Sunday, April 13, 2008

G-7 DEMANDS IMMEDIATE U.S. DISCIPLINE AND COMPLIANCE

G-7 DEMANDS IMMEDIATE U.S. DISCIPLINE AND COMPLIANCE

WORLD COMMUNITY STANDS UP TO BUSH CRIME NETWORK

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UPDATE, SATURDAY 12TH APRIL: The Editor has learned today that the conference call between the key banks and trustees recommended below, actually took place on Thursday 10th April. We did not know this when posting the current report overnight. A respected Chinese source confirms that matters have been finalised, a message that the Editor is hearing also from other separate sources.

We also have additional confirmation concerning the Trustee-operative attorney for Cheney living in Germany and who has confessed under extreme duress that he had been instructed to deceive a 'country' Trustee for the past three years, by President George W. Bush [see below].

Finally, we learn today that Bush 43 was informed by 'those around him' within the past 48 hours that 'we are not going down or to jail with you' and that 'THE OVERDUE SETTLEMENTS ARE 100% MANDATORY AND YOU MAY NOT DELAY THEM ANY LONGER, OR YOU WILL WIND UP IN JAIL'. This man's endless defiance of the will of the international community makes no sense now even to Mr Bush's closest associates. The focus on Iraq plastering US TV screens is of course diversionary in this context, as is the quite nauseating wall-to-wall coverage of Hillary Rodomski Clinton plaguing US TV channels. The name of the game is to settle everything behind the scenes as though the corruption exposures never mattered, and life goes on as usual. That won't work, probably.

For the key 'Box Gang' operatives, the sole objective is immunity, immunity, immunity.


G-7 FINANCE MINISTERS AND CENTRAL BANK GOVERNORS FINALLY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS IS ASSOCIATED WITH FRAUD AT THE BIG BANKS.

EACH GIGA-BANK IS HENCEFORTH TO BE ENCUMBERED WITH A SEPARATE, BANK-SPECIFIC 'INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE OF SUPERVISORS' WHICH WILL MONITOR ITS BEHAVIOUR WITH THE DELIBERATE PURPOSE OF FRUSTRATING THE EMBEDDED CULTURE OF CORRUPTION AT THESE INSTITUTIONS, WHICH HAD COME TO BELIEVE THEY HAD IMMUNITY FOR EVER

By Christopher Story FRSA, Editor and Publisher, International Currency Review and associated intelligence publications and services: World Reports Limited, London and New York.

Please Make a Donation, if you can, to help us finance research for these corruption exposures.

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Group of Seven key financial powers, which for practical purposes we must assume means the G-8 (incorporating Russia, minus the United States), have made it crystal clear both here in Washington and by other means, that the scandalous hijacking of the world financial economy by the Bush-Clinton 'shadow government' crime network will no longer be tolerated ad infinitum, and that its reprobate hijacking of the welfare of humanity must cease.

SHARP AND POINTED LANGUAGE OF THE G-7 STATEMENT
For public consumption, the G-7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors issued a statement on 11th April demanding implementation of the recommendations of the powerful Financial Stability Forum (FSF) as is revealed in its new Global Stability Report entitled 'Containing Systemic Risks and Restoring Financial Soundness', published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and made available here to journalists on Friday.

The language employed by the G-7 in its statement is probably the most explicit and blunt language that this veteran Editor can recall at any time since he has been attending these IMF/World Bank Meetings, beginning in 1977. Indeed it almost abandons the usual diplomatic rhetoric altogether.

Separately, because steps associated with the financial settlements that are intended to kick-start and simuletaneously to lubricate the new, discipline-focused global banking system encapsulated by the Basel-II requirements, did not materialise earlier in the week, the Financial Stability Forum Committee meeting in Rome, under its Italian Chairman Mario Draghi, checked out of the Italian capital and flew to Washington.

COMMITEE REPORTED TO BE REMAINING IN SESSION UNTIL RESOLUTION
The Editor was informed some days ago that this Committee would remain in permanent session until the settlement payments had been completed, by which was meant until the Fiancial Stability Forum Members had received confirmation to their total satisfaction that the long overdue funds had been deposited and economic receipt of them had been confirmed.

TOP 'COUNTRY' TRUSTEE WAS LIED TO FOR THREE YEARS ON BUSH'S INSTRUCTIONS
Indicative of the heinous problems surrounding this crisis is the following confirmed information.

A certain Trustee, resident in Germany and known to be a 'former' CIA operative and an attorney for Vice President Richard B. Cheney, was finally confronted, we believe on Thursday last week, and, under considerable duress (the details fo which the Editor does not know) finally admitted that he had lied to another ('country') Trustee for the past three years. Certain key Settlement Trustees are categorised for the settlement distribution (and Tier or hierarchical) purposes, as 'countries'.

The 'country' Trustee who had been lied to, has established that the Trustee-operative who made this confession under duress admitted that he had been instructed NEVER to pay out the 'country' Trustee, and that the source of this instruction was President George W. Bush Jr. (43). Following this forced admission, the Trustee-operative suddenly left the United States on Friday morning and returned to Germany, indicating that he was 'through and had had enough'. More probably, he now feared for his life, and with good reason.

The Editor understands that, after we reported this scandal to certain parties, the matter is being investigated, not least because it confirms that George Bush Jr. himself ordered this very powerful and respected US-based 'country' Trustee to be lied to and deceived all these years.

The reason that this development is considered by the Editor to be of exceptional importance at this juncture is that this first-hand information provides proof that the Bushite-directed shadow government crime nexus has indeed frustrated the settlements all along.

That has never been disputed by anyone 'in the know': but the difference this time round lies in the exceptional quality of this intelligence.

APPARENTLY THE 160+ COUNTRY REPRESENTATIVES WENT HOME ON FRIDAY
We further understand that the 160+ 'country' representatives who have been waiting and pressing for payment since last October, left the United States on Thursday evening or on Friday.

This development can be interpreted two ways. Either it means that they have given up in disgust and that the full wrath of the international community is about to descend upon the United States and its criminalist Government. Alternatively it means that the country representatives have taken economic receipt of their funds and therefore have no need to remain in America any longer. We refrain from indicating which of these alternatives the Editor favours, for the time being.

G-7 MEETING IN LONDON ISSUES STEELY DEMAND FOR IMMEDIATE U.S. COMPLIANCE
We have also established that the G-7 countries, meeting in London last Wednesday the 9th April, signed a document signifying that the international financial community, which the G-7 basically represents, requires the United States to implement Basel-II to the letter with effect from 12.01 am on Sunday night/Monday morning, failing which certain mighty US assets will be seized. The Editor cannot obtain further elucidation (yet) from his sources as to what this latest showdown implies, but it incorporates by implication a demand that the settlement payments must be completed at once and that the Basel-II arrengements, which should have been implemented by the United States with effect from the New Year but which have been torpedoed by Bush 43, are mandatory.

