Saturday, September 27, 2008

Where Are the Grown-Ups?

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Many people on both the right and the left are outraged at the idea of using taxpayer money to bail out America’s financial system. They’re right to be outraged, but doing nothing isn’t a serious option. Right now, players throughout the system are refusing to lend and hoarding cash — and this collapse of credit reminds many economists of the run on the banks that brought on the Great Depression.

It’s true that we don’t know for sure that the parallel is a fair one. Maybe we can let Wall Street implode and Main Street would escape largely unscathed. But that’s not a chance we want to take.

So the grown-up thing is to do something to rescue the financial system. The big question is, are there any grown-ups around — and will they be able to take charge?

Earlier this week, Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, tried to convince Congress that he was the grown-up in the room, come to protect us from danger. And he demanded total authority over the rescue: $700 billion to be used at his discretion, with immunity for future review.

Congress balked. No government official should be entrusted with that kind of monarchical privilege, least of all an official belonging to the administration that misled America into war. Furthermore, Mr. Paulson’s track record is anything but reassuring: he was way behind the curve in appreciating the depth of the nation’s financial woes, and it’s partly his fault that we’ve reached the current moment of meltdown.

Besides, Mr. Paulson never offered a convincing explanation of how his plan was supposed to work — and the judgment of many economists was, in fact, that it wouldn’t work unless it amounted to a huge welfare program for the financial industry.

But if Mr. Paulson isn’t the grown-up we need, are Congressional leaders ready and able to fill the role?

Well, the bipartisan “agreement on principles” released on Thursday looks a lot better than the original Paulson plan. In fact, it puts Mr. Paulson himself under much-needed adult supervision, calling for an oversight board “with cease and desist authority.” It also limits Mr. Paulson’s allowance: he only (only!) gets to use $250 billion right away.

Meanwhile, the agreement calls for limits on executive pay at firms that get federal money. Most important, it “requires that any transaction include equity sharing.”

Why is that so important? The fundamental problem with our financial system is that the fallout from the housing bust has left financial institutions with too little capital. When he finally deigned to offer an explanation of his plan, Mr. Paulson argued that he could solve this problem through “price discovery” — that once taxpayer funds had created a market for mortgage-related toxic waste, everyone would realize that the toxic waste is actually worth much more than it currently sells for, solving the capital problem. Never say never, I guess — but you don’t want to bet $700 billion on wishful thinking.

The odds are, instead, that the U.S. government will end up having to do what governments always do in financial crises: use taxpayers’ money to pump capital into the financial system. Under the original Paulson plan, the Treasury would probably have done this by buying toxic waste for much more than it was worth — and gotten nothing in return. What taxpayers should get is what people who provide capital are entitled to: a share in ownership. And that’s what the equity sharing is about.

The Congressional plan, then, looks a lot better — a lot more adult — than the Paulson plan did. That said, it’s very short on detail, and the details are crucial. What prices will taxpayers pay to take over some of that toxic waste? How much equity will they get in return? Those numbers will make all the difference.

And in any case, it seems that we don’t have a deal.

This has to be a bipartisan plan, and not just at the leadership level. Democrats won’t pass the plan without votes from rank-and-file Republicans — and as of Thursday night, those rank-and-file Republicans were balking.

Furthermore, one non-rank-and-file Republican, Senator John McCain, is apparently playing spoiler. Earlier this week, while refusing to say whether he supported the Paulson plan, he claimed not to have had a chance to read it; the plan is all of three pages long. Then he inserted himself into the delicate negotiations over the Congressional plan, insisting on a White House meeting at which he reportedly said little — but during which consensus collapsed.

The bottom line, then, is that there do seem to be some adults in Congress, ready to do something to help us get through this crisis. But the adults are not yet in charge.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Interrogator details pre-Abu Ghraib abuses

Original Link:

By PAMELA HESS, Associated Press Writer

A military interrogation expert, Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman, told Congress on Thursday that prior to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, he witnessed interrogations of Iraqi detainees that he considers violations of the Geneva Conventions.

One interrogation was conducted by an Air Force civilian and a contractor employed by his own organization, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. It had sent a small team to Iraq in September 2003 to help a special forces task force improve its interrogations of stubborn prisoners. The team was asked to demonstrate an interrogation on an Iraqi prisoner. It was an unusual role for the organization, which trains soldiers how to resist interrogations, not conduct them.

Kleinman said his two colleagues forcibly stripped an Iraqi prisoner naked, shackled him and left him standing in a dank, six-foot cement cell with orders to the guards that the prisoner was not to move for 12 hours. Had the prisoner passed out, he would have hit his head on a wall, Kleinman said.

Kleinman stopped the interrogation, which had veered from his careful plan into abuse.

"Until their time in Iraq they had never seen a real world interrogation," he said.

The men, Terrence Russell and Lenny Miller, had learned the harsh techniques working with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program for U.S. forces, which conducts stressful mock interrogations to prepare soldiers to withstand and resist abusive questioning in the event they are taken prisoner. The program uses methods derived from the real-life experiences of American prisoners of war. The techniques include forced nudity, stress positions, exposure to extremes in weather and waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.

Russell is a civilian JPRA employee involved in research and program development. Miller was a contractor who no longer works for JPRA, according to the military.

Joint Forces Command, which oversees JPRA, did not investigate Kleinman's allegations because they were made directly to the task force in Iraq, said spokesman Capt. Dennis Moynihan.

Attempts to locate Russell and Miller independently were unsuccessful.

At the time, Kleinman called his now retired commander, Col. John Moulton II, to express concern about the harsh methods he saw being used in several interrogations. He said Moulton checked with his superiors and called him back to say the techniques had been specifically approved. Moulton later told investigators that he understood that the Pentagon's general counsel or higher had approved the measures, and that the prisoners were considered terrorists and were not protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions, however, did apply in Iraq.

The Senate Armed Services Committee also released responses from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and legal counsel John Bellinger regarding their knowledge of the CIA interrogation program when Rice was the national security adviser and Bellinger was the National Security Council's top lawyer.

She and Bellinger were also briefed on SERE interrogation methods at the White House in 2002 or 2003.

"I recall being told ... that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm," Rice wrote.

Rice told the committee the CIA had sought NSC approval before embarking on its own harsh interrogation program in the spring of 2002. Rice said she asked then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to review its legality. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the White House on legal matters, later determined the CIA's program to be legal.

Rice also said Bellinger advised her regularly about "concerns and issues" relating to the Pentagon's interrogation and detention program at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. She said the Justice Department never discussed with her the FBI's now documented concerns with interrogation practices at Guantanamo Bay and CIA detention facilities.

Bellinger said he knew the FBI refused to participate in some CIA interrogations, which included waterboarding for at least three detainees. He was also aware of allegations of abuse at Guantanamo in 2003.

Also Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee took a step closer to forcing the Justice Department to hand over secret legal memos authorizing the Bush administration to use harsh and potentially illegal interrogation techniques on detainees.

By a 10-9 vote, the committee agreed to give the chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., authority to subpoena the memos from the Office of Legal Counsel. It is now up to Leahy to decide whether to issue the subpoena, which the Justice Department likely will fight because much of the information in the memos is highly classified.

Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse did not answer a question about whether the department would comply with such a subpoena.

"We regret that the committee authorized the subpoena," Roehrkasse said in a statement. "We will continue to work with them to ensure that their legitimate oversight needs are met."

CEOs who got out before crisis left with millions

Original Link:

By RACHEL BECK and ELLEN SIMON, AP Business Writers

With a Wall Street bailout looming that will almost certainly limit CEO pay, some of the poster boys of the financial crisis have already fled the scene, taking millions of dollars in severance packages with them.

Stanley O'Neal walked away from Merrill Lynch with a package now worth about $66 million. Less than a year later, the storied investment house was forced into a takeover by Bank of America.

Ken Thompson was ousted from Wachovia in June with a "golden parachute" now worth more than $5 million, and Chuck Prince was forced out at Citigroup with a parting gift now valued at $16 million.

They are among the best-known former CEOs in the American banking industry - an industry that, after they left, was brought to its knees in a crisis that had lawmakers warning about the possibility of outright panic or even another Great Depression.

"These guys took all this risk, and ultimately they won't have to suffer the consequences of their decisions," said Barry Ritholtz, who writes the popular financial blog The Big Picture and is CEO of research firm FusionIQ.

Congress and the Bush administration were working Thursday on a bailout package, perhaps with an ultimate cost of $700 billion, that would have the government buy bad debt off the books of banks.

Those banks are staggering after the collapse of the housing market triggered a wave of foreclosures, thinned out the bloodlines of credit and left banks holding no-good mortgage-backed securities.

Under the government plan, the long-gone CEOs would not have to give anything back, said Steven W. Adamske, a spokesman for the House Committee on Financial Services. He said there was no constitutional way to recoup pay retroactively.

Recognizing a public outcry, lawmakers from both parties have been pushing to add curbs on executive pay to the bailout plan - meaning limits on what companies that take part in the bailout could pay their top officers from now on.

Those limits could include restrictions or even an outright ban on severance packages for current executives leading companies that go to the government for help.

