Janet's Conner

This Blog tell the Truth and will never not tell the Truth. Impeach Bush

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Politics: THE RIGHT TO VOTE IS STILL UNDER ATTACK AND STILL NEEDS TO BE DEFENDED



House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CALIF), joined Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI) and Sheila Johnson Lee (D-TX) and voting rights experts at a voter protection roundtable this week. The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. There is unmistakable evidence that voter suppression of minority voters persists. In fact, in the 2004 elections, voters in predominantly minority districts reported higher rates of inactive voter registrations, a greater percentage of inadequately staffed and equipped polling places, and sometimes even lacked an adequate number of ballots.

Today, there continues to be aggressive attempts of voter suppression---whether through crippling registration requirements, felony penalties targeting voter registration groups, or photo identification laws that amount to modern-day poll taxes. House Democrats will continue to be vigilant in their defense of voter protections and voter rights. We must ensure that every American voter can vote. We must end the continuing attempts to suppress and intimidate minority voters. In America, the right to vote must never be compromised.

Democratic House Leader
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
September 8, 2006

PRIVATIZED WARFARE: THE SUMMER OF DISCONTENT

For private contractors fighting wars and racking up huge profits without being plagued by pesky accountability, this hasn't been the happiest summer.

In These Times
By: Bill Scher
September 7, 2006

Sure, some solace can be had in the decision of a federal judge in August to overturn a guilty verdict against Custer Battles, the company providing "risk management and security consulting services" in Iraq. The judge concluded that the company couldn't have defrauded the U.S. government with false invoices. While the company had been convicted of defrauding the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ran Iraq from 2003 to 2004, the judge said that despite being funded with taxpayer dollars, the CPA wasn't technically part of the U.S. government.

But then again, in August, a federal jury in Raleigh, N.C., set a legal precedent by convicting CIA contractor David Passaro for his role in the death of a detainee under interrogation in Afghanastan, marking the first time an American civilian had been held criminally accountable for abuse in Afghanastan and Iraq. A couple of weeks later, Blackwater USA-the "professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm"---lost its attempt to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit bought by the families of 4 employees brutally killed in Fallujah. In late July, the construction firm Bethel couldn't escape being audited, and lost a $50M contract for mismanaging the long-delayed building of a Basra children's hospital.

And at the end of August, a new report form the Institute For Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy exposed the obscene profits CEOs are making from the "war on terror." The Executive Excess report found that since 9/11, the 34 chief executives at the top publicly traded defense contractor corporations have more than doubled their salaries, taking in $984M and making 44 times that of a general. The average defense contractor CEO makes 308 times that of a private.

September doesn't look so hot for Iraq War profiteer supporters either. A new documentary from Robert Greenwald, Iraq for Sale (available on DVD), shines a fresh, and harsh, spotlight on major contracting corporations. The film tells the story of our privatized military through the voices of former employees, family members of murdered contractors, and actual soldiers who have seen how contractors in Iraq operate.

The film offers up interviews with survivors and the kin of victims from the "Good Friday Massacre," when truck drivers from Halliburton subsidiary KBR were recklessly sent out on a job through hostile territory in military-marked vehicles. Insurgents attacked the convoy, six KBR truckers died, and one other driver remains unaccounted for.

Says one widow, "These men went to do the right thing [and] they were totally taken advantage of...[Halliburton] knew, they knew, that there was more than a good chance that they would be killed." A surviving trucker coolly opined, "It's about contracts...fulfilling the contracts and replacing us if we died. [Halliburton] wanted to continue doing business with the Army, whatever the risks were."

A former military interrogator at Abu Ghraib who worked next to corporate interrogators from CACI International describes his experience this way: "We were uncertain---we knew what our chain of command was---but what's the CACI chain of command?" As Salon dot com's Mark Benjamin says, the Pentagon was "desperate" for intelligence, "panicked," and hired "a bunch of contractors who didn't know what they were doing." (CACI's sorry role in the Abu Ghraib scandal didn't stop its CEO from attacking the authors of the Executive Excess report last year for criticizing defense contractors who earn far more than generals, arguing that "Companies are accountable for profitable performance and sustained customer satisfaction. Generals are not.")

