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Monday
Mar102008

Report: Blackwater Cost Government Millions by Saying Their Employees Weren't Their Employees

Super-private security firm Blackwater has managed to stay out of the headlines for the last couple of months. But that might be about to change.

House oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) released a memorandum this afternoon to committee  members that Blackwater is evading  tax and employment laws by deceptively labeling its armed guard employees as "independent contractors." In March 2007, the committee found that Blackwater had cost the IRS $50 million by improperly labeling its employees. Today’s report found the following:

- Blackwater has received $1.25 billion in federal contracts since 2000. Despite this haul, they have asked for- and gotten- special privileges for the government as a "small business." The State Dept. has awarded Blackwater $144 million in small business set asides since 2000. The reason is that when armed employees are counted as independent contractors their staff is considered small enough for the designation.

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Monday
Mar102008

N.Y. Times: New York Governor Linked to Prostitution

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who gained national prominence relentlessly pursuing Wall Street wrongdoing, has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a law enforcement official and a person briefed on the investigation.

The wiretap captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington, where he had reserved a hotel room, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Manhattan. The person briefed on the case and the law enforcement official identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9.

Mr. Spitzer, a first term Democrat, today made a brief public appearance during which he apologized for his behavior, and described it as a “private matter.” He did not address his political future.

“I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong,” said Mr. Spitzer, who appeared with his wife Silda at his Manhattan office. “I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better.”

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Monday
Mar102008

U.S. Economy Could Fall Because of Wars!!!

The flow of blood may be ebbing, but the flood of money into the Iraq war is steadily rising, new analyses show.

In 2008, its sixth year, the war will cost approximately $12 billion a month, triple the "burn" rate of its earliest years, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and co-author Linda J. Bilmes report in a new book.

Beyond 2008, working with "best-case" and "realistic-moderate" scenarios, they project the Iraq and Afghan wars, including long-term U.S. military occupations of those countries, will cost the U.S. budget between $1.7 trillion and $2.7 trillion -- or more -- by 2017.

Interest on money borrowed to pay those costs could alone add $816 billion to that bottom line, they say.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has done its own projections and comes in lower, forecasting a cumulative cost by 2017 of $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion for the two wars, with Iraq generally accounting for three-quarters of the costs.

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Monday
Mar102008

Is U.S.Taxpayer Money Funding Iraq Reconstruction?

The Democratic chairman and Republican former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee have asked government auditors to determine what Iraq is doing with the billions of dollars in oil revenue it generates.

"We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earnings billions of dollars in oil revenue over that time period that have ended up in non-Iraqi banks," Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John Warner, R-Va., said Friday in a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office.

"At the same time, our conversations with both Iraqis and Americans during our frequent visits to Iraq, as well as official government and unofficial media reports, have convinced us that the Iraqi government is not doing nearly enough to provide essential services and improve the quality of life of its citizens," they said.

The senators estimated that Iraq will realize "at least $100 billion in oil revenues in 2007 and 2008."

They asked specifically that the GAO determine:

- Estimated oil revenues from 2003-2007.

- How much the U.S. and Iraq each have spent annually during that period on training, equipping and supporting Iraqi security forces as well as reconstruction, governance and economic development.

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Sunday
Mar092008

Israel Defies Freeze on Illegal Settlements

Israel approved plans yesterday to build 330 new homes in a suburban West Bank settlement north of Jerusalem. The move was denounced by the Palestinian Authority as "a slap in the face of the peace process" and called on the Quartet of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia to "act to get Israel to revoke the decision".

Saeb Erakat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, said: "This is a provocative action by Israel that demonstrates its intention of further strengthening illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territory."

He branded the timing of the decision as "outrageous" because it came on the eve of American-Israeli-Palestinian talks to assess the two sides' performance under the international road map for peace. Expansion of settlements is supposed to be frozen under the terms of the peace process. The settlements, illegal under international law, already account for nearly 40 per cent of West Bank territory. The UN warned recently that they are making the achie-vement of an eventual two state solution elusive.

Israel, which denied the plan was being launched in retaliation for Thursday's massacre of eight students in a Jerusalem yeshiva seminary, defended the decision, despite earlier undertakings to stop building on the West Bank.