"At many of these companies, there are new CEOs and they didn't cause the problems," said Lynn Turner, former chief accountant at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and now an independent business consultant.

Meanwhile, the former CEOs who accepted fat severance packages from the banks at the heart of the crisis are long gone.

For Citigroup's Prince that means $10.4 million in cash, $1.5 million in perks and stock holdings valued at $22 million that he received on his departure in November 2007. That was after the nation's largest bank announced far bigger-than-expected losses on mortgage-related assets and other risky debt.

Under Prince's watch, Citigroup built up its exposure to mortgage and consumer credit markets, and he was paid handsomely for the effort. In his last fiscal year at the helm, his total pay package was nearly $25 million, according to an Associated Press CEO pay formula.

Responding to a request for comment by the AP, Citigroup spokesman Michael J. Hanretta said the "provisions of Mr. Prince's severance agreement reflected his contributions to the company over 30 years as well as retirement benefits and prior equity awards to which he was legally entitled."

The CEOs and the former employers of the other executives either declined to comment or did not return telephone messages.

At Merrill Lynch, O'Neal's pay package for his final year as a CEO was $46.4 million, according to AP figures. He was forced out in October 2007 following the investment bank's disclosure of $7.9 billion in unexpected losses related to the credit market turmoil.

His severance package of stock, options and retirement benefits built up over a 21-year career was valued at the time at $161 million. The market's downturn since then has driven the value down to about $66.5 million.

Merrill Lynch investors have had to face $30.5 billion in write-downs and reported losses of nearly $17 billion in the three full fiscal quarters since O'Neal left.

Earlier this month, Merrill's weakening financial condition forced it into a takeover by Bank of America, with an acquisition price of $29 a share - less than half what it was a year ago.

At Wachovia, Thompson was ousted by the bank's board in June after a series of missteps, the most pronounced being his purchase of a California mortgage lender for roughly $25 billion at the height of the nation's housing boom. The move has led to massive losses at the bank.

Thompson's total pay package for last year was nearly $16 million. When he left the bank, he got nearly $1.5 million in cash, plus stock options worth about $4 million today. He would have received other stock options, but they're worthless for now because the stock price has fallen so far.

The replacements for Prince, O'Neal and Thompson are unlikely to be lavished with such excess. The spotlight now shining on executive pay could lead some companies and their boards to start rethinking their pay strategies.

Thompson's replacement at Wachovia, Robert Steel, signed a contract in July that says he'll get no cash severance. Neither will John Thain, who replaced O'Neal at Merrill last December.

Patrick McGurn, executive vice president and special counsel at RiskMetrics Group's ISS proxy advisory division, thinks the landscape on pay could change - first with the market turmoil and bailout bill, then a new administration.

"The accelerant has been thrown on the fire with this credit crisis, and it will force change," McGurn said.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cash for Trash

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Some are saying that we should simply trust Mr. Paulson, because he’s a smart guy who knows what he’s doing. But that’s only half true: he is a smart guy, but what, exactly, in the experience of the past year and a half — a period during which Mr. Paulson repeatedly declared the financial crisis “contained,” and then offered a series of unsuccessful fixes — justifies the belief that he knows what he’s doing? He’s making it up as he goes along, just like the rest of us.

So let’s try to think this through for ourselves. I have a four-step view of the financial crisis:

1. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to a surge in defaults and foreclosures, which in turn has led to a plunge in the prices of mortgage-backed securities — assets whose value ultimately comes from mortgage payments.

2. These financial losses have left many financial institutions with too little capital — too few assets compared with their debt. This problem is especially severe because everyone took on so much debt during the bubble years.

3. Because financial institutions have too little capital relative to their debt, they haven’t been able or willing to provide the credit the economy needs.

4. Financial institutions have been trying to pay down their debt by selling assets, including those mortgage-backed securities, but this drives asset prices down and makes their financial position even worse. This vicious circle is what some call the “paradox of deleveraging.”

The Paulson plan calls for the federal government to buy up $700 billion worth of troubled assets, mainly mortgage-backed securities. How does this resolve the crisis?

Well, it might — might — break the vicious circle of deleveraging, step 4 in my capsule description. Even that isn’t clear: the prices of many assets, not just those the Treasury proposes to buy, are under pressure. And even if the vicious circle is limited, the financial system will still be crippled by inadequate capital.

Or rather, it will be crippled by inadequate capital unless the federal government hugely overpays for the assets it buys, giving financial firms — and their stockholders and executives — a giant windfall at taxpayer expense. Did I mention that I’m not happy with this plan?

The logic of the crisis seems to call for an intervention, not at step 4, but at step 2: the financial system needs more capital. And if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to — a share in ownership, so that all the gains if the rescue plan works don’t go to the people who made the mess in the first place.

That’s what happened in the savings and loan crisis: the feds took over ownership of the bad banks, not just their bad assets. It’s also what happened with Fannie and Freddie. (And by the way, that rescue has done what it was supposed to. Mortgage interest rates have come down sharply since the federal takeover.)

But Mr. Paulson insists that he wants a “clean” plan. “Clean,” in this context, means a taxpayer-financed bailout with no strings attached — no quid pro quo on the part of those being bailed out. Why is that a good thing? Add to this the fact that Mr. Paulson is also demanding dictatorial authority, plus immunity from review “by any court of law or any administrative agency,” and this adds up to an unacceptable proposal.

I’m aware that Congress is under enormous pressure to agree to the Paulson plan in the next few days, with at most a few modifications that make it slightly less bad. Basically, after having spent a year and a half telling everyone that things were under control, the Bush administration says that the sky is falling, and that to save the world we have to do exactly what it says now now now.

But I’d urge Congress to pause for a minute, take a deep breath, and try to seriously rework the structure of the plan, making it a plan that addresses the real problem. Don’t let yourself be railroaded — if this plan goes through in anything like its current form, we’ll all be very sorry in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sue Them, Jail Them, Make Them Pay for Meltdown: Ann Woolner

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by Ann Woolner

As it stands, the rest of us will be paying much money over a long time for the greed and bad judgment of those who melted down the economy.

Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are propping up firms that a relative few money lenders and Wall Street wizards ruined.

If that weren't enough, the crisis is shrinking the money that Americans diligently socked away for retirement, down payments on first homes, college for the kids or this winter's heating bill. We might as well have opened our windows and tossed out cash.

Beyond crimping living standards around the globe, the crumbling of the U.S. financial system has prompted action radical for a nation devoted to free enterprise. However necessary, it's nothing short of astounding that the U.S. government essentially nationalized the largest insurance company in the country.

The real kick in the teeth is that the executives who inflicted all this financial pain, who forced unprecedented government takeovers, walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars. It's up to us -- innocent little us -- to dig into our pockets, into our futures and into our children's futures to fix their spectacular errors.

Stanley O'Neal took a $161 million package last year when he left Merrill Lynch & Co. (remember Merrill Lynch?), even without a severance package in the mix. Angelo Mozilo, founder and top executive at Countrywide Financial Corp., reaped almost $122 million during 2007 in stock options alone.

For a mere three months at the helm of American International Group Inc., Chief Executive Officer Robert Willumstad gets a $7 million package.

Selling Stock Options

And while the value of Richard Fuld's shares in Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. plunged roughly $1 billion, he still pulled in almost $490 million by selling options and share grants in the 14 years that the company's been public, according to Fortune magazine.

We now know those shares were grossly overpriced, resting as they did on subprime mortgages. Shouldn't he give back most of it? All of it?

At least the government is blocking the $24 million given to the fired top guns at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both taken over earlier this month.

As a rule, it isn't easy to take back money or benefits awarded as part of an employment contract, unless you can figure out some way the executive violated the contract's terms.

But it's worth a try. Consider these options.

Toss the rascals in jail. Criminal prosecution allows the government to seize ill-gotten gains. Snip the straps off those golden parachutes and grab them. Take over bank accounts, investment accounts, mansions, private planes and yachts.

Bear Stearns

The feds did bring charges against a couple of Bear Stearns Cos. hedge fund managers in June, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller told Congress this week his agency is pursuing possible suspects ``as far up the corporate chain as necessary.''

The hitch is that proving executives lied in criminal ways is easier said than done, Enron and WorldCom convictions notwithstanding.

``Criminal prosecutions need to be specific, detail-oriented fact patterns where clear-cut criminality can be established,'' says Robert Mintz, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor.

``These are broad, sweeping market failures that have swept up so many individuals and so many institutions that prosecutors will have a hard time singling out any entity, much less any institution, and hold them responsible,'' says Mintz, a partner in McCarter and English in Newark, New Jersey.

OK, so file civil suits.

Sue the Directors

WorldCom shareholders sued and wrangled $18 million from the pockets of directors, who agreed to pay more than 20 percent of their combined net worth. Another $36 million came from the directors' insurance carriers.

These days, collecting from an insurer might not be the best idea. If AIG is doing the insuring, it would be the taxpayers paying out.

William McGuire, former CEO of UnitedHealth Group Inc., agreed this month to personally cough up $30 million to resolve a lawsuit over stock-option backdating. That's on top of the $600 million in benefits -- mostly in stock options -- he said he will turn in to resolve another shareholder suit.

