Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wall Street and Washington conspired to defraud Japanese banks

Wall Street and Washington conspired to defraud Japanese banks

By Wayne Madsen

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Intelligence agencies in China and Japan are focusing on the role of a successor entity of Salomon Brothers as being behind a fraud against Japanese banks by the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and Wall Street to bail out unscrupulous Wall Street bankers and mega-investors.

Salomon was the first to offer mortgage bonds to infuse capital into failing firms. It began its mortgage bond business in 1935 to circumvent a “capital strike” organized by Wall Street’s top investment firms to protest Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy’s tough new regulations on Wall Street following the Great Depression.

In 1962, Salomon teamed up with Merrill Lynch, Blyth & Co., and Lehman Brothers to form the “Fearsome Foursome.” The foursome became aggressive as block traders of stocks and bonds and took over bond trading from traditional underwriters.

When the Republican Congress approved deregulation of mortgage trading in the 1980s, Salomon was in the cat bird’s seat as savings and loans began selling mortgages as bonds. Under John Gutfreund as CEO, Salomon became the king of the mortgage-backed securities market. However, the savings & loan scandal, a Treasury bill (T-Bill) scandal in which Salomon submitted false bids to the Treasury Department to purchase more Treasury bonds than legally permitted, and involvement in the junk bond business ultimately led the SEC to fine Salomon and bar Gutfreund from ever serving as a CEO of a brokerage firm. Salomon was acquired by Travelers Group and later by Citigroup and was briefly known as Salomon Smith Barney. Salomon is now an autonomous division of Citigroup Global Markets.

Chinese and Japanese intelligence agencies that look closely at financial malfeasance are alarmed that the Salomon division of Citigroup has managed to take over all of Lehman Brothers’ viable assets, leaving the U.S. bankruptcy court holding the debt of the failed securities firm. Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 15, 2008. Lehman had borrowed billions from two Japanese banks -- Nomura and Sumitomo Mitsui -- to stay afloat. Our Asian intelligence sources report that the Salomon division of Citigroup engaged in a massive fraud scheme with the connivance of the Treasury Department of Henry Paulson and the Federal Reserve Bank of Ben Shalom Bernanke.

The Japanese government of Prime Minister Taro Aso realizes the impact of the fraud committed against its banks by Salomon/Citigroup and has backpedaled on an earlier promise to hold snap early elections. The opposition Democratic Party, which controls the upper house of the Japanese parliament, smells blood in the water and wants to see early elections.

WMR has also learned that a number of CIA officers are in Beijing to try to prevent a united Asian front against Washington’s and Wall Street’s attempts to call the shots on the global financial crisis. The CIA’s top priority is to ensure that nothing interferes with China’s continued backing of the U.S. dollar.

Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?

Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?

By Ray McGovern

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"As Bad As Rumsfeld?" The title jars, doesn't it? The more so, since Defense Secretary Robert Gates found his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, such an easy act to follow.

But the jarring part reflects how malnourished most of us are on the thin gruel served up by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).

Over the past few months, Defense Secretary Gates has generated accolades from FCM pundits — like the Washington Post's David Ignatius — that read like letters of recommendation to graduate school.

This comes as no surprise to those of us – including his former colleagues at the CIA’s analytical division – familiar with Gates's dexterity in orchestrating his own advancement. What DOES come as a surprise is the recurring rumor that President-elect Obama may decide to put new wine in old wineskins by letting Gates stay.

What can Barack Obama be thinking?

I suspect that those in Obama's circle who are promoting Gates may be the same advisers responsible for Obama's most naïve comment of the recent presidential campaign: that the "surge" of U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007-08 "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

Succeeded? You betcha — the surge was a great success in terms of the administration's overriding objective. The aim was to stave off definitive defeat in Iraq until President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney could swagger from the West Wing into the western sunset on Jan. 20, 2009.

As author Steve Coll has put it, "The decision [to surge] at a minimum guaranteed that his [Bush's] presidency would not end with a defeat in history's eyes. By committing to the surge [the President] was certain to at least achieve a stalemate."

According to Bob Woodward, Bush told key Republicans in late 2005 that he would not withdraw from Iraq, "even if Laura and [first-dog] Barney are the only ones supporting me."

Later, Woodward made it clear that Bush was well aware in fall 2006 that the U.S. was losing. Suddenly, with some fancy footwork, it became Laura, Barney – and Robert Gates. And at the turn of 2006-07 the short-term fix was in.

But Please, No More Troops!

By the fall of 2006 it had become unavoidably clear that a new course had to be chosen and implemented in Iraq, and virtually every sober thinker seemed opposed to sending more troops.

The senior military, especially CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid and his man on the ground in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, emphasized that sending still more U.S. troops to Iraq would simply reassure leading Iraqi politicians that they could relax and continue to take forever to get their act together.

Here, for example, is Gen. Abizaid's answer at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 15, 2006, to Sen. John McCain, who had long been pressing vigorously for sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq:

”Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, ‘in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?’ And they all said no. And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more. It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.”

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, sent a classified cable to Washington warning that "proposals to send more U.S. forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable," according to a New York Times retrospective on the “surge” by Michael R. Gordon published on Aug. 31, 2008.

Khalilzad was arguing, unsuccessfully, for authority to negotiate a political solution with the Iraqis.

There was also the establishment-heavy Iraq Study Group, created by Congress and led by Republican stalwart James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton. After months of policy review during 2006 – with Gates as a member – it issued a final report on Dec. 6, 2006, that began with the ominous sentence, "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." It called for:

"A change in the primary mission of U.S. Forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly… By the first quarter of 2008…all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."

Robert Gates, who had been CIA director under President George H. W. Bush and spent years as president of Texas A&M, had returned to the Washington stage as a member of the Iraq Study Group. While on the ISG, he evidenced no disagreement with its emerging conclusions – at least not until Bush asked him to become Secretary of Defense in early November 2006.

Never one to let truth derail ambition, Gates suddenly saw things quite differently. After Bush announced his nomination on Nov. 8, Gates quit the ISG but kept his counsel about its already widely reported recommendations.

Gates would do what he needed to do to become Defense Secretary. At his confirmation hearing on Dec. 5, he obscured his opinions by telling the Senate Armed Services only that “all options are on the table in terms of Iraq.” Many Democrats, however, assumed that Gates would help persuade Bush to implement the ISG’s plan for a troop drawdown.

With unanimous Democratic support and only two conservative Republicans opposed, Gates was confirmed by the full Senate on Dec. 6, the same day the ISG report was formally released.

Gates to the Rescue

Yet, the little-understood story behind Bush’s decision to catapult Robert Gates into his Pentagon perch was the astonishing fact that Donald Rumsfeld, of all people, was pulling a Robert McNamara; that is, he was going wobbly on a war based largely on his own hubris-laden, misguided advice.

As investigative journalist Robert Parry has reported, in the fall of 2006 Rumsfeld was having a reality attack. In Rumsfeld-speak, he came face to face with a "known known."

