Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Republicans Have Decided To Listen To Rush Limbaugh And Put Partisan Politics Ahead Of Getting People Back To Work As The Obama Plan Would Do.

 The Republicans Have Decided To Listen To Rush Limbaugh And Put Partisan Politics Ahead Of Getting People Back To Work As The Obama Plan Would Do.



"The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight!"

- Emile Zola, J'accuse! (1898) –


Hot Button Issues: Obama, Holder, Stimulus, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Riots Begin, Lies, Scams, Lobbyists And Truth, Depression And Economic Death Spiral, The Republican Rape Of America And The Sad Sordid Fact: “I Don't Recognize Him From His Shoes.”




LA Times 'Punked': Obama NOT Continuing Bush 'Extraordinary Rendition' Program

Scott Horton says paper conflated Dubya's program of kidnap, long-term foreign imprisonment and torture with older, less-nefarious anti-terror tool...


From Scott Horton at Harper's...

In a breathless piece of reporting in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, we are told that Barack Obama "left intact" a "controversial counter-terrorism tool" called renditions. Moreover, the Times states, quoting unnamed "current and former U.S. intelligence figures," Obama may actually be planning to expand the program. The report notes the existence of a European Parliament report condemning the practice, but states "the Obama Administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush Administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard."


The Los Angeles Times just got punked.


Horton --- who testified as an expert witness for the European Parliament report mentioned --- says the paper conflated the controversial Bush program, which often included torture and long-term abduction into secret CIA-run prisons in foreign countries, and a significantly less nefarious type of rendition, in use since the early 90's, and perhaps even during the Reagan era.


He explains the difference between the pre-Dubya "renditions program", which an Executive Order from Obama has not ended, versus Dubya's "extraordinary renditions program" which Obama has outlawed (despite media reports over the last several days to the contrary), thusly...


There are two fundamental distinctions between the programs. The extraordinary renditions program involved the operation of long-term detention facilities either by the CIA or by a cooperating host government together with the CIA, in which prisoners were held outside of the criminal justice system and otherwise unaccountable under law for extended periods of time. A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. This practice is a felony under current U.S. law, but was made a centerpiece of Bush counterterrorism policy.


The earlier renditions program regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system. It did not involve the operation of long-term detention facilities and it did not involve torture.


We're shocked --- shocked --- that the rightwing Tribune Media's LA Times could have been so misleading and inaccurate. Bill O'Reilly tells us constantly how "liberal" they are, so this must be some kind of aberrant editing error, no doubt.


UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has more on how the Times got "rolled" by the Right. And Washington Monthly explains, in some detail, what Obama's Executive Order doesn't allow (despite the LA Times' irresponsible reporting to the contrary.)


Glenn Thrush's Blog: Rove now cooperating with Justice Dept ...
media@politico.com (Glenn Thrush)
Forget Rove. Hell, give him a medal, The real criminals are in the White House and Democrap side of Congress right now. Prosecute them ALL, fro Obammy on down! Posted By:
IMPEACH OBAMA! | February 03, 2009 at 11:41 AM, abuse icon REPORT ABUSE ... The Justice prosecutors need to squeeze Karl's bolas (if he has any) so hard that he'll squeal on all his fellow antiAmerican rats in the Bushie Junta. Send Bush, Cheney et al. to prison where they rightly belong! ...
Politico Top Stories - http://www.politico.com/


Manufactured Dissent « Dork Nation
By Mark
He proved, at least, that he is the most powerful man in the conservative movement and the
vox populi. It’s too bad for those hoping for a discussion regarding the future of the GOP; whether it would remain mired in the directionless ...
Dork Nation - http://dorknation.wordpress.com/


OpEdNews » Film: "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder"
The correct number of towns for that is 2, whereas at least 39 in Vermont (and 54 elsewhere) that I know of passed resolutions to
impeach Bush, as did the Vermont state senate. The film intersperses footage from Brattleboro, Vt., ...
OpEdNews - OpEdNews.Com Progressive,... - http://www.opednews.com/


It’s all about the Benjamins » Blog Archive » Impeach Bush!
By Our Bennyfactor
Impeach Bush! Jump to Comments. I know, I know, I’m a little late. But, you know, back in the day we all supported the Rumburglar and his war on the Iraqi Information Minister, and even though I really thoroughly disliked appointees ...
It's all about the Benjamins - http://iaatb.net/blog2/


VOX POPULI: Arrogance and the American way
McGill Tribune - Montreal,Quebec,Canada
I usually leave a lecture feeling enlightened or enriched by the material I have just absorbed in the classroom. But last Tuesday, I left disappointed and

Why hasn't President Obama used his huge email list for message ...
By John Amato
Bush and Cheney were evidence of this. Why try to negotiate with people who do not care about the well-being of the country. These people are enemies not legislative allies. Oh how I wish Democrats would stand up and put a stop to this charade. .... I was calling and demonstrating for Bush's impeachment as well. ANy President who thinks he has the authority to kidnap, torture and murder people without due process is a criminal, pure and simple. A criminal. ...
Crooks & Liars Video Podcast - http://crooksandliars.com/



*This Paper Is Know As The “Right Wing Alternative To The Washington Post”

Chuck Todd has proven to be a down-to-Earth analyst. (Ed.)


The best part of NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd's new book is its first few pages. He and his co-author, Sheldon Gawiser, NBC's elections director, describe hard-fought primary battles, campaign intrigue and fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits of the 2008 presidential race.


We learn why Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton chose to sit out the presidential race in 2004, her initial assessment of rival Sen. Barack Obama and exactly what felled former New York Gov. Rudolph W. Giuliani. Beyond its introductory chapters, however, the book reads like a pared-down version of the venerable Almanac of American Politics, the 1,800-plus-page biennial volume produced by Mr. Todd's former employer, the National Journal group. That means it's heavy on statistics and demographic profiles and short on meatier narrations and anecdotes.


The bulk of the book presents a postmortem analysis of exit polling from each of the 50 states, relying heavily on graphical presentations of top-line research data. We don't learn much about polling methodology throughout the book, although there's a 1 1/2-page explanation at the very end (we learn polling was done by the New Jersey firm Edison Media Research as part of the National Election Pool, jointly commissioned by the major television networks and Associated Press) and a blurb about how to get outside methodological information for each poll….