The problem is that it normally takes something akin to criminal conduct, such as options backdating or accounting fraud, for civil suits to take money out of the hands of the accused. And, as previously noted, it isn't clear we will have that here.

Stricter Regulation

Well, what about government regulators? The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission didn't do anything to prevent this meltdown. But at least, with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo leading the charge, federal and state regulators have forced investment banks to buy back billions of dollars worth of auction-rate securities said to have been sold under dubious claims of reliability.

The bankruptcy law may give Lehman Brothers creditors a chance to grab some of the bonuses the firm paid out last year.

If they can show bonuses were based on bogus claims of solvency, they can go after them, according to compensation expert Paul Hodgson of the Corporate Library, which analyzes corporate governance issues.

Some plaintiffs' lawyers apply the same principle when pushing for tougher corporate governance rules as part of settling a case.

The idea is that CEOs and CFOs who drew bonuses based on earnings that had to later be restated, for whatever reason, must automatically return the excess amount, according to Darren Robbins, a partner in Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins.

Frankly, it's only fair.

Many economists skeptical of bailout

Original Link:


Many of the same economists and opinion-makers who'd provided a bipartisan sheen of consensus to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's previous moves have quickly begun casting doubts on the wisdom of a policy that would allow Treasury to purchase without oversight hundreds of billions of dollars of difficult-to-price assets from financial institutions.

Under the proposal, Paulson would not have to report to Congress until December, and the only safeguard for taxpayers was a provision that the “Secretary shall take into consideration means for — (1) providing stability or preventing disruption to the financial markets or banking system; and (2) protecting the taxpayer.”

Skepticism toward the plan reflected more than the predictable desires of the left to spread the wealth to Main Street or of the right to reject government bailouts, although those sentiments were also expressed.

"We need to take a bold move. In that sense I think Paulson is right," Luigi Zingales, a Professor at the University of Chicago School of Business who wrote a widely circulated short essay titled "Why Paulson is Wrong,” told Politico.

Zingales fears that the Treasury bailout would effectively turn the entire financial sector into a Government Sponsored Enterprise, complete with the same murkiness and moral hazard that sunk Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “It might achieve the final outcome, but it will do so at an enormous cost," he said. "All the troubles we’ve seen with Fannie and Freddie would be seen again and again across the entire financial sector."

President Bush is “asking for a huge amount of power,” said Nouriel Roubini, an economist at New York University who was among the first to predict the crisis. “He's saying, ‘Trust me, I'm going to do it right if you give me absolute control.' This is not a monarchy.” (Roubini told the New York Times that despite these concerns, he also thought the plan could help stave off a recession.)

Paul Krugman, the Princeton University economist and liberal columnist for The New York Times who had until now been cautiously supportive of Paulson's and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s efforts to prop up the system, wrote that the new plan would be a taxpayer rip-off. “I hate to say this, but looking at the plan as leaked, I have to say no deal,” he wrote on his blog at 4:46 p.m. Saturday. “Not unless Treasury explains, very clearly, why this is supposed to work, other than through having taxpayers pay premium prices for lousy assets.”

Yves Smith, a longtime banker and contributor to the influential finance blog Naked Capitalism, published an angry post there titled, "Why You Should Hate The Treasury Bailout Proposal":

"Given that continuing to buy U.S. assets will come under increasingly harsh scrutiny overseas, the U.S. needs to bend over backwards to devise a plan that at least looks credible in terms of directing the funds that come from taxpayers and lenders to their highest and best uses and implementing reforms that will restore active and prudent oversight of financial firms," she wrote. "The administration's demand for a free pass, even if Congress unwisely goes along, is likely to backfire with our foreign creditors."

Gregory Mankiw, a professor at Harvard University and a former chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers who was the economic guru for Mitt Romney's campaign, favorably linked to Smith's post under the headline "A Blank Check" and approvingly quoted a correspondent who wrote, "Has more money ever been given with fewer restrictions on how it is used? Ever?"

Sebastian Mallaby, the center-right economic columnist for The Washington Post and scholar of the modern financial system, was equally dubious. “The plan is being marketed under false pretenses," he wrote in his Sunday column, rejecting comparisons of the plan to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which the government formed in response to the savings and loan crisis to purchase and sell off the bad loans made by bankrupted thrifts.

“The administration proposes to buy up bad loans before the lenders go bust,” Mallaby noted, keeping the banks alive but doing little to solve the problem infecting the markets. “Bad loans are weighing down the financial system precisely because private-sector experts can't determine their worth. The government would have no better handle on the problem.”

Justin Fox, Time magazine's top financial writer and columnist, also worried about the lack of an upside for the taxpayer. "What I still can't figure out is how Treasury hopes to structure the bailout so there's at least a chance of getting a fair return on that risk-taking," he wrote on his blog.

"How on earth will these things be priced?" Portfolio's Felix Salmon asked about the bad debt Paulson plans to purchase. He also pointed out that Treasury would need to stock its office with bond-trading professionals. "All we know so far is that it's going to be set up as a reverse auction, but that raises more questions than it answers."

One notable proponent of the plan was The Financial Times' unsigned Lex column, which acknowledged the lack of oversight but mostly praised the plan:

"This bailout is necessary and the bill should be pushed through quickly. … Nor is the package necessarily a disaster for the taxpayer or the U.S. dollar. If the Treasury buys assets well, and confidence is restored, there is [a] chance that Mr. Paulson could win fund manager of the year."

Zingales, though, writes in "Why Paulson Is Wrong" that "For somebody like me who believes strongly in the free market system, the most serious risk of the current situation is that the interest of a few financiers will undermine the fundamental workings of the capitalist system. The time has come to save capitalism from the capitalists."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Judge orders Cheney to preserve records

Original Link:

By PETE YOST , Associated Press

A federal judge on Saturday ordered Dick Cheney to preserve a wide range of the records from his time as vice president.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is a setback for the Bush administration in its effort to promote a narrow definition of materials that must be safeguarded under by the Presidential Records Act.

The Bush administration's legal position "heightens the court's concern" that some records may not be preserved, said the judge.

A private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is suing Cheney and the Executive Office of the President in an effort to ensure that no presidential records are destroyed or handled in a way that makes them unavailable to the public.

In a 22-page opinion, the judge revealed that in recent days, lawyers for the Bush administration balked at a proposed agreement between the two sides on how to proceed with the case.

Cheney and the other defendants in the case "were only willing to agree to a preservation order that tracked their narrowed interpretation" of the Presidential Records Act, wrote Kollar-Kotelly.

The administration, said the judge, wanted any court order on what records are at issue in the suit to cover only the office of the vice president, not Cheney or the other defendants in the lawsuit. The other defendants include the National Archives and the archivist of the United States.

In response to the ruling, Cheney spokesman James R. Hennigan said that "we will not have any comment on pending litigation."

The lawsuit stems from Cheney's position that his office is not part of the executive branch of government.

This summer, Cheney chief of staff David Addington told Congress the vice president belongs to neither the executive nor legislative branch of government, but rather is attached by the Constitution to Congress. The vice president presides over the Senate.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Satellite images show ethnic cleanout in Iraq

Original Link:

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published on Friday.

The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

Minority Sunni Arabs were driven out of many neighborhoods by Shi'ite militants enraged by the bombing of the Samarra mosque in February 2006. The bombing, blamed on the Sunni militant group al Qaeda, sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

"By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left," geography professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who led the study, said in a statement.

"Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning," said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.

Some 2 million Iraqis are displaced within Iraq, while 2 million more have sought refuge in neighboring Syria and Jordan. Previously religiously mixed neighborhoods of Baghdad became homogenized Sunni or Shi'ite Muslim enclaves.

The study, published in the journal Environment and Planning A, provides more evidence of ethnic conflict in Iraq, which peaked just before U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of about 30,000 extra U.S. troops.

The extent to which the troop build-up helped halt Iraq's slide into sectarian civil war has been debated, particularly in the United States, with supporters of the surge saying it was the main contributing factor, and others arguing it was simply one of a number of factors.

"Our findings suggest that the surge has had no observable effect, except insofar as it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved," Agnew's team wrote in their report.

Agnew's team used publicly available infrared night imagery from a weather satellite operated by the U.S. Air Force.

"The overall night light signature of Baghdad since the U.S. invasion appears to have increased between 2003 and 2006 and then declined dramatically from 20 March 2006 through 16 December 2007," their report said.

They said the night lights of Shi'ite-dominated Sadr City remained constant, as did lights in the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound in central Baghdad. Lights increased in the eastern New Baghdad district, another Shi'ite enclave.

Satellite studies have also been used to help document forced relocations in Myanmar and ethnic cleansing in Uganda.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Ross Colvin)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Study group questions military action against Iran

Original Link:

By BARRY SCHWEID- AP Diplomatic Writer

The next president would be wise to make contingency plans for a military attack against Iran, but even a successful strike might not stop Tehran's development of nuclear weapons, a bipartisan study group has concluded.