On Nov. 6, 2006, a day before the mid-term elections, Rumsfeld sent a memo to the White House, in which he acknowledged, "Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough." The rest of his memo sounded very much like the emerging troop-drawdown conclusions of the Iraq Study Group.

The first 80 percent of Rumsfeld's memo addressed "Illustrative Options," including his preferred – or “above the line” – options such as "an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases … to five by July 2007" and withdrawal of U.S. forces "from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. … so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Finally, Rumsfeld had begun to listen to his generals and others who knew which end was up.

The hurdle? Bush and Cheney were not about to follow Rumsfeld's example in "going wobbly." Like Robert McNamara at a similar juncture during Vietnam, Rumsfeld had to be let go before he caused a President to "lose a war."

Acutely sensitive to this political bugaboo, Rumsfeld included the following sentences at the end of the preferred-options section of his Nov. 6 memo:

"Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis. This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not 'lose.'"

The remainder of the memo listed "Below the Line — less attractive options." The top three in the "less attractive" category were:

"--Continue on the current path.
--Move a large fraction of all U.S. forces into Baghdad to attempt to control it.
--Increase Brigade Combat Teams and U.S. forces substantially."

In other words, a “surge.” (It is a safe bet that people loyal to Rumsfeld at the National Security Council alerted him to the surge-type plans being hatched off line by neoconservative strategists.)

In the White House's view, Rumsfeld had outlived his usefulness. One can assume that he floated his “above the line” trial balloons with Cheney and others before he sent over the actual memo on Nov. 6, 2006. What were Bush and Cheney to do?

Exit Left

It was awkward. Right up to the week before the mid-term elections on Nov. 7, 2006, President Bush had insisted that he intended to keep Rumsfeld in place for the next two years. Suddenly, the President had to deal with Rumsfeld's apostasy.

The Secretary of Defense had strayed off the reservation and he was putting his “above the line” recommendations in writing no less. Rumsfeld had let reality get to him, together with the very strong protestations of all senior uniformed officers save one — the ambitious David Petraeus, who was onboard for the “surge” escalation.

With the bemedaled Petraeus in the wings, the White House just needed a new Pentagon chief who could be counted on to take Rumsfeld's place, do the White House's bidding, and trot out Petraeus ex machina as needed.

On Nov. 5, 2006, Bush had a one-on-one with Gates in Crawford and the deal was struck. Forget the torturously hammered-out recommendations of the Iraq Study Group; forget what the military commanders were saying. Gates suddenly found the “surge” an outstanding idea.

Well, not really. That's just what he let Bush believe. Gates is second to none — not even Petraeus — in ambition and self-promotion. He wanted to be Secretary of Defense, to be back at center stage in Washington after nearly 14 years in exile from the big show.

He quickly agreed to tell Gen. Abizaid to retire; offer Gen. Casey a sinecure as Army chief of staff, providing he kept his mouth shut; and eagle-scout his way through Senate confirmation with the help of pundits like Ignatius composing panegyrics in honor of Gates, the "realist."

So relieved were the senators to be rid of the hated-but-feared Rumsfeld that the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Dec. 5 on Gates's nomination had the aura of a pajama party (I was there).

Gates told them bedtime stories. He vowed to show "great deference to the judgment of generals." (sic)

Trying to Explain the Surge

It was hardly two years ago, but memories fade and the Fawning Corporate Media, of course, is no help in shedding light on what actually happened.

Gates did his part in getting rid of Abizaid and Casey, but the administration faltered embarrassingly in coming up with a rationale to "justify" the surge. The truth, of course, was not an option. The White House could not exactly say, "We simply cannot live with the thought of losing a war before we leave town."

On Dec. 20, 2006, President Bush told the Washington Post that he was "inclined to believe we do need to increase our troops, the Army and Marines." He added, tellingly, "There's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops."

And he said he would look to Gates, just back from a quick trip to Baghdad, to help explain.

By way of preliminary explanation for the “surge,” President Bush wandered back and forth between "ideological struggle" to "sectarian violence." He told the Post, "I'm going to keep repeating this over and over again, that I believe we're in an ideological struggle" and, besides, "sectarian violence [is] obviously the real problem we face."

When it became clear that those dogs wouldn't hunt, the White House justified the “surge” as necessary to give Iraqi government leaders "breathing space" to work out their differences.

Breathing space for the leading Iraqi officials was the rationale offered by Bush in a major address on Jan 10, 2007. Pulling out all the stops, he raised the specter of another 9/11, and spoke of the "decisive ideological struggle of our time."

Bush dismissed those who "are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States" and those whose "solution is to scale back America's efforts in Baghdad — or announce a phased withdrawal of our combat forces."

The President did warn that the year ahead would be "bloody and violent, even if our strategy works."

One would be tempted to laugh at Bush’s self-absorption -- and Gates’s ambition -- were we not talking about the completely unnecessary killing of over 1,000 U.S. troops, a quarter of all U.S. troops killed in this godforsaken war/occupation.

In reality, by throwing 20,000 to 30,000 additional troops into Baghdad, Bush and Cheney were the ones who got the two-year breathing space.

But what about that? What about the thousand-plus U.S. troops killed during the “surge”? The tens of thousand Iraqis? The hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes in the Baghdad area?

I fear the attitude was this: Nobody important would get killed, just a bunch of Iraqis and GIs mostly from small-town and inner-city America. And, anyway, our soldiers and Marines all volunteered, didn't they? (I almost did something violent to the last person I heard say that.)

Bush, Cheney and Gates apparently deemed it a small price to pay for enabling them to blame a successor administration for the inevitable withdrawal from America's first large-scale war of aggression.

The FCM missed it (surprise, surprise) but one did not have to be a crackerjack intelligence analyst to see what was happening.

At the time, Col. W. Patrick Lang, USA (retired), and I wrote a piece on Dec. 20, 2006, in which we exposed the chicanery and branded such a “surge” strategy "nothing short of immoral, in view of the predicable troop losses and the huge number of Iraqis who would meet violent injury and death."

Surprisingly, we were joined by Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, who explained to ABC's George Stephanopoulos why Smith said on the Senate floor that U.S. policy on Iraq may be "criminal."

"You can use any adjective you want, George. But I have long believed that in a military context, when you do the same thing over and over again without a clear strategy for victory, at the expense of your young people in arms, that is dereliction. That is deeply immoral."

Go West, Young Man

There are a host of reasons why Robert Gates should not be asked to stay on by President-elect Obama. (Robert Parry has put together much of Gates’s history in his 2004 book, Secrecy & Privilege, and you may wish to read what I and other former CIA analysts, who knew Gates during that part of his career, have written at Consortiumnews.com’s Gates archive.)

For me, Gates's role in the unnecessary killing of still more Americans and Iraqis is quite enough to disqualify him.

I have known Gates for almost 40 years; he has always been transparently ambitious, but he is also bright. He knew better; and he did it anyway.

