Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kucinich questions Bush's mental health

Tue Oct 30, 6:52 PM ET

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich questioned President Bush's mental health in light of comments he made about a nuclear Iran precipitating World War III.

"I seriously believe we have to start asking questions about his mental health," Kucinich, an Ohio congressman, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board on Tuesday. "There's something wrong. He does not seem to understand his words have real impact."

Kucinich, known for his liberal views, trails far behind the leading candidates in most Democratic polls. He was in Philadelphia for a debate at Drexel University.

Bush made the remarks at a news conference earlier this month.

He said: "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Kucinich said he doesn't believe his comments about the president's mental health are irresponsible, according to a story posted on the newspaper's Web site.

"You cannot be a president of the United States who's wanton in his expression of violence," Kucinich said. "There's a lot of people who need care. He might be one of them. If there isn't something wrong with him, then there's something wrong with us. This, to me, is a very serious question."

In response, Republican National Committee spokesman Dan Ronayne said it was hard to take Kucinich seriously.


Wed Oct 24, 7:09 PM ET

Troops Suck Up to Bush, Ask for Support

COLUMBUS, OHIO--Over a year ago, in March 2006, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes published the results of a Zogby poll of troops serving in Iraq. 72 percent said U.S. forces should withdraw within a year. Twenty-five percent thought we should pull out right away. But 85 percent said a major reason they were there was "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the September 11 attacks." These people are confused, to say the least.

Even more confusing is the persistent flow of complaints by Iraq War veterans that Americans on the home front are partying like it's 2009 while their comrades back in Vichy Mesopotamia are getting blown up.

Army infantry officer Will Bardenwerper gave voice to this oft-stated sentiment in an October 20th New York Times op/ed. "As I began my 13-month deployment (in Tal Afar, Iraq)," wrote a dispirited Bardenwerper, "I imagined an American public following our progress with the same concern as my family and friends. But since returning home, I have seen that America has changed the channel." He was struck by "the disparity between the lives of the few who are fighting and being killed, and the many who have been asked for nothing more than to continue shopping."

Typical suggestions for fairer distribution of sacrifice and a military draft--the latter to obtain additional manpower and inspire antiwar marchers to fill the streets like they did during Vietnam--follow. At least he left out the usual calls for victory gardens and gas rationing.

The war sucks. On that point, the millions of Americans who were against it from the start (and the many millions more who've come around to agreeing with us) agree with the soldiers serving in it. Forced reenlistment through the "stop-loss" loophole is placing thousands of lives in suspended animation, destroying marriages and small businesses. Troops aren't getting enough protective gear.

It's also true that Americans have stopped paying attention. I'm a news junkie. And even I flip the page past the same old "2 Dead, 7 Wounded in IED Blast" headline.

But hey, soldier, you volunteered. If not for you, there wouldn't be a war in the first place.

"Supporting the troops means supporting their mission." That's been the mantra of the pro-war right. It's been hard for those of us who oppose the war to argue with them because so many of the troops have repeatedly allowed themselves to be used as propaganda shills for Bush Administration officials and the Republican Party in general.

It's bad enough that a majority of soldiers voted for Bush in 2004. Over and over since the war began, American troops have been seen on television applauding Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice and others whose cynical recklessness have sent their buddies to their graves. Sailors cheered wildly when Bush staged his notorious "Mission Accomplished" photo op on an aircraft carrier. They swooned when he joined them for Thanksgiving dinner in Baghdad.

"The shocked and elated soldiers jumped to their feet, pumped their fists in the air, roared with delight, and grabbed their cameras to snap photographs," reported CNN about Bush's visit. A "standing ovation" followed. "It gave us a little extra oomph," said a member of the 1st Armored Division. "It really boosted my morale," said another. No one heckled or booed the imposter president. No one threw tomatoes. No one told him where he could stick his plastic turkey.

Even after soldiers get killed, their parents promote the war so their dead kids won't be lonely in heaven. At Fort Benning, Georgia met Deb Tainsh, whose son was killed by a roadside bomb near the Baghdad Airport. She presented Bush with more than 100 e-mails from parents of soldiers who have died or are presently serving in Iraq. "Every one of these letters says, 'Mr. President, we support you,'" she said. "The consensus is that they...want him to do everything he can to win this war and that our prayers are with him."

"Bush, 61, has so far met with more than 1,500 relatives of the 4,255 American troops who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Bloomberg News wire service reported last week. "In most of the meetings, [Bush's] aides say, he hears support for his policies, hardening his resolve to stay the course in Afghanistan and Iraq." Few Gold Star mothers tell him off. Those who do are polite to the man who murdered their children as surely and as viciously as if he'd shot them himself. Why don't they spit at him?

Four years after the WMDs and liberation flora failed to turn up, people still enlist. After soldiers die, their parents insist that theirs was a noble sacrifice. Tell me again: Why should I care about the war? Why shouldn't I go shopping?

Soldiers who want antiwar Americans to march to demand that they be brought home should take a cue from Vietnam veterans. They marched with peace protesters and threw their medals at the Capitol. Soldiers serving on the front refused orders. Some fragged their officers. Vietnam Veterans Against the War claimed more than 50,000 members by 1971. That year saw numerous dramatic acts of dissent by U.S. troops, including 50 veterans who marched to the Pentagon and demanded that they be arrested as war criminals. Fifteen vets took over and barricaded the Statue of Liberty for two days. These acts swayed opinions and helped convince lawmakers it was time to withdraw.

Some soldiers in Iraq have offered resistance. After being denied conscientious objector status, Petty Officer Third Class Pablo Paredes went AWOL in 2004. He was sentenced to two months in the brig and three months hard labor. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada refused to be sent to Iraq in 2006, telling the media that the war's illegality would make him a party to war crimes. Army Specialist Darrell Anderson, faced with a second tour of duty after being wounded by a roadside bomb, deserted and fled to Canada. "I went to Iraq willingly," said Anderson. "I wanted to die for my country. I thought I was going to go there and protect my family back home. All I was doing was killing other families there." The Army decided not to prosecute him. Several other deserters have applied for political asylum in Canada, but they're only a fraction of the thousands who went there during the 1960s and 1970s.

When Bill Clinton was president, Republicans said he should be afraid to speak at military bases. That should go double for Bush. The next he shows up to use you as a TV prop, soldiers and fellow Americans, boo the crap out of him. What's the worst he can do? Kill you?

(Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.)

Copyright © 2007 Yahoo! Inc

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Crazy, effing Bush crowd threatens the world like a maniac with razor blades

The New York Times and Bush’s threat of World War III

By Bill Van Auken
30 October 2007

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When President Bush used an October 17 White House press conference to threaten that the escalating US confrontation with Iran posed a danger of “World War III” his remark was passed over in silence by most of the media. Those that did report it seemed, for the most part, to accept the White House claim that the president was engaging in hyperbole and merely making a “rhetorical point.”

In the nearly two weeks since, Bush’s remark has been followed up by a menacing speech by Vice President Dick Cheney, whose vow that the US would not “stand by” as Iran allegedly pursued a nuclear weapons program constituted an implicit threat of war. The heated war rhetoric has also been accompanied by the imposition of another round of sweeping economic sanctions backed by the unprecedented US designation of sections of Iran’s security forces as “proliferators” of weapons of mass destruction and as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

Given the Bush administration’s claim to be engaged in a permanent “global war on terrorism,” this designation is tailor-made for justifying a US military assault on Iran.

These events, undoubtedly accompanied by behind-the-scenes preparations for military action, have led to a somewhat belated reaction to Bush’s invocation of a third world war. Over the weekend, several Democratic legislators took issue with the president’s ominous statement. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, for example, called Bush’s World War III statement “irresponsible.”

“I’ve been briefed by the Pentagon who say if there were to be a conflagration with Iran, which we all hope to avoid, it would be generations of jihad right here on our shores,” she said. “We don’t want to go that way, so let’s calm down the rhetoric.”

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also warned of the implications of a war against Iran, including the potential closing of the strategic Strait of Hormuz. He made clear that he believed that the military option should be kept “on the table,” but urged the White House to stop talking about it.

