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Search Begins for New 'Air Force One'

Sunday, January 11, 2009

By David Axe
Danger Room @

And you thought the U.S. Air Force's $40-billion tanker program got nasty.

After a couple years of speculation, yesterday the air branch officially announced its search for a new high-tech jumbo jet to haul around the President and his peeps. And like the bitter, now-canceled tanker contest, AF1 2.0 will pit a Boeing product (a new 747) against a plane from a European firm (the Airbus A380).

The three VC-25 jets currently in use for the Presidential role entered service beginning in 1990, with a planned 30-year service life. The three new Air Force One planes must enter service starting in 2017, according to the government solicitation.
The [Presidential Aircraft Replacement] aircraft will provide the President of the United States, staff, and guests with safe and reliable air transportation with the appropriate level of security and communications capability. Mission communications must provide secure, interoperable command, control, and communications, using net-centric architectures.
The new jet probably will not feature an escape pod, a rear ramp for parachutists or Harrison Ford, as featured in the awesomely bad 1997 action flick Air Force One.

When Boeing squared off against Euro company EADS over tankers, Congress critters favoring the American jet were quick to use the "Buy American" card, citing the tens of thousands of jobs at stake and the perceived need to keep tanker production lines within U.S. borders. You can bet your sweet bippy the Air Force One competition will be even more politically charged.

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Army Sends 'Dear John Doe' Letters to Families of Fallen Troops

By Ann Scott Tyson
The Washington Post

The Army mistakenly sent letters addressed "Dear John Doe" to 7,000 family members of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, unleashing calls from troubled relatives and prompting a formal apology yesterday from the Army's top general.

"The indication that anyone would perceive that a hero is not significant, that they would not direct this personally to them, is shattering," said Merrilee Carlson, whose son, Sgt. Michael Carlson, died in Baqubah, Iraq, on Jan. 24, 2005. "While it's a simple mistake, it's a very tragic mistake," said Carlson, who learned of the letter from other families and expected to receive one yesterday.

The letters, mailed late last month by the Army's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center in Alexandria, contained information about private organizations that assist families of the fallen. But in what the Army called a printing error by a contractor, the letters did not contain specific names and addresses; instead, they had the placeholder greeting "Dear John Doe."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. is sending a personal apology letter to the 7,000 family members, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said yesterday. "Obviously, this is insensitive, and we wanted to apologize," said Boyce, adding that the Army became aware of what he called the "glitch" when several families began contacting the service in recent days....(Click for remainder).


A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery

By Steven Erlanger
The New York Times

JERUSALEM — The grinding urban battle unfolding in the densely populated Gaza Strip is a war of new tactics, quick adaptation and lethal tricks.

Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.

Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire.

In one apartment building in Zeitoun, in northern Gaza, Hamas set an inventive, deadly trap. According to an Israeli journalist embedded with Israeli troops, the militants placed a mannequin in a hallway off the building’s main entrance. They hoped to draw fire from Israeli soldiers who might, through the blur of night vision goggles and split-second decisions, mistake the figure for a fighter. The mannequin was rigged to explode and bring down the building....(Click for remainder).


Prince mocks gays and Asians in secret video

St James's Palace has issued an apology for Harry's behaviour. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/PA

'Paki' jibe set to infuriate army chiefs aiming to recruit Muslims into forces

By Amelia Hill
The Observer (UK)

A secret video showing Prince Harry making racist remarks and mocking his grandmother has been discovered.

The prince, who is third in line to the throne, made the comments in footage shot while training as an officer at the Sandhurst military academy in 2006, a year after being forced to make a public apology for wearing a Nazi swastika at a fancy dress party.

In the film, the 24-year-old prince calls an officer from the Pakistani army, who was on the course with him, "our little Paki friend" and, when he sees another officer cadet wearing a camouflage veil, exclaims: "Fuck me, you look like a raghead." He also mocks the Queen - the commander-in-chief of the British army - during a pretend mobile phone call.

Last night, St James's Palace issued an apology for Harry's behaviour in the film, obtained by the News of the World. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night: "This sort of language is not acceptable in a modern army."

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has demanded a formal inquiry into Harry's behaviour, and Muslim groups and leading MPs have warned the comments could increase tensions with Islamic groups in the UK.

The film will infuriate army chiefs, who are actively trying to recruit Muslims as intelligence officers and translators for the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Staff officers have insisted the Army's policy must be "zero tolerance to all forms of discrimination". But the casual use of racist terms by Harry, who was promoted to lieutenant last year, appears to add weight to recent claims by a Jamaican-born soldier that he faced regular racist abuse from non-commissioned and senior officers....(Click for remainder).


