Saturday, May 31, 2008

U.S. FBI agents to probe bombing in South Philippines

This is from Xinhua. I wonder why the Philippine govt. finds it necessary to call in the FBI? Maybe there is some agreement that they will be invited in when the matter has to do with terrorism. There seems to be quite a bit of co-operation on military maneuvers and the fight against terrorism with the U.S.

U.S. FBI agents in S Philippines to probe deadly bombing 2008-05-31 21:41:49

MANILA, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Agents of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have arrived in the southern Philippine city Zamboanga to investigate Thursday's powerful bombing which killed two and injured more than 20, reported local daily Philippine Daily Inquirer website Saturday.
The report quoted U.S. embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson as saying that FBI personnel were sent "at the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police."
Thursday's bombing took place in front of the office of the U.S.-funded renewable energy company and that of a congresswoman.
The victims were relatives of air force soldiers and they were awaiting to avail of free military air transport to Manila when the bomb went off. The bomb, police investigators said, was hidden in the luggage of people waiting for boarding a military C-130 plane due to take off for Manila
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast so far.
Philippine police said the bomb contained TNT but they could not determine the exact target of the attack. Police also blamed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the nearby island of Basilan and the Abu Sayyaf rebels for the attack.
The MILF has denied any involvement. An MILF statement said the blast was "again the handiwork of agents of darkness".
Editor: Amber Yao

Opposition mounts to US-Security deal.

The opposition is spreading beyond the Sadr supporters obviously. I have never heard a U.S. commentator consider the possibility that Iraq and not the U.S. might decide when U.S. troops will be withdrawn! It is always discussed as if it was only a question for Americans to decide!

Opposition mounts to US-Iraq security deal
Thousands protest in Iraq against proposed security agreement with US
May 30, 2008 14:43 EST
Tens of thousands rallied in several cities Friday against a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, raising doubts that negotiators can meet a July target to finalize a pact to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the current U.N. mandate expires.

Although U.S. officials insist they are not seeking permanent bases, suspicion runs deep among many Iraqis that the Americans want to keep at least some troops in the country for many years.
"We denounce the government's intentions to sign a long-term agreement with the occupying forces," Asaad al-Nassiri, a sheik loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said during a sermon in Kufa. "Our army will be under their control in this agreement, and this will lead to them having permanent bases in Iraq."
President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a statement last December on the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations, saying they planned to finalize a new security agreement by July 31 — in time for Iraq's parliament to approve the deal before a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.
U.S. and Iraqi officials began negotiations in March on a blueprint for the long-term security agreement and a second deal, to establish the legal basis for U.S. troops to remain in the country after the U.N. mandate runs out.
Rallies in Baghdad and several other Iraqi cities followed Friday prayer services and were the first in wake of a call by al-Sadr for weekly protests against the deal, even though few details of the talks have been released.
Most of the protesters appeared to be followers of al-Sadr, the hardline Shiite cleric and militia leader whose Mahdi Army battled American and Iraqi troops in Baghdad's Sadr City district until a truce this month ended nearly seven weeks of fighting.
But opposition to the agreement appears to be growing beyond the Sadrist movement.
A militant Sunni clerical group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, denounced the "ring of secrecy" surrounding the talks and said the proposed deal would pave the way for "military, economic and cultural domination" by the Americans.
On Thursday, the head of the country's biggest mainstream Shiite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, said some unspecified points under negotiation "violate Iraq's national sovereignty," adding that a "national consensus" was emerging against the proposed agreement.
Al-Hakim is al-Sadr's main rival in the majority Shiite community and maintains close ties to the country's main Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Aides to the powerful ayatollah say he also has reservations about the deal.
Some congressional Democrats are also insisting that Congress should authorize any agreement that would obligate the United States to defend Iraq.
Before the Friday protests, al-Sadr's office in Baghdad issued a statement branding the negotiations as "a project of humiliation" aimed at turning Iraq "into a small stooge of the United States."
U.S. officials have declined to comment on the talks until the draft is completed.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said two weeks ago that "we are making progress" although other Iraqi officials acknowledged there were many unresolved issues, including how many Americans would remain and what they would do. American soldiers now enjoy full immunity from the Iraqi legal system.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to talk about the negotiations.
Rallies against the security deal occurred as the U.S. military was seeking to contain the public relations damage caused by reports that an American Marine handed out coins promoting Christianity to Sunni Muslims in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.
Sunni officials and residents said a Marine distributed about 10 coins at a checkpoint controlling access to the city, the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the war.
One side asked: "Where will you spend eternity?"
The other contained a verse from the New Testament: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16."
Mohammed Hassan Abdullah said he witnessed the coins being handed out on Tuesday as he was waiting at the Halabsa checkpoint, although he didn't receive one himself.
The U.S. military responded quickly to the incident, first reported by McClatchy Newspapers, removing a Marine from duty pending an investigation. Military regulations forbid proselytizing any religion.
"Indications are this was an isolated incident — an individual Marine acting on his own accord passing out coins," Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, a spokesman for U.S. forces in western Iraq, said in an e-mailed statement.
Distribution of the coins was the second perceived insult to Islam by American service members this month. A U.S. Army sniper was sent out of the country after using a Quran, Islam's holy book, for target practice in a predominantly Sunni area west of Baghdad.
"This event did not happen by chance, but it was planned and done intentionally," Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Zubaie, an influential tribal leader in Fallujah, said of the coins. "The Sunni population cannot accept and endure such a thing. I might not be able to control people's reactions if such incidents keep happening."
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub and AP staff in Fallujah

The coalition of the willingly bribed!

This is from the Times of India.
I imagine that the UK would have joined in with the U.S. any event given that Blair was usually anxious to please Bush. Poland and South Korea perhaps would not have gone to Iraq without some inducements.

The Times of India

US paying allies to fight war in Iraq31 May 2008, 0335 hrs IST,Subodh Varma,TNN
NEW DELHI: The tale of massive fraud and embezzlement of millions of dollars by the US military in its operations in Iraq continues. Testifying before the US Congress Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on 22 May, Mary Ugone, deputy inspector general of accounts in the Pentagon said that an audit of $8.2 billion spending related to the Iraq war showed that $7.8 billion had been improperly spent. Over 180,000 payments, mostly since the war started in 2003, were made by the defense department to contractors for everything from bottled water to vehicles to transportation services. In her testimony, Ugone also revealed that $135 million were given to forces from three countries UK, South Korea and Poland to facilitate their participation in the war. This is the first time that the US has officially admitted paying its allies in the so-called Coalition of the Willing that invaded Iraq in March 2003. In his opening statement, Henry Waxman, chairman of the committee, said that wounded soldiers are getting notices from the Pentagon to return signing bonuses with interest since they had not completed the full term. "There is something very wrong when our wounded troops have to fill out forms in triplicate for meal money while billions of dollars in cash are handed out in Iraq with no accountability," he said. In an earlier report released in November 2007, the Inspector General had concluded that the Defense Department couldn't properly account for over $5 billion in taxpayer funds spent in support of the Iraq Security Forces. It said that thousands of weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were unaccounted for, and millions of dollars had been squandered on construction projects that did not exist. Ugones testimony gave detailed examples of the bizarre manner in which US defense officials doled out huge amounts of money without recording where it was going. In one case a sum of $320 million was paid an Iraqi official for paying salaries with only an incompletely filled voucher signed by one official. Since no details of the spending plan were attached as required by Pentagon rules the auditors have no clue as to where the money went. This payment was made from assets seized from Iraq. Auditors found that the Pentagon gave away $1.8 billion from seized Iraqi assets. There were 53 vouchers noting these payments but not even one adequately explained where the money went. In another instance, two vouchers, one for $5 million and the other for $2.7 million showed payments to a vendor for goods and services provided except that there were no details of what goods or services were actually delivered. Over $2.7 billion was spent on providing equipment and services to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The auditors found that $2 billion of this was not properly accounted for. For example, 31 heavy tracked recovery vehicles costing $10.2 million were given to the ISF, but 18 of them could not be traced because identification numbers were not recorded.

Friday, May 30, 2008

U.S. absent as global cluster munitions ban agreed.

There is a new axis of evil: U.S. China, and Russia (et al). The U.S. not only opposes this ban on cluster bombs but also the ban on landmines. The U.S. through its allies and client states such as Canada and Australia have been pressing for the loophole mentioned that in joint operations with non-signatories such as the U.S. signatories could be involved in joint operations that use cluster bombs. Whether the final text retains this loophole should be evident today.