RealClearPolitics - Articles - Nancy Pelosi's New Deal
Does President Obama really want this
Nancy Pelosi New Deal to be his legacy? Because that is exactly what he is inviting. And before he uses force majeure to ram this bill through the Senate, he ought to consider what the honest ...
RealClearPolitics - Articles - http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/


"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," sayeth Rahm.


Opportunistic and cynical, yes. But also savvy political counsel that transformational presidents have always followed.


FDR exploited the Depression to launch his New Deal, bring an end to a Republican hegemony of seven decades and make Democrats the majority party, until Richard Nixon picked the lock.


While the debate is endless over whether the New Deal ended the Depression or caused it to endure until World War II spending pulled us out of the ditch, few deny that FDR left a monumental legacy.


We see it in the great dams of the West and TVA in the South, in the REA that first brought electricity to America's farms, in deposit insurance, unemployment benefits and Social Security.


Lyndon Johnson seized on the trauma of JFK's assassination and racial incidents such as Selma Bridge to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Ronald Reagan seized on the humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis, Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan and the worst recession since the 1930s to rebuild the military, create a 600-ship Navy, push the Soviet Empire out of Central America and Afghanistan, and cut taxes from 70 percent to 28 percent, creating 20 million jobs in a seven-year boom that inspired the awe, envy and emulation of much of the world.


Not for nothing are the '80s remembered as the Reagan Decade.


Obama himself has spoken of FDR and Reagan as the kind of "transformational" presidents he wishes to become.


Which brings us to that "stimulus package," the price of which is $819 billion and rising, 6 percent of gross domestic product, piled on a deficit already projected at $1.2 trillion. As it was being whistled through the House, not one Republican voted aye. A dozen Democrats could not stomach it, either.


Does President Obama really want this Nancy Pelosi New Deal to be his legacy? Because that is exactly what he is inviting. And before he uses force majeure to ram this bill through the Senate, he ought to consider what the honest objections are….



Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Economic Death Spiral at the Pentagon


Recently, reviewing lobbying disclosure reports, the Washington Times discovered "that 18 of the top 20 recipients of federal bailout money spent a combined $12.2 million lobbying the White House, the Treasury Department, Congress, and federal agencies during the last quarter of 2008." Citibank alone, according to the New York Times, fielded "an army of Washington lobbyists," plunking down $1.77 million in lobbying fees just in the fourth quarter of last year.


And it isn't only sinking financial institutions begging for federal dollars that have bolstered their Washington lobbying corps. So have the biggest U.S. armaments companies -- "drastically," according to reporter August Cole of the Wall Street Journal. In 2008, he found, Northrop Grumman almost doubled its lobbying budget to $20.6 million (from $10.9 million the previous year); Boeing upped its budget from $10.6 million to $16.6 million in the same period; and Lockheed-Martin, the company that received the most contracts from the Pentagon last year, hiked its lobbying efforts by a whopping 54% in 2008.


If you want to get a taste of what that means, then click here to view an ad for that company's potentially embattled boondoggle, the F-22, the most expensive jet fighter ever built. What you'll discover is not just that it will "protect" 300 million people -- that's you, if you live in the USA -- but that it will also employ 95,000 of us. In other words, the ad's threatening message implies, if the Obama administration cuts this program in bad times, it will throw another 95,000 Americans out on the street. Now that's effective lobbying for you, especially when you consider, as Chalmers Johnson does below, that for any imaginable war the U.S. might fight in the coming decades, the F-22 will be a thoroughly useless plane.


We don't usually think of the Pentagon as a jobs-and-careers scam operation, a kind of Mega-Madoff Ponzi scheme that goes BOOM!, though it is clearly designed for the well-being of defense contractors, military officers, and congressional representatives; nor do we usually consider the "defense" budget as a giant make-work jobs racket, as arms experts Bill Hartung and Christopher Preble recently suggested, but it's never too late.


Chalmers Johnson, author of the already-classic Blowback Trilogy, including most recently Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, makes vividly clear just how little the Pentagon is organized to consider the actual defense needs of the United States. In many ways, it remains a deadly organization of boys with toys that now poses a distinct economic danger to the rest of us. (Check out, as well, a TomDispatch audio interview with Johnson on the Pentagon's economic death spiral by clicking here). Tom


The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon

How Taxpayers Finance Fantasy Wars
By Chalmers Johnson


Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the U.S. automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing and undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment -- and that's to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things.


A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex. That crisis has its roots in the corrupt and deceitful practices that have long characterized the high command of the Armed Forces, civilian executives of the armaments industries, and Congressional opportunists and criminals looking for pork-barrel projects, defense installations for their districts, or even bribes for votes.


Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable. Even if present fiscal constraints no longer existed, we would still have misspent too much of our tax revenues on too few, overly expensive, overly complex weapons systems that leave us ill-prepared to defend the country in a real military emergency. We face a double crisis at the Pentagon: we can no longer afford the pretense of being the Earth's sole superpower, and we cannot afford to perpetuate a system in which the military-industrial complex makes its fortune off inferior, poorly designed weapons.


Double Crisis at the Pentagon


This self-destructive system of bloated budgets and purchases of the wrong weapons has persisted for so long thanks to the aura of invincibility surrounding the Armed Forces and a mistaken belief that jobs in the arms industry are as valuable to the economy as jobs in the civilian sector.


Recently, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen began to advocate nothing less than protecting the Pentagon budget by pegging defense spending to a fixed percentage of gross domestic product (GDP, the total value of goods and services produced by the economy). This would, of course, mean simply throwing out serious strategic analysis of what is actually needed for national defense. Mullen wants, instead, to raise the annual defense budget in the worst of times to at least 4% of GDP. Such a policy is clearly designed to deceive the public about ludicrously wasteful spending on weapons systems which has gone on for decades.


It is hard to imagine any sector of the American economy more driven by ideology, delusion, and propaganda than the armed services. Many people believe that our military is the largest, best equipped, and most invincible among the world's armed forces. None of these things is true, but our military is, without a doubt, the most expensive to maintain. Each year, we Americans account for nearly half of all global military spending, an amount larger than the next 45 nations together spend on their militaries annually.


Equally striking, the military seems increasingly ill-adapted to the types of wars that Pentagon strategists agree the United States is most likely to fight in the future, and is, in fact, already fighting in Afghanistan -- insurgencies led by non-state actors. While the Department of Defense produces weaponry meant for such wars, it is also squandering staggering levels of defense appropriations on aircraft, ships, and futuristic weapons systems that fascinate generals and admirals, and are beloved by military contractors mainly because their complexity runs up their cost to astronomical levels.


