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Political clash expected soon over rising U.S. debt

The Miami Herald
By Rob Hotakainen
November 29, 2009

In the past, members of Congress never have been particularly eager to remind the public that they regularly vote to raise the ceiling on the national debt, which now exceeds $12 trillion [$12,000,000,000,000].

The debt has more than doubled since 2002, and in the last two years it’s been rising at a clip of more than $3.8 billion a day. Each U.S. citizen now has a share that’s estimated at more than $39,000. …

A bipartisan group of more than a dozen senators is threatening to vote against an increase in the debt limit unless Congress passes a new deficit-fighting plan.

“I will not vote for raising the debt limit without a vehicle to handle this. … This is our moment,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. …

Feinstein said it could be similar to the process for closing military bases, in which members must vote to take or leave the entire package. …


CentCom planners study massive move of equipment to Afghanistan

By William R. Levesque
November 27, 2009

With President Barack Obama poised to ramp up troop levels in Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command planners are in the midst of the military’s biggest logistical challenge since the Vietnam War.

How do you marshal billions of dollars in equipment to escalate one war in Afghanistan while scaling back another in Iraq? …

In a wide-ranging interview with the St. Petersburg Times this week, [Army Maj. Gen.] Dowd said landlocked Afghanistan presents greater difficulties than Iraq with its fewer routes of supply.

CentCom is now conducting an assessment of air strips in Afghanistan, and Dowd said engineers will have to expand them in order to resupply larger numbers of troops by air.

“I’m a little concerned about” airfield capacity, Dowd said. “We’ve got to expand and make it better.” …

Obama is expected to announce next week an escalation of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan that will send as many as 30,000 additional troops on top of the 68,000 already there.

Much of the U.S. equipment in Iraq will never return to the states.

Often, it isn’t cost-efficient to do so, planners say.

Much of it will be sold to Iraqi security forces, Dowd said. Other gear not sent to Afghanistan after refurbishment in Kuwait might be placed in storage somewhere in CentCom’s area of responsibility, which includes 20 nations in the region. …


Poland agrees rules for hosting U.S. armed forces

November 27, 2009

Poland and the United States have agreed the legal details of deploying U.S. troops in Poland after lengthy negotiations, Deputy Defense Minister Stanislaw Komorowski said on Friday.

The “status of forces” agreement (SOFA) opens the way for deployments of a U.S. Patriot missile battery in Poland next year as part of plans to upgrade the NATO member’s air defenses. …

Under the accord, due to be signed by the two sides on December 10, U.S. troops who commit any crime outside their base and outside their regular work would fall under Polish jurisdiction, Komorowski said. The deal also covers taxation of U.S. forces.

Poland, perturbed by Russia’s more assertive foreign policy, has long complained that it hosts no U.S. troops or major military installations despite a strong track record of sending troops to help in U.S.-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. …

Polish forces would use the battery to upgrade their defense systems. Komorowski told Reuters earlier this year that a U.S. battery would be permanently based in Poland from 2012 and that Warsaw would also aim to buy its own anti-missile systems. …


U.S. Enlists Allies in New Surge

Americans Seek Up to 7,000 Extra NATO Troops for Ramp-Up in Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com)
By Peter Spiegel and Stephen Fidler
November 23, 2009

The Obama administration is in advanced talks with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies for a coordinated rollout of a new Afghan war strategy, which U.S. officials hope will include a commitment by European allies to send several thousand additional troops.

U.S. and European estimates of the new troops they may get from NATO allies vary from 3,000 to 7,000. Those would complement the additional U.S. forces Mr. Obama is considering; those options range from 10,000 to 40,000, but U.S. officials have said a combination of combat troops and training forces totaling 35,000 has gained the most momentum. …

According to people briefed on U.S. plans, the Obama administration is targeting six European allies to contribute battalion-sized units, generally about 500 to 1,000 troops. Officials say they are most hopeful they can get commitments from Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Italy, which has 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, has signaled it would be willing to keep deployed the 400 added soldiers it sent as part of stepped-up security surrounding the August Afghan elections. An Italian official declined to comment. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown likewise has signaled intention to send 500 more troops, and Turkey has recently announced it is doubling its current complement from 800 to 1,600.

Both Germany and the United Kingdom could find it politically difficult to commit more troops — at least in the coming weeks. …


Escalating military suicide crisis prompts U.S. task force

New Jersey Real-Time News
November 22, 2009

… In its simplest terms, the military’s strategy is to reshape the warrior ethos, instilling in service members the idea that mental health is as vital as physical fitness or the ability to aim a rifle.

One important aim is to break down the stigma that has historically stopped soldiers from admitting they’re suffering or suicidal. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, calls the effort a “matter of life and death.” …

More recently, the Army has put in place a program to improve the mental resilience of soldiers based on the research of a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. …

The Marine Corps has taken a similar approach to building better warriors. Over the past several months, 1,000 specially trained sergeants and corporals have traveled to bases across the country, preaching to other noncommissioned officers the importance of watching the men below them, said Cmdr. Aaron D. Werbel, the Corps’ lead psychiatrist and suicide prevention manager. …

For all of the new measures, however, major challenges remain. Not least of them is a drastic shortage of mental health professionals in the military’s ranks. …

The page includes actual statistics and a video.

