Archive for August, 2009


Did the White House Green Light Lockerbie Bomber’s Release? — UK documents show Lockerbie bomber set free for oil contracts — David Frum: Barack Obama’s Lockerbie sleight of hand — No-go zone: U.S. refuses to pay £50m VAT tax on new embassy — Obama Sends Churchill Home —


UPDATE

SURPRISE – SURPRISE

Mystery as Lockerbie bomber goes missing from home and hospital

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Did the White House Green Light Lockerbie Bomber’s Release?

Ken Blackwell – FOXNews.com – August 27, 2009

The recent events in Scotland show the futility of treating a war as a criminal justice issue. Did Gordon Brown get a green light from the Obama administration to let a convicted murderer, Al Megrahi, go “scot free”?

By now we all know that the Obama administration would prefer to call the War on Terror an “overseas contingency operation.” And they’d prefer to pursue CIA interrogators more than they’d like to go after terrorists.

All of this is in keeping with their September 10 mindset. They want to return us to the way the Clinton administration viewed terrorism– as a problem of criminal law enforcement, not something to be prosecuted as a war. This, despite the fact that Usama bin Laden took advantage of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to declare war on the United States. And despite the fact that Saddam Hussein used the distraction of the Clinton’s domestic troubles to boot U.N. arms inspectors out of Iraq.

Americans paid with their lives for that fatal error in judgment. The attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa (1998) and the suicide mission to blow a hole in the hull of the USS Cole (2000) show how lethal such misjudgments can be.

The recent events in Scotland show the futility of treating war as a criminal justice issue. The only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was released unconditionally after only eight years in prison this month. He had been sentenced to life in prison.

Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the press he was appalled, but qualified it by saying he was speaking “just personally.” The Justice Department’s Richard Kolko wouldn’t even go that far.” There remains an open indictment in Washington, D.C. and an open investigation.” That should strike fear into al-Megrahi’s heart. And in Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi’s heart, too.

President Reagan was roundly criticized for launching a raid against Qaddafi in 1986. But the president said then “they can run, but they can’t hide.” He was determined to let those who attacked Americans know that we would pursue them to their lairs.

Once, when Libyan jets’ radar locked onto U.S. jets over international waters, Reagan left orders to shoot down any aircraft making aggressive moves against our forces. How far would we pursue Qaddafi’s jets once they’d attacked us, Reagan was asked. “Right into their hangars,” he replied.

The release of the only man convicted murderering 270 innocent civilians stinks. It should result in the toppling of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labor government. Surely no one can have confidence in his spineless government.

But the larger question is this: Did Gordon Brown get a green light from the Obama administration to let this convicted murderer go “scot free?” Did the British government even consult with Washington before taking this despicable action?

What does this discreditable affair say about the “special relationship” that has existed for a century between Great Britain and the United States?

We are only seven months into this new administration. The early indications are not good that we have a seasoned and serious team manning the helm of the ship of state. For the sake of the country we all serve, let’s pray they learn quickly.

Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and the American Civil Rights Union.


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UK documents show Lockerbie bomber set free for oil contracts

Posted on August 30, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The Times of London continues to rip to shreds the official explanations from Edinburgh and London over the so-called “compassionate release” of Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the terrorist who killed 270 people, mostly Americans, in the 1987 bombing of Pan Am flight 103.  The Scots insisted that the release was consistent with their “values”, while the Gordon Brown government insisted that they did nothing to influence the decision.  New documents unearthed by the Times show both to be lying:

The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.

Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.

The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests.

What does it say about the governments in Edinburgh and London that Moammar Gaddafi’s son has been more honest about this than Brown, Straw, and MacAskill?  Seif Islam (Gaddafi) had insisted from the beginning that Megrahi got exchanged for the completion of oil contracts with the Libyan government.  Perhaps Brown and his team thought Libya would be more discreet, but the Libyan government needs to build its credibility with its subjects — and freeing Megrahi would be far too tempting for public-relations purposes to remain silent.

What happens to Brown’s government now?  Will Parliament issue a vote of no confidence and force his resignation and new elections?  After this debacle, men of honor wouldn’t wait for a vote of no confidence but resign in disgrace, not just for the grubby commercial bargain but for their contemptuous lies afterward.


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David Frum: Barack Obama’s Lockerbie sleight of hand

Posted: August 28, 2009, 10:30 AM by NP Editor

Muammar Qaddafi delivered President Obama a welcome gift this week — a gift made all the more valuable by the remarkable lack of curiosity of the U.S. press about what exactly was contained inside the box.

The hero’s welcome given to the convicted Lockerbie bomber in Tripoli diverted media attention from embarrassing questions about the bomber’s release to the much easier issue of the bomber’s reception. Now the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy will drive the entire subject into the back pages and specialty blogs.

President Obama is unlikely now to have to explain any of the strange mysteries and contradictions in his administration’s handling of the affair.  Let’s recap:

When the Scottish government announced its decision to allow Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi to return home, the Obama administration reacted with remarkable restraint. Two hundred seventy people were murdered in the Lockerbie attack, 180 of them Americans—the worst international terrorist attack on Americans before 9/11 itself. Megrahi was the only person brought to justice in the case, and he had served only eight years in prison. Now he was to go free. The president’s reaction? He called the decision a “mistake.” In a written statement, his secretary of state pronounced herself “deeply disappointed.”

This president knows how to express himself more vividly when he wishes. He didn’t call the arrest of Henry Louis Gates a “mistake.” It’s not “disappointment” he conveys to Benjamin Netanyahu over Israeli settlements.

The president’s defenders applaud his restrained language. The blogger Matthew Yglesias wrote in praise of Obama’s “no drama foreign policy”: “Talking with the UK government in advance about our objections to releasing a Lockerbie bomber might achieve something. But loudly denouncing them ex post facto isn’t going to help anyone or improve anything.”

But the question raised by the president’s muted response to the release is precisely that. Did the U.S. administration speak to the U.K. about the release in advance? And what did the U.S. say?

It’s becoming apparent that much that has been said about the release was untrue, or at least misleading.

We were told that the decision was wholly and entirely that of Scottish Justice Minister Kenny McAskill. That story is disintegrating before our eyes. Megrahi’s release has been the subject of negotiation between Libya and the United Kingdom government since at least 2004. Before quitting office, Tony Blair negotiated a prisoner transfer agreement with the Libyans—an eyebrow-raising use of prime ministerial time, since there was only one Libyan national in the entire UK prison system: Megrahi. At the same time, the U.K. energy company BP signed a huge new deal to explore for gas in Libya.

After meandering for years, the Megrahi discussions suddenly accelerated in 2009. Gordon Brown and Muammar Qaddafi met privately at the G-8 summit in Italy in July. According to correspondence released by Downing Street this week, they agreed there on a discreet reception for Megrabi in the event of a hypothetical future release.

So Scotland’s decision came as no surprise to Gordon Brown. Rather what seemed to have happened was this:

The U.K. government negotiated and smoothed the way for Megrahi’s release. Then it sat back and left the dirty work to the Scots, in full awareness of the very left-leaning McAskill’s soft-on-crime susceptibilities.

Brown knew his man. Scottish prison regulations contemplate compassionate release only for those within three months of death. It is not at all clear that Megrahi has come so close to his end—most of the medical advice received by the Scottish government predicted that Megrahi could live another year or more. McAskill set aside the consensus to rely on one assessment by one doctor.

Relations between the Scottish and U.K. governments are poor these days, and so McAskill’s decision represented a double win for Brown: He got the release he wanted—and the Scottish National Party government back in Edinburgh got the blame.

But here’s the question that has yet to be asked by U.S. reporters: Where was the Obama administration during these U.K. machinations?

We do know that the British kept the U.S. briefed well enough for American diplomats to protest the looming U.K./Scottish decision. At the same time, we read in the British press that U.S. officials indicated that they preferred a humanitarian release to a prisoner transfer. Those reports raise further questions:

Exactly how vigorously did the Obama administration protest? Why did those protests produce so little result? Do British/Scots feel so little regard for the new Obama administration that they ignore its strong complaints? Or were complaints possibly less than strong? After all, a complaint in the form, “We don’t want you to do X, but if you must do X, we prefer that you do it in the following way…” does not constitute a very resounding warning.

If the U.S. complaints about the decision to release were as weak as reported, why were they so weak? Many in the intelligence community have long doubted that the Libyans were in fact responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. Serious people have argued for 20 years that the attack originated in Syria and Iran. Does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton share those doubts? Very possibly so. Listen to her careful avoidance of any affirmative statement about Megrahi’s guilt in an Aug. 19 interview with the BBC: “I just think it is absolutely wrong to release someone who has been imprisoned based on the evidence about his involvement in such a horrendous crime.”

Will somebody please ask the secretary what she meant by those words? Will somebody please ask the president whether he too feels such doubts? And if the administration does doubt Megrahi’s guilt, what steps will they take to bring the real terrorists to justice? Or is going after Syria and Iran even more inconvenient to this administration’s foreign policy goals than going after Libya?

Nobody is asking. Nobody seems to much care. The festivities in Tripoli have allowed White House spokesman Robert Gibbs to pile up the rhetoric. The bomber’s reception was “disgusting” said Gibbs. Those words enable reporters to say that the administration has strongly denounced … something. But what exactly has been denounced?

Who notices the sleight of hand by which the condemnation has been redirected from the people who let Megrabi go to the people who took Megrahi in? Who sees that the intent of the administration’s belated outrage is not to condemn Libya, but to exonerate itself?


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Former US Secretary of State refers to Pan Am 103 “Accident”

Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright has referred to the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie as an “accident”.

Albright, Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, was speaking in a live, unscripted two-way with the studios of news network MSNBC debating the furore over the return of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi to Libya.

“This issue itself is most unfortunate because so many Americans and other nationals died in that terrible, terrible accident,” Albright said.

Her comments echo those of former Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, speaking in the immediate aftermath of the incident, when he also described the destruction of the plane as an “accident” on STV.

A Firm investigation concluded that there is sufficeint evidence to justify an investigation into the possibility that Pan Am 103 was destroyed as the result of an accidental explosion, possibly resulting from the unintended detonation of weapons components carried illegally on the plane. Such material can be sensitive to specific radio frequencies.

The explosives incident aboard the airliner took place during a period of intense radio activity as the cockpit communicated with air traffic control to obtain their transatlantic clearance. Explosives evidence introduced during the Zeist trial was later found to have been fabricated.

An analysis undertaken by Dr Ludwig de Braeckeleer concluded that it was “scientifically implausible” for Pan Am 103 to have been brought down by a semtex detonation as alleged at the Zeist trial.

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi inexplicably dropped his appeal shortly before returning to Libya, ensuring that the possibility that a miscarriage of justice may have occured will now not be tested before the courts.The Scottish Government firmly said no pressure had been brought upon him to do so.


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No-go zone: U.S. refuses to pay £50m VAT tax on new embassy

By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 12:42 PM on 28th August 2009

The American government is fighting the Treasury over a £50million tax demand.

