Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bubbles Are Bursting Worldwide

Bubbles Are Bursting Worldwide

Go To Original

CNN writes:

"The credit market crisis, combined with the recent stock market declines and the plunge in home values over the past two years, is setting off the deflationary alarm bells for economists.

Paul Kasriel, chief economist with Northern Trust in Chicago, said most bouts of deflation have started with sharp declines in assets such as stocks or homes. That has tended to lead to a loss of value of collateral for loans and ultimately, large losses by lenders and very tight credit"

Remember that a housing bubble has burst not only in the U.S., but in France, Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, and many other regions. China is slowing down as well.

And stocks are down worldwide.

This may point towards global deflation.

The Economist writes:

"A global recession is almost certainly on the way . . . With commodity prices falling sharply ... and economies suffering, inflation risks are evaporating in the rich world. .... Deflation is an increasing risk."

The Telegraph provides impressions of the slow down spreading all around the world:

The commodity and emerging market booms are breaking in unison, leaving no more bubbles left to burst. Almost every corner of the world is now being drawn into the vortex of debt deflation.

The freight rates for Capesize vessels used to ship grains, coal, and iron ore have fallen 95pc to $11,600 since May, hence the bankruptcy of Odessa’s Industrial Carriers last week with a fleet of 52 vessels. Cargo deliveries dropped 15.2pc at the US Port of Long Beach last month, but that is a lagging indicator.

From what I have been able to find out, shipping is slowing as fast as it did in the grim months of late 1931. “The crisis is now in full swing across the entire world,” said Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister. “It is hitting the real economy, the productive forces of industry. It’s global, it’s total, and it’s everywhere,” he said.

Italy’s industrial output has fallen 11pc in the last year. Foreign orders have dropped 13pc. But we are all in much the same boat. Europe’s car sales fell 9pc in September (32pc in Spain). US housing starts fell to a 45-year low in September.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund had to rescue Hungary and Ukraine as contagion swept Eastern Europe ....

Russia’s foreign reserves have fallen by $67bn since August. Ural crude prices fell to $65 a barrel last week, below the budget solvency threshold of the now extravagant Russian state.

The new capitalists have to repay $47bn in foreign loans over the next two months. In Russia, oligarch fiefdoms built on leverage - Mikhail Fridman (Alfa), Oleg Deripaska (Basic Element), and Vladimir Lisin (Novolipetsk) - are lining up for state bail-outs from a $50bn rescue fund.

Brazil is free-fall as well. Sao Paolo’s Bovespa index is down a third in dollar terms in a month. Hopes that the BRIC quartet (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) would take over as the engine of world growth have proved yet another bubble delusion.

China says 53pc of the country’s 3,600 toy factories have gone bust this year. Economist Andy Xie says China is at imminent risk of its own crisis after allowing over-investment to run rampant, like Japan in the 1980s. “The end is near. They’ve been keeping this house of cards going for a long time with bank support,” he said.

Indeed, China's GDP has slowed from 12 percent to 9 percent, and the Financial Times writes that "Indicators hint China [is] on verge of slowdown", and may be in for a hard landing.

Paulson panics as UK, Germany find own solution

Paulson panics as UK, Germany find own solution

Go To Original

F. William Engdahl

America’s de facto finance czar, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, has reached for the panic button and made a dramatic 180-degree reversal of his financial bailout plan passed only days before.

On September 23 in testimony before the US Congress, Paulson, former CEO of the politically influential Wall Street investment firm, Goldman Sachs, declared his adamant opposition to the idea of the US government taking equity stakes in troubled major banks in order to provide them capital and stabilize the frozen interbank trading market. On October 13, that opposition to ‘nationalization’ collapsed.

What happened to cause that sudden reversal is what interests us here. It shows the utter lack of coherency in the US financial elites over how to deal with their homegrown securitization of risk fiasco.

The Paulson plan was widely criticized among more sober US bankers and economists, including Paulson’s predecessor as Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill who simply called the concept of using a $700 billion taxpayer bailout fund to buy ‘toxic debt’ from banks ‘crazy.’ All critics agreed the Paulson approach was far the most costly model and far from guaranteed to solve the underlying problem: inadequate bank capitalization following hundreds of billions of dollars in subprime and other security losses.

Yet the secretary adamantly refused to alter his plan, even after Congress rejected it in the first vote. He allowed non-related congressional items to be glued on to his original TARP plan, a plan that gave the Treasury secretary virtual dictatorial powers over US finance and, de facto, the economy. It was referred to widely as ‘the financial equivalent of the USAPATRIOT Act.’