One can only hope that, once President-elect Obama has time to focus seriously on prospective Cabinet appointments, he will discount advice from those taken in by the cheerleading for Gates or from the kind of dullard who suggested that Obama finesse the FCM’s simplistic embrace of the “surge” by saying it “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams."

[For more on the alleged success of the “surge,” see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Rising Cost of the Iraq Surge.”]

For Gates, Rumsfeld was an extremely easy act to follow. But, at least in one sense, Gates is worse than Rumsfeld, for Rumsfeld had finally begun to listen to the right people and adjust. It now seems the height of irony that the “above the line” adjustments that Rumsfeld proposed in his memo of Nov. 6, 2006, would have had most U.S. troops out of Iraq by now.

But can one portray Gates as worse than Rumsfeld across the board? I think not. When you crank in torture, lying and total disrespect for law, Rumsfeld has a clear edge in moral turpitude. Still, I suspect this matters little to the thousands now dead because of the “surge” that Gates did so much to enable — and to the families of the fallen.

Surely, it should not be too much to expect that President-elect Obama find someone more suitable to select for Secretary of Defense than an unprincipled chameleon like Gates.

Taxpayers will pay for Gonzales' private attorney

Taxpayers will pay for Gonzales' private attorney

Marisa Taylor

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The Justice Department has agreed to pay for a private lawyer to defend former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales against allegations that he encouraged officials to inject partisan politics into the department's hiring and firing practices.

Lawyers from the Justice Department's civil division often represent department employees who're sued in connection with their official actions. However, Gonzales' attorney recently revealed in court papers that the Justice Department had approved his request to pay private attorney's fees arising from the federal lawsuit.

Dan Metcalfe, a former high-ranking veteran Justice Department official who filed the suit on behalf of eight law students, called the department's decision to pay for a private attorney rather than rely on its civil division "exceptional."

"It undoubtedly will cost the taxpayers far more," he said.

According to a person with knowledge of the case, the Justice Department has imposed a limit of $200 an hour or $24,000 a month on attorneys' fees. Top Justice Department attorneys generally earn no more than $100 per hour. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Asked why Gonzales made the request, Gonzales spokesman Robert Bork Jr. said that his client "values the work that the department's civil attorneys do in all cases" but thinks that "private counsel can often be useful where (department) officials are sued in an individual capacity, even where the suit has no substantive merit."

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department wouldn't have any comment on the reasons for the approval and wouldn't answer questions about the cost to taxpayers.

The lawsuit accuses Gonzales and four other former and current Justice Department officials of instituting hiring practices that blocked liberal-leaning applicants from two department programs for law students. Gonzales resigned last year amid a controversy over the alleged hiring practices and over the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

George J. Terwilliger III, a former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, is listed in court papers along with two other attorneys from his firm as representing Gonzales in the lawsuit.

It's unclear, however, whether Terwilliger will continue to represent Gonzales or whether another private attorney will take over the case. In court papers, he indicated that the department had to approve Gonzales' choice of an attorney, but added that the department generally defers to the defendant.

Miller wouldn't say whether other defendants in the suit have asked the department to pay for private attorneys. So far, other officials named in the lawsuit haven't indicated to the court whether they've made similar requests.

Metcalfe filed the lawsuit after Justice Department watchdog reports found that department officials under Gonzales weeded out liberal-leaning applicants in favor of conservative ones for various jobs ranging from internships to prosecutor slots and immigration judgeships. In a separate but related report, the two watchdog agencies detailed "substantial evidence" that Republican politics had played a role in several of the firings of the Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys.

The applicants who've sued are all from top-tier law schools, and they allege that their careers were irreparably harmed because they were rejected by the department's honors and summer internship programs. Metcalfe, who's now the executive director of American University Washington College of Law's Collaboration on Government Secrecy, is seeking class action status for the suit.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who took over the department after Gonzales resigned during the controversy, has conceded that high-ranking Justice Department officials failed to stop what he described as a "systemic" hiring problem within the department.

Mukasey, however, rejected what he described as "drastic steps" such as prosecuting department lawyers singled out in the reports. He said he'd put a stop to the practices and would attempt to contact applicants who'd been rejected for political reasons and encourage them to reapply for other jobs.

The department sent out letters notifying applicants of the opportunity, but gave them only weeks to respond, according to its Web site. The Web site said that applicants were interviewed last month, but Miller wouldn't say how many people responded.

In court papers, Metcalfe criticized the department's handling of the letters. Several of the rejected applicants contacted him after receiving them, worried that if they agreed to be re-interviewed they might lose their right to participate in a class action lawsuit. Metcalfe questioned why the department hadn't informed the applicants about the suit.

Mounting signs of protracted world recession

Mounting signs of protracted world recession

By Mike Head

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Global share markets have continued to slide downward because of growing indications that the world economy is heading into a prolonged recession, far worse than previously predicted by financial analysts and commentators. So far this year, more than 51 percent of the value of world stock markets has been wiped out, according to Bloomberg data.

US stocks ended slightly up yesterday, after falling to five-year lows during the day. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 1 percent to 859.11, although about six stocks retreated for every five that rose on the New York Stock Exchange.

Compounding the volatility were the failure of last weekend's G20 meeting in Washington to produce any answers to the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the specter of deflation and uncertainty over the fate of the US auto giants, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, which are pleading for multibillion-dollar government bailouts to avoid bankruptcy.

"It's a foregone conclusion that we're in a global recession. The markets are telling you that, and the biggest fear is further labor market deterioration," Andre Bakhos, president of Princeton Financial Group in Princeton, New Jersey, told Reuters. "Without clarity on General Motors, the market is only going to drift lower."

A Bloomberg business survey warned that, after contracting at a 0.3 percent annual pace in the third quarter, the American economy could shrink again this quarter and in the first three months of 2009, producing the longest slump since 1974-1975. The forecast came on top of the previous day's announcement that Japan, the world's second largest economy, had joined Europe in entering recession last quarter.

Perhaps the sharpest warning sign came with the release of US producer prices data, showing a record drop in October, sliding downward for a third straight month, as raw material and energy prices continued to fall. The producer price index for finished goods dropped 2.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis in October, the Labor Department said Tuesday, substantially more than the 1.8 percent fall predicted by economists in a Dow Jones Newswires survey.

Along with a UK government report showing that Britain's inflation rate fell the most in at least 11 years (down from 5.2 percent to 4.5 percent), the figures reveal a rising threat of deflation—a downward spiral of prices, demand and production.

Business leaders fear that plummeting prices will slash profit rates, leave real interest rates above the deflation rate—making money even more costly to borrow—and cause consumers to postpone spending and wait for cheaper prices. Concerns are being expressed about Japanese-style stagnation, lasting a decade or more, with serious deflation feeding off itself, driving down output and employment.