The Treasury is demanding that it pay VAT on the construction of its new £275million embassy, known as The Iceberg.

The building would be situated in Nine Elms, Battersea, and would be finished by 2016.

The Americans are being supported by Wandsworth council’s Tory leader Edward Lister, who has asked Chancellor Alistair Darling to grant an exemption.

Mr Listeer said that ‘substantial’ economic benefits and future tax revenues risked being lost to London if the Treasury’s ‘rigid attitude’ was not reversed.

The U.S. wants to move its embassy from Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, to increase security. The new building, to be built near New Covent Garden Market, would be protected by a 30-metre ‘blast zone’.

In the past eight years the U.S. has escaped paying tax on 68 diplomatic properties it has built around the world.

The U.S. government has also refused to pay the congestion charge since its introduction in 2003, claiming diplomatic immunity from taxes.

At the start of last month it had 30, 979 unpaid tickets, running up a debt with Transport for London of almost £3.6million.

One Whitehall source told the Financial Times that the battle to avoid VAT on the new embassy had reached high levels in the U.S. government.

‘This is very important to the U.S., it has been raised at the highest levels in Washington – though not quite Obama.’

One solution has been suggested of allowing the UK a similar tax exemption on British building projects in Washington.

The Foreign Office said there was no strict rule on whether the UK paid a sales tax such as VAT on its overseas contracts.

‘It depends on local circumstances – sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t,’ a spokesman said.


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Obama Sends Churchill Home

March 6, 2009 | From theTrumpet.com

Some years ago, the British government gave a bust of Winston Churchill to the White House, and George W. Bush featured it directly in the Oval Office. It symbolized the special relationship between Britain and the United States that has lasted for decades.

Recently, President Obama decided to return Churchill to his home country.

As radical as the changes being proposed by the new American administration are, one of the most radical in the foreign-policy realm is its imminent redefinition of the historic British-American relationship. As Ron Fraser explains in the newest Trumpet print edition,

The coming of the Obama administration has mortally wounded the natural symbiosis of diplomacy between Britain and America. This is a radical departure from the 200 years of mutual support and cooperation between the U.S. and Britain, particularly in matters of defense and security. The Blair-Bush years were the swan song for that strongest of natural, yet unwritten, alliances.

Last Saturday’s Telegraph reports on the same theme in its article “Will Barack Obama End Britain’s Special Relationship with America?

In the marbled halls of the British ambassador’s residence in Washington … a quiet fear is calcifying. Hints from the White House machine suggest that the Age of Obama means a dramatic makeover not just for America, but for that old symbol of Anglo-American fealty, the special relationship. … [W]ord is spreading through political Washington that the new president wants to shake up the way the U.S. government relates to its allies, which will leave little space for the sentiment of old ties.

Two weeks ago, when the White House announced British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s visit this week, spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “The United States and the United Kingdom share a special partnership.” The Telegraph says,

Those familiar with the thinking of Mr. Obama’s top team say that use of the word “partnership” rather than “relationship” is an important distinction—it illuminates Mr. Obama’s belief in practical measures that work, not the old way of doing things.

A Washington official who is close to several members of Mr. Obama’s inner circle said: “They craft every word for the stone tablets. Words are what they do. It is not a mistake.

“A partnership is a business arrangement based on what you can do for Obama, not a relationship like a marriage that thrives through thick and thin until death do us part. He’ll judge the specialness of a partnership with Britain on what he gets out of it.” … [I]nsiders say he will be ruthless in cutting adrift countries who do not cooperate with his global agenda, whatever their historic relationships.

A British official said: “I don’t think Obama is steeped in the tradition of the special relationship going back to Churchill and Roosevelt. Of course someone of his generation is going to look at it differently. I think what he looks at are the assets that are brought to the table and the expertise you have. This is a definite change of emphasis.”

In the six decades since … Winston Churchill first coined the phrase “special relationship,” successive American presidents have paid ritual obeisance to the notion that Britain should assume a place at the White House top table.

Now even allies of Mr. Obama believe he intends to extract a higher price for access to the corridors of his power.

Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation think tank, who has links with the higher echelons of the Obama administration, said that Britain would be expected to make sacrifices in return for influence.

Mr. Obama’s approach was “all about putting a price on access and a price on the relationship,” he said. “I think Obama does believe that this is a time of historical change. He wants to push reset on a lot of things. He thinks old patterns, old framings can get you into trouble, particularly when you’re trying to encourage different parts of the world.” …

The conventional wisdom, which Mr. Obama has done little to dispel, is that he is less anglophile than his predecessors. He hailed the resilience of America’s Founding Fathers against the British “enemy” in his inauguration speech and devoted 35 pages of his memoir, Dreams From My Father, to his grandfather’s torture under British colonial rule during Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion.

The British-U.S. relationship can only be fully understood when viewed in its true historical context, explained in rich detail in Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. And as much as President Obama would like to push reset on these ties, biblical prophecy shows that America’s fate is inextricably linked with that of Britain. The weakening of the relationship will only weaken both countries and make them more vulnerable to being trampled by ascendant powers. Read about the stunning prophecy of their simultaneous fall in our article “Band of Brothers.”


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Why do we pay tax when we’re here fighting for Britain?

Soldier tackles Brown on Afghan visit as PM urges talks with the Taliban

DailyMail By Glen Owen, 30th August 2009

A brave young British soldier challenged Gordon Brown face-to-face yesterday over why our troops in Afghanistan have to pay tax – while American soldiers don’t.

The confrontation occurred shortly after the Prime Minister – on a surprise visit to Afghanistan – signalled for the first time that he would be prepared to sit down with the Taliban to broker a political solution to the war in Afghanistan.

He also pledged that the number of specialised troops trained to tackle Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) – the deadly roadside bombs that have blighted the mission – be doubled to 400 within a year.

As Mr Brown chatted about football to a group of Welsh Guards over lunch at a British military base in Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province, 20-year-old Lance Corporal Dean Byfield politely inquired if he could ask a more serious question.

Showing no signs of nerves, he asked the Prime Minister: ‘Why do we have to pay tax while we are out here?’

Mr Brown, taken aback by the direct approach, explained that as a British soldier, Lance Corporal Byfield is technically a UK employee and therefore his income is taxed back home, even though he is stationed overseas.

Keen to show his interest in their financial concerns, Mr Brown asked L/Cpl Byfield, from Valley, in Anglesey, North Wales, what he and his comrades received while serving in Afghanistan.

Appearing to offer some hope that they might get more, he said: ‘Every year we look at these things and at what is happening at different grades.

‘I hope, nevertheless, that you have found your service here rewarding. You are doing a very important job.’

The Prime Minister joined the troops for a light lunch of sandwiches, fruit and crisps, under a shaded canopy during a two-hour tour of Lashkar Gah.

British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have long envied their American counterparts who get tax-free salaries when they are fighting overseas.

France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands all offer extra allowances to boost their soldiers’ pay packets. German troops even get a Christmas bonus.

New recruits in the Australian army get a basic salary of £19,000 with extra money for ‘inconveniences’ – such as working at weekends – which takes their pay to nearly £24,000.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘Deployed personnel receive an Operational Allowance, a tax-free lump sum paid into salaries at the end of deployments.’

The allowance of £2,380 is paid on top of a minimum £1,194 longer separation allowance to a private soldier deployed on their first operation overseas – bringing the pay to a minimum of £20,255.

The spokesman said: ‘Deployed personnel receive an operational allowance, rather than tax-free pay, because it brings most benefit to lower ranks who pay less tax.’

But after Mr Brown left, L/Cpl Byfield said soldiers on active duty should not have to pay tax. ‘I think it is wrong – we are out here fighting for our country, paying tax.’

L/Cpl Byfield’s mum laughed when The Mail on Sunday broke the news about his direct question to the Prime Minister.

‘He’s honest and straight-talking – that’s typical of him,’ said Sharon Jones, 40.

‘Dean’s a very loyal lad who cares a great deal for his mates.

‘He’s right to raise the point – the lads should not have to pay taxes when they are in a war zone.’

The family of Corporal Kevin Mulligan, 26, of 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, yesterday paid tribute to him as he was buried in his home town of Alloa, Clackmannanshire.

They said: ‘Today it was clear that Kevin was loved and will be remembered fondly by so many people he met in his short life.’

It came as a Royal Marine was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan  just hours before Mr Brown’s visit, bringing the British death toll to 208.


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Related Links:

Fugal Cafe: Snub the Brits – Embarrassing “Change” We Can Count on in Obama’s White House

Michelle Malkin: Lockerbie cover-up: What is the White House trying to hide?

Guardian: UK’s special relationship with US needs to be recalibrated, Obama tells ex-pats in Britain

TimesOnLine: Arrogant and joyless: Obama’s take on Britain?

Heritage: Barack Obama must preserve the special relationship: Great Britain is America’s most reliable friend

CFR: Remarks by President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, March 2009

Firm: Explosives analysis concludes semtex theory “scientifically implausible” in Pan Am 103 explosion

DailyMail (UK): No.10 turns on Obama and Clinton for criticising decision to release Lockerbie bomber

DailyMail (UK): Lockerbie bomber may beat cancer (but wasn’t he sent back to Libya to die?)


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Times Picayne EDITORIAL We’re Counting on You, Mr. President — General Russel Honore Speaks at Coca-Cola Video — Bayou Buzz: General Russell Honore To Run Vs David Vitter In Louisiana US Race? — In radio address, Obama vows not to forget lessons of Katrina — In the Lower 9th Ward, joy and sorrow collide four years after Hurricane Katrina — State attorney general refuses to reopen Memorial Medical Center euthanasia investigation — Priest washed away by Katrina will be remembered by his parishioners —


WhatimissthemostWhat I miss the most….. Photo by Gayle Jenkins

Echoes of Hurricane Katrina

On August 29, Katrina’s storm surge caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans submerging eighty percent of the city. A June 2007 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers indicated that two-thirds of the flooding were caused by the multiple failures of the city’s floodwalls. Not mentioned were the flood gates that were not closed.

The storm surge also devastated the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama, making Katrina the most destructive and costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, and the deadliest hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. The total damage from Katrina is estimated at $81.2 billion (2005 U.S. dollars), nearly double the cost of the previously most expensive storm, Hurricane Andrew, when adjusted for inflation.

As of May 19, 2006, the confirmed death toll (total of direct and indirect deaths) stood at 1,836, mainly from Louisiana (1,577) and Mississippi (238). However, 705 people remain categorized as missing in Louisiana, and many of the deaths are indirect, but it is almost impossible to determine the exact cause of some of the fatalities.

Federal disaster declarations covered 90,000 square miles (233,000 km²) of the United States, an area almost as large as the United Kingdom. The hurricane left an estimated three million people without electricity. On September 3, 2005, Homeland SecurityMichael Chertoff described the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as “probably the worst catastrophe, or set of catastrophes,” in the country’s history, referring to the hurricane itself plus the flooding of New Orleans.

