Sunday, September 7, 2008

And Then We Will Die

And Then We Will Die

By Angie Riedel

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It is time to get past the 'death and violence is the answer' mentality. We can not afford to let it continue.

The US government now confronts every minor inconvenience with brutality and force. With lies. With tricks. With deceit. With unrivaled hypocrisy. It speaks a scripted and rehearsed dialog of illogic and insults. It changes the meanings of words and uses those words as weapons to crush, to silence and oppress, to steal what it wants. This government no longer shows respect for anyone but itself and feels no compulsion to listen or cooperate, to show respect for others, or to care at all about right and wrong, truth or lies, justice or injustice.

It seems that this government can't take a single step without stepping on others, without breaking the very laws it exists to uphold, without negating every principle we stand for.

At what point will this criminality cease?

It is no surprise that we are seeing our own citizens being brutalized and arrested for imaginary political crimes before any crimes are committed; and when there is no possibility that they will be committed. For this government there is no longer any concept of innocence until guilt is proven in a court of law. A court of law un-tampered with, a court uncontrolled by compromised loyalists, a court left free to honor its commitment to see justice done. There is no longer any concept of requiring proof of any crime at all.

For this government there is no need for any crime to actually be committed before it engages in illegal, unjustifiable surveillance, the planting of its spies in the affairs of private citizens, the laying of blatantly unsupported charges, all with the obvious aim of depriving innocent people of their freedom and their rights with unlawful, disingenuous arrests.

Every power this government begged us for, insisting with feigned hysterics that such unprecedented powers over others were necessary to protect the public has been fully and thoroughly misused and abused, used against the very people it claimed the desire to protect. There is no respect for the rule of law instead of the rule of men. There is only the obvious problem this government has with the millions of its own citizens that disagree with its vision of death to all who would stop them from their brutal, murderous desire to take control of the world.

This cannot go on. Not just because of the travesty of justice. Not just because of the suffering and destruction of hope, health, happiness, prosperity and safety these unjustifiable policies spawn. Not just because of the denial of rights and peace and freedom. But because of the risk of irreversible damage to our very humanity, to our ability to recognize justice, to our desire for and understanding of what the very idea of freedom means. Most of all because of a risk that is too horrible to gamble with, our ability to value life itself.

Because this government has no respect for compassion or justice we have lost the ability to value compassion and justice or understand their necessity. We have lost our comprehension of the need to treat others as we ourselves would demand to be treated. We are even losing the ability to see ourselves, each other, and others as worthy of common decency and deserving of basic God given rights, including the right to life itself.

We have crossed a line that can never be crossed with any justification, a line that leaves it up to a small group of selfish small-minded men to decide who among us deserves justice and who does not. Is it any surprise that those men have decided that no one deserves justice except themselves?

We must ask this government, what are you so afraid of? Because taking with you, everywhere you go, the largest assortment and biggest, most powerful most deadly weapons and contingents of armed men does not mean that you are powerful, it means that you are afraid. It means that everywhere you go, you go in fear. You are too afraid to go about in this world as we all do, with open hands and goodwill, and show up unarmed and with nothing to hide. It seems you have everything to hide.

Why then should we trust you? Why should anyone trust you when you demand the right to lie and keep secrets and use unjust, overwhelming force to get your way?

What gives you the right to impose your personal will on this world? What gives you the right to impose anything on anyone in this country? Who are you exactly that you imagine yourselves to be above the law not just of this land but the laws of common human decency and common sense? What do you tell yourselves entitles you to behave so badly? Because whatever you are telling yourselves is also a lie. There is no such entitlement. The use of violence to force your will and your ways on our people, on people everywhere, is invalid and it is wrong.

This government understands and perceives full well that its notions of total domination and total control both here at home and abroad are unwelcome. It knows full well that domination is not acceptable or warranted. We do not need to be controlled nor does this world need to be controlled, at least not by this government. It is this government that needs to be controlled as it apparently lacks any interest and has no intention of exercising the slightest control over itself.

There is an evil game being played that we must no longer tolerate. A verbal game of trading places with right and wrong, innocence and guilt, honesty and deceit. Authority wraps itself in the flag, it wraps itself in a cover of holy righteousness, it wraps itself in a wrapper that has words like nobility, bravery, honor and democracy on it, and in its thinly veiled deceit it wreaks havoc, death and destruction all the while proclaiming itself to be our savior, our highest good, our necessary evil. It is none of those things.

The game being played in Georgia is the same game being played in Minneapolis. The self-defined good guys show up and take sides without asking any questions whatsoever. Who is right and who is wrong, who is guilty and who is innocent is already determined. No effort is made to discern the truth. No interest exists in hearing all sides. No respect is shown for the marginalized, for the brutalized, for the wronged. It proclaims, we are the good ones and they are the bad ones, and then it moves in with overwhelming force. Abroad it uses military force, at home it uses militarized police. The people are automatically bad, and they are automatically good, and even questioning this bizarre system is a crime. But it is not a crime, it is a necessity. It is our duty.

Instead of the seething and rage, hatred, insults and threats that now come in endless rivers from this government against its perceived enemies, why can't it act like it should? Why can't it take the time to engage in honest discussion? To get the facts? To consider all sides? Why can't it extend invitations to come and talk, to find common ground, to construct bridges to friendship and cooperation? Why can't it value all of the most obvious ways to establish trust, peace and mutual prosperity? Why can't it host an open and public dialog so that all may listen in and those involved and concerned may be allowed to participate and speak for themselves, explaining things from their own perspectives, giving their own reasons, telling us themselves who they are and what they see? Only such an impartial, honorable and open, fair style of discourse can achieve justice and understanding? How else can justice be served?

Why do we never hear the other sides stories? How can this government be threatened by allowing the other side to speak for itself? If truly those other sides, Iran, Russia, our own peaceful demonstrators, are dangerous and evil, that would all be self-evident. But their prevention of any such truth coming out, their adamant demands and insistence that force must be used, and used immediately and overwhelmingly is beyond questionable. It is deeply disturbing. It does not engender trust. It engenders distrust and for good reason. No genuine attempts are made to do the right thing or to go about things the right way, the decent way, the honorable way, the fair way. And why? Because all of those things stand directly in the way of this government getting its way.

When all that is right and decent and honorable and just is an enemy to government, then what they desire to achieve cannot be right or decent or honorable or just. And if that is the case then why are they doing it? What are they there for? Are they there, taking our money and using it at will, to do what they know is not right, not decent, not honorable and not just? They are.

Can they please tell us then, why? And more to the point, just what are they trying to accomplish? Who's idea is this really? And why do they act completely opposite to who they say they are and what they say they are doing? What is this blanket of deceit and how dare they use these tactics? Why do they relentlessly desire war and violence, oppression, control and killing? Where is any sign of conscience? Of compassion? Of simple respect for human life?

Does this government shed a tear when its own soldiers come home in coffins? Does it show any care for those who come home wounded, broken and deserving of support? Does this government show any concern or grieving for the deaths of innocent people abroad? Does it not disregard such deaths and sweep them aside with insulting terms like collateral damage? This government seems to see the deaths and disempowerment of others as a tool. A tool it uses more than any other to achieve its aims.