“Don’t give them the weapon that they use against us that we’re trying to bully them, that we’re trying to do dominate them,” he said. “And that’s what this hot rhetoric does when it’s just constantly repeated, about World War III or that we’re going to use a military option.”

Mohamed El Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also warned against the confrontational approach taken by Washington.

“My fear is that if we continue to escalate from both sides that we will end up into a precipice, we will end up into an abyss,” he said. “The Middle East is in a total mess, to say the least. And we cannot add fuel to the fire.”

Perhaps the most extraordinary response from within the political establishment came on Monday in the form of a lead editorial in the New York Times entitled “Trash Talking World War III.”

The Times writes: “America’s allies and increasingly the American public are playing a ghoulish guessing game: Will President Bush manage to leave office without starting a war with Iran? Mr. Bush is eagerly feeding those anxieties. This month he raised the threat of ‘World War III’ if Iran even figures out how to make a nuclear weapon.

“With a different White House, we might dismiss this as posturing—or bank on sanity to carry the day, or the warnings of exhausted generals or a defense secretary more rational than his predecessor. Not this crowd.”

The implications of this assessment, coming as it does from the America’s newspaper of record, the voice of erstwhile establishment liberalism, deserve the most serious consideration.

Not this crowd. In other words, a remark about World War III from another administration might have been written off, in the words of Senator Boxer, as “irresponsible,” but in the mouths of Bush, Cheney & Co. it becomes a palpable threat.

With the US military already mired in two colonial-style wars with no end in sight, the Times indicates that there exist no grounds for believing that the White House will not pursue the seemingly insane course of launching yet a third war, which—far more than those already underway—carries with it the danger of spreading into a global conflagration.

Reflected in the tone of this editorial is a profound political crisis within American ruling circles. Its unstated implication is that US policy is presently determined by a militarist camarilla which is out of control and subject neither to constitutional restraints nor international law.

Such a statement would not appear in the leading US daily paper unless there were deep concerns within the political establishment that America is on the brink of a war that poses catastrophic consequences.

But what the Times editorial cannot explain and does not even attempt to elucidate is how this crowd has remained in control of the US government going on eight years now, and how the seemingly insane escalation of American militarism has become Washington’s predominant policy on a world scale, supported and funded by both major parties. This cannot be rationalized as the outcome of Bush’s or Cheney’s supposed dementia.

Instead, the editorial makes the following toothless criticism of Bush: “Four years after his pointless invasion of Iraq, President Bush still confuses bullying with grand strategy. He refuses to do the hard work of diplomacy—or even acknowledge the disastrous costs of his actions.”

Since when was the invasion of Iraq “pointless?” The point to attempting to subjugate Iraq was clear from the outset. As former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan wrote in his recently published book—describing it as “what everyone knows”—the war against Iraq “is largely about oil.”

That is, behind all of the propaganda lies about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, the war was launched in pursuit of definite imperialist aims. Washington consciously decided to utilize its military might as a means of offsetting US capitalism’s economic decline relative to its major rivals in Europe and Asia. Placing an American hand on the oil spigots of the Persian Gulf was seen as a means exerting decisive pressure on these rivals and preserving US hegemony in the affairs of world capitalism.

This war was not pointless, it was criminal. To pursue its aims, US imperialism was prepared to unleash destruction on a scale that has now claimed the lives of over a million Iraqis and laid waste to an entire society.

The same “point” lies behind the present escalation of US aggression against Iran, pursued once again in the name of curtailing weapons of mass destruction and combating terrorism. The results of such a new war will prove far bloodier.

The Times—as in the run-up to the Iraq war—is once again advocating the use of diplomacy to secure legitimization for the predatory imperialist interests that Washington is pursuing against Iran. Its differences with the Bush administration, like those of the Democrats, are merely of a tactical character.

The supposed insanity of the Bush and Cheney crowd is in the end shared, at least in its essential symptoms, by all sections of the American ruling elite. The fundamental source of this malady lies not in the psychology of those presently in the White House—however unstable it may be—but rather in the underlying contradictions of world capitalism, above all the subordination of the powerful forces of globally integrated capitalist production to the private profit interests of the ruling elites of competing national states.

It is these contradictions, which are objectively driving the eruption of American militarism, that threaten a new war against Iran and a broader conflagration, as other major powers are inevitably compelled to defend their own access to strategic energy supplies and markets. Mounting economic instability will only accelerate this process.

The Times editorial constitutes a serious warning. A far wider war is now seen within the US ruling elite as a real and imminent danger to which no section of the present political establishment has a viable alternative. Such a war poses the real threat of a nuclear conflagration and the extermination of hundreds of millions.

The decisive question is that class-conscious workers and youth grasp both the immense dangers and the emerging revolutionary possibilities in the present situation. Mankind is threatened with wars that will reproduce and eclipse the catastrophes inflicted by the two world wars of the last century. But this threat is itself a manifestation of the profound crisis of the capitalist system.

Nothing could make clearer the hopelessness and bankruptcy of a perspective of ending the war in Iraq or halting an even bloodier catastrophe in Iran by means of pressuring Congress or supporting the Democratic Party against the Republicans.

A genuine struggle against war must waged by politically uniting working people worldwide based on a common socialist and internationalist program aimed at putting an end to economic and political domination of a financial oligarchy that pursues its profit interests by means of military slaughter.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Democrats, Republicans back Bush war provocations against Iran

By Patrick Martin
27 October 2007

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While the Bush administration’s decision Thursday on a unilateral escalation of sanctions against Iran has provoked consternation and anger overseas—Russian president Vladimir Putin, for instance, compared the US policy to “running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand”—the response from the US political establishment has been generally supportive.

Presidential candidates of both the Democratic and Republican parties backed the administration action designating the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a nuclear proliferator and the IRGC’s foreign section, the Quds Force, as a terrorist organization. All the leading Republicans and the frontrunning Democrat, Hillary Clinton, are all on record supporting even more provocative actions, such as designating the entire IRGC, Iran’s most powerful military branch, as a terrorist group.

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have soft-peddled the Bush administration decision, unprecedented in world diplomacy, to apply the “terrorist” designation to the armed forces of a major country.

The Post published an article Friday headlined, “Iran Sanctions Are Meant to Prevent War, Bush Aides Say,” which dutifully reported that Bush “intends to pursue a strategy of gradually escalating financial, diplomatic and political pressure on Tehran, aimed not at starting a new war in the Middle East, his advisers said, but at preventing one.”

The Post continued: “White House and other administration officials have expressed frustration over the talk of war, emphasizing that Bush remains convinced that his strategy of nonmilitary pressure can work.”

“This decision today supports the diplomacy and in no way, shape or form does it anticipate the use of force,” Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told the newspaper. “We are clearly on a diplomatic track, and this initiative reinforces that track.”

Neither the diplomat nor the newspaper addressed a key aspect of the sanctions program announced by Bush—that by targeting Iran’s most powerful and effective military force, the sanctions aim to degrade the country’s ability to defend itself against an impending US military strike.

The Post seemed to admit, however, in another passage in the article, that the US government, not Iran, was pushing the conflict to the brink of war. “Whether Bush will break from diplomacy and employ force is the great unknown,” the newspaper noted.

An accompanying editorial endorsed the new US sanctions as “A Boost for Diplomacy,” claiming that they were “the alternative to military action,” rather than a giant step towards war. The editorial conceded that there was little or no international support for an escalation of sanctions—support which is critical to enforcing them—but nonetheless pretended that the unilateral sanctions could be effective in “forcing Iran to end its defiance of the Security Council and begin serious negotiations to stop its bomb program.”

The Post went on to declare that the measures “are restrained when set against the Revolutionary Guard’s escalating campaign to kill Americans in Iraq by supplying sophisticated bombs, rockets and training to allied Shiite militias.” In other words, Bush would have been justified in taking even stronger action, like the use of military force.

The newspaper also attacked those who portray “the sanctions initiative as a buildup to war by Mr. Bush. We’ve seen no evidence that the president has decided on war...” Apparently, the Post is willing to overlook the threats of “World War III” from Bush and Cheney, the repeated cross-border provocations by US covert forces (reported in the international press and by New Yorker correspondent Seymour Hersh), and the recent declarations of readiness for action from US military commanders.