A former employee of Titan, one of the largest providers on linguists in Iraq, explains that "hostility against American soldiers" is sometimes the result of shoddy, or intentinally self-serving, translations by company staff. "There were people who maybe spoke the [English] language, but it was broken, that could not read or write it...and they were hired...Nobody was given a test." And, the employee says, after unskilled people were hired, they weren't appropriately trained or supervised."

Soldiers in Iraq also describe their direct experiences with KBR. One speaks of training KBR staff to fix radios just so they could take over his own job and leave him to "sit up on guard duty to wait around." Another criticizes KBR for systematically allowing long chow lines, where troops are sitting ducks for insurgents, instead of providing food around the clock: "They get paid by how many soldiers they feed, not by how many soldiers they save." A former water purification specialist for KBR, lambastes the company for selling troops "extremely contaminated" water. Through tears, he warns, "a lot of soldiers over there...might come home without a bullet wound, but...with pathogens in their blood because of Halliburton. "Despite the scandalous service, the Executive Excess report found that Halliburton's CEO pocketed $26.6M in 2005.

Much of Iraq For Sale is essentially anecdotal evidence about the perils of privatization. But anecdotes are all we have; our government isn't keeping hard date. The Government Accountability Office has reported that "none of the principal agencies responsible for [Iraq's] reconstruction had complete data on costs associated with using private security providers" and that "inadequate performance date and measures make it difficult to determine the overall progress and impact of U.S. reconstruction efforts."

There is one large hunk of evidence, however: Iraq itself. Have private security firms helped bring security to Iraq? Have private engineering firms helped bring clean water and relaible electricity to Iraq? Has privatization helped the Iraqi oil industry pay for reconstruction costs instead of U.S. taxpeyers? Clearly, no.

The Iraq occupation is simply that latest failure of Bush Era privatization. The starkest example is FEMA. In April 2001, the White House announced its goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work soon after Bush's inauguration. Ine June 2004, the agency privatized its hurricane disaster plan for New Orleans, contracting the work to Innovation Emergency Management, a Baton Rouge, La.-based firm. We all know how that turned out.

The painfully protracted rebuilding of the Gulf Coast is due to privatization as well. An August report from CorpWatch found that several of the "disaster profiteers" botching the job in Iraq, including Bechtel and Halliburton, are doing the same at home. On ABC's August 27 "This Week," Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), estimated that "30 to 40 perecent" of the money going to contractors "never reached anybody, because it went to the contractors for profits."

In the same vein, Republicans have also taken baby steps to privatize Medicare. The new prescription drug plan subsidizes private companies with billions of taxpayer dollars to provide the insurance. Yet according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, that money could have been more efficiently used to offer seniors more complete coverage.

To be fair, the Iraq mess is not primarily the fault of privtization. Imposing "regime change" and permanent military bases at gunpoint in order to aggressively exert dominance over a faraway region was our government's bright idea. But the testimony in Iraq For Sale shows that partially privatizing the endeavor hardly helped the White House achieve its military goals.

One might argue that the lone positive development of the privatization debacle is that it has put the brakes on the neoconservative agenda. Iraq has been so difficult to stabilize, at appears to have delayed plans to push on into Iran. But even that positive comes with a big negative: the sullying of democracy.

Even if you believe (as I do) that the Bush Administration is wholly insecure about promoting democracy, that's how the war is being sold abroad. And the privatized occupation of Iraq has been the absolute worst way to sell it. As one former contractor sums it up at the end of the film, "How you're going to win the hearts and minds of these people, if they see you as cheating your own people if all of this stuff is just for the money?"

With "democracy" now associated with corruption, torture and violence, any future liberal American president attempting to implement a truly pro-democracy foreign policy may have the extra burden trying to convince an increasingly skeptical, beaten-down Arab-Muslim popilation that the real democracy can bring freedom, prosperity and stability.

