Government of the people, by the elected officials and appointed bureaucrats, for the elected officials, appointed bureaucrats and special interest groups that helped them get into power – Michael KaerySource
New Election, New Emperor, Nothings changed, its still the same!
Government of the people, by the elected officials and appointed bureaucrats, for the elected officials, appointed bureaucrats and special interest groups that helped them get into power – Michael Kaery
Yea sure sometime tomorrow night we will have elected a new Emperor and the evil Emperor George W. Bush will soon be history. But in reality nothing will have changed and government after the election will be just the same as government before the election.
John McSame is often used to say McCain is the same as Bush. But there isn’t a dimes difference between John McSame and Obama. After all John McCain and Barack Obama both voted to give the rich Wall Street brokers and bankers a $700 billion hand out of corporate welfare. John and Barack both voted to steal $2,333 from every man, woman and child in the USA and give it to rich Wall Street brokers and bankers. Since children don’t pay taxes John McCain and Barack Obama both voted to steal about $5,000 from every adult in America and give it to rich Wall Street brokers and bankers.
Obama and McCain both talk about bring change to America. The only change they will bring to America is the change in your bank account when they loot it and give it to the special interest groups that helped get them elected.
The only other change will be an already shredded Bill of Rights will trashed as your rights are destroyed so they can hire more Homeland Security thugs to protect you from imaginary terrorists.
Of course if Thomas Jefferson and his buddies were around today they would not be voting the election, they would be out with their guns hunting down and killing the enemy just like they did to King George!
Yea, new election, new Emperor, but nothing has change.
Antiwar groups fear Barack Obama may create hawkish Cabinet
Activists note that most of the candidates for top security posts voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq or otherwise supported launching the war.
By Paul Richter
November 20, 2008
Reporting from Washington -- Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned at signs that Barack Obama's national security team will be dominated by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other important foreign policy issues.
The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war.
"Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate, but it sends a very different message when you bring in people who supported the war from the beginning," said Kelly Dougherty, executive director of the 54-chapter Iraq Veterans Against the War.
The activists -- key members of the coalition that propelled Obama to the White House -- fear he is drifting from the antiwar moorings of his once-longshot presidential candidacy. Obama has eased the rigid timetable he had set for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and he appears to be leaning toward the center in his candidates to fill key national security posts.
The president-elect has told some Democrats that he expects to take heat from parts of his political base but will not be deterred by it.
Aside from Clinton and Gates, the roster of possible Cabinet secretaries has included Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who both voted in 2002 for the resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, though Lugar has since said he regretted it.
"It's astonishing that not one of the 23 senators or 133 House members who voted against the war is in the mix," said Sam Husseini of the liberal group Institute for Public Accuracy.
Clinton, who was Obama's chief opponent during the Democratic presidential primaries, appears to be the top candidate for secretary of State in his administration. Speculation about Clinton has dismayed some liberal activists but has cheered some conservatives such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and editor William Kristol of the Weekly Standard.
Clinton voted in favor of the Iraq war resolution, and despite pressure, she never said during the primary campaign that she regretted that vote. She also favored legislation last year to support the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, another decision that pleased conservatives.
In a move to advance her candidacy, Clinton's husband, former President Clinton, has agreed to take steps to avoid conflicts of interest posed by his far-flung financial dealings, Democrats close to the discussions said Wednesday.
Bill Clinton has agreed to check with the Obama administration before giving a paid speech. He also has agreed to disclose the sources of new contributions to his charitable enterprise, the William J. Clinton Foundation, those close to the matter said on condition of anonymity.
He also is trying to devise a way to share the identity of past donors, a touchy matter because some contributors do not want their identities divulged, said one Democrat.
Knowledgeable Democrats say that Gates is under consideration to remain in his post for at least several months even though he frequently has said he wants to return to private life when the Bush administration leaves office.
Activists note that Vice President-elect Joe Biden, also expected to be a leading voice in the new administration's foreign policy, voted for the 2002 war resolution.
Another possible contender for the diplomatic post, former U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, also backed the Iraq invasion.
Kevin Martin, executive director of the group Peace Action, said that although Obama had campaigned as an agent of change, the president-elect is "a fairly centrist guy" who appears to be choosing from the Democratic foreign policy establishment -- "and nobody from outside it."
"So, in the short term, we're going to be disappointed," he said. "They may turn out to be all pro-war, or at least people who were pro-war in the beginning."
Martin said that his group was concerned about Gates and Clinton as well as Rahm Emanuel, Obama's choice for White House chief of staff. He also said his group was trying to mobilize its grass-roots supporters with e-mail alerts, but recognized that it must approach the subject delicately because of public euphoria over Obama's historic victory.
"There's so much Obama hero worship, we're having to walk this line where we can't directly criticize him," he said. "But we are expressing concern."
Peace Action urged in a letter for its members to speak up because "we can be sure that the Obama team is under pressure to dial back plans to withdraw from Iraq."
Despite concerns, some groups are trying to remain conciliatory.
Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, said that although he finds Sen. Clinton's views "very troubling," Obama should be given the benefit of the doubt.
"I take him at his word that he is committed to ending the occupation of Iraq in 16 months and that he's going to assemble a team that's committed to that goal," Andrews said.
Obama campaigned on a promise to remove all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months, or roughly one brigade a month.
Since winning the White House, Obama has affirmed his pledge to remove the troops but has left himself some flexibility on the withdrawal timetable.
In an appearance on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Obama promised a troop pullback but described it in broad terms.
"I've said during the campaign, and I've stuck to this commitment, that as soon as I take office, I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my national security apparatus, and we will start executing a plan that draws down our troops," the president-elect said.
Richter is a writer in our Washington bureau.
Times staff writer Peter Nicholas in Washington contributed to this article.
Steve Benson Cartoon in Arizona Republic 11/20/2008 - Obama is just 4 more years of Clinton!
Bush, Obama, McCain, Clinton ain't no difference they are all the same
Napolitano Is No Stranger to Washington Scandals
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: November 20, 2008 Filed at 12:13 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Barack Obama's likely pick for Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, is no stranger to headline-making Washington scandals and controversies.
Napolitano was a Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney in Phoenix when the Justice Department decided against prosecuting Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's wife, Cindy, for the theft of prescription drugs from her medical charity.
Mrs. McCain went public in 1994 about her prescription drug addiction, admitting she stole medicine from the charity several times between 1990 and 1992. A doctor wrote prescriptions at her direction for medical missions around the world, and she sometimes increased the amounts, keeping some for herself. The Justice Department decided against prosecuting Mrs. McCain after she agreed to undergo drug treatment. She said in 1994 that she had kicked her addiction.
While at a Phoenix law firm in 1991, Napolitano was part of the legal team representing Anita Hill, a former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission colleague of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas who accused Thomas of sexual harassment. Hill's accusations jeopardized but ultimately failed to derail the Senate's confirmation of Thomas.
Napolitano's representation of Hill became an issue in 1993 when the Senate considered Clinton's nomination of Napolitano for the U.S. attorney's job. Napolitano refused to answer questions about a private conversation with one of Hill's witnesses, Susan Hoerchner. At issue was whether Napolitano persuaded Hoerchner, Hill's corroborating witness, to change her testimony.
Hoerchner initially told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its Thomas hearings that Hill had told her in the early 1980s that she had been sexually harassed by Thomas. After Napolitano requested and had a private conversation with her, Hoerchner told the committee she wasn't certain of the date Hill told her about the alleged harassment. Napolitano said she couldn't answer questions about the talk because Hoerchner wouldn't waive her right to confidentiality.
Some Republicans accused Napolitano of stonewalling the committee and argued it could cause a dangerous precedent if the panel confirmed a nominee without having all the information it needed. Democrats defended her, saying Napolitano wanted to be forthcoming but couldn't due to attorney-client privilege.
Some senators said at the time that Hoerchner had admitted before talking with Napolitano that she was just guessing about the date Hill first said she'd been harassed by Thomas. A book published after the Thomas hearings said the date Hoerchner guessed, September 1981, was before Hill went to work for Thomas.
Three Senators Still Hope For Auto Rescue Deal
By REUTERS Published: November 20, 2008 Filed at 12:23 p.m. ET
Skip to next paragraph WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three U.S. senators were still working on a bipartisan bill to assist the automotive industry and hoped to reach a deal, a Democratic Senate aide told Reuters on Thursday.
"They're working on a bipartisan bill and hoping to reach an agreement soon," the aide said.
But chances of passing legislation were slipping away quickly, said other aides.
The three involved in discussions are Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, Missouri Republican Christopher Bond and Ohio Republican George Voinovich, the aide said.
U.S. automakers General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler have been pleading for $25 billion in emergency government aid to weather a steep business downturn. The CEOs of all three companies testified before two congressional committees this week, but came away empty-handed.
The White House continues to favor using $25 billion already authorized and appropriated through the Energy Department to provide loans for ailing automakers.
Democratic leaders in Congress have argued for carving out $25 billion from the $700 billion financial rescue fund.
Even if a deal is struck among Senate negotiators, the legislation faces hurdles. There would have to be agreement among all 100 senators, which is rare, to allow the bill to come to a quick vote in the Senate.
If that agreement is not reached, the earliest a vote might come is on Saturday and it was unclear if lawmakers would stay in Washington that long ahead of the November 27 Thanksgiving holiday.
Plus, any bill likely would need at least 60 votes to overcome anticipated procedural hurdles by opponents.
Also unclear is whether the House of Representatives would stay in session late this week.
Another possibility is a vote on an auto bill sometime after the Thanksgiving holiday. Earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ruled out a post-holiday session. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would talk to Pelosi later on Thursday about having another short work session.
(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and John Crawley; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
Arabs call Obama an “Uncle Tom”Don’t worry Obama won’t screw the African American people any more then he screws the White American people!
Al Qaeda's Ayman Al-Zawahri Calls Obama a "House Negro"
By kathleen argonza, published Nov 19, 2008
Al Qaeda has responded to America's choice of Barack Obama as the new president of the United States by calling him a "house negro," according to UPI and other news media.
An unverified audio tape of Ayman Al-Zawahri, Osama Bin Laden's right hand, has been making the rounds in some militant websites. Al-Zawahri called Obama, as well as secretaries of State Condeleezza Rice and Colin Powell, a "house negro" and says he "the direct opposite of honorable black Americans" such as Malcolm X, the 1960s black rights leader known for advocating reverse racism and using violence. In essence, he called Obama an Uncle Tom.
While blatant racism will always make for an intriguing headline, the most important aspect of the audio tape, to me, is Al-Zawahri's response to the possibility tapering of troops in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and sending them to OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) to stabilize Afghanistan. As insensitive as it might be, I find the inflammatory racial language to be less important than the threats against soldiers that are expected to re-route toward Afghanistan.
According to Al-Zawahri, this shift will result in nothing but failure because Afghans will resist. Most importantly, he said that the "...dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them."
Send that last quote to the Marines in Afghanistan and let's see what they think! There's nothing as frightening as a group of angry marines ready to use you for target practice.
No doubt this audio tape is the child of fear. The fear that the surge was successful in Iraq and will have similar results in Afghanistan. The fear of pictures of major Al Qaeda operatives being found by American troops hiding in dark holes in the ground splashed across international news media and going out the way of Saddam Hussein.
It's time to turn that fear into a reality.
More information: Click here
Al-Qaida Lambasts America and President – Elect Obama
By Keith A. Fournier
CAIRO, Egypt (Catholic Online) – Not allowing any time for the new American President Elect to appoint his cabinet, take the oath of office and lead the National festivities accompanying his inauguration, the Propaganda Chief for the Al-Qaida terrorist movement, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri, has issued the first in what may become regular diatribes and threats against President Elect Barack Obama.
In this highly inflammatory message he singled out the President Elect for disdain by using an Arabic racial epithet intending derision. He also included the highly respected Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in this racist rant, calling them all the equivalent of “house slaves”.
The Propaganda Minister gave six reasons for his diatribe and expounded upon each of them. He began: “Barack Obama has won the presidency of the United States of America, and on this occasion, I would like to send several messages."
“First, a message of congratulations to the Muslim Ummah (Muslim people) on the American people's admission of defeat in Iraq….”
“The second of these messages is to the new President of the United States” Ayman al-Zawahri continued: “I tell him: you have reached the position of President, and a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits you. A failure in Iraq to which you have admitted, and a failure in Afghanistan to which the commanders of your army have admitted… And if you still want to be stubborn about America's failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of Bush and Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them. And be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them.”
"As for the third message, it is to the Muslim Ummah. I tell it: America, the criminal, trespassing Crusader, continues to be the same as ever, so we must continue to harm it, in order for it to come to its senses, because its criminal, expansionist Crusader project in your lands has only been neutralized by the sacrifices of your sons, the Mujahideen. This, then, is the path, so stick to it…."
"As for the fourth message, it is to the lions of Islam, the Mujahideen. I tell them: may Allah reward you in the best way for your historic heroics, which have ruined America's plans and rendered its projects ineffective. So be firm and resolute. Your enemy's stagger has begun, so don't stop hitting him….”
"And my fifth message is to all the world's weak and oppressed. I tell them: America has put on a new face, but its heart full of hate, mind drowning in greed, and spirit which spreads evil, murder, repression and despotism continue to be the same as always….”
"As for my final message, it is to the American people. I tell it: you incurred defeat and losses from the foolish actions of Bush and his gang, and at the same time, Shaykh Usama bin Ladin (may Allah preserve him) sent you a message to withdraw from the lands of the Muslims and refrain from stealing their treasures and interfering in their affairs. So choose for yourself whatever you like, and bear the consequences of your choice, and as you judge, you will be judged….”
For anyone thinking that this evil terrorist movement would treat the new administration differently because of President Elect Obama’s initial opposition to the U.S. entry into Iraq, the militancy of this message should clarify any such thought. It also demonstrates the movements’ strong concern with what it perceives as support within the American Islamic community for the President Elect. In an entire segment dedicated to the praise of Malcolm X and lumping President Elect Obama, Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice in the derision mentioned above, Al Jazarwi warned Obama:
“You also must appreciate, as you take over the Presidency of America during its Crusade against Islam and Muslims, that you are neither facing individuals nor organizations, but are facing a Jihadi awakening and renaissance which is shaking the pillars of the entire Islamic world; and this is the fact which you and your government and country refuse to recognize and pretend not to see…."
What is clear is that President Elect Obama has his hands full on many fronts, not the least of which is the obvious disdain borne against him by this sworn enemy of the United States. Al-Zawahri castigated him for his support of Israel in this message as well saying “You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik aI-Shabazz, or Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him). You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America.”
Throughout the entirety of this propaganda message, al-Zawahri remained seated and stationary. However, his backdrop showed old footage of speeches given by the Civil Rights and Black Nationalism Icon of the 1960’s, Malcolm X, who took the Islamic name of Malik aI-Shabazz . It remains to be seen how some of those who claim to stand in Malcolm’s lineage - such as Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam - will react to this new message from the leader of Al Qaeda. Farrakhan strongly supported the election of Barrack Obama and called on all of the members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) to do the same.
The entire message was 11-minutes and 23-seconds long. In addition to the footage mentioned above, it featured footage of President Elect Obama in a kippah, a Jewish skullcap, which he wore as a sign of respect when he met with Jewish leaders. Dr. al-Zawahri made a time sensitive reference, “And last Monday, your aircraft killed 40 Afghan Muslims at a wedding party in Kandahar” which referred to a Nov. 5 U.S. airstrike attack in Afghanistan and confirms that the message was recently produced.
Obama team repackaging Clinton after campaign digs
AFP WASHINGTON – It wasn't too long ago that Barack Obama and his advisers were tripping over one another to tear down Hillary Rodham Clinton's foreign policy credentials. She was dismissed as a commander in chief wanna-be who did little more than sip tea and make small talk with foreign leaders during her days as first lady.
"What exactly is this foreign policy experience?" Obama said mockingly of the New York senator. "Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crises? The answer is no."
That was in March, when Clinton was Obama's sole remaining rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Now, Clinton is on track to become Obama's secretary of state.
And, unsurprisingly, the sniping at her foreign policy credentials is a thing of the past.
Obama adviser William Daley over the weekend said Clinton would be "a tremendous addition to this administration. Tremendous."
Senior adviser David Axelrod called Clinton a "demonstrably able, tough, brilliant person."
Last spring, though, Clinton was targeted with a steady stream of criticism via conference call, e-mail and campaign-trail digs from the Obama camp, all aimed at shredding her self-portrait as an experienced and confident leader on the international stage. Some of those doing the sniping will be taking up key positions — most likely along with Clinton — in the new Obama administration.
Greg Craig, selected to serve as White House counsel in the Obama administration, delivered a withering attack during the primaries on Clinton's claims that she could rightfully share in the credit for some of the foreign policy successes of her husband's presidency.
"She did not sit in on any National Security Council meetings when she was first lady," Craig insisted in one conference call. He went on to knock down Clinton's claims to influence in the Northern Ireland peace process, opening borders for refugees during the war in Kosovo, and making a dangerous visit to Bosnia.
"There is no reason to believe ... that she was a key player in foreign policy at any time during the Clinton administration," Craig wrote in a campaign memo.
Susan Rice, an Obama adviser who could land a spot in the new administration, mocked the idea that Clinton could lay claim to foreign policy credentials by marriage.
"There is no crisis to be dealt with or managed when you are first lady," Rice sniffed last March. "You don't get that kind of experience by being married to a commander in chief."
Clinton was only too happy to make light of Obama's own foreign policy credentials, suggesting his biggest selling point was a 2002 speech against going to war with Iraq. "Many people gave speeches against the war then," she said in a February debate.
Robert Gelbard, an adviser to the Obama campaign on foreign policy who worked in the Clinton administration, said in March that Clinton had more involvement in foreign policy than a lot of first ladies, but added that "her role was limited and I've been surprised at the claims that she had a much greater role."
Well, never mind about all of that now.
"That was then; this is now," said David Gergen, who has served as an adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents. "Campaigns are ever thus."
"Generally speaking," Gergen said, "there is a recognition that campaigns bring a certain amount of hyperbole, and when it's over you try to find the most talented people you can find to work with you."
Clinton may not have been at the table when her husband made the big decisions, Gergen said, but "she's been imbibing questions on foreign policy and decision-making since 1992."
A spokesperson for the Obama transition team declined to comment on the shift in tone.
It also should be said that some of the wounds to Clinton's foreign policy credentials during the primaries were self-inflicted, most famously her inflated account of the drama associated with a visit she made to Bosnia.
"I remember landing under sniper fire," she recounted in a speech. "There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."
Soon enough, video footage surfaced of Clinton's unremarkable airport arrival ceremony, where she was welcomed by dignitaries and posed for photos with children.
Clinton brought up the Bosnia trip to counter Obama's suggestion that her experiences as first lady amounted to having tea at an ambassador's house.
"I don't remember anyone offering me tea," she said of the Bosnia visit.
Clinton, in an April debate, blamed her Bosnia gaffe on campaign fatigue. But she did not back away from her claim to broad foreign policy experience as first lady.
"I was not as accurate as I have been in the past," she said. "But I know, too, that being able to rely on my experience of having gone to Bosnia, gone to more than 80 countries, having represented the United States in so many different settings, gives me a tremendous advantage going into this campaign."
Well, maybe not in the campaign, as it turned out.
But maybe, just perhaps, as secretary of state.
Doesn't look like anything has changed with Obama!
December 12, 2008
Gates says more GIs will head to Afghanistan
Dec. 12, 2008 12:00 AM
MANAMA, Bahrain - The U.S. military will pour thousands of troops into Afghanistan by next summer and can expect to commit a sustained force for several more years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his top military commander there said Thursday.
Visiting Afghanistan for the second time in the past four months, Gates got a short but intensive look at the leading military priority facing him and the incoming Obama administration in the coming months.
Just before his Kandahar meeting with Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gates said the Pentagon is moving to get three of the four combat brigades requested by commanders into Afghanistan by late spring or early summer. In his most specific comments to date about how soon he will meet the call for up to 20,000 more troops in Afghanistan, Gates said he will not have to cut troop levels further in Iraq to free up at least two of those three brigades for Afghan duty.
When the additions are complete, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will climb to more than 50,000. About 31,000 U.S. troops are there now.
Standing outside the military's headquarters for southern Afghanistan, Gates was surrounded by evidence of the coming buildup.
Everywhere he turned, swaths of lands within the compound were crowded with construction equipment.
"This is a long fight, and I think we're in it until we are successful along with the Afghan people," Gates said.
"I do believe there will be a requirement for sustained commitment here."
Dec 19, 11:27 AM EST
Bailout approved: Automakers to get $17.4B
By DEB RIECHMANN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Citing danger to the national economy, President Bush approved an emergency bailout of the U.S. auto industry Friday, offering $17.4 billion in rescue loans in exchange for tough concessions from the deeply troubled carmakers and their workers.
The government will have the option of becoming a stockholder in the companies, much as it has with major banks, in effect partially nationalizing the industry.
At the same time, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Congress should release the second $350 billion from the financial rescue fund that it approved in October to bail out huge financial institutions.
Tapping the fund for the auto industry basically exhausts the first half of the $700 billion total, he said.
Allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse in the middle of what is already a severe recession is not a responsible course of action, Bush said.
"It would worsen a weak job market and exacerbate the financial crisis," Bush said. "It could send our suffering economy into a deeper and longer recession. And it would leave the next president to confront the demise of a major American industry in his first days of office."
President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office a month from Saturday, praised the White House move.
"Today's actions are a necessary step to help avoid a collapse in our auto industry that would have devastating consequences for our economy and our workers," he said. "With the short-term assistance provided by this package, the auto companies must bring all their stakeholders together - including labor, dealers, creditors and suppliers - to make the hard choices necessary to achieve long-term viability."
Bush comes to rescue of auto industry with short term loans
Dec. 19, 2008 07:40 AM
WASHINGTON - Citing danger to the national economy, the Bush administration approved an emergency bailout of the U.S. auto industry Friday, offering $17.4 billion in rescue loans in exchange for deep concessions from the desperately troubled carmakers and their workers.
The government will have the option of becoming a stockholder in the companies, much as it has with major banks, in effect partially nationalizing the industry.
At the same time, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Congress should release the second $350 billion from the financial rescue fund that it approved in October to bail out huge financial institutions. Tapping the fund for the auto industry basically exhausts the first half of the $700 billion total, he said.
President Bush said, “Allowing the auto companies to collapse is not a responsible course of action.” Bankruptcy, he said, would deal “an unacceptably painful blow to hardworking Americans” across the economy.
Some $13.4 billion of the money will be available this month and next, $9.4 billion for General Motors Corp. and $4 billion for Chrysler LLC. Both companies have said they soon might be unable to pay their bills without federal help. Ford Motor Co. has said it does not need immediate help.
Bush's plan is designed to keep the auto industry running in the short term, passing the longer-range problem on to the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama. The last $4 billion of the loans announced Friday would depend on release of the second half of the big Troubled Asset Relief Program fund.
Bush said the rescue package demanded concessions similar to those outlined in a bailout plan that was approved by the House but rejected by the Senate a week ago. It would give the automakers three months to come up with restructuring plans to become viable companies.
If they fail to produce a plan by March 31, the automakers will be required to repay the loans, which they would find all but impossible.
“The time to make hard decisions to become viable is now, or the only option will be bankruptcy,” Bush said. “The automakers and unions must understand what is at stake and make hard decisions necessary to reform.”
He said the companies' workers should agree to wage and work rules that are competitive with foreign automakers by the end of next year.
And he called for elimination of a “jobs bank” program — negotiated by the United Auto Workers and the companies — under which laid-off workers can receive about 95 percent of their pay and benefits for years. Early this month, the UAW agreed to suspend the program.
Some congressional Republicans decried Friday's announcement.
House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio called the deal “disappointing news” and said that by using federal TARP funds “Washington has failed both autoworkers and taxpayers.”
Under terms of the loan, GM and Chrysler must provide the government with stock warrants giving it the option to buy GM and Chrysler stock at a specific price.
In addition, the automakers would be required to agree to limits on executive pay and eliminate some perks such as corporate jets.
Paulson said that with the help for the carmakers, the government will have allocated the first half of the largest government bailout program in history.
He said he was confident that the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. have the resources to address a significant market crisis if one should occur before Congress approves the use of the second half of the rescue fund.
Paulson said he would discuss the process with congressional leaders and Obama's transition team “in the near future.”
Friday's rescue plan retains the idea of a “car czar” to make sure the auto companies are keeping their promises and moving toward long-term viability.
The short-term overseer will be Paulson. But the White House deputy chief of staff, Joel Kaplan, said that if the Obama team wants someone else installed to bridge the administrations, Bush is open to that.
The White House package is the lifeline desperately sought by U.S. automakers, who warned they were running out of money as the economy fell deeper into recession, car loans became scarce and consumers stopped shopping for cars.
The carmakers have announced extended holiday shutdowns. Chrysler is closing all 30 of its North American manufacturing plants for four weeks because of slumping sales; Ford will shut 10 North American assembly plants for an extra week in January, and General Motors will temporarily close 20 factories — many for the entire month of January — to cut vehicle production.
Bush said the automakers have faced serious challenges for many years: burdensome costs, a shrinking share of the market and plunging profits. “In recent months, the global financial crisis has made these challenges even more severe,” he said.
The president said that on the one hand, the government has a responsibility not to undermine the private enterprise system, yet on the other hand, it must safeguard the broader health and stability of the U.S. economy.
“If we were to allow the free market to take its course now, it would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers,” he said. “Under ordinary economic circumstances, I would say this is the price that failed companies must pay,” the president said. “And I would not favor intervening to prevent the automakers from going out of business. But these are not ordinary circumstances.
“In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action.”
Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli thanked the administration for its help. In a statement Friday morning, Nardelli said the initial injection of capital will help the company get through its cash crisis and help eventually return to profitability. He said Chrysler was committed to meeting the conditions set by Bush in exchange for the money.
Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally said his company would not seek the short-term financial assistance but predicted the aid would stabilize the industry.
“The U.S. auto industry is highly interdependent, and a failure of one of our competitors would have a ripple effect that could jeopardize millions of jobs and further damage the already weakened U.S. economy,” Mulally said.
General Motors said the short-term loans would help preserve jobs and “lead to a leaner, stronger General Motors.”
“We know we have much work in front of us to accomplish our plan. It is our intention to continue to be transparent as we execute our plan, and we will provide regular updates on our progress,” the automaker said.
Because the loans were ordered by the administration, rather than mandated in legislation, the money flows first and the repayment terms later are written on paper - literally. - Great terms???? When your giving away other peoples money its easy to give terms like this out! When Congress first passed the $700 billion corporate welfare bill I said it was a blank check written to themselfs and the special interest groups that give them money, and this certainly is a blank check Bush has signed.
Bush hands car keys (auto-industry mess) to Obama
by David Espo - Dec. 20, 2008 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - President Bush's $17 billion lifeline to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC means neither company will perish while he occupies the White House, yet leaves the ultimate fate of the once-proud auto industry up to the next administration.
A month from leaving office, Bush framed his rescue as "a step that we wish were not necessary," but one that saved the country from a disastrous blow.
It also was one that looked past public opposition, included a key concession of his own and spared a gridlocked Congress the consequences of its own futility.
For that, Bush drew considerable praise from Democrats, Chrysler and GM, the distinctly more tempered appreciation of the United Auto Workers and the scorn of fellow Republicans- all the while preserving complete freedom for his successor to start anew on Jan. 20.
Whatever the terms, targets or requirements of the loans that Bush's Treasury Department laid out, administration officials said President-elect Barack Obama was free to change them at his will.
Because the loans were ordered by the administration, rather than mandated in legislation, the money flows first and the repayment terms later are written on paper - literally.
Obama can ease or toughen provisions in future negotiations.
In a likely harbinger, the autoworkers union became first in line to seek changes.
Bush, no particular friend of organized labor, had wanted the UAW to agree to wage-and-benefit concessions that would make union workers equal in compensation to employees turning out Japanese cars at factories in the United States.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson agreed to a change that said the compensation could be competitive, not equal. Objecting was Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Not yet satisfied, the union's Alan Reuther said, "The UAW believes these provisions unfairly single out workers. They were not part of the agreement that the White House entered into with the Congress. "We believe they should be removed."
It's the type of detail likely to come up again and again as the new administration tries to assure the survival of the auto industry without antagonizing organized labor, a key Democratic constituency.
"I just want to make sure that when we see a final restructuring package that it's not just workers who are bearing the brunt," Obama said.
He didn't say so, but some Democrats have declared Rick Wagoner, General Motors CEO, must go, for example.
It's unlikely any Republicans will be surprised by such maneuvering. After 14 years of controlling at least one branch of government, they soon are to become spectators.
Bush's big concession came when he agreed to help the auto industry with funds from the Troubled Asset Recovery Program, the $700 billion bailout that Congress approved last fall to stabilize the financial industry. He long has said his administration lacked authority to dip into TARP to help automakers.
That insistence crumbled a week ago when Congress gridlocked.
A catch remains, at least as long as Bush's version of the loan remains in force.
Of the $17.4 billion in the loan package, $13.4 billion is available this month and next. The remainder will be used only if the administration is free to tap the $350 billion that is left in the financial-industry bailout fund.
That can only happen if Congress first votes on releasing the funds.
Source $8 billion in corporate welfare to GM!!!!!
Dec 30, 11:07 AM EST
GMAC receives $5B in bailout funds
By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Treasury Department said that it will provide $5 billion to GMAC Financial Services LLC, the ailing financing arm of General Motors Corp., in a move that's expected to stave off a bankruptcy protection filing at the company but also severely limit GM's control over it.
In exchange for the slice of the $700 billion bank rescue package, the government will receive preferred shares that pay an 8 percent dividend and warrants to purchase additional shares in return for the money, the department said.
Treasury also said it will lend up to $1 billion to General Motors so that the company can purchase additional equity that GMAC is planning to offer as part of its effort to raise more capital.
The government aid is also expected to provide a needed boost to domestic auto sales by freeing up more credit for consumers. GMAC said Tuesday that it would immediately resume lending to certain customers it had previously said were too great a risk for auto loans as a result of the tight credit markets.
The assistance is part of a new, auto industry-focused program within the Treasury's bank rescue effort known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. The auto program includes the $17.4 billion in loans the Bush administration agreed to provide the industry Dec. 19, the department said.
A Treasury official said there is no dollar limit on the auto assistance effort.
Analysts had speculated that if GMAC didn't obtain financial help it would have to file for bankruptcy protection or shut down, which would be a serious blow to GM's own chances for survival.
Last week, the Federal Reserve approved GMAC's application to become a bank holding company, which made it eligible to receive money from the financial rescue fund. The Fed's approval was contingent on GMAC raising additional capital.
JPMorgan's Himanshu Patel said the moves show how Treasury is taking a comprehensive look at GM's entire business and make a bankruptcy protection filing and liquidation extremely unlikely.
But at the same time, the automaker is losing control of the financing business, which may or may not have positive results down the road.
"GM is now on a path to become the first global carmaker to have no influence/control over a captive auto finance company - this may prove a disadvantage to GM sales or, if not, it may prompt other (original equipment manufacturers) to follow," Patel wrote in a note to investors.
The analyst said that the moves could allow GMAC to pickup market share in the long term, or may even eventually spur a public offering.
Separately, GMAC said Monday that it has accepted all the bonds tendered in a debt-for-equity swap that was also part of its capital-raising efforts. The company released few details about the results of the swap, but said that the conditions of the offers had been satisfied.
GMAC "intends to act quickly to resume automotive lending to a broader spectrum of customers," the company said in a statement.
The company's goal is to reach $30 billion in capital, the majority of which would come from the debt-for-equity exchange. GMAC has struggled to get bondholders to convert 75 percent of their debt into equity of the company and has yet to say whether it has met its goal.
The Treasury Department's investment in the company does not mean it is "passing judgment" on whether GMAC has met the Fed's requirements to raise additional capital, the official said.
GMAC, meanwhile, said the government's $5 billion investment was completed Monday. The $1 billion loan is still in progress, the Treasury official said.
GMAC accepted additional restrictions on executive compensation than were imposed on banks that have received money from the program. The bonus pool for top executives will be 40 percent less than it was in 2007, the Treasury official said.
The Treasury Department said after initially bailing out the auto industry earlier this month that it had committed the first $350 billion of the bank bailout fund, and said Congress should release the second half.
But in several cases the Treasury hasn't actually spent all the committed funds, and the department will use money that hasn't yet been spent to fund the investment in GMAC, the official said. For example, the department allocated $250 billion for a program to inject capital into banks, but has so far spent only about $162 billion of that amount.
General Motors' partial ownership of GMAC has kept the finance arm lending to dealers and car buyers, even as credit from traditional banks has dried up. If GMAC went bankrupt, other institutions would be unlikely to step in to replace the credit lost by GM's dealers and customers.
GMAC said Tuesday that it will resume offering automotive financing to customers with credit scores as low as 621, eliminating restrictions put in place two months ago that mandated a minimum score of 700.
"We will continue to employ responsible credit standards, but will be able to relax the constraints we put in place a few months ago due to the credit crisis," GMAC President Bill Muir said in a statement. "We will immediately put our renewed access to capital to use to facilitate the purchase of cars and trucks in the U.S."
Muir said the change will allow the company to return to "more normal" financing volumes and help stabilize the domestic auto industry.
GM owns 49 percent of GMAC, while the rest is owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.
As part of its order last week approving GMAC's application for bank holding company status, the Federal Reserve said GM will reduce its stake to less than 10 percent of the voting and total equity interest of GMAC. Cerberus, which led an investment group that bought a 51 percent stake in GMAC from the automaker for $14 billion in 2006, will reduce its stake in GMAC to no more than 33 percent of total equity.
Don't think of it as a bailout - Its a slush fund for Congress and the special intrest groups they give money to! And Congressmen and Sentators certainly don't want the taxpayers to see who they are shoveling money to.
Officials: tracking bailout money is difficult
JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer Jeannine
Aversa, Ap Economics Writer – 1 hr 32 mins ago
WASHINGTON – Government officials overseeing a $700 billion bailout have acknowledged difficulties tracking the money and assessing the program's effectiveness.
The information was contained in a document, released Wednesday, of a Dec. 10 meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Board. The panel, headed by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, includes Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Securities and Exchange Commission chief Christopher Cox.
While offering no details, the document also mentioned that officials at that meeting discussed "potential methods" of using the bailout program to help curb home foreclosures and ease problems in the housing market.
More broadly, the officials discussed "the difficulty of isolating the effects" of the bailout program "given the variety of policy actions taken by the U.S. government to support financial stability and promote economic growth."
The officials also noted the "difficulties associated with monitoring the use of specific funds" provided to individual financial institutions, according to the document.
The bailout program, created Oct. 3, is designed to break through a debilitating credit clog and spur financial markets to operate more normally again. Credit and financial woes — along with a severe housing crisis — have plunged the economy into a painful recession.
In a separate report responding to questions from the top congressional watchdog overseeing the bailout, the Treasury Department defended its management of the program amid criticisms about confusing shifts in strategy.
Paulson's decision to focus the program on providing banks and other companies with capital injections — rather than the original strategy of buying rotten assets from banks_ was necessary to respond to quickly changing financial market conditions, according to the new Treasury report.
Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, the chairwoman of a congressional oversight panel, has said she didn't understand why it's taken so long for the Bush administration to explain its plan. The five-member panel — made up of three Democratic appointees, including Warren, and two Republicans — has criticized Treasury for not saying exactly what problems they're trying to fix or how the investments will fix them.
The department insists the program is helping to stabilize the financial system, but acknowledges it will take time for conditions to return to normal.
"We have made significant progress, but there is no single action the federal government can take to end the financial market turmoil and the economic downturn," the report said. "We are confident we are pursuing the right strategy."
Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have complained that Paulson has sent confusing signals to taxpayers and Wall Street investors by shifting strategy and not communicating clearly about objectives.
The oversight panel is one of several entities monitoring the bailout, in addition to a special inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, a congressional auditor.
Earlier this month, the GAO said the government must toughen its monitoring of the bailout program to better keep track of how the money is used.
The government has pledged to provide $250 billion to banks in return for partial ownership. The goal is for banks to use the money to boost lending. However, a recent review by The Associated Press found that after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks can't say exactly how they're spending the money. Some wouldn't even talk about it.
The idea behind the capital injection program is for banks to use the money to rebuild reserves and lend more freely to customers. However, banks do have leeway to use the money for other things, such as buying other banks, paying dividends to investors or bonuses to executives. That's touched a nerve with some lawmakers and other critics.
Money from the bailout pot also has been used for other things, including throwing a financial lifeline to ailing auto companies Chrysler and General Motors Corp., and teetering insurance giant American International Group. Money also was used to back a rescue for Citigroup Inc.