Then, on October 8 the unexpected took place. Gordon Brown, former British finance minister and now prime minister, facing a literal meltdown of the British banking system, on advice of senior staff of the Bank of England, swallowed his own opposition to bank nationalization and adopted an emergency nationalization scheme. He announced that the UK Treasury had made €64 billion available to buy bank preferred shares in eight UK banks designated by the government as strategic. The nationalization was to be partial but effective and included a €260 billion ‘special liquidity scheme’ of Treasury cash to inject into the frozen interbank market, consisting of UK Treasury bills in exchange for banks’ less liquid assets as collateral.

The relevance of 1931

The move was a replay of the dramatic decision by the British Government in 1931. At that time, and members of the British Commonwealth ‘broke the rules of the game’ and unilaterally abandoned the international Gold Standard. In September 1931, after months of debate, the abandoned monetary orthodoxy and unilaterally left the Gold Standard it had rejoined in 1925.

Germany had preceded the UK, under far different circumstances, by some weeks in August 1931, by abandoning the Gold Standard.

Germany, under emergency rule without parliament under Chancellor Brüning, faced a crisis in the wake of the French decision to punish the German-Austrian economic entente. had precipitated a banking crisis in ’s largest bank, the Vienna Credit-Anstalt.

The role of J.P. Morgan Bank in New York, the leading private creditor of the German banking system since the end of hyperinflation in 1923, and the Morgan controlled New York Federal Reserve under Governor George L. Harrison, was instrumental in precipitating the German banking crisis of 1931.

As a condition for its stabilization loan to the Reichsbank, Harrison demanded the Reichsbank cease lending to German commercial banks. Under maximum duress, it did. The banks collapsed.

So long as it remained on the Gold Standard, a requirement of JP Morgan and the New York Federal Reserve, had to prevent capital outflows and impose higher taxes and budget austerity to persuade international creditors of its credit worthiness. As the German recession deepened, the government cut the social programs instituted after the war. It was the outbreak of the banking crisis in the summer of 1931 that made the German depression so severe. The collapse of the banks in central Europe had a major social, psychological and political impact. The rest became tragic history.

The , guided by Harrisonand backed up by the monetary orthodoxy of President Herbert Hoover, held bitterly to the Gold Standard until March 1933 when newly inaugurated President Roosevelt left the Gold Standard. By then, the economy was deep in depression.

Paulson’s volte face

This time around it was again England that led the break with the rules of a US financial game by swiftly nationalizing its top eight banks, starting with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) on October 8, a Wednesday. By that Friday it was clear that Germany was also moving towards a national resolution of its banking problems, problems which originated in the US spread of Asset Backed Securities and Credit Default Swaps, an exotic new area of finance which had grown up in recent years in a totally unregulated area of bank-to-bank practice to a nominal size of some $68 trillion. The French Sarkozy Plan, a €300 to 400 billion ‘common bailout fund’ modelled loosely on the original Paulson Plan, was dead. German taxpayers would not pay for the excesses of French or Italian banks. It was a sea change in attitude across the EU away from a US-led global financial unity. The American Century faced catastrophe.

That was the point of Paulson’s radical shift to what in the parlance of US radical free marketers was a bolt towards the dreaded ‘S’ word, socialisation of the banking system. According to my best European banking sources, had Paulson not taken radical new action at that point, as one City of London veteran banker expressed it, ‘the US banks were in danger of extinction.’

On Monday, October 13, in the US Treasury, Paulson convened an emergency meeting with the heads of the nine largest US banks. According to reports from participants, Paulson handed each person a one page document to sign that they would agree to sell their stock shares in part to the US government in return for an emergency injection of $250 billion. Paulson told them they must all sign before leaving the room. Three hours and reportedly many acrimonious arguments later, all nine had signed in the largest government intervention into the banking system since the Great Depression.

According to insider accounts from bankers here I spoke with and in New York, it was precisely the decision by the UK, backed by a similar if not yet so detailed plan from the German authorities which forced Paulson’s about face.

After the fact, in a confirmation of how weak the new Federal Reserve Chairman, Ban Bernanke is in face of the domineering personality of Paulson, Bernanke mumbled to the press that he had ‘all along’ been in favor of the government buying equity shares to recapitalize the banks. Why he refused to state that publicly before the Paulson Plan won the day is unclear, but it suggests the man Bush chose to succeed Alan Greenspan was chosen for his liability not his ability or his backbone.

San Francisco Federal Reserve President Janet Yellen remarked as well, long after it had become clear that the US administration’s decision to let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt without government assistance, that it had been a horrible miscalculation.

