Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mosaic News - 5/14/08: World News from the Middle East

Killing by the numbers

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By Mark Benjamin and Christopher Weaver

In 2007 elite U.S. snipers executed an unarmed Iraqi prisoner in cold blood. Have the insidious tactics that led to atrocities in Vietnam reemerged in Iraq?

Genei Nesir Khudair al-Janabi, an Iraqi vegetable farmer, walked down to the ramshackle pump house along the banks of the Euphrates. Each day at midmorning, he would start the seven-horsepower pump to water his crops.

Khudair passed through the tall grass and palm trees of his farm in Jurf as Sakhr, a predominantly Sunni area 30 miles south of Baghdad dominated by sprawling patches of farmland, irrigation canals and regular eruptions of lethal violence. Daytime temperatures had lately been over 115 degrees, and it was already sweltering as he crossed the 500 meters for the last time.

As Khudair approached the pump house on May 11, 2007, he stumbled upon a team of five sweat-soaked U.S. Army snipers, dazed with heat and fatigue, hidden in the grass of a small hill. It's hard to say who was more surprised, the Iraqi or the American troops. The sniper on guard at the "hide" was so shocked to see Khudair wander up to his position that he froze for a moment, staring. Then he approached Khudair and pointed a 9 mm pistol at the farmer's head.

Meanwhile, Khudair's 17-year-old son, Mustafa, was at the family home when he learned that a cousin had been killed in an accident. Mustafa hurried from the house to find his father in the fields and tell him the horrible news.

But as Mustafa approached, an American sniper popped out of the brush and waved him closer. Struck with fear, he entered the snipers' hide to find his father, alive, face down on a patch of dirt with the corner of a plastic Army poncho over his head. Two soldiers were standing over him. They forced Mustafa to lie down, with his head close to his father's in an "L" on the ground, and then pulled the corner of the poncho over his head too.

A half-hour passed. Khudair complained about the heat. The soldiers suddenly hoisted Mustafa up and signaled that he was free to go, but his father was still on the ground under the poncho. As he left the hide, Mustafa motioned toward Khudair and tried, in broken English, to tell the Americans who their prisoner was: "Father, father."

Mustafa had just gotten back to the family home, 15 minutes later, when he heard two gunshots.

Three snipers with exemplary military records from the 1st Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division's 501st Regiment were charged in Khudair's killing. They were tried by the military judicial system in Iraq beginning in 2007. But the most important question raised by his death remains unanswered. Why would these elite American soldiers kill an unarmed prisoner in cold blood? The answer: pressure from their commanding officers to pump up a statistic straight out of America's last long war against an intractable insurgency.

A review of thousands of pages of documents from the legal proceedings obtained by Salon shows that in the months prior to Khudair's death, the young snipers, already frustrated by guerrilla tactics, were pressed to their physical limits and pushed by officers to stretch the bounds of the laws of war in order to increase the enemy body count. When the United States wallowed in Vietnam's counterinsurgency quagmire decades ago, the same pressure placed on soldiers resulted in some of the worst atrocities of that war. A paratrooper who remembered the insidious influence of body counts in Vietnam warned Salon in 2005 that the practice could also ensnare good soldiers in Iraq. "The problem is that in Iraq, we are in a guerrilla war," said Dennis Stout. "How do you keep score? How do you prove you are winning?"

The pressure from above for more bodies was also toxic in Iraq, where the isolated, outnumbered and outgunned snipers of the 1st Battalion had to make split-second life-or-death decisions. When those decisions landed them in a military court, it was the lowest-ranking soldiers, not the brass, who paid the price, and a sergeant who said he was pushed into taking a fatal shot who wound up with a long prison sentence. It was battalion commander Lt. Col Robert Balcavage, who pushed for a higher body count, who initiated the prosecution of three of the battalion's snipers. "Yes, the chain of command deserves to burn in hell," one sniper who served with the unit wrote Salon in an e-mail. "But I am not going on record saying that, well, cause I am still in the fucking Army."

The body-count pressure on the 1st Battalion's sniper section began to build in early 2007. In an insurgency like Vietnam or Iraq, it's hard to point to achievement of a military objective or conquest of a town or region as success. Instead, commanders find themselves relying on numbers, which is how body counts began to creep into the Iraq war, despite their explicit disavowal by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2003 ("We don't do body counts"). In need of a positive metric, commanders of the 1st Battalion reached for body counts, since the metrics they did have were moving in the wrong direction. At the time, U.S. casualties from invisible roadside bombs were mounting. In the six months before the snipers arrived in country from Alaska in late October 2006, 426 U.S. service members had died in Iraq. In the six months between the 1st Battalion's arrival and the day Khudair was killed, May 11, 2007, nearly 590 service members died in Iraq. It was one of the bloodiest periods of the Iraq war. At the time there was a new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who was talking about winning hearts and minds. The snipers' commanders were talking about bodies. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Balcavage, and top noncommissioned officer Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight sent a clear message to the battalion's snipers. Spc. Alexander Flores, a sniper, described it this way in a hearing: "Get more bodies. Raise the morale of the battalion."

The résumé of Staff Sgt. Mike Hensley made the battalion leadership think he would be the leader who could produce the bodies. It wasn't just that during a previous tour in Afghanistan, he refused to leave his unit despite contracting malaria, or that in Iraq he insisted on inspecting bridges personally for road bombs to keep his soldiers out of harm's way, though that helped. He combined that commitment to the mission and to his men with a reputation for lethality. He was a competition-winning sniper. "The rest of the sniper section love Staff Sgt. Hensley," Sgt. Alexander Anuschat, a sniper who reported to Hensley, would later testify. "He was the perfect man for the job."

Officers hand-picked Hensley to lead the sniper section in early 2007. Hensley immediately suggested beefing up his new section from seven to 13 snipers, that in the field would operate in teams of about six men per mission. The men Hensley commanded also included Sgt. Evan Vela, Spc. Jorge Sandoval, Pvt. David Petta and Spc. Alexander Flores. Vela was a father of two from Idaho, married to his high school sweetheart. Sandoval, of Laredo, Texas, had never seen snow before being stationed in Fort Richardson in Alaska prior to Iraq. Petta and Flores would later start the investigation of the sniper section's actions by reporting questionable shootings to their commanding officers.

Officers were pleased when, under Hensley's lead, the snipers started racking up kills. But soon, the snipers were pushing the envelope. The decision of when to shoot and when not to shoot is often vexing for snipers, but following the rules of engagement became still more difficult for the snipers after commanding officers encouraged a loose interpretation of the rules to increase the likelihood of a kill.

The Law of Armed Conflict requires soldiers to identify “hostile intent" before pulling the trigger. "You have to decide if the individual you are looking at is a combatant or a civilian," explained Scott Silliman, executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke Law. "You must conclude that the individual is a combatant." There is no requirement that a target be armed, but he can't be hors de combat -- injured, surrendering or detained.

The nature of guerrilla warfare makes it difficult, however, to nail down exactly what that means on the battlefield. Lt. Matthew Didier, the officer directly in charge of the snipers, offered a tautology in one hearing late last year, explaining that the snipers could shoot if they had "reasonable certainty that the military target is, in fact, a military target." Knight, the senior noncommissioned officer in the battalion, told Army investigators who later looked into the killing of unarmed Iraqis that the snipers were instructed that they could fire when they had "reasonable certainty that someone is committing acts of violence against coalition forces or Iraqis."

The snipers remained nervous because, at best, the guidelines they were getting from their commanders were nebulous. The snipers felt they were being pressured to interpret "hostile intent" loosely to justify kills. During testimony, sniper Spc. Joshua Michaud said that Lt. Col. Balcavage and Command Sgt. Maj. Knight "constantly pushed for 'If you feel threatened, you know, obviously eliminate the threat.' But they kind of said it in a manner in which a lot of us took it like, 'Hey, you need to go out there and you guys gotta start getting kills.'"

At worst, the rules explicitly allowed the killing of unarmed Iraqis under certain circumstances, a particularly dicey concept given an enemy that does not wear a uniform and hides among civilians. Specifically, the snipers were allowed to shoot unarmed people running away from explosions or firefights. The chain of command was particularly frustrated by insurgents fleeing after attacks from roadside bombs, called improvised explosive devices. The notes from Army agents who later investigated the shootings said the battalion leaders, Balcavage and Knight, worried that the snipers had "let a lot of guys go after IED explosions." The snipers called these fleeing, sometimes unarmed Iraqis "squirters." Of course, it's not unusual for innocent people to run from explosions.

Didier, who has since been promoted to captain, said that "if that individual makes contact with you and then breaks contact of their own accord and disarms themselves while they are breaking contact, they are still an engageable target because they are not wounded, nor did they surrender." He explained, "They are only breaking contact so that they can engage coalition forces at a later time." In court, Sgt. Anthony Murphy, one of the snipers who was responsible for a questionable kill, testified that he interpreted this order about breaking contact so they can engage at a later time as: "Engage fleeing local nationals without weapons."