Source:  Wiki


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EDITORIAL

We’re Counting on You, Mr. President

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

Tomorrow we will mark the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which claimed the lives of 1,400 Louisianians and nearly killed a great American city. We will miss having you in our midst.

We know you don’t lack passion for our community and its recovery. Though you haven’t been here as president, as a senator you visited five times after Katrina. We remember well the fervor of your speech at Tulane University on your last visit, a year and a half ago.

“I promise you that when I’m in the White House, I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington’s end of the bargain,” you said then. “This will be a priority of my presidency. And I will make it clear to members of my administration that their responsibilities don’t end in places like the 9th Ward; they begin in places like the 9th Ward.”

We await the fulfillment of many of these promises. We are grateful for the federal aid that has flowed our way, including $14.7 billion in improvements to levees and drainage and other storm protection measures. And under your administration, the federal recovery bureaucracy has been eased, as even Republican officials here acknowledge.

But much remains to be done.

The wetlands and barrier islands that are the first defense of Louisiana’s energy coast must be restored if we are to survive long term.

Flood protection on a massive scale, the ultimate rampart the Netherlands saw fit to build, should be our model as well, a vital safeguard against a Category 5 storm and its surge. Such a substantial commitment, you told our reporter this week, “remains a strong goal.” For us and for the nation, it’s a vital necessity.

The economic revitalization of a new medical facility to replace the destroyed Charity Hospital would give New Orleans a shot in the arm it desperately needs. We urge you to see to it that the stalled project moves forward.

Our community is resilient and hard-working. Together with volunteers from around the country, we are striving to make this a better place than it was before the storm, with renovated houses, vastly improved schools and a unique culture that’s as vibrant as ever.

But there’s no substitute for the focus, the energy, the commitment that a president alone can bestow. There’s no substitute for you, as president, seeing our recovery and its halting progress with your own eyes, for taking time to walk in our shoes. So we ask you to bring your considerable intellect, your problem-solving ability, your influence to bear. When a president pays attention, so does the nation.

In the past week, we have hosted several of your Cabinet secretaries. We are grateful for their visits. We were especially impressed with Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan. On this, his third visit since his appointment, he brought his entire senior team with him and committed himself to “building back not just what was there, but building back better and stronger.”

That was music to our ears. But it would be a sweeter sound coming from you and spoken on location.


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General Russell Honore To Run Vs David Vitter In Louisiana US Race?

Written by: BayouBuzz Staff, Friday-August-28-2009

In a breaking story, The Louisiana Weekly and Bayoubuzz.com have learned that the hero of Hurricane recovery, General Russell Honore is seriously considering entering the Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate seat against incumbent David Vitter.   Honore, a Republican since the Reagan Administration and a registered Louisiana voter from his Zachary home, has spoken to friends and supporters in the last two weeks signaling that he is, according to one, “more than 50% sure that he will run.”

The news comes mere hours after Third District Congressman Charlie Melancon announced his firm intention to be the Democratic challenger to David Vitter in the fall of 2010.  Melancon, who represents the critical swing areas of Central Acadiana–a region known for crowing statewide candidates–has already proven a serious obstacle for the incumbent Senator to keep his job.

Even if Vitter should emerge victorious from the closed Republican primary, a bruising fight against Honore could leave the Senator financially and visibly weakened before the onslaught of a Moderate Democrat like Melancon–one of the leaders of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Caucus in the House.

While polls show Vitter as the clear favorite in both the primary and the general election, one very senior Louisiana Republican predicted that if Honore runs, “He wins.”   As that GOP party elder further explained to the www.louisianaweekly.com and Bayoubuzz on the promise of confidentiality, “All he has to say is ‘Stuck on Stupid’, and Vitter is toast.”

Military voters, who constitute a plurality of the Republican electorate, will flock to Honore, and the party leader in question also believes that the General’s race will matter to primary voters less than his social stands.   Honore admitted through aides to the Weekly that he is “pro-life and pro-family”.

In fact, Charlie Melancon’s announcement video centered on his relative social and fiscal conservatism as well, citing his support for small business tax cuts, a balanced budget, higher military and veteran spending.  He only said he was a Democrat once, but with the words, “I’m a pro-life, pro-gun, Southern Democrat. I have an “A” rating with the NRA, and I have been an avid hunter and fisherman my entire life.

I am a proud centrist — a Blue Dog — a straight-up-the-middle fighter for he little guy who is struggling to make ends meet.  That’s why my most rewarding moment as a Congressman came from a partnership with private organizations, Republicans, and Democrats after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We came together to alleviate the suffering and ensure people received the help they needed.   Party politics was the last thing on my mind. I got into public service to help people, period.”

The word “Independent” was Melancon’s most common theme in his announcement speech, eschewing partisanship with the words, “Well, first, those insiders in Washington need to spend A LOT less time scoring political points or sticking it to the other guy — they need to come out of their corners and bring people together. Because no matter if you are in Mamou or Monroe, it’s not whether it’s a Republican idea or a Democratic idea – the only question is: does it make sense for Louisiana?”

… The challenge for David Vitter are polls that on the surface look strong, but may turn weak when faced by a strong primary challenger like Honore’ and a general election contender like Melancon.   No one has polled Honore in a head to head contest with Vitter.  None the less, the Senator’s internal polling with Republican primary voters remains strong, over seventy percent, yet only half of the general electorate strong approves of the job the incumbent U.S. Senator is doing, on the surface a strange result in an increasingly GOP state that went for McCain by twenty points.

The DSCC Chair reported courted Melancon with the truism that John Treen and others have often noted about the nature of Louisiana state elections, “All things being equal, Cajuns vote for Cajuns. “In every statewide race where a candidate faced someone “who was either Cajun or represented Acadiana in Congress”, he or she lost, regardless of which political party in which he or she was registered..

The only two historic exceptions to that rule, the one-time political strategist and brother of Gov. Dave Treen noted, were the first Roemer/Edwards Gubernatorial race, where extenuating factors of court cases and corruption sealed the incumbent’s fate and the 2004 Senate race where Democratic divisions did essentially the same thing.

U.S. Senator David Vitter likely hopes that extenuating circumstances will also protect his incumbency against his newest Cajun challenger, Congressman Charlie Melancon, though they are less likely than in the past, especially if the incumbent has a bruising primary battle against a General who was dubbed “the John Wayne who saved us after Katrina”.   Honore has the status of a demi-God amongst some voters who were trapped in a devastated city after the storm.  His presence and command rescued and fed thousands trapped in the aftermath of the floodwaters breech…

And, while Mary Landrieu’s 2008 re-election showed that electing a Democrat to the U.S. Senate remained possible in increasing Republican-leaning Louisiana, she had Obama’s coattails.  Now according to the latest Gallup polls, the President’s job approval rating stands at 52%, drastically down from the overwhelming support he had at his inaugural.  That signals a public backlash and a GOP revival.   Of course, if Honore is the GOP candidate instead of Vitter, he could benefit from these trends.   But then again, so could the incumbent Senator.

Still, Vitter cannot do what others like Woody Jenkins and Suzie Terrell attempted with Mary Landrieu, brand Melancon as socially out of sink with Louisiana voters. The Napoleonville Democrat is ardently pro-life and opposes same sex marriage.

And, all things being equal, Cajuns DO vote for Cajuns.   Whether Republicans will vote for an African-American hero General over their own incumbent GOP Senator remains to be seen…


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In radio address, Obama vows not to forget lessons of Katrina

by Philip Elliott, The Associated Press

Saturday August 29, 2009, 9:07 AM

President Barack Obama promised Saturday that his administration would not forget what he called a tragic response to Hurricane Katrina. He said he would visit the still-recovering New Orleans before the end of the year.

Obama has already dispatched 11 members of the Cabinet to the region to inspect progress and to hear directly local ideas on how to speed up repairs to a region destroyed by flooding four years ago this weekend.

“None of us can forget how we felt when those winds battered the shore, the floodwaters began to rise and Americans were stranded on rooftops and in stadiums,” Obama said during his weekly radio and Internet address, released while he is vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.

“Whole neighborhoods of a great American city were left in ruins. Communities across the Gulf Coast were forever changed. And many Americans questioned whether government could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis.”

Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and leaving behind more than $40 billion in property damage. Hurricane Rita followed almost a month later, with billions of dollars in additional damage and at least 11 more deaths.

Obama acknowledged that recovery has not come at an acceptable pace despite recent moves to speed up the process.

“I have also made it clear that we will not tolerate red tape that stands in the way of progress or the waste that can drive up the bill,” said Obama. “Government must be a partner — not an opponent — in getting things done.”

Obama’s FEMA chief, Craig Fugate, has been cited by Gulf Coast officials and Obama administration officials alike for breaking through the gridlock that has delayed recovery.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., recently said he had a lot of respect for Fugate and his team. “There is a sense of momentum and a desire to get things done,” he said of the career emergency official.

In half a year, Obama’s team says it has cleared at least 75 projects that were in dispute, including libraries, schools and university buildings.

Even so, many towns remain broken, littered with boarded-up houses and overgrown vacant lots. Hundreds of projects — including critical needs such as sewer lines, fire stations and a hospital — are entangled in the bureaucracy or federal-local disputes over who should pick up the tab.

“No more turf wars,” Obama said. “All of us need to move forward together, because there is much more work to be done,” he said.


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Ailhouetted man walks past a store window selling Mardi Gras souvenirs along Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans

Photograph: Shannon Stapleton


In the Lower 9th Ward, joy and sorrow collide four years after Hurricane Katrina

by Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune

Saturday August 29, 2009, 3:38 PM

In the Lower 9th Ward, bright red and orange tailored suits and plumes contrasted sharply Saturday with the empty concrete slabs and shoulder-high grass that still dominate this part of New Orleans.

Amid the lasting ruin at Galvez Street near Jourdan Avenue — near the place where the Industrial Canal ruptured badly, submerging every home here and sweeping many off their foundations — hundreds of native New Orleanians gathered to mark the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

It seemed that everyone — from the men of two social aid and pleasure clubs, the Revolution and Nine Times, to the hundreds parade-watchers — carried their joy with sorrow…

Longtime New Orleans organizer Malcolm Suber recalled how, as the first anniversary of Katrina approached, he got a $60,000 grant to support the commemoration and raised $40,000 more with a few phone calls.

He would call and people would say, “I’ll send a check,” he said. To him, the parade’s large proportion of newcomers showed that some of the activists once packed events like this have scattered. Suber also felt that more longtime New Orleanians either celebrated quietly with their families or treated Saturday as a regular day. “A lot of people are trying to put Katrina behind them,” he said.

As the parade passed a half-block away, Vernell Smith, 36, and his daughter Aaliyah, 7, paid little notice as they aimed a garden hose at a dusty air-conditioning filter in the backyard of a blonde-brick house on Derbigny Street. The family moved back about a year ago, after moving around and crowding in with family for too long, Smith said, moving in when the house was barely livable.