Then we must ask them, what are your aims? Why all the killing? Why all the lies? Why the twisting of words and meanings? Why do you cover yourself in a coat of righteousness specifically to cover the truth of your unrighteousness? Who are you and what are you doing? And why?

We are long past a time where brutality and killing are an answer. Brutality and killing are not an answer. They are criminal acts. We know this at the personal level and it is no different at all for those equal beings who call themselves our government. Killing is wrong. War is pointless, destructive and wrong. It solves nothing. It enables unconscionable acts of murder of innocents, of thefts of lands and treasure. War provides the stage for arrogant, greedy power to play act its role of righteous savior, to use its unrighteous overwhelming force, and to destroy what others have worked so hard to build. One must ask, why would they desire this in the first place? Why do they desire this at all?

Who benefits? It is not you and I. It is them. Down to the personal level of unprecedented riches, power and wealth, of getting away with dishonesty and crime, of giving themselves unprecedented unnecessary invalid powers over life and death, over justice and injustice. It turns them into imperial kings and robber barons, thugs dressed in fine clothing who tell lies to TV cameras to cover the truth of what they are doing and why. They are killing us all, slowly but surely, because they have no respect whatsoever for life. Not here and not abroad. How are they different from serial killers? They are liars. And this must stop. This is not the way to anything but our guaranteed demise. Who believes we need this?

These are the methods and beliefs of madmen. Ideas of having the right to control and oppress, to kill and to commit crimes all in the name of bizarre, insane notions that do not apply to anyone but themselves. They turn the whole planet into a world of pawns they can use to play their games of death and destruction and control. These are not honorable men with honorable goals. They are usurpers, tyrants, hypocrites and they have no respect for life, human or otherwise, or for the environment we are all dependent on for our survival. These are men who are trying with all of their might to provoke this whole world into its final world war, carnage and destruction unlike anything seen before. This is their aim. This is their goal. Not because it is good for us, but because it serves their selfish, hypocritical, patently insane beliefs of self superiority and being God's chosen.

If these men are God's chosen it would not be due to worthiness or for His praise. They would be singled out and punished for acting much more in the service of the dark side, the side of death and dishonesty, of the negation and disrespect for free will. These are not Godly men. They're not heroes or leaders or workers for justice and freedom. What they really are cannot be stated because it is inexplicable. What is known is the results of their actions, and those results are death and destruction. Those results come to us on their lying lips, lies they must tell to trick us into going along, into believing they are good and those others are always bad. It is time to see it and face it, and to stop it.

Who is it that is such a threat to peace in this world? Who is the relentless aggressor? Is it Russia? Long despised and feared by those in power, the claims are communism or inhumanity, or any other words that would paint another nation as evil beings who threaten us all. Is it Iran? A religious country of ordinary human beings who do not possess anything remotely similar to the military power, might and aggression of our own government? What lies it takes to turn passive non-aggressors into something for this country to fear and loathe. What gigantic, inexcusable lies.

What country has galloped the globe time and again, bringing its overwhelming military force to kill native populations? Populations who pose no threat to anyone. Where innocents are slaughtered with overpowering violence, military might, and depraved indifference to human life and the environment. What country has never ceased its invasions and attacks since World War 2? Russia? China? Iran? Viet Nam? Argentina? The Falkland Islands? Canada? Saudi Arabia? Iraq?

Only one nation has never ceased inflicting war and carnage around the world. Only one nation's unbridled, insatiable aggression has been responsible for the nonstop murders of millions of innocent people. The United States. Its Siamese-twin Israel is right behind having engaged in decades of calculated, overt genocide of Palestinians.


Because these policies of aggression and violence are wrong, because they cannot be justified, then the question must be asked and we have every right to the answer. Why? What makes them so special that they may act in ways that threaten all peace, all stability, all prosperity and all freedom in the world? What makes them so special that they may deny justice and life to any and all they choose? Is there really such a thing as anyone so special? Only in their own imaginations. Only in the imaginations of those who support them. Only in the misguided beliefs of those who assist them. But in reality, in this very real world of real people living real lives, in real terror and real suffering, there is no such thing as anyone so special. There is no proof that any such specialness exists. It does not exist.

No man is our master. No man shall be crowned king of this world. No man is anything more than our human equal, no more deserving of life and needs and free will than we are. Many men, petty tyrants, thieves and thugs, elected men, religious men, statesmen of all creeds and colors exist and live in the wrong belief that it is their place to dominate and control others. To determine what shall be and what shall not be for all. They always impose their will with force, with killing, with torture. It is the only way to enslave a population and it is the only way the worst of them can hope to enslave the world.

We have watched as this government devolved into a den of thieves and liars, of instigators and deceivers, of unequaled propagandists and cheaters. We have extended them our unearned trust and they have used it against us, and against the world to achieve their own convoluted aims. We have been harmed. Others have been harmed. Harm that can have no recompense, there is no making up for what has been taken. Loved ones are irreplaceable. Innocent children are not replaceable. Lost blood lines, ancestral homes, prosperity, justice, peace, these can not be recompensed.

Everywhere this government goes it leaves in its wake death, poverty and injustice, destruction and military bases, not for anyone's protection or benefit, but to ensure it can keep its stranglehold on the conquered, disempowered, violently controlled masses.

Today they are still hell bent on attacking Iran, a country that is no threat to us at all. They are instigating violence, daring and begging Russia to react to the injustice and lies and aggression that they themselves arranged, armed and are responsible for. They are painting Russia as the aggressor when it is not the aggressor. But Russia's patience is being tapped and will eventually be drained. Anyone can see that. We need no experts to explain the particulars. We need only to understand what it feels like to be lied about and threatened, to be attacked by criminals and thugs, to understand that at some point anyone would stand up for themselves and fight back.

What we are seeing is the organized, preconceived plan to instigate World War 3. This is the desired goal of our government. Israel is its minion, deeply woven into the fabric of deceit, tampering and instigation. These two self-glorified special interests only want what they want at any price to others, at any cost to us, at all costs to those they want to see dead and destroyed for all time.

They are madmen who should be behind bars, locked in padded cells and given injections of anti-psychotic drugs and sedatives. They should be watched 24 hours a day and kept in locked rooms for their own safety as well as the safety of this world. For if these men and their obvious aims of destruction are not stopped, if they are not confronted, exposed and brought to the light of day, if they are not prevented from continuing their insane goals of death to the whole world, they will without any doubt succeed.

Shall we really stand idly by, claiming concern for our jobs or egotistical need for prestige, afraid of the erroneous criticism of deceived and misguided peers, as the world is raped and killed? What is worth the price? If anything needs to go, is it the world? Or shouldn't it really be them? Is it too late for us to remember what really matters in this world? Is it beyond the time when life was held precious and sacred? Are we all too happy to just get it over with and let them take us all to hell so that this endless carnage and pollution and destruction and violation of all that is good and decent and pure will finally cease? Or can common sense prevail? Can right and wrong be refreshed in our minds and in our souls and can we simply, calmly, step up and lead them away from the controls, away from the one second in time, on that one day that is unavoidably coming, when that final line is crossed? When that final insult, that final lie, that final spread of nuclear warheads is aimed and launched at millions of innocent people, that will immediately result in the mutually assured destruction of the world?