In addition to the vague rules of engagement and pressure to boost the body count, a furtive Pentagon unit, the Asymmetric Warfare Group, further blurred the soldiers' perceptions of what was acceptable. The covert program run by the Pentagon and supported by another "government agency" supplied the snipers with materiel to place on the battlefield, like explosives and ammunition, that might interest insurgents.

The Washington Post reported in September 2007 that the items were part of a "baiting" program and that the purpose was to shoot Iraqis who picked them up. Pulling the trigger, however, was never part of the operation, according to testimony and people with knowledge of the program.

The idea of "baiting," or putting out items and shooting Iraqis who picked up the materiel, was actually developed at the platoon level, according to the testimony of Didier, the officer in charge of the platoon. It is unclear if the tactic was ever used in the field.

Only a handful of the snipers were informed of the materiel's real purpose, which remains secret but has nothing to do with shooting people on sight. Because equipment was distributed equally among their packs, some soldiers who were not aware of the materiel's purpose were still forced to lug it. Soon, confused about the extra equipment's true purpose, they were imagining other explanations, and their confusion seems to have contributed to their willingness to bend the rules of engagement. The two snipers who eventually alerted authorities to the questionable kills and spurred an investigation believed the items were "drop weapons" to be placed on unarmed Iraqis after an illegal kill.

The killing of Genei Nesir Khudair al-Janabi took place on May 11, and it was the final kill for which snipers were prosecuted. But Khudair was, in fact, at least the fourth unarmed Iraqi the snipers had killed in the short time since Hensley took over leadership of the sniper section in March 2007. Each incident illustrates the ways in which the rules of engagement, the pressure to produce, the mysterious extra equipment, and the inherent difficulties of their jobs landed the snipers in court.

The first incident occurred on April 7, 2007. Sgt. Anthony Murphy's sniper team was hiding in a shallow ravine. Through his rifle scope, Murphy watched a lone Iraqi man approaching through some bushes, his figure distorted by a heat mirage. The man appeared and then disappeared again, winding through nearby ravines. Soon, he was 50 meters away and Murphy was sure the man had spotted the team's satellite communications gear through the brush.

In sniper talk, they had been "compromised." Being compromised, or seen while on a mission, was particularly chilling, especially in areas where there had been significant insurgent activity. Three days earlier, a seemingly innocent goatherd had spotted one of the sniper teams in the same location. Within minutes, mortars were raining down on them.

Even a handful of insurgents could easily overrun one of the small, autonomous sniper teams. "They are all around us," Murphy said during a court hearing. "We are put into their environment, their backyard."

On April 7, even after the Iraqi man had apparently seen the snipers' gear, he continued to move forward, alarming Murphy. "When people see us, they freak out," Murphy explained in a hearing. "They leave. They get scared. They stop. They start screaming." This Iraqi kept moving closer.

Murphy could see through the bushes that the man also had something in his hands, he just couldn't make out what it was. Murphy did not wait to find out. He pulled the trigger, killing the man with one bullet.

When it turned out that the Iraqi was carrying a 3-foot piece of pipe, the snipers got nervous. Murphy later testified that Sgt. 1st Class Steven Kipling worried that higher-ups might question the legitimacy of the shooting and asked Murphy if they should place a weapon on the body to make him look "more guilty."

Murphy refused. "I did the right thing," he said, and then cited the rules of engagement. "Hostile intent. Hostile act. End."

Murphy's aggressive commanders agreed. Notes from Army special agents who later investigated the snipers show the chain of command had looked into the April 7 shooting and "concluded Sgt. Murphy correctly determined hostile intent and engaged the individual with a single shot." The words "hostile intent" would show up again and again in thousands of pages of sworn testimony about the incidents that were reviewed by Salon.

In such a dangerous area, seeing an Iraqi eyeing U.S. troops with binoculars, or just digging a ditch, was enough to create a belief in "hostile intent." On April 14, a sniper team was monitoring a power substation when Hensley, the sniper section leader, told other snipers that he had spotted an Iraqi man who appeared to be laying command wire for a roadside bomb. But Hensley couldn't get in a clean shot and lost sight of the man.

A little before 5 p.m. Hensley received an order to keep an eye on a nearby house while incoming infantry troops performed a search there. According to the notes of Army investigators, this irritated Hensley, who asked for two volunteers. Hensley, Pvt. David Petta and Sgt. Richard Hand walked directly down a road toward the home.

Hand and Petta flanked Hensley as they approached the house. There were women and children outside and an unarmed Iraqi man, Mutham Nia Hussein Alwan, working on a water pump. At about 120 meters away, Hensley said, "That's the guy." Hand and Petta split off to the left. According to the investigating agents' notes, when the snipers were 50 meters away from the house, a little more than half a football field, Hensley raised his weapon, then lowered it. They continued to close in.

Then a single shot rang out from Hensley's M14 sniper rifle. At that moment, Sgt. Hand's weapon was trained on one of the women. "As soon as the shot happened, she became hysteric [sic]," Hand would later testify. "She started going crazy. I mean, obviously, somebody she loved or cared for had just died. She became my No. 1 priority, because I was afraid I was going to have to shoot her."

The body was later tested with EXPRAY, a field test kit used to detect explosives. It came up positive. But there is some evidence that Hensley might have been worried that the chain of command would still balk at the kill. Kipling testified that earlier that day he had found a length of detonation wire, balled it up, and given it to Hensley to bring back to base. A balled-up section of detonation wire was found on the body. Kipling said in court that he was "80 percent sure" the wire on the body was the same wire he had given Hensley. If Kipling is to be believed, the snipers had moved from merely talking about "drop weapons" to using them.

Two weeks later, on April 27, the loose rules for shooting unarmed, fleeing Iraqis -- "squirters" -- contributed to a death. Didier, the snipers' immediate superior officer, radioed to Hensley that a squirter was headed his way.

An Iraqi army unit was investigating a weapons cache site when they were attacked by two insurgents dressed in dark track suits who quickly broke contact and fled east. Didier had set up Hensley and other snipers a half-mile in that direction. He radioed Hensley and described the two men en route.

A half-hour later, Hensley replied that he had "got eyes on" a man who fit that description moving east, according to hearing transcripts. "[Hensley] said [the man] was no longer armed. But he asked if he could still engage the individual," Didier recalled. "I said yes, based on the current ROE, he could."

The sniper team was hidden in a 3-foot-deep dry creek bed. Hensley and another sniper, Spc. Jorge Sandoval, watched through some trees as a man in dark clothing walked into an olive grove, squatted and began cutting the knee-high grass with a sickle. Hensley told Sandoval to grab his weapon and the two men moved 150 to 200 meters south along the creek bed to the edge of the tree line that had been blocking their shot.

Even from the new position, 200 meters away, only the man's head appeared intermittently in Sandoval's rifle scope through the tall grass. Hensley asked Sandoval if he had the shot. Sandoval stood to get a better angle. Hensley asked twice more. The third time, Sandoval fired. He quickly chambered another round, but Hensley told him he wouldn't need it.

Sandoval drew his sidearm as the two snipers approached the body. The man had been shot in the head. Other snipers from the team approached as well and recognized the Iraqi as a man they had detained and released just days earlier. "You could tell by some of his face that was left," Michaud, one of the other snipers there that day, said in a hearing.

As shocking as it might seem to shoot an unarmed Iraqi cutting grass, many times the snipers had seen insurgents feign farming or other harmless activity after attacking U.S. troops. Michaud said in one hearing that "they'll run and pick up some farm equipment, or they might run to their house and start working on their vehicle, or they basically try to do anything they can to throw you off to make you think that, 'Hey I was not part of that.'"

Even though the snipers had seen squirters' tricks before -- and this shot had been approved by Didier -- Hensley and Sandoval apparently worried officers would not see the April 27 shooting as a clean kill. Sandoval testified that when he and Hensley first stood over the mutilated corpse, Hensley handed him command wire and told him to put it next to the body.

The snipers, however, did not use the Pentagon's secret equipment as drop weapons. The use of drop weapons by Hensley was freelance. The presence of the unexplained equipment, however, may have encouraged the belief among soldiers that drop weapons were acceptable. If drop weapons were standard operating procedure, where was the line between right and wrong?

The events leading to the killing of Genei Nesir Khudair al-Janabi began three days earlier, on May 8. The snipers awoke at 4 a.m. to begin preparations for a mission that night. The team finally left Patrol Base Jurf at 11:30 p.m., bearing packs that weighed more than 100 pounds. They moved slowly through the night to avoid detection. It took them 90 minutes to travel three miles. The snipers finally reached their "hide" at 4 a.m.

They spent the next day hidden in reeds by a canal, while the temperature climbed past 115. That afternoon, Murphy drank 12 quarts of water in six hours and still needed two IVs. He checked his pulse and counted 120 beats per minute. "Once you feel like you are cooking inside, your heart begins to race," he later testified.

