Thursday, November 30, 2006

Court Hears Global Warming Case

The Supreme Court yesterday cautiously confronted for the first time the issue of global warming, hearing a challenge to the Bush administration's refusal to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases in new vehicles.

Twelve states, led by Massachusetts and joined by the District of Columbia, are objecting to the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to decline to issue emissions standards for new cars and trucks. They and the environmental organizations that support them say the standards should be the first step in a broader effort to reduce carbon dioxide and other gases that they say are harming the atmosphere and leading to global warming and rising sea levels.

But they faced a court sometimes skeptical about whether the remedy they seek would make much difference in the long run, and whether they can even show they are facing the kind of imminent harm that is required before they can press their case.

"I mean," asked Justice Antonin Scalia, "when is the predicted cataclysm?"

Scalia was one of several justices to remark on a lack of scientific expertise during an hour of questioning that touched on whether the states have "standing" to challenge the EPA's refusal, the level of evidence proving the existence of global warming and its causes, and even whether unilateral action by the United States to reduce greenhouse gases would hamper negotiations with other countries on the issue.

The debate inside the court is echoed outside the chamber. Former vice president Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" increased public awareness of the issue. And the Democrats who won control of Congress this month have said they will make the issue a priority: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is in line to become chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said a failure to limit greenhouse gases will lead to "economic decline and environmental ruin." She would replace Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has called global warming a hoax.

Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General James R. Milkey told the court that 200 miles of the state's coastline are threatened by rising seas, a result of global warming.

"The harm does not suddenly spring up in the year 2100; it plays out continuously over time," Milkey said in answer to Scalia's question. "Once these gases are emitted . . . they stay a long time -- the laws of physics take over."

Milkey faced skeptical questioning from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the court's newest members, but the most sustained -- and entertaining -- interrogation came from Scalia.

At one point, he acknowledged the role of carbon dioxide as a pollutant in the air but wondered about it being a pollutant in the "stratosphere."

"Respectfully, Your Honor, it is not the stratosphere. It's the troposphere," Milkey said.

"Troposphere, whatever. I told you before I'm not a scientist," Scalia said to laughter. "That's why I don't want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth."

Milkey had already said that the court need not pass judgment on the science of climate change to find that the EPA did not do its job when deciding not to regulate new vehicle emissions.

The case started in 1999, when an environmental group, the International Center for Technology Assessment, and others petitioned the EPA to set greenhouse gas emissions standards for new vehicles.

In 2003, the agency denied the petition, saying said that it lacked statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, even though the agency in previous administrations had held that it did. Further, the agency said, even if it did have authority, it was not required to use it.

The agency decided, according to Deputy Solicitor General Gregory C. Garre, "now is not the time to exercise such authority, in light of the substantial scientific uncertainty surrounding global climate change and the ongoing studies designed to address those uncertainties."

Even if the court sides with the states, it is only being asked to remand the issue back to the EPA with specifications on what to look at in deciding whether to issue the emissions standards. And both sides agree that vehicle admissions in the United States amount to only 6 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions; tougher standards on new vehicles would only moderately reduce that.

But the court's decision could affect other efforts by environmentalists to force action on emissions from power plants -- stalled in the courts -- and shed light on the appropriateness of individual states' actions. California, for instance, has passed greenhouse gas emissions standards that are to go into effect in 2009 but are being challenged by industry.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said a change of heart by the EPA could set off a string of similarly small decisions by other agencies, "each of which has an impact, and lo and behold, Cape Cod is saved." He seemed most sympathetic to the states' case, along with Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who as usual asked no questions, is presumed to be in line with Scalia, Roberts and Alito. That leaves Justice Anthony M. Kennedy as a pivotal vote in whether the states have proven they have standing for the case to go forward.

He noted Milkey's "perhaps reassuring statement" that the court does not have to make a judgment about global warming. "But," Kennedy asked, "don't we have to do that in order to decide the standing argument, because there's no injury if there's not global warming?"


$1 Million Hit? The Real Deal on Polonium

Polonium-210, the radioactive substance that killed former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, is easily available on the Internet, but it could take $1 million to amass a lethal amount, according to leading authorities.

Polonium-210 isotopes are offered online by a number of companies, including United Nuclear of New Mexico. The company sells polonium-210 isotopes for about $69 but says it would take about 15,000 orders, for a total cost of over $1 million, to have a toxic amount.

United Nuclear today posted an online clarification to answer concerns they are selling weapons of assassination.

"These quantities of radioactive material are not hazardous," says the statement on United Nuclear's Web site. "Another point to keep in mind is that an order for 15,000 sources would look a tad suspicious, considering we sell about one or two sources every three months."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) agrees that the quantities sold by United Nuclear and similar companies are not hazardous. Even a large amount of polonium-210 is only toxic if swallowed or absorbed.

It remains unclear how anyone could have obtained the amount apparently used in the poisoning death of the former Russian spy. Speculation that it must have come from a Russian nuclear reactor is being discounted by many experts.

"The idea that you'd have to have access to the Russian nuclear complex is silly," said Michael Levi, Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations. Levi says that while it isn't easy to obtain a deadly amount of polonium online, it also isn't prohibitively difficult.

Some devices that are used to clean records and film contain polonium-210, which Levi says could be extracted from the devices given some chemistry skills and provided the person had the other necessary materials. That equipment could be bought for a couple hundred dollars.

Many of those devices, however, are designed to prevent the polonium from being extractable and, according to the NRC, the devices would be a "highly unlikely source" from which someone would acquire a hazardous amount of polonium-210.

"It's not easy to get," said David McIntyre at the NRC. "Any amount if you were to disassemble the device would be very difficult to get, and it still wouldn't be in a hazardous form."

Levi agrees with the NRC that it would be hard, but he says it is far from impossible. "It doesn't help that vendors provide engineering diagrams of their devices on the web," he said.

So where else could one get polonium-210 without climbing the walls at a Russian nuclear complex? Other possible sources include commercial and research reactors overseas that deal with polonium isotopes.

Whatever the source, experts agree that the use of polonium as a murder weapon is a peculiar choice.

"There certainly are more tried and true ways to kill people," said Levi. "You shouldn't be particularly scared about polonium because there are a lot of other ways to kill people by slipping something into their drink."


U.S. warns of possible Qaeda financial cyber attack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has warned U.S. private financial services of an al Qaeda call for a cyber attack against U.S. online stock trading and banking Web sites beginning Friday, officials said on Thursday.

The officials -- a person familiar with the warning and a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security -- said the Islamic militant group aimed to penetrate and destroy the databases of the U.S. stock market and banking Web sites.

Homeland Security said it had no evidence to corroborate the threat but had issued the warning out of an "abundance of caution." The department said in a statement that the threat was for all of December.

"There is no information to corroborate this aspirational threat. As a routine matter and out of an abundance of caution, US-CERT issued the situational awareness report to industry stakeholders," said Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke.

US-CERT is the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. The U.S. government said the threat was to avenge the holding of suspected terrorists at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo.


Bush agrees to speedy turnover in Iraq

AMMAN, Jordan -
President Bush said Thursday the United States will speed a turnover of security responsibility to Iraqi forces but assured Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Washington is not looking for a "graceful exit" from a war well into its fourth violent year.

Under intensifying political pressure at home, the American and Iraqi leaders came together for a hastily arranged summit to explore how to stop escalating violence that is tearing Iraq apart and eroding support for Bush's war strategy.

With Bush hoping to strengthen his Iraqi counterpart's fragile government, the tensions that flared when their opening session was abruptly cancelled Wednesday evening were not apparent when they appeared before reporters after breakfast Thursday.

" I appreciate the courage you show during these difficult times as you lead your country," Bush told al-Maliki after nearly two and a half hours of talks. "He's the right guy for Iraq." It was their third face-to-face meeting since al-Maliki took power about six months ago.

