Saturday, April 29, 2006

Political News of the Week, take 11

[See also: political news of the week takes 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Mick beats George to suite (via PZ Myers):
PRESIDENT George Bush can’t get no satisfaction — after Mick Jagger grabbed his hotel room.

The Rolling Stone splashed out £3,600 a night for the suite days before the US leader tried to book it.

Now Mick, 62, who has been a fierce critic of the Bush-led war in Iraq, is refusing to give it up.
U.S. to Free 141 Terror Suspects:
The Pentagon plans to release nearly a third of those held at the prison for terrorism suspects here because they pose no threat to U.S. security, an official of the war crimes tribunal said Monday.

Charges are pending against about two dozen of the remaining prisoners, the chief prosecutor said. But he left unclear why the rest face neither imminent freedom nor a day in court after as many as four years in custody.

Only 10 of the roughly 490 alleged "enemy combatants" currently detained at the facility have been charged; none has been charged with a capital offense.
U.S. Says It Fears Detainee Abuse in Repatriation:
A long-running effort by the Bush administration to send home many of the terror suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been stymied in part because of concern among United States officials that the prisoners may not be treated humanely by their own governments, officials said.

Administration officials have said they hope eventually to transfer or release many of the roughly 490 suspects now held at Guantánamo. As of February, military officials said, the Pentagon was ready to repatriate more than 150 of the detainees once arrangements could be made with their home countries.


But Washington's insistence on humane treatment for the detainees in their native countries comes after years in which Guantánamo has been assailed as a symbol of American abuse and hypocrisy — a fact not lost on the governments with which the United States is now negotiating.

"It is kind of ironic that the U.S. government is placing conditions on other countries that it would not follow itself in Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib," said a Middle Eastern diplomat from one of the countries involved in the talks. He asked not to be named to avoid criticizing the United States in the name of his government.
Rebuilding of Iraqi Pipeline as Disaster Waiting to Happen:
When Robert Sanders was sent by the Army to inspect the construction work an American company was doing on the banks of the Tigris River, 130 miles north of Baghdad, he expected to see workers drilling holes beneath the riverbed to restore a crucial set of large oil pipelines, which had been bombed during the invasion of Iraq.What he found instead that day in July 2004 looked like some gargantuan heart-bypass operation gone nightmarishly bad. A crew had bulldozed a 300-foot-long trench along a giant drill bit in their desperate attempt to yank it loose from the riverbed. A supervisor later told him that the project's crews knew that drilling the holes was not possible, but that they had been instructed by the company in charge of the project to continue anyway.

A few weeks later, after the project had burned up all of the $75.7 million allocated to it, the work came to a halt.


Although the failures of that effort are routinely attributed to insurgent attacks, an examination of this project shows that troubled decision-making and execution have played equally important roles.

The Fatah project went ahead despite warnings from experts that it could not succeed because the underground terrain was shattered and unstable.

It continued chewing up astonishing amounts of cash when the predicted problems bogged the work down, with a contract that allowed crews to charge as much as $100,000 a day as they waited on standby.


An independent United States office, The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, began an investigation of the project and issued a report earlier this year. It sharply criticized KBR for not relaying the problems, and concluded that "the geological complexities that caused the project to fail were not only foreseeable but predicted."

The company received a slap on the wrist when it got only about 4 percent of its potential bonus fees on the job order that contained the contract; there was no other financial penalty.
Contractor's Plans Lie Among Ruins of Iraq:
Parsons Corp., the Pasadena engineering firm that won one of the largest rebuilding contracts in postwar Iraq, fell dramatically short of a number of goals, according to interviews and documents that cite shoddy work and negligent government oversight.

The firm was to have rebuilt Iraq's health and security infrastructure. However, an audit and interviews show it will finish only 20 of 150 planned health clinics, and nearly $70 million of medical equipment meant for the clinics sits unused.