Though elbow grease has made the place home again, Smith was said he was commemorating Katrina in his own way, fixing it up just a little more.

Unlike the family across the street, who had stayed behind and drowned, Smith and his family fled Katrina to high ground Uptown. But they got marooned once the flood rose to about seven feet, recalled said. “We was in my grandma’s house,” Aaliyah said in a soft voice.

She remembered getting on her daddy’s back to get through the water, how no one could take a bath or use the restroom and how the helicopters came to get them and how she cried with her younger sister after they were pulled to safety.

Then the girl fell silent. She looked down at her little white sandals as her father described their rescue. She then began rocking a little and singing, her little voice clear but quiet: “Wade in the water. God’s going to get you in the water, please.”

“Daddy, did bad people make the storm come?” she asked. “No, no,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “That was nature.”


17oped2Memorial Medical Center on Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans, its patients and staff steeped in floodwaters for days after Katrina. Airboats finally were used to evacuate survivors from the complex. Photo: Bill Haber / AP


State attorney general refuses to reopen Memorial Medical Center euthanasia investigation

by Mary Foster, The Associated Press

Friday August 28, 2009, 9:49 PM

Louisiana’s top prosecutor said Friday he will not reopen a probe into allegations of euthanasia at a hospital crippled by Hurricane Katrina, despite new statements from a doctor that he drugged a terminal patient to “get rid of her faster.”

Dr. Ewing Cook said that as staff at Memorial Medical Center desperately tried to care for and evacuate patients, making spot assessments of which ones might survive, he scribbled “pronounced dead at” on the patient’s chart, intending to fill in time and other details later.

“I gave her medicine so I could get rid of her faster, get the nurses off the floor, ” Cook told ProPublica, an independent nonprofit investigative organization, in a report to be published Sunday in The New York Times Magazine. “There’s no question I hastened her demise, ” he said.

Cook, who was a senior physician at the hospital when the storm hit, said state investigators who previously looked into the Memorial deaths never interviewed him.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said Friday he would not reopen a probe launched by his predecessor, Charles Foti, in which another doctor and two nurses were arrested on charges of second-degree homicide. A grand jury declined to indict them.

Any new charges, Caldwell said, would be up to New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who said Friday he had not seen Cook’s statements.

“If new evidence comes forward, we would consider it, ” Cannizzaro said. “But the crux of the matter is intent. To prove murder, we must be able to prove intent.”

The hospital lost power and was surrounded by floodwaters for days after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Temperatures inside soared above 100 degrees, and 34 patients died. Medical examiners concluded many of them would have died regardless of the hospital staff’s actions.

On Friday, Cook defended his decision to increase the morphine drip to Jannie Burgess, 79, who was dying of uterine cancer and kidney failure.

“It was hot, over 100 degrees, four nurses were trapped on the floor caring for her, and we could not get her down, ” he told The Associated Press. If the hurricane had not hit, Cook said, the dosage still might have been increased.

“People who get the drugs we are talking about frequently build up a tolerance, so you have to increase the dose, ” Cook said. “But when you do that, every doctor knows what will happen.”

Cancer surgeon Anna Pou and the nurses have denied Foti’s allegations that they killed patients with overdoses of a “lethal cocktail” of sedative-painkiller mix, and Cook scoffed at Foti’s term.

“It’s not something that was mixed up on the spot, ” Cook said. “It’s always given with the intent of providing ease. The nagging side effect is that it shortens life, but you’re talking about people who are terminally ill already. They are not going to get better.”


969b61cbcf835008afa69a868a75cc79Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans, LA. Image by James Cupit


Priest washed away by Katrina will be remembered by his parishioners

by Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune

Saturday August 29, 2009, 11:23 AM

On the fourth anniversary of his storm-related death, friends of the Rev. Arthur Ginart — “Father Red” — will gather Saturday for a memorial Mass celebrating the larger-than-life character who once dominated life in a small Catholic community at New Orleans’ edge.

Old friends will assemble to remember the superloyal Saints fan with the red hair and rough-cut sense of humor, the priest who for 29 years lived simply in a trailer behind the church. They’ll also reunite for one of the few times since Hurricane Katrina.

Some hope it will be the beginning of a tradition. “We’re not going to let his memory die, ” said Linda Giroir, a friend helping organize the 4 p.m. celebration at Resurrection of Our Lord Church in eastern New Orleans.

29nwGINARTThe Rev. Arthur ‘Red’ Ginart, 1941-2005

Neither Ginart nor his parish, St. Nicholas of Myra, survived the storm. As Katrina approached, Ginart, as usual, refused to leave his low-lying church far out on Chef Menteur Highway, near the community of Venetian Isles.

Ginart’s nephew, St. Bernard Councilman Mike Ginart, said “Uncle Red” initially suggested to relatives that he would leave for safer confines at Notre Dame Seminary if Katrina seemed to be a lethal threat. But the evening of the storm, he turned aside pleas from volunteer firefighters that he leave the rectory. In previous storm seasons, Ginart’s stubbornness proved a valuable resource.

“The whole time a hurricane was going on, people would call Father Red. He’d tell them whether there were alligators on the church steps, how much water was rushing through the Chef Pass, ” Giroir said. “This time, we should’ve made him leave. But second thoughts are no good now.”

Shattered and dispersed

Katrina’s winds and surge destroyed the church four days past Ginart’s 64th birthday. His body was never recovered. Months later, the Archdiocese of New Orleans closed the little parish.

A few weeks after the storm, the archdiocese celebrated a memorial Mass for Ginart in Baton Rouge, its residence in exile. And on a crisp fall day, Archbishops Alfred Hughes and Philip Hannan led family and friends in another memorial outdoors in front of the bare skeleton of the ruined church, Giroir said.

But since then, Giroir said members of the church community have scattered. And some still feel the need to come together occasionally in his memory.

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Ginart grew up Irish in the 9th Ward, a ruddy extrovert whose earthly passions included a 1950s jukebox in his trailer-rectory, celebrating St. Patrick Day at Parasol’s in the Irish Channel, and the Saints, for whom he sometimes exhorted extra prayers after Mass — or blistered, when they were foundering.

Giroir said that during the woeful days of the “Aints, ” he once followed his altar boys away from the altar with a paper bag over his head, his shoulders heaving with silent laughter as the congregation laughed aloud.

While Ginart was protective of his remote parish, he also didn’t relish sharing living space with others during an evacuation, his nephew said. “He didn’t do well with other priests, ” Ginart said. “He was very set in his ways.”

In nearly 30 years at St. Nicholas, he promised families in the small, tightly knit parish that he would quit rather than take another assignment.

“Our parish was not a place to go to church, it was a whole family. It used to take us as long to leave church as it did for Father Red to say Mass, ” Giroir said. “People would tell each other where the fish were biting, whether the crabs were running. It was one big family atmosphere.”

29nwginart

Wounds linger

Giroir said parishioners still feel a sense of loss. Since the storm, many have scattered to other churches. The Giroirs sometimes attend nearby Mary, Queen of Vietnam, which hosted a memorial to Ginart last year, Giroir said. “They’re so gracious, so welcoming. You can’t say enough for them, but that’s such a big parish, and you don’t see your friends there, ” she said.

Giroir said that after the archdiocese closed St. Nicholas, parishioners offered to rebuild on their own and asked for a part-time priest. She said they sent petitions to the archdiocese, but never heard anything back. “We’ve never healed from losing Father Red, ” Giroir said. “A lot of people I talked to stopped going to church because of Father Red’s death. That’s no excuse, I know.

But the archdiocese has not done anything to help us heal those wounds.” Archdiocesan spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey noted the two memorials services for Ginart led by Hughes, but said she could not say whether an archdiocesan representative visited parishioners to discuss the closure with them.

Giroir said a few members of what was once the parish’s ladies altar society still have a little money. She said they want to use a bit every year to memorialize Ginart: to put a plaque in his honor in another church, or perhaps buy a bench under an oak tree at Resurrection of Our Lord parish. “We’re going to have a memorial Mass for him every year, ” Giroir said. “We’re going to use the money for little gestures for him. “We’re not going to let his memory die.”


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New Orleans Churches – Photo and Story Credit Bob Moria

Legend has it that St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of mariners, once prayed over a fierce storm and calmed the rolling waters for a group of seamen. During four decades of hurricane seasons, it often seemed he was doing the same for the Rev. Arthur “Red” Ginart, pastor of St. Nicholas of Myra Church on Lake Catherine.

“Every hurricane we ever had, he never left,” former parishioner Lorraine Hagen said. “He would say, ‘This is my place; I have to stay.”

… Ginart put his gregarious, people-loving stamp on the parish, becoming legendary — and beloved — for his plainspoken sermons and half-hour Masses.

“He was something else,” parishioner Jan Parr said. “He could say more in four or five minutes than most priests could say in half an hour.” Ginart would say he liked to get Mass over with so that he could have more time to talk to church-goers afterward. “He just loved people,” Michael Ginart said.

Frequent topics of conversation included the fire department — Ginart, whose firefighter brother died on the job, was a volunteer fireman and fire department chaplain — and the New Orleans Saints. His devotion to the team was so great, he once renamed the drive leading into the church “Saints Avenue,” and an adjoining street “Who Dat Lane,” Hagen said…]


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Related Links:

Times-Piscayne:  Katina Animation

NOLA: Now & Then Flash Animation

C&L: Has Obama’s Post-Katrina Gulf Coast Recovery Plan Been Sufficient? (Good Video)

Satellite images of Biloxi, Mississippi, before and after

NerdModo: Natural Disasters captured from Space

Publica: The Deadly Choices at Memorial

NOAA : HURRICANE KATRINA — MOST DESTRUCTIVE HURRICANE EVER TO STRIKE THE U.S.

WBRZ: Katrina general: Residents must prepare for hurricanes


end

The president schedules a post-vacation vacation — Blues Brothers (Sweet Home Chicago) Music Video — Obama Curtails Vacation for Kennedy’s Funeral — Obama sticks with vacation — Marijuana growers may be adversely affected by Obama’s ‘private’ visit — Obama, Working Quite Hard at Taking It Easy — Bike-safety groups take President Obama head on after ride without helmet


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The sun rising over the town of Vineyard Haven on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Getty Images


Six and three is nine
Nine and nine is eighteen
Look there brother baby and
you'll see what I've seen

Hida-hey, baba don't you want to go
Back to that same old place
Sweet home Chicago

082509Obamagolf03

President Obama is at the Vineyard Golf Club again Friday afternoon, making this the fourth day this week he’s gone golfing.

Clinton took a 17-day vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 1995, and went six times to Martha’s Vineyard, spending up to three weeks at a time in the bucolic spot. Both Presidents Bush enjoyed long vacations: George H. W. routinely spent the month of August at his family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, while his son, George W., spent the hot summer month on his ranch… two of Obama’s friends, Harvard professors Charles Ogletree and Henry Louis “Skip’’ Gates, regularly vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

Celebrity sightings don’t cause much of a stir on the island, where the 15,000 permanent residents and 85,000 summer visitors have an unspoken agreement to leave each other in peace…  Boston Globe


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The president schedules a post-vacation vacation

USA Today, By Kathy Kiely, Aug 27, 2009

Let’s face it: In terms of downtime, President Obama’s vacation has been a bit of a gyp.

