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Saturday, January 8th, 2005
8:31 pm
Bush Administration Paid Commentator to Promote Law

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

(Jan. 7) - Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004.

Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."

The top Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. George Miller of California, called the contract "a very questionable use of taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal." He said he will ask his Republican counterpart to join him in requesting an investigation.

The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request, also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, "to encourage the producers to periodically address" NCLB. He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite Paige onto his show twice. Harvey's manager, Rushion McDonald, confirmed the appearances.

Williams said he does not recall disclosing the contract to audiences on the air but told colleagues about it when urging them to promote NCLB.

"I respect Mr. Williams' statement that this is something he believes in," said Bob Steele, a media ethics expert at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies. "But I would suggest that his commitment to that belief is best exercised through his excellent professional work rather than through contractual obligations with outsiders who are, quite clearly, trying to influence content."

The contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda," or any sort of lobbying for programs funded by the government, said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "And it's propaganda."

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said he couldn't comment because the White House is not involved in departments' contracts.

Ketchum referred questions to the Education Department, whose spokesman, John Gibbons, said the contract followed standard government procedures. He said there are no plans to continue with "similar outreach."

Williams' contract was part of a $1 million deal with Ketchum that produced "video news releases" designed to look like news reports. The Bush administration used similar releases last year to promote its Medicare prescription drug plan, prompting a scolding from the Government Accountability Office, which called them an illegal use of taxpayers' dollars.

Williams, 45, a former aide to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is one of the top black conservative voices in the nation. He hosts The Right Side on TV and radio, and writes op-ed pieces for newspapers, including USA TODAY, while running a public relations firm, Graham Williams Group.

01-07-05 08:19 EST

© Copyright 2005 USA TODAY


Crossposted to ahebert.
Wednesday, December 8th, 2004
10:49 pm
Weakening Dollar Set to Impact US Standard of Living
Weak dollar threatens to upset equilibrium
11:26 PM CST on Tuesday, December 7, 2004
By JIM LANDERS / The Dallas Morning News

Is the delicate balance that has kept the global economy going despite jaw-dropping U.S. debts about to give way? A growing number of economists think so.

Harvard University president Larry Summers has dubbed this the "balance of financial terror." He and other economists fear a crisis that will lower U.S. living standards.

The current arrangement, where America buys and borrows while Asia sells and saves, is creaking under the weight of exchange rates that many analysts say are coming apart.

If the analysts are right, American consumers may soon confront sticker shock at favorite retailers such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot. American automakers, on the other hand, might get a chance to climb out of a bathtub of red ink.

The Bush administration says don't panic: White House advisers say global debts and exchange rates would sort out smoothly if the rest of the global economy would follow the growth path America is walking.

Economists with Germany's Deutsche Bank say recycling dollars from America to Asia and back again will keep rewarding both sides. Michael Dooley, David Folkerts-Landau and Peter Garber see it as a new Bretton Woods Agreement, an international system devised in 1944 to stabilize exchange rates that lasted for almost 30 years.

"Our story has been that the countries in Asia that have been lending us money will find it in their interest to continue to do so," Mr. Dooley said. "And the United States will still get enough foreign money to keep interest rates low and continue to use world savings for both investment and consumption."

Fort Worth-based Pier 1 Imports Inc. has turned away from Italian designs because of the high value of the euro, but it otherwise weathering the storm without raising prices, said executive vice president Jay Jacobs.

"Obviously we're not real happy with it, but we compete with other U.S. retailers, and we're all in the same boat," he said.
Asian trade concerns

Other economists don't see how that approach can be sustained.

The United States is borrowing $600 billion a year to finance its trade and budget deficits. Most of the lenders are Asian governments. China has bought more than $500 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds. Japan holds more than $720 billion. South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong each hold more than $100 billion.

The Asians are lending to hold down the value of their currencies, say U.S. economists, which keeps prices low for Asian exports to the United States. If an Asian currency begins to rise against the dollar – which is happening to Japan's yen – it gives the others a pricing advantage in the U.S. market.

Sure enough, Japanese officials complained Wednesday that the dollar was too weak and suggested that Europe and Japan push it back up.

John Williamson of the Institute for International Economics in Washington argues that the International Monetary Fund must knock heads to produce a 10 percent to 30 percent rise in Asian currencies against the dollar.

"At some stage, American consumers are going to have to recognize they've been living beyond their means," he said.

An orderly realignment of exchange rates would be less painful than a recession, which is the other way to curb U.S. borrowing, Mr. Williamson said.
Debt advantages

Lowering the value of the dollar gives the United States an advantage over every other debtor. Other countries borrow dollars and have to pay interest in dollars, even if their own currencies collapse. But the United States can inflate away its debts.

For example: $100 borrowed from a Japanese bank in 2003 was worth 10,800 yen. The face value on the debt is still $100, but now it's worth only 10,300 yen. The Japanese bank has lost 500 yen because of dollar depreciation.

With Japan holding $720 billion in dollar-denominated reserves, that's a lot of depreciation.

A weakened dollar would put a brake on U.S. imports because they'd be more expensive. It would also spur U.S. exports.

Roger Kubarych, senior economic adviser in New York with Germany's HVP banking group, said the existing exchange rate regime is largely responsible for U.S. automakers' $22 billion in losses since 2001. The beneficiaries have been Japanese automakers.

"If we don't do something about the car industry, we are going to have one or two companies go bankrupt," he said. "The car industry supports the retirement income and health insurance of 2 million people."

Economist Ray Perryman of the Perryman Group in Waco said some sort of government intervention is needed.

"I like floating exchange rates. But when there are players of this magnitude, manipulating the market, it may take some jawboning on this one," he said.

The dollar's value directly affects the income of oil-producing countries because oil is priced in dollars. When the dollar weakens, it drains income from Russia, Saudi Arabia and other leading oil exporters. So far, prices have increased far beyond the losses caused by a weakened dollar, but producers are inclined to hold on to their winnings.

Russia and Indonesia said last week that they might start buying euros and other currencies to lessen their exposure to a declining dollar. And the Bank of International Settlements on Monday reported a 13 percent shift in oil-producer reserves from dollars to euros in the last three years.
Global 'Ponzi scheme'

Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, sees a painful adjustment ahead.

"The whole global economy is kind of a Ponzi scheme," he said.

"Our job is to borrow and consume at ever-increasing rates. Everybody else – particularly the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans – saves and produces and exports, and provide us financing so we can go on buying."

"We get to live beyond our means, and they are happy to soak up unemployment," he said.

Mr. Prestowitz said the dollar is going to have to fall more than 50 percent against some currencies to bring global accounts back to balance – "which means a fall in the standard of living."

U.S. officials hint that the dollar should weaken (though by nowhere near 50 percent), and they've lobbied China to let go of the dollar, which is pegged to the yuan at a rate of 8.28 to $1.

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was mildly critical this month of the U.S. current account deficit (the measure of U.S. borrowing from the rest of the world). Treasury Secretary John Snow says markets rather than governments should determine exchange rates.

U.S. manufacturers, which suffer most from cheap imports, formed the Coalition for a Sound Dollar to argue that the dollar is valued too high.

"We really view China as the lynchpin in this," said Patricia Mears, the coalition's executive director. "China is looking for job creation and internal stability, and they have taken a currency position for export-led growth."

Deutsche Bank's Mr. Dooley agrees that China is the lynchpin. But he doesn't see Beijing strengthening its currency soon.

China's most pressing economic problem is finding jobs for the 200 million people moving from farms to cities. Manufacturing exports can solve it if the Chinese currency remains pegged to the currency of the major buyer of those goods – the United States.

The system can endure, even if U.S. bonds aren't paying much, as long as the labor surplus lasts. And once the Chinese workers are absorbed, India will follow the same path, Mr. Dooley said.

U.S. consumers will benefit from cheaper goods, but the U.S. labor market will have to adjust – even if that means shrinking the workforce or even the number of U.S. automakers.

"If we can borrow what we need, and keep interest rates low, why not?" he asked.

Full Story (The Dallas Morning News)
10:42 pm
US Military Attempted to Silence Abuse Investigations
Memo: Workers Threatened Over Prison Abuse
Wed Dec 8, 5:15 AM ET
By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - U.S. special forces accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq (news - web sites) threatened Defense Intelligence Agency personnel who saw the mistreatment, according to U.S. government memos released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites).

