Archive for December, 2003

Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting

Monday, December 29th, 2003

By Lee Hockstader
Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Eagle, an expert on enemy targeting, served 20 years in the military — 10 years of active duty in the Air Force, another 10 in the West Virginia National Guard. Then he decided enough was enough. He owned a promising new aircraft-maintenance business, and it needed his attention. His retirement date was set for last February.

Staff Sgt. Justin Fontaine, a generator mechanic, enrolled in the Massachusetts
National Guard out of high school and served nearly nine years. In preparation
for his exit date last March, he turned in his field gear — his rucksack and web belt, his uniforms and canteen.

Staff Sgt. Peter G. Costas, an interrogator in an intelligence unit, joined the Army Reserve in 1991, extended his enlistment in 1999 and then re-upped for
three years in 2000. Costas, a U.S. Border Patrol officer in Texas, was due to retire from the reserves in last May.

According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But Fontaine and Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 –
the payroll computer’s way of saying, “Who knows?”

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service
under the Army’s “stop-loss” orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops,
through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

“It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit,” said Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, a leading military sociologist.

To the Pentagon, stop-loss orders are a finger in the dike — a tool to halt the hemorrhage of personnel, and maximize cohesion and experience, for units in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Through a series of stop-loss orders, the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of
more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve
members who were eligible to leave the service this year. Hundreds more in the
Air Force, Navy and Marines were briefly blocked from retiring or departing the
military at some point this year.

By prohibiting soldiers and officers from leaving the service at retirement or
the expiration of their contracts, military leaders have breached the Army’s manpower limit of 480,000 troops, a ceiling set by Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, disclosed that the number of active-duty soldiers has crept over the congressionally authorized maximum by 20,000 and now registered 500,000 as a result of stop-loss orders. Several lawmakers questioned the legality of exceeding the limit by so much.

“Our goal is, we want to have units that are stabilized all the way down from
the lowest squad up through the headquarters elements,” said Brig. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, director of enlisted personnel management in the Army’s Human Resources Command. “Stop-loss allows us to do that. When a unit deploys, it deploys, trains and does its missions with the same soldiers.”

In a recent profile of an Army infantry battalion deployed in Kuwait and on
its way to Iraq, the commander, Lt. Col. Karl Reed, told the Army Times he could have lost a quarter of his unit in the coming year had it not been for the
stop-loss order. “And that means a new 25 percent,” Reed told the Army Times. “I would have had to train them and prepare them to go on the line. Given where we are, it will be a 24-hour combat operation; therefore it’s very difficult to bring new folks in and integrate them.”

To many of the soldiers whose retirements and departures are on ice, however, stop-loss is an inconvenience, a hardship and, in some cases, a personal disaster. Some are resigned to fulfilling what they consider their patriotic duty. Others are livid, insisting they have fallen victim to a policy that
amounts to an unannounced, unheralded draft.

“I’m furious. I’m aggravated. I feel violated. I feel used,” said Eagle, 42,
the targeting officer, who has just shipped to Iraq with his field artillery unit for what is likely to be a yearlong tour of duty. He had voluntarily postponed his retirement at his commander’s request early this year and then suddenly found himself stuck in the service under a stop-loss order this fall. Eagle said he fears his fledgling business in West Virginia may not survive his lngthy absence. His unexpected extension in the Army will slash his annual icome by about $45,000, he said. And some members of his family, including his recently widowed sister, whose three teenage sons are close to Eagle, are btterly opposed to his leaving.

“An enlistment contract has two parties, yet only the government is allowed to
violate the contract; I am not,” said Costas, 42, who signed an e-mail from Iraq
this month “Chained in Iraq,” an allusion to the fact that he and his fellow
reservists remained in Baghdad after the active-duty unit into which they were
transferred last spring went home. He has now been told that he will be home
late next June, more than a year after his contractual departure date. “Unfair.
I would not say it’s a draft per se, but it’s clearly a breach of contract. I will not reenlist.”

Other soldiers retained by the Army under stop-loss are more resigned than
irate, but no less demoralized by what some have come to regard as their
involuntary servitude.

“Unfortunately, I signed the dotted line saying I’m going to serve my country,”
said Fontaine, 27, the mechanic, who said he spent “20 or 30 days” fruitlessly
researching legal ways that he could quit the Army when his contractual
departure date came up in February. “All I can do is suck it up and take it till I can get out.”

The military’s interest in halting the depletion of its ranks predates the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. American GIs in World War II were under orders to serve until the fighting was finished, plus six months.

Congress approved the authority for what became known as stop-loss orders
after the Vietnam War, responding to concerns that the military had been
hamstrung by the out-rotations of seasoned combat soldiers in Indochina. But the authority was not used until the buildup to the Persian Gulf War in 1990 when
Richard B. Cheney, then the secretary of defense, allowed the military services
to bar most retirements and prolong enlistments indefinitely.