The New York Times published no editorial endorsing or opposing the new Iran sanctions, a significant decision in its own right. A news article Friday highlighted the administration claims of restraint, noting “assurances on Thursday that at least for now, the United States is not going to war with Iran.” The Times said that the action “reflected some caution by an administration that has also accused the Quds force of aiding Shiite militia attacks on American soldiers in Iraq, and has even detained some Quds force members there, but has resisted calls for retaliatory strikes inside Iran.”

The real meaning of the US government action can be seen in the reaction of the candidates who are seeking to succeed George W. Bush in the White House, and who fully expect Iran to be one of their principal foreign policy targets.

The most bloodthirsty comments came from one of the leading Republican candidates, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who for the first time advocated bombing if Iran did not agree to abandon its supposed drive to build nuclear weapons. “If for some reasons they continue down their course of folly toward nuclear ambition, then I would take military action if that’s available to us,” Romney said. “I really can’t lay out exactly how that would be done, but we have a number of options, from blockade to bombardment of some kind.”

Senator John McCain of Arizona cited predictions that Iran was “within two years of a tipping point” in terms of acquiring nuclear weapons technology. “They are inexorably on the road to attaining nuclear weapons,” he continued. At a recent debate, McCain remarked, after a round of bellicose statements by his fellow Republican candidates, that a US attack on Iran was “maybe closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.”

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the current leader in Republican opinion polls, called a military strike against Iran a “promise” rather than a threat, but said it would consist of air strikes using precision-guided bombs and missiles and thus should not be characterized as “war.”

A lengthy profile of Giuliani’s foreign policy advisers, published Thursday in the New York Times, drew attention to the prominent role of the same group of neo-conservative war hawks who played a leading role instigating the US invasion of Iraq, including such figures as Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes and Michael Rubin. The article quoted Giuliani as downplaying Podhoretz’s call for immediate US air strikes, and then asking rhetorically, “Can we get to that stage? Yes. And is that stage closer than some of the Democrats believe? I believe it is.”

Both the Post and the Times drew attention to the split among the Democratic presidential candidates, with frontrunner Hillary Clinton advocating a noticeably more hawkish stance in relation to Iran. Clinton was the only Democratic presidential candidate to vote September 22 for the nonbinding resolution urging the Bush administration to declare the entire IRGC a terrorist organization. The White House actions were a step short of this, declaring the Quds Force to be aiding terrorists, while naming the IRGC as a violator of nonproliferation agreements, for its supposed efforts to develop an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Rival Democrats like John Edwards, Christopher Dodd, Joseph Biden and Barack Obama all criticized Clinton for her vote on the Iran resolution, comparing it to the Senate resolution adopted in October 2002 to give Bush authority to take military action against Iraq, for which Clinton also voted.

The less chance the candidate has of wresting the nomination from Clinton, the more strident the criticism of her position on Iran—a clear indication that, whatever the rhetoric of individual candidates, the Democratic Party as an institution is lining up behind the coming war with Iran.

The badly trailing Dodd called the resolution “a dangerous step toward armed confrontation with Iran,” while Edwards, running a poor third, said, “I learned a clear lesson from the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2002: If you give this president an inch, he will take a mile—and launch a war. Instead of blocking George Bush’s new march to war, Senator Clinton and others are enabling him once again.”

Obama, who places second in most polls and has raised nearly as much money as Clinton, was far more cautious in his criticism—a posture made even more necessary because Obama himself supports the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

“It is important to have tough sanctions on Iran, particularly on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard which supports terrorism,” Obama said. “But these sanctions must not be linked to any attempt to keep our troops in Iraq, or to take military action against Iran.”

Senator Clinton herself continued to posture as an opponent of war with Iran while supporting all the actions the Bush administration is taking to prepare for that war. In a mailing sent out to households in Iowa, where the first presidential nominating contest will be held in less than 10 weeks, Clinton declared, “I am opposed to letting President Bush take any military action against that country without full Congressional approval.”

There is rather less to this than meets the eye, since Clinton did not say what her position would be if Bush actually sought congressional approval. She is merely demanding that Congress become a full partner in the future war of aggression, just as the Democrats participated in approving the drive to war in Iraq.

In a statement hailing the unilateral escalation of economic sanctions against Iran, Clinton described the action as an “opportunity to finally engage in robust diplomacy to achieve our objective of ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program, while also averting military action.”

Newsweek columnist Michael Hirsh, however, pointed to lifted spirits among the advocates of war with Iran, citing a meeting with “a happy hard-liner, a senior White House official, at a Washington party. His good mood, it turns out, had a lot to do with the new, uncompromising stance laid out by his boss, George W. Bush, against Iran.”

Hirsh noted that the administration has advanced so wide a range of charges against Iran that “it is difficult to see how there can be a negotiated solution. Even if Tehran decides to suspend enrichment, for example—as unlikely as that it is—Washington will still suspect it of proliferation of missiles and support to terrorist groups in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. No wonder my White House hard-liner was so ‘relieved,’ as he told me.”

In other words, the Bush administration, with the full support of Hillary Clinton and the congressional Democratic leadership, is concocting a case for war, just as it did in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, so that no matter what the Iranian leadership does it will be unable to stave off a military assault by American imperialism.

See Also:
US imposes unilateral sanctions on Iran: One step closer to war
[26 October 2007]

Friday, October 26, 2007

US dollar touches a new euro low

Euro coins on dollar note
The value of the dollar has been on a downward spiral

The US dollar tumbled to yet another new low against the euro, as
speculation mounted that US interest rates would be cut again next
The euro traded as high as $1.4375, breaking the record set last Friday, when one euro bought $1.4319.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

US government unable to account for $1.2 billion paid to Iraq contractor

By Bill Van Auken
24 October 2007

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In another manifestation of the gross corruption, incompetence and profiteering that characterize the colonial-style war against Iraq, the US State Department has issued a report acknowledging that it is unable to account for some $1.2 billion paid to its largest contractor in the occupied country.

The money was paid to DynCorp International for the training of Iraqi police. The company also received a $1.1 billion contract to train police in US-occupied Afghanistan. Assessments by government agencies and independent panels have found that these programs have been failures, with police forces in both countries remaining largely dysfunctional and tens of millions of dollars in money and equipment having gone missing.

In a second State Department report cited by the New York Times Tuesday, a department panel that reviewed security procedures in Iraq found, according to the paper, “poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability involving armed security companies like Blackwater USA.”

Among the recommendations in the report is that the department craft a uniform policy for dealing with the families of Iraqis killed or wounded by contractor gunmen.

Blackwater, whose contract mercenaries were involved in a September 16 incident that saw the unprovoked and indiscriminate shooting of Iraqi civilians, leaving at least 17 dead and scores wounded, is reportedly to be replaced as the company providing security for State Department officials in Iraq when its contract expires in May. Among the most likely candidates to succeed it is DynCorp.

According to the Washington Post’s account of the DynCorp report, the State Department agency that oversees the Iraq contract, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, has admitted that it had only one contracting officer overseeing this massive contract and now warns that it will take three to five years to sort out how the money was spent.

Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said that the documents relating to the contract were “in such a disarray that it prevented us from reaching any meaningful conclusions.”

The report issued by Bowen, whose office is investigating fraud and abuse in the $44.5 billion US reconstruction program in Iraq, declared that the State Department agency “does not know specifically what it received for most of the $1.2 billion expenditures under the DynCorp contract.”

The lack of any effective oversight by the State Department, the inspector general’s report said, created “an environment vulnerable to waste and fraud.”

In return for the $1.2 billion, DynCorp was supposed to recruit US police trainers, construct facilities and provide housing, security and food for Iraqi police recruits. There have already been indications, however, that a significant share of that money has simply gone up in smoke or, more accurately, straight to the contractor’s profit margin.

In one example uncovered by Bowen’s office, the State Department paid $43.8 million for building and then storing a residential camp for American police trainers that was never used. Shortly after issuing the contract for the camp in 2004, the State Department ordered it halted because of security concerns.

DynCorp initially claimed that the camp had already been constructed—with the inclusion of an Olympic-sized pool that had never been ordered—but a year later acknowledged that it wasn’t. It billed the government for 500 “VIP” trailers that investigators now suspect were never built. In 2005, a State Department official raised concerns about “potential fraud” in the project, and an investigation is supposedly continuing.