The special forces also monitored e-mails sent by defense personnel and ordered them "not to talk to anyone" in the United States about what they saw, said one memo written by the Defense Intelligence Agency chief, who complained to his Pentagon (news - web sites) bosses about the harassment.

In addition, the special forces confiscated photos of a prisoner who had been punched in the face.

Prisoners arriving at a detention center in Baghdad had "burn marks on their backs" as well as bruises and some complained of kidney pain, according to the June 25, 2004 memo.

FBI (news - web sites) agents also reported seeing detainees at Abu Ghraib subjected to sleep deprivation, humiliation and forced nudity between October and December 2003 — when the most serious abuses allegedly took place in a scandal that's remains under investigation.

The release of the ACLU documents comes a day after The Associated Press reported that a senior FBI official wrote a letter to the Army's top criminal investigator complaining about "highly aggressive" interrogation techniques at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay dating back to 2002 — more than a year before the scandal broke at the Iraqi prison.

The memos reveal behind-the-scenes tensions between the FBI and U.S. military and intelligence task forces running prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and in Iraq as the Bush administration sought better intelligence to fight terrorists and the deadly Iraq insurgency.

"These documents tell a damning story of sanctioned government abuse — a story that the government has tried to hide and may well come back to haunt our own troops captured in Iraq," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the New York-based ACLU.

The documents were released only after a federal court ordered the Pentagon and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request filed under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, which directs special military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (news - web sites), declined to comment on specific allegations.

"We take all issues of detainee abuse very seriously and where there is the potential that these abuses could have taken place, we investigate them," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nick Balice.

Joe Navarro, a retired FBI agent who teaches interrogation techniques to the military and is familiar with interrogations at Guantanamo, said using threats during interrogations only stands to taint information gleaned from the sessions.

"The only thing that torture guarantees is pain," Navarro told AP Tuesday. "It never guarantees the truth."

Many memos refer to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, whose mission as head of the Guantanamo prison from October 2002 was to improve the intelligence gleaned from terror suspects. In August 2003, Miller was sent to Iraq to make recommendations on interrogation techniques to get more information out of prisoners. He was posted to Abu Ghraib in March 2004.

One FBI e-mail released by the ACLU said Miller "continued to support interrogation strategies (the FBI) not only advised against, but questioned in terms of effectiveness."

Miller left Iraq on Tuesday for a new assignment in Washington, with responsibility for Army housing and other support operations, and could not be reached for comment.

According to the memo from the Defense Intelligence chief, Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, a special forces task force in Iraq threatened defense personnel who complained about abuses. Some had their car keys confiscated and were ordered not to leave the base "even to get a haircut."

Balice refused to describe the task force, which could include Army Rangers, Delta Force, Navy SEALs and other Special Forces' soldiers working with CIA (news - web sites) operatives.

Another June 25 memo describes how a task force officer punched a prisoner in the face "to the point he needed medical attention," failed to record the medical treatment, and confiscated photos of the injuries. The date of the incident wasn't clear as the memo — like others released by the ACLU — have been heavily redacted to remove dates and names.

An e-mail to Thomas Harrington, an FBI counterterrorism expert who led a team of investigators to Guantanamo, records "somewhat heated" conversations in which Pentagon officials admitted that harsh interrogations did not yield any information not obtained by the FBI.

Another December 2003 e-mail notes the FBI's Military Liaison and Detainee Unit, which "had a longstanding and documented position against use of some of DoDs interrogation practices," requested certain information "be documented to protect the FBI."

In the July 14 letter obtained by the AP, Harrington suggested that the Pentagon didn't act on FBI complaints about four incidents at Guantanamo, including a female interrogator grabbing a detainee's genitals and bending back his thumbs, another where most of a prisoner's head was covered with duct tape and a third where a dog was used to intimidate a detainee who later was thrown into isolation and showed signs of "extreme psychological trauma."

The Harrington letter was addressed to Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army's chief law enforcement officer who's investigating abuses at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantanamo. He said FBI officials complained about the pattern of abusive techniques to top Defense Department attorneys in January 2003, and it appeared that nothing was done.

The U.S. military says prisoners are treated according to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit violence, torture and humiliating treatment. Still, at least 10 incidents of abuse have been substantiated at Guantanamo, all but one from 2003 or this year.

Many detainees at Guantanamo have been held without charge and without access to attorneys since the camp opened in January 2002. The United States has imprisoned some 550 men accused of links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or al-Qaida; only four have been charged.

Full Story (Yahoo! News)
10:37 pm
Opec Dropping Dollar Like a Bad Habit
Opec sharply reduces dollar exposure
By Steve Johnson and Javier Blas in London
Published: December 6 2004 21:12 | Last updated: December 6 2004 21:12

Oil exporters have sharply reduced their exposure to the US dollar over the past three years, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements.

Members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries have cut the proportion of deposits held in dollars from 75 per cent in the third quarter of 2001 to 61.5 per cent.

Middle Eastern central banks have reportedly switched reserves from dollars to euros and sterling to avoid incurring losses as the dollar has fallen and prepare for a shift away from pricing oil exports in dollars alone.

Private Middle East investors are believed to be worried about the prospect of US-held assets being frozen as part of the war on terror, leading to accelerated dollar-selling after the re-election of President George W. Bush.

The BIS data, in the organisation's quarterly review, state that Opec countries' stock of dollar-denominated deposits has fallen by 4 per cent in cash terms since 2002 in spite of Opec revenues' surging to record levels this year.

Opec officials say the cartel is trying to protect its purchasing power per barrel, as Europe is its largest trading partner. Opec imports from Europe rose 29 per cent between 2001 and 2003 while those from the US fell by 14 per cent, according to Morgan Stanley, the US investment bank.

Simon Derrick, head of currency research at Bank of New York, said: "It makes sense to diversify their reserves as much of their spending is in the eurozone and Japan."

Opec officials also point to political motivations after the 2001 terror attacks on the US.

Middle Eastern foreign exchange reserves are relatively small - those of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar are estimated at $61bn by BNP Paribas - but any switch may be seen as indicating the mood of private investors in the region, who control far greater wealth.

Hans Redeker, global head of foreign exchange strategy at the French bank, said the Patriot Act, introduced after September 11 to stop US financial institutions being used by terrorists to launder money, was worrying private investors.

"If you trade with what the US regards as a 'dodgy' bank, you are at risk of your assets in the US being frozen," he said. "After the re-election of George Bush, the Middle East started to sell dollars like crazy due to the fears of assets being frozen."

The BIS report also showed that, in spite of oil prices having risen 85 per cent since the fourth quarter of 2001, overall OPEC bank deposits have barely risen. "Oil reserves have not been channelled into the international banking system in the most recent cycle," the report said.

One school of thought is that Middle Eastern businesses and individuals increasingly prefer to invest at home, leading to sharp rises in real estate and equity prices in many countries. Another argument is that many Opec governments are having to increase public spending to support rapidly growing populations.

Full Story (The Financial Times)
10:23 pm
Rumsfeld to US Soldiers: "Who Needs Armor?"
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - Disgruntled U.S. soldiers complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday about the lack of armor for their vehicles and long deployments, drawing a blunt retort from the Pentagon chief.

"You go to war with the Army you have," he said in a rare public airing of rank-and-file concerns among the troops.

In his prepared remarks earlier, Rumsfeld had urged the troops - mostly National Guard and Reserve soldiers - to discount critics of the war in Iraq and to help "win the test of wills" with the insurgents.

Some of soldiers, however, had criticisms of their own - not of the war itself but of how it is being fought.

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, for example, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is comprised mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly two years after the start of the war that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld hesitated and asked Wilson to repeat his question.

"We do not have proper armored vehicles to carry with us north," Wilson said after asking again.

Rumsfeld replied that troops should make the best of the conditions they face and said the Army was pushing manufacturers of vehicle armor to produce it as fast as humanly possible.

And, the defense chief added, armor is not always a savior in the kind of combat U.S. troops face in Iraq, where the insurgents' weapon of choice is the roadside bomb, or improvised explosive device that has killed and maimed hundreds, if not thousands, of American troops since the summer of 2003.