Okinawa base strains diplomacy

Honolulu Advertiser
November 22, 2009
By Richard Halloran

A churning dispute between Japan and the U.S. over the realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan has revealed not only political and diplomatic differences between the governments of President Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, but a cultural chasm in the way Americans and Japanese view agreements.

The realignment, agreed to in May 2007, calls on the U.S. to move a Marine air station on Okinawa from a congested city to a less crowded place; to transfer 17,000 Marines and family members from Okinawa to U.S. territory on Guam; and to consolidate other U.S. bases on the island and thus return land to Okinawans. The intent was to reduce friction between U.S. forces and Okinawans.

The agreement was signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Fumio Kyuma, who was minister of defense at the time, and Taro Aso, who was minister of foreign affairs. In diplomatic practice, international pacts agreed to by one administration are generally considered to be binding on successor administrations. …

In this case, the Hatoyama government, which came to office in September, has said in effect that it wants to reopen the negotiations. After meeting with Obama in Tokyo earlier this month, Hatoyama said he will consider relocating the air station outside of Okinawa and perhaps outside of Japan. “We’ll make every effort,” he said, “to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.” …


Iran to hold war games to protect nuclear facilities

November 21, 2009
By Fredrik Dahl and Hashem Kalantari

Iran’s military said it will begin large-scale air defense drills on Sunday, and a cleric in the Revolutionary Guards warned that the Islamic Republic would fire missiles at “the heart of Tel Aviv” if attacked.

The war games, due to last five days, are intended to help protect Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iranian media reported, citing Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani.

The statements came a day after senior officials from six world powers said they were disappointed Iran had not accepted proposals intended to delay its potential to make nuclear weapons, and urged Tehran to reconsider.

The United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France met after U.S. President Barack Obama warned there could be a package of sanctions against Iran within weeks.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row over Iranian nuclear work that the West suspects is aimed at making bombs. …


Democrats Propose Surtax to Cover War Costs

CQ Politics
November 20, 2009

Senior House Democrats have introduced legislation that would impose a surtax beginning in 2011 to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill was unveiled late Thursday by David R. Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and has the backing of John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and John B. Larson of Connecticut, chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

“For the last year, as we’ve struggled to pass health care reform, we’ve been told that we have to pay for the bill — and the cost over the next decade will be about a trillion dollars,” the three lawmakers said in a joint statement. “Now the president is being asked to consider an enlarged counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, which proponents tell us will take at least a decade and would also cost about a trillion dollars. But unlike the health care bill, that would not be paid for. We believe that’s wrong.”

Discussing the idea earlier this month, Murtha said he knew the bill would not be enacted and that advocates of a surtax were simply trying to send a message about the moral obligation to pay for the wars.

“The only people who’ve paid any price for our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are our military families,” Murtha, Obey and Larson said in a joint statement. “We believe that if this war is to be fought, it’s only fair that everyone share the burden.”

The bill would require the president to set the surtax so that it fully pays for the previous year’s war cost. But it would allow for a one-year delay in the implementation of the tax if the president determines that the economy is too weak to sustain that kind of tax change. It also would exempt military members who have served in combat since Sept. 11, 2001, along with their families, and the families of soldiers killed in combat.


NASA Will Radiate Monkeys for Mars Missions

Bruce Gagnon
November 19, 2009

NASA says it would take almost a year using conventional rockets to get to Mars. By that time a human body would likely turn to jello due to exposure to space radiation. But the space agency has come up with a solution – in fact two of them.

First they want to build the nuclear rocket (Project Prometheus) which NASA says would cut in half the amount of time it would take to get to the red planet. With nuclear reactors for engines NASA also says they could carry heavier payloads which would make it possible to “mine the sky” for precious minerals.

The other solution to the space radiation problem seems to rely on testing monkeys by exposing them to doses of radiation so NASA can further study the effects on the human body. …

“The researchers are to pay particular attention to the effects on the monkeys’ central nervous systems and behaviour. The monkeys, previously trained to perform a variety of tasks, will be tested to see how the exposure affects their performance.
“The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) says that the ‘cruel experiments’ may involve ‘restraint and other cruel procedures’.

“In a statement, they say: ‘Monkeys, like other primates, are highly intelligent, have strong family bonds, demonstrate empathy, and, most importantly, suffer.'” …


U.S. tells Japan no other base plan possible

Reuters India
November 17, 2009

Washington’s envoy to high level talks on the relocation of a U.S. base on the Japan’s southern island of Okinawa told Japanese ministers there was no feasible alternative plan, foreign ministry officials said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised in the run-up to his August election victory to move the Futenma U.S. Marine base off Okinawa, contradicting an agreement Washington reached with a previous government to move it to another part of the island.

“The existing plan is the only feasible one and that is the view of the entire U.S. government after 15 years of negotiation,” a Japanese government official quoted Wallace Gregson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Asia-Pacific region as saying in the first round of talks.

U.S. officials also warned that further delays to the implementation of the deal could affect a related plan to reduce the burden on Okinawa, which hosts about half the 47,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan, by shifting up to 8,000 Marines to Guam, the Japanese officials said. …

Thousands rallied in Okinawa just over a week ago to urge Hatoyama to keep his pledge to move the base off the island.