Intensified diplomacy and tougher economic sanctions aimed at Iran's oil and gas industries are more likely to be productive, said the forthcoming report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, prepared under the guidance of former Sens. Daniel Coats, R-Ind., and Charles Robb, D-Va.

"A military strike is a feasible option and must remain a last resort to retard Iran's nuclear development," the report said.

The next president could conclude that the risks of a military strike are outweighed by the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran dominating the Persian Gulf and Iran possibly acting to eradicate Israel, the report said.

The U.S. military is capable of launching a devastating strike on Iran's nuclear and military infrastructure, probably a more decisive one than the Iranian leadership realizes, the study group said.

And it could set back significantly Iran's nuclear program, the report said.

"However, unless sustained by repeated strikes against rebuilt or newly discovered sites over a period of years, military action alone is likely only to delay Iranian nuclear development while entailing risks of retaliation ... which could quickly escalate to full-scale war."

Any U.S. military strike also would run a number of risks, among them rallying Iranians around their "unstable and ideologically extreme regime" and triggering widescale Hezbollah and Hamas rocket attacks against Israel, the report said.

While a successful bombing campaign would slow Iranian nuclear development, Iran would retain its nuclear knowhow. The United States would have to be prepared to attack previously undiscovered nuclear sites to ensure Iran does not resurrect its military nuclead program, the report said.

Iran's nuclear development may pose the most significant strategic threat to the United States during the next administration, threatening the Persian Gulf region and its vast energy resources, spark nuclear proliferation through the Middle East and destabilize Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region, the report said.

The Bush administration has kept the military option on the table while saying it would talk to Iran under certain conditions.

Republican candidate John McCain's approach is similar. He emphasizes retaining the military option. Democratic candidate Barack Obama would consider unconditional talks with Iran. He has not ruled out a military option.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reflections: New Orleans and China

Original Link:


For Americans watching events unfold on television late last month, the arduous evacuation of New Orleans and the grandeur of the Olympic Games couldn’t have made for a starker contrast.

However one feels about its other policies, the Chinese government is clearly not afraid to invest in the future of its cities. The array of architecture it created for the Beijing Olympics was only part of a mosaic of roads, bridges, tunnels, canals, subway lines and other projects that have transformed a medieval city of wood and brick into a modern metropolis overnight.

Meanwhile, three full years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, much of the city remains a wasteland. As Hurricane Gustav raced toward the Gulf Coast, it became clear that the city’s patchwork levee system could not guarantee the safety of its citizens. The evacuation of tens of thousands of residents was cheered as some sort of victory.

But for those with a sense of urban history, the tragedy of New Orleans is not just about governmental disregard for the welfare of the city’s inhabitants. It is about a lost opportunity. All of the great challenges that confront the 21st-century city — from class, race and environmental issues to the continuing duel between history and modernity — are crystallized in New Orleans.

Yet the kind of visionary urban plan that could address these issues in a bold and thoughtful way has yet to materialize. Instead, some of the country’s greatest architectural minds are inventing the future in cities like Beijing, Shenzhen and Dubai, where their talents are more appreciated.

The signs pointing to this tragic turn of events were there for anyone who cared to read them. The great urban planning experiments that transformed America in the early 20th century were both triumphs of engineering and dazzling monuments to a free, mobile society. Anyone who has watched the film “Chinatown” knows the story of William Mulholland’s aqueduct, which transformed Los Angeles from a desert wasteland into a sunny paradise of trim lawns and orange groves. Less known is the story of modern New Orleans, which exists because of the system of canals, levees and pumps — the largest in the world — that were used to drain acres of marshland.

This kind of bold government planning died long ago, of course, a victim of both the public’s disillusionment with the large-scale Modernist planning strategies of the postwar era and the antigovernment campaigns of the Reagan years. The consequences were obvious as soon as Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. And they have been reaffirmed many times since, with the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis and myriad accounts of our country’s crumbling infrastructure.

Still, many Americans stubbornly regard any kind of large-scale public works project with suspicion. Three years ago, for example, the nonprofit Urban Land Institute unveiled a master plan for New Orleans that would have transformed large parts of the city into wetland areas. But the proposal, which was released as thousands of people were struggling to make their way back to the city, caused a public outcry and was immediately dropped. The institute compounded the problem by not including a workable proposal for how to house those dislocated by the plan.

Since then, the most concrete proposal has been a plan by the official in charge of the city’s recovery, Edward J. Blakely, to identify 17 projects, from schools to community centers, that could be used to spur further development. But with a mere $400 million of public funds committed to the project, the plan is not likely to go far. (The city has hired the Boston firm Goody Clancy to prepare a citywide plan, but it is not scheduled for completion for another year.)

The lack of a coherent vision for the city’s future means that some of the most critical reconstruction decisions — like where to build — are left to private homeowners. The notion of concentrating the bulk of new construction on higher ground, an approach that would be both safer and environmentally sound, rarely comes up. Instead, FEMA’s distribution of relief money has sometimes encouraged people to rebuild in the most vulnerable low-lying areas, since it is used for repairing structures damaged by the storm, not for relocation. The perversity of such an approach can be seen in areas like Lakeview and the Ninth Ward, where the few scattered houses that have been rebuilt stand surrounded by acres of barren land, sometimes directly in the shadow of the levees.

When the government has been involved, it has often shown a callous indifference to the city’s architectural history. A few months ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development began tearing down thousands of low-income housing units built in the late 1930s and early ’40s, including several low-rise brick apartment blocks in the working-class neighborhood of Tremé that were among the best early examples of public housing in the country. There have also been threats to demolish Charity Hospital, a towering Art Deco landmark near downtown, as well as several Modernist schools built in the 1950s and ’60s.

Not surprisingly, what little progress has been made has been the work of a few determined nonprofit organizations. In the Holy Cross neighborhood, Global Green built a prototype for a sustainable shotgun house, complete with solar panels, natural ventilation and recycled materials. The house is the first step toward creating a planned sustainable community, organized around a town green that is designed to collect runoff water during a storm.

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation recently completed a competition for the design of several sustainable single-family houses, the first of which are now under construction in the Ninth Ward. And other organizations, like the local Preservation Resource Center, have been painstakingly restoring a number of historical houses throughout the city.

Yet these scattershot efforts, however noble, do not constitute a thoughtful, coordinated urban plan. Shoring up existing levees will not magically transform New Orleans into a model for the contemporary city.

To accomplish that, the city will have to start with a blueprint for preserving the historic fabric that was not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina — not just in tourist-friendly areas like the French Quarter, but across the city. It will need to tie efforts to rebuild the city’s infrastructure to a broader plan that takes into account its shrinking population, the realities of global warming and the racial and social patterns that have shaped New Orleans for decades. And that plan will have to integrate the needs of those who are still suffering the most: working-class people who don’t own their homes and can’t find an affordable place to live.

This will take real brainpower, of course. But the idea that it can’t be done — or that Americans can’t afford it — seems more ludicrous than ever, given the example of China. Sometime later this year, Steven Holl, one of the brightest talents working today, will complete his Linked Hybrid residential complex in Beijing. The project is both a model of sustainable design and a breathtaking example of how to build an urban community in the 21st century. The London-based engineering firm Arup is working on a master plan for an entire sustainable city, Dongtan, in a wetland area near Shanghai.

New Orleans, too, could become a bold vision — a laboratory for how to rebuild America’s faltering cities. It could evolve into a model for the future as compelling and optimistic as the one America offered to the world a generation ago. Or it could remain an emblem of how far we’ve fallen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Financial Russian Roulette

Original Link:


Will the U.S. financial system collapse today, or maybe over the next few days? I don’t think so — but I’m nowhere near certain. You see, Lehman Brothers, a major investment bank, is apparently about to go under. And nobody knows what will happen next.

To understand the problem, you need to know that the old world of banking, in which institutions housed in big marble buildings accepted deposits and lent the money out to long-term clients, has largely vanished, replaced by what is widely called the “shadow banking system.” Depository banks, the guys in the marble buildings, now play only a minor role in channeling funds from savers to borrowers; most of the business of finance is carried out through complex deals arranged by “nondepository” institutions, institutions like the late lamented Bear Stearns — and Lehman.

The new system was supposed to do a better job of spreading and reducing risk. But in the aftermath of the housing bust and the resulting mortgage crisis, it seems apparent that risk wasn’t so much reduced as hidden: all too many investors had no idea how exposed they were.

And as the unknown unknowns have turned into known unknowns, the system has been experiencing postmodern bank runs. These don’t look like the old-fashioned version: with few exceptions, we’re not talking about mobs of distraught depositors pounding on closed bank doors. Instead, we’re talking about frantic phone calls and mouse clicks, as financial players pull credit lines and try to unwind counterparty risk. But the economic effects — a freezing up of credit, a downward spiral in asset values — are the same as those of the great bank runs of the 1930s.

And here’s the thing: The defenses set up to prevent a return of those bank runs, mainly deposit insurance and access to credit lines with the Federal Reserve, only protect the guys in the marble buildings, who aren’t at the heart of the current crisis. That creates the real possibility that 2008 could be 1931 revisited.