And yet, despite the relatively poor summer for war profiteers, don't expect things to change very much.

Bethel may have lost a $50M contract, but it still has nearly $3B of contracts for work in Iraq to keep itself busy. Few litigators are following the legal precedent set to prosecute contractors---as CNN reported in June, not one private military contractor in Iraq has been charged with a crime, not even one of the CACI interrogators at Abu Ghraib. According to the Washington Post, those found to be "shooting without cause" in Iraq are generally just "relieved of their duties," instead of prosecuted.

The little victories against privatizing warfare are valuable. But until the Americn public calls for a change in philosophy---on privatization and on warfare---by replacing our leadership at the top, the corporatized Iraq occupation will continue to waste money and endanger the lives of both Americans and Iraqis.

National Security: 5 YEARS AFTER 9/11: AMERICA IS NOT SAFE ENOUGH


September 8, 2006---Today, Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member on the Committee of Homeland Security, and other leading Homeland Security Democrats released a report documenting the 9/11 Commission's recommendations on homeland security, the 9/11 Public Discourse Project's grades on fulfilling each recommendations as of December 2005, Democratic strategies to fulfill the recommendations, and the Democratic record on fulfilling the recommendation so far.

Thompson issued the follwoing statement regarding the release:

"On September 11th, Americans stood united against terrorism and those responsible for the attacks on the nation. We created the 9/11 Commission to ensure that our nation was never left unprepared again. The Commission issued a 567 page report with recommendations to make our nation safe, yet Congress has failed to enact solutions to implement all of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

"Five years after 9/11, it is time to move forward and do the right thing. This report documents the gaps and failures that absolutely must be addressed. In addition, I have asked Speaker Dennis Hastert to give numerous homeland security proposals that I and others have introduced an up and down vote on the floor," said Rep. Thompson.

Democratic Leader of the House Government
September 8, 2006

Politics: DEMOCRATS MAKE GOLDEN PROMISE TO DEFEND SOCIAL SECURITY

"If we can't get it done this year, I'm going to try next year. And if we can't get it done next year, I'm going to try the year after."

President George W. Bush, June 27, 2006


House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid led a rally Thursday with Members of Congress and hundreds of seniors and concerned citizens in a continuing effort to Protect Americans' Social Security from the relentless attempts by President Bush and the Republican Congress to privatize Social Security. Their risky privatization scheme would slash benefits and add trillions of dollars in additional debt. Despite the victory of the American people over the Republican privatization plan last year, the dismantling of Social Security's guaranteed benefit is still a very real priority on the President's agenda. With health care costs and pharmaceutical prices climbing, Democrats will do whatever it takes to keep Republicans from denying American seniors the retirement secirity they've earned.

That is why Democrats from both Houses of Congress are signing the Golden Promise, a pledge to oppose Republican efforts to privatize Social Security. America's retirees will not be abandoned.


House Democratic Leader
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CALIF)
September 8, 2006

Politics: THE PRESIDENT'S FAILURES PUT AMERICA AT RISK



President Bush has been criss-crossing the country recently touting his Administration's record on national security. But this week, Democrats and the Third Way released a report confirming what we have been saying all along: Despite a constant barrage of tough talk and other rhetoric from the White House and its allies in Congress, the President's policies have done little to improve our national security. In fact, in some cases Americans may have been put at greater risk because of the Administration's misplaced priorities and the President's practice of appointing political allies, such as former FEMA director, Michael Brown, to key decision making positions, rather than experienced professionals.

The biggest error of all, however, has been the President's refusal to change course in Iraq while ignoring the real war on terror. Instead of focusing our resources on hunting down al Qaeda and the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, the President has turned Iraq into a haven and training ground for terrorists, ruined our global image, and let Iran and North Korea further develop their nuclear capabilities.