"There is no problem," declared al-Maliki.

There were no immediate answers for mending the Shiite-Sunni divide that is fueling sectarian bloodshed in Iraq or taming the stubborn insurgency against the U.S. presence. The leaders emerged from their breakfast and formal session with few specific ideas, particularly on Bush's repeated pledge to move more quickly to transfer authority for Iraq's security to al-Maliki's government.

"One of his frustrations with me is that he believes that we've been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people," Bush said. "He doesn't have the capacity to respond. So we want to accelerate that capacity."

There was no explanation from either side of how that would happen, beyond support for the long-standing goals of speeding the U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi security forces and to give more military authority over Iraq to al-Maliki.

A senior al-Maliki aide who attended Thursday's talks said the Iraqi leader presented Bush a blueprint for the equipping and training of Iraqi security forces. The aide, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the information, declined to give details.

The November elections that handed control of Congress to Democrats have given rise to heightened calls for the about 140,000 American soldiers in Iraq to begin coming home.

Bush acknowledged that pressure and said he wanted to start troop withdrawals as soon as possible. Still, he insisted the U.S. will stay "until the job is complete."

"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," he said. "This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all."

The president added: "I'm a realist because I understand how tough it is inside of Iraq."

Thursday's meetings were supposed to be Bush's second set of strategy sessions in the Jordanian capital. But the first meeting between Bush and al-Maliki, scheduled for Wednesday night along with Jordan's king, was scrubbed.

Accounts varied as to why, but it followed the leak of a classified White House memo critical of al-Maliki and a boycott of the Iraqi leader's government in Baghdad.

Thirty Iraqi lawmakers and five cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said they were suspending participation in Parliament and the government to protest al-Maliki's decision to meet with Bush.

Bush said al-Maliki "discussed with me his political situation," but he declined to step publicly into delicate internal Iraqi matters.

Privately, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeatedly pressed the Iraqi prime minister to disband a heavily armed Shiite militia loyal to al-Sadr and blamed for much of the country's sectarian violence, according to the senior al-Maliki aide.

The official quoted al-Maliki as telling Bush that controlling the group "is not a big problem and we will find a solution for it." Al-Sadr is a key al-Maliki political backer and the prime minister has regularly sidestepped U.S. demands to deal with the Mahdi Army.

Before the cameras, Al-Maliki sent the protesting forces at home a message.
"Those who participate in this government need to bear responsibilities, and foremost upon those responsibilities is the protection of this government, the protection of the constitution, the protection of the law, not breaking the law," he said.

But al-Maliki's insistence on not attending the three-way meeting with Bush and Jordan's king was a troubling sign of possible U.S. difficulties ahead in the effort to calm Iraq.

The Bush administration is believed to be pushing its Sunni allies in the region — meeting host Jordan as well as Saudi Arabia — to persuade Sunni insurgent sympathizers in Iraq to reconcile with the Shiite factions that are close to the Iraqi leader.

Al-Maliki's refusal to meet with Bush while Jordan's king was in attendance showed a level of mistrust toward his Sunni-dominated neighbors that could bode ill for the U.S. strategy.

Bush, meanwhile, continued to reject drawing Shiite-led Iran into helping Iraq in its struggle for peace.

"I appreciate the prime minister's views that the Iraqis are plenty capable of running their own business and they don't need foreign interference from neighbors that will be destabilizing the country," he said.

Al-Maliki, though, seemed open to the possibility of Tehran, as well as Damascus, getting involved.

A bipartisan commission on Iraq that will unveil recommendations next week is expected to urge direct diplomacy with Iran and Syria America's chief rivals in the Middle East.

"We are ready to cooperate with everybody who believe that they need to communicate with the national unity government, especially our neighbors," al-Maliki said. "Our doors are open."

The two agreed that Iraq should not be partitioned along sectarian lines into semi-regions for the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, Bush said.

"The prime minister made clear that splitting his country into parts, as some have suggested, is not what the Iraqi people want, and that any partition of Iraq would only lead to an increase in sectarian violence," the president said. "I agree."


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iraq Panel to Recommend Pullback of Combat Troops

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 — The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panel’s deliberations.

The report, unanimously approved by the 10-member panel, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, is to be delivered to President Bush next week.

It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended. The recommendations of the group, formed at the request of members of Congress, are nonbinding.

A person who participated in the commission’s debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, “there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached.”

The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.

The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries. (A brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.) From those bases, they would still be responsible for protecting a substantial number of American troops who would remain in Iraq, including 70,000 or more American trainers, logistics experts and members of a rapid reaction force.

As the commission wound up two and a half days of deliberation in Washington, the group said in a public statement only that a consensus had been reached and that the report would be delivered next Wednesday to President Bush, Congress and the American public. Members of the commission were warned by Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton not to discuss the contents of the report.

But four people involved in the debate, representing different points of view, agreed to outline its conclusions in broad terms to address what they said might otherwise be misperceptions about the findings. Some said their major concern was that the report might be too late.

“I think we’ve played a constructive role,” one person involved in the committee’s deliberations said, “but from the beginning, we’ve worried that this entire agenda could be swept away by events.”

Even as word of the study group’s conclusions began to leak out, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said two or three battalions of American troops were being sent to Baghdad from elsewhere in Iraq to assist in shoring up security there. Another Pentagon official said the additional troops for Baghdad would be drawn from a brigade in Mosul equipped with fast-moving, armored Stryker vehicles.

As described by the people involved in the deliberations, the bulk of the report by the Baker-Hamilton group focused on a recommendation that the United States devise a far more aggressive diplomatic initiative in the Middle East than Mr. Bush has been willing to try so far, including direct engagement with Iran and Syria. Initially, those contacts might be part of a regional conference on Iraq or broader Middle East peace issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but they would ultimately involve direct, high-level talks with Tehran and Damascus.

Mr. Bush has rejected such contacts until now, and he has also rejected withdrawal, declaring in Riga, Latvia, on Tuesday that while he will show flexibility, “there’s one thing I’m not going to do: I’m not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.”

Commission members have said in recent days that they had to navigate around such declarations, or, as one said, “We had to move the national debate from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out.”

Their report, as described by those familiar with the compromise, may give Republicans political cover to back away from parts of the president’s current strategy, even if Democrats claim that the report is short on specific deadlines.

While the White House reviews its strategy options, Pentagon planners are also looking beyond the immediate reinforcements for Baghdad to the question of whether they will need to draw more on reserve units to meet troop requirements in the Iraqi capital, military officials said. In particular, the Army is considering sending about 3,000 combat engineers from reserve units.

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Says Machines Should be Decertified! Also Says So-Called 'Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT) Should Not Be Used' in Voting Systems!

A federal agency is set to recommend significant changes to specifications for electronic-voting machines next week, has learned.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is recommending that the 2007 version of the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines (VVSG) decertify direct record electronic (DRE) machines.…According to an NIST paper to be discussed at a meeting of election regulators at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., on Dec. 4 and 5, DRE vote totals cannot be audited because the machines are not software independent.

In other words, there is no means of verifying vote tallies other than by relying on the software that tabulated the results to begin with.

The machines currently in use are "more vulnerable to undetected programming errors or malicious code," according to the paper.

The NIST paper also noted that, "potentially, a single programmer could 'rig' a major election."

This is a tremendously important development!

To be clear, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the group that oversees the formulation of the so-called federal "Voting Systems Standards". Those are the standards, such that there are any, which are in effect today at the federal level to determine federal certification of voting systems. NIST hosts the Technical Guidelines Developement Committee for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and they are the body who developed the current standadards now in use. This report will likely have an enormous impact in shaping whatever may happen next concerning any upcoming Election Reform or legislation in DC.

