Service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan:
US Army SPC Ryan J Grady, 25, Bristow, OK
US Air Force Capt David A Wisniewski, 31, Moville, IA
US Army SGT Louis R Fastuca, 24, West Chester, PA
US Army SPC Clayton D McGarrah, 20, Harrison, AR
US Army PFC David Jefferson, 23, Philadelphia, PA
US Army SGT Jordan E Tuttle, 22, West Monroe, LA
US Army PFC Edwin C Wood, 18, Omaha, NE
US Army SSG Christopher F Cabacoy, 30, Virginia Beach, VA
US Army SGT Andrew J Creighton, 23, Laurel, DE
US Army PFC Jacob A Dennis, 22, Powder Springs, GA
US Army SPC Keenan A Cooper, 19, Wahpeton, ND
US Army SPC Jerod H Osborne, 20, Royse City, TX
US Army SSG Marc A Arizmendez, 30, Anaheim, CA
US Army SPC Roger Lee, 26, Monterey, CA
US Army PFC Michael S Pridham, 19, Louisville, KY
Service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan:
We are the most powerful nation in the world. There is no excuse, only corruption.
DEC 14 2008
After spending eight years at the helm of one of the most ideologically driven administrations in American history, George W. Bush is ending his presidency in characteristically aggressive fashion, with a swath of controversial measures designed to reward supporters and enrage opponents.
By the time he vacates the White House, he will have issued a record number of so-called ‘midnight regulations’ – so called because of the stealthy way they appear on the rule books – to undermine the administration of Barack Obama, many of which could take years to undo.
Dozens of new rules have already been introduced which critics say will diminish worker safety, pollute the environment, promote gun use and curtail abortion rights. Many rules promote the interests of large industries, such as coal mining or energy, which have energetically supported Bush during his two terms as president. More are expected this week.
America’s attention is focused on the fate of the beleaguered car industry, still seeking backing in Washington for a multi-billion-dollar bail-out. But behind the scenes, the ‘midnight’ rules are being rushed through with little fanfare and minimal media attention. None of them would be likely to appeal to the incoming Obama team.
The regulations cover a vast policy area, ranging from healthcare to car safety to civil liberties. Many are focused on the environment and seek to ease regulations that limit pollution or restrict harmful industrial practices, such as dumping strip-mining waste.
The Bush moves have outraged many watchdog groups. ‘The regulations we have seen so far have been pretty bad,’ said Matt Madia, a regulatory policy analyst at OMB Watch. ‘The effects of all this are going to be severe.’
Bush can pass the rules because of a loophole in US law allowing him to put last-minute regulations into the Code of Federal Regulations, rules that have the same force as law. He can carry out many of his political aims without needing to force new laws through Congress. Outgoing presidents often use the loophole in their last weeks in office, but Bush has done this far more than Bill Clinton or his father, George Bush sr. He is on track to issue more ‘midnight regulations’ than any other previous president.
Many of these are radical and appear to pay off big business allies of the Republican party. One rule will make it easier for coal companies to dump debris from strip mining into valleys and streams. The process is part of an environmentally damaging technique known as ‘mountain-top removal mining’. It involves literally removing the top of a mountain to excavate a coal seam and pouring the debris into a valley, which is then filled up with rock. The new rule will make that dumping easier.
Another midnight regulation will allow power companies to build coal-fired power stations nearer to national parks. Yet another regulation will allow coal-fired stations to increase their emissions without installing new anti-pollution equipment.
The Environmental Defence Fund has called the moves a ‘fire sale of epic size for coal’. Other environmental groups agree. ‘The only motivation for some of these rules is to benefit the business interests that the Bush administration has served,’ said Ed Hopkins, a director of environmental quality at the Sierra Club. A case in point would seem to be a rule that opens up millions of acres of land to oil shale extraction, which environmental groups say is highly pollutant.
There is a long list of other new regulations that have gone onto the books. One lengthens the number of hours that truck drivers can drive without rest. Another surrenders government control of rerouting the rail transport of hazardous materials around densely populated areas and gives it to the rail companies.
One more chips away at the protection of endangered species. Gun control is also weakened by allowing loaded and concealed guns to be carried in national parks. Abortion rights are hit by allowing healthcare workers to cite religious or moral grounds for opting out of carrying out certain medical procedures.
A common theme is shifting regulation of industry from government to the industries themselves, essentially promoting self-regulation. One rule transfers assessment of the impact of ocean-fishing away from federal inspectors to advisory groups linked to the fishing industry. Another allows factory farms to self-regulate disposal of pollutant run-off.
The White House denies it is sabotaging the new administration. It says many of the moves have been openly flagged for months. The spate of rules is going to be hard for Obama to quickly overcome. By issuing them early in the ‘lame duck’ period of office, the Bush administration has mostly dodged 30- or 60-day time limits that would have made undoing them relatively straightforward.
Obama’s team will have to go through a more lengthy process of reversing them, as it is forced to open them to a period of public consulting. That means that undoing the damage could take months or even years, especially if corporations go to the courts to prevent changes.