Now, policy makers are aware of the risks — before he was given responsibility for saving the world, Ben Bernanke was one of our leading experts on the economics of the Great Depression. So over the past year the Fed and the Treasury have orchestrated a series of ad hoc rescue plans. Special credit lines with unpronounceable acronyms were made available to nondepository institutions. The Fed and the Treasury brokered a deal that protected Bear’s counterparties — those on the other side of its deals — though not its stockholders. And just last week the Treasury seized control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant government-sponsored mortgage lenders.

But the consequences of those rescues are making officials nervous. For one thing, they’re taking big risks with taxpayer money. For example, today much of the Fed’s portfolio is tied up in loans backed by dubious collateral. Also, officials are worried that their rescue efforts will encourage even more risky behavior in the future. After all, it’s starting to look as if the rule is heads you win, tails the taxpayers lose.

Which brings us to Lehman, which has suffered large real-estate-related losses, and faces a crisis of confidence. Like many financial institutions, Lehman has a huge balance sheet — it owes vast sums, and is owed vast sums in return. Trying to liquidate that balance sheet quickly could lead to panic across the financial system. That’s why government officials and private bankers have spent the weekend huddled at the New York Fed, trying to put together a deal that would save Lehman, or at least let it fail more slowly.

But Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, was adamant that he wouldn’t sweeten the deal by putting more public funds on the line. Many people thought he was bluffing. I was all ready to start today’s column, “When life hands you Lehman, make Lehman aid.” But there was no aid, and apparently no deal. Mr. Paulson seems to be betting that the financial system — bolstered, it must be said, by those special credit lines — can handle the shock of a Lehman failure. We’ll find out soon whether he was brave or foolish.

The real answer to the current problem would, of course, have been to take preventive action before we reached this point. Even leaving aside the obvious need to regulate the shadow banking system — if institutions need to be rescued like banks, they should be regulated like banks — why were we so unprepared for this latest shock? When Bear went under, many people talked about the need for a mechanism for “orderly liquidation” of failing investment banks. Well, that was six months ago. Where’s the mechanism?

And so here we are, with Mr. Paulson apparently feeling that playing Russian roulette with the U.S. financial system was his best option. Yikes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Poll: Public opposes increased presidential power

Original Link:

A new poll says two out of 3 Americans are strongly opposed to expanding the president's powers at the expense of Congress or the courts, even if it would improve national security or the economy.

The Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll finds people wary of increased government authority, and especially skeptical of increasing the president's powers after the controversies surrounding the Bush administration.

The government's power to take private property for redevelopment had little support in the poll, not even when owners are paid a fair price and the project creates local jobs.

The poll also finds a generational gap over the issue of gay marriage. More than two-thirds of those under 35 favor the recognition of gay marriage. Less than 40% of those over 35 feel the same way.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Greenspan: Country can't afford McCain's tax cuts

Original Link:

By GLEN JOHNSON , Associated Press

Alan Greenspan says the country can't afford tax cuts of the magnitude proposed by Republican presidential contender John McCain — at least not without a corresponding reduction in government spending.

"Unless we cut spending, no," the former Federal Reserve chairman said Friday when asked about McCain's proposed tax cuts, pegged in some estimates at $3.3 trillion.

"I'm not in favor of financing tax cuts with borrowed money," Greenspan said during an interview with Bloomberg Television. "I always have tied tax cuts to spending."

McCain has said that he would offset his proposed cuts — including reducing the corporate tax rate and eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax that has plagued middle-class families — by ending congressional pork-barrel spending, unnecessary government programs and overhauling entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

Democrats pounced on Greenspan's comments, in part because McCain professed last year that he was weaker on economics than foreign affairs and was reading Greenspan's memoir, "The Age of Turbulence," to educate himself.

"Obviously he needs to go back to that book and study it some more," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said during a conference call arranged by the campaign of Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

McCaskill said eliminating congressional earmark spending — estimated at $17 billion annually — cannot offset McCain's proposed tax cuts.

"That's a huge amount of money, but it's not even a drop in the bucket to pay for $3.5 trillion in tax cuts," she said. "So, every time he throws up earmarks and he's asked how he's going to pay for it, he knows he's being disingenuous, he knows he's not being forthcoming."

McCain campaign officials dispute the $3.3 trillion figure, saying it assumes eliminating 2003 tax cuts made by the Bush administration and then cutting from that higher level. They say McCain is proposing tax cuts worth $600 billion from current levels.

Friday, September 12, 2008

54% Say U.S. Has Changed for the Worse Since 9/11

Original Link:

With the seventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks this week, over half of Americans (54%) still believe the country has changed for the worse since the events of that day, but this marks the first time the number has fallen in over six years.

Twenty-four percent (24%) say the change has been for the better, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. See full demographic crosstabs.

Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans say the world would be a better place if other countries became more like the United States. That’s down from 54% a year ago. Just 19% say the world would be a worse place if other countries emulated America, roughly the same number as in September 2007.

Republicans by a two-to-one margin over Democrats believe America is a role model for other countries. Democrats were slightly more positive a year ago. Last year at this time 59% felt America had changed for the worse, compared to 54% in 2006.

Six weeks after the terrorist attacks, 57% told Rasmussen Reports the nation had changed for the better. By January 2002, 61% felt that way, but the number has been falling ever since. By September 2007, only 21% of Americans believed America had changed for the better.

This year’s changes come amidst growing voter confidence that the United States is winning both the war on terror and the war in Iraq. (Want a free daily e-mail update on our latest results? If it's in the news, it's in our polls.)

Seventy-three percent (73%) of Democrats feel the change in America since September 11 has been for the worse compared to 33% of Republicans. By contrast, 41% of GOP voters think the change has been for the better versus just 10% of Democrats. Unaffiliated voters by a 51% to 23% margin believe the change has been for the worse. These numbers are perhaps a reflection of election year politics since both Republicans and unaffiliated voters are more optimistic about the change than a year ago, but Democrats are slightly more pessimistic.

Voters are nearly evenly divided on whether America is a safer place today than it was before the 9/11 attacks. These numbers have remained consistent through months of surveys.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters think it is at least somewhat likely that terrorists will try to impact the winner of the current presidential contest. Over one-quarter (27%) think it is Very Likely, while only six percent (6%) think it is not likely at all. Republicans are more worried about this than Democrats and unaffiliateds. A year ago, 34% of voters believed terrorist action aimed at the election was Very Likely.

Voters in virtually all categories identify economic issues as their number one concern this election cycle. National security, which was the priority for most voters in Election 2004, now is in second place.
Nearly one-third (32%) now expect the amount of terrorism in the world to increase when U.S. forces leave Iraq. Twenty-two percent (22%) expect world terrorism to decrease, and 29% think it will stay about the same. These findings are largely unchanged from a year ago.

Democrats are now trusted more than Republicans on seven out of 10 key electoral issues, but the GOP holds the advantage on taxes, national security, and the war in Iraq.

In the new survey, 35% say Al Qaeda is weaker today than before September 11, 2001, while 26% believe the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks is stronger. Twenty-nine percent (29%) think its strength is about the same now as it was then. See full demographic crosstabs.

The overwhelming majority (76%) believe the group’s head, Osama bin Laden, is still alive, but voters are almost evenly divided on whether his death or capture would make the United States safer.

Although President Bush has earned record low job performance ratings 44% of voters still rate the way he handled the situation following the September 11 attacks as good or excellent, including 27% who say he did an excellent job. Thirty-four percent (34%) say his post-9/11 response was poor. While 54% of Republicans rate Bush’s performance as excellent, an identical number of Democrats (54%) view it as poor. Among unaffiliated voters, 21% give Bush excellent marks versus 35% who grade his job performance as poor. These numbers have held roughly steady from a year ago.

Buyer’s Remorse

Original Link:

By Matthew Weaver

Everywhere you look today there is second guessing about the choice of Obama as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. The Kool-Aid must be running low as even the party’s VP candidate is quoted, from yesterday, suggesting he’s the wrong person on the ticket“

“Make no mistake about it Hillary Clinton is as qualified as or more qualified than I am. And quite frankly, she may have been a better pick than me.”—Joe Biden.

It’s not just Biden, the media, even as they apologize and attempt to explain away Obama’s latest crude comment against Governor Palin, is starting to ask how they got stuck with Obama.

The Obama nutroots gangs are truly beginning to freak out.

“In the opening days of the general election campaign, an exaggerated optimism has swept through Republican ranks and an equally exaggerated gloom has infected the Democrats.”—David Broder.

“It has come to our attention that a large number of Democrats have gone completely nuts about Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He’s going to lose! Sarah Palin is getting all the attention! The Republicans are so mean! Why isn’t he tougher?”—Gail Collins. As with Broder, Collins tries to reassure Obama supporters that all is not already lost.

Maureen Dowd, who has one of the sharpest tongues and wit among her writing peers, wrote Tuesday an unusually sober piece that noted McCain’s success in “devilishly mocking Obama — and successfully getting into his head — with ads about how he was just a frothy celebrity, like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears”.