If we cannot stand up to illegitimate mortal leaders and take away this power over our lives that no man should ever have, then perhaps we have not yet evolved enough to recognize that life matters and that justice matters and that respect matters and that we all deserve to live in un-violated peace and freedom. And if that is true, then we won't have long to wait. Because these are the most dangerous men in the world and if there is no one willing to stop them we will all witness the consequences. And then we will die.

Unemployment at Five-Year High

Jobless Rate Soars to 6.1 Percent, 84,000 Jobs Lost

Dean Baker

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The labor market is as weak or weaker than at the worst points of the last recession.

The unemployment rate jumped to 6.1 percent in August, the highest level since September of 2003. The establishment survey showed the economy losing another 84,000 jobs in August. With downward revisions to data for the prior two months, the economy has lost an average of 81,000 jobs over the last three months.

Virtually all the data in the household survey indicates that the labor market is weakening at a rapid pace. The 6.1 percent unemployment rate is only 0.2 percentage points below the 6.3 percent peak reached in June of 2003. The employment to population ratio (EPOP) ratio fell to 62.1 percent, only slightly above the 62.0 percent low hit in September of 2003.

Unemployment rose among almost all demographic groups, but women were hit hardest, with a rise of 0.7 pp to 5.3 percent. This is equal to the high for the last downturn in September of 2003. Black women saw their unemployment rate jump by 1.6 percentage points to 9.1 percent. The unemployment rate for blacks overall rose by 0.9 pp to 10.6 percent. The unemployment rate for Hispanics jumped by 0.6 pp to 8.0 percent, the highest level since reaching 8.1 percent in July of 2003.

Workers at all educational levels had an increase in their unemployment rates. Workers without high school degrees had the largest rise, with their unemployment rate going up 1.1 pp to 9.6 percent, the highest level since October of 1994.

There continues to be sharp differences in employment experiences by age group, with older workers staying in the work force in much greater numbers. Over the last year, employment among people over age 55 has risen by 1,046,000. For people under age 55, employment has dropped by 1,322,000. The biggest decline has been for people between the ages of 35 and 44, who saw employment drop by 932,000 or 2.7 percent. Employment among men in this age group fell by 554,000 or 3.0 percent.

Other data in the household series also indicate labor market weakness. The number of involuntary part-time workers increased by another 42,000 and now stands almost 1.8 million above the low hit in April of 2006. U-6, the Labor Department's broadest measure of labor market slack, rose to 10.7 percent. This is higher than at any point in the last downturn and the highest level since July of 1994.

The establishment data indicate that the rate of job loss in the private sector might be accelerating, with a loss of 101,000 jobs in August. The private sector has lost an average of 92,000 jobs over the last three months.

While most sectors lost jobs last month, manufacturing was hardest hit with a loss of 61,000 jobs, driven by a loss of 39,000 jobs in the auto sector. Over the last year, the auto sector has lost 129,000 jobs, or 12.9 percent of total employment. Retail trade lost 19,900 jobs, driven primarily by a loss of 14,100 jobs in auto and auto parts stores.

The employment services sector lost 53,400 jobs in August. This brings job loss in this sector since January to 279,000, 7.8 percent of employment in the sector. Since temporary employment is often a harbinger of future employment trends, this is not good news.

The only sectors that continue to show healthy job gains are health care, which added another 26,900 jobs, and state and local governments, which added 18,000 jobs. Job growth in both of these sectors is likely to fade as state and local budget shortfalls force cutbacks.

The wage story looks somewhat brighter for workers, with nominal wage growth accelerating to a 3.8 percent annual rate in the last three months (compared to the prior three), but this is still far below the rate of inflation.

This report shows that the labor market is in a recessionary state. It is almost certain to worsen in the foreseeable future as employment growth in health care and government slow, while other sectors continue to have large layoffs. Also, the benchmark revisions to the establishment data, which will be published with next month's report, are likely to show an even more negative picture.

9% of homeowners are late with bill or in foreclosure, study says

9% of homeowners are late with bill or in foreclosure, study says

By Alan Zibel

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An industry group says a record 9.2% of American homeowners with a mortgage were either behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of June, as damage from the housing crisis continued to mount.

The latest quarterly snapshot by the Mortgage Bankers Association on Friday broke records for late payments, homes entering the foreclosure process and for the inventory of loans in foreclosure.

The percentage of loans at least 30 days past due or in foreclosure was up from 8.8% in the January-March quarter, and up from 6.5% a year earlier.

In one bit of positive news, delinquencies on subprime adjustable-rate loans dipped 1 percentage point from the first quarter to 21%.

The seasonally adjusted foreclosure starts rate, the percentage of loans that entered the foreclosure process during the April-June quarter, was 1.19%, up from 0.99% in the first three months of 2008 and 0.65% in the second quarter of 2007.

The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the second quarter was 2.75%, up from 2.47% in the first quarter and from 1.40% in the second quarter of 2007.

"The national foreclosure numbers continue to be driven by the hardest-hit states continuing to get much worse," Jay Brinkmann, the association's chief economist and senior vice president for research and economics, said in a news release.

The increases in foreclosures in California and Florida overwhelmed improvements in states such as Texas, Massachusetts and Maryland, he said.

For the quarter, a majority of the states saw relatively little change one way or the other, with California and Florida alone accounting for 39% of all of the foreclosures started in the country during the second quarter and 73% of the increase in foreclosures between the first and second quarters, he said.

The U.S. mortgage delinquency rate of 6.41% was the highest since at least 1979, which was when the trade group began its current method of measuring failing home loans.

The increase in the overall delinquency rate was driven by increases in the number of loans 90 or more days past due, primarily in California and Florida. The 30-day delinquency percentage remains below levels seen as recently as 2002, the MBA said.

Government to Wipe Out Fannie/Freddie Shareholders by Sunday

Government to Wipe Out Fannie/Freddie Shareholders by Sunday

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And now what could become history's biggest transfer of tax dollars to bail out bad lending begins. Last month Congress passed a bill that gave the Treasury Department $800 billion to bail out Fannie MaeFNM) and Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE). And while it is unclear how much money will be used to bail them out, the general outlines of the soon-to-be-announced terms are becoming clearer than they were last night. (NYSE:

The New York Times and The Washington Post report on five key features as follows:

  • Government bankruptcy. Fannie and Freddie will be taken under a conservatorship -- which is similar to a bankruptcy wherein a trustee operates the company so it can be fixed and ultimately sold back to public investors. The bailout would reduce the value of their common and preferred shares "to little or nothing," according to the Times.
  • Taxpayers bailout defaulted mortgages. Some share of the $800 billion in taxpayer funds will be used to pay "any losses on mortgages [Fannie and Freddie] own or guarantee," according to the Times.
  • Payouts on a quarterly basis depending on reported results. Treasury is trying to dribble the bailout over time. "Instead of giving each company a big capital infusion up front, the government could make quarterly injections as the companies' losses warrant. This would be an attempt to minimize the initial cost of the rescue," according to the Washington Post.
  • Fire CEOs and replace the boards. At a meeting earlier in the week, on which I posted, Daniel Mudd, Fannie's CEO, and Richard Syron, Freddie's CEO, "were told that they would have to leave. [And] the companies boards would be replaced," according to the Times. I can only imagine the firestorm that will ensue if Syron gets another $38 million as a severance package.
  • Announce deal before Asian markets open. As it did with the Bear Stearns bailout, the government caters to Asian markets so it "had been planning to announce the decision as early as Sunday, before the Asian markets reopen," according to the Times -- as I thought yesterday.

