Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Bailout

Taleban tax: allied supply convoys pay their enemies for safe passage

Militants in Afghanistan who claim to be TalibanThe West is indirectly funding the insurgency in Afghanistan thanks to a system of payoffs to Taleban commanders who charge protection money to allow convoys of military supplies to reach Nato bases in the south of the country.

Contracts to supply British bases and those of other Western forces with fuel, supplies and equipment are held by multinational companies.

However, the business of moving supplies from the Pakistani port of Karachi to British, US and other military contingents in the country is largely subcontracted to local trucking companies. These must run the gauntlet of the increasingly dangerous roads south of Kabul in convoys protected by hired gunmen from Afghan security companies.

The Times has learnt that it is in the outsourcing of convoys that payoffs amounting to millions of pounds, including money from British taxpayers, are given to the Taleban.

Obama: The College Years


Arctic ice volume lowest ever as globe warms: U.N.

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - Ice volume around the Arctic region hit the lowest level ever recorded this year as climate extremes brought death and devastation to many parts of the world, the U.N. weather agency WMO said on Tuesday.

Although the world's average temperature in 2008 was, at 14.3 degrees Celsius (57.7 degrees Fahrenheit), by a fraction of a degree the coolest so far this century, the direction toward a warmer climate remained steady, it reported.

"What is happening in the Arctic is one of the key indicators of global warming," Michel Jarraud, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said. "The overall trend is still upwards."

A report presented by Jarraud at a news conference showed Arctic ice cover dropping to its second lowest extent during this year's melt season since satellite measuring began in 1979.

However, the Geneva-based agency said, "because ice was thinner in 2008, overall ice volume was less than in any other year." It added: "The season strongly reinforced the 30-year downward trend in the extent of Arctic Sea ice."

Holiday Street Art

posted by Moderator

As seen in:
Montreal, Canada, 2008

photo from Christian et Cie
Auckland New Zealand, 2007

photo from: Robyn Gallagher
London, UK, 2006

photo from daveknapik
St. Petersburg, Russia, 2008

photo from быдло-метро трэш-мажор

Bush's 'So What?'

Bush today expanded his guiltless-even-though-I-destroyed-everything asshole rejoinder, "So what?", from Cheney's equally dickish "So?" from a few months back.

George, you've just been called out for having 100% wrong reasoning for pre-emptive war. So what? I'm sure some soldier's parents appreciate that quip. Watch this video and feel the uncontrollable need to punch someone in the face.

The interview was with ABC's Martha Raddatz.
BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take–

RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.
The mind of a fool. Is he that dumb to not know? He's beyond cognitive dissonance.

Secrecy Worsens Wall Street Mess

By Brent Budowsky
Editor's Note: With multiple scandals sweeping Wall Street, it might seem like an odd time for anyone to say "trust me" when it comes to spending trillions of dollars in bailout money, but that's basically what the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve are telling the public.

In this guest essay, Brent Budowsky examines how secrecy has contributed to the crisis – and is now threatening a resolution:

The public is angry – and that anger is rising.

The dangers to our economy are escalating while confidence, trust and credibility are collapsing for both government and business institutions.

Whatever else Wednesday's mammoth action by the Fed suggests, we know this: After $8 trillion of support for financial institutions by multiple federal agencies, the Federal Reserve Board has concluded that the program has not worked, and much more is needed.

I emphasize this: I do not oppose bailouts; I oppose bailouts that are poorly managed, poorly structured and, far too often, conducted with secrecy.

I have warned since 2007 about the cascading financial crisis that would spread from sector to sector, bank to bank, and consumer to consumer. I have called, repeatedly, for direct action to benefit real people such as a temporary freeze on foreclosures.

What I continue to most strongly oppose are top-down bailouts, where $8 trillion goes to financial institutions that continue to raise their interest rates and cut credit lines for even their most creditworthy consumer and business customers.

As for disclosure, the banks and investment houses must be far more direct, comprehensive and honest in disclosing information to Congress, to regulators, to the public, and to investors.

In olden days, markets were based on prices applied to entities with ascertained value and trading was done as the value of those very ascertainable assets would rise and fall.

Today we have a new, and in my view vile, phenomenon: the securitization of everything, where clusters of mortgages, credit card accounts, etc. are bunched together and traded like Nasdaq stocks.

This removes the value proposition and makes these securitized instruments impossible to value, and they are traded based on whims, rumors and mindless speculation until some dumb slob is the last guy buying overvalued and bubbled assets.

This last guy is the slob holding the bag at the end, and now the bag is being handed to taxpayers.

Is the GOP Risking the Economy to Win the PR War Against Unions?

Art Levine

by Art Levine

Even as the auto industry teeters on collapse, union-bashing continues as the mainstay of a GOP propaganda war against organized labor. With three million jobs at stake, potentially costing taxpayers $150 billion in unemployment insurance, Medicaid, other aid and lost tax revenues, unions remain the primary targets of the GOP blame game for the troubled auto industry and the failed bailout deal. The Bush Administration, while dithering over the scope of any bailout with federal funds, has faced mounting pressure from Republicans to impose the same sort of union-wrecking conditions that scuttled a deal in the Senate last week.