That most of these will actually prove irrelevant to the world in which we live matters not a whit to their makers or purchasers. Thought of another way, the stressed out American taxpayer, already supporting two disastrous wars and the weapons systems that go with them, is also paying good money for weapons that are meant for fantasy wars, for wars that will only be fought in the battlescapes and war-gaming imaginations of Defense Department "planners."


The Air Force and the Army are still planning as if, in the reasonably near future, they were going to fight an old-fashioned war of attrition against the Soviet Union, which disappeared in 1991; while the Navy, with its eleven large aircraft-carrier battle groups, is, as William S. Lind has written, "still structured to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy." Lind, a prominent theorist of so-called fourth-generation warfare (insurgencies carried out by groups such as al-Qaeda), argues that "the Navy's aircraft-carrier battle groups have cruised on mindlessly for more than half a century, waiting for those Japanese carriers to turn up. They are still cruising today, into, if not beyond, irrelevance… Submarines are today's and tomorrow's capital ships; the ships that most directly determine control of blue waters."


In December 2008, Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, a former high-ranking civilian in the Pentagon's Office of Systems Analysis (set up in 1961 to make independent evaluations of Pentagon policy) and a charter member of the "Fighter Mafia" of the 1980s and 1990s, wrote, "As has been documented for at least twenty years, patterns of repetitive habitual behavior in the Pentagon have created a self-destructive decision-making process. This process has produced a death spiral."


As a result, concluded Spinney, inadequate amounts of wildly overpriced equipment are purchased, "new weapons [that] do not replace old ones on a one for one basis." There is also "continual pressure to reduce combat readiness," a "corrupt accounting system" that "makes it impossible to sort out the priorities," and a readiness to believe that old solutions will work for the current crisis.


Failed Reform Efforts

There's no great mystery about the causes of the deep dysfunction that has long characterized the Pentagon's weapons procurement system. In 2006, Thomas Christie, former head of Operational Test and Evaluation, the most senior official at the Department of Defense for testing weapons and a Pentagon veteran of half a century, detailed more than 35 years of efforts to reform the weapons acquisition system. These included the 1971 Fitzhugh (or Blue Ribbon) Commission, the 1977 Steadman Review, the 1981 Carlucci Acquisition Initiatives, the 1986 Packard Commission, the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, the 1989 Defense Management Review, the 1990 "Streamlining Review" of the Defense Science Board, the 1993-1994 report of the Acquisition Streamlining Task Force and of the Defense Science Board, the late 1990s Total System Performance Responsibility initiative of the Air Force, and the Capabilities-Based Acquisition approach of the Missile Defense Agency of the first years of this century.


Christie concluded: "After all these years of repeated reform efforts, major defense programs are taking 20 to 30 years to deliver less capability than planned, very often at two to three times the costs and schedules planned." He also added the following observations:


"Launching into major developments without understanding key technical issues is the root cause of major cost and schedule problems… Costs, schedules, and technical risks are often grossly understated at the outset… There are more acquisition programs being pursued than DoD [the Department of Defense] can possibly afford in the long term…

"By the time these problems are acknowledged, the political penalties incurred in enforcing any major restructuring of a program, much less its cancellation, are too painful to bear. Unless someone is willing to stand up and point out that the emperor has no clothes, the U.S. military will continue to hemorrhage taxpayer dollars and critical years while acquiring equipment that falls short of meeting the needs of troops in the field."


The inevitable day of reckoning, long predicted by Pentagon critics, has, I believe, finally arrived. Our problems are those of a very rich country which has become accustomed over the years to defense budgets that are actually jobs programs and also a major source of pork for the use of politicians in their reelection campaigns.


Given the present major recession, whose depths remain unknown, the United States has better things to spend its money on than Nimitz-class aircraft carriers at a price of $6.2 billion each (the cost of the USS George H. W. Bush, launched in January 2009, our tenth such ship) or aircraft that can cruise at a speed of Mach 2 (1,352 miles per hour).


However, don't wait for the Pentagon to sort out such matters. If it has proven one thing over the last decades, it's that it is thoroughly incapable of reforming itself. According to Christie, "Over the past 20 or so years, the DoD and its components have deliberately and systematically decimated their in-house technical capabilities to the point where there is little, if any, competence or initiative left in the various organizations tasked with planning and executing its budget and acquisition programs."


Gunning for the Air Force

President Obama has almost certainly retained Robert M. Gates as Secretary of Defense in part to give himself some bipartisan cover as he tries to come to grips with the bloated defense budget. Gates is also sympathetic to the desire of a few reformers in the Pentagon to dump the Lockheed-Martin F-22 "Raptor" supersonic stealth fighter, a plane designed to meet the Soviet Union's last proposed, but never built, interceptor.


The Air Force's old guard and its allies in Congress are already fighting back aggressively. In June 2008, Gates fired Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley. Though he was undoubtedly responding to their fervent support for the F-22, his cover explanation was their visible failure to adequately supervise the accounting and control of nuclear weapons.


In 2006, the Air Force had managed to ship to Taiwan four high-tech nose cone fuses for Minutemen ICBM warheads instead of promised helicopter batteries, an error that went blissfully undetected until March 2008. Then, in August 2007, a B-52 bomber carrying six armed nuclear cruise missiles flew across much of the country from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. This was in direct violation of standing orders against such flights over the United States.


As Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel of the Los Angeles Times noted in June 2008, "Tensions between the Air Force and Gates have been growing for months," mainly over Gates's frustration about the F-22 and his inability to get the Air Force to deploy more pilotless aircraft to the various war zones. They were certainly not improved when Wynne, a former senior vice president of General Dynamics, went out of his way to cross Gates, arguing publicly that "any president would be damn happy to have more F-22s around if we had to get into a fight with China." It catches something of the power of the military-industrial complex that, despite his clear desire on the subject, Gates has not yet found the nerve -- or the political backing -- to pull the plug on the F-22; nor has he even dared to bring up the subject of canceling its more expensive and technically complicated successor, the F-35 "Joint Strike Fighter."


More than 20 years ago, Chuck Spinney wrote a classic account of the now-routine bureaucratic scams practiced within the Pentagon to ensure that Congress will appropriate funds for dishonestly advertised and promoted weapons systems and then prevent their cancellation when the fraud comes to light. In a paper he entitled "Defense Power Games," of which his superiors deeply disapproved, Spinney outlined two crucial Pentagon gambits meant to lock in such weaponry: "front-loading" and "political engineering."


