Saturday, September 01, 2007

Our Beloved Leader's Imbecilic, Insulting Quote of the Day


It’s not the government’s job to bail out speculators, or those who made the decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford.
Who are these speculators? The predators that sell unsophisticated people a false of bills, as it were, failing to explaining that no matter how stable interest rates appear, their ARMs are still going to go up?

And does this piece of garbage really think the people desperate enough to borrow from sub-prime hawks really bought homes knowing they that couldn't afford them, that they were going to end up homeless?

Being the son of his... shrewish, zero-class nutjob mother and being none too bright himself can't quite be the complete explanation....

Condi's Legacy

The Times shouldn't be so concerned (unless there was a lot of space to fill in the Labor Day weekend Saturday paper).

She has two legacies:

First, being at the forefront of an admistration with approximately no foreign policy accomplishments of a, you know, positive nature, as well as maybe one of the great failures of American history; and
Second: She's done a great job staying in the closet.

But not to worry. The money men will take good care of her as they did before she went into the public sector.

A Schadenfreude Episode


As Mr. Square Peg, I must confess that I can only hope that this guy should only be made a punk while in prison -- you know, made someone's bitch -- if not flat out killed.

He's the poster boy for an under-30, child of the Reagan revolution and, maybe moreso, the Bush counter-revolution, drunk on his own testosterone and all around self-perceived wonderfulness.

Hears that his daughter was allegedly molested by the local middle aged geeky, weird failure so before he can bother to have anything confirmed, he has to show what hot stuff he is and beat the old guy to death.

So now the not-victim is going to spend her formative years without a father (and the odds of his dying in prison are not insignificant) and her suddenly single mom, with one less family income, is facing a suit by the real victim's family.

Lies the Wingnuts Run On

Them wingnuts love hyperventilating about the "death tax". Of course, anything that keeps money out of the public sector because, you know, the economy and the world is a better place if the wealthy elite can buy a Continental GT instead of paying taxes that may go into building a bridge that won't colllapse.

So, the the death tax.

A complete and absolute lie; in fact, it's eminently fair and sensible. If it was what the wingnuts claim, Paris Hilton would have a real job and maybe even be an honest woman instead of a drunken threat on the roads.

The truth:
Myth 1: Repealing the estate tax wouldn’t significantly worsen the deficit because the tax doesn’t raise much revenue.



Reality: Repealing the estate tax would add trillions of dollars to future deficits.
Permanent repeal of the estate tax would cost more than $1 trillion over the first ten years in which its cost would be fully felt, 2012-2021. This cost includes $859 billion in lost revenue and $247 billion in increased interest payments on the national debt. (The official ten-year cost estimate is much lower: $499 billion. But that estimate is misleading because it covers an earlier ten-year period, 2008-2017, that captures the full cost of only six years of extending repeal.) (http://www.cbpp.org/6-5-06tax.htm)

Given the current fiscal situation — and, more importantly, the looming budgetary challenges posed by the baby boomers’ retirement — it would be extremely unwise for the federal government to forgo such large revenues.


Myth 2: The estate tax forces estates to turn over half of their assets to the government.



Reality: The few estates that pay any estate tax at all generally pay less than 20 percent of the value of their estate in taxes.
Today, more than 99 percent of estates pay no estate tax at all. Among the few estates that do owe taxes, the "effective" tax rate — that is, the percentage of the estate that is paid in taxes — averaged about 20 percent in 2005 (the latest year for which IRS data are available), far below the top estate tax rate of 48 percent that these estates faced.

Why is the effective tax rate so much lower than the top tax rate? Estate taxes are due only on the portion of an estate’s value that exceeds the exemption level, not on the entire estate. For example, at today’s $2.0 million exemption level, a $2.5 million estate would owe estate taxes on $500,000 at most. In addition, a large portion of the estate’s remaining value can be shielded from taxation through available deductions (for charitable bequests and state estate taxes paid, for instance). (http://www.cbpp.org/6-14-06tax.htm)

It’s also worth noting that the effective estate tax rate will fall below 20 percent over the next few years, as the exemption level rises and the top estate tax rate declines.


Myth 3: Many small, family-owned farms and businesses must be liquidated to pay estate taxes.



Reality: The number of small, family-owned farms and businesses that owe any estate tax is small — and shrinking rapidly.
Despite oft-repeated claims that the estate tax has dire consequences for family farms and small businesses, there is in fact very little evidence that it has an outsize impact on these groups. Indeed, the American Farm Bureau Federation acknowledged to the New York Times that it could not cite a single example of a farm having to be sold to pay estate taxes.

Most recently, an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office confirms that exceedingly few family farms and small businesses face the estate tax (http://www.cbpp.org/7-11-05tax.htm and http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/65xx/doc6512/07-06-EstateTax.pdf). The CBO report found that if the current exemption level of $2.0 million had been in place in 2000, only 123 farm estates and only 135 family-owned businesses nationwide would have owed any estate tax. The number of taxable farm estates drops to 65 nationwide at a $3.5 million exemption level, the level that takes effect in 2009. The number of taxable family-owned business estates falls to just 94 under the $3.5 million exemption.

The CBO report also found that of the few farm and family business estates that would owe any estate tax, the vast majority would have sufficient liquid assets (such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and insurance) in the estate to pay the tax without having to touch the farm or business. For instance, of the 65 farm estates that would have owed tax under a $3.5 million exemption, just 13 would have faced liquidity constraints.


Myth 4: The estate tax is best characterized as the "death tax."



Reality: The estate tax would more appropriately be called an "inheritance tax," as it ultimately affects only the heirs of large estates.
Today, the estates of only 1 out of every 200 people who die owe any estate tax whatsoever, because the first $2.0 million of the value of any estate ($4.0 million for a couple) is totally exempt from the tax. (http://www.cbpp.org/5-31-06tax2.htm)

Further, the exemption level is scheduled to rise to $3.5 million ($7 million for a couple) in 2009 under current law. At this level, only 3 of every 1,000 people who die will have an estate large enough to owe any tax.

That is why repealing the estate tax, which some people describe as "killing the death tax," has been described more aptly by others as the "Paris Hilton tax cut" after Paris Hilton, the heir to the Hilton hotel fortune.


Myth 5: The estate tax unfairly punishes success.



Reality: The estate tax affects only those most able to pay, and the funds it raises are used to support a range of programs that benefit the nation.
The estate tax is the most progressive component of a tax code that overall is only modestly progressive (particularly when regressive state and local taxes are taken into account). The money it raises funds essential programs, from health care to education to defending the nation. If the estate tax were repealed, then other taxpayers — presumably those that are more numerous and less well-off than those paying the estate tax — would have to foot the bill for these programs, face cuts in the benefits and services provided, or bear the burden of a higher national debt.

Like other Americans, the very wealthy benefit from public investments in areas such as defense, education, health care, scientific research, environmental protection, and infrastructure, and they rely even more than others on the government’s protection of individual property rights (since they have so much more to protect). Bill Gates, Sr., a prominent advocate of the estate tax, explains, “The reason the estate tax makes so much sense is that there is a direct relationship between the net worth people have when they pass on and where they live. The government that protects their business activities, the traditions that enable them to rely on certain things happening, that’s what creates capital and enables net worth to increase.” (http://www.cbpp.org/6-1-06tax-transcript.pdf)


Myth 6: Eliminating the estate tax would encourage people to save and thereby make more capital available for investment.



Reality: Eliminating the estate tax wouldn’t dramatically affect private saving, and it would greatly increase government dissaving (i.e., deficits).
A recent Congressional Research Service report found that the estate tax’s net impact on private saving is unclear — it causes some people to save more and others to save less — and that its overall impact on national saving is likely negative. "[I]f the only objective [of eliminating the estate tax] were increased savings," the report concluded, "it would probably be more effective to simply keep the estate and gift tax and use the proceeds to reduce the national debt."

The reason is simple: while repealing the estate tax might lead some people to save more, it also would lead the government to borrow more to offset the lost revenue. Government borrowing "soaks up" capital that would otherwise be available for investment in the economy. In the case of estate-tax repeal, the added government borrowing would more than outweigh any added private saving, leaving the economy no better off, and quite possibly worse off. (http://www.cbpp.org/6-8-06tax.htm)


Myth 7: The estate tax constitutes "double taxation" because it applies to assets that already have been taxed once as income.



Reality: Large estates are comprised mostly of "unrealized" capital gains that have never been taxed; the estate tax is the only means of taxing this income.
Income taxes on the appreciation of assets, such as real estate or artwork, are only paid when the asset is sold. Therefore, the increase in the value of an asset is never subject to income tax if the asset is held until a person dies. These "unrealized" capital gains can make up a significant share of an estate’s total value (http://www.cbpp.org/6-17-05tax.htm), especially among large estates — the ones likely to owe estate tax.