Kathleen Parker explains best in an absolutely must-read commentary (see Feminist template obliterated in USA Today), where she writes about Governor Palin: “She’s what some might call ‘Trouble.’ And proud of it, too.”

Reactions from all sides have fallen somewhere in the realm of hysteria. Republicans, 85% of whom view Palin favorably, are delirious that they — the maligned party of traditional family values — have produced the most credible, kick-caribou female candidate in U.S. history.

Democrats, only 24% of whom view Palin favorably, are dumbfounded — sort of the way Republicans were when a new guy named Obama edged out a stable of Democratic veterans for the presidential nomination.

Who is this woman who could be only a heartbeat away from the presidency? Where did she come from? How could John McCain do such a thing?

Talk about the audacity of hope.

Parker notes “McCain can hardly wipe the grin off his face. He gambled and won — Big Time.”

As to the question of “What kind of woman do we want in high office? What kind of woman is acceptable? ” Parker writes that “Feminists have always called the shots on this question” but through McCain “the greatest insult was yet to come.”

Republicans — those anti-woman, patriarchal Neanderthalian gun-clingers — nominated a woman whom Democrats would call a “Stepford wife,” except she’d beat them to a bloody pulp with a moose antler.

Aside from the irony, Parker concludes with satisfaction,

“Even if Sarah Palin ultimately fails to prove herself worthy of second-in-command, her enthusiastic reception has proved that there are other kinds of women in the USA — lots of them — who have a different idea about what’s best for womankind.”

No wonder Obama is running scared. His 15 minutes is up. He is buried in his own sexism, partnered with a missing VP candidate that says Clinton was a better choice, and surrounded by followers that are hate-filled and vile in their attacks on his opponents.

Yes, McCain has good reason to have a grin on his face.

On Sawdust And The Democratic Party

Original Link:

By Uppity Woman

One Half of the famous fowl-mouthed Fowler couple offers an apology. We’re still waiting for one from the other half. You know, her husband Pat Robertson, the guy who thinks a hurricane during the Republican convention was a special gift to him from God.

In an interview posted on the political Web site Politico, Chairwoman Carol Fowler said Republican John McCain picked a running mate “whose primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion.”

Fowler later apologized, saying she made the statement during an interview about single-issue voters.

Don’t apologize, “Sweetie”!!111!!!! You helped shave a few more points off of Barky’s White Woman polls. Do more! Please!

“I personally admire and respect the difficult choices that women make everyday, and I apologize to anyone who finds my comment offensive,” Fowler said in a statement.

“I clumsily was making a point about people in South Carolina who may vote based on a single issue. Whether it’s the environment, the economy, the war or a woman’s right to choose, there are people who will cast their vote based on a single issue,” she continued. “That was the only point I was attempting to make.”

You see, that’s the problem. It’s not about you or Donna or Howard or Nancy “being clumsy”. It’s about the confusion we women are causing you. We are confusing you and the rest of The Party, right? Why are so many of us Democratic women confusing our Beloved Democratic Party???? The answer lies in a little story:

A farmer was talking to his neighbor about how expensive it is to feed his horse. His neighbor suggested that he mix sawdust in the horse’s feed for filler.

The neighbor didn’t see the farmer till a month later and he asked how his suggestion worked out. The farmer was very sullen. He said, ” I don’t understand it. I mixed some sawdust in my horse’s feed and he seemed to like it. So I added a little more the next day. And a little more the next day. He seemed to like it so I just increased his sawdust every day. But you won’t believe what happened! Soon as I got that damned horse eating all sawdust, the damned thing died!”

It’s kind of like that Carol. (and Donna, Howard, Nancy-The-Exception)

You entrenched party people have been feeding us that Abortion story for decades. Every four years we had to listen to the same shit from you. We are YOUR party, ladies. We care! If you don’t vote for us they will overturn Roe v Wade. We will protect you!

Funny, really. For one thing, if you CARED, you would have legislated this problem years ago. But then, where’s the profit in that? What would you use to keep us scared enough to vote for all of you again, and again and again. In the meantime, so many of us have grown up listening to your tripe –and you know what? We don’t give a shit!. You’ve been feeding us sawdust! We all know Roe v Wade isn’t going anywhere, so cut the craaaaaaaaap.

There was more sawdust you kept feeding us too. That “Equal pay for women” sawdust. Do you DNC jerks have any idea how long we have been listening to that horseshit? I mean if you can’t fix this problem in decades, don’t you think you all need to move on? We aren’t eating that sawdust any longer either.

How about the Champion for The Poor sawdust? In my not so short life, I haven’t seen you guys help the poor at all, unless you count keeping them poor! You know…wink …wink…just give them enough to keep them voting for you, but God forbid you should give them the incentive to actually get out of poverty and off the government’s programs. That’s not a good idea, right? I mean if you keep them all just poor enough, they will need you for-evah!

The best sawdust story is the one about Equal Rights for Women. Boy you had us eating that slop for so long I can’t even remember when it all started. But the first chance you got to be a bunch of sexist slobs, you grabbed that ring as fast as you could.

Let me be frank. I have NEVER seen so much sexism and misogyny in a primary, or pretty much anywhere for that matter, in my entire life. And I hung out in Corporate America a lot! If you pigs were in Corporate America you would have all been shown to the lobby for your filth.

The DNC stood right by and watched Barack Obama, his filthy TV surrogates, his online pigs-in-training in their parents’ basements and his PR team on MSNBC and CNN harass, torture, insult, embarrass, humiliate and rip the far superior candidate apart–because she was a woman!. Then we watched you drag a mediocre man’s sorry inept ass over the nomination line against the will of superdelegates’ constituents. Talk about “Putting lipstick on a pig”!! You people are sick! You bludgeoned us because we are women and now you want us to eat more of your sawdust over an “issue” you’ve been using on us for decades????? Are you kidding or what????Do you have any idea at all what a wake-up call that was for us women with brains and some life experience? Anybody? Anybody?

The Democratic Party’s behavior toward Hillary Clinton this year was beyond revolting. We understand exactly what that means. It means you have all been hypocrites for as long as women have been your captives. We understand now that hanging out with you is akin to living in an abusive relationship. So don’t be bringing us flowers after you broke our jaws. You might fool younger women who haven’t been around too many blocks. They are complacent because they didn’t have to fight for their rights, and you know it—so the DNC and Barack Obama take advantage of them. If they can’t see what’s in front of their own faces, well then let them eat vibrating cell phones! As for the rest of us, we aren’t buying. We know exactly what is going on here. You are killing us with the sawdust in our feed. We choose to survive instead.

Frankly, I find it downright stupid that, after all we have been forced to stand by and watch, you all wonder why we defend Sarah Palin. Do you really think we don’t comprende that under Barack Obama, women would have a whole lot more to worry about than Roe v Wade? Do you not think that we understand that crap rolls downhill and the attitude of a President permeates the workplace and the home? Do you think we’ve eaten so much of your sawdust that we don’t understand completely what is going on here?

My party! The Party that kept so many women carrying your water for you for years, when all you gave us in the end was more sawdust in our feed. The only Sharia thing you didn’t do to Hillary Clinton was set her on fire! And that’s probably only because here in America that’s against the law. So far……

…..and now you all simply cannot understand why we women aren’t “one-issue” voters. Well let me explain, then: It isn’t about “one issue” with us. It’s about all of them. All of those issues you dangled over our heads for too long, when it is now abundantly clear the Democratic Party never gave a shit about us at all except to use “issues” as a means to keep us in line on Election Day.

You could have had a winner. But you now have a loser. We aren’t eating the sawdust any longer. On November 4, you and the rest of the Democratic Party hypocrites can eat your own sawdust for a change. Maybe then you all will Get It. Forget Party loyalty from now on. We women aren’t going to suck up to any party any longer. You are going to have to show us your chops instead of flapping your lips if you want our votes. We are the new Independents. When you start looking out for us, we’ll give you a try as a swing block. And that goes for both parties, and right now, your forced choice is not our choice. You had best think about that next time because we have NO intention of ever putting up with what we saw done to the dignity of women this year again. Donna said you didn’t need us, dandy. You can’t have us. But make no mistake, we are watching. We are watching what you do to Sarah Palin.

And one more thing: Every time you idiots trot out Hillary to clean up that inept Pig Barack Obama’s mess, you open the wounds you created and we get even more pissed off.

Ball of Confusion

Original Link:

By dcmediagirl

I had an interesting conversation today with a Democratic member of Congress who called to chat about the campaign.

This man is someone I’m proud to call a friend. He’s a serious person and a great patriot with a wicked sense of humor. He’s not a buffoon, a bot or a tool. He’s a staunch defender of women’s rights and civil liberties. He’s willing to put his ass on the line and take positions that are controversial and unpopular. He’s a stirrer of some very bubbly pots. He doesn’t vote “present” or find something more pressing to do when it’s time for him to stand up and be counted. In short, he’s a great, great guy and an example of what Democrats should be.

The poor man is also very confused.

How is it possible, he asked, that things are so fucked up for the Dems? And what in the world are women thinking? What’s with this mass migration of white women to the Republican ticket? What about the courts? Roe v. Wade? WTF?