Why did Paulson decide on this bailout? His bazooka strategy -- merely having the authority to bail out the two companies -- did not alleviate investor anxiety. He measured that by the widening interest rate difference between Treasury and Fannie- and Freddie-backed securities. And concluded that in order to lower that spread and bring down mortgage rates he would need to use his bazooka rather than merely keeping it in his pocket.

When it was announced in May 2006 that Paulson would take over as Treasury Secretary, I speculated that he did so because he thought he would have a bigger challenge than Robert Rubin -- another Goldman Sachs Group (NYSE: GS) alum -- in cleaning up the coming financial catastrophe created by our dependence on foreign ownership of U.S. debt. And I thought Paulson would try to make his name in the history books by dealing with that cleanup.

It remains to be seen how history will judge him -- but since China owns $340 billion of Fannie and Freddie mortgage-backed securities -- it looks like my guess about the first part was partially right.

Peter Cohan is President of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College and edits The Cohan Letter. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.

US Government takes over mortgage giants

US Government takes over mortgage giants


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The Bush administration's seizure of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is potentially a $200 billion bet that it will help reverse a prolonged housing and credit crisis.

The historic move announced Sunday won support from both presidential campaigns, but private analysts worried that it may not be enough to stabilize the slumping housing market given the glut of vacant homes for sale, rising foreclosures, rising unemployment and weak consumer confidence.

Officials announced that both giant institutions were being placed in a government conservatorship, a move that could end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said allowing the companies to fail would have extracted a far higher price on consumers by driving up the cost of home loans and all other types of borrowing because the failures would "create great turmoil in our financial markets here at home and around the globe."

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's predicted that 30-year mortgage rates, currently averaging 6.35 percent nationwide, could dip to close to 5.5 percent. That's because investors will be more willing to buy the debt issued by Fannie and Freddie — and at lower rates — since the federal government is now explicitly standing behind that debt.

"Effectively, the federal government has now become the nation's mortgage lender," he said. "This takes a major financial threat off the table."

Futures on all major stock indexes rose about 2 percent in electronic trading Sunday night, another sign of investor relief about the takeover plan

The companies, which together own or guarantee about $5 trillion in home loans, about half the nation's total, have lost $14 billion in the last year and are likely to pile up billions more in losses until the housing market begins to recover.

The Treasury Department said it was prepared to put up as much as $100 billion over time in each of the companies if needed to keep them from going broke, in exchange for senior preferred stock. Treasury will immediately be issued $1 billion of such stock from each company, which will pay 10 percent interest. Further purchases of preferred stock will be triggered if quarterly audits find that the companies' capital cushion is below prudent standards.

The government, which will receive warrants representing ownership stakes of 79.9 percent in each company, is hoping that its moves will reassure nervous investors that they can continue to buy the debt of the two companies.

In a statement, President Bush said, "Americans should be confident that the actions taken today will strengthen our ability to weather the housing correction and are critical to returning the economy to stronger sustained growth."

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama issued a statement agreeing that some form of intervention was necessary, and promised, "I will be reviewing the details of the Treasury plan and monitoring its impact to determine whether it achieves the key benchmarks I believe are necessary to address this crisis."

Republican presidential nominee John McCain also voiced support while his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, said that Fannie and Freddie "have gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers. The McCain-Palin administration will make them smaller and smarter and more effective for homeowners who need help."

The conservatorship will be run by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the new agency created by Congress this summer to regulate Fannie and Freddie, a move taken at the same time that Congress greatly expanded the power of the Treasury Department to make loans to the two companies and purchase their stock.

The executives and board of directors of both institutions are being replaced. Herb Allison, the former head of the TIAA-CREF retirement investment fund, was selected to head Fannie Mae, and David Moffett, a former vice chairman of US Bancorp, was picked to head Freddie Mac.

Paulson was careful not to blame Daniel Mudd, the outgoing CEO of Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac's departing CEO Richard Syron for the companies' current problems. While both men are being removed as the top executives, they have been asked to remain for an unspecified period to help with the transition.

Fannie and Freddie both purchase home loans from banks and then repackage those loans as mortgage-backed securities which they either hold on their own books or sell to investors around the globe. This process provides banks with more money to make more home loans, greatly expanding home ownership.

The impact of the government takeover on existing common and preferred shares, which have slumped in value in the last year, will depend on how investors react to Paulson's assertion that they must absorb the cost of further losses first. Under the plan, dividends on both common and preferred stock would be eliminated, saving about $2 billion a year.

After the Treasury Department's announcement, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Fannie and Freddie's preferred stock to junk-bond status, but reaffirmed the U.S. government's triple-A rating.

The Federal Reserve and other federal banking regulators said in a joint statement Sunday that "a limited number of smaller institutions" have significant holdings of common or preferred stock shares in Fannie and Freddie, and that regulators were "prepared to work with these institutions to develop capital-restoration plans."

The Fed released a letter from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to James Lockhart, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, in which the Fed chief said he concurred in Lockhart's decision to take control of Fannie and Freddie saying the action "will help ensure the safe and sound operation of the enterprises."

Analysts were split on how much the takeover could eventually cost taxpayers although they all agreed the up-front costs will be substantial, possibly hitting $100 billion as the Treasury is called upon to bolster the capital cushions at both institutions.

However, if the plan does the trick of stabilizing the housing market and home prices stop falling and rebound, then the assets of both Fannie and Freddie should rise in value and the government should be able to sell off the companies and recoup its investments.

But it could take a long time to work through that process given all the headwinds facing housing at the moment from the plunge in home prices to soaring defaults on mortgages which are dumping more homes on an already glutted market. The weak economy has pushed unemployment to a five-year high of 6.1 percent, further reducing demand for homes.

"I think the government will end up having to put in far more money then they are planning right now (given all the problems facing housing) but the important thing is the agencies have been taken over by the government," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University Channel Islands. "That means there will be less panic in financial markets."

Under government control, the companies will be allowed to expand their support for the mortgage market over the next year by boosting their holdings of mortgage securities they hold on their books from a combined $1.5 trillion to $1.7 trillion. Starting in 2010, though, they are required to drop their holdings by 10 percent annually until they reach a combined $500 billion.

In addition, officials said the Treasury Department plans to purchase $5 billion in mortgage-backed securities issued by the two companies later this month, the first of a series of purchases planned by the government in an effort to bolster for these securities, which was badly shaken a year ago when the credit crisis first erupted with soaring defaults on subprime mortgages.

Paulson said that it would be up to Congress and the next president to figure out the two companies' ultimate structure and the conflicting goals they operated under — maximizing returns for shareholders while also being required to facilitate home buying for low- and moderate-income Americans.

"There is a consensus today ... that they cannot continue in their current form," he said.