The snipers stayed in position until 8 p.m. that night. For part of the march back to the patrol base, the snipers joined an infantry company headed in the same direction. One soldier from the company who was not even carrying a rucksack passed out from heat exhaustion. Medics gave him three IVs when the men reached the base at 11:30.

The snipers ate, debriefed and changed their clothes. Some got a few hours of sleep. Hand, who had been awake for 45 hours, testified that he slept from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. then "scrounged together enough coffee" to have a cup.

The snipers spent a restless, sleep-deprived May 10 cleaning equipment and preparing for the next mission outside the wire, scheduled for that night. "In terms of the patrol base," Hand testified, "you really can't sleep, there is too much movement, too much noise and there is no shade unless you make some."

Murphy, still recovering from the previous day's dehydration, told Hensley, the leader of the sniper section, he could not make that night's mission. Another sniper, Sgt. Robert Redfern, volunteered to take Murphy's place.

Murphy, whom Vela later described as "like a brother to me," saw Vela just before the mission. Vela was readying his gear. He looked drained. Murphy asked Vela, "Are you good, man?"

Hensley, Vela, Sandoval, Hand and Redfern left Patrol Base Jurf at around 10 p.m. and arrived at their "hide" at 2 a.m. on the morning of May 11. The hide was a grassy hill next to a run-down pump house on the banks of the Euphrates. An infantry company soon began raiding a nearby house in a futile effort to locate insurgent rockets.

In the field, snipers sleep in shifts, or "rest cycles," with one man keeping guard while the others try to rest. By 10 a.m. the next morning, the guard on duty was Vela.

Vela testified that he remembered looking over a nearby berm and then in another direction at some children playing a few hundred meters away. When he turned back around toward the berm, Khudair, the vegetable farmer, "was just there."

Vela froze. Sandoval, who had been woken by the sound of the Iraqi's approach, motioned toward Vela's gun. Taking the signal, Vela pointed the 9 mm pistol at the farmer's face.

Sandoval woke up Redfern. Redfern and Vela waved the Iraqi into the hide, forced him down on his stomach and put the corner of the plastic poncho over his head. Vela stood over the man with the pistol, while Redfern ran his hands over Khudair's shoulders, arms, sides, back and chest in a cursory search. No weapons.

Vela woke Hensley and told him an unarmed Iraqi was in the hide. Hensley stood up, walked over to the Iraqi -- and from a standing position dropped a knee into his back with the full force of his body.

Khudair threw his head back, gasping for wind. "Staff Sgt. Hensley grabbed him by the mouth," Vela testified, "and told him to shut up or he was going to kill him."

Hensley wrapped parachute cord around the Iraqi's hands and Redfern dragged him deeper into the snipers' hide. At this point, Redfern spotted a boy approaching and waved him into the hide site as well. The snipers put him on his stomach, so the two Iraqis formed an L-shape on the ground with both of their heads under the corner of the poncho.

Hensley then dispatched Sandoval and Redfern to the pump house, 15 to 20 meters away, to provide security. Vela handed his pistol to Sandoval, who was armed with a bolt-action rifle that could only hold five rounds without reloading.

Vela said Hensley sat down on the berm for a moment. He then got up and radioed their superior officer, Didier. Hensley reported that he had spotted an Iraqi nearby armed with an AK-47. But Vela couldn't see anyone who matched that description. Vela alerted Hand, who was fading in and out of sleep on a nearby berm, that Hensley "might have seen something." Then Hensley ordered Vela to retrieve his pistol from Sandoval in the pump house.

A half-hour after the 17-year-old Iraqi boy entered the hide, Sandoval and Redfern saw him pass by their position in the pump house as he walked home. Thinking that both Iraqis had been released, Sandoval peered around the pump house wall to look into the hide. Khudair was still there. Vela was sitting on his rear, with one leg cocked up and an elbow resting on his knee, holding the pistol in one hand.

Inside the hide, Hensley radioed Didier a second time, saying an insurgent was moving closer to their position. Hensley asked permission to do a "close kill" to avoid being compromised.

Vela then looked around, but still didn't see any armed insurgent. "I was just really confused about what he was saying," Vela testified.

Hensley untied the Iraqi. "I thought we were going to let him go," Vela told the Army court.

"Are you ready?" Hensley allegedly asked Vela.

Hensley stepped aside. "Shoot," he said.

Vela claimed during testimony that he doesn't remember pulling the trigger. "It took me a second to realize that the shot had come from the pistol and it was in my hand."

Hensley radioed to Didier that the snipers had killed an insurgent. Meanwhile, the Iraqi's body convulsed. Hensley "kind of laughed" at the spectacle, according to Vela. Hensley then "[punched] the guy in the throat, and said, 'Shoot him again,' which I did."

Vela testified that after he shot the man for the second time, Hensley pulled an AK-47 out of his rucksack and placed it on the body. The snipers then agreed on a story about the shooting consistent with Hensley's radio calls.

Murphy, the soldier who had stayed behind because of dehydration, was sitting on a Humvee when the snipers trailed back into Patrol Base Jurf. The men were so soaked with sweat that Murphy thought they had waded through a canal.

"Hey, what's up, man?" Murphy asked Vela. But Vela just walked past his friend in silence. In testimony Murphy described Vela as "detached, somber, serious."

In late June 2007, less than two months after Khudair's death, Flores and Petta informed military authorities that the sniper section might be using drop weapons. That led to investigation of the circumstances of several of the unit's kills, which led in turn to the arrest of Sandoval, Hensley and Vela.

Sandoval was charged with murder for the deaths on April 27 and May 11, but convicted only of planting command wire in connection with the April 27 killing. He served about a month and a half in prison. The Army charged Hensley with three murders for the shootings of April 14, April 27 and May 11. He was convicted of planting a weapon, for placing the AK-47 next to Khudair, and insubordination. He was sentenced to time served and busted down to sergeant.

On February 10, 2008, however, Vela was sentenced to 10 years in a military prison for the murder of Khudair.

Top battalion leaders, who had to sign off on the charges, have faced no serious questions about whether their demand for more bodies, their vague rules of engagement or the confusion sown by the secret program might have contributed to the events of spring 2007. U.S. Army Alaska spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Allen said Balcavage and Knight were unavailable for an interview.

Hand, one of the snipers in the hide on May 11, later testified that he believes his "main responsibility is to take care of my subordinates." But the battalion leaders, he said, "have been very lax in their care of anybody except themselves."

"If you have never been outside the wire, you really have no basis [to judge]," said Hand. "You've never been in a life-or-death situation where you have had to count on the guy to your left and right ... You see stuff out there that no one back here is going to see."

Hensley, meanwhile, is back on active duty. Now a sergeant, he is stationed in Georgia, where he is an instructor for Army Rangers.

Bush: U.S., Israel in great ideological struggle' in Middle East

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By Dion Nissenbaum

JERUSALEM - President Bush celebrated Israel's 60th anniversary on Thursday by hailing the Jewish state as a beacon of democracy and denouncing calls for the United States to talk to Iran and other radical forces in the region as a ''foolish delusion.''

In a speech to Israel's parliament, Bush compared the calls for talks with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas to the pleas of leaders who sought to negotiate with Adolf Hitler.

''We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history,'' Bush said.

Bush made only a passing reference to sluggish Israeli peace talks with Palestinian moderates and instead focused on what could be done to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

''Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations,'' Bush said. ''For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.''

The speech marked the high point of Bush's second visit to Israel as president.

While Israeli leaders cheered the staunch support from the U.S. president, Palestinians marked the day they call ''the catastrophe'' with a moment of silence, black balloons and stone-throwing protests against Israeli soldiers.

While Bush has pushed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the top of his agenda for his final months in office, the president largely ignored the issue in his speech.

Bush's only reference to ongoing peace talks came near the end of his speech as the president painted a vision of the Middle East in another 60 years when ''the Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of.''

The politically charged nature of the talks was clear during the special session when two conservative Israeli lawmakers walked out of the chamber when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed confidence that the Knesset and most Israelis would eventually support the creation of a Palestinian state on land now occupied by Israel.

As Bush rose to spoke, three Arab-Israeli lawmakers walked out in protest.

After spending the morning with Olmert touring Masada, the ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea where Jewish rebels took their lives instead of surrendering to Roman forces, Bush echoed the pledge made by thousands of Israeli soldiers.

''At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: 'Masada shall never fall again,''' Bush said. ''Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will always stand with you.''

Bush dismissed as ''a tired argument'' longstanding suggestions that America's ties to Israel were the root of its problems in the Middle East.

''Israel's population may be just over 7 million,'' Bush said as he received a standing ovation. ''But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong because America stands with you.''

Bush said the United States and Israel, linked in ''moral clarity,'' were engaged in a ''great ideological struggle'' in the Middle East.

''Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,'' Bush said. ''We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.''

Winning the ideological battle, Bush said, requires an alternative vision that promotes democracy, freedom of religion and tolerance.