First, he had to interrupt his R&R to renominate Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Then he got the bad news about his friend Ted Kennedy.

And then there are the latest dispatches from the summer of no love for the nation’s lawmakers and what they might mean for the president’s No. 1 legislative priority, an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.

USA TODAY’s Rich Wolf, on Martha’s Vineyard, reports that the president and first lady Michelle Obama will interrupt their stay on the island to head to Boston tomorrow night. The president is scheduled to deliver a eulogy at Kennedy’s funeral Saturday.

So the president appears to be cramming in as much fun as possible, Rich notes in this file:

On Thursday, no sooner had he returned from bike riding at the far western end of Martha’s Vineyard than he embarked on his third golf game of the week at the eastern end. Today’s course: the 7,012-yard Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown, known as the island’s toughest.

Even so, deputy White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling with the president that Obama will take a few more days off once he returns to Washington next week: Obama will be headed home by Sunday but plans to head up to the presidential retreat, Camp David, in the middle of the week.

“He’s looking to get a break from his vacation,” Burton deadpanned. “Obviously, some things have come up over the course of the week.”


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Good Bye Teddy, RIP…


Obama Curtails Vacation for Kennedy’s Funeral

By Helene Cooper, NYT Blog, 27 Aug 2009

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. — President Obama will interrupt his holiday Friday night to fly to Boston so that he can attend the funeral services of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a White House spokesman said.

With Tropical Storm Danny heading toward New England on Saturday, Mr. Obama doesn’t want to take any chances, administration officials said.

So Mr. Obama, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, will fly to Boston late Friday night, leaving their daughters Malia and Sasha on Martha’s Vineyard.

The Obamas will spend the night in Boston and attend the funeral Saturday morning, when the president will deliver the eulogy for Senator Kennedy. The mass begins at 10:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica on Tremont Street…


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Edgartown: Chappaquiddick Bill Greene / Globe Staff

Chappaquiddick received national attention in 1969 when Ted Kennedy drove off Dike’s Bridge and was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Just over Dike’s Bridge is East Beach, a peaceful beach away from the crowded beaches on the main island.


Obama sticks with vacation

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. — He picked a Fed chairman and lost a close political friend, but through it all, President Barack Obama has tried to carry on with the vacation he set out to have here — strolling the beach, taking his daughters for a bike ride, playing golf.

More duties await — he’s working on the eulogy he’ll deliver for Sen. Ted Kennedy on Saturday. And there’s a chance Tropical Storm Danny will bring him back to Washington a day early. The White House is already saying Obama needs a “break from his vacation” — a way of explaining his third trip this month, on Wednesday, to Camp David, where he’ll stay through the weekend.

It all contributed to a sense, expressed by some on Martha’s Vineyard, that Obama was here but never really here — a visitor who ventured out, to be sure, but rarely plunged into public view.

And for some, it drew the obvious comparison to the last presidential tourist, Bill Clinton, who often was seen about town during his two vacations here, even at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It is likely the result of both temperament and timing that had one president traipsing about the island and seeing the locals in all six towns and another mostly dining and golfing in private.

The locals and tourists are still hoping for a glimpse, passing around tips about where Obama might show up next. Yet, as Obama prepares to wrap up his vacation, there have been few sightings, and even fewer opportunities for locals and tourists to actually meet the president during his family vacation.

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“I just sense a disappointment. Everyone was so excited to see him and there is all this space between him and the crowd,” said Nancy Shai, who has owns Vineyard Jewelry and has been on the island since 1997. “But I don’t know what people expect — he has kids with him, his wife, and to be part of the regular crowd, I don’t know how safe that is.”

Shai also said that the Obama economic boomlet proprietors had hoped for never materialized — people are looking, but not buying so much.

During his stay, Obama has spent about 10 hours at various golf courses, dined out with his wife, Michelle, and got take out from Nancy’s, a local restaurant, then went to senior adviser Valerie Jarrett’s home to eat. He also went to the private beach near his Chilmark rental, had a bike ride with Malia and Sasha and toured a historic lighthouse.

Summing up his stay so far, the local paper, The Martha’s Vineyard Times, put it this way in a Thursday headline: “President stays busy, mostly out of sight.”

The Clinton comparison — possibly not entirely fair given that Clinton’s visits came before the Sept. 11 attacks — comes up easily for most island locals and regulars here because Clinton seemed to be everywhere.

Shai, like so many others, had a Clinton story to tell and remembers him hanging out in the arcade, eating ice cream, buying souvenirs in shops. And she even got to shake his hand.

“When you meet him, it’s like, all he sees is you, and it’s kind of like, wow. He does have a way about him,” she said.

It’s not clear how many Vineyarders will go away feeling a similar connection with Obama, who shook a few hands when he dined out and waved and shook a few more hands when he grabbed take out.

“He’s so close and so far. I wish he were out and about more,” said Carolyn Daniele, who lives in Edgartown and had a Clinton sighting in the ’90s. “I’d love to see him, but I’m never going to see him.”


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Marijuana growers may be adversely affected by Obama’s ‘private’ visit

By: Jeff Dufour and Kiki Ryan
Washington Examiner
08/23/09 4:54 PM EDT

The residents of Martha’s Vineyard are not unfamiliar with high-profile visitors. In fact, most residents of the small New England island are welcoming President Barack Obama and the economic boost his family’s visit is expected to generate. But one cottage industry isn’t so happy about it — the island’s small cadre of marijuana farmers.

“The word was that some of the island marijuana growers actually had to get their crops in early,” said Mike Seccombe, a senior writer for the Vineyard Gazette, in an NPR interview Sunday morning. “They thought the helicopters scoping the place out for the president may have had something to do with drug enforcement.”

Seccombe was explaining how Obama was different than past visitors just as the president was preparing to leave for the island to start his family’s weeklong vacation, rough weather from Hurricane Bill causing a delay.

As Seccombe explained, Saturday marked the arrival of “40 [sport utility vehicles] full of guys in dark suits,” security preparations not seen in visits by previous power players like President Bill Clinton. But all the security may remain in hiding for most of the trip. “We don’t expect to see quite as much [of Obama as we did of Clinton], who loved to get out and about. … According to the briefing we got from Robert Gibbs, the Obamas have no scheduled public engagements.”

Gibbs also delivered a stern warning to the media: “It is our strong hope and desire that you all, during this family vacation, will respect the privacy of Sasha and Malia Obama. This is a strong request by the first family.”

But that’s not to say local business are not hoping to get a visit from the first family or, at the very least, cash in from their visit to the island.

Reports are saying businesses have cardboard cutouts of Obama in their windows, street vendors are selling shirts with the first family’s portrait, and some local sweet shops have named ice cream flavors and cupcakes after their famous guests.

Besides Obama, those guests may include Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods, both of whom are rumored to be joining the Obamas this week, Seccombe said.


Obama Vacation


Obama, Working Quite Hard at Taking It Easy

By Michael D. Shear, Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, August 28, 2009

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. — Give the guy credit for trying.

President Obama came to this tiny, upscale island of Martha’s Vineyard for a break from his day job, a week-long respite from the angry town halls and the pessimistic pundits and the Democratic lawmakers who just won’t seem to fall into line. It was supposed to be a vacation.

But alas, the modern presidency hardly grants full escapes. There is, the 44th president is quickly discovering, no way to shrug off the burdens of the economy, the adoring crowds who hold digital cameras high over their heads, or — it sadly turns out — the vagaries of life and death…

“The death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was not, and the passing of his friend and onetime colleague — which he learned about from an aide at 2 a.m. — has injected a somber tone into what was supposed to be a lighthearted week.

Obama plans to eulogize Kennedy at the senator’s funeral Saturday morning in Boston, making the brief hop from Martha’s Vineyard to the mainland and then returning to Blue Heron Farm, his rented getaway, for one more night free from the humid weather — and all the hot air — in Washington.

… An appropriate pace — the likes of which we haven’t seen since Bush I — for a slightly obsessed president who brought the highly secure presidential BlackBerry to his seaside vacation. (Maybe it’s that New England air.) He has been wearing it “intermittently,” a White House aide admitted.

Thursday, the first family hopped on bikes for a beach-side ride in Aquinnah, a town on the southwest tip of Martha’s Vineyard, where rocky cliffs soar above the crystal-blue water. Dressed in a dark shirt, Obama rode, without a helmet, ahead of the group, which included Michelle (orange tank top!), Malia (pink cap sleeves!) and Sasha (bright yellow short sleeves and turquoise shorts!) as locals gathered along Lobsterville Road to snap pictures.

… The president’s image was everywhere on this island. One store replaced the face of a life-size likeness of fictional pirate Jack Sparrow with Obama’s mug. Another plastered a photo of the first family on its window. The display of a T-shirt shop features several variations of the “I vacationed with Obama” shirt. An ice cream parlor touted two specials: The “Magnificent Malia Milkshake” and the “Sashalicious Smoothie.”

Most island veterans seemed content to play the “where will the president go?” game, trading gossip about where they’d seen the Secret Service in the previous days. Rumors on the island suggested — incorrectly — that the first tourist might take his girls to an aquarium or to dine at a ritzy club.

Tuesday night, as word bounced around Oak Bluffs that Obama would eat at the Caribbean-inspired Deon’s, residents and vacationers ran down Circuit Avenue and massed in front of the restaurant, eagerly clutching their cameras. A half-hour later, Obama’s motorcade pulled up a block farther down the street for the first couple’s dinner at the Sweet Life Cafe…


US-POLITICS-OBAMA-VACATIONNO Helmet? I’m Shocked…


Bike-safety groups take President Obama head on after ride without helmet

DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS, BY David Saltonstall In Oak Bluffs, Mass., and Michael Saul In New York

Friday, August 28th 2009

Perhaps President Obama didn’t want to look uncool on his bike ride Thursday, but his decision to skip the helmet had safety experts banging their heads.

Obama, on vacation with his family in Martha’s Vineyard, joined the First Lady and his daughters yesterday for a ride in Aquinnah, a town at the western, most rural end of the island.

The President appeared to be the only one with no helmet.

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group in New York, speculated the President might have been concerned about his image.

“Helmets look goofy – you look a little dorky,” he said. “When you’re the leader of the free world you have to look tough.”

White agreed it would have been better if Obama had worn his helmet, but cut him a little slack.

There’s a difference between riding on the congestion-clogged streets of Manhattan and a bucolic swath of
Massachusetts, he said.

David Mozer, director of the International Bicycle Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group in Seattle, disagreed.

“Most bike accidents just happen. Bicycles up and turn over by themselves, and head injuries are a possible consequence of that,” he said. “Head injures don’t heal well, and they can be very expensive and life-long.”

“It would be great if the President set an example,” Mozer said.