Members of Congress will be watching in the coming months to see how the takeover works, but more housing legislation appears unlikely until next year given the few weeks remaining both Congress quits to hit the campaign trail.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. said the intervention was sparked by worries within the Bush administration that foreign governments would stop holding Fannie and Freddie's debt. "This was the prudent course to take," he said.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., announced his committee would hold hearings on the takeover to address a number of unanswered questions so that the American people will know "if this unprecedented proposal will help keep mortgages affordable, stabilize the markets and protect taxpayer interests."

Lockhart said that all lobbying activities of both companies would stop immediately. Both companies over the years made extensive efforts to lobby members of Congress in an effort to keep the benefits they enjoyed as government-sponsored enterprises.

Sunday's actions followed a series of meetings Paulson had with Bush and other top administration economic officials with Bush relying heavily on the judgment of Paulson, who was the head of investment giant Goldman Sachs before he joined the Cabinet in 2006.

"It is really an assent to Hank's direction, guidance and judgment," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes deliberations.

Palin: the real scandal

Palin: the real scandal

By Leonard Doyle

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Seen from the air, Sarah Palin's state is an environmental wonderland. From Anchorage to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there is a vast landscape of snow-capped peaks, fjords, crystal glaciers, coastal lagoons, wide river deltas and tundra.

The guardian of this wilderness – and Governor of Alaska – has, this week, become one of the most recognisable faces in the world. But behind her beaming smile and wholesome family values is a woman aligned with the big oil and coal firms that are racing to exploit Alaska's vast energy reserves. In the short term, that has bought her popularity at home.

"I love the woman," the pilot on our flight shouts over the noise of the engine, "especially what she wants to do with oil, we just have to drill more, there is no alternative. What's the point of leaving it all in the ground?"

It is a stance that guaranteed John McCain's new running mate a rapturous reception at the Republican convention this week where the response to the coming energy crisis was a chant of "drill, baby, drill".

But the woman who could soon be a 72-year-old's heartbeat away from the United States presidency has an environmental policy so toxic it would make the incumbent, George Bush, blush.

Mr McCain has stressed he is concerned about global warming and has come out against drilling in the Arctic reserve. But, in recent weeks, he has wobbled on the issue. And environmentalists are describing Mrs Palin, who denies climate change is man-made, as "either grossly misinformed or intentionally misleading".

She wants to start drilling. She wants to block US moves to list the polar bear as an endangered species. And she has allowed big game hunters to shoot Alaska's bears and wolves from low-flying planes.

The 44-year-old governor says a federal government decision to protect the polar bear will cripple energy development offshore. As a result, she is suing the Bush administration, which ruled the polar bear is endangered and needs protection.

The US Geological Survey says climate change has shrunk Arctic summer sea ice to about 1.65 million sq miles, nearly 40 per cent less than the long-term average between 1979 and 2000.

In such a situation it was unconscionable for Governor Palin to ignore overwhelming evidence of global warming's threat to sea ice, says Kassie Siegel of the Centre for Biological Diversity.

"Even the Bush administration can't deny the reality of global warming," Ms Siegel said. "The governor is aligning herself and the state of Alaska with the most discredited, fringe, extreme viewpoints by denying this."

Governor Palin would also like to bring open-cast coal mining to Alaska's Brooks Range Mountains, an act of environmental vandalism in the eyes of many.

The Palin administration has allowed Chevron to triple the amount of toxic waste it pours into the waters of Cook Inlet. This, even though the number of beluga whales in the bay has collapsed from 1,300 to 350 – the point of extinction – because of pollution and increased ship traffic.

On the Republican convention floor she said: "We Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas and take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: We've got lots of both."

The fact that drilling won't solve every problem "is no excuse to do nothing at all", she said, putting the country on notice that "starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines ... build more nuclear plants ... create jobs with clean coal ... and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative sources".

Mrs Palin also took a swipe at Barack Obama's environmental stance saying: "What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet?"

Her support in Alaska relies on squeezing more money for the state from the oil companies themselves. In Alaska, every man woman and child is in line for a bonus cheque of about $2,000 (£1,100) from the state's massive oil wealth fund. This is, in effect, a vote-buying machine for the would-be Vice-President.

Governor Palin wants nothing to hinder the oil companies. She maintains that polar bears are well managed and their population has dramatically increased over 30 years as a result of conservation. And if the ice should go away, then they will adapt to living on the land.

Many oil companies abandoned Alaska when prices fell in the 1980s but they have been rushing back to drill and prospect areas that are among the least hospitable on earth. That spirit of the Klondike is already in full swing in Prudhoe Bay the epicentre of oil production and one of the world's largest industrial complexes. It's so big that BP, UPS and FedEx operate a special fleet of jets from Anchorage just to service to the region.

Hundreds of spills involving tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil and other petroleum products occur in the area each year. Decades-old spills are still a problem and 17,000 acres of wildlife and marine habitat have already been destroyed.

But Prudhoe is just a tiny fraction of the area being targeted by Governor Palin and the oil companies. A similar fate of environmental destruction awaits the entire coastal plain as well as the special areas of the western Arctic – home to migratory caribou herds, musk oxen, wolverines, grizzly and polar bears should a McCain-Palin administration be elected.

The oil boom has attracted oilmen from across America. One of them is Todd Palin, husband to the vice-presidential candidate who works for BP on Alaska's North Slope.

It is illegal to hunt polar bears, and that is not about to change. But in an area known as "Polar Bear Seas", from Point Hope on Alaska's far western edge to the pristine coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, one tenth of the world's polar bear population is at risk, as well as beluga and bowheaded whales and bearded and spotted seals.

Big game hunters are happy to pay lots of money to shoot wolves and bears from the air. They also chase them across the snow to the point of exhaustion and then land the planes on skis, shooting them from point-blank range. The animals are considered endangered across the "lower 48" states of America, but not Alaska. The hunters keep and sell the animals' pelts.

Last year, Mrs Palin proposed offering a bounty of $150 per wolf, as long as the hunter provided the wolf's foreleg as proof of the kill. The measure did not pass. She even spent $400,000 on a state-funded campaign to block attempts to end the hunt.

Its not just wildlife conservationists who object. Many ordinary Alaskans also condemn the practice as barbaric.

Trish Rolfe, who runs the Sierra Club's Alaska office, thinks Governor Palin has been a disaster for Alaska's environment. "The idea that she stands up to the oil companies is a joke," she says.

"The governor pays lip service to the issue of global warming but denies it is man made. She will not even spend money to help the Inupiaq villages which are about to fall into the sea."

Running From Reality

Running From Reality

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If there was one pre-eminent characteristic of the Republican convention this week, it was the quality of deception. Words completely lost their meaning. Reality was turned upside down.

From the faux populist gibberish mouthed by speaker after speaker, you would never have known that the Republicans have been in power over the past several years and used that titanic power to lead the country to its present sorry state.

In his acceptance speech on Thursday night, Senator John McCain did his best Sam Cooke imitation (“A Change is Gonna Come”) and vowed to put the country “back on the road to prosperity and peace.”

