Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Africom: US new Africa command.

This is from McClatchy. The U.S. is consolidating its imperial operations through this Africa command. Interesting that counterterrorism training, and humanitarian operations are all rolled into one. This is significant since they all are part of the same plan to extend U.S. dominion over Africa insofar as that is possible. No doubt oil resources are one target but there are lots of other resources as well. Interesting that the headquarters is not in Africa! It is interesting that more U.S. oil now comes from Africa than the Gulf countries. I imagine since reconciliation with Libya some of that oil will be from Libya.

McClatchy Washington Bureau
Posted on Mon, Sep. 29, 2008
The Pentagon's new Africa command raises suspicions about U.S. motives
Shashank Bengali McClatchy Newspapers
last updated: September 29, 2008 08:41:50 PM
NAIROBI, Kenya — The U.S. Africa Command, the Pentagon's first effort to unite its counterterrorism, training and humanitarian operations on the continent, launches Wednesday amid questions at home about its mission and deep suspicions in Africa about its intentions. U.S. officials have billed the new command, known as Africom, as a sign of Africa's strategic importance, but many in Africa see it as an unwelcome expansion of the U.S.-led war on terrorism and a bid to secure greater access to the continent's vast oil resources. Several countries have refused to host the command, and officials say Africom will be based in Stuttgart, Germany, for the foreseeable future.
U.S.-based aid groups and some in Congress have expressed worries that Africom will tilt U.S policy in Africa away from democracy-building and economic development and toward security objectives such as stemming the growth of militant Islamist groups in Somalia and North Africa, some of which have ties to al Qaida.
U.S. covert operations in Somalia and elsewhere have fueled the controversy. In late 2006, the U.S. military provided intelligence to help Ethiopia topple a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Somalia, an invasion that's fueled a violent Islamist insurgency.
U.S. forces have since launched several strikes on suspected terrorist targets in Somalia. While one of the strikes killed a top militant commander, Aden Hashi Ayro, in May, Somalis say the attacks also killed and badly wounded civilians.
Underlining the skepticism in Washington, the House of Representatives voted last week to provide $266 million to fund Africom's first year of operations — $123 million less than President Bush had requested. The House Appropriations Committee said the reduction was due partly to "the failure to establish an Africom presence on the continent."
The fledgling command's image problem, at home and abroad, is cause for concern because of Africa's growing importance to the United States.
The Department of Energy says that 17 percent of U.S. crude oil imports now come from Africa, more than the U.S. gets from Persian Gulf countries. But rising powers such as China have strengthened their ties with Africa and become a powerful counterweight to American influence.
Pentagon officials reject claims that Africom is about oil or China, but those perceptions remain strong in Africa.
"Obviously the U.S. is concerned about China's influence, security, oil, counterterrorism, hunting down al Qaida suspects," said Erin Weir of Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group that's opposed Africom. "Africans read the newspaper just the same as we do, and they know what drives U.S. interests now."
Witney Schneidman, who served as deputy assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Clinton administration, said: "In many parts of Africa it is perceived as the U.S. bringing its war on terror to Africa. That is not what Africom is about, but that is how it has been seen."
While the public face of the U.S. military in Africa has been that of a benign partner, human rights activists say that the Bush administration's focus on terrorism has fueled suspicion of Africom.
"Anything to do with the U.S. military evokes some level of anxiety," said Hassan Omar, a member of the independent Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. "There is a strong feeling that America would overlook a crisis within a government or violations by certain governments if only they could secure more cooperation on matters of security."
After Bush announced the creation of Africom in February 2007, the Pentagon began issuing mixed messages about its mission, with some officials suggesting that the new command would help "coordinate" U.S. policy in the region. Experts immediately questioned whether U.S. troops would participate in humanitarian programs and other non-combat operations that have long been run by the State Department and U.S. embassies.
Pentagon officials have acknowledged mistakes in marketing Africom, and they no longer list humanitarian projects as part of its mission. Instead, they say that Africom will support other U.S. government agencies and focus on helping bolster African militaries.
"Africom will support, not shape, U.S. foreign policy on the continent," Teresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, told a congressional hearing in July.
About 1,300 people, divided roughly evenly between civilian and military positions, are expected to staff the Germany headquarters, but no additional soldiers will be deployed in Africa yet. Instead, Africom will take charge of small U.S. military teams that are already on the continent training national militaries and maritime agencies, providing immunizations, drilling wells, rebuilding schools and conducting other projects.
Africom will assume control over the largest U.S. military base in the region, the 1,500-strong Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, housed at a former French Foreign Legion facility in the tiny eastern nation of Djibouti.
Despite the questions about its mission, experts say that Africom will raise Africa's profile in the Pentagon. Currently, three separate regional "combatant commands," which manage overseas U.S. military operations, share responsibility for Africa. The U.S. Central Command oversees seven countries in East Africa, Pacific Command has three Indian Ocean island nations and European Command handles 42 other African countries from Morocco to South Africa.
Now all the countries — except Egypt, which will continue to be grouped with Middle Eastern nations under the Central Command — will fall under Africom's jurisdiction. As with the other regional commands, Africom's commander, four-star Army Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
"One of the basic problems of U.S. engagement with Africa historically is there's been a lack of a long-term, sustained and steady commitment," said Abiodun Williams, a Sierra Leonean who's vice president of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. "One of the positive things about Africom is this might finally be changing."

Stiglitz: A Better Bailout

This is a critique of the Paulson plan by a well know economist. Stiglitz has turned out to be wrong about politicians not being willing to vote against the plan however. But this was probably a temporary move. It has meant that there are now some changes to the plan. The new plan seems to replace government ownership of the toxic assets by some type of insurance plan. Perhaps this will mollify those who claim the plan is some sort of socialist enterprise! So weird is discourse about socialism now that bailing out capitalism is called socialist by some! Socialism is socialisation of the major means of production distribution and exchange and production on the basis of need not profit. It replaces capitalism rather than rescuing it.

Better BailoutBy Joseph E. Stiglitz26 September, 2008The NationThe champagne bottle corks were popping as Treasury Secretary HenryPaulson announced his trillion-dollar bailout for the banks, buying uptheir toxic mortgages. To a skeptic, Paulson's proposal looks likeanother of those shell games that Wall Street has honed to a fineart. Wall Street has always made money by slicing, dicing, andrecombining risk. This "cure" is another one of these rearrangements:somehow, by stripping out the bad assets from the banks and payingfair market value for them, the value of the banks will soar.There is, however, an alternative explanation for Wall Street'scelebration: the banks realized that they were about to get a freeride at taxpayers' expense. No private firm was willing to buy thesetoxic mortgages at what the seller thought was a reasonable price;they finally had found a sucker who would take them off theirhands--called the American taxpayer.The administration attempts to assure us that they will protect theAmerican people by insisting on buying the mortgages at the lowestprice at auction. Evidently, Paulson didn't learn the lessons ofinformation asymmetry which played such a large role in getting usinto this mess. The banks will pass on their lousiestmortgages. Paulson may try to assure us that we will hire the best andbrightest of Wall Street to make sure that this doesn't happen. (WallStreet firms are already licking their lips at the prospect of a newsource of revenues: fees from the US Treasury.) But even Wall Street'sbest and brightest do not exactly have a credible record in assetvaluation; if they had done better, we wouldn't be where we are. Andthat assumes that they are really working for the American people, nottheir long-term employers in financial markets. Even if they do usesome fancy mathematical model to value different mortgages, those inWall Street have long made money by gaming against these models. Wewill then wind up not with the absolutely lousiest mortgages, but withthose in which Treasury's models most underpriced risk. Either way, wethe taxpayers lose, and Wall Street gains.And for what? In the S&L bailout, taxpayers were already on the hook,with their deposit guarantee. Part of the question then was how tominimize taxpayers' exposure. But not so this time. The objective ofthe bailout should not be to protect the banks' shareholders, or eventheir creditors, who facilitated this bad lending. The objectiveshould be to maintain the flow of credit, especially to mortgages. Butwasn't that what the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout was suppose toassure us?There are four fundamental problems with our financial system, and thePaulson proposal addresses only one. The first is that the financialinstitutions have all these toxic products--which they created--andsince no one trusts anyone about their value, no one is willing tolend to anyone else. The Paulson approach solves this by passing therisk to us, the taxpayer--and for no return. The second problem isthat there is a big and increasing hole in bank balance sheets--bankslent money to people beyond their ability to repay--and no financialalchemy will fix that. If, as Paulson claims, banks get paid fairlyfor their lousy mortgages and the complex products in which they areembedded, the hole in their balance sheet will remain. What is neededis a transparent equity injection, not the non-transparent ruse thatthe administration is proposing.The third problem is that our economy has been supercharged by ahousing bubble which has now burst. The best experts believe thatprices still have a way to fall before the return to normal, and thatmeans there will be more foreclosures. No amount of talking up themarket is going to change that. The hidden agenda here may be takinglarge amounts of real estate off the market--and letting itdeteriorate at taxpayers' expense.The fourth problem is a lack of trust, a credibility gap. Regrettably,the way the entire financial crisis has been handled has only madethat gap larger.Paulson and others in Wall Street are claiming that the bailout isnecessary and that we are in deep trouble. Not long ago, they weretelling us that we had turned a corner. The administration even turneddown an effective stimulus package last February--one that would haveincluded increased unemployment benefits and aid to states andlocalities--and they still say we don't need another stimulus. To befrank, the administration has a credibility and trust gap as big asthat of Wall Street. If the crisis was as severe as they claim, whydidn't they propose a more credible plan? With lack of oversight andtransparency the cause of the current problem, how could they make aproposal so short in both? If a quick consensus is required, why notinclude provisions to stop the source of bleeding, the millions ofAmericans that are losing their homes? Why not spend as much on themas on Wall Street? Do they still believe in trickle down economics,when for the past eight years money has been trickling up to thewizards of Wall Street? Why not enact bankruptcy reform, to helpAmericans write down the value of the mortgage on their overvaluedhome? No one benefits from these costly foreclosures.The administration is once again holding a gun at our head, saying,"My way or the highway." We have been bamboozled before by thistactic. We should not let it happen to us again. There arealternatives. Warren Buffet showed the way, in providing equity toGoldman Sachs. The Scandinavian countries showed the way, almost twodecades ago. By issuing preferred shares with warrants (options), onereduces the public's downside risk and insures that they participatein some of the upside potential. This approach is not only proven, itprovides both incentives and wherewithal to resume lending. Itfurthermore avoids the hopeless task of trying to value millions ofcomplex mortgages and even more complex products in which they areembedded, and it deals with the "lemons" problem--the governmentgetting stuck with the worst or most overpriced assets.Finally, we need to impose a special financial sector tax to pay forthe bailouts conducted so far. We also need to create a reserve fundso that poor taxpayers won't have to be called upon again to financeWall Street's foolishness.If we design the right bailout, it won't lead to an increase in ourlong term debt--we might even make a profit. But if we implement thewrong strategy, there is a serious risk that our nationaldebt--already overburdened from a failed war and eight years of fiscalprofligacy--will soar, and future living standards will becompromised. The president seemed to think that his new shell gamewill arrest the decline in house prices, and we won't be faced holdinga lot of bad mortgages. I hope he's right, but I wouldn't count on it:it's not what most housing experts say. The president's economiccredentials are hardly stellar. Our national debt has already climbedfrom $5.7 trillion to over $9 trillion in eight years, and thedeficits for 2008 and 2009--not including the bailouts--are expectedto reach new heights. There is no such thing as a free war--and nosuch thing as a free bailout. The bill will be paid, in one way oranother.Perhaps by the time this article is published, the administration andCongress will have reached an agreement. No politician wants to beaccused of being responsible for the next Great Depression by blockingkey legislation. By all accounts, the compromise will be far betterthan the bill originally proposed by Paulson but still far short ofwhat I have outlined should be done. No one expects them to addressthe underlying causes of the problem: the spirit of excessivederegulation that the Bush Administration so promoted. Almost surely,there will be plenty of work to be done by the next president and thenext Congress. It would be better if we got it right the first time,but that is expecting too much of this president and hisadministration.___________________________________