Still, Mozer conceded, “It’s really hard to get the girl when you’re wearing a helmet – they’re not real flattering.”

But he pointed out bicycling superstar Lance Armstrong looks cool in his helmet.

Last year during the campaign, Obama became the target of ridicule on the Internet when he was photographed riding with a helmet in Chicago.

Perhaps that’s why White House spokesman Bill Burton seemed mildly surprised to learn his boss was not wearing his safety gear.

“I know that he generally does wear a helmet when he rides a bicycle,” Burton told reporters. “He supports the wearing of bicycle helmets.”


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Oak Bluffs Photos by Melissa Robotti/Boston.com Staff

East Chop Light is one of five lighthouses on Martha’s Vineyard and is one of many sunset venues on the island.


Related Previous Posts:

CBO Summer Updater 09: Weak Revenues, Elevated Spending, Economic Downturn, And Financial Turmoil

Obama Vineyard Blues: The Thrill Is Gone Baby, The Thrill Is Gone Away

Related Links:

Hot Air: “One of his favorite topics of humor was indeed Chappaquiddick itself”; Update: Audio added

ABC News: Vacation Like a President: Martha’s Vineyard on a Budget

MV Gazette: Notes From the Press Pool: Bits and Pieces Shape News

MV Times:  MV Webcams

Mises Daily: The Duplicity of Ben Bernanke

SafeHaven: The Devil We Know


Updates:  Add Related Links

end

Ben Bernanke profile: the Federal Reserve’s man at the top — Wiki: Bernanke Background — Obama nominates Fed chairman Bernanke for second term — The troubling side of Ben Bernanke — Bernanke 60 Minutes Video — The Fed’s Red Herring — Human Events Quizzes Bernanke at London School of Economics


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Ben Bernanke profile: the Federal Reserve’s man at the top

As Obama prepares to nominate him for a second term as head of the Fed, we look at the ups and ups of ‘Helicopter Ben’

Julia Kollewe and Ashley Seager, 25 August 2009

Ben Bernanke, the 55-year-old chairman of the US Federal Reserve, won the nickname “Helicopter Ben” for describing quantitative easing as akin to dropping money from helicopters in 2002. He was quoting the US economist Milton Friedman, who had said it would be theoretically possible for governments to drop large amounts of cash out of helicopters for the public to pick up and spend.

Seven years later, that policy was in effect put into practice as central banks around the world, led by the Fed, adopted quantitative easing to kickstart their economies and ward off deflation – a period of falling prices that would be highly damaging for the economy.

Faced with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, Bernanke slashed interest rates to nearly zero and pumped an unprecedented amount of money into markets to prevent the collapse of the financial system.

Bernanke, a former Princeton University professor and expert on the Great Depression, was appointed by George Bush to replace Alan Greenspan at the helm of the Fed in January 2006. He previously served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. A well-respected monetary economist, he had a high profile when working as one of the Fed governors and was one of the favourites to succeed Greenspan.

The son of a pharmacist, Bernanke was educated at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate school, where he wrote his doctorate thesis on the Great Depression, the full explanation for which he has described as “the holy grail of macroeconomics”. He was chairman of the economics department at Princeton until he joined the Federal Reserve board of governors in 2002.

He coined the phrase of fine-tuning inflation to a “Goldilocks” level: not too hot, nor too cold.

In a speech in 2002, entitled “Deflation: making sure it does not happen here”, he argued that the Fed should do whatever it took – such as cutting interest rates to zero, thereby flooding the economy with liquidity – to ensure that prices did not start falling, as had been happening in Japan for more than a decade.


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Born in Augusta, Georgia, Bernanke was raised in a ranch house on East Jefferson Street in Dillon, South Carolina. His father Philip was a pharmacist and part-time theater manager, and his mother Edna was originally a schoolteacher. He is the eldest of three children, having a brother and sister. His younger brother, Seth, is a lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his younger sister, Sharon, is a longtime administrator at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The Bernankes were one of the few Jewish families in the area, attending a local synagogue called Ohav Shalom; as a child, Bernanke learned Hebrew from his maternal grandfather Harold Friedman, who was a professional hazzan and Hebrew teacher. His father and uncle co-owned and managed a drugstore that they bought from his paternal grandfather, Jonas Bernanke. Jonas was born in Boryslav, Austria-Hungary (today part of Ukraine), on January 23, 1891, and immigrated to the United States from Przemyśl, Poland (part of Austria-Hungary until 1919).

He arrived at Ellis Island, age 30, Thursday, June 30, 1921, with his wife Pauline, age 25. On the ship’s manifest, Jonas’ occupation is listed as “clerk” and Pauline’s as “doctor med.” They moved to Dillon, South Carolina, from New York in the 1940s. Bernanke’s mother often worked there as well, having given up her job as a school teacher when he was born, and Bernanke also assisted from time to time.

Bernanke was educated at East Elementary, J. V. Martin Junior High, and Dillon High School, where he was class valedictorian. At age 11, Bernanke won the state spelling bee competition but finished 26th overall at the national competition in Washington, tripping up on the word “edelweiss.” Bernanke also taught himself calculus, edited the school newspaper, and achieved a near-perfect SAT score of 1590 out of 1600.

He was also an All-State saxophonist, playing in the school’s marching band. Bernanke spent his undergraduate years at Harvard University and graduated with a BA in economics summa cum laude in 1975. He received a PhD in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979. His thesis was named “Long-term commitments, dynamic optimization, and the business cycle” and his thesis adviser was Stanley Fischer.

Bernanke worked construction on a new hospital and waited tables at a restaurant at nearby South of the Border before leaving for college.[2][13] During the summer, he attended Camp Ramah located in New England. To support himself throughout college, he worked during the summers at South of the Border, a roadside attraction in his hometown of Dillon.

Source:  Wiki


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Obama nominates Fed chairman Bernanke for second term

‘As an expert in the causes of the Great Depression, I’m sure Ben never imagined he would be part of a team working to prevent another one,’ the US president said

Andrew Clark and Larry Elliott, 25 August 2009

President Barack Obama today nominated the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, to serve a second four-year term, delivering a vote of confidence that the US central bank chief is the right man to steer the world’s largest economy out of the deepest recession since the 1930s.

In a pre-emptive move to end speculation on the financial markets about the Fed’s leadership, Obama interrupted his summer holiday at the seaside resort of Martha’s Vineyard to announce that he wanted Bernanke to continue when his term officially ends in February. The decision is subject to ratification by Congress, where some Republicans have criticised Bernanke’s willingness to intervene in the free market.

Standing alongside Bernanke, the president praised the Fed chairman’s temperament, courage and creativity: “Ben approached a financial system on the verge of collapse with calm and wisdom, with bold action and with outside-the-box thinking that has helped put the brakes on our economic freefall.”

Obama’s decision came amid encouraging signs for the US economy. A monthly measure of consumer confidence improved sharply. The Conference Board’s index of confidence jumped from 46.6 in July to 54.1, easily exceeding analysts’ expectations. During early trading, Wall Street stocks shrugged off a new White House forecast that the budget deficit will total $9tn (£5.5tn) over the next decade to power into positive territory.

A Harvard-educated economist, Bernanke, 55, is a rare appointee from the Bush administration to find favour with the White House under President Obama. He has presided over a drop in interest rates to near zero and has helped mastermind bailout measures intended to rescue ailing financial institutions and car manufacturers.

During his academic career prior to joining the Fed, Bernanke wrote extensively on the policy mistakes which led to the Great Depression that crippled the US during the 1930s. Referring to this, Obama said: “As an expert in the causes of the Great Depression, I’m sure Ben never imagined he would be part of a team working to prevent another one.”

His willingness to pump liquidity into the economy and rescue teetering institutions has brought its share of criticism, particularly among economic conservatives who worry about the size of America’s budget deficit.

Bernanke has faced a tough time in Congressional sessions for failing to anticipate the depth of the downturn, although in a speech in Jackson Hole last week he insisted policymakers in the US and elsewhere had responded with “speed and force”.

He has attracted controversy for failing to use the Fed’s majority stake to stop the stricken insurer AIG from paying out huge bonuses to its executives, and for encouraging a contentious deal in which Bank of America bought the Wall Street brokerage Merrill Lynch.

Stephen Lewis, economist with Monument Securities, said the Bernanke Fed had reacted no more quickly to the crisis than his much-maligned predecessors in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Fed’s discount rate fell from 6% to 3% in the six months after the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, while Bernanke cut the cost of borrowing from 5.25% to 3% in the six months after the seizure in the financial markets of August 2007.

Many financiers, however, feel that the Fed boss has played a tough hand of cards with a shrewd eye. A recent Bloomberg poll of investors and financial decision-makers found that 75% held a favourable view of Bernanke’s policies.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking committee, offered only a cautious endorsement of Bernanke’s reappointment, accusing the Fed boss of acting insufficiently swiftly to aid millions of mortgage borrowers struggling to avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. Dodd said: “While I have had serious differences with the Federal Reserve over the past few years, I think reappointing chairman Bernanke is probably the right choice.”

The White House said Obama wanted to end speculation over the issue to put himself more in a “vacation mode”. Wearing an open-necked shirt at his Massachusetts bolthole, Obama said many of the measures taken over the past two years had been “steps of necessity, not choice”. The president views Bernanke as a key figure in delivering change to the financial system – including an overhaul of the US regulatory framework and tighter management of risks taken by financial institutions.

“We need Ben to continue the work he’s doing,” said Obama. “We cannot go back to an economy based on over-leveraged banks, inflated profits and maxed-out credit cards.”

One leading figure likely to be disappointed by Obama’s decision is Larry Summers, a top White House economic adviser. Summers is said to have coveted the job of chairing the Fed and was widely mooted as a successor to Bernanke.

Thanking Obama for his support, Bernanke pledged to work to the “utmost” of his abilities for “a solid foundation of growth and prosperity in an environment of price stability”. Bernanke paid tribute to the work of his colleagues at the Fed since the credit crunch began in 2007: “Through the long nights and weekends and the time away from their families, they have never lost sight of the critical importance of the work of the Fed for the economic well-being of all Americans.”


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The troubling side of Ben Bernanke

He has saved the world but he helped cause the crisis in the first place, writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

Telegraph – By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Published: 25 Aug 2009

Ben Bernanke has proved himself a heroic fire-fighter, saving world from a calamitous spiral into debt deflation by showering markets with liquidity.

A good thing too. He helped cause the raging fire of 2007-2009 in the first place. As a Princeton professor and then a junior Federal Reserve governor, Mr Bernanke was the intellectual architect of his predecessor Alan Greenspan’s policies that so distorted global finance and pushed debt to historic extremes.

Indeed, he was picked to join the Fed because he provided academic cover for Greenspan’s view that asset bubbles do not matter. He blamed credit excesses on Asia’s “saving glut”, arguing that reserve accumulation by export nations suppressed global bond yields. That let the Fed off the hook for its own role in driving the US savings rate to zero – and consumption through the roof – by holding interest rates below “Wicksell’s Natural Rate”.