The department also acknowledged that it cannot account for some $36.4 million in weapons, ammunition and equipment, including armored vehicles and body armor that were paid for under the contract. Whether these weapons and equipment were ever purchased or whether they have gone missing is not clear. One investigation has been launched into charges that employees sold ammunition intended for the Iraqi police.

Similar findings were made in a joint report prepared last year by the Pentagon and the State Department on the DynCorp police training program in Afghanistan. It determined that most police units had less than half the equipment that had been authorized under the contract and that no effective field training program had been initiated.

Indicative of the pervasive negligence that characterized these contracts, the State Department initially told auditors that DynCorp’s questionable expenditures in Iraq included the purchase of a $1.8 million x-ray scanner that was never used and the spending of $387,000 on hotel rooms for company officials, who could have been housed in available facilities. Department officials then corrected themselves, saying that these dubious outlays had actually been made in Afghanistan.

DynCorp is perhaps best known in Afghanistan for a highly publicized incident in which one of the company’s contractor bodyguards slapped a government minister in the face when he tried to approach President Hamid Karzai during an election rally in 2004.

Responding to charges over the Afghanistan program, a DynCorp vice president, Richard Cashon, told the media, “We are not judged on the success or failure of the program as they established it. We are judged on our ability to provide qualified personnel.”

DynCorp is one of a number of politically connected contractors that, despite a long and troubled history, continue to be awarded billions of dollars in government money to carry out what are ostensibly critical programs that have been contracted out to profit-making companies.

DynCorp has some 14,000 employees operating in countries all over the world. In 2005, the company booked military contracts totaling $2.8 billion. In addition to its contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has also been hired to fly defoliation missions as part of the “war on drugs” in Colombia. In connection with that contract, it has faced a lawsuit filed on behalf of Ecuadorian peasants, who charge that the chemicals have drifted across the border, killing their crops and livestock and even poisoning their children.

In both Bosnia and Kosovo, DynCorp employees were implicated in sex-trafficking rings that were buying and selling women for prostitution, including underage minors. As in Iraq, the rules of engagement in the Balkans made the contractors immune to any legal prosecution, and they were sent home unpunished.

Between 1999 and 2002, DynCorp paid out $226,865 in political contributions, 72 percent of it to Republicans. The company’s then CEO, Van Honeycutt, recorded a total compensation of close to $12 million in 2002.

Since then, DynCorp has been bought out by a private Wall Street equity firm, Veritas Capital, with the profits generated by the slaughter in Iraq and paid for out of the federal budget going straight into the portfolios of wealthy investors.

The company’s new CEO is Herbert Lanese, who formerly headed the McDonnell Douglas aerospace unit. When 6,000 machinists struck against the company in 1996, Lanese was quoted in the press as saying of the strikers: “You have to look at them like I do, as your mortal enemy. I wish they were dead. I wish their children would starve to death. I wish they would lose their homes.”

Also recruited to the company this year, as executive vice president, was Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former head of the US Central Command.

See Also:
Iraqi probe finds Blackwater mercenaries fired without provocation in Baghdad massacre
[8 October 2007]

Madness as Method


Dick Cheney’s craziness used to influence foreign policy.

Now it is foreign policy.

He may have lost his buddy in belligerence, Rummy. He may have tapped out the military in Iraq. He may not be able to persuade Congress so easily anymore — except for Hillary — to issue warlike resolutions. He can’t cow Condi into supporting his bullying as he once did, and Bob Gates is doing his best to instill some common sense.

Besides, Cheney is running out of time to wreak global havoc; he’s working for a president who is spending his waning days on the job trying to prevent children from getting health insurance.

But the vice president may have hit on a devious tactic used by his old boss Richard Nixon.

President Nixon and Henry Kissinger liked to use madness as a method. In 1969, Nixon told Kissinger to caution the Soviet ambassador that Nixon was “out of control” on Indochina, and could do something drastic.

Three months earlier, as Anthony Summers wrote in “The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon,” “Kissinger had sent that very same message by proxy when he instructed Len Garment, about to leave on a trip to Moscow, to give the Soviets ‘the impression that Nixon is somewhat “crazy” — immensely intelligent, well organized and experienced to be sure, but at moments of stress or personal challenge unpredictable and capable of the bloodiest brutality.’ Garment carried out the mission, telling a senior Brezhnev adviser that Nixon was ‘a dramatically disjointed personality ... more than a little paranoid ... when necessary, a cold-hearted butcher.’ ” All of which, his aides later reflected, was kind of true.

Cheney seems to enjoy giving the impression that he is loony enough to pull off an attack on Iran before leaving office — even if he has to do it alone, like Slim Pickens riding the bomb down in “Dr. Strangelove” to the sentimental tune of “We’ll Meet Again.” He has even begun referring to his nickname, Darth Vader, noting that it “is one of the nicer things I’ve been called recently.”

Darth shook his fist against Iran again on Sunday, calling Tehran “the world’s most active state sponsor of terror” and vowing “serious consequences.”

Yet the administration’s policy in northern Iraq is another adventure in hypocrisy, according to a story yesterday by The Times’s Richard Oppel. The administration expresses solidarity with Turkey and tries to negotiate when Kurdish militants make raids against the Turks. But when Kurdish guerrillas stalk and kill Iranian forces, “the Americans offer Iran little sympathy.”

“Tehran even says Washington aids the Iranian guerrillas, a charge the United States denies,” Oppel writes.

The neocons who have their heart set on bombing Iran to stop I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket and the mullahs from getting nuclear capability were thrilled and emboldened by the placid reaction to the Israeli air strike on Syria.

The hawks are pounding the drums on Iran as they once did on Iraq, acting as if the hourglass is running out and we have to act immediately or, as the president apocalyptically suggested last week, we could be facing World War III.

Or World War IV, as Norman Podhoretz, a neocon who is a top Giuliani adviser, says. Podhoretz urges bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible” and likened Ahmadinejad to Hitler, as Poppy Bush did with Saddam.

Rudy is using his more martial attitude toward Iran as a weapon against Hillary, painting her as a delicate ditherer on the topic, and Obama is using his more diplomatic attitude toward Iran as a weapon against Hillary, painting her as a triangulator and a two-time administration patsy.

In his new book, the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton scornfully accuses Colin Powell, and later Condi Rice, of appeasing Iran, including some carrots to get them to cease their nuclear plans.

A top Bush 41 national security official told me shortly after Bush 43 got under way that the younger Bush team’s foreign policy was dangerous because it was so “black and white,” so dependent on “bogymen.”

President Bush has settled on his new bogyman, once more ignoring the obvious choice of Osama. Yesterday, he defended his plans to build a missile defense system in Europe by raising the specter of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Hit with sticks, the bogyman responded with sticks. He said that Iran will not negotiate with anyone about its right to nuclear technology.

As Pat Buchanan noted on “Hardball,” “Cheney and Bush are laying down markers for themselves which they’re going to have to meet. I don’t see how ... Bush and Cheney can avoid attacking Iran and retaining their credibility going out of office.”

In other words, once our cowboys have talked their crazy talk, they have to walk their crazy walk.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Midnight in America: the Mainstreaming of the GOP's Lunatic Fringe

Posted October 22, 2007 | 04:35 PM (EST)

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The most significant takeover of the past decade isn't to be found among the telecoms, the big oil companies, or in Silicon Valley. The reconfigured entity is headquartered in Washington, but we can see and hear the results everyday on your television, radio, and computer screen. And America is much the worse for it. I'm talking about the takeover of the Republican Party by its lunatic fringe.

Reagan's GOP has been replaced by the dark, moldering, putrefied party of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Limbaugh, Coulter, and Malkin. Morning in America has given way to Midnight in America.

Of course, there the Republican Party has always had it Jesse Helmses, Spiro Agnews, and Lee Atwaters. But they were the minority, far removed from the mainstream of the Party -- Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, the first George Bush.

But these days it has become impossible to tell where the mainstream stops and the fanatical fringe begins. Just look at what the so-called "mainstream" of the party is endorsing

We have a mainstream on the right that supports torture, that is backing an Attorney General nominee who is agnostic on torture, and that rallies behind a president who refuses to define what the word "torture" means.