''When leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings,'' Bush said.

Bush compared the Middle East of today to political realities after World War II when Japan and Germany were battered, bitter enemies of the United States. No one could have imagined then, Bush said, that the two nations would become strong allies a short few decades.

''A future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, too, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values,'' said Bush.

Wealth but no political power

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Arab oil producers are awash in wealth. They have never been so rich. But the paradox is that, in spite of their great and growing wealth, their political weight in the world remains small, even derisory. They have not - or, at least, not yet - converted their wealth into political influence on a global scale.

This is particularly striking in the Arabs' own Middle East region. Why, one wonders, have the Arabs not been able to resolve the grave crises in Iraq and Lebanon, which are tearing their region apart? Why have they allowed the US to neglect Arab interests in the festering Arab-Israeli conflict, and tilt so decisively in Israel's favour? Why have the Arabs not intervened to defuse the dangerous confrontation between the West and Iran which, if it were to escalate into a military clash, would be utterly disastrous for the Gulf?

Why do the Arabs seem to focus all their attention and all their energies on business - on getting rich and richer still - while leaving their political and strategic destinies very largely in the hands of foreigners?

Whatever the reasons - and they are undoubtedly many and deep-seated - the Arab world projects an image of impotence, even where its own vital interests are concerned.

Yet, the wealth is there - and in most other societies, wealth means power. But not in the Arab world - or, at least, not yet. It is worth recalling the figures. On December 12, 1998, the price of oil collapsed and was quoted at $10.76 (BD4) a barrel. In January last year, it had recovered to a comfortable $58 a barrel. Then, to universal astonishment and alarm, the price soared on January 2 this year to a then all-time record of $100.

But that was not the end of it. This past week, oil surged to $126 a barrel - an 11 per cent rise on the month - and some experts even predict it could rise to $200!

We are living through what looks like the first great crisis of the 21st century. Quite apart from oil, foreign exchange and commodity markets have also displayed huge volatility. Food prices, for example, have risen by 40pc - their sharpest rise since 1978. The price of wheat alone nearly doubled between March last year and this year, causing tremendous problems for countries like Egypt, which imports 50pc of the wheat it consumes.

At the same time, the US dollar, to which several Gulf currencies remain pegged has collapsed. The causes lie in the vast US budgetary, commercial and foreign trade deficits - themselves linked to the disastrous Iraq war - to alarming signs of recession in the US economy, and to a sharp fall in US interest rates.

Meanwhile, wealth and power are moving away from the once-dominant western world to China, India, Brazil and other emergent economies.Such is the world in which the Arabs live. Their oil is a non-renewable resource. They need to be careful not to waste a single dollar of their oil bonanza and invest instead in building a post-oil economy.

Above all, they need to translate their wealth - with vision, intelligence and determination - into political power, so as to resolve the many conflicts which sap their energies, afflict their people and prevent them from taking their proper place in the world.

Bogus Claim, al-Maliki Stall U.S. Plan on Iran Arms

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By Gareth Porter

Early this month, the George W. Bush administration's plan to create a new crescendo of accusations against Iran for allegedly smuggling arms to Shiite militias in Iraq encountered not just one but two setbacks.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to endorse U.S. charges of Iranian involvement in arms smuggling to the Mahdi Army, and a plan to show off a huge collection of Iranian arms captured in and around Karbala had to be called off after it was discovered that none of the arms were of Iranian origin.

The news media's failure to report that the arms captured from Shiite militiamen in Karbala did not include a single Iranian weapon shielded the U.S. military from a much bigger blow to its anti-Iran strategy.

The Bush administration and top Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus had plotted a sequence of events that would build domestic U.S. political support for a possible strike against Iran over its "meddling" in Iraq and especially its alleged export of arms to Shiite militias.

The plan was keyed to a briefing document to be prepared by Petraeus on the alleged Iranian role in arming and training Shiite militias that would be surfaced publicly after the al-Maliki government had endorsed it and it used to accuse Iran publicly.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters on Apr. 25 that Petraeus was preparing a briefing to be given "in the next couple of weeks" that would provide detailed evidence of "just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability". The centrepiece of the Petraeus document, completed in late April, was the claim that arms captured in Basra bore 2008 manufacture dates on them.

U.S. officials also planned to display Iranian weapons captured in both Basra and Karbala to reporters. That sequence of media events would fill the airwaves with spectacular news framing Iran as the culprit in Iraq for several days, aimed at breaking down Congressional and public resistance to the idea that Iranian bases supporting the meddling would have to be attacked.

But events in Iraq diverged from the plan. On May 4, after an Iraqi delegation had returned from meetings in Iran, al-Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a news conference that al-Maliki was forming his own Cabinet committee to investigate the U.S. claims. "We want to find tangible information and not information based on speculation," he said.

Another adviser to al-Maliki, Haider Abadi, told the Los Angeles Times' Alexandra Zavis that Iranian officials had given the delegation evidence disproving the charges. "For us to be impartial, we have to investigate," Abadi said.

Al-Dabbagh made it clear that the government considered the U.S. evidence of Iranian government arms smuggling insufficient. "The proof we have is weapons which are shown to have been made in Iran," al-Dabbagh said in a separate interview with Reuters. "We want to trace back how they reached [Iraq], who is using them, where are they getting it."

Senior U.S. military officials were clearly furious with al-Maliki for backtracking on the issue. "We were blindsided by this," one of them told Zavis.

Then the Bush administration's campaign on Iranian arms encountered another serious problem. The Iraqi commander in Karbala had announced on May 3 that he had captured a large quantity of Iranian arms in and around that city.

Earlier the U.S. military had said that it was up to the Iraqi government to display captured Iranian weapons, but now an Iraqi commander was eager to show off such weapons. Petraeus' staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which the captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.

But when U.S. munitions experts went to Karbala to see the alleged cache of Iranian weapons, they found nothing that they could credibly link to Iran.

The U.S. command had to inform reporters that the event had been cancelled, explaining that it had all been a "misunderstanding". In his press briefing May 7, Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner gave some details of the captured weapons in Karbala but refrained from charging any Iranian role.

The cancellation of the planned display was a significant story, in light of the well-known intention of the U.S. command to convict Iran on the arms smuggling charge. Nevertheless, it went completely unreported in the world's news media.

A report on the Los Angeles Times' Blog "Babylon & Beyond" by Baghdad correspondent Tina Susman was the only small crack in the media blackout. The story was not carried in the Times itself, however.

The real significance of the captured weapons collected in Karbala was not the obvious U.S. political embarrassment over an Iraqi claim of captured Iranian arms that turned out to be false. It was the deeper implication of the arms that were captured.

Karbala is one of Iraq's eight largest cities, and it has long been the focus of major fighting between the Mahdi Army and its Shiite foes. Moqtada al-Sadr declared his ceasefire last August after a major battle there, and fighting had resumed there with the government operation in Basra in March. Thousands of Mahdi Army fighters have fought there over the past year.

The official list of weapons captured in Karbala includes nine mortars, four anti-aircraft missiles, 45, RPGs and 800 RPG missiles and 570 roadside explosive devices. The failure to find a single item of Iranian origin among these heavier weapons, despite the deeply entrenched Mahdi Army presence over many months, suggests that the dependence of the Mahdi Army on arms manufactured in Iran is actually quite insignificant.

The Karbala weapons cache also raises new questions about the official U.S. narrative about the Shiite militia's use of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) as an Iranian phenomenon. Among the captured weapons mentioned by Gen. Jawdat were what he called "150 anti-tank bombs", as distinguished from ordinary roadside explosive devices.

An "anti-tank bomb" is a device that is capable of penetrating armour, which has been introduced to the U.S. public as the EFP. The U.S. claim that Iran was behind their growing use in Iraq was the centrepiece of the Bush administration's case for an Iranian "proxy war" against the U.S. in early 2007.

Soon after that, however, senior U.S. military officials conceded that EFPs were in fact being manufactured in Iraq itself, although they insisted that EFPs alleged exported by Iran were superior to the home-made version.

The large cache of EFPs in Karbala which are admitted to be non-Iranian in origin underlines the reality that the Mahdi Army procures its EFPs from a variety of sources.

But for the media blackout of the story, the large EFP discovery in Karbala would have further undermined the credibility of the U.S. military's line on Iran's export of the EFPs to Iraqi fighters.

Apparently understanding the potential political difficulties that the Karbala EFP find could present, Gen. Bergner omitted any reference to them in his otherwise accurate accounting of the Karbala weapons.

*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

American As Reluctant Warrior

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By Michael Sherry

From The Long Term View

Most Americans see their nation as essentially peace-loving, a reluctant warrior that fights only when fanatical enemies force it to. But measured by its actions rather than its self-image, the United States is a warrior nation more than any other major modern power is.

Since 1898, it has entered 10 conflicts most people recognize as wars, and only twice—in World War II and the recent Afghanistan war—directly in response to major attacks on its people or forces.