That Lehman Bros. bankruptcy on September 15 was the ‘shock heard round the world,’ which precipitated a global crisis in banking confidence resulting in the present situation. Whether Paulson and friends calculated the collapse would provide the basis to demand a US-crafted solution to the crisis remains unclear. What is clear, one of the chosen ‘winners’ in the present US banking reorganization, JP Morgan Chase, played a nasty role in the final push of Lehman Bros. into insolvency the Friday prior to Lehman’s Monday declaration of insolvency. JP Morgan Chase had ‘mysteriously’ withheld a $19 billion transfer that Friday which would have averted the collapse of Lehman Bros. It was an eerie echo of the nasty role played in 1931 by the House of Morgan in relation, then, to the German and European banking crisis.

After 1931 the House of Morgan never again rose to the prominent role it had held. It is looking increasingly likely that the successor to the bank, JP Morgan Chase, despite the pretensions of its head, Jamie Dimon, to invincibility, may be far more modest.

F. William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (Pluto Press), and Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation (www.globalresearch.ca). This essay is adapted from a book he has just completed, titled Full Spectrum Dominance: The Geopolitical Agenda Behind Washington’s Global Military Buildup (release date estimated Autumn 2008). He may be contacted through his website, www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net.

U.S. willing to discuss international financial governance

U.S. willing to discuss financial governance: EU

By Doug Palmer

Go To Original

The United States has indicated its willingness, for the first time, to discuss creating an international governance structure for financial markets, a top European Union official said on Friday.

"My impression is there's a growing willingness on both sides to discuss seriously the reasons for the crisis and the instruments (for) how we can prevent it from happening again," EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told reporters after two days of talks with Bush administration officials.

"And the question of a governance structure, at least there's a willingness to discuss it for the first time. There was no willingness, you know, to discuss it in the past," Verheugen said.

President George W. Bush will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Saturday to discuss further steps the two sides can take to contain the global financial crisis.

Verheugen said he expected that meeting at Camp David "to define the scope" of a even larger meeting of global leaders to try to tackle the crisis.

Sarkozy this week proposed holding a Group of Eight leading nations summit in New York. However, White House officials said on Friday they did not expect a date for such at meeting to be decided when Bush, Sarkozy and Barroso meet on Saturday.

Verheugen said creating an international governance structure would be a formidable task because even in Europe there is disagreement over whether to create a "European financial watch dog" that would operate across borders.

"Therefore it would be difficult for Europeans to make proposals what kind of global governance we should have if we have not decided" how to handle the issue at home, he said.

At the same time, it does not make sense to "put into place regulations in Europe and the United States which are completely different. We should try to align them, and if possible not only in the United States and Europe but at the international level," Verheugen said.

Verheugen is the EU co-chair of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), a U.S.-EU government forum created two years ago with the goal of reducing regulatory barriers to trade between the world's largest trading partners.

He told reporters he met over the past two days with White House international economic affairs advisor Dan Price, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and others in the administration.

A semi-annual TEC meeting had been scheduled for this week, but was postponed because key EU ministers were unable to attend. Verheugen said the United States and the EU have agreed to reschedule that meeting for between the November 4 presidential election and the end of the year.

Interpol Details Plans For Global Biometric Facial Scan Database

Interpol wants facial recognition database to catch suspects

Go To Original

Interpol is planning to expand its role into the mass screening of passengers moving around the world by creating a face recognition database to catch wanted suspects.

Every year more than 800 million international travellers fail to undergo "the most basic scrutiny" to check whether their identity documents have been stolen, the global policing cooperation body has warned.

Senior figures want a system that lets immigration officials capture digital images of passengers and immediately cross-check them against a database of pictures of terror suspects, international criminals and fugitives.

The UK's first automated face recognition gates - matching passengers to their digital image in the latest generation of passports - began operating at Manchester airport in August.

Mark Branchflower, head of Interpol's fingerprint unit, will this week unveil proposals in London for the creation of biometric identification systems that could be linked to such immigration checks.

The civil liberties group No2ID, which campaigns against identity cards, expressed alarm at the plans.

"This is a move away from seeking specific persons to GCHQ-style bulk interception of information," warned spokesman Michael Parker.

"There's already a fair amount of information collected in terms of passenger records. This is the next step. Law enforcement agencies want the most efficient systems but there has to be a balance between security and privacy." The growth of international criminal gangs and the spread of terrorist threats has increased demand for Interpol's services.