Already, falling demand is spreading from the auto industry and other sectors initially hit by the fallout from the financial meltdown. Dow Chemical, the largest US chemical maker, said it had been forced to cut prices for two of the most-used plastics, polyethylene and polypropylene, as much as 40 percent since September. The announcement by Midland, Michigan-based Dow foreshadowed the closing of more factories as sales decline.

Earlier in the day, shares dropped on the New York Stock Exchange after the National Association of Realtors reported that prices of existing single-family homes fell 9 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period a year ago. The figures confirmed that the housing implosion is far from over. The trade group said 35 percent to 40 percent of home transactions in the third quarter were distress sales that took place through either foreclosure or "short sales" where the holder of the mortgage agrees to take a loss.

The third-quarter results of two major retailers reflected a sharp cutback in consumer spending. Same-store sales at luxury retailer Saks dropped 11.5 percent for the quarter compared to last year, while those at Home Depot, the home improvement retailer, fell 8.3 percent. The Pepsi Bottling Group, meanwhile, announced restructuring plans that would eliminate some 3,150 jobs

After a topsy-turvy day, European shares also ended marginally higher, with London's FTSE 100 index up 1.85 percent, despite more gloomy news. In an unprecedented turnaround, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the peak employers' group, warned that Britain is set to enter a recession as severe as that of 1991, with the economy shrinking by 2.5 percent and unemployment to hit 9 percent by 2010, leaving nearly 3 million people out of work.

The CBI said it was compelled to issue a sharply revised forecast that the British economy would contract by 1.7 percent next year, against its growth prediction of 0.3 per cent made just two months ago in September. Ian McCafferty, chief economic adviser to the CBI, said the financial crisis had dramatically changed the picture for business.

"Since October's financial turmoil, companies have started to report that, for the first time, they are finding it increasingly difficult to access capital. If this were to be more than a temporary phenomenon, it would result in otherwise healthy companies going to the wall for lack of short-term finance. This would have serious implications for both employment and investment."

Credit analysts at Citigroup reported that the yields on bonds of investment-grade non-financial groups—some of the CBI's biggest companies—had risen sharply, implying a risk of default even higher than that from 1931 to 1935, during the Great Depression. As well as indicating actual default risk, the yield rates point to evaporating credit for the corporate sector.

The job cuts hitting British workers—more than 20,000 were announced last week—worsened when Wolseley, a major supplier of plumbing and heating goods, unveiled 2,000 more layoffs, accompanied by branch closures. The company had previously announced 5,000 job cuts, mainly in North America.

Sir Tony O'Reilly's Independent News & Media said it would axe a quarter of the editorial staff on the Independent newspaper and its Sunday sister title in order to seek savings of £10 million. Of the 90 job losses, 60 will come from the 250 or so editorial staff.

Earlier yesterday, news of Japan's recession and Citigroup's announcement of another 52,000 job cuts sent stock markets tumbling across Asia, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng index down 4.5 percent and Japan's Nikkei 225 lower by 2.3 percent. South Korea fell 4.1 percent, and Shanghai lost 6.3 percent.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Japan's largest bank, posted a 61 percent decline in second-quarter profits. Once reputed to be relatively immune to the global credit crisis, Mitsubishi UFJ and other Japanese banks are now scrambling to raise cash, hurt by corporate bankruptcies—which rose 13.4 per cent in October from a year earlier—and heavy exposure to the domestic stock market. Mitsubishi UFJ shares have fallen 48 percent so far this year, in line with a similar decline in Tokyo's bank index.

The Australian share market slumped about 3.5 percent yesterday to fresh four-year lows, with the heaviest losses stemming from the resources sector. Lower commodities prices affected the big miners: as Rio Tinto lost 7.40 percent to $68.00, and rival BHP Billiton dropped 3.58 percent to $24.20.

The international rout of mining shares worsened amid reports that the world's largest steelmakers in India and China are suspending iron ore and coal contracts, or refusing to take deliveries because of collapsing demand for everything from cars and appliances to bridges and buildings.

Indian giant ArcelorMittal, for example, sent a letter to its German scrap-metal suppliers, saying it had been forced by the global downturn to suspend contracts with the suppliers as of the end of last month. India's state-owned Rashtriya Ispat Nigam wrote to several of its metallurgical-coal suppliers this month, asking them to cut prices 68 percent for the contract year ending next June.

Bracing for a Major Disappointment

Bracing for a Major Disappointment

Early Test for Obama on Domestic Spying Views

Early Test for Obama on Domestic Spying Views

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President-elect Barack Obama will face a series of early decisions on domestic spying that will test his administration’s views on presidential power and civil liberties.

The Justice Department will be asked to respond to motions in legal challenges to the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program, and must decide whether to continue the tactics used by the Bush administration — which has used broad claims of national security and “state secrets” to try to derail the challenges — or instead agree to disclose publicly more information about how the program was run.

When he takes office, Mr. Obama will inherit greater power in domestic spying power than any other new president in more than 30 years, but he may find himself in an awkward position as he weighs how to wield it. As a presidential candidate, he condemned the N.S.A. operation as illegal, and threatened to filibuster a bill that would grant the government expanded surveillance powers and provide immunity to phone companies that helped in the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants. But Mr. Obama switched positions and ultimately supported the measure in the Senate, angering liberal supporters who accused him of bowing to pressure from the right.

Advisers to Mr. Obama appear divided over whether he should push forcefully to investigate the operations of the wiretapping program, which was run in secret from September 2001 until December 2005.

Mr. Obama recently started receiving classified briefings on intelligence operations from Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. The Obama transition team declined to say whether Mr. Obama had been briefed on the agency’s eavesdropping operations.

His transition team also declined requests to discuss his current views on domestic surveillance or how his administration would respond to legal challenges growing out of it. But there has been no shortage of debate among lawyers involved in the challenges to the program.

“I don’t think President-elect Obama embraces Dick Cheney’s theory of unfettered presidential power,” said Jon B. Eisenberg, a San Francisco lawyer involved in one lawsuit against the wiretapping program. “So if President-elect Obama doesn’t embrace that theory, one would expect a change in the direction of how the new administration handles this litigation.”

But other legal and political analysts suggest that Mr. Obama, as president, may be more willing to accept the broadened presidential powers that he once condemned as a candidate, particularly since Congress has approved expanded surveillance powers for the government.

In the proposal in June that Mr. Obama ultimately voted to support, Congress set up a new surveillance framework that gave intelligence officials much broader authority to eavesdrop on international communications without prior court approval.

One of the first clues of how the Obama administration will deal with the issue of domestic surveillance may come in a court case in Alexandria, Va., where a judge has ordered the Justice Department to turn over material from the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies on possible eavesdropping on Ali al-Timimi, an Islamic leader convicted of supporting terrorism. The Justice Department has never acknowledged that it has used intercepts from the N.S.A. program in any criminal or civil case, which could be unlawful because the wiretaps were conducted without court warrants.