In other cases, provocations—some delivered, some received, some grossly exaggerated (as with the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incidents)—preceded war, but the U.S. initiated full-scale action.

Hundreds of other military actions have gone forward without the “war” moniker, especially in the Caribbean and Central America, and often at great cost, as with the blast that killed 241 Marines in Beirut in 1983 amid Lebanon’s civil war and the 2003 occupation of Iraq after President George W. Bush declared the fighting over.

And except in the world wars, America’s foes have been vastly inferior militarily, economically, and in other ways—hardly bullies poised to take over the world, though often linked to such bullies in reality or in Americans’ imagination.

The reluctant warrior has been busy, able to overcome its reluctance. Presidents often invoke that reluctance. As American intervention in Vietnam escalated, President Johnson insisted that “we seek no wider war”— presumably forced on him by the enemy. President Bush insisted that it was up to Saddam Hussein, not him, whether war occurred in 2003—a disingenuous stance, some observers complained, given his posture as determined leader, America’s power, and his claim that events were moved by “the hand of a just and faithful God,” in which case no one was in control.

But that posture makes sense in one way: only by seeing themselves as reluctant warriors can Americans enjoy war’s secret thrills and benefits.

Few Americans love war in some bloodthirsty way. Even, perhaps especially, veterans of war have long offered somber or angry reflections on war, and few have seen a providential God at work in war — presidential God talk is largely for home-front consumption. But Americans yearn for what war presumably brings if not for war itself—the power and pride it may yield or the internal cohesion it presumably brings.

For a people who abhor war, Americans use the word with remarkable promiscuity. One can regard the abhorrence as sincere while still seeing a displaced embrace of war at work.

President Lyndon Johnson declared wars on so many things—poverty, disease, crime, the Communist Vietnamese—that it became hard to keep them straight. Nixon declared wars on cancer, “smut,” and domestic “enemies,” and every president from Reagan on has declared “war on drugs.”

Flush with success in the first Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush sought to analogize his domestic programs to the war against Iraq (“We can bring the same courage and sense of common purpose to the economy that we brought to Desert Storm”). Others—activists, lobbyists, members of Congress, key officials—have declared war on AIDS, breast cancer, trade deficits, abortion, smoking, illiteracy, and other problems. When not actually at war—and sometimes even when we are—we are usually at war metaphorically.

Yet the familiar suspicion that presidents indulge in war-making for political gain fails to explain adequately the recurrent resort to war. As any president can readily see, over the past century was has badly served presidents’ long-term political interests, whatever momentary advantage it offered.

War has contributed nothing to forestall the political downfall of very president who has seriously engaged in it, with the exception of FDR, who had the good fortune in political terms to die before World War II ended and to have presided over a war so gargantuan as to depart from the American norm.

Wilson’s Democrats went out of power after World War I, Truman’s presidency suffered badly in the Korean War, Johnson’s and Nixon’s presidencies collapsed amid the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War gave George Bush no lasting political traction, just as none accrued to Clinton’s from the Kosovo War; in every case, the opposing political party retook the White House amid or after the war.

If presidents have exercised “wag the dog” reflexes, they have done so at their own peril. The roots of American war-making go far beyond presidential calculation (or miscalculation). They lie in America’s global ambitions and the threats that others pose, but also in a political culture which makes war the nation’s primary imaginative framework.

How have Americans reconciled their self-image as pacific with their embrace of so much that pertains to war? Success in avoiding war’s destruction has helped. War has occurred far from their shores through ever-advancing technologies of antiseptic cleanliness, as least for Americans, and recently with welcome brevity in Gulf War I.

Even in World War II, the death by accident, disease, and combat of 400,000 American service personnel paled in comparison to what other major combatants experienced. Resistance to such losses has been one way Americans express their reluctance to go to war—and their insistence that others bear its cost.

However slowly, World War II keeps receding in national consciousness, and all the wars that followed have in varying degrees left a sour aftertaste. To analogize to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Gulf Wars, the Afghan war, or the amorphous “war on terrorism” is a tough sell.

The storehouse of national imagination that is war now features empty shelves and troublesome products. That the “war on terrorism” will re-stock it seems doubtful.

Redlining Redux

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By Mary Kane

New mortgage industry policy could charge borrowers higher fees by zip code.

In the middle of the housing boom, when virtually anyone could get credit, redlining wasn’t even in the picture. It was an almost forgotten remnant of the past - a piece of lending history that involved lengthy legal battles and community organizing work to change a dark banking industry practice of denying credit based on where people lived or because of their race. But now, in the aftermath of the mortgage market meltdown, the cost and availability of credit for some borrowers is again becoming a concern - raising questions about whether a new kind of redlining is on the horizon.

A recent policy by the mortgage industry that would charge higher fees for loans to borrowers in certain zip codes is behind the concerns. It has quickly led to charges of redlining and violations of fair housing laws. This has reignited old battles over access to credit - fights that housing advocates thought they had settled years earlier.

Those advocates - the veterans of many past housing wars - are responding swiftly, and aggressively, though no one predicted during the housing boom that the lending industry might even consider going down this road again. They’ve formed alliances with realtor’s groups, and they’re already challenging moves by lenders to make credit more costly or unavailable to certain groups of borrowers.

Redlining worries reappeared because Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, private mortgage insurers and mortgage firms are assessing loan risks by using a "declining markets designation," meaning borrowers in certain geographic areas must pay more for loans because their communities show a higher rate of foreclosures, short sales and falling home values. The mortgage giants have been using the designation for a few months, as part of their automated underwriting systems. In some cases, a borrower won’t know whether he resides in such a market until he applies for the loan.

If the notion of extending or pricing credit based on a borrower’s neighborhood sounds suspiciously like the redlining practices of old, in which lenders refused to lend money in poor and minority communities, well, that’s because it is another form of redlining, plain and simple,

"It’s our position that loan underwriting based on zip codes is a modern form of redlining," said David Berenbaum, executive vice president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which represents fair housing groups. "I don’t have a problem with lenders looking closely at the economics of the marketplace to ensure they are able to do business and are able to lend. But they need to do it in a way that doesn’t have a discriminatory impact on neighborhoods and on certain groups of borrowers. This is just sort of a knee-jerk reaction to a difficult marketplace."

Gregory Squires, a George Washington University sociology professor who has studied predatory lending and redlining practices warned, "This should have set off alarm bells."

Fannie Mae has met with fair housing groups and is considering making some changes to its methodology, said spokesperson Amy Bonitatibus. She declined further comment about the practice. Berenbaum said Fannie Mae has responded "positively" to his concerns, and he remains optimistic that the policy could be changed.

Regardless of what happens, the fight over the policy shows how contentious things may get over access to credit as the mortgage meltdown shakes out. In many ways, lending to low-income and minority borrowers has come full circle - from redlining practices that denied them access to loans in 1950s and 1960s, to the "democratization of credit" in the 1990s that led to a credit glut and predatory lending, or reverse redlining, as Squires has described it.

Mortgage brokers and lenders began aggressively marketing subprime loans in the same neighborhoods once written off by traditional lenders, selling high-rate mortgages with hidden costs and fees. In neighborhoods long cut off from credit, these transactions, involving readily available mortgage money, often took place door to door, or by word-of-mouth spread through local churches.

Black and Latino borrowers were far more likely to take out high-priced subprime loans than white borrowers, even when their credit scores were similar, research shows.

This kind of lending came well before the housing bubble that began in 2005. That was when the subprime practices and lax underwriting spread to the rest of the mortgage market - especially in California, Florida, Nevada and other areas with hot housing markets, that attracted investors, house-flippers and mostly prime borrowers.

With so many loans gone bad, the subprime market no longer exists. Wall Street investors, accused of turning a blind eye to subprime abuses in their pursuit of profits, are wary of providing capital for new loans. As lending standards tighten, first-time home-buyers and borrowers with modest incomes now sometimes find themselves priced out of the mortgage market, even with the falling values that make some homes more affordable.

Once the credit squeeze eases, however, it’s still not clear that the problems with loan pricing will end. The declining markets designation is just one example of how the market may have changed for good as a result of the housing collapse.

Housing advocates fear that all the progress made in four decades of fair housing fights will be set back significantly. The zip code controversy, they say, shows that borrowers with modest incomes could wind up paying higher prices or find mortgages or refinancing out of reach, directly as a result of speculation and lax lending standards among lenders and prime borrowers at the top of the market.

"It’s all quite disturbing," said Patrica McCoy, a University of Connecticut law professor who has studied subprime securitization. "We’re on this precipice of another transformation in the mortgage market. Every single pillar of the market has to be rethought. We’re back to the drawing board and we’re not sure how all this is going to play out. It’s a fairly precarious time for fair lending."

Adding to the

Some lenders and investors contend that the subprime mess stemmed from the financial industry being forced by government regulations, like the Community Reinvestment Act, to make bad loans in poor neighborhoods. At mortgage banking conferences, academic seminars and in the blogosphere, the notion has taken hold and grown in the same way as an urban myth does.