Last year it carried out 10,000 fingerprint searches; this year the figure will reach 20,000.

An automated fingerprint identification system with far greater capacity, known as Metamorpho, will be installed next year. Earlier this month Interpol launched its "global security initiative" aimed at raising $1bn (£577m) to strengthen its law enforcement programmes. It claims to hold the "names and identifiers" of 9,000 terrorist suspects.

Branchflower will speak at the opening of the Biometrics 2008 conference in Westminster about the possibility of extending its biometric database.

Before the conference he said that Interpol wanted to create a face recognition database, to match its fingerprint and DNA records, that could be searched and matched automatically.

"Facial recognition is a step we could go to quite quickly," said Branchflower, "and it's increasingly of use to [all] countries. There's so much data we have but they are in records we can't search."

If Interpol had been operating a face recognition database linked to national border controls last autumn, he said, it might have picked up a Canadian teacher wanted for child abuse as he entered Thailand. The paedophile was the subject of a high-profile manhunt.

"We could have picked him up the moment he entered Bangkok rather than having to wait another two weeks," said Branchflower."We need to get our data to the border entry points. There will be such a large role in the future for fingerprints and facial recognition."

Iceland's Economic Meltdown Is a Big Flashing Warning Sign

Iceland's Economic Meltdown Is a Big Flashing Warning Sign

By Toby Sanger

Go To Original

Iceland -- better known for its geothermal hot springs, abundant fish, all-night raves and eclectic musicians such as Björk and Sigur Rós -- has now become renowned for something else: It is the first catastrophic, and perhaps most unlikely, casualty of the 2008 economic and financial meltdown.

Iceland is now essentially bankrupt after the government took over its three major banks to prevent them from failing. It owes more than $60 billion overseas, about six times the value of its annual economic output. As a professor at London School of Economics said, "No Western country in peacetime has crashed so quickly and so badly."

What on earth happened to get Iceland and its banking sector into such a state?

It turns out that Iceland, despite its coalition governments and Nordic social values, became a poster child for neoconservative economic policies inspired by Milton Friedman during the past decade. Friedman himself visited Iceland in 1984 and participated in what was described as a "lively television debate" with leading Socialists. This inspired a generation of young conservatives who came to power through the Independence Party in 1991 and have run its government through different coalitions since then.

Friedman may be dead now, but the economic and financial collapse of 2008 is becoming a real-life battleground of his theories against those of the other giant of 20th century economics, John Maynard Keynes, and their respective followers. Will financial market bailouts put the economy back on track, or are more extensive reform and a more active role for the government needed?

Keynes' analysis was complicated and nuanced. The work for which he's best known, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, provided a theoretical basis for the economic reforms of the New Deal era -- investments in public works and deficit spending that helped countries recover from the Great Depression.

While Keynes did not dismiss the role of monetary policy in countering an economic downturn, some of his followers, notably recent 2008 Nobel economics prize winner Paul Krugman, in relation to Japan, have focused on the possibility of a "liquidity trap" that makes traditional monetary policies, such as cutting interest rates, ineffective.

Keynes' theories, though often misapplied, provided the basis for most macroeconomic policies in the capitalist world from the 1930s until the 1970s when the oil-price shock and stagflation hit.

Friedman, in his Monetary History of the United States, argued that the Great Depression was primarily caused by negligence by monetary authorities, such as the U.S. Federal Reserve, who didn't do enough to respond to an ordinary financial shock by expanding the money supply.

Friedman and his Chicago school of economics then very successfully spearheaded a reaction against Keynesianism, largely defining economic policy since the 1980s. The main policy prescriptions -- restricting the role of government, deregulation, privatization, cutting taxes, low inflation and the benefits of free markets -- were encapsulated in the "Washington consensus" and imposed with missionary zeal by IMF economists around the world.

While Friedman's narrow form of money supply monetarism was quickly abandoned in the early 1980s, most governments have relied primarily on monetary instead of fiscal policy for stabilization of their economies over the past few decades. This turned Alan Greenspan, former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve and an advocate of Friedman's policies, into the most important economic policy maker in the world. Although Greenspan was never elected, had no particular expertise in economics and was a disciple of the fringe ideology of libertarian Ayn Rand, he was able to use his considerable power to endorse tax cuts and deregulation. He is now widely considered to share the blame for creating the conditions that resulted in the current economic collapse.

Greenspan's successor as chair of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, is also a follower of Friedman, but he is an accomplished economist. Coincidentally enough, one of his areas of expertise was in the economics of the Great Depression; he once boldly stated that the Federal Reserve was responsible for causing the Great Depression and making banking panics during it "much more severe and widespread."