It should be understood at the outset that all actors involved, including the military officers in charge of projects, the members of Congress who use defense appropriations to buy votes within their districts, and the contractors who live off the ensuing lucrative contracts, utilize these two scams. It is also important to understand that neither front-loading nor political engineering is an innocent or morally neutral maneuver. They both involve criminal intent to turn on the spigot of taxpayer money and then to jam it so that it cannot be turned off. They are de rigueur practices of our military-industrial complex.


Front-loading is the practice of appropriating funds for a new weapons project based solely on assurances by its official sponsors about what it can do. This happens long before a prototype has been built or tested, and invariably involves the quoting of unrealistically low unit costs for a sizeable order. Assurances are always given that the system's technical requirements will be simple or have already been met. Low-balling future costs, an intrinsic aspect of front-loading, is an old Defense Department trick, a governmental version of bait-and-switch. (What is introduced as a great bargain regularly turns out to be a grossly expensive lemon.)


Political engineering is the strategy of awarding contracts in as many different Congressional districts as possible. By making voters and Congressional incumbents dependent on military money, the Pentagon's political engineers put pressure on them to continue supporting front-loaded programs even after their true costs become apparent.


Front-loading and political engineering generate several typical features in the weapons that the Pentagon then buys for its arsenal. These continually prove unnecessarily expensive, are prone to break down easily, and are often unworkably complex. They tend to come with inadequate supplies of spare parts and ammunition, since there is not enough money to buy the numbers that are needed. They also force the services to repair older weapons and keep them in service much longer than is normal or wise. (For example, the B-52 bomber, which went into service in 1955, is still on active duty.)


Even though extended training would seem to be a necessary corollary of the complexity of such weapons systems, the excessive cost actually leads to reductions in training time for pilots and others. In the long run, it is because of such expedients and short-term fixes that American casualties may increase and, sooner or later, battles or wars may be lost.


For example, Northrop-Grumman's much touted B-2 stealth bomber has proven to be almost totally worthless. It is too delicate to deploy to harsh climates without special hangars first being built to protect it at ridiculous expense; it cannot fulfill any combat missions that older designs were not fully adequate to perform; and -- at a total cost of $44.75 billion for only 21 bombers -- it wastes resources needed for real combat situations.


Instead, in military terms, the most unexpectedly successful post-Vietnam aircraft has been the Fairchild A-10, unflatteringly nicknamed the "Warthog." It is the only close-support aircraft ever developed by the U.S. Air Force. Its task is to loiter over battlefields and assist ground forces in disposing of obstinate or formidable targets, which is not something that fits comfortably with the Air Force's hot-shot self-image.


Some 715 A-10s were produced and they served with great effectiveness in the first Persian Gulf War. All 715 cumulatively cost less than three B-2 bombers. The A-10 is now out of production because the Air Force establishment favors extremely fast aircraft that fly in straight lines at high altitudes rather than aircraft that are useful in battle. In the Afghan war, the Air Force has regularly inflicted heavy casualties on innocent civilians at least in part because it tries to attack ground targets from the air with inappropriately high-performance equipment.


Using the F-22 to Fight the F-16

The military-industrial complex is today so confident of its skills in gaming the system that it does not hesitate to publicize how many workers in a particular district will lose their jobs if a particular project is cancelled. Threats are also made -- and put into effect -- to withhold political contributions from uncooperative congressional representatives.


As Spinney recalls, "In July 1989, when some members of Congress began to build a coalition aimed at canceling the B-2, Northrop Corporation, the B-2's prime contractor, retaliated by releasing data which had previously been classified showing that tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in profits were at risk in 46 states and 383 congressional districts." The B-2 was not cancelled.


Southern California's biggest private employers are Boeing Corporation and Northrop-Grumman. They are said to employ more than 58,000 workers in well-paying jobs, a major political obstacle to rationalizing defense expenditures even as recession is making such steps all but unavoidable.

Both front-loading and political engineering are alive and well in 2009. They are, in fact, now at the center of fierce controversies surrounding the extreme age of the present fleet of Air Force fighter aircraft, most of which date from the 1980s. Meanwhile the costs of the two most likely successors to the workhorse F-16 -- the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- have run up so high that the government cannot afford to purchase significant numbers of either of them.


The F-16 made its first flight in December 1976, and a total of 4,400 have been built. They have been sold, or given away, all over the world. Planning for the F-22 began in 1986, when the Cold War was still alive (even if on life support), and the Air Force was trumpeting its fears that the other superpower, the USSR, was planning a new, ultra-fast, highly maneuverable fighter.


By the time the prototype F-22 had its roll-out on May 11, 1997, the Cold War was nearly a decade in its grave, and it was perfectly apparent that the Soviet aircraft it was intended to match would never be built. Lockheed Martin, the F-22's prime contractor, naturally argued that we needed it anyway and made plans to sell some 438 airplanes for a total tab of $70 billion. By mid-2008, only 183 F-22s were on order, 122 of which had been delivered. The numbers had been reduced due to cost overruns. The Air Force still wants to buy an additional 198 planes, but Secretary Gates and his leading assistants have balked. No wonder. According to arms experts Bill Hartung and Christopher Preble, at more than $350 million each, the F-22 is "the most expensive fighter plane ever built."


The F-22 has several strikingly expensive characteristics which actually limit its usefulness. It is allegedly a stealth fighter -- that is, an airplane with a shape that reduces its visibility on radar -- but there is no such thing as an airplane completely invisible to all radar. In any case, once it turns on its own fire-control radar, which it must do in combat, it becomes fully visible to an enemy.


The F-22 is able to maneuver at very high altitudes, but this is of limited value since there are no other airplanes in service anywhere that can engage in combat at such heights. It can cruise at twice the speed of sound in level flight without the use of its afterburners (which consume fuel at an accelerated rate), but there are no potential adversaries for which these capabilities are relevant. The plane is obviously blindingly irrelevant to "fourth-generation wars" like that with the Taliban in Afghanistan -- the sorts of conflicts for which American strategists inside the Pentagon and out believe the United States should be preparing.