A mainstream that supports -- even applauds -- the behavior of Blackwater thugs.

A mainstream that continues to back the White House's delusions about Iraq at the expense of our military, our treasure, our safety, and our standing in the world.

A mainstream that supports the gutting of our civil liberties.

So, it can no longer be denied: the right wing lunatics are running the Republican asylum.

These days, the only thing that separates the RNC and Rush Limbaugh is a prescription for OxyContin.

The latest evidence: the ugly smear campaign mounted against 12-year-old brain injury survivor Graeme Frost and his family. This new-low-in-messenger-killing wasn't just the doing of the toxic talk radio, rabble-rousing right; it was Senator Mitch McConnell's office pulling together the talking points. And then lying about its involvement when exposed.

And notice the dearth of Republicans willing to distance themselves from the Swiftboating of a 12-year-old boy - a boy who has worked diligently to make a remarkable recovery from his devastating injuries, supported by a loving, hardworking, intact family. Aren't those some of the basic core values the GOP used to stand for?

Despite the fanatical right's takeover of the Republican Party, the traditional media -- with its obsession with "balance" and its pathological devotion to the idea that truth is always found in the middle -- has failed to properly document the metamorphosis. So much easier to see everything that's happening in American politics through the lens of right versus left.

Making matters worse, today's Democrats continue to tread lightly when it comes to holding accountable the fanatics running the GOP. Time and time again, the Democratic leadership allows itself to get played, run over, or distracted. Republicans want to deflect discussion of the war by arguing over newspaper ads and radio comments? Okay, Reid and Pelosi are game. Republicans want to avoid talking about children without healthcare by crying about Pete Stark's tough assessment of the president? Sure, here comes a Pelosi reprimand.

Democrats are in the majority today because their positions are in line with mainstream America. But if the lunatic fringe group now known as the Republican Party is to be stopped in its efforts to radically remake this country, the Democrats are going to have to step up and defend the mainstream that elected them.

The Long, Dark Night


I was making small talk with Dan and Sharon Brodrick in a waiting area filled with anxious-looking patients on the first floor of St. Thomas Hospital. Mrs. Brodrick seemed tired, but she managed a smile. Her husband, a former truck driver who is now an ordained minister, was the talkative one.

“We found out five days after her 56th birthday,” he said. “How’s that for a happy birthday?”

While maintaining a pleasant facade for the outside world, the Brodricks, married 37 years and still deeply in love, are spinning toward the abyss.

“We’re in big trouble,” said Mr. Brodrick.

Mrs. Brodrick learned last May that she had cancer of the duodenum, and it had already spread to her liver and pancreas. Not only is the prognosis grim, but the medical expenses will soon leave the couple destitute. Mrs. Brodrick has no health insurance.

The emotional toll has been nearly as devastating as the physical. Mrs. Brodrick told her husband that she wasn’t ready to leave him. “I don’t want to die,” she said. When he told her they had to cling to their faith in God, she replied, “I know that God can take care of this. But how’s he going to do it?”

The American Cancer Society has been campaigning to raise awareness of the desperate plight of people trying to deal with cancer without health insurance. I offer Dan and Sharon Brodrick as Exhibit A.

The Brodricks never had much money, but they raised two boys and managed to buy a modest home in Gainesboro, a rural town about 90 miles east of here. Dan Brodrick severely damaged his back in an accident at work several years ago and is disabled. His wife has suffered from a variety of illnesses.

But by carefully managing their meager income, they have lived in reasonable comfort. “With a little bit of savings,” said Mr. Brodrick, “and with what I’ve been drawing in disability, we figured we’d be all right.”

But the absence of health insurance for Mrs. Brodrick left a gaping hole in their financial plan, and they knew it. She had been covered by her husband’s health insurance while he was driving a truck. But that coverage ended when he was forced to retire.

“We tried to buy insurance for her,” said Mr. Brodrick. “We applied to dozens of companies. But they wouldn’t touch her because she already had health problems.”

Without insurance, Mrs. Brodrick received treatment for her various ailments under a special program for uninsured patients at St. Thomas. But the cancer diagnosis was an entirely different story, a step for the Brodricks into a realm of dizzying, unrelieved horror.

First came the biopsy, accompanied by reassuring comments from doctors. Then came word that the tumor was indeed malignant. That was followed by surgery.

“They opened her up, and then they closed her right up again,” said Mr. Brodrick.

Not only had the cancer metastasized, it was moving very aggressively. Various estimates were given, each one shorter than the last, about how long Mrs. Brodrick might live.

While his wife was being prepped for chemo, Mr. Brodrick sat in the corner of another room and spoke about what it was like to have one’s life all but literally blown apart.

“It tears you down,” he said. “You’d like to fight this with your bare hands, but you can’t. We’ve been married 37 years Sept. 2, and when I think about it, it was the quickest 37 years I’ve ever seen go by in my life. It went by in a flash. And we have leaned on each other that whole time.”

The hospital is not billing the Brodricks for its costs. “But,” said Mr. Brodrick, “I’ve still got to pay the doctors’ bills and pay for the drugs. And the drugs are very expensive.”

He reeled off a long list of charges that are coming at him like machine-gun fire, bills that he cannot afford to pay.

“So we’re selling the house,” he said. He sat quiet for a moment, then added in a soft voice, “You shouldn’t have to go live in a tent somewhere just because you don’t have insurance.”

He said he wanted to tell his story publicly because he knew there were millions of others without health insurance, and that there are many families, like his own, facing the long, dark night of devastating illness.

“Something has to be done,” he said.

Mr. Brodrick was able to get his wife into a renowned cancer center in the Midwest to get another opinion on the course of treatment she was receiving.

“They said it was the perfect treatment for her and they wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “They said the success rate with that treatment was 5 percent or less.”

He looked at me. “We’ve got faith in God,” he said. “Without that you might as well throw yourself off a cliff, because there’s nothing else left.”

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bush Bastards Killing More Innocent People in their search for "Terraristz"

US raid on Baghdad’s Sadr City leaves many dead and wounded

By Bill Van Auken
22 October 2007

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A violent US assault on Baghdad’s Sadr City Sunday left many people dead—49 according to the military’s own count—and scores more wounded. The foray into the crowded and impoverished Shia neighborhood, home to an estimated 3 million people, was launched before dawn and quickly escalated as American forces called in air strikes that left houses, stores and cars destroyed and in flames.

US military spokesmen described the dead as “criminals.” Major Winfield Danielson told the media: “I can say that we don’t have any evidence of any civilians killed or wounded. Coalition forces only engage hostile threats and make every effort to protect innocent civilians.”

The evidence, however, was impossible to ignore. Television footage from the scene showed the bloodied bodies of two slain toddlers, one in diapers, at the local morgue. The Reuters news agency reported: “In a house where one of the children lived, a man pointed to bloodstained mattresses and blood-splattered pillows, choking back tears as he held up a photo of one of the dead.”

The local Imam Ali hospital was overwhelmed with casualties, including children, women and the elderly. The bodies of those slain were placed in coffins covered with the Iraqi flag. Angry crowds marched through the streets of Sadr City carrying the coffins.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh charged that all those killed in the raid were civilians and said that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had met with US commander General David Petraeus to protest the killings.

No American casualties were reported in the action.

According to spokesmen for the US occupation forces, the raid had been launched in a bid to capture a so-called high-value target. The military issued a statement saying that “The operation’s objective was an individual reported to be a long-time Special Groups member specializing in kidnapping operations.”

“Special Groups” is a category invented by the US military authorities, meant to describe those in the Shia areas who are perceived as an opposing the American occupation. The Pentagon has used this jargon to portray the resistance as the work of “rogue” elements directed, trained and armed by Iran.

An Iraqi police source, however, was quoted by the Al Jazeera news agency as saying that the raid was launched, apparently in retaliation, after a US vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.

The accounts that have emerged thus far suggest that the attempts by US troops to move into the neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours provoked unanticipated resistance, including small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The ground forces responded by calling in air strikes by US jet fighters and helicopter gunships.