The CRA was created by Congress in 1977, as a way to combat redlining. It required banks to make sure credit was available in the communities in which they operated. In the 1990s, CRA ratings for banks took on increasing importance, with regulators citing them when institutions applied for mergers or expansions. Regulators could deny a bank acquisition of another financial institution based on a poor CRA rating.

According to the CRA theory, advocacy groups like ACORN complained about redlining and pushed regulators into pressuring banks and lenders to make the bad loans.

Stan Liebowitz, an economics professor at the University of Texas-Dallas, called CRA regulations "the real scandal" of subprime lending in a recent New York Post column:

From the current hand-wringing, you’d think that the banks came up with the idea of looser underwriting standards on their own, with regulators just asleep on the job. In fact, it was the regulators who relaxed these standards - at the behest of community groups and "progressive" political forces.

In the New York Sun, economist Jerry Bowyer contended that "the fault lies with the small army of hard-left political hustlers who spent the early 1990s pushing risky mortgages on home lenders."

Housing advocates find the argument absurd. Some believe lenders are just using the CRA criticism to fend off future lending requirements and to avert blame for the subprime mess.

"This is the big lie," Berenbaum said. "There’s been absolutely no pressure from advocacy organizations to expand home ownership by underwriting risky loans. That is just so far from the truth."

Contentious arguments over fair lending have a long history, going back to when the federal Fair Housing Act was passed outlawing discrimination in housing, one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. But the law didn’t end battles over the denial of credit.

In the late 1980s, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution published "The Color of Money," documenting racial discrimination in mortgage lending. In 1994, Chevy Chase Federal Savings Bank reached a settlement with the Justice Dept. over allegations that it failed to make loans in black neighborhoods in Washington and suburban Prince Georges County, Md.

As subprime loan brokers began flooding poor neighborhoods in the 1990s, consumer advocates and legal aid lawyers complained, but the lending continued. In the mid-1990s, Associates First Capital Corp. earned $19,000 in fees by flipping an initial $20 loan 10 times over four years, to an illiterate borrower who signed his loan papers with an X. Citigroup purchased the Associates in 2000 and continued to make subprime loans.

In the last few years, fair housing groups have brought suits over lenders refusing to make loans for less than $100,000, or for denying "rowhouse loans" in Baltimore.

As the market restructures, industry leaders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be under great financial pressure to provide mortgage money and still cover their costs, McCoy said. Asking for higher down payments in declining markets and careful use of accurate appraisals can address those concerns adequately, she believes. No one wants lenders to go back to making risky loans, but they also don’t have to add on fees out of fear. "I’m not crazy about targeting zip codes and jacking up interest rates," she said.

Lenders and housing advocates should work toward access to sustainable credit - loans that a borrower can handle. It means that credit shouldn’t always be available for everyone. For some people, it won’t be the rig

To Squires, changes in the market may also open the door to thinking about ways to support rental housing, or alternative forms of housing like cooperatives.

The one thing certain about where the mortgage market is heading is that fights over lending tactics will continue. "These are constantly contentious political issues," Squires said. "As Saul Alinsky used to say, there are no permanent victories."

Housing advocates, however, are in a different position than they were at the beginning of the credit fights in the late 1960s, Berenbaum said. They are far more organized, sophisticated and able to respond quickly. They now work hand in hand with some in the lending industry.

They don’t have much choice. As the mortgage industry enters its next phase, so will the battles over who gets access to credit and mortgage loans - and how much it will cost them. To the players in this fight, zip code designations are a reminder of the past, and a sign of what is soon to come.

Disqualified General Won't Quit Tribunals

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By Michael Melia

San Juan, Puerto Rico - A Pentagon official said Wednesday that he will not resign as legal advisor to war-crimes tribunals at Guantánamo, despite his removal from the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver because of a lack of impartiality.

But Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann left open the possibility that he could step aside if questions about his neutrality bog down other cases.

"I am the legal advisor today. We take it one day at a time," Hartmann told The Associated Press.

Last week, a military judge barred Hartmann from any role in the case against Salim Hamdan - Osama bin Laden's driver, possibly for case to go to trial - because he aligned himself too closely with prosecutors. Hartmann said he will abide by the judge's ruling and noted that he did not testify in the Hamdan case.

Defense lawyers have signaled they will assert improper influence in other cases as well, building on the Hamdan ruling. That leaves open the possibility of more setbacks for the on-again, off-again tribunals.

Nonetheless, Hartmann said he remains focused on moving toward trials, pointing to formal charges announced this week against confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators.

His boss signed the charges Friday. The Pentagon made them public Tuesday. The five men face a June 5 arraignment at Guantánamo.

"The focus should not go away from the fact that these five cases are going ahead jointly," he said.

Hartmann supervises the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo and has extensive powers over the tribunal system in his role as adviser.

At an April 28 hearing at Guantánamo, former chief prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris Davis testified that Hartmann meddled in his office and pushed for certain cases to be pursued over others based on political considerations.

Davis resigned as prosecutor in October, but remains an Air Force colonel.

But Hartmann said in the interview that he operated within his mandate by ensuring that prosecutors were properly trained and motivated in an office "that was not functioning at its peak."

Welcome to the Age of Homeland Insecurity

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By Tom Engelhardt

Kiss American Security Goodbye 15 Numbers That Add Up to an Age of Insecurity

Once upon a time, I studied the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi -- until, that is, I realized I would never locate my "chi." At that point, I threw in the towel and took up Western exercise. Still, the principle behind Tai Chi stayed with me -- that you could multiply the force of an act by giving way before the force of others; that a smaller person could use the strength of a bigger one against him.

Now, jump to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath -- and you know the Tai Chi version of history from there. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke -- that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself.

Before that fateful day, the Bush administration had considered terrorism, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda subjects for suckers and wusses. What they were intent on was pouring money into developing an elaborate boondoggle of a missile defense system against future nuclear attacks by rogue states. Those Cold War high frontiersmen (and women) couldn’t get enough of the idea of missiling up. That, after all, was where the money and the fun seemed to be. Nuclear was where the big boys -- the nation states -- played. "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.…," the CIA told the President that August. Yawn.

After 9/11, of course, George W. Bush and his top advisors almost instantly launched their crusade against Islam and then their various wars, all under the rubric of the Global War on Terror. (As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pungently put the matter that September, "We have a choice -- either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter.") By then, they were already heading out to "drain the swamp" of evil doers, 60 countries worth of them, if necessary. Meanwhile, they moved quickly to fight the last battle at home, the one just over, by squandering vast sums on an American Maginot Line of security. The porous new Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, the FBI, and other acronymic agencies were to lock down, surveill, and listen in on America. All this to prevent "the next 9/11."

In the process, they would treat bin Laden’s scattered al-Qaeda network as if it were the Nazi or Soviet war machine (even comically dubbing his followers "Islamofascists"). In the blinking of an eye, and in the rubble of two enormous buildings in downtown Manhattan, bin Laden and his cronies had morphed from nobodies into supermen, a veritable Legion of Doom. (There was a curious parallel to this transformation in World War II. Before Pearl Harbor, American experts had considered the Japanese -- as historian John Dower so vividly documented in his book War Without Mercy -- bucktoothed, near-sighted military incompetents whose war planes were barely capable of flight. On December 8, 1941, they suddenly became a race of invincible supermen without, in the American imagination, ever passing through a human incarnation.)

When, in October 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act, and an Office of Homeland Security (which, in 2002, became a "department") was established, it was welcome to the era of homeland insecurity. From then on, every major building, landmark, amusement park, petting zoo, flea market, popcorn stand, and toll booth anywhere in the country would be touted as a potential target for terrorists and in need of protection. Every police department from Arkansas to Ohio would be in desperate need of anti-terror funding. And why not, when the terrorists loomed so monstrously large, were so apocalyptically capable, and wanted so very badly to destroy our way of life. No wonder that, in the 2006 National Asset Database, compiled by the Department of Homeland Security, the state of Indiana, "with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation."

In the administration’s imagination (and the American one), they were now capable of anything. From their camps in the backlands of Afghanistan (or was it the suburbs of Hamburg?), as well as in the murky global underworld of the arms black market, al-Qaeda’s minions were toiling ferverishly to lay their hands on the most fiendish of plagues and pestilences -- smallpox, botulism, anthrax, you name it. They were preparing to fill suitcases with nuclear weapons for deposit in downtown Manhattan. They were gathering nuclear refuse for dirty bombs. Nothing was too mad or destructive for them. Every faint but strange odor -- the sweet smell of maple syrup floating across a city -- was a potential bio-attack. And everywhere, even in rural areas, politicians were strapping on their armor and preparing to run imminent-danger, anti-terror campaigns, while urging their constituents to run for cover. Meanwhile, that former Sodom of the New World, New York City, had somehow been transformed into an I-heart-NY T-shirt-and-cap combo.