But wait, it gets even better!…

Apropos of an article here at BRAD BLOG earlier today, in which we tried to make clear that paper trails on touch-screen machines (versus paper ballots as used with optical-scan or hand-counted systems) are not an adequate solution to the nation's — or even Florida 13's — current voting dysfunction, NIST agrees that paper trails don't cut it:

The NIST is also going to recommend changes to the design of machines equipped with paper rolls that provide audit trails.

Currently, the paper rolls produce records that are illegible or otherwise unusable, and NIST is recommending that "paper rolls should not be used in new voting systems."


Iraq, Iran reach agreement on security

TEHRAN, Iran - Iraq's president said Wednesday he had reached a security agreement with Iran, which the United States accuses of fueling the chaos in the war-torn country. Iran's president called on countries to stop backing "terrorists" in Iraq and for the Americans to withdraw.

Tehran is believed to back some of the Shiite militias blamed in the vicious sectarian killings that have thrown the country into chaos. The United States has said the Iraqi government should press Iran to stop interfering in its affairs in a bid to calm the violence.

Presidents Jalal Talabani of Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held talks Wednesday hours before U.S. President George W. Bush was due to meet with the Iraqi prime minister in Jordan in talks aimed at finding a solution to Iraq's spiraling bloodshed.

Talabani gave no details on the security agreement with Iran, and Ahmadinejad made no mention of any deal at a joint press conference in Tehran.

"We discussed in the fields of security, economy, oil and industry. Our agreement was complete," Talabani told reporters. "This visit was 100 percent successful. Its result will appear soon."

It was not clear if Talabani's comments reflected an agreement by Tehran to try to rein in Shiite militias. Most of the militias are run by political parties that are a powerful part of the coalition government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has resisted U.S. pressure to crack down on the militias.

Ahmadinejad repeated his calls for the United States to withdraw its forces from Iraq.

"I advise you to leave Iraq," he said, addressing the Americans. "Based on a timetable, transfer the responsibilities to Iraqi government. This will agree to your interests, too."

He urged countries to stop backing militants in Iraq, saying, "supporting terrorists is the ugliest act that they can do." He did not specify which countries he was referring to.

Ahmadinejad said "extremists should be dismissed (from the Iraqi government) no matter to which group and ethnicity they belong to. This is the only way to salvation."

"Enemies of Iraq are trying to create differences and extend hostility among the Iraqi people," he said.

The United States accuses Iran and its ally Syria of stirring up violence in Iraq. Tehran denies this, saying it seeks calm in its neighbor and that an end to the bloodshed can only come when U.S. forces withdraw.

Al-Maliki and Talabani both have longtime ties with Iran. The Iraqi president has been in Iran the past three days, meeting Ahmadinejad and the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Talabani and Ahmadinejad attended a ceremony for the signing of two memorandums of understanding for cooperation in education and industry.

Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran "will stand by its Iraqi brothers," saying "no one can divide nations of Iran and Iraq."


U.S.-Iraq summit put off until Thursday

AMMAN, Jordan -
President Bush high-profile meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday was canceled in a stunning turn of events after disclosure of U.S. doubts about the Iraqi leader's capabilities and a political boycott in Baghdad protesting his attendance.

Instead of two days of talks, Bush and al-Maliki will have breakfast and a single meeting followed by a news conference on Thursday morning, the White House said.

The abrupt cancellation was an almost unheard-of development in the high-level diplomatic circles of a U.S. president, a king and a prime minister. There was confusion — and conflicting explanations — about what happened.

Bush had been scheduled to meet in a three-way session with al-Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah II on Wednesday night, and had rearranged his schedule to be in Amman for both days for talks aimed at reducing the spiral of violence in Iraq.

The last-minute cancellation was not announced until Bush had already come to Raghadan Palace and posed for photographs alone with the king.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett denied that the delay was a snub by al-Maliki directed at Bush or was related to the leak of a memo written by White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley questioning the prime minister's capacity for controlling violence in Iraq.

"Absolutely not," Bartlett said." He said the king and the prime minister had met before Bush arrived from a NATO summit in Latvia. "That negated the purpose to meet tonight together in a trilateral setting."

A senior administration official, who spoke with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, basically echoed Bartlett's account.

The Jordanians and the Iraqis jointly decided it was not the best use of time because they both would be seeing the president separately, said the official.

Members of the Jordanian and Iraqi delegations contacted Khalilzad, who called Air Force One and spoke with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, giving them a heads-up, the official said.

However, Redha Jawad Taqi, a senior aide of top Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim who also was in Amman, said the Iraqis balked at the three-way meeting after learning the king wanted to broaden the talks to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Two senior officials traveling with al-Maliki, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the prime minister had been reluctant to travel to Jordan in the first place and decided, once in Amman, that he did not want "a third party" involved in talks about subjects specific to the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

With Maliki already gone from the palace, Bush had an abbreviated meeting and dinner with the king before heading early to his hotel.

The cancellation came after the disclosure of a classified White House memo, written Nov. 8 by Hadley. In one particularly harsh section, Hadley asserted: "The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Administration officials did not dispute the leaked account, saying that on balance the document was supportive of the Iraqi leader and generally portrayed him as well-meaning.

The president "has confidence in Prime Minister Maliki," said Bush spokesman Tony Snow, who added that al-Maliki "has been very aggressive in recent weeks in taking on some of the key challenges."

The memo recommended steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader's position, including possibly sending more troops to defend Baghdad and providing monetary support for moderate political candidates for Iraq's parliament.

The Iraqi prime minister also faced political pressure at home about the summit. Thirty Iraqi lawmakers and five cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said they were boycotting Parliament and the government to protest al-Maliki's presence at the summit.

Bartlett said that Wednesday night's three-way meeting had always been planned as "more of a social meeting" and that Bush and Maliki on Thursday would have a "robust" meeting on their own.

The president was expected to ask the embattled Iraqi prime minister how best to train Iraqi forces faster so they can shoulder more responsibility for halting the sectarian violence and, specifically, mending a gaping Sunni-Shiite divide. There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and Bush is under unrelenting pressure from Democrats and many Republicans to start bringing them home.

Some analysts suggested that the memo might actually help more than damage al-Maliki, showing distance between him and Bush.

Jon Alterman, former special assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said the memo's doubts about al-Maliki "seemed calculated to steel his spine."

"This memo reads to me more like a memo to Prime Minister al-Maliki than to President Bush," said Alterman, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It has his entire to-do list as well as a list of what he'll get if he agrees."

In Washington, Sen. Jack Reed (news, bio, voting record), D-R.I., called on Bush to appoint a high-ranking special envoy to work with the Iraqi government on disbanding militias, including all Iraq's factions in the nation's political process and equitably distributing resources such as oil revenue.
"Steps have to be taken now," he said.

Bush's meeting with al-Maliki is part of a new flurry of diplomacy the administration has undertaken across the Middle East. Hadley's memo suggests that Secretary of State Rice should hold a meeting for Iraq and its neighbors in the region early next month and also that the U.S. could step up efforts to get Saudi Arabia to help. It was written just weeks before Secretary of State Dick Cheney was dispatched to Saudi Arabia.

Senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the document is still classified even though published, said that many of the concerns raised by Hadley have been or are being rectified in the month that has passed since his trip to Baghdad.


US setbacks see dollar plunge to near 15-year low

The dollar tumbled to a near 15-year low against sterling yesterday on fresh signs of economic trouble in the United States.

An 8.3pc crash in US industrial orders and an admission by the Federal Reserve chairman that Washington does not know how bad housing really is set off another day of wild gyrations on the currency markets.

US house prices fell 3.5pc to an average $221,000, the third month of declines. Stocks of unsold homes rose to 7.4 months' supply, the highest since 1993. The US consumer confidence index fell sharply to 102.9.

The "truckers index" of tonnage shipped by US haulage companies was down 1.8pc in October, a leading indicator of contraction. Merrill Lynch called the fall "borderline recessionary".