Additionally, as few as 12 of 20 hospitals planned to be refurbished will be completed. Some border forts built by the company lack walls, and some fire stations may be structurally unsound.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly monitor Parsons' performance, stonewalled investigative efforts and exercised "poor cost controls" as Parsons spent $186 million on a contract to build the health clinics, according to a draft copy of an audit obtained by The Times. About $60 million of that was spent by Parsons on management and administration.
Long-Delayed Story on Pre-War Intel Still Important - A post on The Huffington Post by Robert Scheer:
Confession time: In fall 2004, during a crucial presidential election campaign, I made the mistake of playing by corporate media rules that amount to self-censorship.

Specifically, I joined other journalists in denying the public the right to learn of a definitive investigative report by CBS' 60 Minutes on President Bush's disregard for the truth concerning the weapons of mass destruction threat allegedly posed to the United States by Iraq. Having received an advance copy of the devastating segment, I honored CBS' proprietary request not to write about the news it carried until after it aired.

Only, it never aired. CBS got cold feet, probably because of Dan Rather's troubles over an unrelated story critical of the president. The suppressed story was solidly reported and, by exposing the Bush administration's utter disregard for the truth concerning Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, should have been made available to the public before the November election. Now, no one seems to care.


Perhaps most damning is an interview, added for the broadcast version, with Tyler Drumheller, a CIA veteran of 26-years' service who was the agency's top spy in Europe until his retirement a year ago. According to him, before the war Hussein's foreign minister had been "turned" and was talking secretly to U.S. intelligence. At first excited by this rare inside look at Hussein's regime, the top dogs at the White House dropped the issue like a hot rock as soon as his information contradicted their overheated rationale for "pre-emptive" war. "The policy was set," Drumheller told CBS correspondent Ed Bradley. "The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."
EU: 1,000 CIA flights since 2001:
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has conducted more than 1,000 secret flights over European territory since 2001, some to transfer terror suspects, European Parliament investigators said Wednesday.

Lawmakers investigating alleged illegal CIA activities in Europe also said incidents when terror suspects secretly were handed over to U.S. agents did not appear to be isolated.

They said the suspects often were transported around Europe on the same planes -- by agents whose names repeatedly came up in the investigation -- which suggested a pattern of operations.
Rove Appears Before Grand Jury in Leak Case Again:
White House political advisor Karl Rove today went to a courthouse where he testified for the fifth time before a federal grand jury investigating his role in the CIA leak case.


Rove has been under scrutiny over whether he promptly disclosed to investigators and the grand jury conversations he had with journalists about CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked to the media in the summer of 2003. It is a crime to disclose the identity of a covert CIA agent.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is believed to be considering perjury or obstruction charges against Rove or charges that he offered misstatements to investigators.
Loss of Competition Is Seen in Health Insurance Industry:
Federal investigators have found that a handful of companies account for a growing share of the health insurance policies sold to small businesses in most states, leaving consumers with fewer options and higher costs.

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said that the largest insurer had 43 percent of the market for small group coverage in a typical state, up from 33 percent in 2002. In nine states, the largest carrier — a Blue Cross and Blue Shield company — has more than 50 percent.

Small businesses and doctors also report a steep decline in competition in health insurance markets, a problem Congress is trying to address.


The Census Bureau estimates 45.8 million Americans have no health insurance. More than half of uninsured workers are self-employed or working in businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

In a study of 294 metropolitan areas, the American Medical Association found a "remarkable reduction in the number of competing health plans." In 95 percent of those regions, a single insurer had at least 30 percent of the market, and in 56 percent of the areas, a single insurer had a share of 50 percent or more.
Senators to push for $100 gas rebate checks:
Most American taxpayers would get $100 rebate checks to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote soon.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.


As outlined by Frist and other GOP senators, the energy package would give taxpayers a $100 rebate, repeal tax incentives for oil companies and allow the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute retailers unlawfully inflating the price of gasoline.

The measure would also give the Transportation Department authority to issue fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles, expand tax incentives for the use of hybrid vehicles and push for more research into alternative fuels and expansion of existing oil refineries.

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