So, thank you, Osama bin Laden for expediting the Department of Homeland Security, glutting an already bloated Pentagon with even more money, ensuring that all those "expeditionary forces" would sally forth to cause havoc and not find victory in two hopeless wars, enabling the establishment of a vast offshore prison network (and the torture techniques to go with it), and creating a whole new global "security" industry to "thwart terrorists" that was, by 2006, generating $60 billion a year in business and whose domestic wing was devoted to locking down America.

When the history of this era is finally written, based on the Tai Chi Principle, Osama bin Laden and his scattering of followers may be credited for goading the fundamentalist leaders of the United States into using the power in their grasp so -- not to put a fine point on it -- stupidly and profligately as to send the planet’s "sole superpower" into decline. Above all, bin Laden and his crew of fanatics will have ensured one thing: that the real security problems of our age were ignored in Washington until far too late in favor of mad dreams and dark phantoms. In this lies a bleak but epic tale of folly worthy of a great American novelist (wherever she is).

In the meantime, consider the following little list -- 15 numbers that offer an indication of just what the Tai Chi Principle meant in action these last years; just where American energies did and did not flow; and, in the end, just how much less safe we are now than we were in January 2001, when George W. Bush entered the Oval Office:

536,000,000,000: the number of dollars the Pentagon is requesting for the 2009 military budget. This represents an increase of almost 70% over the Pentagon’s 2001 budget of $316 billion -- and that’s without factoring in "supplementary" requests to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the President’s Global War on Terror. Add in those soaring sums and military spending has more than doubled in the Bush era. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2001, funding for "defense and related programs... has jumped at an annual average rate of 8%... -- four times faster than the average rate of growth for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (2%), and 27 times faster than the average rate for growth for domestic discretionary programs (0.3%)."

1,390,000: the number of subprime foreclosures over the next two years, as estimated by Credit Suisse analysts. They also predict that, by the end of 2012, 12.7% of all residential borrowers may be out of their homes as part of a housing crisis that caught the Bush administration totally off-guard.

1,000,000: the number of "missions" or "sorties" the U.S. Air Force proudly claims to have flown in the Global War on Terror since 9/11, more than one-third of them (about 353,000) in what it still likes to call Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is a good measure of where American energies (and oil purchases) have gone these last years.

509,000: the number of names found in 2007 on a "terrorist watch list" compiled by the FBI. No longer, in George Bush’s America, is a 10 Most Wanted list adequate. According to ABC News, "U.S. lawmakers and their spouses have been detained because their names were on the watch list" and Saddam Hussein was on the list even when in U.S. custody. By February 2008, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the names on the same FBI list had ballooned to 900,000.

300,000: the number of American troops who now suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress, according to a recent RAND study. This represents almost one out of every five soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even more -- approximately 320,000 -- "report possible brain injuries from explosions or other head wounds." This, RAND reports, represents a barely dealt with "major health crisis." The depression and PTSD alone will, the study reported, "cost the nation as much as $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment."

51,000: the number of post-surge Iraqi prisoners held in American and Iraqi jails at the end of 2007. In that country, the U.S. now runs "perhaps the world’s largest extrajudicial internment camp," Camp Bucca, whose holding capacity is, even now, being expanded from 20,000 to 30,000 prisoners. Then there’s Camp Cropper, with at least 4,000 prisoners, including "hundreds of juveniles." Many of these prisoners were simply swept up in surge raids and have been held without charges or access to lawyers or courts ever since. Add in prisoners (in unknown numbers) in our sizeable network of prisons in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo, and in our various offshore and borrowed prisons; add in, as well, the widespread mistreatment of prisoners at American hands; and you have the machinery for the manufacture of vast numbers of angry potential enemies, some undoubtedly willing to commit almost any act of revenge. Though there is no way to tabulate the numbers, hundreds of thousands of prisoners have certainly cycled through the Bush administration’s various prisons in these last seven years, many emerging embittered. (And don’t forget their embittered families.) Think of all this as an enormous dystopian experiment in "social networking," the Facebook from Hell without the Internet.

5,700: the number of trailers in New Orleans -- issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as temporary housing after Hurricane Katrina -- still occupied by people who lost their homes in the storm almost three years ago. Such trailers have also been found to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde fumes. Katrina ("Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job") was but one of many security disasters for the Bush administration.

658: the number of suicide bombings worldwide last year, including 542 in Afghanistan and Iraq, "more than double the number in any of the past 25 years." Of all the suicide bombings in the past quarter century, more than 86% have occurred since 2001, according to U.S. government experts. At least one of those bombers -- who died in a recent coordinated wave of suicide bombings in the Iraqi city of Mosul -- was a Kuwaiti, Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, who had spent years locked up in Guantanamo.

511: the number of applicants convicted of felony crimes, including burglary, grand larceny, and aggravated assault, who were accepted into the U.S. Army in 2007, more than double the 249 accepted in 2006. According to the New York Times, between 2006 and 2007, those enrolled with convictions for wrongful possession of drugs (not including marijuana) almost doubled, for burglaries almost tripled, for grand larceny/larceny more than doubled, for robbery more than tripled, for aggravated assault went up by 30%, and for "terroristic threats including bomb threats" doubled (from one to two). Feel more secure yet?

126: the number of dollars it took to buy a barrel of crude oil on the international market this week. Meanwhile, the average price of a gallon of regular gas at the pump in the U.S. hit $3.72, while the price of gas jumped almost 20 cents in Michigan in a week, 36 cents in Utah in a month, and busted the $4 ceiling in Westchester, New York, a rise of 65 cents in the last year. Just after the 9/11 attacks, a barrel of crude oil was still in the $20 range; at the time of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it was at about $30. In other words, since 9/11, a barrel of crude has risen more than $100 without the Bush administration taking any serious steps to promote energy conservation, cut down on the U.S. oil "addiction," or develop alternative energy strategies (beyond a dubious program to produce more ethanol).

82: the percentage of Americans who think "things in this country… have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track," according to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. This is the gloomiest Americans have been about the "direction" of the country in the last 15 years of such polling.

40: the percentage loss ("on a trade-weighted basis") in the value of the dollar since 2001. The dollar’s share of total world foreign exchange reserves has also dropped from 73% to 64% in that same period. According to the Center for American Progress, "By early May 2008, a dollar bought 42.9% fewer euros, 35.7% fewer Canadian dollars, 37.7% fewer British pounds, and 17.3% fewer Japanese yen than in March 2001."

37: the number of countries that have experienced food protests or riots in recent months due to soaring food prices, a global crisis of insecurity that caught the Bush administration completely unprepared. In the last year, the price of wheat has risen by 130%, of rice by 74%, of soya by 87%, and of corn by 31%.

0: the number of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda or similar groups inside the United States since September 11, 2001.

So consider "the homeland" secure. Mission accomplished.

And if you doubt that, here’s one last figure, representative of the ultimate insecurity that, by conscious omission as well as commission, the Bush administration has left a harried future to deal with: That number is 387: Scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii just released new information on carbon dioxide -- the major greenhouse gas -- in the atmosphere, and it’s at a record high of 387 parts per million, "up almost 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years." Its rate of increase is on the rise as well. Behind all these figures lurks a potential world of insecurity with which this country has not yet come to grips.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture’s crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.

New Legislation and Debate on Net Neutrality

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By Christopher Kuttruff

Last week, lawmakers proposed legislation on network neutrality that would open up the possibility for antitrust lawsuits against companies that violate the bill's regulations. The bill has fueled the ongoing debate about the implications of network regulation.

On Thursday, May 8, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) introduced the "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008" (H.R. 5994) which seeks to prevent anti-competitive and discriminatory activity by broadband Internet service providers.

The legislation mirrors previous efforts undertaken in 2006 to amend The Clayton Antitrust Act (15 U.S.C. 12 et seq.) by making unlawful the failure to provide "broadband network services on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions." The 2006 bill, which passed the House Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming majority, was never brought before the House floor.

The 2008 "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act" would require Internet service providers (ISPs) "to clearly and conspicuously disclose to users, in plain language, accurate information concerning any terms, conditions, or limitations on the broadband network service."

Chairman Conyers and Representative Lofgren have revived their efforts to pass legislation amidst tumultuous debate on the topic of network neutrality.

The debate on net neutrality has received more attention and has become more charged since reports surfaced in late 2007 that Comcast was selectively slowing the BitTorrent protocol, a peer-to-peer downloading tool. BitTorrent, like other peer-to-peer services, allows Internet users to download and upload small pieces of files quickly, with many different individuals. The reports immediately struck a nerve for many Internet users who take advantage of BitTorrent's speed and reliability.

While peer-to-peer (p2p) services can be used for legal, legitimate content, frequently, BitTorrent and other such tools are utilized to share pirated content (copyrighted music, movies, applications etc.).