Mr. Timimi has claimed that he did not get a fair trial because prosecutors secretly used N.S.A. wiretaps in his case, and he also argues that the government has turned over to the court only intercepted conversations that make him look guilty, while withholding those that might prove he is innocent. A recently unsealed transcript, citing a closed hearing, strongly suggests that the wiretaps were used in Mr. Timimi’s criminal trial.

“We believe that the undisclosed interceptions already uncovered in this case are serious and knowing violations of federal law,” said Jonathan Turley, a lawyer for Mr. Timimi.

Meanwhile, an Islamic charity in Oregon that had its assets frozen by the Treasury Department on the ground that it was also supporting terrorism is pushing ahead with a lawsuit of its own. The Obama administration must decide whether to continue to use the state-secrets privilege in order to block the disclosure of information about any N.S.A. eavesdropping.

The charity, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, is charging, based in part on a classified document that the government mistakenly gave to its lawyers, that it was the target of wiretapping without warrants. Lawyers for the group say they believe that the N.S.A. listened illegally not only to the international phone calls of members of the charity itself, but also to the calls of two of its lawyers in Washington.

Mr. Eisenberg, a lawyer for Al-Haramain, said the Justice Department had frustrated efforts to develop evidence in the case both by invoking the state-secrets claim and by refusing to grant security clearances to some members of the charity’s legal team.

“In every way, they’ve stonewalled us, and the new administration can change all that,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “They can take the blindfolds off.”

In perhaps the most critical test, civil liberties groups that are suing major phone companies that took part in the N.S.A. program are waiting to find out whether a federal judge will throw out the lawsuits based on immunity granted by Congress in June.

The Justice Department has already moved to take advantage of the immunity provision by certifying in court that the phone companies were complying with a presidential order. But the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group that has taken the lead in the lawsuit, maintains that Congress acted beyond its powers.

A hearing is set for Dec. 2. Cindy Cohn, legal director for the foundation, said that as the case moved forward the new administration could act to withdraw the immunity certification made by the Bush Justice Department.

“Nothing will be over by Jan. 20,” when Mr. Obama is inaugurated, Ms. Cohn said.

The Obama Justice Department will inherit the litigation in all of those cases, and some of the defense lawyers involved in the cases may try to force legal action that could tip the hand of the new administration.

Mr. Timimi’s lawyers may soon file a new challenge, ensuring that a new attorney general would have to decide almost immediately on taking office how to respond.

But at least one Obama legal adviser said that new administrations often faced complex decisions on whether to change course in the middle of continuing legal matters.

“It’s not always an easy thing for the office of legal counsel or the solicitor general on when to change a position,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School who taught Mr. Obama when he was a law student there.

Another early decision facing the administration will be whether to work with the Democratic-controlled Congress to investigate the Bush administration officials who approved and ran the wiretapping program. While Congress gave the telecommunications companies legal immunity, it did not extend immunity to administration officials.

Some Democratic lawmakers have said they would like to conduct a more thorough investigation than was possible during Mr. Bush’s tenure, but other Democratic advisers say they see little gain from trying to investigate past abuses and that an investigation risks harming the bipartisan spirit of cooperation that Mr. Obama has promised.

Since the election, Mr. Obama has not said whether his administration would engage in such inquiries of his predecessor’s government.

But Mr. Obama was one of only 15 senators who voted against the confirmation of Michael V. Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency in May 2006, largely because of Mr. Hayden’s role as director of the N.S.A. when the wiretapping program was begun. At the time, Mr. Obama called Mr. Hayden a “troublesome choice” for C.I.A. director, and said he was “voting against Mr. Hayden in the hope that he will be more humble before the great weight of responsibility that he has not only to protect our lives but to protect our democracy.”

During the general election campaign, Mr. Obama’s aides offered cautious statements about whether he believed any investigations of past administration actions would be appropriate.

In an interview last summer, Gregory B. Craig, who is Mr. Obama’s pick for White House counsel, said that Mr. Obama believed that Mr. Bush had abused his power by authorizing wiretapping without warrants. “The idea that the president can do almost anything that he deems necessary in the name of his war powers or national security, there is nothing in the Constitution that supports that, and it goes against 200 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence,” Mr. Craig said.

Some senior Democratic lawmakers are reluctant to comment now on whether they will pursue investigations of the wiretapping program or other Bush administration actions.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former federal prosecutor who now sits on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, responded cautiously Friday when asked whether the Senate might investigate the program.

“I expect Congress will work with the Obama administration to assure the American people that their government will not go down this unlawful path again,” Mr. Whitehouse said, adding that he was awaiting the results of an investigation of the N.S.A. program by the Justice Department inspector general and ethics office.

Administration Moves to Protect Key Appointees

Administration Moves to Protect Key Appointees

Political Positions Shifted To Career Civil Service Jobs

By Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. Leonnig

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Just weeks before leaving office, the Interior Department's top lawyer has shifted half a dozen key deputies -- including two former political appointees who have been involved in controversial environmental decisions -- into senior civil service posts.

The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called "burrowing" by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs.

Similar efforts are taking place at other agencies. Two political hires at the Labor Department have already secured career posts there, and one at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is trying to make the switch.

Between March 1 and Nov. 3, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the Bush administration allowed 20 political appointees to become career civil servants. Six political appointees to the Senior Executive Service, the government's most prestigious and highly paid employees, have received approval to take career jobs at the same level. Fourteen other political, or "Schedule C," appointees have also been approved to take career jobs. One candidate was turned down by OPM and two were withdrawn by the submitting agency.

The personnel moves come as Bush administration officials are scrambling to cement in place policy and regulatory initiatives that touch on issues such as federal drinking-water standards, air quality at national parks, mountaintop mining and fisheries limits.

The practice of placing political appointees into permanent civil service posts before an administration ends is not new. In its last 12 months, the Clinton administration approved 47 such moves, including seven at the senior executive level. Federal employees with civil service status receive job protections that make it very difficult for managers to remove them.

Most of the personnel shifts have been done on a case-by-case basis, but Interior Solicitor David L. Bernhardt moved to place six deputies in senior agency positions with one stroke, including two who have repeatedly attracted controversy. Robert D. Comer, who was Rocky Mountain regional solicitor, was named to the civil service post of associate solicitor for mineral resources. Matthew McKeown, who served as deputy associate solicitor for mineral resources, will take Comer's place in what is also a career post. Both had been converted from political appointees to civil service status.

In a report dated Oct. 13, 2004, Interior's inspector general singled out Comer in criticizing a grazing agreement that the Bureau of Land Management had struck with a Wyoming rancher, saying Comer used "pressure and intimidation" to produce the settlement and pushed it through "with total disregard for the concerns raised by career field personnel." McKeown -- who as Idaho's deputy attorney general had sued to overturn a Clinton administration rule barring road-building in certain national forests -- has been criticized by environmentalists for promoting the cause of private property owners over the public interest on issues such as grazing and logging.