One reason the estate tax was created was to serve as a backstop to the income tax, taxing income that was never taxed under the income tax. That is, the taxation of this income is essentially deferred and ultimately taxed for the first time through the estate tax.


Myth 8: If the estate tax is reformed and retained, the logical top tax rate would be 15 percent, the same as the capital gains rate.



Reality: To match the effective tax rate on capital gains, the top estate tax rate would have to be 35-40 percent, not 15 percent.
Since the estate tax serves in part to tax capital gains that have not been taxed, some people have proposed taxing estates at the capital gains rate of 15 percent. But the capital gains rate is typically applied to all capital gains income, whereas the estate tax is applied only to part of the estate (see Myth 2 above).

As a result, a 15 percent top estate tax rate would result in an effective tax rate on taxable estates of only 5 or 6 percent — about one-third of the capital gains rate. A top estate tax rate of 35-40 percent would be needed to generate an effective rate of 15 percent.

Moreover, from the standpoint of the effect on the deficit and the national debt, cutting the top estate tax rate to 15 percent rate would differ little from repealing the tax entirely. Joint Committee on Taxation estimates indicate that with a 15 percent top rate and an exemption level of $3.5 million, the tax would lose 78 percent of the revenue that would be lost under repeal. With a 15 percent rate and a $5 million exemption, the loss would grow to 84 percent. (http://www.cbpp.org/5-31-06tax.htm)


Myth 9: The cost of complying with the estate tax is nearly equal to the total amount of revenue the tax raises.



Reality: The cost of estate tax compliance is modest, and is not much different than the cost of complying with other taxes.
Studies find that all of the various public and private costs associated with estate tax compliance (http://www.cbpp.org/6-14-05tax.htm) — including the IRS’s costs of administering the tax and the cost taxpayers bear in terms of estate planning and administering an estate when a person dies — are about 7 percent of estate tax revenues. These costs are consistent with the compliance costs for other taxes. For instance, administrative and compliance costs represent about 14.5 percent of revenue for the individual and corporate income taxes, 3-5 percent for value added taxes, and 2-5 percent for the sales tax.

Furthermore, the estate tax compliance burden will disappear for a growing number of families each year under current law, as the exemption level rises and fewer estates are subject to the estate tax.

Part of the confusion around the cost of estate tax compliance is that some estimates incorrectly include the cost of activities that would be necessary even in the absence of an estate tax — hiring estate executors and trustees, drafting provisions and documents for the disposition of property, and allocating bequests among family, for example. These activities account for about half of all costs sometimes associated with estate planning.

Link
with links..

Not News, Just Well Told: What Our Leaders are Really About

All their social talk is for the core religious voters. But look at the record: all the stuff that excites the wingnuts' electoral supporters never really seems to get done. It's not a priority. Indeed, if it any of it got accomplished, there's be far fewer promises for the wingnut "masses". (Whether there actually are masses....)

But I digress, as is my wont....

The primary goal of Our Leaders and there true, essential supporters -- those with and who control Big Money -- is simply to rip off the public transfer: the transfer of public funds -- our money -- to the nation's wealthiest 1%, more or less.

And one such project is Iraq. (And here's why Iraq differs from Vietnam. The latter was fought by our military, the former by private companies and, pardon the expression, way too many "weekend warriors" i.e. insufficiently trained. And, if Vietnam was fought like Iraq, Our Beloved Leader would have served in the combat zone.)

But again, I digress.

Point is, the king of snark, the rightously pissied Matt Taibi spells out the crap Our Leaders are pulling in Iraq on the supporter payback front:
How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.

You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress -- until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.

Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you've been promising her all these years. The place on Park Street in Dunn Loring, Virginia, looks pretty good -- four bedrooms, fireplace, garage, 2,900 square feet, a nice starter home in a high-end neighborhood full of spooks, think-tankers and ex-apparatchiks moved on to the nest-egg phase of their faceless careers. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.

A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

You've done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate," they write, adding that "the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles" and that "during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member's shirt." The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.

When Congress gets wind of the fias co, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill -- after all, you're a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.

You blink. Fuck if you know. "I have some conjecture, but that's all it would be" is your deadpan answer.

The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company's compensation. Touchy subject -- you've got a "cost-plus" contract, which means you're guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make -- and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you've got to cut him off. "So you won't voluntarily look at this," Van Hollen is mumbling, "and say, given what has happened in this project . . . "

"No, sir, I will not," you snap.

". . . 'We will return the profits.' . . ."

"No, sir, I will not," you repeat.

Your testimony over, you wait out the rest of the hearing, go home, take a bath in one of your four bathrooms, jump into bed with the little woman. . . . A year later, Iraq is still in flames, and your president's administration is safely focused on reclaiming $485 million in aid money from a bunch of toothless black survivors of Hurricane Katrina. But the house you bought for $775K is now assessed at $929,974, and you're sure as hell not giving it back to anyone.

"Yeah, I don't know what I expected him to say," Van Hollen says now about the way Robbins responded to being asked to give the money back. "It just shows the contempt they have for us, for the taxpayer, for everything."

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted. Since time immemorial, the distribution of government largesse had followed a staid, paper-laden procedure in which the federal government would post the details of a contract in periodicals like Commerce Business Daily or, more recently, on the FedBizOpps Web site. Competitive bids were solicited and contracts were awarded in accordance with the labyrinthine print of the U.S. Code, a straightforward system that worked well enough before the Bush years that, as one lawyer puts it, you could "count the number of cases of criminal fraud on the fingers of one hand."

There were exceptions to the rule, of course -- emergencies that required immediate awards, contracts where there was only one available source of materials or labor, classified deals that involved national security. What no one knew at the beginning of the war was that the Bush administration had essentially decided to treat the entire Iraqi theater as an exception to the rules. All you had to do was get to Iraq and the game was on.

But getting there wasn't easy. To travel to Iraq, would-be contractors needed permission from the Bush administration, which was far from blind in its appraisal of applicants. In a much-ballyhooed example of favoritism, the White House originally installed a clown named Jim O'Beirne at the relevant evaluation desk in the Department of Defense. O'Beirne proved to be a classic Bush villain, a moron's moron who judged applicants not on their Arabic skills or their relevant expertise but on their Republican bona fides; he sent a twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock exchange, and appointed a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget. James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan's community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq's health-care system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed was . . . an anti-smoking campaign.

Town-selectmen types like Haveman weren't the only people who got passes to enter Iraq in the first few years. The administration also greenlighted brash, modern-day forty-niners like Scott Custer and Mike Battles, a pair of ex-Army officers and bottom-rank Republican pols (Battles had run for Congress in Rhode Island and had been a Fox News commentator) who had decided to form a security company called Custer Battles and make it big in Iraq. "Battles knew some people from his congres sional run, and that's how they got there," says Alan Grayson, an attorney who led a whistle-blower lawsuit against the pair for defrauding the government.

Before coming to Iraq, Custer Battles hadn't done even a million dollars in business. The company's own Web site brags that Battles had to borrow cab fare from Jordan to Iraq and arrived in Baghdad with less than $500 in his pocket. But he had good timing, arriving just as a security contract for Baghdad International Airport was being "put up" for bid. The company site raves that Custer spent "three sleepless nights" penning an offer that impressed the CPA enough to hand the partners $2 million in cash, which Battles promptly stuffed into a duffel bag and drove to deposit in a Lebanese bank.

Custer Battles had lucked into a sort of Willy Wonka's paradise for contractors, where a small pool of Republican-friendly businessmen would basically hang around the Green Zone waiting for a contracting agency to come up with a work order. In the early days of the war, the idea of "competition" was a farce, with deals handed out so quickly that there was no possibility of making rational or fairly priced estimates. According to those familiar with the process, contracting agencies would request phony "bids" from several contractors, even though the winner had been picked in advance. "The losers would play ball because they knew that eventually it would be their turn to be the winner," says Grayson.

To make such deals legal, someone in the military would simply sign a piece of paper invoking an exception. "I know one guy whose business was buying weapons on the black market for contractors," says Pratap Chatterjee, a writer who has spent months in the Mideast researching a forthcoming book on Iraq contracts. "It's illegal -- but he got military people to sign papers allowing him to do it."

The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.

Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes -- $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while."

The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials -- a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair's phony invoicing. "It was the worst case of fraud I've ever seen, hands down," says Grayson. "But it's also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime."