Obama blames Bush for future Obama deficitsObama blames Bush for $1 trillion deficit! Then Obama seems to use that as an excuse on why the Obama admininstration will also have a string of $1 trillion deficits.
Of course Obama didn't meniton that OBAMA himself along with McCain voted for the last $700 billion handout to the poor Wall Street brokers and bankers which is almost responsible for the $1 trillion deficit. And of course Obama in this article talks about another $800 billion in handouts, which is $1.5 trillion in total corporate welfare.
And in the same breath he talks about "banning pork-barrel spending".
About the only thing we can really count on the government in Washington to continue doing is stealing our money and giving it to themselfs and special intrest groups.
Obama criticizes Bush for doubling U.S. debt
by Steven Thomma - Jan. 7, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday ripped outgoing President Bush for "irresponsibly" doubling the federal debt, then warned that he could preside over trillion-dollar-a-year deficits for "years to come."
Huddling with his budget team, Obama told reporters he would ban pork-barrel spending projects known as earmarks from his proposal to stimulate the economy. He also vowed to make the difficult choices necessary to curb runaway deficits and debt.
He said, however, that he wouldn't propose his first federal budget until after the stimulus proposal, which itself could cost about $800 billion. And he cautioned that staggering annual deficits would continue even after that.
"At the current course and speed, a trillion-dollar deficit will be here before we even start the next budget," Obama said at his Washington transition office.
"We're already looking at a trillion-dollar budget deficit or close to a trillion-dollar budget deficit, and ... potentially we've got trillion-dollar deficits for years to come, even with the economic recovery that we are working on at this point."
He also defended his choice of Leon Panetta to be director of the CIA - despite his having no direct experience in intelligence gathering - and said he'll have "plenty to say" about the Israel-Gaza fighting after he takes office in two weeks.
Obama stressed that Panetta's experience as a congressman and White House chief of staff will help him and others reverse Bush administration policies such as allowing torture.
"He is one of the finest public servants that we have. He brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy, an impeccable record of integrity," Obama said.
His team also worked to repair some of the political damage caused by failing to notify Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, of the coming nomination.
"It's always good to talk to the requisite members of Congress," Vice President-elect Joe Biden told reporters on Capitol Hill. "I think it was just a mistake."
Feinstein said later she'd been contacted by both Obama and Biden.
On the budget, the specter of deficits and debt dominated Obama's meeting and comments to reporters as he prepared to give a major speech Thursday on the economy.
The federal debt nearly doubled under Bush's watch, from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. With trillion-dollar-a-year deficits added to that, the total debt burden could soar much higher. And it would come just as the government starts to face the growing burdens of medical care for retiring and aging baby boomers.
$1.2T deficit projected for '09
Jan. 7, 2009 09:25 AM
WASHINGTON — The federal budget deficit will hit an unparalleled $1.2 trillion for the 2009 budget year, according to grim new Congressional Budget Office figures.
The CBO estimate released Wednesday also sees the economy shrinking by 2.2 percent this year and recovering only slightly in 2010, and the unemployment rate eclipsing 9 percent early next year unless the Obama administration steps in.
“The recession — which began about a year ago — will last well into 2009,” the CBO report says. The dismal figures come a day after President-elect Barack Obama warned of “trillion-dollar deficits for years to come.”
CBO's figures don't account for the huge economic stimulus bill Obama is expected to propose soon to try to jolt the economy. At the same time, they do not reflect the immediate cost of the Wall St. bailout.
The shrinking economy has led to a sharp drop in estimated tax revenues of $166 billion, which is largely responsible for the deficit, along with big outlays from the Wall St. bailout.
The agency expects the $700 billion bailout to actually cost taxpayers $189 billion, with the costs reflected in its estimates for this year and next. CBO estimates take into account the net value of the assets the government holds from financial institutions.
Under Treasury Department accounting, the bailout is reflected on a cash basis with disbursements reflected as the government makes them; as of mid-December, those disbursements totaled $238 billion. Exposure to the taxpayer stemming from the Federal Reserve Board's extensive interventions in the financial markets — such as acquiring 80 percent control of insurance and financial giant American International Group Inc. — are not reflected in the estimates.
Obama and Congress are promising quick enactment of the economic recovery plan, which will blend up to $300 billion in tax cuts with big new spending programs and could cost up to $775 billion over the next few years.
The flood of red ink probably won't affect that measure but could crimp other items on Obama's agenda.
“Despite the record deficits facing us, our number one task is an economic recovery package,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt Jr., D-S.C. “With Americans concerned about their jobs, their homes, their retirement and their children's future, our economic situation is so severe that stabilizing the economy must take precedence over short-term deficits.”
The $1.19 trillion 2009 figure shatters the previous record of $455 billion, set only last year. It also represents more than 8 percent of the size of the economy, which is higher than the deficits of the 1980s. The 2009 budget year began last Oct. 1.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the budget figures “a stunning and sobering reminder that Congress must strengthen its efforts to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money.”
CBO predicts the deficit will come under relative control within a few years, dropping to the $250 billion range within five years. But such predictions depend on the expiration of President Bush's tax cuts at the end of next year; Obama has promised to renew most of them except for those aimed at people making more than $250,000 a year.
Fully renewing the Bush tax cuts, as well as indexing the alternative minimum tax for inflation, would add $380 billion to a deficit otherwise projected at $327 billion for 2012, CBO says.
At the same time, Democrats are expected to increase domestic agency budgets as they complete the leftover 2009 spending bills, and Obama is likely to recommend further increases in next month's budget submission.
While expected, the deficit numbers will give lawmakers second thoughts about creating new spending programs without finding ways to pay for them. And it is likely to prompt a debate about whether tax increases are necessary after the economy recovers from the current recession.
On Wednesday, Obama said, “Unless we take decisive action, even after our economy pulls out of its slide, trillion dollar deficits will be a reality for years to come.”
“I'm going to be willing to make some very difficult choices in how we get a handle on this deficit,” Obama said Tuesday.
Economists warn that large and sustained budget deficits put upward pressure on interest rates. In the short term, however, efforts to restrain the deficit could have a contracting effect on the economy.
“As we address our economy, it is vital that we simultaneously take steps to put our budget back on a sound long-term fiscal path,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Stimulus aside, Obama vows budget restraint
Jan. 7, 2009 06:43 AM
WASHINGTON - To a public wary of government spending, President-elect Barack Obama is offering a salve with his massive economic stimulus package: the promise of long-term fiscal discipline.
Budget-conscious lawmakers are pressing Obama to embrace deficit-reduction goals even as he promotes a spending and tax-cutting plan - expected to cost about $775 billion - to jolt the economy out of its downward spiral.
"Part of the discussion that needs to happen right now is not what we do just right now, but what we look to in the future - about how we get back to a balanced budget and then start to deal with this horrible, horrible national debt that we have," said Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas, a member of the congressional Blue Dogs, a coalition of conservative and moderate Democrats.
Two weeks away from assuming the presidency, Obama vowed Tuesday to "bring a long-overdue sense of responsibility and accountability to Washington" and called the need for budget reform "an absolute necessity."
On Wednesday, he was expected to announce Nancy Killefer as his chief performance officer, a White House official who will work with federal agencies to set performance standards and hold agency managers accountable for progress. Killefer is director of a management consulting firm and served as an assistant secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton.
"The fact that he is making these comments publicly about fiscal responsibility gives me encouragement that we will see something," said Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, one of the leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition.
With Democrats in control of both chambers in Congress, Obama's reassurances to budget hawks from both parties already appear to be making a stimulus package more palatable. Obama said this week he would like Congress to complete action on an economic recovery plan by the end of the month or the first week of February.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was expected to press fellow Democrats on Wednesday to pass the legislation by mid-February. She, too, has reassurances for cost-conscious lawmakers.
"Many will focus on the upfront cost of this legislation," she was to tell a House Democratic Policy and Steering Committee forum, according to an excerpt of her prepared remarks. "While we are not discussing small sums, focusing on the price tag alone ignores the cost of inaction and the real payoff in terms of job creation and increased revenues to our Treasury."
While promising to fight waste and to make tough budgetary decisions, however, Obama warned that the nation could face trillion-dollar deficits for years to come. Eight years ago, the federal budget ran a surplus; the deficit on Sept. 30 was about $455 billion. That was before the government began spending nearly half of a $700 billion bailout fund for the financial sector.
Obama said Americans will accept his proposed stimulus plan only if they believe the money is being used wisely to boost the troubled economy and to make smart long-term investments in public projects.
Lawmakers and budget watchdog groups want Obama to promptly spell out a process for addressing long-term deficits.
"Short-term stimulus does need to be combined with long-term discipline," said Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that advocates fiscal restraint. "The deficit numbers are going to be astronomical for the next couple of years. People need to know that there is some end game to this."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., agreed that trillion-dollar deficits are likely for a few years and must be tolerated as the government pumps money into the badly weakened economy. But the nation must confront long-term problems facing Social Security and Medicare, he said, which will be "very, very tough."
"It would send a very healthy message to the markets and the American people if President-elect Obama were to simultaneously announce an economic recovery package and the beginning of a bipartisan process to deal with our long-term imbalances," Conrad said.
Obama has not detailed solutions for vexing problems such as growing demands on Social Security and Medicare. His prescriptions to make government accountable could easily run aground, much like those of predecessors who vowed to tackle government waste, fraud and abuse.
But lawmakers are not short on ideas. Conrad and the Budget Committee's top Republican, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, have proposed a bipartisan fiscal task force of lawmakers and administration officials that would create a plan to reduce budget deficits and lower the national debt.
Blue Dog Democrats would like to see legislation that would force Congress to pay for spending proposals with equal spending cuts or with new revenue. House Democrats this week plan to consider legislation that would require all federal agencies to undergo new audits and would call for congressional hearings when agency inspectors general find evidence of waste or fraud.
On the Net: Obama transition: http://www.change.gov
Ladies and gentlemen? Could everyone settle down, please? And put away the Blackberrys? Thank you, all!
Okay! I want to welcome everyone to the president-elects “no drama school,” a mandatory workshop for Clinton-era appointees.
In the next two weeks, we’ll be trying to help you transition from the old Clinton dysfunction to the new way of Obama.
This won’t be easy for some of you.
It means repudiating a self-destructive culture of narcissism, infighting and unchecked appetites, and replacing it with selfless, focused, disciplined teamwork – A very tall order indeed!
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so unless you have questions, I’ll just …
Yes. Mrs. Clinton.
Bill’s running late. Anyone mind waiting?
Well nothing changes execpt the police state! The Police state always gets bigger and badder! If Hitler were alive he would look at this in awe and say "How can I make Nazi Germany like that?"
Security braces for inaugural throngs
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Record crowds expected for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration are prompting unique law enforcement strategies, including an unprecedented deployment of technology and a small army of officers and military personnel, senior security officials say.
"Every element of the plan had to be tweaked to consider crowd control," Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier says.
The FBI — worried that crowds will slow responses to potential emergencies — for the first time is outfitting at least 100 teams of specialists in hazardous materials, weapons of mass destruction and hostage rescue with global positioning devices, said Christopher Combs, an FBI supervisory agent involved in the inaugural security operation.
Supervisors at a local command center will track the teams on large screens so they can be quickly dispatched to possible crises.
A separate cellular telephone network is being tested for use by emergency officials in case existing systems are overloaded, as occurred in the hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"One of the reasons the assets required (for this inauguration) have doubled, even tripled is not because of the (terror) threat, but because of the number of people coming," Combs said. "A problem can be magnified 10 times because of the size of the crowd."
John Perren, counterterrorism chief at the FBI's Washington field office, said there are no credible threats against inaugural activities. Yet because of the "anticipated crowd size," he said, it is important for "all of us to be looking at the same sheet of music." District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty and other officials predict crowds will top the record 1.2 million at Lyndon Johnson's inauguration.
Northwestern University professor Hani Mahmassani said he has been advising the district's Metropolitan Police and officials about crowd control strategies. Mahmassani, a civil and environmental engineering professor, has studied crowd behavior and the deadly stampedes that have marred annual Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca.
He said district officials are including various mass communications systems to assist with crowd control, from loud speakers and strategically placed large-screen TVs to cellphone alerts.
"Anything could be a spark," Mahmassani said. "A person falling or tripping," or false information circulated in a crowd. "You try to keep the psychology positive so that no false rumors spread."
A network of surveillance cameras, most of which was installed after the 2001 attacks, will monitor crowd size and movement, he said.
The overall security operation is being overseen by the U.S. Secret Service. In the event of a crisis, the FBI would lead the subsequent investigation.
Combs said federal investigators also have digitally mapped the entire Inaugural Parade route, from the U.S. Capitol steps to Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House.
Officials can refer to parade route images, down to the locations of trash cans and light poles, in part to more quickly deploy response units, he said.
The site survey technology also has included an electronic review of buildings along the parade route and possible locations that could provide vantage points for possible snipers.
The technology has been used before, but Combs said investigators are now able to share the survey information more broadly and quickly than for previous inaugurations. "The build-up of the public security infrastructure (including security cameras) has made it so much easier," he said. "Connections can be made with a couple clicks of the mouse."
From the political notebook:
* Last week was Bush legacy week. In his farewell address to the nation, President Bush made it clear what he thought his legacy should be: He kept us safe.
Bush has been given remarkably little credit or appreciation for the fact that there has not been a domestic terrorist attack since 9/11, contrary to universal expectations at the time.
For the most part, and for most people, the Bush presidency is seen as a failure.
If, however, there were to be a terrorist attack during Barack Obama's watch, the public's view of Bush would spin on a dime. [As long as we arm, fund, and support the Israeli terrorist who murder Arabs and steal their land we will be subject to terrorist attacks by Muslims. Same goes for invading places like Iraq and Afghanistan, as long as we have troops in those places we will be subject to terrorist attacks by the Arabs.]
This might not be right or fair. But it's reality.
* Bush reiterated the heart of his doctrine regarding the war on terror, the need for the United States to be an active agent of democratic change in other countries: “We must continue to engage the world with confidence and clear purpose…. In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad.”
I was struck by the stark difference with the advice of the first farewell address by George Washington, who cautioned against such interventions in the affairs and disputes of other countries. According to Washington, “the great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”
I think Washington had the wiser counsel.
* The failure of Treasury Secretary designate Tim Geithner to pay his Social Security taxes wasn't an innocent mistake. It shouldn't be overlooked or excused.
Geithner is a savvy and knowledgeable guy. If he was receiving wage income from the International Monetary Fund from which payroll taxes weren't being withheld, the question of whether it was subject to the Social Security self-employment tax is obvious. At best, Geithner is guilty of gross irresponsibility.
The argument that this should be overlooked because Geithner is indispensible to economic recovery is nonsense. There are few truly indispensible people, and Geithner is not one of them. In fact, he's been neck-deep in the Paulson-Bernanke bailouts that have been such a bust.
It's unfathomable that the Democrats would make someone Treasury Secretary who hadn't paid his taxes.
* God may move in mysterious ways, but I'm not sure He has anything on Congress. There is a nearly universal belief in Congress that the first $350 billion in funds for the Troubled Asset Relief Program have been badly used. So, what's the solution? Why, spend $350 billion more.
This despite the fact that the plans of the Obama administration to use the money, to the extent they exist, would further divert it from cleaning up the financial system that was the original intent of the program.
The vote in the Senate effectively authorizing the second $350 billion was interesting. Nine Democrats voted to block the second installment, including some of the most liberal members. Six Republicans voted to keep the party going.
Arizona's Republican delegation split its vote. John McCain voted to block the second $350 billion. Jon Kyl voted to permit it.
The new Emperor is a smart man. So the serfs and subjects think they are in charge the new Emperor throws a grand party for them, before he gets to work on the task of stealing their money and mirco-managing their lives!
Of course on day three it bill be back to the same old stuff and the only realy important questions the Emperor will have is "Who are we going to steal the money from, and more importantly, who are we going to give the stolen loot to."
Inaugural opening concert packs star-powered punch
by Larry Rodgers - Jan. 18, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
The lineup of musicians who will perform today at the official opening celebration for the inauguration of Barack Obama is jaw-dropping.
Those scheduled to perform include Bruce Springsteen, U2, Beyoncé, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Usher and Josh Groban.
Other acts expected to perform at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., include James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Nettles, will.i.am, Pete Seeger, Renee Fleming, Heather Headley and Bettye LaVette. The event will be televised live by HBO on an open signal that will be available free of charge to any viewer with cable, satellite or other outlets capable of receiving HBO's signal. It will start at 12:30 p.m. Arizona time.
HBO will make the concert available to Spanish-speaking audiences on its HBO Latino channel from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. The event will rebroadcast at 5 and 9:30 p.m. on HBO Latino.
Readings of historical passages by Tom Hanks, Jack Black, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah, Rosario Dawson and Martin Luther King Jr. III will also be highlights of the event.
"HBO is bringing this event to as many people as possible in the spirit of inclusiveness that defines every facet of this inauguration," said Bill Nelson, chairman and CEO of HBO.
Clinton takes charge at State Department
Jan. 22, 2009 08:55 AM
WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton assumed her role as secretary of State on Thursday with a pledge to State Department employees that they would be at the leading edge of improving U.S. foreign relations.
"This is a new era," she declared at a welcoming ceremony where hundreds of department employees applauded and cheered as she arrived for her first day of work.
"There are three legs to the stool of American foreign policy: defense, diplomacy and development, and we are responsible for two of the three legs," said the former New York senator and one-time first lady. "And we will make clear as we go forward that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States."
Clinton's mandate from President Barack Obama is to step up diplomatic efforts and restore the nation's tattered image abroad.
Her appointment, confirmed by the Senate and sealed in a private ceremony in her Senate office on Wednesday, came as Obama moved quickly in his first day in office to shore up a team of seasoned advisers and take the nation's foreign policy in a new direction.
Obama prepared to name former Senate Democratic leader George J. Mitchell as Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East, and he placed telephone calls to leaders overseas.
The new administration also drafted executive orders to close the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations.
Obama was to join Clinton at the State Department on Thursday, where the two were to address department employees. Obama, Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser James Jones were to convene a closed-door meeting beforehand.
After being confirmed 94-2 by the Senate on Wednesday, Clinton delivered letters of resignation to Vice President Joe Biden, as president of the Senate, and New York Gov. David Paterson, who will chose her replacement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said her swift confirmation was an imperative.
"We face two wars abroad, a complex and unpredictable crisis in the Middle East, the nuclear ambitions of a volatile Iranian regime, together with the complexities of dealing with North Korea," he said.
While Republicans agreed that Obama should be allowed to quickly pull together his Cabinet, some remained skeptical about his plans to revamp the nation's policies on such wartime issues as detainees.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who challenged the Bush administration's detainee policy in 2006 and helped write legislation governing the new court system, said he agrees that Guantanamo Bay should be closed and a new secure location found.
But "the prison is not the problem," Graham said in a recent interview. "For all the challenges facing the nation, finding a place to put (military prisoners) is not the issue. ... Before we move them, we need to know what's going to happen to them."
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he was concerned that Obama and Clinton would reverse the U.S. policy that prohibits U.S. aid to overseas groups that offer abortions.
"I do not plan to slow up this nomination, but I do find it difficult to support a nominee who I know will pursue policies so contrary to American sovereignty and the dignity of the human person," DeMint said, shortly before voting with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., against Clinton's appointment.
The banks may be in poor health, but their corporate officers and maybe stockholders made out pretty good with the $300 billion the feds gave them!
Billions of dollars later, banks still in poor health
by Russ Wiles - Jan. 24, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
More than a year after the subprime-mortgage collapse put the squeeze on credit and pushed profits off a cliff, many banks remain in crisis.
Billions of dollars of federal aid haven't restored the industry to health, and bankers are bracing for a new set of problems now that the economy is sliding further.
President Barack Obama and the new Congress have had little choice but to elevate banking, credit and other economic issues to the top of their agenda. They're set to release another $350 billion or so in Troubled Assets Relief Program funds, yet doubts persist about the program's effectiveness and how the money should be used.
"The second installment of TARP may not be enough to stop the hemorrhaging," wrote Ed Yardeni, a New York-based economist and investment strategist. "The banking system's wounds are not healing."
Even as public frustrations mount that the government is funneling cash to the very institutions that helped escalate the recession, experts agree that the economy won't improve until banks get their acts together and credit conditions thaw.
Financial improvements appeared to have a toehold in the waning weeks of 2008, but a spate of recent bad news has changed the outlook.
"I thought we were out of the woods with this," said Herbert Kaufman, a finance professor at Arizona State University.
The uncertainty is weighing on consumers, businesses and investors, with some banks in bigger trouble than many outsiders thought.
Citigroup and Bank of America are facing new pressures and recently reported numbing losses. The Royal Bank of Scotland is poised to report the largest loss ever for a British firm, prompting new rescue efforts in that country and raising awareness of the global scope of the problem.
The first round of TARP government assistance seemed to stabilize the financial system. Key interbank-lending rates have eased in recent weeks, bank failures no longer are making headlines and depositors are breathing easier.
The problem now is the broad economy: A recession means more bad loans.
"We're seeing increased layoffs, lower retail sales and consumer spending continuing to decline, and all that relates back to non-payments on loans and delinquencies," said John Mathis, a professor of international banking at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale.
Delinquencies on some auto loans jumped to their highest levels ever during the third quarter, according to a January report by the American Bankers Association. So did delinquencies on home-equity lines of credit.
"The Number 1 factor in rising consumer-credit delinquencies is job losses," James Chessen, the bankers association's chief economist, said in a statement. "Delinquencies of all types of consumer loans will likely increase in the coming quarters."
Invest in banks?
What should policymakers do to shore up banks and help the economy? The options most frequently cited center on three choices for the government: invest further in banks, purchase their bad loans or offer relief to struggling borrowers in various ways.
Most of the first $350 billion in TARP money has been used to invest in healthy banks in hopes of shoring up their capital.
Bank lending is tied to the amount of capital they have, so more capital encourages more lending. Historically, each dollar of capital has supported about $7 in loans, said Wayne Abernathy, executive vice president for financial-markets policy at the bankers association.
Banks use capital as a cushion, typically holding it in ultrasecure investments such as U.S. Treasury bonds, he said.
Mathis favors using additional TARP funds for further investments in banks.
"You don't want any further drain on bank capital," he said.
So far, the government has invested roughly $200 billion of TARP funds in about 300 big banks, the bankers association said. Only a small slice of the more than 7,000 U.S. banks have received funds.
"We'd like to see (additional funds) spread out among the entire industry," Abernathy said. Doing so would keep smaller banks competitive and spur lending throughout the economy, he added.
"We usually get more job creation coming out of recessions from small businesses, and they typically get their funding from small banks," Abernathy said.
But will the second TARP installment of $350 billion or so be enough?
Researchers at FBR Capital Markets, sponsor of the FBR Open golf tournament in Scottsdale, raise doubts. They estimate that banks will need an additional $1 trillion to $1.2 trillion to end the crunch and get credit flowing in earnest.
Buy bad loans?
ASU's Kaufman favors a proposal under which the government would use bailout money to buy up bad loans held by banks. That, too, would help banks improve their finances by removing the most problematic liabilities.
Buying toxic assets was the original plan for government money until the Treasury shifted gears toward investments.
"The first step has to be removing these toxic assets," Kaufman said.
He sees the government buying up bad loans similar to the way the Resolution Trust Corp. bought distressed homes from savings and loans nearly two decades ago.
Just as the RTC wound up costing taxpayers less than one-half the original estimates, the public could be on the hook for less than the full $700 billion this time, Kaufman said.
Yet toxic-asset purchases can be tricky when it's hard to figure out a reasonable, fair price. If the government pays too much, taxpayers lose. If it offers too little, banks won't sell.
"Pricing was the issue that bedeviled the Treasury's ability to do (bad-loan purchases) last fall," Abernathy said.
A third use of TARP funds would be for mortgage mitigation.
Details haven't been finalized. But the plan could involve government mortgage guarantees if lenders cut interest rates, payments and the like for certain debtors. The effort might help 1 million homeowners, according to estimates.
It's difficult to predict which of these tactics, or others, might pull banks out of the morass and get the economy rolling.
Policymakers have no choice but to keep experimenting, considering the close ties between the banking industry and the economy.
Thunderbird's Mathis said, "The financial system's health is just so crucial to any recovery."
I'm not a crook - Blagojevich
Blagojevich hits talk-show circuit to tell his story
Jan. 26, 2009 01:30 PM
CHICAGO - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich refused to say Monday in a television interview whether he had described the vacated U.S. Senate seat of Barack Obama as a "golden" profit opportunity for him, as detailed in a covert federal recording accompanying his arrest.
Blagojevich said he expected "dramatic changes" in his life and his family's as the Illinois Senate prepared to open its impeachment trial with the prospect of removing him from office in days.
On ABC's The View, an insistent Barbara Walters recounted a transcript of a covert recording of Blagojevich obtained by federal agents who allege he sought to sell Obama's Senate seat for personal or political profit. ""I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden," Blagojevich is quoted in the transcript, "and I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I'm not gonna do it."
Walters, appearing from Los Angeles, spoke to Blagojevich in the show's New York studio. She appeared frustrated in repeatedly asking Blagojevich about the comment but the governor dodged and weaved until he said, "I can't confirm or deny anything when I haven't had the chance to hear all the tapes."
"Whatever the tapes are, they will speak for themselves," he said. "I was working to try to make the right decision for the people of Illinois."
Blagojevich also denied he compared himself to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi in an interview with NBC, saying his comments were taken out of context. Blagojevich said he often thinks of those figures for inspiration.
Blagojevich defended his wife's use of vulgarities as revealed on the partial transcripts of the covert recordings made public with the criminal charges against him on Dec. 9. He said he took responsibility because "she's been around me so long, she's picked up some of that."
"Had I known somebody else was listening, I wouldn't have used language like that."
Blagojevich acknowledged he had given thoughts to appointing talk show queen Oprah Winfrey to the Senate vacancy. That prompted View panelist Joy Behar to note that if he had picked Oprah, "All you get out of that is a car," an allusion to the kind of gift Winfrey has been known to give to people in need.
Ultimately, Walters questioned whether the media tour, which now also includes an appearance Tuesday on CBS' Early Show, would hurt him more than help him. Reciting his low poll numbers and a stagnant state government, she asked, whether it wouldn't be better for him to resign "for the sake of your own state, for your own dignity."
"That's the worst thing I could do," he said. "I'm an innocent man."
During the show, Blagojevich sat on a couch between Whoopi Goldberg and Behar, laughing with them at times while also trying to hit the talking points he has polished in recent days portraying himself as a victim of a political vendetta.
At the end of his appearance, Behar said she heard Blagojevich did a good impression of Richard Nixon. "Just say, 'I am not a crook.' Say that." Blagojevich declined the offer.
Blagojevich was supposed to have been accompanied on the popular talk show by his wife, Patricia. But Walters said the program was notified that she was canceling on the advice of her family.
The governor started his day on Good Morning America, where he first talked about considering Winfrey as his Senate appointment.
Hmmm.... Obama along with John McCain and Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell all voted for the same $700 bailout bill that had NO limits on how the money could be spent! Now Obama is bitching that they spent the money HE gave them foolishly!
Obama scolds executives over $18.4 bil in Wall Street bonuses
by Christi Parsons and Jim Puzzanghera - Jan. 30, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama blasted Wall Street on Thursday, calling it the "height of irresponsibility" that executives got huge bonuses last year even as the government was forking over billions to bail out ailing financial firms.
The stern lecture was inspired by a new report finding that the executives approved $18.4 billion in bonuses in 2008 - a big drop from the previous year but outrageous to the president just the same.
Seated in the Oval Office after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Obama said this is not the right time for executives to be raking in enormous bonuses. "It is shameful," Obama said, "and part of what we're going to need is for folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility.
"There will be time for them to make profits and there will be time for them to make bonuses," the president said. "Now is not that time."
In issuing harsh words, Obama reached for the most effective tool at his disposal now: public pressure.
The bailout passed last fall limits executive compensation - e.g., prohibiting incentives for taking excessive risks - but not bonuses simply because they are too generous.
Obama has had success with the tough talk lately. Earlier in the week, after the president questioned Citigroup's decision to buy a new corporate jet even as it takes bailout money, the troubled bank canceled the order.
Aides say Obama called for responsibility when he met with corporate executives this week.
A report by New York comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that financial firms decreased their 2008 cash bonuses by 44 percent from the prior year, a figure determined mainly through an analysis of personal income-tax collections.
Though the decline was significant, the payouts were the sixth largest on record, according to the report. It said the average bonus last year was $112,000.
That sent Obama through the roof, press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested Thursday. The president's one-word reaction to the report, he said, was "outrageous."
Obama soon may have to make the decision to send more money to the financial system, and news about excessive payouts only makes his political sales job even harder.
The president said exactly that in a brief meeting with reporters.
"The American people understand that we've got a big hole that we've got to dig ourselves out of," he said. "But they don't like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole even as they're being asked to fill it up.
"We're going to be having conversations" to underscore that Wall Street executives have "to start acting in a more responsible fashion" to get this economy "rolling again."
Anti-war lawmakers worry over plan for Afghanistan
Posted 2/8/2009 3:14 PM ET
By Anne Flaherty, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — After campaigning on the promise to end one war, President Barack Obama is preparing to escalate another. Obama's dual stance on the two wars is not lost on congressional Democrats, many of whom also ran on anti-war platforms. In coming weeks, they expect to have to consider tens of billions of dollars needed for combat, including a major buildup of troops in Afghanistan.
While increasing the military's focus in Afghanistan was anticipated -- it was a cornerstone of Obama's campaign -- many Democrats acknowledged in recent interviews that they are skittish about sending more troops, even in small numbers.
The concern, they say, is that the military could become further entrenched in an unwinnable war on their watch.
"Before I support any more troops to Afghanistan, I want to see a strategy that includes an exit plan," said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts liberal who at one point wanted to cut off money for the Iraq war.
Added Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold, another fierce war opponent: "The idea of putting the troops in without having more clarity at least gives me pause."
The Obama administration is in the midst of a sweeping strategy review. The results of that assessment might not be released for several weeks. In the meantime, the administration is expected to approve an immediate request from the top military commander in Afghanistan for three more brigades, roughly 14,000 troops.
It is expected that more troops would follow, eventually doubling the presence from 33,000 to 60,000.
The proposed buildup had been under consideration by the Bush administration as a means of dealing with an uptick in violent attacks. More than 130 U.S. personnel died in Afghanistan last year, compared to 82 in 2007, according to a recent Pentagon report.
Vice President Joe Biden sought to lower lawmakers' expectations in the war when he met recently with House Democrats at their party retreat in Williamsburg, Va.
"The economic and security and social conditions there are daunting" and the nation has "geography, demography and history working against us," he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said as much in congressional testimony last month, warning against aspiring to turn Afghanistan into a "Central Asian Valhalla," referring to a haven of purity in Norse mythology.
"Nobody in the world has that kind of time, patience or money, to be honest," he told lawmakers.
Indeed, Afghanistan poses a foreign policy challenge unlike no other. The country is one of the poorest in the world. Opium production has given way to Colombia-like drug cartels trafficking heroin. Corruption is rampant. Terrorist fighters move freely across the Pakistan border. European voters want their armies to leave.
And in the latest twist, the U.S. is now scrambling to find an alternative to flying troops and supplies into the landlocked country because of threats by nearby Kyrgyzstan that it plans to shut down the U.S. base there.
"The complexities just mount -- and you have to bring yourself back to what I hope we're going to ask, which is 'what is the goal?'" said Rep. John Tierney, in an interview after returning from his third trip to Afghanistan.
"You've got to look at these kids' parents in the face when you go to a funeral and say, 'This is why your kid was killed in action,'" said Tierney, D-Mass., who chairs an investigative subcommittee on national security issues.
David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Condoleezza Rice when she was secretary of state, recently warned senators against widening U.S. involvement in the war.
"If you think about what we did in Vietnam, we escalated, we overthrew that leader, we took control of the problem, we tried to fix it and we couldn't fix it, couldn't afford it," said Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"And I just think we need to be extremely careful about signing ourselves up to escalating to the point where we can't pullback. ... Because once you own the problem, you own it," he said.
Obama's biggest supporters in Congress say they believe the new president won't go too far. But they're also counting on the popular president to win over a war-weary public.
"I have to believe he will come well prepared and present a case to us that will justify what he is attempting to do," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
NATO commander: Afghanistan drug raids imminent
Posted 2/8/2009 1:31 PM ET
By Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press Writer
MUNICH — In an effort to strike at a key income source for Taliban militants, the top NATO commander said Sunday that operations to attack drug lords and labs in Afghanistan will begin within the "next several days." Gen. John Craddock, who also heads the U.S. European Command, also said that the U.S. and its allies are making progress in their efforts to fill the need for more troops, equipment and intelligence gathering in Afghanistan. He, however, would not disclose any specific commitments he got this weekend as world leaders met at a security conference here.
NATO defense ministers, during a meeting last fall in Hungary, authorized troops in Afghanistan to launch the drug attacks, but there had been questions about whether allies would be willing to follow through. Money from Afghanistan's booming illicit drug trade has been blamed for pumping up to $100 million a year into the coffers of resurgent Taliban fighters.
"Activities and actions will occur soon that will be helpful," Craddock told reporters. "We've got to get started."
The U.S. delegation to the security conference, led by Vice President Joe Biden, was expected to talk to allies this weekend about the ongoing need for support in Afghanistan. Craddock said he still needs about 5,000 NATO troops to bolster Afghan forces during the coming elections, and he is confident he will get them from other NATO nations.
At the same time, he said he still has a critical need for trainers that he has yet to fill, and the expected announcement about a forthcoming build-up in U.S. forces has been delayed as the Pentagon juggles the numbers in the face of an ongoing review by the new Obama administration.
Allies, said Craddock, "expected they would be asked to step up and do more. Now it's a matter of political will."
Leaders have speculated that good will surrounding the inauguration of President Barack Obama would generate greater efforts by NATO allies to send additional resources to Afghanistan. Pentagon officials have said they expect to send as many as 30,000 more troops there, including several brigades in the coming months.
Obama is pretty much doing the same as Bush, execpt in Afghanistan. You don't need to be a psychic to say that the American will fail in Afghanistan just like the Soviets failed.
Newest US troops in dangerous region near Kabul
Posted 2/17/2009 7:29 AM ET
By Jason Straziuso, Associated Press Writer
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Close to 3,000
American soldiers who recently arrived in Afghanistan to secure two violent provinces near Kabul have begun operations in the field and already are seeing combat, the unit's spokesman said Monday.
The new troops are the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements this year. The process began to take shape under President George Bush but has been given impetus by President Barack Obama's call for an increased focus on Afghanistan.
U.S. commanders have been contemplating sending up to 30,000 more soldiers to bolster the 33,000 already here, but the new administration is expected to initially approve only a portion of that amount. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday the president would decide soon.
The new unit -- the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division -- moved into Logar and Wardak provinces last month, and the soldiers from Fort Drum, N.Y., are now stationed in combat outposts throughout the provinces.
Militants have attacked several patrols with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, including one ambush by 30 insurgents, Lt. Col. Steve Osterholzer, the brigade spokesman, said.
Several roadside bombs also have exploded next to the unit's MRAPs -- mine-resistance patrol vehicles -- but caused no casualties, he said.
"In every case our vehicles returned with overwhelming fire," Osterholzer said. "We have not suffered anything more than a few bruises, while several insurgents have been killed."
Commanders are in the planning stages of larger scale operations expected to be launched in the coming weeks.
Militant activity has spiked in Logar and Wardak over the last year as the resurgent Taliban has spread north toward Kabul from its traditional southern power base. Residents say insurgents roam wide swaths of Wardak, a mountainous province whose capital is about 35 miles from Kabul.
The region has been covered in snow recently, but Col. David B. Haight, commander of the 3rd Brigade, said last week that he expects contact with insurgents to increase soon.
"The weather has made it so the enemy activity is somewhat decreased right now, and I expect it to increase in the next two to three months," Haight said at a news conference.
Haight said he believes the increase of militant activity in the two provinces is not ideologically based but stems from poor Afghans being enticed into fighting by their need for money. Quoting the governor of Logar, the colonel called it an "economic war."
Afghan officials "don't believe it's hardcore al-Qaida operatives that you're never going to convert anyway," Haight said. "They believe that it's the guys who say, 'Hey you want $100 to shoot an RPG at a Humvee when it goes by,' and the guy says, 'Yeah I'll do that, because I've got to feed my family.'"
Still, Haight said there are hardcore fighters in the region, some of them allied with Jalaludin Haqqani and his son Siraj, a fighting family with a long history in Afghanistan. The two militant leaders are believed to be in Pakistan.