Because I respect and like this man I took the time to roll out the explanation. If you want to know why women are so angry, I told him, I suggest you stroll down to the DNC and have a chat with Howard Dean. Ask him why, as the head of the party, he didn’t issue a strong statement condemning the media’s sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton during the primary season and demand that they cease and desist immediately. Ask him why the party dragged the Florida and Michigan situation out so long that the Democrats lost all credibility on the issue of enfranchisement. Ask him why he didn’t demand that the outrageous accusations of racism leveled against the Clintons - by members of the Democratic party - halt. Ask him why he allowed his surrogates to go on television and attack Hillary Clinton, a fellow Democrat? And while you’re asking questions, Congressman, ask your colleagues in the House and Senate why they were so hellbent on pushing Hillary Clinton out of the race before the final votes were counted at the end of the cycle.

In short, ask why the Democrats have fucked things up so egregiously that they’ve allowed Republicans to take the high road on enfranchisement and respect for women running for higher office, thereby alienating the Democratic base? Howard Dean has close ties to the netroots. Why didn’t he do a conference call and try to dissuade them from pushing grotesque conspiracy theories on their blogs, starting with a revival of the Vince Foster canard?

How on earth can the Democrats demand that voters buy a faulty product being peddled by an incompetently managed organization? If the party is willing to betray its own, how can it be trusted to represent the rank and file?

He listened. He wasn’t happy, but he listened.

Eventually, when it’s too late, they’ll all have to listen.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Director Pay Rising Despite Falling CEO Pay: Study

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Director compensation at the biggest U.S. companies continued to rise in 2007, in contrast to chief executive pay, which dropped sharply last year amid a slowing economy and weakening corporate performance, a study found.

The study, released Wednesday by consulting firm Mercer, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Companies [MMC 32.31 0.17 (+0.53%) ], said direct pay for board members at 50 large U.S. companies increased 4.2 percent in 2007 to a median of $236,147.

In comparison, pay for CEOs at 50 top companies dropped 15.8 percent last year, Mercer said.

"The turbulent economy has apparently had little impact on director pay," the firm said.

The study analyzed proxy statements for 350 U.S. companies that were selected to provide an industry mix similar to Fortune 1000.

Executive and director compensation has received increased attention from shareholders amid the subprime mortgage meltdown and ensuing credit crisis. The topic has repeatedly been discussed on the U.S. presidential campaign trail, with Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain taking aim at high-salaried CEOs.

Mercer said director pay has been climbing in recent years as board members have taken a more active role, reflecting the fallout from corporate scandals such as Enron and the ensuing regulatory changes.

"As stewards, directors are paid for their oversight of the company's strategic direction, not for execution of the business plan which is management's job," said Diane Doubleday, global leader of Mercer's executive compensation group, in a statement.

However, the size of increases in director pay in 2007 were generally smaller than prior years.

Among the top 50 U.S. companies—those with a 2007 median revenue of $66.2 billion—director pay increased 4.2 percent in 2007, compared to a 6 percent increase the prior year.

For companies with median revenue of $16.7 billion, director pay was 8.7 percent higher in 2007, about the same level of increase as the prior year.

For companies with median revenue of $3.2 billion, director pay increased 8.4 percent in 2007, compared to 11.4 percent a year earlier.

The mix of director pay is also shifting. Mercer found that annual retainers for board and committee service are continuing to replace meeting fees, reflecting a change to paying for the role instead of paying for performance.

"It is now expected that directors not only prepare for and attend meetings, but spend substantial time on company matters outside of scheduled meetings," Mercer said.

Further, there continued in 2007 to be a decline in the use of stock options as compensation. Other equity vehicles that encourage more of an ownership stake, such as restricted stock, are being used, the study said.

For Top 50 companies, stock options accounted for only 9 percent of the annual equity compensation mix, down from 13 percent in 2006.

The study also found that industries with the highest paid directors also had the highest percentage of total direct compensation in equity. The top-paying industries—financials, energy and health care—had 68/32, 62/38, and 60/40 ratios of equity to cash, respectively.

FEMA wasted millions on no-bid contracts

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By HOPE YEN Associated Press Writer

The government wasted millions of dollars on four no-bid contracts it handed out for Hurricane Katrina work, including paying $20 million for a camp for evacuees that was never inspected and proved to be unusable, investigators say.

A report by the Homeland Security Department's office of inspector general, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, is the latest to detail mismanagement in the multibillion-dollar Katrina hurricane recovery effort, which investigators have said wasted at least $1 billion.

The review examined temporary housing contracts awarded without competition to Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Group Inc., CH2M Hill Companies Ltd. and Fluor Corp. in the days immediately before and after the August 2005 storm that smashed into the U.S. Gulf Coast.

It found that FEMA wasted at least $45.9 million on the four contracts that together were initially worth $400 million. FEMA subsequently raised the total amounts for the four contracts twice, both times without competition, to $2 billion and then $3 billion.

FEMA did not always properly review the invoices submitted by the four companies, exposing taxpayers to significant waste and fraud, investigators wrote. In many cases, the agency also issued open-ended contract instructions for months without clear guidelines on what work was needed to be done and the appropriate charges.

"We question how FEMA determined that the amounts invoiced were allowable and reasonable," the IG report states, warning that its review was limited in scope so that additional waste and fraud might yet to be found.

Responding, FEMA said it generally agreed with the IG report and would further investigate the $45.9 million in questioned costs and recoup the money as necessary. FEMA said it has taken several steps to improve its disaster response since the 2005 storm, such as requiring a standard invoice form and better tracking inventory.

The agency also noted that the four no-bid contracts were rebid on a competitive basis in August 2006. The contracts were subsequently awarded to six companies, including Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill and Fluor, which received the original no-bid agreements.

"As FEMA works toward refining its programs, the office of inspector general's independent analysis of program performance greatly benefits our ability to continuously improve our activities," wrote Marko Bourne, director of FEMA's office of policy and program analysis.

According to the report, FEMA tasked Fluor with arranging a "base camp" to house up to 300,000 Katrina evacuees as the hurricane neared the Gulf Coast. FEMA's request required Fluor to conduct a site inspection before ordering tents, but Fluor did not do so and FEMA subsequently found the site to be unusable.

Still, Fluor charged FEMA $20 million for the tents, which FEMA paid. The IG said that figure included $8.7 million to cancel the lease and for other questionable expenses despite Fluor's failure to perform its obligations. The report questioned FEMA's decision to pay the $8.7 million without further review.

Other findings:

-Fluor did not always notify FEMA when it conducted emergency maintenance as required, such as replacing air-conditioning units, refrigerators and propane tanks. Fluor said it received approval from FEMA to perform the emergency work without notice, but no evidence exists that FEMA authorized it.

-FEMA lacked a real-time inventory system to ensure that property attained and maintained by the four contractors, such as trailers, were properly accounted for.

Sean Clancy, spokesman for the Baton Rouge, La.-based Shaw Group, said the company could not comment until it had received a copy of the audit and had "an opportunity to conduct our own review."

Fluor and Bechtel representatives did not have immediate comment Wednesday. A spokesman for CH2M Hill did not immediately return a request for comment.

In the months after Katrina, FEMA came under criticism for awarding the no-bid contracts to Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill and Fluor, prompting a promise from FEMA Director David Paulison to rebid them.

Since then, FEMA competitively awarded portions of the no-bid contracts to small and minority-owned firms. But it also extended contracts for Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill and Fluor. Those four companies, which have strong government and political ties, also were deemed among the most suitable for future disaster work.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said the contract waste was unacceptable.

"Once again, we discover that FEMA has wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on noncompetitive contracts and then failed to properly oversee the performance of those contracts," he said. "In human terms, this huge amount of money could have been used to provide safe and decent temporary housing for thousands of displaced people."

Officials: Bush OK'd US raids inside ally Pakistan

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By PAMELA HESS and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writers

President Bush has secretly approved U.S. military raids inside anti-terror ally Pakistan, according to current and former U.S. officials. The high-risk gambit prizes the death or capture of al-Qaida and Taliban extremists over the sensitivities of a shaky U.S.-backed civilian government that does not want to seem like Washington's lapdog.

Bush acted in July to give U.S. forces greater leeway to cross from outposts in Afghanistan into the rugged area along the Pakistan border. Pakistan's central government has little control in this area, where extremists have found what U.S. officials say is a comfortable safe haven.

Already frustrated with what the U.S. perceived as a balky and incomplete commitment to hunting militants seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said the last straw came when it appeared Pakistani authorities were passing tips to militants.

One official familiar with South Asia policy said the new rules were adopted in response to increasing problems with U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism cooperation — particularly evidence that Pakistan's intelligence service, known as the ISI, had been compromised by militants and that some ISI elements were helping extremists. The official said extremists got Pakistani help before an attack July 7 on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

"Up to that point, the idea was to share intelligence with the Pakistanis and then proceed but there was a lot of frustration with delays and problems, including leaks to militants, in sharing the intelligence," the official said.