But even being the clumsiest war profit eers of all time was not enough to bring swift justice upon the heads of Mr. Custer and Mr. Battles -- and this is where the story of America's reconstruction effort gets really interesting. The Bush administration not only refused to prosecute the pair -- it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money. The administration argued that Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA was not part of the U.S. government. When the lawsuit went forward despite the administration's objections, Custer and Battles mounted a defense that recalled Nuremberg and Lt. Calley, arguing that they could not be guilty of theft since it was done with the government's approval.

The jury disagreed, finding Custer Battles guilty of ripping off taxpayers. But the verdict was set aside by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who cited the administration's "the CPA is not us" argument. The very fact that private contractors, aided by the government itself, could evade conviction for what even Ellis, a Reagan-appointed judge, called "significant" evidence of fraud, says everything you need to know about the true nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Is it really possible to bilk American taxpayers for repainted forklifts stolen from Iraqi Airways and claim that you were just following orders? It is, when your commander in chief is George W. Bush. font >There isn't a brazen, two-bit, purse-snatching money caper you can think of that didn't happen at least 10,000 times with your tax dollars in Iraq. At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he'd have agents go to the various stashes -- a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam's former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch -- withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills. When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he'd withdrawn. Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation" for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, "suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash."

In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find. "Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "But that's exactly what our government did."

Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. "They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire," an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, "so the decision was made to torch the truck."

In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."

In Fallujah, where the company was paid based on how many soldiers used the base rec center, KBR supervisors ordered employees to juke the head count by taking an hourly tally of every soldier in the facility. "They were counting the same soldier five, six, seven times," says Linda Warren, a former postal worker who was employed by KBR in Fallujah. "I was even directed to count every empty bottle of water left behind in the facility as though they were troops who had been there."

Yet for all the money KBR charged taxpayers for the rec center, it didn't provide much in the way of services to the soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting of the war. When Warren ordered a karaoke machine, the company gave her a cardboard box stuffed with jumbled-up electronic components. "We had to borrow laptops from the troops to set up a music night," says Warren, who had a son serving in Fallujah at the time. "These boys needed R&R more than anything, but the company wouldn't spend a dime." (KBR refused requests for an interview, but has denied that it inflated troop counts or committed other wrongdoing in Iraq.)

One of the most dependable methods for burning taxpayer funds was simply to do nothing. After securing a contract in Iraq, companies would mobilize their teams, rush them into the war zone and then wait, citing the security situation or delayed paperwork -- all the while charging the government for housing, meals and other expenses. Last year, a government audit of twelve major contracts awarded to KBR, Parsons and other companies found that idle time often accounted for more than half of a contract's total costs. In one deal awarded to KBR, the company's "indirect" administrative costs were $52.7 million, and its direct costs -- the costs associated with the actual job -- were only $13.4 million.

Companies jacked up the costs even higher by hiring out layers of subcontractors to do their work for them. In some cases, each subcontractor had its own cost-plus arrangement. "We called those 'cascading contracts,' " says Rep. Van Hollen. "Each subcontractor piles on a lot of costs, and eventually they would snowball into a huge payout. It was a green light for waste."

In March 2004, Parsons -- the firm represented by Earnest O. Robbins -- was given nearly $1 million to build a fire station in Ainkawa, a small Christian community in one of the safest parts of Iraq. Parsons subcontracted the design to a British company called TPS Consult and the construction to a California firm called Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. ITSI, in turn, hired an Iraqi outfit called Zozik to do the actual labor.

A year and a half later, government auditors visited the site and found that the fire station was less than half finished. What little had been built was marred by serious design flaws, including concrete columns so shoddily constructed that they were riddled with holes that looked like "honeycombing." But getting the fuck-ups fixed proved problematic. The auditors "made a request that was sent to the Army Corps, which delivered it to Parsons, who then asked ITSI, which asked TPS Consult to check on the work done by Zozik," writes Chatterjee, who describes the mess in his forthcoming book, Baghdad Bonanza. The multiple layers of subcontractors made it almost impossible to resolve the issue -- and every day the delays dragged on meant more money for the companies.

Sometimes the government simply handed out money to companies it made up out of thin air. In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers found itself unable to award contracts by the September deadline imposed by Congress, meaning it would have to "de-obligate" the money and return it to the government. Rather than suffer that awful fate, the corps obligated $362 million -- spread out over ninety-six different contracts -- to "Dummy Vendor." In their report on the mess, auditors noted that money to nobody "does not constitute proper obligations."

But even obligating money to no one was better than what sometimes happened in Iraq: handing out U.S. funds to the enemy. Since the beginning of the war, rumors have abounded about contractors paying protection money to insurgents to avoid attacks. No less an authority than Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that such payoffs are a "significant source" of income for Al Qaeda. Moreover, when things go missing in Iraq -- like bricks of $100 bills, or weapons, or trucks -- it is a fair assumption that some of the wayward booty ends up in the wrong hands. In July, a federal audit found that 190,000 weapons are missing in Iraq -- nearly one out of every three arms supplied by the United States. "These weapons almost certainly ended up on the black market, where they are repurchased by insurgents," says Chatterjee. font >For all the creative ways that contractors came up with to waste, mismanage and steal public money in Iraq, the standard remained good old-fashioned fucking up. Take the case of the Basra Children's Hospital, a much-ballyhooed "do-gooder" project championed by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. This was exactly the sort of grandstanding, self-serving, indulgent and ultimately useless project that tended to get the go-ahead under reconstruction. Like the expensive telephone-based disease-notification database approved for use in hospitals without telephones, or the natural-gas-powered electricity turbines green lighted for installation in a country without ready sources of natural gas, the Basra Children's Hospital was a state-of-the-art medical facility set to be built in a town without safe drinking water. "Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?" said Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona.

Bechtel was given $50 million to build the hospital -- but a year later, with the price tag soaring to $169 million, the company was pulled off the project without a single bed being ready for use. The government was unfazed: Bechtel, explained USAID spokesman David Snider, was "under a 'term contract,' which means their job is over when their money ends."

Their job is over when their money ends. When I call Snider to clarify this amazing statement, he declines to discuss the matter further. But if you look over the history of the Iraqi reconstruction effort, you will find versions of this excuse every where. When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, "We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn't say they had to work."

Such excuses speak to a monstrous vacuum of patriotism; it would be hard to imagine contractors being so blithely disinterested in results during World War II, where every wasted dollar might mean another American boy dead from gangrene in the Ardennes. But the rampant waste of money and resources also suggests a widespread contempt for the ostensible "purpose" of our presence in Iraq. Asked to cast a vote for the war effort, contractors responded by swiping everything they could get their hands on -- and the administration's acquiescence in their thievery suggests that it, too, saw making a buck as the true mission of the war. Two witnesses scheduled to testify before Congress against Custer Battles ultimately declined not only because they had received death threats but because they, too, were contractors and feared that they would be shut out of future government deals. To repeat: Witnesses were afraid to testify in an effort to recover government funds because they feared reprisal from the government.

The Bush administration's lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. "For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism," Grayson said in congressional testimony, "it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers." In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million.

What's more, when anyone in the government tried to question what contractors were up to with taxpayer money, they were immediately blackballed and treated like an enemy. Take the case of Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, an outspoken and energetic woman of sixty-three who served as the chief procurement executive for the Army Corps of Engineers. In her position, Greenhouse was responsible for signing off on sole-source contracts -- those awarded without competitive bids and thus most prone to corruption. Long before Iraq, she had begun to notice favoritism in the awarding of contracts to KBR, which was careful to recruit executives who had served in the military. "That was why I joined the corps: to stop this kind of clubby contracting," she says.

A few weeks before the Iraq War started, Greenhouse was asked to sign off on the contract to restore Iraqi oil. The deal, she noticed, was suspicious on a number of fronts. For one thing, the company that had designed the project, KBR, was the same company that was being awarded the contract -- a highly unusual and improper situation. For another, the corps wanted to award a massive "emergency" contract to KBR with no competition for up to five years, which Greenhouse thought was crazy. Who ever heard of a five-year emergency? After auditing the deal, the Pentagon found that KBR had overcharged the government $61 million for fuel. "The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR," Greenhouse testified before the Senate, "represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

And how did her superiors in the Pentagon respond to the wrongdoing highlighted by their own chief procurement officer? First they gave KBR a waiver for the overbilling, blaming the problem on an Iraqi subcontractor. Then they dealt with Greenhouse by demoting her and cutting her salary, citing a negative performance review. The retaliation sent a clear message to any would-be whistle-blowers. "It puts a chill on you," Greenhouse says. "People are scared stiff."