Kurdistan Regional Govt. signs oil exploration deal with South Korea

Kurdistan seems to go blithely on signing these contracts even though the central government does not recognise them. It is not clear when if ever these conflicts will be sorted out.

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government signs oil exploration deal with South Korea
Iraq Oil Report
on September 25, 2008
in Uncategorized.
Media reports from Seoul say a Korea National Oil Corp.-led consortium has signed oil contracts with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government.
The contracts were not verified by the KRG, which typically issues announcements when oil contracts are signed, Ben Lando reports for United Press International.
It has signed more than 20 production-sharing contracts since 2004, despite criticism from the central government in Baghdad, which claims regional and other local governments have no right to sign deals in the oil and gas sector. SK Energy, South Korea’s largest refiner and partner in a 2007 oil exploration and development deal signed between KRG and a KNOC-led consortium, was cut off from oil supplies by Baghdad in retaliation.

Zardari: World safer place because of Bush

Zardari obviously wants to curry favor with the U.S. Zardari is famous for getting his cut of everything. Maybe he wants to increase the flow of U.S. aid. For now the U.S. and NATO seem to be confining their actions in Pakistan to drone operations although there have been some reports of more helicopter overflights. It remains to be seen if Zardari will be able to create any sort of stable government in Pakistan. In some border areas the army is pursuing an offence against militants but this has driven many over the border into Afghanistan. Some militants may have gone with them.

World safer place because of Bush’
* Zardari warns ‘the axis of evil is growing’ * Afghan president says world community should have paid more attention to FATABy Khalid HasanNEW YORK: President Asif Ali Zardari has said that the world is a ‘safer place’ because of President George W Bush’s leadership, adding, “It could have been much worse.”In an interview published by the Washington Post on Saturday, Zardari warned that “the axis of evil is growing”, but did not specify who constituted that ‘axis’. He denied that Pakistan had fired at two United States helicopters that had strayed into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan, saying that only warning flares had been fired, contradicting what Admiral Michael Mullen has alleged.Zardari said Pakistan has the opportunity to ‘do the job’ and has the ‘right credentials’ and so has he, having been through a ‘tough life’ that has prepared him ‘to become even tougher’.Attention: In another interview published by the Washington Post, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said there are Taliban sanctuaries ‘in the region’, while agreeing with the interviewer that the international community and the West should have paid more attention to the Tribal Areas. “They should have done all that was needed to be done — political, diplomatic, the right concentration. All those areas where the training (was taking place),” he added. Asked if former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf had tried “quite a few options and if they had all failed”, the Afghan president replied, “Maybe he did try, but we did not see the results. Karzai went on to say, “I have faith in Zardari, and I am sure he will deliver. I am hearing good things about Gen Kayani as well. Afghanistan will do everything to give them a sense of confidence.”

Monday, September 29, 2008

US economists against the bail-out.

Quite a few economists from prestigious universities are signatories of this. However, parts of the document are a bit weird given the situation..It is the dynamic and innovative private capital markets that brought prosperity so-called that also brought about the financial crisis. Nevertheless the points about fairness and the long term consequences are well taken.

Economists Against The Paulson Plan
To the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate: 26/09/09 As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan: 1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise. 2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards. 3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted. For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