Bernanke is now one of the people in charge of what is probably the most expensive experiment in human history: trying to avert another Depression, using economic policies inspired by Friedman. The cost of this to the U.S. Treasury so far has already reached well over $1 trillion and continues to rise.

So how did the much smaller but perhaps more ambitious experiment with Friedmanite economic policies fare in tiny Iceland, one of the most physically isolated countries in the world with a population of only 320,000?

Under the leadership of Prime Minister David Oddsson and explicitly inspired by Friedman, Iceland's neoconservative young Turks implemented a radical (but now familiar) program of privatization, tax cuts, reductions in spending and deficits, inflation targeting, central bank independence, free trade and exchange rate flexibility. Corporate taxes were cut from 50 percent down to 18 percent. Privatization and deregulation were driven directly through the prime minister's office, and the major banks were privatized.

Economic missions and reports on Iceland issued by the influential International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) largely praised and encouraged these reforms, often disregarding the rising risks for its financial sector until recently.

It wasn't as if everyone was unaware of the growing dangers of these policies. In 2001, Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel prize in economics and one of the leading lights of the "New Keynesian" school of economics, wrote a remarkably prescient paper for the Central Bank of Iceland. In the paper, he raised alarm about a vulnerable, small, open economy such as Iceland suffering from a severe financial and economic crisis from such policies. In the absence of reforms in the "global financial architecture," Stiglitz outlined a set of regulatory and tax measures that Iceland should implement "both to reduce the likelihood of a crisis and to help manage the economy through a crisis."

Stiglitz's paper (PDF) has invaluable advice that should have been considered by any nation -- and especially Iceland -- but it appears these recommendations were ignored. The right-wing reformers certainly didn't change their course. Why would they? Life was good and getting better in the small island state, with showrooms full of fancy cars and booming real estate, business and financial industries.

At first, the policies appeared to be very successful. The economy grew at a strong pace, rising until Iceland achieved one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. In 2007 it also topped the score for the United Nation's Human Development Index.

Iceland rocketed to the top 10 in the indexes of economic freedom designed by the Fraser Institute and the Heritage Foundation. It was lauded by the conservative Cato Institute for its flat taxes, privatization and economic freedoms. The institute also criticized Naomi Klein for not mentioning Iceland (along with Ireland, Estonia and Australia) as an example of success in her book about the rise of disaster capitalism, The Shock Doctrine.

Icelandic banks and businesses, with the support of their government, expanded aggressively overseas, particularly into the U.K. and the Netherlands. The banking industry and private businesses flourished and created a number of new billionaires on the island.

Then it all came crashing down.

Inflation and short-term interest rates escalated to 14 percent, and Iceland's currency lost half its value. Now Iceland has an external debt equivalent to about $200,000 per person with virtually no prospect of repaying it.

Iceland's economic collapse wasn't caused by the subprime crisis or by the Wall Street shenanigans in the biggest economic powerhouse in the world. Instead, it was caused by the same Friedman-inspired economic policies being independently applied in one of the smallest countries in the world.

Back in the United States, it appears that Washington's experiments with Friedman-inspired economic policies are not meeting with much success. Each action taken by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve until mid-October was met with a further decline in stock prices.

Stock markets didn't start to recover until European nations moved to effectively nationalize their major banks. This move was quickly followed by Washington, although it is far outside of what Friedman advocated. It is also diametrically opposed to a number of the 10 economic policy commandments of the old "Washington Consensus." While stock markets may recover, or continue more along their roller-coaster ride, we have yet to see how far down these Friedmanite free market policies will take the real economy of people's jobs, incomes and living standards.

What is somewhat incredible is the apparent lack of remorse or self-reflection and doubt being expressed by the ideologues who put these policies in place. Amazingly, many neocons continue to argue that the financial collapse was caused by regulations that were too strong, or by a confluence of unlikely events, including a rise in "leftist attitudes."

There seems to be a belief among many that a financial market bailout will soon relieve the credit crunch caused by the subprime fiasco and then we can go back to business as usual. We don't need to look too far back in time or too far abroad to see how misguided these views are. Clearly it is time to broaden our horizons, learn from Keynes and successful New Deal economic policies, and consider other imaginative solutions to our economic crisis.

Toby Sanger is an economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees and a contributor to the Progressive Economics Forum blog.