Mr. McCain spoke at the end of a day in which stock market indexes plunged. The next morning the Labor Department gave us the grim news that another 84,000 jobs had been lost in August, and that the official unemployment rate had climbed to 6.1 percent — the highest in five years.

If there were any good ideas at this convention of mostly rich and mostly right-wing delegates about how to haul the country out of this mess that the G.O.P. has gotten it into, they were kept well hidden. Perhaps they were tucked away behind the more prominently displayed creationism and “just-say-no to global warming” documents.

It stretches the mind almost to the breaking point to think of John McCain as an agent of substantive change. He once believed that Phil Gramm was the most qualified person in the United States to be president. And he now believes that Sarah Palin is the most qualified to be vice president.

That is not the fault of Mr. Gramm or Ms. Palin. But it sure tells us a lot about the judgment of John McCain.

Mr. McCain is a warrior, a former fighter pilot, and it’s no secret that Americans have long been thrilled by the romantic Top Gun narrative of fighter pilots, those specialists in the realm of the dangerous and the reckless. But we’ve also seen what dangerous and reckless behavior in the White House can do to a nation.

Sarah Palin may someday become president, and for all we know she may be a great one. But she was not chosen as Mr. McCain’s running mate after long and careful consideration and consultation. The best evidence is that she was a somewhat impulsive choice. Voters would be well advised to proceed with caution.

For most voters, the No. 1 issue in this campaign is the financial struggle facing working families that are trying to cope with job losses, declining wages, the high cost of health care, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and the like.

To a great extent these problems are the result of national policies, forged under Republican rule, that overwhelmingly favored the interests of the very wealthy over working people.

Senator McCain’s economic guru through all of this was Mr. Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas and chairman of the banking committee. He was a demon for deregulation, and he and his wife, Wendy, who once led the presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief in the Reagan administration, were among the big recipients of Enron’s largess.

Phil Gramm was one of the lead architects of the breathtakingly irresponsible policies (No more restraints! No more regulation!) that led to the subprime mortgage meltdown and the current credit disaster.

A corporate insider in the Bush-Cheney mold, Mr. Gramm was thought to be in line to serve as treasury secretary in a McCain administration until July when he put his foot very publicly in his mouth. To Senator McCain’s great embarrassment, Mr. Gramm dismissed the economic downturn as a “mental recession” and complained that the U.S. had become a “nation of whiners.”

That may have been a political no-no, but it was an accurate expression of the slavish devotion of the G.O.P. to the rich and powerful among us, and of the party’s contempt for the interests of working families and the poor. Senator McCain, it should be noted, fully shared Mr. Gramm’s anti-regulatory zeal.

This is an odd crowd, indeed, to be offering itself as a champion for working people.

Senator McCain has been a virtuoso at schmoozing and using the press, which he once jokingly referred to as his base. Much of the press has eagerly collaborated in the idea of him as an outsider, a maverick — in some sense an American everyman. But Mr. McCain, who has been in Washington for more than a quarter of a century, was always embedded with the forces on the side of the corporate aristocracy.

He didn’t just stumble into the toxic relationships that got him into trouble with the Keating Five. And there was a reason for the closeness of his bond with Phil Gramm.

The populists’ garb hangs awkwardly on the frame of John McCain. Everyman he ain’t.

Tackling the Crisis in Emergency Care

Tackling the Crisis in Emergency Care

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Over at “Home of the Brave,” Annie calls attention to the following Las Vegas Sun story about a man who suffered a heart attack and went to the nearest ER for help:

"But even as Linda Scheinbaum — Morton’s wife of 24 years — was screaming [in the emergency room] for medical attention to save his life, the MountainView Hospital nurse was insisting on getting his Social Security number, emergency contact and insurance information.

"'I’ll give you all the information later!” Linda Scheinbaum yelled at the clerk.

“It would be Scheinbaum’s tragic misfortune to [go] to the emergency room on the night of Nov. 4, 2005, when it was busy and hospital officials said there were no open rooms. The Scheinbaums were told to take a seat and wait — even though a delay of just minutes can make the difference between life and death during a heart attack…

“The precise timeline of the events of that desperate night is in dispute, but hospital records show that it was at least 41 minutes from the time Morton Scheinbaum arrived to the time he collapsed, blue in the face and foaming at the mouth. Only then was he rushed into the emergency room for treatment.

“And that’s where he died, his admission paperwork completed.”

There are many reasons to feel outraged when reading this story. But the tragedies of this tale are part of a larger—and just as depressing—picture in American emergency care. The staffing and overcrowding issues that Linda and Morton Scheinbaum faced three years ago are becoming the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to emergency departments (EDs) in the United States.

Begin with the seeming villain of this tale, the pigheaded nurse who forced paperwork on the Scheinbaums in a time of crisis. Blogger Annie has some issues with the Sun’s less-than-probing characterization: “Is the ‘nurse’ cited an unlicensed admission clerk?” asks Annie. “A secretary?...or a licensed registered nurse who is obligated to perform triage and intervention to conform to state regulations and to the hospital’s accreditation agency standards?”

This is important—if the nurse in question is a registered triage nurse, then it’s her job to prioritize patients based on the severity of her conditions. This would make her failure to recognize Morton’s condition all the more scandalous. Though the Sun isn’t specific on the matter, the nurse probably wasn’t a triage nurse, since Linda was screaming that her husband needed to see a triage nurse and got no response.

Sadly, it really wouldn’t be surprising if MountainView didn’t have that many registered nurses on staff. RNs are increasingly scarce in emergency departments. In fact, the Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine notes that, “among all the supply shortages in health care professional groups, the greatest deficiency is found within the ranks of registered nurses.”

As I discussed in a recent post, medicine faces a dramatic nursing shortage, and EDs are not being spared. In fact, the supply of nurses is particularly unstable in high-stress practice settings like emergency rooms, which see an annual nurse turnover rate of more than 30 percent.

This is a big problem: as the Committee puts it, “experienced ED nurses are truly the backbone of emergency care.” When nurses leave too quickly, it’s harder to accumulate experience—and the intuitive knowledge that would lead a nurse to realize that Morton Scheinbaum needed immediate aid, just by looking at him. 

As I argued in my earlier post, America’s nursing shortage can be solved by encouraging: innovative partnership programs across nursing schools, providing higher pay for nursing faculty and clinical nurses who work in high-stress situations, and—perhaps most importantly—improving working conditions for nurses through better benefits and greater voice in hospital decisions.

But EDs face a number of other issues which have little to do with staffing. Every day, millions of Americans put up with the same long wait time that doomed Morton Scheinbaum to an early grave. In fact, an August report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that average ED wait time was about 56 minutes in 2006, up from 38 minutes in 1997—even longer than what the Scheinbaums experienced in Nevada.

These long waits aren’t due to testy nurses. As Maggie wrote in a recent post, the real issue is that more people are visiting EDs—even as the number of emergency departments in the U.S. is decreasing. Between 1996 and 2006 ED visits jumped more than 32 percent, hitting 118 million two years ago. Yet from 1993-2003, the U.S. saw a 17 percent decline in hospital beds and a 9 percent decline in hospitals with EDs. There’s no more straightforward way to illustrate these trends than the graph below, pulled from a 2006 New England Journal of Medicine article by Dr. Arnold Kellerman, a professor at Emory School of Medicine.


