Archives for FUBAR

Blackwater’s contract extended in Iraq

The State Department is extending its Iraq war contract with the mercenary company Blackwater USA, now known as Xe, for an "indefinite" period that sources say could be for "weeks or months," ABC News is reporting.

Blackwater's contract, set to expire on Sept. 4, will continue until a replacement contractor, Dyncorp, can get up to speed.

Under the contract, a Blackwater subsidiary, Presidential Airways, provides air transport around Iraq for American embassy employees.

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The American right to invade privacy?

A disappointing feature of the Obama administration is its continuing support of the Bush administration's assertion of the federal government's unfettered right to snoop.

Last July, the Department of Homeland Security decreed that federal agents -- customs, immigration, border patrol -- could hold and search travelers' documents and electronic devices without a warrant or even a suspicion that something might be amiss.

This power is particularly sensitive with regard to the now omnipresent laptops that can contain immense volumes of personal information -- private e-mails, financial records, medical records, diaries, photos, addresses, proprietary business data, drafts of reports and articles.

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The doctrine of ‘plausible deniability’

As every school kid knows, Harry Truman instituted the doctrine of ultimate responsibility. The "buck stops here" became the symbol of strong leadership from an Oval Office where the phrase was prominently displayed on the presidential desk. Truman mainly held to that approach except now and then when he relied on something we've come to know as "plausible deniability," as had presidents before him.

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Another year, another mortgage crisis

Just as the economy is showing hopeful signs of life and the federal government is turning a profit on the early bailout money, the country may get blitzed by a second round of foreclosures -- this time on commercial property instead of homes.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a large and still-undetermined chunk of $700 billion in commercial mortgage-backed securities, CMBS, is in trouble thanks to a massive downturn in the commercial real-estate market.

Like the mortgage bonds that caused such havoc when the housing market went south, commercial mortgages are packaged up and sold as bonds. Like homeowners betting that the value of their house would keep going up, investors in CMBS bet that the occupancy, rents and underlying value of commercial real estate -- hotels, malls, office buildings, etc. -- would keep rising.
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Tom Ridge changes his tune on terror threats

Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, under fire from former colleagues in the Bush administration for saying politics ruled terror threat levels during that administration's time in the White House, is backpedaling and saying that's not what he meant.

Ridge, in his first interview since allegations of manipulating threat levels for political gain surfaced last week, now says he didn't mean to suggest such a thing.

"I'm not second-guessing my colleagues," Ridge told USA Today in an interview.

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Some in CIA questioned hiring Blackwater

When the CIA revived a plan to kill or capture terrorists in 2004, the agency turned to the well-connected security company then known as Blackwater USA.

With Blackwater's lucrative government security work and contacts arrayed in hot spots around the world, company officials offered the services of foreigners supposedly skilled at tracking terrorists in lawless regions and countries where the CIA had no working relationships with the government.

Blackwater told the CIA that it "could put people on the ground to provide the surveillance and support — all of the things you need to conduct an operation," a former senior CIA official familiar with the secret program told The Associated Press.

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Postal service facing more cuts

The number of post offices being considered for possible closure to save money seems to be growing.

The Postal Service faces a potential deficit of $7 billion this fiscal year and has been looking for ways to save, including buyouts, spending cuts and closing offices.

In August, the service said 677 local branch offices were being studied for closing.

But Friday, in a letter to the Postal Regulatory Commission, the agency revised that number to "fewer than 750 stations and branches."

The letter contained no details on which offices may have been added, though it said the commission would be receiving more information next week.
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Obama pledges help on Katrina recovery

President Barack Obama marked the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Saturday by pledging to make sure that turf wars and red tape don't slow the pace of the continuing recovery.

He also said he would visit New Orleans by years' end.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president noted that the Bush administration's response to the killer storm raised questions among people in the U.S. about whether the government "could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis."

He said he wanted to ensure "that the legacy of a terrible storm is a country that is safer and more prepared for the challenges that may come."

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Nixon wanted lots of dirt on Kennedy

President Richard Nixon considered Ted Kennedy such a threat that he tried to catch Kennedy cheating on his wife, even ordering aides to recruit Secret Service agents to spill secrets on the senator's behavior.

"Do you have anybody in the Secret Service that you can get to?" Nixon asked his aide John Ehrlichman in a stark series of Oval Office conversations about Kennedy before the 1972 election. "Yeah, yeah," Ehrlichman replied.

"Plant one," Nixon said. "Plant two guys on him. This could be very useful."

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Obama’s war faces hard choices

A priority task confronting President Obama when he returns from vacation is stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, which Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has described as "serious and deteriorating."

Militarily, the Taliban, operating from safe havens in Pakistan, have stepped up their attacks on NATO-led forces and their rocketing and bombing of cities and villages. Sometimes the Taliban's violence seems mindless, like the bombing that leveled a whole block in Kandahar, killing more than 40. Neither the location nor the victims had any military significance.

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