Signed (updated at 9/25/2008 8:30AM CT)
Acemoglu Daron (Massachussets Institute of Technology)Adler Michael (Columbia University)Admati Anat R. (Stanford University)Alexis Marcus (Northwestern University)Alvarez Fernando (University of Chicago)Andersen Torben (Northwestern University)Baliga Sandeep (Northwestern University)Banerjee Abhijit V. (Massachussets Institute of Technology)Barankay Iwan (University of Pennsylvania)Barry Brian (University of Chicago)Bartkus James R. (Xavier University of Louisiana) Becker Charles M. (Duke University)Becker Robert A. (Indiana University)Beim David (Columbia University)Berk Jonathan (Stanford University)Bisin Alberto (New York University)Bittlingmayer George (University of Kansas)Boldrin Michele (Washington University)Brooks Taggert J. (University of Wisconsin)Brynjolfsson Erik (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)Buera Francisco J. (UCLA)Camp Mary Elizabeth (Indiana University)Carmel Jonathan (University of Michigan)Carroll Christopher (Johns Hopkins University)Cassar Gavin (University of Pennsylvania)Chaney Thomas (University of Chicago)Chari Varadarajan V. (University of Minnesota)Chauvin Keith W. (University of Kansas)Chintagunta Pradeep K. (University of Chicago)Christiano Lawrence J. (Northwestern University)Cochrane John (University of Chicago)Coleman John (Duke University)Constantinides George M. (University of Chicago)Crain Robert (UC Berkeley)Culp Christopher (University of Chicago)Da Zhi (University of Notre Dame)Davis Morris (University of Wisconsin)De Marzo Peter (Stanford University)Dubé Jean-Pierre H. (University of Chicago)Edlin Aaron (UC Berkeley)Eichenbaum Martin (Northwestern University)Ely Jeffrey (Northwestern University)Eraslan Hülya K. K.(Johns Hopkins University)Faulhaber Gerald (University of Pennsylvania)Feldmann Sven (University of Melbourne)Fernandez-Villaverde Jesus (University of Pennsylvania)Fohlin Caroline (Johns Hopkins University)Fox Jeremy T. (University of Chicago)Frank Murray Z.(University of Minnesota)Frenzen Jonathan (University of Chicago)Fuchs William (University of Chicago)Fudenberg Drew (Harvard University)Gabaix Xavier (New York University)Gao Paul (Notre Dame University)Garicano Luis (University of Chicago)Gerakos Joseph J. (University of Chicago)Gibbs Michael (University of Chicago)Glomm Gerhard (Indiana University)Goettler Ron (University of Chicago)Goldin Claudia (Harvard University)Gordon Robert J. (Northwestern University)Greenstone Michael (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)Guadalupe Maria (Columbia University)Guerrieri Veronica (University of Chicago)Hagerty Kathleen (Northwestern University)Hamada Robert S. (University of Chicago)Hansen Lars (University of Chicago)Harris Milton (University of Chicago)Hart Oliver (Harvard University)Hazlett Thomas W. (George Mason University)Heaton John (University of Chicago)Heckman James (University of Chicago - Nobel Laureate)Henderson David R. (Hoover Institution)Henisz, Witold (University of Pennsylvania)Hertzberg Andrew (Columbia University)Hite Gailen (Columbia University)Hitsch Günter J. (University of Chicago)Hodrick Robert J. (Columbia University)Hopenhayn Hugo (UCLA)Hurst Erik (University of Chicago)Imrohoroglu Ayse (University of Southern California)Isakson Hans (University of Northern Iowa)Israel Ronen (London Business School)Jaffee Dwight M. (UC Berkeley)Jagannathan Ravi (Northwestern University)Jenter Dirk (Stanford University)Jones Charles M. (Columbia Business School)Kaboski Joseph P. (Ohio State University)Kahn Matthew (UCLA)Kaplan Ethan (Stockholm University)Karolyi, Andrew (Ohio State University)Kashyap Anil (University of Chicago)Keim Donald B (University of Pennsylvania)Ketkar Suhas L (Vanderbilt University)Kiesling Lynne (Northwestern University)Klenow Pete (Stanford University)Koch Paul (University of Kansas)Kocherlakota Narayana (University of Minnesota)Koijen Ralph S.J. (University of Chicago)Kondo Jiro (Northwestern University)Korteweg Arthur (Stanford University)Kortum Samuel (University of Chicago)Krueger Dirk (University of Pennsylvania)Ledesma Patricia (Northwestern University)Lee Lung-fei (Ohio State University)Leeper Eric M. (Indiana University)Leuz Christian (University of Chicago)Levine David I.(UC Berkeley)Levine David K.(Washington University)Levy David M. (George Mason University)Linnainmaa Juhani (University of Chicago)Lott John R. Jr. (University of Maryland)Lucas Robert (University of Chicago - Nobel Laureate)Luttmer Erzo G.J. (University of Minnesota)Manski Charles F. (Northwestern University)Martin Ian (Stanford University)Mayer Christopher (Columbia University)Mazzeo Michael (Northwestern University)McDonald Robert (Northwestern University)Meadow Scott F. (University of Chicago)Mehra Rajnish (UC Santa Barbara)Mian Atif (University of Chicago)Middlebrook Art (University of Chicago)Miguel Edward (UC Berkeley)Miravete Eugenio J. (University of Texas at Austin)Miron Jeffrey (Harvard University)Moretti Enrico (UC Berkeley)Moriguchi Chiaki (Northwestern University)Moro Andrea (Vanderbilt University)Morse Adair (University of Chicago)Mortensen Dale T. (Northwestern University)Mortimer Julie Holland (Harvard University)Muralidharan Karthik (UC San Diego)Nanda Dhananjay (University of Miami)Nevo Aviv (Northwestern University)Ohanian Lee (UCLA) Pagliari Joseph (University of Chicago)Papanikolaou Dimitris (Northwestern University)Parker Jonathan (Northwestern University)Paul Evans (Ohio State University)Pejovich Svetozar (Steve) (Texas A&M University)Peltzman Sam (University of Chicago)Perri Fabrizio (University of Minnesota)Phelan Christopher (University of Minnesota)Piazzesi Monika (Stanford University)Piskorski Tomasz (Columbia University)Rampini Adriano (Duke University)Reagan Patricia (Ohio State University)Reich Michael (UC Berkeley)Reuben Ernesto (Northwestern University)Roberts Michael (University of Pennsylvania)Robinson David (Duke University)Rogers Michele (Northwestern University)Rotella Elyce (Indiana University) Ruud Paul (Vassar College)Safford Sean (University of Chicago)Sandbu Martin E. (University of Pennsylvania)Sapienza Paola (Northwestern University) Savor Pavel (University of Pennsylvania)Scharfstein David (Harvard University)Seim Katja (University of Pennsylvania)Seru Amit (University of Chicago)Shang-Jin Wei (Columbia University)Shimer Robert (University of Chicago)Shore Stephen H. (Johns Hopkins University)Siegel Ron (Northwestern University)Smith David C. (University of Virginia)Smith Vernon L.(Chapman University- Nobel Laureate)Sorensen Morten (Columbia University)Spiegel Matthew (Yale University)Stevenson Betsey (University of Pennsylvania)Stokey Nancy (University of Chicago)Strahan Philip (Boston College)Strebulaev Ilya (Stanford University)Sufi Amir (University of Chicago)Tabarrok Alex (George Mason University)Taylor Alan M. (UC Davis)Thompson Tim (Northwestern University)Tschoegl Adrian E. (University of Pennsylvania)Uhlig Harald (University of Chicago)Ulrich, Maxim (Columbia University)Van Buskirk Andrew (University of Chicago)Veronesi Pietro (University of Chicago)Vissing-Jorgensen Annette (Northwestern University)Wacziarg Romain (UCLA)Weill Pierre-Olivier (UCLA)Williamson Samuel H. (Miami University)Witte Mark (Northwestern University)Wolfers Justin (University of Pennsylvania)Woutersen Tiemen (Johns Hopkins University)Zingales Luigi (University of Chicago)Zitzewitz Eric (Dartmouth College)
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Conservative Quebec support softening?

This is from the CBC.
The Conservatives do not seem poised for the breakthrough in Quebec that they had hoped. As the article notes however the French debate may make a difference if Harper does well. The arts funding issue and get tough on youth crime speech did not help Harper at all in Quebec, quite the opposite it seems. Harper's advisers must be looking too much at his core conservative supporters.

Harper's Quebec support softening?Posted in Political Bytes Posted on September 29, 2008 10:38 AM Two polls published today in the Journal de Montréal and La Presse suggest that support for the Tories may be slipping in Quebec.

Emmanuel MarchandThe Léger poll in Le Journal de Montréal is the largest so far for Quebec with 3,624 people surveyed.
It reports support for the Bloc at 33 per cent of decides voters asked, with the Conservatives at 26 per cent, the Liberals at 23 per cent, the NDP at 12 per cent and the Greens at five per cent.
The regional breakdown is interesting, too with the Liberals and the Bloc pretty much tied on the Island of Montreal.
The Tories are hoping to make gains in the ridings around Montreal but the polls suggest it might be tough for them to pick up those seats.
The Bloc is still comfortably ahead in those riding with a 24-point lead north of Montreal and a 16-point lead in the areas south of the island.
Where the Conservatives do seem to have a good chance of keeping their seats is in the Quebec city area, the Beauce (where Maxime Bernier is still very popular), and the Saguenay.
Just last week the polls were showing the Tories in the lead in Quebec. The general consensus is that cuts to arts funding and Harper’s promise to get tough on youth crime have hurt them here.
La Presse’s poll focused on seven key ridings. It shows the race is tighter than originally thought. In Public Works Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn’s riding of Jonquière-Alma, the Bloc has taken a comfortable 12-point lead. Although Blackburn may be in trouble, the Conservatives have a good chance of keeping the neighbouring riding of Roberval-Lac-St-Jean. Tory candidate Denis Lebel has a 10-point lead over the Bloc candidate.
In the Quebec City area, the poll in La Presse is showing the Tories look like they may keep the ridings they won last election, but will likely not make any gains.
The French Debate on Wednesday may be key for all parties. Harper will have to come across as more conciliatory in order to try to win back the momentum.
Last election Harper gained a lot of support in the last two weeks and was able to make gains. This election the opposite seems to be happening.
— Emmanuel Marchand

Philippines: More clashes with rebel MILF groups

This is from sundaily.

There seems to be no end to conflict with rebel MILF groups. The casualty figures vary wildly from the AFP to the rebel group spokespeople. There is a huge problem with displaced people fleeing the fighting.

32 people killed in three days of fighting in PhilippinesCOTABATO CITY, Philippines (Sept 26, 2008): Thirty-one Muslim rebels and one soldier were killed in three days of fighting in the southern Philippines, military officials said today.

Nine Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and one soldier were killed in clashes late yesterday in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao province, 960km south of Manila, said Major Peter Edwin Navarro, an army brigade spokesman.

Navarro said the fighting, which lasted until early evening, erupted when pursuing troops caught up with heavily armed MILF rebels in the village of Andavet. One soldier was also wounded in the fighting.

Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando, a regional army spokesman, said three more MILF rebels were also killed in a clash with security forces in Aleosan town in nearby North Cotabato province.

Ando said about 50 MILF rebels attacked a police convoy in the village of Sulok Thursday, triggering a running gunbattle that lasted until mid-afternoon. A policeman was wounded in the fighting.

Clashes between government troops and MILF rebels on Tuesday and Wednesday in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Guindulungan, also in Maguindanao, resulted in the killing of 19 MILF rebels and the wounding of three soldiers, Navarro said.

But MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied the military's claim of the rebel death toll in those clashes, saying one MILF fighter was wounded and 10 soldiers were killed.