Actually, the U.S. ought not to be engaged in fourth-generation wars at all, whatever planes are in its fleet. Outside powers normally find such wars unwinnable, as the history of Afghanistan, that "graveyard of empires" going back to Alexander the Great, illustrates so well. Unfortunately, President Obama's approach to the Bush administration's Afghan War remains deeply flawed and will only entrap us in another quagmire, whatever planes we put in the skies over that country.


Nonetheless, the F-22 is still being promoted as the plane to buy almost entirely through front-loading and political engineering. Some apologists for the Air Force also claim that we need the F-22 to face the F-16. Their argument goes this way: We have sold so many F-16s to allies and Third World customers that, if we ever had to fight one of them, that country might prevail using our own equipment against us. Some foreign air forces like Israel's are fully equipped with F-16s and their pilots actually receive more training and monthly practice hours than ours do.


This, however, seems a trivial reason for funding more F-22s. We should instead simply not get involved in wars with former allies we have armed, although this is why Congress prohibited Lockheed from selling the F-22 abroad. Some Pentagon critics contend that the Air Force and prime contractors lobby for arms sales abroad because they artificially generate a demand for new weapons at home that are "better" than the ones we've sold elsewhere.


Thanks to political engineering, the F-22 has parts suppliers in 44 states, and some 25,000 people have well-paying jobs building it. Lockheed Martin and some in the Defense Department have therefore proposed that, if the F-22 is cancelled, it should be replaced by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, also built by Lockheed Martin.


Most serious observers believe that this would only make a bad situation worse. So far the F-35 shows every sign of being, in Chuck Spinney's words, "a far more costly and more troubled turkey" than the F-22, "even though it has a distinction that even the F-22 cannot claim, namely it is tailored to meet the same threat that… ceased to exist at least three years before the F-35 R&D [research and development] program began in 1994."


The F-35 is considerably more complex than the F-22, meaning that it will undoubtedly be even more expensive to repair and will break down even more easily. Its cost per plane is guaranteed to continue to spiral upwards. The design of the F-22 involves 4 million lines of computer code; the F-35, 19 million lines. The Pentagon sold the F-35 to Congress in 1998 with the promise of a unit cost of $184 million per aircraft. By 2008, that had risen to $355 million per aircraft and the plane was already two years behind schedule.


According to Pierre M. Sprey, one of the original sponsors of the F-16, and Winslow T. Wheeler, a 31-year veteran staff official on Senate defense committees, the F-35 is overweight, underpowered, and "less maneuverable than the appallingly vulnerable F-105 'lead sled' that got wiped out over North Vietnam in the Indochina War." Its makers claim that it will be a bomber as well as a fighter, but it will have a payload of only two 2,000-pound bombs, far less than American fighters of the Vietnam era. Although the Air Force praises its stealth features, it will lose these as soon as it mounts bombs under its wings, which will alter its shape most un-stealthily.


It is a non-starter for close-air-support missions because it is too fast for a pilot to be able to spot tactical targets. It is too delicate and potentially flammable to be able to withstand ground fire. If built, it will end up as the most expensive defense contract in history without offering a serious replacement for any of the fighters or fighter-bombers currently in service.


The Fighter Mafia

Every branch of the American armed forces suffers from similar "defense power games." For example, the new Virginia-class fast-attack submarines are expensive and not needed. As the New York Times wrote editorially, "The program is little more than a public works project to keep the Newport News, Va., and Groton, Conn., naval shipyards in business."


I have, however, concentrated on the Air Force because the collapse of internal controls over acquisitions is most obvious, as well as farthest advanced, there -- and because the Air Force has a history of conflict over going along with politically easy decisions that was recently hailed by Secretary of Defense Gates as deserving of emulation by the other services. The pointed attack Gates launched on bureaucratism was, paradoxically, one of the few optimistic developments in Pentagon politics in recent times.


On April 21, 2008, the Secretary of Defense caused a storm of controversy by giving a speech to the officers of the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. In it, he singled out for praise and emulation an Air Force officer who had inspired many of that service's innovators over the past couple of generations, while being truly despised by an establishment and an old guard who viewed him as an open threat to careerism.


Colonel John Boyd (1927-1997) was a significant military strategist, an exceptionally talented fighter pilot in both the Korean and Vietnamese war eras, and for six years the chief instructor at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. "Forty-Second Boyd" became a legend in the Air Force because of his standing claim that he could defeat any pilot, foreign or domestic, in simulated air-to-air combat within 40 seconds, a bet he never lost even though he was continuously challenged.


Last April, Gates said, in part:


"As this new era continues to unfold before us, the challenge I pose to you today is to become a forward-thinking officer who helps the Air Force adapt to a constantly changing strategic environment characterized by persistent conflict.


"Let me illustrate by using a historical exemplar: the late Air Force Colonel John Boyd. As a 30-year-old captain, he rewrote the manual for air-to-air combat. Boyd and the reformers he inspired would later go on to design and advocate for the F-16 and the A-10. After retiring, he would develop the principals of maneuver warfare that were credited by a former Marine Corps Commandant [General Charles C. Krulak] and a Secretary of Defense [Dick Cheney] for the lightning victory of the first Gulf War….


"In accomplishing all these things, Boyd -- a brilliant, eccentric, and stubborn character -- had to overcome a large measure of bureaucratic resistance and institutional hostility. He had some advice that he used to pass on to his colleagues and subordinates that is worth sharing with you. Boyd would say, and I quote: 'One day you will take a fork in the road, and you're going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.


If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go the other way and you can do something -- something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors.


But you won't have to compromise yourself. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That's when you have to make a decision. To be or to do'… We must heed John Boyd's advice by asking if the ways we do business make sense."


Boyd's many accomplishments are documented in Robert Coram's excellent biography, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. They need not be retold here. It was, however, the spirit of Boyd and "the reformers he inspired," a group within Air Force headquarters who came to be called the "Fighter Mafia," that launched the defense reform movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Their objectives were to stop the acquisition of unnecessarily complex and expensive weapons, cause the Air Force to take seriously the idea of a fourth generation of warfare, end its reliance on a strategy of attrition, and expose to criticism an officer's corps focused on careerist standards.


Unless Secretary Gates succeeds in reviving it, their lingering influence in the Pentagon is just about exhausted today. We await the leadership of the Obama administration to see which way the Air Force and the rest of the American defense establishment evolves.