They were scared stiff in Iraq, too, and for good reason. When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases -- a life-threatening situation for any American. Robert Isakson, a former FBI agent who worked for Custer Battles, says that when he refused to go along with one scam involving a dummy company in Lebanon, he was detained by company security guards, who seized his ID badge and barred him from the base in Baghdad. He eventually had to make a hazardous, Papillon-esque journey across hostile Iraq to Jordan just to survive. (Custer Battles denies the charge.)

James Garrison, who worked at a KBR ice plant in Al Asad, recalls an incident when Indian employees threatened to go on strike: "They pulled a bus up, got them in there and said, 'We'll ship you outside the front gate if you want to go on strike.' " Not surprisingly, the workers changed their mind about a work stoppage.

You know the old adage: You don't pay a hooker to spend the night, you pay her to leave in the morning. That maxim also applies to civilian workers in Iraq. A soldier is a citizen with rights, a man to be treated with honor and respect as a protector of us all; if one loses a limb, you've got to take care of him, in theory for his whole life. But a mercenary is just another piece of equipment you can bill to the taxpayer: If one is hurt on the job, you can just throw it away and buy another one. Today there are more civilians working for private contractors in Iraq than there are troops on the ground. The totality of the thievery in Iraq is such that even the honor of patriotic service has been stolen -- we've replaced soldiers and heroes with disposable commodities, men we expected to give us a big bang for a buck and to never call us again.

Russell Skoug, who worked as a refrigeration technician for a contractor called Wolfpack, found that out the hard way. These days Skoug is back home in Diboll, Texas, and he doesn't move around much; he considers it a big accomplishment if he can make it to his mailbox and back once a day. "I'm doing a lot if I can do that much," he says, laughing a little.

A year ago, on September 11th, Skoug was working for Wolfpack at a base in Heet, Iraq. It was a convoy day -- trucks braved the trip in and out of the base every third day -- and Skoug had a generator he needed to fix. So he agreed to make a run to Al Asad. "If I would've realized that it was September 11th, I never would've went out," he says. It would turn out to be the last run he would ever make in Iraq.

An Air Force vet, Skoug had come to Iraq as a civilian to repair refrigeration units and air conditioners for a KBR subcontractor called LSI. But when he arrived, he discovered that LSI had hired him to fix Humvees. "I didn't know jack-squat about Humvees," he says. "I could maybe change the oil, that was it." (Asked about Skoug's additional assignment, KBR boasted: "Part of the reason for our success is our ability to employ individuals with multiple capabilities.")

Working with him on his crew were two other refrigeration technicians, neither of whom knew anything about fixing Humvees. Since Skoug and most of his co-workers had worked for KBR in Afghanistan, they were familiar with cost-plus contracting. The buzz around the base was that cost-plus was the reason LSI was hiring air-conditioning guys to work on unfamiliar military equipment at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000 a year. "They was doing the same thing as KBR: just filling the body count," says Skoug.

Thanks to low troop levels, all the military repair guys had been pressed into service to fight the war, so Skoug was forced to sit in the military storeroom on the base and study vehicle manuals that, as a civilian, he wasn't allowed to check out of the building. That was how America fought terrorism in Iraq: It hired civilian air-conditioning techs to fix Humvees using the instruction manual while the real Humvee repairmen, earning a third of what the helpless civilians were paid, drove around in circles outside the wire waiting to get blown up by insurgents.

After much pleading and cajoling, Skoug managed to convince LSI to let him repair some refrigeration units. But it turned out that the company didn't have any tools for the job. "They gave me a screwdriver and a Leatherman, and that's it," he recalls. "We didn't even have freon gauges." When Skoug managed to scrounge and cannibalize parts to get the job done, he impressed the executives at Wolfpack enough to hire him away from LSI for $10,000 a month. The job required Skoug, who had been given no formal security training, to travel regularly on dangerous convoys between bases. Wolfpack issued him an armored vehicle, a Yugoslav-made AK-47 and a handgun, and wished him luck.

For nearly a year, Skoug did the job, trying at each stop to overcome the hostility that many troops felt for civilian contractors who surfed the Internet and played pool and watched movies all day for big dollars while soldiers carrying seventy-pound packs of gear labored in huts with broken air conditioning the civilian techs couldn't be bothered to repair. "They'd have the easiest thing to fix, and they wouldn't do it," Skoug says. "They'd write that they'd fixed it or that they just needed a part and then just leave it." At Haditha Dam, Skoug witnessed a near-brawl after some Marines, trying to get some sleep after returning from patrol, couldn't get a group of "KBR dudes" to turn down the television in a common area late at night.

Toward the end of Skoug's stay, insurgent activity in his area increased to the point where the soldiers leading his convoys would often drive only at night and without lights. Skoug and his co-workers asked Wolfpack to provide them with night-vision goggles that cost as little as $1,000 a pair, but the company refused. "Their attitude was, we don't need 'em and we're not buying 'em," says Thomas Lane, a Wolfpack employee who served as Skoug's security man on the night of September 11th.

On that evening, the soldiers leading the convoy refused to let Skoug drive his own vehicle back to Heet without night-vision goggles. So a soldier took Skoug's car, and Skoug was forced to be a passenger in a military vehicle. "We start out the front gate, and I find out that the truck that I was in was the frickin' lead truck," he recalls. "And I'm going, 'Oh, great.' "

The bomb went off about a half-hour later, ripping through the truck floor and destroying four inches of Skoug's left femur. "The windshield looked like there was a film on it," he says. "I find out later it was a film -- it was blood and meat and stuff all over the windshield on the inside." Skoug was loaded into the back of a Humvee, his legs hanging out, and evacuated to an Army hospital in Germany before being airlifted back to the States.

When Skoug arrived, it was his wife, Linda, who had to handle all his affairs. She was the one who arranged for an air ambulance to take him to Houston, where she had persuaded an orthopedic hospital to admit him as a patient. She had to do this because almost right from the start, Wolfpack washed its hands of Russell Skoug. The insurance policy he had been given turned out to be useless -- the company denied all coverage, beginning with a $72,597 bill for his stay in the German hospital. Despite assurances from Wolfpack chief Mark Atwood that he would cover all Skoug's expenses, neither he nor the insurance company would pay for the $16,000 trip in the air ambulance. Nobody paid for the operations Skoug had in Houston -- as many as three a day, every day for a month. And nobody paid for his subsequent rehab stint in another Houston hospital -- despite the fact that military law requires every company contracting with the government to fully insure all of its employees in the war zone.

Now that he's out, sitting at home on his couch with only partial use of his left hand and left leg, Skoug has a stack of unpaid medical bills almost three inches tall. As he speaks, he keeps fidgeting. He apologizes, explaining that he can't sit still for very long. Why? Because Skoug can no longer afford pain medication. "I take ibuprofen sometimes," he says, "but basically I just grin and bear it."

And here's where this story turns into something perfectly symbolic of everything that the war in Iraq stands for, a window into the soul of for-profit contractors who not only left behind a breathtaking legacy of fraud, waste and corruption but, through their calculating, greed-fueled hijacking of this generation's broadest and most far-reaching foreign-policy initiative, pushed America into previously unknown realms of moral insanity. When I contact Mark Atwood and ask him to explain how he could watch one of his best employees get blown up and crippled for life, and then cut him loose with debts totaling well over half a million dollars, Atwood, safe in his office in Kuwait City and contentedly suckling at the taxpayer teat, decides that answering this one question is just too much to ask of poor old him.

"Right now," Atwood says, "I just want some peace."

When Linda Skoug petitioned Atwood for help, he refused, pointing out that he had kept his now-useless employee on the payroll for four whole months before firing him. "After I have put forth to help you all out," he wrote in an e-mail, "you are going to get on me for your husband not having insurance." He even implied that Skoug had brought the accident upon himself by allowing the Army to place him at the head of the convoy: "He was not even suppose [sic] to be in the lead vehicle to begin with."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the Iraq War in a nutshell. In the history of balls, the world has never seen anything like the private contractors George W. Bush summoned to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collectively, they are the final, polished result of 231 years of natural selection in the crucible of American capitalism: a bureaucrat class capable of stealing the same dollar twice -- once from the taxpayer and once from a veteran in a wheelchair.