House Democratic Leader
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, (D-CALIF)
September 8, 2006

Politics: MEMBERS RETURN TO CONGRESS, BUT REPUBLICANS KEEP PEOPLE'S BUSINESS ON HOLD



The House of Representatives reconvened from August recess this week, but the people's business will still have to wait. What was the first item Republicans put on the agenda? Not a fair vote on the minimum wage. Not a plan for Iraq. Not implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Not an answer to high gas prices. Not lowering prescription drug costs for seniors. Not an answer for working families who have been squeezed out of the middle class and into poverty.

Congress voted to issue commemorative coins and voted on the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Though these are worthwhile causes, the 109th Congress is coming to a close and the most vital concerns of the American people have not been addressed.

The real work of running the country will be put on hold as long as the Republican leadership puts politics ahead of policy. For that reason, Democrats will oppose any adjournment of Congress and fight Republican attempts to abandon the needs and concerns of the American people.

Democrats will resist adjournment until real work is done.

House Democratic Leader
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CALIF)
September 8, 2006


Iraq: THE BRITISH ABANDONED THEIR BASE



A BRITISH HARBINGER OF AMERICAN DEFEAT

LewRockwell
By: Chris Floyd
September 9, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld is fond of historical analogies when pontificating about Iraq; he particularly favors comparisons to the Nazi era and the Allied occupation of Germany after World War II. Unfortunately, any historian will tell you that Rummy's parallels are invariably false, even ludicrous. So we thought we'd give the beleaguered Pentagon warlord a more accurate and telling analogy to chew on.

Try this one Don. Imagine the British occupation troops in, say, Hanover, had been forced to abandon a major base, under fire, and retreat into guerilla operations in the Black Forest---in 1948, three years after the fall of the Nazi regime. And that as soon as the Brits made their undignified bug-out, the base had been devoured by looters while the local, Allies-backed authorities simply melted away and an extremist, virulently anti-Western militia moved into the power vacuum.

What would they have called that Don? "Measurable progress on the road to democracy?" "Another achieved metric of our highly successful post-war plan?" Or would they have said, back in those more plain-spoken, Harry Truman days, that it was "a major defeat, a humiliating strategic reversal, forshadowing a far greater disaster?"

You'd have to wait a long time---perhaps to the end of the "Long War"---to get a straight answer from Rumsfeld on that one, but this precise scenario, transported from Lower Saxony to Maysan province, unfolded in Iraq last week, when British forces abandoned their base at Abu Naji and disappeared into the desert wastes and marshes along the Iranian border. The move was largegly IGNORED by the American media, but the implications are enormous. The UK contingent of the invading coalition has always been the proverbial canary in the mine shaft; if they can't make a go of things in what we've long been told is the "secure south," where friendly Shiites hold absolute sway, then the entire misbegotten Bush-Blair enterprise is well and truly FUBAR.

The Queen's Royal Hussars, 1,200-strong, abruptly decamped from the three-year-old base last Thursday after taking constant mortar amd missile fire for months from the same friendly Shiites. The move was touted as part of a long-planned, eventual turnover of security in the region to the Coalition-backed Iraqi central government, but there was just one problem: the Brits forgot to tell the Iraqis they were checking out earlier---and in a hurry.

"British forces evacuated the military headquarters without coordination with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the Maysan governor, told Reuters Thursday, as looters began moving into the camp in the wake of the British withdrawal. A unit of Iraqi government troops mutinied when told to keep order at the base---and instead attacked a military post of their own army. By Friday, the locals had torn the place to pieces, carting away more than $500,000 worth of equipment and fixtures that the British had left behind. After that initial, ineffectual show of force, the Iraqi "authorities" stepped aside and watched helpessly as the looters taunted them and cheered the "great victory" over the Western invaders.

The largely notional---if not fictional---power of the Baghdad central government simply vanished while the forces of hardline cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which already controls the local government, stepped forward to proclaim its triumph and guide the victory celebrations in the nearby provincial capital, Amarah. "This is the first city that has kicked out the occupier!" blared Sadr-supplied loudspeakers to streets filled with revelers, as the Washington Post noted in a solid---but deeply buried---story on the retreat.