Kabalu also said two MILF rebels were killed in the fighting in Datu Piang while government security forces suffered 28 fatalities.

"The soldiers' fatalities were confirmed to us by civilians," he said.

Kabalu said several mosques in the area have been damaged in the fighting. Two army personnel carriers were also damaged, he said.

Government troops have intensified their military offensive against MILF rebels responsible for attacking towns and seizing villages in North Cotabato and nearby provinces last month.

The MILF attacks occurred after the Supreme Court stopped the signing of a deal that would have expanded the existing autonomous Muslim region on the strife-torn southern island of Mindanao.

More than 200 people were killed in subsequent clashes between government troops and MILF rebels and more than 500,000 displaced.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dissolved the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF. She said peace negotiations would resume only when the rebel commanders responsible for the attacks were brought to justice. - dpa

Syria could be paying a price for more moderate policies.

Syria is a secular state and just as with Saddam's Iraq is hated with a vengeance by Al Qaeda types. This tends to be forgotten in the western press. Terrorists are often lumped all in one in western reports but they are quite different. Hamas for example is Sunni and Hezzbolah Shia. The two often do not see eye to eye at all. As this article suggests it may be because of recent overtures to Israel that Syria is being attacked at this time. However Syria has often helped out the west particular with regard to interrogation and torture of suspected Al Qaeda operatives. It doesn't seem to have gained much in return. Syria has long been a foe of Al Qaeda.

Syria could be paying a price for moderating
Syria bomb may be sign it is paying a price for moderating as it tries to end isolation
Sep 28, 2008 16:50 EST
A rare bombing in Damascus over the weekend could be sign that Syria is paying a price for moderating its hard-line policies as it tries to boost its international standing.

No one has claimed responsibility for Saturday's car bombing outside a state security complex which killed 17 people and wounded 14. The Syrians have not directly accused anyone but state-run newspapers suggested foreign involvement — a veiled reference to northern Lebanon which has become a hotbed for extremist Sunni Muslims.
The Sunni militants, sometimes called Salafists, have been blamed for a string of smaller bombings and attacks against the Syrian government and diplomatic missions in recent years. The main group accused is an offshoot of al-Qaida.
The Sunni extremists are angry over the tightening of security along Syria's border with Iraq, which cuts off their routes to the fight against U.S. forces in Iraq. They also oppose the government's alliance with Shiite Iran and the strict secular nature of the state.
"Once you have Salafists and Jihadis in your country and when you stop their flow to Iraq and their transit in and out from Lebanon, it is not surprising that such bombings" occur, said Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst and consulting editor at the English-language Syria Today magazine.
Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing force in the Mideast. An ally of Iran and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, it has also provided a home for some radical Palestinian groups.
But the country is now trying to emerge from years of international isolation, opening up to Europe and engaging in indirect negotiations with archenemy Israel, even while still professing steadfast support for Lebanese and Palestinian militants.
In recent months, Syria has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon for the first time since both countries became independent and has tightened its border with Iraq to control the movement of people and goods. A goal of European rapprochement is to drive Damascus away from its regional ally Iran.
The weekend car bombing could also be a sign of the weakening grip President Bashar Assad's regime on security and of an emerging power struggle between the regime's security agencies, analysts said.
Writing Sunday in the independent conservative Beirut daily al-Anwar, Editor-in-Chief Rafik Khoury linked the bombing to "the dangerous scenarios pertaining to the 'crossroads' of changes in the region."
An Israeli Cabinet minister said the bombing may be linked to Syria's indirect negotiations with Israel.
"There are elements who want to derail this process, mostly Tehran which feels that Syria might be moving toward a peace coalition in the region," said Isaac Herzog.
Assad's secular regime has been battling Sunni Muslim extremists for years. In September 2006, Islamic militants tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and three months earlier, a battle near the Defense Ministry left four militants and a police officer dead.
Officials blamed these attacks on Jund al-Sham, which means Soldiers of Syria, an al-Qaida offshoot that was established in Afghanistan. Militants often denounce Assad's regime and have at times called for its overthrow, especially since Syria began cracking down on those crossing the border to reach Iraq.
Despite hosting radical anti-Israeli Palestinian groups, Syria insists it has an interest in fighting Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaida and in the 1980s, it cracked down heavily on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
Syria is also on poor terms with regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, which in the past has supported conservative Sunni groups in the region and takes a dim view of Syria's alliance with Iran.
Another motive for the bombing could be the rising Sunni-Shiite tensions in the region. The bomb was placed at a highway intersection a few miles from a Shiite shrine frequented by pilgrims from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.
The bombing, last month's assassination of a top intelligence general in mysterious circumstances and the February bombing in Damascus that killed Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah commander and one of America's most wanted terrorists, feeds suspicions carried by opposition media that it could all be part of an internal power struggle between the regime's security agencies.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ralph Nader on the bailout

This is part of an interview to be found at Information Clearing House. Even though Nader is a presidential candidate you will be hard put to find his comments in the big mainstream media. He contrasts the policies now with those during the depression of Roosevelt and also he questions the need for the bailout. He suggests that Bush is managing to stamped a bailout which will see the US taxpayer paying more for distressed assets than they would ever fetch on a free market.