TOP BANKERS SAID TO BE AFRAID OF BEING THE FIRST TO RELEASE
Associated with this intelligence is the parallel information that the key bankers concerned are reluctant to release the funds 'because they don't want to be the first to release'. When informed about this otiose state of affairs, the Editor pointed out to sources that since the CEOs of all the big banks know each other by their first names, they can perfectly well orchestrate a huge conference call at which it would be mutually and collectively agreed between them to undertake the overdue settlements 'simultaneously' insofar as this is possible, and in the course of which all would agree to perform. Such a conference call would BIND all the lily-livered bankers concerned, to conclude the matter, thereby forcing the issue and leaving none of them 'vulnerable'.

BLACKMAIL AND THREATS BY THE BUSH-DIRECTED SHADOW GOVERNMENT CRIME NEXUS
Further enquiries by this Editor elicited the information that the Bush crime nexus has seen to it that ALL THESE BANKERS are subject to some kind of pressure or other to do as Bush 43 directs, and thereby to diverge from their responsibilities and duties. When we made further enquiries, we found that what was meant was that threats have been issued and that blackmail plays an important role in this hideous Luciferian scenario. It is not hard to imagine how true this must be, since all the big banks are complicit, as we have clearly delineated, in the criminal financial operations which have brought the world to the verge of financial and economic calamity.

G-7 ISSUES AN UNUSUALLY BLUNT STATEMENT (FOR WHITE HOUSE CONSUMPTION)
None of the above should detract from the exceptional importance of the G-7 statement released on Friday, which is directed specifically against the wayward United States (although of course diplomatic niceties prevent this from being stated in black and white). But that's what is meant.

At the 2007 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings, the Group of Seven Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors tasked the Financial Stability Forum (FSF) to produce a key report identifying the underlying causes and weaknesses in the international financial system that had contributed to the ongoing financial market turmoil.

The Forum, under the Chairmanship of Signor Mario Draghi, has duly completed and released, through the International Monetary Fund, its appropriately hard-hitting report, which sets out detailed recommendations for the enhancement of market and institutional resilience.

The G-7 Ministers and Governors indicated that 'we... strongly endorse the report and commit to implementing its recommendations. Rapid implementation of the Financial Stability Forum report will not only enhance the resilience of the global financial system for the longer term, but should help to support confidence and improve the functioning of the markets'.

REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS ARE MUCH HARSHER WHEN ANALYSED, THAN THEY SEEM
The FSF report presents, the G-7 statement said, a specific and substantive set of practical reform recommendations. The G-7 has identified the following four recommendations which, it states, must be implemented over the next 100 days:

Institutions 'should fully and promptly disclose their risk exposures, write-downs, and fair value estimates for complex and illiquid instruments. We strongly encourage [all] financial institutions to make robust risk disclosures in their upcoming mid-year reporting [that would be] consistent with leading disclosure practices as set out in the FSF's report'.

'The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and other relevant standard setters should initiate urgent action to improve [global] accounting and disclosure standards for [all] off-balance sheet entities and enhance its guidance on fair value accounting, particularly on valuing financial instruments in periods of stress'.

'Firms should strengthen their risk management practices, supported by supervisors' oversight, including rigorous stress testing. Firms should also strengthen their capital positions as needed'.

'By July 2008, the Basel Committee should issue revised liquidity risk management guidelines and IOSCO should revise its code of conduct fundamentals for credit rating agencies'.

PROPOSALS INCLUDE ONGOING INTERNATIONAL SUPERVISION OF THE BIGGEST BANKS
But sharper forks were encased in five further proposals highlighted by the G-7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in their statement released on Friday:

1. 'Strengthening prudential oversight of capital, liquidity and risk management: The Basel-II capital framework needs timely implementation'. which, being interpreted, means that the G-7 is telling the United States to get its act together and to cease and desist its sabotaging of the world financial economy through its endless trickery, skulduggery, lying, deceiving, double-crossing and general untrustworthiness. 'The Basel Committee should raise capital requirements for complex structured credit instruments and off-balance sheet vehicles, require additional stress testing, and enhance their monitoring'. Actually, these instruments may die an unlamented death over time, we suspect.

2. 'Enhancing transparency and valuation: The Basel Committee should issue further guidance to enhance the supervisory assessment of banks' valuation processes to strengthen disclosures for off-balance sheet entities, securitization exposures, and liquidity commitments'.

3. 'Changing the role and uses of credit ratings: Investors need to improve their due diligence in the use of ratings. Credit rating agencies should take effective action (consistent with IOSCO's revised code of conduct) to address the potential for conflicts of interest in their activities, clearly differentiate the ratings for structured products' (i.e. for collectivised, securitised instruments of dubious or frankly unascertainable underlying valuations), 'improve their disclosure of [all] rating methodologies, and assess the quality of the information provided by originators, arrangers, and issuers of structured products'.

4. 'Strengthening the authorities' responsiveness to risk: Supervisors and central banks should further strengthen cooperation and exchange of information, including the assessment of financial stability risks. It is important that an "international college of supervisors" be established for EACH OF THE LARGEST GLOBAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS'.

'Market authorities should also act cooperatively and swiftly TO INVESTIGATE AND PENALIZE FRAUD, MARKET ABUSE, AND MANIPULATION'.

FACT: Each of the big financial institutions is to be supervised by a separate international supervisory and monitoring 'college', so as to enforce discipline and rectitude within this free-wheeling, headstrong and aberrant segment of the international financial community. THE FSF'S DEMAND FOR EACH LARGE INSTUTUTION TO BE ENCUMBERED WITH ITS OWN SEPARATE 'COLLEGE' WHICH WILL MONITOR ITS OPERATIONS IS A CLEAR, AND DECISIVE, INDICATION THAT THE G-7 HAS FINALLY ACCEPTED THE ACCURACY OF OUR EXPOSURES OF OPEN-ENDED FINANCIAL CORRUPTION AT THE BIG BANKS. THIS EXPLAINS WHY OUR STARK DESIGNATION OF CITIBANK AND OTHER HUGE BANKS AS VAST CRIMINAL ENTERPRISES HAS NEVER BEEN CHALLENGED. BECAUSE IT'S ACCURATE. THE GROUP OF SEVEN AGREES WITH US.

FACT: THE RELATED REFERENCE TO FRAUD AND MANIPULATION IN THIS OFFICIAL G-7 STATEMENT MAKES IT CRYSTAL CLEAR THAT WE ARE ON THE SAME PAGE. THE G-7 HAS FINALLY, AT LONG LAST, WOKEN UP TO THE FACT THAT THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL CRISIS IS ALL ABOUT FRAUDULENT FINANCE PERPETRATED HITHERTO WITH IMPUNITY AT THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BANKS. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.

5. 'Implementing robust arrangements for dealing with stress in the financial system: Central banks should be able to supply liquidity effectively during financial system stress, and authorities should review and where necessary strengthen their arrangements for dealing with weak and failing banks, domestically and cross-border'.

G-7 DEMANDS PROMPT, NO-NONSENSE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FSF PROPOSALS
The Group of Seven financial powers' plain-speaking statement concluded with a hassle:

'We ask the Financial Stability Forum and its working group to monitor actively the implementation of the report's recommendations'. In other words, this is not to be just another dry, pigeon-holed document&183; On the contrary, it is to be a living instrument with which these recalcitrant criminalised enterprises calling themselves banks, while stealing other people's money, are to be battered into total compliance whether they like it or not, and however much they cravenly fear the criminalist intentions of the Bushite-led shadow government criminal enterprise, which is not recognised by anybody and is facing its day of reckoning at last. The communique continued urgently:

'It is important that member bodies of the FSF, including the Basel Committee, IOSCO, the IASB, and the Joint Forum, ACCELERATE THEIR TIMETABLES OF WORK TO CONCLUDE THEIR EFFORTS BY END-2008 AND THAT THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE FSF BE FULLY AND EFFECTIVELY IMPLEMENTED'.