U.S. absent as global cluster munitions ban agreed
By Andras GergelyWed May 28, 5:40 PM ET
A draft treaty for a worldwide ban on cluster munitions was adopted on Wednesday although major powers including the United States did not attend the meeting.
The Dublin gathering attended by more than 100 nations made the final step towards agreement after a promise from Britain to stop using the devices. Cluster bombs can cause indiscriminate injury long after a conflict has ended.
Diplomats and activists said the text built on the lessons from the 1997 treaty to ban landmines and it did not allow exceptions.
"It's a strong and robust prohibition on all known cluster munitions," Christian Ruge, a member of the Norwegian delegation, told Reuters after a meeting that Russia and China also did not attend.
The draft will be submitted to a plenary session on Friday but approval is now regarded as a formality. Unless any unexpected objections derail the process, the treaty is due to be signed in Oslo in December.
Cluster munitions open in mid-air and scatter as many as several hundred "bomblets" over a wide area. They often fail to explode, creating virtual minefields that can kill or injure anyone who finds them later, often curious children.
Despite the draft treaty, the United States said it still opposed a ban on cluster munitions.
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the elimination of cluster bombs from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of U.S. soldiers and those of their allies at risk.
"While the United States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility," said Casey.
Activists have accused the United States of pressing allies such as Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Australia to try to weaken the treaty.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been pushing his reluctant military to ban the use of the munitions and ordered a Ministry of Defense review earlier this month.
"In order to secure as strong a convention as possible, in the last hours of negotiation we have issued instructions that we should support a ban on all cluster bombs, including those currently in service by the UK," Brown said on Wednesday.
France said last Friday it would withdraw a type of munition that accounted for 90 percent of its cluster bomb stocks.
The last major issues to be resolved centre on military cooperation with countries still using cluster bombs and whether non-signatories such as the United States could keep stockpiles of such weapons in states that have signed up to the ban.
Steve Goose, arms director at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said Wednesday's agreement was a success for activists but a section in the text about military cooperation with non-signatories was a partial American victory.
"The US won some concessions on the issue of interoperability," the HRW statement said. "The draft treaty text contains a loophole."
Cluster bombs can be dropped from aircraft or fired in missiles or artillery shells and have been used in conflicts including Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Balkans and by Israel in southern Lebanon as recently as 2006.
(Additional reporting by David Clarke in London; Editing by Robert Woodward)
Copyright © 2008 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
Copyright © 2008 Yahoo

Why doesn''t Al Qaeda attack the U.S.

This is from ( needs donations or it may close up shop). I have often been surprised that there are not attacks on the continental U.S. This article gives some of the reasons. As I recall there have been threats to attack the U.S. Threats without any actual backup hardly give Al Qaeda any credibility. In fact Al Qaeda's seeming inability to attack the U.S. gives credibility to the U.S. official position that the U.S. will fight in Iraq and elsewhere to avoid having to fight them in the U.S.

Why Doesn't al-Qaeda Attack the US?
by Michael Scheuer
With daily television coverage of suicide car-bomb attacks, ambushes, drive-by shootings, stabbings, and other Intifada-type attacks around the world, the question arises as to why al-Qaeda does not stage such small-scale but deadly operations in the United States. From Washington and the presidential campaign trail comes a cocky, multi-part answer: our massive homeland security spending has worked; al-Qaeda is on the run and hiding; and/or the U.S. military is fighting the Islamists in Iraq and Afghanistan so they cannot come to America. There may be a mite of truth in each claim, but the correct answer would be frankly to acknowledge that al-Qaeda would have no trouble mounting the kind of attacks made against Israel in America – guns, cars, militant Muslims, and open borders for other needs are all readily available – but that, at this time, it has no interest in staging Intifada-type attacks in the United States.
There are at least three solid reasons why al-Qaeda is not running an Intifada-like campaign in the United States:
1.) Al-Qaeda does not want to fight the United States for any longer than is needed to drive it as far as possible out of the Middle East, and its doctrine for so doing has, in Osama bin Laden's formulation, three components: (a) bleed America to bankruptcy; (b) spread out U.S. forces to the greatest extent possible; and (c) promote Vietnam-era-like domestic disunity. Based on this doctrine, al-Qaeda leaders have decided that attacks in the United States are only worthwhile if they have maximum and simultaneous impact in three areas: high and enduring economic costs, severe casualties, and lasting negative psychological impact. Such an attack, they believe, would require significant U.S. military participation in the post-attack phase – especially if the weapon used is the nuclear device they have sought since the early 1990s – and thereby reduce the military's ability to operate overseas. They also believe that a greater-than-9/11 attack would greatly undermine the confidence of Americans in Washington's ability to protect them. (NB: The usually deft Osama bin Laden also has put himself in something of a box regarding another attack in America because he pledged the next attack will be more destructive than 9/11. Paradoxically, a spate of Intifada-type attacks by al-Qaeda in the United States could well be good news because it probably would signal an admission by bin Laden, et. al that they no longer have the capability to match or exceed the attacks of 9/11 inside America.)
2.) Al-Qaeda appears to recognize the huge difference between attacking Israel and attacking the United States. For Palestinian and Hezbollah insurgents, Intifada-style attacks have sufficed; over the decades, the limited number of casualties the Palestinians and Hezbollah have inflicted on Israel's small population has repeatedly won concessions. Suicide attacks, ambushes, and stabbings against America's 300-plus-million population would cause outrage, a few casualties, and some panic, internal confusion, and perhaps limited inter-ethnic-group violence. They would not, however, shift the strategic balance in al-Qaeda's favor. Intifada-style attacks could not satisfy any of al-Qaeda's three-part doctrine: they would not (a) cause U.S. bankruptcy, (b) require large numbers of U.S. troops to clean-up after, or (c) significantly undermine political cohesion. Indeed, there is reason to surmise that al-Qaeda's leaders have concluded that attacks like those used against Israel – which intend to cause deaths of women, children, and the elderly – would unite Americans rather than divide them.
3.) Al-Qaeda leaders probably think, for the moment, that it would be counterproductive to stage any but a larger-than-9/11 attack in America. Currently, Bin Laden and his senior lieutenants are clearly off balance vis-à-vis the United State because so much substantive success has accrued to al-Qaeda's interests so quickly since 9/11. Neither al-Qaeda nor the Taliban were destroyed in 2001; both escaped with most of their forces largely intact. Each has regrouped, rearmed, and retrained in safe havens in the Pashtun tribal lands that straddle the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Pakistan army's incursion into the tribal zone was defeated; the new, less-pro-U.S. government in Islamabad is suing for peace with the tribes; and the Islamization of Pakistan continues unabated. The Muslim world perceives that the U.S. military is being defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been further alienated by the U.S. treatment of captured mujahedin. Finally, the U.S. economy is slowing, Americans are severely divided over Washington's activities overseas, and none of the three major presidential candidates are likely to drastically alter the foreign policies all polls show are hated by up to 80 percent of Muslims. This embarrassment of riches advances each part of al-Qaeda's doctrine for fighting America – casualties, costs, and disunity – and it has been accumulated without a follow-up-to-9/11 attack. While bin Laden might well risk this good fortune for a chance to detonate a nuclear device in the United States, he certainly would not risk it now for the sake of shooting up a half-dozen theaters, coffee shops, and pizza parlors.
So, Americans can relax a bit, go to the movies or the mall, and stop afterwards for coffee or pizza without worrying too much about al-Qaeda launching small-scale attacks. For now, Americans should see themselves as being in standby mode for the larger-than-9/11 attack bin Laden eventually will trigger because the last two U.S. administrations and Senators McCain, Clinton, and Obama have warned about the severe Islamist threat, while knowingly encouraging its worldwide growth by championing status quo foreign policies that degrade U.S. security, as well as by supinely appeasing their Saudi and Israeli masters.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sadr City truce strains as militia leaders grumble

This is from wiredispatch.
Sadr it seems is safe in Iran and not part of the action in Sadr City. It seems clear that some groups had earlier rejected his leadership. Sadr was probably happy enough that the US and Maliki incursions into Sadr City helped eliminate them. Now it looks as if even more leaders on the ground are rejecting his leadership and feel betrayed. It may do little good that he urges unity. In fact he may find himself losing power within his own movement unless he can show that the truce is not being used by the Maliki govt. to dismantle his militia movement.