The dollar continued its slide against the euro, dropping to $1.3194 after the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, said the housing slump "would be a drag on economic growth into next year". Mr Bernanke said official figures did not pick up the "sharp increase" in cancellations on house deals and might understate the inventory glut.

"Any significant effect on consumer spending arising from further weakness in housing would have important implications for the economy," he said.

The pound briefly touched $1.95 and surged to eight-year highs against the yen.

The Japanese currency has been in freefall for months on repeated weak data. It suffered a fresh blow yesterday after retail sales fell for a second month, increasing fears that Japan's export-dependent economy may slow in lock step with America.

The OECD club of rich nations gave warning yesterday in its bi-annual economic outlook that the world's second-biggest economy was still too fragile after years of debt deflation to risk a rapid rise in rates from 0.25pc.

"The return to price stability is proving longer and less assured than expected. Further monetary tightening should wait until a fully-fledged exit from deflation finally materialises," it said.

The OECD downgraded its global growth forecast for the 30 leading economies from 2.9pc to 2.5pc in 2007, and said the US might need to start cutting interest rates next year.

Chief economist Jean-Philippe Cotis said there was no cause for alarm, arguing that the US would achieve the "soft-landing" it eluded after the dotcom bubble in 2000. "What the world may be facing is a rebalancing of growth," he said. "In the euro area, recent hard data suggest that a solid upswing may be under way. Growth should remain buoyant in China, India, Russia and other emerging economies."

In a rare piece of good news that helped calm Wall Street after the equity rout on Monday, Mr Bernanke said inflation had been "somewhat better behaved of late".

David Lereah, chief economist for the US National Association of Realtors, said there might be light at the end of tunnel for the housing market, citing a slight rise in transactions.


U.S. moving up to 2,700 troops into Baghdad

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an effort to restore security in Baghdad, the U.S. military plans to move at least three more battalions of American soldiers into the Iraqi capital, a senior Pentagon official said.

Between 500 and 900 troops are in an Army battalion, but the Pentagon official could not give the exact number of troops involved in the movements.

The official said the troops will not include Marines based in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, where troops and insurgents have been fighting along the Euphrates River corridor. Instead, the official said, the troops will be moved from more peaceful regions, such as northern Iraq.

The troop shifts won't require an increase in forces in the country, the official said.

Some troops are in the Baghdad area but will be moved closer into the city.

As sectarian violence rages in parts of Iraq, securing Baghdad has been the top priority in the U.S. strategy to bring democracy to the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government hasn't been able to devise an effective strategy to stem the Sunni-Shiite violence that some observers say has plunged Iraq into civil war.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking at meeting of business leaders in Dubai on Wednesday, said Iraq's violence meets the standard of a "civil war." (Full story)

President Bush this week refused to debate whether Iraq was experiencing civil war. He called the latest violence "part of a pattern" of attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq to divide Shiites and Sunnis. (Full story)

President Bush was in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, but the talks were put off after public disclosure of U.S. doubts about his capacity to control sectarian warfare. The two are scheduled to meet Thursday, the White House said. (Full story)

Al-Maliki's his political standing weakened when allies of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a key Shiite supporter of al-Maliki's government, said Wednesday they were stopping their participation as Cabinet ministers and members of parliament. (Full story)

Other developments

The Pentagon on Wednesday released the identity of the missing flier whose F-16 crashed near Baghdad on Monday. He is Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, who is listed as duty status whereabouts unknown. It said Gilbert is assigned to the 309th Fighter Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. (Watch why military thinks pilot killed in crash )

The Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel assessing U.S. policies in the war in Iraq, will issue its report next Wednesday, a source told CNN. The report, prepared at the urging of Congress, is expected to include recommendations that will help the Bush administration deal with the conflict.

Fighting Wednesday between coalition forces and insurgents shut down the city of Baquba, killing scores of militants and civilians, The Associated Press reported. (Full story)


Full text of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's letter to the American people

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

O, Almighty God, bestow upon humanity the perfect human being promised to all by You, and make us among his followers.

Noble Americans,

Were we not faced with the activities of the US administration in this part of the world and the negative ramifications of those activities on the daily lives of our peoples, coupled with the many wars and calamities caused by the US administration as well as the tragic consequences of US interference in other countries;

Were the American people not God-fearing, truth-loving, and justice-seeking, while the US administration actively conceals the truth and impedes any objective portrayal of current realities;

And if we did not share a common responsibility to promote and protect freedom and human dignity and integrity;

Then, there would have been little urgency to have a dialogue with you.

While Divine providence has placed Iran and the United States geographically far apart, we should be cognizant that human values and our common human spirit, which proclaim the dignity and exalted worth of all human beings, have brought our two great nations of Iran and the United States closer together.

Both our nations are God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking, and both seek dignity, respect and perfection.

Both greatly value and readily embrace the promotion of human ideals such as compassion, empathy, respect for the rights of human beings, securing justice and equity, and defending the innocent and the weak against oppressors and bullies.

We are all inclined towards the good, and towards extending a helping hand to one another, particularly to those in need.

We all deplore injustice, the trampling of peoples' rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings.

We all detest darkness, deceit, lies and distortion, and seek and admire salvation, enlightenment, sincerity and honesty.

The pure human essence of the two great nations of Iran and the United States testify to the veracity of these statements.

Noble Americans,

Our nation has always extended its hand of friendship to all other nations of the world.

Hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living amongst you in friendship and peace, and are contributing positively to your society. Our people have been in contact with you over the past many years and have maintained these contacts despite the unnecessary restrictions of US authorities.

As mentioned, we have common concerns, face similar challenges, and are pained by the sufferings and afflictions in the world.

We, like you, are aggrieved by the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people. Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine. In broad day-light, in front of cameras and before the eyes of the world, they are bombarding innocent defenseless civilians, bulldozing houses, firing machine guns at students in the streets and alleys, and subjecting their families to endless grief.
No day goes by without a new crime.

Palestinian mothers, just like Iranian and American mothers, love their children, and are painfully bereaved by the imprisonment, wounding and murder of their children. What mother wouldn't?

For 60 years, the Zionist regime has driven millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes. Many of these refugees have died in the Diaspora and in refugee camps. Their children have spent their youth in these camps and are aging while still in the hope of returning to homeland.

You know well that the US administration has persistently provided blind and blanket support to the Zionist regime, has emboldened it to continue its crimes, and has prevented the UN Security Council from condemning it.

Who can deny such broken promises and grave injustices towards humanity by the US administration?

Governments are there to serve their own people. No people wants to side with or support any oppressors. But regrettably, the US administration disregards even its own public opinion and remains in the forefront of supporting the trampling of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Let's take a look at Iraq. Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced.

Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially. With the presence of the US military in Iraq, nothing has been done to rebuild the ruins, to restore the infrastructure or to alleviate poverty. The US Government used the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but later it became clear that that was just a lie and a deception.

Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated.

In Iraq, about one hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers, separated from their families and loved ones, are operating under the command of the current US administration. A substantial number of them have been killed or wounded and their presence in Iraq has tarnished the image of the American people and government.

Their mothers and relatives have, on numerous occasions, displayed their discontent with the presence of their sons and daughters in a land thousands of miles away from US shores. American soldiers often wonder why they have been sent to Iraq.

I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure.

Noble Americans,

You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. God knows who these detainees actually are, and what terrible fate awaits them.

You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed "war on terror." But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations.

The US administration's illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of "the war on terror," civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed. Even the privacy of individuals is fast losing its meaning. Judicial due process and fundamental rights are trampled upon. Private phones are tapped, suspects are arbitrarily arrested, sometimes beaten in the streets, or even shot to death.
I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.

The US administration does not accept accountability before any organization, institution or council. The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council. But, I do not intend to address all the challenges and calamities in this message.