Daschle Lays Out a Plan to Overhaul Health Care

Photo by Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times
Former Senator Tom Daschle spoke before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Thursday in Washington.

By Robert Pear
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Tom Daschle formally began the incoming administration’s arduous quest to overhaul the nation’s health care system on Thursday, telling former Senate colleagues that the task had become more urgent because many people were losing health insurance, along with their jobs, in the recession.

Members of both parties offered a friendly welcome to Mr. Daschle, the man chosen by President-elect Barack Obama to be secretary of health and human services, in charge of a department with 65,000 employees and a budget of more than $700 billion a year.

The hearing was the first of many to be held for members of the team being assembled by Mr. Obama. The questions and answers touched only briefly on the economic and fiscal crisis that will test the new administration.

Mr. Daschle spoke with passion about the hardship he had witnessed among people without insurance, who he said faced “total economic destruction” if they became ill. “The stories of personal bankruptcy are the ones that come back to me so frequently,” he said.

He predicted that “as we face a harsh and deep recession, the problem of the uninsured is likely to grow.” Mr. Obama has promised to offer affordable coverage to the more than 45 million people who are uninsured....(Click for remainder).


Minnisotans Want Coleman to Concede

By Eric Kleefeld
TMP Election Central

When Norm Coleman announced on Tuesday that he was contesting the Minnesota election result, he said he was doing it to ensure that the will of the people was followed. But a new SurveyUSA poll shows just the opposite: Minnesotans want this thing to end.

The numbers: 49% disagree with Coleman's decision to contest the election, compared to 42% who agree. There also is no great constituency for the Coleman campaign's claim that the recount was slanted against them, with 56% saying it was fair to both candidates and only 31% saying it was unfair to Coleman. When the question is phrased as to what to do next, 44% say Coleman should concede, 31% want to hold a new election, and eight percent want to have another recount.

The poll also shows that the election dispute, plus all the mud-slinging during the campaign itself, have sent both candidates' personal ratings down the drain: Coleman is at only 38% favorable to 44% unfavorable, while Franken has a statistically similar 37%-45%.

Oddly enough, the Coleman campaign told the ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities that this poll only reinforces their decision to contest the election.

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Dick Loves Torture

By Joe Klein
Swampland @

Here's what he said to AP yesterday:
Q You think that waterboarding, for example, was warranted in the three cases that it was used. Do you have any qualms about the reliability of that -- of the information that comes out of a technique like that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don't. I think your question is -- I think that it's been used very -- with great discrimination by people who know what they're doing and has produced a lot of valuable information and intelligence.

Q Okay. Is there any real contemplation being given to preemptively pardon any of the interrogators, or is that just something that's just been in blogs?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think you see a lot of it on blogs, but I don't -- I don't have any reason to believe that anybody in the agency did anything illegal.

Q So the administration is not really -- has not really been contemplating that or working on that idea? I mean, maybe they thought about it but --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can't -- you know, I can't speak for everybody in the administration, but my view would be that the people who carried out that program -- intelligence surveillance program, the enhanced interrogation program, with respect to al Qaeda captives -- in fact were authorized to do what they did, and we had the legal opinions that -- and in effect said what was appropriate and what wasn't. And I believe they followed those legal opinions and I don't have any reason to believe that they did anything wrong or inappropriate.
Would have been nice if the AP reporter had asked something like, "Do you think you're guilty of war crimes?" And, as a follow-up, "Are you worried about traveling in Europe after January 20, given that many people there--including judicial officials--believe you are guilty of war crimes and may want to indict you?"...(Click for remainder)


A Return to Professionalism

What Obama's Pentagon hires say about his presidential style.

By Fred Kaplan

President-elect Barack Obama named the Pentagon's deputy secretaries and undersecretaries today, and, like many of his other appointments, they signal a return to professionalism. It's not a revolution—except that, after the last eight years, restoration is revolutionary.

The nominee for deputy secretary of defense—whose job is to manage the Pentagon, not create policy—is William J. Lynn III, who, during Bill Clinton's presidency, served as the Defense Department's comptroller and director of its office of program analysis and evaluation.

The undersecretary for policy is Michèle Flournoy, who is now president of the Center for a New American Security—Washington's most creative military think tank—and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy in the Clinton era.

The new comptroller is Robert Hale, currently executive director of the American Society of Military Comptrollers and a former comptroller of the Air Force, again under Clinton.