A new report from the RAND Corp. think tank argues against that approach. It contends a "game-changing" strategy is urgently needed in Afghanistan that would have the additional troops train Afghan security forces rather than directly confront militants.
"It is unlikely the United States and NATO (on their own) will defeat the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan," said the paper, which was being released Tuesday.
Logar Gov. Atiqullah Ludin said at a news conference alongside Haight that U.S. troops will need to improve both security and the economic situation.
"There is a gap between the people and the government," Ludin said. "Assistance in Logar is very weak, and the life of the common man has not improved."
Ludin also urged that U.S. forces be careful and not act on bad intelligence to launch night raids on Afghans who turn out to be innocent.
It is a common complaint from Afghan leaders. President Hamid Karzai has long pleaded with U.S. forces not to kill innocent Afghans during military operations and says he hopes to see night raids curtailed.
Pointing to the value of such operations, the U.S. military said Monday that a raid in northwest Badghis province killed a feared militant leader named Ghulam Dastagir and eight other fighters.
Other raids, though, have killed innocent Afghans who were only defending their village against a nighttime incursion by forces they didn't know, officials say.
"We need to step back and look at those carefully, because the danger they carry is exponential," Ludin said.
Haight cautioned last week that civilian casualties could increase with the presence of his 2,700 soldiers.
"We understand the probability of increased civilian casualties is there because of increased U.S. forces," said the colonel, who has also commanded Special Operations task forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Our plan is to do no operations without ANA (Afghan army) and ANP (Afghan police), to help us be more precise."
The U.S. military and Afghan Defense Ministry announced last week that Afghan officers and soldiers would take on a greater role in military operations, including in specialized night raids, with the aim of decreasing civilian deaths.
The presence of U.S. troops in Wardak and Logar is the first time such a large contingent of American power has been so close to Kabul, fueling concerns that militants could be massing for a push at the capital. Haight dismissed those fears.
"Our provinces butt up against the southern boundary of Kabul and therefore there is the perception that Kabul could be surrounded," Haight said. "But the enemy cannot threaten Kabul. He's not big enough, he's not strong enough, he doesn't have the technology. He can conduct attacks but he can't completely disrupt the governance in Kabul."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling to Osterholzer, sted Osterhozer thruout. This item moved previously on a hold-for-release basis and is now available for use.)
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Obama, just a new re-incarnation of Bush! But his supporters say the Obama police state is a better kinder police state.
Justice still keeping files from public
Despite Obama's vow, Bush secret-data decisions protected
by Michael J. Sniffen - Feb. 17, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Despite President Barack Obama's vow to open government more than ever, the Justice Department is defending Bush administration decisions to keep secret many documents about domestic wiretapping, data collection on travelers and U.S. citizens, and interrogation of suspected terrorists.
In half a dozen lawsuits, Justice lawyers have opposed formal motions or spurned out-of-court offers to delay court action until the new administration rewrites Freedom of Information Act guidelines and decides whether the new rules might allow the public to see more.
In only one case has the Justice Department agreed to suspend a FOIA lawsuit until the disputed documents can be re-evaluated under the yet-to-be-written guidelines. That case involves negotiations on an anti-counterfeiting treaty, not the more controversial, secret anti-terrorism tactics that spawned the other lawsuits as well as Obama's promises of greater openness.
"The signs in the last few days are not entirely encouraging," said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed several lawsuits seeking the Bush administration's legal rationales for warrantless domestic wiretapping and for its treatment of terrorism detainees.
The documents sought in these lawsuits "are in many cases the documents that the public most needs to see," Jaffer said.
"It makes no sense to say that these documents are somehow exempt from President Obama's directives."
Groups that advocate open government, civil liberties and privacy were overjoyed that Obama on his first day in office reversed the FOIA policy imposed by Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft. The Bush Justice Department said it would use any legitimate legal basis to defend withholding records from the public. Obama pledged "an unprecedented level of openness in government" and ordered new FOIA guidelines written with a "presumption in favor of disclosure."
But Justice's actions in courts since then have cast doubt on how far the new administration will go.
In a FOIA case seeking access to the rules governing the FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse - a computer database containing 1 billion searchable documents about Americans and foreigners - Justice lawyers told a district court here Thursday, "It is not clear that the new guidelines, once issued, will be retrospective to FOIA requests that the agency already has finished processing."
They asked the court to rule instead that the FBI has done enough.
The bureau has reviewed 878 pages, withheld 76 and released some portions of 802.
Don't get too close to Emperor ObamaSource
Only government planes are allowed within 12 miles of Emperor Obama. Private pilots are forbidden from loitering within 30 miles of Emperor Obama. Parachuting, hang gliders, hot-air balloons, model aircraft and rockets and unmanned aircraft systems are forbidden within the 30-mile radius of Emperor Obama. I'm sorry I said Emperor Obama instead of President Obama, but it sure sounds like he is an Emperor! But of course this doesn't sound much different then when Emperor Bush came to Phoenix and effectivelly shut down all civilian aircraft in the Phoenix metro area for his visits.
Obama visit may snarl roads, private flights
Mike Branom, Tribune
February 16, 2009 - 3:04PM , updated: February 17, 2009 - 4:50PM
A presidential motorcade is a sure thing to muck up traffic, but the departure of Air Force One is not expected to affect operations at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
However, private pilots and others, including news helicopters, will have their activities severely curtailed.
President Barack Obama, in the East Valley to discuss the housing crisis, leaves shortly before 1 p.m. today. Before that, he'll speak at Dobson High School, 1501 W. Guadalupe Road in Mesa.
Officials at Sky Harbor said that travelers shouldn't notice anything different at the airport, aside from the distinctive white-and-blue Boeing 747-200B parked on the tarmac.
"We have hosted Air Force One many times in recent years and have never had flight delays as a result of a presidential visit," airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez told the Tribune.
But it will be a different story on the roads and highways.
When the motorcade departs from the Paradise Valley hotel where Obama is staying overnight en route to Dobson and then to the airport, authorities will create "rolling closures." During these, police will block off intersections in advance of the motorcade's arrival, and reopen them once the caravan passes.
Mesa police said Guadalupe Road, in front of the high school, will be closed between Alma School and Dobson roads, from 9 a.m. until about noon.
Although details have yet to be announced, it is expected that the motorcade's travels throughout the Valley will create delays. Also, the area around Dobson High most likely will be blocked off to traffic.
Also, flight restrictions over the Valley, which went into effect Tuesday morning, will end this afternoon, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Within 12 nautical miles of Sky Harbor, from the ground to 18,000 feet above sea level, the only air traffic will be federal, military and police activity, approved air ambulance flights, plus regularly scheduled commercial passenger and cargo carriers.
Between 12 and 30 nautical miles, private pilots are permitted to land and depart from local airports, but aircraft are forbidden from loitering in the area.
Forbidden within the 30-mile radius is: flight training, practice instrument approaches, aerobatic flights, parachuting, ultralight aircraft, gliders, hang gliders, hot-air balloons, crop dusters, animal population control flight operations, banner towing, model aircraft and rockets and unmanned aircraft systems.
Government spending was 21 percent of GDP last year .
[Obama's] plans would raise the federal portion of the U.S. economy to about 31 percent, more than twice the level after eight years of FDR's historic New Deal spending.
In the 1930s federal outlays represented just 3.4 percent of the nation's economy. Roosevelt's efforts to fight the Depression with government spending caused outlays to rise to 12 percent by 1941.
So who says we ain't a socialist state yet!!!!!
Obama aid dwarfs FDR's New Deal
Effort is sweeping and historic in scope, but many unsure of success
by Tom Raum - Feb. 21, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - In sheer size, the economic measures announced by President Barack Obama to address "a crisis unlike we've ever known" are remarkable, rivaling and in many cases dwarfing the New Deal programs that Franklin D. Roosevelt famously created to battle the Great Depression.
Winning approval was a political tour de force for the new administration. Yet gloom and uncertainty persist about the plan's ability to deliver a cure for the economy's severe ailments.
Stocks plunged to six-year lows after the burst of bill signings, bailout announcements and presidential pledges.
And polls indicate Americans are increasingly worried about losing jobs and not having enough money to pay their bills.
Why the skepticism?
Maybe there has just been too long a run of bad news. Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Wachovia Securities, blames much of the negativity on "the fact that people are so down; they have no confidence in the future."
Republicans complain about wasted money. Some Democratic supporters say the plan won't help very much very quickly.
Former President Bill Clinton, who gives Obama high marks for straight talk in telling the nation the bad economic news, said Obama may try a more upbeat approach now.
"I just want the American people to know that he's confident that we are going to get out of this and he feels good about the long run," Clinton said Friday on ABC News' "Good Morning America."
Patience, pleads the administration. Lawrence Summers, Obama's chief economic adviser, said the success of the plan will be measured "not by daily market reaction but what happens over time." Still," Summers said, "we are moving rapidly."
No matter how people feel about the plans, they are undoubtedly ambitious - and expensive. Taxpayers will be paying for them long after Obama is out of office.
So far in his month-old presidency:
• Congress passed and Obama signed into law a record $787 billion mix of tax cuts, job-creating projects and aid to struggling states.
• The president pledged up to $275 billion in federal aid to help stem a tidal wave of home foreclosures.
• The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve announced financial-rescue steps that could send up to $2 trillion coursing through the economy.
In all, the plans would raise the federal portion of the U.S. economy to about 31 percent, more than twice the level after eight years of FDR's historic New Deal spending.
"All Americans have a stake in making this work," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said.
You wouldn't know it from the reaction. Rather than the bipartisan support Obama first sought, Republicans remain in nearly unanimous opposition. They contend that the stimulus package is tainted by wasteful spending and that the mortgage-foreclosure plan leaves out many struggling homeowners while rewarding lenders and borrowers who made bad decisions. Some Republican governors from the South even talk of spurning the new federal money.
Even while supporting the initiatives, some Democrats suggest the efforts won't deliver enough quick help to make a difference, despite the eye-popping price tags.
Joblessness keeps rising. Consumers and businesses are cutting back. Bank lending remains down. Auto demand keeps falling, with two Detroit automakers saying this week that they may need up to $21.6 billion more in U.S. loans beyond what they received in January.
"There is a degree of skepticism involved," said Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political-science professor. "Not surprisingly, people are wary of some very expensive proposals with no guarantee of success or even a high probability of how well they'll work."
Economists argue that many of the benefits from the Obama initiatives will take months, if not years, to arrive. The administration cites the complexities of trying to heal a downturn that has turned global.
"The president balances the challenges that we face with the understanding that we're going to get through tough times as we always have in this country," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday, when asked about Clinton's comments.
As for the New Deal, it's hard to compare Obama's moves with FDR's initiatives. They were a series of programs spread over years, not all-encompassing packages like the new proposals.
Rather than creating jobs, some of Roosevelt's signature programs dealt with revamping government structure, such as securities-market regulation and insuring bank deposits. His biggest idea, Social Security, didn't have much impact until later.
The largest of Roosevelt's job programs, the Works Progress Administration begun in 1935, did provide jobs across the nation building roads, bridges and other projects. Among his other job-creating programs were the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Historians and economists still debate whether FDR's New Deal fixed the crisis or prolonged the pain.
After taking office in 1933, Roosevelt first tried to slash government jobs and spending. His efforts to balance the budget in 1937 backfired and triggered a new recession within the broader Depression.
The 1930s began with federal outlays representing just 3.4 percent of the nation's economy as measured by the gross domestic product. Roosevelt's efforts to fight the Depression with government spending caused outlays to rise to 10.3 percent of GDP by 1939 and to 12 percent by 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II. By contrast, government spending was 21 percent of GDP last year. Obama's economic-recovery policies are expected to bring it up to 30 percent or more.
Vote for John McCain for 8 more years of war
Looks like Obama will give you 8 more years of war too!Didn't the same two thirds of the population support George W. Bush's war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Give those idiots some time and when the freedom fighters in Afghanistan start killing Americans like the freedom fighters in Iraq are killing Americans Obama's support of the flawed Afghanistan war will fall just like George W. Bush support fell.
Poll: Most back Obama's troop plan for Afghanistan
By Susan Page, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Americans by 2-1 approve of President Obama's decision to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan despite skepticism over whether they can succeed in stabilizing the security situation there within the next few years. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday shows a reservoir of support for Obama's first major military decision as president. Two-thirds express approval of his order to expand the U.S. deployment to Afghanistan by 50%; one third disapprove.
Half of those surveyed say they'd support a decision to send another 13,000 troops, which would fulfill the request by U.S. commanders to nearly double the U.S. force in Afghanistan even as troops are being withdrawn from Iraq.
Even so, there is measurable opposition. One of four Americans says Obama should reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or withdraw them entirely. That opposition is stronger among Obama's fellow Democrats than among Republicans: 29% of Democrats, compared to 17% of Republicans.
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan was launched a month after Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, targeting the al-Qaeda terrorists who planned the attacks and the fundamentalist Taliban regime that sheltered them. About 36,000 U.S. troops are now on duty there.
Americans are split over whether the United States will be able to establish a stable enough situation in Afghanistan within the next three years to allow most U.S. troops to be withdrawn. While 49% say they will, another 46% say they won't. Most of those predict a stalemate between the United States and the Taliban.
The survey of 1,013 adults, taken by landline and cellphone, has a margin of error of +/— 3 percentage points.
Afghan bomb kills 4 US troops; deadliest this year
By HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press Writer Heidi Vogt, Associated Press Writer
KABUL – A roadside bomb killed four U.S. troops patrolling in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday in the deadliest single attack on international forces this year. An Afghan civilian working with the Americans also died.
The troops were patrolling with Afghan forces when their vehicle struck a bomb Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. military said in a statement. The military did not release the attack's location pending the notification of relatives.
The previous deadliest attack against U.S. forces this year was an explosion in Zabul province in January that killed three troops.
Twenty-nine Americans troops have died in Afghanistan this year, far surpassing the eight U.S. forces killed in the first two months of 2008.
The U.S. is increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. A record 38,000 U.S. forces now operate in the country, many in Taliban strongholds in the dangerous south.
President Barack Obama last week announced the deployment of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, adding to the 38,000 American forces already fighting a strengthening insurgency. Taliban militants have increased attacks the last three years and now hold sway in large areas of countryside.
Taliban bombs once caused relatively few casualties among soldiers in armored vehicles, but more powerful charges now cause massive damage even to well protected Humvees.
In a separate incident in southern Helmand province on Monday, coalition and Afghan forces killed 16 militants when responding to gunfire from insurgents on their convoy, the U.S. said in another statement. There were no other reports of casualties, the statement said.
Afghan, Pakistani diplomats in US for 'rethink'
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The top diplomats of Pakistan and Afghanistan were opening talks in Washington Tuesday as US senators called for a rethink on billions of dollars sent to Islamabad for the "war on terror."
The talks come as part of a reassessment of US strategy by President Barack Obama, who plans to deploy another 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan and to put further focus on fighting extremism in Pakistan.
The foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan -- which have often been at loggerheads over the conflict -- will meet Tuesday ahead of a three-way session Thursday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton "looks forward to meeting with both ministers, hearing their views, and of course sharing our views on what we believe is going on, on the ground," State Department spokesman Robert Woods said.
Ahead of the meeting, a congressional watchdog faulted a lack of a "comprehensive plan" for fighting extremism in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.
The tribal areas have never been fully under Pakistani control and are believed to be the hideout for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants forced out of Afghanistan following the 2001 US military offensive.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found the United States has spent 12.3 billion dollars since 2002 aiming to end the "terrorist threat" on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
"Despite six years of US and Pakistani government efforts, Al-Qaeda has regenerated its ability to attack the United States and continues to maintain a safe haven in Pakistan?s FATA," it said.
It found that more than 70 percent of the US assistance was military spending -- mostly funding for operations. The report said it did not include covert operations.
Senator Robert Menendez, who heads the Foreign Relations subcommittee on international assistance, said the report showed US aid to Pakistan was not working.
"It's clear that the strategy in place over the past seven years must be rethought if we are to improve our security," said Menendez, a member of Obama's Democratic Party.
"I look forward to working on a policy that focuses assistance on institutions that help ensure long-term stability and minimize the threat in Pakistan," he said.
Senator Tom Harkin said the previous administration of George W. Bush had "thrown billions of taxpayer dollars down a rabbit hole.
"This colossal foreign policy and national security failure is yet another legacy item of the Bush administration -- one that we will work to turn around with President Obama and the new Congress," he said.
A deputy to Pakistan's top Taliban commander on Monday declared a unilateral ceasefire in Bajaur, one of the seven federally administered tribal areas, after a months-long operation by Pakistani forces.
Islamabad says the offensive proves its commitment to crush the insurgents.
But Democratic Representative George Miller, who recently traveled to Afghanistan, said that Pakistan was not fully committed to fighting extremists, citing the role of the country's powerful intelligence agency.
"In Pakistan, we can no longer suffer the duplicity of that government in sort of fighting and not fighting and supporting and not supporting," Miller said.
He went to Afghanistan and Italy, the current chairman of the Group of Eight rich nations, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi, one of Obama's key allies, flatly rejected comparisions between Afghanistan and Vietnam, where the US-allied southern government fell after years of troop buildups by Washington.
"This is not the beginning of an escalation," Pelosi said.
Obama plans to deploy some 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan. Currently about 70,000 foreign troops -- 38,000 of them from the United States -- are stationed in the country.
The title says in 18 months all the troops will be out of Iraq, but thats a lie! The fine print says all the troops will be out by December 2011. Which means Obama won't have all of the troops out of Iraq for almost 3 years!
Of course given the nature of politicians change their stories on the fly (a polite way of saying they lie) who knows when the troops will really be out of Iraq? Will it really be in 2012 when Obama is running for re-election or will he pass it on to the next president in 2013.
Of course Obama has this new improved war in Afghanistan so how long will that go on? The Soviets got their butts kicked in Afghanistan and of course we will almost certainly get our buts kicked in Afghanistan!
If you ask me it looks like Obama just moved the Iraq war from the front burner of the stove to the back burner, while moving the Afghanistan war from the back burner to the front burner.
This sounds like a repeat of that Goldwater Johnson thing. Goldwater said he was going to kick some commie ass in Vietnam, and Johnson said he wouldn't. But then Johnson had the American Empire invade Vietnam anyhow?
Obama sounds like he is taking the path of Johnson!
Officials: Most troops out of Iraq in 18 months
By PAMELA HESS and ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writers Pamela Hess And Anne Gearan
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to order that all U.S. combat troops be withdrawn from Iraq by August 2010, administration officials said Tuesday, ending the war that defined his upstart presidential campaign three months later than he had promised.
Obama's plan would pull out all combat troops 19 months after his inauguration, although he had promised repeatedly during the 2008 campaign that he would withdraw them 16 months after taking office. That schedule, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, was predicated on commanders determining that it would not endanger U.S. troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.
Pledging to end the war in 16 months helped to build enormous grass-roots support for Obama's White House bid.
The withdrawal plan — an announcement could come as early as this week — calls for leaving a large contingent of troops behind, between 30,000 and 50,000 troops, to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests.
Also staying beyond the 19 months would be intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.
The complete withdrawal of American forces will take place by December 2011, the period by which the U.S. agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.
A senior White House official said Tuesday that Obama is at least a day away from making a final decision. He further said an announcement on Wednesday was unlikely, but he said that Obama could discuss Iraq during a trip to North Carolina on Friday.
About 142,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, roughly 14 brigades, about 11,000 more than the total in Iraq when President George W. Bush announced in January 2007 that he would "surge" the force to put down the insurgency. He sent an additional 21,000 combat troops to Baghdad and Anbar province.
Although the number of combat brigades has dropped from 20 to 14, the U.S. has increased the number of logistical and other support troops. A brigade is usually about 3,000 to 5,000 troops.
Obama's campaign promise to withdraw troops in 16 months was based on a military estimate on what would be an orderly pace of removing troops, given the logistical difficulties of removing so many people and tons of equipment, a U.S. military official said.
The 19-month strategy is a compromise between commanders and advisers who are worried that security gains could backslide in Iraq and those who think the bulk of U.S. combat work is long since done.
The White House considered at least two other options to withdraw combat forces — one that followed Obama's 16-month timeline and one that stretched withdrawal over 23 months, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.
Some U.S. commanders have spoken more optimistically in recent months about prospects for reducing the force.
Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who just left his job overseeing U.S. operations in Anbar Province, said Tuesday that he saw violence drop to an almost "meaningless" level over the past year.
Kelly told reporters Tuesday that in the area that was the home ground of the Sunni insurgency, American combat forces don't have enough to do and most could have pulled out months ago.
"There is still a security issue there, but in the province I just left the (Iraqi) army and the police are more than handling the remnants of what used to be al-Qaida," Kelly said. "There's other parts of Iraq that aren't going quite as well but all of Iraq is doing pretty well."
According to officials, Obama had requested a range of options from his top military advisers, including one that would have withdrawn troops in 16 months. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently forwarded withdrawal alternatives to the White House for Obama's consideration.
In addition to the U.S. troops to be withdrawn, there is a sizable cadre of contractors who provide services to them who would pack their bags as well. There were 148,050 defense contractor personnel working in Iraq as of December, 39,262 of them U.S. citizens.
There are more than 200 U.S. military installations in Iraq. According to Army officials interviewed by the Government Accountability Office, it can take up to two months to shut down small outposts that hold up to 300 troops. Larger entrenched facilities, like Balad Air Base, could take up to 18 months to close, according to the GAO.
As of Monday, at least 4,250 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. More than 31,000 have been injured. An additional 35,841 have received medical air transport due to non-hostile incidents.
Congress has approved more than $657 billion so far for the Iraq war, according to a report last year from the Congressional Research Service.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven, Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor, Steven Hurst, Anne Flaherty, Richard Lardner and Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.
How else would have he gotten elected if he didn't lie about cutting pork????
Obama backing down on vows to cut pork
McCain criticizes funding for lawmakers' pet projects
Mar. 3, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Despite campaign promises to take a machete to lawmakers' pet projects, President Barack Obama is quietly caving to funding nearly 8,000 of them this year, drawing a stern rebuke Monday from his Republican challenger in last fall's election.
Arizona Sen. John McCain said it is "insulting to the American people" for Obama's budget director to indicate over the weekend that the president will sign a $410 billion spending bill with what Republicans critics say is nearly $5.5 billion in pet projects known as earmarks.
"So much for the promise of change," McCain said.
Democrats contend that earmarks in the bill total $3.8 billion, less than 1 percent of the amount Congress is approving to finance government programs through September. Taxpayers for Common Sense, an anti-earmark watchdog group, counts them differently and found $7.7 billion worth.
Democrats are not alone in funding pet projects. As the minority party in Congress, Republicans claim roughly 40 percent of earmarks, though McCain and House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio, among others, refuse them.
White House Budget Director Peter Orsazg said Sunday that the new administration wants to "move on . . . get this bill done, get it into law and move forward."
Obama is hardly the first president to promise to make Congress change its pork-barreling ways, and he certainly won't be the last. But he is the first to retreat so quickly, after only six weeks in the White House.
The president, however, hit a brick wall with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and other Democrats who treasure their right to send taxpayer money to their states and districts.
"I'm here to tell everyone that we have an obligation as members of Congress to help direct spending to our states," Reid told reporters last week.
That's the kind of treatment President George W. Bush got from his allies in Congress after he took office eight years ago. Like Obama, he also was firmly rebuffed.
In Bush's case, it was top GOP leaders - House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas - who defended earmarks and made the White House back off. They saw them as helping endangered Republicans keep their seats and a way to reward rank-and-file lawmakers willing to toe the leadership's line.
The main purpose of government is to steal money from the governed and give it to special intrest groups of the rulers. Roads, yea, every once in a while they build a road or some real project the people can use - every once in a while. But more often then not it is earmarks for special interest groups.
Senate ignores McCain, keeps earmarks
Mar. 4, 2009 09:36 AM
WASHINGTON - The Senate voted overwhelmingly to preserve thousands of earmarks in a $410 billion spending bill on Tuesday, brushing aside Sen. John McCain's claim that President Barack Obama and Congress are merely conducting business as usual in a time of economic hardship.
McCain's attempt to strip out an estimated 8,500 earmarks failed on a vote of 63-32. The Arizona senator's proposal also would have cut roughly $32 billion from the measure and kept spending at last year's levels in several federal agencies.
Last year's Republican presidential candidate said both he and Obama pledged during the campaign to "stop business as usual in Washington," and he quoted the president as having said he would go line by line to make sure money was spent wisely.
The White House has said that Obama intends to sign the legislation, casting it as leftover business from 2008. Spokesman Robert Gibbs pledged on Monday the White House will issue new guidelines covering earmarks for future bills.
McCain's proposal drew the support of 32 Republicans and two Democrats, and the outcome reflected the enduring value of earmarks to lawmakers. While polls routinely show these pet projects to be unpopular, local governments and constituents often covet them.
The maneuvering came on legislation to assure continued funding for several federal agencies past March 6. At $410 billion, the bill represents an 8 percent increase over last year's spending levels, more than double the rate of inflation.
Republicans made two other attempts during the day to reduce spending in the bill, but failed both times.
Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said McCain's call to hold spending level with a year ago "doesn't account for inflation." As an example, he said some programs would have to be cut if federal workers were to receive a pay raise.
The House passed the legislation last week, and Democratic leaders are working to clear it without changes so the president can sign it by Friday.
While Republican opposition in the House focused more on the bill's overall spending, McCain and allies turned the Senate spotlight squarely on earmarks.
"How does anyone justify some of these earmarks: $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa; $2 million for the promotion of astronomy' in Hawaii; $6.6 million for termite research in New Orleans; $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York," he said.
He also noted the legislation includes 14 earmarks requested by lawmakers for projects sought by PMA Group, a lobbying company at the center of a federal corruption investigation.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he would seek to have them removed.
Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates the legislation contains 8,570 disclosed earmarks worth $7.7 billion. House Democrats declined to provide an estimate of the number of pet projects in the bill, and put their cost at $3.8 billion.
Democrats also say the value of earmarks is 5 percent lower than the last time Congress approved spending bills for an entire year.
The earmark issue has been a thorny one for Obama, who successfully urged lawmakers to pass an economic stimulus bill without them. He deferred to lawmakers on the legislation now moving through Congress, but his aides have worked to make it appear that he is merely acquiescing in what lawmakers and the White House had been prepared to do at the end of the Bush administration.
McCain ridiculed that argument in an animated speech on the Senate floor on Monday, asking, "does that mean that last year's president will sign this pork-barrel bill?"
At the White House, Gibbs was deflecting questions on the same subject.
Asked why Obama would sign the bill when he was overturning numerous policies put in place by former President George W. Bush, he said, "I think that you'll see that the president is going to draw some very clear lines about what's going to happen going forward."
Congress must pass stopgap to keep government open
By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — With a $410 billion catchall spending bill stalled in the Senate and a midnight deadline looming, Congress began rushing through stopgap legislation Friday to keep the government running for another five days. On Thursday night, Republicans in the Senate unexpectedly put the brakes on the sweeping measure that would finance most government agencies and also includes some big spending increases and lawmakers' pet projects.
With most Republicans denouncing the bill as too costly and a handful of Democrats opposing it as well, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called off a key procedural vote -- just one vote short of the 60 needed to send the measure to the White House.
Several Republicans who support the bill withheld their support of the procedural vote in order to force Reid to allow other Republicans to offer amendments, including ones to extend a local school voucher program in Washington, D.C., and to require lawmakers to approve their pay hikes instead of getting an automatic cost-of-living raise every year.
With the vote postponed until at least Monday, both the House and Senate need to pass a stopgap spending measure by midnight Friday to prevent a shutdown of most domestic agencies. Midnight is when a temporary law that keeps the government in business, mostly at 2008 spending levels, expires. The House began debating the temporary measure Friday morning, to be followed by the Senate.
If the larger spending bill ends up being amended by the Senate, the House would again have to act on that bill, giving Republicans further chances to launch political attacks.
In fact, Reid says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has threatened to pull the plug on the measure altogether if it is amended by the Senate. The government would instead run on automatic pilot under legislation keeping agencies operating at current levels. That would deny senators and House members all of their pet projects.
"She said 'We have put our members through a lot over here on this appropriations bill. I am not going to put them through any more,'" Reid recalled on Wednesday.
Amid the debate over spending, the government on Friday delivered more bad economic news, a spike in unemployment to 8.1 percent. That prompted the top House Republican to call for a freeze on spending until the end of the fiscal year and plead with President Barack Obama to veto the Senate measure.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the bill is loaded with "unscrutinized taxpayer-funded earmarks" that are "a textbook example of why Americans have grown so fed up with Washington."
Democrats and their allies control 58 seats, though at least a handful of Democrats oppose the measure over its cost or changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba. That meant Democrats needed five or six Republican votes to advance the bill. But key Republicans such as Olympia Snowe of Maine withheld their votes in order to force Reid to open the measure to further amendments.
The huge, 1,132-page spending bill awards big increases to domestic programs and is stuffed with pet projects sought by lawmakers in both parties. The measure has an extraordinary reach, wrapping together nine spending bills to fund the annual operating budgets of every Cabinet department except for Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.
The measure was written mostly over the course of last year, before projected deficits quadrupled and Obama's economic recovery bill left many of the same spending accounts swimming in cash. Initially, the bill attracted bipartisan support, but most Republicans developed sticker shock in the wake of enactment of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.
And, to the embarrassment of Obama -- who promised during last year's campaign to force Congress to curb its pork-barrel ways -- the bill contains 7,991 pet projects totaling $5.5 billion, according to calculations by the GOP staff of the House Appropriations Committee.
Lets face it, this isn't a plan to rescue the economy. They are just using the recession as an excuse to give away 10 times as much pork as they normally give away.
March 06, 2009 |
Earmark-laden bill a line in the sand for pork-barrel politics
Obama vowed to press reforms; many doubtful
by Dan Nowicki - Mar. 6, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
The Senate is getting ready to pass a giant spending bill stuffed with congressional pet projects that critics decry as unnecessary pork.
But the bill could be a last gasp for Capitol Hill's entrenched earmark culture if President Barack Obama follows through with a campaign commitment to crack down on the free-spending practice that exploded in the 1990s under a Republican-controlled Congress.
Earmark reformers are skeptical, though. They point to stiff resistance from Democratic leaders and Obama's reluctance to veto the pending $410 billion legislation as signs that business will continue as usual. The 8,570 earmarks in the bill represent $7.7 billion, according to the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense. Action on the bill, which wraps together nine spending measures that fund the operating budgets of much of the executive branch, was postponed in the Senate on Thursday night. The House has approved the legislation, and the Senate is expected to vote next week.
"I hope that they will want to fix this broken process and corrupt system," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's presidential opponent and an outspoken earmark foe. "I have spoken to the vice president, and I have spoken to the president about efforts we can make together to try to fix it. The biggest hurdle is the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress who love this corrupt practice."
Earmarking in and of itself is not corrupt, although McCain and other critics point to a series of earmark-related scandals that resulted in the prosecution of Congress members. But it does give powerful lawmakers a way to fund projects that they deem priorities without going through the normal appropriations procedure. Some high-powered lobbyists actively seek earmarks for clients, and the lack of public scrutiny fuels fears of shady deals.
Most lawmakers don't share McCain's sentiment that the earmarks inevitably breed corruption and waste. They say that occasional abuses such as Alaska's notorious "Bridge to Nowhere" are anomalies and that most earmarks serve constituents well. And many appropriators view the anti-earmark crusade as a thinly veiled power play to wrest away their traditional ability to direct federal spending.
"An earmark's worth is in the eye of the beholder," said Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., a member of the influential House Appropriations Committee whose name is attached to assorted omnibus earmarks worth more than $128.5 million.
"Ninety-eight percent of the budget and projects are determined by the president; 2 percent are determined by the entire Congress, both the Senate and the House. For all practical purposes, most of the earmarks are going to cities, towns, states or hospitals and educational institutions."
Pastor pointed to the upgraded control tower at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as a vital local project that started as an earmark. The recently opened Metro light rail began with an earmark to study its feasibility, he said.
The spending bill under consideration includes a Pastor-supported expenditure of $91.8 million to expand the system.
Some reformers say their concerns are often as much or more about the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing and lack of review as with the actual projects. They question why some states should trump others simply because their well-positioned elected representatives can manipulate the appropriations spigots.
"There is certainly no guarantee that we're spending money wisely or appropriately or on the most critical projects. It's a political-patronage system rather than a meritocracy," said Steve Ellis, Taxpayers for Common Sense vice president.
For his part, Obama never seemed to share McCain's intense level of passion about earmarks, but he has agreed that the process needs reform. And he vocally opposed earmarks in the recently passed economic-stimulus package.
Still, administration officials have backed off from confronting Congress about the omnibus bill, which is needed to keep the government running and is left over from 2008, before Obama took office.
"This is last year's business. We just need to move on," Peter Orszag, Obama's budget director, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
Even the suggestion that Obama still wants to pursue earmark reform prompted pushback from a top House Democrat.
"I don't think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., defiantly told reporters this week.
I am pretty unhappy with Obamas lie on removing the troops from Iraq. He is talking 7 months to remove less then 10 percent of the troops from Iraq. He says 12,000 of the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq will be removed in September, which is 7 months from now. And if you consider the 17,000 troops Obama moved into Afthanistan last month the number of America troops as war has INCREASED under Obama!
Yes Republian Bush was an evil war monger, but Democrat Obama ain't much better!
Despite attacks, 12,000 GIs to leave Iraq by fall
U.S. announces military to pull back by Sept.
by Sinan Salaheddin - Mar. 9, 2009 12:00 AM
BAGHDAD - A total of 12,000 American and 4,000 British troops will leave Iraq by September, the U.S. military said Sunday, hours after a suicide bomber killed 32 people at the entrance of Baghdad's main police academy.
The blast - the second major attack to hit Iraqis in three days and the deadliest to strike Baghdad in nearly a month - was a bloody reminder of the ability of insurgents to defy security improvements and stage dramatic attacks as the U.S. begins to draw down its forces.
Maj. Gen. David Perkins said the troop withdrawals will reduce U.S. combat power from 14 brigades to 12 with some supporting units. The U.S. also plans to turn over 74 facilities and areas under its control to the Iraqis by the end of March as part of the drawdown. President Barack Obama has decided to remove all combat troops by the end of August 2010, with the remaining forces leaving by the end of 2011. The 4,000 British troops due to leave are the last British soldiers in Iraq.
There are about 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Remaining American forces will be repositioned in coordination with Iraqi authorities to ensure that the most dangerous areas of the country are protected, Perkins said.
Perkins insisted violence has dropped more than 90 percent and was at its lowest level since the summer of 2003. He said a recent spate of high-profile attacks, including Sunday's bombing, was evidence of an increasingly desperate al-Qaida in Iraq.
"Al-Qaida and other terrorists are still active," he said, adding that insurgents appear to be stepping up attacks to derail recent progress by the Iraqi government.
"It's indicative that al-Qaida feels threatened. They're feeling desperate. They want very much to maintain relevance," he said.
Extremists increasingly have targeted Iraqi forces as they take over the country's security. Baghdad's main police academy has been hit by several bombings. A suicide bombing there killed at least 33 people and wounded dozens Dec. 1.
The bomber on Sunday detonated his explosives as he drove his motorcycle into a group of people waiting near a side entrance of the academy.
Iraqi and U.S. forces sealed off the scene, allowing only ambulances and fire engines to enter. Nervous Iraqi troops fired in the air to prevent onlookers and reporters from getting too close. They accidentally shot at a fire engine but no casualties were reported, according to witnesses.
Haitham Fadhel, 24, said he was standing in one of three lines of recruits arriving for their first day of special guard training courses.
"We were feeling secure as we were waiting in a well-guarded area," he said. "Before the explosion occurred I heard a loud shout saying, 'Stop, stop, where are you going?' Seconds later, a huge explosion shook the area."
The recruit from the mainly Shiite neighborhood of New Baghdad was knocked unconscious and was wounded by shrapnel. He said he was lucky because the bomber struck a different line, but two of his friends were killed.
"I am just wondering how a big security breach can occur in such a secured area," Fadhel said. "I came here to get a job after four years of staying at home even though I graduated from Oil Institute ... but it seems that I have no luck."
Three medical officials and one police officer in the area where the bombing occurred said 32 people were killedand about 60 others were wounded.
Bomb kills 1 Canadian soldier in Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI – 2 hours ago
KABUL (AP) — A roadside bomb exploded in southern Afghanistan, killing a Canadian soldier and wounding four others, the Canadian Department of National Defense said.