Despite Gates's praise of Boyd, one should not underestimate the formidable obstacles to Pentagon reform. Over a quarter-century ago, back in 1982, journalist James Fallows outlined the most serious structural obstacle to any genuine reform in his National Book Award-winning study, National Defense. The book was so influential that at least one commentator includes Fallows as a non-Pentagon member of Boyd's "Fighter Mafia."


As Fallows then observed (pp. 64-65):


"The culture of procurement teaches officers that there are two paths to personal survival. One is to bring home the bacon for the service as the manager of a program that gets its full funding. 'Procurement management is more and more the surest path to advancement' within the military, says John Morse, who retired as a Navy captain after twenty-eight years in the service….


"The other path that procurement opens leads outside the military, toward the contracting firms. To know even a handful of professional soldiers above the age of forty and the rank of major is to keep hearing, in the usual catalogue of life changes, that many have resigned from the service and gone to the contractors: to Martin Marietta, Northrop, Lockheed, to the scores of consulting firms and middlemen, whose offices fill the skyscrapers of Rosslyn, Virginia, across the river from the capital. In 1959, Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois reported that 768 retired senior officers (generals, admirals, colonels, and Navy captains) worked for defense contractors. Ten years later Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin said that the number had increased to 2,072."


Almost 30 years after those words were written, the situation has grown far worse. Until we decide (or are forced) to dismantle our empire, sell off most of our 761 military bases (according to official statistics for fiscal year 2008) in other people's countries, and bring our military expenditures into line with those of the rest of the world, we are destined to go bankrupt in the name of national defense. As of this moment, we are well on our way, which is why the Obama administration will face such critical -- and difficult -- decisions when it comes to the Pentagon budget.


Chalmers Johnson is the author of three linked books on the crises of American imperialism and militarism. They are Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). All are available in paperback from Metropolitan Books. To listen to a TomDispatch audio interview with Johnson on the Pentagon's potential economic death spiral, click here.


The Whole World Is Rioting as the Economic Crisis Worsens -- Why Aren't We?


Americans are rightfully angry about the economic decline, but with a few small exceptions, quietly so. Why? It depends on whom you ask.


Explosive anger is spilling out onto the streets of Europe. The meltdown of the global economy is igniting massive social unrest in a region that has long been a symbol of political stability and social cohesion. 


It's not a new trend: A wave of upheaval is spreading from the poorer countries on the periphery of the global economy to the prosperous core.


Over the past few years, a series of riots spread across what is patronizingly known as the Third World. Furious mobs have raged against skyrocketing food and energy prices, stagnating wages and unemployment in India, Senegal, Yemen, Indonesia, Morocco, Cameroon, Brazil, Panama, the Philippines, Egypt, Mexico and elsewhere.  


For the most part, those living in wealthier countries took little notice. But now, with the global economy crashing down around us, people in even the wealthiest nations are mad as hell and reacting violently to what they view as an inadequate response to their tumbling economies.


The Telegraph (UK) warned last month that protests over governments' handling of the crisis "are widespread and gathering pace," and "may spark a new revolution": 


A depression triggered in America is being played out in Europe with increasing violence, and other forms of social unrest are spreading. In Iceland, a government has fallen. Workers have marched in Zaragoza, as Spanish unemployment heads towards 20 percent. There have been riots and bloodshed in Greece, protests in Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and Bulgaria. The police have suppressed public discontent in Russia and will be challenged again at large gatherings this weekend.  


Consider a snapshot of a single week of unrest, courtesy of the Guardian:


    • Greece: "There are many wellsprings of the serial protests rolling across Europe. In Athens, it was students and young people who suddenly mobilized to turn parts of the city into no-go areas. They were sick of the lack of jobs and prospects, the failings of the education system and seized with pessimism over their future.


"This week it was the farmers' turn, rolling their tractors out to block the motorways, main road and border crossings across the Balkans to try to obtain better procurement prices for their produce." 


    • Latvia: "The old Baltic trading city had seen nothing like it since the happy days of kicking out the Russians and overthrowing communism two decades ago. More than 10,000 people converged on the 13th century cathedral to show the Latvian government what they thought of its efforts at containing the economic crisis. The peaceful protest morphed into a late-night rampage as a minority headed for the parliament, battled with riot police and trashed parts of the old city. The following day, there were similar scenes in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital next door."


    • France: "Burned-out cars, masked youths, smashed shop windows and more than a million striking workers. The scenes from France are familiar, but not so familiar to President Nicolas Sarkozy, confronting the first big wave of industrial unrest of his time in the Elysée Palace.


"France, meanwhile, is moving into recession, and unemployment is going up. The latest jobless figures were to have been released yesterday, but were held back, apparently for fear of inflaming the protests." 


  • Iceland: "Proud of its status as one of the world's most developed, most productive and most equal societies, Iceland is in the throes of what is, by its staid standards, a revolution.


"Riot police in Reykjavik, the coolest of capitals. Building bonfires in front of the world's oldest parliament. The yogurt flying at the free market men who have run the country for decades and brought it to its knees." 


  • Britain (via the Times of London): "Wildcat strikes flared at more than 19 sites across the country in response to claims that British tradesmen were being barred from construction jobs by contractors using cheaper foreign workers." 


  • Russia (via Al-Jazeera): "Thousands of protesters have rallied across Russia to criticize the government's economic policies and its response to the global financial crisis.


"Russian police forcefully broke up many of the anti-government protests on Saturday, arresting dozens of demonstrators." 


At least in Western Europe, cries of "burn the shit down!" are being heard in countries with some of the highest standards of living in the world -- states with adequate social safety nets; countries where all citizens have access to decent health care and heavily subsidized educations. Places where minimum wages are also living wages, and a dignified retirement is in large part guaranteed.  


The far ends of the ideological spectrum appear to be gaining currency as the crisis develops, and people grow increasingly hostile toward the politics of the status quo.


The Financial Times quotes Olivier Besancenot, a young leader of "France's extreme left," promising "to reinvent and re-establish the anti-capitalist project." "We want the established powers to be blown apart," Besancenot said. Europe's far right is gaining momentum, too, using the economy and populist outrage over immigration to gain a legitimacy it hasn't enjoyed in some time. 


Notably absent from the list of countries where the economic crunch is rending the social fabric is the good ole US of A, a state with the greatest level of economic inequality in the wealthy world.


Outside of a few scattered and quickly contained protests, the citizens of the U.S. -- a country born of revolution, but with an elite that's been terrified of that legacy since immediately after its founding -- have been calm, despite opinion polls showing that Americans are more dissatisfied with the direction in which the country has been headed since they began measuring such things.  