The hostile response to a bailout, even though some form of rescue package is still likely this week, is doubtless fueled by recent polls confirming that a majority of the public is opposed to an auto industry bailout and doesn't believe that its collapse would significantly hurt the economy.

So far, it's right-wing demagoguery 1, progressives zero in the battle over the bailout. Public support was further harmed, of course, by the plutocratic PR blunders of the auto industry executives' initial jet-setting appeal to Congress. In fact, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals, the conservative propaganda campaign against an auto bailout has even hoodwinked some union members: "Union households are no more apt than those without a union member to favor the plan, 44 percent compared with 42 percent. However, the union householders who support the plan are more likely to be strongly behind the bailout, " the Washington Post reports.

All this should serve as a wake-up call for all unions, the broader progressive movement and allied media outlets: Will they be able to launch a truly effective counterattack against the propaganda blitz, ads and misinformation spread by conservatives, corporate-funded front groups and the mainstream media? Meanwhile, right-wingers are using the bailout mess to lay the groundwork to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) needed to secure organizing rights and allow the American middle class to grow.

Father Christmas

Gay penguins expelled from zoo colony for stealing eggs are given their own to look after following animal rights protest

By Caroline Graham

pengA pair of gay penguins thrown out of their zoo colony for repeatedly stealing eggs have been given some of their own to look after following a protest by animal rights groups.

Last month the birds were segregated after they were caught  placing stones at the feet of parents before waddling away with their eggs.

But angry visitors to Polar Land in Harbin, northern China, complained it wasn't fair to stop the couple from becoming surrogate fathers and urged zoo bosses to give them a chance.

Who's the daddy? The segregated penguin couple, right, are seen here in their own enclosure quarrelling with another male over stolen eggs

In response, zookeepers gave the pair two eggs laid by an inexperienced first-time mother.

'We decided to give them two eggs from another couple whose hatching ability had been poor and they've turned out to be the best parents in the whole zoo,' said one of the keepers.

'It's very encouraging and if this works out well we will try to arrange for them to become real parents themselves with artificial insemination.'

Wildlife experts at the park explain that despite being gay the three-year-old male birds are still driven by an urge to be fathers.

'One of the responsibilities of being a male adult is looking after the eggs. Despite the fact that they can't have eggs naturally, it does not take away their biological drive to be a parent,' said one.

Group protests for shoe-thrower's release at White House

About 20 people have protested the war in Iraq by tossing shoes at a fellow demonstrator wearing a prison uniform and mask of President George W. Bush outside the White House.

The group yelled, "This is a goodbye kiss from the people of America!" They also arranged along a curb about 120 pairs of shoes tagged with the names of Iraqis who have died as a result of the war.

Medea Benjamin, of the national peace group CODEPINK, says the protest was organized as a show of solidarity with Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi (MOON'-tuh-dahr ahl-zay-EE'-dee), who was jailed after throwing his shoes at Bush during a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.

The protesters on Tuesday delivered a letter to the Iraqi embassy calling for al-Zeidi to be released from jail.

Retro-future Santa art

Agies sez, "Kaja Foglio has dug up a 1907 children's book illustration of what Santa will look like in 2007. It's the first pair of desktop images on the page." Santa in 2007: A vintage vision of the future from a children's book published in 1907

India's Right Wing Wants Nuclear War

photoKuppahalli Sitaramayya Sudarshan of India's Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Party stated that nuclear war between India and Pakistan may be necessary. (Photo: Reuters)

    Mumbai's terrorist outrage of November 26 has found a response truly matching it in madness. A call for a nuclear war - and nothing less - has come as the culmination of warped and warlike reactions to the traumatizing tragedy, which has claimed a toll of 200 lives.

    The demented call, which still cannot, unfortunately, be dismissed as inconsequential, is not only a regional war of the said, scary description. It is also one for a global conflict of the kind.

    Fittingly, the call has emanated from the real fuehrer of India's far right. He may be relatively unknown to the outside world, and less known even in his country than political leaders of the "parivar," as the far-right "family" labels itself. But Kuppahalli Sitaramayya Sudarshan is the supremo of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the misleading name meaning the National Volunteers' Association.

U.S. costs of Iraq, Afghan wars top $900 billion: report

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. military operations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, have cost $904 billion since 2001 and could top $1.7 trillion by 2018, even with big cuts in overseas troop deployments, a report said on Monday.

A new study released by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, or CSBA, said the Iraq conflict's $687 billion price tag alone now exceeds the cost of every past U.S. war except for World War II, when expenditures are adjusted for inflation.

With another $184 billion in spending for Afghanistan included, the two conflicts surpass the cost of the Vietnam War by about 50 percent, the report said.

CSBA said U.S. military operations have already reached $904 billion since 2001, including the two wars as well as stepped-up military security activities at home and the payout in war-related veterans' benefits. The estimate includes allocated spending into 2009.

The Bush Legacy Project