Sadr City truce strains as militia leaders grumble
Sadr City truce under strain as Shiite militia leaders grumble about mounting pressures
May 28, 2008 15:49 EST
An angry Shiite militia commander complained Wednesday that "we were duped" into accepting a cease-fire in Sadr City — remarks that point to a potentially damaging rift within the movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The May 11 truce ended seven weeks of fierce fighting in Baghdad between U.S. and Iraqi forces and al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which held nearly complete control of the Sadr City district.
Iraqi soldiers now have moved into most parts of Sadr City with little resistance. But the objections raised by the commander highlight apparent dissent by some Mahdi Army leaders.
A split among al-Sadr's followers — between those favoring a more militant path and others seeking compromise with Iraq's government — could threaten the relative calm in Baghdad and re-ignite Shiite-on-Shiite violence across Iraq's oil-rich south.
The commander, speaking to tribal sheiks and lawmakers loyal to al-Sadr, said that "we were duped and deceived" by the truce. "They are arresting many of us now."
The group had gathered in al-Sadr's main Baghdad office to discuss how to respond to what they consider cease-fire "violations" by Iraqi troops, such as arrests and house searches.
Some in the audience, however, took issue with the views of the commander, whose name was not made public for security reasons.
"You can be the winner without a military victory," said Falah Hassan Shanshal, a prominent Sadrist and one of two lawmakers who attended the meeting in Sadr City, home to about 2.5 million Shiites.
"We had to bow before the storm because it was uprooting everything and everyone standing in its path," he said.
Shanshal was referring to the punishing attacks by U.S. and Iraqi forces, which used tanks, helicopter gunships and Hellfire missiles fired from unmanned aircraft. The strikes killed and wounded hundreds and left parts of Sadr City in ruins.
The southern section of the district has been sealed off from the rest of Sadr City in an attempt to foil militia movements and rocket and mortar attacks on the U.S.-protected Green Zone. The battles in Sadr City were part of a wider Mahdi Army backlash to a government crackdown on armed groups launched in late March in the southern city of Basra.
Al-Sadr, who has been in Iran for at least a year, supported the Sadr City cease-fire, perhaps to save his Mahdi Army from further losses so it can continue the fight later.
But signs of opposition have been growing within the militia ranks. Last week, two Mahdi Army commanders said militiamen were divided over whether the cease-fire was in their interest.
They said some believed too many lives had been lost to quit the fight and allow their "enemies" to take control of Sadr City, the militia's largest stronghold.
The two commanders, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said some militia leaders had fled to Iran or southern Iraq to avoid arrest.
The U.S military claims Iran trains and arms militant Shiite militiamen loosely linked to the Mahdi Army. Tehran denies the charge.
The head of al-Sadr's office in Sadr City, Sheik Salman al-Freiji, suggested the truce may collapse if "violations" by the Iraqi army continue.
"There will not be any trust built between the two sides like that," al-Freiji warned. "The Mahdi Army was created to defend the Iraqi people. How can you do that without fighting the occupier?"
Shanshal, the Sadrist lawmaker, was more conciliatory. He criticized the Iraqi army for what he called heavy-handed tactics, but stressed that he did not want more fighting in Sadr City.
He suggested the government declare a 10-day grace period during which militia weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs would be handed over to the army.
"After that, they should arrest anyone who is found to possess this kind of weapons," Shanshal said.
Much of the devastation caused by the fighting is around the concrete barriers erected by U.S. troops to push militia gunners out of range of the Green Zone, which was hit by near daily salvos of rockets and mortar shells at the height of the fighting in April.
Entire blocks near the wall are now heaps of debris, twisted metal and rocks. Stores sit empty, their walls blackened and merchandise burned. Some residents on Wednesday were still hunting through the rubble to recover valuables.
Dozens of buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes. Some streets are strewn with the charred hulks of cars. Some stores remain shuttered, but residents are moving freely, negotiating their way on foot or in service taxis around Iraqi army tanks, Humvees and armored personnel carriers patrolling the area's dusty streets or stationed at major intersections.
New billboards compete with old ones bearing images of al-Sadr and his late father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr — the namesake of the district.
Some of the new, government-funded billboards, show images of men wanted for "crimes committed against the Iraqi people" and proclaiming that "criminals use your neighborhoods to launch attacks."
But new graffiti attacks Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite. One message calls him a "traitor" and an "agent of the Americans." Another declares: "Al-Maliki is a coward."
Hymn-like songs praising al-Sadr and his late father, gunned down in 1999 by suspected Saddam Hussein agents, blare out from several stores.
But there are also signs of everyday life returning.
Municipal workers wearing bright yellow jerseys sweep streets and children play soccer on dirt fields. Women shop at outdoor food markets and men watch movies and smoke water pipes in coffee shops offering a respite from the unforgiving heat with ceiling fans powered by generators.
"Everything is going well, but there is tension still," said a woman who only wanted her nickname, Umm Sadiq, to be used. "I still have to walk a long way to work because of the traffic congestion, but at least I do so feeling safe."
Source: AP News

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Scott McClellan on Bush administration.

This is a series of comments on a new book by a former Bush administration insider. It is a bit ironic that after having been an apologist for the administration and making good money doing that, McClellan now makes money through exposing lies that he had earlier adopted as the truth! At least the book provides verification for what many of us already knew!

McClellan, Bush and the Press
The Bush Administration still has about eight months to go, but the first big former insidertell-all book is out and our Readers Who Comment are all over it. Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary who spent an enormous amount of time at the podium defending Bush and the war in Iraq, says it was sold to Americans with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" led by the president, aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war," Michael Shear reports.
This provides the ammunition our RWC need to replay two themes that have consistently been part of what they have had to say about both the current administration and Iraq:1) Bush should be impeached.2) The press, including The Washington Post, didn't do its job in questioning the need for the war before it was started.
Comments also suggest that there's no news here, we've known this for a long time, and that McClellan is just trying to make money. It's a cynical and angry group this morning, and there are few comments defending Bush or the war.
We'll start with DLN1, who said, "This only confirms what many of us know...that the Bush administration destroyed a country then occupied it while lying to its own citizens."
UrbanEndeavors asked, "Can we impeach now...?"
And mcdermott99 said, "The Washington press corps should be sat down in a room with the door locked, made to wear dunce caps, and to listen as McClellan's book is read to them over and over again..."
pkiel provided the one comment I could find supporting the Bush administration in writing, "This 2-bit Jerk wants to make a couple of bucks at the expense of his former employee! Why the hell can't anyone remember 9-11. What a bunch of short-sighted sheep! Washington Post will print whatever suit them!"
pundito tried sarcasm, writing, "I'm shocked, shocked!"
And slim2 suggested, "He [McClellan] is either hyping a little sensationalism to peddle his book or else was an eyewitness to criminal activity. I suspect the latter."
RegisUrgel said, "Not much we did not know about the Bush administration. What is scary is how the press treated this entire period... The same kind of thing happened in other dark periods in our history... I am sorry, and scared, it hasn't learned."
ih82blog asked, "So, Scott, what took you so long? Criticizing the Bush Administration at this point is like shooting lame ducks in a barrel (and getting paid for it)."And stikyfingas added, "McClellan, kinda late now... Same goes for all the Bush Administration lackeys not one of them resigned and told the truth; they all left, waited a year then made money off a book deal."
SpinningPlates said, "The NYTimes and Post can all go to hell. Its just unbelievable that nobody called shenanagins on this administration a long time ago. Our "Liberal Media" sucks. They got duped and are just as much to blame as bush."
tydicea wrote, "I think by now the whole world knows the truth behind the premise for going to war with Iraq, and the deceptions and stupidity of employed by this president and his cohorts. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see someone of the inner circle come clean, because neither Bush and present company have neither the courage nor the moral fiber to do so."
infuse said, "...What's nice is that McClellan corroborated the information, but it is not news."
bkaufmann wrote, "These lies killed half a million people."
12345leavemealone said, "The truly sad thing is that even if Bush admitted fault some people would still believe that he told the truth."
protagoras wrote, "Looks like the protesters and the dissidents were spot on. Too bad the press hasn't admire them as much as it admires those unnamed sources...."
We'll close with CJackson36, wrote:I don't know what kind of advance McClellan got for this book, but I'm not buying a copy. I'm sick of people who lie to us while being paid with our tax dollars then getting a hefty advance to tell us they were deceived. If McClellan had come clean sooner, he might have spared us a second term of Bush &Co.
All comments on this article are here.
By Doug Feaver May 28, 2008; 9:00 AM ET

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

US consumer mood at 16 year low..

This is from BBC.
These results don't' augur well for consumer spending. With oil prices skyrocketing inflation will soon be a problem so that cutting interest rates will not be an option for stimulating the economy. We may very well encounter what I call recflation.

US consumer mood at 16-year low
Confidence among US consumers hit its lowest level for 16 years in May, according to the Conference Board.
The research body's Consumer Confidence Index fell to a level of 57.2 in May, down from April's figure of 62.8.
The Conference Board blamed the pessimism on the short-term outlook for the US economy as well as weakening business and job conditions.
The figures tell a similar story to the University of Michigan's Index, which hit a 28-year low in May.
"There is a fear the economy is in a recession or going into one and people may find their jobs in jeopardy," said David Coard from the Williams Capital Group in New York.
"When you talk to people on the street they seem to be really being squeezed at the pump and the supermarket while their income isn't keeping up."
Turnaround unlikely
The Conference Board also issued pessimistic forecasts for the coming months.
"Consumers' inflation expectations, fuelled by increasing prices at the pump, are now at an all-time high and are likely to rise further in the months ahead," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.
"As for the short-term outlook, the Expectations Index suggests little likelihood of a turnaround in the immediate months ahead."
The index is based on responses from 5,000 US households.
It has plunged since last July, when it stood at 111.9.
Since then, the housing slump and rising prices for food and fuel have taken their toll on the mood among consumers.
The figures are closely watched because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity in the US.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Michel Suleiman new Lebanese president.

This is from BBC.

The Doha agreement whose main terms are listed below finally unlocked the logjam that blocked any settlement of the political deadlock in Lebanon. Although the West may be very unhappy that Hezbollah gets a veto, the Western backed government still has power and a majority in cabinet. Of course if the two sides insist on continual fighting the system will not work but at least it is better than civil war and worth a try.