One career Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his position, said McKeown will "have a huge impact on a broad swath of the West" in his new position, advising the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service on "all the programs they implement." Comer, the official added, will help shape mining policy in his new assignment.

"It is an attempt by the outgoing administration to limit as much as possible [the incoming administration's] ability to put its policy imprint on the Department of Interior," the official said.

In a Nov. 13 memo obtained by The Washington Post, Bernhardt wrote that he was reorganizing his division because the associate solicitors' original status as political appointees undermined the division's effectiveness.

"This has resulted in frequent turnover in those positions, often with an attendant loss in productivity and management continuity in these Divisions, despite the best efforts of the newly-appointed Associate Solicitors," he wrote.

But environmental advocates, and some rank-and-file Interior officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of hurting their careers, said the reassignments represent the Bush administration's effort to leave a lasting imprint on environmental policy.

"What's clear is they could have done this during the eight years they were in office. Why are they doing it now?" said Robert Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy group. "It's pretty obvious they're trying to leave in place some of their loyal foot soldiers in their efforts to reduce environmental protection."

In an interview yesterday, Bernhardt reiterated that he thinks the move is in the government's long-term interest.

"I believe these management decisions will strengthen the professionalism of the Office of the Solicitor and result in greater service to the Department of the Interior," he said. "However, the next solicitor and the department's management team are free to walk a different path."

One senior Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters, said an incoming interior secretary or solicitor could create new political positions upon taking office and could shift Senior Executive Service officials to comparable jobs within a few months. As a general rule, career SES employees may be reassigned involuntarily within their current commuting area within 15 days, and beyond their commuting area within 60 days, but they retain their lucrative and permanent government posts. When a new agency head is appointed, he or she must wait 120 days before reassigning career SES officials.

Outside groups are trying to monitor these moves but are powerless to reverse them. Alex Bastani, a representative at the Labor Department for the American Federation of Government Employees, said it took months for that agency even to acknowledge that two of its Bush appointees, Carrie Snidar and Brad Mantel, had gotten civil service posts.

"They're trying to burrow into these career jobs, and we're very upset," Bastani said. "Everyone should have an opportunity to apply for these positions. And certainly career people who don't have partisan bent and have 10 or 15 years in their respective fields should have a shot at these positions."

Kerry Weems, acting chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said he discourages political staff from moving into career slots. "It typically doesn't work out for either party," he said. Even though Weems is a career staffer, he expects to leave the administration when the Obama team takes over.

Alphonso Jackson, who was HUD secretary under President Bush, warned his political appointees not to try to burrow in when the administration changed. But one of his regional directors objected to that flat-out prohibition, according to union leaders at HUD, and has told his colleagues that he has been promised first crack at a career position.

Are Vaccinations Causing Early Alzheimer's?

Are Vaccinations Causing Early Alzheimer's?

By Byron J. Richards

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The issue of cognitive decline and the more advanced Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to be a public health crisis in America over the next 20 years, as the swell of baby boomers hits the age when problems manifest. This past week the Wall Street Journal ran an article on a man getting Alzheimer’s in his 40s, one of 500,000 Americans with early onset. The notion that this problem is striking ever earlier sent shock waves through the country and left people wondering why this is happening. Clearly, there are many inflammatory factors in one’s life and gene-related weaknesses involved. However, theoretical data on the inflammatory nature of vaccines, especially in the large numbers given to children at an early age while their nerves are developing response patterns for future life, means that they cannot be ruled out as one main factor that primes the Alzheimer’s pump.

We already know from existing research the recipe that leads to Alzheimer’s risk. Data coming from the Canadian Study of Health and Aging found that aging in general, fewer years of education (less brain exercise), and the apolipoprotein E epsilon4 allele were significantly associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has shown that heavy smoking and drinking speed the onset of Alzheimer’s. A sluggish thyroid also increases the risk.

On the other hand the Canadian researchers found that the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, wine consumption, coffee consumption, and regular physical activity were associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. There are many great anti-inflammatory nutrients that readily replace the concept of drug use, including the grape seed extracts of red wine (which have been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s plaque formation). Natural vitamin E at the dose of 2000 IU per day has been shown to extend the life of Alzheimer’s patients by two years. DHA and folic acid have been shown to be protective against Alzheimer’s. Moderate coffee intake has a brain-activating effect, which would be synergistic with learning or other forms of constructive brain exercise that help keep your brain cells fit. Physical exercise is proven to elevate levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) vital for your brain to withstand stress and inflammation and keep your brain cells living longer in a healthier condition. The common theme is that using your brain constructively helps keep it fit and factors that induce brain inflammation, of which there are many, send you in the wrong direction.

Besides the above, obvious factors that cause brain inflammation include a lack of sleep, emotional stress, physical exhaustion, cell phone use, and a poor quality diet. This means that there will never be a specific cause of Alzheimer’s identified, other than the idea that too much inflammation combined with genetic weaknesses will lead to the problem. Too much inflammation is the common theme behind all nerve-related diseases, heart disease, and cancer. Thus, the manifestation of various shades of cognitive decline will be common in the overall population and progression into full Alzheimer’s, compared to some other serious problem, will depend on genetic weak spots. For example, healthy children of Alzheimer’s patients have adverse changes in their brain structure before any symptoms appear. The greater the amount of inflammation, combined with an individual’s ability to tolerate inflammation, will determine the age of onset.

Recently researchers did autopsies on the brains of individuals who maintained sharp memory into their 80s. Those with sharp memory compared to the brains of those with “normal aging” had far less brain tangles. Thus we see a sliding scale of tangles, going from virtually none in true health, to the common averages of “normal aging,” down into the diseased ranges of cognitive decline, and eventually into Alzheimer’s. With this understanding, “normal aging” can be seen as abnormal from an optimal health point of view. Such brain tangles are driven by inflammatory processes.

The Immunization-Alzheimer’s Controversy

The adjuvants used in vaccines (putting the mercury issue aside) are intentionally highly inflammatory so as to provoke a more active immune response to the weakened pathogen. The fact that American children are the most vaccinated in the world at such an early age, when their brains are setting up shop, runs the high risk that vaccinations will “train” nerves to become more hyper-active to future inflammatory stress of any kind. Such issues would be magnified if a child had a history of stress in the womb, stress as an infant (unstable environment), poor nutrition in the womb or early life, other health problems as an infant, or has family-related gene weaknesses predisposing to Alzheimer’s (or any other nerve-related disease for that matter). These massive numbers of early vaccinations could easily set the stage for early onset Alzheimer’s. At this point there is absolutely no science that refutes this theory, and plenty of science to predict it.

Our government, bless their little hearts, has no interest in proving this not to be the case or in figuring out a safety threshold for the number of vaccines or the age they are given. Rather, they operate on the assumption that any number of vaccines is harmless. This public health mentality of fire a shot gun and ask questions later (or never ask any questions at all) is good for herd mentality and not so good for personalized wellness and quality of life.

