FUBAR

Blackwater USA: A gang of killers

The private security firm Blackwater USA has been involved in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, according to a US Congress report that depicts the company’s employees as dangerously out of control.

Blackwater has covered up fatal shootings involving its staff, is the first to shoot in most incidents, and has joined in US military tactical operations, the report released Monday said.

Smoke, mirrors and taxes

Congress proposes to fund its $35 billion expansion of children’s health coverage — assuming it survives an expected presidential veto — with a 61-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax, bringing it to a dollar a pack.

Superficially, the idea has considerable appeal. The high tax might discourage — it certainly punishes — people engaged in a life-threatening habit that the government officially discourages. Simultaneously, it provides the funds to extend health coverage to uninsured children.

But Congress may find it has run afoul of the law of unintended consequences.

Wounded vets face financial woes

He was one of America’s first defenders on Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon. He saw more horrors in Kuwait and Iraq.

Today, he can’t keep a job, pay his bills, or chase thoughts of suicide from his tortured brain. In a few weeks, he may lose his house, too.

Gamal Awad, the American son of a Sudanese immigrant, exemplifies an emerging group of war veterans: the economic casualties.

Judge knocks down part of Patriot Act

An Oregon judge on Wednesday ruled that two provisions of the Patriot Act violated the U.S. Constitution’s protection against unlawful searches and seizures.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled in favor of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer wrongly arrested by the FBI in 2004 for possible ties to the Madrid train bombings, who challenged the secret searches of his home and office.

A bizarre spectacle

A world of intellectual tolerance and insidious hate was jammed into the quadrangle of Columbia University on Monday. Jammed inside a cramped campus hall. And jammed into the big screens of our television sets, and the small screens of the Internet feeds that beamed around the planet.

A real need for a shield law

The excesses of the CIA-leak investigation made clear the need for a federal shield law to protect reporters and their sources. Indeed, the need for such a law has been clear since 1972, when the Supreme Court upset a long-standing understanding that journalists were more or less immune from government investigations into their reporting.

Since then, federal prosecutors have successfully chipped away at that protection and, by one count, more than 40 reporters have been questioned about their sources and at least two have wound up in jail.

When arrogance rules, reason loses

Why can’t we get out of Iraq?

I was considering this question as I drove home a few evenings ago, when I stopped at a light behind a big SUV, an Expedition or a Suburban, with a couple of bumper stickers on the back. One read “Bush/Cheney ’04.”

The other one read: “The next time you feel perfect, try walking on water.”

I don’t remember feeling perfect lately, and hardly anyone I know feels that way on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I cannot walk on water and am, therefore, properly put in my place.

U.S.: Iran smuggling weapons to Iraq

The U.S. military accused Iran on Sunday of smuggling surface-to-air missiles and other advanced weapons into Iraq for use against American troops. The new allegations came as Iraqi leaders condemned the latest U.S. detention of an Iranian in northern Iraq, saying the man was in their country on official business.

Military spokesman Rear Adm. Mark Fox said U.S. troops were continuing to find Iranian-supplied weaponry including the Misagh 1, a portable surface-to-air missile that uses an infrared guidance system.

Mercenaries sold arms on black market

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C., is handling the investigation with help from Pentagon and State Department auditors, who have concluded there is enough evidence to file charges, the officials told The Associated Press. Blackwater is based in Moyock, N.C.

Where are the grown-ups?

America has gone childish on us, and not just America, by the way: The whole of the West has to some extent succumbed to a kind of adolescent mode of dealing with things, and there’s grave peril here, such as a lessened ability to stand up to Islamic radicals.