The legitimacy, power and influence of a government do not emanate from its arsenals of tanks, fighter aircrafts, missiles or nuclear weapons. Legitimacy and influence reside in sound logic, quest for justice and compassion and empathy for all humanity. The global position of the United States is in all probability weakened because the administration has continued to resort to force, to conceal the truth, and to mislead the American people about its policies and practices.

Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior and they showed their discontent in the recent elections. I hope that in the wake of the mid-term elections, the administration of President Bush will have heard and will heed the message of the American people.

My questions are the following:

Is there not a better approach to governance?
Is it not possible to put wealth and power in the service of peace, stability, prosperity and the happiness of all peoples through a commitment to justice and respect for the rights of all nations, instead of aggression and war?
We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.

But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?
If that were possible, then why has the problem not been resolved?
The sad experience of invading Iraq is before us all.

What has blind support for the Zionists by the US administration brought for the American people? It is regrettable that for the US administration, the interests of these occupiers supersedes the interests of the American people and of the other nations of the world.

What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors? Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?

I recommend that in a demonstration of respect for the American people and for humanity, the right of Palestinians to live in their own homeland should be recognized so that millions of Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and the future of all of Palestine and its form of government be determined in a referendum. This will benefit everyone.

Now that Iraq has a Constitution and an independent Assembly and Government, would it not be more beneficial to bring the US officers and soldiers home, and to spend the astronomical US military expenditures in Iraq for the welfare and prosperity of the American people? As you know very well, many victims of Katrina continue to suffer, and countless Americans continue to live in poverty and homelessness.

I'd also like to say a word to the winners of the recent elections in the US:
The United States has had many administrations; some who have left a positive legacy, and others that are neither remembered fondly by the American people nor by other nations.

Now that you control an important branch of the US Government, you will also be held to account by the people and by history.

If the US Government meets the current domestic and external challenges with an approach based on truth and Justice, it can remedy some of the past afflictions and alleviate some of the global resentment and hatred of America. But if the approach remains the same, it would not be unexpected that the American people would similarly reject the new electoral winners, although the recent elections, rather than reflecting a victory, in reality point to the failure of the current administration's policies. These issues had been extensively dealt with in my letter to President Bush earlier this year.

To sum up:

It is possible to govern based on an approach that is distinctly different from one of coercion, force and injustice.

It is possible to sincerely serve and promote common human values, and honesty and compassion.

It is possible to provide welfare and prosperity without tension, threats, imposition or war.

It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets.

Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.

What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.

I am confident that you, the American people, will play an instrumental role in the establishment of justice and spirituality throughout the world. The promises of the Almighty and His prophets will certainly be realized, Justice and Truth will prevail and all nations will live a true life in a climate replete with love, compassion and fraternity.

The US governing establishment, the authorities and the powerful should not choose irreversible paths. As all prophets have taught us, injustice and transgression will eventually bring about decline and demise. Today, the path of return to faith and spirituality is open and unimpeded.

We should all heed the Divine Word of the Holy Qur'an:

"But those who repent, have faith and do good may receive Salvation. Your Lord, alone, creates and chooses as He will, and others have no part in His choice; Glorified is God and Exalted above any partners they ascribe to Him." (28:67-68)

I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran 29 November 2006


Powell: Bush must accept Iraq in civil war

A report filed by CNN asserts that former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that President Bush must accept that Iraq has descended into civil war.

"Powell says he thinks we can call it a civil war," CNN's Hala Gorani, reporting from Dubai, said today.

Powell also reportedly "added if he were still heading the State Department, he probably would recommend to the Bush administration that those terms should be used in order to come to terms with the reality on the ground."

The remarks were made at an event closed to photographers.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bush, Webb in testy exchange over Senator-elect's soldier son

President Bush and U.S. Senator-elect Jim Webb got into a testy exchange over the status of Webb's soldier son, who is serving in Iraq, The Hill is reporting.

At a White House private dinner just after the election featuring "newly elected lawmakers," Emily Heil writes that Bush asked Webb "how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing." Webb replied to the President that he "really wanted to see his son brought back home," according to a person who was present at the dinner.

"I didn't ask you that, I asked how he's doing," Bush replied, according to The Hill's source.

"Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn't," writes Heil. "It's safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won't be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon."

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Jimmy Carter: "Iraq Invasion...One Of The Greatest Blunders That American Presidents Have Ever Made"....

From CNN's Situation Room


BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter has been a vocal critic of some Bush administration policies, including the war in Iraq. He has a unique perspective on international conferences fueled by religion and long histories of hatred. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has a new book entitled "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid."
He's joining us now in the SITUATION ROOM. Mr. President, thanks for coming in.


It's a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: A very provocative title. We'll get to the book shortly. Let's get through some of the major issues of the day. The president spoke forcefully today about Iraq at the NATO summit, not backing down at all, seemingly repeating the lines he was saying before the Democratic victory in Congress. Listen to this little clip.


BUSH: We'll continue to be flexible and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do -- I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.


BLITZER: Smart strategy on his part to enunciate that policy the way he is?

CARTER: Well, I think that he and the American people, the members of Congress, everyone in the United States, and maybe around the world, are waiting to see what Lee Hamilton and Jim Baker recommend.

BLITZER: But is that outsourcing foreign policy, sort of kicking, punting the ball down the road to these outside 10 Democrats and Republicans giving him advice? Is that smart?

More after the jump...

CARTER: Well, I don't think he did it. I think this was an initiation by the Congress. He has his own recommendations, to be derived from people in his administration. But I think it would be natural for President Bush to adopt as many of the policies that Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton recommend, and their committee, as he possibly can. If there are some things with which he disagrees, in order to save face, or to show his independence, that he's still the commander-in-chief, then he will do it. But I think in general, the recommendations of the committee will be seriously considered by the White House and maybe a lot of them will be adopted.

BLITZER: He can reject or he can accept whatever he wants. You used to do the same thing...

CARTER: Sure, he's the commander-in-chief. Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... when you were president. Is this a civil war that the U.S. is involved in in Iraq right now?

CARTER: Well, I know that NBC has ordained that it be called a civil war.

BLITZER: But what do you...

CARTER: But we're...

BLITZER: What about Jimmy Carter?

CARTER: I think civil war is a serious -- a more serious circumstance than exists in Iraq. And I say that based on some of the civil wars with which we've been involved in the last few years. For instance, we've worked 19 years to try to get a civil war ended in southern Sudan, where two million people died. And we just helped to
hold an election in the Republic of Congo, where four million people have died in the last eight years.

BLITZER: So you're saying this is not a civil war?

CARTER: Well, I think you can -- if you want to call it a civil war, some of the news media, like NBC, or if you want to call it not a civil war, by the White House, it's a matter of judgment. I think semantics or what you name it. It doesn't have any real effect.

BLITZER: The U.S. this commission you're talking about, this bipartisan Lee Hamilton, James Baker Iraq Study Group, one of their proposals that there's a lot of speculation about, that they're going to recommend the U.S. starts talking directly with Syria and Iran. Listen to what the president said today about Iran.


BUSH: We see the struggle in Iran, where a reactionary regime subjugates its proud people, arrests free trade union leaders and uses Iran's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue nuclear weapons.


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Gingrich: US may be forced to reexamine freedom of speech

A former Republican speaker of the house mulling a possible presidential run has said that America may need to reexamine freedom of speech in order to prevent future terrorist attacks.

According to a New England newspaper, Newt Gingrich "spoke to about 400 state and local power brokers last night at the annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment award dinner, which fetes people and organizations that stand up for freedom of speech."

Gingrich said that a "different set of rules" should be considered to reduce the ability of terrorists to use the Internet and abuse free speech to get out their message.

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," Gingrich said.

Gingrich also said that he would make a decision whether or not to run for president by September of 2007.