In other words, Obama proposes to have an experienced manager managing the Pentagon, an experienced policy wonk running policy, and a comptroller among comptrollers keeping track of the budget....(Click for remainder).


UN: IDF officers admitted there was no gunfire from Gaza school which was shelled

By Barak Ravid and Akiva Eldar

The United Nations is claiming Israeli military officers have admitted there was no Palestinian gunfire emanating from inside an UNRWA school in Gaza which was shelled by an IDF tank.

Dozens of Palestinians were killed in the shelling.

In addition, UNRWA Thursday announced it will cease activities in the Strip due to the death of an UNRWA staffer in an IDF shelling during Thursday morning's humanitarian hiatus.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Haaretz yesterday that the army had conceded wrongdoing.

"In briefings senior [Israel Defense Forces] officers conducted for foreign diplomats, they admitted the shelling to which IDF forces in Jabalya were responding did not originate from the school," Gunness said. "The IDF admitted in that briefing that the attack on the UN site was unintentional."

He noted that all the footage released by the IDF of militants firing from inside the school was from 2007 and not from the incident itself.

"There are no up-to-date photos," Gunness said. "In 2007, we abandoned the site and only then did the militants take it over."...(Click for remainder).


Ukraine signs gas transit deal

By Al Jazeera English

Ukraine has signed an accord to allow the resumption of Russian gas supplies to Europe, Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian prime minister, has said.

"We signed the protocol today," Tymoshenko said after talks with Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Sunday.

Topolanek said: "Ukraine has approved and accepted all conditions enabling Russia to supply gas.

"Nothing prevents the deployment of monitoring teams and renewal of gas transit," he added.

Martin Riman, the Czech industry and trade minister, said Russian gas supplies to Europe can resume from Sunday.

"Gas supplies can resume Sunday if everyone works at 100 per cent," Riman said after the Topolanek-Tymoshenko talks.

Earlier Russia and the European Union signed a similar deal that would allow EU, Ukrainian and Russian observers to monitor gas supplies flowing through Ukraine.

"As soon as the control mechanism comes into effect, we will open the gas system," Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minster, said.

"But we will watch how much gas goes into Ukrainian territory and how much comes out.

"If we see theft and any part of the gas is lost, we will again cut delivery by that amount."

Moscow cut off gas shipments that flowed through Ukraine more than a week ago after accusing Kiev of siphoning off supplies for its own use....(Click for remainder).


"First Grandma" to Live in White House


The Obama transition team ended weeks of speculation today and announced that Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama's mother, will leave her Chicago home and move with the family into the White House, at least temporarily. Robinson will continue the role she filled during the presidential campaign, when she routinely stayed with her granddaughters — Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7 — in the Obama home in the Hyde Park section of Chicago while the girls' parents traveled on the campaign trail.

"Mrs. Robinson will be coming with the family to help the girls get acclimated," Deputy Communications Director for Michelle Obama Semonti Mustaphi told this afternoon. "She will determine in the coming months whether or not she wants to stay in D.C. permanently."

Robinson, 71, will become the first Presidential in-law to live in the executive mansion since Elvira "Minnie" Doud, Mamie Eisenhower's mother. Doud "wintered" in the White house from 1953 to 1960, but Eisenhower's children were grown at the time.

An "unsung hero"

In an interview on 60 Minutes soon after the general election, President-elect Obama called Robinson "one of the unsung heroes" of his campaign, and said, "We couldn't have done it without her." He meant that literally: Michelle Obama has said that if Robinson had not been available to step in and watch over the girls, Obama might never have launched his campaign. During the campaign, Robinson quit her job as an executive secretary at a bank to have more time for her grandchildren.

"We couldn't have done it without her," Obama said on the program. "'Cause she retired, looked after the girls, gave Michelle confidence that somebody was gonna be there when Michelle was on the road."...(Click for remainder).


Selling Off the American West

We've all seen those sitcoms or movies in which someone stumbles into an art auction and, not knowing how it works, idly scratches his nose or pulls his ear and finds himself the owner of a Rembrandt.

By Michael Winship
Consortium News

Better yet, there's one of my all-time favorite films, “North by Northwest.”

Surrounded at an auction by the bad guys, Cary Grant makes outrageous bids and yells insults until the police arrive and unknowingly haul him off to safety. (“How do we know it’s not a fake?” he shouts about one painting. “It looks like a fake!” A woman sitting in front of him turns and replies, “You’re no fake. You’re a genuine idiot.”)