The explanations that contractors offer for all the missing dollars, all the myriad ways they looted the treasury and screwed guys like Russell Skoug, rank among the most diabolical, shameless, tongue-twisting bullshit in history. Going back over the various congres sional hearings and trying to decipher the corporate responses to the mountains of thefts and fuck-ups is a thrilling intellectual journey, not unlike tackling the Pharaonic hieroglyphs or the mating chatter of colobus monkeys. Standing before Congress, contractors and the officials who are supposed to monitor them say things like "As long as we have the undefinitized contract issue that we have . . . we will continue to see the same kinds of sustension rates" (translation: We can't get back any of the fucking money) and "The need for to-fitnessization was viewed as voluntary, and that was inaccurate as the general counsel to the Army observed in a June opinion" (translation: The contractor wasn't aware that he was required to keep costs down) and "If we don't know where we're trying to go and don't have measures, then we won't know how much longer it's going to take us to get there" (translation: There never was a plan in place, other than to let contractors rip off every dollar they could).

According to the most reliable estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills.

More Crap the Republicans are Pulling, in Case You Missed it

It's hardly news at this point that, as it works today, the Electoral College undermines American democracy. It does so in three fundamental ways: First, it betrays the principle of majority rule, threatening every four years to deliver the White House to the popular-vote loser. Second, it reduces the general election contest to a matter of what happens in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states, leaving most Americans (who live in forsaken "red" and "blue" states) on the sidelines. This in turn depresses turnout and helps give us one of the worst rates of voter participation on earth. Third, because of its proven pliability, the Electoral College invites partisan operatives, legislators, secretaries of state and even Supreme Court justices to engage in constant strategic mischief and manipulation at the state level.

This last problem is about to make things much worse, as strategic actors try to exploit spreading discontent with the system by pushing "reform" proposals for purely partisan advantage. Thus, in California, top Republican strategists are now proposing a ballot initiative that would "reform" the system by awarding the state's electoral votes by congressional district. Its real purpose is to break up the state's 55 electors, which typically go to the Democrats in a bloc as inevitably as Texas, Georgia, and Oklahoma give their 56 combined electors to the Republicans. Following the proposed division of California's well-gerrymandered blue and red congressional districts, it is likely that the 2008 GOP nominee under this plan would carry away about 20 electors. In one fell swoop, this would ruin the Democrats' chances for winning the presidency.
Link.

Yes, A Larry Craig Joke, More or Less

Never thought about this but one does, it's kind of incredible:
If that's true — if he wasn't soliciting gay sex when they caught him — then pleading guilty is one of the great all-fired braindead moves of all time. Even without advice of counsel, you oughta know that. Someone that stupid should not be making our laws.

On the other hand, if it's not true — if he was trolling for men's room sex and he said the above to try and save his image, he oughta be kicked out of public service for sheer idiocy. That's even stupider than pleading guilty to a sex crime you didn't commit because you think it'll end your problems quicker. And what's even stupider is thinking that anyone anywhere will believe it.
Link.

So lemme see.... This wingnut has enough hubris to believe that the story would never, well, come out. And then not to comprehend what would happen when it would come out that a modern conservative was a closeted homosexual (well, maybe he had to be bi to get any).

Of course, even if he thought, retained an attorney, bit the bullet and fought the charges, he's probably still be where is, copping a plea. It would have been a really hard rap to beat: cop doing his job with nothing at stake against a lying sack of shit pol (yes, I just convicted Craig all be myself. Wow, his presumption of innocence didn't last long here! Any shorter and you'd think I was a modern conservative, ready and willing to convict anyone in my mind with minimal proof or less!)

Another Rightwing Lynching

Last Feb. 12, you may recall, New York education officials announced plans to open a minischool in September that would teach half its classes in Arabic and include study of Arab culture. The principal was to be a veteran teacher who was also a Muslim immigrant from Yemen, Debbie Almontaser.

The critical response began pouring in the very next day.

“I hope it burns to the ground just like the towers did with all the students inside including school officials as well,” wrote an unidentified blogger on the Web site Modern Tribalist, a hub of anti-immigrant sentiment. A contributor identified as Dave responded, “Now Muslims will be able to learn how to become terrorists without leaving New York City.”

Not to be outdone, the conservative Web site Political Dishonesty carried this commentary on Feb. 14:

“Just think, instead of jocks, cheerleaders and nerds, there’s going to be the Taliban hanging out on the history hall, Al Qaeda hanging out by the gym, and Palestinians hanging out in the science labs. Hamas and Hezbollah studies will be the prerequisite classes for an Iranian physics. Maybe in gym they’ll learn how to wire their bomb vests and they’ll convert the football field to a terrorist training camp.”

Thus commenced the smear campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy and, specifically, Debbie Almontaser. For the next six months, from blogs to talk shows to cable networks to the right-wing press, the hysteria and hatred never ceased. Regrettably, it worked.

Ms. Almontaser resigned as principal earlier this month. Nominally, she quit to quell the controversy about her remarks to The New York Post insufficiently denouncing the term “intifada” on a T-shirt made by a local Arab-American organization. That episode, however, merely provided the pretext for her ouster, for the triumph of a concerted exercise in character assassination.

After initially consenting to an interview for this column, Ms. Almontaser backed out, saying she did not want to “do anything that would jeopardize the school,” which is still set to open next month in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. One of her longtime colleagues, however, spoke candidly about her emotions.

“She feels that she’s been violated, personally and professionally,” said Louis Cristillo, a research professor at Teachers College at Columbia University who has studied the experiences of Muslim children in the New York public schools. “To be painted as somebody who’s un-American, questioning her patriotism, is extremely hurtful for her. She’s really shocked at how devastatingly effective the defamation was.”

For anyone who bothered to look for it, Ms. Almontaser left a clear, public record of interfaith activism and outreach across the boundaries of race, ethnicity and religion. Her efforts, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks, earned her honors, grants and fellowships. She has collaborated so often with Jewish organizations that an Arab-American newspaper, Aramica, castigated her earlier this summer for being too close to a “Zionist organization,” meaning the Anti-Defamation League.

Ms. Almontaser has twice been profiled on Voice of America as an accomplished Muslim American. Her son, Yousif, spent several months on rescue efforts at ground zero as a member of the Army National Guard. Four of her nephews and cousins have served in the United States military in Iraq.

None of these details were exactly hidden under a rock. But her critics ignored them. In syndicated columns by Daniel Pipes, in articles and editorials in The New York Post and The New York Sun, on such Web sites as PipeLineNews and Militant Islam Monitor, both concerned with radical Islam, the Gibran school was repeatedly characterized as a “madrassa,” an Arabic term plainly meant to evoke images of indoctrination into terrorism and holy war.

Bella Rabinowitz, writing on March 9 in PipeLineNews, called Gibran “an Islamist public school whose curriculum shares the same ideology as the Sept. 11 terrorists.” Alicia Colon wrote in The Sun on May 1, “How delighted Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda must have been to hear the news” that New York “is bowing down in homage to accommodate and perhaps groom future radicals.”

Just as the school was caricatured, so was Ms. Almontaser. Although she has used the first name Debbie since childhood, her critics relentlessly identified her by her legal name Dhabah, the better to render her alien. Some articles would add the phrase “a k a Debbie,” treating her chosen name as a sort of criminal alias.

What all the attacks lacked was a single solid example of Ms. Almontaser having espoused Islamic extremism, much less jihad, during her 15 years as an educator. They have described her as a “9/11 denier” on the basis of one statement that “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims.”

Yet, as Larry Cohler-Esses noted in an incisive article in New York Jewish Week, these foes conveniently overlooked what Ms. Almontaser went on to say in the same interview: “Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and stolen my religion.”

What Ms. Almontaser has done — as a private citizen, not in her classroom — is assail the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance and for its Middle East policies. She has said that desperation and oppression contribute to terrorism. You can disagree with her positions and still not believe they should be the basis for destroying her career.

“There’s zero correspondence between the caricature and the actual person,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman of Beth Elohim, a Reform Jewish congregation in Park Slope, who was on the Gibran school’s advisory board. “The words that were used to describe her, the fears that were evoked, are absolutely unrelated to her and her life’s work. Not in any way, shape or form.”

Another rabbi who has worked with Ms. Almontaser on interfaith efforts, Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, said: “It’s all about insinuation and innuendo and this formula of Arab equals Muslim equals terrorist. The viciousness and the vileness of this case surpass anything I’ve seen before.”

That vileness also did no favors to the responsible critics of the Gibran school, whether they were parents worried about school overcrowding or scholars like Diane Ravitch and Richard Kahlenberg, who believe that public schools should reinforce a common American culture rather than promote ethnic identity. Their worthy voices got lost in all the bile.

For now at least, Ms. Almontaser remains employed by the Department of Education. What she requires, though, is something harder to obtain than another job. As another victim of a different smear campaign put it once: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”
Link.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Happens When One Creates a ne Party State and the People Hate that One Party?