First tasks for Lebanon president
Lebanon's new President, Michel Suleiman, has arrived at the presidential palace to begin his first full day in office.
His first official visitor is expected to be Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Mr Suleiman will then begin consultations about forming a new national unity government.
His appointment came after months of political division which exploded into bloody clashes earlier this month.
Mr Suleiman has been head of the army for the past nine years. The presidency has been vacant since November.
He is expected to appoint a prime minister from the parliamentary majority led by the pro-Western leader, Saad al-Hariri - but a recent reconciliation agreement will give a powerful role in the cabinet to the Hezbollah movement and other allies of Syria and Iran.
Military bands played Lebanon's national anthem at the Baabda palace in the hills overlooking southern Beirut.
As he walked down a red carpet past a guard of honour, Mr Suleiman was greeted with a 21-gun salute, while dozens of presidential staff applauded.
Huge relief
As he was sworn in on Sunday, the president called for a "new phase", and a "quiet dialogue" on some of Lebanon's thorniest issues, including the role of Hezbollah as an armed movement.
Western-backed ruling majority to get 16 cabinet seats and choose prime minister
Syrian-backed opposition to get 11 cabinet seats and veto power
Three cabinet seats to be nominated by president
The use of weapons in internal conflicts is to be banned
Opposition protest camps in central Beirut are to be removed
New law to divide country into smaller electoral districts
"Let us unite... and work towards a solid reconciliation," Gen Suleiman said.
"We have paid dearly for our national unity. Let us preserve it hand-in-hand."
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says it was a huge relief for many Lebanese to find themselves with a new president at last, after 19 failed attempts to elect a head of state.
But, he adds, Gen Suleiman comes into office with his wings somewhat clipped, after his army was humiliated by having to stand by while Hezbollah burned newspaper offices and nearly stirred up civil war in the violence which broke out two weeks ago.
At least 65 people died in clashes as Hezbollah fighters seized control of sections of Beirut in response to government attempts to outlaw the group's private telephone network and reassign Beirut airport's security chief, who is close to the opposition.
For months, Gen Suleiman had been accepted by all sides as the only candidate to succeed outgoing pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, but disagreements had repeatedly prevented a parliamentary vote to appoint him.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

U.S. military launches alternative fuel push.

No talk of making any of the military vehicles more fuel efficient or cutting down on usage! Imagine a 13.6 billion bill and usage of 1.5 percent of all US consumption! Maybe a few less wars would help!

U.S. Military Launches Alternative-Fuel Push
Dependence on Oil Seen as Too Risky; B-1 Takes Test Flight
By YOCHI J. DREAZENMay 21, 2008; Page A1
(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- With fuel prices soaring, the U.S. military, the country's largest single consumer of oil, is turning into an alternative-fuels pioneer.
In March, Air Force Capt. Rick Fournier flew a B-1 stealth bomber code-named Dark 33 across this sprawling proving ground, to confirm for the first time that a plane could break the sound barrier using synthetic jet fuel. A similar formula -- a blend of half-synthetic and half-conventional petroleum -- has been used in some South African commercial airliners for years, but never in a jet going so fast.
"The hope is that the plane will be blind to the gas," Capt. Fournier said as he gripped the handle controlling the plane's thrusters during the test flight. "But you won't know unless you try."
With oil's multiyear ascent showing no signs of stopping -- crude futures set another record Tuesday, closing at $129.07 a barrel in New York trading -- energy security has emerged as a major concern for the Pentagon.
The U.S. military consumes 340,000 barrels of oil a day, or 1.5% of all of the oil used in the country. The Defense Department's overall energy bill was $13.6 billion in 2006, the latest figure available -- almost 25% higher than the year before. The Air Force's bill for jet fuel alone has tripled in the past four years. When the White House submitted its latest budget request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it tacked on a $2 billion surcharge for rising fuel costs.
Synthetic fuel, which can be made from coal or natural gas, is expensive now, but could cost far less than the current price of oil if it's mass-produced.
Just as important, the military is increasingly concerned that its dependence on oil represents a strategic threat. U.S. forces in Iraq alone consume 40,000 barrels of oil a day trucked in from neighboring countries, and would be paralyzed without it. Energy-security advocates warn that terrorist attacks on oil refineries or tankers could cripple military operations around the world. "The endgame is to wean the dependence on foreign oil," says Air Force Assistant Secretary William Anderson.
Some Pentagon officers have embraced planning around the "peak oil" theory, which holds that the world's oil production is about to plateau due to shrinking resources and limited investment in many of the most oil-rich regions of the Middle East. Earlier this year, they brought Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons to the Pentagon for a presentation on peak oil; he warned that under the theory, "energy security becomes an oxymoron." House Democrats have proposed creating a new Defense Department position to manage the military's overall energy needs.
Airman Jesus Abalos preparing to fuel a B-1 bomber on Dyess Air Force Base.
Alternative fuels are part of a broader -- and not so long ago unlikely -- conversion by the military to "green" initiatives. Producing synthetic fuel itself can cause more pollution than conventional fuel if the emissions aren't captured. But Army engineers also are pushing contractors to build armored vehicles with hybrid engines. The Air Force is experimenting with making engine parts out of lighter metals such as titanium to boost fuel efficiency.
In December, Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas opened one of the largest solar arrays in the U.S., a 140-acre field of 72,000 motorized panels that powers the base and sells energy to nearby communities. The Pentagon is soliciting bids for three similar arrays on other bases. The military even has begun looking into the possibility of building small nuclear-power plants on unused portions of its more remote bases, though it has no firm plans yet.
The Pentagon is hoping its push for alternative energy will feed civilian applications as well. For synthetic fuel, the Air Force is working with aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing Corp. and the Pratt & Whitney engine unit of United Technologies Corp. North American synthetic-fuel processors including Rentech Inc., Baard Energy and Syntroleum Corp. all operate or hope to build synthetic-fuel refineries to feed the military's growing thirst.
"Our goal is to drive the development of a market here in the U.S.," says Mr. Anderson.
Military use of synthetic fuel faces significant obstacles. The energy bill signed into law by President Bush last year included a clause preventing the government from buying the fuel if it emits more pollution than petroleum. Manufacturers have promised to meet that target by recapturing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses produced in refining. Without those efforts, synthetic fuel can emit up to twice as much pollution in refining as conventional petroleum.
Prices' Impact
Synthetic-fuel prices also need to fall: Formerly stratospheric, they're still about 50% above the soaring prices for petroleum. That should happen if companies can begin operating commercial-scale refineries, says David Berg, a policy analyst who studied the nascent synthetic-fuel market for the Energy Department in December. He estimated that commercial-scale synthetic-fuel refineries would be able to sell artificial fuel for approximately $55 a barrel, less than half the current cost of conventional crude oil.
But many in the field say they're unwilling to invest the necessary billions until they can sign long-term contracts with the government. Right now, the Air Force legally can sign deals only for five years. It has asked the White House's Office of Management and Budget to seek congressional approval for the rule change, but the Bush administration has yet to act on the request, Mr. Anderson says.
"These plants are not likely to get built without government help" such as guaranteed long-term contracts, says Mr. Berg, who recently retired. "And they may not get built even then."
The problems are particularly acute for the Air Force, which uses about 2.6 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, or 10% of the entire domestic market in aviation fuel. The Air Force's fuel costs neared $6 billion last year, up from $2 billion in 2003, even as its consumption fell by more than 10% over the same period because of energy-savings measures, including a campaign to shut off lights and lower thermostats at bases.
The Air Force wants to be able to purchase 400 million gallons of synthetic jet fuel a year by 2016, an amount equal to 25% of its total fuel needs for missions in the continental U.S. This year, it expects to buy slightly more than 300,000 gallons.
The Air Force launched its artificial-fuel initiative in the spring of 2006. Testifying before the Senate that March, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne told lawmakers that "we realize our reliance on petroleum-based fuels must be curtailed." The Air Force gave a small team at its Wright-Patterson base near Dayton, Ohio, the mission of finding a synthetic fuel capable of powering all of the service's fighters, bombers and other planes.
Despite its high-tech connotations, synthetic fuel -- often dubbed "synfuel" for short within the industry -- has been around for decades. The basic technology for transforming coal or natural gas into synthetic fuel was invented by a pair of German researchers, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, in the 1920s. The Nazis later used the Fischer-Tropsch process to mass-produce synthetic diesel fuel. During the apartheid-era embargo against South Africa, scientists there tweaked the technology so it could also produce synthetic jet fuel.
The Fischer-Tropsch process transforms a synthetic gas derived from coal or other material into liquid gas. The resulting synthetic fuel is different from biofuel, commonly produced from corn, sugar or other plants. Continental Airlines Inc. has announced plans for an experimental flight using biofuel this spring, which would be the first by a U.S. carrier; Virgin Atlantic also has done some testing.
The Wright-Patterson team oversaw experiments on a wide array of synthetic fuels, but quickly settled on a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel -- known as JP-8 -- and artificial fuel made using the Fischer-Tropsch process. That mixture is used in South Africa, where Johannesburg-based Sasol Ltd. is one of the world's biggest synthetic-fuel producers. Air Force officials decided it was the safest combination.
B-52 Bomber Test
In June 2006, the Air Force agreed to buy 100,000 gallons of artificial fuel from U.S.-based Syntroleum to mix with petroleum for testing. The next month, military engineers bolted an engine from a B-52 bomber to a table at Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma and ran it for 50 consecutive hours to see how it would perform on the synthetic blend. Engineers detected no differences from conventional fuel.
The Air Force began conducting test flights. In September 2006, a B-52 took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California with two of its eight engines burning the synthetic-fuel blend, the first time a military aircraft had flown on artificial fuel. The plane's performance was the same as if it had flown on conventional fuel, and the Air Force decided to push ahead.
As the Air Force's experimentation increased, so did the involvement of the private sector. Military and civilian aircraft share many parts and are often built by the same companies. The military's Boeing C-17 cargo jet, for instance, uses the same Pratt & Whitney engine as a Boeing 757 passenger plane. Pentagon officials are sharing their research into synthetic fuels with such firms to help civilian companies certify their equipment on the synthetic-fuel blend.
At the military's direction, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce PLC, Honeywell International Inc. and General Electric Co. have agreed to work together to develop joint specifications for how their engines perform on artificial fuels. Last November, engineers from Pratt & Whitney mounted one of the company's C-17 engines in a high-tech pressure chamber at Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee and simulated a variety of altitudes and weather conditions to gauge the engine's performance. The tests were "enormously uneventful," says Alan Epstein, the company's vice president of technology and environment -- an encouraging sign.
In late 2006, Baard Energy of Vancouver had said it would build the first commercial-scale synthetic-fuel refinery in the U.S., to be completed in 2012. Chief Executive John Baardson says he decided to roll the dice on the $6 billion plant because of the military's interest. "There isn't a market for this right now, so it takes a little bit of faith to get these plants going," he says. "Knowing the military was out there took one huge risk factor out of the decision-making process."
But other companies haven't followed suit. Syntroleum shut down the plant that produced the fuel used in the B-52 test flight; it had only been designed to produce small samples for experiments. Rentech is building a new refinery in Colorado, but its plant also is meant to only refine minute samples of synthetic fuel.
"It's a chicken and egg thing: We'll build a larger plant if we can get the money to finance it and find customers willing to buy what it produces," says Rick Penning, Rentech's executive vice president of commercial affairs.
The pure synthetic fuel Syntroleum sold the Air Force for the B-52 test flight in 2006 cost almost $20 a gallon. Its price since has come down sharply, but the synthetic product used in the B-1 supersonic test in March still cost $4.62 a gallon. It was mixed with petroleum fuel costing $3.04 a gallon, according to government officials.
Testing Its Planes
The Air Force plans to finish testing all of its planes on the fuel blend by 2011. Last month, it was time to test artificial fuel on supersonic flights. Air Force officials decided to start with a B-1 bomber, a supersonic plane that has been in service since 1986.
The test flight was assigned to Capt. Fournier and a two-man crew from the 9th Bomber Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, in Abilene, Texas. The unit's Latin motto, "Mors ab Alto," translates into "Death From Above."
On a clear day in March, the three men took off for New Mexico with a reporter aboard. When the B-1 crossed into the closed airspace above the White Sands Missile Range, Capt. Fournier yanked back his throttle and sent the plane climbing almost straight up, throwing the bomber's occupants back into their seats. He then pitched into a steep dive. Pens and other small objects hovered around the cabin, weightless, until the plane leveled off again.
Capt. Fournier fired the plane's afterburners and sent the bomber roaring over the range. A small dial in the cockpit showed that the bomber was flying faster than Mach 1.
Back at Dyess, the crew packed into a small conference room to analyze the flight with a crew of military and civilian officials, including a pair of engineers from GE, which makes the bomber's engines. Capt. Fournier said the plane handled normally at high speeds and on sharp turns. The only difference he noticed was that the synthetic fuel had a different smell than conventional jet fuel. "So it didn't give you the normal buzz?" one of the engineers joked.
With the B-1 certified to fly on the synthetic mix, Maj. Donald Rhymer, the deputy director of the Air Force's alternative-fuels certification office, said the Air Force would soon test fighters such as its workhorse F-16.
"Our biggest litmus test was Capt. Fournier coming out of the B-1 and saying that it was an unremarkable flight," Maj. Rhymer said as the meeting ended. "That's the subjective endorsement we're looking for with all of the planes."