The Friday before Christmas, a college student in Utah who‘s neither fake nor fool pulled a Cary Grant at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas leases for land between two of the most austerely beautiful national parks in the United States – Canyonlands and Arches.

Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old environmental activist and economics major at the University of Utah, was protesting the auction outside a government office building in Salt Lake City and decided to see what would happen if he went inside.

Instead of being immediately hustled out, he was asked by a clerk, “Are you here to bid?”

He showed his driver’s license and was given a paddle, no questions asked. Then, as his incredulous roommate looked on, DeChristopher started bidding.

“It was just raise my arm as often as possible, Bidder No. 70,” he told a reporter, “I was trying to make it obvious I was there to disrupt the auction.”...(Click for remainder).


Bush Torpedos Obama Vis-a-Vis Israel and Gaza

There are two articles here, and I wonder if they're related? It doesn't stretch the credulity too much to assume that they are.

Bush call halted US voting for ceasefire

By David Usborne
The Independent

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, was forced to step back from voting in favour of the Gaza ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council after orders from Washington, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

The US abstention on the resolution vote early yesterday, which clearly weakened its impact, was the final twist in a tumultuous three-day marathon of negotiations in New York.

When three of the world's top diplomats -- Ms Rice, David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner -- descended on New York on Tuesday to take action there was plenty of reason to believe that their efforts would end in tears. Most alarming was the prospect of a vote on a ceasefire text tabled by Libya. The US was threatening to veto it.

But by Thursday morning, the US had had a surprising change of heart. It could back a resolution, if the British drafted one, which Mr Miliband and his diplomatic crew duly did.

When finally every last hurdle was cleared and the members of the Security Council were headed to their chamber for the vote, there was a mood of celebration in the building....(Click for remainder).

Obama's hopes for early peace deal are shattered

By Tim Reid
The Independent

BARACK OBAMA refused yesterday to stake out his position on the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza but he and his team were in no doubt that the offensive had dealt a significant blow to his hopes of forging a Middle East peace deal early in his presidency.

Mr Obama held an eight-minute telephone conversation with Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, on Saturday and spent the weekend during his holiday in Hawaii talking with advisers about Gaza.

The growing violence presents Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton, his incoming Secretary of State, with their first and unexpected foreign policy crisis at a time when their in-tray is already groaning with the urgent geopolitical challenges of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Russia.

How Mr Obama reacts to it, and in particular how forcefully he defends Israel, also risks straining relations with Britain and his other European allies.

As he seeks to navigate the minefield of Middle Eastern politics, the president-elect -- like his predecessors -- will find his role complicated by the power of the pro-Israel lobby in America and a Europe more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Britain hardened its position towards Israel yesterday, calling for an "immediate halt to all violence" in Gaza. As airstrikes continued for a second day Gordon Brown telephoned Ehud Olmert, his Israeli counterpart, to urge Israel to respect its humanitarian obligations....(Click for remainder).


The Half Century Fraud of Rand's Atlas Shrugged

By David Neiwert
Crooks and Liars

Sometimes right-wingers' astonishing dearth of self-awareness is a real source of amusement. Take Stephen Moore's encomium to Ayn Rand in the Wall Street Journal:

Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read "Atlas Shrugged" a "virgin." Being conversant in Ayn Rand's classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. If only "Atlas" were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.

Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

At first I had to check to make sure this wasn't a lame attempt at satire or parody. But no. He really is serious about this.

Moore's solution? Eliminate the income tax.

Seriously, that's what a typical Randian thinks would work.

But what's especially amusing is that the economic wreckage we see before us today is in fact the handiwork of the Randian dimwits who've become endemic to conservative economics.

Exhibit A: Longtime Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was a Big Randian from back in the day.

Of course, Greenspan now admits this approach may not have worked out so well. Especially the bit about letting the true economic geniuses/captains of industry have their unfettered way. In fact, it all turned out to be a big fat fraud, didn't it?...(Click for remainder).


Obama Radio Address: Turning Around Unemployment

Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama
Radio Address
Saturday, January 10, 2008
Washington, DC

We start this new year in the midst of an economic crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime. We learned yesterday that in the past month alone, we lost more than half a million jobs – a total of nearly 2.6 million in the year 2008. Another 3.4 million Americans who want and need full-time work have had to settle for part-time jobs. And families across America are feeling the pinch as they watch debts mount, bills pile up and savings disappear.