An endless stream of crises and scandals....

Shh; Don't Say a Word; Freedom on the March in Our Leaders' Freedom-Loving America


The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.
It's a "comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems," says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.

DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.
Many of the details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they show that DCSNet includes at least three collection components, each running on Windows-based computers.
The $10 million DCS-3000 client, also known as Red Hook, handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces, a type of surveillance that collects signaling information -- primarily the numbers dialed from a telephone -- but no communications content. (Pen registers record outgoing calls; trap-and-traces record incoming calls.)
DCS-6000, known as Digital Storm, captures and collects the content of phone calls and text messages for full wiretap orders.
A third, classified system, called DCS-5000, is used for wiretaps targeting spies or terrorists.
What DCSNet Can Do
Together, the surveillance systems let FBI agents play back recordings even as they are being captured (like TiVo), create master wiretap files, send digital recordings to translators, track the rough location of targets in real time using cell-tower information, and even stream intercepts outward to mobile surveillance vans.
FBI wiretapping rooms in field offices and undercover locations around the country are connected through a private, encrypted backbone that is separated from the internet. Sprint runs it on the government's behalf.
The network allows an FBI agent in New York, for example, to remotely set up a wiretap on a cell phone based in Sacramento, California, and immediately learn the phone's location, then begin receiving conversations, text messages and voicemail pass codes in New York. With a few keystrokes, the agent can route the recordings to language specialists for translation.
The numbers dialed are automatically sent to FBI analysts trained to interpret phone-call patterns, and are transferred nightly, by external storage devices, to the bureau's Telephone Application Database, where they're subjected to a type of data mining called link analysis.
FBI endpoints on DCSNet have swelled over the years, from 20 "central monitoring plants" at the program's inception, to 57 in 2005, according to undated pages in the released documents. By 2002, those endpoints connected to more than 350 switches.
Today, most carriers maintain their own central hub, called a "mediation switch," that's networked to all the individual switches owned by that carrier, according to the FBI. The FBI's DCS software links to those mediation switches over the internet, likely using an encrypted VPN. Some carriers run the mediation switch themselves, while others pay companies like VeriSign to handle the whole wiretapping process for them.
The numerical scope of DCSNet surveillance is still guarded. But we do know that as telecoms have become more wiretap-friendly, the number of criminal wiretaps alone has climbed from 1,150 in 1996 to 1,839 in 2006. That's a 60 percent jump. And in 2005, 92 percent of those criminal wiretaps targeted cell phones, according to a report published last year.
These figures include both state and federal wiretaps, and do not include antiterrorism wiretaps, which dramatically expanded after 9/11. They also don't count the DCS-3000's collection of incoming and outgoing phone numbers dialed. Far more common than full-blown wiretaps, this level of surveillance requires only that investigators certify that the phone numbers are relevant to an investigation.
The Justice Department reports the number of pen registers to Congress annually, but those numbers aren't public. According to the last figures leaked to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, judges signed 4,886 pen register orders in 1998, along with 4,621 time extensions.
CALEA Switches Rules on Switches
The law that makes the FBI's surveillance network possible had its genesis in the Clinton administration. In the 1990s, the Justice Department began complaining to Congress that digital technology, cellular phones and features like call forwarding would make it difficult for investigators to continue to conduct wiretaps. Congress responded by passing the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, in 1994, mandating backdoors in U.S. telephone switches.
CALEA requires telecommunications companies to install only telephone-switching equipment that meets detailed wiretapping standards. Prior to CALEA, the FBI would get a court order for a wiretap and present it to a phone company, which would then create a physical tap of the phone system.
With new CALEA-compliant digital switches, the FBI now logs directly into the telecom's network. Once a court order has been sent to a carrier and the carrier turns on the wiretap, the communications data on a surveillance target streams into the FBI's computers in real time.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation requested documents on the system under the Freedom of Information Act, and successfully sued the Justice Department in October 2006.
In May, a federal judge ordered the FBI to provide relevant documents to the EFF every month until it has satisfied the FOIA request.
"So little has been known up until now about how DCS works," says EFF attorney Marcia Hofmann. "This is why it's so important for FOIA requesters to file lawsuits for information they really want."
Special Agent Anthony DiClemente, chief of the Data Acquisition and Intercept Section of the FBI's Operational Technology Division, said the DCS was originally intended in 1997 to be a temporary solution, but has grown into a full-featured CALEA-collection software suite.
"CALEA revolutionizes how law enforcement gets intercept information," DiClemente told Wired News. "Before CALEA, it was a rudimentary system that mimicked Ma Bell."
Privacy groups and security experts have protested CALEA design mandates from the start, but that didn't stop federal regulators from recently expanding the law's reach to force broadband internet service providers and some voice-over-internet companies, such as Vonage, to similarly retrofit their networks for government surveillance.
New Technologies
Meanwhile, the FBI's efforts to keep up with the current communications explosion is never-ending, according to DiClemente.
The released documents suggest that the FBI's wiretapping engineers are struggling with peer-to-peer telephony provider Skype, which offers no central location to wiretap, and with innovations like caller-ID spoofing and phone-number portability.
But DCSNet seems to have kept pace with at least some new technologies, such as cell-phone push-to-talk features and most VOIP internet telephony.
"It is fair to say we can do push-to-talk," DiClemente says. "All of the carriers are living up to their responsibilities under CALEA."
Matt Blaze, a security researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who helped assess the FBI's now-retired Carnivore internet-wiretapping application in 2000, was surprised to see that DCSNet seems equipped to handle such modern communications tools. The FBI has been complaining for years that it couldn't tap these services.
The redacted documentation left Blaze with many questions, however. In particular, he said it's unclear what role the carriers have in opening up a tap, and how that process is secured.
"The real question is the switch architecture on cell networks," said Blaze. "What's the carrier side look like?"
Randy Cadenhead, the privacy counsel for Cox Communications, which offers VOIP phone service and internet access, says the FBI has no independent access to his company's switches.
"Nothing ever gets connected or disconnected until I say so, based upon a court order in our hands," Cadenhead says. "We run the interception process off of my desk, and we track them coming in. We give instructions to relevant field people who allow for interconnection and to make verbal connections with technical representatives at the FBI."
The nation's largest cell-phone providers -- whose customers are targeted in the majority of wiretaps -- were less forthcoming. AT&T politely declined to comment, while Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon simply ignored requests for comment.
Agent DiClemente, however, seconded Cadenhead's description.
"The carriers have complete control. That's consistent with CALEA," DiClemente said. "The carriers have legal teams to read the order, and they have procedures in place to review the court orders, and they also verify the information and that the target is one of their subscribers."
Cost
Despite its ease of use, the new technology is proving more expensive than a traditional wiretap. Telecoms charge the government an average of $2,200 for a 30-day CALEA wiretap, while a traditional intercept costs only $250, according to the Justice Department inspector general. A federal wiretap order in 2006 cost taxpayers $67,000 on average, according to the most recent U.S. Court wiretap report.
What's more, under CALEA, the government had to pay to make pre-1995 phone switches wiretap-friendly. The FBI has spent almost $500 million on that effort, but many traditional wire-line switches still aren't compliant.
Processing all the phone calls sucked in by DCSNet is also costly. At the backend of the data collection, the conversations and phone numbers are transferred to the FBI's Electronic Surveillance Data Management System, an Oracle SQL database that's seen a 62 percent growth in wiretap volume over the last three years -- and more than 3,000 percent growth in digital files like e-mail. Through 2007, the FBI has spent $39 million on the system, which indexes and analyzes data for agents, translators and intelligence analysts.
Security Flaws
To security experts, though, the biggest concern over DCSNet isn't the cost: It's the possibility that push-button wiretapping opens new security holes in the telecommunications network.
More than 100 government officials in Greece learned in 2005 that their cell phones had been bugged, after an unknown hacker exploited CALEA-like functionality in wireless-carrier Vodafone's network. The infiltrator used the switches' wiretap-management software to send copies of officials' phone calls and text messages to other phones, while simultaneously hiding the taps from auditing software.
The FBI's DiClemente says DCSNet has never suffered a similar breach, so far as he knows.
"I know of no issue of compromise, internal or external," DiClemente says. He says the system's security is more than adequate, in part because the wiretaps still "require the assistance of a provider." The FBI also uses physical-security measures to control access to DCSNet end points, and has erected firewalls and other measures to render them "sufficiently isolated," according to DiClemente.
But the documents show that an internal 2003 audit uncovered numerous security vulnerabilities in DCSNet -- many of which mirror problems unearthed in the bureau's Carnivore application years earlier.
In particular, the DCS-3000 machines lacked adequate logging, had insufficient password management, were missing antivirus software, allowed unlimited numbers of incorrect passwords without locking the machine, and used shared logins rather than individual accounts.
The system also required that DCS-3000's user accounts have administrative privileges in Windows, which would allow a hacker who got into the machine to gain complete control.
Columbia's Bellovin says the flaws are appalling and show that the FBI fails to appreciate the risk from insiders.
"The underlying problem isn't so much the weaknesses here, as the FBI attitude towards security," he says. The FBI assumes "the threat is from the outside, not the inside," he adds, and it believes that "to the extent that inside threats exist, they can be controlled by process rather than technology."
Bellovin says any wiretap system faces a slew of risks, such as surveillance targets discovering a tap, or an outsider or corrupt insider setting up unauthorized taps. Moreover, the architectural changes to accommodate easy surveillance on phone switches and the internet can introduce new security and privacy holes.
"Any time something is tappable there is a risk," Bellovin says. "I'm not saying, 'Don't do wiretaps,' but when you start designing a system to be wiretappable, you start to create a new vulnerability. A wiretap is, by definition, a vulnerability from the point of the third party. The question is, can you control it?"
Link.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