'We look forward to an update at the Osaka meeting (of the G-8) in June, and to a comprehensive follow-up report by the FSF at our meeting in the fall (i.e., at the Annual Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group). We welcome the strengthened cooperation between the FSF and the IMF, which should enhance the early warning capabilities of key risks to financial stability'.

Which, in the vernacular, means as follows:

The United States must cease and desist its banditry, its sabotage of the will of the international financial community, and its excuse-making to perpetuate its penchant for financial corruption.

The United States is not as big as the Rest of the World, and the Rest of the World requires the United States to cease and desist exporting its home-grown brand of financial corruption and to start behaving as a civilised nation again, rather than as a financial pariah state.

The Rest of the World has completely lost patience with this financial pariah state and will ensure, come what may, that its will finally prevails in order to bring matters under control.

'CHANGE IN THE SOURCE OF FUNDS' REPORTED
Various other crucial developments occurred during the week just concluded. Among the most significant was an indication that sources of funds for the settlements, or some of the settlements, had 'changed'. In this connection, three countries were cited as sources of 'replacement funds': Britain, France and Switzerland. The Editor's analysis of this dimension is that the funds supplied per our report dated 30th July 2007 [see Archive] from the Bank of England, which mainly belong to The Queen, themselves represent 'replacement' funds furnished ON LOAN.

CITIBANK SUSPENSE ACCOUNT FUNDS BELIEVED TO BE ON LOAN, SO CAN BE RECALLED
This explains why they have allegedly been retained in a SUSPENSE account with Citibank.

They are believed to be resident in the suspense account (as identified in relevant reporting last September and October [see Archive]) pending resolution of the Wanta matter. The Editor believes (but of course this construction cannot be verified from ANY source, due to its sensitivity) that the OWNER(S) of these funds have indicated in no uncertain terms that if matters are not very sharply brought to a conclusion (like, NOW), the funds will be recalled.

Now, if that were to occur, we believe that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Citibank, that criminal enterprise, might collapse. And if that were to happen, you could say goodbye not only to a viable American banking system, but to the entire modern system of banking institutions.

Put it this way: the pressure for resolution MAY BE directly related to this factor: indeed, the Editor believes this to be the case. It would go some considerable way to explaining the abrupt indication from US official sources that 'there has been a change in the source of funds'.

CHINA REPORTED TO HAVE CONCLUDED A CRUCIAL, CONSTRUCTIVE TRANSACTION
Finally, the Editor can confirm, from two impeccable and independent sources, that at 11.30am on Friday 11th April, China was involved in an important transaction involving US Treasury instruments worth $2.0 trillion. This transaction or implementation is reported to us to represent an important component of the measures being put in place for a resolution of this unprecedented global crisis, which has been wantonly and malevolently exacerbated by the predatory irresponsibility and open-ended deviousness of the criminal clique that controls the US Federal Government.

U.S., Europe Warn of Further `Bad News;' Strengthen Regulation

U.S., Europe Warn of Further `Bad News;' Strengthen Regulation

By Gonzalo Vina and Alison Fitzgerald

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Finance chiefs from the U.S. and Europe said the eight-month credit squeeze is still festering and urged banks to take steps to relieve it.

``The chain of bad news may not have come to an end,'' Italian Finance Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa said yesterday as the International Monetary Fund held its semi-annual meetings in Washington.

The collapse of the U.S. subprime-mortgage market led to a seizing up in capital markets and has triggered $245 billion in asset writedowns and losses since the start of 2007. Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven are trying to strengthen market regulation and want banks to speed disclosure of losses and improve the way they value assets.

``The market is still adjusting, the turmoil has not yet settled down,'' Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn told reporters in Washington. ``It's still a fragile situation out there.''

The G-7 on April 11 endorsed proposals by the Basel, Switzerland-based Financial Stability Forum to impose tougher oversight on financial markets. The cost of borrowing in euros and dollars for three months was still at the highest since December in the past week.

New York Fed President Timothy Geithner indicated that regulators may have relied too much on financial companies and investors to police themselves.

`Better Balance'

``What we have to do is find a better balance between market discipline and regulation,'' Geithner said. ``I don't think anybody can look at the system and say we got that balance right.''

By the end of July, the G-7 wants financial companies to ``fully'' disclose in mid-year earnings reports their investments that are at risk of loss. Firms should also establish ``fair-value estimates'' for the complex assets that investors have shunned and boost their capital as needed, the G- 7 said.

Regulators must revise liquidity risk management rules, improve accounting standards for off-balance-sheet units and enhance guidance on how assets are fairly valued, the group said. International panels of supervisors will also be formed by the end of this year for each of the largest global financial companies.

Bear Collapse

The investor exodus from securities linked to subprime U.S. mortgages caused the credit crisis that began in August, and led to the collapse of Bear Stearns Cos. last month. Credit markets remain ``substantially impaired,'' Geithner said April 3.

``March was a very, very tough month,'' Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan said in a Bloomberg Television interview last week. General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt said ``the last two weeks in March were a different world in financial services.''

While urging stronger supervision, officials agreed that they still won't be able to eliminate the chance of another financial crisis.

``I don't think we can prevent the kinds of waves of optimism and pessimism that pass over the market,'' Kohn said. ``There will be future events. Our role as regulators is to try to make the system more resilient.''

Geithner said the goal is to make the system more resilient and have financial institutions with better ``cushions'' and ``shock absorbers'' in place to weather crises.

`Very Hard'

``If we could figure out a way to have on our desks a screen that gave us the capacity to predict financial crises of this magnitude, we would do it in a second,'' Geithner said. ``It's a good thing to work on, but it's very hard to do.''

The G-7 officials dined April 11 with chief executive officers from banks including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi, who chairs the Financial Stability Forum, said the response of banks to the report had been ``possibly favorable,'' while acknowledging the 100-day deadline for action is a ``tight one.'' ECB council member Nout Wellink said banks had been constructive in reacting to the report.

Wellink said the reason it's hard to foresee financial crises is that ``innovation has outpaced risk management, supervision and regulation.''

Why Food Costs Are Climbing

Why Costs Are Climbing

By Eric Reguly

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As food prices surge, starvation looms for millions. Experts call for emergency action but admit there's no quick fix.

Rome - Fatal food riots in Haiti. Violent food-price protests in Egypt and Ivory Coast. Rice so valuable it is transported in armoured convoys. Soldiers guarding fields and warehouses. Export bans to keep local populations from starving.

For the first time in decades, the spectre of widespread hunger for millions looms as food prices explode. Two words not in common currency in recent years - famine and starvation - are now being raised as distinct possibilities in the poorest, food-importing countries.