"You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up," Rumsfeld said.

Shortly thereafter, the Secretary of Defense unveiled plans for the next generation of US main battletank (MBT), scheduled to succeed the 'slow, expensive' M1A1 Abrams by 2007 at the latest. The Halliburton-manufactured Patriot Zipmaster Plus replaces the Abrams' expensive and inefficient steel-encased depleted uranium armor with a layer of aluminium foil, double-wrapped for maximum protection.

Asked later about Wilson's complaint, the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Kuwait, Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, said in an interview that as far as he knows, every vehicle that is deploying to Iraq from Camp Buehring in Kuwait has at least "Level 3" armor. That means it at least has locally fabricated armor for its side panels, but not necessarily bulletproof windows or protection against explosions that penetrate the floorboard.

Speer said he was not aware that soldiers were searching landfills for scrap metal and used bulletproof glass.

During the question-and-answer session, another soldier complained that active-duty Army units sometimes get priority over the National Guard and Reserve units for the best equipment in Iraq.

"There's no way I can prove it, but I am told the Army is breaking its neck to see that there is not" discrimination against the National Guard and Reserve in terms of providing equipment, Rumsfeld said.

Yet another soldier asked, without putting it to Rumsfeld as a direct criticism, how much longer the Army will continue using its "stop loss" power to prevent soldiers from leaving the service who are otherwise eligible to retire or quit.

Rumsfeld said that this condition was simply a fact of life for soldiers at time of war.

"It's basically a sound principle, it's nothing new, it's been well understood" by soldiers, he said. "My guess is it will continue to be used as little as possible, but that it will continue to be used."

In his opening remarks, Rumsfeld stressed that soldiers who are heading to Iraq should not believe those who say the insurgents cannot be defeated or who otherwise doubt the will of the military to win.

"They say we can't prevail. I see that violence and say we must win," Rumsfeld said.

Easy for you to say, champ; your comfy Washington office is about as far away from the heat as things get. How's about setting a positive example by strapping on a rifle and marching into Fallujah yourself?

Full Story (Mercury News)
Wednesday, December 1st, 2004
12:45 pm
Democracy? What Democracy?
Hastert launches a
partisan policy
By Charles Babington

Updated: 12:12 a.m. ET Nov. 27, 2004

In scuttling major intelligence legislation that he, the president and most lawmakers supported, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last week enunciated a policy in which Congress will pass bills only if most House Republicans back them, regardless of how many Democrats favor them.

Hastert's position, which is drawing fire from Democrats and some outside groups, is the latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats' influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year's intelligence package. Hastert (R-Ill.) now says such bills will reach the House floor, after negotiations with the Senate, only if "the majority of the majority" supports them.

Senators from both parties, leaders of the Sept. 11 commission and others have sharply criticized the policy. The long-debated intelligence bill would now be law, they say, if Hastert and his lieutenants had been humble enough to let a high-profile measure pass with most votes coming from the minority party.

That is what Democrats did in 1993, when most House Democrats opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Bill Clinton backed NAFTA, and leaders of the Democratic-controlled House allowed it to come to a vote. The trade pact passed because of heavy GOP support, with 102 Democrats voting for it and 156 voting against. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the House GOP leader at the time, declared: "This is a vote for history, larger than politics . . . larger than personal ego."

Such bipartisan spirit in the Capitol now seems a faint echo. Citing the increased marginalization of Democrats as House bills are drafted and brought to the floor, Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) said, "It's a set of rules and practices which the Republicans have taken to new extremes." Price, a former Duke University political scientist and the author of "The Congressional Experience," acknowledged that past congressional leaders, including Democrats, had sometimes scuttled measures opposed by most of their party's colleagues. But he said the practice should not apply to far-reaching, high-stakes legislation such as NAFTA and the intelligence package, which were backed by the White House and most of Congress's 535 members.

Other House Democrats agree. Republicans "like to talk about bipartisanship," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "But when the opportunity came to pass a truly bipartisan bill -- one that would have passed both the House and Senate overwhelmingly and would have made the American people safer -- they failed to do it."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a White House aide when NAFTA passed, said this week, "What is more comforting to the terrorists around the world: the failure to pass the 9/11 legislation because we lacked 'a majority of the majority,' or putting aside partisan politics to enact tough new legislation with America's security foremost in mind?"

Some scholars say Hastert's decision should not come as a surprise. In a little-noticed speech in the Capitol a year ago, Hastert said one of his principles as speaker is "to please the majority of the majority."

"On occasion, a particular issue might excite a majority made up mostly of the minority," he continued. "Campaign finance is a particularly good example of this phenomenon. The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority."

Hastert put his principle into practice one week ago today. In a closed meeting in the Capitol basement, he urged his GOP colleagues to back the intelligence bill that had emerged from long House-Senate negotiations and had President Bush's support. When a surprising number refused, Hastert elected to keep it from reaching a vote, even though his aides said it could have passed with a minority of GOP members and strong support from the chamber's 206 Democrats.

Hastert spokesman John Feehery defended the decision in a recent interview. "He wants to pass bills with his majority," Feehery said. "That's the hallmark of this [Republican] majority ... If you pass major bills without the majority of the majority, then you tend not to be a long-term speaker ... I think he was prudent to listen to his members."

In other words, piss all over democratic principles, or you're out of a job? I love you, America.

Full Story (MSNBC)
12:34 pm
Bush's Support for Insane Foreign Policy? Electoral Fraud
Bush Defends Iraq Decisions in Canada
Wed Dec 1, 3:26 AM ET White House - AP

By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer

OTTAWA - President Bush (news - web sites) tried on Tuesday to repair U.S.-Canadian relations strained by years of bickering over trade and Iraq (news - web sites), although he stood by policies that have irritated Canadians. He did promise Prime Minister Paul Martin to work toward easing a U.S. ban on Canadian beef.

Even as thousands of Canadian protesters thronged the streets to protest his visit, Bush brushed aside suggestions that his decisions had damaged U.S.-Canada ties. Asked about polls that show Canadian opposition to his policies runs high, Bush pointed to his own re-election this month as the survey that mattered. "We just had a poll in our country when people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years," Bush said at a joint news conference with Martin.

I hate to break it to you, Mr. Bush, but getting buddy-buddy with the people who build your e-voting machines and so they'll fiddle the numbers in your favor does not in any way, shape or form constitute popular support for your policies.

"I made some decisions, obviously, that some

"Some"? Try "the majority".

in Canada didn't agree with, like, for example, removing Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) and enforcing the demands of the United Nations (news - web sites) Security Council," Bush said.

Reports were not able to substantiate whether Bush's remarks were in fact bald-faced lies or the result of massive, psychotic delusion at the time.

While he acknowledged no mistakes, Bush joked about his reception here.

"I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave, with all five fingers, for their hospitality," he said.

Indeed, Canadians for the most part lived up to their reputation for reserve as Bush made his way from the airport to downtown Ottawa. Most stood waving excitedly at Bush's enormous motorcade as it snaked down the road.

Many of Bush's opponents were polite. One of the first signs he saw read "Please Leave."

Others were more blunt. At lunchtime, a sign close to Bush's motorcade urged him to go home and depicted him riding atop a missile with a swastika on it.

The beef ban is a leading irritant in a relationship that has suffered during Bush's presidency, and the issue loomed large in Bush's first official trip to Canada.

Full Story (Yahoo! News)
12:32 pm
Sweet, Sweet Iraqi Oil Under Threat
Iraq oil infrastructure losing billions due to insurgency, tribal feuds
07:35 AM EST Dec 01

KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) - When Saddam Hussein's lieutenant heard that an oil pipeline had been sabotaged in Qushqia, his order was swift: blow up the village. Under Saddam, nobody messed with oil.

Saddam and his notorious lieutenant Ali Hassan al-Majid, or "Chemical Ali," are gone - both in U.S. custody facing trial for crimes allegedly committed during the former regime. But security around Iraq's vital petroleum industry is in crisis.

Between August and October, Iraq lost US$7 billion (euro5.3 billion) in potential revenues due to sabotage against the country's oil infrastructure, according to Assem Jihad, spokesman of the Oil Ministry.