Philippines, US to hold naval exercises near Spratlys

This is from AFP.
I guess that this is meant to show those Chinese, Malaysians, and Vietnamese who is boss. The Americans! The Philippine sparrow, maya maya, can tag along flying under the American Eagle.

Philippines, US to hold naval exercises near Spratlys: report
1 day ago

MANILA (AFP) — US and Philippine forces will carry out joint naval exercises off Palawan, the closest major Philippine island to the disputed Spratlys chain in the South China Sea, a report said Saturday.

The joint exercises will begin Monday, Vice Admiral William Douglas Crowder, commander of the US seventh fleet flagship the USS Blue Ridge, told the Philippine Star newspaper.

About four US ships will sail to Palawan, southwest of Manila, for the combined naval war games involving about a thousand US and Filipino sailors, the newspaper said.

The Spratlys, a chain of islands and atolls believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, are claimed in full or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. All but Brunei have troops posted on some of the islands.

Naval officials told the paper the exercises would be held within the territorial waters of Palawan, away from the Spratlys, which are located off the island's western coast.

Military spokesmen in Manila would not confirm the report.

PNAC no more?

This is sad news in a way. The site was always a good place to reference to show people what the neocons policy agenda was straight from the horse' s mouth so to speak. I can think of four reasons why the site is no more:
1) The neocons think it was too useful to the left
2) The policy is already part of the mainstream so that the site is no longer needed.
3) The neocons are broke (very unlikely)
4) The site is being bought out by the PNCC (Project for a New Chinese Century)

This is from

PNAC No More?
May 20, 2008 in News by Jim Lobe
The website of the Bill Kristol’s Project for the New American Century ( has vanished. If you go to the site, you are diverted to another one that says, “This Account Has Been Suspended. Please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible.” A metaphor, perhaps, for the bankruptcy of the ideas that inspired the project and the strategic disaster that they produced for U.S. interests in Iraq, the greater Middle East, and the wider world?
You can still find most of PNAC’s documents — including its letters and their signatories — through, but it seems that the original site is gone for lack of payment. While the site became effectively dormant in 2005, its sudden disappearance is somewhat alarming. What does it say about the new American Century itself, particularly in light of the slew of recent books on the decline of American power and the end of unipolarity? A coincidence or an augury?
Visit for the latest

Friday, May 23, 2008

Myanmar to allow in UN aid workers.

This is from Al Jazeera.
It remains to be seen how much of a breakthrough this is once the details are worked out. The deal excludes aid through the military. The regime maintains that the basic aid stage is over and now reconstruction will begin. I just wonder how the UN is able to assess the degree to which people have received aid.

FRIDAY, MAY 23, 200814:52 MECCA TIME, 11:52 GMT
Myanmar to allow in UN aid workers
The announcement came after talks between Ban, left, and Myanmar's Than Shwe [AFP]
Myanmar's military leaders have agreed to allow access to all foreign aid workers to help with the relief operation after Cyclone Nargis, according to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.

Ban made the announcement on Friday after more than two hours of talks with Than Shwe, Myanmar's senior general.
Than Shwe's earlier refusal to allow relief workers to operate in Myanmar earned him international condemnation.

His change in attitude comes three weeks after the cyclone hit Myanmar on May 2-3, leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing and around 2.5 million more in need of immediate aid.
"He has agreed to allow all aid workers regardless of nationalities," Ban said in Naypyidaw, Myanmar's capital.

Asked if this was a breakthrough, Ban said: "Yes, I think so."

But the specifics of the new agreement remained unclear and it was not immediately known if Myanmar's rulers would allow in aid from US naval ships nearby - which it said before would be rejected.

UN agencies said they are ready to step up relief to cyclone victims but needed to know practical details of the country's new commitment to admit all aid workers to the devastated coastal area.

Elisabeth Byrs, the UN relief spokeswoman, said UN agencies had been building up food and other supplies for those people affected by the storm but was unable to say immediately how many aid workers would be going into Myanmar.

Cautious response

International aid groups reacted cautiously to the breakthrough, stressing that they would need full access to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta.

"We're not clear on the details - it is welcome news, but we still don't know if this will give us access to the worst hit areas," Chris Webster, from the emergency response team at World Vision, told Al Jazeera.

Lionel Rosenblatt, a former president of refugees international, told Al Jazeera, said he was "sceptical" of the agreement.

"I think if its a precursor to wider agreements then it's something very significant, but we're still not sure what it means in terms of speed - it may take days for these people to get to duty stations," he said.

"I think we have to remember we're now three weeks plus one day into the time elapsed since the cyclone hit - people are in very bad shape."

International relief organisations have repeatedly insisted that more people will die unless they get immediate food, water, shelter and medical care.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that hundreds of thousands of people in remote areas of the delta have insufficient food, and said prices for rice, cooking oil and other basics had doubled throughout the country.

Only a "very narrow window of opportunity" remains to provide seeds and other material to farmers before the rice planting season upon which millions depend begins in a few weeks, the agency said.

Visas blocked

While accepting thousands of tonnes of donated supplies, Myanmar's rulers have been blocking visas for most foreign disaster management experts and insisted reports of survivors not getting enough aid were the work of "traitors".

A senior UN official present at the meeting between the UN secretary-general and Than Shwe said Myanamar also agreed to allow foreigners to work in the hardest-hit region, the Irrawaddy Delta, which has been virtually off-limits to them.

"The general said he saw no reason why that should not happen as long as they were genuine humanitarian workers and it was clear what they were going to do," the Associated Press quoted the official as saying.

The announcement that Myanmar would halt its restrictions came on day two of Ban's visit, the first by a UN secretary-general in more than four decades.

Despite the continuing misery caused by Cyclone Nargis, the country's military rulers pressed ahead with plans to hold a second round of a referendum on Saturday in areas hit hard by the storm.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Running on Empty? Fears over oil supply move into the mainstream.

This is from the Financial Times. As the article points out worries about oil shortages have moved from being the concern of a few pessimists to the mainstream media. The huge demand increases in newly developing nations such as China is not matched by similar increase in supply. New supplies such as those in the Canadian Oil Sands are quite expensive. Oil is reaching new price highs every few days it seems.