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Sunday
Mar092008

U.S. Fails a Fourth Time to Hit Al-Qa'ida Suspect in Somalia

A U.S. missile strike in Somalia, aimed at a man described by the Pentagon as a "known al-Qa'ida terrorist", succeeded only in hurting six civilians and killing three cows and a calf, the IoS has learned.

At least one Tomahawk missile was believed to have been fired from a US submarine off the Somali coast on Monday. It hit a shack in the small town of Dobley, four miles from the Kenyan border. Dobley is one of several towns and villages in southern Somalia that are now under the administration of Islamists connected to the former Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which briefly controlled most of southern and central Somalia in 2006.

The attack was the fourth known strike by the US inside Somalia since it backed Ethiopia's invasion of the country in December 2006. All have been aimed at men Washington believes to be responsible for terrorist attacks in East Africa. None has been successful.

Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the target of Monday's attack, is wanted in connection with the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which killed at least 224 people.

He is also believed to be connected to the suicide bombing of a Mombasa hotel in 2002, which killed 13 people, and a failed attack on an Israeli airliner.

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Sunday
Mar092008

Japan IDs All Its Citizens

"While RealID in the US is a threat whose implementation is a ways in the future, the Japanese long ago implemented something similar; and there has been very little complaint raised about it. The Juki Net (Residents Registration Network — link in Japanese) has been silently developing since 1992. The system involves an 11-digit unique number to identify every citizen in Japan, and the data stored against that ID covers name, address, date of birth, and gender.

Many Japanese citizens seem to be oblivious that such a government-run network exists. Juki Net had a spotlight shone on it recently because a number of citizens around the country sued against it, citing concerns of information misuse or leakage.

And while an Osaka court ruled against the system, the Japanese Supreme Court has just ruled it is not unconstitutional, on the grounds that the data will be used in a bona-fide manner and there's no risk of leakage. While there is a longstanding registration system for us foreigners in Japan, what astonishes me is how the government can secretly implement such a system for its citizens, and how little concern the media and Japanese citizens in general display about the privacy implications."

Sunday
Mar092008

Probe Finds Drugs in Drinking Water

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet.

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Sunday
Mar092008

Pentagon Stiffs Soldiers out of Education Benefits

Members of the Minnesota National Guard returning from the longest tour of any ground combat unit in Iraq were surprised to learn that they were not eligible for the education benefits that they expected to receive under the G.I. Bill.

The Minnesota National Guard's First Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division was deployed in Iraq for 22 months, 125 days longer than they had originally been scheduled for. This involuntary extension, a part of President Bush's "surge" strategy for the war, made the 2,600 soldiers' tour of duty the longest of any ground combat unit in Iraq. Recently, however, 1,162 of the soldiers learned that because their orders were written for 729 days instead of 730 (as the other 1,338 soldiers' orders were), they were not eligible for increased education benefits.

Under the Montgomery G.I. Bill of 1984, soldiers who serve for less than 730 days are entitled to Reserved Education Assistance program payments for as long as they are still enrolled in military service. Soldiers who serve for 730 days or more, however, have the option to pay $1,200 in exchange for a $234 per month higher payment. Perhaps more significantly, this benefit can be used for up to ten years after military service ends.

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Sunday
Mar092008

Faber: Bernanke Will Destroy the Dollar

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will "destroy the U.S. dollar" by cutting interest rates, investor Marc Faber said.

Bernanke's reduction in the target rate for overnight loans between banks to 3 percent has spurred a rout in U.S. stocks and gains in oil and gold prices, said Faber, the Gloom, Boom & Doom report publisher who told investors to buy gold at the start of its six-year rally.

The U.S. is now in a ``de-leveraging'' phase where banks make fewer loans, stunting economic growth, Faber said. He estimated that a U.S. recession began two or three months ago.

``In the U.S., they pursue essentially economic policies that target consumption, which in my opinion is misguided,'' Faber said in an interview with Bloomberg Television from Chicago. ``They should pursue economic policies that stimulate capital investment and capital formation.''

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index is down 9.7 percent since Sept. 18, when the Fed began cutting the fed funds target to 3 percent from 5.25 percent. The dollar has lost 9.2 percent of its value versus the euro, crude oil futures gained more than 29 percent and gold added 34 percent during that time.

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