A flurry of stop-loss orders was issued after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, intensifying as the nation prepared for war in Iraq early this year. Some of the orders have applied to soldiers, sailors and airmen in specific skill categories — military police, for example, and ordnance control specialists, have been in particular demand in Iraq.

Other edicts have been more sweeping, such as the Army’s most recent stop-loss order, issued Nov. 13, covering thousands of active-duty soldiers whose units are scheduled for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months.

GOP Lawmaker Urges Reform of Terror Alert System

Sunday, December 28th, 2003

Rep. Cox Backs Legislation That Would Mandate a More Regional Approach

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 29, 2003; Page A07

A leading House Republican said yesterday that the Homeland Security Department needs to reform its color-coded alert system to avoid alarming people who are not at risk and to reduce the impact of idle threats from al Qaeda terrorists.

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said the current terrorist threat system, which assigns a color to each of five risk levels, may be alarming “an awful lot of people who really can’t do much with this information other than hand-wring and hanky-twist.” Legislation co-sponsored by Cox would mandate a more regional approach.

“The terrorists are playing a losing game,” Cox said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But if by making idle threats that are always taken seriously by people who are just scared, we can impose enormous costs on the country and the terrorists can impose enormous costs on the country. . . . That turns their losing game into a winning game.”

At the same time, Cox said, there was “good reason” to raise the threat level on Dec. 21 to orange, or “high risk,” because of increased intelligence indicating plans for terrorist attacks on the United States. He said the alert would remain elevated through the New Year’s Day holiday weekend, but that the intelligence “was not specific as to any date, time or place.”

Cox also echoed the complaints of other U.S. officials that an announcement last week that six Air France flights had been canceled may have tipped off suspects who avoided arrest. French authorities questioned and released 13 passengers, but Cox said U.S. investigators were still working to determine whether some who did not show up for the flights are connected to terrorist groups.

Threats Against the President

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

by Paul Krassner

Groucho Marx said in an interview with Flash magazine in 1971, “I think the only hope this country has is Nixon’s assassination.” Yet he was not subsequently arrested for threatening the life of a president. In view of the indictment against David Hilliard, chief of staff of the Black Panther Party, for using similar rhetoric, I wrote to the Justice Department to find out the status of their case against Groucho. This was the response:

Dear Mr. Krassner:

Responding to your inquiry of July 7th, the United States Supreme Court has held that Title 18 U.S.C., Section 871, prohibits only “true” threats. It is one thing to say that “I (or we) will kill Richard Nixon” when you are the leader of an organization which advocates killing people and overthrowing the Government; it is quite another to utter the words which are attributed to Mr. Marx, an alleged comedian. It was the opinion of both myself and the United States Attorney in Los Angeles (where Marx’s words were alleged to have been uttered) that the latter utterance did not constitute a “true” threat.

Very truly yours,
James L. Browning, Jr.
United States Attorney

At the time, I was the host of a radio talk show on ABC’s FM station in San Francisco. Naturally, I went on the air and read that letter. And then I added, “Well, I’m an alleged comedian. Kill Richard Nixon.” But I would never get away with doing something like that in these ultra-fearful times.

DeLay Takes Cheap Shot at Clark

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

General Wesley Clark for President - Official Campaign Web Site

Winning Without DeLay: Clark’s Response to Tom DeLay’s attack

Sunday morning on “Meet the Press,” Republican House Majority Leader, Rep. Tom DeLay, took a cheap potshot at General Wesley Clark.

Clark has consistently argued that the Bush Administration should have focused on eliminating the threat from al Qaeda and capturing Osama bin Laden, rather than rushing into war with Iraq. The Majority Leader attacked Clark for challenging the Administration’s strategy.

DeLay claimed questions about the Administration’s failure to find Osama bin Laden came from the “fringe” of the Democratic Party and said, “unfortunately, Wesley Clark must live in a different world.”

The Clark campaign fired back.

“General Clark lives in a world where he believes that America will be stronger, safer and more secure if we are focused on winning the war against the terrorists, getting Osama bin Laden and working with our Allies,” said Reid Cherlin, a Clark campaign strategist. “Wes Clark has seen real combat, given his blood for our country, and commanded troops in battle, which is why he believes we need to win the war on terrorism instead of declaring victory when we all know that the terrorists directly responsible for 9/11 are still out there at large.”

“The closest to real combat that Tom ‘Chicken-Hawk’ DeLay has ever come was when he got himself a student deferment from Vietnam and instead suited up in his exterminator outfit and defended the people of Texas against invading cockroaches, marauding red ants and hostile moths,” Cherlin continued, referring to DeLay’s former pest-control business.