It appears that many of those killed died in their sleep, either killed on their roofs where Baghdad residents frequently go to escape the heat, or from shells and missiles that smashed into their homes.

According to the Associated Press: “A local resident who goes by the name Abu Fatmah said his neighbor’s 14-year-old son, Saif Alwan, was killed while sleeping on the roof.

“‘Saif was killed by an air strike and what is his guilt? Is he from the Mahdi Army? He is a poor student,’ Abu Fatmah said.

“An uncle of 2-year-old Ali Hamid said the boy was killed and his parents seriously wounded when helicopter gunfire pierced the wall and windows of their house as they slept indoors.”

The carnage in Sadr City erupted in the context of intensified US attacks throughout Iraq. Just a day earlier, US troops raided neighborhoods in the southern city of Diwaniyah, supposedly in search of leaders of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. US attack helicopters were called in and fired on the area, destroying at least five homes. The US military reported detaining 30 people in the raid, while again claiming that the bombardment caused no civilian casualties.

On October 11, US air strikes against a home in Samarra killed 34 people, including nine children, one of the deadliest such attacks to be acknowledged by the US military since the 2003 invasion.

There is growing evidence that the use of air strikes against the Iraqi people has grown considerably since the military “surge” ordered by the Bush administration at the beginning of the year, even as it goes largely unreported by the US media.

The US Air Force posts daily accounts of its operations, listing between 50 and 70 “close-air-support missions” each day. According to a survey by the Associated Press, the number of bombs dropped by US war planes on Iraq increased fivefold during the first six months of 2007, compared to the same period a year earlier. The Air Force has for the first time this year deployed powerful B1-B bombers in Iraq, capable of carrying up to 24 tons of bombs.

This increasing use of air power inevitably entails a growing toll in terms of civilian dead and wounded, referred to by military officials a “collateral damage.” The study of excess Iraqi deaths published in the authoritative British medical journal Lancet a year ago estimated that 13 percent of all violent deaths in Iraq were caused by US air strikes. The report’s authors estimated that these strikes were responsible for fully 50 percent of the violent deaths of children under the age of 15.

The increasing use of such air power—and the indiscriminate bloodshed that it entails—is a measure of the growing crisis of the American occupation and the Pentagon’s fears about the demoralization and disintegration of US ground forces in Iraq. The deliberate aerial bombardment of crowded civilian neighborhoods—a war crime—is designed both to further terrorize the Iraqi population and cut the number of US casualties.

On Saturday, US troops also raided and ransacked the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) in Baghdad, leaving it in a shambles. The IIP, which is the largest Sunni party in Iraq, is led by Iraq’s Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.

Al-Hashemi has provoked the ire of both Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, and the US occupation authorities in recent weeks with his highly publicized visits to crowded detention camps, where predominantly Sunni prisoners have told him that they are innocent, have been arrested without charges and have been subjected to torture.

The United Nations humanitarian mission in Iraq recently released a report estimating that there were some 44,000 detainees in Iraqi or US custody as of last June—a total that had increased by at least 10 percent just over the previous two months as a result of increased US raids. No doubt this prison population has grown sharply since then.

The UN report cited “widespread and routine torture and ill-treatment of detainees.”

“In addition to routine beatings with hosepipes, cables and other implements,” the report states, “the methods cited included prolonged suspension from the limbs in contorted and painful positions for extended periods, sometimes resulting in dislocation of the joints, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body; the breaking of limbs; forcing detainees to sit on sharp objects, causing serious injury and heightening the risk of infection; and severe burns to parts of the body through the application of heated implements.”

Meanwhile, one of Washington’s principal Iraqi collaborators and an architect of the US-imposed regime declared in a television interview that the American intervention has brought only “chaos and instability.”

Feisal Amin Istrabadi, who resigned in August as Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, told NBC News Friday that “there is no Iraqi government,” only an “appearance of institutions.”

Istrabadi, a US-born lawyer who was a leading figure among the exile circles promoting a US invasion and later played the key role in drafting Iraq’s interim constitution, blamed the catastrophe confronting Iraq on Washington’s drive to hold early elections in which the population was pushed to support competing ethno-religious-based parties.

“What did we accomplish, exactly [with] this push towards an appearance of institutions ... merely an appearance?” he asked. “Except that an American politician can stand up and say, ‘Look what we accomplished in Iraq.’ When in fact, what we accomplished in Iraq over the last three years has been chaos and instability.”

See Also:
US air strikes kill 34 Iraqis
[15 October 2007]
US military massacre in Baghdad’s Sadr City
[2 July 2007]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cougars, Archers, Snipers


I’m a microtrend.

Hillary’s programmer says so. I’m mentioned in a section of Mark Penn’s new book, “Microtrends,” called “Impressionable Elites.”

It could have been worse. At least I wasn’t in the sections on Cougars, French Teetotalers, The Mildly Disordered, Aspiring Snipers or Unisexuals.

Unisex, a trend started by hip hair salons in the ’70s, has blossomed into a “third-sex category” that some say will be “the next wave of the civil rights movement,” Mr. Penn writes.

“Sure, only a few people take opposite-sex hormones, or dress up in their spouse’s clothes,” he says, “but since the 1970s there has been a substantial blurring of the line between ‘male’ and ‘female’ in terms of habits, tastes, and fashions. And the marketers are picking up on it.”

That would be corporate marketers and Hillary Marketers (more of a macrotrend). Her political hucksters and Power Pointers are trying to help the New York senator blur the line between “male” and “female” enough to become the first commanderess in chief.

In “Microtrends,” the chapters all read like reports that Mr. Penn wrote for clients. Whether or not they’re trends, they’re certainly micro — marketing studies gussied up as social science. As with Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” this book is less social philosophy than a fancy way to sell stuff. Why use red aluminum cans if you can sell more of the product in pink aluminum cans?

Why rely on a candidate’s charisma and beliefs if you can break down the country into microconstituencies — from Archery Moms to Surgery Lovers to Uptown Tattooed — and then devise policies to appeal to them?

In the “Impressionable Elites” section, Mr. Penn writes that he does not like it when New York Times writers “trend toward the personal.”

“Sure, likability and buddy potential are important in choosing a president,” he sniffs. “But are they more important than solving health care and creating jobs? Most Americans say no. Frankly, the only people who say yes are the very well-to-do. And the chattering classes, in the media.”

I understand that Mr. Penn is touchy on the likability issue. Whether he likes it or not, personality influences how Americans choose presidents. And on the trail, Hillary comes across more as a pile of diligently digested data than a joyful flesh-and-blood creature.

But Mr. Penn is the one who has conjured a story line designed to make her more likable: the middle-class girl from the middle of the country with Midwest values who wants to govern from the middle. McGovernick? Meshugana!

And, while he scoffs at the rightful place of the personal in the political, he’s the one carving up the political into the personal, dividing (and hopefully conquering) voters by ludicrously discrete traits: Caffeine Crazies. Late-Breaking Gays. Hard-of-Hearers. Bourgeois and Bankrupt. Ardent Amazons. Shy Millionaires. (These section titles read like a new lineup of Fox reality shows.)

At a press breakfast in Washington last week, Mr. Penn elaborated on his point, musing that perhaps newspapers festooned their straight policy reporting once they “realized that they might get more readership by focusing a little bit more on style and personality.”

The pollster is so used to dicing data into bite-sized pieces that the big picture may have eluded him: History shows that leaders’ personalities and policies are inextricably, and sometimes tragically, entwined. L.B.J.’s DNA led to Vietnam as Nixon’s led to Watergate as Reagan’s led to Iran-contra as Bill’s led to Monica as Hillary’s led to her health care fiasco as W.’s led to the Iraq imbroglio.

Bill Clinton elevated his neuroses into a management style, running a chaotic White House that took its tempo from his adolescent indulgences and from his volatile marriage. The West Wing weather was determined by the Clintons’ strange emotional and political co-dependence.

In her acid flashback of a new book, “For Love of Politics,” Sally Bedell Smith describes how First Lady Hillary routinely unmanned Bill and his aides, and engaged in sharp spurts of temper that sparked his temper.

“Hillary’s anger was bound up in the intricacies of her marital bargain, which engendered rivalry and resentment along with mutual dependence,” Ms. Smith writes. Political power was her reward for his marital infidelity.