It is this twin-sided nature of Bernanke that raises nagging questions about his reappointment as chairman of the Fed. He has admitted errors: it was wrong to think the sub-prime crisis could be contained. But he has yet to acknowledge that his economic ideology is deeply flawed.

Bill White, former chief economist at the Bank for International Settlements, said the error of the central banking fraternity over past 20 years has been to cut real interest rates ever lower to keep the game going. This has lured the world into a debt trap. The effect is to keep drawing prosperity from the future – until the future arrives.

“It does the job for a while but moves in interest rates have to be ever more violent to achieve the same effect. My worry is that we may have reached the point where the policy ceases to work altogether.

“These imbalances come back to haunt you, and that is where the world now is. People have been induced to bring forward purchases by taking on debt and there has been a massive expansion in corporate investment,” he said.

Economists call this critique “intertemporal misallocation”. It is a favourite of the Austrian School. It plays almost no role in the “New Keynesian” thinking of Bernanke.

His reflex is to see any fall in demand as an outside shock to be corrected by extra stimulus. What he does not accept is that the adrenal glands of the economic system have been depleted by perpetual credit stimulus, giving the world a form of Addison’s Disease.

Bernanke made his name studying the “credit channel” causes of depressions, chiefly drawing on the 1930s. He was quick to see the danger when the financial system had its heart attack on August 20, 2007, the day yields on three-month Treasuries collapsed on flight to safety.

He dusted off his manual for fighting slumps – his 2002 speech, Deflation: Making Sure It Doesn’t Happen Here – and coolly embarked on monetary revolution. Rates were slashed to zero. The Fed stepped into to prop up the banks, commercial paper, mortgage securities, and finally Treasuries. Nothing like this had been tried before. He did so against fierce resistance from Fed hawks. Only a man so convinced of his mission could have pulled it off.

Given his calmness under fire, and his grasp of credit mechanics, it makes sense for President Barack Obama to give him a second term. We are not out of danger. The markets might have taken fright at a political appointee.

Yet Bernanke’s certainty is troubling. The thrust of his academic writings is that the Depression was a “financial event” that could have been avoided if the Fed had flooded the economy with money (by bond purchases) to prevent a banking crash.

This theory – half-Friedmanite – has merits. The Fed made horrible mistakes. But it neglects other causes of the slump: industrial over-capacity created by the 1920s bubble, so like today.

It also led to the Greenspan doctrine that central banks can let stock market and housing booms run their course, stepping in to “clean up afterwards”.

Bernanke spelled out the policy bluntly in his 2002 speech. “The US Government has a technology, called a printing press, that allows it to produce as many US dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost,” he said.

The “no cost” flippancy grates now. Washington says the damage will lift the US federal debt by $9 trillion (£5.5 trillion) over the next decade, pushing the total towards 100pc of GDP. In any case, the Fed cannot use this machinery so easily after all. Foreigners own 40pc of US Treasury debt and have a partial veto on the policy. Overt attempts to “monetise” US debt will cause the policy to short-circuit. Investors will dump US bonds.

Bernanke’s theoretical model is clearly wrong – since he was blind-sided two years ago – and must lead him into fresh error. The risk is that he will mismanage the Fed’s “exit strategy” by tightening policy too soon on the false assumption that recovery is secure. He knows this was the Fed blunder of 1936-1937, but also seems to think he has basically licked our Great Recession of 2008-2009. Has he really?

As Mark Twain put it: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”


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The Provocateur

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’

The Fed’s Red Herring July 22, 2009

During Congressional hearings yesterday, the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, was again questioned vigorously by Congressman Ron Paul regarding more transparency at the Fed. Congressman Paul has introduced H.R. 1207 which would demand more transparency from the Federal Reserve.

Currently, and shockingly, the assets, liabilities, and other investments of the Federal Reserve are not open to public scrutiny nor to the scrutiny of just about anyone. No one outside the circle of the Federal Reserve has any idea just how much, and what make up, the current investment portfolio of the Federal Reserve is and how it’s doing. Here’s how Bernanke justified the limited scrutiny of the Federal Reserve.

We have recently taken additional steps to better inform the public about the programs we have instituted to combat the financial crisis. We expanded our website this year to bring together already available information as well as considerable new information on our policy programs and financial activities.

In June, we initiated a monthly report to the Congress (also posted on our website) that provides even more information on Federal Reserve liquidity programs, including breakdowns of our lending, the associated collateral, and other facets of programs established to address the financial crisis. These steps should help the public understand the efforts that we have taken to protect the taxpayer as we supply liquidity to the financial system and support the functioning of key credit markets.

The Congress has recently discussed proposals to expand the audit authority of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the Federal Reserve. As you know, the Federal Reserve is already subject to frequent reviews by the GAO. The GAO has broad authority to audit our operations and functions.

The Congress recently granted the GAO new authority to conduct audits of the credit facilities extended by the Federal Reserve to “single and specific” companies under the authority provided by section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act, including the loan facilities provided to, or created for, American International Group and Bear Stearns. The GAO and the Special Inspector General have the right to audit our TALF program, which uses funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

The Congress, however, purposefully–and for good reason–excluded from the scope of potential GAO reviews some highly sensitive areas, notably monetary policy deliberations and operations, including open market and discount window operations. In doing so, the Congress carefully balanced the need for public accountability with the strong public policy benefits that flow from maintaining an appropriate degree of independence for the central bank in the making and execution of monetary policy.

Financial markets, in particular, likely would see a grant of review authority in these areas to the GAO as a serious weakening of monetary policy independence. Because GAO reviews may be initiated at the request of members of Congress, reviews or the threat of reviews in these areas could be seen as efforts to try to influence monetary policy decisions.

A perceived loss of monetary policy independence could raise fears about future inflation, leading to higher long-term interest rates and reduced economic and financial stability. We will continue to work with the Congress to provide the information it needs to oversee our activities effectively, yet in a way that does not compromise monetary policy independence.

In other words, there’s already plenty of transparency and any more would make the Federal Reserve politicized. The Chariman worries that if the Congress knew too much, they would try and influence monetary policy. Keep in mind that the portfolio of the Federal Reserve is likely in the several trillions. Yet, the same Federal Reserve would like absolutely no sunshine on exactlyt the make up of this portfolio because they worry that too much sunshine might politicize their decision making process.

This is a total red herring. The Federal Reserve chairman and all the Governors are selected and their terms are four years. The testimony the Chairman just gave is a regular occurrence. Of course, it’s very difficult to question an individual when you really don’t know exactly what he’s doing. There’s already some political pressure on the Fed. Yet, they are a totally independent financial institution. The decisions of the Chairman and the board are final. Short of corruption, removing any of them prior to the end of their terms is nearly impossible.

Sunshine influencing monetary policy is much more perception than reality. Sure, Congress can pontificate and bloviate. They can do that now. Frankly, most of them wouldn’t have the first clue what any of the numbers mean anyway. The decisions of the Fed and its board are final and independent. Yet, transparency is critical. The Federal Reserve holds onto trillions of dollar investments.

The bank literally controls and manipulates the money supply. Yet, the people of this country have absolutely no idea what’s going on. We don’t know how much is in the portfolio. We don’t know how it’s made up. Near daily, the Federal Reserve manipulates the money supply by buying and selling securities. Yet, the public doesn’t know. That’s neither open or transparent. In fact, the Federal Reserve operates as monetarial MONARCH. Transparency would be the first step toward reducing its power, and that’s what this anti transparency stance is really all about.


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Human Events Quizzes Bernanke at London School of Economics

by Terry Easton, Updated 01/16/2009 ET

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke flew into London to meet with Governor Mervyn King, his counterpart at the Bank of England, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown at #10 Downing Street on Tuesday. He then went on to deliver the annual Joseph Charles Stamp Memorial Lecture entitled “The Crisis and the Policy Response” to our current global financial system meltdown.Human Events was there to cover the event — and to quiz Dr. Bernanke in the Q&A session on his Keynesian approach to the systemic money problem.

The world’s media covered the event live, including the BBC, CNBC, Fox News, CNN, and Bloomberg. For a clip of our Q&A, see: CNBC Video.OK. So here’s the problem. Keynesian solutions just don’t work. Throwing money from helicopters (or more likely C-17’s today) might just pull us out of the Great Depression II, but as we stretch the rubber band, eventually the block of deadweight banking system credit will finally spring to life and violently overshoot way before future Fed and Treasury Secretaries can reel in the excess money.

The result? Massive inflation from 2010 onwards. 25-30% would not be surprising through the teens. Yikes! (That’s a techno-speak economist term for holy s***, it’s that bad…) So if you think gold is high at $850 today, wait until it reaches $3,000 a troy ounce. Ditto commodities (especially agriculture).

Jim Rogers has been warning about this probability for the past year. He’s been riding the commodity prices all the way down in the process — and he’s still positive about their future. I, for one, wouldn’t easily bet against the co-founder (along with George Soros) of the Quantum Fund.

At the London School of Economics, former home (1931-1950) of Austrian-school founder and Nobel Prize winner Fredrich von Hayek, Dr. Bernanke went on to point out all the Keynesian goodies he has in his “toolkit” which the Fed is using to overcome the crisis.

Chairman Bernanke acknowledges that the bottom line problem — which began with the funny-money mortgages politically made to underqualified borrowers — has seqway’d into a full-blown global loss of trust by just about everyone, consumers and bankers alike, in the present financial system.

Or, in FedSpeak: “Rising credit risks and intense risk aversion have pushed credit spreads to unprecedented levels…Heightened systemic risks, falling asset values and tightening credit have in turn taken a heavy toll on business and consumer confidence and participated a sharp slowing in global economic activity. The damage, in terms of lost output, lost jobs, and lost wealth, is already substantial”.

Of course, the unspoken statement is that the reason that the people don’t trust the present fractional banking system — and are hording their precious cash — is that the entire system is a house of cards, or more like the game of chairs where the last person standing when the music stops doesn’t have a chair to sit on. And nobody wants to be that last person standing when the music stops.

Bernanke goes on to observe, chillingly: “the global economy will recover, but the timing and strength of the recovery are highly uncertain”. That’s telling it like it is.

The Fed’s toolkit — which has been newly invented over the past 18 months — has three groups. They “all make use of the asset side of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet”. This means, they consist of creating more money out of thin air.

“The first set of tools, which are closely tied to the central bank’s traditional role as the lender of last resort, involve the provision of short-term liquidity”. It’s important to note that the reason the central bank is known as the “lender of last resort” is that when it collapses, the entire edifice falls and a new system must be built to replace the old.

In these cases, the political system often falls as well. Whether a free-market-oriented democracy or a socialist-oriented totalitarian system springs up to replace the former ruin depends on the people — both the average citizen and the elite.