If No One Else Has Something Nice to Say about You, this SIte Will....

Link.

That Rightwing Exemplar

The background:
Is there a more misunderstood man in America than Sen. Larry Craig?

When the Idaho Republican was picked up for soliciting sex in a Minnesota men's room in June, he told police that they were "misconstruing" his actions. When he tapped the foot of a man in an adjoining stall, it was just because he has a "wide stance" when sitting on the toilet. When he reached repeatedly under the stall wall, he was just trying to "pick up a piece of paper" from the floor, even though the police officer who arrested him said there was no paper on the floor and Craig didn't pick any up.

Oh, and when Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct arising out of the arrest? That was a goof; Craig says he didn't have a lawyer, and he thought pleading guilty would be the best way to handle the matter "quickly and expeditiously."

If all this were even a little bit believable, it won't be after you read the extraordinary, 3,700-word account of Craig's homosexuality denials in this morning's Idaho Statesman. When online activist Mike Rogers published claims last year that Craig had engaged in sexual acts with a man at Washington's Union Station, the Statesman refrained from reporting the allegations because it wanted to make sure it had the story right -- a task made more difficult when Craig insisted repeatedly in a May 14, 2007, interview that all of the stories about him were wrong.

Among the highlights from that interview:

The Union Station men's room. When the Statesman played Craig and his wife a tape recording of the man who said he had sex with Craig at Union Station, the senator responded by saying: "I am not gay and I have never been in a restroom in Union Station having sex with anybody ... There's a very clear bottom line here. I don't do that kind of thing. I am not gay, and I never have been." Craig's wife teared up and said she was "incensed" that the paper would "even consider such as a piece of trash as a credible source." Craig chimed in, "Jiminy God!"

The fraternity room: When the Statesman asked Craig about the charge that he extended "an invitation to sex" to a man who was thinking about pledging his fraternity in 1967, Craig said: "I don't hit on any men."

The REI store: When the Statesman asked Craig about allegations that he "cruised" another man at the REI store in Boise in 1994, Craig said: "Once again, I'm not gay, and I don't cruise, and I don't hit on men." He said the man who accused him of cruising him might have misinterpreted a politician's smile. "Here is one thing I do out in public: I make eye contact, I smile at people, they recognize me, they say, 'Oh, hi, Senator.' Or, 'Do I know you?'" Craig continued: "I've been in this business 27 years in the public eye here. I don't go around anywhere hitting on men, and by God, if I did, I wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho! Jiminy!"

As the Statesmen notes, Craig has voted to deny rights to gay men and women about as often as he has denied that he is gay himself. In 2004, he voted for a federal constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, and the Statesmen says he has voted against allowing gay men and women to serve in the military and against extending civil rights to gay men and women in the workplace. Although he has said he supports the idea of civil unions, Craig issued a statement last fall -- right after Rogers first published allegations of the Union Station incident -- in which he said he supported an Idaho constitutional amendment outlawing such unions in the state.

It's too early to know how all this will play out for Craig's political career, but it can't be good. Idaho is one of the reddest states in the country -- in 2004, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney picked up 69 percent of the vote there -- which means a) voters probably won't cotton much to what they're learning this morning about Craig, but b) it will be tough for the Democrats to pick up the seat anyway.

What we do know already: Mitt Romney, who was counting on Craig's support in Idaho, is running away as fast as he can. As soon as Roll Call broke the news of Craig's arrest Monday, the Romney campaign pulled down a YouTube video featuring Craig and canceled a trip one of Romney's sons was to make to Boise this week. Craig then informed Romney's campaign that he'd be stepping down as co-chairman of the GOP presidential candidate's Idaho campaign. He said he didn't want to be a "distraction."

Update: Craig's claim that he pled guilty in error because he didn't have a lawyer advising him at the time? As Roll Call reports, police records show that Craig returned to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in late June -- 11 days after his arrest but nearly two months before he pled guilty -- and asked about a police contact so that "his lawyer can speak to someone."
Link. And the full background is here.

Why it matters:
As the Mark Foley sex scandal was breaking last year, Weekly Standard editor and Fox News pundit Bill Kristol said Democrats shouldn't try to make a political issue of it. "It's not credible to tar a political party with the misdeeds of one person," he argued.

Before any right-wing talking head makes a similar argument about the Larry Craig scandal, Mike Rogers has one word of advice: Don't. The online activist who first outed Craig last October says Craig's party affiliation is entirely relevant to -- and indeed may explain -- the predicament in which the Republican senator finds himself now.

In an interview with Salon, Rogers says that "lesbians and gays are welcome to be honest and open in the Democratic Party," while "the culture of the Republican Party, from the top down, has always been, 'If you're gay you have to remain in the closet.'"

"When somebody is found out that they're gay, not only are they pushed out of the closet, but they're pushed out of the party in most instances," Rogers says. "And I think that's unfortunate. I mean, I think that with Sen. Craig, I think he should stand up, he should be open and honest with people in Idaho. Had he been open and honest with people, who knows where his career might be today? Who knows what he might have done? Who knows what he might have accomplished?"
Link.

It's the hypocrisy and the life of dishonesty far in excess of the dishonesty of what you could call politics as usual. It's not good for the pol living a lie of a life, and that makes it no good for the nation. And that's why it matters. It's a bigger matter than just another, pardon the expression, closet case.

And speaking of that hypocrisy, here's the man in hypo-action.

And maybe the last word needed to be said is here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

Imperialism in Africa Continues to Today

Not exactly quite on the level of old King Leopold. And I suppose it must be noted that it's often enabled by some degree of corruption of the native leaders, but still:
The shareholders' agreement signed by the government when it sold a 30 percent stake in Telkom to the Thintana Communications consortium placed both companies above South Africa's laws, according to a US academic journal.

Thintana Communications was the consortium of US telecommunications group SBC and Telekom Malaysia.

Interviewed in Telecommunications Policy, Jim Myers, described as "SBC's central operative in South Africa between 1994 and 1998", says clauses in the shareholders agreement agreed to in 1997 stipulated that once the Telecommunications Act was in place, neither Telkom nor Thintana would be compelled to follow any legislation that violated the shareholders' agreement.
[more]

True Conservatism, Anti-Americanism

Since, like, 'Nam, I've loved the anti-Americanism of conservatives: We're a superior nation until foreigners hold us to a higher standard (except for some of those who come here to benefit from our superior wealth).

Alleged liberal Thomas Friedman has today's example:
Dive into a conversation about America in the Arab world today, or even in Europe and Africa, and it won’t take 30 seconds before the words “Abu Ghraib” and “Guantánamo Bay” are thrown at you. Yes, both are shameful, but Abu Ghraib was a day at the beach compared to what Al Qaeda and its Sunni jihadist supporters have been doing in Iraq, yet none of their acts have become one-punch global insults like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.
Of course, maybe dising of Osama is also just too obvious to mention....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Growth of Wealth in Modern America

Same it always was but moreso; wealth ever goes to the monied classes at the expense of the lower classes. The Republican free market, instead of growing wealth, actually destroys what little wealth the lower classes have managed to eke out. Bravo, George W. Bush for having neither brains nor balls, a complete failure of leadership! This is an historical accomplishment:
The median price of American homes is expected to fall this year for the first time since federal housing agencies began keeping statistics in 1950.
[way more]

As to how this was accomplished, it started like this:
ON its way to becoming the nation’s largest mortgage lender, the Countrywide Financial Corporation encouraged its sales force to court customers over the telephone with a seductive pitch that seldom varied. “I want to be sure you are getting the best loan possible,” the sales representatives would say.