Unlike past food crises, solved largely by throwing aid at hungry stomachs and boosting agricultural productivity, this one won't go away quickly, experts say. Prices are soaring and stand every chance of staying high because this crisis is different.

A swelling global population, soaring energy prices, the clamouring for meat from the rising Asian middle class, competition from biofuels and hot money pouring into the commodity markets are all factors that make this crisis unique and potentially calamitous. Even with concerted global action, such as rushing more land into cultivation, it will take years to fix the problem.

The price increases and food shortages have been nothing short of shocking. In February, stockpiles of wheat hit a 60-year low in the United States as prices soared. Almost all other commodities, from rice and soybeans to sugar and corn, have posted triple-digit price increases in the past year or two.

Yesterday in Rome, Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, said the cereal-import bill for the poorest countries is expected to rise 56 per cent this year, on top of the 37 per cent recorded last year. "There is certainly a risk of [people] dying of starvation" unless urgent action is taken, he said. "I am surprised I have not been summoned to the Security Council to discuss these issues."

The UN's donor countries, he said, need to come up with as much as $1.7-billion (U.S.) to implement quick-fix food programs, such as topping up the World Food Programme, whose emergency food-buying power has been clobbered by the rising prices. Its budget shortfall, the difference between the food it intended to buy and can now afford, is $500-million.

Other UN officials have been equally blunt. Sir John Holmes, the UN's top humanitarian official and emergency relief co-ordinator, said this week that soaring food prices threaten political stability. The UN and national governments are especially worried about potentially violent situations in Africa's increasingly crowded urban areas. Rioting triggered by absent or unaffordable food could cripple cities. "The security implications should not be underestimated as food riots are being reported across the globe," Mr. Holmes said.

Nigeria's Kanayo Nwanze, vice-president of the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development, sees no short-term fix. "I wouldn't be surprised if there is an escalation of food riots in the next few months," he said. "It could lead to famine in certain parts of Africa if the international community and local governments do not put emergency actions into place."

And it's not just the UN that thinks so. Independent analysts, economists and agriculture consultants say the term most often used to describe the food prices and shortages - crisis - is not hyperbole.

How did it come to this? Surging food prices, now at 30-year highs, are actually a relatively new phenomenon. In the mid-1970s, prices began to fall as the green revolution around the world made farms dramatically more productive, thanks to improvements in irrigation and the widespread use of fertilizers, mechanized farm equipment and genetically engineered crops. If there was a crisis, it was food surpluses - too much food chasing too few stomachs - and dropping produce prices had often disastrous effects on farm incomes.

By 2001, the surpluses began to shrink and prices reversed. In the past year or so, the price curve has gone nearly vertical. The UN's food index rose 45 per cent in the past nine months alone, but some prices have climbed even faster. Wheat went up 108 per cent in the past 12 months; corn rose 66 per cent. Rice, the food that feeds half the world, went "from a staple to a delicacy," says Standard Chartered Bank food commodities analyst Abah Ofon.

The price of Thai medium-quality rice, a global benchmark, has more than doubled since the end of 2007. This week it reached a record $854 a tonne, which helps explain why World Food Programme trucks carrying rice in certain parts of Africa have come under attack.

Food prices in the first three months of 2008 reached their highest level in both nominal and real (inflation adjusted) terms in almost 30 years, the UN says. That's stoking double-digit inflation and prompting countries such as Egypt, Vietnam and India to eliminate or substantially reduce rice exports to keep a lid on prices and prevent rioting. But, by reducing global supply, this only increases prices for food-importing countries, many of them in West Africa.

Throughout history, the world has seen food shortages and famines triggered by drought, war, pestilence, crop failures and regional overpopulation. In the Chinese famine between 1958 and 1961, an estimated 30 million people died from malnutrition. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, severe food shortages hit India and parts of southeast Asia. Only the emergency shipment of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain from the U.S. prevented a humanitarian disaster. Drought, violent conflict, economic incompetence, misfortune and corruption created deadly famines in Ethiopia and Sudan in the first half of the 1980s.

In each case, the food shortages were alleviated through emergency aid or investment in farming and crop productivity. While no one so far is dying of hunger in this latest crisis, the UN and agriculture experts predict years of pain, at best, and severe shortages, possibly famine in the worst-hit countries. The reason: High prices are likely to persist for years.

Swelling population explains only part of the problem. The world's population, estimated at 6.6 billion, has doubled since 1965. But population growth rates are falling and, theoretically, there is enough food to feed everyone on the planet, said Peter Hazell, a British agriculture economist and a former World Bank principal economist.

Why millions may go hungry, he said, is because prices are so high, food is becoming unaffordable in some parts of the world.

The "rural poor" (to use the UN's term) in Burkina Faso, Niger, Somalia, Senegal, Cameroon and some other African countries exist on the equivalent of $1 a day or less. As much as 70 per cent of that meagre income goes to food purchases, compared with about 15 per cent in the U.S. and Canada. As prices, but not incomes, rise, the point may be reached where food portions shrink or meals are skipped. Malnutrition sets in.

The dramatic price rises have been driven by factors absent in previous food shortages.

They include turning food into fuel, climate change, high oil and natural gas prices (which boost trucking and fertilizer costs), greater consumption of meat and dairy products as incomes rise (which raises the demand for animal feedstuffs), and investment funds, whose billions of dollars of firepower can magnify price increases.

Driven by fears of global warming, biofuel has become big business in the U.S., Canada and the European Union. The incentive to produce the fuels is overwhelming because they are subsidized by taxpayers and, depending on the country or the region, come with content mandates.

Starting next week, Britain will require gasoline and diesel sold at the pumps be mixed with 2.5-per-cent biofuel, rising to 5.75 per cent by 2010 and 10 per cent by 2020, in line with European Union directives. Ontario's ethanol-content mandate is 5 per cent. As the content requirements rise, more and more land is devoted to growing crops for fuel, such as corn-based ethanol. In the EU alone, 15 per cent of the arable land is expected to be devoured by biofuel production by 2020.

That's raising alarm bells, especially given lingering doubts about the effectiveness of ethanol in combatting climate change. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said this week he's worried that ethanol production is pushing up food prices everywhere, and he called for an urgent review of the issue. Economist Dr. Hazell has said that filling an SUV tank once with ethanol consumes more maize than the typical African eats in a year.

Rising ethanol demand is one of the main reasons why Wall Street securities firm Goldman Sachs predicts high food prices for a long time. "We believe the recent rise in agriculture prices is not a transient spike, but rather represents the beginning of a structural increase in prices, much as has occurred in the energy and metals markets," Jeffrey Currie, Goldman's chief commodities analyst, said in a research note last month.

Severe weather has clobbered crop production among some big exporting countries. Drought in Australia, the third largest wheat exporter after the U.S. and Canada, has pushed wheat production down by half since the 2005-06 crop year. Statistics Canada said Canadian wheat production fell 20.6 per last year. Exports, as a result, are expected to fall by six million tonnes in the 2007-08 year.

While Australia and Canada could bounce back in the next season or the season after, depending on temperatures and rainfall, rising global temperatures do not bode well for agriculture in many parts of the world.