The death Sunday comes as America's top general in Afghanistan said coalition forces were not winning the war in the south — the center of the Taliban-led insurgency and a region covered with opium poppies, the main ingredient in heroin.
The Canadian soldiers were patrolling inside an armored vehicle when the bomb exploded near them in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province, the Canadians said in a statement late Sunday.
The latest death continues an upward trend in violence that has spread throughout Afghanistan the last three years. President Barack Obama's new administration has been trying to come up with a fresh approach to dealing with the Afghan war.
Obama last month ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan to bolster the record 38,000 American forces already in the country. He has promised to increase the U.S. focus on Afghanistan as it moves away from Iraq, where the U.S. plans to draw down its forces.
Insurgents regularly use roadside bombs in their attacks on foreign and Afghan troops throughout the country. The number of roadside bomb attacks in 2008 increased more than 30 percent compared with 2007.
Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency. Thousands of the new U.S. troops will be joining a British, Canadian and Dutch troops in trying to reverse the gains by the Taliban and expand governance and security.
Gen. David McKiernan, America's top general in Afghanistan, told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that coalition forces were not winning the war in southern and parts of eastern Afghanistan, though he said progress was being made in the north and west.
"But there are other areas — large areas in the southern part of Afghanistan especially, but in parts of the east — where we are not winning," he said.
He said in many of those areas there wasn't enough of a sustained security presence to allow for improvements in governance.
"So these U.S. forces, this force uplift, of which the majority will be positioned in the southern part of Afghanistan, I think will change security conditions there this year," he said.
Trust me, under Obama's plan government schools will be putting out kids that are smarter then Einstein and the teachers will all be able to afford Mercedes! Of course when the schools still produce kids who can't read or write Obama will say "Of course it doesn't work all the time", but he won't offer to refund the money you wasted on the schools and teachers
Obama, taking on unions, backs teacher merit pay
Posted 3/10/2009 12:31 PM ET
By Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama embraced merit pay for teachers Tuesday in spelling out a vision of education that will almost certainly alienate union backers. Educators oppose charter schools because they divert tax dollars away from traditional public schools. Merit-based systems for teachers have for years been anathema to teachers' unions, a powerful force in the Democratic Party.
Obama acknowledged this in his talk to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom," he said, delivering the first major education speech of his presidency. "Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance."
But he argued that a far-reaching overhaul of the nation's education system is an economic imperative that can't wait, despite the urgency of the financial crisis and other pressing issues.
"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us," Obama said. "The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream."
The ideas the president promoted were nearly all elements of his campaign platform last year. He only barely mentioned the reauthorization of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced sweeping reforms that schools are struggling to meet without the funding to match. Obama said his administration would "later this year" ensure that schools get the funding they need and that the money is conditioned on results.
Among the principles Obama laid out were:
_Challenging states to adopt world-class standards rather than a specific standard. Obama's economic stimulus plan includes a $5 billion incentive fund to reward states for, among other things, boosting the quality of standards and state tests, and the president said the Education Department would create a fund to invest in innovation.
_Improved pre-kindergarten programs, including $5 billion in the stimulus plan to grow Head Start, expand child care access and do more for children with special needs. He also said he would offer 55,000 first-time parents regular visits from trained nurses and said that states that develop cutting-edge plans to raise the quality of early learning programs would get an Early Learning Challenge Grant, if Congress approves the new program.
_Reducing student dropout rates. To students, Obama said: "Don't even think about dropping out of school." But he said that reducing the dropout rates also requires turning around the worst schools, something he asked lawmakers, parents and teachers to make "our collective responsibility as Americans."
_Repeating his call for everyone to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training, with the goal of highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.
On charter schools, he said the caps instituted by some states on how many are allowed aren't "good for our children, our economy, or our country."
Obama also spoke at length about what he described his policy toward teachers, what he called an 'unprecedented commitment to ensure that anyone entrusted with educating our children is doing the job as well as it can be done." In up to 150 more school districts, Obama said, teachers will get mentoring, more money for improved student achievement and new responsibilities.
Also, Obama said, "We need to make sure our students have the teacher they need to be successful. That means states and school districts taking steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom. Let me be clear: if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching."
The president acknowledged that a rethinking of the traditional American school day may not be welcome -- "not in my family, and probably not in yours" -- but is critical.
"The challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom," Obama said. "If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America."
After the speech, Obama stopped at a hotel to drop in on another meeting, an already scheduled and ongoing round-table discussion between Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which involves the heads of education from every state and U.S. territory.
Sounds like a repeat of "Sadam has WMDs and we need to invade", only this time its in Afghanistan and we need to throw more troops at that mistake
Biden warns of 'deteriorating' Afghan situation
Posted 3/10/2009 8:30 AM ET
By Constant Brand, Associated Press Writer
BRUSSELS — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged NATO members to jointly confront al-Qaida and other extremist groups in Afghanistan where he said instability threatens all of the alliance's members equally. Appearing before NATO's top decision making body, Biden solicited ideas to reverse a losing military strategy in Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama's policy to bring more European allies on board to fight the Taliban-led insurgency.
He warned the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan was worsening, adding, "The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat from our respect not just to the United States, but to every single nation around this table."
"It was from that remote area of the world that al-Qaida plotted 9/11 and subsequent attacks" in Europe and elsewhere.
In his speech, Biden said the Obama administration will be keen to engage NATO allies in global security discussions, marking a departure from the last eight years when Washington often was on a go-it-alone course that upset its European allies.
"President Obama and I are deeply committed to NATO. Lets get that straight right from the start," Biden told the North Atlantic Council -- the panel of ambassadors from NATO's 26 member nations.
Biden said Americans view a terrorist attack in Europe "as an attack on the United States. That is not hyperbole ... We view it as a gateway to further attacks on the United States. So please understand that this is not a U.S.-centrist view that only if America is attacked is there a terrorist threat."
He said he came to hear ideas from the allies on how NATO can bring stability to Afghanistan.
"It is from that area that al-Qaida and its extremist allies are regenerating in conceiving new atrocities aimed at the people around the world from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the United States, Europe and Australia," he added.
After his consultations with NATO allies he will meet with senior officials at EU headquarters.
His visit, less than a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with senior NATO and EU officials here, highlights the new priority that diplomatic outreach to allies has become for Washington.
An issue closely related to the Afghan war is growing concern that neighboring Pakistan could be sliding further into instability.
Obama launched a strategic review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan after he took office in January. That review is expected to be completed later this month.
"What I want to learn is what your countries believe are working, what you think is not working, how we can do a better job in stopping Afghanistan and Pakistan from being a haven for terrorists," Biden said.
Each NATO and EU country "has a vital interest" in ensuring the region is made stable, he said.
A senior U.S. administration official traveling with Biden said the vice president would not make specific requests for extra troops from European allies.
The Obama administration has ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to the country to bolster the 38,000 already there as a way to turn the tide. NATO has about 25,000 non-American troops in Afghanistan. Washington's allies have been reluctant to increase their troops levels.
The top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, said Sunday that coalition forces were not winning the war in the south, which remains the center of the Taliban-led insurgency.
Associated Press Writer Robert Wielaard contributed to this report.
I always tell people the MAIN purpose of government is to take money from us and give it to the special intrest groups that help the congressmen and senators get elected. I would like to thank Congressman Ed Pastor for confirming that. Of course the founders didn't intend government to work that way. But if you read the Federalist Papers you will see they feared government could end up working that way as it has.
In one of those trillion dollar corporate welfare bills that was in Congress this week there was something like 9,000 earmarks or pieces of pork attached to it. That is 90 earmarks for EACH of the 100 US Senator and 20 earmarks for EACH of the 435 US Congressmen. That should certainly say that almost each and every Senator and Congressman is working for THEIR special intrest groups and not the people that elected them.
Ed Pastor calls Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Harry Mitchell theives even though they pretend not to be - "They belong to a school that says, 'Vote no and take the dough,' "
The statement about Ed Pastor "He understands you've got to compromise" translated to English means "I will vote for your pork if you vote for my pork" shows what Congress is all about.
Rep. Pastor doesn't shy away from earmarks
Dem feels obligated to meet Ariz. needs
by Dan Nowicki - Mar. 11, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Rep. Ed Pastor has an ear for earmarks and no qualms about directing federal cash to local projects that critics might characterize as pork.
The veteran Arizona Democrat's accommodating attitude toward spending puts him at odds with Republican Capitol Hill colleagues such as Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake.
But observers say it also helps make Pastor, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the most influential member of the state's House delegation, particularly in a changing political climate marked by President Barack Obama's progressive policies and government activism.
"Whatever my constituents ask for, I try to meet their needs. When you're an appropriator, obviously, you are able to do things, so I try to help as much as I can," Pastor said in an interview with The Arizona Republic. "The situation is there is need all over the state."
Pastor takes credit for making sure a $410 billion spending bill passed Tuesday by the Senate included millions of dollars in funding for Arizona projects, including $91.8 million for Metro light rail's 20-mile line through Mesa, Tempe and central Phoenix.
A former longtime Maricopa County supervisor, Pastor came to Congress in 1991 after winning a special election to replace legendary Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., who had resigned because of deteriorating health. Pastor is the senior member of Arizona's House delegation and traditionally has avoided media attention. Despite the low profile, he is increasingly viewed as a leading force from the state now that Democrats control Congress and the White House. Pastor's stature likely will only grow during the Obama era, which so far has been characterized by breathless spending.
"He is not real egotistical like many of us become in these public offices, and he's a genuinely nice man," said former three-term Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., who sat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and is now a lobbyist. "He is as smart as can be. He understands the process completely. He understands you've got to compromise. People might object to the compromise, but he does it with the justification that he wants to accomplish something for Arizona."
Pastor strongly supports the health-care, energy and education priorities outlined in Obama's sweeping $3.6 trillion budget and looks forward to doing his part to bring the plan to life in 2010. It is early in the process, but Pastor said he is impressed by Obama's commitment to a budget that is free from the accounting tricks and gimmicks that Pastor said President George W. Bush used to obscure the true expense of the ongoing Iraq war.
"He's putting the money where his promises were," Pastor said of the Obama spending blueprint. "Obama himself says, 'Look, I agree that as we invest in these projects, we also have to deal with the deficit.' He's finding various ways of increasing the revenue. You may disagree with him, but at least he's being honest and trying to meet those deficits."
Pastor's growing importance stems from his years in Congress and his much-coveted seat on the appropriations panel, which has wide discretion over spending and gives him easy access to the earmarking process. Many lawmakers around the country would love to take his place on the committee.
"Most congressional people try to bring money home to their district. That's what they are put into office for," said Fred Solop, chairman of Northern Arizona University's politics and international-affairs department. "Their constituents want a better way of life, and most representatives and senators will seize upon that opportunity."
But in Arizona, Pastor's enthusiastic financial support of parochial projects stands out. McCain, the state's best-known politician, made his longtime crusade against pork-barrel spending a central part of his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Flake has become a cult hero to fiscal conservatives for his tireless push to curtail earmarks.
Beyond viewing the expenditures as often unnecessary and wasteful, McCain and Flake also warn that the earmarking process can lead to public corruption.
The heavy spending on tap has even some Democrats from centrist Arizona districts thinking twice: Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Harry Mitchell last month opposed the $410 billion spending bill, which had been criticized over its $7.7 billion in earmarks.
"They belong to a school that says, 'Vote no and take the dough,' " Pastor said, laughing.
For his part, Pastor has little fear of GOP opposition in his solidly Democratic district, which includes downtown and central Phoenix, part of Glendale and Guadalupe. Any national criticism associated with Pastor's spending record, such as his poor ratings from the anti-pork Citizens Against Government Waste, is of little concern to his supporters. They praise Pastor for his accessibility and responsiveness.
"In many ways, he's more a humble and quiet leader who is not necessarily looking for the limelight. He would rather let others grab that," said Edmundo Hidalgo, president and chief executive of Chicanos Por La Causa Inc., a Phoenix non-profit organization that is expected to benefit from roughly $625,000 in Pastor-inserted earmarks in the spending bill. "Because of his seniority in Congress, he obviously has earned respect from his peers, but I don't think he has a big head because of that."
Former Scottsdale Councilman David Ortega recalls when the city needed help complying with a stricter U.S. mandate on arsenic in drinking water. Pastor in 2003 secured $450,000 for the project. Ortega also called Pastor an "unsung hero" on regional transportation issues.
Pastor's earmarks for Arizona projects Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., a member of the House Appropriations Committee, takes credit for making sure the $410 billion spending bill passed Tuesday by the Senate included funding for projects and programs including:
• $91.8 million for the Metro light-rail system in central Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.
• $2 million for a high-capacity modern streetcar/light-rail system to link the University of Arizona to downtown Tucson and area health establishments and business districts.
• $1.9 million for taxiway resurfacing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
• $1 million in federal matching funds for the anti-drug Arizona Meth Project.
• $950,000 for a South Mountain Village connector bus to improve transportation for area residents.
• $950,000 for the National Council of La Raza's affordable-housing HOPE fund.
• $500,000 to update and improve the Phoenix Police Department's communication network.
Sources: Rep. Ed Pastor's office, Republic research
So I guess this means Obama lied about how he was going to veto all pork bills? Unless Obama says its how you "define veto", kind of like how Clinton said it was how yo "defined sex". Honest I didn't really care who got elected, Obama or McCain because I knew they would do the same thing to me, steal my money, and sign into law silly bills to micro-manage my life.
Obama signs $410B spending bill in private
By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has signed a $410 billion spending package that will keep the federal government operating through September. The bill includes thousands of earmarks, which are targeted spending items inserted by individual lawmakers.
Obama has criticized the overuse of earmarks, and he called the bill imperfect. [ Yea around 8,000 to 9000 earmarks depending on which version of the news you heard, just slightly imperfect! That is 90 earmarks for each Senator and 20 earmarks for each member of the House. Of course each senate and house member will lie and say HE or SHE didn't vote for the bill. ] But he said it is necessary to keep federal agencies from closing down.
Obama signed the bill in private, an indication of his discomfort with it.
As an election promise Obama said he would veto any pork ladened bills. But he flip flopped on that and signed a $400 billion bill with 8,000+ earmarks of pork. A day after the flip flop Obama tells us he really means to cut pork, honest!
Obama vows to cut pork in the future
Mar. 12, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is vowing a renewed war on wasteful pork-barrel projects, though some lawmakers and watchdog groups say it is a weak offensive because he signed into law a budget bill with thousands of them on Wednesday.
Organizations such as Citizens Against Government Waste and Taxpayers for Common Sense said Obama should have vetoed a $410 billion bill that includes congressional pet projects known as "earmarks."
"He missed a golden opportunity to really put his money where his mouth is," said Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste.
Obama said he signed the "imperfect" bill because it is needed to keep the government running through September. He said he sees the bill as "a departure point for more far-reaching change" to curb unnecessary earmarks.
Federal agencies will review future earmarks and work with Congress to eliminate those that lack a "public purpose," Obama said. He also said that projects designed to benefit specific companies should be competitively bid.
"This piece of legislation must mark an end to the old way of doing business," he said.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a critic of earmarks, said the best way to get Congress' attention is to make "a genuine threat" to veto bills with these pet projects. Obama "didn't even come close to that," Flake said.
Taxpayers for Common Sense put the earmark total at $7.7 billion.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Obama's proposals set the bar "quite low." Competitive bidding, for example, doesn't mean much because many earmarks are "microtargeted" to go directly to companies that can do the jobs, Ellis said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., are sponsors of a bill that would allow presidents to isolate earmarks and send them back to Congress for review. It's an attempt to sidestep a 1998 Supreme Court decision that struck down the line-item veto, allowing presidents to strike individual items in a bill.
The McCain-Feingold measure would not require Congress to accept the president's list of projects. Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University in New York City, said the proposal might give presidents more power to pressure Congress, but courts have ruled that Congress ultimately decides what goes into legislation.
It looks like Obama lied about getting out of Iraq. They are just changing tactics and trying to win the war a different way. It will just be two more years of nonsense like this before we leave. Well that is if we leave.
Militants' rural hideouts new focus for US in Iraq
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer Robert H. Reid, Associated Press Writer – Sun Mar 15, 12:56 pm ET
BAGHDAD – U.S. troops will focus on attacking insurgent supply routes and rural hideouts after combat troops withdraw from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by the end of June, a senior U.S. commander said Sunday.
Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, a deputy commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said the shift from the cities to large bases outside will help make the capital safer because U.S. troops can go after militants at the source: The countryside where they plan their attacks and load up on guns and bombs.
Rudesheim spoke a week after two separate suicide attacks killed more than 60 people in the Baghdad area, raising new concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security.
"I want to leave it very clear that there's no cessation of combat operations" after June 30, Rudesheim told reporters in Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone.
"We understand that we're going to have the vast majority of our formations moving out of the city proper and moving to the rural belts," he said.
"We're talking about an enemy that tries to establish itself in rural areas and establish support zones in the rural areas around Baghdad ... and from there conducts operations into the more urban areas" of the capital, he added.
He also said U.S. troops would continue combat operations in the cities after June 30 but from bases outside town rather than outposts that were established throughout various neighborhoods as part of the 2007 U.S. troop surge.
He said the giant Camp Victory complex on the western outskirts of Baghdad will remain open, but the fate of U.S. military forces in the central Green Zone remains under discussion.
"We will not forsake the security that has been established by the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces," he said.
The U.S.-Iraq security pact that went into effect Jan. 1 calls for U.S. combat forces to leave the cities by the end of June in the first step of a plan to remove all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
President Barack Obama wants to withdraw all combat troops by September 2010, leaving behind a residual force of up to 50,000 soldiers to train Iraqi forces and go after al-Qaida.
Rudesheim said U.S. military transition teams that train Iraqi forces will remain at posts within the city.
The U.S. withdrew most combat troops from Baghdad in 2005, sending patrols into the city but leaving much of the day to day security to the Iraqis. A key part of the 2007 troop surge was to move units back in to the cities to protect the civilian population from Shiite and Sunni militants who ruled the streets.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have also relied on Sunni volunteer fighters — many of them former insurgents — to maintain security in Baghdad and rural areas around the capital.
Last year, the Iraqi government took over responsibility for paying the fighters, known as Sons of Iraq, from the U.S. military and pledged to bring 20 percent of them into the mostly Shiite army and the police. The rest will get civilian jobs, the government promised.
But Rudesheim said he was concerned the Iraqi government's budget problems had slowed the integration.
Iraq's parliament passed a $58.6 billion budget earlier this month after making drastic cuts as oil prices plunged from a mid-July high of nearly $150 a barrel to about $46. As a result, the government has implemented a police hiring freeze, said Rudesheim.
He said the Iraqi government has continued paying the fighters but has not integrated them into the security forces "to the degree that was anticipated."
U.S. officials have expressed concern that some of the volunteers may return to insurgent ranks if the government reneges on its commitments.
But a leading Sunni sheik who heads the fighters in Anbar province said the volunteers must show patience and support the government in time of economic crisis.
"If the state is facing a financial crisis, we should help and not insist upon joining (the security forces)," Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha said. "We need to think about the future of our nation."
The government double speak says we are NOT withdrawing from Iraq
In Iraq withdrawal, equipment poses a key logistical challenge
By Julian E. Barnes
March 16, 2009
Reporting from Washington -- The American withdrawal from Iraq marks the beginning of one of the largest relocations of military hardware and manpower in recent years. But much of the equipment will not be returning to the United States.
Instead, some will remain with the Iraqi security forces and some will be shipped to Afghanistan. But as important, millions of tons of armor and weaponry will be used to restock huge U.S.-run warehouses across the Middle East -- in case it is needed in the future.
The plans follow a pattern set by the military for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and again for the troop buildup in 2007, when the Defense Department drew on equipment stored around the Persian Gulf region, including in massive facilities in Kuwait and Qatar.
Equipment removed from Iraq will be sent to those warehouses, officials said, to ensure that the military is able to respond to a variety of contingencies, including possible Iranian aggression or renewed violence in Iraq.
But other countries in the Middle East are watching warily as the U.S. plans unfold. Many foreign officials want to ensure the U.S. drawdown in Iraq does not leave them unprotected. But the U.S. remains unpopular in the region, and citizens in most Arab countries do not want a large U.S. presence on their territory.
Military experts believe that stockpiling weaponry is a good solution, avoiding the provocation posed by having troops on the ground, but giving the U.S. a head start in case military intervention is needed.
"The materiel is not that big a deal," said Andrew M. Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "When people in the Middle East think about the American presence, they think about bodies on the ground, not materiel."
Other experts said the United States must reassure its allies that the equipment stored in the area is for defensive purposes.
"What nobody wants to do is see the U.S. posture for an attack on Iran," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The rhetoric here is, 'We would love for you to stay, but we don't want to be the springboard for some sort of idiotic exercise in Iran.' "
Just replenishing the warehouses can be sensitive. Seeking to downscale the U.S. presence in its country, the Kuwaiti government has said the military may store only equipment that would be used for the defense of Kuwait.
The Pentagon said it is adhering to those rules, but U.S officials also believe the Kuwaiti position is open to negotiation.
Historically, Kuwaitis have been tolerant of American military activities in their country because of the successful U.S.-led campaign that drove Iraqi troops out of their emirate in 1991. But many there no longer view Iraq as a critical threat.
Military officials declined to say exactly how much equipment would be repositioned in Kuwait or elsewhere. In the past, the military has stored enough equipment for a heavy brigade each in Kuwait, Qatar and South Korea and for three in Europe. The Army and the Marine Corps also maintain stores of equipment on ships.
To avoid expanding the warehouses, U.S. officials must choose carefully what to store.
"You are going to have to make very hard choices about what equipment you leave behind," Cordesman said. "The force mix you put into the gulf is not going to be the one designed to defeat the Iraqi army. But you do face a series of major challenges from Iran."
Gone from the stocks will be most of the soft-skinned Humvees and unarmored trucks. In their place will be the heavily armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dowd, the director of logistics for U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.
"It will be primarily the big gear, stuff like MRAPs, tanks," Dowd said. "So we don't have to move and lift all this heavy stuff."
Central Command is working on its drawdown plan for Iraq and has run some tabletop exercises, or "rock drills," to test plans to pull out of Iraq.
"We are working six, seven days a week putting this plan together," Dowd said. "We've done a couple of rock drills, laid out all the units, when they would move. . . . It is a good plan."
The pace of the withdrawal of equipment is beginning to increase. The bulk is likely to come out through Kuwait, although the military has also stepped up its use of the Iraqi port of Umm al Qasr. Last year 8,500 containers were shipped out of Umm al Qasr. In the first two months of this year, 3,000 containers have been removed.
Although Central Command is not giving exact timetables or cost figures on the logistics mission, military officials acknowledge the challenge before them.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. William "Gus" Pagonis, who oversaw the logistics effort in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said it would take a long time to get the equipment out.
"The bottom line is it is going to take a good 18 months to get out, but you can expedite that by dumping it all into Kuwait," Pagonis said. "And a lot of stuff can be left for Iraqi forces."
The military has begun identifying equipment that will be sold or given to the Iraqis. That includes armored Humvees that are needed by the Iraqi military and generators that would be too costly to ship back to the U.S.
"If it doesn't make sense to bring it home, we are looking at opportunities to help the Iraqis stand up their units," Dowd said.
The military is also going through its equipment to determine what stocks should be diverted to Afghanistan, where an increase in the number of U.S. forces will require additional hardware. Equipment chosen for that war will be sent to Kuwait, repaired, then shipped directly to Afghanistan, Defense officials said.
Obama slings the BS in California telling the people what they want to hear, which is they can have their cake and eat it too.
Obama plays populist, anti-D.C. role in Calif.
Posted 3/19/2009 4:12 AM ET
By Charles Babington, Associated Press Writer
COSTA MESA, Calif. — In Washington, President Barack Obama is the ultimate insider, hosting White House parties to woo lawmakers and diplomats. Elsewhere, he increasingly plays the embattled and populist crusader, helping average Americans fight entrenched interests on Capitol Hill and Wall Street. On Wednesday, Obama donned that cloak in Southern California, where he said the weather and conversations are much nicer than in Washington. The conversation was more one-sided, to be sure, as he stood before 1,300 frequently cheering people, 2,500 miles from the Capitol's shadow.
He defended his ambitious plan to overhaul health care, energy, education, taxes and spending policies in the coming months, against unnamed forces aligned against him.
"I know some folks in Washington and on Wall Street are saying we should focus on only one problem at a time: 'our problem,'" Obama said. "But that's just not the way it works."
"You don't get to choose between paying your mortgage bills or your medical bills," he told the crowd in a hot auditorium. The government, too, must tackle multiple challenges at once, he said.
Obama spoke for 21 minutes, then took eight questions. The first: Will he seek re-election in 2012?
"If I could get done what I think needs to get done in four years, even if it meant that I was only president for four years, I would rather be a good president -- to take on the tough issues for four years -- than a mediocre president for eight years," Obama said.
There were other whiffs of self-sacrifice. Referring to the uproar over bonuses paid to executives of the largely nationalized AIG insurance company, Obama said: "I know Washington's all in a tizzy, and everybody's pointing fingers at each other and saying, 'It's their fault, the Democrats' fault, the Republicans' fault.' Listen, I'll take responsibility. I'm the president."
In the same breath, he said, "We didn't draft these contracts." But he added, "It is appropriate when you're in charge to make sure that stuff doesn't happen like this."
Obama tried to head off questions about AIG by saying he understood taxpayers' anger. And he tried to broaden the issue, which has vexed his young administration.
"These bonuses, outrageous as they are, are a symptom of a much larger problem," he said. It's "a culture where people made enormous sums of money taking irresponsible risks that have now put the entire economy at risk."
In fact, no one asked Obama about AIG. The questions focused on jobs, schools, unions' rights and other issues that are easier for him to handle.
One little curve ball came, however, on a topic Obama rarely mentions on his own: immigration. Before a crowd that seemed divided on the emotional, politically dangerous issue, Obama said he still supports "comprehensive immigration reform."
The nation must find a way, he said, to strengthen its borders while also giving about 12 million illegal immigrants a path to possible citizenship.
"People who have been here for a long time and put down roots," he said, should have "a mechanism over time to get out of the shadows" and achieve legal status, including citizenship.
They would have to learn English, pay a significant fine and "go to the back of the line" of those applying for legal entry, he said.
Former President George W. Bush backed a similar immigration program. But it died in Congress amid heavy criticisms, especially from those saying too many illegal immigrants have been allowed to enter the country.
Obama visited the Los Angeles area Wednesday to promote his $787 billion economic stimulus and to tape an appearance Thursday on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
Protesters gather at ASU to mark 6th anniversary of war
by Dianna M. Náñez - Mar. 19, 2009 07:05 PM
The Arizona Republic
About 50 protesters gathered Thursday evening on the bridge over University Drive at Arizona State University to protest the Iraq War.
Traffic was nearly at a standstill at about 6 p.m. on University Drive from Mill Avenue to Rural Road past the university, with many passersby honking in support of the protesters. The event marked the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in 2003.
People on the bridge were holding about 30 different signs, with such messages as “War is Not the Answer,'' “Support the Troops in the War,'' “We Cannot Afford to Make More Enemies,'' “Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar,'' “War is Over if You Want It,'' and “Fund Education, Not Occupation.'' At about 6:30 p.m., people ranging from an Iraq veteran to an information technology specialist to a member of the Green Party to university students made their way from the bridge to ASU's School of Music, where they planned to hold a candlelight vigil.
Hari Khalsa, 28, a Tempe Iraq veteran deployed from 2003 to 2004 said now more than ever he can speak openly in support of ending the war. “I think the public wants it to be over,'' he said. “I think by ending the war, we're helping people who are over there right now. We're helping prevent more trauma and tragedy from happening.''
Angelica Alaniz, an 18-year-old ASU freshman in the nursing program, said she thinks the protesters are wasting their time.
“The government's going to do what it wants,'' she said.
Even so, she does not support a full and immediate withdrawal of troops. She supports President Barack Obama's plan of a measured withdrawal of support from Iraq and support for Afghanistan.
The vigil and protest were sponsored by the End the War Coalition and several groups that include Phoenix Code Pink, Phoenix Women in Black, the Arizona Alliance for Peace & Justice and Phoenix Veterans for Peace.
My gosh! A Republican who wants to steal more money from you! Gov. Brewer is a Democrat dressed like a Republican who wants to steal your money!
Gov. Brewer says that foes of proposed tax hike in 'denial'
by Matthew Benson - Mar. 19, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday that state lawmakers opposing a tax hike are in "denial" of the severity of the state's fiscal crisis, and she urged legislators of both parties to rally behind her budget-rescue plan.
Meeting with The Arizona Republic, Brewer conceded that the plan she unveiled two weeks ago "maybe wasn't received quite as well as I had hoped for" among legislators. But she remains convinced of its necessity in closing an approximately $3 billion budget shortfall that has the state "on the brink of bankruptcy."
Central to the strategy is a temporary tax increase that would generate an additional $1 billion a year for state coffers. Brewer has been pushing for a special spring election to ask Arizona voters to approve the tax hike, as well as the loosening of a law that protects funds for voter-approved state programs. Brewer conceded Wednesday that, given legislators' reluctance, the election may not come quickly.
More likely is a vote in September - about three months after the beginning of fiscal 2010.
That would create an unusual and politically dangerous scenario, with voters essentially presented with two alternatives for state spending in 2010: Lawmakers would approve a budget this spring without the tax-hike revenue, making it heavier on cuts to state programs and services. In a fall election, Brewer suggested, voters would be presented with state programs that they could restore by approving the tax hike.
"It would be up to the people to decide exactly what it is they want," Brewer said.
Political observers say the risks of such an election are significant: Would voters take it as a threat? A stunt? But the upside is equally considerable.
Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill called the two-budget approach "novel" and said it could help voters grasp the real-world implications of the fiscal questions facing state officials.
Of course, "if it's seen as some sort of a threat (to voters), it could really backfire on her," Merrill said.
It's unclear how state officials would decide which programs to present to voters as the ones that would be restored under the tax increase.
In addition to the temporary tax hike, Brewer would like to loosen the Voter Protection Act by allowing legislators to take funds dedicated to voter-approved programs and spend the money elsewhere.
That would open the door to greater spending reductions in health services and K-12 education, as well as the possible redirection of funding set aside for special services such as early-childhood education.
Legislators have been resistant to both provisions. But Brewer believes time is on her side.
"I see movement (among lawmakers). It's something I hope to see a lot more of," she said. "I think we will, in the end, see a majority of the Republicans and Democrats get behind this."
For now, lawmakers are discussing options to close the 2010 shortfall and hope to have a draft budget by the end of the month. Brewer already has warned them that she won't sign a budget that relies on borrowing and other budget gimmicks.
State agencies have provided the Governor's Office with budget-reduction proposals in 5 percent increments, up to 20 percent, as her office pulls together a blueprint for dealing with the 2010 budget.
However, Brewer suggested Wednesday that she won't sign a budget overly reliant on cuts, either.
"We're not going to let our education system fail, if I have any say on it," Brewer said. "In order to get businesses here, we have to have an educated workforce."
Brewer's tax-hike push is a bad idea
Mar. 20, 2009 12:00 AM
Gov. Jan Brewer's plan to raise sales taxes in Arizona is a very bad idea. Now is just not the time to take more money out of the pockets of hard-working citizens. If she intends to seek election in the next governor's race, she had better rethink this unthinkable idea.
Least-worst ways to do wrong thing
by Robert Robb - Mar. 20, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Let me be clear: I believe the state budget should be balanced without tax increases, borrowing or accounting tricks.
Even with the federal stimulus money, that will require deep budget cuts painful to many currently using state services. It would be shock therapy.
From that point, state government could begin building again, but from a solid fiscal foundation regarding the balance between spending and revenue. I believe this would be the best choice for the state's future.
The votes in the Legislature, however, may not be there for deep cuts. And Gov. Jan Brewer already has declared her strong opposition to such an approach.
So, for purposes of discussion, let's assume there won't be the political will to solve the budget deficit exclusively through federal funds and budget cuts. What's the least-worst way of doing the wrong thing?
Brewer has said that she won't accept accounting tricks. That's a mistake. Accounting tricks are the least-worst option.
Basically, the accounting trick on the table is delaying some payments for some state services. This year's budget was balanced in part by delaying payments to local school districts until the next fiscal year.
This didn't actually reduce spending. The school districts just have to manage the cash flow.
Former Gov. Janet Napolitano and legislative Democrats have identified approximately $240 million in payments that could be delayed for next year's budget.
This is a superior approach because, unlike raising taxes or borrowing, delaying payments doesn't take money out of the economy, reduce future income or impose additional future costs.
Besides, Brewer's posture of defending budgetary virtue is grossly ironic. Her own proposal would leave a structural deficit of at least $2 billion. No one is talking about a truly honest budget in which ongoing revenue covers ongoing spending.
The $240 million isn't a lot when you've got a $3 billion hole to fill. So, let's assume that there won't be the political will to balance next year's budget with federal funds, budget cuts and delaying some payments. There will have to be borrowing or tax increases. Which is the less bad?
Some Republican legislators are reportedly leaning toward borrowing as preferable to Brewer's proposal of a temporary tax increase. That's a mistake. Long-term borrowing to cover short-term operating expenses is the worst option, and the one that makes a permanent tax increase the most likely.
The ideas that have been floated include securitizing lottery revenues or tobacco revenues, or basically taking out a mortgage on existing state buildings, such as prisons.
Securitizing future revenue streams, basically selling them for upfront cash today, is the very worst option, since it has a double budgetary whammy. The future revenue stream is lost and ongoing expenses are increased because of the interest costs.
Borrowing against existing buildings doesn't lose a revenue stream. But it does increase ongoing expenses, when the real way out involves reducing the trajectory of state spending.
Borrowing, by reducing future revenues in some options and increasing future expenses in all, makes the structural deficit worse and increases the likelihood of a permanent tax increase.
A temporary tax increase has the disadvantage of taking money out of the private economy at an inopportune moment. But it neither decreases future revenues nor adds future costs. It is, therefore, the better intermediate bridge to an honest balance between ongoing revenue and spending.
So, how to maximize the likelihood that the tax increase will be truly temporary? Have it expire in a non-election year. That way, it would have to be renewed before its need is firmly established, or after it has already been off the books for a while, or at a conspicuous special election.
If the state is going to do the wrong thing, delaying payments and a temporary tax increase are less bad than long-term borrowing to meet short-term operating expenses.
Reach Robb at email@example.com or 602-444-8472. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Feds running the printing presses increases inflation!
Fed drives down mortgage rates; inflation may loom
by Jeannine Aversa and Alan Zibel - Mar. 19, 2009 04:26 PM
WASHINGTON - Mortgage rates tumbled to historic lows Thursday after the Federal Reserve's sudden decision to print $1.2 trillion and pump it into the economy, a move that also triggered warning signs of inflation - a weaker dollar and the highest oil prices of the year.
The national average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.94 percent, down nearly a quarter of a percentage point from a day earlier, according to financial publisher HSH Associates.
It was the first time the average had fallen below 5 percent since the publisher began keeping records in 1979. But mortgages were not exactly being passed out freely. Lenders remain extremely strict about who qualifies.
"The real story here is that the low rates are available only to solid gold borrowers," said Don Fader, a North Carolina mortgage broker who was quoting a rate just above 4.6 percent for mortgages Thursday.
The Fed announced Wednesday it would buy $750 billion in mortgage-backed securities and $300 billion in Treasury debt. It also will double its purchases of debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to $200 billion.
Because spending that kind of money requires the Fed essentially to print money, it meant risking inflation - and on Thursday there were early indicators that was exactly what was happening.
It cost more than $1.36 to buy a euro, more than 2 cents higher than the previous day - an unusually large leap. And the British pound gained 3 cents against the dollar, which fell sharply against the Japanese yen.
The jump in oil prices was even more dramatic. The price of a barrel of crude oil went up nearly $3.50, or 7 percent, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, to its highest level since early December.
That doesn't mean inflation is a sure thing, by any means. In fact, most economists think high unemployment and sluggish consumer spending will keep inflation in check as businesses hold down prices in order to maintain sales.
And given the poor shape of the economy, the Fed made clear that - for now - it isn't worried about inflation. It's more concerned about falling prices, or deflation. The country's last serious bout of deflation came in the 1930s.
The move was notable for its immediacy. Seemingly at the flick of a switch, the Fed was able to train a $1.2 trillion fire hose on the economy - a sharp contrast to the slower, messier wrangling in Congress over the $787 billion stimulus plan.
"While Washington watches the economy burn, the Fed is fighting the financial fires," said economist Ethan Harris at Barclays Capital.