Critics of the Conyers-Lofgren legislation assert that many of the elements of the bill would be an unfair burden for ISPs, who are left to deal with bandwidth demands and are limited in how they deal with abuse of network services.

ISPs (both large companies like Comcast, Verizon and others, as well as smaller independent companies) argue that the unmitigated use of such Internet services is "bandwidth hogging" and detracts from other customers' Internet use.

Brett Glass, founder of - a local ISP based in Wyoming, presented his perspective on net neutrality to the FCC on April 17, 2008 at Stanford University. Glass, who is a smaller ISP, stressed: "... we are unqualified advocates of network neutrality as it was originally defined: namely, the principle that Internet providers should refrain from leveraging their control of the pipes to engage in anti-competitive behavior. It is inexcusable for the cable company to throttle or block video because it competes with their own services, or for a telephone company to block Voice over IP because it's another way of making a telephone call."

A student at Stanford during the early years of the Internet, Glass went on to say that he advocates a responsible balance concerning Internet activity ... one that doesn't allow for discrimination, but also doesn't permit bandwidth abuse (e.g: from p2p services) that leaves excess costs to the ISP (costs that he is acutely sensitive to as a smaller, independent ISP).

Glass spoke to Truthout about his concerns regarding the Conyers bill. "They would require ISPs to do very expensive things. They're trying to dictate how we do business, and not being in the business, they don't know what to mandate," he said. "The big guys have ways to recover ... they can cross-subsidize and compensate for losses. But [for us], they are limiting how we innovate and do business; and we suffer."

Fully cognizant of Comcast's mistakes and the public relations chaos that followed, Glass emphasized in his remarks to the FCC, "[The FCC] should make strong rules prohibiting anti-competitive behavior, since this is something nearly everyone agrees on. It should [also] ensure that all ISPs have access to the Internet backbone at a fair and reasonable cost. And finally, the Commission should require full disclosure from all parties - not only ISPs but also content and service providers ..."

The legislation proposed by Conyers and Lofgren (H.R. 5994) seeks to address certain concerns of ISPs by permitting network providers to "manage the functioning of its network, on a system-wide basis, provided that any such management function does not result in discrimination between content, applications, or services offered by the provider and unaffiliated provider." But many critics argue that the wording of (H.R 5994) is vague and that the ultimate application of the bill would be untenable.

Chairman Conyers stated, "Americans have come to expect the Internet to be open to everyone. The Internet was designed without centralized control, without gatekeepers for content and services. If we allow companies with monopoly or duopoly power to control how the Internet operates, network providers could have the power to choose what content is available."

The debate continues, however, on the true definition of network neutrality and how best to maintain it.

Blackwater's Proposed San Diego Training Facility Draws Criticism

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By Tony Perry

Opponents say the firm used the names of other entities to gain permits to remodel an Otay Mesa warehouse. The firm says it needs a center to fulfill a Navy contract.

San Diego - Blackwater Worldwide, the global security firm whose conduct in Iraq has drawn criticism, is again trying to open a training facility in the face of local opposition.

In March, the firm dropped plans to build a 220-acre training camp in rural Potrero, about 45 miles east of downtown San Diego. A coalition of rural property owners, environmentalists and antiwar activists opposed its effort to build a "combat town."

But the coalition did not know that Blackwater was simultaneously moving to open a smaller facility with a shooting range in Otay Mesa, within the city limits and near the Mexican border.

The other project became known to the public only after leaders of the coalition received a tip from someone with inside information.

Unlike the Potrero plan, which would have required approval from the county Board of Supervisors, the Otay Mesa project required only the sort of basic permits that can be issued over the counter.

What has annoyed Blackwater opponents is that the permits were not sought under the name Blackwater. Instead, papers were filed for Raven Development Group and Southwest Law Enforcement.

"They were using these phony names to evade scrutiny by activist groups like ours that are watching their every move," said Raymond Lutz, coordinator of Citizens Oversight Projects, which led the opposition to the Potrero proposal.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell denied that there was any attempt at concealment. Raven, she said, has long been a Blackwater construction subsidiary.

"Raven is not an unknown entity by any means," Tyrrell said from Blackwater's North Carolina headquarters. "Raven was started to build things" for Blackwater.

The Otay Mesa project, Tyrrell said, would allow Blackwater to continue an existing contract to train Navy personnel. Blackwater has been using a shooting range in the Kearny Mesa area of San Diego, but its relationship with the shooting range owner is ending, she said.

Under the names Raven and Southwest Law Enforcement, Blackwater received permits to remodel a 61,600-square-foot warehouse in an industrial park west of the Otay Mesa border crossing.

The firm hopes to begin training this summer, although opponents hope to block those plans by arguing that Blackwater lacks the necessary firearm permits. Lutz and several dozen other opponents of Blackwater petitioned the City Council on Tuesday.

The issue of permits has become part of the increasingly bitter election campaign between Mayor Jerry Sanders and businessman Steve Francis.

Sanders has ordered an investigation into whether Blackwater used deception to get the permits. Francis said the episode shows "the corrosive effects of too much secrecy and not enough transparency" at City Hall.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista) has asked Sanders to block Blackwater's plans. "We cannot allow a company with their reputation to do business in our community. The cost is too high," Filner said.

Lutz and members of his group say Blackwater wants a facility near the border so it can try to supply the federal government with border guards.

Tyrrell disputed those charges. The Otay Mesa warehouse, she said, would be used to teach survival techniques, the kind of training that Blackwater, which was founded in 1997, specialized in before its name became linked to Iraq.

"This is our core competency," she said. "This is not anything new."

House Approves Farm Bill by Veto-Proof Margin

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By Michael Doyle

Washington - The House on Wednesday emphatically approved a massive five-year farm bill by a veto-proof margin, setting up President Bush for a major political embarrassment.

Brushing off Bush's opposition, many Republicans joined a majority of Democrats in approving the farm bill 318-106. This is well over the two-thirds vote needed to override Bush's promised veto.

"We've solved a lot of problems in this bill," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. "We have a bill that covers all of the interests in the country."

The Senate is expected to approve the legislation by a similarly commanding margin as early as Thursday morning. If the farm bill support holds, as lawmakers expect, Congress is on track to hand Bush the second veto override of his presidency. In an election year, even GOP lawmakers stressed Wednesday that they cared more about their rural voters than about Bush's declining clout.

"I agree that this farm bill is very far from perfect," said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, a senior Republican member of the powerful House Rules Committee, "but like many of my colleagues in the House, I must weigh the bill by its impact on my constituents."

The farm bill's constantly shifting price tag now has been pegged at $289 billion over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office's latest estimate. Over 10 years, if farm programs stayed the same, the bill's estimated cost exceeds $700 billion.

"It heaps the burden on the taxpayers yet again," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

More than two-thirds of the first five years' total spending is devoted to nutrition and food stamps, which the bill renames the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Most political attention, though, has targeted the agricultural payments that are the bill's true foundation.

Traditional commodity subsidies for crops like cotton, rice, wheat and corn remain largely untouched in the new bill. The bill includes a new $3.8 billion permanent disaster payment program, deemed particularly generous for weather-stricken growers in states like Montana and the Dakotas.

The bill offers record spending for fruits and vegetables. Depending on how it is counted, the bill offers between $1.3 billion and $3 billion benefiting special crops through various specialty crop marketing, research and related efforts. This is at least three or four times more than the amount provided under the prior 2002 farm bill.

"The U.S. Congress has accomplished what some of us thought was impossible," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, the California Democrat who chairs the House horticulture and organic agriculture subcommittee.

Bush, who incited conservative outrage when he signed the big 2002 farm bill, positioned himself this year as the champion of reform. He called for a flat prohibition on all crop subsidies for farmers with annual incomes exceeding $200,000.

The final farm bill bans a certain form of subsidy, called a direct payment, to farmers with annual farm-related incomes exceeding $750,000. This income limit can stretch to $1.5 million for married farming couples.

The limit does not restrict wealthy full-time farmers from receiving other kinds of Agriculture Department payments besides direct payments.

"Where's the beef?" questioned Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. "Where's the real reform?"

The legislation is late, as the prior farm bill expired last year. House and Senate negotiators required multiple extensions to finish writing the bill's conference report that now totals 673 pages, accompanied by an explanatory statement totaling 423 pages.

Beyond the big-ticket farm items, the package boosts myriad pet projects.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, for instance, secured $175 million to buy land and water rights around his state's Walker, Summit and Pyramid lakes. A Vermont ski resort can expand by buying Forest Service land. California's Sacramento River watershed will become eligible for new water quality grants.

Behind closed doors, lawmakers also slipped in provisions only now becoming known.

Without public hearings or prior House or Senate action, for instance, farm bill negotiators impeded public release of subsidy-related records. The last-minute language blocks the Agriculture Department from releasing certain soil, boundary and cropping information provided by farmers seeking government payments.

"The American people won't even know the facts," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. "This is wrong."