These numbers are a stark reminder that we simply cannot continue on our current path. If nothing is done, economists from across the spectrum tell us that this recession could linger for years and the unemployment rate could reach double digits – and they warn that our nation could lose the competitive edge that has served as a foundation for our strength and standing in the world.

It’s not too late to change course – but only if we take immediate and dramatic action. Our first job is to put people back to work and get our economy working again. This is an extraordinary challenge, which is why I’ve taken the extraordinary step of working – even before I take office – with my economic team and leaders of both parties on an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will call for major investments to revive our economy, create jobs, and lay a solid foundation for future growth.

I asked my nominee for Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Dr. Christina Romer, and the Vice President-Elect’s Chief Economic Adviser, Dr. Jared Bernstein, to conduct a rigorous analysis of this plan and come up with projections of how many jobs it will create – and what kind of jobs they will be. Today, I am releasing a report of their findings so that the American people can see exactly what this plan will mean for their families, their communities, and our economy.

The report confirms that our plan will likely save or create three to four million jobs. 90 percent of these jobs will be created in the private sector – the remaining 10 percent are mainly public sector jobs we save, like the teachers, police officers, firefighters and others who provide vital services in our communities.

The jobs we create will be in businesses large and small across a wide range of industries. And they’ll be the kind of jobs that don’t just put people to work in the short term, but position our economy to lead the world in the long-term.

We’ll create nearly half a million jobs by investing in clean energy – by committing to double the production of alternative energy in the next three years, and by modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improving the energy efficiency of two million American homes. These made-in-America jobs building solar panels and wind turbines, developing fuel-efficient cars and new energy technologies pay well, and they can’t be outsourced.

We’ll create hundreds of thousands of jobs by improving health care – transitioning to a nationwide system of computerized medical records that won’t just save money, but save lives by preventing deadly medical errors. And we’ll create hundreds of thousands more jobs in education, equipping tens of thousands of schools with 21st century classrooms, labs and computers to help our kids compete with any worker in the world for any job.

We’ll put nearly 400,000 people to work by repairing our infrastructure – our crumbling roads, bridges and schools. And we’ll build the new infrastructure we need to succeed in this new century, investing in science and technology, and laying down miles of new broadband l

ines so that businesses across our nation can compete with their counterparts around the world.

Finally, we won’t just create jobs, we’ll also provide help for those who’ve lost theirs, and for states and families who’ve been hardest-hit by this recession. That means bi-partisan extensions of unemployment insurance and health care coverage; a $1,000 tax cut for 95 percent of working families; and assistance to help states avoid harmful budget cuts in essential services like police, fire, education and health care.

Now, given the magnitude of the challenges we face, none of this will come easy. Recovery won’t happen overnight, and it’s likely that things will get worse before they get better.

But we have come through moments like this before. We are the nation that has faced down war, depression and fear itself – each time, refusing to yield; each time, refusing to accept a lesser fate. That is the spirit that has always sustained us – that belief that our destiny is not written for us, but by us; that our success is not a matter of chance, but of our own courage and determination. Our resources may be finite, but our will is infinite. And I am confident that if we come together and summon that great American spirit once again, we will meet the challenges of our time and write the next great chapter in our American story.



Priming the Economic Pump

By Nicholas von Hoffman
The Nation

The nation's hopes--even the world's--are riding on it, but Barack Obama's stimulus plan is no sure shot. Nobody can say if it will work.

Some questions to ponder: What has to happen for us to say that the stimulus worked? Would it be a success if half the people who have lost their jobs secure some kind of employment? Would the benchmark be that one-quarter or one-third or half of the trillions in lost retirement savings were rescued? Would keeping in place two-thirds of those in danger of losing their homes be enough for us to say the stimulus has worked? Or should the standard be the Dow Jones Industrial Average clawing its way back to 10,000?

Except in the vaguest terms, no criterion has been laid down for what the stimulus is supposed to accomplish. Perhaps none can be.

Economists who a couple of years ago disagreed about almost everything have come together to buy into the central part of the Obama stimulus approach that is putting lots of government money into anybody's hands who will spend it and get business rolling again. Overnight, after decades of being ignored and discarded, the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and Alvin Hansen, the two major economists of the 1930s New Deal era, make sense again.

In the seventy years since the Depression loosened its grip on America, economists and historians have argued over whether or not Keynes-Hansen deficit spending, or pump-priming, as it was called, succeeded. The jury is still out on that one, but the Keynes-Hansen approach has been dusted off and even the stiffest opponents of deficit spending have abandoned the closely held principles of their professional lifetimes....(Click for remainder).



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