But providing “the best loan possible” to customers wasn’t always the bank’s main goal, say some former employees. Instead, potential borrowers were often led to high-cost and sometimes unfavorable loans that resulted in richer commissions for Countrywide’s smooth-talking sales force, outsize fees to company affiliates providing services on the loans, and a roaring stock price that made Countrywide executives among the highest paid in America.

Countrywide’s entire operation, from its computer system to its incentive pay structure and financing arrangements, is intended to wring maximum profits out of the mortgage lending boom no matter what it costs borrowers, according to interviews with former employees and brokers who worked in different units of the company and internal documents they provided. One document, for instance, shows that until last September the computer system in the company’s subprime unit excluded borrowers’ cash reserves, which had the effect of steering them away from lower-cost loans to those that were more expensive to homeowners and more profitable to Countrywide.
[more]

Speaking of the Times:

There seems to be an easy hack of TimeSelect, courtesy of the Times. Once registered, set up that new feature, "My Times". Therein, choose columnists; what were normally behind the T$ wall now appear to be fully accetable, no charge. Can this be, though? Time(s) will tell.....

Iraq=Vietnam? Analyze This


Link.

How Our Leaders Decided


Link.

This is How Our Leaders is Improving Iraq

Not; we are failing them. But that's Bush-style: make a worse mess after making a mess.
The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has soared since the American troop increase began in February, according to data from two humanitarian groups, accelerating the partition of the country into sectarian enclaves.

Despite some evidence that the troop buildup has improved security in certain areas, sectarian violence continues and American-led operations have brought new fighting, driving fearful Iraqis from their homes at much higher rates than before the tens of thousands of additional troops arrived, the studies show.

The data track what are known as internally displaced Iraqis: those who have been driven from their neighborhoods and seek refuge elsewhere in the country rather than fleeing across the border. The effect of this vast migration is to drain religiously mixed areas in the center of Iraq, sending Shiite refugees toward the overwhelmingly Shiite areas to the south and Sunnis toward majority Sunni regions to the west and north.

Though most displaced Iraqis say they would like to return, there is little prospect of their doing so. One Sunni Arab who had been driven out of the Baghdad neighborhood of southern Dora by Shiite snipers said she doubted that her family would ever return, buildup or no buildup.

“There is no way we would go back,” said the woman, 26, who gave her name only as Aswaidi. “It is a city of ghosts. The only people left there are terrorists.”

Statistics collected by one of the two humanitarian groups, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, indicate that the total number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled, to 1.1 million from 499,000, since the buildup started in February.

Those figures are broadly consistent with data compiled independently by an office in the United Nations that specializes in tracking wide-scale dislocations. That office, the International Organization for Migration, found that in recent months the rate of displacement in Baghdad, where the buildup is focused, had increased by as much as a factor of 20, although part of that rise could have stemmed from improved monitoring of displaced Iraqis by the government in Baghdad, the capital.

The new findings suggest that while sectarian attacks have declined in some neighborhoods, the influx of troops and the intense fighting they have brought are at least partly responsible for what a report by the United Nations migration office calls the worst human displacement in Iraq’s modern history.

The findings also indicate that the sectarian tension the troops were meant to defuse is still intense in many places in Iraq. Sixty-three percent of the Iraqis surveyed by the United Nations said they had fled their neighborhoods because of direct threats to their lives, and more than 25 percent because they had been forcibly removed from their homes.

The demographic shifts could favor those who would like to see Iraq partitioned into three semi-autonomous regions: a Shiite south and a Kurdish north sandwiching a Sunni territory.

Over all, the scale of this migration has put so much strain on Iraqi governmental and relief offices that some provinces have refused to register any more displaced people, or will accept only those whose families are originally from the area. But Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the migration office, said that in many cases, the ability of extended families to absorb displaced relatives was also stretched to the breaking point.

“It’s a bleak picture,” Mr. Tschannen said. “It is just steadily continuing in a bad direction, from bad to worse.”

He also cautioned that reports of people going back to their homes were overstated. As the buildup began, the Iraqi government said that it would take measures to evict squatters from houses that were not theirs and make special efforts to bring the rightful owners back.

“They were reporting that people went back, but they didn’t report that people left again,” Mr. Tschannen said. He added that Iraqis “hear things are better, go back to collect remuneration and pick up an additional suitcase and leave again. It is not a permanent return in most cases.”

American officials in Baghdad did not respond to a request for comment, but the national intelligence estimate released Thursday confirmed that Iraq continues to become more segregated through internal migration. “Population displacement resulting from sectarian violence continues,” it found, “imposing burdens on provincial governments and some neighboring states.”

Dr. Said Hakki, director of the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, said that he had been surprised when his figures revealed that roughly 100,000 people a month were fleeing their homes during the buildup. Dr. Hakki said that he did not know why the rates were so high but added that some factors were obvious.

“It’s fear,” he said. “Lack of services. You see, if you have a security problem, you don’t need a lot to frighten people.”

It is clear that military operations, both by American troops and the Iraqi forces working with them as part of the buildup, have something to do with the rise in displacement, said Dana Graber Ladek, Iraq displacement specialist for the migration organization’s Iraq office.

“If a surge means that soldiers are on the streets patrolling to make sure there is no violence, that is one thing,” Ms. Ladek said. “If a surge means military operations where there are attacks and bombings, then obviously that is going to create displacement.”

But Ms. Ladek added that, in contrast to the first years of the conflict, when major American offensives were a main cause of displacement, the primary driving force had changed.

“Sectarian violence is the biggest driving factor — militias coming into a neighborhood and kicking all the Sunnis out, or insurgents driving all the Shias away,” Ms. Ladek said.

Her conclusions mirrored the experiences of Iraqis who had fled their homes.

Aswaidi and her family were driven out of the Dora section of Baghdad five months ago when Shiite snipers opened fire on their Sunni neighborhood from nearby tower blocks, shooting through their windows “at all hours of day and night.”

Returning covertly to check on the property in mid-August, she found Sunni insurgents occupying the building and neighboring homes, walking unchallenged through the deserted streets. Nearby, she claims, the same insurgents captured one of the Shiite snipers who drove the residents away, and claimed that he was a 16-year-old Iranian.

She now fears that her entire neighborhood will be taken over by Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

“I don’t want them to take my town, but I think they will,” Aswaidi said. “It will change from Sunni to Shia. The Americans can’t stop it.”

Shiites face similarly overwhelming odds. In Shualah, on the northern outskirts of Baghdad, 400 Shiite families now live in a makeshift refugee camp on wasteland commandeered by Mr. Sadr’s followers.

In a sprawl of cinder block hovels and tin and bamboo-roofed shacks, families have stories of being expelled from their homes by Sunni insurgents.

Ali Edan fled Yusifiya, a Sunni insurgent haven south of Baghdad, when his uncle was killed. He has no intention of returning, even though American commanders claim Sunni sheiks there have begun cooperating with them. “It is still an unsafe area,” said Mr. Edan.

Both humanitarian groups based their conclusions on information collected from the displaced Iraqis inside the country. The Red Crescent counted only displaced Iraqis who receive relief supplies, and the United Nations relied on data from an Iraqi ministry that closely tracks Iraqis who leave their homes and register for government services elsewhere.

Before the troop buildup, by far the most significant event causing the displacement of Iraqis was the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra in February 2006. The bombing set off a spasm of sectarian killing, but the rate at which Iraqis left their homes leveled off toward the end of that year before accelerating again as the buildup began, the Red Crescent figures show.

The United Nations figures also include a little over a million people it says were displaced in the decades before the Samarra bombing, including the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The Red Crescent data does not include them.

In Baghdad, the latest migration involves an enormously complex landscape in which some people flee one district even as others return to it.

In Ghazaliya, a mixed but Sunni-majority district of north Baghdad, one 30-year-old Shiite said his family was driven out by Sunni insurgents a year ago with just two hours notice to leave their home.

Five months ago, the troop buildup brought American soldiers and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army onto his street and his family returned. But even as it did, Sunni neighbors fled, knowing that the army had been infiltrated by Shiite militias.

“They are afraid, because the army has good relations with the Mahdi Army,” said the 30-year-old man, who said he was too afraid to give his name. “My area used to have a lot of Sunni. Now most are Shia, because Shias expelled from other places have moved into the empty Sunni homes.”
Link.