“Why Is There Need for a Bailout?”By Ralph Nader25/09/08 "Democracy Now! -- As the Bush administration intensifies its pressure for Congress to quickly approve a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, we get reaction from Independent presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Nader calls Democratic claims of White House concessions “wish fulfillment” and says the bailout might not be needed in the first place.
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JUAN GONZALEZ: The Bush administration is intensifying its pressure on Congress to quickly approve a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, despite warnings from economists and some governmental officials that the bailout could worsen the financial crisis.
Last night, President Bush held a prime-time address to warn the nation’s entire economy is in danger if the bailout is not approved as soon as possible.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The government’s top economic experts warn that without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic, and a distressing scenario would unfold. More banks could fail, including some in your community. The stock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of your retirement account. The value of your home could plummet. Foreclosures would rise dramatically. And if you own a business or a farm, you would find it harder and more expensive to get credit. More businesses would close their doors, and millions of Americans could lose their jobs. Even if you have good credit history, it would be more difficult for you to get the loans you need to buy a car or send your children to college. And ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession. Fellow citizens, we must not let this happen.
JUAN GONZALEZ: [Wednesday] night’s address was the first time in his presidency that Bush delivered a prime-time speech devoted exclusively to the economy. His dire scenario about the state of the economy stood in stark contrast to his comments at his last press conference two months ago.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the system basically is sound. I truly do. And I understand there’s a lot of nervousness, and—but the economy is growing, productivity is high, trade’s up. People are working. It’s not as good as we would like, but—and to the extent that we find weakness, we’ll move. That’s one thing about this administration: we’re not afraid to making tough decisions.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, the President is holding an emergency summit at the White House with both John McCain and Barack Obama, as well as top leaders for Congress. The Wall Street Journal reports Democratic leaders are hoping to nail down details of the bailout measure early today.
On Wednesday, McCain said he would suspend his campaign to deal with the financial crisis. He called on Obama to postpone their debate Friday night, saying he would only attend if Congress approves a bailout package before then. Obama said the debate in Oxford, Mississippi at Ole Miss should go on as planned.
We’re joined on the phone right now by a presidential candidate who was not invited to Friday’s debate, Independent candidate Ralph Nader. The longtime consumer advocate has been a vocal critic of the Wall Street bailout.
Ralph Nader, welcome to Democracy Now! First, let’s start off with John McCain announcing that he is going to suspend his campaign and wants the debate cancelled.
RALPH NADER: Well, I think Senator McCain is showboating. I mean, what’s going on in Washington and Congress now is the Bush administration is trying to pull the Constitution out by its roots and demand that Congress give it a blank check, without any criteria, without any accountability, for $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. It’s not dependent on whether John McCain returns to Washington other than to vote. I think he’s turning his back on over 50 million American voters who expect him to show up in Ole Miss with Barack Obama and who have made arrangements to do so. He talks a lot about honor and commitment. I think he ought to change his mind and get down to Ole Miss.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph, the Democrats are claiming that they’ve been able to get some key concessions from the administration on its original plan. They say now they’re going to be—they’re going to cap CEO pay for those who participate in this bailout and that they’re going to get some kind of government participation or investment in these firms, so that if they make profits later on, that—or these securities make profits later on, that the government will be able to participate. But your sense—are these real substantive changes, or is this basically cosmetics on a plan that shouldn’t be in place in the first place?
RALPH NADER: Well, so far, it’s wish fulfillment. If you watch what Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Banking Committee, said yesterday, nothing has really been decided.
And also, it’s not clear at all why a bailout is needed. That’s part of the stampede in the pack and the panic that Bush and Paulson and Bernanke are pushing Congress toward. You know, it’s eerily reminiscent, when you listen to Bush yesterday, of how he stampeded the Congress and the country into the criminal war invasion of Iraq in 2003. I mean, look at all his statements: this could do this, this would do that, farms failing, small business, tada, tada. The first question we have to ask as citizens is, why is there a need for a bailout?
The only conceivable purpose of Treasury intervention, said Roger Lowenstein in the New Republic recently, quote, "is to buoy the market using taxpayer funds by paying higher-than-market prices. After all, if the government merely intended to match the market, what would be the point?” end-quote. In other words, if these mortgage-backed securities are distressed, well, they’re going to fetch a lower price. There’s huge amount of money on the sidelines in Wall Street, everybody admits that. So, as a hedge fund manager basically said, look, if the price comes down lower than what the government is trying to keep elevated, we’ll buy this paper. Warren Buffett put $5 billion into Goldman Sachs this week. There’s a lot of money to go around.
It’s quite interesting how the Bush regime is creating its own panic. When the government keeps saying Chicken Little, Chicken Little, the market is going to react in a very nervous manner. It’s a reversal of what the government usually does, which is to counsel stability and patience, etc.
So, the first question Congress should ask in detailed hearings, which aren’t occurring, is simply, why is there need for a bailout? Second is, if there is a need for a bailout, why $700 billion? And third, if there is a need for a bailout, what kind of bailout? Taxpayer equity? So the taxpayer can recover if these companies make a profit, they can recover surplus, perhaps the way they did on the taxpayer bailout in 1979 with Chrysler, where Jimmy Carter demanded that Chrysler issue stock warrants to the Treasury, and Chrysler turned around, and the Treasury sold the warrants for a $400 million profit.
I don’t think the Democrats show any nerve that they are going to do anything but cave here. And the statements by Nancy Pelosi are not reassuring, which is, “Well, it’s the Republicans’ bill, you know. Let them take responsibility for it.” That doesn’t work. She’s the Speaker of the House. The Democrats have got to say, “Slow down. We’re not going to be stampeded into this bill by Friday or Saturday. We’re going to have very, very thorough hearings.” Otherwise, it’s another collapse, at constitutional levels, of the Congress before King George IV.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. We’ll come back to this discussion. We’ll also be joined by Arun Gupta, who is the editor of The Indypendent and put out a letter on the internet that has just set the internet on fire, calling for a major protest today on Wall Street. It has gained steam. Many groups have signed on. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest on the phone with us from Pittsburgh, where he’s campaigning, is Ralph Nader, Independent presidential candidate. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph, you mention how the Democrats themselves are being stampeded at this point by the Bush administration. In my column in the Daily News yesterday, I raised how another Democratic leader and another Democratic Congress handled a situation, even a more dire situation, in 1933, on the two days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as president, with thousands of banks crashing at that point, and he immediately shut down all the banks on his second day in office, called Congress into an emergency session and, over the next hundred days, adopted incredible legislation, including the Glass-Steagall Act, that we’ve mentioned quite often, on federal deposit insurance, aid to homeowners, farm subsidies, created the Tennessee Valley Authority, all in the midst of a crisis, probably the most progressive amount of legislation in the nation’s history, in any period. That’s a quite different approach. And he specifically criticized the banks and Wall Street as being at the root of the crisis.
RALPH NADER: That’s right. In those days, they had a serious solvency problem for these banks, which they don’t have, by and large, today. And that was admitted by Bernanke yesterday. Basically, Bernanke is saying, “Well, we’re doing this because the banks are contracting their credit, and this is affecting the economy.” Well, you can deal with that problem in a far better way than an ill-defined $700 billion bailout with total authority to the Treasury Secretary, with no judicial review, with no criteria and no reforms.
In other words, the Democrats should say, if they’re going to concede this bailout, is to say, “Well, we want comprehensive regulation and disclosure of the financial industry to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We want criminal prosecution of the crooks on Wall Street and disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains. We want a securities derivative tax and higher margin requirements to make speculators use their money, more of their money than other people’s money, like worker pension funds, to keep down speculation, as well as to produce revenues, which might lighten the tax load on working families. And we want to give shareholders control over the corporations they own.”
And they’re not even talking about these kinds of reforms. And this is the best time to get these reforms, because this is called a must bill on Congress—in Congress, and if Bush wants his package, he’s going to have to sign them. So, there’s no reciprocity here. It’s the usual fairly good questions by the Democrats at the hearings, but because they don’t follow through, they don’t have adequate leadership, it becomes a kind of posturing. It’s just maddening to watch how vague Bernanke and Paulson are in answering one question after another. It’s just an evasion, where they keep saying, “We need to do it. We need to do it.” And their Chicken Little material is conducted in closed session with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and the Republican leadership. It’s always in closed session.

US jets violate Pakistani airspace again.

The US is just reminding Pakistan who controls Pakistani airspace. The U.S. seems to care not a whit that actions such as this create more anti-Americanism within Pakistan. This is from thenews.

US jets violate Pak airspace again

Sunday, September 28, 2008By our correspondentPESHAWAR: Two US jetfighters Saturday night again intruded into Pakistan airspace over South Waziristan area, causing panic among the tribesman. However, neither the security forces nor the tribesmen fired upon the fighter planes. Sources in the tribal agency confirmed to The News that two US jetfighters for about 25 minutes hovered over Angoor Adda, Baghar and Momin Tangi area of the agency. The planes that came across the border from troubled Paktika province of Afghanistan, after the flight over the area went back without any action.

Secret Taliban Peace bid..

Of course the official line of the U.S. is that there will be no negotiations with terrorists. However it is clear that if the Taliban are willing to give up the fight they will even get posts in the government. There are already reformed Taliban in the government and Afghan democracy allows the death penalty for Muslims who should have the temerity for converting to Christianity and also kicks a female legislator out of parliament for pointing out that former warlords and human rights violators are part of the govenment! The occupiers certainly haven't died in vain.

Revealed: secret Taliban peace bid
Saudis are sponsoring a peace dialogue involving a former senior member of the hardline group
Jason Burke in Kabul
The Observer,
Sunday September 28 2008
Article history

The destroyed entrance gate of the Kandahar prison that was attacked by Taliban militants in June this year. Photograph: Allauddiin Khan/AP
The Taliban have been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging 'peace process' sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain, The Observer can reveal.
The unprecedented negotiations involve a senior former member of the hardline Islamist movement travelling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and European capitals. Britain has provided logistic and diplomatic support for the talks - despite official statements that negotiations can be held only with Taliban who are ready to renounce, or have renounced, violence.
Sources in Afghanistan confirmed the controversial talks, though they said that in recent weeks they had 'lost momentum'. According to Afghan government officials in Kabul, the intensity of the fighting this summer has been one factor. Another is the inconsistency of the Taliban's demands.
'They keep changing what they are asking for. One day it is one thing, the next another,' one Afghan government adviser with knowledge of the negotiations said. One aim of the initiative is to drive a wedge between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Last week the French Prime Minister, François Fillon, referred indirectly to the talks during a parliamentary debate on Afghanistan. 'We must explore ways of separating the international jihadists from those who are acting more for nationalist or tribal motives. Efforts in this direction are being led by Sunni [Muslim] countries such as Saudi Arabia,' he said.
This summer's fighting season in Afghanistan has been the most violent since the invasion of 2001. The deterioration of the situation has provoked a major review of strategy among the 40-nation international coalition pitted against an increasingly confident and effective insurgency.
Although there have been low-level contacts with individual Taliban commanders at district level before, the Saudi initiative is the first attempt to talk to the Taliban leadership council based in or around the south-west Pakistan city of Quetta, known as the 'Quetta Shura'.
The talks started in the summer and have been brokered by Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Afghan government. The go-between has spent weeks ferrying lists of demands and counter-demands between the Afghan capital, Riyadh and Quetta. He has also visited London to speak to Foreign Office and MI6 personnel. A delegation from Saudi intelligence has also visited Kabul.
The Taliban are understood to have submitted a list of 11 conditions for ending hostilities, which include demands to be allowed to run key ministries and a programmed withdrawal of western troops.
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai's national security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, has been in charge of the negotiations. It is understood that Karzai has yet to make a formal response to the demands, leading to frustration among some western officials.
The Observer has also learnt of a separate exchange of letters in the summer between Karzai and the Taliban ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The dialogue proved fruitless.
Late last year Karzai said he would welcome the chance to speak directly to Hekmatyar and to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's leader and one of the most wanted men in the world, promising that if the Taliban demanded a 'department in this or in that ministry or ... a position as deputy minister' in exchange for ending violence, he would give them the posts.
Previously Taliban spokesmen have said that only the departure of foreign troops, the institution of a fiercely rigorous interpretation of sharia law and a share of government would be acceptable to them as the basis for any deal.
A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that he had no knowledge of the 'Saudi initiative', as it is known in diplomatic circles, but that the British government 'actively supported the Afghan government's reconciliation process', which was 'part and parcel of the counter-insurgency campaign'.
In another development, The Observer has learnt that the British government is considering increasing the length of tours served by troops in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence confirmed last week that tours for senior soldiers in key command positions are set to be extended from six months to a year.
'We are looking at increasing tour lengths for a small number of headquarters posts ... with the aim of creating greater continuity in key positions,' an MoD spokesman said.
Although the MoD denied any plans to extend other service personnel's combat tours in Afghanistan, the idea of troops deployed to the area serving nine months was raised recently by the army's director of infantry, Brigadier Richard Dennis, in a speech to senior commanders.
Washington is putting pressure on Nato allies such as Britain to match American troop increases.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

With all eyes on the Bailout, House passes trillion dollar defense Bill.