Pope seeks Christian-Muslim dialogue in Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) - Pope Benedict began a highly charged visit to mostly Muslim Turkey on Tuesday hoping his calls for understanding between religions would soothe anger over his recent comments seen here as insulting to Islam.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan met the Pontiff as he stepped off the plane and then held short talks with him before leaving for the NATO summit in Riga.

Security was heavy for Benedict's first visit to the Muslim world, with sharpshooters on the roof of the arrivals building and troops guarding the airport. About 3,000 police have been posted in the Turkish capital to prevent any protests.

"The scope of this visit is dialogue, brotherhood, a commitment to understanding between cultures, between religions, for reconciliation," the Pope told reporters on board his aircraft before leaving Rome for Turkey.

Benedict infuriated Muslims in September with a lecture that they said seemed to depict Islam as an irrational religion tainted with violence. He later expressed regret at the pain his comments caused but stopped short of a full apology.

About 50 civil servants held a peaceful protest at the Religious Affairs Directorate, where the Pope will meet Turkey's top religious official later on Thursday. Turkey is mostly Muslim but the state is officially secular.

"We are not against his visit but he comes after insulting Islam," said Ufuk Erdem, one of the protesters. "He can visit our country whenever he wants but without insulting our honor."



Bush pleads for more NATO troops for Afghanistan

RIGA (Reuters) - President Bush appealed to NATO allies on Tuesday to provide more troops with fewer national restrictions for the alliance's most dangerous mission in Afghanistan, hours before a summit of allied leaders.

"To succeed in Afghanistan, NATO allies must provide the forces NATO military commanders require," Bush told a joint news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in Tallinn on his way to the NATO meeting in neighboring Latvia.

"Like Estonia, member nations must accept difficult assignments if we expect to be successful," he said in a veiled reference to numerous so-called national caveats that restrict where, when and how allies' troops can be used.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a security conference in Riga it was unacceptable that allied forces in southern Afghanistan, the main battleground with resurgent Taliban fighters, were 20 percent below the required strength.

"Just as we need combat forces that can also handle reconstruction, we can ill afford reconstruction armies that cannot handle combat," he told the Riga Conference.

"Afghanistan is mission possible," de Hoop Scheffer said. "While we have to be frank about the risks, we also have to avoid overdramatising the difficulties."

He was speaking a day after a suicide bomber killed two Canadian soldiers in the latest attack on an alliance convoy in southern Afghanistan, prompting Canada's foreign minister to warn public support could turn against the mission if allies did not come to Ottawa's assistance.



Are Cheney's days numbered? Analyst claims influence waning

A senior columnist for the inside-the-beltway publication Congressional Quarterly speculated on MSNBC's Hardball this afternoon that Vice President Richard B. Cheney may be the next to exit the Bush Administration, a report first caught by ThinkProgress. ThinkProgress has the video here.

Speculation that Cheney could depart the White House has been rampant, and the claim by CQ political analyst Craig Crawford could be yet another 'crying wolf' in the Washington political scene. Still, in lieu of the depature of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the continuing ostracization of Administration neoconservatives, the possibility isn't beyond the pale.

Excerpts from ThinkProgress' transcript:

CRAWFORD: I still wonder if he stays in this administration for the full term here. I really wonder if Rumsfeld’s leaving is just the beginning.

MATTHEWS: Well, who is showing up with the Ryder truck at his home. Who’s gonna get him out?

CRAWFORD: He has to make the choice himself. He can’t be fired, technically, under the Constitution.

MATTHEWS: Why would he leave?...

CRAWFORD: My point is I don’t know why he’d want to stick around.

MATTHEWS: He has assumed an awful lot of authority under this President.

CRAWFORD: I know, and that authority is waning, if not gone. And my point is why would he want to stick around in this environment? He might just choose to leave.

MATTHEWS: Let me check this. I rarely do this on the show. Are you teasing? Are you — do you actually think there’s a reasonable plausible case for this Vice President to give up all the power he enjoys as the President’s first counsel?

CRAWFORD: Not if he doesn’t enjoy it anymore. I mean all I’m seeing is the man getting isolated more and more. This seems to be his most vulnerable position in the entire Bush administration.


Iraq wants U.N. Security Council mandate

UNITED NATIONS - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has asked the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of the 160,000-strong multinational force in Iraq, according to a letter circulated Monday.

In the letter, al-Maliki said a top priority of his government is to assume full responsibility for security and stability but it needs more time.

The United States circulated a draft resolution that would extend the mandate for one year starting on Dec. 31, with a review at the request of the Iraqi government or by June 15.

The draft, obtained Monday by the Associated Press, contains the same provision as past resolutions — a commitment that the council "will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq."

Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission, said since the Iraqis requested the extension "we don't expect there to be any problems with it."

Al-Maliki's request for the one-year extension with a termination clause came as the U.S. administration stepped up diplomatic efforts to stabilize the country, certain to be a top item on the agenda when President Bush meets al-Maliki later this week in Amman, Jordan.

Sectarian violence in Iraq is at its worst level in the 3 1/2 years since a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country and toppled Saddam Hussein.

Bush's summit comes as members of the Iraq Study Group mull recommendations for changes in U.S. war policy that would help restore peace and security and enable the United States to reduce its contingent of 141,000 troops.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Monday that Iraq is close to civil war.

"I think given the developments on the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there," Annan said. "In fact we are almost there."

Annan held a teleconference with members of the study panel Monday afternoon. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown and top U.N. envoy Ashraf Qazi have also spoken to the group, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Al-Maliki gave no timetable for a takeover of military and security operations. But he said the government is committed to increasing the number of governorates fully under the control of Iraqi authorities until all 18 are under their control. This year, Iraqi forces took responsibility for security in the governorates of Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar.

"Establishing security and securing permanent stability are among the highest priorities of the Iraqi government's program to realize the desired peace and prosperity for the Iraqi people," al-Maliki said. "However, terrorists and forces hostile to democracy continue to target innocent citizens and the various state institutions."

The prime minister stressed that "security and stability in Iraq are the
responsibility of the Iraqi government."

Over the past 2 1/2 years, Iraqi security forces have acquired new responsibilities and experience, and have grown in size and ability which has been demonstrated "by their increased ability to assume full responsibility in the fields of security and defense," he said.

In September 2006, al-Maliki said the Ministry of Defense assumed operational command of the ground, naval and air force commands as well as two military divisions.

When Iraqis assume responsibility for security in new governorates, the multinational forces have agreed they will be present at Iraqi bases to provide support if requested, he said.

"We have agreed on three common goals: first, assumption by Iraq of recruiting, training, equipping and arming of Iraqi security forces; second, assumption by Iraq of command and control over Iraqi forces; and third, transferring responsibility for security to the government of Iraq," al-Maliki said.

He said a high-level working group has been formed to make recommendations on achieving these goals.

"It has also been agreed to work toward the Iraqi authorities' assuming the apprehension, detention and imprisonment tasks on the basis of an agreement to be reached between the government of Iraq and the multinational force," al-Maliki said.

"Hence, the Iraqi government requests the extension of the mandate of the multinational force ... for another 12 months."

Al-Maliki also requested one-year extensions for the International Advisory and Monitoring Board and the Development Fund for Iraqi until Dec. 31, 2007. The Security Council authorized the board in May 2003 to ensure the "transparent" operation of the Development Fund, which was set up to receive Iraq's oil revenue and frozen assets from Saddam's regime and is now controlled by the Iraqi government.

The prime minister also reiterated Iraq's call for the council to stop using the country's oil revenue to pay compensation to victims of the 1991 Gulf War and the salaries of U.N. weapons inspectors.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Oil nears $60 on Saudi cut talk

Saudi oil minister discusses further production cuts at Dec. 14 OPEC meeting.

LONDON (Reuters) -- Oil rose one percent towards $60 a barrel on Monday after Saudi Arabia's oil minister said OPEC may cut output further when it meets on Dec. 14.