The math here is simple: more ED visitors plus fewer facilities equals longer wait times. The key word is “overcrowding.” For Morton Scheinbaum, this meant that there were no beds available to him when he needed care. Even in cities like New York City, which boasts an embarrassment of hospitals, ED overcrowding has become a major concern: 69 percent of NYC doctors say they’ve personally experienced an ED patient suffering harm because there was no hospital bed available; 28 percent said a patient died as a result.

So what’s driving Americans’ great migration to emergency rooms? "The likely cause is there are just fewer and fewer primary care physicians," Dr. Stephen Pitts of Emory University told the San Francisco Chronicle last month. "If you were to get the flu and your doctor says, 'Sure, I'll see you in two weeks,' you may not be able to wait. It's hard for even insured people to get quick appointments and be seen quickly."

As Health Beat has noted recently, the evidence on primary care backs up Pitts’ hunch: it’s people who have insurance—and thus already have, at least in theory, access to doctors—who are making up a greater share of ED visits than in the past. Over the years, America has seen primary care physicians who must take on more patients. As generalist doctors have become less accessible to insured Americans, they’re substituting doctor’s appointments for non-emergency care with visits to the ED.

When so many patients use emergency physicians as primary care physicians the people who actually need emergency care may wind up taking a backseat to everyone else: At MountView hospital, one of the bed that could have gone to Morton was already taken by a patient who was constipated.

With such increases in ED visits, why do we have fewer EDs, when in fact we need more? Emergency rooms just aren’t very lucrative for hospitals. Indeed, hospitals often lose money on emergency care.

This is in large part because, whether or not they are insured, all American citizens have a legal right to emergency care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) of 1986.

EMTALA is a noble idea, but there’s a big problem: it’s an unfunded mandate. The federal government orders medical professionals to provide care for everyone, while never instituting a mechanism to compensate them for delivering that care. And that care gets pretty pricey.

The American College of Emergency Physicians estimates that EMTALA requirements cost emergency care professionals more than $425 million annually; the growing ranks of America’s uninsured, who also tend to use EDs as doctors’ offices, add another $1 billion in uncompensated care to emergency physician services. All in all, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, fifty-five percent of emergency care in the U.S. goes uncompensated.

Such generosity also eats up time: American College of Emergency Physicians reports that one-third of emergency physicians provide more than 30-hours of EMTALA-related care a week—which leaves less care for other insured patients who could cross-subsidize EMTALA care. With little in the way of financial support to help them navigate a sea of new patients, 500 hospitals and more than 1,000 EDs have closed over the past ten years. 

It would be wrong to argue that emergency departments should turn away more people in order to save money. The answer is to rebalance the U.S. health care system so patients don’t feel that EDs are their best resort for medical attention. That means expanding health coverage for Americans and making sure that those with insurance have better access to primary care physicians. The “medical home” model, centered on collaborative, coordinated care, could go a long way in helping patients feel like they had more options for everyday care.

What happened to the Scheinbaums was tragic. Unfortunately, so long as emergency care in the U.S. continues to be under-staffed, under-funded, and over-crowded, these stories will become more common.

U.S. may step up raids in Pakistan

U.S. may step up raids in Pakistan

Despite growing protests in Pakistan over a raid, many Pentagon officials favor a more aggressive approach to counter attacks in Afghanistan carried out by militants based in Pakistan.

By Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller

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Even as angry protests spread in Pakistan, Pentagon officials said Thursday that the number of cross-border commando missions may grow in coming months to counter increasing violence in Afghanistan.

The developments threatened to aggravate U.S.-Pakistani tensions just before the country's presidential election Saturday, in which attitudes toward the United States are likely to be a key issue. The U.S. raid Wednesday and its aftermath also fanned a long-standing debate within the Bush administration over how to deal with militants in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials said U.S. troops flew into South Waziristan by helicopter in the raid and that as many as 20 people were killed, many thought to be civilians. The White House, State Department and Pentagon all moved to clamp down on administration discussion of the assault, but government officials confirmed the broad details provided by the Pakistani government.

U.S. military officials insisted that there was no new policy authorizing an increase in raids into Pakistan. Assaults by U.S. special operations forces into Pakistan have taken place before, and U.S.-operated unmanned aircraft have attacked sites believed to be used by militants.

But pressure has been building within the military for more aggressive use of existing practices as U.S. casualties have increased with the rising number of attacks carried out in Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistan.

"You can't allow a haven," said a military officer, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity about the raid. "You have to get to the areas that they rest, relax and train."

Many within the Pentagon and among military officers in the region are skeptical about the value of increased U.S. operations in Pakistan. These officials believe that stepped-up operations risk a backlash and that a better approach would be to steadily press the Pakistani military to take on the extremists.

In Pakistan, parliament passed a resolution Thursday condemning the raid, a day after the government lodged a diplomatic protest with the U.S. ambassador.

The frequency of U.S. raids in the future may depend on the Pakistani reaction. U.S. officials are monitoring both the public response and the private reaction from leaders of the fledgling Pakistani government. Some military officials considered the initial Pakistani response relatively restrained, although protests continued to build.

Military officials said that the U.S. had used existing authorities negotiated with former President Pervez Musharraf to launch the raid. A senior military official said the volatile political situation in Pakistan had prevented any new negotiations for U.S. operations in the country.

The U.S. has long claimed the right to cross the border in "hot pursuit" of militants. Although the details are unclear, Wednesday's raid does not appear to be a case of hot pursuit.

A U.S. official suggested that the raid was conducted in response to border attacks, and that no high-ranking militant leader was captured or killed.

"There are targets other than formally designated high-value targets," the official said.

U.S. special operations forces have conducted raids before, including a 2006 mission in which the elite SEAL Team 6 went into Damadola to attack an Al Qaeda compound.

In a new report of an attack, villagers and officials in North Waziristan on Thursday reported a missile strike they said was carried out by a U.S. aircraft, an unmanned Predator drone. The blast was said to have killed eight people, five of them identified by local officials as "foreigners." That term is often used to describe Al Qaeda militants from Arab countries or Central Asia. It was not immediately known whether any was a high-profile insurgent figure.

U.S. intelligence officials said the raid Wednesday was along the border, not deep in tribal areas. Officials have noted that boundaries are in dispute in many locations.

White House and State Department spokesmen refused to discuss the incident and limited their remarks to calls for cooperation with the Pakistani government.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior U.S. military officials met with the Pakistani army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, last month aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. A senior Defense official said that there was no discussion of increased action by the United States. Instead the meeting focused on how the U.S. could help the Pakistani military increase its counterinsurgency efforts.

But a senior Pentagon official said that pushing for more aggressive action by the new Pakistani government also carries risks. Any Pakistani politician perceived to favor more U.S. latitude in Pakistan would suffer, the Pentagon official said.

"If you want to lose," the official said, "just be the one that gets caught talking to [Vice President Dick] Cheney about U.S. incursions across your border."

Saturday's presidential contest will be decided by members of parliament and the country's regional assemblies. Asif Ali Zardari, husband of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of her Pakistan People's Party, is the front-runner. Zardari is seen as relatively pro-American, and the recent raid could affect his candidacy.