The UN has predicted that climate change could reduce production in developing countries by 9 to 21 per cent by 2080 and that sub-Saharan Africa could lose more than 30 per cent of its main crop, maize. Southern Asia, it said, could see millet, maize and rice production fall by 10 per cent. The challenge is to offset the losses with higher crop yields on arable land less affected by climate change.

Mr. Ofon, of Standard Chartered Bank, said rising demand in the face of production shortfalls does not fully explain the dramatic price increases. Investors are the other driver. They have discovered they can make money from food commodities as easily as they can in oil, gold or nickel. "Fund money flowing into agriculture has boosted prices," he said. "It's fashionable. This is the year of agricultural commodities."

But Mr. Currie of Goldman Sachs dismisses the theory that funds are pushing prices higher than they would be otherwise, though the funds can make prices rise and fall quickly in the short term. "The simple truth is that the funds don't take delivery of the commodity," he said in an interview. "Therefore they cannot sit on them and put them in silos. Therefore they can't affect prices over the long term."

In other words, the rally in food prices is being caused by demand exceeding production, resulting in dwindling food stockpiles. UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development, for one, assumes prices will stay high for as long as 10 years.

Agriculture economists and the UN have not lost all hope. New irrigation systems are inevitable in Africa and have the potential to boost crop production dramatically. Ditto for the use of fertilizers. Only three to five kilos of fertilizer per hectare is used in Africa, compared with about 250 kilos in the U.S. The problem with using more fertilizer is cost. Fertilizers such as urea are derived from natural gas, and gas prices have climbed, too. The price of urea has almost tripled since 2003, to $400 a tonne.

Dr. Hazell said some big countries, notably the U.S., Canada and Ukraine, have the capacity to increase crop production substantially. Already world cereal production is on the rise, although not nearly fast enough to end the crisis. The Food and Agriculture Organization yesterday forecast a 2.6-per-cent rise in cereal production in 2008.

Cutting back on ethanol production alone would go some way to restoring supply-demand balance in the food markets. "If we decide to do something about it, we can just use less food for fuel," he said.

But everyone - analysts, economists, agriculture experts, the UN - thinks all bets are off in the next two or three years. It's almost impossible to boost production quickly, because of land and water shortages and competition from biofuels.

"I can say with some degree of confidence that if governments and international development agencies do not put in place a concerted effort quickly, then we are looking at a very serious problem," Mr. Nwanze said.

War-Weary Pennsylvania Voters Wonder About Exit

War-Weary Pennsylvania Voters Wonder About Exit

By Kimberly Hefling

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Allentown, Pennsylvania - For Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, vital to getting the edge in military service-oriented but war-weary Pennsylvania is figuring out how to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq without dragging the flag in the process.

Trailing in delegates, Clinton has staked her candidacy on a strong showing in Pennsylvania's April 22 primary. Obama has eroded Clinton's lead in several state polls and an upset could irrevocably damage her candidacy.

Both candidates promise to end the war, but in a state with a remarkable history of venerating military service, how that end should be achieved weighs heavily with many voters. Polling shows Democratic voters overwhelmingly disapprove of the war. What divides them is a quick withdrawal versus a longer drawdown of troops.

For many voters, the anger over the war that helped push five Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers out of office in 2006 has turned to almost a resigned acceptance that little will change quickly.

"It's much bigger than one person. Whoever gets to be president, I've been telling everybody, will have an uphill battle to climb," said Krista McKeon, 37, whose husband is with a Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit serving in Iraq.

Military service is commonplace in communities across the state. During World War II, one in seven U.S. war fighters was from Pennsylvania. The state sustained heavy casualties then, and later in Vietnam. Today, one in 10 residents is a veteran.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 17,000 members of the 19,000-member Pennsylvania National Guard have deployed in support of the nation's war on terror. About 6,000 troops assigned to armories from Philadelphia to Erie have been alerted that they could be leaving for Iraq early next year in what would be the Pennsylvania Guard's largest Iraq deployment yet.

Service to country and patriotism are particularly evident in Allentown, about an hour's drive from Philadelphia. During the American Revolution, townspeople hid the Liberty Bell from the British in the still existing Zion's Reformed Church of Christ.

Each year, a group called the "Honorary First Defenders," named after area troops who were said to be the first to reach the U.S. Capitol in 1861 to protect it from Confederate forces, gathers to pay tribute to Allentown's only Medal of Honor recipient.

Sgt. Candice Gerber joined the Pennsylvania Guard in 2004 because she wanted to help with the war effort. She spent a year in Ramadi, Iraq, as a medic, where she saw young soldiers killed and maimed. Now she's torn about what should happen next.

"I don't really think we should call it a done deal and come home tomorrow morning, but I don't feel we should be there for the next 50 years either.... We've lost so many, but if we come home now it's we've lost so many for what?" said Gerber, 30, as she sipped coffee in an Allentown cafe.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 84 percent of likely Democratic voters in Pennsylvania said going to war in Iraq was the wrong thing to do. That's similar to Democrats nationally, but higher than the roughly two-thirds of all voters who say it was the wrong thing.

And, 58 percent of likely Pennsylvania Democrats said a timetable should be set for withdrawal, while nearly a third - 29 percent - said troops should be immediately withdrawn.

Clinton is perceived by Pennsylvania's conservative Democrats to have a more cautious, less liberal approach to withdrawing troops than Obama, and that could be a factor in why she's ahead in polls, said Clay Richards, a pollster with Quinnipiac. Both candidates support a phased withdrawal of troops.

"It's kind of a strange dichotomy that they are more skeptical about the war on one hand, and they question why we're there and what we're doing," Richards said. "But on the other hand, there's a built-in patriotism that is not found in other states to the degree that it exists in Pennsylvania."

Nearly 200 troops with ties to Pennsylvania have died in Iraq. More than a thousand troops have come home to Pennsylvania wounded, often to small towns where jobs are scarce.

McKeon, an unaffiliated voter who lives 15 miles north of Allentown in Nazareth, refuses to take down the weathered yellow ribbons tied to trees outside her house along a country road.

The night her husband, Capt. Keith McKeon, told their two daughters, ages 10 and 6, that he was headed to Iraq, the family cried. In the year since he's left, the tears haven't stopped as they worry about his safety. She said she figures her husband will likely be called to more deployments in the future.

"The status of Iraq right now is too vulnerable, it's too volatile. Whoever gets in, they decide they want to pull everybody out, that could be a little bit dangerous. All the hard work that these soldiers have done, I really worry that it would be in jeopardy," McKeon said, pausing. "I believe the candidates are intelligent enough to realize that."

Both candidates have held events in Pennsylvania focused on veterans. Clinton recently held a town-hall meeting with retired military officers in western Pennsylvania, telling them: "One candidate only says he'll end the war. And one candidate is ready, willing and able to end the war."

At nearly every stop on a recent Pennsylvania bus tour, Obama talked of his desire for a strong military and to take care of veterans. He frequently reminds voters that Clinton voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to use military force to oust Saddam Hussein.

That's not enough to win over Nathan Kline, 83, of Macungie, a retired Air Force major who flew more than 60 missions in World War II. What has resonated with Kline is Clinton's television ad in which a phone rings in the White House at 3 a.m. and Clinton answers the phone in a crisis.