Any notion that the treatment is problematic, such as a contributor to autism, is met with flat out denial. It does not matter to them what data is presented or what new science obviously predicts. Our government’s illness is their bizarre concept of control at all costs by unelected bureaucrats, risks be dammed. The bottom line, our government doesn’t actually care what adverse effects vaccinations may cause to your child, they are treating a herd.

This issue flared up back in 1997 when a leading proponent of the vaccine-autism link, Hugh Fudenberg, MD, presented his research at the NVIC International Vaccine Conference, Arlington, VA. His data showed that if an individual had five consecutive flu shots between 1970 and 1980 (the years studied) his/her chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease is 10 times higher than if he/she had one, two, or no shots. This data was never published in a peer reviewed journal. Supporters of Fudenberg describe him as “the world’s leading immunogeneticist and 13th most quoted biologist of our times (nearly 850 papers in peer review journals).”

The Alzheimer’s Association website attempts to discredit Fudenberg, but not the data he presented, stating that his “license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners.” This is true, but that was due to a classic witch hunt because of his anti-vaccine position. The Alzheimer’s Association went on to reference a meaningless study in which those with a negligible vaccine history had no apparent risk of Alzheimer’s. The data does not begin to approximate the potential risk of massive numbers of vaccines given to American children and future Alzheimer’s risk.

Thus, the question of the immunization link to Alzheimer’s is an open-ended and controversial issue. A responsible government would have demanded animal studies with different levels of immunizations at different ages in relation to the onset of Alzheimer’s. These studies aren’t being conducted because OUR GOVERNMENT DOES NOT WANT TO KNOW THE ANSWER.

Since Americans are more vaccinated than Europeans, a detailed analysis of vaccine amounts compared to Alzheimer’s risk or early onset of Alzheimer’s could be conducted. However, if the government is behind this study they will use statistical techniques that water down the results so that risk disappears, the favorite strategy employed when any drug or medicine has potential risks that would cause people not to take them.

Stopping Problems Early

Regardless of factors that set the stage for Alzheimer’s it is quite clear that an overall strategy that balances your inflammation checkbook is central to preventing the problem. On one side of the equation is the wear and tear in your life. On the other side is the healthy things you do to rejuvenate and recover. No matter what you believe in, you better figure out a way to balance this checkbook.

We definitely know that it takes many years of wear and tear for full blown Alzheimer’s to manifest. It is vital to act aggressively to prevent the problem if you are sliding down the Alzheimer’s slope.

Managing inflammatory stressors is at the top of your list. It is easiest to make changes in your brain before the problem gets large. Various memory glitches are normal and others are not. The Alzheimer’s Association does have a list of the ten warning signs that is helpful:

1. Memory loss. Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia. A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later. What’s normal? Forgetting names or appointments occasionally.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People with dementia often find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks. Individuals may lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, placing a telephone call or playing a game. What’s normal? Occasionally forgetting why you came into a room or what you planned to say.

3. Problems with language. People with Alzheimer’s disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand. They may be unable to find the toothbrush, for example, and instead ask for “that thing for my mouth.” What’s normal? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

4. Disorientation to time and place. People with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost in their own neighborhood, forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home. What’s normal? Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going.

5. Poor or decreased judgment. Those with Alzheimer’s may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment, like giving away large sums of money to telemarketers. What’s normal? Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time.

6. Problems with abstract thinking. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex mental tasks, like forgetting what numbers are for and how they should be used. What’s normal? Finding it challenging to balance a checkbook.

7. Misplacing things. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. What’s normal? Misplacing keys or a wallet temporarily.

8. Changes in mood or behavior. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may show rapid mood swings – from calm to tears to anger – for no apparent reason. What’s normal? Occasionally feeling sad or moody.

9. Changes in personality. The personalities of people with dementia can change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful or dependent on a family member. What’s normal? People’s personalities do change somewhat with age.

10. Loss of initiative. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities. What’s normal? Sometimes feeling weary of work or social obligations.

Election protection in Ohio (and America) isn't over

Election protection in Ohio (and America) isn't over

by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman

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As the sun sets on Bush 2, it is clear that a very thin line of electoral protection preserved Barack Obama's victory in Ohio---and the nation.

And it's no accident the vote count battle for a Columbus-area Congressional seat still rages.

The GOP's 2008 electoral strategy again emphasized massive voter disenfranchisement and rigging the electronic vote count. The twin tactics very nearly gave Ohio to McCain/Palin, and threatened to set precedents capable of winning them the national election.

Prior to the 2004 vote, Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell stripped some 308,000 Ohio citizens from the registration rolls in heavily Democratic districts. This mass disenfranchisement alone may have accounted for the 118,000-plus official margin that gave George W. Bush a second term in the White House.

After the 2004 vote, Blackwell disenfranchised another 170,000 voters in heavily Democratic Franklin County (Columbus).

But in 2006, Democrat Jennifer Brunner was elected to replace Blackwell. Ironically, the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Blackwell over 2004 election irregularities has carried over, making Brunner the defendant (we are plaintiff and plaintiff attorney in that suit). As a result, negotiations between Brunner and election protection attorneys have been on-going since she took office.

In the lead-up to the 2008 elections, the GOP tried yet another massive voter purge. Through the "caging" technique of sending unsolicited "do not forward" junk mail, GOP operatives obtained by returned mail the names of some 600,000 registered Ohio voters. Some were serving in Iraq. Also, the GOP once again fought to purge voters for "inactivity" as they sought to eliminate voters who hadn't voted in four-years as opposed to eight, even if they voted in state and local eletions..

The GOP demanded the right to disenfranchise these voters. But Brunner directed that each was entitled to notice and an individual in-person hearing.

As Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., have reported, the GOP used similar caging throughout the US, aimed at millions of likely Democratic voters.

The GOP also went after 200,000 new Ohio voters whose registrations showed minor discrepancies. Included were variations in social security and drivers' license numbers, or changes in middle names, nicknames and addresses.

But Brunner fought to protect these names from GOP challenge, and was upheld by the US Supreme Court, who refused to hear the GOP case prior to the election.

Based on projected demographic and voter turnout statistics, the elimination of these four-fifths of a million voters (some 5.4 million votes were counted in Ohio 2008) could have shifted a 200,000-vote victory for Obama to a 40,000-vote triumph for McCain. This projection is based on a conservative estimate that 80% of these targeted voters vote Democratic and 50% would have turned out to vote.

Partly in response to pressure from election protection activists, Brunner also facilitated early and absentee voting. Polling stations opened by September 30 throughout the state. Despite GOP efforts, a full week was available to those who wished to register and vote at the same time. As least 25% of Ohio's voters cast their ballots prior to Election Day. By most accounts these votes went overwhelmingly for Obama. The Columbus Dispatch reported that Democrats outvoted Republicans 12-1 in early voting.