In 1999, DeLay tried to blame minorities for his lack of military experience. According to the Houston Press, DeLay described himself and former Vice-President Dan Quayle as “victims of an unusual phenomenon back in the days of the undeclared Southeast Asian war. ‘So many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like himself.’ Satisfied with the pronouncement, which dumbfounded more than a few of his listeners who had lived the sixties, DeLay marched off to the convention.”

Clearly, DeLay and the rest of the GOP are scared of Clark’s candidacy.

A Worthy Candidate for Congress

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

Kalyn Free for Congress 2004

Check out former District Attorney and DOJ staffer Kalyn Free’s website, link above.

NRA Faces $100 Million Deficit

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

A Deficit of $100 Million Is Confronting the N.R.A.

Mostly legal, legislative and political battles in the last decade have left the National Rifle Association with a $100 million deficit, reopening a bitter debate within the group about how it manages its money.

In the past decade the group’s efforts have helped Republicans win the White House and Congress and led to laws in more than 30 states banning lawsuits against gun manufacturers. In the last year the N.R.A. helped pay for a losing legal battle against campaign finance legislation, which the Supreme Court upheld this month.

But through many of those years, according to Internal Revenue Service and N.R.A. records, the organization spent more than it took in.

Even in 2000, when gun owners helped elect George W. Bush as president, pushing N.R.A. membership to a 10-year high, expenses outstripped revenues by $20.4 million, according to I.R.S. filings.

“The victories we have delivered have been costly, cutting deeply into the N.R.A.’s budgets,” Wayne R. LaPierre Jr., the group’s executive vice president and chief executive, wrote in an N.R.A. magazine, America’s 1st Freedom, in October. “Winning takes millions of dollars beyond what individual members’ dues cover. Today, if we were faced with a full-blown legislative assault, we simply would not have the war chest.”

The N.R.A., one of the largest and most powerful grass-roots groups in the country, relies heavily on membership dues, but since 2000 — when the organization had a surge of new members — membership has slid about 20 percent, from a peak of 4.3 million to about 3.4 million.

That is partly because membership usually rises in election years and ebbs thereafter. N.R.A. officials note that membership is higher than the average during the 1990’s.

But falling membership is also a result of complacency among gun owners, gun rights advocates say.

“A lot of people think that because we have a Republican in the White House, our guns are safe and our rights won’t come under attack,” said Angel Shamaya, founder and executive director of Keep and Bear Arms, a rival organization.

Experts who study nonprofit groups like the N.R.A. disagree about how great an impact the deficit can have on the group’s lobbying or political activities. But the growing shortfall, coupled with the recent departure of Charlton Heston, the actor who was the president and the public face of the N.R.A. over the last seven years, has reignited internal fights over financial management.

“We shouldn’t be going into the hole, which is what we’re doing,” said Neal Knox, a member who once tried to unseat Mr. LaPierre partly over concerns about finances. “The deficit isn’t there because we’re taking in more or less money, it’s there because we’re spending more money than we have.”

Mr. Knox raised the same concern to incite a mutiny in the mid-1990’s, which culminated at the 1997 annual meeting, when Mr. LaPierre narrowly retained his job.

N.R.A. officials said that Mr. Knox, once a powerful executive at the group, had other motives. “It’s the old battle plan where you create a crisis and then come swooping in with a plan to resolve it,” said Wayne Ross, a board member who last year ran for governor in Alaska. “Neal is upset about being on the outside, and so he’s going to raise any issue he can.”

Mr. Ross said he was not concerned about the N.R.A.’s finances. “I would rather have the N.R.A. get into deficit spending and fight the good fight than just sit on the sidelines because it was financially prudent,” he said.

The N.R.A. contends that its deficit is a fiction manufactured by accounting standards. “Trying to do an analysis of the organization based on its accounting-created balance sheet is a futile attempt because it is driven by assets that aren’t there, namely the quality of its members, and liabilities that aren’t really there either,” said Wilson H. Phillips Jr., the N.R.A. treasurer.

He said the deficit was a sign of strength, because the bulk of the liabilities reflect future obligations to long-term members. “What appears to be a growth in the deficit is actually a demonstration of membership growth and growth in longer-term commitments from members,” Mr. Phillips said.

Shalom L. Kohn, a legal expert on nonprofits and bankruptcy, agreed that the deficit was of no consequence. “It sounds like these deficits are a book figure representing all their memberships,” he said. “It doesn’t really mean anything.”

But Elizabeth K. Keating, an assistant professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University who is an expert in nonprofit accounting, said the deficit would have consequences. “They are not going to be able to sustain the activities they are engaged in today and provide the same level of service to their members in the future based on what the financial figures suggest,” she said.