"No matter how you cut it, he doesn't have the experience," Kline said of Obama. "He's young and his political life has been relatively short."

Gerald Smith, 26, a former Penn State University football player who recently moved to Allentown for a business opportunity, said it's a toss-up as to which candidate would be better at ending the war, but he plans to vote for Obama because he's a fresh voice and he's confident he'll have good military advisers.

Smith said he knows two people who fought in Iraq, and one was injured by shrapnel.

"You just hope that all these deaths that keep piling up is for some great reason that we will see sooner than later, something we can definitely look back and say this is why 4,000 people had to die for this. Hopefully it can be meaningful," Smith said. "And right now, it ain't looking too good."


On the Web:

Hillary Rodham Clinton's war stance: http://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/iraq/

Barack Obama's war stance: http://www.barackobama.com/issues/iraq/

Losing Our Will

Losing Our Will

By Bob Herbert

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I wonder what the answers would be if each American asked himself or herself the question: "How is the war in Iraq helping me?"

While the U.S. government continues to pour precious human treasure and vast financial resources into this ugly war without end, it is all but ignoring deeply entrenched problems that are weakening the country here at home.

On the same day that President Bush was announcing an indefinite suspension of troop withdrawals from Iraq, the New York Times columnist David Leonhardt was telling us a sad story about how the middle class has fared during the Bush years.

The economic boom so highly touted by the president and his supporters "was, for most Americans," said Mr. Leonhardt, "nothing of the sort." Despite the sustained expansion of the past few years, the middle class - for the first time on record - failed to grow with the economy.

And now, of course, we're sinking into a nasty recession.

The U.S., once the greatest can-do country on the planet, now can't seem to do anything right. The great middle class has maxed out its credit cards and drained dangerous amounts of equity from family homes. No one can seem to figure out how to generate the growth in good-paying jobs that is the only legitimate way of putting strapped families back on their feet.

The nation's infrastructure is aging and in many places decrepit. Rebuilding it would be an important source of job creation, but nothing on the scale that is needed is in sight. To get a sense of how important an issue this is, consider New Orleans.

The historian Douglas Brinkley, who lives in New Orleans, has written: "What people didn't yet fully comprehend was that the overall disaster, the sinking of New Orleans, was a man-made debacle, resulting from poorly designed levees and floodwalls."

We could have saved the victims of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, but we didn't. And now, more than 2 ½ years after the tragedy, we are still unable to lift the stricken city off its knees.

Other nations can provide health care for everyone. The United States cannot. In an era in which a college degree is becoming a prerequisite for a middle-class quality of life, we are having big trouble getting our kids through high school. And despite being the wealthiest of all nations, nearly 10 percent of Americans are resorting to food stamps to maintain an adequate diet, and 4 in every 10 American children are growing up in families that are poor or near-poor.

The U.S. seems almost paralyzed, mesmerized by Iraq and unable to generate the energy or the will to handle the myriad problems festering at home. The war will eventually cost a staggering $3 trillion or more, according to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. When he was asked on "Democracy Now!" about who is profiting from the war, he said the two big gainers were the oil companies and the defense contractors.

This is the pathetic state of affairs in the U.S. as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Whatever happened to the dynamic country that flexed its muscles after World War II and gave us the G.I. Bill, the Marshall Plan, the United Nations (in a quest for peace, not war), the interstate highway system, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the finest higher education system the world has known, and a standard of living that was the envy of all?

America's commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, and our ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, went up to Capitol Hill this week but were unable to give any real answers as to when the U.S. might be able to disengage, or when a corner might be turned, or when a faint, flickering hopeful light might be glimpsed at the end of the long, horrific Iraqi tunnel.

A country that used to act like Babe Ruth now swings like a minor-leaguer. The all-American can-do philosophy has been smothered by the hapless can't-do performances of the people who have been in charge for the past several years. It's both tragic and embarrassing.

The war in Iraq stands like a boulder in the road, blocking progress on so many other important issues that are crucial to our viability as a society. We've seen this before. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, which included the war on poverty, was crippled by the war in Vietnam.

On the evening of April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was assassinated, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went into Riverside Church in Manhattan and said of the war in Vietnam: "This madness must cease."

Forty-one years later, we can still hear the echo of Dr. King's call. The only sane response is: "Amen."

More FAA Whistle-Blowers Begin to Come Forward

More FAA Whistle-Blowers Begin to Come Forward

By Dave Montgomery

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Washington - More Federal Aviation Administration whistle-blowers are beginning to step forward with fresh allegations of a "culture of complacency" between the FAA and the airlines industry, the head of the government agency charged with investigating whistle-blower complaints said Friday.

The complaints under investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel may widen attacks on the besieged regulatory agency. But with the FAA under scrutiny by Congress and government investigators, while hundreds of thousands of passengers reel from massive flight cancellations, the big question remains: How could this have happened?

The FAA was created in 1958 as an independent watchdog over airline safety. But instead the 46,000-employee agency is falling down on the job through a cozy relationship with the industry that has led to a years-long pattern of benign enforcement, say a parade of critics.

Over the past week, much of the flying public found itself grounded as American Airlines and other carriers abruptly canceled nearly 3,000 flights to make inspections and repairs that the FAA mandated. The unprecedented cancellations generated assertions that the FAA was overcompensating for past enforcement lapses. FAA officials vigorously deny that perception.

"This is not something sudden that just came up," FAA spokeswoman Lynn Tierney said Friday in restating the agency's 50-year-old pledge to enforce safety in the skies. FAA officials says they're moving to correct internal problems and call this "the safest period in aviation history," with only two major U.S. air crashes over the past seven years.

Nevertheless, investigations by congressional oversight committees, the special counsel's office and the Department of Transportation's inspector general have produced a different picture, including disclosures that mid-level FAA officials in Texas allowed Southwest Airlines to continue flying potentially dangerous planes that should been inspected for cracks.

The allegations about Southwest surfaced after two FAA inspectors, seeking whistle-blower protections, took their story to U.S. Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch and later testified publicly before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Bloch, in a telephone interview Friday, said another FAA whistle-blower has approached his agency, and a second is also considering working with investigators. The complaints involve two and possibly three airlines, which Bloch declined to name. The agency, he said, has four or five active files "and are opening more now." The complaints, he said, "run the gamut" from maintenance issues to "airworthiness" and safety.

"We're going to see a great deal of emphasis on oversight of the FAA over the next couple of months," Bloch said. "I believe there are many whistle-blowers in the wings who would like to report problems because they feel a duty to do so, but are very afraid of what will happen to them. We will protect them if they do come to us."

Political fury at the agency, particularly among Democratic lawmakers, soared to white-hot intensity after the mass grounding of airline flights prompted a flood of calls to congressional offices and embarrassing television images of passengers stranded at airports.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said the cancellations were the most pervasive since the grounding of DC-10s in 1979 and have disrupted at least 300,000 travelers.

"That's just an unprecedented amount of people whose trips have been changed, altered or canceled," he said. "It's absolutely huge."

Amid the passenger angst, a fundamental debate over whether such draconian measures were necessary has yet to be settled.

American Airlines grounded the flights of its MD-80 fleet to inspect and repair wiring bundles in the wheel wells to comply with an FAA safety directive. American had complied with the directive when it was first issued in 2006, but the FAA, over the past two weeks, determined that it wasn't done properly.

