the Administration can't hide behind the AUMF anymore. The Administration tried to use the AUMF argument in the Hamdan case too - claiming that it authorized military commissions for detainees. But the Court flatly rejected that idea, just as it rejected the idea that the President's inherent authority as Commander-in-Chief trumps the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The bottom line is that the Court was not buying the extreme theories of executive power put forward by the Administration in the military commissions case, and there is no reason to think it that it would buy those same theories when they are used to justify the illegal wiretapping program.

Last week, I asked Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, about this very issue in the Judiciary Committee. He said - big surprise - that he didn't think that the Hamdan decision would affect the warrantless wiretapping program. Clearly, the Administration is going to try to brush this off, but this issue is too important, and the law is too clear, and I am going to keep demanding a straight answer.

Yesterday I wrote a letter to the President and Attorney General Gonzales urging them to reconsider the Administration's position about the legality of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping based on the Hamdan decision. I specifically urged them to consider the implications of Hamdan when they conduct their periodic reauthorization of the wiretapping program, which DOJ has indicated occurs approximately every 45 days.

The Administration's legal defense of its warrantless wiretapping program has always been threadbare, but with the Hamdan decision its argument isn't just threadbare any more - it's just plain gone.

Hamdan underscores how this Administration has played fast and loose with the Constitution and the law, and why the President should be censured for authorizing the illegal wiretapping program, for misleading the public both before and after it was revealed, and for failing to inform the appropriate members of Congress about it, as required by law. We have to demand that this Administration, and this President, protect our Constitution and our values as we protect our country. I am going to keep raising this issue - in fact, I plan on asking the Attorney General about it this morning when he comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So stay tuned and thanks to all of you for keeping the heat on this Administration to own up to its mistakes and abide by the rule of law.


Iraq: Let's Pause to Remember What Bush Administration Officials Told Us BEFORE the War About Iraq Reconstruction Costs.

In September, 2003, Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate “no one said we would know anything other than this would be very bloody, it could be very long and by implication, it could be very expensive." Here’s a record of what the administration AND PAUL WOLFOWITZ, in fact, said:

Press Secretary Ari Fleischer: “Well, the reconstruction costs remain a very -- an issue for the future. And Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, is a rather wealthy country. Iraq has tremendous resources that belong to the Iraqi people. And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.” [Source: White House Press Briefing, 2/18/03]

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage: “This is not Afghanistan…When we approach the question of Iraq, we realize here is a country which has a resource. And it’s obvious, it’s oil. And it can bring in and does bring in a certain amount of revenue each year…$10, $15, even $18 billion…this is not a broke country.” [Source: House Committee on Appropriations Hearing on a Supplemental War Regulation, 3/27/03]

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz: “There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years…We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” [Source: House Committee on Appropriations Hearing on a Supplemental War Regulation, 3/27/03]

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “If you [Source: worry about just] the cost, the money, Iraq is a very different situation from Afghanistan…Iraq has oil. They have financial resources.” [Source: Fortune Magazine, Fall 2002]

State Department Official Alan Larson: “On the resource side, Iraq itself will rightly shoulder much of the responsibilities. Among the sources of revenue available are $1.7 billion in invested Iraqi assets, the found assets in Iraq…and unallocated oil-for-food money that will be deposited in the development fund.” [Source: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Iraq Stabilization, 06/04/03]

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “I don't believe that the United States has the responsibility for reconstruction, in a sense…[Reconstruction] funds can come from those various sources I mentioned: frozen assets, oil revenues and a variety of other things, including the Oil for Food, which has a very substantial number of billions of dollars in it. [Source: Senate Appropriations Hearing, 3/27/03]

One thing is certain about the Iraq war: It has cost a lot more than advertised. In fact, the tab grows by at least $200 million each and every day.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was the exception to the rule, offering an "upper bound" estimate of $100 billion to $200 billion in a September 2002 interview with The Wall Street Journal. That figure raised eyebrows at the time, although Lindsey argued the cost was small, adding, "The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.”

U.S. direct spending on the war in Iraq already has surpassed the upper bound of Lindsey's upper bound, and most economists attribute billions more in indirect costs to the war effort. Even if the U.S. exits Iraq within another three years, total direct and indirect costs to U.S. taxpayers will likely by more than $400 billion, and one estimate puts the total economic impact at up to $2 trillion.

Back in 2002, the White House was quick to distance itself from Lindsey's view. Mitch Daniels, director of the White House budget office, quickly called the estimate "very, very high." Lindsey himself was dismissed in a shake-up of the White House economic team later that year, and in January 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the budget office had come up with "a number that's something under $50 billion." He and other officials expressed optimism that Iraq itself would help shoulder the cost once the world market was reopened to its rich supply of oil.