Running on empty? Fears over oil supply move into the mainstreamBy Carola HoyosFinancial TimesMay 19 2008On a rainy day last month, four drummers, three guitarists, a bagpiper, twodidgeridoo players and 186 others assembled in the rural English town ofCirencester to discuss turning their neighbourhoods into low-impactcommunities built around farming, arts and crafts and herbal medicine.After communal meditation and a few speeches, those present gathered insmall groups to discuss everything from transport without oil to engaginglocal politicians in the “Transition Towns” movement’s stated aim: reducingtheir carbon footprint in response to concerns over diminishing hydrocarbonreserves as well as global warming. The mood in the group discussing energywas sombre. One former civil engineer predicted the demise of the lightbulbwithin a decade and derided the idea that market forces and human ingenuitycould save the planet, laughing it off as “the magic wand” theory.For years, such meetings have been dismissed as eccentric. Most of the world’soil executives, government ministers, analysts and consultants reject the“peak oil” theory – the notion based on the 1950s work of Marion KingHubbert, a Shell geologist, that crude production will soon enter terminaldecline. They say it understates remaining reserves, plays down thecontribution of technological advances and ignores the role of market forcesin shaping future supply.But with the oil price at a record $126 a barrel, more than 1,000 per centhigher than a decade ago, fears of the end of the hydrocarbon age haveseeped into the mainstream. Many in the industry itself now accept thatsupply constraints are shaping the price as much as rampant demand. Callsfor greater investment to ease these constraints formed the crux of many ofthe discussions at last month’s meeting in Rome between energy ministers ofthe world’s main oil producers and consumers. A few weeks later, analysts atGoldman Sachs and elsewhere, as well as ministers of the Opec oil cartel,predicted that prices could reach $200 within two years.So are the peak oilists right? A series of recent events certainly appearsto lend credence to those who argue that the world’s ageing oilfields arebeing sucked dry amid China’s and India’s determination to lift themselvesout of poverty and the west’s reluctance to give up the luxuries of modernoil-dependent life.The fact that Russia’s oil production declined almost half a percentagepoint in April, the first drop in a decade, was shocking enough news fromthe world’s second biggest oil producer, whose output was growing at a rateof 12 per cent just five years ago. But Russian oil executives have gone astep further: Leonid Fedun, vice-president of Lukoil, told the FinancialTimes the country’s production may have already reached its peak.Just days later Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer and by farthe largest exporter, confirmed it had put on hold plans to increase thekingdom’s production capacity. Ali Naimi, Saudi energy minister, said thedemand forecasts he was reading did not warrant an expansion past the 12.5mb/d capacity Saudi Arabia’s fields will reach next year, following alaborious investment of more than $20bn (£10.3bn, €12.9bn). King Abdullah,the country’s ruler, put it more bluntly: “I keep no secret from you that,when there were some new finds, I told them, ‘No, leave it in the ground,with grace from God, our children need it’.’’Most other forecasts show the world will need Saudi Arabia’s oil. Thus thekingdom’s reluctance to invest further in its fields has led some to askwhether Saudi Arabia can boost production or whether, after 75 years, theworld’s biggest oil deposit has been cashed.Friday’s announcement by Mr Naimi that Saudi Arabia would pump slightly moreoil did little to ease prices because it failed to reduce concerns oversupply: when the kingdom produces more oil, it eats into its cushion ofspare supply. This means such measures sometimes backfire, driving priceshigher – the opposite of what US President George W. Bush, who requested theincreased output, had in mind.One problem is that nobody really knows what is going on inside Saudi Arabia’soil industry. Riyadh is so guarded that analysts from Sanford Bernstein, thefinancial services company, took to spying on its activity via satellite.They spent nine months monitoring the country’s drilling activities andmeasuring whether Ghawar, the world’s biggest oil­field, had subsided. Theirconclusion: Saudi Arabia is having to work harder than the country’sengineers and geologists expected in 2004 to squeeze more out of thenorthern part of the ageing Ghawar field.Matthew Simmons, an energy investment banker, has a bleaker view of Ghawar’shealth. He took the news that Saudi Arabia was not planning to expand to 15mb/d as further evidence that the kingdom was struggling to ward off acollapse of its oilfields.With his book Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and theWorld Economy, published in 2005, Mr Simmons, more than any otherindividual, laid the seeds of doubt over Saudi Arabia’s future reliability.Poring over 200 technical papers written by engineers over 20 years, somestored electronically and others gathering dust in the filing cabinets ofthe Society of Petroleum Engineers’ offices on the outskirts of Dallas,Texas, he uncovered evidence the kingdom’s fields were far more complicatedto tap and declining more quickly than the secretive nation was willing toreveal.Less well known, but equally damning, is his study of the rest of the world’soilfields. Mr Simmons launched his project in 2001 after none of theanalysts brought in to help the US Central Intelligence Agency map the world’sremaining big sources of oil came up with answers that satisfied him.He found that the world depends on just a few giant, old, decliningoilfields and that almost nothing to match them has been discovered sincethe 1970s. One in every five barrels of oil consumed each day is pumped froma field that is more than 40 years old. Not a single field discovered in thepast 30 years has ever been able to produce more than 1m b/d and the numberand size of fields discovered since then have been shrinking dramatically.Output declines as an oilfield ages – sometimes dramatically. One example isMexico’s Cantarell field. Discovered by a fisherman in 1976, Cantarell atits peak produced more than 2m b/d. Today, the field pumps half that volumeand is in relentless decline, losing 24 per cent of its production eachyear.The same trend – though at a slower pace – is plaguing most fields aroundthe world, possibly including the four biggest: Ghawar, Cantarell, Kuwait’sBurgan and China’s Daqing. This means running to stand still: each year asmuch as two-thirds of new oil supply capacity goes towards covering for theslowdown at ageing fields.Mr Simmons’ work is potent fodder for peak oilists, who espouse their gloomyviews of the future on websites ranging from those with an academic air tomore alarmist ones that come complete with advertisements for freeze-driedfood and survival guides.Hubbert in 1956 correctly predicted that US production would peak between1965 and 1970. His later forecasts proved less reliable, as did propheciesby his followers. The Hubbert model maintains that the production rate of afinite resource follows a largely symmetrical bell-shaped curve, meaningthat post-peak life could turn quickly to economic turmoil followed by ahorse-and-cart existence.Mr Simmons knows his peak oil views have moved him towards the fringes of abusiness in which he used to occupy a far more central position. But he isnot alone. T. Boone Pickens and Richard Rainwater, the billionaire USinvestors whose net worth is estimated at more than $3bn each, have profitedfrom their view of peak oil, through their hedge funds of mainly oil and gasholdings. Last Thursday Mr Pickens placed a $2bn order for the first 667 of2,500 wind turbines that he plans to erect on the Texas Panhandle as he goesabout building the world’s biggest wind farm.Fears over supply increasingly extend to the corner offices of internationaloil companies. James Mulva, chief executive of ConocoPhillips of the US, andChristophe de Margerie, his counterpart at Total of France, both recentlysaid they did not think world oil production would ever surpass 100m b/d.That is the amount of oil the International Energy Agency, the consumingnations’ watchdog, estimates the world will need in seven years’ time. By2030, it will need 16m b/d more.Mr Mulva and Mr de Margerie would take deep offence at being called peakoilists. But they, together with a rapidly growing number of industryexecutives and ministers, believe the world is running out of “easy oil” andthat political barriers – such as Nigeria’s crippling unrest, thenationalisation that has stunted Russia’s energy industry and theinternational tensions that have for two decades stymied Iraq’s energypotential – are keeping companies from being able to exploit the2,400bn-4,400bn barrels that remain.Instead of preparing for Armageddon, they are using technologies such ashorizontal drilling to squeeze more oil out of their old fields and lookingfor reserves in harsher terrains. But even they advocate that consumers, whorely on oil for everything from light to lipstick, should be less wasteful.Industry executives admit that fields in the developed world, such as thosein the North Sea and Alaska, are about to peak. (Sanford Bernstein believesproduction outside Opec will peak this year.) But they argue thatunconventional fields, such as those in Alberta and in Venezuela’s Orinocobelt, hold more barrels of oil than Saudi Arabia, while the Arctic’s richescould be immense as well.Natural gas, coal, corn, sugar cane, algae and turkey innards are promisingalternative sources that could fuel China’s new love affair with the car,they say. Meanwhile the biggest oilfield, as Joseph Stanislaw, adviser toDeloitte Consulting, likes to point out, lies beneath Detroit. In otherwords, millions of barrels a day of oil could be saved if Americans tradedin their gas-guzzlers for more efficient vehicles.All of this means global production will follow an “undulating plateau forone or more decades before declining slowly”, says Peter Jackson ofCambridge Energy Research Associates, an industry consulting firm. Afterstudying its oil production and resources database, the group concluded thatit saw no decline in the world’s ability to produce oil before 2030, makingCera’s one of the most sanguine forecasts.But the ride could yet prove a bumpy one, even Cera admits. Saudi Arabia’sspare capacity is at its lowest level in a generation, having been eateninto by China and other fuel-hungry customers. It now stands at 2m-3m b/d,too little to cover a big interruption in supplies from elsewhere. This hasalready added a sizeable premium to international oil prices, though no onehas a grasp of exactly how much.Meanwhile, the long-term alternatives have serious downsides. The Albertaproject is a big, dirty mining operation, both energy- and water-intensive.Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s populist president, has made it risky forinternational oil companies to pour billions of dollars into the Orinocobelt. The technology to tap the Arctic’s big reserves and bring them backashore has not been invented. Regarding power of the solar, wind andturkey-gut varieties, even the most optimistic forecasts say these willremain a small fraction of the overall energy mix.In fact, even if all the policies to increase renewable fuels and to use oilmore efficiently were to be enacted immediately, the world would still needOpec’s daily production to increase by 11.5m barrels by 2030, the bulk ofwhich would have to come from Saudi Arabia, the IEA says.That is a tall order. It is 50-plus per cent more than the amount by whichOpec managed to increase output between 1980 and 2006. This time, the oilbusiness is faced with a shortage of skilled labour (the industry’s averageage is just shy of 50) and a squeeze in the supply of steel and othercritical components.So what if politics, an ageing workforce and a dearth of equipment get inthe way and Saudi Arabia cannot – or will not – come to the rescue? Will thepeak oilists turn out to be right, for the wrong reasons?The answer depends on the market’s ability to adjust. For optimists, theworst that could happen is high oil prices eventually damp demand whilegiving the entrepreneurially inclined time to think of ingenious ways toproduce and conserve energy.Growth in demand is in fact already slowing, especially in the US and otherdeveloped countries. Neil McMahon, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein, suggeststhe downturn in developed countries may prove large enough to allow hungriernations, such as those within Opec and China, to continue to demandincreasing volumes of oil. “The question is: Have these [developed] nationsbeen squeezed enough yet, or will prices have to go higher?” he asks in arecent report. Though he leaves open the possibility that prices willcontinue to rise for a while, he argues: “Based on 3.5 per cent [growth in]global GDP, overall oil demand growth will be close to zero.”Guy Caruso (right), head of the Energy Information Administration, thestatistical and forecasting arm of the US Department of Energy, also pointsto the power of the market to drive changes in government policy and thebehaviour of consumers and oil companies. “As you know, we are not believersin peak oil. We believe the above-ground risk is the issue,” he says.The EIA predicts that US imports of oil and petroleum products will decreaseslightly in the next 22 years. This means the import dependence of the world’sbiggest oil consumer is forecast to drop from 60 per cent to 50 per cent by2015 before climbing again slightly to 54 per cent by 2030. The reasons forthe drop include improved car efficiency, slower demand, higher use ofbiofuels and a 1m b/d increase in oil production from the US’s Gulf ofMexico by 2012. “One of the things M. King Hubbert couldn’t have known isabout the technology to drill in 12,000 feet of water and to drillhorizontally,” Mr Caruso says.A pessimist’s version of events would include a more serious and widespreaddownturn, as developing countries buckle under the burden of subsidisingtheir citizens’ swelling fuel and food bills. At the extreme end are theviews of Jeremy Leggett, a geologist turned entrepreneur and author of HalfGone: Oil, Gas, Hot Air and the Global Energy Crisis. In his worst-casescenario parable, he writes: “The price of houses collapsed. Stock marketscrashed ... Companies went bankrupt ... Workers fell into unemployment bythe hundreds of thousands and then millions. Once affluent cities withstreet cafés now had queues at soup kitchens and armies of beggars on thestreets.”Industry executives dismiss this as doom-mongering so corrosive that it hasthe power to distort policy and investment decisions. But such visions alsohave the power to prompt people to use energy more efficiently. Thebagpipers and didgeridoo players of Transition Towns are indeed already apart, if only a small one, of the solution to the uncertainties ahead – evenif the world never has to experience quite the disaster that they predict.