By snapping up Treasury securities, the Fed boosts their prices, and that drives down the yield, or interest rate. The 10-year Treasury bond dropped by the biggest one-day amount since 1981 Wednesday. It rebounded slightly Thursday.
Analysts expected mortgage rates to follow suit, and they did come down Wednesday and Thursday. But many mortgage brokers remain frustrated by the tight lending standards that make it much harder for all but the most creditworthy borrowers to qualify. Lenders already have more business than they can handle and seem reluctant to pass on lower rates.
"They're all backed up," said Douglas Braden, a broker in Fort Collins, Colo. "It's taking a lot longer to get the loans through."
Robert Gross, managing director of a financial advisory firm in Burlingame, Calif., hopes to refinance and lock in a rate as low as 4.5 percent within the next two weeks. To get ready, he provided his mortgage broker with two years of tax returns, plus copies of bank accounts, brokerage accounts and pay stubs.
"They're not taking your word for anything nowadays," he said.
The Fed move won't mean your car loans and credit cards will get any cheaper. Those are tied to short-term interest rates, and the Fed has already lowered them to nearly zero.
The deepening recession, now in its second year, is shuttering banks and other businesses and driving up home foreclosures. It has left 12.5 million people searching for work and sent unemployment to a 25-year high.
The convergence of housing, credit and financial crises - the worst since the 1930s - has clobbered the economy. By pumping $1.2 trillion into the economy, the Fed hopes to spur lending and get Americans spending again.
And even if the dollar loses value over the short term, it could bounce back once the economy starts to recover, said Jay Bryson, global economist at Wachovia.
Buying government bonds and expanding its purchases of mortgage-backed securities and debt from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will further swell the Fed's balance sheet. It has already mushroomed to more than $2 trillion, more than double what it was last year, and some economists think it could grow to $5 trillion.
Once the economy appears back on firm footing, Bernanke has said, the Fed is prepared to pull the extra money out by boosting its key short-term interest rate and by ending its various loan and debt-buying programs.
"At that time when the economy begins to grow again, we're going to have to shrink the balance sheet and ... we're watching that very, very carefully," Bernanke told lawmakers this month.
Obama is already running for re-election in 2012 and he is using tax dollars to win Arizona!
March 21, 2009
Obama to address ASU grads, boost his profile in state
by Dan Nowicki and Anne Ryman - Mar. 21, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
President Barack Obama is returning to the East Valley for the second time in three months, underscoring Arizona's appeal as a potential 2012 swing state as he highlights his education priorities.
Obama will deliver the May 13 commencement address at Arizona State University's graduation ceremony. The appearance follows the Feb. 18 speech he delivered about his housing-mortgage rescue plan at Dobson High School in Mesa.
University officials invited Obama to speak to the 8,000 graduates at the commencement, traditionally held at Wells Fargo Arena. Obama last visited the school in October 2007, when he drew a crowd of about 7,000 to a rally.
During the presidential campaign, ASU boasted one of the largest Obama chapters in the country.
"The president recognizes that educational achievement and economic prosperity have gone hand in hand in this country," Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
"As America works to recover from this economic crisis, students like those graduating from Arizona State University will be better prepared to compete in this 21st-century economy.
"That's why President Obama has made strengthening education a cornerstone of his economic-recovery plans."
Political experts say Obama's attention to Arizona is no surprise: His top strategists believe he can flip the state from red to blue in 2012.
Many analysts have suggested that the once reliably Republican Arizona is now essentially a purple swing state, and they say chalk up John McCain's victory over Obama here last year to the home-state advantage of the GOP senator.
"Other than Missouri, it is the state Obama is most likely to target that he lost in 2008," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "And it makes sense.
"Arizona's demographics are not that much different from (nearby pro-Obama states) Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. The only different variable was McCain."
Obama specifically is demonstrating an affinity for the GOP-leaning 5th Congressional District, which includes Tempe, Scottsdale and Fountain Hills and parts of Phoenix, Mesa and Chandler.
That's where Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., a former longtime Tempe mayor, upset six-term Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., in 2006.
Obama's appearance at Dobson High School also was in Mitchell's district.
"This exciting news makes me particularly proud as an alumni and adjunct faculty member at ASU, and as a lifelong resident of Tempe," Mitchell said Friday in a written statement.
ASU's ceremony originally was scheduled for May 14 but was moved up a day to accommodate the president's schedule. The location has not been finalized.
Those attending the May 13 ceremony at 7 p.m. likely will have to go through security precautions.
Lisa Fernandez is a 21-year-old senior who will graduate in May with a political-science degree.
She said she considers it an honor to have the nation's president at the graduation ceremony.
Fernandez, a Democrat who voted for Obama, said the extra security will be worth it.
"It's something we're willing to sacrifice for him speaking at our graduation," she said.
Ben Stewart, president of the College Republicans at ASU, said the president's visit will be great for the school.
"It's not during the campaign, so I can't be too upset. I won't be protesting," said Stewart, who is 23 and will earn a bachelor's degree in political science in May.
ASU President Michael Crow said in a statement that the students who choose to attend the ceremony will be honored at the opportunity to hear directly from the nation's leader, regardless of their personal political affiliation.
ASU is one of three colleges where Obama will speak this year.
He also will appear at the University of Notre Dame on May 17 and the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22
But didn't Obama say he would cut it to zero in his third year? Or was that is second year? You can tell he is lying when his lips are moving!
Deficit to hit $9.3 trillion in next decade
Fiscal 2009 shortfall four times '08 record
Stephen Dinan (Contact)
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Staggering numbers released Friday show President Obama's new budget will nearly double the cumulative deficit over the next decade to $9.3 trillion, damaging the president's ambitious plans to overhaul health care and boost spending on alternative energy.
As a result of a worsening economy and new spending, the fiscal 2009 deficit will reach $1.8 trillion - four times the record set last year and $400 billion more than projected two months ago, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that showed substantial deficits for the next decade.
Democratic leaders and liberal surrogate groups said the red ink is a reason to double-down on the president's plans, arguing that spending will produce a better economy. But they face a revolt from Republicans and conservative-leaning Democrats weary of new spending after already passing a $787 billion stimulus bill and a $410 billion catch-all spending bill in the past two months.
"We have to secure our economy in the short term, but we cannot run trillion-dollar deficits forever," said Rep. Charlie Melancon, Louisiana Democrat and a leader of the Blue Dog coalition that pushes for fiscal restraint.
The CBO said the economy is weaker than predicted just two months ago, and now projects the deepest recession since World War II, though the budget office also expects a faster recovery in 2010 and 2011 than most other analysts.
The White House said the numbers don't change the overall goals of getting Congress to act on health care, global warming and education, and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag said the White House believes Congress is still on track to do that.
"No one ever had an expectation [Congress] would just take our budget," he said.
Mr. Obama's plan assumes much stronger economic growth over the long run than does the CBO, and Mr. Orszag said there's "significant uncertainty" about CBO's projections.
He said there's a chance things will be better than the numbers now indicate.
Still, the budget director acknowledged that annual deficits topping 5 percent of gross domestic product - which the CBO projects for most of the 10-year time frame - are unsustainable.
Mr. Obama released his budget outline earlier this month, and his allies are pushing hard to boost his plans, but members of both parties have already balked at his plans to impose a carbon emission cap-and-trade program, to cut farm payments and to pay for part of his health care plan by reducing the tax deduction the wealthy can take for charitable donations.
Facing those questions, his allies are beginning to pressure reluctant Democrats.
"Now is the time to take action," said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union. "American families cannot afford to wait for the change that is necessary to reform our economy and broken health care system. We cannot let opponents of change stand in the way. Our choice is clear: Change or more of the same."
Mr. Obama has said he is actually reducing the deficit lower than it would have been if President Bush's tax cuts were all extended. He also says he's ended Mr. Bush's accounting gimmicks that, he said, hid the real size of the deficit.
"Because of the massive deficit we inherited and the cost of this financial crisis, we are having to go through the books line by line, page by page, so that we can cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term and reduce it by $2 trillion over the next decade," Mr. Obama told the National Conference of State Legislatures on Friday.
He also said he will not cut programs he said are long-term investments.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, says Democrats and the White House must "get the message" about the near certainty of their record-breaking budget deficits.
Despite facing questions on Capitol Hill, the president does have significant boosters outside of Washington.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent, met with the president Friday. Mr. Schwarzenegger pronounced the three men "100 percent" behind Mr. Obama.
House and Senate budget committees are expected to produce outlines next week, and House Budget Committee Chairman John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat, said his panel would "follow President Obama's lead" on the budget.
Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag believes the White House can persuade Congress to pass its spending plans, despite new estimates of monumental budget deficits.
A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the numbers weren't a surprise, but a series of meetings are being organized to rally House Democrats in support of Mr. Obama's sweeping initiatives.
"We will be talking to our members next week and the following week to make sure they are comfortable with it," Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said. "I don't think of it as selling [the Obama budget]. It is a matter of talking about how his budget does what their constituents want and what the American people want."
She predicted continued "strong Democratic support" for the spending plan.
The CBO says government spending would account for 27.4 percent of all U.S. economic activity this year, which is the highest rate since the country fought World War II.
The 10-year estimate also is $2.3 trillion worse than Mr. Obama's own budget predicted, prompting lawmakers on Capitol Hill to call the administration unrealistic.
"CBO´s word is the gospel. Congress and the administration need to get the message," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
• Christina Bellantoni and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.
Writing on the wall
I'm for pork, big government, earmarks & huge debt. It's the worst economy since the Great Depression.The little guy
Now it makes sense.
Obama to team up with Mexicos version of Richard Nixon, Felipe Calderon to bring us a bigger better police state in Mexico and the USA. And you thought Obama was a Democrat!
Narco wars loom over Clinton agenda in Mexico
Posted 3/25/2009 10:16 AM ET
By Matthew Lee, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton set out for Mexico Wednesday to pursue a broad diplomatic agenda that will be overshadowed by spiraling drug violence and fears of greater cross-border spillover. A day after the Obama administration announced it would send more money, technology and manpower to secure the United States' Southwestern frontier and help Mexican authorities in their battle against drug cartels, Clinton was to depart on a two-day trip to Mexico City and Monterrey aimed at bolstering anti-narcotics cooperation.
U.S. officials say they do not want relations with Mexico to be dominated by the violence, which has spread from the border region on the Mexican side into some U.S. border states. The officials maintain that Clinton also wants to discuss trade, climate change and the global financial crisis in her meetings.
Among the contentious issues are new Mexican tariffs on 89 U.S. products imposed last week in retaliation for a U.S. decision to cancel a cross-border program that gave Mexican truckers access to U.S. highways. Mexico's move could affect about $2.4 billion in annual trade.
Yet U.S. officials acknowledge that the violence between Mexican President Felipe Calderon's government and the cartels, along with bloody turf battles among the traffickers, are the most urgent issues the two countries face. Clinton's talks are designed in part to encourage Mexican authorities to do more in response to the stepped-up U.S. effort, they say.
The escalating violence has set off alarm bells in the U.S. and triggered a State Department travel alert last month that compared recent confrontations between Mexican authorities and the cartels to "small-unit combat." Mexican officials say the violence killed 6,290 people last year and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009.
It has also led to a spate of kidnappings and home invasions in some Southwestern U.S. cities, prompting calls from state and local officials for troops to be sent to the border.
Clinton's trip marks the start of several high-level meetings on the matter. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder are to meet with Mexican officials in early April before President Barack Obama is expected to visit Mexico ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration rolled out a multi-agency plan to protect the border, including the deployment of nearly 500 federal agents and support personnel, building on efforts begun during the Bush administration. However, officials did not say where the additional agents would come from or how long they would stay in their new assignments.
"If the steps that we've taken do not get the job done, then we will do more," Obama said Tuesday during a prime-time news conference.
Obama said the U.S. needs to do more to prevent guns and cash from flowing back to the cartels.
"That's part of what's financing their operations. That's part of what's arming them. That's what makes them so dangerous," he said. "And this is something that we take very seriously and we're going to continue to work on diligently in the months to come."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry last month asked for 1,000 troops be sent to bolster border security in his state. Napolitano said Tuesday officials were still considering whether to station National Guard troops along the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico, which some governors have requested.
In addition, officials said they will increase the number of immigrations and customs agents, drug agents and antigun-trafficking agents operating along the border. The government also will allow federal funds to be used to pay for local law enforcement involved in Southwestern border operations and send more U.S. officials to work inside Mexico.
At the same time, U.S. prosecutors say they will boost efforts to go after those smuggling guns and drug profits from the U.S. into Mexico, and allowed that the problem was not only one of supply, but of demand for illicit narcotics in America.
Those steps come in addition to a three-year, $1.4-billion-dollar Bush administration-era program known as the Merida Initiative through which Congress already has approved $700 million to support Mexico's efforts to fight the cartels. Obama has said he wants to revamp the initiative.
Associated Press writers Devlin Barrett and Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.
Interesting, the Mexican version of Richard Nixon, Felipe Calderón is using 50,000 troops in his war on drugs and the Mexican people. This more troops then the US has in Afghanistan. I guess things will only get worse for the American and Mexican people if Obama decides to help Mexico with it's war on drugs.
Secretary of State Clinton reaches out to Mexico
She is 1st in wave of U.S. leaders traveling to discuss drugs, trade, migration
by Chris Hawley - Mar. 26, 2009 12:00 AM
Republic Mexico City Bureau
MEXICO CITY - Rushing to mend rifts with the United States' southern neighbor, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday praised Mexico's progress against drug cartels, offered an olive branch in a fierce trade spat and promised action on the long-dormant issue of immigration reform.
As she launched a two-day visit to Mexico, Clinton repeatedly blamed U.S. gun sales and drug use for fueling a deadly wave of violence that has swept over Mexico and alarmed politicians in U.S. border states.
"The criminals and kingpins spreading violence are trying to corrode the foundations of law, order, friendship and trust between us and that support our continent," Clinton said. "They will fail."
She is the first in a parade of high-level U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, to visit Mexico in coming weeks, as concern over the drug-related violence mounts in the United States. Clinton's visit came a day after the U.S. government announced a raft of new measures aimed at bolstering border security and aiding Mexico's crackdown on the cartels.
A congressional delegation will visit in coming days, followed by trips by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder. Obama plans to visit April 16-17.
Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched a military crackdown on drug gangs just days after taking office in December 2006, more than 6,300 people have been killed in related violence. About 50,000 troops, more than the United States has in Afghanistan, are patrolling deserts and city streets, searching cars for drugs at highway checkpoints and disarming corrupt local police.
"We will stand shoulder to shoulder to you as you undertake all of these actions," Clinton said during a news conference with her Mexican counterpart, Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa.
The military offensive has netted more than 45,000 drug suspects, as well as dozens of suspected ringleaders, including the arrest Wednesday of one of the country's most-wanted trafficking suspects.
"This is the kind of action that the U.S. side has always hoped for, that Mexico would make arrests on the scale that we are seeing today," said Gabriela de la Paz, director of the Center for North American Studies at the Monterrey Institute for Technological and Advanced Studies, one of Mexico's leading universities.
Trade, meanwhile, has been a sticking point between the two countries.
In February, the U.S. House of Representatives angered Mexico, Canada and other free-trade partners by trying to require that U.S.-made materials be used in projects stemming from Obama's economic-stimulus plan. The U.S. Senate later watered down the "Buy America" clause.
Then in March, the Democrat-controlled Congress canceled funding for a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks into the United States.
Mexico says the cancellation is a violation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Last week, it retaliated by slapping tariffs on $2.4 billion in U.S. exports.
Clinton and Espinosa said they agreed to try to address the trade spat before it weakens both economies.
"We are working very hard to achieve a resolution on this issue," Clinton said. "We have to get the global economy moving, we've to get jobs being created again, we have to get incomes rising. So, we are committed to working this through."
Espinosa urged the United States to stand by its free-trade ideals, saying a surge of trade nationalism during the 1930s only worsened the Great Depression.
"It is important to avoid protectionism, to not go into the temptation of protectionism," Espinosa said.
Clinton also assured Mexicans that Obama plans to renew the push for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws.
Under President George W. Bush, the White House had championed bills to legalize millions of illegal immigrants currently in the United States. All those attempts failed in Congress.
"It is and will be a high priority for (Obama) and his presidency," Clinton said. "We believe strongly that there have to be changes made, and we hope we will be able to pursue those in the coming months."
Wow this is great! With Obama we can have our cake and eat it too! Lots of high paying jobs, free medical care and rich people will pay for it. Honest! That's what Obama says!
Obama wants high-paying, high-skill jobs in future
Posted 3/26/2009 1:45 PM ET
By Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama fielded questions on jobs, the auto industry, universal health care, mortgages, education, veterans' care and legalization of marijuana as he kicked off a first-of-its-kind Internet era Town Hall at the White House. Obama said job creation in America is difficult in a time of economic hardship and that the work of the future should be in more high-paying, high-skill areas like clean energy technology.
Obama was asked at his virtual town hall meeting when people can expect a return of jobs that have been outsourced to other nations. He said the United States has suffered a "massive loss of jobs" because of the deep recession and the turmoil in the financial industry.
Obama also said many of the lost jobs in recent years involve work that was done by people getting very low wages and those with limited work skills. He said it will take some time -- perhaps through the rest of the year -- before vigorous hiring resumes, and that might not happen until businesses see evidence the economy is rebounding.
Speaking before taking questions sent in by online readers and from people assembled at the White House, Obama said the precedent-setting online town hall meeting Thursday was an "an important step" toward creating a broader avenue for information about his administration.
The president said, "When I was running for president, I promised to open the White House for the American people. This is an important step toward achieving that goal."
Before the meeting got under way, the White House had gotten over 100,000 online questions.
Obama says the current model for the U.S. auto industry is unsustainable and the Big Three manufacturers will have to change their ways.
Obama said the auto industry must be preserved, not only symbolically but for the satellite industries such as suppliers. However, he said his job is to protect U.S. taxpayers and he wouldn't spend federal dollars on "a model that doesn't work."
Obama said sales of new vehicles had been around 14 million, a number that has dropped to 9 million during the economic downturn. In part, that was due to Americans struggling to get auto loans and fears of big-ticket purchases as jobs disappear.
The president said even as the economy bounces back, Detroit can't focus on building more SUVs and counting on low gas prices.
Obama says the ideal path to universal health care is to build on the current system that relies in part on employer plans rather than scrap what has existed for generations.
Asked why the U.S. couldn't opt for a European system, Obama said the United States has a legacy of employer-based plans that have filled the needs of a majority of Americans. He said the country has a set of institutions that aren't easily transformed.
He said he is looking to Congress to find that optimal system and it needs to be overhauled now rather than waiting for decades.
He said the biggest driver of the nation's long-term deficit is Medicare and Medicaid.
Obama was asked about what help is available to Americans who are still making their mortgage payments but are struggling. He replied that his administration has made it easier for Americans to refinance. He says 40 percent of mortgages are now eligible for refinancing. And he said homeowners need to take advantage of that.
Obama says the number of refinanced mortgages is already starting to go up "significantly."
He says it's a way for homeowners to cut their monthly payments.
Obama says the best way to improve the nation's education system is with more money and more reform.
Obama said that greater investment in early childhood education and rewarding talented teachers would significantly improve the system.
He said the current school system -- with three months off at midyear -- was designed for an agriculture society centuries ago.
Obama said the only reason he had been elected president was because of the education he received, in large part through scholarships and his family's sacrifice. Obama graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School.
Obama also said there has to be a way to ease bad teachers out of the classroom. He was responding to a question from a Philadelphia-area schoolteacher. The woman looked away and refused to answer when Obama asked if she'd seen any teachers whose work was so bad she wouldn't want her own children in that class.
Obama said some people just aren't meant to be teachers.
He also said there needs to be other ways to evaluate teachers besides standardized tests. He said those tests can't measure progress in a struggling school, and that they represent the biggest flaw in the No Child Left Behind program.
Obama said that if teachers are forced to teach based solely on a test, fewer students will be inspired to learn.
Obama says when it comes to making sure returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have the support they need, government can't do the job alone.
He says communities and churches need to reach out to veterans and celebrate their return, and that businesses need to make jobs available to them.
Obama noted that veterans returning from Vietnam weren't treated well in many cases. He called that "inexcusable."
Obama repeated his support for increased funding for veterans programs, and the treatment of health problems such as post-traumatic stress.
Obama had some fun with at least one question, saying he doesn't think legalizing marijuana is a good strategy for turning around the economy.
Obama told the audience that one of the most popular questions was whether legalization of the illicit drug would help pull the nation out of the recession. The president jokingly said: "I don't know what this says about the online audience."
In a serious response, he said he didn't think that was a good economic policy. [ Of course not! It will make all the jackbooted police thugs who round up harmless pot smokers unemployeed! And all the prison guards who guard people convicted of victimless drug war crimes will also become unemployeed. But other then that it is a damn good policy change. ]
Obama called nurses the backbone of the country's health care system and suggested they are unappreciated.
He said that at a time when his daughter Sasha had a serious medical issue, nurses rather than physicians were doing the bulk of the work at the hospital. Obama said: "It was the nurses who were there when she had to get a spinal tap and all the things that were bringing me to tears."
He said nurses must play a key role in setting the country's emerging health policy and said there actually is a shortage of nurses at a time when the country is experiencing rising joblessness.
"It's a way for the president to do what he enjoys doing out on the road, but saves on gas," press secretary Robert Gibbs said of the online meeting yesterday.
By 9 a.m. Thursday, the White House Web site had already logged more than 100,000 questions.
Obama used the Internet to build a grass-roots movement that delivered the presidency and raised unheard-of money. Now in power, he is employing the same online network and style to speak -- unfiltered -- with Americans.
The president already has taken that tactic on the road, spending two days on the West Coast last week at town hall-style meetings and appearing on Jay Leno's late-night talk show. It offered easier questions and a chance to get his message to the widest possible audience.
"It's not a whole lot different than were we in California doing the meeting," Gibbs said. "It's just we'll have people hooked up from a lot of different places all over the country, but he'll be able to do all that from the East Room."
Already, the White House is connecting the old-school press conference with the new-media event. It will be an easy contrast between skeptical reporters and supporter-selected questions.
Political operatives say the White House's strategy is a way to reach a demographic key to Obama's election.
"In the new world of online media, formal press conferences are just one element or program to get the message out -- to those, usually older, who watch such things on TV. The online version he is doing is an alternative way to get out the same message, in this case on the budget, targeted toward a different audience, usually younger," said Morley Winograd, a former adviser to Vice President Al Gore who now runs the Institute for Communication Technology Management at the University of Southern California.
"In both cases the questioners are just props -- or, in some cases, foils -- for the star, Obama, to deliver his message. But in the latter case, they get to self-nominate instead of be selected by elites," Winograd said.
In a way, it's part campaign-style politics and part "American Idol," said political strategist Simon Rosenberg.
"Barack Obama is going to reinvent the presidency the way he reinvented electoral politics," said Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network and a veteran of presidential campaigns. "He is allowing everyday people to participate in a way that would've been impossible in the old media world."
Obama's campaign allowed supporters to organize themselves to go door-to-door and raise money. Because of that, many felt an ownership of the campaign and devoted countless hours to giving Obama the Democratic Party's nomination and then the presidency.
Obama's aides are taking that step forward, incorporating tools that let visitors to the White House Web site pick the questions Obama will answer, turning the president's Thursday event into a democratic press conference.
"Average people get to shape the outcome, like 'American Idol,'" Rosenberg said. "This is not a couch-potato age. Average people are expecting to be part of the process."
Yet the process lends itself to softer questions and ones the White House is eager to answer, Republicans noted.
"The president is going back to the safe confines he was always most comfortable with, in this case a friendly audience where the focus is on the sale rather than the substance," GOP strategist Kevin Madden said.
Obama remains a popular figure, although the country and Congress are reluctant to embrace his budget proposals. Aides say that the more the president talks about his plans -- and frames his budget proposal through real-world needs -- the more Americans would be swayed.
In that vein, Obama aides want to keep the questions about energy, health care and education, the three key priorities in his first budget document. Some of the questions will be from the Web site, others via YouTube and some from an audience of about 100 people representing teachers, nurses and small-business employees.
"The president just thinks it's another opportunity to talk directly with the American people about the challenges that we have, the choices and the decisions that we're making, and the path that we're taking to get us back to prosperous days," Gibbs said.
Almost makes you want to cry! Obama promised to get us out of Iraq. Well he isn't really getting us out of Iraq, but he is switching the war to Afghanistan. And MAYBE after 2 years we will only have 4,000 troops in Iraq, MAYBE, that is if he didn't lie to us.
Two years ago I was dumb enought to beleive when the Democrats took over Congress they would end the stupid Iraq war, they DIDN'T. And it doesn't look like Obama will end it either!
I suspect there is just TOO MUCH MONEY going to special intrest pork groups that are involved with the war.
Congress doesn't care about the 100,000+ innocent civilians killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, nor do they care about the 4,000+ GIs killed in the two wars. All Congress cares about is the special intrest groups that give them money in exchange for war contracts!
Sources: Obama to add US troops in Afghanistan
By ANNE GEARAN and PAMELA HESS, Associated Press Writers Anne Gearan And Pamela Hess, Associated Press Writers – 4 mins ago
WASHINGTON – Concerned about the faltering war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama plans to dispatch thousands more military and civilian trainers on top of the 17,000 fresh combat troops he's already ordered, people familiar with the forthcoming plan said Thursday.
Obama, who plans to lay out his revamped strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, also will call for increasing aid to neighboring Pakistan as long as its leaders confront militants in the border region.
Several sources told The Associated Press the strategy includes 20 recommendations for countering a persistent insurgency that spans the two countries' border, including sending 4,000 U.S. trainers to try to increase the size of the Afghan army.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would not discuss specifics of the plan, but said Obama is beginning to discuss its findings with members of Congress and others. Obama's top military advisers briefed key lawmakers Thursday.
In broad terms, Obama will define U.S. objectives as eliminating the threat from al-Qaida to undermine or topple U.S.-backed elected governments or to launch attacks on the United States, its interests and allies, the sources said.
Sources described the recommendations on condition of anonymity because the final wording was not complete. The new plan identified al-Qaida as the target in a larger network of insurgents who threaten U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, often from sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.
The additional 4,000 troops devoted to training and advising the Afghan armed forces would head to Afghanistan this spring and summer. They come on top of about 17,000 combat and support troops Obama wants in place by the end of the summer.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the training group is needed because there aren't enough U.S. military advisers there now.
"We've got to increase the size (of the Afghan army) much more quickly than contemplated and the trainers are the key to that," said Levin, D-Mich.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it seemed like a viable strategy as long as the manpower is there.
"I know we need more than the 17,000," he said.
The forthcoming White House review also says the U.S. will add hundreds of civilian advisers to those already in Afghanistan. The so-called civilian surge would concentrate on improving life for ordinary Afghans, and would include experts in agriculture in a country where subsistence farming is the norm. The civilians are also meant to help extend government services and the administration of justice.
The plan notes that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan still wants some 10,000 or 11,000 additional U.S. forces next year, but does not say whether Obama intends to fulfill that request now, sources said. That decision would come by the end of this year.
The plan also broaches dramatically increasing the size of Afghanistan's security forces. It calls for a study to determine the size of the police and military force capable of securing the country. Several defense officials said that could entail doubling the Afghan security force to almost 400,000. However, the strategy review does not recommend any specific figure.
The Obama strategy document deliberately avoids specific numbers, dollar amounts and timelines "in any domain," a senior defense official said. He said the intent is to set goals and a new direction, with specifics of implementation to be worked out in coming months.
The plan also strongly backs legislation by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that would triple humanitarian aid to $1.5 billion to Pakistan for five years. The bill had been proposed last year by now Vice President Joe Biden.
Kerry, who took over for Biden as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he also supports placing some conditions on military aid to Pakistan. Biden's original bill threatened to cut military funding for Islamabad unless the government did more to fight Taliban forces.
Kerry said he planned to introduce next week an updated version of the measure that would increase slightly the $1.5 billion figure. He also said the strategy prepared by the administration won't be the final word.
"I'm concerned that we still have work to do to adequately deal with the western portion of Pakistan," he told reporters. "It's still a concern. I think this strategy will help to deal with it, but it's not as complete as it needs to be."
Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty, Pauline Jelinek and Robert Burns contributed to this report.
Translation - Obama and the American Empire are going to lose the Afghanistan war just like Bush and the American Empire lost the Iraq war.
Analysis: New war strategy requires outside help
By ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press Writer Robert Burns, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – The success of President Barack Obama's new war strategy depends heavily on factors beyond his control: Afghan competence, Pakistani cooperation and a greater willingness by Europeans and other allies to adopt the American view that al-Qaida is at the core of the conflict.
Each of those has been missing or, at best, has fallen short despite years of U.S. pushing and prodding.
That is why, after more than seven years of inconclusive combat, hundreds of American deaths, billions in financial aid and incomplete efforts to build self-sustaining Afghan security forces, Obama saw a need Friday to retool strategy, clarify U.S. war aims and seek more help from NATO and other partners.
There are important factors that Obama does control, and these are central to prospects for prevailing. The extra troops he is ordering to Afghanistan in combat and advisory roles can make a difference, as can additional U.S. civilian specialists to help Afghanistan build governing competence.
But even those U.S. approaches have risks and limitations, as Obama made clear in explaining why he must overcome skepticism in Congress about spending billions of dollars more on State Department and foreign assistance programs.
"Make no mistake, our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future," he said.
As he deepened the U.S. commitment — declaring the war crucial to protecting Americans against a repeat of the 9/11 attacks — Obama set the country on a path that is likely to require far more help from the rest of the world than it took for President George W. Bush to turn around the war in Iraq.
The new strategy starts in Afghanistan.
Obama said a vital ingredient in his formula for success will be reconciliation among at least some adversaries within the country. However, leaders of the radical Taliban movement want to regain control of the nation they ruled from the mid-1990s until the U.S. invasion in the weeks following the Sept 11, 2001, attacks. And efforts by the Afghan government to reconcile with some elements have thus far failed.
Obama said he has "no illusions that this will be easy," and he acknowledged there is an "uncompromising core" of the Taliban that is beyond reconciliation and must be defeated militarily.
The Afghan government itself is part of the problem. Rife with corruption and unable to extend its authority beyond the capital, Kabul, the government has failed to instill confidence in its ability to provide basic services in much of the country. That has given the Taliban room to increase its influence.
Obama tied the prospects for success in Afghanistan to rooting out al-Qaida terrorists in neighboring Pakistan, which has become a haven for the group. He described al-Qaida as "a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within." But to the Pakistanis, a more worrying threat has been its powerful neighbor and nuclear rival, India, with whom the Pakistanis have fought three wars over the past 60 years.
In Afghanistan, the Bush administration pleaded for years with NATO allies to provide more troops for combat and for training Afghan forces. The increases it got were modest, leaving an unmet need that U.S. commanders have cited in explaining why the Taliban has remained resilient and Afghan forces have developed slowly.
In his remarks Friday, Obama appealed to NATO to accept "a shared responsibility to act." And he said he would take that message to Europe next week for meetings with NATO and European Union leaders.
A fundamental disconnect between Washington and its European allies has been the nature of the extremist threat and the role of military force in addressing it.
The Europeans have been reluctant to accept the U.S. view — held in common by Obama and Bush — that al-Qaida is a threat to the existence of democratic societies. And the Europeans see political, economic and humanitarian aid as more important than military intervention in achieving stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
That is why Afghanistan has increasingly become an American war — and why Obama sees a need to change that. "This is not simply an American problem; far from it," he said. "It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order."
And it is why people like Sen. Richard Lugar, a leading voice on foreign affairs, worry about the growing U.S. role.
"We are unlikely to succeed if military and political efforts in that country trend toward greater U.S. domination," he said Friday.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Robert Burns has covered national security affairs for The Associated Press since 1990.
More US troops to join Afghan war
Mar. 27, 2009 06:29 AM
WASHINGTON - Grappling with a war gone awry, President Barack Obama plans to send thousands more U.S. forces into Afghanistan, hoping to hasten the end of a conflict that still has no clear end in sight.
Obama on Friday will announce a multitiered strategy that banks heavily on world help and invigorated U.S. diplomacy. The Afghanistan war, which Obama calls adrift, is now his, and a central part of the new strategy is to build up the Afghan army.
The broad U.S goal remains much as it was when the war began in the fallout of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks: To dismantle the operations of the Taliban and al-Qaida, which have shifted their power base from Afghanistan to Pakistan in recent years.
Obama plans to send in 4,000 more U.S. military troops, whose mission will be to train and expand the Afghan army to take the lead on counterterrorism. He also plans to send in hundreds more U.S. civilians to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their nation.
Those forces are on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that Obama has already approved.
The strategy fits with Obama's operating premise - that the U.S. failed mightily in the post-Sept. 11 years by focusing on Iraq instead of putting enough military in Afghanistan.
"The president has decided that he's going to resource this war properly," said one senior administration official involved in Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan review. Three Obama officials spoke on condition of anonymity about the plan because it was not yet public.
The build up comes with a cost.
Violence is rising. The war in Afghanistan saw American military deaths rise by 35 percent in 2008 as Islamic extremists shifted their focus to a new front with the West.
Obama's plan will also cost many more billions of dollars. His officials said Thursday night that they did not yet have a specific budget figure tied to the strategy.
The president's plan includes no timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Obama called Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday to brief them on his plans.
"He made it very clear there are no blank checks," one administration official said.
Obama will detail his strategy at the White House on Friday morning, timed with purpose.
His moves comes ahead of a U.N. conference on Afghanistan next Tuesday in The Hague, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join representatives from more than 80 countries. And Obama himself is attending a NATO meeting next week in France and Germany.
At that meeting, the U.S. expects some NATO coalition members to commit more forces to the flagging war in Afghanistan, Obama officials said Thursday. They did not get specific.
Roughly 65,000 international forces are in Afghanistan, more than half from the U.S.
One part of Obama's plan is to expose fractures in the Taliban in hopes of weakening it.
Obama officials say the most difficult part of their approach will be in dealing with Pakistan, an often chaotic place with an erratic relationship with the United States. The administration will seek to bolster the democratic government of Pakistan, and try to get the people of that country to see the U.S.-led effort as one that is in their interests.
"We have to address the trust deficit that we have with Pakistanis," one senior administration official said. "That's not going to be easy."
Obama also will call for increasing aid to Pakistan as long as its leaders confront militants in the border region. The president will work with Congress on language to attach conditions to military aid, sources said.
The U.S. will launch an intensive and expanded diplomatic effort to gain international cooperation, including reaching out to Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia and even Iran.
The 4,000 military trainers Obama is sending to Afghanistan will come from 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. All of the troops he is dispatching to Afghanistan, including the combat troops, will be there by fall.
Several sources told The Associated Press the strategy includes 20 recommendations for countering a persistent insurgency that spans the two countries' border.
The written outline of Obama's plan describes a "strategy for success," as opposed to an exit strategy, but the goal is the same: stability on both sides of the border that would allow a reduction and eventual withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the training group is needed because there aren't enough U.S. military advisers there now.
The plan notes that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan still wants some 10,000 or 11,000 additional U.S. forces next year, but it does not say whether Obama intends to fulfill that request now, sources said. That decision would come by the end of this year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are all for this new American war on the Taliban because it means a handfull of money for both of them. Don't think of it as bring Democracy to either Pakistan or Afghanistan, think of it as giving two dictators a boat load of money to look out for the interests of the American government, which is a lot different then the interests of the American people.
Afghan, Pakistani leaders laud U.S. strategy
Mar. 28, 2009 10:37 AM
KABUL - Afghanistan and Pakistan on Saturday praised the new U.S. strategy for dealing with growing violence in the two countries, with the Afghan president saying the plan to reconcile with moderate Taliban militants was better than expected and his Pakistani counterpart focusing on using development to fight extremism.
President Barack Obama announced the new strategy Friday with the hope of reversing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, where violence has been increasing from Taliban militants who fled the 2001 U.S.-led invasion and have been launching cross-border attacks from sanctuaries in Pakistan.
The violence provides cover for al-Qaida operatives who Obama said are also holed up in Pakistan and planning attacks against the U.S. and other countries. The overarching goal of the new strategy is to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-Qaida in the region by increasing civilian and military assistance on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
But serious questions remain, including whether the new effort will convince Pakistan to crack down on militants operating in its territory and whether the U.S. and Afghanistan can agree on which Taliban fighters should be approached for reconciliation.
In addition to focusing on reconciliation Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised pledges of increased and better-coordinated assistance to his country under the new U.S. plan and Obama's focus on countering militant sanctuaries in Pakistan.
"This is better than we were expecting as a matter of fact," Karzai told a news conference.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said billions of dollars in additional civilian aid will help his government fight extremism and promised he would not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorism - though offered no new measures.