"We Have to Share This Pain"

"We Have to Share This Pain"

Dahr Jamail

Go To Original

Veterans from the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with Iraqis, Afghanis, Vietnam veterans, and family members of U.S. military personnel converged in this west coast city over the weekend to share stories of atrocities being committed daily in Iraq, in a continuation of the "Winter Soldier" hearings held in Silver Spring, Maryland in March.

At the Unitarian Church downtown, some 300 people gathered to hear the testimonies, which left many in tears. The five-hour event was comprised of three panels; Voices of Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, The Human Costs of War, and Building Resistance to War.

The goal of the event is to give veterans a platform by which to disseminate information about their experiences abroad to the general public.

"War changes people. You do not come out of a combat zone the same," Iraq war veteran Chanan Suarez Diaz told the audience while moderating the veteran's panel. "War is very numbing...it comes to a point that you see so much destruction you become numb. This bullshit about bringing democracy or liberation is nonsense -- we've killed over one million Iraqis."

Jan Critchfield, an Army National guard specialist, discussed his job working in Iraq as an army "journalist", that in his words, "I was a propagandist, pure and simple."

A somber Critchfield said, "I'm not proud of any of what I did over there -- it was inhumane and it changed me as a person. I didn't do anything but yell at people, push people around, and aim my gun at people."

Other vets spoke as photos taken by soldiers were shown on a large screen above the stage.

Josh Simpson explained his work as an army counterintelligence agent in Iraq. "We would go to houses without any evidence, arrest people, and pay our source hundreds of dollars. This was common, it was a crazy cycle."

"We were raiding houses every night in Mosul," he continued. "You ransack their stuff, then ask our officer who he wanted to detain."

The number of people detained was a measure of success for a unit, Simpson explained. "People's mothers would be grabbing me, asking me why I was taking their child away, and I never had an answer. It's terrible to push an elderly Iraqi woman away so you can take her child and load her into your Stryker vehicle, when you don't even believe they belong there."

Evan Knappenberger served one year in Iraq with the Army 4th Infantry Division working as an intelligence analyst. "We are responsible as soldiers, we are murderers of over one million Iraqis," a visibly shaken Knappenberger said. "I participated in burglary, trespassing, knowledgeable negligence, criminal assault and battery, rape by association, and gangsterism, I am standing here today as a criminal -- in a sense of the word that only someone who has worn the uniform can understand."

"While I was in Iraq, I did many things, but nothing for freedom," he added. "We've lost this war on the polemic battleground of semantics. By naming arbitrary rules of engagement, we rationalised murder -- this I witnessed...by calling it liberation, we justified occupation, this I witnessed..."

Chris Arendt, who was a block guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre during 2004-05, spoke of his experiences "working at a concentration camp, and the people I was working for were invading other countries."

He explained, "I had a lot of time to think about things. What we do there is completely contrary to our own set of laws. We have 650 people in Gitmo right now waiting for us to do something with them. What have they done? They don't even have charges! We are ruining people's lives."

"Time is the silent killer there," Arendt explained, "You just put people in a cell and tell them they are never going home, and watch them slowly break apart. I wish I was angrier when I was there, but it was impossible to feel there, you can't feel, feelings are just not something you want to bring there in your rucksack., but I'm still trying to unpack them, three years later."

David Mann was an Army Specialist who was deployed to Nasiriyah, Iraq in 2003 and forced to return after his tour ended under the "stop-loss" policy for a second deployment to Balad, Iraq in 2005.

"We were told not to stop when children ran in front of our vehicles as we invaded Iraq," he explained, his voice cracking. After being stop-lossed, Mann checked himself into an emergency room after threatening to kill himself.

Weeping he continued: "I told them I was going to kill myself if I had to go back to war. I was sent back...every man, woman and child who has died in this war has died in vain, because it was a war based on lies and profits."

The event was sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) Seattle Chapter, the American Friends Service Committee, PDX Peace Coalition, and the American Iranian Friendship Council, among many others.

On another panel, Dr. Baher Butti, formerly the chief psychiatrist at a mental health clinic Baghdad, told the stunned audience, "The Iraqi population has mass post-traumatic stress disorder, everybody is just trying to survive."

Dr. Zaher Wahab, professor of Education at Lewis & Clark College, who serves as a senior advisor to the Minister of Higher Education in Afghanistan, spoke eloquently of the catastrophic situation in Afghanistan.

"There is now more bombing in Afghanistan than in Iraq, because they are so short of troops," Dr. Wahab explained, "The average family lives on one dollar per day, two million people are seriously mentally ill, 70 percent of Afghanis are traumatised. The society is being murdered by the occupation, and it's being done on live television."