An estimated 20 oil wells and pipelines were bombed or set ablaze this month in northern Iraq alone, according to an official of the Northern Company. Iraq has oil fields in the north around Kirkuk and in the south near Basra.

Iraq's security crisis and its long, porous land borders left the country's petroleum industry with no effective protection against saboteurs - either Saddam loyalists or tribesmen competing for jobs with the British security firm Erinys International, which has a contract to secure oil wells and pipelines.

Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin, chief of the Iraqi National Guardsmen in Kirkuk, said that Erinys hires tribes to guard oil installations. For guarding pipelines, he said the going rate is US$1,100 (euro830) per kilometer (mile) secured.

"The tribes are fighting over who wins the largest number of contracts," Amin said, adding that the losers "blow up the pipelines and oil wells in retaliation."

Tribesmen who own land through which the pipelines pass sometimes break them to steal oil for sale.

"The company tried to make use of the tribal power but it failed," Amin added.

An official of the Northern Company, which runs the fields around Kirkuk, said the company has been reluctant to withhold payment if a tribe fails to secure a line "so the attacks are endless.

Erinys refused to meet with an Associated Press reporter to discuss security issues.

To make matters worse, some of the pipelines pass through areas where Sunni Arab insurgents are active. Some of the sabotage appears to have been part of a campaign to cut revenues to the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

Amin said that since the collapse of Saddam's regime, Kirkuk pipelines and the wells have been attacked at least 74 times and "and to counter such a terrorist force, organized national forces are needed."

He said that firefighters, the oil engineers, and workers are reluctant to work out of fear of reprisals.

Sami Hadi, a 37-year old firefighter, said that unidentified people left a note in front of his house threatening to kill him if he continued fighting oil fires.

"I earn my living from this job and I can't quit," Hadi said.

The Northern Company official said that initially the favored target was oil pipelines but recently saboteurs were preferring to hit oil wells, which require more time and money to repair.

In the Khabbaza area, six out of 30 wells have been attacked even though they are located near the Northern Oil Company headquarters which supposedly has stringent security.

Amin said that 2,000 Iraqi National Guardsmen were deployed a week ago to Khabbaza as the first step toward replacing the tribesmen. Most of them were hired from the Kirkuk area but would be under the control of the guard instead of tribal leaders.

Full Story (CBC News)
12:30 pm
Evidence of Electoral Fraud Rampant in Ohio
Ohio tally fit for Ukraine

Voter fraud in the Ukraine? Give me a break.
It has been a month now and we still don't have a clear count of the votes for our own presidential race from the state of Ohio.

For those who may have forgotten, Ohio supposedly assured George W. Bush a second term in the White House - only the most important job on the planet.

The morning after the election, we were told Bush was ahead of John Kerry in that state's unofficial count by 139,000 votes, or 2.5%.

At the time there were 155,000 uncounted provisional ballots and an unknown number of overseas ballots, but Kerry concluded they would not produce enough of a margin to erase his deficit, so he promptly conceded.

At the same time, given the bitter Democratic memories of the 2000 Florida fiasco, he assured his supporters he would fight to have every vote properly counted this time.

Within a few days, other problems began to show up in Ohio's preliminary tally.

We learned, for example, that an additional 93,000 voters had gone to the polls yet machines had registered no preference of theirs for President. Only a manual recount can tell us for sure what happened to those 93,000 ballots.

Then, red-faced election officials in Franklin County admitted a computer error on Election Night had tallied 4,258 votes for Bush in a precinct where only 638 people voted. That correction alone will drop Bush's margin by 3,620.

And now Daily News reporter Larry Cohler-Esses and I have uncovered some more unusual vote totals, this time in black neighborhoods of Cleveland. Those results are from the precinct-by-precinct tallies released by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, where Cleveland is located.

In the 4th Ward on Cleveland's East Side, for example, two fringe presidential candidates did surprisingly well.

In precinct 4F, located at Benedictine High School on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Kerry received 290 votes, Bush 21 and Michael Peroutka, candidate of the ultra-conservative anti-immigrant Constitutional Party, an amazing 215 votes!

That many black votes for Peroutka is about as likely as all those Jewish votes for Buchanan in Florida's Palm Beach County in 2000. In precinct 4N, also at Benedictine High School, the tally was Kerry 318, Bush 21, and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik 163.

Back in 2000, the combined third-party votes in those two precincts - including the Nader vote - was 8. Cuyahoga, like most of Ohio's 88 counties, uses punch-card balloting.

"That's terrible, I can't believe it," said City Councilman Kenneth Johnson, who has represented the 4th Ward since 1980. "It's obviously a malfunction with the machines."

But Peroutka and Badnarik polled unusually well in a few other black precincts. In the 8th Ward's G precinct at Cory United Methodist Church, for instance, Badnarik tallied 51 votes - nearly three times better than Bush's 19. And in I precinct at the same church, Peroutka was the choice on 27 ballots, three times more than Bush's 8. In 2000, independent candidates received 9 votes from both precincts.

The same pattern showed up in 10 Cleveland precincts in which Badnarik and Peroutka received nearly 700 votes between them.

In virtually all those precincts, Kerry's vote was lower than Al Gore's in 2000, even though there was a record turnout in the black community this time, and even though blacks voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.

If this same pattern held true in other cities around Ohio, then quite possibly thousands of votes meant for Kerry somehow ended up in the tallies of the two independent candidates. So far, however, precinct-by-precinct results have not been posted by boards of elections in other counties, but by Thursday all official results are due.

On Monday, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell will certify Ohio's results and then a manual recount will be requested by the Green and Libertarian parties.

The Badnarik and Peroutka surge was not the only unusual occurrence in Cleveland.

Also unusual was the drop in the Democratic vote in scores of precincts compared to 2000. But more on that next time.

Full Story (The New York Daily Times)
12:17 pm
Bush Administration Continues to Dupe Media
PR Meets Psy-Ops in War on Terror
The use of misleading information as a military tool sparks debate in the Pentagon. Critics say the practice puts credibility at stake.

By Mark Mazzetti, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — On the evening of Oct. 14, a young Marine spokesman near Fallouja appeared on CNN and made a dramatic announcement.

"Troops crossed the line of departure," 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert declared, using a common military expression signaling the start of a major campaign. "It's going to be a long night." CNN, which had been alerted to expect a major news development, reported that the long-awaited offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Fallouja had begun.

In fact, the Fallouja offensive would not kick off for another three weeks. Gilbert's carefully worded announcement was an elaborate psychological operation — or "psy-op" — intended to dupe insurgents in Fallouja and allow U.S. commanders to see how guerrillas would react if they believed U.S. troops were entering the city, according to several Pentagon officials.

The fact that the US viewing public would be similarly mislead was seen as a welcome bonus.

In the hours after the initial report, CNN's Pentagon reporters were able to determine that the Fallouja operation had not, in fact, begun.

"As the story developed, we quickly made it clear to our viewers exactly what was going on in and around Fallouja," CNN spokesman Matthew Furman said.

Much to the disappointment of the be-mulleted viewers in Nascar shirts who had been chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" throughout the initial announcement.

Officials at the Pentagon and other U.S. national security agencies said the CNN incident was not an isolated feint — the type used throughout history by armies to deceive their enemies — but part of a broad effort underway within the Bush administration to use information to its advantage in the war on terrorism.

The Pentagon in 2002 was forced to shutter its controversial Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), which was opened shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, after reports that the office intended to plant false news stories in the international media. But officials say that much of OSI's mission —

continuing to fuel America's descent into a neo-Orwellian nightmare state -

using information as a tool of war —


has been assumed by other offices throughout the U.S. government. Although most of the work remains classified, officials say that some of the ongoing efforts include having U.S. military spokesmen play a greater role in psychological operations in Iraq, as well as planting information with sources used by Arabic TV channels such as Al Jazeera to help influence the portrayal of the United States.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but wouldn't a halfway sane foreign policy cover just a wee bit more ground than systematically lying to Arabic news sources? Especially when the Arabic world finds out you're doing it?

Other specific examples were not known, although U.S. national security officials said an emphasis had been placed on influencing how foreign media depict the United States.