"The U.S. presidency's new approach represents a positive change," Zardari said in a speech to Parliament.
Karzai has long championed the idea of reconciliation with the Taliban as a key way to tamp down the growing insurgency in Afghanistan. The Bush administration generally opposed the idea, but Obama stressed reconciliation with more moderate elements of the Taliban on Friday.
"In a country with extreme poverty that has been at war for decades, there will also be no peace without reconciliation among former enemies," Obama said.
The reconciliation proposal is arguably the most novel part of the new plan, which is focused mostly on increasing the scale of ongoing initiatives - promising 4,000 additional troops to train the Afghan army, hundreds more civilian specialists to help Afghanistan rebuild and $1.5 billion in annual civilian aid to Pakistan for the next five years.
"In this strategy, the most important issue is Taliban reconciliation and peace talks as President Obama mentioned in his speech," Karzai said.
Obama focused on reaching out to Taliban militants who have chosen to fight because they need the money or were coerced by others. However, he said there is "an uncompromising core of the Taliban" that must be met with force and defeated. The plan singles out Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and other top members.
The issue of who is targeted for reconciliation could become a source of friction between the U.S. and Afghanistan because Karzai has signaled a greater willingness to talk to hardcore militants - even extending offers to the Taliban leader.
The issue of terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan has also created serious disputes in the region. The U.S. and Afghanistan have repeatedly urged Pakistan to crack down on militants in its territory. The Pakistani government says it is doing what it can and complains it is being made a scapegoat for the failures of Karzai and the West.
But many Afghan and Western officials suspect officers within the country's military spy agency of supporting the Taliban, which Pakistan helped bring to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the U.S. war effort in the region, said Friday that there were suspicions that Pakistani spies had warned militants about upcoming operations.
The Pakistan military on Saturday dismissed such allegations as "baseless." A statement said the country's commitment was evident from the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces fighting extremist groups since 2001.
Obama said the U.S. would step up pressure on Pakistan by making aid to the country conditional on its anti-terrorism effort, though offered no details. He has also pledged to send an additional 17,000 combat troops to fight militants in southern and eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.
Zardari said Saturday that Pakistan would deal "firmly" with groups defying the state but gave little indication of any new measures against terrorism.
Pakistan's respected Dawn newspaper said the country's army may bridle at the conditions attached to the expanded aid.
"The more transactional the U.S.-Pak relationship continues to look, the less the security establishment here may be inclined to cooperate," it said in an editorial.
Afghan and international forces have stepped up their operations in southern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, the center of the Taliban insurgency.
Troops and police killed 28 militants in several provinces in southern Afghanistan on Friday, officials said.
Janet Gul, an Afghan farmer living on the front lines in southern Kandahar province, said he was worried about the increased violence that would follow the deployment of additional U.S. troops to southern Afghanistan.
"They should negotiate with the Taliban and find the way for peace," Gul said.
Across the border in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, 26-year-old schoolteacher Saeed Khan, echoed Gul's frustration with war and said focusing on development was the way to go.
"Had America and Pakistan used half the sum spent on military action for development, issues like extremism and terrorism could have been solved much earlier," Khan said.
Obama tap dances his way out of HIS new war in Afthanistan and says it's not HIS war, it's the war of the American people! - "I think it's America's war. And it's the same war that we initiated after 9/11 as a consequence of those attacks," Obama said. - Hey Obama its not MY war! It was George Bush's war and now it is YOUR war! I don't want the American Empire killing people in Afghanistan and Pakistan any more then I want the American Empire killing people in Iraq!
Obama rules out American troops in Pakistan
WASHINGTON (AP) — As he carries out a retooled strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama says he will consult with Pakistan's leaders before pursuing terrorist hideouts in that country. Obama said U.S. ally Pakistan needs to be more accountable, but ruled out deploying U.S. troops there. "Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government," the president told CBS' Face the Nation in an interview broadcast Sunday.
The president also bemoaned the tenuous security situation in Afghanistan, saying, "Unless we get a handle on it now, we're gonna be in trouble." He made clear that his new strategy for the long war is "not going to be an open-ended commitment of infinite resources" from the United States.
In a wide-ranging interview, Obama sought to counter the notion that Afghanistan has become his war. He emphasized that it started on George W. Bush's watch.
"I think it's America's war. And it's the same war that we initiated after 9/11 as a consequence of those attacks," Obama said. [ Wrong Obama! It is not MY war it is YOUR war. It was George Bush's war and you chose to continue it so it is now Obama's war! It is not the war of the American people. We don't want the stupid war in Afghanistan any more then we want the stupid war in Iraq! ] "The focus over the last seven years, I think, has been lost."
Obama taped the interview Friday, the same day he launched the fresh effort to defeat al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, widening a war that began after terrorists struck the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. He set new benchmarks and ordered 4,000 more troops to the war zone as well as hundreds of civilians and increased aid. The plan does not include an exit timeline.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, said the short-term objectives for U.S. forces in Afghanistan have narrowed under Obama's new strategy even as a flourishing democracy in Afghanistan remains a long-term goal.
"I think what we need to focus on and focus our efforts is making headway and reversing the Taliban's momentum and strengthening the Afghan army and police, and really going after al-Qaeda, as the president said," Gates said.
al-Qaeda terrorists are still a serious threat and retain the ability to plan attacks against the United States even though they have been inhibited over the past several years, Gates said.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have praised the new U.S. strategy for dealing with growing violence in the region.
But Obama has irked Pakistan since taking office in January by retaining a powerful but controversial weapon left over from the Bush administration's fight against terrorism: unmanned Predator drone missile strikes on Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has urged Obama to halt the strikes. But Gates has signaled to Congress that the U.S. would continue to go after al-Qaeda inside Pakistan, and senior Obama administration officials have called the strikes effective.
Without directly referring to the strikes, Obama said: "If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we're going after them. But our main thrust has to be to help Pakistan defeat these extremists." [ Hmmm.... So Obama is going to continue the George Bush tactic of killing innocent woman and children by shooting drone missles at them. I thought Obama claimed to be a human unlike George W. Bush? I was wrong on that! ]
Asked if he meant he would put U.S. troops on the ground in Pakistan, Obama said: "No." He noted that Pakistan is a sovereign nation and said: "We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable."
"What we wanna do is say to the Pakistani people: You are our friends, you are our allies. We are going to give you the tools to defeat al-Qaeda and to root out these safe havens. But we also expect some accountability. And we expect that you understand the severity and the nature of the threat," Obama added.
His strategy is built on an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011 — and greatly increasing training by U.S. troops accompanying them — so the Afghan military can defeat Taliban insurgents and take control of the war.
In the interview, Obama said he won't assume that more troops will result in an improved situation. "There may be a point of diminishing returns in terms of troop levels. We've gotta also make sure that our civilian efforts, our diplomatic efforts and our development efforts, are just as robustly encouraged."
Obama agreed that things are worse than ever in Afghanistan, and then sought to clarify his point.
"They're not worse than they were when the Taliban was in charge and al-Qaeda was operating with impunity," Obama said. But, he added, "We have seen a deterioration over the last several years."
"This is gonna be hard," Obama said. "I'm under no illusions. If it was easy, it would have already been completed." He also stressed the need to be flexible. "We will continue to monitor and adjust our strategies to make sure that we're not just going down blind alleys."
Richard Holbrooke, U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, dismissed comparing the war in Afghanistan to U.S. involvement in Vietnam more than a generation ago.
"The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese never posed any direct threat to the United States and its homeland," Holbrooke, a Vietnam veteran, said on State of the Union on CNN.
"The people we are fighting in Afghanistan, and the people they are sheltering in western Pakistan, pose a direct threat. [ Damn Right! They have AK-47 machine guns so powerful that when they shoot them into the sky they will turn into intercontinental ballistic missles and fly across the Pacific Ocean and slam into civilians in Los Angeles and San Francisco, or over the Atlantic Ocean into people in New York City. What rubbish. They are a bunch of third world poor people who are no more of a threat to the USA then the Viet Cong! ] Those are the men of 9/11, the people who killed Benazir Bhutto," Holbrooke said, referring to the slain former Pakistan prime minister. "And you can be sure that, as we sit here today, they are planning further attacks on the United States and our allies."
Feds waste more money on auto companys. Think of it as a handout to the company executives and employees instead of letting them go bankrupt like they should.
Obama refuses more bailouts for GM, Chrysler
Mar. 30, 2009 08:53 AM
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama refused further long-term federal bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler, saying more concessions were needed from unions, creditors and others. He raised the possibility Monday of controlled bankruptcy for one or both of the beleaguered auto giants.
At the same time, eager to reassure consumers, Obama announced the federal government would immediately begin backing the warrantees that new car buyers receive — a step designed to signal that it is safe to purchase U.S.-made autos and trucks despite the distress of the industry.
In a statement read at the White House, Obama said he was “absolutely committed” to the survival of a domestic auto industry that can compete internationally. And yet, “our auto industry is not moving in the right direction fast enough,” he added.
With his words, Obama underscored the extent to which the government is now dictating terms to two of the country's iconic corporations, much as it has already taken an ownership stake in banks, the insurance giant AIG and housing titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In an extraordinary move, the administration forced the departure of Rick Wagoner as CEO of General Motors overt the weekend, and implicit in Obama's remarks was that the government holds the ability to pull the plug on that company or Chrysler.
Michigan Gov. Governor Jennifer Granholm said Wagoner "clearly is a sacrificial lamb" who stepped aside "for the future of the company and for the future of jobs." She spoke on NBC's Today show Monday.
Obama said the companies must do more to receive additional financial aid from the government.
"We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry. But it's got to be one that's realistically designed to weather this storm and to emerge - at the other end - much more lean, mean and competitive than it currently is," Obama said on CBS' Face the Nation broadcast Sunday.
Frustrated administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of Obama's announcement, said Chrysler has been given a 30-day window to complete a proposed partnership with Italian automaker Fiat SpA. The government will offer up to $6 billion to the companies if they can negotiate a deal before time runs out. If a Chrysler-Fiat union cannot be completed, Washington plans to walk away, leaving Chrysler destined for a complete sell-off.
Shawn Morgan, a Chrysler spokeswoman, declined to comment ahead of Obama's announcement.
For GM, the administration offered 60 days of operating money to restructure. Officials say they believe GM can put together a plan that will keep production lines moving in the coming years.
New directors will now make up the majority of GM's board. Fritz Henderson, GM's president and chief operating officer, became the new CEO. Board member Kent Kresa, the former chairman and CEO of defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., was named interim chairman of the GM board.
"The board has recognized for some time that the company's restructuring will likely cause a significant change in the stockholders of the company and create the need for new directors with additional skills and experience," Kresa said in a written statement.
The Obama administration move comes amid public outrage over bonuses paid to business leaders and American International Group executives - set against a severely ailing economy.
GM failed to make good on promises made in exchange for $13.4 billion in government loans. Chrysler, meanwhile, has survived on $4 billion in federal aid during this economic downturn and the worst decline in auto sales in 27 years. In progress reports filed with the government in February, GM asked for $16.6 billion more and Chrysler wanted $5 billion more. The White House balked and instead started a countdown clock.
Two people familiar with the plan said bankruptcy would still be possible if the automakers failed to restructure. Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make details public.
An exasperated administration official noted that the companies had not done enough to reduce debt; in some cases, it actually increased during this restructuring and review process. GM owes roughly $28 billion to bondholders. Chrysler owes about $7 billion in first- and second-term debt, mainly to banks. GM owes about $20 billion to its retiree health care trust, while Chrysler owes $10.6 billion.
GM and Chrysler employ about 140,000 workers in the U.S. In February, GM said it intended to cut 47,000 jobs around the globe, or almost 20 percent of its work force, close hundreds of dealerships and focus on four core brands - Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick.
A matter of trust? That is rubbish! They are PAYING them to snitch on their neighbors! You want a well? Snitch on a couple of Taliban members we can jail in Gitmo and you will get your well! Don't wait for the American Empire to win this war! Obama will lose it just as Bush lost it and the Iraq war!
Afghan strategy a matter of trust
By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
BAKWA, Afghanistan — Haji Gran, a 70-year-old poppy and wheat farmer, wants a pump for his well. U.S. Marine Sgt. Joshua Randall has an answer: "If (you) start telling us where the Taliban is and where they're placing bombs on the road, I can start asking for water pumps," he tells Gran and his family through an interpreter.
Gran, wearing a white turban and shalwa kameez, the local dress of loose pants and shirt, says he will be glad to provide information about the Taliban. "The bombs are not good for us either," he says.
There are smiles and handshakes all around as Randall's Marines climb back into Humvees and head off on another bone-jarring drive across fallow and drought-hardened fields to the next compound.
Randall's approach is at the heart of the Afghanistan war strategy that President Obama announced Friday. The additional troops Obama is sending to Afghanistan will focus not on battling Taliban insurgents face-to-face, but on improving security in far-flung villages such as Bakwa by winning the trust of the local population, one farmer at a time.
"The Taliban is not my focus," says Marine Capt. Mike Hoffman, a company commander, who lives on a dusty outpost in southern Afghanistan. "If I focus on the people, I'll get (rid of) the Taliban or make them irrelevant. I didn't come out here to kill bad guys."
That philosophy is drawn in part from hard-earned lessons in Iraq, where a strategic shift toward protecting the local population in 2007 helped turn the war against Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda. Commanders here caution that Afghanistan is different in many ways but say they're confident the additional troops Obama is sending finally will give them the manpower necessary to secure long-neglected areas — and turn back a reinvigorated offensive by the Taliban and their al-Qaeda counterparts.
"I think we got the concept right," says Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, the Dutch commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. "We are finally resourcing the concept."
The 4,000 troops Obama ordered to Afghanistan on Friday will train their peers in the Afghan army and police — who are crucial to confidence-building because they are tasked with holding territory once it has been cleared of insurgents by U.S. and NATO forces. Obama's plan calls for nearly doubling the size of Afghanistan's security forces by 2011, as well as an increased emphasis on diplomatic cooperation from regional countries such as Pakistan and Iran.
The reinforcements will join an additional 17,000 troops that Obama previously ordered deployed, bringing the overall U.S. presence in Afghanistan to nearly 60,000 by the end of the year.
After seven years of war, winning the locals' confidence isn't easy. Hundreds of Afghan civilians died during NATO airstrikes and other raids against militant hideouts last year, according to the U.N., eroding the coalition's popularity. And many people still fear the Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan until the U.S. invasion in 2001 and still exerts influence over broad swathes of the country, including the lucrative opium smuggling trade.
So when the Marines go out on patrol, the primary mission is often to make small talk — to question the locals about their daily work and living habits, for example. Sometimes a breakthrough comes over a meal of lamb or some other local dish.
Hoffman, the unit commander, says his Marines have detained only about a dozen suspects during the past five months. A larger focus is trying to gather intelligence — and break down cultural barriers along the way.
Such was the case when Randall, the Marine sergeant, was interviewing Gran, the poppy farmer.
Gran, a grizzled village elder in a country where age is revered, cocked an eyebrow at Randall, a 23-year-old with smooth cheeks and a youthful face. "Are you the commander?" Gran asked.
Randall explained he was the commander of the patrol and continued the questioning.
After a while, Gran finally seemed to let his guard down. He said he is watchful during the day. "It's impossible to see Taliban during the night," he told Randall.
'We're going in to stay'
NATO and U.S. forces are not clearing an area of insurgents unless they have enough foreign or Afghan forces to then hold the town or village once insurgents have been pushed out. That was a key lesson from Iraq, when American troops cleared regions only to have insurgents pour back in after the U.S. forces left.
"Our techniques have changed since five or six years ago," says Army Brig. Gen. Mark Milley, deputy commander of the 101st Airborne Division, which commands troops in eastern Afghanistan. "When we go in, we're going in to stay."
Commanders say they expect a rise in violence as more U.S. troops move into areas that have seen few foreign forces during the current conflict, particularly in parts of the volatile south. The warmer weather also signals the start of a new fighting season as snows recede and mountains become passable again.
"It will be a spike — not a continuous upward trend," says U.S. Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, deputy commander of the southern region.
About 60% of the 3 million people in southern Afghanistan live in areas that are completely secured, de Kruif, the Dutch commander, said in an interview in his headquarters in Kandahar. That leaves much of the rest of the region without a significant NATO presence.
Apart from the military trainers, most of the other new American forces — which include an Army Stryker brigade, a brigade of U.S. Marines and an aviation brigade — are heading for southern Afghanistan where they are expected to confront insurgents.
"This is going to take time and it's going to be bloody along the way," Milley says. "At the end of the day, it's going to work."
Counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq were boosted by a tribal revolt in western Iraq that American commanders were able to harness to build local security. Afghanistan's tribal structure is very different, making such a revolt here unlikely, commanders say.
The forbidding terrain means that tribes in one valley often mistrust people in the next valley over. Tribes in Afghanistan are much smaller and more isolated and so are unlikely to form the kinds of loose alliances that helped push al-Qaeda out of Iraq, Julian says.
The strategy in Afghanistan is also being pursued with far fewer troops. At the peak of the U.S. troop escalation, or "surge," there were 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq — compared to the 90,000 coalition troops expected by the end of the year in Afghanistan, which is about one-and-a-half times the size of Iraq.
Commanders say Afghanistan would have a hard time absorbing a large number of foreign troops. Much of the insurgency in Afghanistan is rooted in rugged mountains and countryside, making it difficult to mass troops in any one area to achieve quick results. Obama's plan to increase the number of police and army trainers is designed to make Afghan forces shoulder a larger burden of security so foreign troops don't have to.
Giving farmers a hand
In Bakwa, Company I, 3rd Battalion 8th Marines, has built small outposts to secure a 30-mile stretch of road to the nearby village of Delaram. The security allows farmers to get their produce to a local market.
When the battalion arrived, the road had been seeded with deadly roadside bombs. Two Marines were killed clearing the road in January, but since then the number of roadside bombs on the route have been declining. Once it was cleared, Marines set up outposts to keep it secure.
Local police who live next door to the Marine base recently told the U.S. forces where three roadside bombs were placed on the road. All three were safely removed.
Hoffman and several other Marines joined Bakwa Police Chief Dagarman Ikal for lunch in his mud-walled compound last week. The Marines talked about security as they struggled to eat joints of lamb that were placed in communal bowls without any silverware. Hoffman told Ikal if he can come up with more police, the Marines can build them another station.
Living among the population often means U.S. forces are enduring primitive conditions. Here in Bakwa, the Marines eat field rations — either portable MREs (meals ready to eat) or precooked food in large trays. Occasionally, frozen steaks and lobster tail are airdropped or flown into the tiny base. When that happens, a Marine cooks the food on a makeshift grill, burning wooden pallets for fuel.
Unlike the early days of Iraq, when Iraqis could never get through the maze of security at large U.S. bases, here Marines encourage locals to come over to the outposts anytime they need help.
"We've come here and embraced the way they do things," says Hoffman, whose feet rest on a makeshift plywood table, alongside a coffee urn. Nearby, a puppy stretches in the sun.
From poppies to wheat
Taliban and other insurgents have been using proceeds from the drug trade to fund their insurgency. NATO commanders have said they will target traffickers and processing labs, but farmers will be encouraged to plant other crops.
Indeed, the outpost here is surrounded by lush fields of wheat — and poppy growing in plain view. Afghanistan produces around 90% of the world's opium, and the money that poppy produces is tough for many poor farmers to resist. "I don't have a problem with them making money off this season's crop with the understanding the next crop that goes into the ground will be wheat or melons," Hoffman says.
"We've told the farmers you can't grow poppies next year," Hoffman says. "You have to grow wheat."
Plus, there are other pressing matters as insurgents lash out against the greater U.S. presence. The police station in nearby Delaram was attacked recently with a suicide bomb that killed a Marine and three Afghan police.
Days later, U.S. Marines and Afghan police were still cleaning up the damage and putting up new blast walls around the station.
Abdul Qudus, the 52-year-old police chief, was wounded by shrapnel in the attack but declined to be evacuated. "The enemy realizes we're making progress with the people," Qudus says. "This is why they made the attack."
Obama is pursuing a new strategy in the Afghanistan war and looking to NATO leaders to help. - Government bureaucracys never die. NATO was created to protect Europe from a Soviet invasion after WWII, a threat that no longer exists. Now Obama wants NATO to help the American Empire conquer Afghanistan.
Obama turns focus to NATO
Apr. 3, 2009 09:22 AM
STRASBOURG, France - Pivoting from one international gathering to another, President Barack Obama vaulted into another round of diplomacy Friday. He was meeting with European allies, holding a town hall on foreign land and pitching his strategy for Afghanistan.
On an overcast morning, the president and first lady Michelle Obama landed in France after two days in London. A short time later they were welcomed at the elegant Rohan Palace in central Strasbourg by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni.
Obama had emerged from a 20-nation economic crisis summit on Friday with a declaration that "I think we did OK." Now he was teaming up with the two leaders who gave him the most grief over his failed bid for more recession-fighting stimulus, Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama was visiting both France and Germany on Friday ahead of an annual NATO summit being hosted by both countries.
Meanwhile, the White House was bracing for another gloomy jobs report on Friday.
Obama was first meeting with Sarkozy, then presiding over a town-hall style meeting at a sports arena. Then it's off to nearby Baden-Baden, Germany, for a meeting with Merkel.
"We expect that the discussion will review the outcomes of the G-20 summit, preview the NATO summit and discuss a number of issues of mutual interest," said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
On Saturday, the president is back in Strasbourg for the NATO event, where the war in Afghanistan will command attention. Obama is pursuing a new strategy in the war and looking to NATO leaders to commit new combat forces and other help.
On the economy, Sarkozy and Merkel resisted Obama's efforts to persuade the Group of 20 industrial and developing nations at the London summit to go along with more stimulus spending to help create jobs and ease the worst economic downturn in a generation.
But Sarkozy didn't get what he wanted, either: tighter international regulation of financial institutions, including a global regulator empowered to swoop across borders to enforce international rules.
At one point, Sarkozy had threatened to walk out if he didn't get his way on international regulation. However, he relented after the summit partners agreed to go part way, bringing lightly regulated hedge funds and tax havens under more international scrutiny.
Sarkozy said he was happy with the outcome. Obama "helped me on tax havens," the French leader told reporters. "He's a very open man. It was completely in line with what we wanted."
Obama, asked at a news conference in London whether he was disappointed that he was unable to persuade other world leaders to go along with more stimulus, said: "I think we did OK."
At the NATO summit Saturday in Strasbourg, France plans to announce formally its reintegration into the military alliance's command structure after leaving it more than four decades ago. Sarkozy has said this would mean a return of France into "the Western family."
Blagojevich indicted on federal corruption charges
Posted 4/3/2009 9:18 AM ET
By Mike Robinson, Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO — Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to auction off President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat marked the culmination of years of scheming for personal gain that included trying to extort a congressman and pressuring businesses to hire his wife, prosecutors alleged Thursday. A sweeping 19-count federal indictment alleges that Blagojevich discussed with aides the possibility of getting a Cabinet post in the new president's administration, substantial fundraising assistance or a high-paying job in exchange for the Senate seat.
Obama's deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the White House would not comment on the indictment, which does not allege any wrongdoing by Obama or his top aides.
Prosecutors also accused Blagojevich and members of his inner circle of plotting to line their pockets with millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains. They are accused of squeezing contractors, hospital owners and others seeking state business for kickbacks they planned to split after the governor left office.
"I'm saddened and hurt but I am not surprised by the indictment," Blagojevich, who was in Walt Disney World with his family, said in a statement. "I am innocent. I now will fight in the courts to clear my name."
Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was the congressman, attorneys familiar with the case said Thursday. The attorneys spoke on condition of anonymity because the congressman isn't named in the indictment and the information is secret grand jury material.
The indictment says the congressman asked about a $2 million grant included in the state budget for a school. But Blagojevich allegedly told a state official to tell the lawmaker his brother would have to raise campaign funds or the grant wouldn't go through.
At the time, Emanuel represented the 5th District on Chicago's North Side. Some of the funds were later released, even though no fundraiser had been held.
The indictment does not say which of Emanuel's two brothers was involved. Emanuel's brother Ari is a Hollywood agent and the inspiration for Ari Gold, the Type-A superagent on the HBO series "Entourage." His brother Ezekiel is an oncologist.
The indictment also alleges that Blagojevich:
_Was involved in a corrupt scheme to get a massive kickback in exchange for the refinancing of billions of dollars in state pension funds.
_Told an aide he didn't want executives with two financial institutions getting further state business after he concluded they were not helping his wife get a high-paying job.
_Withheld state aid sought by the Tribune Co. unless the company fired unfriendly editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune.
Also, convicted fixer Tony Rezko paid Patti Blagojevich a $14,396 real estate commission "even though she had done no work" to earn it and later hired her at a salary of $12,000 a month plus another $40,000 fee, the indictment said.
Others charged were brother Robert Blagojevich; former chief of staff Alonzo Monk; one-time chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly; Springfield lobbyist-millionaire William F. Cellini; and another former chief of staff, John Harris. Prosecutors said Harris has agreed to cooperate.
Robert Blagojevich is chairman of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund.
"We were hoping that it wouldn't happen but now we go to trial and win," said his attorney, Michael Ettinger.
Cellini attorney Dan Webb said his client never had a substantive conversation with Blagojevich, much less conspired with him. Messages were left for attorneys for Monk, Kelly and Harris.
Blagojevich faces 16 counts of wire fraud, racketeering and extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements. Most of those charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors said at least $188,370 belonging to Friends of Blagojevich is subject to forfeiture. If the money can't be found, Blagojevich might have to forfeit his Washington, D.C., apartment and Chicago home.
Blagojevich, 52, was arrested Dec. 9 on a criminal complaint and U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald had faced a Tuesday deadline to supplant it with an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury. The Democrat's arrest led to his political downfall: The Illinois House impeached him Jan. 9. The Senate convicted him and removed him from office Jan. 29.
Illinois lawmakers had considered stripping Blagojevich of his Senate-appointment powers after his arrest, but couldn't agree on legislation. Blagojevich shocked everyone by naming former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the seat Dec. 30.
Burris has since come under fire for changing his story about the circumstances surrounding his appointment. He also acknowledged trying, unsuccessfully, to raise money for Blagojevich.
Burris would not comment on the indictment, spokesman Jim O'Connor said. Earlier in the day, Burris told reporters with The Hill as he came off the Senate floor that it "has nothing to do with me."
Blagojevich's administration has been under federal investigation for years and Kelly and Rezko already have been convicted of federal crimes and are awaiting sentencing.
Thursday's indictment said that in 2003 -- the former governor's first year in office -- Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly and Rezko agreed to direct big-money state business involved in refinancing billions of dollars in pension bonds as part of a deal with a lobbyist who promised a massive kickback in return. The lobbyist wasn't identified.
Rezko raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions for Blagojevich and also was a major Obama fundraiser.
Illinois residents said they were tired of the corruption.
"I'm so disgusted," said Linda Dowdy, a 59-year-old Belleville tavern manager who calls herself a hardcore Democrat. She lamented that even well-intentioned politicians don't last long in office.
"He may have every intention of going in and trying to change things and of making things better," she said. "But once he's in, he doesn't have any choice but to be as crooked as they are or he's not gonna stay in there."
Associated Press writers Tammy Webber and Michael Tarm in Chicago and David Mercer in Champaign contributed to this report.
Congressman Harry Mitchell votes for drug war on tobacco
Congressman Harry Mitchell votes for drug warSource
House approves tobacco control
by Erica Werner - Apr. 3, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Anti-smoking forces won a long-awaited victory Thursday as the House passed legislation that would give the federal government key controls over the tobacco industry for the first time.
The measure, passed 298-112, gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate - but not ban - cigarettes and other tobacco products.
In Arizona's House delegation, Democrats Gabrielle Giffords, Harry Mitchell and Ed Pastor voted for the measure. Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick and Republicans Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and John Shadegg voted against it. Democrat Raul Grijalva did not vote.
The Senate could take up its version of the bill later this month. The White House supports the legislation.
"This is truly a historic day in the fight against tobacco, and I am proud that we have taken such decisive action," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the bill's sponsor. Waxman and his counterpart, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have promoted legislation giving the FDA regulatory powers over tobacco products since the Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that the agency did not have that authority.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act wouldn't let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco outright, but the agency would be able to regulate the contents of tobacco products, require larger warning labels and control marketing.
Big stinking deal! Let us have free trade with Cuba! Obama, you are just a clone of Bush and Clinton! Obama continues 50 years of failed White House polices toward Cuba!
Obama to ease Cuban ban on travel, money
Apr. 4, 2009 08:44 AM
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration intends to allow Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send money back to their families on the communist island nation, senior U.S. officials said Saturday.
President Barack Obama plans to announce the policy change before the Summit of the Americas April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made.
Although some restrictions have been eased temporarily in legislation Obama signed last month, lifting the bans would meet a pledge he made during the presidential campaign and could signal a new openness with Cuba.
"The intent is to try to test the waters and see if we can get Cuba to move in another direction," one official said. "One way of getting the regime to open up may be to let people travel, increase exchanges and get money flowing to the island."
The official said there is no plan to lift the decades-old embargo on the island and that the move "is just the president fulfilling a campaign promise."
As a candidate, Obama promised to allow unlimited family travel and remittances to Cuba. "It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and their brothers," he said in a speech last May in Miami. "It's time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent on the Castro regime."
There are growing calls in Congress to repeal restrictions on Cuba.
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed appointing a special envoy to look into reshaping the overall relationship. Officials said Saturday that Lugar's idea would be considered.
On March 11, Obama signed legislation that rolled back rules imposed by the Bush administration that limited Cuban travel to just two weeks every three years by Americans and confined visits to immediate family members.
Now, Americans with relatives in Cuba can visit once a year, stay as long as they wish and spend up to $179 a day. Those changes, which affect an estimated 1.5 million Americans, remain in place until the current budget year ends on Sept. 30.
Some lawmakers backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba are advocating even broader revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959.
Last week, a bipartisan group of senators, including Lugar, proposed legislation that would prevent the president from stopping travel to Cuba by all Americans except in cases of war, imminent danger to public health or threats to the physical safety of U.S. travelers.
There is an identical bill in the House with 120 co-sponsors.
The efforts have until now made little headway because of strong political resistance led by Florida's influential Cuban-American community. But the situation has changed over the past year after Castro ceded power to his brother Raul and Obama won the White House.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on the policy change.
Slash high-end defense programs, focus on lower-tech gear - Translation : The American Empire no longer plans to make war with superpowers like Russia or China, but we will continue to invade and terrorize third world countries like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Granada, ...
Shift in U.S. weaponry pushed
Gates: Slash high-end defense programs, focus on lower-tech gear
Apr. 7, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined sweeping changes to the defense budget Monday that would shift hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon spending from elaborate weapons toward programs more likely to benefit troops in today's wars.
The proposal by Gates amounts to a radical change in the way the Pentagon buys weapons. For decades, the United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons programs that were striving for revolutionary leaps but often were delivered years late and billions of dollars over budget.
In proposing his 2010 budget, which will likely face stiff resistance from Congress, Gates said he wanted to change the "priorities of America's defense establishment."
The effort to pare back weapons programs that Gates derided as "truly in the exquisite category" reflects a growing recognition in the Pentagon that the days of soaring defense budgets are over.
It highlights Gates' long-stated desire to increase spending on surveillance systems and other relatively low-tech weapons that are best suited for guerrilla or irregular war, traditionally an industry backwater.
"I'm just trying to get the irregular guys to have a seat at the table and to institutionalize some of the needs they have," Gates said.
To bolster the Afghan war effort, he would spend $2 billion more on intelligence and surveillance programs to track shadowy insurgents, $500 million to field more helicopters and an additional 2,800 special-operations personnel focused on counterterrorism.
The $534 billion plan represents a $20 billion increase over 2009.
Among the weapons taking the biggest hits are the Navy's DDG-1000 destroyer, a stealthy ship whose cost has ballooned over the past decade.
The Navy will purchase only three of the advanced ships and then revert to building the Arleigh-Burke Class destroyers, a mainstay of the fleet for years.
Gates recommended halting production of the Air Force's new F-22 fighter jet at 187 planes - four more than the current number - and killing the new presidential-helicopter program.
The F-22 would be replaced by Lockheed Martin's F-35, or Joint Strike Fighter, which would serve the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, unlike the F-22, intended only for the Air Force.
The Pentagon proposal would dramatically cut back the Army's ambitious Future Combat Systems program, which consists of a network of advanced vehicles, unmanned surveillance aircraft and battlefield sensors.
Specifically, Gates said that he is canceling the $87 billion in the program set aside to develop a new generation of light-armored vehicles that were meant to replace the heavy 72-ton tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. These advanced vehicles, in development for almost a decade, were supposed to rely on better surveillance technology to compensate for their lack of armor.
The huge toll that low-tech roadside bombs have taken on soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan led Gates to conclude that such an approach was not feasible.
Gates indicated that he was more comfortable spending money on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, which is based on a early 1990s South African design.
He set aside $2 billion for surveillance technology, such as Predator unmanned surveillance planes and sensors that have proven their worth tracking down insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another $11 billion is being reallocated within the budget to pay for a planned increase of 65,000 to the Army's ranks and an additional 27,000 Marines.
Gates acknowledged that he would likely face opposition from lawmakers eager to protect jobs in their districts.
"My hope is that members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interest of the nation as a whole," he said.
Gates demanded unprecedented secrecy when developing the budget.
Senior generals throughout the department were required to sign non-disclosure agreements. To prevent leaks, Gates won special permission from the president to withhold his decisions from the White House's Office of Management and Budget until after the budget proposal was formally announced.
McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this article.
Obama says it is time for Iraqis to "take responsibility for their country" - Let me get this straight. The USA invades and destroys Iraq, kills 100,000+ innocent civilians on a bogus "weapons of mass destruction" charge and now we blame them and say it is time for them to "take responsibility for their country". You have to hand it to Obama, he sure can shovel the BS.
Of course I am not saying that McCain was any better. I didn't vote for either of them.
Obama in Baghdad, tells troops Iraq must take over
Apr. 7, 2009 10:01 AM
BAGHDAD – Cheered wildly by U.S. troops, President Barack Obama flew unannounced into Iraq on Tuesday and promptly declared it was time for Iraqis to "take responsibility for their country" after America's commitment of six years and thousands of lives.
"You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country," the president said as he made a brief inspection of a war he opposed as candidate and now vows to end as commander in chief. "That is an extraordinary achievement."
A total of 4,266 U.S. troops have lost their lives in Iraq since March 2003, and Obama said American forces had "performed brilliantly ... under enormous strain."
"It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis," he said as an estimated 600 troops cheered. "They need to take responsibility for their country."
Obama flew into Iraq shrouded by secrecy and was shielded by heavy security from the moment he stepped off a gleaming white and blue Air Force One.
The plane touched down a few hours after a car bombing in a Shiite neighborhood of the capital city punctuated a recent surge in violence in the war-ravaged country. Many thousands of Iraqis have died in the six years of war in addition to the American losses.
Obama spoke favorably of political progress but also expressed concern that recent gains could deteriorate with the upcoming national elections.
"It's important for us to use all of our influence to encourage the parties to resolve these issues in ways that are equitable. I think that my presence here can help do that," he said.
Obama wore a business suit as he descended the steps of his plane after a flight from Turkey. He shook hands with Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in the country, then stepped into an SUV for a brief ride to Camp Victory, the main American military base in Iraq.
Under gray skies, the motorcade rolled past troops standing at attention. "It was wonderful to see the troops out there," Obama said. "I'm so grateful, they put their heart and souls into it."
Inside a marble palace, he was interrupted repeatedly with cheers from the troops.
"I love you," someone in the crowd shouted out. I love you back," the commander in chief replied. Scores of troops held digital cameras above their heads, snapping pictures and recording video of a day they would long remember.
Aides decided to scrap plans for a helicopter ride to the heavily fortified Green Zone a few miles away — but attributed the decision to poor visibility rather than security concerns.
Officials said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was traveling by motorcade to meet with Obama, a change from their planned get-together in the Green Zone.
En route to Baghdad, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama chose Iraq rather than Afghanistan for a war-zone visit in part because it was near Turkey and also because progress "lies in political solutions."
"We spend a lot of time trying to get Afghanistan right, but I think it is important for people to know that there is still a lot of work to do here," Obama said.
Obama's visit came at the conclusion of a long overseas trip that included economic and NATO summits in Europe and two days in Turkey.
Shortly before leaving Turkey, the president held out Iraq as an example of the change he seeks in policies inherited from former President George W. Bush.