It's a baffling disconnect, considering that real wages for all but the top 10 percent of the economic pile haven't increased in 35 years.


It's more bizarre still when you consider that while European governments have handled their own bailouts relatively transparently, the U.S. government has doled out close to $10 trillion in bailouts, loan guarantees and fiscal stimulus -- if there were a million-dollar bill, that would be a stack of 10 million of them -- with a stunning lack of oversight or accountability.


Even the congressional commission charged with overseeing key parts of the banking bailout can't get answers to basic questions like "who's getting what?"


Americans are rightfully angry about that state of affairs, but with a few small exceptions, quietly so. Why? It depends on whom you ask. 


In a 2006 interview with Harper'sBarack Obama shared a subtle, but rather fundamental observation about America's political culture: "Since the founding," he said, "the American political tradition has been reformist, not revolutionary."  If there is to be positive change, Obama has argued, it must be gradual; "brick by brick," as he put it in one of his final campaign speeches.


Mark Ames, author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond, argues that Americans have been beaten down to a degree that they're now a pacified population, largely willing to accept any economic outrage its elites impose on them.


In a 2005 interview with AlterNet, Ames said the "slave mentality" is stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere, "in part because no other country on earth has so successfully crushed every internal rebellion."  


Slaves in the Caribbean for example rebelled a lot more because their oppressors weren't as good at oppressing as Americans were. America has put down every rebellion, brutally, from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Confederate rebellion to the proletarian rebellions, Black Panthers, white militias ... you name it. This creates a powerful slave mentality, a sense that it's pointless to rebel. 


Anyone who has witnessed the brutal police riots that have become so common since the infamous "Battle in Seattle" protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999 can tell you there's some merit to the argument. 


It's also the case that European societies tend to be more homogenous than the mishmash of tribes we call the United States. Whereas Americans are divided by religion, region, ethnicity, urban-rural tensions and all the other trappings of the "culture wars," the primary split in most European countries isclass.


Thomas Frank argued eloquently in What's the Matter With Kansas that those wedge social issues that the American right nurtures with such care obscure the fundamental differences between the rich and poor, the powerful and the disenfranchised.


Indeed, any hint of discussion of economic inequality in the U.S. is shot down with cries of "class warfare" -- exactly what is playing out in the streets of much of the world today. 


As the crisis deepens, as virtually every analyst predicts it will, that may well change. As The Nation's Bill Greider told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "you can't do this to people year after year -- that is, upturn their lives, take away what they thought they had earned, and so forth and so on, without provoking rather intense political reactions. ... We're just, just beginning to see a few bubbles like that around this country. I don't say we're going to have riots, but I think ... people, out of their own distress and anger, will organize their own politics, and they will make themselves seen and heard around this country."


Stay tuned.


(Joe Rothstein's Commentary)">The Election of Michael Steele As Chairman Confirms That The Republican Party's Southern Strategy Is Dead (Joe Rothstein's Commentary)


A lot more happened at Friday's winter meeting of the Republican National Committee than the election of a new chairman. In fact, to understand the significance of the RNC's action you have to go back 44 years.

In 1964 the Congress outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places and employment. The bill passed despite the determined opposition of the senators from the South, all of whom at the time happened to be Democrats.

Behind the scenes, that master of legislative strategy, Lyndon Johnson, then president, helped guide the bill around rigid legislative barriers. Despite the justice of the action, Johnson had no doubt about the long term political aftershocks. “The Democrats have just lost the South for a generation,” LBJ told an aide.

Up until then, the South had been a reliable wellspring of Democratic votes in presidential elections. Even John F. Kennedy, Jr., a Massachusetts liberal and a Catholic in a land of Baptists, carried North and South Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas over Nixon in 1960.

But the civil rights bill of 1964, followed by the voting rights bill of 1965 changed all of that. While these bills passed with the votes of many Republicans, it was the Democrats who stirred southern outrage. And Republicans took advantage of it with a conscious electoral strategy of race-based politics. Nixon admitted as much in a 1970 interview with the
New York Times:

“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”

In other words, the more that southern blacks registered to vote and exercise their new rights, the more southern white Republicans there would be. As a winning political strategy, Nixon nailed it.

Without a fairly solid Republican South, Nixon, Reagan, nor George W. Bush could have been elected president. The “southern strategy” has been at the heart of Republican national politics since LBJ forecast it back in 1964.

Now, on Friday, the Republicans elected a black man to head their party. To be sure, Michael Steele is a conservative. But he's outspokenly opposed to limiting membership in the Republican club to true conservative believers like himself, or to keep the "whites only" profile associated with the Republican brand.

Steele, in fact, has been a member of an organization created in 2007 by moderate Republicans Christine Todd Whitman and John Danforth to combat the dominance of the right wing of the Republican party. And in his acceptance speech Steele made it clear that he intends to reverse the Southern-centric attitude of his party and go hard for
 votes in the North and East and West and among blacks and other minorities.

On Fox News Sunday he told Chris Wallace, “My partnership with Christy Todd Whitman was an effort to hopefully build a bridge between moderates and conservatives in the party....the reality of it is the party has to recognize the diversity of opinion that's out there.”

As the Republicans have moved further to the right they've left a lot of diversity behind. But Steele's election as chairman indicates that the party's leaders know they can no longer win elections by circling the ideological wagons.

Steele won by narrowly defeating a highly regarded state party chairman from South Carolina, and by crushing the party's incumbent chairman, Mike Duncan from Kentucky. He overcame an intense campaign by a far more conservative black candidate, Ken Blackwell of Ohio, who had the support of a number of key right wing leaders, including James Dobson and Pat Toomey.

And, remember Chip Saltsman, that candidate for RNC chairman who circulated the “Barack, the Magic Negro,” song with his campaign materials? In another year, that might have proven to be a clever gambit. This year the backlash was so strong he was forced out of the race before a single vote was taken.

The party's southern strategy didn't die with the election of Michael Steele. It really died with the election of Barack Obama. But Steele's election loosens the grip of racial politics on the Republican party. The rejection of more ideological and candidates for chairman floats the RNC boat into new waters, away from its hardest right moorings.

Looking around the room after that vote I got the distinct impression that many party leaders were not anxious to leave their familiar safe harbor. They did this only by a narrow majority, and reluctantly. The alternative, it seemed to many I spoke with, was to have the ship continue to sink. So they changed course into uncertain but more hopeful waters.