Generally accepted accounting principles require groups like the N.R.A. to reflect future obligations to members as a debt that decreases as it provides services. “It’s as if the members are giving you a loan and over the time of their membership, they forgive the loan as you provide the services,” Ms. Keating said.

No Unemployment Check? Thank A Republican

Saturday, December 20th, 2003

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on Saturday chided the Republican-controlled Congress for recessing for the holidays without extending an emergency benefits program for jobless workers, which is set to expire this weekend.

“Unfortunately this Christmas will be a hard one for tens of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in the Democrats’ weekly radio address.

She said up to 90,000 jobless workers each week will exhaust their normal unemployment benefits after the current program expires on Sunday.

“Last month, the Republican leadership in Congress failed to extend unemployment benefits. They argued that extending unemployment benefits would actually hurt the economy,” Mikulski said.

“Can you believe they decided to close up shop for the holidays, leave Washington, take care of themselves, without taking care of American families?”

While the economy is showing signs of improvement, Mikulski said more than 3 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last three years.
She called federal unemployment assistance that helps long-term jobless workers “an important bridge to bring them through the hard times, helping to pay bills and put food on the table.”

The program, started in March 2002, allowed for an additional 13 week of payments after normal benefits expired. It has been extended twice, but Republicans argued another extension was not needed because the economy is improving and unemployment is trending downward.

Mikulski said extending the benefits would help the economy, because “when you put money in the hands of people who need it, they spend it. That’s what you call an economic stimulus.”

© Reuters 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Imprisoned by the Walls Built to Keep ‘the Others’ Out

Saturday, December 20th, 2003

Imprisoned by the Walls Built to Keep ‘the Others’ Out
by Setha M. Low

The phenomenon of gated communities — the fastest-growing form of housing in the United States — continues unabated in California and across the nation. There are now more than 1 million homes behind such walls in the Greater Los Angeles area alone. One-third of all houses built in the region are in secured-access developments. Across the U.S., there are 7 million households in fortified communities, according to the American Housing Survey of 2001, with the largest number located in the West.

This symbolism of wealth and security is so pervasive that there are now even faux gated communities, called “neighborhood entry identities,” in Simi Valley that sport walls and guardhouses but no locked gates or guards.

Yet residents may be walling in more problems than they are keeping out.

What’s so wrong about peace, love and higher taxes?

Saturday, December 20th, 2003


Check out the Clark TV Ad in the Link Below!

Friday, December 19th, 2003

General Wesley Clark for President - Official Campaign Web Site

A Stupid Waste of Money

Friday, December 19th, 2003

Famous foul ball to be destroyed by Chicago fan

$106,000 could fund much in the fight against hunger, AIDS, cancer, heart disease or even corporate greed. What a shame these people are so insipid.–Editor
The infamous foul ball bobbled out of play by a Chicago Cubs fan during the National League playoffs has been sold for $106,600 to another Cubs fan who plans to destroy it.
‘’We bought it because we didn’t want some Marlins fan putting it on their mantle,'’ said Beth Heller, marketing director for Harry Caray’s Restaurant in Chicago.

Telling It Right

Friday, December 19th, 2003

Op-Ed Columnist: Telling It Right

This is a very, very important part of history, and we’ve got to tell it right.” So says Thomas Kean, chairman of the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Kean promises major revelations in testimony next month: “This was not something that had to happen.” We’ll see: maybe those of us who expected the 9/11 commission to produce yet another whitewash were wrong. Meanwhile, one can only echo his sentiment: it’s important to tell our history right, not just about the events that led up to 9/11, but about the events that followed.

The capture of Saddam Hussein has produced a great outpouring of relief among both Iraqis and Americans. He’s no longer taunting us from hiding; he was a monster and deserves whatever fate awaits him. But we shouldn’t let war supporters use the occasion of Saddam’s capture to rewrite the recent history of U.S. foreign policy, to draw a veil over the way the nation was misled into war.

Even the Iraq war’s critics usually focus on the practical failures of the Bush administration’s policy, rather than its morality. After all, the war came at a heavy cost, even before the fighting began: to prepare for the Iraq campaign, the administration diverted resources away from Afghanistan before the job was done, giving Al Qaeda a chance to get away and the Taliban a chance to regroup.

And while the initial invasion went smoothly, since then almost everything in Iraq has gone badly. (Saddam’s capture would have been a smaller story if it had happened in the first flush of victory; instead, it was the first real piece of good news from Iraq in months.) The security situation remains terrible; the economy remains moribund; gasoline shortages and power outages continue.

To top it all off, the ongoing disorder in Iraq is a clear and present danger to our own national security. A large part of the U.S. military’s combat strength is tied down in occupation duties, leaving us ill prepared for crises elsewhere. Meanwhile, overstretch is undermining the readiness of the military as a whole.