These efforts have set off a fight inside the Pentagon over the proper use of information in wartime. Several top officials see a danger of blurring what are supposed to be well-defined lines between the stated mission of military public affairs — disseminating truthful, accurate information to the media and the American public — and psychological and information operations, the use of often-misleading information and propaganda to influence the outcome of a campaign or battle.

Several of those officials who oppose the use of misleading information spoke out against the practice on the condition of anonymity.

"The movement of information has gone from the public affairs world to the psychological operations world," one senior defense official said. "What's at stake is the credibility of people in uniform."

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said he recognized the concern of many inside the Defense Department, but that "everybody understands that there's a very important distinction between information operations and public affairs. Nobody has offered serious proposals that would blur the distinction between these two functions."

Di Rita said he had asked his staff for more information about how the Oct. 14 incident on CNN came about.

One recent development critics point to is the decision by commanders in Iraq in mid-September to combine public affairs, psychological operations and information operations into a "strategic communications" office. An organizational chart of the newly created office was obtained by The Times. The strategic communications office, which began operations Sept. 15, is run by Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, who answers directly to Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Partly out of concern about this new office, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, distributed a letter Sept. 27 to the Joint Chiefs and U.S. combat commanders in the field warning of the dangers of having military public affairs (PA) too closely aligned with information operations (IO).

"Although both PA and IO conduct planning, message development and media analysis, the efforts differ with respect to audience, scope and intent, and must remain separate," Myers wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Times.

Pentagon officials say Myers is worried that U.S. efforts in Iraq and in the broader campaign against terrorism could suffer if world audiences begin to question the honesty of statements from U.S. commanders and spokespeople.

"While organizations may be inclined to create physically integrated PA/IO offices, such organizational constructs have the potential to compromise the commander's credibility with the media and the public," Myers wrote.

Myers' letter is not being heeded in Iraq, officials say, in part because many top civilians at the Pentagon and National Security Council support an effort that blends public affairs with psy-ops to win Iraqi support — and Arab support in general — for the U.S. fight against the insurgency.

Advocates of these programs said that the advent of a 24-hour news cycle and the powerful influence of Arabic satellite television made it essential that U.S. military commanders and civilian officials made the control of information a key part of their battle plans.

"Information is part of the battlefield in a way that it's never been before," one senior Bush administration official said. "We'd be foolish not to try to use it to our advantage."

And, supporters argue, it is necessary to fill a vacuum left when the budgets for the State Department's public diplomacy programs were slashed and the U.S. Information Agency — a bulwark of the nation's anticommunist efforts during the Cold War — was gutted in the 1990s.

"The worst outcome would be to lose this war by default. If the smart folks in the psy-op and civil affairs tents can cast a truthful, persuasive message that resonates with the average Iraqi, why not use the public affairs vehicles to transmit it?" asked Charles A. Krohn, a professor at the University of Michigan and former deputy chief of public affairs for the Army. "What harm is done, compared to what is gained? For the first year of the war, we did virtually nothing to tell the Iraqis why we invaded their country and ejected their government. It's about time we got our act together."

Advocates also cite a September report by the Defense Science Board, a panel of outside experts that advises Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, which concluded that a "crisis" in U.S. "strategic communications" had undermined American efforts to fight Islamic extremism worldwide.

If by "strategic communications" you mean "the half-grain of common sense to stay your openly Christian President from invading a Muslim country without provocation before systematically torturing and humiliating its citizens", then yes.

The study cited polling in the Arab world that revealed widespread hatred of the United States throughout the Middle East. A poll taken in June by Zogby International revealed that 94% of Saudi Arabians had an "unfavorable" view of the United States, compared with 87% in April 2002. In Egypt, the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, 98% of respondents held an unfavorable view of the United States.

The Defense Science Board recommended a presidential directive to "coordinate all components of strategic communication including public diplomacy, public affairs, international broadcasting and military information operations."

Di Rita said there was general agreement inside the Bush administration that the U.S. government was ill-equipped to communicate its policies and messages abroad in the current media climate. "As a government, we're not very well organized to do that," he said.

Because spinning illegal invasions, economic meltdown, electoral fraud, offshore gulags and high-horsed pissing on about two different international treaties a day is hard.

Full Article (The Los Angeles Times)
12:12 pm
Red Cross Condemns Guantanamo Treatment as Torture
Red Cross decries treatment of Guantanamo detainees
Associated Press

Geneva — The Red Cross said Tuesday that U.S. officials have failed to address concerns about significant problems in the treatment of terror suspects detained at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But the neutral International Committee of the Red Cross, the only independent monitor allowed to visit the facility, refused “to publicly confirm or deny” whether details in a New York Times article were from its reports to U.S. officials about its findings during its Guantanamo visits.

The article said the ICRC has determined that the U.S. military used psychological and physical coercion “tantamount to torture.”

It said ICRC delegates found during a June visit to Guantanamo that U.S. authorities had devised and refined a system to break the will of the prisoners, using humiliation, solitary confinement, temperature extremes and force positions.

“We have voiced concern including in public that there are significant problems which need to be addressed at Guantanamo Bay in terms of conditions and treatment of the persons there,” said Antonella Notari, chief spokeswoman for the ICRC.

“We continue our discussions with the U.S. authorities in this regard,” she added, but said the agency was sticking to its policy of discussing the details of its findings with U.S. officials because it found the confidential approach achieved results.

Full Story (The Globe and Mail)
12:09 pm
US Government Turns Down Landmine Ban
US 'hurting' anti-mine campaign

Anti-landmine campaigners meeting in Nairobi have accused the United States of setting a dangerous example by refusing to sign up to a worldwide ban. The US says it has valid reasons to use anti-personnel landmines, particularly to protect its troops in South Korea.

More than 140 countries are signatories to the 1999 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. But delegates say action from the US is vital to pushing on with efforts that have so far seen 40m devices detonated and stockpiles destroyed. The Ottawa convention bans the production, stockpiling and use of anti-personnel landmines.

Dozens of countries have destroyed their stockpiles of mines and countless lives and limbs have been saved, says the BBC's Stuart Hughes from the summit. But the US, which has stocks of 10m landmines, is the most notable absentee from the treaty and from the list of countries represented at the Nairobi conference. It is the world's biggest donor to mine clearance programmes and is not thought to have planted any new mines since the 1991 Gulf war.

But the Bush administration announced earlier this year that it would not sign up to the treaty.

Full Story (BBC News)
12:06 pm
Mission Accomplished - Death Tolls Continue to Rise in Post-War Iraq
U.S. Death Toll in Iraq Ties Record
Tue Nov 30,11:30 AM ET Middle East - AP
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON - Fueled by fierce fighting in Fallujah and insurgents' counterattacks elsewhere in Iraq (news - web sites), the U.S. military death toll for November equalled the highest for any month of the war, according to casualty reports available Tuesday. At least 135 U.S. troops died in November. That is the same number as last April, when the insurgence flared in Fallujah and elsewhere in the so-called Sunni Triangle where U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies lost a large measure of control.

On Nov. 8, U.S. forces launched an offensive to retake Fallujah, and they have engaged in tough fighting in other cities since then. More than 50 U.S. troops have been killed in Fallujah since then, although the Pentagon (news - web sites) has not provided a casualty count for Fallujah for more than a week. From the viewpoint of the United States and Iraqis who are striving to restore stability, the casualty trend since the interim Iraqi government was put in power June 28 has been troubling. Each month's death toll has been higher than the last, with the single exception of October, when it was 63. The monthly totals grew from 42 in June to 54 in July to 65 in August and to 80 in September.

The Pentagon's official death toll for Iraq, dating to the start of the war, stood at 1,254 on Tuesday. That total did not include a Marine killed Monday in Anbar province and a 1st Infantry Division soldier who died of wounds sustained in a roadside bomb attack late Monday night near the town of Alazu. On Nov. 1 the official death toll stood at 1,121.

Combat injuries increased in November due to the fierce fighting in Fallujah. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington reported Monday that it received 32 additional battle casualties from Iraq over the past two weeks. One was in critical condition. All 32 had been treated earlier at the Army's largest hospital in Europe, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Some of the most severe injuries — and many of the deaths — among U.S. troops in Iraq are inflicted by the insurgents' homemade bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

U.S. forces have put extraordinary effort into countering the IED threat, yet it persists. U.S. troops in Fallujah reported finding nearly as many homemade explosives over the past three weeks as had been uncovered throughout Iraq in the previous four months combined.