British officials were understandably a bit sniffy about the humiliation. First, they denied there was any problem with the handover at all: the Iraqis had been notified (a whole 24 hours in advance, apparently), the exchange of authority was brisk and efficient, and the Iraqis had "secured the base," military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge insisted to AP. But when reports of the looting at Abu Naji began pouring in, British officers simply washed their hands of the nasty business. The camp was now "the property of the Maysan authorities and Iraqi Forces [are] in attendance," said Burbridge; therefore, Her Majesty's military would have no comment on the matter. In this casual---not to mention callous---dismissal of the chaos spawned in wake of the Hussars' departure, we can see in miniature the philosophy now being writ large across the country in the Bush administration's "Iraqization" policy: "We broke it; you fix it."

And where are Her Majesty's Hussars now? Six hundred of them have dispersed into guerilla bands in the wilderness, where they will survive on helicopter drops of supplies while they patrol the Iranian border. The ostensible reason behind this extraordinary operation is two-fold, said the dougty Burbridge:

* first, to find out if the Bush administration is up to its usual mendacious hijinks in claiming that the evildoers in Iran are fueling the insrugency among the happily liberated Iraqi people;

* and second, to do a little more of that Iraqization window dressing before finally getting the hell out of Dodge completely, beginning sometime next year, according to reports across the UK media spectrum.

Of course, the good major didn't quite put it like that. "The Americans believe there is an inflow of IEDs and weapons across the border with Iran," he told the Post. "Our first objective is to go and find out if that is the case. If that is true, we'll be able to disrupt the flow." The second is training Iraqi border guards, he added.

Yes, a few hundred men wandering through the wasteland, dependent on air-dropped rations, will certainly be able to seal off an almost 300-mile border riddled with centuries-old smuggling routes. And modern-day Desert Rats tolling up in bristling Land Rovers to isolated villages where Shiite clans span both borders will no doubt be gathering a lot of actionable intelligence from the locals. And of course it is much easier to "train Iraqi border guards" on the fly in the wild than at a long-established base with full amenities and, er, training facilities.

In other words, the British moves makes no sense---if you accept the official spin at face value, i.e., that it's an act of careful deliberation aimed at furthering the Coalition's stated goals of a free, secure, democratic Iraq. But those in the reality-based community will see it for what it is; a panicky, patchword reaction to events and forces far beyond the Coaltion's intentions or control.

The other 600 Hussars driven out of Abu Naji have retreated to the main British camp at Basra---another "safe" city that has now degenerated into a level of violence apparoaching the hellish chaos of Baghdad, the Independent reports. British troops once walked the streets freely, lightly armed, wearing red berets instead of helmets, are now largely confined to the base, except for excursions to help Iraqi government forces in pitched battles against the Shiite militias that control the city. Harsh religious rule has long descended on the once freewheeling port city, again presaging the sectarian darkness now settling heavily across Baghdad.

Just a few months ago, the UK's Ministry of Defence was churning out "good news" PR stories about life at Abu Naji---Such as the whimsical tale of the troops' pet goat, Ben, a loveable rogue always getting into scrapes with the regiment's crusty sergeant major, even though the soldiers "knew he had a soft spot for Ben." The goat, we were told, had enjoyed visits from such distinguished guests as the Iraqi prime minister and the Duke of Kent. Now this supposed oasis of British power has been destroyed, with the Coalition-trained Iraqi troops meant to secure it either fading into the shadows or actively joining in with the rampaging crowds and extremist militias. Meanwhile, the Hussars are reducing to roaming the countryside on vague, pointless, impossible missions, killing time, killing people---and being killed---until the inevitable collapse of the whole shebang.

The goat is gone, the canary is dying. The surrender and sack of Abu Naji is a preview of what's to come, on a much larger scale of death and chaos, as the bloodsoaked folly of Bush and Blair's war howls toward its miserable end.