Joe Rothstein is a veteran national political strategist and media producer, former daily newspaper editor, and currently Washington bureau chief for EINNEWS.com and editor of USPoliticstoday.com. He can be contacted at joe@ipdgroup.com.



Bankrolling charitable gifts |

by Silla Brush and Kevin Bogardus



Financial firms and other companies receiving billions of dollars in federal bailout money spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for meetings and charitable gifts on behalf of lawmakers.


In the last six months of 2008, as a financial crisis enveloped the country and lawmakers voted on a $700 billion financial rescue package, eight companies that would benefit from that package spent roughly $366,000 on events and charities connected to members of Congress, according to a review of congressional lobbying records.


Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage companies, spent more than $330,000 in the period, but since being taken over by their regulator in September have stopped donating money to politically affiliated charities.  

At one event in December, several of the biggest financial firms in the country sponsored a reception on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and dinner at the NYSE Club where Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was the keynote speaker.


Bank of America contributed $35,000 for the Dec. 18 event, which was organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, records show. Justin Nelson, the chamber’s president, said Citigroup contributed $17,500 and Goldman Sachs another $35,000, although records do not include those expenses. The three banks have received a combined $105 billion in bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Bank of America and Citigroup have required repeated bailouts from the government.


“We are proud to have sponsored the event again this past December. Our sponsorship was a matter of public record and we complied fully with the requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act,” said a Goldman Sachs spokesman.


“The bank supports a number of causes important to our clients and customers,” said Shirley Norton, Bank of America spokeswoman.


Other firms involved in the event did not return messages asking for comment. (More)


By Courting the Republicans, Obama Could Get the Worst of All Worlds


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Weekly Review | By Genevieve Smith



Two days after three candidates and two campaign workers were kidnapped and murdered, Iraqis voted in the first national elections since 2005, choosing between 14,000 candidates running for 440 provincial offices. Two men were shot and wounded at a polling place in Sadr City, and some voters were turned away when their names could not be found on voting rolls dating from food ration lists held over from Saddam Hussein's reign. 1 “This day is a victory for all Iraqis,” said an Iraqi general in Kirkuk. “I don't know whom to vote for,” said an inmate at Basra's Ma'qal prison, “but a sheikh wrote this number on my hand, and I will vote for this number.”2 3


The Republican National Committee elected its first black chairman, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, after six rounds of voting. “Obviously the winds of change are blowing,” said a rival candidate. “For those who wish to obstruct,” said Steele, “get ready to get knocked over.”4 One day before the 360th anniversary of the execution of Charles I, the Illinois State Senate voted 59 to zero to impeach Governor Rod Blagojevich. “I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, and Gandhi,” said Blagojevich prior to the impeachment, “and tried to put some perspective to all this, and that is what I am doing now.” Lieutenant Governor Patrick J. Quinn succeeded Blagojevich as governor of Illinois. “You want to know my philosophy?” said Quinn. “One day a peacock. The next day a feather duster.”5 6 7 8


A report found that shoddy electrical work by former Halliburton subsidiary KBR led to the electrocution and death of at least one soldier,9 and the State Department decided not to renew Blackwater's contract in Iraq after the Iraqi government refused the security firm, whose employees shot 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007, a license to operate. “It would not be a mortal blow,” said company founder Erik Prince of his firm's imminent dismissal. “But it would hurt us.”10 The Israel Defense Forces deployed eight antelope to eat vegetation that might be hiding Hezbollah guerrillas,11 and army worms stormed villages across Liberia. 12 A New Zealand man named Chris Ogle bought a used MP3 player from a thrift shop in Oklahoma that contained U.S. Army files, including mission details and the personal information of soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. “The more I look at it,” said Ogle, “the more I see.” 13


In cities across Russia, anti-government protesters rallied, chanting such slogans as “The crisis is in the heads of the authorities, not in the economy.”14 ExxonMobil reported $45 billion in earnings in 2008, the largest annual profit in U.S. history;15 Wall Street was found to have distributed $18.4 billion in bonuses, its sixth largest payout ever;16 and international leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the economic crisis. “Let's be careful,” said Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley, “that we don't let this blame game get out of hand.”17 The International Monetary Fund predicted that world economic growth in 2009 would be the worst since World War II. “We now expect the global economy to come to a virtual halt,” said the IMF's chief economist. 18 The U.S. Postal Service considered cutting back deliveries to five days a week,19 and the Navy announced that President Barack Obama's new presidential helicopter was $5.1 billion over budget.20 A disgruntled former Fannie Mae computer engineer was indicted for allegedly attempting to plant a “logic bomb” in the corporation's computer code,21 and Coca-Cola announced plans to remove the word “classic” from its packaging. 22


Thirty-four years after first reporting on the medical condition termed “cello scrotum,” an irritation caused by playing the cello, the British Medical Journal was forced to acknowledge that the ailment does not exist. “Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realize the physical impossibility of our claim,” said Baroness Elaine Murphy, who, with her husband, created the hoax. 23 John Updike died,24 and just after the Arizona Cardinals scored their last touchdown of Superbowl XLIII (which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers), a cable channel in Tuscon, Arizona, interrupted the broadcast with pornography. “I just figured it was another commercial until I looked up,” said one viewer. “Then he did his little dance with everything hanging out.”25


A Wisconsin judge ruled that cheerleading is a contact sport. 26 Weusi McGowan, who was standing trial for robbery in a San Diego court, smeared his feces on the face of his lawyer and threw the rest at the jury box, where it hit the briefcase of juror No. 9. “That juror didn't even see it coming,” said the prosecutor. 27 A homeless Louisiana man, who robbed a bank of $100 and then voluntarily turned himself in the next day and apologized, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.28


A man in Somerset, England, spent two days trapped beneath his sofa, subsisting on whiskey from a bottle that had rolled within reach. “I thought, Well this isn't too bad,” he said.29 A 93-year-old man in Michigan died of hypothermia after Bay City Electric Light & Power restricted service to his home as a result of unpaid bills,30 and in an elevator shaft in an abandoned building in Detroit a man was found frozen in a block of ice, with only his feet sticking out. “Yeah,” said one homeless man squatting nearby, “he's been down there since last month at least.” The fire department eventually arrived with a chainsaw, and another homeless man, when asked if he knew the deceased, said, “I don't recognize him from his shoes.”31



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