Over the past several weeks, Southwest, United, Delta, US Airways and Alaska Airlines also have canceled flights to take planes out of service to meet FAA requirements.

The FAA stepped up its surveillance as part of a two-phased audit that began after the agency levied a proposed $10.2 million fine against Southwest for continuing to fly planes that should have been grounded.

American officials said they thought were in compliance with the directive. But the FAA, after reviewing inspection records, determined that the carrier was in violation of the requirements. The FAA's Tierney said the carrier made the decision to ground the aircraft to comply with the regulation, but American officials said they had no choice.

Some FAA critics contend that the penalty against Southwest, as well as the rigid enforcement that led to the mass groundings, were public relations moves aimed at recasting the FAA's image. But Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee investigating the FAA, said the agency was "correcting course" and belatedly rising to its responsibility.

"They're not overreacting," Oberstar said. "They're reacting and doing what they should be doing." The mass groundings, he said, reflected the airlines' failure to comply with FAA maintenance requirements.

Bloch, who testified before Oberstar's committee, has become a leading critic of the FAA. The agency, he said, "is far and above the worst we've encountered in the federal government for its contempt for oversight, its willingness to retaliate against whistle-blowers ... and their willingness to cover up violations."

In his more than four years as special counsel, Bloch said his office has substantiated at least 10 whistle-blower complaints about the FAA.

Calvin Scovel, inspector general for the Department of Transportation, which includes the FAA, said "fundamental breakdowns" in the FAA's oversight of Southwest Airlines have raised "legitimate concerns about the FAA's overall approach to safety oversight."

One area of criticism has focused on the FAA's "self-disclosure" policy, in which airlines can escape possible fines if they report violations of airworthiness directives before they're spotted by FAA inspectors. But investigators and congressional critics say the policy has led to abuses in which airlines are sometimes tipped off about potential investigations by sympathetic inspectors in the FAA, thus enabling them to escape penalties.

Tom Brantley, the head of the union that includes FAA safety inspectors, said he has been told of "numerous instances" in which FAA safety inspectors were prevented from moving forward with enforcement actions after identifying a violation of FAA regulations.

"It's gotten worse," Brantley, president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, told McClatchy. The inspectors, he said, approach him with their grievances but are often afraid to press the matter through official channels. "It's not a perpetual thing, but it is widespread."

The Torture Memo

The Torture Memo

By Stephen Gillers

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The Justice Department is investigating the lawyers whose memos gave the Bush Administration the legal support it needed for waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques. We are "examining whether the legal advice in these memoranda was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys," H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel for the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, wrote to two Democratic senators in February.

The torture memos from 2002 were mainly the work of Jay Bybee, then head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and now a federal appellate judge in San Francisco, and Bybee's deputy, John Yoo, who has since returned to teaching law at the University of California, Berkeley. This month the Pentagon released a long-rumored torture memo from 2003 written solely by Yoo, which is even more adamant in its embrace of unfettered presidential power.

The memos are an abysmal piece of work, but they had great value to the President. Dismissing the Geneva Conventions and other law, they used the veneer of serious legal scholarship (abundant footnotes, many citations, long dense paragraphs) to create an aura of legitimacy for near-death interrogation tactics and unrestrained executive power. The memos had high credibility because they came from the OLC, the legal brain trust for the executive branch and (until then) the gold standard for legal acumen.

The press tends to overlook the lawyers when scandal breaks, focusing instead on their clients. That's understandable, but in public and commercial life no serious move is possible (no corporate maneuver, no new financial instrument, no war, no severe interrogation tactic) without legal approval. Even if the advice proves wrong, the client, if sued or indicted, can claim reliance on counsel.

When lawyers in private practice mess up, they face serious jeopardy. They can be fired, sued for malpractice, disbarred or prosecuted. Yoo and Bybee face no such risks. The President won't protest. He got what he wanted. And while a state disciplinary body can investigate, that is unlikely without Justice Department help.

The Justice Department recognized the incompetence of the torture memorandums when Bybee's successor, Jack Goldsmith, retracted an August 2002 memo that had construed the Convention Against Torture and the federal statute forbidding torture to permit interrogation tactics just shy of homicide. And that memo was actually an improvement on the OLC's earlier work, which, in advising on "the effect of international treaties and federal laws on the treatment" of detainees from Afghanistan, entirely overlooked the torture convention and statute.

In his book The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith, now a Harvard law professor, writes that the torture memos had "o foundation" in any "source of law" and rested on "one-sided legal arguments." They were valuable to the Administration nonetheless, Goldsmith says, because the CIA saw one of them as a "golden shield" against criminal prosecution of agents who had used harsh interrogation techniques.

Well, anyone can make a mistake, right? And don't lawyers disagree all the time? Of course, but that's not the point. The present criticism cites the utter shoddiness of the work. Take another example. Although the OLC memos broadly construed presidential power in foreign affairs, they ignored the Supreme Court's landmark 1952 "steel seizure case," which greatly restricts that power and contradicts the OLC's expansive claims. It would be like advising a client on school desegregation law and ignoring Brown v. Board of Education. Yale law dean Harold Hongju Koh called this omission "a stunning failure of lawyerly craft" and "a stain upon our law and our national reputation."

How could two really smart guys authorize torture using "one-sided legal arguments" that have "o foundation" in law? How could they be guilty of a "stunning failure of lawyerly craft"? The sad answer seems to be that they knew what the President wanted and delivered: torture is OK if you call it something else. Detainees are outside the protection of due process and civilized law. The President's authority is close to absolute. Anyway, no court can review him. (On this last point, the Supreme Court disagreed.)

This incompetence is especially serious because of the conduct it enabled. If a private lawyer gave such a lopsided and wrongheaded analysis to a business client, he'd be history. Lawyers advising private clients about to make important decisions (a "bet the company" kind of decision) meticulously analyze all sides of a question so the clients can assess risk and choose wisely.

The client deserved better, and that raises another issue, the most troubling. Who was the client? The lawyers told the President what he wanted to hear, but the nation was their client, and its sole interest was in thorough and independent legal analysis. Neither the President's political agenda nor the authors' views of what the law should say can be allowed to slant the OLC's work. So maybe the best and brightest lawyers got it so wrong because they forgot whom they served. Maybe they acted politically, not professionally. If so, we are dealing with a perversion of law and legal duty, a betrayal of the client and professional norms, not mere incompetence, which would be bad enough. Whatever the reason, Jarrett should find that this work is not "consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys." Jarrett must hold the lawyers accountable if he means to restore OLC's reputation and vindicate the rule of law.

U.S. Presidential Election Can Be Hacked

U.S. Presidential Election Can Be Hacked

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This year, the U.S. will pick a new president using electronic voting machines that can be hacked, security experts said Thursday at the RSA Conference in San Francisco.


As the November election approaches, the question before officials is not how to fix known bugs in their e-voting systems, but rather, how best to check them for fraud, said David Wagner, an associate professor with the University of California, Berkeley's computer science department.