When Bill explains why Hillary should be president, his subtext is clear: We owe it to her for all she put up with from me.

At the breakfast, a reporter asked Mr. Penn if the campaign has polled to figure out how to proceed if Bill’s personal foibles once more take Hillaryland hostage.

The pollster who believes that data trumps DNA brushed off the question, complimenting the former president as “a tremendous asset.”

But if you think that Hillary doesn’t have connubial contingency plans in place, you’re disregarding his DNA — and hers.

Suicide Is Not Painless

IT was one of those stories lost in the newspaper’s inside pages. Last week a man you’ve never heard of — Charles D. Riechers, 47, the second-highest-ranking procurement officer in the United States Air Force — killed himself by running his car’s engine in his suburban Virginia garage.

Mr. Riechers’s suicide occurred just two weeks after his appearance in a front-page exposé in The Washington Post. The Post reported that the Air Force had asked a defense contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, to give him a job with no known duties while he waited for official clearance for his new Pentagon assignment. Mr. Riechers, a decorated Air Force officer earlier in his career, told The Post: “I really didn’t do anything for C.R.I. I got a paycheck from them.” The question, of course, was whether the contractor might expect favors in return once he arrived at the Pentagon last January.

Set against the epic corruption that has defined the war in Iraq, Mr. Riechers’s tragic tale is but a passing anecdote, his infraction at most a misdemeanor. The $26,788 he received for two months in a non-job doesn’t rise even to a rounding error in the Iraq-Afghanistan money pit. So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for waste and fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. That doesn’t include the unaccounted-for piles of cash, some $9 billion in Iraqi funds, that vanished during L. Paul Bremer’s short but disastrous reign in the Green Zone. Yet Mr. Riechers, not the first suicide connected to the war’s corruption scandals, is a window into the culture of the whole debacle.

Through his story you can see how America has routinely betrayed the very values of democratic governance that it hoped to export to Iraq. Look deeper and you can see how the wholesale corruption of government contracting sabotaged the crucial mission that might have enabled us to secure the country: the rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure, from electricity to hospitals. You can also see just why the heretofore press-shy Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater USA, staged a rapid-fire media blitz a week ago, sitting down with Charlie Rose, Lara Logan, Lisa Myers and Wolf Blitzer.

Mr. Prince wasn’t trying to save his employees from legal culpability in the deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis mowed down on Sept. 16 in Baghdad. He knows that the legal loopholes granted contractors by Mr. Bremer back in 2004 amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card. He knows that Americans will forget about another 17 Iraqi casualties as soon as Blackwater gets some wrist-slapping punishment.

Instead, Mr. Prince is moving on, salivating over the next payday. As he told The Wall Street Journal last week, Blackwater no longer cares much about its security business; it is expanding into a “full spectrum” defense contractor offering a “one-stop shop” for everything from remotely piloted blimps to armored trucks. The point of his P.R. offensive was to smooth his quest for more billions of Pentagon loot.

Which brings us back to Mr. Riechers. As it happens, he was only about three degrees of separation from Blackwater. His Pentagon job, managing a $30 billion Air Force procurement budget, had been previously held by an officer named Darleen Druyun, who in 2004 was sentenced to nine months in prison for securing jobs for herself, her daughter and her son-in-law at Boeing while favoring the company with billions of dollars of contracts. Ms. Druyun’s Pentagon post remained vacant until Mr. Riechers was appointed. He was brought in to clean up the corruption.

Yet the full story of the corruption during Ms. Druyun’s tenure is even now still unknown. The Bush-appointed Pentagon inspector general delivered a report to Congress full of holes in 2005. Specifically, black holes: dozens of the report’s passages were redacted, as were the names of many White House officials in the report’s e-mail evidence on the Boeing machinations.

The inspector general also assured Congress that neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz knew anything about the crimes. Senators on the Armed Services Committee were incredulous. John Warner, the Virginia Republican, could not believe that the Pentagon’s top two officials had no information about “the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history.”

But the inspector general who vouched for their ignorance, Joseph Schmitz, was already heading for the exit when he delivered his redacted report. His new job would be as the chief operating officer of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company.

Much has been made of Erik Prince and his family’s six-digit contributions to Republican candidates and lifelong connections to religious-right power brokers like James Dobson and Gary Bauer. Mr. Prince maintains that these contacts had nothing to do with Blackwater’s growth from tiny start-up to billion-dollar federal contractor in the Bush years. But far more revealing, though far less noticed, is the pedigree of the Washington players on his payroll.

Blackwater’s lobbyist and sometime spokesman, for instance, is Paul Behrends, who first represented the company as a partner in the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group. That firm, founded by a former Tom DeLay chief of staff, proved ground zero in the Jack Abramoff scandals. Alexander may be no more, but since then, in addition to Blackwater, Mr. Behrends’s clients have includeda company called the First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Company, the builder of the new American embassy in Iraq.

That Vatican-sized complex is the largest American embassy in the world. Now running some $144 million over its $592 million budget and months behind schedule, the project is notorious for its deficient, unsafe construction, some of which has come under criminal investigation. First Kuwaiti has also been accused of engaging in human trafficking to supply the labor force. But the current Bush-appointed State Department inspector general — guess what — has found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Both that inspector general, Howard Krongard, and First Kuwaiti are now in the cross hairs of Henry Waxman’s House oversight committee. Some of Mr. Krongard’s deputies have accused him of repeatedly halting or impeding investigations in a variety of fraud cases.

Representative Waxman is also trying to overcome State Department stonewalling to investigate corruption in the Iraqi government. In perverse mimicry of his American patrons, Nuri al-Maliki’s office has repeatedly tried to limit the scope of inquiries conducted by Iraq’s own Commission on Public Integrity. The judge in charge of that commission, Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, has now sought asylum in America. Thirty-one of his staff members and a dozen of their relatives have been assassinated, sometimes after being tortured.

The Waxman investigations notwithstanding, the culture of corruption, Iraq war division, remains firmly entrenched. Though some American bribe-takers have been caught — including Gloria Davis, an Army major who committed suicide in Kuwait after admitting her crimes last year — we are asked to believe they are isolated incidents. The higher reaches of the chain of command have been spared, much as they were at Abu Ghraib.

Even a turnover in administrations doesn’t guarantee reform. J. Cofer Black, the longtime C.I.A. hand who is now Blackwater’s vice chairman, has signed on as a Mitt Romney adviser. Hillary Clinton’s Karl Rove, Mark Penn, doubles as the chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, the P.R. giant whose subsidiary helped prepare Mr. Prince for his Congressional testimony. Mr. Penn said the Blackwater association was “temporary.”

War profiteering happens even in “good” wars. Arthur Miller made his name in 1947 with “All My Sons,” which ends with the suicide of a corrupt World War II contractor whose defective airplane parts cost 21 pilots their lives. But in the case of Iraq, this corruption has been at the center of the entire mission, from war-waging to nation-building. As the investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele observed in the October Vanity Fair, America has to date “spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan — an industrialized country three times Iraq’s size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs.” (And still Iraq lacks reliable electric power.)

The cost cannot be measured only in lost opportunities, lives and money. There will be a long hangover of shame. Its essence was summed up by Col. Ted Westhusing, an Army scholar of military ethics who was an innocent witness to corruption, not a participant, when he died at age 44 of a gunshot wound to the head while working for Gen. David Petraeus training Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in 2005. He was at the time the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

Colonel Westhusing’s death was ruled a suicide, though some believe he was murdered by contractors fearing a whistle-blower, according to T. Christian Miller, the Los Angeles Times reporter who documents the case in his book “Blood Money.” Either way, the angry four-page letter the officer left behind for General Petraeus and his other commander, Gen. Joseph Fil, is as much an epitaph for America’s engagement in Iraq as a suicide note.

“I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars,” Colonel Westhusing wrote, abbreviating the word mission. “I am sullied.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Putin in Tehran: US-Russia rift widens

By Peter Symonds
18 October 2007

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The visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Tehran this week has underscored the deepening gulf between Moscow and Washington on a range of issues, in particular the Bush administration’s threat of war against Iran over its nuclear programs.