Surging gold also lifted oil as investment funds sought an alternative to the dollar, at a 20-month low against the euro.

U.S. crude rose to $59.86 by 4:21 a.m. ET, up 62 cents from the settlement Wednesday, the last day of trade in New York before the two-day Thanksgiving holiday.

London Brent crude gained seven cents to $60.10, adding to 68-cent gains on Friday.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, OPEC's most influential voice, held out the prospect of a further output cut when the group meets next month in Abuja.
At an emergency meeting in Doha in October, OPEC agreed to remove 1.2 million barrels per day from oversupplied markets -- the first cut in two years. Since then, OPEC ministers have lined up in favor of a further reduction to underpin prices.

"We must look at the impact of the measures decided in Doha. If they are adequate, we will be satisfied, if they are not we will act again and the aim is to bring stability back to the market," Naimi told reporters.

Production cuts during peak winter demand would achieve OPEC's aim of drawing down high oil stocks, affecting not just the cost of oil but the price of the shares of major oil companies like BP (Charts), ExxonMobil (Charts), ConocoPhillips (down $0.20 to $64.29, Charts) and Royal Dutch Shell (Charts).
"The longer oil stays below $60 the more chance OPEC will cut," said Tony Nunan, a risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp.

The dollar hit a 20-month low against the euro and a three-month low against the yen on Monday, amid worries over a slowdown in U.S. economic growth.
Oil has been stuck in a two-month trading rut of $58-$62 a barrel, showing few signs of resuming a climb back toward a record high of $78.40 a barrel hit in mid-July.

But increased tension in the Middle East could turn sentiment more bullish.

"So far Iraqi exports haven't been affected, but if the unity government there falls apart it could be a mess," said Nunan.


Democrats will 'refrain' from pushing liberal agenda, Reuters wire story asserts

"Three Democratic congressmen who are about to take important leadership posts said on Sunday they plan to pass popular legislation blocked by Republicans but would refrain from pushing some of the most controversial elements on the liberal agenda," a Sunday Reuters story claims.

"The three, appearing on Fox News Sunday, are among the most liberal Democrats who will take over key committee chairmanships when Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives in January," Reuters adds.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who will take over the House committee that oversees financial institutions, mentioned upping the minimum wage, providing cheaper drug coverage for seniors and providing affordable housing and college tuition aid as the focus of Democratic legislation. He did not, however, float more controversial plans pushed by party liberals including overturning the ban on gays from serving in the US military.

"Our first efforts are going to be to do those things that I think the mainstream of America wants," Frank said. "Some things have become liberal because the right wingers who control the Republican party have abandoned them to us."


CNN Iraq Correspondent: Iraq Is "An Absolute Mess"...TV, Print "Can't Fully Capture The Scope"...

Excerpted from a transcript of CNN's "Reliable Sources":

KURTZ: If you're sitting at home watching it on TV, you see mass kidnappings, suicide bombings, mosque bombings, death squads. When you're there as a journalist, does the situation seem as chaotic to you as it does to a viewer?

ROBERTS: You know, Howie, I had a perception of Iraq going in, and it was the first time I'd been there in three-and-a-half years. I got out a couple of days after the Saddam statue fell, after the initial invasion. So it was quite a shock to go back and see the chaotic state that the country was in. And as -- I guess you could say as realistic as my perceptions were about going in there, the reality on the ground far exceeded that.

The place is a mess. It's an absolute mess. There is nowhere you can go in the Baghdad area as a Western journalist without an escort, where you could feel safe from being kidnapped, shot at, whatever. The amount of death that's on the streets of Baghdad for U.S. forces and for the Iraqi people is at an astronomical level...

ROBERTS: Because television can't -- and even print -- can't fully capture the scope of what's going on in Iraq. And to some degree, too, over the last three-and-a-half years, Howie, it's become the daily traffic report, the daily drumbeat.
Read the full transcript here.

Click for video

Sunday, November 26, 2006

King Of Jordan: "Strong Potential" Of Three Civil Wars In Middle East Next Year...

Excerpted from the transcript of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it a civil war in Iraq right now?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, George, the difficulty that we're tackling with here is, we're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq...
... And we could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands. And therefore, it is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear, and I see could possibly happen in 2007.
Read more of the transcript here.

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U.S. involved in Iraq longer than WWII

WASHINGTON - The war in Iraq has now lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in the war that President Bush's father fought in, World War II. As of Sunday, the conflict in Iraq has raged for three years and just over eight months.

Only the Vietnam War (eight years, five months), the Revolutionary War (six years, nine months), and the Civil War (four years), have engaged America longer.

Fighting in Afghanistan which may or may not be a full-fledged war depending on who is keeping track, has gone on for five years, one month. It continues as the ousted Taliban resurges and the central government is challenged.
Bush says he still is undecided whether to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq or add to the 140,000 there now.

He is awaiting the conclusions of several top-to-bottom studies, including a military review by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Expected soon, too, are recommendations from an outside blue-ribbon commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican close to the Bush family, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who was one of the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission.

The Iraq war began on March 19, 2003, with the U.S. bombing of Baghdad. On May 1, 2003, Bush famously declared major combat operations over, the pronouncement coming in a speech aboard an aircraft carrier emblazoned with a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Yet the fighting has dragged on, and most of the 2,800-plus U.S. military deaths have occurred after Bush suggested an end to what he called the Iraq front in the global fight against terrorism.

Politicians in both parties blame the increasingly unpopular war for GOP losses on Capitol Hill in the November elections that handed control of the House and Senate to Democrats.

Twice before in the last half-century have presidents — Harry S. Truman in Korea and Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam — been crippled politically by prolonged and unpopular wars.

Bush last week visited Vietnam for the first time, attending a summit of Asian and Pacific Rim nations. Asked if the Vietnam war held any messages for U.S. policy in Iraq, Bush said it showed that "we'll succeed unless we quit."
John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist who wrote the book "War, Presidents and Public Opinion," said Americans soured on Iraq after "doing a rough cost-benefit analysis. They say, `What's it worth to us and how much is it costing us?'"

By that standard, Americans were willing to abandon the Iraq war long before they turned against the war in Vietnam, Mueller suggested. "So that, for example, when more than 2,000 Americans had died in Iraq, support lowered. It took 20,000 deaths in Vietnam to lower support for that war to the same level," he said.

In the casualty count, the Civil War was the most lethal, with military deaths of the North and South combined totaling at least 620,000. By comparison, the total for World War II was roughly 406,000; Vietnam, 58,000; Korea, 37,000; World War I, 116,000.

The outgoing Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee of Virginia, a veteran of World War II and a former Navy secretary, noted solemnly at a recent hearing of his committee that Sunday would mark the day when U.S. was involved longer in the Iraq war than it had been in World War II.

Yet the October 2002 congressional resolution that authorized the Iraq war "addressed the Iraq of Saddam Hussein which is now gone, and no more a threat to us," Warner said.

While the United States is helping the Iraq's current government to assume the full reins of sovereignty, "we need to revise (our) strategy to achieve that goal," Warner said.

U.S. involvement in the Iraq war has outlasted that of the Korean War (three years, one month); the War of 1812 (two years, six months); the U.S.-Mexican War (one year, 10 months); World War I (one year, seven months); the Spanish American War (eight months); and the first Persian Gulf War Gulf War (one and a half months).

Democrats and Republicans are divided about what to do next in Iraq.
Many Democrats and some Republicans have called for a phased withdrawal. Some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., a 2008 presidential hopeful, are urging that more U.S. troops be sent to help stabilize Iraq.

Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), the Michigan Democrat who will be the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argues for beginning to bring troops home soon. "We should put the responsibility for Iraq's future squarely where it belongs, on the Iraqis," Levin said. "We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."