"This (the new order) is a reaction to that and it was sped up by the revelations about the penetration of the Pakistani intelligence service," the official said. "It was decided that we had no choice but to free up the hands of our commanders."

Current and former U.S. officials described Bush's orders covering special operations and conventional forces on condition of anonymity because "execute orders" are classified. The order was first reported in Thursday's New York Times.

The Associated Press reported in early August that senior U.S. intelligence and military aides were pressing Bush to give American soldiers greater flexibility to operate against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in Pakistan — for example, sending U.S. special forces teams into the tribal areas to hit high-value targets.

The "rules of engagement" have been loosened now, allowing troops to conduct border attacks without being fired on first if they witness attacks coming from the region, according to a former U.S. official with recent access to administration thinking. That would include artillery, rockets and mortar fire from the Pakistan side of the border.

A senior U.S. military official last week confirmed that a U.S. Special Forces attack had taken place about a mile across Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, killing at least 15. That official spoke on condition of anonymity because the internal debate over the U.S. response to rising violence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border includes discussion of classified intelligence.

That Sept. 3 raid was the first use of the new authority, which allows military teams to target suspected terrorists in the dangerous area along the Afghanistan border, the officials said. At the same time, the administration secretly has given conventional ground troops greater latitude to pursue militants across the Afghan border into Pakistan, they said.

The focus is on militant havens that have grown on Pakistan's side of the border at the same time a resurgent Taliban has increased attacks inside Afghanistan. The situation led Bush on Wednesday to commit to sending more troops there. Washington wants Pakistan to do more to crack down on its side of the border.

Pakistan's inability or unwillingness to mount a counterinsurgency campaign inside the tribal area was discussed at a National Security Council meeting this week, according to notes of the meeting provided to the AP. The notes said Pakistan is still focused on fighting India and is "still denying the counterinsurgency problem."

Top U.S. and Pakistani military officials held a secret strategy session in August on an aircraft carrier off Pakistan to discuss the problem.

Bush's decision to approve cross-border attacks without alerting Islamabad appears to undercut Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari days after his election. Zardari, widower of assassinated Pakistani political figure Benazir Bhutto, was chosen last week to replace Pervez Musharraf, who had been Washington's point man in Pakistan. Musharraf resigned under pressure in August, done in partly by the perception that he was too close to Washington and took his orders from Bush.

Zardari and other politicians have called the cross-border attacks unacceptable and a violation of their country's sovereignty.

U.S. counterterrorism operations along the border are highly unpopular in Pakistan. Many people in that country, including some now in government, think military action only invites further extremism.

Pakistan's prime minister on Thursday backed a harsh rebuke of the U.S. by the Muslim nation's military chief, a sign of a strain in the anti-terrorism partnership forged after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful but media-shy army leader, said a week after a deadly American-led ground assault in Pakistani territory that Pakistan would defend its sovereignty and that there was no deal to allow foreign forces to operate inside its borders.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful but media-shy army leader, said nearly a week after the American-led ground assault that Pakistan would defend its sovereignty and that there was no deal to allow foreign forces to operate inside its borders.

He said unilateral actions risked undermining joint efforts to battle Islamic extremism and warned that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost."

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, in comments reported Thursday by state media and confirmed by his office, said Kayani's words reflected government opinion and policy.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he will press Pakistan to allow U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to take a new approach to hunting Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants who slip back and forth between the neighboring nations. But Brown offered no specifics on how the border could be better defended.

The U.S. forces were apparently seeking specific Taliban or al-Qaida leaders. The senior U.S. military official said the assault targeted "individuals who were clearly associated with attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan."

Army looks for outside help to reduce suicides

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By DAN ELLIOTT The Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — The Army's top medical officer says commanders are looking to their counterparts in the Air Force and in civilian agencies for ways to cope with an alarming increase in suicides.

"We work real closely with the Veterans Administration, who have for many years taken the lead in this," Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army's surgeon general, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "We've also looked across the services and at other models that have been more successful than our own."

The Army's suicide rate was 18.1 per 100,000 last year, the highest since the service started keeping records in 1980. It was 9.8 just five years earlier.

The U.S. civilian rate is 19.5 per 100,000.

Leading factors behind soldier suicides are troubled personal relationships; legal, financial and work problems; and repeated deployments and longer tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army says.

Schoomaker said the Army has redoubled its prevention efforts and looked outside for new models, especially to the Air Force, which he said successfully encouraged support systems to reduce suicides.

The Army's program includes removing the stigma from asking for help, encouraging soldiers to look after each other and a campaign called ACE, for Ask, Care and Escort.

"We ask that people extend themselves to a fellow soldier or family member that may be suffering," Schoomaker said. "We ask that you make the effort to ask, 'Are you in trouble?'"

Offering care may be as simple as keeping a weapon out of a troubled soldier's reach, he said. Soldiers and families should then escort the soldier to a medical facility.

Schoomaker acknowledged that encouraging troubled soldiers to ask for help requires a cultural change.

"We are an Army that has historically been associated with strength and being impervious to threats to the human psyche and the body, and of course that's a myth," he said.

He hopes to use the Army's "warrior ethos" to get soldiers to look out for one another's mental health.

"It's an extension of our warrior ethos that no soldier is ever left behind," he said.

Deaths make 2008 deadliest for US in Afghanistan

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By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer

Insurgents killed two U.S. troops in Afghanistan on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Thursday, making 2008 the deadliest year for American forces since U.S. troops invaded the country in 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden.

The deaths brought the number of troops who have died in Afghanistan this year to 113, according to an Associated Press tally, surpassing last year's record toll of 111.

Afghanistan was the launching pad for al-Qaida's terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. U.S. forces invaded in October 2001 in response and quickly drove the Taliban out of power.

Across Afghanistan, U.S. troops paused in silence Thursday to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. At a U.S. base in Kabul, members of the New York National Guard, many of whom served at the site of the World Trade Center after the towers came down, remembered the attack on their home state.

"For those of us who were there, served at Ground Zero, 9/11 is deeply personal," said Col. Brian K. Bale, the commander of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Maj. Stephen Bousquet, 34, of Buffalo, N.Y., provided security at Ground Zero for three weeks after the attack. He now trains and mentors Afghan police, he said, "so American and coalition forces can leave one day."

Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaida network, is believed to be in the lawless tribal belt on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He had been sheltered by Taliban leader Mullah Omar before 9/11.

Taliban fighters folded in easy defeat in fall 2001 in what at first appeared to be a resounding U.S. victory. But militants that U.S. commanders once derided as ragtag amateurs have transformed into a fighting force advanced enough to mount massive conventional attacks. Suicide and roadside bombs have turned bigger and deadlier than ever.

The number of Arab, Chechen and Uzbek militants flowing into the Afghan-Pakistan region has increased this year, bringing with them command expertise the Taliban lacked.

U.S. death tolls have climbed sharply from the first years of the war. Only five American service members died in 2001. Thirty service members died in both 2002 and 2003; the toll climbed to 49 in 2004, then 93 in 2005 and 88 in 2006.

Last year 111 troops died, including one killed by a sniper while meeting with Pakistani officers in Pakistan. That mark was surpassed Thursday _ with more than three months left in the year _ reflecting both the increased number of American troops deployed to Afghanistan as well as the insurgency's increasing potency.

Top U.S. generals, European leaders and analysts say the blame lies to the east, in militant sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan. As long as those areas remain havens where fighters arm, train, recruit and plot increasingly sophisticated ambushes, the Afghan war will continue to sour.

"What you have is a broad expansion on the front, and because of this you have expansion in areas of the Taliban. Even in areas where there is no substantial fighting, the presence of insurgents has increased," said Anthony Cordesman, a security expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"You have less cooperation from Pakistan, and there's political disarray," which creates a situation where there is little security and stability, Cordesman said. "You also have a weak government that is incapable of maintaining a significant presence in high threat areas."

Since the 2001 invasion, a total of 519 U.S. troops have died in the Afghan war, including those killed in border areas of Pakistan and in Uzbekistan, which was a staging area in 2001. An additional 65 more have died outside the Afghan region in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the Defense Department.

The Pentagon says 117 U.S. service members died last year in Operation Enduring Freedom, but that includes six deaths outside the Afghan region: two in the Philippines, two in Ethiopia, one in Somalia and one in the Gulf.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said one soldier was killed Thursday in the east when insurgents attacked a compound. The separate U.S.-led coalition said a second service member died while conducting combat operations. No other details were released, but a Western military official told The Associated Press that both troops were American.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense, noted the militants aren't just targeting U.S. forces. He said Afghan soldiers and police have also suffered a record number of casualties over the past year. Figures weren't immediately available.

President Bush announced this week that he was sending an Army brigade and a Marine battalion to Afghanistan in November to replace two that are scheduled to leave.

Some 33,000 U.S. troops are now stationed in the country, the highest level since 2001. Overall, more than 65,000 troops from 40 nations are deployed in Afghanistan.

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say they need another 10,000 troops _ even more than the deployment plan Bush announced. The commanders also urge more nonmilitary aid and say the Afghan government must perform better.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee this week that, "I'm not convinced we're winning in Afghanistan. I'm convinced we can."