Death toll from Philippines storm at 37

This is from the Age. The storm in Burma, earthquake in China, and tornados in the U.S. have meant that this storm in the northern Philippines has been below the radar of the mainstream press in North America.

Death toll from Philippines storm now 37
May 21, 2008 - 5:08PM
The death toll in a tropical storm that pummelled the Philippines over the weekend rose to 37 as rescuers reached far-flung villages in the worst-hit areas.
The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said 16 more people were injured in the aftermath of storm Halong that brought heavy rains which triggered landslides and flash floods in several northern provinces.
The NDCC said more than one million people were adversely affected by Halong's fury and several roads have been rendered impassable and bridges swept away by swollen rivers.
Most of the fatalities were in the province of Pangasinan, 180km north of Manila, which was worst hit by Halong.
Many of the victims drowned in flash floods, died when struck by tin sheets torn off from roofs by Halong's strong winds or were buried in collapsed structures.
Damage to agriculture and infrastructure was estimated at 3.49 billion pesos ($A84.74 million

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rival Lebanese reach deal to end crisis.

This is a good sign and it looks as if civil war has been avoided. The article is from Reuters.

Rival Lebanese reach deal to end crisisTue May 20, 2008 7:02 PM ET
By Nadim Ladki
DOHA (Reuters) - Rival Lebanese leaders reached a deal on Wednesday to end 18 months of political conflict that had pushed their country to the brink of a new civil war.
Delegates from the U.S.-backed ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition told Reuters disputes over a parliamentary election law and a new cabinet had been settled on the sixth day of Arab-mediated talks in Qatar.
"The deal is done. The text has been written," an opposition delegate told Reuters. The official announcement was expected at 10.00 a.m. (3 a.m. EDT), he added.
A ruling coalition delegate also confirmed the deal, which will meet the opposition's long-standing demand for veto power in cabinet.
Hezbollah, a group backed by Iran and Syria, increased pressure on the ruling alliance this month by routing its followers in a military campaign. The Qatari-led negotiations built on mediation that ended violence which killed 81.
It was Lebanon's worst civil conflict since the 1975-1990 war and exacerbated tensions between Shi'ites loyal to Hezbollah and Druze and Sunni followers of the ruling coalition.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani joined the Doha talks shortly before midnight after returning from Saudi Arabia -- one of the main foreign backers of the ruling coalition.
A deal paves the way for parliament to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as president, a post that has been vacant since November because of the political deadlock. The vote in parliament could take place as soon as Thursday, delegates said.
The anti-Damascus ruling coalition had long refused to meet the opposition's demand for cabinet veto power, saying the opposition was trying to restore Syrian control of Lebanon.
Syria, a close ally of Iran, was forced to withdraw troops from Lebanon in 2005 following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
The United States has held up the withdrawal as a foreign policy success story.
But Hezbollah's military campaign this month was a major blow to U.S. policy in Lebanon and forced Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government to rescind two measures targeting the Iranian-backed group.
The deal will include a pledge by both sides not to use violence in political disputes, echoing a paragraph in the agreement that ended the fighting.
(Writing by Tom Perry in Beirut, editing by Diana Abdallah)
© Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.

Economist: Philippine rice crisis due to bad policies not by shortage of rice.

Some economist this. What he must mean is that the shortage is caused by bad policies not that there is no shortage. Well maybe he doesn't mean that. He seems to think that the problem is just that if Filipinos had enough money they could buy the rice. In fact in saying that it is an income problem that seems to be his line. Of course the role of the World Bank and IMF in helping set Arroyo's agricultural policies which indeed are partly to blame is left unmentioned! This guy is already an executive director. He is on his way up! Certainly neo-liberal policies are partly to blame for the crisis but they are not just a function of Arroyo's whims but of the neo-liberal institutions that guide that policy, the World Bank and IMF. For this economist they don''t seem to enter the equation.

Philippine rice crisis due to bad policies, not shortage: economist
10 hours ago
MANILA (AFP) — The rice crisis affecting the Philippines is not caused by a shortage of rice but due to bad policies that have hurt the agriculture sector, a leading economist said in a report released Wednesday.
"The so-called rice crisis is really an income crisis," said Rolando Dy, executive director of the food division of the Manila-based University of Asia and the Pacific.
He blamed "under-investment in agriculture and infrastructure, a poor record in eliminating poverty (and) poor infrastructure quality," for the crisis which has forced thousands of poor Filipinos to line up for hours for subsidised rice.
"We cannot reap what we did not sow. We failed in reducing rural poverty compared to other countries," like China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, he said.
The Philippines is one of the world's biggest rice importers and does not enjoy large contiguous land areas with large river systems that allow China, India, Vietnam and Thailand to grow huge amounts of rice, Dy conceded.
But he said other countries which are more dependent on imported rice, like Malaysia and Singapore did not have long queues for rice and were not suffering from the crisis as badly as the Philippines.
Dy said that rice consumption in the Philippines was so high because much of its population was still poor and could afford to eat nothing else.
"There are so many poor people here, the only food they can afford is a mound of rice and some catsup (tomato sauce)," he said.
The Philippines could raise productivity but it had not properly invested in agriculture or its support infrastructure like irrigation and farm-to-market roads, Dy said.
He said the government was investing little in research and development, building sub-standard rural roads and not putting enough irrigation into potential growth areas like the southern region of Mindanao.
Dy also complained that an agriculture modernisation law that took effect in 2000 was not getting adequate funding.
Graft and corruption also hurt the agriculture sector with rural infrastructure being built to poor standards.
The rice crisis might even be a blessing in disguise because it "will spur production and even investments," in agriculture which will have a positive effect in the long run, Dy said.
But he said the rice issue is "a problem not just of the executive branch... it is a problem of the legislative and judiciary," as well.
Dy said that there is likely to be "some correction in rice prices in the next 12 months but not dramatically," remarking that world rice prices will not return to levels seen in 2006.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NATO rejects UN report on Afghan civilian killings

So they reject the report but none of the countries involved in the mission provides numbers of civilians killed, results of investigations, or whether anyone was punished. This is certainly not a great record of accountability from which to criticise the UN report.