No one but no one seems to be talking of cutting defence spending. No one talks of the tremendous cost of entitlement programs when the issue is military spending. It would seem that the US dollar might be under pressure again once the extent of debt expansion through military expenditure and the debt bailout becomes clear. What will happen to all the US needs in terms of social programmes and repair of infrastructure? They will probably be short changed and state and municipal budgets will be stressed to put it mildly.

With All Eyes on the Bailout, House Passes Trillion-Dollar Defense Bill
By Joshua Holland, AlterNetPosted on September 26, 2008, Printed on September 27, 2008http://www.alternet.org/story/100524/
On Wednesday, the House passed a mammoth defense bill by a 392-39 vote. It's expected to clear the Senate with little difficulty next week.
It was part of a trillion-dollar stop-gap measure to keep programs running through next March, allowing lawmakers to skip town without passing a final budget. The Associated Press reports, "The legislation came together in a remarkably secret process that concentrated decision-making power in the hands of a few lawmakers."
In keeping with the tradition of recent years, Bush held a gun to his own head and threatened to pull the trigger if his demands weren't met. According to the AP, "To earn President Bush's signature rather than a veto, House and Senate negotiators dropped several provisions he opposed. They include a ban on private interrogators in U.S. military detention facilities and what would have amounted to congressional veto power over a security pact with Iraq."
In other words, Congress also maintained recent tradition, swearing not to give Bush a blank check and then whipping out their pens and signing a blank check.
The number that the House sent to the Senate for "defense" -- $612 billion for the coming year -- is eye-popping. Imagine a stack of 612,000 million-dollar bills. Quite a pile.
That number's a sham, however. The budget calls for $68.6 billion for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009. War costs this year totaled $182 billion, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
The House passed the Brobdingnagian spending measure 11 months after George W. Bush vetoed a bill -- one passed with a lot of bipartisan support -- that would have added $7 billion measly dollars per year to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, covering 4 million more uninsured children. You'd be hard-pressed to find a clearer sign of national psychosis.
Here's what "defense" spending looks like in the era of Bush's "War on Terror," according to official figures:
(click for larger version)
But that's just the cash to feed the gaping maw of the Department of Defense. Throw in a bit more than $50 billion for Homeland Security, around $20 billion for the nuclear arsenal in the Department of Energy's budget, about $10 billion for the Coast Guard, a similar number for foreign "security assistance" and maybe another $125 billion -- according to one estimate -- in other defense-related programs scattered throughout the federal budget.
Bush also requested $91 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009, up from $72 billion just three years ago. A generation of damaged young men and women are going to cost more and more as the years go by -- many post-traumatic injuries, for example, don't manifest themselves for 10 or more years after people get out of combat. In 2000, nine years after the first Gulf War, 56 percent of those who had served in that conflict were receiving disability payments.
But wait, as they say on late-night infomercials, there's more!
All of this only finances our current military adventures. We're still paying for Korea and Vietnam and Grenada and Panama and the first Gulf War and Somalia and the Balkans and on and on. Estimates of just how much of our national debt payments are from past military spending vary wildly. Economist Robert Higgs calculated it like this:
I added up all past deficits (minus surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to each year's ratio of narrowly defined national security spending--military, veterans, and international affairs--to total federal spending, expressing everything in dollars of constant purchasing power. This sum is equal to 91.2 percent of the value of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2006. Therefore, I attribute that same percentage of the government's net interest outlays in that year to past debt-financed defense spending.
In 2006, he came up with a figure of $206.7 billion for interest payments on past militarism. Add it all up, and we're talking about at least a trillion dollars in military and homeland security spending. If there were a million-dollar bill, you'd have to stack a million of them to reach a trillion dollars.
Of course, very little of this is "defense." This is empire spending, pure and simple ...
What's that? You want health care, education, affordable housing, 21st-century infrastructure?
Sorry, we've got other priorities.
Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.
© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/100524/

Friday, September 26, 2008

Philippinres: Forgotten victims of Mindanao Muslim war..

This is from AFP. The AFP use of military and aerial attacks in areas where there are many civilians is bound to produce collateral damage as this article attests as well as destroying property in an area where people possess very little. Some of the MILF commanders have given up entirely on the peace negotiations and are obviously resorting to guerilla warfare.

The forgotten victims of Mindanao's Muslim war
DATU PIANG, Philippines (AFP) - Arbaya Musalip gently cradles her three-day-old daughter swaddled in a piece of old cloth amid the chaos of this filthy evacuation camp in a remote corner of the southern Philippines.
She is waiting for her husband Amil to check on what remains of their tiny village of Dapiawan, days after Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels forced them to flee with only what they could carry of their meager belongings.
The infant, who does not yet have a name, has not been inoculated and has no proper clothes, just the piece of cloth from a nearby pile of relief items.
"We need water, food," Musalip, 25, tells AFP as she swats away flies buzzing near her baby's head.
"It is a very difficult life, I was in labour for nearly two days in this area since we didn't have the money to go to a hospital.
"I just want the war to stop and bring my baby home."
The Musalips left their modest wooden home in Dapiawan's marshlands when fighting between the MILF and the army recently spilled over to their area.
They had initially decided to stay, but when the MILF started harassing civilians, there was no choice but to leave.
She said she walked several kilometres (miles), despite her advanced pregnancy and having two young children in tow.
Hours later, a military airstrike hit a small boat carrying her neighbours who were also fleeing, killing a pregnant woman and five children.
The military apologised for the civilian deaths, but said the attack was justified because their planes were being fired at from the ground.
It claimed 16 rebels were also killed in the devastating airstrike using machine guns and rockets.
"They didn't care even if there were civilians on the ground," says Siti Salipala, a 33-year-old mother of two toddlers.
"The airstrike killed our neighbours, we had to run and seek shelter here," she says, looking around the plaza in the town of Datu Piang now crowded with thousands of war refugees.
They are the forgotten victims of Mindanao's three decades of struggle for self rule in which more than 120,000 people have been killed and between one million and two million made homeless.
Many people have left the trouble spots while others spend their time in relief camps waiting for the day they can return to their homes, or what's left of them.
Dapiawan, once a thriving rural hamlet, is now virtually a ghost town and the only signs of life among the shuttered and padlocked houses are stray cats.
Pockmarked walls, mounds of ash that once were houses, and broken benches and stalls indicate the intensity of the fighting here.
There are no vehicles on the highway that runs through the area, save for the occasional army truck or aid convoy.
The local police say a recent census showed there are 6,329 "heads of families" now staying in the camp, excluding their dependents. With a typical family here consisting of more than eight members, the number of people living here could exceed 50,000.
MILF rebels began stepping up their attacks last month, just after the Supreme Court blocked a proposed deal with the government that would have given them control over a large Muslim autonomous area.
The deal would have paved the way for a final political settlement ending the MILF rebellion that began in the 1970s.
Two senior MILF commanders attacked on different fronts -- taking over dozens of Christian villages and towns and killing more than 50 civilians.
They also torched homes, looted businesses and engaged the army in intense running gun battles.
President Gloria Arroyo responded with a massive military operation, virtually ending any immediate prospects of returning to the peace table.
As the troops advanced and subsequently took over dozens of MILF camps, the rebels splintered into smaller groups and are now engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse chase with soldiers.
A ranking member of the MILF's inner circle earlier told AFP they were changing tactics to intensified guerrilla warfare, rather than frontal combat.
"We will increasingly hit weak government positions," the rebel said.
The violence has now affected more than half a million people, in what various aid agencies say is fast becoming a humanitarian crisis with no immediate end in sight.
The Red Cross has appealed to its donors for more funds, saying it expected relief operations to continue for the rest of the year, and adding that the situation had "generated very serious humanitarian consequences".
"We are afraid," Salipala says. "But there is nowhere else to run anymore."

Show us the Money..

This is another view of how the bailout might be framed but it also shows how much Paulson made while he was within the system and how much he made when he left to join government. The fact the CEOs of many of these failing giants get giant benefits sickens people. Greider points out how Buffet makes a great deal to help out Goldman Sachs and claims that the government could do the same thing rather than leaving the taxpayer for the most part 0ut in the cold as does the present rescue plan.