Full Story (Yahoo News)
Sunday, November 28th, 2004
9:21 am
Bush Social Security Plan to Require Large Amounts of Borrowing
Bush's Social Security Plan Is Said to Require Vast Borrowing

Published: November 28, 2004

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 - The White House and Republicans in Congress are all but certain to embrace large-scale government borrowing to help finance President Bush's plan to create personal investment accounts in Social Security, according to administration officials, members of Congress and independent analysts.

The White House says it has made no decisions about how to pay for establishing the accounts, and among Republicans on Capitol Hill there are divergent opinions about how much borrowing would be prudent at a time when the government is running large budget deficits. Many Democrats say that the costs associated with setting up personal accounts just make Social Security's financial problems worse, and that the United States can scarcely afford to add to its rapidly growing national debt.

But proponents of Mr. Bush's effort to make investment accounts the centerpiece of an overhaul of the retirement system said there were no realistic alternatives to some increases in borrowing, a requirement the White House is beginning to acknowledge.

"The administration hasn't settled on any particular Social Security reform plan," Joshua B. Bolten, the director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, said in an e-mail message in response to questions about overhauling the system.

"The president does support personal accounts, which need not add over all to the cost of the program but could in the short run require additional borrowing to finance the transition," Mr. Bolten said. "I believe there's a strong case that this approach not only makes sense as a matter of savings policy, but is also fiscally prudent."

Proponents say the necessary amount of borrowing could vary widely, from hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars over a decade, depending on how much money people are permitted to contribute to the accounts and whether the changes to Social Security include benefit cuts and tax increases.

Borrowing by the government could be necessary to establish the personal accounts because of the way Social Security pays for benefits. Under the current system, the payroll tax levied on workers goes to benefits for people who are already retired. Personal accounts would be paid for out of the same pool of money; they would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into accounts invested in mutual funds or other investments.

The money going into the accounts would therefore no longer be available to pay benefits to current retirees. The shortfall would have to be made up somehow to preserve benefits for people who are already retired during the transition from one system to the other, and by nearly all estimates there is no way to make it up without relying at least in part on government borrowing.

Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress have paid little political price in the last four years for the swing from budget surpluses to deficits. But some polls show that Americans consider reducing the deficit to be a higher priority than many other goals, including cutting taxes, and embracing a new round of borrowing could pose political as well as economic risks.

A reasonable amount of borrowing now, the proponents say, would avert a much bigger financial obligation decades later. They say personal accounts would yield higher returns for individuals than the current system and could be a catalyst to broader changes that would bring the benefits promised by Social Security into line with what the system, which is also about to come under intense financial strain from the aging of the baby boom generation and the increase in life expectancies, can afford to pay.

Mr. Bush has vowed to push hard to remake Social Security. Republicans in Congress say the White House has signaled to them that Mr. Bush will put the issue at the top of his domestic agenda in the coming year.

But the White House has never answered fundamental questions about Mr. Bush's plan. In particular, it has not explained how it would deal with the financial quandary created by its call for personal accounts.

Some conservative analysts and Republicans in Congress say a portion of the temporary financial gap that would be created by personal accounts could be closed through measures like holding down the growth in overall government spending. But nearly everyone involved in the debate over Social Security agrees that some borrowing will be necessary.

The main Republican players in Congress on the issue say they expect to endorse an increase in borrowing to finance the transition to a new system. But they remain split over whether to back plans that would include larger investment accounts and few painful trade-offs like benefit cuts and tax increases - and therefore require more borrowing - or to limit borrowing and include more steps that would be politically unpopular.

"Anybody who thinks borrowing money for the transition to personal accounts is going to solve the problem of the long-term solvency of Social Security doesn't understand the size of the problem," said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the retirement system.

Mr. Grassley said Congress would also have to put benefit reductions and tax increases on the table, in part to hold down the need for borrowing and in part to assure that any changes restore Social Security's long-term financial stability.

Under current projections used by Social Security's trustees, the government will have to begin drawing on general tax revenue to pay benefits to retirees in 2018, the first year in which scheduled benefit payments will exceed revenues from the payroll tax dedicated to the retirement system. By 2042, the government will have exhausted the Social Security trust fund - its legal obligation to pay back to the retirement system the temporary surplus in payroll tax revenues it has borrowed over the last several decades to subsidize the rest of the budget - and after that Social Security would be able to pay only about three-quarters of promised benefits.

Opponents of Mr. Bush's approach say that Social Security's financial problems can be dealt with more easily without the addition of personal accounts, and that any large-scale borrowing would erase the presumed economic advantage of establishing the accounts: spurring more national savings, a goal that nearly all economists agree is worthy and important. Any increase in private, individual savings, they say, would be partly or wholly offset by an increase in public debt. National savings are what is left after counting up everything the nation spends. This pool of money goes to investing in the expansion and modernization of business. It is a vital component of economic health.

"To the extent that the transition is debt-financed, the ostensible macroeconomic benefits from individual accounts are undermined," said Peter Orszag, an economist at the Brookings Institution who has been critical of personal account plans. "In particular, you do not get an increase in national savings. It's engaging effectively in accounting gimmicks to make it look as if you're doing something when you're not."

In an effort to pressure the White House to acknowledge some of the financial trade-offs in its approach, Democratic leaders in Congress this week asked Mr. Bush to include in his next budget an accounting of the money that would be needed for his Social Security plan.

Only by including such figures in the budget, the Democrats said in a letter to Mr. Bush, "will Congress and the American people be able to weigh the difficult trade-offs between large-scale borrowing, Social Security benefit cuts, tax increases, and other spending reductions that may be required to fund your Social Security private accounts proposal. "

The White House, which has promised to cut the deficit in half while making Mr. Bush's tax cuts permanent, has signaled that it does not intend to include the figures in its budget, since the administration has not endorsed a detailed plan.

The budget deficit in the year ended Sept. 30 was $413 billion. The total national debt is about $7.5 trillion, including $3 trillion owed by the government to itself, much of it in the form of the Social Security trust fund. Rising debt forces the government to pay out more of its revenue in interest payments, and can put upward pressure on the interest rates paid by businesses and consumers.

Some Republicans in Congress are concerned that too much borrowing would carry large economic and political costs. Senator Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who will be chairman of the Senate Budget Committee next year, said he would support borrowing money for Social Security if it was part of a plan that also included modest benefit cuts and tax increases.

But he said the additional debt might have to be accounted for on the government's books in a way that would not technically show an increase in the budget deficit in coming years.

"You've got to look at this as a very significant long-term fiscal policy decision where you're going to have a loss in the first 10 to 15 years and a significant move toward solvency in the last 20 to 30 years," Mr. Gregg said. "That mitigates against doing it in the context of a typical budget resolution."

To critics of personal accounts, Mr. Gregg's suggestion amounts to relying on budget gimmickry to hide the true costs. But supporters of the accounts say borrowing even a few trillion dollars now would be worthwhile, because it would help wipe out the retirement system's long-term unfunded liability - the difference between what it will owe retirees under current law and the amount it will take in - of around $11 trillion.

Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, both Republicans, have sponsored legislation that would allow workers to contribute more to their personal accounts than most other plans proposed by members of Congress and outside groups and would not require tax increases or benefit cuts. But by some estimates it would require nearly $2 trillion in borrowing - and, in the view of its critics, much more - and even then would rely on the idea that the new system would create so much more economic growth that it would partly pay for itself by generating additional tax revenues for the government.

Representative Jim Kolbe, Republican of Arizona, said the government could probably keep new borrowing to $800 billion over 10 years, but only if Congress and the administration are willing to back tax increases and benefit cuts as part of a broad overhaul of the retirement system.

"People do not understand that tough choices need to be made," Mr. Kolbe said.
2:41 pm
WTO Prepares US Smackdown
WTO sanctions U.S. for protection
Friday, November 26, 2004

Geneva — The World Trade Organization on Friday approved stiff sanctions on a wide range of American exports intended to punish the United States for failing to repeal what it considers protectionist legislation, a trade diplomat said. "It's been approved," said Amina C. Mohamed, Kenyan ambassador to the WTO and chairwoman of the organization's dispute settlement body.