Gustav's Impact on Louisiana and Haiti

Gustav's Impact on Louisiana and Haiti

Bill Quigley

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Hurricane Gustav killed 18 people in Louisiana and displaced 1.9 million. Over 800,000 homes are without electricity, nearly half the state, and some will not see power for up to a month.

In Haiti, Gustav killed 77 with another eight missing and damaged nearly 15,000 homes. Tropical storm Hanna, which closely followed Gustav, killed at least another 60 people. Tens of thousands of people have sought safety on rooftops and temporary shelters. Rotting cows drift in the flood waters.

Louisiana is the poorest state in the US, home to nearly four million people, with per capita income of around $16,000 per year. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, home to nearly nine million people, with a per capita income of less than $400 per year.

In Louisiana, gas and water are scarce. On Thursday September 4, 2008, authorities reported a three-mile line of people waiting for food and water outside of New Orleans. The evacuation of 1.9 million people in Louisiana went relatively smoothly. The return has been much more difficult.

Reports from community organizations in Haiti say people have not eaten since Monday. Melinda Miles from Konpay reported: "Twenty-four hours of rain drenching the huts of the poor, perched on the cliffs, and drowning the slums, huddled on the edge of the sea. Homes were washed away by overflowing rivers, and others had flash floods tear through their walls. Fields of plantain trees are now stagnant puddles - breeding ground for mosquitoes - and agricultural fields were destroyed throughout the region. Almond trees floated into the sea and coconut trees were uprooted."

Tens of thousands of people in Louisiana remain displaced. A thousand people in one shelter reported there were no bathing facilities at all. People washed up in a bucket. Another shelter reported 30 people arrested outside a nearby convenience store. Buses will start bringing people back on Friday.

Haiti was in deep trouble before being hit by a series of storms. Hunger is widespread. Sky-high food prices sparked riots and turmoil as people could not afford to purchase enough food.

Louisiana had not yet recovered from Hurricane Katrina, three years ago. New Orleans still has over 65,000 vacant and abandoned homes and over 100,000 fewer people since Katrina. Many of the elderly, disabled and African-American working poor remain displaced.

"There is no food, no water, no clothes," the pastor of a church in Gonaives, Arnaud Dumas. told The Associated Press. "I want to know what I'm supposed to do ... We haven't found anything to eat in two, three days. Nothing at all."

Critics question why prisoners in New Orleans were returned by public transportation days before tens of thousands of citizens had the same opportunity.

President Rene Preval of Haiti told Reuters, "We are in a really catastrophic situation. There are a lot of people on rooftops and there are prisoners we cannot guard." In Gonaives, a city of 160,000, half the homes remain flooded, according to UN troops. People begged for food and water outside the UN troop base.

"All and all, the response has been excellent," President Bush told the nation. The US Embassy in Haiti announced it was releasing $100,000 in emergency aid to Haiti.

In Haiti, the situation is critical. "If they don't have food, it can be dangerous," Haitian Senator Youri Latortue told The Associated Press. "They can't wait."

"We expect a surge of evictions and power cutoffs," said Brother Don Everard of Hope House, a social service agency in New Orleans. "People were having trouble making rent and utilities before evacuating for Gustav, now it will be worse because they have spent all their money to evacuate."

Haiti is 1,300 miles away from New Orleans. Other hurricanes are now approaching the Caribbean.

Convention Police Bust the Press

Convention Police Bust the Press

Chronicling his life as a journalist in the colonial British Raj, a young Winston Churchill wrote that “nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Nor, I’d add, is there anything in life quite so discombobulating as to turn a corner and unexpectedly walk into a wall of tear gas.

It happened to me on a couple of occasions during the years of anti-Vietnam war protests, when I was a college student and young reporter in Washington, DC. One time I was gassed while filming a counterdemonstration on Honor America Day, a nationally televised celebration hosted by Bob Hope.

As God is my witness, the gas hit just as Kate Smith was singing, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

The following year, 1971, demonstrators came from around the country to shut Washington down during morning rush hour. A photographer, another reporter and I were on the scene covering a failed attempt to close the Key Bridge crossing of the Potomac.

Police in pursuit, we dashed uphill into the Georgetown neighborhood only to run smack into more police lobbing canister after canister of gas until it blanketed the streets.

I remember then Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell standing at the top of his townhouse stoop in robe and slippers, bewildered at the scene unfolding below him, clutching his rolled up copy of the Washington Post for dear life.

Momentarily blinded, students took us in hand and led us to a makeshift infirmary in the basement of a university building.

So, attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver and watching events at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul via television, the sights and sounds of police and protesters were familiar.

And that scent, the heavy, cloying smell of gas and pepper spray, as evocative as, but far less delicate than a Proustian cookie.

In both cities, getting tickets to the big shindigs hosted by major corporations seeking to bend the ear of party VIP’s was a media challenge – they were blocked by sometimes heavy-handed attempts by police and private security to keep the press out.

A very few, like ABC News’ Brian Ross got in, recording, for example, the bash thrown for Republicans by Lockheed Martin, the American Trucking Association and the NRA, featuring a band named Hookers and Blow.

However, in Denver, one of Ross’ producers, Asa Eslocker, was arrested while trying to interview Democratic senators and donors leaving a private event at the Brown Palace Hotel.

What was different in St. Paul was that the police seemed especially intent on singling out independent journalists and activists covering the Republican convention for the Internet and other alternative forms of media.

Over the weekend, police staged preemptive raids on several buildings where planning sessions for demonstrations were being held, one of them a meeting of various video bloggers, including I-Witness Video, a media group that monitors law enforcement.

Later in the week, I-Witness’ temporary headquarters were entered by police, claiming they had received news of a possible hostage situation.

Why all this interest? One can only speculate, but footage that I-Witness shot at the Republican convention four years ago in Manhattan has helped exonerate hundreds who were arrested and detained by the New York Police Department, their cases either dismissed or resulting in acquittals at trial.

In St. Paul, two student photographers and their advisor from the University of Kentucky were held without charge for 36 hours.

The ACLU of Minnesota ID’d several other journalists, bloggers and photographers from Rhode Island, California, Illinois, Florida, and other parts of the country who also were arrested. Many others were gassed or hit by pepper spray.

Perhaps the most prominent arrest was that of journalist Amy Goodman, anchor of the daily television and radio news program, “Democracy Now!” Police had taken two of her producers into custody as they were trying to cover the news.

Goodman went out looking for them, but didn’t get very far. She was stopped, slapped into handcuffs, and hauled into a detention center, along with almost 200 hundred other people. They had come to demonstrate, she had come to report on them.

Goodman was released a few hours later and back on the job anchoring her daily radio and TV show, a favorite of listeners and viewers who go to her for news they won’t find in the mainstream or right-wing press.

What has those in control worried is that despite what the politicians tell us from inside their fortified compounds where the party line rules, more and more people outside have cameras and laptops, and they’re not afraid to use them.

Forty years ago, protestors in Chicago shouted, “The whole world is watching.”

More and more, the whole world isn’t just watching. From Minnesota to China, citizen journalists are reporting what they see and hear, and the powers that be don’t like it.