Show Us the MoneyBy William Greider
25/09/08 "The Nation' -- - Taxpayers should wake up the politicians and ask them to tell Wall Street: "We want the same deal Warren Buffett got." The Omaha billionaire announced he is playing White Knight to Goldman Sachs by investing $5 billion in the endangered investment house. What a big-hearted guy. Buffett is an old-fashioned capitalist who invests in companies for the long term and I am a big admirer. But Warren Buffett did not get to be a billionaire by committing public-spirited acts of charity. He plays to win. So his deal with Goldman Sachs is carefully wired to produce gorgeous returns for Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Upfront, he gets a 10 percent ownership stake in preferential shares that will pay a 10 percent dividend--even if Goldman's stock price keeps falling. But Buffett also gets the right to buy $5 billion in common shares at below the market price. So if Goldman flourishes in these hard times, Buffett will win big as its stock price soars.
To sweeten his chances, the Omaha sage quickly announced that he endorses the $700 billion bailout plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson. Let's follow the bouncing ball. Buffett puts some of his capital at risk on terms that are smartly protected from loss. Then Buffett urges the taxpayers to put their money on the line too. Only the taxpayers don't have any deal. They are the naked investors in this drama, asked to put up many billions to rescue Wall Street firms with nothing more than a vague promise it will save the Republic. I am reminded of the oldest rule in the financial business: "Get it in writing."
Warren Buffett's intervention provides a clarifying moment because it demonstrates what's wrong with the bipartisan bailout Congress is preparing to authorize. There's nothing illegitimate in what Buffett accomplished. The overlapping terms and contingencies he secured for his capital are standard practice in Wall Street deal-making. Investment bankers work out the fine print and put it in enforceable contracts or the deal doesn't happen.
Hank Paulson was a star in that world. When he left as chief executive to become Treasury Secretary in 2006, Goldman awarded him $110 million in cash to cover remaining stock options and restricted stock, in addition to $51 million to repurchase family shares. These payments were on top of the approximately $500 million in Goldman shares Paulson sold when he joined the government.
Doing hard-nosed deals in the Buffett style is essentially what the federal government should be doing now--bank by bank--as it intervenes to rescue the financial system from ruin. In our situation, the public treasury is the White Knight because private capital is afraid to play. The federal government has all the leverage it needs to demand very stern terms. That includes demanding an equivalent equity stake in banks or brokerages it assists, but also the power to impose explicit commandments and prohibitions on how these rescued firms must behave. The threat that banks will refuse to play is a meaningless whine from the banking industry. If bankers find a better deal from private lenders, they should take it. Otherwise, they are down the tubes.
The underlying power relationship in this crisis has been artfully obscured by the bailout sponsors because they decline to explain clearly what the bailout really is intended to accomplish. First, they said it was to restore calm in markets. Then they said it was the rotten assets centered in mortgage securities. But the problem is more accurately described as the great deflation of Wall Street's illusions--inflated prices, profits, deals, commissions and bonuses. You name it, they ran it up to stratospheric levels. Now the dream is dying and values are falling, but have not yet hit bottom.
To put it more concretely, the banks and investment houses have lost massive amounts of capital--a hole that is real, not psychological. Maybe $1 trillion, possibly twice that. We can't say exactly, because the banks have still not come clean and because assets in bank portfolios continue to lose value as housing prices continue to deflate.
The great capital losses mean Wall Street is sure to get smaller--a lot smaller--with fewer firms, less leveraged deals based on inadequate capital and a general retreat from its domineering role in economic life. Personally, I believe a smaller Wall Street will be good for the country, part of restoring balance to the damaged economy.
In any case, it is folly for Washington to imagine that it can--or should--simply replenish Wall Street's great loss. That essentially is what Paulson's blanket bailout attempts to do--restore conditions to "normal" by buying up the bad assets from banks at inflated prices. In other words, supply the missing capital that private lenders won't provide. Good luck with that.
"Normal" is not in the cards. Trying to accomplish this, given present realities is not in the country's interest. It also resembles King Canute trying to command the tides.
The real goal for government intervention should be to manage Wall Street's inescapble downward adjustments in ways as peaceable as possible. Stabilize the shrinking financial system so it will keep the the real economy going, that is, insure that credit and capital flows continue, while Wall Street is gradually cut down to normal size. There is real pain in that for everyone, but the objective is concrete and manageable.
Washington would exercise an activist supervisory role and offer deals in exchange for cooperative, compliant behavior. Bank regulatory agencies, including the Federal Reserve, already do this with troubled banks; now they have to step up with a more forceful hand. Banking watchdogs estimate at least 100 (maybe 200) banks are already doomed to fail. But another 1,000 banks are still solvent but on the edge. These can be managed to safe ground with tougher regulatory controls and some aid. Subsidiary financial markets need similar treatment and liquidity injections if they seize up.
At center stage are the big, bad players--the mega-banks and some others--who took the extreme risks and are now conveniently described as"too big to fail." If that's so, then one goal of government should be to make them get smaller, either through market forces or by lawful edict. The public likewise needs a new federal agency to manage the deal-making--something like the Reconstruction Finance Corporation during the New Deal--and determine which major banks can be cleaned up and stabilized, which ones cannot. The objective is not to save everyone--that is not what the nation needs--but to wind up with a broadly balanced financial system, chastened by new rules and ready to serve the rest of us, rather than eat us alive.
Only the federal government can do this. But I am suggesting government should mimic the hard-headed assumptions and practices that are commonplace in Wall Street. Don't take wishful promises in exchange for your money. Insist on hedges to protect the broad public interest. And get it in writing.
Maybe Warren Buffett and some other trustworthy capitalists would come to Washington during this emergency and show government officials how to make real deals. These are savvy people. Many are genuinely interested in helping the country get out of this mess. We could offer them a dollar a year.
Update: After I filed the above, the New York Times reported that Bill Gross, managing partner of Pimco, the giant bond investment house, is offering to serve as expert advisor to help Treasury sort through the rotten bank assets. "If the Treasury wanted to use our help, it would come, you know, free and clear," Gross said. Like Warren Buffett, Gross is a brilliant capitalist who plays to win. I happen to know him and I trust him. He has an enlightened understanding of global capitalism, not just financial markets and monetary economics but the deeper tides of history. In fact, Gross should be the next president's pick for chairman of the Federal Reserve. I don't know his politics, though I assume he is Republican.

No Bailout: Stop Rewarding Incompetence.

Interesting to note that Paulson himself was involved in investment banking and no doubt richly rewarded for his services and he is just one among many now high up in the financial administration that is proposing the bailout plan.

No Bailout: Stop Rewarding Incompetence
By Dean Baker
A friend recently sent a note reminding me that back in 2003, whensome of us were warning about the dangers of the housing bubble, AlanGreenspan, the person most responsible for the housing bubble, wasbeing knighted by the Queen of England. If we look at the list ofbanks and financial institutions that have crashed or now threaten tocrash, we can find a long list of people who brought their companiesand the economy to the brink of disaster and yet have received tens orhundreds of millions in compensation.We can also find a long list of people in top policy positions,including the current Fed chairman, Treasury Secretary, and President,who celebrated the soaring house prices and loan excesses of thehousing bubble. These people now expect to receive even greaterauthority due to the failure of their policy. This must stop.There is no doubt that the world financial system faces unprecedentedstrains as a result of the incompetence of our business and economicelites. The collapse of the system of finance that we started to seelast week would be a genuine disaster. We would not be able to carrythrough the normal financial transactions -- using credit cards,making payments with checks, or getting money from ATMs -- that arethe basis of modern life.However, we did get through the crisis last week with quick actions bythe Fed and Treasury. There is no reason to believe that withcomparable steps in the future, coupled with the raising the $100,000limit on deposit insurance, as suggested by Jamie Galbraith, that wecannot keep the financial system operating.Keeping the financial system alive, but in the intensive care unit, isnot desirable. However, given the integrity and the competence of theindividuals involved, it may be the best option.Secretary Paulson originally requested a $700 billion blank check thathe intended to shower on his friends and former colleagues in thefinancial sector. Fortunately, the Democrats in Congress balked andforced the Bush administration to back away from this position.President Bush is now willing to accept greater oversight,restrictions on CEO pay, and some commitment for giving equity inexchange for bailouts.This is good progress, but reports indicate that President Bush isstill refusing to change the bankruptcy code back to the pre-1991rules and allow judges to rewrite mortgage terms in bankruptcy. Thisis not hugely important -- the overwhelming majority of foreclosedhomes do not end up in a bankruptcy -- but President Bush's refusal tobudge on this issue doesn't sound like the behavior of someone who isworried about the collapse of the financial system.This raises the basic point that it is extremely difficult to trustthis administration. It was good to hear President Bush say that hedoesn't want the CEOs that wrecked their companies to profit from thisbailout, but does anyone believe that he will structure the bailout toensure that this does not happen? Similarly, he has gone along withthe idea that the government will get an equity stake in financialcompanies in exchange for buying their junk, but does anyone believethat we will get as good a deal as Warren Buffet did when he bought astake in Goldman Sachs?There can be no presumption of good faith from this administration.Unless the conditions are written in stone, for example specific rulesthat limit executive compensation using the same type of language thatCEOs use when they sign contracts with their companies, there is noreason for the public to believe that they will get a fair deal inthis bailout. The public should also demand that some genuineoutsiders, representatives of labor, consumer groups and othernon-Wall Street segments of society, have a direct oversight role inthis deal.If these demands are too extreme for the Bush administration, thenthey are not telling the truth about the financial crisis. If therisks are really as great as President Bush claims, then he shouldunhesitatingly agree to guarantees that will prevent the incompetentsfrom profiting further from their incompetence. We shall see.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and PolicyResearch (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: Howthe Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. He alsohas a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverageof economic issues.