The European Union and other plaintiffs sought formal WTO authorization to retaliate by imposing new duties against various U.S. products. Among the potential targets are cod, textiles, glassware, mobile homes and apples.

The WTO dispute settlement body had been scheduled to take the action Wednesday, but U.S. trade diplomats held last-minute talks with counterparts from the European Union and countries including Canada and India. Although U.S. officials declined comment, the move was believed to have followed wrangling after Washington requested fine-tuning of documents submitted to the WTO.

U.S. goods that could be targeted by other countries after Friday's decision by the World Trade Organization over the Byrd amendment. The 2000 law, named for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was written with the steel industry in mind. It was ruled illegal two years ago by the 148-nation WTO — which referees global commerce — following a complaint spearheaded by the EU.

The contested law allows American companies to receive proceeds from duties levied on foreign rivals for alleged "dumping" — selling goods at below-market prices, making it impossible for American producers to compete.

The WTO backed claims that the amendment breaks trade laws by punishing exporters to the United States twice because they are first fined, and then those fines are passed on to their competitors. In August, a WTO arbitrator approved penalties of up to 72 per cent of the money collected from foreign exporters and handed to American companies and said the winners in the case should submit lists of potential targets. Under WTO rules, however, formal authorization must come from the dispute settlement body.

The EU was joined in its complaint by seven other countries: Brazil, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, India and Chile. Only the EU, Japan, South Korea and India have so far submitted lists, but all except Chile requested formal authorization to retaliate — and Canada has said it is pondering which products to target.

On Tuesday, new EU trade chief Peter Mandelson said the sanctions could be applied early next year. Their value has yet to be determined, but trade officials have said they could amount to more than $150-million a year — a tiny sum in comparison with the $2-billion in sanctions the EU threatened in its successful bid to force the United States to lift illegal tariffs on foreign steel last year.

Earlier this month, then-EU trade spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez said the target list included "vocal U.S. sectors that could help Congress focus its mind on compliance."

Full Article (The Globe and Mail)
Saturday, November 27th, 2004
6:58 pm
GOP Upholds American Ideals; Continues to Protect Torturers, Murderers
Congress Seeks to Curb International Court
Measure Would Threaten Overseas Aid Cuts to Push Immunity for U.S. Troops

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page A02

UNITED NATIONS -- The Republican-controlled Congress has stepped up its campaign to curtail the power of the International Criminal Court, threatening to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid to governments that refuse to sign immunity accords shielding U.S. personnel from being surrendered to the tribunal.

The move marks an escalation in U.S. efforts to ensure that the first world criminal court can never judge American citizens for crimes committed overseas. More than two years ago, Congress passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act, which cut millions of dollars in military assistance to many countries that would not sign the Article 98 agreements, as they are known, that vow not to transfer to the court U.S. nationals accused of committing war crimes abroad.

A provision inserted into a $338 billion government spending bill for 2005 would bar the transfer of assistance money from the $2.52 billon economic support fund to a government "that is a party" to the criminal court but "has not entered into an agreement with the United States" to bar legal proceedings against U.S. personnel. The House and Senate are to vote on the budget Dec. 8.

Congress's action may affect U.S. Agency for International Development programs designed to promote peace, combat drug trafficking, and promote democracy and economic reforms in poor countries.

"The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country..."
-- George W. Bush

For instance, the cuts could jeopardize as much as $250 million to support economic growth and reforms in Jordan, $500,000 to promote democracy and fight drug traffickers in Venezuela, and about $9 million to support free trade and other initiatives with Mexico.

The legislation includes a national security waiver that would allow President Bush to exempt members of NATO and other key allies, including Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Argentina, South Korea, New Zealand or Taiwan. The waiver was added to the provision, which Rep. George R. Nethercutt (R-Wash.) introduced into a House appropriations bill in July, after the State Department raised concern that the cuts could undermine key programs that advance U.S. foreign policy.

State Department lawyers are studying the language to determine what portion of the economic support fund could be withheld under the law. But congressional staff members say the legislation would disproportionately hurt small countries with limited strategic importance to the United States.

But who cares about them, right?

The criminal court was established by treaty at a 1998 conference in Rome to prosecute perpetrators of the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The treaty has been signed by 139 countries and ratified by 97. Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina has begun investigating widespread human rights violations in Congo and Uganda.

The Clinton administration signed the treaty in December 2000, but the Bush administration renounced it in May 2001, citing concern that an international prosecutor might conduct frivolous investigations and trials against American officials, troops and foreign nationals deployed overseas on behalf of the United States.

Because god only knows there's no possible way a US national could be even remotely involved in blatant and sickening violations of human rights.

"This is a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors could pull our troops, our diplomats up for trial," Bush said in his first campaign debate with Sen. John F. Kerry.

Since the tribunal began in July 2002, the Bush administration has been struggling to secure guarantees from governments to sign the pacts exempting U.S. citizens from investigation or prosecution by the court. The congressional cuts would not affect 96 countries that have signed the immunity pacts.

Other governments, including Jordan, have been trying to negotiate the terms of an agreement with the United States that would not violate their own laws that bar them from undermining the court. Jordan's King Abdullah, who supports the tribunal, is expected to discuss the issue with Bush in Washington next month.

But Washington's key European allies, including Britain, France and Germany, have opposed the U.S. effort on grounds that it undermines the treaty.

Full Article (The Washington Post)
7:01 am
Iraqi Elections Predictably Delayed
Iraq Officials Seek Delay for Elections
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. forces uncovered more bodies in the northern city of Mosul on Friday, apparent victims of an intimidation campaign by insurgents against Iraq (news - web sites)'s fledgling security forces. Leading Iraqi politicians called for a six-month delay in the Jan. 30 election because of the spiraling violence.

Asked about their demand for the election to be postponed, President Bush (news - web sites), at his vacation home in Texas,

Where else?

said, "The Iraqi Election Commission has scheduled elections in January, and I would hope they'd go forward in January."

But Iraq's deputy prime minister told an audience Friday in Wales that sticking to the election timetable would be difficult because of the security crisis.

Hands up, everybody who didn't see this coming.

As a sign of the worsening situation, authorities also confirmed four Nepalese guards were killed and 12 others wounded in a rocket attack Thursday on their camp in Baghdad's Green Zone. Strong explosions were heard Friday night from the outskirts of the embattled capital.

The extremist Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for the Green Zone attack in a Web posting. The same group claimed responsibility for killing 12 Nepalese construction workers last August. In Fallujah, insurgents ambushed U.S. troops as they entered a home during house-to-house searches in the former militant bastion, killing two Marines and wounding three others, the U.S. military said Friday.

Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said only about half the buildings in the city had been cleared despite the collapse of organized insurgent resistance there.

In Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, U.S. officials said six bodies were found Friday, bringing the number discovered there over the past two days to 21. In all, 41 bodies have been discovered in the past week.

Eleven of the 41 have been identified as members of the Iraqi security services, apparent targets of insurgents who rose up across the city this month in support of guerrillas fighting in Fallujah. The city's entire 5,000-member police force disintegrated during the uprising, and Iraqi authorities had to rush in reinforcements from Baghdad and Kurdish-run areas of the north to fill the gap.

"It's a continued campaign of threats, intimidation and murder by insurgents to spread fear into the public," Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a military spokesman in Mosul, said of the assassinations. "Their campaign has been directed at what appears to be Iraqi security forces."

Hastings said that since the Mosul uprising "there's been accelerated and very deliberate attacks on Iraqi security forces.

South of Baghdad, U.S., British and Iraqi forces raided suspected insurgent strongholds around the cities of Latifiyah and Mahmoudiyah, arresting about 70 men suspected of launching attacks in the area.

The raids were part of "Operation Plymouth Rock,"

Dear US military planners: please get over yourselves. Thank you.

launched Tuesday against insurgents operating between the capital and Shiite shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf. Multinational commanders hope to close off escape routes for insurgents trying to escape from Fallujah.

With violence showing little sign of abating, opposition to holding elections on Jan. 30 has been growing, especially among Sunni Arab politicians. Sunni clerics have called on Sunnis to abstain from voting, and politicians fear that a successful boycott could deprive the new government of legitimacy.