Experts of various political stripes have suggested that the options are few.
"No mix of options for U.S. action can provide a convincing plan for 'victory' in Iraq," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The initiative has passed into Iraqi hands."


Energy Firms Come to Terms With Climate Change

While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.

The Democratic takeover of Congress makes it more likely that the federal government will attempt to regulate emissions. The companies have been hiring new lobbyists who they hope can help fashion a national approach that would avert a patchwork of state plans now in the works. They are also working to change some company practices in anticipation of the regulation.

"We have to deal with greenhouse gases," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. "From Shell's point of view, the debate is over. When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'Let's debate the science'?"

Hofmeister and other top energy company leaders, such as Duke Energy Corp.'s chief executive, James E. Rogers, back a proposal that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow firms to trade their quotas.

Paul M. Anderson, Duke Energy's chairman and a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, favors a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. His firm is the nation's third-largest burner of coal.

Exxon Mobil Corp., the highest-profile corporate skeptic about global warming, said in September that it was considering ending its funding of a think tank that has sought to cast doubts on climate change. And on Nov. 2, the company announced that it will contribute more than $1.25 million to a European Union study on how to store carbon dioxide in natural gas fields in the Norwegian North Sea, Algeria and Germany.

These changes come as Democratic leaders prepare to take over key committees on Capitol Hill. Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), who calls global warming "the greatest challenge of our generation," will take the place of Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe refers to global warming as a "hoax."

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the incoming Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, said he hopes to "do something on global warming." Even though the Bush administration's expected opposition might make the enactment of legislation unlikely in the next two years, many companies cannot put off decisions about what sort of power plants to build.

Duke Energy, for example, has not added significant power generation in two decades, and customer demand is rising 1 to 2 percent a year. The company has included a price for the carbon emitted in its cost estimates for a new coal-fired generating plant proposed for Indiana.

"If we had our druthers, we'd already have carbon legislation passed," said John L. Stowell, Duke Energy's vice president for environmental policy. "Our viewpoint is that it's going to happen. There's scientific evidence of climate change. We'd like to know what legislation will be put together so that, when we figure out how to increase our load, we know exactly what to expect."

One reason companies are turning to Congress is to avert the multiplicity of regulations being drafted by various state governments. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a group of seven Northeastern states, is moving ahead with a proposed system that would set a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions, issue allowances to companies, and allow firms to trade those allowances to comply with regulations.

California is drawing up its program. Other states are also contemplating limits. Even the city of Boulder, Colo., has adopted its own plan -- a carbon tax based on electricity use.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iraqi Leader in Crisis Ahead of Bush Visit

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Nov. 25) -- Iraq's Shiite prime minister, struggling to prevent sectarian violence from sending Iraq into full-fledged civil war, is facing strong criticism from top Shiite and Sunni Arab leaders alike as he prepares for a summit with President Bush next week.

On Saturday, a prominent Sunni religious leader warned that Iraq's escalating sectarian violence will spread throughout the Middle East unless the international community withdraws support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

"I call on the Arab states, the Arab League and the United Nations to stop this government and withdraw its support from it. Otherwise, the disaster will occur and the turmoil will happen in Iraq and other countries," said Sheik Harith al-Dhari, who heads the Association of Muslim Scholars.

Last week, Iraq's Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant against al-Dhari, saying he was wanted for inciting violence and terrorism.

On the other side of Iraq's sectarian divide, Shiite politicians loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have threatened to boycott parliament and the Cabinet if al-Maliki goes ahead with the planned summit in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday. The political bloc, known as Sadrists, is a mainstay of support for al-Maliki.

The White House has said the meeting is still on.

Iran, the top U.S. rival in the region, had planned its own summit Saturday, inviting the presidents of Iraq and Syria in what was seen as a bid to assert its role as a powerbroker in Iraq. Syria did not respond, perhaps to avoid annoying the U.S., and Iraq's president said he could not get to Iran before Sunday at the earliest because Baghdad's airport was closed to commercial flights following a deadly attack Thursday in Sadr City.

Suspected Sunni insurgents killed 215 people in the Shiite slum with mortars and five car bombs in the deadliest single attack of the war. On Saturday, Sadrist lawmaker Qusai Abdul-Wahab blamed U.S. forces for the attack, saying they failed to provide security.

As Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to the neighboring Sunni country of Saudi Arabia on Saturday to seek help in calming Iraq, Iraq's sectarian violence shifted to Diyala province north of Baghdad, where gunmen broke into two Shiite homes and killed 21 men in front of their relatives, police said. U.S. and Iraqi forces also killed 58 insurgents during fighting in the same region.

In central Iraq, a suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint near Fallujah, killing three Iraqi civilians and a U.S. service member, and wounding nine civilians and an American service member, the coalition said. The dead included two Iraqi children and an adult.

A U.S. Marine also died from wounds sustained while fighting in Anbar province on Friday, the military said, raising to at least 2,873 the number of U.S. servicemen who have died since the war began in 2003. So far, 54 American service members have died this month in Iraq.

Six people were killed in other violence in Iraq on Saturday, and 19 bodies were found, police said.

Iraq's government has been unable to prevent revenge attacks by Shiite militias and Sunni Arab insurgents, despite the 24-hour curfew it imposed Thursday night on Baghdad's 6 million residents. After only scattered violence occurred in Baghdad on Saturday, the government announced it would allow residents to leave their homes Sunday but keep the ban on all vehicles for another day.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Sunday that Iraqi militant groups have raised between $70 million and $200 million a year from various illegal activities to fund the insurgency. The newspaper, which cites a classified U.S. government report obtained by the Times, said the money has come from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting and other activities.

The report said terrorist and insurgent groups in Iraq may also have extra money with which to finance terrorist organizations outside Iraq.

In the latest violence in Diyala province, a hotbed of Iraq's Sunni-Arab insurgency, gunmen targeted homes of the al-Sawed Shiite tribe in the village of Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his own security, as officials often do in the volatile province.

The gunmen broke into the two houses as their large extended families slept, marched everyone outside, lined up the 21 men and shot them to death as the women and children watched, police said.

Police could not reach the remote village to collect the bodies and take them to a morgue until Saturday, police said, adding that they do not known whether the attack was motivated by sectarian hatred or a tribal dispute.

In other parts of Diyala, a largely rural area of farms and orchards, police killed 36 insurgents and wounded dozens of others in clashes Saturday, police said. U.S. and Iraqi forces also conducted several raids north of Baghdad, killing 22 insurgents and a civilian, and destroying a factory used to make roadside bombs, the military said.

Baghdad was quieter than it had been on Friday, when rampaging militiamen burned and blew up four mosques and torched several homes in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Hurriyah, witnesses and police said. Iraqi soldiers at a nearby army post failed to intervene in the assault by suspected members of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia or subsequent attacks that killed as many as 25 Sunnis, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.

The U.S. military said Saturday that Iraqi soldiers securing Hurriyah found only one burned mosque and were unable to confirm residents' and police accounts that six Sunni Arabs were dragged from Friday prayers and burned to death.

On Friday, al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, urged al-Dhari, the Sunni leader, to issue a religious edict condemning Sunni attacks on Shiites.

In an apparent response, Al-Dhari said during his news conference in Cairo, Egypt, that his Association of Muslim Scholars has repeatedly condemned the killing of Iraqi Muslims and attacks on their homes and mosques.

Al-Dhari, an outspoken critic of the government and the U.S. occupation, alleged that the Shiite-led government was using the 24-hour curfew as a way to carry out attacks against Sunnis, but he urged Iraqis not to be lured into more violence.

"Be patient and practice steadfastness and don't be lured into this sedition that aims to destroy" Iraq, he said.

In Baghdad, Ali al-Adib, a Shiite lawmaker close to al-Maliki, dismissed al-Dhari as a radical with few supporters. "If he doesn't want this elected national unity government, what does he want, a return to dictatorship?" al-Adib said in an interview.