Brunner also tried to make paper ballots available to all voters who wanted them. Under often dubious financial arrangements with a direct conflict of interest as a stockholder, Blackwell installed Diebold electronic voting machines designed to account for as many as half Ohio's 2008 votes.

But the GOP-controlled legislature manipulated the finances behind the push for paper ballots. Ohio's 88 counties eventually provided enough of them for at least 25% of the voters. But so many voted early that reports now indicate there were ultimately enough paper ballots at the Election Day polling stations for nearly all who wanted them.

Other GOP attempts at disenfranchisement also fell flat. When the Republican sheriff of Greene County attempted to prosecute 304 students (many of them African-American) for "voter fraud" he ignited a massive public outcry. At issue was the common confusion over whether a student will vote at home or at college. Under widespread attack, the sheriff backed off. But students at public universities and liberal arts colleges throughout the rest of the state reported GOP harassment.

Despite widespread attempts to avoid them, there were 186,000 provisional ballots cast in Ohio 2008, some 40,000 more than the 141,000 cast in 2004 (16,000 of which have never been counted). Independent observers reported on-going confusion about the use of provisional ballots, largely attributed to poor pollworker training.

A federal database used to check driver's license information went down for nearly three hours on Election Day due to what the Ohio Department of Public Safety said was "a large fiber-optic cable being cut in Texas."

Despite an increase of 319,000 registered Ohio voters in 2008 over 2004, the official turnout was actually lower. Barack Obama received 22,000 fewer votes than John Kerry. John McCain got 317,000 fewer than Bush. Election protection experts attribute this to a selective GOP padding of the 2004 vote count, especially in three heavily Republican southwestern counties where irregularities and improbabilities abounded.

An observer in Miami County reported that a Republican election director illegally forced recently-moved citizens to vote provisionally. In Franklin County, pollbooks wrongly identified 35,000 voters as provisional. Four black voters in Fairfield County reported being purged despite stable long-term residencies. The Republican-connected company Triad, infamous for its secretive work on central tabulators in 2004, emerged in the majority of Ohio counties as the keeper of electronic pollbooks for the boards of elections.

While these and other irregularities bruised the election, there were far fewer than reported in 2004. The presence of hundreds of well-trained and equipped election protection volunteers throughout the state seem to have staved off any GOP attempt to repeat the massive disenfranchisement that gave the 2004 Ohio vote count to George W. Bush. Key Ohio polling stations were graced with independent election observers appointed by the Green Party. Independent video-the-vote teams, nonpartisan election observers, and Obama supporters were placed outside the polls documenting all that happened. With an apparently workable distribution of voting machines and sufficient paper ballots as a backup (along with a clear sunny day) the horrors of long lines in Ohio's 2004 election were avoided in 2008.

The Ohio vote count also seems to have been successfully protected. In Licking County, a voter reported that his paper ballot was put in a bag without an envelope. In Youngstown, Joyce Stewart reports being given a paper ballot that had no place to choose a president.

E-voting machines in three Columbus precincts double-counted votes. In heavily Democratic Lucas County, four out of eight e-voting machines in precinct 20, recorded no votes for president, while recording far higher vote counts for such minor offices as county coroner.

The poll judge in Columbus precinct 25G tried to have legitimate exit pollers arrested. In Trumbull County, Warner Lange observed that "all of the votes cast using a paper ballot between the hours of 6:30am and 8:15 am are invalid because none of the voters were asked, as required, to sign the pollbook."

In Hamilton and Franklin Counties (Cincinnati and Columbus) early and absentee ballots were not counted on Election Night, as originally planned. It took three hours after the polls closed for Union County election officials to get their ballots scanned. Terry Grimm reported that "everything was wrong" coming from the Summit County town of Barberton, causing a delayed tabulation.

Kevin Egler in Portage County reported that after 2800 votes were scanned on election night, a "corrupted card signal" came out, forcing election officials to start the vote count over.

Ultimately, despite Brunner's attempts to get rid of them, hundreds of thousands of votes were again cast and counted on electronic voting machines with no paper trail and no way to do a reliable recount.

But missing this time was an electronic theft apparatus under the control of Blackwell and Karl Rove.

On Election Night 2004, Blackwell e-mailed Ohio's electronic vote count to a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee that also housed the servers for the Republican National Committee. The tally "miraculously" shifted from Kerry to Bush between 12:30 and 2 am, ultimately giving Bush a second term.

The data was handled under a state contract funneled by Blackwell to Michael Connell, a shadowy Bush family IT specialist who programmed the official Bush-Cheney website in 2000 and 2004.

On the day before the 2008 election, Connell was forced to testify under oath under cross-examination by King-Lincoln-Bronzeville attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and Bob Fitrakis. Among the questions at issue was whether Connell left any "Trojan Horse" programs in place in the Ohio electronic vote count structure through which he could have hacked the 2008 outcome.

There has yet to be a definitive answer to that question, or to what he actually may have done to the 2004 vote count. But, for what it's worth, Karl Rove did shift his predictions from a McCain victory to one for Obama shortly after the federal court agreed to force Connell to testify.

There may be much to celebrate in the apparent legitimacy of the Ohio 2008 vote count.

But half the state's ballots are still slated to be cast on electronic voting machines whose source codes remain under private lock and key. There is no guarantee Ohio voters will have universal access to paper ballots in future elections. In direct violation of federal law, no fewer than 56 of Ohio's 88 counties destroyed all or most of their federal election records after the 2004 election, making a definitive recount impossible. There have been no state or federal prosecutions.

The "minor" irregularities and attempted voter disenfranchisements observed in Ohio 2008 were repeated throughout the US, and could easily resurface in future elections if they are not again thoroughly observed.

And in Columbus, the Republicans are right now suing Brunner to throw out thousands of provisional ballots cast in a Congressional race still in hot dispute. Incredibly, the GOP is operating on inside information fed it by Franklin County assistant BOE director Matt Damshroder.

Damshroder accepted a $10,000 check in his BOE office from a Diebold representative. The check was made out to the Republican Party. Damshroder was given a one-month paid suspension for this in 2005. With Democratic assent, he remains a key player in the vote count that will determine whether heavily Democratic Franklin County could be stopped from sending its first Democrat to Congress since 1980.

Nationwide the GOP successfully disenfranchised millions of likely voters in Election 2008. Easily hacked, un-monitorable e-voting machines are still spread throughout the United States. The opportunities to steal future elections that are certain to be far tighter than 2008 remain readily available.

Much has been learned in the Bush era of the Unelected President. There is simply no doubt that the thousands of volunteers who worked tirelessly to protect the election of 2008 in Ohio and throughout the nation in fact prevented the GOP from stealing yet another one.

But unless this administration implements automatic voter registration, universal hand counted paper ballots, the total elimination of electronic voting machines, expanded windows for voting and a far more secure system of impartial citizen observation, the specter of still more stolen elections will haunt our democracy.

Indeed, we will still have to wonder if that's what we really have here.