NATO rejects UN report on Afghan civilian killings
REUTERSReuters North American News Service
May 18, 2008 09:12 EST
KABUL, May 18 (Reuters) - NATO rejected on Sunday a report by a UN rapporteur about the number of civilian killings at the hands of the alliance-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston said on Thursday some 200 Afghan civilians had been killed by foreign and Afghan troops and around 300 by Taliban insurgents since the beginning of 2008.
"In summary, we find much of the substance and the overall tone of his statement inaccurate and unsubstantiated," Mark Laity, a spokesman for NATO, told a news conference.
He did concede that civilians were mistakenly killed by foreign forces while hunting the Taliban militants, but put the number much lower than reported by Alston.
"We would say it is in low double figures," he said.
Alston said international troops and Taliban insurgents needed to do more to avoid civilian casualties or many more innocents would be killed in the ongoing conflict.
The U.N. rapporteur called for more accountability from the more than 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military in Afghanistan, who together with Afghan government troops are engaged in daily battles with a resurgent Taliban mainly in the south and east of the country.
Alston said he had found no evidence of intentional killing by foreign troops and particular cases were investigated to considerable lengths. But he said no international force was able or willing to provide numbers of civilians killed, the results of investigations or whether anyone had been punished.
"We ... acknowledge the accountability issue is complex," Laity said, adding NATO-led nations were accountable to the law of armed conflict and to individual contributing nations and members were investigating alleged or mistaken civilian deaths. (Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Charles Dick)
Source: Reuters North American News Service

Russia, China, U.S. oppose cluster bomb ban

How nice that Russia, China, and the United States can agree not to ban this vicious weapon that ought to be outlawed. Of course Israel, which used cluster bombs in Lebanon, is also on board with this motley crew of countries. When it comes to blowing people up and creating future situations where for years people are maimed by unexploded bombs the great leader of the Western world and the former Commie giants see eye to eye. Will Obama take a position on this matter? This is from common dreams.

Published on Sunday, May 18, 2008 by The Boston Globe
Conferees Seek Cluster Bomb BanRussia, China, US oppose treaty
by Nick Cumming-Bruce
GENEVA - Believe the advocates of a treaty banning cluster munitions, and the international community is about to take a decisive step toward curbing the use of a weapon that inflicts terrible suffering, particularly on civilians. Believe the US government, and the measure they propose threatens to undermine the NATO alliance that has underpinned Western security since World War II.
Delegates from more than 100 countries will open a conference in Dublin tomorrow that will try to hammer out a treaty banning the production, use, stockpiling, or transfer of cluster munitions - bombs or artillery shells packed with up to several hundred bomblets or submunitions that are sprayed over wide areas of territory.Major producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions, the United States, Russia, and China, will be absent and are opposed to a treaty, but disarmament specialists liken the cluster treaty to the Ottawa Treaty of 1997 banning land mines, which was shunned by the major powers but has proved influential in shaping the policies of countries outside the convention.
Support for a ban on cluster weapons has risen sharply since the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon, when, according to United Nations estimates, Israeli troops fired some 4 million Vietnam War-era submunitions, of which a quarter failed to explode.
These have reportedly caused more than 200 casualties since the end of the war and required a costly and hazardous cleanup operation by international aid agencies - often funded by Western governments.
In Laos, where the United States dropped 2 million tons of ordnance in the 1970s, including an estimated 260 million submunitions, unexploded weapons still kill and maim people and hinder economic development.
As many as 10 percent to 15 percent of cluster munitions normally fail to explode on impact but those who support the treaty say the figure could be much higher. A study by Handicap International, a nongovernmental organization based in Belgium, found that 98 percent of recorded victims were civilians and one-third of casualties were children.
But after a series of international and regional conferences that have mapped out the broad parameters of a treaty, Dublin is the venue where negotiators have to refine rhetoric into a legally binding instrument governing a weapon system that represents a substantial part of the arsenal of the United States and some of its NATO allies.
“It’s going to be a bruising conference,” said Patrick McCarthy, coordinator of the Geneva Forum, a disarmament research body.
A handful of issues loom as key battlegrounds. One will be the definition of what constitutes a cluster munition, with richer Western nations like Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland pressing for exclusion of sophisticated weapons that have self-destruct mechanisms, target sensors, or a small number of submunitions.
Others, like Germany, want a transition period of up to 10 years during which they can continue to use such weapons while they find replacements.
Among the most contentious is a proposed clause that would prevent those who sign onto the treaty from engaging in joint operations with forces still employing cluster munitions.
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company
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The Scars of Losing a Home

No doubt part of the American Dream is owning your own home. For many it has become part of the American Empire. It has always been a means of tying citizens to the system. People are encouraged to invest in their own homes through allowing income tax deductions for mortgage payments and through extending mortgages and lately through lending to people without paying much attention to credit worthiness.
It remains to be seen if the loss of homes is any sort of catalyst for producing change in the U.S. or as this article maintains will simply leave a scar on many. It probably will necessitate a much larger and wider dissilussionment to puncture the bubble of the American Dream. However, already the middle class hard-pressed by economic reality is encountering a bit of indigestion that makes sleep difficult.

The New York Times/May 18, 2008/Economic ViewThe Scars of Losing a HomeBy ROBERT J. SHILLERACROSS the United States, there were 243,353 foreclosure filings inApril alone, nearly three times the total in the same month just twoyears ago, according to RealtyTrac, a company that follows thenumbers. The trend is unmistakable, and suggests that, withoutgovernment intervention, many millions of American families will belosing their homes before long.What would this mean in human terms? Picture a line of moving trucksextending for hundreds of miles: they are taking the furniture ofcountless families to storage lockers. Picture schoolchildren sayinggoodbye to their classmates. They aren't going on vacation: they arebeing abruptly moved to the other side of town.It's easy to take a stern view of this spectacle. The arguments gosomething like this: Foreclosure is not the end of the world. Thereare valuable lessons to be learned from such a life experience. Afterall, we live in a capitalist economy that thrives on the sanctity ofcontracts. The founders of our nation put the contract clause into theConstitution to make it clear that people need to live up to thedocuments they sign.This stern view may, in fact, be winning the battle of public opinion. ...Now, let's take the other perspective — and examine some argumentsagainst the stern view. They have to do with the psychological effectsof strict enforcement of a mortgage contract, and economists andpeople in business may need to be reminded of them. After all, toomuch attention to abstract economic statistics just might make usoverlook what is really important.First, we have to consider that we cannot squarely place the blame forthe current mortgage mess on the homeowner. It seems to be sharedamong mortgage brokers, mortgage originators, appraisers, regulatoryagencies, securities ratings agencies, the chairman of the FederalReserve and the president of the United States (who did not issue anywarnings, but instead has consistently extolled the virtues ofhomeownership).Because homeowners facing foreclosure must bear the brunt of the pain,they naturally feel indignation when all of these other partiescontinue to lead comfortable, even affluent lives. Trying to enforcemortgage contracts may thus have a perverse effect: instead ofteaching homeowners that they should respect the contracts they sign,it may incline them to take a cynical [or anti-establishmentarian? --JD] view of the whole mess.But instead of having sympathy for these homeowners, many people blamethem for their predicaments. That isn't surprising. It's an example ofa general tendency that was documented by social psychologists decadesago.In his 1980 book, "The Belief in a Just World: A FundamentalDelusion," Melvin Lerner, a social psychologist, argued that peoplewant to believe in the inherent justice of the economic system inwhich they live, and want to believe that people who appear to besuffering are in fact responsible for their own situations. Heprovided empirical evidence, derived from experiments, that after aninitial pang of sympathy, people tend to develop negative views towardothers who are suffering. That negative tendency seems to be at worktoday.Second, it is important to consider the psychological trauma offoreclosure. No one is likely to starve or sleep on the streets as animmediate result of a foreclosure, and the authorities no longer [andso far?] dump a family's furniture on the sidewalk when it happens.Nonetheless, there is deep trauma.Homeownership is fundamental part of a sense of belonging to acountry. The psychologist William James wrote in 1890 that "a man'sSelf is the sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his bodyand his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife andchildren, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, hislands and horses, and yacht and bank account."Homeownership is thus an extension of self; if one owns a part of acountry, one tends to feel at one with that country. Policy makersaround the world have long known that, and hence have supported thegrowth of homeownership.MAYBE that's why President Bush's "Ownership Society" theme had suchresonance in his 2004 re-election campaign. [did it?] Peopleinstinctively understand that homeownership conveys good feelingsabout belonging in our society, and that such feelings matterenormously, not only to our economic success but also to the pleasurewe can take in it.But we are now seeing the president's Ownership Society plan operatein reverse. Already, the homeownership rate has fallen — from 69.1percent in the first quarter of 2005 to 67.8 percent in the firstquarter of 2008. That's almost back to the 67.5 percent level where itstood when Mr. Bush took office in 2001. And it is likely to fallfurther.The pain of this reverse movement could leave a psychological scarthat will be with all of us for the rest of our lives.Robert J. Shiller is professor of economics and finance at Yale andchief economist of MacroMarkets LLC.Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....