Wagner was part of the team that audited California's voting systems during the state's review of electronic voting, and the problems his team found affect counties across the U.S. "The three systems we looked at are three of the most widely used around the nation," he said during an e-voting panel discussion at the show. "They're going to be using them in the 2008 elections; they're still going to have the same vulnerabilities we found."

With images of Florida's laborious 2000 presidential recount in their minds, county officials have spent billions over the past eight years on electronic voting systems. These systems are supposed to take the guesswork out of vote-counting. The problem is that they are insecure, and now states are being forced to make do with buggy equipment, panel members agreed. "We have spent billions of dollars on equipment," Wagner said. "We don't have another several billion dollars."

The California audit examined systems from Diebold Elections Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting Systems, ultimately permitting their use in 2008, but only under certain conditions. In testing, Wagner and his team found that they could introduce a computer virus to any of the three systems, which would then spread throughout the county and ultimately skew the vote count.

This year most California voters will use paper ballots, which give officials a way to audit their machine-counted tallies for irregularities, but not all states have that option. About a quarter of the votes cast in the upcoming election will be on electronic voting equipment with no paper trail, Wagner said. And even the states that keep paper records are not necessarily checking their results. Only about a third of all states have records that are regularly audited.

That's too bad, he said, because the ability to check whether your voting system has been hacked is of paramount importance. "Security is not the most important thing," he said. "What's more important for elections is auditability."

Voting system vendors are in much the same position as Microsoft was around 1998 -- on the defensive and closed to most security researchers, Wagner said.

Recently, Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten was threatened with legal action after New Jersey counties asked him to review Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines.

There is so much mistrust between the two communities, it is hard for them to communicate, said Alec Yasinsac, an associate professor at Florida State University. "It's very hard for the academics to approach the vendors," he said. Vendors worry that if they talk to security researchers, it might be tantamount to admitting that they have bugs.

"I think voting system vendors today are where Microsoft was 10 years ago," Wagner said.

Microsoft has since made an about-face and embraced the security research community it once spurned. Many of the company's harshest security critics now work for the software vendor.

Two years ago, Hugh Thompson found a way to doctor election results in the database used by Diebold's GEMS Central Tabulator, but on Thursday he said he would like to help the vendors improve their products and make electronic voting trustworthy. "We're not in it for just ripping them apart," he said. "We want something that's good."

U.S. Air Force Drones Wash Ashore On Ala. Beaches

U.S. Air Force Drones Wash Ashore On Ala. Beaches

Portion Of Beach Closed After Discovery

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Several unmanned military drones with U.S. Air Force markings washed ashore in Alabama and forced the closure of a portion of at least one beach.

Two men on spring break in the area found the first 20-foot-long drone on the shore near Fort Morgan.

An official said the drone was a target that was apparently shot down in the Gulf of Mexico as part of a weapons system evaluation program, WKRG reported.

Beachgoers first thought the drone was a swimmer in distress or a downed aircraft.

"We couldn't tell what it was a first," a beachgoer said. "You could just see little parts of it. A wave would come and then you would see another part."

A guard was posted to protect the drone at the beach.

A second drone was also found Thursday at the end of Cabana Beach, according to the Press Register newspaper.

The second discovery was near the Plantation subdivision.

An official said it was not known exactly when the drones went down but exercises usually occur 40 to 70 miles offshore.

Both had barnacles on them, suggesting they had been in the water for some time, an official said.

The drones did not pose a danger to beachgoers, officials said.

U.S. Army Set to Recruit Ugandan Citizens

U.S. Army Set to Recruit Citizens


By Angelo Izama

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Ugandans who want a career in the United States military, can sign up at the annual convention of the Uganda North American Association, organisers say.

American military recruiters will set up a booth at this year's UNAA convention in Orlando, Florida, and seek out professional Ugandans, said Lt. Frank Musisi, himself an officer in the US Army.

Lt. Musisi, who comes from Kalangala District on Lake Victoria, is the current president of UNAA. He said the US military would also advise Ugandans on the "proper channels" to follow in enlisting. The announcement, which is also on the UNAA website (www.unaa.net), is set to cause a rush to this year's convention that takes place from August 29 to September 1.

UNAA is encouraging interested Ugandans to book flights to Orlando and take a shot at joining the US military. The organisation says it has made a deal with Kenya Airways/KLM for a discounted return ticket at $1,200 (Sh74,400). The conference fee is $190 (Sh11,700).

"All registered Kampala travel agents have been authorised to book intending members," Lt. Musisi said in an email interview.

The tour firm Let's Go Travel confirmed to Saturday Monitor that UNAA had circulated a notice of the discounts. Applicants are being asked to carry their curriculum vitae (CV) suggesting that the recruitment exercise will be a main attraction at the convention.

Public interest in jobs abroad in Uganda is intense. Recruitment and job placement companies which advertise are often flooded with thousands of applications.

Guantanamo trial process unjust: defense attorney

Guantanamo trial process unjust: defense attorney

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The lawyer of a Guantanamo detainee captured by US forces when he was 15 said Friday that the trial process at the US prison was inherently unjust and probably no detainee could be acquitted in a trial.

Attorney William Kuebler, a Navy lieutenant commander, railed against the tactics of government prosecutors and the military commissions for withholding secret evidence not available to the defense, and for their access to virtually unlimited resources as well as to documents pertaining to his clients' cases.

"I don't believe anyone could get an acquittal in Guantanamo Bay," said Kuebler, who has been a particularly outspoken critic of the military commissions.

His comments came after he clashed with government prosecutors over the start date for the trial of Omar Khadr, a Canadian child soldier accused of killing Sergeant Christopher Speer with a hand grenade during a July 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.

The prosecutor, Major Jeff Groharing, argued that Khadr's defense was purposefully delaying the start of the trial with numerous motions and requests for continuances in hopes of perhaps finding a "political solution" to their client's case.

Groharing's remark appeared to be an allusion to the uncertain future of the military court, as leading US Democratic and Republican presidential candidates alike have asserted they would close the detainment camps here if elected.

Some 275 terror suspects are being held at the US Naval base on Cuba's east coast. So far, the military has filed charges against 15 of the detainees and convicted only one, who pleaded guilty.

Defense attorneys for the remaining detainees facing trial have accused the government of trying to rush the proceedings before the end of the Bush administration.

Prosecutors for Khadr meanwhile accused the defense of orchestrating a "superficial delay to the quest for justice," referring particularly to the wife of the soldier allegedly killed by Khadr.

"Tabitha Speer is raising two children without a husband because of the acts of the accused," said Groharing in his appeal before Judge Peter Brownback, an army colonel.

The reference to Speer's family drew sharp objection from Khadr's chief defense lawyer Kuebler, who said that the reference had nothing to do with the future trial schedule.

The defense for Khadr, now 21, also complained to Judge Brownback that the government was taking it upon themselves to determine what classified documents were relevant to the case and accused prosecutors of withholding information they knew would be damning to their case against the detainee.

"They (the prosecution) simply cannot be trusted to determine what is helpful and relevant" to the defense, said Kuebler.

He later told reporters that eyewitness accounts of the firefight in which Speer was killed suggest that the sergeant might have been killed by US soldiers who were allegedly seen throwing grenades in the vicinity of the victim at the time of his fatal wounding.