"Moving the ship of state takes time," he told a group of students in Istanbul. He noted his long-standing opposition to the war, yet said, "Now that we're there," the U.S. troop withdrawal has to be done "in a careful enough way that we don't see a collapse into violence."
In office only 11 weeks, Obama has already announced plans to withdraw most U.S. combat troops on a 19-month timetable. The drawdown is to begin slowly, so American forces can provide security for Iraqi elections, then accelerate in 2010. As many as 50,000 troops are expected to remain in the country at the end of the 19 months to perform counterterrorism duties.
Tuesday's trip was Obama's third to Iraq, and his first since taking office. He met with U.S. commanders and troops last summer while seeking the presidency.
Because of security concerns, the White House made no prior announcement of the visit, and released no advance details for his activities on the ground.
It was the last stop of an eight-day trip to Europe and Turkey during which Obama sought to place his stamp on U.S. foreign policy after eight years of the Bush administration.
He and other world leaders pledged cooperation to combat a global recession, and he appealed with limited success for additional assistance in Afghanistan, a war he has vowed to intensify. The new president drew large crowds as he offered repeated assurances that the United States would not seek to dictate to other countries.
"I am personally committed to a new chapter of American engagement. We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us." Obama said before leaving Turkey. The visit to a nation that straddles Europe and Asia was designed to signal a new era. He had pledged as a candidate to visit a majority-Muslim nation in his first 100 days in office.
Bush paid several trips to Iraq while in office, and on his last, in December, he was forced to duck shoes hurled in his direction at a news conference by an Iraqi journalist. By coincidence, the Iraqi Supreme Court reduced the prison sentence Tuesday for the man, Muntadhar al-Zeidian, now sentenced to one year in jail rather than three.
While U.S. casualties are down sharply from the war's height, there were constant reminders of violence. A half-dozen bombs rocked Shiite neighborhoods on Monday, killing 37 people. There was no immediate death toll available from the car bomb incident that occurred a few hours before the president arrived on Tuesday.
The military is in the process of thinning out its presence ahead of a June 30 deadline, under a U.S.-Iraq agreement negotiated last year that requires all American combat troops to leave Iraq's cities. As that process moves forward, the increase in bombings and other incidents is creating concern that extremists may be regrouping.
Little more than a week ago, the president announced a revamped Afghanistan strategy that calls for adding 21,000 troops, narrowing the focus from nation-building to stamping out the Taliban and al-Qaida and broadening the mission to include pressure on Pakistan to root out terrorist camps in its lawless regions.
Afghanistan was a big topic of conversation with fellow world leaders on the earlier portion of Obama's trip, particularly the part that took him to a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France.
Obama's opposition to the Iraq war helped him enormously in his campaign for the presidency. It helped him defeat former rival — now Secretary of State — Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Iowa caucuses that were the first test of the race, and aided his campaign against Republican Sen. John McCain last fall.
The end-the-war plan Obama announced in February was aimed at fulfilling his campaign promise to end combat in Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Contrary to hopes among some Democrats and grass-roots supporters, the plan calls for a 19-month timetable instead.
21 Gulf War POWs exist, 286 people collect benefits as Gulf War POWs661 Vietnam POWs exist - 966 people collect GI benefits as Vietnam POWs. 21 Gulf War POWs exist - 286 people collect benefits as Gulf War POWs. If the government were held to the same accounting standards as the private sector every Congressman and government accountant would be in jail on fraud charges.
AP: POW benefit claimants exceed recorded POWs
By ALLEN G. BREED, AP National Writer Allen G. Breed, Ap National Writer
Prisoners of war suffer in ways most veterans don't, enduring humiliating forced marches, torture or other trauma that may haunt them long afterward. In partial recompense, the government extends them special benefits, from free parking and tax breaks to priority in medical treatment.
Trouble is, some of the much-admired recipients of these benefits apparently don't deserve them.
There are only 21 surviving POWs from the first Gulf War in 1991, the Department of Defense says. Yet the Department of Veterans Affairs is paying disability benefits to 286 service members it says were taken prisoner during that conflict, according to data released by VA to The Associated Press.
A similar discrepancy arises with Vietnam POWs. Only 661 officially recognized prisoners returned from that war alive — and about 100 of those have since died, according to Defense figures. But 966 purported Vietnam POWs are getting disability payments, the VA told AP.
Being classified as a POW doesn't directly increase a veteran's monthly disability check. There's no "POW payment."
But a tale of torture and privation can influence whether a vet receives some money or nothing at all in disability payments — and the VA's numbers raise questions about how often such tales are exaggerated or invented altogether.
For one Korean War veteran, a made-up story helped to ensure more than $400,000 in benefits before his lies were discovered. A Gulf War vet told a tale of beatings and mock executions, though he was never even a POW. Four women Vietnam vets blamed disabilities on their time as prisoners — even though there's no record of female POWs in that war.
At the root of the problem is a disconnect between two branches of government: The Defense Department determines POW status and posts the lists online; the VA awards benefits, but evidently does not always check the DoD list to verify applicants' claims. Result: Numbers of benefit recipients that are higher than the number of recognized POWs.
"They're either phonies or there's a major administrative error somewhere," retired Navy Cmdr. Paul Galanti, who is on a VA advisory panel for POW issues, said when told of the agency's numbers.
VA spokesman Terry Jemison says POW status is confirmed "in conjunction with Department of Defense authoritative records." But the agency has not explained discrepancies between its POW numbers and the DoD's, despite repeated requests for comment.
Galanti, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966 and spent nearly seven years in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison, calls the discrepancy "outrageous" and adds: "Somebody ought to get fired for that."
But as service members return from Iraq and Afghanistan, he knows an investigation that could bog down benefits would be shouted down as anti-veteran. And so the investigating falls to private watchdog groups like the P.O.W. Network, which says it has outed some 2,000 POW pretenders.
Nothing could be more pro-veteran, such groups say, than to go after people who are taking money meant for their comrades — and also, in effect, stealing their honor.
There's incentive to lie. A 100 percent disability rating can be worth more than $35,000 a year in tax-free VA benefits for a married veteran with at least one dependent child — not to mention also making the veteran eligible for Social Security disability payments, and full health coverage and significant educational benefits for himself and his family.
And a POW designation in VA files puts a vet in a special category under federal regulations.
Normally a veteran's "lay testimony" about traumatizing events — or stressors — is not considered proof when applying for disability with the Veterans Benefits Administration, or VBA, the agency's claims arm. However, the regulations add: "If the evidence establishes that the veteran was a prisoner-of-war ... the veteran's lay testimony alone may establish the occurrence of the claimed in-service stressor."
So, if a veteran told a VA psychiatrist that he had been a POW, and that story, true or not, formed the basis of the doctor's post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, what does that mean?
"I would probably accept the paperwork," says Richard Allen of Wichita, Kan., who retired from the VBA in January after 25 years as a claims specialist.
"They're home free if they're a confirmed POW," says Allen, himself a Vietnam-era Army veteran. "We don't ask any other questions as far as verification of stressors."
POWs are exempt from copays for VA inpatient and outpatient care and medications. And POWs are entitled to an annual evaluation at the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies in Pensacola, Fla., travel and other expenses paid. That applies only to those on the Defense list, says Dr. Robert E. Hain, executive director of the Navy-run facility.
"That's essentially the gold standard," says Hain, a retired Navy captain.
Many states offer POWs free parking at public facilities, property tax exemptions and a waiver of vehicle registration fees. That can mean hundreds of dollars saved when buying a car and hundreds more in annual renewals with POW tags.
All it takes is a letter from a VA facility, which may or may not have verified the veteran's story.
The P.O.W. Network says most phonies are just braggarts puffing at the local Kiwanis luncheon or preening for women in bars, but many have received significant benefits while trading off their borrowed valor.
Edward Lee Daily of Clarksville, Tenn., collected more than $412,000 in disability and medical benefits over 15 years before being exposed.
Daily, who spent most of the Korean war as a mechanic and clerk, far from the front, took advantage of a fire that destroyed documents at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. He forged paperwork not only to show he was a POW, but that he'd been wounded by shrapnel and given a battlefield promotion to first lieutenant.
Daily pleaded guilty in 2002, and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution. After years of garnishing his monthly Social Security check, the government has recouped just $7,000. (Daily also gave fabricated information to the AP in interviews for an unrelated story in 1999.)
VA's Jemison says the Veterans Health Administration, the agency's medical arm, confirms a veteran's POW status using DoD records.
But that doesn't explain people like Daily or John Karl Lee, of El Paso, Texas.
Lee's POW tale is set at the time of the Gulf War in 1991. The Army reservist claimed in interviews that he and two comrades were taken while fighting was raging, and only after emptying their M-16s at the pursuing Iraqis.
"We were beaten with the butt of their AK-47s," he told El Paso Inc. in 2002. "Sometimes in the leg, head, even the groin."
The truth was that he and the other two were sightseeing in Kuwait after the war had ended, and their vehicle strayed into Iraq. They were arrested by Iraqi authorities and held for three days at a hotel, where they were fed well, his comrades later said.
"I was held against my will," Lee told the AP in a recent interview.
Lee told AP he received a VA medical card identifying him as a former prisoner. (His documentation included an application to the VBA for POW status.) For a time, he received full disability payments from the U.S. Labor Department, supposedly for injuries and PTSD from his three weeks — not days — in captivity.
When authorities discovered Lee was running a business, they charged him with fraud and making false statements. He was convicted and ordered to pay nearly $230,000 in restitution and fines.
Lee is now applying to have some VA benefits reinstated.
The phenomenon of the fake POW is nothing new — frauds have been outed from conflicts going back at least to World War II. And it's not limited just to men.
When the landmark National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment Study came out in 1988, four of the 427 female veterans surveyed attributed their stress to their time as POWs. That's impossible, says B.G. "Jug" Burkett, co-author of the book, "Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of its Heroes and its History."
"There just plain weren't any," says Burkett, himself an Army officer in Vietnam.
Under federal law, only the secretary of defense — through the heads of the various military service branches — is authorized to declare someone a prisoner of war — "and until the service reports a person as a POW, then he is NOT one," says Larry Greer.
Greer is a spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, which maintains a database of officially recognized POWs for most wars. A separate list for the Vietnam War is called Personnel Missing - Southeast Asia, or PMSEA.
Critics say the VA could use the lists, which are accessible online, to identify red-flag cases, but doesn't.
Until last week, the VA had claimed on its Web site that it also had the authority to confer POW status. But after the AP pointed out the federal law, that language was struck "in light of your observations," spokesman Jemison says.
Mike McGrath, historian and past president of Nam-POWs, Inc., which represents most Vietnam war prisoners, has sent letters to two successive VA secretaries offering to compare the Defense list with the VBA's list of POW beneficiaries.
McGrath, a retired Navy captain who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 and was not repatriated until 1973, says he was either ignored or told that the VA's computers simply couldn't isolate the names of POWs who were receiving disability money.
"In one hour I could give the list ... back to them (and say) these are the people you should look at as possible errors or, in extreme cases, as possible fraud," says McGrath, who once exposed a phony who not only had a POW card but was working as a trauma counselor for the VA in Denver. "The bureaucracy is so huge that no one has the time or interest to give a damn."
The VBA, citing the federal Privacy Act, refused AP's requests to even confirm whether a particular beneficiary is listed as a POW in its files.
The P.O.W. Network, made up of veterans and civilians, says it has copies of VA documents conferring POW status on people who never even served in the military. When confronted, some have claimed their names aren't on the Defense list because they were on a secret, CIA-sponsored mission that remains classified, but that doesn't wash.
While a person's military record might not say what he or she was doing when captured, it would still reflect the captivity, McGrath says — whether in a notation in a muster roll or a telegram to family back in the States. Even people who were captured and freed the same day are included on the DPMO-PMSEA lists.
"If a man's missing from a unit in any type of action, a whole series of things happen that start documentation that still exists today," he says. "The military is responsible for a human being."
It's surprisingly easy to fake a record of being a war prisoner.
P.O.W. Network co-founder Mary Schantag has purchased stacks of surplus military separation forms on the Internet, where she says everything someone would need to create his own service file is available.
"These guys are way too good at it," says Schantag, who formed the group with her husband, Chuck. "And the people at the VA are NOT good enough at it."
Take the case of retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Barr Cayton.
For years, the Texan told stories about how he and another member of his Ranger squad were taken prisoner during a January 1971 firefight in Vietnam. Cayton told of regaining consciousness and finding his arms tied to a branch across his shoulders, and of being marched from village to village with a leash around his neck as a propaganda tool.
"They did degrading, inhumane things to us," he told a Texas newspaper, adding that finally, after 20 days in captivity, he managed to escape.
It was all a lie. Records from the National Archives show that Cayton was accounted for during the entire period he cited — Jan. 1-21 — and that no one from his unit was ever taken prisoner. In fact, Cayton received a Silver Star medal for an action that occurred on Jan. 10, 1971, midway through his alleged captivity.
A falsified copy of an official form was placed in his file at the St. Louis repository, the source to which all other agencies turn for documentation of a veteran's service. "'PRISONER OF WAR, CO G, 75TH INF (ABN RGR), VIETNAM, 710101-710121,'" the forged document says.
After years of prodding by P.O.W. Network members, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command looked into Cayton's case. In the end, Cayton was placed in a federal pretrial diversion program and ordered to correct his records in St. Louis.
However, when the AP filed a Freedom of Information Act request recently for Cayton's file, the documents that came back appeared unchanged — still reflecting 20 days in captivity.
Cayton did not respond to AP calls seeking comment, but in a letter to the Schantags, he apologized "if my statements and representations have misled or offended any of my fellow service members, past and present."
The VA refused to comment on the case. But in response to the Army's inquiry, the agency maintained that Cayton, as a combat veteran, "would have received the same amount of compensation without claiming he was a POW, and accordingly there was no loss to the U.S. Government."
Veterans who served with Cayton have their own views.
He was a "glory seeker" who exaggerated other exploits, too, says then-Capt. Mark Hansen, who regrets recommending Cayton for the Silver Star.
Chuck Ford, who was in Cayton's unit and says there was no enemy contact on the day for which Cayton received that decoration, says, "It infuriates me. And he's drawing MONEY for this? He's stealing from other soldiers?"
Greer of DoD's POW/Missing Office says cases like this illustrate the painstaking research involved in verifying someone's POW status. It often requires checking unit rosters, roll calls, payroll records and after-action reports, something for which the VA has neither the personnel nor the mandate.
"On behalf of the United States government and the taxpayer, I would do a lot of verifying before I would lay the POW label on him," says Greer.
The VA is under fire for a huge backlog in disability applications, which the agency says is partly due to its own diligent fact-checking. Veterans groups have sued the agency, saying the long wait and VA's questions have driven some deserving vets to suicide. On Friday, President Obama announced a more efficient record system to ease delays in health care for wounded veterans.
While mindful of VA's challenges, McGrath of Nam-POWs says every dollar that goes to a phony is one that's not available for those who've earned it.
"I'm not a vigilante," McGrath says. "But it's just the right thing to do."
Burkett, the "Stolen Valor" author, says people who make up these stories are doing more than just taking money from fellow veterans.
"It's stealing from the dead," he says. "It's a form of sacrilege."
AP Correspondent Alicia Caldwell in El Paso, Texas, contributed to this report.
Wow!!! Obama has only been in office 100 days and he seems to want to take credit for the economy improving. You have to admit Obama is a master of slinging the BS. Remember government is the CAUSE of the problem, not the solution!
Get this! Obama says the recovery depends building a new foundation for the U.S. economy - Yea Sure! The White House is going to single handedly build a new foundation for the economy! Well at least Obama will take credit for it.
Obama tempers optimism with reality on economy
Apr. 14, 2009 08:13 AM
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama proclaimed signs of economic progress Tuesday but also warned Americans eager for good news that "by no means are we out of the woods."
In a speech at Georgetown University, Obama aimed to juggle his glass-half-full take on the economy with a determination to not be stamped as naive or overly rosy in the face of stubborn problems that linger.
His latest remarks come as he nears the symbolic 100-day mark in office, important because that has become a traditional marker by which to judge new administrations.
"There is no doubt that times are still tough," Obama said, according to excerpts of his speech released in advance by the White House. "But from where we stand," he said, "for the very first time, we are beginning to see glimmers of hope. And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of an America's future that is far different than our troubled economic past."
Obama's message was enveloped in contradictory signals Tuesday about the economy's health, but also buttressed by a contention by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that the recession may be bottoming out.
Retail sales fell unexpectedly in March, decreasing by 1.1 percent. At the same time, wholesale prices dropped sharply as the cost of gasoline and other energy plummeted, fresh evidence that inflation appears to pose little threat to the economy.
In a speech prepared for students and faculty at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Bernanke, like Obama, said there have been flickering signs of improvement, citing recent data on home and auto sales, home building and consumer spending.
But the broader message that a full turnaround might be a long time coming may not be welcome to a weary U.S. public.
Obama said a complete recovery depends on two things: building a new foundation for the U.S. economy and making changes in the political landscape. And he was avoiding any significant policy announcements, endeavoring instead to paint a broad picture of what his administration has already done to right the situation.
Obama said the rules governing the financial system must be brought into the Digital Age and that the economy must be transformed from one less dependent on a risk-obsessed financial sector and more on clean energy, good education and health care costs brought under control.
"We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand," he said, invoking a Biblical reference to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. "We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest, where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad."
Obama also said the problem is exacerbated by politicians with an outsized interest in scoring points and an impatient media. [you mean like Obama?]
"When a crisis hits," he said, "there's all too often a lurch from shock to trance, with everyone responding to the tempest of the moment until the furor has died away and the media coverage has moved on, instead of confronting the major challenges that will shape our future in a sustained and focused way."
"This can't be one of those times," Obama said.
Former Ill. governor headed for arraignment
Apr. 14, 2009 06:40 AM
CHICAGO - Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is due to appear in federal court to answer racketeering and fraud charges, amid uncertainty over the makeup of his legal team and where he will get the money to pay them.
Blagojevich, 52, is due to appear for arraignment Tuesday along with his brother, Robert, and former chief fundraiser, Christopher G. Kelly, on charges that, among other things, he schemed to sell or trade President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.
He is also charged with planning to squeeze money from companies seeking state business and plotting to use the financial muscle of the governor's office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment. Court officials say there would be no special treatment for Blagojevich when he arrives at the skyscraper Everett M. Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Some well-known defendants have been allowed to use a back elevator and a tunnel to avoid the media's cameras and shouted questions.
Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky, a longtime Blagojevich friend, is expected to stand by the impeached governor's side when he appears before U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel.
Other attorneys have been reluctant to file an appearance with the court on behalf of the governor because it could lock them into a case that could consume thousands of hours over the next two years without any guarantee they would be paid.
Attorneys say Blagojevich is unable to afford the kind of elaborate defense that the blue chip Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn provided to former Gov. George Ryan when the firm's chairman was former Gov. James R. Thompson, a longtime Ryan friend.
Winston & Strawn defended Ryan for free. Ryan was convicted of racketeering and fraud and sentenced to 6½ years in prison.
No big names among Chicago's criminal defense lawyers are offering free services to Blagojevich.
Blagojevich does have money in his Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund. But prosecutors have put defense attorneys on notice they will ask Zagel to order the campaign money forfeited if Blagojevich is convicted. Attorneys could be ordered to return their fees if they were paid from the campaign fund.
There has even been speculation that Blagojevich might have to turn to the federal defender's program if Zagel doesn't assure attorneys they can be paid through the campaign fund.
Three other defendants in the case, former aides John Harris and Alonzo Monk and Springfield millionaire William Cellini, are to be arraigned Thursday.
Harris, a former Blagojevich chief of staff, is cooperating with the federal investigation. Monk, also a former chief of staff and campaign manager, is reported to be cooperating with the investigation as well.
Obama has a double standard for White House felonsSource
No charges against CIA officials for waterboarding…
By JENNIFER LOVEN and DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writers Jennifer Loven And Devlin
Barrett, Associated Press Writers – 7 mins ago
WASHINGTON – Seeking to move beyond what he calls a "a dark and painful chapter in our history," President Barack Obama said Thursday that CIA officials who used harsh interrogation tactics during the Bush administration will not be prosecuted.
The government also released four memos long held secret by the Bush administration in which its lawyers approved in extensive and often graphic detail the tough interrogation methods used against 28 terror suspects, the fullest and now complete government accounting of the techniques. The rough tactics range from waterboarding — simulated drowning — to using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls.
Even as they exposed new details of the interrogation program, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, offered the first definitive assurance that those CIA officials are in the clear, as long as their actions were in line with the legal advice at the time.
Obama said in his statement and a separate letter sent directly to CIA employees that the nation must protect their identity "as vigilantly as they protect our security."
"We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history," the president said. "But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."
Holder told the CIA that the government would provide free legal representation to CIA employees in any legal proceeding or congressional investigation related to the program and would repay any financial judgment.
"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.
As current CIA Director Leon Panetta put it in a message to employees: "CIA responded, as duty requires."
The CIA has acknowledged using waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, on three high-level terror detainees in 2002 and 2003, with the permission of the White House and the Justice Department. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said waterboarding has not been used since, but some human rights groups have urged Obama to hold CIA employees accountable for what they, and many Obama officials, say was torture.
Stacy Sullivan of Human Rights Watch said Obama is "dead wrong" to say that nothing would be gained by examining the past for criminal acts.
"Prosecuting violations of the law is not about laying blame for the past, it's about ensuring that those crimes don't happen again," she said.
The memos produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005 were released to meet a court-approved deadline in a lawsuit against the government in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In addition to detailing individual techniques, one memo also specifically authorized a method for combining multiple methods, a practice human rights advocates argue crosses the line into torture even if any individual methods does not.
The methods authorized in them include keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food. Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee's cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee's family were also used.
Interrogators were told not to allow a prisoner's body temperature or caloric intake to fall below a certain level, because either could cause permanent damage, said senior administration officials. They discussed the memos on condition of anonymity to more fully describe the president's decision-making process.
The Obama administration last month released nine legal memos. It probably will release more as the lawsuit proceeds, the officials said.
The ACLU suit has sought to use the Freedom of Information Act to shed light on the treatment of prisoners — even though the Bush administration eventually abandoned many of the legal conclusions and the Obama administration has gone further to actively dismantle much of President George W. Bush's anti-terror program.
Obama has ordered the CIA's secret overseas prisons known as "black sites" closed and ended so-called "extraordinary renditions" of terrorism suspects if there is any reason to believe the third country would torture them. He has also restricted CIA questioners to only those interrogation methods and protocols approved for use by the U.S. military until a complete review of the program is conducted.
Also Thursday, Holder formally revoked every legal opinion or memo issued during Bush's presidency that justified interrogation programs.
The documents have been the subject of a long, fierce debate in and outside government over how much officials should say.
The Bush administration held the view that the president had the authority to claim broad powers that could not be checked by Congress or the courts in order to keep Americans safe. Obama and Holder, among others, have said that the use of such unchecked powers has actually made Americans less safe, by increasing anti-U.S. sentiment, endangering American troops when captured and handing terrorists a recruiting tool.
"Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure," Obama said in his statement.
Even so, the officials described the president's process of deciding how much to release in response to the suit as very difficult. Over four weeks, there were intense debates involving the president, Cabinet members, lower-level officials and even former administration officials.
Obama was concerned that releasing the information could endanger ongoing operations, American personnel or U.S. relationships with foreign intelligence services. CIA officials, in particular, needed reassuring, the officials said.
But in the end, the view of the Justice Department prevailed, that the FOIA law required the release and that the government would likely be forced to do so by the court if it didn't do so itself, the officials said.
In his statement, Obama said he was reassured about the potential national security implications by the fact that much of the information contained had already been widely publicized — including some of it by Bush himself — and by the fact that the program itself no longer exists.
He said "exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release" and does not change his determination to keep other intelligence operations secret and information about them classified.
But, said Obama, "Withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States."
Those assurances are not likely to innoculate Obama against criticism from conservatives. Last month, Vice President Dick Cheney said, for instance, that Obama's decisions to revoke Bush-era terrorist detainee policies will "raise the risk to the American people of another attack."
CIA interrogators absolved of torture charges
Obama releases graphic Bush-era memos, plans no charges
Apr. 17, 2009 12:00 AM
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - Prisoners could be kept awake for more than a week. They could be stripped of their clothes, fed nothing but liquid and thrown against a wall 30 consecutive times.
In one case, the CIA was told it could prey on a top al-Qaida prisoner's fear of insects by stuffing him into a box with a bug. When all else failed, the CIA could turn to what a Justice Department memo described as "the most traumatic" interrogation technique of all: waterboarding.
Baring what he called a "dark and painful chapter in our history," President Barack Obama on Thursday released a collection of secret Justice Department documents that provided graphic guidance to the CIA on how far it could go to extract information from terrorism suspects.
The memos provide the most detailed account to date not only of the interrogation methods the CIA employed against suspected al-Qaida captives in secret prisons around the world but the legal arguments that the Bush administration constructed to justify their use.
At the same time, Obama assured CIA employees and other U.S. operatives that they will be protected from prosecution or other legal exposure for their roles in the nation's counterterrorism efforts over the past eight years.
"This is a time for reflection, not retribution," Obama said in a message delivered to CIA employees Thursday, explaining his decision to release a collection of documents.
The memos were crafted by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, a unit that was at the center of a series of debates during the Bush administration over the limits of executive power and counterterrorism tactics. Among its authors was then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, who since has been confirmed as a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The release of the memos was seen as a test of the Obama administration's commitment to its pledge of transparency, as well as its promise to roll back Bush administration counterterrorism policies.
But the decision was met with criticism among conservatives and CIA veterans, who warned that the highly detailed documents will serve as a counterinterrogation training manual for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said the release of the memos will make the country less safe as enemy agents learn of techniques that could be approved again in the future.
The documents go beyond cataloging the methods that the CIA was authorized to use and spell out, often in graphic detail, how they were to be administered.
Prisoners could be kept shackled in a standing position for as many as 180 hours. The documents also noted that more than a dozen CIA prisoners had been deprived of sleep for at least 48 hours, three for more than 96, and one for the nearly eight-day maximum stated on one memo. Another document seemed to endorse sleep deprivation for 11 days.
In some cases, the memos address specific interrogation plans. When the CIA proposed putting an al-Qaida suspect into a small box with an insect, the Justice Department endorsed the idea but added conditions it said were necessary to keep the agency from violating the convention against torture.
"If you do so ... you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain," said a 2002 memo sent to the CIA's acting general counsel. A footnote clarified that the CIA never carried out the insect interrogation plan.
The documents include elaborate legal debate over the simulated drowning method known as waterboarding.
A May 10, 2005 memo spelled out that a prisoner could be waterboarded at most six times during a two-hour session. It also required that a physician be on duty in case a prisoner didn't recover after being returned to an upright position.
In that event, "the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy," the memo said.
The four documents cover a period of time stretching from 2002 until 2005, when the government was recalculating its approach to detention and interrogation matters in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
The release of the documents was preceded by months of jostling among CIA and Justice officials over how much to disclose. A department official who was not authorized to speak publicly said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged full disclosure to help restore trust in Justice, which had been beleaguered by criticism that it had twisted the law to fit the Bush administration's political ends.
The release of the memos was driven to a large degree by a court-imposed deadline in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to disclose secret rulings issued in connection with the CIA's detention and interrogation programs.
But Obama's decision to shield agency employees from liability drew criticism from human-rights groups.
Disappointment with US not prosecuting CIA
By REBECCA SANTANA, Associated Press Writer Rebecca Santana, Associated Press Writer
CAIRO – Human rights groups and former detainees in U.S. custody expressed disappointment Friday with the decision by President Barack Obama not to prosecute CIA operatives who used interrogation practices described by many as torture.
Obama sought to turn a page on what he called "a dark and painful chapter" with his announcement a day earlier. He condemned the aggressive techniques — including waterboarding, shackling and stripping — used on terror suspects while promising not to legally pursue the perpetrators.
But the decision left some bitter in the Muslim world, where there was widespread anger over abuse of detained terror suspects. It could tarnish somewhat Obama's growing popularity among Arabs and Muslims, who have cheered his promises to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
"All of us in Guantanamo never had hope or faith in the American government," said Jomaa al-Dosari, a Saudi who spent six years in Guantanamo before being released last year. "We only ask God for our rights and to demand justice for the wrongs we experience in this life. There will be a time in history when every person who committed a wrong will be punished."
The editor of the Saudi Arabia-based Arab News daily, Khaled Almaeena, said the decision not to prosecute "sends the wrong message."
"They destroyed people's lives ... Unfortunately, they're allowed to go scot free," he said of operatives who carried out the techniques.
The Obama administration Thursday released secret CIA memos detailing interrogation tactics sanctioned under the Bush administration. As well as waterboarding, the memos authorized keeping detainees naked, in painful standing positions and in cold cells for long periods of time. Other techniques included depriving them of solid food and slapping them. Sleep deprivation, prolonged shackling and threats to a detainee's family also were used.
Obama's attorney general offered CIA operatives legal help if anyone else takes them to court, although the administration's offer of help did not extend to those outside the CIA who approved the so-called enhanced interrogation methods or any CIA officers who may have gone beyond what was allowed.
Many human rights groups condemned the decision, saying that it was necessary to have a full accounting of what took place.
"The release of CIA memos on interrogation methods by the U.S. Department of Justice appears to have offered a get-out-of-jail-free card to people involved in torture," Amnesty International said in a statement on its Web site. "Torture is never acceptable and those who conduct it should not escape justice."
In Egypt, Hafez Abu Saada, of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in Cairo, said the decision would encourage other nations to let abuses pass.
"Obama told us he will hold to account the people who committed a crime or a human rights violation," he said. "So this is a wrong signal to the perpetrators of human rights — especially third world countries — and also a wrong signal to the international community."
Moazzam Begg, a British resident who spent more than two years in Guantanamo, said he wasn't surprised by the tactics revealed, saying "we witnessed" most of the techniques.
"It's the unwritten things — the things that happened in the heat of the moment on the battlefield like tying people up with chains and dragging them around — that are worrying and will likely never come out," he said.
The International Commission of Jurists, a widely respected Geneva-based organization of legal experts from around the world, issued a scathing statement saying Obama should thoroughly investigate and prosecute officials who authorized and engaged in torture.
"Without holding to account the authors of a policy of torture and those executing it, there cannot be a return to the rule of law," said Wilder Tayler, acting secretary-general of the ICJ.
Clara Gutteridge, a researcher with British human rights group Reprieve, which represents several Guantanamo inmates, said she was struck by the amount of time and effort apparently poured into drawing up the memos and justifying the use of what she called torture.
"It shows us the man hours that have gone into this program, and making people believe that they are following the law," Gutteridge said.
In Islamabad, Pakistan, Saad Iqbal Madni, released from Guantanamo Bay last summer after seven years in detention, said sleep deprivation techniques were used on him. For months, he said, he was moved from cell to cell every two hours while shackled in an attempt to keep him awake.
"I believe that God will take care of anyone who did a wrong thing to me," said Madni.
Associated Press writers Hadeel al-Shalchi in Cairo; Paisley Dodds and Raphael G. Satter in London; and Shafika Mattar in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.
Obama is on the side of BIG GOVERNMENT, not the PEOPLE. Maybe a kinder gentler BIG GOVERNMENT then the thugs in the Bush administration, but still on the side of BIG GOVERNMENT as opposed to the people!
Analysis: Obama policy on torture has two sides
Posted 4/18/2009 1:36 PM ET
By Tom Raum, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is trying to close a chapter in the nation's history that continues to haunt U.S. foreign policy. Obama authorized the release of graphic "torture memos" that outlined the harsh interrogation tactics the CIA used during the administration of George W. Bush, but getting the abuses behind him is turning out to be more complicated than it may have seemed at first.
The disclosures have divided Obama's administration; some intelligence officials argued against the release. Also, Obama's decision to shield from prosecution those who carried out the practices is being challenged by human-rights activists and some Democrats.
Making the memos public was a victory for Attorney General Eric Holder.
Last July, Holder told a legal forum that the next president must move quickly to "reclaim America's standing in the world." To robust applause, Holder suggested closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and ending "all U.S. programs and practices that are engaged in torture."
But where to send the remaining Guantanamo prisoners? And Obama's decision not to prosecute CIA operatives who engaged in now-banned harsh interrogation practices such as waterboarding is causing something of a political storm.
Much as President Ford's blanket pardon of former President Richard Nixon for Watergate crimes, Obama's decision is being questioned by those who say officials who committed wrongdoing should be held accountable. For instance, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was quick to say that the memos only bolstered his argument for a proposed independent commission of inquiry.
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Obama's amnesty proposal for those responsible "is simply untenable."
On Saturday, the U.N.'s top torture investigator said the decision violated international law. Manfred Nowak told The Associated Press that the U.S. had committed itself under the U.N. Convention against Torture to make torture a crime and to prosecute those suspected of engaging in it. Washington is unlikely to face any legal penalties for its apparent breach, but Nowak said "naming and shaming has its impact and usually governments try not to be criticized."
In deciding to release the four memos with little blacked out or otherwise censored, Obama sided with Holder, deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.
The release went against the advice of other Obama advisers, including CIA Director Leon Panetta. He argued that releasing vivid descriptions of brutal tactics could set a dangerous precedent for future disclosures of intelligence sources and methods.
In fact, the release of the classified Bush-era memos was delayed for nearly a month in part because of strenuous objections from four previous CIA chiefs -- Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet and John Deutch.
Obama ultimately overruled those concerns.
Holder said the Justice Department would not prosecute CIA officers "who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful."
Furthermore, the department will represent and pay legal fees for any CIA officers who are sued or who face legal proceedings overseas, Holder said. There are several legal actions taken or in the works against Bush administration officials overseas.
Releasing the memos was the latest chapter in Obama's efforts to make amends for tactics of his predecessor in prosecuting "the war on terror," a term now banished from the White House lexicon.
In his first week in office, Obama revoked all Bush administration legal opinions that had been used to justify harsh interrogation tactics. He outlawed such interrogations and ordered closed secret CIA prisons overseas. He ordered the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba to be closed within a year.
Apologizing for past practices was a theme sounded on Obama's recent trip to Europe and the Middle East, where such interrogation and detainment policies had been roundly criticized by leaders of the region.
"I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam," Obama said in a speech to Turkey's parliament.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said Obama's "brave act of transparency must be followed by specific steps to hold Bush administration officials accountable for what they have done."
Sarah Mendelson, director of the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the Obama administration "moved with stunning speed" in addressing past abuses.
"What people get really hung up about is the next step: whether there are going to be prosecutions, amnesties or commissions," she added. "And that part is going to play out over a long time."
Associated Press writer Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Tom Raum has covered national and international affairs for The Associated Press since 1973.
Democrats want to cover up US government torture just as much as the Republicans do!
Democrats hold back on second interrogations probe
Posted 4/23/2009 7:13 AM ET
By Pamela Hess, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders don't appear inclined to appoint an independent panel to investigate the Bush administration's interrogation program before the Senate Intelligence Committee completes its own probe near the end of the year.
The panel is investigating the legal underpinnings for the interrogation program as well as the value of the information it gathered. Republicans oppose the creation of a bipartisan commission for what they view as a backward-looking effort to vilify former President George W. Bush.
"One way or another there needs to be a public accounting of these troublesome policies," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid said the committee inquiry "will answer a lot of the questions the American people have."
Two Senate reports issued back to back this week were meant to answer some of those questions.
A Senate Armed Services Committee report draws a direct line between the Bush administration's approval of the CIA's harsh interrogation program and the military's abuse of prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Intelligence Committee issued a newly declassified narrative of the legal guidance provided to the CIA that allowed the secret detention and interrogations to go forward.
As early as April 2002, the narrative states, the CIA sought permission to use waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning -- to break the resistance of a newly captured alleged terrorist, Abu Zubaydah. Permission came that July, delivered personally by the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to CIA Director George Tenet.
Whether any Bush administration officials merit prosecution for breaking anti-torture laws will be determined by Attorney General Eric Holder, who was scheduled to go to Capitol Hill on Thursday to discuss the Justice Department budget.
Any attempt by Democrats to gain political advantage from an investigation could be tempered by a memo from National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, who privately told employees last week that "high-value information" was obtained in interrogations that included harsh techniques, though he deemed them unacceptable and counterproductive.
Arizona's Homeland Security Secretary ruler Janet Napolitano is just a Bush clone that got appointed by Obama. Nothing is changed with Obama, the government is still the same as when Bush was the Emperor.
When Janet Napolitano was a government ruler in Arizona she was just another police state government thug, no different then the police state government thugs appointed by Bush in Washington D.C.