Those early estimates struck some economists as unrealistically low. William Nordhaus, a Yale economist who published perhaps the most extensive independent estimate of the potential costs before the war began, suggested a war and occupation could cost anywhere from $100 billion to $1.9 trillion in 2002 dollars, depending on the difficulty of the conflict, the length of occupation and the impact on oil costs.

The most current estimates of the war's cost generally start with figures from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which as of January 2006 counted $323 billion in expenditures for the war on terrorism, including military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just this week the House approved another $68 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would bring the total allocated to date to about $400 billion. The Pentagon is spending about $6 billion a month on the war in Iraq, or about $200 million a day, according to the CBO. That is about the same as the gross domestic product of Nigeria.

Scott Wallsten, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, put the direct cost to the United States at $212 billion as of last September and estimates a "global cost" of $500 billion to date with another $500 billion possible, with most of the total borne by the United States.

That figure is in line with an estimate published last month by University of Chicago economist Steven Davis and colleagues, who put the likely U.S. cost at $410 billion to $630 billion in 2003 dollars.

Some estimates now say that the War Costs will exceed 1 trillion. And there has been a recent study that indicates the long term costs will exceed 2 trillion.

I guess the point is that Bush and his Crony Crew were WRONG AGAIN.


War Profiteers: Bush and Republicans Trash Free Market Principles; Favor Corporate Donors in Iraq Reconstruction.

Iraq's Reconstruction a Boondoogle by Design
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on July 17, 2006, Printed on July 18, 2006

If you were to gather together the finest, most creative minds and ask them to come up with a plan to outsource the reconstruction of Iraq that would guarantee shoddy work, overcharges, unfinished projects and overt graft, they would probably devise a system very similar to what U.S. taxpayers have enjoyed -- to the tune of about $30 billion -- for the past three years.

In Baghdad, basics like electricity, sanitation and clean drinking water are at lower levels today than they were before the war. A poll last year found that after more than two years of work, only 30 percent of Iraqis had any idea that there was any kind of reconstruction effort at all.

The reconstruction of Iraq has become a boondoggle of historic proportions, but make no mistake: It's a boondoggle by design.

It's an elegant design that begins by shrinking the universe of possible contractors as far down as possible -- competition mercilessly drives firms to ever greater efficiency, and that won't do.

The administration first cut out those who didn't support the invasion. Paul Wolfowitz wrote that "limiting competition for prime contracts [to members of the 'Coalition of the Willing'] will encourage the expansion of international cooperation in Iraq and in future efforts." That knocked out around half of the world's largest construction firms.

But that's just the official policy. In reality, the contracting pool is much shallower. The business community in the United Kingdom -- a country that's taken about a thousand casualties in Iraq -- have been in a snit for two years about not getting their share. The biggest prime contract given to a British company was the $430 million security gig awarded to Aegis, and the top recipient overall was AMEC, mostly in subcontracts to Fluor, a Texas company with a terrible record in Iraq but close ties to the GOP. At less than a billion dollars total, AMEC's take doesn't crack the top 15.

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) found that 60 percent of the top 70 firms getting reconstruction contracts in Iraq -- the New York Times called them "among the politically best-connected in Washington" -- had high-level employees or board members who came out of the military or the government. The group donated almost $50 million to PACs and candidates since 1990. Charles Lewis, then director of CPI, said that there's "a stench of political favoritism and cronyism surrounding the contracting process in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

How does a good Republican administration justify trashing the free market's competitive spirit when they spend so much time kowtowing to its wonders? They simply redefine "competition"; according to the Project on Government Oversight, a contract is considered "competitive" when "a few favored contractors" get a shot at it, or even when it's not bid out at all. There are government procurement rules that require open competition, but there are also plenty of loopholes.

USAID, one of the lead reconstruction agencies, used an exemption from the contracting rules to dole out its first eight big contracts secretly, finding that open bidding would impair the agency's "foreign assistance objectives."

Actually, it did follow standard procurement procedures -- it posted all the contract requirements and requested bids like they're supposed to. But, taking a page from "Catch-22," they only did it after the contracts were awarded. Steve Schooner, co-director of George Washington University's Government Procurement Law Program, told Congress: "Intentionally or unintentionally, USAID excluded any number of potentially qualified U.S. companies."

That gets to the heart of the most common defense of large, no-bid contracts: Only a handful of firms are capable of managing projects as large as those being handed out in Iraq. When Halliburton got busted for overcharging the Army $61 million for gas deliveries from Kuwait on a large no-bid contract, the company released a statement saying it was the "only one that met the Army Corps of Engineers' specifications."

But that, too, is by design. The way many of these deals are structured -- as massive, "bundled," cost-plus contracts -- no firm on the planet has the staff and resources to do the job itself. So instead of awarding dozens of contracts on a competitive basis to firms that specialize in, say, road construction or building sewage treatment plants -- an approach that would give smaller, hungrier companies a shot at some of the action -- you take dozens of different jobs and lump them all together in one megaproject.