Iraq war veteran and former Marine Benjamin David Lewis, 23 years old, also attended the event. Lewis, who has served two tours in Iraq and four years as a Marine, including being in Fallujah during the November 2004 siege that killed thousands of Iraqis and destroyed much of the city, had just received his involuntary activation order to redeploy, as he is in the Individual Ready Reserve.

"My plane to Kansas City that takes me to be screened and get my orders leaves tomorrow," Lewis told IPS on Oct. 18. "Presumably I'll get my orders to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, but I'm going to refuse to activate."

Lewis explained that when a soldier is screened for deployment, they have five months to get their affairs in order before being shipped abroad. At the end of this five months, he has decided he will publicly refuse his orders to deploy.

When asked why he would refuse the orders, Lewis said his decision was based on educating himself about the goals of the U.S. government and military, coupled with his experience in Fallujah during both 2004 sieges, of which he said, "My battalion in spring 2004 was operating in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions (GC)."

"During the spring siege we sent military-age males back into the city, and were ordered to kill them," he told IPS.

Of the November siege, Lewis added, "The intention of the military was to take over and occupy the main hospital in Fallujah, which violates the GC's, as well as our being ordered to target all 'military age males'."

The intention of his refusal to activate is "To let the American public and other veterans know that this is an illegal war, and everyone should be opposing it."

The first Winter Soldier event was organised in 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in response to a growing list of human rights violations occurring in Vietnam.

From Mar. 13-16, 2008, IVAW held a national conference titled "Winter Solider: Iraq and Afghanistan" outside Washington, DC. The four-day event brought together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If we are going to end these occupations, we have to share this pain," Camilo Mejia, Iraq veteran and Chair of the Board of IVAW stated to conclude the veterans panel. "Only by sharing this pain, and acting to end it, can we heal ourselves and educate the American public."

Could the US election be stolen?

Could the US election be stolen?

Go To Original

With John McCain and Barack Obama already swapping accusations of widespread voter fraud, experts warn that a bitter and protracted fight could ensue if the race to the White House is decided by a narrow margin.

The legal battle over election rules has already made it all the way to the Supreme Court as Republicans fight to block potentially false registrations from being validated and Democrats struggle to prevent voter disenfranchisement.

Compounding the problem is the decentralized US electoral system, which hands often partisan local officials the power to make rules and maintain the voter registration rolls.

"I'm hoping it's not close," said Richard L. Hasen, a professor who specializes in election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"I am certain there will be problems on election day."

An estimated nine million new voters have registered for the hotly contested November 4 election, and the Obama campaign says Democratic registrations are outpacing Republican ones by four to one.

The McCain campaign contends that an untold number of those registration forms are false and warns that illegally cast ballots could alter the results of the election and undermine the public's faith in democracy.

Republicans have launched a slew of lawsuits aimed at preventing false ballots from being cast, the most high-profile an attempt to challenge as many as 200,000 of more than 600,000 new registrations submitted in the battleground state of Ohio that was blocked by a Supreme Court ruling Friday.

They point to investigations into whether liberal-leaning community organization ACORN deliberately submitted false voter registrations as proof of "rampant" and widespread fraud which McCain said could be "destroying the fabric of democracy."

But the Obama campaign said this was just a "smokescreen" to divert attention from Republican "plotting" to suppress legitimate votes and to "sow confusion and harass voters and complicate the process for millions of Americans."

Voters whose registrations have been challenged or those who find their names have been removed from the rolls are often required to cast provisional ballots, which are not immediately counted in some jurisdictions and are often rejected due to technicalities.

Meanwhile, a 2007 study by the New York University School of Law concluded that "it is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls."

"For these problems to be really decisive they have to be within the margin of litigation, which is typically a few thousand votes," Hasen said in a recent interview.

The 2000 election took weeks to resolve as Democrat Al Gore fought Republican George W. Bush all the way to the Supreme Court after Bush won the state of Florida, and thus the election, with a margin of a few hundred votes.

Four years later, Democrat John Kerry conceded defeat despite allegations of widespread voter suppression in Ohio, which handed Bush his second term with a margin of nearly 119,000 votes.

In the meantime, electoral litigation has become part of the standard play book.

The number of lawsuits filed over elections has more than doubled from an average of 94 in the four years prior to the 2000 election to an average of 230 in the six years following, Hasen found in a study published in the Stanford Law Review.

Misinformation has also been used to discourage voters from showing up on election day.