Silly Iraq. If your occupiers aren't worried about political legitimacy, why should you be?

On Friday, 17 political parties representing Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Christians and secular groups demanded postponing the vote for at least six months until the government is capable of securing polling places.

The declaration was signed at the home of Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi during a meeting attended by three Cabinet ministers. Pachachi, a former foreign minister, said he believed the government was waiting for such a request before seriously considering whether the election can be held as scheduled.

"The government is waiting for an initiative from the political parties to deal with the existing problems related to the timing of the elections," Pachachi said.

Mohsen Abdul Hamid, a Sunni Arab and leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said Prime Minster Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, fears the government will be misunderstood if it requests a delay.

"The government can't talk about that," Abdul Hamid said. He added that Allawi wants the parties "to agree among themselves and to talk to the United Nations (news - web sites) so nobody would think that the government wants to remain in power for a longer period of time."

In Wales, Iraq's deputy prime minister said holding elections as scheduled in January will be "a tough challenge" because of the security situation.

This is what happens when you invade a country without plans for ensuring post-war stability, kids.

"I want the elections to be held on time but it is going to be a tough challenge because the environment of intimidation is a factor," Bahram Saleh, a prominent Kurdish politician, told an audience Friday in the Welsh town of Cwmaman.

However, the clerical leadership of the majority Shiite community has insisted that the government stick to the Jan. 30 date. The country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, brought hundreds of thousands of followers into the streets last January to demand changes in the U.S. formula for transferring power to the Iraqis.

Any attempt to delay the election without al-Sistani's blessing could trigger a massive backlash within a religious community whose support the United States has sought

...by systematically alienating and humiliating...

since the collapse of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s regime in April 2003. Postponing the election "would cause a constitutional crisis," Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman of the Iraqi National Congress party, told Al-Jazeera television. "What would guarantee that the security issue will be better after six or seven months from now? We want the Iraqis to have the chance to express their clear opinion through the ballots."

The rift between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite community widened with this month's assault on Fallujah. Many of the Iraqi troops who took part in the offensive were Shiites, and the Shiite hierarchy generally avoided criticism of the attack on the Sunni insurgent bastion.

"Mission Accomplished" indeed.

Full Article (Yahoo!News)
6:55 am
Unneeded War Brings Unreported Casualties
Press Routinely Undercounts U.S. Casualties in Iraq
By E&P Staff

NEW YORK As the toll of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq in November approaches record levels for one month in this war, is the press only telling part of the story?

The Pentagon's latest official count, provided on Wednesday, listed 1230 American military killed in Iraq and another 9300 U.S. troops wounded in action. How seriously? More than 5000 of them were too badly injured to return to duty. More than 850 troops were reported to have been wounded in action in Falluja so far.

But this only scratches the surface of the total toll.

Earlier this week, CBS’s "60 Minutes" revealed that it had received a letter from the Pentagon declaring: "More than 15,000 troops with so-called 'non-battle' injuries and diseases have been evacuated from Iraq."

These include serious injuries that arise from accidents (vehicular and otherwise), trauma and severe psychiatric problems. The number is in line with estimates offered earlier this year by United Press International, based on arrivals at the main treatment center in Landstuhl, Germany.

Some of these Landstuhl cases are not serious but according to "60 Minutes" only 20 percent of the evacuees return to their units in Iraq.

None of the non-ositle [sic] injuries are included in the casualty count, "leaving the true human cost of the war something of a mystery,” 60 Minutes states.

The total number of casualties is about 25,000, plus the more than 1,200 killed. Since about 300,000 men and women have served in Iraq, it makes for a casualty rate of about 9%.

Full Article (Editor and Publisher)
Thursday, November 25th, 2004
9:56 am
Bush Valiant in Face of Criticism
Bush won't address Parliament: sources
Globe and Mail Update

U.S. President George W. Bush will not address Parliament when he visits Canada next week to avoid possible negative reception or heckling, White House sources said. The sources confirmed to The Globe and Mail Wednesday that Mr. Bush would not be speaking to Parliament.

The U.S. President had been invited by the Canadian government to address a joint session of the House of Commons and Senate during his visit to Ottawa, scheduled for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. But sources said Mr. Bush wants to avoid a potentially hostile reaction in Parliament, despite the fact that Liberal MPs who are not pro-Bush had promised Prime Minister Paul Martin last week that they would behave.

The President and Prime Minister will, however, hold a joint news conference after a lunch on Tuesday.

Mr. Bush will then travel to Halifax to give a speech after what is his first official trip to Ottawa, White House sources said.

The side trip would come after a working visit Tuesday with Prime Minister Paul Martin and a dinner that night with hundreds of prominent Canadians at the Museum of Civilization.

Details of the Halifax portion of the trip weren't immediately available.

Mr. Martin is hoping to to repair somewhat strained relations with the United States following trade difficulties over softwood lumber and mad cow disease and Canada's refusal to participate in the Iraq war. Mr. Martin phoned Mr. Bush the day after the Nov. 2 presidential election with the invitation. Mr. Bush and his officials were enthusiastic about the visit. The final acceptance came on Nov. 16.

Sources say U.S. officials involved in planning the trip were worried about a cranky audience on Parliament Hill. "We didn't see the need and, frankly, we didn't want to be booed. There are other, better venues," said one U.S. official.

Heaven forbid you actually have to answer for your decisions.

Full Article (The Globe and Mail)
9:48 am
Morgan Stanley Chief Economist Predicts "Economic Armageddon" For US
Economic `Armageddon' predicted
By Brett Arends/ On State Street
Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Stephen Roach, the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, has a public reputation for being bearish.

But you should hear what he's saying in private.

Roach met select groups of fund managers downtown last week, including a group at Fidelity. His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic ``armageddon.''

Press were not allowed into the meetings. But the Herald has obtained a copy of Roach's presentation. A stunned source who was at one meeting said, ``it struck me how extreme he was - much more, it seemed to me, than in public.''

Roach sees a 30 percent chance of a slump soon and a 60 percent chance that ``we'll muddle through for a while and delay the eventual armageddon.''

The chance we'll get through OK: one in 10. Maybe.

In a nutshell, Roach's argument is that America's record trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. To keep foreigners buying T-bills and prevent a resulting rise in inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be forced to raise interest rates further and faster than he wants.

The result: U.S. consumers, who are in debt up to their eyeballs, will get pounded. Less a case of ``Armageddon,'' maybe, than of a ``Perfect Storm.''

Roach marshalled alarming facts to support his argument. To finance its current account deficit with the rest of the world, he said, America has to import $2.6 billion in cash. Every working day.

That is an amazing 80 percent of the entire world's net savings.

Sustainable? Hardly.

Meanwhile, he notes that household debt is at record levels. Twenty years ago the total debt of U.S. households was equal to half the size of the economy. Today the figure is 85 percent. Nearly half of new mortgage borrowing is at flexible interest rates, leaving borrowers much more vulnerable to rate hikes.

Americans are already spending a record share of disposable income paying their interest bills. And interest rates haven't even risen much yet. You don't have to ask a Wall Street economist to know this, of course. Watch people wielding their credit cards this Christmas.

Roach's analysis isn't entirely new. But recent events give it extra force.

The dollar is hitting fresh lows against currencies from the yen to the euro. Its parachute failed to open over the weekend, when a meeting of the world's top finance ministers produced no promise of concerted intervention.

It has farther to fall, especially against Asian currencies, analysts agree. The Fed chairman was drawn to warn on the dollar, and interest rates, on Friday. Roach could not be reached for comment yesterday. A source who heard the presentation concluded that a ``spectacular wave of bankruptcies'' is possible.

Smart people downtown agree with much of the analysis. It is undeniable that America is living in a ``debt bubble'' of record proportions. But they argue there may be an alternative scenario to Roach's. Greenspan might instead deliberately allow the dollar to slump and inflation to rise, whittling away at the value of today's consumer debts in real terms. Inflation of 7 percent a year halves ``real'' values in a decade.

It may be the only way out of the trap.

Higher interest rates, or higher inflation: Either way, the biggest losers will be long-term lenders at fixed interest rates.

Full Article (Boston Herald)
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