Napolitano taking heat already for performance
Apr. 24, 2009 06:51 AM
WASHINGTON - It didn't take long for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to shoot herself in the foot or for Republicans to make her a target of their opposition to Obama administration policy.
At the heart of the GOP criticism is a recent intelligence analysis from Napolitano's agency saying veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan could be susceptible to right-wing recruiters or commit lone acts of violence.
When conservative bloggers began writing about the report, Napolitano defended the assessment while acknowledging that some of it should have been rewritten. She went on a number of television news shows to apologize and explain her support for and admiration of veterans.
This was not enough for several Republicans who took to the House floor this week to criticize Napolitano, confirmed to her Cabinet position less than 100 days ago.
"Has this homeland security secretary gone absolutely stark raving mad?" said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. "She needs to come before Congress. She needs to answer a few questions."
On Thursday, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, told Fox News that Napolitano must not understand "the disruption that she has caused" in some parts of the country. "I think the appropriate thing for her to do would be to step down," he said.
A day earlier, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, said, "Janet Napolitano should resign or be fired."
Obama administration aides dismissed the criticism as a "typical Washington game" and "political theater."
Despite the furor among some Republicans, party leaders did not bring it up in a meeting with President Barack Obama and top White House aides on Thursday. Although House Republican leader John Boehner had indicated earlier it likely would be discussed, his spokesman, Kevin Smith, said the topic was not broached.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said the right-wing extremist report originated in the Bush administration and Napolitano was working to keep the nation safe from terrorists.
"She doesn't have time for these games - and neither does the president," Shapiro said.
The veterans issue wasn't the only flap. Earlier this week, Napolitano drew criticism for flubbing an explanation of federal law prohibiting people without proper documents from crossing U.S. borders into the country.
In an interview with CNN, Napolitano, whose career has included stints as a U.S. attorney and attorney general and governor of Arizona, said: "Crossing the border is not a crime per se. It is civil."
While crossing the border illegally is a crime, most illegal immigrants caught in the United States face only civil penalties and deportation.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., characterized Napolitano's statements as one of the most "baffling" he has ever heard from a senior government official.
"It is breathtaking that a Cabinet secretary, bestowed by the public with the responsibility to protect our nation's borders, could be ignorant of the indisputable fact that it is a violation of the criminal code to enter our country illegally," Sessions said.
Napolitano spokesman Sean Smith said: "She may be new to Washington, but she has been around politics for a long time, and she knows political theater when she sees it."
Smith said Napolitano spent 16 years enforcing the law on the Southwest border. "Americans can rest assured that she understands what the law is along the border," he said.
She also has drawn criticism for claiming in an interview that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists entered the U.S. across the Canadian border. The 9/11 Commission found that none came through Canada. But others have, such as the would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam.
Discussing security along the U.S. border on Canada's CBC News on Monday, Napolitano said, "To the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there."
When asked whether she was talking about the 9/11 terrorists, Napolitano said: "Not just those, but others as well."
Smith on Thursday said Napolitano acknowledged she misspoke and had been thinking of the millennium bomber.
"Police believed all the weapons were still within the department, simply misplaced or unaccounted" - If the police were talking about a private group they would be saying "We beleive the weapons have been stolen due to poor accounting standards", but of course in police culture it is IMPOSSIBLE TO ADMIT A COP MIGHT HAVE COMMITTED A CRIME, so the police will never admit to the fact that one or more crooked Phoenix Police Officers stole 11 rifles.
Phoenix police missing 11 rifles in audit
by Channing Turner - Apr. 24, 2009 08:19 AM
The Phoenix Police Department discovered this week they were missing 11 rifles.
Police made the discovery through the ongoing Rifle Tracking Program, designed to centralize tracking data for all the department's rifles. The program began in October.
The preliminary report released this week indicated 11 rifles were unaccounted. The missing rifles were reported as one non-lethal simulation rifle, one .30-30 rifle, one Steyr-Aug assault rifle and eight .223 caliber rifles.
Police believed all the weapons were still within the department, simply misplaced or unaccounted.
None of the missing firearms were assigned to patrol officers, according to the report. All patrol rifles were accounted for under the new tracking system.
"Because officer's assignments and specialty details change frequently, we are confident those weapons are still within the bounds of the department," said Officer James Holmes in a written statement. "Several steps are being taken to ensure all avenues of inventory are used to locate and account for the rifles."
As a precaution, all the firearm serial numbers had been entered into the National Crime Information Center, allowing police to immediately locate the weapons should they appear within the department during training or outside the department's control.
Obama is just another police state clone of George Bush, but dressed up as a Democrat. A Black man would call him an Uncle Tom, as a White guy I call him just another government tyrant like George W. Bush.
I should note in my case when ever I am stopped by the police I always take the 5th and refuse to answer their questions. You would expect the cops to always say "No problem sir, we will just stop questioning you". But that never happens, the police instead tell me that I have to answer their questions or I will go to jail.
Of course I always refuse, and as punishment for thinking I have a Fifth Amendment right I am usually detained for an hour or two before the police release me.
White House tries to curb defendant rights
April 24, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to overrule long-standing law that stops police from initiating questions unless a defendant's lawyer is present, which critics say is an example of the White House seeking to limit rights.
The administration's actions have disappointed civil-rights and civil-liberties groups that expected President Barack Obama to reverse the policies of his GOP predecessor, George W. Bush, after the Democrat's call for change during the 2008 campaign.
Since taking office, Obama has drawn criticism for backing the continued imprisonment of enemy combatants in Afghanistan without trial, invoking the "state secrets" privilege to avoid releasing information in lawsuits and limiting the rights of prisoners to test genetic evidence used to convict them.
Obama legal team wants to limit defendants' rights
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to overrule long-standing law that stops police from initiating questions unless a defendant's lawyer is present, another stark example of the White House seeking to limit rather than expand rights. The administration's action _ and several others _ have disappointed civil rights and civil liberties groups that expected President Barack Obama to reverse the policies of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, after the Democrat's call for change during the 2008 campaign.
Yea sure Obama is going to close Gitmo! At least he pretended to close Gitmo! Sounds like Obama ain't no different then Bush!
Officials: Gitmo court system likely to stay open
By LARA JAKES, Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration may revamp and restart the Bush-era military trial system for suspected terrorists as it struggles to determine the fate of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and fulfill a pledge to close the prison by January.
The move would further delay terrorism trials and, coupled with recent comments by U.S. military and legal officials, amounts to a public admission by President Barack Obama's team that delivering on that promise is easier said than done.
Almost immediately after taking office, Obama suspended the tribunal system and ordered a 120-day review of the cases against the 241 men being held at the Navy prison in Cuba. That review was supposed to end May 20. But two U.S. officials said Saturday the administration wants a three-month extension.
The delay means that legal action on the detainees' cases would continue to be frozen. Neither of the U.S. officials were authorized to discuss the delay publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
One official said the Obama administration planned to use the extra time to ask Congress to tweak the existing military tribunals system that was created for the detainees. Critics of former President George W. Bush, who pushed Congress to create it, have said the system violated U.S. law because it limits the detainees' legal rights.
Now, faced with looming deadlines and few answers for where to transfer the detainees, the Obama administration may keep the tribunal system — with a few changes.
Asked at a Senate hearing last week if the administration would abandon the Guantanamo system, Defense Secretary Robert Gates answered: "Not at all."
"The commissions are very much still on the table," Gates said, adding that nine Guantanamo detainees are already being tried in military tribunals.
Gates also alluded to the administration's likely request for Congress to tweak to law that created the Guantanamo legal system.
"Should there be any changes to the military commission law, if the decision is made to retain the military commissions?" he asked rhetorically.
Attorney General Eric Holder went further at a recent House hearing, saying the military commissions still could be used but "would be different from those that were previously in place."
Although as many as one-third of the detainees will be released or sent to other nations for trial, Holder said the administration is considering how to prosecute the rest of them.
"We'll be making, again, individualized determinations about where — for that group of people who should be tried, where they should be tried," Holder testified. Among the options he described were "military tribunals that have significant changes made to the manner in which they would be conducted."
The administration has never dismissed the possibility of using the tribunal system to try the suspected al-Qaida, Taliban and other foreign fighters swept up and ultimately held at Guantanamo after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But administration officials have said they hoped to try many in U.S. federal courts, relying on civilian prosecutors instead of on the military law.
Among the planned changes to the law, both officials said Saturday, would be limits on the evidence used against the detainees. Much of the evidence compiled against at least some of the detainees is classified and cannot be used in civilian courts without exposing the secret material.
The potential 90-day delay was first reported in Saturday's editions of The New York Times. Human rights and civil liberties groups immediately criticized the idea.
"To revive a fatally flawed system that was specifically designed to evade due process and the rule of law would be a grave error and a huge step backward," Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Since Obama ordered the prison closed, Republicans have seized on the issue of where the detainees will go — and the new Democratic administration lack of a plan to deal with them.
"Closing Guantanamo is not a good option if no safe alternatives exist," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Saturday.
Paul F. Rothstein, a Georgetown University legal ethics professor, said the dilemma highlights differences between campaign rhetoric and the realities of the courtroom.
"Once you become president and see the whole panoply of issued that you face, some of the things that seemed easy to promise or talk about during the campaign sometimes appear more difficult," Rothstein said Saturday. "Elections are fought on big slogans without much nuance or detail. I think we want a president who responds to what he sees when he actually gets in there and sees the whole picture, rather than one who adheres rigidly to what he said before."
Afghans say US bombing run killed dozens
By RAHIM FAIEZ and JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writers Rahim Faiez And Jason Straziuso, Associated Press Writers
KABUL – Bombing runs called in by U.S. forces killed dozens of civilians taking shelter from fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan and international troops, Afghan officials said Tuesday. The U.S. promised a joint investigation.
A provincial councilman said he saw about 30 bodies, many of them women and children, after villages bought them to a provincial capital.
Overall death toll estimates varied widely. Villagers estimated from 70 to well over 100 civilians may have died, according to local and regional officials. But no government official could confirm such a toll.
Civilian deaths have caused increasing friction between the Afghan and U.S. governments, and President Hamid Karzai has long pleaded with American officials to reduce the number of civilian casualties in their operations. Karzai meets with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
In remarks at a Washington think tank Tuesday, Karzai alluded to the problem of civilian casualties without mentioning the bombing deaths. He said the success of the new U.S. war strategy depends on "making sure absolutely that Afghans don't suffer — that Afghan civilians are protected."
"This war against terrorism will succeed only if we fight it from a higher platform of morality," he added in a speech at the Brookings Institution. Asked later what he meant by that remark, Karzai said, "We must be conducting this war as better human beings," and recognize that "force won't buy you obedience."
The latest fighting broke out Monday soon after Taliban fighters — including Taliban from Pakistan and Iran — massed in Farah province in western Afghanistan, said Belqis Roshan, a member of Farah's provincial council. The provincial police chief, Abdul Ghafar, said 25 militants and three police officers died in that battle near the village of Ganjabad in Bala Baluk district, a Taliban-controlled area near the border with Iran.
Villagers told Afghan officials that they put children, women, and elderly men in several housing compounds in the village of Gerani — about three miles to the east — to keep them safe. But villagers said fighter aircraft later targeted those compounds, killing a majority of those inside, according to Roshan and other officials.
The top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Greg Julian, confirmed that U.S. coalition forces participated in the battle. Julian said five wounded Afghans sought medical treatment at a military base in Farah.
"We offer our condolences to those affected by today's operations and will immediately investigate the claims to determine what happened," Julian said.
Abdul Basir Khan, another member of Farah's provincial council, said Farah's governor had hoped to send a delegation to the bombing site Tuesday to investigate, but that officials decided not to go because of how dangerous the region was. It wasn't clear when investigators might reach the village.
The United Nations often takes a lead role in investigating high-profile civilian death cases, but the U.N. doesn't have any officials in Farah province.
A Western official in Kabul said Marine special operations forces — which fall under the U.S. coalition — had called in the airstrikes. The official asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
Khan said villagers brought bodies, including women and children, to Farah city to show the province's governor. Khan estimated that villagers brought about 30 bodies.
"It was difficult to count because they were in very bad shape. Some had no legs," Khan said.
Farah's hospital treated at least three wounded villagers, including an 11-year-old boy whose chest, arms and shoulders were completely bandaged. A girl named Shafiqa had bandages under her chin. Two of her toes were severed in the fighting.
"We were at home when the bombing started," she told AP Television News. "Seven members of my family were killed."
Khan said villagers told him more than 150 civilians had died, but he said he had no way to know whether that claim was true.
The issue of civilian deaths is complicated in Afghanistan. Journalists and human rights workers can rarely visit remote battle sites to verify claims of civilian casualties. U.S. officials say Taliban militants sometimes force villagers to lie and say civilians have died in coalition strikes.
But the villagers' claims on Tuesday were bolstered by the wounded at Farah's hospital shown on AP Television News. And Khan's account of several truckloads of bodies taken to Farah city added more weight to the claims.
Mohammad Nieem Qadderdan, the former top official in the district of Bala Baluk, said he saw dozens of bodies when he visited the village of Gerani.
"These houses that were full of children and women and elders were bombed by planes. It is very difficult to say how many were killed because nobody can count the number, it is too early," Qadderdan, who no longer holds a government position, told The Associated Press by telephone. "People are digging through rubble with shovels and hands."
Qadderdan said the civilian casualties were "worse than Azizabad," a reference to an August 2008 strike in a district immediately to the north of Bala Baluk.
An Afghan government commission found that an operation by U.S. forces killed 90 civilians in Azizabad, a finding backed by the U.N. The U.S. originally said no civilians died; a high-level investigation later concluded 33 civilians were killed.
After the Azizabad killings, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, announced a directive last September meant to reduce such deaths. He ordered commanders to consider breaking away from a fire-fight in populated areas rather than pursue militants into villages.
Associated Press writers Noor Khan in Kandahar and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
Hmmm.... Obama doesn't approve of torture. But Obama isn't going to punish any of the Bush gang for their torture crimes. And in fact the folks on the Bush gang will probably continue to work for the Obama gang. And if they don't get punished for their crimes of torture they will probably continue to torture people (without Obama's approval of course).
Nothings changed! Obama and Bush are the same!
Source: No charges likely over interrogation memos
By DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writer Devlin Barrett, Associated Press Writer – 13 mins ago
WASHINGTON – Justice Department officials have stopped short of recommending criminal charges against Bush administration lawyers who wrote secret memos approving harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects.
A person familiar with the inquiry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says investigators recommended referring two of the three lawyers to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action. The person was not authorized to discuss the inquiry.
The person noted that the investigative report was still in draft form and subject to revisions. Attorney General Eric Holder also may make his own determination about what steps to take once the report has been finalized.
The Justice Department notified two senators by letter that a key deadline in the inquiry expired Monday, signaling that most of the work on the matter was completed. The letter does not mention the possibility of criminal charges, nor does it name the lawyers under scrutiny.
The inquiry has become a politically-loaded guessing game, with some advocating criminal charges against the lawyers and others urging that the matter be dropped.
The letter did not indicate what the findings of the final report would be. Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and played key roles in crafting the legal justification for techniques critics call torture.
Investigators initially recommended professional sanctions against Bybee and Yoo, but not Bradbury, according to the person familiar with the matter. That would come in the form of recommendations to state bar associations, where the most severe possible punishment is disbarment.
Bybee is a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Yoo is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Bradbury returned to private practice when he left the government at the end of President George W. Bush's term in the White House.
Asked for comment, Yoo's lawyer Miguel Estrada said he signed an agreement with the Justice Department not to discuss the draft report. Lawyer Maureen Mahoney, who is representing Bybee, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
"The former employees have until May 4, 2009 to provide their comments on the draft report," states the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Whitehouse has scheduled a hearing on the issue next week.
Now that the deadline has passed, there is little more for officials to do but make revisions to it based on the responses they've received, and decide how much, if any, of the findings should be made public.
Both Whitehouse and Durbin have pressed the Justice Department for more information about the progress of the investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The office examines possible ethics violations by Justice Department employees. On rare occasions, those inquiries become full-blown criminal investigations.
The language of the letter, dated Monday, indicates the inquiry will result in a final report.
The letter notes that Holder and his top deputy will have access to any information they need "to evaluate the final report and make determinations about appropriate next steps."
The results of the investigation were delayed late last year, when then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy asked investigators to allow the lawyers a chance to respond to their findings, as is typically done for those who still work for the Justice Department.
Investigators also shared a draft copy with the CIA to review whether the findings contained any classified information. According to the letter, the CIA then requested to comment on the report.
Clinton: US regrets loss of life in Afghanistan
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the Obama administration "deeply, deeply" regrets the loss of innocent life apparently as the result of a U.S. bombing in Afghanistan and will undertake a full review of the incident.
Opening a meeting with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department, Clinton said Wednesday that any loss of innocent life is "particularly painful."
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai thanked Clinton for "showing concern and regret" and added that "we hope we can work together to completely reduce civilian casualties in the struggle against terrorism."
The international Red Cross confirmed "dozens of bodies" on Wednesday in graves and rubble where Afghan officials alleged that U.S. bombs killed civilians.
What rubbish! Obama says he is against torture. But he isn't going to actually put anybody in jail for torture. And the criminals who tortured for Bush will continue to work for Obama. More of the same, nothing has change!
Source: No charges seen over interrogation memos
Posted 5/6/2009 7:14 AM ET
By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — Justice Department investigators say Bush administration lawyers who approved harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects should not face criminal charges, according to a draft report that also recommends two of the three attorneys face possible professional sanctions.
The Obama administration decided last month to make public legal memos authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods but not to prosecute CIA interrogators who followed the advice outlined in the memos.
That decision angered conservatives who accused President Barack Obama of selling out the CIA, and from liberals who thought he was being too forgiving of practices they -- and Obama -- call torture. The president's rhetoric, if not actual policy, shifted on the matter as the political fallout intensified. Officials conducting the internal Justice Department inquiry into the lawyers who wrote those memos have recommended referring two of the three lawyers -- John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action, according to a person familiar with the inquiry. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to discuss the inquiry.
The person noted that the investigative report was still in draft form and subject to revisions. Attorney General Eric Holder also may make his own determination about what steps to take once the report has been finalized.
The inquiry has become a politically loaded guessing game, with some advocating criminal charges against the lawyers and others urging that the matter be dropped.
In a letter to two senators, the Justice Department said a key deadline in the inquiry expired Monday, signaling that most of the work on the matter was completed. The letter does not mention the possibility of criminal charges, nor does it name the lawyers under scrutiny.
The letter did not indicate what the findings of the final report would be. Bybee, Yoo and Steven Bradbury worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and played key roles in crafting the legal justification for techniques critics call torture.
The memos were written as the Bush administration grappled with the fear and uncertainty following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Over the years that followed, lawyers re-examined and rewrote much of the legal advice.
In the memos released by the Obama administration, the Bush lawyers authorized methods including waterboarding, throwing subjects against walls and forced nudity.
In releasing the documents, Obama declared that CIA interrogators who followed the memos would not be prosecuted. The president left it to Holder to decide whether those who authorized or approved the methods should face charges.
When that inquiry neared completion last year, investigators recommended seeking professional sanctions against Bybee and Yoo, but not Bradbury, according to the person familiar with the matter. Those would come in the form of recommendations to state bar associations, where the most severe possible punishment is disbarment.
Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the decision not to seek criminal charges "inconceivable, given all that we know about the twisted logic of these memos."
Warren argued the only reason for such a decision "is to provide political cover for people inside the Obama White House so they don't have to pursue what needs to be done."
Bybee is now a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Yoo is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley. Bradbury returned to private practice when he left the government at the end of President George W. Bush's term in the White House.
Asked for comment, Yoo's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, said he signed an agreement with the Justice Department not to discuss the draft report. Lawyer Maureen Mahoney, who is representing Bybee, also declined to comment.
"The former employees have until May 4, 2009 to provide their comments on the draft report," states the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Whitehouse has scheduled a hearing on the issue next week.
Now that the deadline has passed, there is little more for officials to do but make revisions to it based on the responses they've received, and decide how much, if any, of the findings should be made public.
Both Whitehouse and Durbin have pressed the Justice Department for more information about the progress of the investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The office examines possible ethics violations by Justice Department employees. On rare occasions, those inquiries become full-blown criminal investigations.
The language of the letter, dated Monday, indicates the inquiry will result in a final report.
The letter notes that Holder and his top deputy will have access to any information they need "to evaluate the final report and make determinations about appropriate next steps."
The results of the investigation were delayed late last year, when then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy asked investigators to allow the lawyers a chance to respond to their findings, as is typically done for those who still work for the Justice Department.
Investigators also shared a draft copy with the CIA to review whether the findings contained any classified information. According to the letter, the CIA then requested to comment on the report.
Afghan official: 147 dead in fighting
KABUL – An official in western Afghanistan says he collected the names of 147 people who residents say were killed in a disputed incident involving U.S. forces and Taliban militants.
A member of Farah's provincial council helped investigate two sites where fighting took place this week.
Abdul Basir Khan says 55 people died at one location and 92 at another. He says many of the dead were buried in mass graves.
Khan said Thursday he compiled the numbers from family interviews and visiting grave sites, and gave it to a delegation of investigators from Kabul.
KABUL (AP) — Police fired Thursday on rock-throwing protesters enraged by the deaths of dozens of civilians they blame on American bombing runs in western Afghanistan, while a suicide bomber killed 12 more people in the south.
One protester was wounded by a bullet and five suffered other injuries after about 150 of them tried to storm the main government building in the capital of Farah province, said local health official Gul Ahmad Ayubi.
U.S. and Afghan investigators were examining Thursday the site of the bombing deaths blamed on a battle between militants and Afghan and international forces in the province's Bala Buluk district.
If local reports of the death toll are confirmed, it could be the deadliest case of civilian casualties since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime.
The International Red Cross and local officials said the people were killed by American bombs, though the American military said that may not have been the case. U.S. defense officials said the civilians may have been killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants.
Mohammad Nieem Qadderdan, a former district chief of Bala Buluk who visited the site, said 100 to 120 people were killed. The Red Cross said women and children were among dozens of dead.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the U.S. "deeply, deeply" regretted the loss of innocent life while opening a meeting with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington. On Thursday in Kabul, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered a new expression of American regret, but stopped short of taking blame.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long pleaded with the U.S. to minimize civilian deaths during its operations, contending that such killings undermine support for the fight against the Taliban. Civilian casualties also hurt Karzai's standing with the public as elections approach in August.
At least 18 presidential candidates had registered by midday Thursday, including former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister and Northern Alliance member Abdullah Abdullah. They are considered two of Karzai's stronger challengers.
"If you think that there is a need for a new start, we are at your service," Ghani told reporters after submitting his documents Thursday. Candidate registration closes on Friday.
Karzai remains favorite to win re-election, despite his growing unpopularity and the deepening Taliban insurgency.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber on a motorbike set off his explosives near an international military vehicle in a market area of Gereshk district in southern Helmand province. The explosion killed 12 people and wounded at least 32 more, said Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
A spokesman for NATO forces confirmed the incident but said he did not yet have any information on whether there were troop casualties.
In Farah, the team of investigators was headed by a U.S. brigadier general. Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said Afghan military and police officials were also part of the team. Mathias said she did not yet have information on what the team found.
But Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, voiced doubts about whether the deaths were due to an American airstrike.
McKiernan said U.S. military personnel had come to help Afghan forces who may have been ambushed by Taliban militants Sunday. He said the Taliban beheaded three civilians, perhaps to lure police.
"We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of the civilian casualties," McKiernan said. He would not elaborate but said the United States was working with the Afghan government to learn the truth.
A senior U.S. defense official said late Wednesday that Marine special operations forces believe the Afghan civilians were killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, who then loaded some of the bodies into a vehicle and drove them around the village, claiming the dead were victims of an American airstrike.
A second U.S. official said a senior Taliban commander is believed to have ordered the grenade attack. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
Two other senior defense officials said the grenade report comes from villagers interviewed by U.S. investigators who went to the site, but there is no proof yet that the report is right.
Reto Stocker, the head of the international Red Cross in Afghanistan, blamed an airstrike for the death of his organization's volunteer and 13 members of his family who were sheltering inside a home.
Tribal elders called the Red Cross during the fighting to report civilian casualties and ask for help, Stocker said.
Villagers said they gathered children, women and elderly men in several compounds near the village of Gerani to keep them away from the fighting, but the compounds were later hit by airstrikes.
Provincial authorities have told villagers not to bury the bodies, but instead to line them up for the officials conducting the investigation, former district chief Qadderdan said.
Taliban militants often take over civilian homes and launch attacks on Afghan and coalition forces. U.S. officials say the militants hope to attract U.S. airstrikes that kill civilians, thereby giving the Taliban a propaganda victory.
After a massive case of civilian casualties in the village of Azizabad last August, McKiernan ordered forces to consider backing off from a fight if commanders thought civilians were in danger. Afghan officials and the U.N. say 90 civilians died in Azizabad; the U.S. says 33 died.
Obama is a war monger just like Bush!
May 07, 2009 |
Obama urges joint action on extremism
Pakistani, Afghan, U.S. security linked
by Scott Wilson - May. 7, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that "the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are linked" after meeting with the presidents of those countries, saying his strategy to combat rising extremism through increased development aid and military support reflects that "fundamental truth."
"Now there's much to be done," Obama said at the White House, flanked by Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Vice President Joe Biden. "Along the border where insurgents often move freely, we must work together with a renewed sense of partnership to share intelligence and to coordinate our efforts to isolate, target and take out our common enemy. But we must also meet the threat of extremism with a positive program of growth and opportunity."
The rare trilateral meeting underscored Obama's view that the rising instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a single problem, bound by geography, weak central governments and a cross-border insurgency. In his remarks, Obama warned that "there will be more violence, and there will be setbacks," but promised that U.S. commitment to the region "will not waver." Karzai and Zardari arrived in Washington amid growing concern within the Obama administration that neither leader may be up to the task of turning back the Taliban, the armed Islamist movement that is making inroads in both countries. Congress is considering an $83 billion supplemental spending request that includes billions of dollars in military and development aid for the two governments.
But the release of a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluding that recent U.S. airstrikes have killed dozens of Afghan civilians shadowed the meeting. Obama began his private talk with Karzai by expressing his condolences over the deaths and promised an investigation into the strikes, which have over the years severely undermined support for U.S. counterinsurgency programs as well as the Afghan and Pakistani governments.
The administration's concern is particularly deep regarding nuclear-armed Pakistan. Zardari's government recently forged a cease-fire agreement with the Taliban in the strategically important Swat Valley. The extremist group then used the region as a staging area to enter Buner district, which is just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad.
In recent days, Zardari has said that the Pakistani military has retaken the district, although U.S. officials have not confirmed the claim. The Pakistani military is preparing to move into the Swat Valley, sending thousands of people in the area fleeing in advance of the offensive.
After a day of meetings, administration officials affirmed Obama's support for "the democratically elected governments" of the two countries, although they avoided personally endorsing either man. Karzai faces re-election in August, and Zardari is deeply unpopular at home.
The two days of meetings are designed to better coordinate the administration's military and development plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan by bringing together the leaders of agencies in each country responsible for intelligence, agriculture, law enforcement, diplomacy and defense, among others.
Democrats lie to us. Republicans lie to us. All the government rulers lie to us!
GOP keeps the heat on Pelosi over CIA
Andy Barr Andy Barr – Mon May 18, 5:17 am ET
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried Friday to quell the controversy over her comments about the CIA, but Republicans aren’t ready to turn down the volume just yet.
Pelosi said Thursday that the CIA had lied to her in 2002 about its waterboarding of a detainee.
Responding to the firestorm of criticism that followed, the California Democrat issued a statement late Friday in which she said that her criticism of the way in which the “Bush administration did not appropriately inform Congress” about its use of waterboarding is “separate from my respect for those in the intelligence community who work to keep our country safe.”
“What is important now is to be united in our commitment to ensuring the security of our country,” Pelosi said. “That, and how Congress exercises its oversight responsibilities, will continue to be my focus as we move forward.”
But that wasn’t the focus of Republicans appearing on Sunday’s news shows. “Nancy Pelosi has stepped in it big time,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“She has put the Democratic Party in a position where the question for me is does the president support Nancy Pelosi’s version of what happened or the CIA director’s version of what happened,” Steele added. “You have the speaker of the House saying that she wasn’t told, that she doesn’t have a clue, and the evidence contradicts that.”
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also had Pelosi in his sights Sunday.
“Lying to the Congress of the United States is a crime, and if the speaker is accusing the CIA and other intelligence officials of lying or misleading the Congress, then they should come forward with evidence,” Boehner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think she ought to apologize to our intelligence professionals around the world. Instead of criticizing them, instead of accusing them of lying, we ought to be patting them on the back and telling them, ‘Job well done.’”
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) tried to push back against the Pelosi attacks on ABC’s “This Week,” telling host George Stephanopoulos that the dust-up was not a big deal.
“I think this will resolve itself,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”
Webb went on to accuse Republicans of pushing the story in order to avoid the “issues of accountability in terms of the last administration.”
Pelosi has called on the CIA to release documents showing what she was told by the agency, even suggesting that she would be open to an examination of her own claim as part of a so-called truth commission investigation.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he does not want the conflict to go that far. While McConnell said that there’s unquestionably a “dispute” between Pelosi and the CIA, he said he’d prefer to see the disagreement settled by the House and Senate intelligence committees and not through a broader truth commission investigation — one that would focus on the action of Bush administration officials as well.
“My own view is, what is the point of going back and trying to figure out who knew what when?” he said. “I think the best way to resolve the dispute, if it’s to be resolved, is through the intelligence committees.”
Although Pelosi said in her statement Friday that she has “great respect for the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community,” she did not back away from her claim that she she wasn’t told in September 2002 that the United States had waterboarded Abu Zubaydah.
In fact, as POLITICO reported Friday, Democratic insiders say that, before Pelosi claimed Thursday that the CIA had misled her, her office dispatched an aide to CIA headquarters to independently verify what she was told during the 2002 briefing based upon notes from the meeting.
Pelosi “wouldn’t say what she did without checking it first,” said a Pelosi ally.
CIA director Leon Panetta — another California Democrat — said last week that the agency’s “contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing ‘the enhanced techniques that had been employed.’”
Wow! Over 90% of the Senate members think it is OK to jail suspected terrorists in Gitmo! Jesus we really do live in a police state! Heil Hitler you ain't got no right if the government thinks your a criminal!
Obama in bind over Gitmo promise
Dems side with GOP in vote to keep controversial prison open
by Julian E. Barnes and Josh Meyer - May. 21, 2009 12:00 AM
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama signaled his intention Wednesday to press forward on his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, despite a growing challenge from Republicans and Democrats and a limited set of options to make his detainee policy work.
In a sign of how much momentum he has lost, the Senate on Wednesday voted 90-6 to block funding for the shutdown, a vote taken in a politically charged environment that followed criticism that the administration was backtracking on the security of Americans.
In an effort to retake the political momentum, Obama plans an address today to forcefully defend his proposal for closing Guantanamo by year's end. In the morning speech, at the National Archives in Washington, Obama also will address prospects for a controversial proposal to hold detainees indefinitely without trial, if necessary, and will reassert his argument that closing the prison would advance U.S national security. "The president signed an order early in his administration to close it, and he intends to keep that promise," said Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman.
In one possible sign of a new approach, an administration official said that, for the first time, Guantanamo detainee is being sent to the United States to stand trial in a U.S. criminal court. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian captured in Pakistan in 2004, had been indicted by a federal grand jury in New York for participating in attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.
Obama met with leaders of human-rights organizations Wednesday as Congress debated the issue and the White House planned its response.
However, following Obama's decision to close the prison four months ago, few new options have emerged to ease the way to a shutdown. To clear the political logjam, the administration and Congress face difficult and politically unpopular policy choices.
"The president is going to have to spend political capital. He will have to lean on people and call out the political cowards," said John Hutson, a retired admiral who advised Obama on detention policy during his presidential campaign. "He is going to have to regain the high ground and the initiative. He had the initiative, and it slipped away."
The administration counterattack began Wednesday, when a top Pentagon official countered the growing congressional opposition to moving detainees to the U.S., saying some detainees must be placed in mainland prisons.
"This is a case where we need to ask members of Congress to take a more strategic view," said Michele A. Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense for policy. "Many of these members called for the closing of Guantanamo, and we need their partnership in making that possible." But Republicans seized on remarks Wednesday by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who told Congress that detainees could pose risks, such as radicalizing others, in U.S. prisons.
Mueller, appointed by President George W. Bush, also noted that convicted criminals have run gangs from within federal prisons, suggesting the possibility that terrorists could coordinate attacks from within their cells.
Opponents also are likely to seize on Pentagon figures showing that dozens of the more than 500 detainees released so far have gone back to militant activity. The most recent figures released by the Pentagon put the return rate at 11 percent. The New York Times reported Wednesday on its Web site that an unreleased report shows about 14 percent have returned to the fight.
Democratic lawmakers and human-rights activists said Obama must use today's speech to recover ground lost to the Republicans in the debate over Guantanamo. By expanding public support for the idea, Obama can avert future battles, they said.
"One thing he has to do is begin to articulate the specifics of a plan for closing Guantanamo," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster close to Congress. "The Hill needs to hear that."
The administration has been caught up in a series of national-security controversies in recent weeks. Liberals have criticized its reluctance to punish architects of the Bush administration's detention policies, its refusal to release photos of harsh interrogations, and its decision to stick with the Bush administration's military commissions.
Conservatives have loudly denounced Obama's policies, charging that the president has lowered the nation's defenses and made terrorist attacks more likely. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, a frequent critic, is scheduled to speak today to the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
Trials in the United States are seen as one solution to the detainee puzzle. A trial in New York for Ghailani, the detainee indicted in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, has been planned for some time.
Gibbs said Obama would not release a lengthy report today on his plan for Guantanamo. But experts and analysts said that clearing the political and legal logjam likely will require the Obama administration to endorse additional policies unpopular with its political allies.
For instance, with few other nations volunteering to accept prisoners, the administration may have to transfer some detainees to their home countries, even at the risk that those suspects could be abused in prison or be released to rejoin fighting against America.
Let me get this straight! Obama is going to close Gitmo because it is wrong for the USA to violate the rights of these people? But he is going to find some other lame ass unconstitutional way to keep them locked up forever because even though they have not commited any crimes they are a danger to the USA? Sounds like there ain't a dimes difference between Obama and Bush!
May 22, 2009
Despite critics, Obama still aims to shut Gitmo
Range of options available to handle detainees, he says
by Christi Parsons and Julian E. Barnes - May. 22, 2009 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Thursday pledged to forge ahead with plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, dealing with detainees through a range of options including release, imprisonment at high-security American prisons, trials in federal courts and military commissions - and, for some, prolonged and even indefinite detention.
Obama said his administration is devising "clear, defensible and lawful standards" for inmates who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes but who still pose a security threat to the country.
"We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country," Obama said. "But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. ... I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people."
Speaking at the National Archives - which houses the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence - Obama argued that the nation should "enlist the power of our most fundamental values" in the effort keep itself safe.
The president's address comes amid signs of growing resistance to his Guantanamo closure plan, highlighted Wednesday when the Senate voted to block funding to shut down the prison.
With former Vice President Dick Cheney offering a forceful defense of Bush administration tactics Thursday, Obama sought to reassure Americans that national security is a chief concern.
"Now, this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism," Obama said.
"Neither I nor anyone else can, standing here today, can say that there will not be another terrorist attack that takes American lives," he said. "But I can say with certainty that my administration, along with our extraordinary troops and the patriotic men and women who defend our national security, will do everything in our power to keep the American people safe."
The rule of law demands the release of 21 people held at the prison, Obama said, citing detainees whom "the courts have found that there is no legitimate reason" to hold. He said his administration has found that 50 others can be safely moved to other countries, and that the White House is talking with a number of nations about potential transfers.
Some detainees can go to high-security facilities on American soil, he said. Trials will take place in federal court for those charged with breaking criminal laws and in military commissions for those accused of violating the "laws of war," he said.
But Obama also opened the door to the possibility that some cases may call for indefinite detention. Human-rights advocates believe the government should treat terror suspects like criminal suspects, not as combatants captured on a battlefield, and believe proposals to hold prisoners without trial is a mistake.
Elisa Massimino, chief executive of Human Rights First, said Obama's proposal to create a system of indefinite detention undermined his message that American values are a national-security asset.
"If the president really wants to enlist the power of our fundamental values, he will turn to our federal courts and away from the flawed military-commissions system, and he will abandon the misguided plans for indefinite detention of individuals without trial," Massimino said in a statement.
The U.S. is at war with al-Qaida, Obama said, comparing captured detainees to prisoners of war.
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