Students in Virginia, Colorado and South Carolina were wrongfully told by voting officials that they could lose their scholarships and their parents would no longer be able to claim them on their income taxes if they registered to vote in their college towns.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights launched an advertising campaign this week to combat misleading rumors - some started by local officials in mailings to voters - that people would be denied the right to vote if they lost their home to foreclosure, have a criminal record or do not have photo identification.

Such tactics are not new, said Laughlin McDonald, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's voting rights project.

Despite strict constitutional and legal protections for the right to vote, "the history of the country has been one of flagrant vote denial," McDonald told AFP.

Many of tactics once used to keep blacks from voting in the south - poll taxes, literacy tests, violence and intimidation - have been eliminated.

But some have been adapted, including the practice of purging voting rolls of people likely to vote for the other party by challenging them en masse.

"There's more (attempts at voter suppression) that's been going on in the lead-up to this election than any I can remember," McDonald told AFP.

"The fact remains the people who have the power to make the rules are all too often willing to do so in ways that serve their partisan interests."

Machine Problems Plague 1st Day Of Early Voting

Machine Problems Plague 1st Day Of Early Voting

Voting Brisk In Metro Counties With No Problems

Go To Original

People lined up to be among the first to vote at several early voting sites around Jacksonville Monday morning had an extra long wait and some left frustrated when machines at several locations refused to record the ballots.

"It was very shocking to have the very first ballot at 10 o'clock this morning not go into the machine," said state Rep. Audrey Gibson, who hoped to be first to vote at the Gateway location.

The Duval County elections office confirmed problems with voting machines at the Gateway Shopping Center and libraries on Edgewood Avenue, at Regency Square and Webb Wesconnett. Channel 4 heard from voters experiencing problems at other polling places, as well.

"I was frustrated with all the breakdowns of the machines," Westside voter John Lord said. "How long have they had to had this all fixed and ready to go and they knew it was an important election and that there would be a big turnout."

Voters were not the only ones frustrated. Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said his staff had to replace optical scanners at four sites and they were investigating reports of problems at other sites.

"The reader said the ballot is too long. However, in looking at that, we measured that, there's not a problem," Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said. "It doesn't stop the voters from voting, because we can put them in an emergency bin and then read them tonight when we close it, but obviously it's frustrating when we bought new equipment for this and we are having some problems that didn't show up at all during testing."

While voters could continue to cast ballots and put them in the emergency bin, they were uncomfortable not seeing their vote registered.

Demetria McWhite decided to come back later when the machines were working rather than trust election workers to feed her ballot into the machine after she was gone.

"I'm kind of nervous about it, you know -- that my vote won't go to the right person," said Annie Fingh.

Late Monday, election officials said a total of seven ballot scanning machines malfunctioned and had to be replaced. Ten more were ordered from the manufacturer as backups.

Lines on the first of 14 days of early voting were not unexpected. Election observers predict a record turnout -- perhaps 85 percent -- this year as voters will not only choose between the first African-American or the oldest man ever to run for president, but decide dozens of congressional, state legislative and local government races, along with several constitutional amendments.

Bernice Seget, who was first in line at the supervisor of elections office downtown Monday, said she waited about 35 minutes to cast her ballot.

Seget, 72, said she came early to "avoid the rush ... I knew the crowd is going to be heavy."

At the Webb Wesconnett library on 103rd Street, where people waited over an hour while election workers tried to fix the optical scanners, one woman commented: "I've never seen this many people in line -- even on Election Day -- since the 70s."

Early voting in other northeast Florida counties has gone smoothing, with hundreds voting in every county by midday and 2,900 voting in St. Johns County by 2 p.m.

Around the state, said the turnout for the first day of early voting was heavy and some lines, but no other counties reported the extent of malfunctions experience in Jacksonville.

"Lines are a sign of a healthy democracy, and certainly our democracy is healthy today," said Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

That heavy turnout combined with a large number of first-time voters and a ballot containing several races and constitutional amendments will result in lines of two hours or more on Nov. 4, election officials have urged people to take advantage of one of the two ways Florida law gives for voters to cast ballots before Election Day:

Absentee Voting: Registered voters do not need a reason to request an absentee ballot, and it can be done by mail up to Oct. 29 or in person at county elections offices through Election Day. Contact the supervisor of elections office for your county to learn more.

Early Voting:. From Oct. 20 through Nov. 1, in most counties and through Nov. 2 in Duval County, registered voters can go to any early voting site in their county, show a photo ID and cast a ballot. In large metro counties, people can vote when and where it's convenient.Nationwide, about a third of the electorate is expected to vote early this year. That would be up from 22 percent in 2004 and 16 percent in 2000.