Crisis of A Gilded Age.

This is an article by Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer. He notes the manner in which the gap between rich and poor has increased with deregulation. People are rightly angry at the attempt now to bail out Wall Street while doing little or nothing to address the problems of the middle class and poor. Certainly some responsibility lies with people who took out mortgages when they should have known they could not finance them but the system was glad to mislead them and their purchases were part of the boom that is now bust.

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20081013/henwoodCrisis of a Gilded Age
By Doug Henwood
It looks like someday finally arrived.For the past two or three decades skeptics watched as deregulated finance got ever more reckless, as the gap between rich and poor widened to a chasm not seen since the turn of the last century, and they said, "Someday there's going to be hell to pay for all this." But despite a few nasty hiccups every few years--the 1987 stock market crash, the savings and loan debacle of the late 1980s, the Mexican and Asian financial crises of the mid-1990s, the dot-com bust of the early 2000s--somehow the economy regained its footing for another game of chicken. Has its luck finally run out?It might seem odd to link the current financial crisis with the long- term polarization of incomes, but in fact the two are deeply connected. During the housing bubble, people borrowed heavily not only to buy houses (whose prices were rising out of reach of their incomes) but also to compensate for the weakest job and income growth of any expansion since the end of World War II. Between 2001 and 2007, homeowners withdrew almost $5 trillion in cash from their houses, either by borrowing against their equity or pocketing the proceeds of sales; such equity withdrawals, as they're called, accounted for 30 percent of the growth in consumption over that six-year period. That extra lift disguised the labor market's underlying weakness; without it, the 2001 recession might never have ended.But that round of borrowing only extended one that had begun in the early 1980s. At first it was credit cards, but when the housing boom really got going around 2001, the mortgage market took the lead. Now households are up to their ears in debt, and the credit markets are broken.Borrowing is only one side of the story. As incomes polarized, America's rich and the financial institutions that serve them found their portfolios bulging with cash in need of a profitable investment outlet, and one of the outlets they found was lending to those below them on the income ladder. (That's one of several places where all the cash that funded the credit card and mortgage borrowing came from.) They also poured their money into hedge funds, private equity funds and just plain old stocks and bonds. That twenty-five-year gusher of cash led to an enormous expansion in the financial markets. Total financial assets of all kinds (stocks, bonds, everything) averaged around 440 percent of GDP from the early 1950s through the late 1970s. They grew steadily, breaking 600 percent in 1990 and 1,000 percent by 2007. With a few notorious interruptions, it looked like Wall Street had entered a utopia: an eternal bull market. Regulators stopped regulating and auditors looked the other way as financial practices lost all traces of prudence. No figure embodies that negligence better than Alan Greenspan, who as chair of the Federal Reserve dropped the propensity to caution and worry characteristic of the central banking profession and instead cheered the markets onward. As he said many times in the 1990s and early 2000s, who was he, a mere mortal, to second-guess the collective wisdom of the markets? He seemed to have no sense that markets embody no collective wisdom and often act with all the careful consideration of a mob.So while the proximate cause, as the lawyers say, of the current financial crisis is the bursting of the housing bubble and the souring of so much of the mortgage debt that financed it, that's really only part of a much larger story. And while it's inevitable that the government is going to have to spend hundreds of billions to repair the damage over the next few years, there's a lot more that needs to be done over the longer term.This is the point where it's irresistibly tempting to call for a re- regulation of finance. And that is sorely needed. But we also need to remember why finance, like many other areas of economic life, was deregulated starting in the 1970s. From the point of view of the elite, corporate profits were too low, workers were too demanding and the hand of government was too heavy. Deregulation was part of a broad assault to make the economy more "flexible," which translated into stagnant to declining wages and rising job insecurity for most Americans. And the medicine worked, from the elites' point of view. Corporate profitability rose dramatically from the early 1980s until sometime last year. The polarization of incomes wasn't an unwanted side effect of the medicine--it was part of the cure.Although we're hearing a lot now about how the Reagan era is over and the era of big government is back, an expanded government isn't likely to do much more than rescue a failing financial system (in addition to the more familiar pursuits of waging war and jailing people). Nothing more humane will be pursued without a far more energized populace than we have. After this financial crisis and the likely bailout, it looks impossible to go back to the status quo ante--but we don't seem ready to move on to something appealingly new yet, either.___________________________________

Nuclear Accord with North Korea becoming undone by US demands inaction on terror list.

This is from the Washington Post. Both sides are obviiously at fault but once the agreement was signed the U.S. interpreted it to satisfy its own desire for far-reaching inspections that North Korea would probably view as attempting to spy on its military capabilities. No doubt it was. I was under the impression that North Korea had actually been removed from the terror list but apparently that did not happen and was one reason why North Korea is rejecting the agreement now. Korea expected to be removed after destruction of the Yongyon reactor tower.

Far-Reaching U.S. Plan Impaired N. Korea DealDemands Began to Undo Nuclear Accord
By Glenn KesslerWashington Post Staff WriterFriday, September 26, 2008; A20
The unraveling of the landmark deal to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs began just weeks after its high point -- the televised destruction of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in late June -- when U.S. negotiators presented Pyongyang with a sweeping plan for verifying its claims about its nuclear programs.
Under the proposal, heavily influenced by the State Department's arms control experts, the U.S. requested "full access to all materials" at sites that might have had a nuclear purpose in the past. It sought "full access to any site, facility or location" deemed relevant to the nuclear program, including military facilities, according to the four-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. Investigators would be able to take photographs and make videos, remain on site as long as necessary, make repeated visits and collect and remove samples.
The United States pressed ahead with the proposal despite warnings from China, Russia and other countries that it was asking too much of the xenophobic North Koreans, officials said. North Korea immediately balked and the once-promising talks were at an impasse.
The verification plan, details of which have not been revealed before, has deeply split the Bush administration, officials said. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator, and his aides were opposed to making such an opening bid, but they were overruled at higher levels.
Some senior officials, in fact, viewed the verification plan as a key test of North Korean intentions. Hill had pushed the envelope repeatedly during months of negotiations, persuading President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to scale back demands and to make concessions to North Korea that more hard-line officials found unacceptable.
U.S. verification experts were not even closely consulted when the six nations involved in the talks concluded a vague agreement on how verification might proceed. But they were given the lead role in drafting the U.S. document presented to North Korea in July.
"It's possible North Korea always intended to say no, but they never had to until now," said an official who pushed for a far-reaching verification plan as a way to test whether negotiators were being "led down the primrose path."
From North Korea's perspective, the emphasis on a verification plan is a betrayal of the deal that resulted in the toppling of the cooling tower, according to Foreign Ministry statements. North Korea submitted a declaration of its nuclear programs -- though it revealed less than the United States originally sought -- and, in exchange, the president was to remove it from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"I am notifying Congress of my intent to rescind North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days," Bush announced June 26. "The next 45 days will be an important period for North Korea to show its seriousness of its cooperation. We will work through the six-party talks to develop a comprehensive and rigorous verification protocol. And during this period, the United States will carefully observe North Korea's actions -- and act accordingly."
But there was no written document linking North Korea's performance on verification to its removal from the terror list, sources said. So when Bush let the 45 days pass without any action, North Korea denounced what it called "obviously a violation of the principle of 'action for action' essential for realizing denuclearization."
Asked recently if there was a written agreement concerning North Korea's performance on verification, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack sidestepped the question, saying: "We're confident they [North Korean officials] understand what they need to do."
North Korea had been warning visitors privately for months that it would object to an extensive inspection proposal. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonpartisan research group, who visited North Korea this year, said Pyongyang made it clear it did not want the International Atomic Energy Agency involved. North Korean officials also did not want visits to their military sites and were distressed to learn how U.S. scientists were able to pick up minute nuclear particles from samples of tubes and documents previously provided to U.S. officials, Albright said.
Albright, a former weapons inspector in Iraq who reviewed the U.S. proposal for The Post, said it would be "completely unacceptable to any country's sovereignty" and amounted to "a verification wish list" and "a license to spy on any military site they have." He said Iraq agreed to such provisions in the 1990s only after it was bombed.
North Korea, in its declaration, listed about 15 nuclear facilities, including sites at Yongbyon and universities. An official involved in drafting the U.S. verification proposal, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, said the plan was based on previous inspection proposals, such as the one that resulted in Libya giving up its weapons in 2003.
He said North Korea submitted a counterproposal in which it agreed to a number of U.S. demands but objected to two key elements -- visits to undeclared facilities and the taking of samples.
"Those are basic principles of verification," the official said. "I don't know what we could have done except say to the North Koreans, 'I believe you.' You can't just kick this can down the street."
Albright agreed that North Korea must concede on the taking of samples, which he called one of the most powerful tools inspectors have. "They have always been uptight about it," he said.
In August, the U.S. submitted a counterproposal that was somewhat more vague than the first plan but retained key elements. But in late August, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suffered an apparent stroke. North Korean officials have not responded to the counterproposal.
Instead, the government has barred international inspectors and their surveillance equipment from the reactor site and indicated that within a week it would once again begin reprocessing spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

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