Friday, May 23, 2008

Creating New Markets

That's what American foreign policy is all about, right?
Iraq is becoming one of the largest customers for U.S. arms, as the country turns from Soviet-bloc weapons to pricier but more sophisticated American weapons.

Iraq's government has committed nearly $3 billion for U.S. weapons and equipment over the past year. "This is a substantial amount of money that they put on the table," said Joseph Benkert, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for global security affairs.

The increase in Iraqi arms and equipment purchases has helped makers of such U.S. military staples as the Humvee, the Pentagon's workhorse vehicle, and the M-4 and M-16 rifles, military contract records show.

That puts Iraq among the top current purchasers of U.S. military equipment through the foreign military sales program, records show. Benkert said the deals are helping to cement the future relationship of Iraq to the United States.


Winter Soldiers

The stories keep coming back:

As the House debate continued last week over funding the Iraq war, leading anti-war Democrats convened nearby to hear from a group of veterans who say they witnessed and participated in widespread misconduct during their time in Iraq.

The stories came from a dozen or so former Marines and soldiers who left Iraq at least two years ago. They include accounts of unwarranted killings of Iraqi civilians and mistreatment of detainees that were met with indifference or encouragement by commanding officers.

Two of the men said the weight of such experiences led them to suicide attempts.

They have dubbed themselves "Winter Soldiers," the same name used by Vietnam veterans who reported similar alleged abuses during that war.


UMW for Obama

I guess the fact that he pointed out that workers are "bitter" didn't hurt him so much after all:
The United Mine Workers of America endorsed Barack Obama for president Wednesday despite his recent defeats in primaries in coal-producing states where many of the union's members vote.
"Senator Obama shares the values of UMWA members and our families. He understands and will fight for the needs our members have today and the hopes our members have for a secure future for themselves and their families," union president Cecil E. Roberts said.


Sugarcandy Mountain

Bush still lives there:
President Bush spoke about victory in Iraq today in front of a group of 17,000 airmen at Fort Bragg, many just returning from 15-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The vision for success in Iraq that I just outlined will not come easily. There will be tough fighting ahead. But the progress is undeniable. Because of your bravery and your courage, the terrorists and extremists are on the run, and we are on our way to victory," Bush said Thursday.


Money Pit

This level of mismanagement is simply appalling (though unfortunately not surprising):

The inspector general for the Defense Department said yesterday that the Pentagon cannot account for almost $15 billion worth of goods and services ranging from trucks, bottled water and mattresses to rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns that were bought from contractors in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

The Pentagon did not have the proper documentation, including receipts, vouchers, signatures, invoices or other paperwork, for $7.8 billion that American and Iraqi contractors were paid for phones, folders, paint, blankets, Nissan trucks, laundry services and other items, according to a 69-page audit released to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

An earlier audit by the inspector general found deficiencies in accounting for $5.2 billion of U.S. payments to buy weapons, trucks, generators and other equipment for Iraq's security forces. In addition, the Defense Department spent $1.8 billion of seized Iraqi assets with "absolutely no accountability," according to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the oversight committee. The Pentagon also kept poor records on $135 million that it paid to its partners in the multinational military force in Iraq, auditors said.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Beginning of the End?

Is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" finally staggering toward its ultimate fall?
The military cannot automatically discharge people because they're gay, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in the case of a decorated flight nurse who sued the Air Force over her dismissal.

The three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not strike down the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But they reinstated Maj. Margaret Witt's lawsuit, saying the Air Force must prove that her dismissal furthered the military's goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion.

The "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass" policy prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but requires discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or engaging in homosexual activity.

Wednesday's ruling led opponents of the policy to declare its days numbered.


Making Bombs Safer

Once again, the US military shows its wisdom and insight:
The United States on Wednesday opposed a worldwide ban on cluster bombs, calling instead for "technological fixes" that would make them safer.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The "rebuilding" of the levee is being done in an outdated and ineffective manner:
Despite more than $22 million in repairs, a levee that broke with catastrophic effect during Hurricane Katrina is leaking again because of the mushy ground on which New Orleans was built, raising serious questions about the reliability of the city's flood defenses.

Outside engineering experts who have studied the project told The Associated Press that the type of seepage spotted at the 17th Street Canal in the Lakeview neighborhood afflicts other New Orleans levees, too, and could cause some of them to collapse during a storm.

The Army Corps of Engineers has spent about $4 billion so far of the $14 billion set aside by Congress to repair and upgrade the metropolitan area's hundreds of miles of levees by 2011. Some outside experts said the leak could mean that billions more will be needed and that some of the work already completed may need to be redone.

"It is all based on a 30-year-old defunct model of thinking, and it means that when they wake up to this one — really — our cost is going to increase significantly," said Bob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California at Berkeley.


Happy Ending

Asylum granted:
Britain has announced that it is granting asylum to a gay Iranian teenager who fears that he could face execution if forced to return to his homeland.


He "Really Cares"


The Bush administration will request no more funding for United Nations peacekeeping efforts, leaving in place proposed cuts expected to be as deep as 25 percent, according to officials and budget documents. Among the programs facing sharpest cuts are efforts to quell violence in Africa.

When ABC News first reported the proposed cuts in February, the administration contended that it might seek additional funding later in the year. But officials confirmed last week that they requested no additional funding in their supplemental budget recently submitted to Congress.

"Unless you are expecting the emergence of peace worldwide," the cuts are hard to understand, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., told a State Department official at a hearing last month on the topic. Lowey chairs the House appropriations panel which oversees peacekeeping funds.

"We can agree that U.N. peacekeeping operations should be closed down as soon as it makes sense to do so, but do you really expect the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Liberia and Lebanon to be so dramatically better nine months from now as to justify budget reductions for these missions of 25 to 30 percent? I find this hard to believe," she said.

"It's a very tight budget year," conceded Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, acknowledging that neither she nor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thought the funding request made for "an ideal situation."

The administration released its proposed peacekeeping cuts days before President Bush was scheduled to make what one paper termed his "victory lap" through the African continent. White House officials talked up the trip and Bush's commitment to the continent, telling reporters how the president "really cares about Africa."


Insisting on the Stupid

That's what Bush's DHS is all about:
As the Department of Homeland Security pushes to complete 670 miles of fencing along the Mexican border by the end of this year, it is confronting the sharpest resistance yet while conceding that physical barriers alone do not stop illegal crossings.

In the latest challenge, the Texas Border Coalition, an organization of mayors, county commissioners and economists opposed to the fence, filed a federal lawsuit on Friday. It says that the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, failed to conduct required negotiations with property owners and local authorities when he ordered that the barrier be built in Texas. The group wants the construction halted.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

I'll Be Back

And that, soon. Between a trip to California for my brother-in-law's law school graduation and the pile of grading I have to get done by the middle of this week, I've been swamped.

And as Count Tyrone would say, "If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything."