Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Slow-Mo Meltdown

A Slow-Mo Meltdown

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A year ago, as the outlines of the current financial crisis were just becoming clear, I suggested that this crisis, unlike a superficially similar crisis in 1998, wouldn’t end quickly.

It hasn’t.

The good news, I guess, is that we’ve been experiencing a sort of slow-motion meltdown, lacking in dramatic Black Fridays and such. The gradual way the crisis has unfolded has led to an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate among economists about whether what we’re suffering really deserves to be called a recession.

Yet even a slo-mo crisis can do a lot of damage if it goes on for a year and counting.

Home prices are down about 16 percent over the past year, and show no sign of stabilizing. The pain from this bust is widely spread: there are millions of American families who didn’t buy mortgage-backed securities and haven’t lost their houses, but have nonetheless been impoverished by the destruction of much or all of their home equity.

Meanwhile, the job market has deteriorated even more than you’d guess from the jump in the headline unemployment rate. The broadest measure of unemployment, which takes into account the rapidly rising number of workers forced to take cuts in paid hours and wages, has risen from 8.3 percent to 10.3 percent over the past year, roughly matching its high point five years ago.

And there’s no end to the pain in sight.

Ben Bernanke and his colleagues at the Federal Reserve have cut the interest rates they control repeatedly since last September. But they haven’t managed to reduce borrowing costs for the private sector. Mortgage rates are about the same as they were last summer, and the interest rates many corporations have to pay have actually gone up. So Fed policy hasn’t done anything to encourage private investment.

The problem is fear: private-sector finance has dried up because investors, burned by their losses on securities that were supposed to be safe, are now reluctant to buy anything that isn’t guaranteed by the U.S. government. And the proliferation of special rescue packages — the TAF, the TSLF, the Bear Stearns deal, the Fannie-Freddie thing — may have staved off blind panic, but has fallen far short of restoring confidence.

Oh, and those tax rebates Congress and the White House agreed to mail out have already done whatever good they’re going to do. Looking forward, it’s hard to see how consumers can keep spending even at their current rate — which means that things will probably get considerably worse before they get better.

What more can policy do? The Fed has pretty much used up its ammunition: nobody thinks that additional interest-rate cuts would accomplish much (and there’s a faction at the Fed that wants to raise rates to fight inflation).

And nothing much can or should be done to support home prices, which are still much too high in inflation-adjusted terms. Nor can Washington prevent a continuing credit crunch: overextended, undercapitalized financial institutions have to rein in their lending, and it’s not realistic to expect the public sector to pick up all the slack — especially when quasipublic institutions like Fannie and Freddie are also in trouble.

There is, however, a case for another, more serious fiscal stimulus package, as a way to sustain employment while the markets work off the aftereffects of the housing bubble. The “emergency economic plan” Barack Obama announced last week is a move in the right direction, although I wish it had been bigger and bolder.

Still, Mr. Obama is offering more than John McCain, whose economic policy mainly amounts to “stay the course.”

Incidentally, it’s surprising that the lousy economy hasn’t yet had more impact on the campaign. Mr. McCain essentially proposes continuing the policies of a president whose approval rating on economics is only 20 percent. So why isn’t Mr. Obama further ahead in the polls?

One answer may be that Mr. Obama, perhaps inhibited by his desire to transcend partisanship (and avoid praising the last Democratic president?), has been surprisingly diffident about attacking the Bush economic record. An illustration: if you go to the official Obama Web site and click on the economic issues page, what you see first isn’t a call for change — what you see is a long quote from the candidate extolling the wonders of the free market, which could just as easily have come from a speech by President Bush.

Anyway, back to the economy. I titled that column about the early stages of the financial crisis “Very Scary Things.” A year later, with the crisis still rolling, it’s clear that I was right to be afraid.

Slip-Sliding Away

Slip-Sliding Away

By Charley Reese

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Despite all the blather about democracy, we did not invent it, do not support it and have, during the recent administration, become less democratic than we were before.

We are and always have been too large a country for a true democracy. That's why the Founding Fathers created a republic. In a true democracy, the people would decide practically all the issues. In a republic, the people delegate that power to elected representatives who serve for a fixed term.

A republic is a good form of government provided the people pay attention, fairly judge the performance of their elected officials and boot 'em out of office when they don't cut the mustard. It is a good form of government provided the best people, not the worst, offer themselves to serve in public office.

Our government really does not support democracy, except rhetorically. When the Palestinians had a free and fair election and chose Hamas members to man their government, we refused to recognize the new government. Apparently, the Bush administration's definition of a free election is one that provides the results the president wants.

Most of our "allies" are far from democratic. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are all authoritarian in one form or another. Ironically, Iran does have an elected government, but there again, it's one Bush doesn't like. Poor Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has been elected and re-elected, but still gets called a tyrant by Bush's step-and-fetch-its. China, which is a stern one-party dictatorship, seems to find our favor.

I'd say that if you are a dictator seeking the favor of the United States, you must offer financial incentives, be a supporter of Israel or volunteer for lap-dog status.

If you dare indicate that you are interested in the welfare of your own people and your own nation, you are likely to end up on the president's bathroom list. This basic rule of foreign policy doesn't seem to change regardless of which party occupies the White House.

It also should be noted that people keep insisting that Iran give up weapons it doesn't have while remaining dead silent about the nuclear weapons Israel does have. If our government were truly interested in nuclear nonproliferation, it would support a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East that includes Israel and would not be making deals to increase the nuclear capability of India.

So, the second rule of American foreign policy is that hypocrisy and expedience trump principles.

Internally, we have become decisively less democratic. The present administration has a bad habit of questioning the patriotism and loyalty of people who disagree with it. It spies on everybody without any judicial restraint. It has riddled the government with partisans who are incompetent. It is the most secretive administration in American history. It lies like a drunken fisherman. It puts people in jail and holds them incommunicado without charges. It tortures people. It is contemptuous of the Constitution and especially of the principle of checks and balances.

Congress is too cowardly to do it, but George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are a lot more likely to deserve impeachment than Bill Clinton was. Clinton lied about his private sexual peccadillos, while the Bush administration seems to lie about everything. Clinton lied to prevent a war with Hillary, while the Bush mob lied to get us into a war in Iraq. A big difference, I'd say.

Thomas Jefferson did not believe that one generation had the right to burden another with debt. Our $9 trillion federal debt is a burden on generations too numerous to count. This is almost as serious a civic sin as lying our way into a war.

We seem to be following the familiar path of history where republics slide into empire and eventually a fascist dictatorship. Too bad that freedom, like a good wife, is most appreciated in its absence.

Marching Off Into Tyranny

Marching Off Into Tyranny

By Paul Craig Roberts

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In last weekend’s edition of CounterPunch, Alexander Cockburn updates the ongoing persecution of Sami Al-Arian by federal prosecutors. Al-Arian was a Florida university professor of computer science who was ensnared by the Bush Regime’s need to produce “terrorists” in order to keep Americans fearful and, thereby, amenable to the Bush Regime’s assault on US civil liberties.

The charges against Al-Arian were rejected by a jury, but the Bush Regime could not accept the obvious defeat. If Al-Arian was not a terrorist, then other of the Bush Regime’s fabricated cases might fall apart, too.

In open view, the US Department of Justice (sic) proceeded to trash every known ethical rule of prosecution. I don’t need to repeat the facts, as they are covered by Cockburn’s articles and in The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

Instead, I want to point out another meaning of the Al-Arian case. The Justice (sic) Department itself knows that it is persecuting a totally innocent person for reasons of a political agenda--the need to convince gullible Americans of an ongoing terrorist threat. The existence of this threat is used to justify the Bush Regime’s adoption of police state measures, such as spying on Americans without warrants, arresting them without charges, and refusing to let go of them when they are cleared by juries.

Sami Al-Arian is a fabricated terrorist created by federal prosecutors and judges in behalf of an undeclared agenda. The Al-Arian case proves that terrorists are in short supply and that the Bush Regime has had to create them out of total innocents. The “war on terror” is a hoax used to justify war crimes and the overthrow of America’s civil liberties.

The anthrax scare is one more example of the Bush Regime’s use of disinformation to advance an undeclared political agenda. As Glenn Greenwald reminded us last week in Salon, the Bush Regime used Brian Ross at ABC News to spread the lie far and wide that US government tests proved that the anthrax mailed to various Americans, including prominent US Senators, was made in Iraq by Saddam Hussein. This lie was essential for scaring Congress into passing the Bush Regime’s Gestapo laws, such as the PATRIOT Act, and for overcoming opposition to invading Iraq.
http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/01/anthrax/print.html

When it leaked out that the anthrax actually came from a US government lab, the Bush Regime tried to frame a US scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, but failed. On June 28th, the Los Angeles Times reported that Hatfill, “The former Army scientist who was the prime suspect in the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings agreed Friday to take $5.82 million from the government to settle his claim that the Justice Department and the FBI invaded his privacy and ruined his career.” Indeed, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton allowed Hatfill’s attorneys two years to review all news reports and FBI evidence. Judge Walton stated: “there is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with this.” http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/la-na-anthrax28-2008jun28,0,5742061.story

The anthrax matter was again news last week when another US government scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, “committed suicide.” Instantly, the deceased Ivins was fingered as the culprit. Overnight a man, liked and respected by his colleagues, who had worked on American biological warfare weapons for years, became a deranged homicidal maniac who decided to murder Americans at random in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 by sending them letters containing anthrax.

I don’t believe a word of it. But assume that it is true. Blaming the anthrax letters on Ivins does not resolve the issue of why the Bush Regime lied to Brian Ross and used ABC to put the blame on Saddam Hussein in order to invade an innocent country.

Wouldn’t a government that would lie about something this serious lie about other serious matters?

The Bush Regime stands against against the truth. That is why it pretends to have the power to prevent executive branch officials wanted for questioning by Congress from appearing before the people’s representatives. Nothing could make clearer the contempt that the Bush Regime has for the American people and their elected representatives than its arrogant claim that it is unanswerable to them.

Obviously, neither the President nor the Vice President respect their oaths of office. If they will betray such a serious oath, won’t they lie about everything, even 9/11 itself?

According to the discredited 9/11 Commission Report, a few Muslims hatched a multi-year plot that went undetected by the vast security agencies of the United States and its allies, and within one hour on one morning at four different locations defeated airport security, NORAD, the US Air Force, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the Pentagon’s defenses and crashed three hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center towers and the heart of the US military. Muslims were able to achieve this fantastic feat operating out of caves in Afghanistan.

We now know for a fact that the “terrorist anthrax attack” had nothing whatsoever to do with Muslim terrorists. Even the US Government now blames white American citizens, employees of the federal government, for the anthrax letters that, at the time, were blamed on the “Osama bin Laden al Qaeda plot against America.”

We now know for a fact that this was intentional disinformation planted by the Bush Regime on a gullible and incompetent ABC News reporter, who is a disgrace to journalism. No one denies this.

We also know for a fact that ABC News will not say who planted on ABC the lies that committed the United States to the dishonor of an illegal invasion, war crimes, and executive branch attack on the US Constitution. How can anyone anywhere in the world rely on ABC News when it serves as a disinformation agency for a criminal regime?

One logical conclusion is that the anthrax attack was part of the same false flag operation that pulled off 9/11. The anthrax letters made the “terrorist attack” seem wider and more general. This increased the sense of peril and Americans’ fear and anger, thereby opening wider the door for the Bush Regime’s attack on Iraq and US civil liberty.

Now that the dead Ivins can be conveniently blamed for the anthrax mailings, the Bush Regime can declare the case closed, thus protecting the false flag operation from further risk of exposure.

Many Americans lack the mental and emotional strength to confront the facts. The facts are too unsettling and many are relieved when the “mainstream media” spins the facts away. Many Americans find it too appalling that any part of “their” government, even a rogue operation, could possibly have been involved in any way in the 9/11 or anthrax attacks. No evidence--not even full confessions--could convince them otherwise. Many Americans have welcomed their brainwashing by the neoconservatives: America is pure; her shining virtue causes evil men to attack her; they hate us because we are good and they are evil.

For the sake of argument, let’s accept this make-believe. It does not explain why, in order to protect us from evil men, the US Constitution needs to be dismantled and civil liberties set aside. Our Founding Fathers said that dismantling the Constitution and setting aside civil liberties are precisely what would make us unsafe in the extreme. The Bush Regime has never explained how the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution interfere with any legitimate response to terrorism.

The fact still remains that the Bush Regime responded to 9/11 and anthrax letters with a comprehensive assault on US civil liberty. The Bush Regime’s assault on America has been much more successful than its assault on “terrorism.” Who remembers the promise of a “six weeks war”? Americans have been mired for 6 years in two wars without end which the neoconned Bush Regime, in alliance with Israeli zionists, seeks to expand to Iran, Pakistan, Syria, and Lebanon. The Republican candidate for president has given his commitment to a 100-year “war against terrorism.” Many Americans will vote for this candidate who wants to fight against a hoax for 100 years.

In The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America, Jennifer Van Bergen explains the constitutional and legal principles on which American liberty is based and the Bush Regime’s intense assault on these principles. Part I of her book sets out the Constitutional principles that are under attack. Part II details the systematic attack on the US Constitution that is the heart and soul of the Republican neoconservative Bush Regime--and a Regime it is as it asserts that it is above the law and unanswerable to law, Congress, the federal courts, and the Constitution that it is sworn to uphold

Jennifer Van Bergan likens Bush and his brownshirt supporters to Julius Caesar in motives, though not in courage. She cites the poet Lucan who in his work Pharsalia described Caesar as he flouted the law of the Roman Republic and crossed the Rubicon with his army: “When Caesar crossed and trod beneath his feet the soil of Italy’s forbidden fields, ‘here,’ spake he, ‘peace, here broken laws be left; Farewell to treaties. Fortune, lead me on; War is our judge.’”

Anyone who believes that the Bush Regime’s “war on terror” is about terrorism, oil, getting even with those who attacked us, bringing freedom and democracy to Muslims--whatever rationale makes the gratuitous war crimes committed by the Bush Regime acceptable to gullible Americans--needs to read Jennifer Van Bergan’s Bush Plan for America. Nothing less than American liberty is at stake.

The hour is late. Gullible Americans are being marched off into tyranny as the promised land of safety.

Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is a former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, a 16-year columnist for Business Week, and a columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service and Creator’s Syndicate in Los Angeles. He has held numerous university professorships, including the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by the President of France and the US Treasury’s Silver Medal for “outstanding contributions to the formulation of US economic policy.”

A second, far larger wave of U.S. mortgage defaults is building

A second, far larger wave of U.S. mortgage defaults is building

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The first wave of Americans to default on their home mortgages appears to be cresting, but a second, far larger one is building with alarming speed.

After two years of upward spiraling defaults, the problems with mortgages made to people with weak, or subprime, credit are showing the first, tentative signs of leveling off.

But with the U.S. economy struggling, homeowners with better credit are now falling behind on their payments in growing numbers. The percentage of mortgages in arrears in the category of loans one rung above subprime, so-called alternative-A, or alt-A, mortgages, quadrupled to 12 percent in April from a year earlier. Delinquencies among prime loans, which account for most of the $12 trillion market, doubled to 2.7 percent in that time.

While it is difficult to draw precise parallels among various segments of the mortgage market, the arc of the crisis in subprime loans suggests that the problems in the broader market may not peak for another year or two, analysts said.

Defaults are likely to accelerate because many homeowners' monthly payments are rising rapidly. The higher bills come as home prices continue to decline and banks are tightening their lending standards, making it harder for people to refinance loans or sell their homes. Of particular concern are alt-A loans, many of which were made to people with good credit scores without proof of their income or assets.

Much will depend on the course of the economy, particularly unemployment. A weaker job market would push more homeowners toward the financial brink. The U.S. Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate climbed to a four-year high in July. Other downbeat reports last week documented another drop in home prices, slower economic growth than expected and a huge loss at General Motors.

"Subprime was the tip of the iceberg," said Thomas Atteberry, president of First Pacific Advisors, a investment firm in Los Angeles that trades mortgage securities. "Prime will be far bigger in its impact."

During a conference call with analysts last month, James Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said he expected losses on prime loans at his bank to triple and described the outlook for them as "terrible."

Delinquencies on mortgages tend to peak three to five years after loans are made, said Mark Fleming, the chief economist at First American CoreLogic, a research firm. Not surprisingly, subprime loans from 2005 appear closer to the end than those made in 2007, for which default rates continue to rise steeply.

"We will hit those points in a few years and that will help in many ways," Fleming said, referring to the loans made later in the housing boom. "We just have to survive through this part of the cycle."

Data on securities backed by subprime mortgages show that 8.41 percent of loans from 2005 were delinquent by 90 days or more or in foreclosure in June, up from 8.35 percent in May, according to CreditSights, a research firm with offices in New York and London. By contrast, 16.6 percent of 2007 loans were troubled in June, up from 15.8 percent.

Some of that reflects basic math. Over the years, some loans will be paid off as homeowners sell or refinance, and some will be foreclosed and sold. That reduces the number of loans from those earlier years that could possibly default. Also, since the credit market seized up last year, lenders have become much more conservative and have stopped making most subprime loans and cut back on many other popular mortgages.

The resetting of rates on adjustable mortgages, which was a big fear of many analysts in 2006 and 2007, has become less problematic because the short-term interest rates that many of those loans are tied to have fallen significantly as the Federal Reserve has lowered U.S. rates. The recent U.S. tax rebates and efforts to modify more loans have also helped somewhat, analysts say.

What will sting borrowers more than rising interest rates, analysts say, is having to pay interest and principal every month after spending several years paying only interest or sometimes even less than that. Such loan terms were popular during the boom with alt-A and prime borrowers and made sense while home prices were rising and interest rates were low.

But now, payments could jump 50 percent or more for some borrowers, and they may not be able to sell their properties for as much as they owe.

Prime and alt-A borrowers typically had a five- or seven-year grace period before having to start making payments toward their principal. By contrast, subprime loans had a two- to three-year introductory period. That difference partly explains the lag in delinquencies between the two types of loans, said David Watts, an analyst with CreditSights.

"More delinquencies look like they are on the horizon because so few of them have reset," Watts said about alt-A mortgages.

The wave of foreclosures is still rising in states like California, where more homeowners turned to creative mortgages during the boom. From April to June, mortgage companies filed 121,000 notices of default in California, up nearly 7 percent from the first quarter and more than twice as many as in the second quarter of 2007, according to DataQuick, a real estate data firm. The firm said that the median age of the loans increased to 26 months from 16 months a year earlier.

The mortgage-financing giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which own or guarantee nearly half of all mortgages, are trying to stem that tide. Last week, the companies said that they would pay more to mortgage-servicing companies that they hire to modify delinquent loans and avoid foreclosures.

Delinquencies in prime and alt-A loans are particularly challenging for banks because they hold more such loans on their books than they do subprime mortgages. Downey Financial, which owns a savings bank that operates in California and Arizona, recently reported that 11.2 percent of its loans were delinquent at the end of June, a big increase from the 6.1 percent that were past due at the end of last year.

The bank's troubles stem from its $6.2 billion portfolio of so-called option adjustable rate mortgages, which allow borrowers to pay less than the interest owed on their mortgage in the early years.

The unpaid interest is added to the principal due on the loan, so over time borrowers can owe more than when they first got the loan. Eventually, when loans grow by 10 percent or 15 percent, the borrowers are required to start paying both the interest and principal due.

Many borrowers who got these loans during the boom had good credit scores, but many of them owe more than their homes are worth. Analysts said they believed that many would not be able to or want to make higher payments.

"The wave on the prime side has lagged the wave on subprime side," said Rod Dubitsky, head of asset-backed research at Credit Suisse. Resetting the option adjustable rate mortgage loans "is a big event that will drive the timing of delinquencies."

Hundreds of banks will fail, Roubini tells Barron's

Hundreds of banks will fail, Roubini tells Barron's

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The United States is in the second inning of a recession that will last for at least 18 months and help kill off hundreds of banks, influential economist and New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini told Barron's in Sunday's edition.

Taxpayers will pay a big price for helping bail out the rest of the financial services industry as well, Roubini said -- at least $1 trillion and more likely $2 trillion.

The banks will become insolvent because of mounting losses as a result of the housing bust and because they have only written down their subprime loans so far, he said. Still in front of them are their consumer-credit losses, for which they lack the reserves, Barron's reported.

He also said there are hundreds of millions of dollars outstanding in home-equity loans that could be worth zero, too.

U.S. consumers, meanwhile, are "shopped out" and saving less, while the Federal Reserve's performance in handling the crisis has been poor, Roubini said, because it failed to see that the problem extended beyond subprime mortgage debt.

Now, Roubini told Barron's, the government is overregulating, bailing out troubled participants and intervening in every market.

"The regulators should investigate themselves for bailing out Fannie Mae (FNM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Freddie Mac (FRE.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), the creditors of Bear Stearns and the financial system with new lending facilities. They have swapped U.S. Treasury bonds for toxic securities," he told Barron's. "It is privatizing the gains and profits, and socializing the losses as usual. This is socialism for Wall Street and the rich."

He said that sometimes it is necessary to use public money to rescue institutions, but in a way that does not bail out the people who made the mistakes. "In each one of these episodes, the government bailed out the shareholders, the bondholders, and to some degree, management," Roubini told Barron's.

As for the banks that will go bankrupt, they will include community banks that finance homes, stores, downtown areas, commercial real estate and other mainstays of U.S. towns and cities, Roubini said.

"Of three dozen or so medium-sized regional banks, a good third are in distress," he told Barron's, saying half of the group could go bankrupt. Some big banks could wind up insolvent, he added, but said they might be deemed too big to fail.

Nouriel stressed that he is "quite bullish" about the state of the global economy and that he is positive about the medium and long term.

Home Truths You'll Never Read in the Press

Home Truths You'll Never Read in the Press

Who's Really Running Iraq?

By PATRICK COCKBURN

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American politicians and journalists have repeatedly made the same mistake in Iraq over the past five years. This is to assume that the US is far more in control of events in the country than has ever truly been the case. This was true after the fall of Saddam Hussein when President Bush and his viceroy in Baghdad Paul Bremer believed that what Iraqis thought and did could safely be ignored. Within months guerrilla war against American forces was raging across central Iraq.

The ability of America to make unilateral decisions in Iraq is diminishing by the month, but the White House was still horrified to hear the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki appearing to endorse Barack Obama's plan for the withdrawal of American combat troops over 16 months. This cut the ground from under the feet of John McCain who has repeatedly declared that 'victory' is at last within America's grasp because of the great achievements of 'the Surge', the American reinforcements sent to Iraq in 2007 to regain control of Baghdad.

The success of 'the Surge' is becoming almost received wisdom in the US. This is strange since, if the US strategy did win such an important victory, why do America generals need more soldiers, currently 147,000 of them, in Iraq than they did before 'the Surge' started? But belief in this so-called victory is in keeping with the American tradition of seeing everything that happens in Iraq as being the result of actions by the US alone. The complex political landscape of Iraq is ignored. US commentators have never quite taken on board that there are not one but three wars being fought out in the country since 2003: the first is the war of resistance against the American occupation by insurgents from the Sunni Arab community. The second is the battle between the Sunni and Shia communities as to who should rule the Iraqi state in succession to Saddam Hussein. The third conflict is a proxy war between the US and Iran to decide who should be the predominant foreign power in Iraq. The real, though exaggerated, fall in violence in Iraq over the last year is a consequence of developments in all three of these wars, but they do not necessarily have much to do with 'the Surge'.

The reduction in violence is in any case only in comparison to the bloodbath of 2005-7 when Baghdad and central Iraq was ravaged by a sectarian civil war. There were 554 Iraqis killed in the fighting in June 2008, which is only a third of the figure for the same month a year earlier. This is progress, but it still makes Baghdad the most dangerous city in the world. Asked on television about the security situation, Iraqis often respond that 'things are getting better' and so they undoubtedly are, but people usually mean that things are better than the terror of two years ago. Foreign television correspondents laud the improved security in the Iraqi capital and are pictured apparently strolling down a peaceful and busy street. What the television viewer does not see are the armed guards standing behind the cameraman, without whom the correspondents would not dare set foot outside their heavily guarded offices.

I do drive around Baghdad without armed guards and have always done so. But I sit in the back of a car with an Arabic newspaper and a jacket or shirt on a hanger masking the window next to me. I have a second car behind me in contact with us by field radios to make sure that we are not being followed. It is true that security is better, but this can be overstated. Each district iin Baghdad is sealed off by concrete walls. There are checkpoints every few hundred yards. Sunni and Shia do not visit each other areas unless they have to. The best barometer for the real state of security in Baghdad is the attitude of Iraqi refugees, particularly the 2.4 million people who fled to Jordan and Syria. Though often living in miserable conditions and with their money running out, the refugees are generally not coming home to Iraq and, when they do, they seldom return to houses from which they have been forced to flee. If they do try to do so the results are often fatal. Baghdad has few mixed areas left and today is 75-80 per cent a Shia city. The demographic balance in the capital has shifted against the Sunni and this is unlikely to change. The battle for Baghdad was won by the Shia and was ending even before 'the Surge' began in February 2007.

It was the outcome of the struggle for the capital that caused a large part of the anti-American resistance to make a dramatic change of sides, switching suddenly from fighting to supporting US troops. The attempt by al-Qa'ida in Iraq to take over the whole of the anti-occupation resistance in late 2006 was important in forcing other insurgent groups to ally themselves with the US as al-Sahwa or the Awakening movement. But perhaps a more important reason for the rise of al-Sahwa was that there was no point in the Sunni insurgents attacking the Americans if they were being driven from Iraq by the Shia. There are now some 90,000 former Sunni resistance fighters on the American payroll, but they happily express open hatred and contempt for the Iraqi government. Sectarian divisions in the country remain very deep. In the Fallujah area, for instance, it is very dangerous for either the Sunni chief of police or the al-Sahwa commander (they are brothers) to enter Baghdad. This is because Abu Ghraib at the entrance to the city is controlled by the much-feared and heavily-Shia al-Muthana Brigade, who might kill either of them on sight.

Another reason why violence has fallen in Iraq over the last eighteen months has little to do with 'the Surge', but is the consequence of the Shia militiamen of the Mehdi Army being stood down by its leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The one constant theme in his strategy, ever since he fought the US Marines in Najaf in 2004, has been to avoid direct military conflict with the US armed forces or his Shia rivals when backed by US firepower. This was true at the start of 'the Surge' in February 2007 and Muqtada has sought truces and ceasefires ever since. He did so after fighting with the Iraqi police in Kerbala in August 2007 and he renewed the truce six months later. In March this year the Iraqi army launched a military offensive to take Basra from the Mehdi Army, an attack which at first failed to make headway until backed by US airpower. But in Basra and later in Sadr City in Baghdad, Muqtada agreed to ceasefires which allowed his former bastions to be taken over by the Iraqi army. Muqtada did not fight because he knew his men must lose at the end of the day. For a military confrontation with the Iraqi army and the US he would need the support of Iran and this was not forthcoming.

McCain and other American politicians who believe that 'the Surge' has brought them close to victory, seldom understand the role Iran has played in Iraq in the last two years. Paradoxically, Iran and the US together are the two main supporters of the present Iraqi government. For Iran, Nouri al-Maliki in power in Baghdad leading a coalition of Shia religious parties allied to the Kurds is as good as it is going to get. The Iranians may vie with the US for influence over this government, but both want it to stay in power. "People fail to realise that the success of 'the Surge' was the result of a tacit agreement between the US and Iran," one Iraqi leader told me. "There really is an Iranian-American condominium ruling Iraq these days," said another.

Suppose McCain is elected US president in November and acts as if the US is the only decision maker in Iraq then he will face a renewed war. Iraqis will not accept the occupation continuing indefinitely and Iran will not allow itself to be marginalized. If McCain were to try to win a military victory in Iraq he could find the supposed achievements of 'the Surge' rapidly evaporating.

Patrick Cockburn is the Ihe author of "Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq." A version of this piece appeared in The National (http://www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Home Truths You'll Never Read in the PressDid McCain's foreign-policy advisor profit from the Iraq war?

Did McCain's foreign-policy advisor profit from the Iraq war?

In a confidential memo, a company tells investors consultant Randy Scheunemann can help it win Iraqi oil contracts -- because he was a "key player" in getting the U.S. to invade.

By Mark Benjamin

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Aug. 01, 2008 | As recently as last year, John McCain's senior foreign-policy and national security advisor, a neoconservative who played a leading role in pushing for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, was trying to use his role in promoting the Iraq war to make money off Iraqi oil. In a confidential memo, a company called World Strategic Energy, for which top McCain aide Randy Scheunemann was an executive consultant, told prospective investors that Scheunemann could help World Strategic Energy win oil contracts in Iraq because he was well-connected in the Iraqi exile community and had been a "key player" in getting the U.S. involved in Iraq. The memo was first published by blogger and Salon contributor Lindsay Beyerstein, who wrote that the 44-page brochure-style "placement memorandum" was being circulated to potential investors as late as 2007.

Scheunemann was pushing for the use of U.S. military force in Iraq a decade ago. He was a director of the Project for the New American Century, the neoconservative group that sent a public letter to President Clinton in 1998 urging him to remove Saddam Hussein from power. In 1998, while working for Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, he helped author a bill that gave close to $100 million to the Iraqi National Congress, the anti-Hussein exile group run by Ahmad Chalabi. The World Strategic Energy document memo includes a photo of Scheunemann with Chalabi. After working on McCain's failed presidential bid in 2000, Scheunemann went on to become the head of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a non-government organization with close ties to the Bush administration that was formed in 2002 and dedicated to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. "Randy Scheunemann was a key player in the U.S. involvement in the Iraq war," says the memo. "[H]e coordinated the White House's 'Outside the Government' public relations campaign on Iraq while administering relationships with key Iraqi leaders in exile." The brochure says that thanks to Scheunemann, "some of the team's strongest relationships are in Iraq."

Scheunemann is McCain's point man in articulating and defending the senator's Iraq policy. McCain was also a major advocate of the original invasion. The Worldwide document seems to portray Scheunemann as attempting to profit off the war. It is unclear how much, if any, money Scheunemann made from Worldwide.

The brochure lists the company's president as Stephen Payne, who also appears in the photo alongside Chalabi. Payne recently stepped down from a U.S. government advisory role after a report in the Sunday Times of London showed that Payne, also a lobbyist, had offered a foreign official meetings with top Bush administration officials in exchange for a $250,000 donation to Bush's presidential library. The paper reported that Payne had also boasted to a foreign official that Scheunemann had been "working for me on my payroll for five of the last eight years."

The McCain campaign did not return e-mails seeking comment on the document. Payne also did not return a similar call.




The Ticking Iraqi Clock

The Ticking Iraqi Clock

By John Bruhns

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As an Iraq veteran it's very hard for me to grip the strong possibility that the troop surge in Iraq was all for naught. So recently I have been focusing on the successes of the surge in Iraq without political or ideological blinders. I recently wrote a piece to touch on a different angle than my usual argument that the war is unjustified and illegal in the eyes of millions of Americans and the world community. However, this was all based on a hypothetical scenario that we actually had a compelling reason to invade and occupy Iraq in the first place.

This underscores the genesis of this disaster when we forgot about Osama bin Laden and refocused the war on terror to Saddam Hussein who didn't have WMDs, did not want war with us, and posed no threat to the United States. So while recognizing the success that the surge had from tactical military standpoint, I remain strongly opposed to the war.

I will never dismiss the falsehoods of why we went to Iraq as a moot point. Too many people have suffered and died for the sane and rational to have the cavalier opinion of "to hell with it, forget why we are there, we just need to win."

I'll leave that to the people who will forever buy the Bush mantra hook, line, and sinker. They can't be reached and luckily they are in the lowest of the minority. Their main argument: we have to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. Really? Or is that just a way to legitimize sending another soldier or Marine back to Iraq for his fourth or fifth deployment? As if the Iraqi insurgents could possibly come "over here" in the masses to invade America -- give me a break. We are fighting the Iraqis "over there" because we are in Iraq -- plain and simple.

It's crucial for us all understand the Iraqi insurgency has been disguised by the Bush Administration as AQI -- Al Qaeda in Iraq . Catchy name isn't it -- and oh what a convenient excuse to keep the war going. Let's justify the last 5+ years of death and destruction by lumping the violent reaction of the Iraqi people to an occupation of their land into the same category as those who orchestrated and carried out 9/11.

This very same crowd living in a "fools paradise" continuously attempt to latch onto some illusion that this tragic episode of American/Iraqi history was a colossal failure that falls on the back of the U.S. intelligence agencies. Come on, Bush was going in regardless of what the CIA told him.

Now the latest propaganda being formulated by those in a perpetual state of denial is that the Bush Administration initiated this war and occupation as philanthropists for the Iraqi people. Explain that philanthropy to the 4.5 million Iraqi refugees, the families of the uncountable number of dead Iraqi civilians, and the U.S. troops who had to bear witness to it and died in the process.

The same Iraqi government elected by its people who President Bush proclaims such compassion for are asking us to set a timeline to leave. Why is the blatantly obvious impossible for the average warmonger to grasp? The reality is that their numbskulls deny them humility to admit it.

I'm well aware that this sounds irresponsible. But if the Iraqis want to do it "John Wayne" style from here on out -- why should we interfere? After all, according to the Iraqi government they are a free and sovereign nation capable of standing on their own. Sound familiar?

We have tried so many military strategies in Iraq in an effort to clean up President Bush's mess. The only road we haven't explored is the road home. Just something to think about.

Health Insurance Industry is Making Record Profits While Patients Struggle

Taking on the Health Insurance Industry, One State at a Time

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Editor's Note: The following is a press release from Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

With a series of events in states across the country, SEIU will call attention to health care insurance industry tactics that do more to ensure profits than insure patients.

On Tuesday, August 5, SEIU members and other health care consumers will hold events targeting the insurance industry in Iowa, New Hampshire and Oregon. Participants will distribute information to the media, provide first-hand accounts, and demand answers from the companies. In the coming weeks, additional events will be held in Colorado, Rhode Island, Washington, Missouri and other states. Details on Tuesday’s events can be found below.

“Big oil isn’t the only industry making record profits while consumers struggle to keep up with rising prices,” said SEIU President Andy Stern. “Insurance companies are charging more, covering less, and getting rich in the process. And it’s the American people who are paying the price.”

According to a new report examining financial trends in the insurance industry, the combined profits of the nation’s largest insurance companies and their subsidiaries increased by over 170 percent between 2003 and 2007. The report, which is available in full at www.nwfco.org, adds to already compelling evidence that the insurance industry is using deliberate tactics designed to maximize profits by raising premiums, co-pays and deductibles; refusing coverage or charging exorbitant rates to people with pre-existing conditions; and even retroactively denying coverage to people with insurance. Here are the facts:

  • Costs are UP: Insurance premiums rose over four times as fast as wages between 2000 and 2006. (Kaiser Family Foundation)
  • Quality is DOWN: A Consumer Reports survey indicated that nationwide, 29 percent of adults with insurance had “coverage so meager they often postponed medical care because of costs.” (Consumerreports.org)
  • Industry Profits are through the roof: Between 2003 and 2007, the profits of the nation’s largest insurers rose 170.2 percent, to $12.6 billion. (www.nwfco.org)

Calling attention to insurance industry practices that hurt consumers is an integral part of SEIU’s sweeping election-year campaign to win health care for every man, woman, and child in America. Across the country, SEIU is mobilizing voters to elect a pro-health care President and Congress – and taking on the enemies of health care. The campaign also includes

  • Paid advertising in targeted markets that draws sharp distinctions between the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees’ approach to health care, and what those differences will mean to working families.
  • An aggressive voter contact campaign – targeting competitive races in seven states – that is using mail, phone calls, and paid and earned media to help elect a health care majority in Congress and to send a clear message to lawmakers that health care must be their number one priority in 2009.
  • An intense earned media presence to highlight John McCain’s bad record on health care, particularly his policy proposals that would make it harder for average Americans to get quality, affordable health care coverage.
  • A nationwide bus tour – The Road to American Health Care – that is traveling through battleground states on its way to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, stopping in communities small and large to highlight real people who are struggling to afford health care
  • The collection of thousands of health care stories, giving voice to the millions of people with and without coverage who are finding it impossible to keep up with rising health care costs.

Last month, SEIU and its allies in HCAN (Health Care for American Now) held a massive demonstration outside of the launch of the insurance industry’s sham health care “listening tour.” Along with the upcoming events beginning Tuesday, SEIU will have helped stage more than a dozen actions nationwide to highlight insurance industry tactics that prioritize profits over people.

DETAILS ON TUESDAY’S EVENTS FOLLOW:

Des Moines, Iowa
Nolan Plaza
12:00 p.m. CT

Manchester, New Hampshire
City Hall Plaza
10:00 a.m. ET

Salem, Oregon
State Capitol press conference room
10:30 a.m. PT

With 2 million members in Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in the Americas. Focused on uniting workers in healthcare, public services and property services, SEIU members are winning better wages, healthcare, and more secure jobs for our communities, while uniting their strength with their counterparts around the world to help ensure that workers, not just corporations and CEOs, benefit from today's global economy.

Bottled Water's Shocking Impacts and the Growing Opposition

Bottled Water's Shocking Impacts and the Growing Opposition

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Editor's Note: We've been following the rising grassroots movement against the bottled water industry. And it looks like the hard work is paying off. According to one group working on the issue, "In May, Nestle reported that its bottled water profits had dropped, acknowledging 'criticism of bottled water' as a factor in decreased sales. According to Beverage Marketing Corporation, last year the U.S. bottled water industry experienced its slowest annual revenue growth in more than 15 years." Below you'll find two stories that show what's going on in the fight against bottled water.

Tap Has 1/100 the Impact of Bottled Water by Graham Hill, Huffington Post

We have forgotten about our closest source of water at home -- the tap. Yet one of the simplest ways to reduce our environmental impact, to save money (not a ton...yet!) and to free ourselves from shopping and storage hassle, is by saying goodbye to bottled water. A life cycle assessment commissioned by the Swiss Gas and Water Association traced the entire life cycle from water extraction to serving it up in a glass.

Their findings showed that tap water has less than one percent of the impacts of un-refrigerated bottled water. Even when the tap water is refrigerated its impact is only one quarter of that of bottled water. These astonishing figures show that tap water is hands-down the greenest and most responsible choice.

The biggest impacts for bottled water come from the refrigeration, packaging and transport. Refrigeration also substantially increased the impacts of the tap water scenarios thanks to the energy consumed to power the fridge. Returnable bottles and jugs had lesser overall impacts when the distances for their transport were short. But as the distances increase, the higher weight glass bottles resulted in an "on the whole" higher environmental impact as compared to the PET bottles.

This reminds us that transportation plays a big role in the impacts of bottled water, more so than even packaging in this case. The origin of the water causes the biggest impact and so the distance between the bottling site and you must be as short as possible to reduce impacts -- this is a pretty hard factor to control as a consumer. Hear that Fiji? When that distance is short, then returnable bottles become a viable alternative. As the distance gets bigger, the returnables cause more impact because of their higher weight.

Packaging (something tap water has none of) is also a problem when you look at the environmental impacts of bottled water. The Earth Policy Institute tells us that 17 million barrels of oil are used annually to meet American demand for bottled water. That's enough to fuel more than 1 million U.S. cars per year. Almost 2.7 million tons of plastic are used worldwide to bottle water each year while 90% of those end up in landfills. And to think that for the most part, we don't even need bottled water at all.

That's an enormous amount of waste for water that has no real added health benefits. If you do choose to hydrate yourself via the bottled stuff you will be causing almost 100 times more impact than if you fill your cup from the tap. Not all tap water tastes the same, but the truth is that tap water is actually more strictly controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency than bottled water is by the Food and Drug Administration. If you really can't stand the tap try a filtered jug at home or a filter for your faucet.

Convinced yet?

Here's the second piece.

Attorney General Slams Nestle's Bottled Water Aspirations by Tara Lohan, AlterNet

As many of you already know, we've been covering the situation in McCloud, California where food and beverage giant Nestle is trying to build a massive water bottling plant there -- much to the dismay of the majority of local residents.

Now Nestle has got even more opposition.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. warned Nestle that "California will challenge the environmental plan for a bottled water plant in Siskiyou county if the company does not revise its contract to pump water from the McCloud River."

Here's what a statement from the AG's office said:

"It takes massive quantities of oil to produce plastic water bottles and to ship them in diesel trucks across the United States," Attorney General Brown said. "Nestle will face swift legal challenge if it does not fully evaluate the environmental impact of diverting millions of gallons of spring water from the McCloud River into billions of plastic water bottles," Brown added.

Although Nestle publicly offered to reduce its annual water take to 195 million gallons of spring water per year -- enough to fill 3.1 billion 8-ounce plastic bottles -- the company has not yet agreed to change the terms of its contract with the McCloud Community Service District. The current fifty-year contract permits the company to draw 520 million gallons of spring water each year and also to pump unlimited amounts groundwater.

...Brown also said the environmental analysis fails to consider the global warming impacts of producing and transporting millions of gallons of water including: greenhouse gases from producing the plastic bottles; electrical demand for the project; and the diesel soot and greenhouse gas emissions from truck trips.

Attorney General Brown has asked the County of Siskiyou to revise its environmental impact report and circulate a new draft of the environmental impact report.

This is just the latest in a round of setbacks for Nestle, which announced recently that it would scale down the size of the plant.

The pressure groups who have been fighting Nestle on the issue had many accolades for the AG, as expected.

One of the main groups involved in the issue, Food and Water Watch, applauded Brown's announcement and added, "In the worst cases, Nestle's water grab ruins streams, ponds, wells and aquifers. And in all cases, Nestle's practices raise serious questions about who should be allowed to control water, our most essential resource, and to what end. Will corporations like Nestle or the communities that rely upon this most essential resource for their health, livelihood and well-being control water resources?"

Stay tuned as we continue to cover McCloud's fight against Nestle.

Bush Dirty Diapers!

Bush Dirty Diapers!

By Karl Schwarz

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As the bad news unfolds in the Caspian Basin that the US is being 'shut out' of its delusional Grand Chessboard scheme, there are other forest fires, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting in the US and UK that may well spell the doom of BushCo and the Imbecile Great Decider at the helm. He is now expendable and vulnerable to both impeachment and possible war crimes charges. Pay attention to how expendable 'Gorgon' Brown suddenly has become. Bush is next as should be most of those in DC.

The Russians are often brilliant strategists, and never, even for a moment underestimate, them.

Some time around 2000, there was an "investment club" created. It was somewhere around $20 to $22 billion dollars and was promoted by a lot of high profile names mentioned often in this 9-11 / Caspian Basin fiasco, and some not mentioned at all. Names like George H W Bush, Tricky Dick Cheney, Nicholas Brady, John Sununu and others. All of their names surfaced in our investigation of what was going on in the Caspian Basin. They had all purchased front row seats to get at those trillions, and trillions and trillions of dollars in Caspian oil and gas.

Of course, that is the same John Sununu that had to resign from the Reagan Administration. Not sure what the connection was but the day he resigned Pan Am filed for bankruptcy. They must have seen trouble coming in losing their 'best customer.' Then there is the same Nicholas Brady of the GHWB Administration, the Brady Bonds fiasco and board member of Amerada Hess. The 9-11 Commission Chairman, Thomas Keane, is chairman of Amerada Hess and major shareholder, so, yes, he probably would have ignored the 'truth' for a board member involved in this Caspian Basin Investment Club.

There is a very real possibility that this 'investment club' was involved in getting 9-11 done, and it is also a possibility that they are about take a major hit due to Junior losing the Caspian Basin. I frankly hope they take a mega-billion dollar red ink shower and lose it all.

I hope they enjoy their front row seat for the aria, as the Fat Lady begins to sing, and that they lose those billions of still more stupidity of what they thought they could pull off and rip-off via the Caspian Basin.

The days of oil are numbered except for petrochemicals, the days of natural gas run as long as the Earth produces natural gas as a natural process of our planet. It is very apparent that Russia has now emerged as the dominant global giant in natural gas. What they control and how they will use that if pushed the wrong way could cause a meltdown in many parts of the world. The EU is paying attention and it is past time the US did, too.

The day is coming fast that automobiles will be powered by hydrogen and water, not oil and gasoline. I cannot foresee a time in the future that natural gas will NOT be the KEY energy issue, and Russia has already won that war, hands down. If this were a hockey game it would be Russia 50, US 0. If it were a basketball game it would be Russia 100, US 0. If it were a tennis match it would be Russia 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.

We lost, that's the proverbial bottom line. Game, set and match. It is over. Finis.

The next generation of and for mankind is nanotechnology, and it will be powered by natural gas, not oil. My company scientists are experts in that matter. Russia has just taken the lead on the NOW and the FUTURE, and has left the US behind, wallowing in its Oil-on-the-Brain mindset.

My sources in Houston inform that Big Oil is realizing fast that the BushCo brain-damaged fraud of its 'Global War on Terror' has blown up in its face like a nuclear bomb. To that extent, Big Oil is no longer heeding Daddy Bush's calls to go help Junior with his dirty diapers.

Why it took them so long to recognize 'catastrophe' is incredible. Maybe it is due to their blinding, delusional blizzard of '$$$' they were dreaming of making from the Caspian Basin, like sugar plums dancing in their heads. Maybe it is because the wealthy can afford to not pay attention to the realities right in front of their noses. I have suspected for a long time that many of the Wealthy Elite in the US are running on either 'lobotomy mode' or autopilot in 'stuck-on-stupid' gear.

There is indeed a 'core group' of Big Oil tycoons in Texas who have been called upon over the years to provide 'opportunities' for Junior, so the moron will have something to do other than be 'unemployed.' They have always received '911 emergency' phone calls from Daddy that dirty diaper duty is a must. One of those major Houston 'players' and I have spoken often. My friend is astounded at the lack of perception of the Houston andWashington power players and how it took them so long to figure out what 'stupid' looks like.

As he said to me once, "Hey, I know stupid shit when I see it." He does, indeed, and his comment was about Junior's cabal's likelihood of success stealing the Caspian Basin. That comment was made in 2002.

Such a call to duty is even a requirement of not being put on the 'Bush Shit List.' Frankly, I think it's about the Best list in the world to be on these days. I have been thrown out of better clubs than BushCo and damned proud that 'smudge' is not on my resume.

This diaper is so dirty, so putrid, people have decided they have better things to do with their time and money. They invested heavily in this Grand Chessboard scheme and now it is every man for himself to see how much they can limit the damage and control their losses. My bet is there are not enough lifejackets on the USS Bush Titanic for all to survive and some have reached that pregnant "moment of truth' stage. Cut the losses with BushCo or sink with them.

The Great Decider Bush and Daddy Bush are probably already making plans to push more than a few overboard from the USS Bush Titanic just to save their pathetic Presidential 'legacies.' They have already made a 'Bush Shit List' and it grows daily due to people turning and walking away in disgust.

There are three American Presidential legacies that should be stricken from every book, every building and aircraft carrier and every other place of 'honor'...and they are those of George H W Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush. We could not combine the best from these three deceitful, traitorous, treasonous, genocidal morons and come up with a single decent American President.

America, face up to this simple reality: The Bush Family has raped, ravaged and thrown you into the trash heap. They screw up everything they touch with their lie-based schemes, and their treasonous sales of our best technology to our enemies and 'friends' has tossed away decades of the best R&D any nation ever achieved. Get over the reality of the matter and figure out how you are going to survive the Sinking of America. If you do not have a lifejacket, you had better find one...and fast.

There is a very real possibility that major oil companies and major billionaire Bush Buddies are about to take a bath to the point that even the money and power landscape of America will change significantly. Yeah, some of the Wealthy Elite are way, way past angry and fed-up with the Bush Show. They are going to get hosed by this stupid strategic plan and so is the rest of America. We may soon see some down on their luck billionaires due to collective Bush Stupidity.

It is one thing to 'crap' on the presidency and the Oval Office as Clinton did, but it is quite another matter to decimate/annihilate Iraq and Afghanistan (and slaughter a couple million human beings), and to dump on Russia and China, bungle the entire Caspian Basin scheme, stab America in the back and essentially blow the entire game in spades. Only George W Bush could pull of that hat trick. Even if we had Mr. MaGoo and Elmer Fudd as president and vice president, more accomplishments would have been realized since the 2000 'elections.'

These two morons, Bush & Cheney - and their Zionist NeoCon parasites and pathological killers - are a hideous, evil plague on the planet by ANY measure. Remember, I am a Conservative Republican and I know what of I speak.

In my opinion, Bush has blown more opportunities than any President in my lifetime due to his arrogance and self-inflicted ignorance.

I told one of my readers that what is happening right now is the equivalent of being hit in the head with a (Russian) Nolan Ryan fastball, and then the umpire takes the bat and hits the batter in the head again for being too stupid to see it coming and too stupid to duck. The analogy is simply that BushCo has been knocked out, lights out, and Americans are beyond stupid if they do not wake up and look at the realities of the situation.

I know many Americans who feel that way (hit in the head by a fastball) and are stunned at what they are witnessing. This is indeed a Major National Embarrassment and it is the folks in DC, the Fed, Wall Street and corporate America who are to blame. Stay focused on that. It is not your idiot next door neighbor who thinks Bush is "hot" or the one across the street who thinks the only 'truth' in America drivels from the mouths of O'Reilly and Limbaugh. The real problem is in Washington, DC and the lunatic policies these power-drunk morons keep pushing.

They all are lying to you, folks, so get it straight in your head. Those 'leaders' in Washington, DC are LIARS. When their lips are moving be very wary, be afraid of what they are *really* saying. Very afraid.

These events also raise serious questions about the sanity of the Barky Obama Black Bush strategery of 'refocusing' on Afghanistan (to try to get that pipeline deal finally done.) I can think of no reason whatsoever to spend even one second or $1 to save the reputation of Zbigniew Brzezinski and his lunatic vision for the world. The man is an idiot and Russia just proved it by pushing the US out of the Caspian Basin in one fell swoop with a contract and a pen. Seriously, his idea was dim and dumb in 1979 and it is still so in 2008. As we now know, it is dead meat lying at the bottom of the sea. Get over it and come up with a better plan.

And for the love of God, we must not allow the squander of the life of even one more American soldier on this Grand Lie.

I can bet there are plenty of 'CYA' handwringing strategy sessions going on over at Obamanation HQ and BushCo about how they are going to try to explain away this colossal failure to America. I still have yet to see that McCain has a clue as to what is unraveling right before his eyes.

Seriously, there is FUBAR, and then there is "W FUBAR" which makes the original military term mild in comparison.

Russia just made it clear to McCain: "We can afford to cut off relations with any of our partners if that's what they want. We're not interested in what [John] McCain has to say. Let him become president first, then we'll listen to him," a senior Russian diplomat told reporters on Tuesday, according to AFP.

That was in response to all of the John McGoo 'tough talk' about how he is going to reign in Russia, 'correct their attitude' and get the BushCo plan back on track.

Hint - cut a deal with IRAN or pack your bags in the entire Centcom area of the Middle East and Central Asia. You Bush sycophants are stinking up the world stage with your incompetence.

Another dynamic is the call for 'Gorgon' Brown to resign. Just like Tony Blair, his oratory, bullshit and pontificating is just making the hole deeper. Of concern there is that the Rothschild family is apparently pushing either Zionist Jack Straw or Zionist David Miliband to replace Brown so they can try to get their greed-lust game plan back on the track. Folks, it is not happening and it is not going to happen.

The Zionist Rothschild family is going to have to come to grips with the fact that they are not going to survive this completely intact. One of their heirs and author of "Global Warming Survival Handbook", David de Rothschild, was quoted saying that 'Jupiter and Saturn are closer to the Sun than Earth', so that is why his theory of Global Warming was valid. Yeah, well, money can't buy a brain.

I know, Forrest, stupid is as stupid does. Nothing is quite so revealing as inbreeding.

Well, the train wreck is total and getting it back on the rails might well take a generation. They just don't want Americans to figure that out yet and rise up and cast out their handpicked morons from power in the United States. That would be their worst nightmare come true...an awakened America that will not play along any more with these stupid schemes.

America, take a hint. Learn the joy of saying NO. We can stop this insanity so fast Washington, DC would need a chiropractor due to whiplash.

In a non-tearjerker moment, Ehud Olmert announced July 30 that he is stepping down...so there will be regime change in Israel, too. That one is more problematic because Olmert was pushing for peace with the Palestinians and the powers-that-be do not wish for that to happen. They want war, so the Musical 'War' Chairs game is now being played out in the US, UK and Tel Aviv to get the War Plan back on track.

Bush wants a 'peace deal' by the end of his term between Israel and the Palestinians. Well, as of Olmert's announcement that is not happening either.

This is yet another example of 'brain flatulence' that will backfire in their faces because Iran will not budge and neither China nor Russia are going to let anyone control their economies. Russia could cut the natural gas and oil off to EU and put the entire EU economy on its knees in a matter of hours...just turn off a few master valves, and the party's over. Talk about NUKE capability and there's not a damned thing the bogus Bush Missile Shield can do about that.

Russia is now more powerful than ever, and so is China. They (theUS, UK and Israel) seem to be forgetting that in the grand scheme they have created the perfect storm that can end their rule. They forgot that they are no longer in charge and in no position to dictate terms to any nation, especially to China or Russia.

Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have proven to be chess masters of the first order and our Imbecile Great Decider can't even play a game of checkers without lying, cheating or screwing it up.

Hello, they cannot handle Afghanistan or Iraq. Any American who thinks they can handle China or Russia does not have enough brain cells firing at the same time to find a light switch. They also cannot handle America if we all stand up in unison and say 'NO!'

If you have been paying attention, the Russian-UK oil partnership of TNK-BP is imploding. The people at BP recently announced that they had recalled the remaining 60 employees from Russia and powerful forces inside of Russia are forcing out the British CEO of TNK-BP. This all coincided with the recent announcement that TNK-BP was one of the three Russian oil and gas giants that were granted full access to develop Venezuela's vast oil reserves...perhaps as much as 4 trillion barrels. My bet is BP has not been invited along for the party in Venezuela.

This was in part predictable since the UK is harboring wanted fugitive Boris Berezovsky. Mr. Berezovsky was the former Yeltsin man and liaison to those same Caspian Basin nations that BushCo and the UK allies so desperately wanted to take over and control. They lost, now they are scrambling to turn their loss into a victory without America figuring out that the official clock reads '00:00' left in the game.

Simple rule when a 'team' of schemers and liars cannot get a deal done after 30 years of lying and scheming, it is time for both a new plan and a new team. This has now turned out to be 'a swing and a miss' for three long, agonizing decades.

Of course, it did not help matters when Alexander Litvinenko was murdered on British soil and the UK pointed the finger of blame at Putin. That was a stupid move on the part of the Brits, but like Bush, they specialize in stupid moves over in London. That ranked right up there with our Black Poodle Condi Rice jetting all over the world to do 'arf-arf photo ops' and then scurrying around to piss on the feet of the Russian Bear.

Matters inside of TNK-BP started coming unraveled when the UK continued its protection of their CIA-MI6 Zionist ex-oligarch Berezovsky and would not extradite him to Russia to face charges for crimes against Mother Russia. It was Berezovsky who tried to sell out the Caspian Basin to the US and UK and the entire Caspian Basin despises this Zionist Jew traitor.

One of the little known facts about how Big Oil is positioned in this global game is that Conoco owns 35% of LUKOil and there are no problems whatsoever between Russia and Conoco. They are getting along fine and kicking BushCo black and blue all over the world with LUKOil as their partner.

Evidently, the management of that American oil company figured out long ago that BushCo would crap the diaper, and they wisely chose to team up with who the winners would eventually be.

Just think, BushCo could have spent that $5 trillion Iraq war waste on alternative energy and domestic oil and gas production...and completely weaned the US from dependence on foreign oil. No, that was too logical and would mean that the Caspian Basin profits would be lost to them and their cronies.

But I digress, that would require that the goons in DC be able to grasp an idea that is was worthy for them to develop a real energy strategy, that to do something for America just might be the moral thing to do. No, alas, we cannot have realities contradict the delusional bullshit of the current regime in Washington, DC.

Well, those profits from global oil and gas control are being lost to 'others' anyway, so now it is time for America to demand a 'full accounting' regarding Use of Funds on that $5 trillion Bush blew through. It is way past time for a full accounting on what these idiots in DC did with $5 trillion that they heaped on the backs of the American taxpayers and have nothing to show for it but lies and failure, two destroyed nations and at least two million dead people.

Such is the tragedy of myopic, arrogant, greedy people chasing stupid strategic visions and plans that were, in reality, nothing but a stinky dirty diaper from the day they launched their grand scheme on September 11, 2001.

Folks, just prepare yourself for this: Not only is the Fat Lady about to sing the aria but it will be in an ear-shattering alto in B flat that will shatter 'Glass Towers" in DC, London and Wall Street. And, damn, is she one Ugly Fat Lady.

Ugly has come home to roost on the New World Order as defined by the Bush Family. Unfortunately, it has come home to roost on America, too. Maybe God will help us through this but, if so, it will not be because of these evil idiots in DC.

We Don't Need a 'War on Terror'

We Don't Need a 'War on Terror'

By Ivan Eland

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Editor’s Note: Since the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration’s formulation of a “war on terror” was always a dangerous one. Not only was this “war” vague and open-ended, it could be used for a variety of other purposes, such as invading Iraq (which had nothing to do with 9/11) and redefining the U.S. Constitution (to create an all-powerful Commander in Chief).

A new report by the RAND Corporation also concludes that the “war on terror,” as it has been defined, isn't even an effective way to win the “war on terror,” as the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland notes in this guest essay:

In fact, Barack Obama led the parade to initiate a troop surge in Afghanistan after having opposed it in Iraq. The more hawkish John McCain, not to be outdone by a weak-kneed Democrat, proposed that even more troops be sent to Afghanistan.

In American politics after 9/11, it seems that candidates have to support some sort of war or they will be perceived as being too wimpy to get elected.

Only a small minority of foreign policy gadflies has doubted whether any war on terrorism is needed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Now a new report by RAND, the government's own captive think tank, supports this small band of renegades.

The study, "How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al-Qaeda," written by terrorism experts Seth Jones and Martin Libicki, followed more than 600 terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, over the long-term.

The report concluded that the administration's war on terrorism has not significantly degraded al-Qaeda and that the group has morphed into a more formidable enemy. In fact, al-Qaeda has perpetrated more attacks after September 11, 2001 than before it.

RAND deduced that the best way to kill a terrorist group is to capture or kill its leaders. This task is best carried out, according to the study, by law enforcement, intelligence, and, if needed, troops from the local country.

Instead of giving terrorists the exalted status of warriors, they should be deemed criminals.

In other words, the authors conclude that in most past cases in which terrorist groups have been defeated by getting their leaders, local law enforcement did the job. They say that when troops are needed, local troops have a better understanding of the culture and terrain and thus have more legitimacy than do U.S. forces.

In fact, the study says that the presence of U.S. forces on Muslim soil can create more terrorists to fight; thus the authors argue that the U.S. military should confine itself to training the locals.

It is nice when government-paid researchers can provide empirical data to confirm what should have been obvious to any informed citizen years ago!

After a major terrorist crime, such as the one on 9/11, the objective should be to get the perpetrators. The U.S. government should not militarily invade countries and try to change their form of government, economic system or money-making activities (for example, growing opium). This applies to both Afghanistan and Iraq.

It might be nice to have free market economies and democratic governments in these remote places, but it is a diversion from the main show: getting the terrorist leaders.

The niggling fact is that Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their merry band of followers are not likely to be in Afghanistan or Iraq, but in Pakistan.

So the United States must convince the local government in Pakistan to apprehend them. Right now, some in the Pakistani intelligence service, with close ties to Islamist militants in the Taliban, probably know where they are hiding.

But as long as these outlaws are on the loose, the government of Pakistan pockets billions per year in U.S. military and economic aid. So the Pakistanis have no incentive to get the al-Qaeda leaders.

The United States should give up the losing nation-building distraction in Afghanistan (as well as in Iraq) and offer to withdraw NATO forces from that country, thus letting the resurgent Pashtun allies of Pakistani intelligence services—the Taliban—take over the eastern and southern parts of the Afghan landscape.

Pakistan has long wanted influence in neighboring Afghanistan and wholeheartedly supported the Taliban rulers of that country before 9/11. In return, for increased influence in Afghanistan through its Taliban proxy, Pakistan would have to find the al-Qaeda leadership and turn it over to the United States.

(If a stick is needed, the U.S. could threaten to cut off the billions in military and economic aid Pakistan receives if the Pakistanis do not produce the al-Qaeda chieftains.)

Although the Taliban were harsh rulers of Afghanistan, the U.S. has few other options to motivate the Pakistani government to fork over the al-Qaeda kingpins, which still threaten the U.S. homeland. As harsh as they are, the Taliban don't so threaten the United States.

The counterproductive war on terrorism must end and we must motivate the local Pakistani government to catch the criminals that are harbored in its midst.