A good example was the mammoth "Iraq Infrastructure II" contract recently awarded to Bechtel Corp. (along with a few other well-connected corporate partners). It included "electric power systems, municipal water and sanitation services, road networks and rail systems, selected public buildings, ports and waterways, and airports."

That kind of big, bundled contract represents a perfectly circular argument. In the 1980s and 1990s, Big Business pushed a model of government that shifted a whole chunk of the public sector's functions their way, promising it would spur competition. That resulted in both an explosion of new contracting and steep cuts in the agency staff that oversee those contracts (up to 35 percent in the Bush years alone). With less staff, more projects get bundled into fewer super-sized contracts, and then we're told that there are only a couple of Beltway behemoths that can compete for them.

Now imagine for a moment that you wanted to hire a contractor to babysit your kids, reshingle the garage, teach your sister Swahili and sue a pesky neighbor who's just gotten on your last nerve. The chances are there wouldn't be a lot of firms qualified. But say a few contractors came to you and said they could handle the gig, but they wouldn't be able tell you how much it will cost or when the job will be finished. After a good laugh, you'd probably show them the door.

Your government, on the other hand, would send them to Iraq. Because that, in a nutshell, describes the IQID -- "Indefinite Quantity Indefinite Delivery" -- "contract vehicle" that's become so popular in Washington.

Once a company gets approved for work under an IQID contract, the firm doesn't have to compete for jobs (there's a cap on the total value). According to the Project on Government Oversight, small businesses "that would be able to perform many of the tasks" are "never given the opportunity to compete" for these jobs. That costs them, and the taxpayers, an estimated $13 billion each year. The specifics of these contracts aren't made public -- not even members of Congress can get the details easily.

If a firm runs into problems -- say, if its jobsites keep getting blown up -- IQID contracts make it painless for the contractor to ditch a project before it's done. Parsons, a firm that's worked in the Middle East for years, was contracted to build 150 primary health clinics (PHCs) in Iraq, a project the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowden, called "the most important program in the [country's] health sector."

After a surreal series of cost over-runs and missed deadlines, it turned out the company would only be able to finish 20 of the clinics. The Army Corps of Engineers, which contracted the job, blamed "contractor performance and lack of openness in addressing schedule and budget issues in a timely fashion." The inspector general noted that, while all the money had been paid, the remaining PHCs are half-built, and the equipment for all 150 clinics was delivered and is now sitting in a warehouse in Baghdad with questionable security. But there's no penalty built into the contract for unfinished work. The 130 half-finished clinics will simply be removed from the contract -- "de-scoping" is a new word one picks up quickly when looking at the hundreds of aborted projects in Iraq.

Many of these contracts are "cost-plus" -- the firms get a percentage of what they dish out to their subcontractors. They effectively become bloated, well-connected corporate middlemen, hiring firms that are actually qualified to do each job (hopefully) and then doing what the government itself should be doing-- overseeing their performance.

But with a straight cut of the lucre, their only incentive is to stick it to the taxpayers. Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and John Dingell, D-Mich., were surprised to find that "Halliburton officials frequently told employees that the high prices charged by vendors were not a problem One whistleblower said that a Halliburton motto was: 'Don't worry about price. It's cost-plus.'"

Competition is supposed to benefit consumers by weeding out the bad businesses -- the slackers, the cheats, the rip-off artists and other shoddy producers. But every single watchdog I've spoken with about contracting abuses has the same question: What, exactly, does a firm have to do to get itself kicked off that list of qualified companies? According to the Project on Government Oversight's database of bad contractors, the following firms (with their number of misconduct incidences) are still getting plum pieces of the pie: Lockheed-Martin, 84; Northrop Grumman, 36; Fluor, 15; Computer Sciences Corp./DynCorp, nine; Bechtel, six; and SAIC, five.

Some of the very few members of Congress who are troubled by all this released a report (PDF) that points to the cherry on the sundae: In addition to hiring contractors to write the terms of future contracts -- which they're then allowed to bid on -- the government is now hiring war profiteers to oversee the performance of their fellow contractors, including firms that they've partnered with on past projects.

It's perfect.

And the tab is being paid in blood as well as treasure. The inspector general says a "reconstruction gap" has developed between Iraqis' (and Americans') expectations and what's really getting done. One shopkeeper in Baghdad told the Washington Post: "It is easy for the Americans to say, 'We are doing reconstruction in Iraq,' and we hear that. But to make us believe it, they should show us where this reconstruction is. Maybe they are doing this reconstruction for them in the Green Zone. But this is not for the Iraqis."

It would be overstating the case to say that the reconstruction mess led directly to the insurgency, but it sure hasn't helped win any hearts and minds. As they sit in the stifling heat with just six hours of juice per day and watch American contractors swagger around their country, largely immune from criminal prosecution, over half of all Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S. personnel.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

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