Putin ignored pressure from the US to call off the trip—the first by a Russian or Soviet leader since Stalin’s wartime conference with Churchill and Roosevelt in Tehran in 1943. The decision amounted to a diplomatic slap in the face to the Bush administration, which has been pressing for the UN Security Council to adopt a third resolution imposing tougher sanctions aimed at further isolating Iran.

Nominally Putin was in Tehran to attend a meeting of the five Caspian Sea states—Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. The Russian president used the platform, however, to oppose military aggression against Iran. “Not only should we reject the use of force, but also the mention of force as a possibility. This is very important. We must not submit to other states in the case of aggression or some other kind of military action directed against one of the Caspian countries,” he said.

Putin’s rejection of “the mention of force as a possibility” is a reference to US President Bush’s repeated warnings that “all options are on the table” in relation to Iran—that is, including military force. Given his government’s brutal war in Chechnya, Putin’s attempts to posture as a man of peace are no more credible than Bush’s denials that he is threatening Iran. Behind all their verbal sparring are the conflicting economic and strategic interests of American and Russian capitalism in Central Asia and the Middle East.

At Putin’s instigation, the Tehran meeting adopted a declaration pledging that member states would not allow “any country to use their soil for a military attack against any of the [Caspian Sea] littoral states.” The obvious aim is to block the US, which has not only threatened Iran but has established military relations with a number of Central Asian countries, particularly Azerbaijan. Under the umbrella of NATO, the US has helped to arm and train the Azeri military, upgrade a former Soviet airbase and build an Azeri naval presence on the Caspian Sea. CIA Director General Michael Hayden flew into Baku for an unannounced visit on September 28, fuelling speculation that Azerbaijan was being pressured to assist in US war plans against Iran—a role previously rejected by the Azeri government.

Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Central Asia has become an arena of intense major power rivalry, with smaller newly independent countries like Azerbaijan engaged in a delicate balancing act. The Caspian Sea alone is estimated to have oil reserves of up to 49 billion barrels—about half that of the major oil producer Kuwait—and 230 trillion cubic feet of gas. Putin sought to use the Tehran meeting to stymie US plans to build a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, which would bypass the existing Russian pipeline network and undermine Russia’s clout in Central Asia.

Putin also pointedly backed Iran’s nuclear program, declaring: “Russia is the only country that is helping Iran to realise its nuclear program in a peaceful way.” The meeting of Caspian states reaffirmed that all signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which includes Iran, “have the right to generate and utilise nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Iran has rejected US allegations that it is planning to build nuclear weapons and insisted on its right under the NPT to build a uranium enrichment plant.

Putin stopped short of announcing a date for the completion of Iran’s nuclear power reactor, which is being built by Russian companies. Moscow has previously used a dispute over payment to drag out the project and pressure Iran to comply with UN resolutions. While not relinquishing this lever, Putin exploited his trip to Tehran to the hilt to send a message to Washington that Moscow was not about to allow the US to trample on vital Russian interests in the region. He very publicly met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is increasingly being demonised in the US media, and invited him to make a return visit to Moscow.

Great Power rivalry

The growing gulf between Washington and Moscow has been on open display over the past week in Putin’s meetings with top US officials and European leaders. French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Moscow last week in an effort to convince Putin to support a new round of UN sanctions against Iran and to end Russian opposition to US and European-backed proposals for establishing Kosovo as an independent state. Moscow has consistently opposed growing Western influence in the Balkans and supported traditional ally Serbia in insisting that Kosovo remain a Serbian province.

Sarkozy’s efforts failed on both issues. In what amounted to public dressing down, Putin declared at their joint press conference on October 10: “We have no objective evidence to claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, which makes us believe that the country has no such plans.” The Russian president was simply stating the obvious: that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have consistently found no evidence of an Iranian weapons program.

But in making the comment, Putin punctured the unsubstantiated character of the Bush administration’s claims that have been used to justify UN sanctions against Iran. Whether or not Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons remains unclear. But the White House is exploiting the issue as the pretext for escalating its confrontation with Tehran in the same way as non-existent weapons of mass destruction were used to justify the criminal US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Putin’s remark left Sarkozy stammering incoherently in an effort to obscure the obvious differences. Sarkozy and his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, have both insisted that Iran’s weapons program is well advanced and have joined Washington in threatening Tehran with military action. Sarkozy obviously felt on the defensive in Moscow, telling a Russian audience at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University: “I am a friend of the United States. A friend does not mean a vassal.”

Responding to Putin’s comments, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shot back on October 11, saying: “There is an Iranian history of obfuscation and, indeed, lying to the IAEA... and there is Iran pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material.” Rice deliberately blurred the distinction between “technologies that can lead to nuclear weapons” with actual weapons programs. It is true that Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz could be switched from producing fuel for power reactors to making fissile material for a bomb. Uranium enrichment, however, is permitted under the NPT and carried out by a number of countries that do not have nuclear weapons.

Rice made the comments while flying to Moscow with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates for discussion over another highly contentious issue—US plans to build an anti-missile bases in Eastern Europe. Russia is bitterly opposed to proposals to station 10 US interceptor missiles in Poland and a targeting radar in the Czech Republic by 2010. Moscow has rejected claims that the anti-missile system is needed to counter missiles from “rogue states” such as Iran, insisting instead that the US is aiming to undermine Russia’s military capacity.

Talks at Putin’s dacha last Friday were described in one account as “rancorous”. After keeping Rice and Gates waiting for 45 minutes, Putin prefaced the meeting by declaring: “We hope that in the process of such complex and multifaceted talks, you will not be forcing forward your relations with the East European countries.” The US officials made cosmetic proposals to involve Russia in the project, but rejected outright Moscow’s calls for the anti-missile system to be put on hold.

In response to the American anti-missile plans, Russia has resumed global flights by its strategic TU-95 “Bear” bombers, which were ended in 1992. Putin has also announced that as of December 12 Russia will suspend its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty—a Cold War agreement that placed limitations on the numbers of troops, tanks, warplanes and other military hardware that could be stationed on European soil.

Having clashed with Sarkozy, then Rice and Gates, Putin flew to Germany last weekend for discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Wiesbaden. At a joint press conference on Monday, the two leaders were clearly at loggerheads. Putin bluntly criticised international efforts to “intimidate” Iran, warning Tehran would not respond to such pressure. “They cannot be frightened, believe me,” he declared. Merkel responded by declaring that a new round of sanctions would be necessary if Iran did not halt its nuclear activities.

The political affairs of the last week bear an eerie resemblance to the Great Power rivalry at the turn of the twentieth century that preceded World War I. Conflicts over economic resources, strategic spheres of influence and colonial empires became more bitter and intractable. Clashes over competing interests in key areas of the globe led to complex diplomatic manoeuvring and shifting alliances. Eventually two military blocs were consolidated that came to blows over the Balkans and fought a savage war in which millions died.

It is of course possible that tensions between Russia and the US can be ameliorated. As he has proved in the past, Putin is more than capable of cutting a deal with the Bush administration that would, for instance, sacrifice Iran in return for a freeze on US anti-missile plans in Eastern Europe. But with the White House showing no signs of a compromise on either issue and growing evidence of US military preparations against Iran, dangers of a wider conflagration are growing. The resource-rich regions of Middle East and Central Asia, in which all the major powers are seeking to stake their claim, is emerging as the Balkans of the twenty-first century.

In his typically incoherent fashion, President Bush yesterday blurted out the preoccupations being discussed privately in the upper echelons of government around the globe. Hours after Putin called for renewed diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, the American president dismissed suggestions of a US-Russian rift, and restated allegations that Iran intended to “destroy” Israel. He then added that Iran’s nuclear programs had to be stopped “if you are interested in avoiding World War III”.

Of course, if there were no rift between the US and Russia, or other countries such as China, why is Bush even raising the issue of world war which, by definition, would involve the major powers? In fact, the deepening crisis of world capitalism is producing an intensifying global competition for raw materials, markets and cheap labour and fuelling the drive toward another world war. In this context, US imperialism is playing the most destabilising role, seeking to offset its long-term economic decline through the aggressive use of its residual military might in Afghanistan, Iraq and potentially Iran.