At the same time, the Obama team will have a huge agenda on its plate as it inherits the economic crisis. Nevertheless, anti-midnight regulation groups are lobbying Obama’s transition team to make sure Bush’s new rules are changed as soon as possible. ‘They are aware of this. The transition team has a list of things they want to undo,’ said Madia.
(God Bless You Guys)
Iraqis applaud charges against Blackwater guards
The shooting that killed at least 17 in a Baghdad traffic circle last year resonates strongly among Iraqis, who believe it was unjustified and are eager for justice.
By Tina Susman and Usama Redha
December 10, 2008
Reporting from Baghdad — The traffic circle hums on a cool and sunny afternoon, as motorists round the center median with its fake orange palm tree that sparkles at night, blooming flower beds and chunky sculpture.
On such a calm day in Baghdad, it is hard to imagine the carnage that erupted here in Nisoor Square in September 2007, when Blackwater Worldwide security guards killed at least 17 Iraqis in a hail of machine-gun bullets and grenades, but the evidence remains.
Bullet holes pock the small shelter where traffic cops dived for cover. Splotches scar the wall of a school off the square that prosecutors say was hit by American gunfire. Memories rankle people familiar with the story, which still resonates powerfully in Iraq even as the legal repercussions have shifted to courthouses thousands of miles away in the U.S.
Five Blackwater employees, all of them U.S. military veterans, were charged Monday with manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in the case, which strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and galvanized Iraqi opposition to the Western security companies that had operated with impunity here.
Starting Jan. 1, private security details such as Blackwater will be subject to Iraqi jurisdiction if accused of crimes committed while off American bases, a change demanded by Iraq’s government after the Blackwater incident and others involving different companies that resulted in civilian deaths on a smaller scale.
The current Blackwater defendants won’t face trial in Iraq, but they could face decades in prison in the United States if convicted, something that pleases Iraqis such as Ali Abdul Ali.
“This is good,” said Ali, an unemployed military veteran. “It means no one is above the law, even if he’s an element of foreign forces. It also means the victims will get justice.”
Ali, who comes often to an abandoned bus stop near Nisoor Square to sit in the sunshine and think about life, has a friend whose mother was among 20 Iraqis shot and wounded in the incident. Like other Iraqis in the circle that day, the friend said the shooting was unjustified, he said.
“These people were armed and they were shooting innocent people,” Ali said.
That’s not how the Blackwater guards tell it. They say their convoy came under attack as they escorted U.S. State Department officials and that they fired in self-defense.
In the square Tuesday, the sound of gunfire was constant and clear over the cacophony of car engines, tooting horns and sirens from the intimidating convoys that still tear through the circle, but it was from an Iraqi police firing range nearby.
Police officers stationed in the circle were happy to discuss the Blackwater case and to show off the bullet holes from that day. One of them quickly interrupted his lunch of beans, rice and bread to weigh in.
“I heard about [the charges against the Blackwater employees] yesterday on the news,” said the officer, who like his colleagues was not authorized to speak to reporters and would not give a name. “Because they killed 17 innocent people, of course they should be arrested.”
The policeman, who has worked this spot for five years, was not in the square the day of the shooting but came to work the next day to see wrecked cars, blood-stained streets, bullet casings. He pointed to a section of gnarled concrete in the busy street a few feet away.
“That’s where the doctor and her son died,” he said, referring to Mahasin Mohssen Khadum Khazali and her son, Ahmed Haitham Ahmed Rubaie, who were in a white sedan that the Blackwater guards said they suspected of being rigged to explode.
“Justice should be served. These victims — their rights should be taken into consideration,” said another policeman, edging in front of the first cop and quickly taking over the conversation. This officer said that if the Blackwater guards are convicted, they should die.
“This is the law of God. In the Arab world, anyone who kills someone, he should be killed,” he said.
They scoffed at the idea that the guards might have felt genuinely threatened because of the situation in Baghdad at the time. Violence was far worse then, when attacks on U.S. forces were daily events. That month, 70 foreign troops, including 66 Americans, were killed across Iraq, according to the independent website icasualties.org. Last month, the total was 17.
“This place is surrounded. It is secure,” the second officer said, noting the national guard base on one side of the square and another government building on the other. “It’s impossible” that anyone could have felt threatened, he said.
Minutes later, a U.S. military convoy entered the circle. Civilian traffic ground to a halt to let the vehicles pass, but they stopped midway through. A group of U.S. soldiers walked toward the Iraqi police.
“Let’s have it,” one of them sternly said to a U.S. journalist who had been filming the square, referring to the memory chip of his video camera.
The soldier uttered an obscenity about filming the convoy but backed off without taking the memory chip after another American intervened, satisfied that the journalists were more interested in the scene at the square, not the convoy that had rolled into view.
Afterward, one policeman joked that it was good the journalists were of the “same tribe” as the soldiers. If they’d been Iraqis, he said, they would have been locked up.
Susman and Redha are Times staff writers.