The question is, what kind of new system will arise from the Federal Reserve ashes? Another Keynesian Ponzi-scheme or a solid hard-money-based Austrian-school bank? The reason, of course, that Austrians like gold is it can’t easily be counterfeited by the government. It’s quite a “barbaric metal”. In the people’s hands, it can’t easily be controlled by the bureaucrats. Darn.

It may just be possible, however, that Bernanke and colleagues can begin to move the Federal Reserve away from a fiat-based money system. You don’t really think there’s money in the banks to cover all your deposits, do you? And what do you mean by money, anyway: “legal tender IOU notes”?

Bernanke knows this all too well. And if he can get us through this Keynesian-induced hell with just one more dose of Keynesian money printing, then maybe he’ll have the time somewhere in the future to move the system back to a gold-standard dollar. Hmmm…

The tools in the first set are: 1) cutting fed funds and “discount window” interest rates, 2) increasing the length of the overnight “discount window” from 24 hours to 90 days, 3) the new “Term Auction Facility” which lends more money to the banks for “good” assets, 4) the new “Term Securities Lending Facility” which allows certain stock brokers to borrow money from the Fed for “less-liquid collateral”, and 5) the “Primary Dealer Credit Facility”, yet another bail-out loan facility for otherwise bankrupt stock brokers.

In addition to the above “short term” loan programs to US banks and stock brokers, the Fed has printed up more US dollars to convert into foreign currency using “bilateral currency swap agreements with 14 foreign central banks”. Why? Because the world has run out of dollars to spend in paying its bills! No problem, we’ll print up some more dollars for you too. Happy to oblige!

The second set of policy tools “involve the provision of liquidity directly to borrowers and investors in key credit markets”. They are: 1) money printed up to purchase commercial paper, 2) money printed up to purchase money-market funds, and 3) a Fed-Treasury joint money printing program to buy up AAA-rated student loans, auto loans, credit card loans, and SBA loans.

Finally, the third set of new “policy tools” includes creating more money to buy up longer-term securities including $600 billion in Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSE’s like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) and GSE-backed securities. The home mortgage market “dropped significantly on the announcement of this program”. The message: don’t bet against the Fed’s ability to print mountains of dollars — at least in the short term.

The result of all this newly-created money is that the Fed’s own balance sheet — which took 90 years to reach the first $800 billion — is now well on the way to $3 trillion, and that’s all money created out of thin air.

Consequently over the next 6 months, look for the Fed to bail out ever more failing financial institutions — starting with another multi-billion-dollar kick to the near-bankrupt Bank of America. This second round of funny money will be followed by a third and perhaps more, until we’ll all be swimming in a sea of dollar bills. As the recession bites deeper, the velocity of money — how fast we spend it — slows precipitously, and huge doses of more raw money are perceived by the money controllers as the only way to pull us out of this government-created mess.

What else can they do? The Austrian economist Murray Rothbard revealed the simple answer in his History of Money and Banking. Politicians everywhere need to read it immediately.

Professor Bernanke is a genuinely likeable person with a good sense of humor and a deep knowledge of how the financial world really works. He was warmly received by the LSE students and faculty in London.

Unfortunately, he is also the head of the biggest fiat-banking scheme ever devised by mankind. And he knows it. (Thank you John Pierpont Morgan for your Jekyll Island creation.)

The tell is that his voice waivers when he is saying something that he hopes will come true but is unsure of. Listen to his speeches yourself and you’ll hear what I mean immediately. It’s the giveaway of a basically honest and decent man. Bernanke still needs to fully master the “FedSpeak” of his predecessor, Alan Greenspan.

Alan could easily tell the House Banking Committee about how the Fed was fully in control – and there was nothing to worry about. And they believed it. Yet he was a protégé of Ayn Rand and the author of a marvellous essay on the need for gold-backed central banking in his youth. Years before he too became the head of the Fed.

I truly hope that Chairman Bernanke can pull it all off just one more time. Like a junky hooked on ever-increasing doses of the good stuff, I need just a little more money, please. The withdrawal is too painful and I don’t want to hurt that much. I promise to go straight and reform in the future. Trust me. In fact, trust all of us. We’re all in this together.


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Related Previous Posts:

CBO Summer Updater 09: Weak Revenues, Elevated Spending, Economic Downturn, And Financial Turmoil

Related Links:

“Bernanke’s Ph.D. thesis” (PDF), 1975

Politico:  Contentious hearing for Bernanke?

Hot Air: Obamateurism of the Day

CNBC Video:  London – Bernanke Takes Questions

WSJ: Fed Chief’s Boyhood Home Is Sold After Foreclosure

The Economist:  The very model of a modern central banker

Newsweek: Bernanke Victimized by Identity Fraud Ring

NYT: Bernanke and Other ‘Firefighters’

The Independent:  The Big Question: How successful has Ben Bernanke’s first term as Fed chairman been?

NYT Krugman: On the reappointment of Ben Bernanke

FRB: Speeches of Federal Reserve Officials


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DoD FY 2010 Budget Request Summary Justification (Afghan National Security Forces) — CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION IN CENTRAL ASIA — Hazaras: Afghanistan’s Outsiders — UNITY OF COMMAND IN AFGHANISTAN: A FORESAKEN PRINCIPLE OF WAR — Mullen offers a dire assessment — Afghanistan’s Narco War


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DoD FY 2010 Budget Request Summary Justification

Afghan National Security Forces

Policy

It is the policy of the United States to develop the capabilities of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to conduct independent counterinsurgency (COIN) operations and establish security throughout Afghanistan.

FY 2010 Request: $7.5B

• Continues building the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police

• Funds the accelerated growth of the Afghan National Army to an end strength of 134,000 soldiers in 2011

• Continues support to man, train, and equip 86,800 Afghan National Police

DESCRIPTION

The Department of Defense requests $7.5 billion to support Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) for FY 2010. This represents an increase of 34 percent above the FY 2009 level of $5.6 billion. The Department also requests Congress continue to provide needed flexibility by appropriating these funds for two-year execution through September 30, 2011.

The FY 2010 budget provides essential resources to maintain the accelerated growth of the Afghan National Army (ANA) force structure to a goal of 134,000 (122,000 trained and 12,000 soldiers in training) by December 2011 and to continue training and supporting the 86,800 Afghan National Police (ANP) force.

The FY 2010 budget provides resources to increase the capability of ANSF combat and police units and associated infrastructure and equipment to reduce and eventually eliminate dependence on Coalition forces.

FUNDING REQUEST

The FY 2010 OCO budget supports the expanded ANSF with independent capabilities to secure Afghanistan and prevent it from becoming a haven for international terrorism and associated militant extremist movements.

The request continues the acceleration plan initiated with the FY 2009 OCO supplemental, expands training and professionalization of the police force, sustains those forces, and provides equipment and supporting infrastructure.

The ANSF are steadily growing in strength and capability. The FY 2010 Overseas Contingency Operation budget will support growth to approximately 97,000 ANA soldiers (plus 10,000 students) and over 86,800 ANP trained and equipped. Enabling these forces to provide for the security of their own nation is central to the success of OEF and the long-term stability of Afghanistan.

Despite the considerable achievements and growth in international community support since the start of OEF, security threats remain a major impediment to development, and the environment continues to be fluid, demanding continual re­examination of the strategy.

In response to the changing security environment, the Department requested funding to support acceleration of the military force expansion in the FY 2009 OCO supplemental request. The FY 2010 funds will enable the ANA to grow while providing basic and specialized training for the ANP.

Afghan National Army

Building on the FY 2009 OCO request, the FY 2010 OCO budget will provide the expanded ANA with the capacity and capabilities that will allow it to assume the lead for counterinsurgency and internal operations. The FY 2010 OCO request, which supports a larger, more comprehensive and more capable military force, builds on the current success made by the ANA. These soldiers have fought bravely along side U.S. and Coalition forces and have earned the respect of the Afghan people.

Commando Battalions, focused on the counterinsurgency mission, are now part of the Afghanistan planned military force. The Army will now also include combat support units, including engineering units, military intelligence companies, and military police. The FY 2010 OCO request includes funds to increase and sustain these units as well.

Afghan National Police

The revised ANSF program recognized that a more robust police force is required to contribute to the counterinsurgency effort by maintaining security throughout Afghanistan, particularly in areas from which the ANA and international forces have cleared Taliban fighters. The original ANP program focused on a more narrow law enforcement mission, leaving the ANP less capable of addressing a security environment complicated by Taliban, narco-traffickers, and other illegal elements.

In comparison with the ANA, the ANP lagged in progress, due in part to institutional corruption, low literacy rates among recruits, and a history of low pay. The FY 2010 OCO request continues the sustainment and training of the 86,800 person ANP and provides funds to equip the force for operation in a counterinsurgency environment.

The budget will provide vehicles for the Fire Department and Uniform Police and Border Police facilities. The budget continues to provide the ANP with basic and specialized training and supports the Afghanistan Police Protection Force (APPF), a new Ministry of Interior initiative that encourages community security operations intended to marginalize insurgent activities, prevent insurgent attacks, and deny insurgents access to and support from local villages.

To address one of Afghanistan’s key police issues, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) introduced the Focused District Development (FDD) Program, a pilot initiative designed for the critical development requirements of the ANP in each district.

The FDD provides a strong reform program that focuses resources on the district level Afghan Uniform Police (AUP) by providing district police training for an entire unit. The FDD takes into account the need to professionalize the police and eliminate corruption in order to ensure that systems of justice, governance, development, and outreach are in place; contribute to local security; and support a stable, well-respected Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA).

The FDD initiative is complementary to ongoing International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations and will center on the Eastern and Southern regions, with eventual expansion throughout the country.

The CSTC-A also placed increased emphasis on the training and mentoring of the Afghan Border Police (ABP) through the Focused Border Development (FBD), which began in October 2008 and is similar to FDD. The FY 2010 OCO request includes funding for training and mentoring of the ABP, as well as construction of ABP facilities.

Additionally, the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), a specialized unit with tactical gear, improved force protection, and specialized equipment. The ANCOP’s primary role is that of a national quick reaction force for civil emergencies like the May 2006 Kabul riots. The ANCOP also relieve district Afghan Uniform Police (AUP) forces while those forces are reformed and receive training through the FDD process.

Detainee Operations

Funding for Detainee Operations supports the Afghan National Detention Facility at Pol-e-Charki and mentors and organizes, trains, and equips a self-sustaining detainee guard program within the MoD for the detention of Afghan enemy combatants. The FY 2010 OCO funds will be spent on sustainment and training of the guard force.

SUMMARY

The GIRoA does not have the financial capability, the experienced security forces, or the infrastructure required to equip, build, and sustain a reliable, effective security force alone. Without U.S. funding, the GIRoA will be unable to counter the increasing threat of a well-armed anti-Coalition militia, Taliban, Al Qaeda, narco-terrorists, and other anti-government elements that threaten the peace and stability of Afghanistan. This is a critical capability to prevent re-emergence of safe havens when the Afghans eventually take full responsibility for security in their country.

Source:  Defense Link


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CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION IN CENTRAL ASIA

Stephen J. Blank

June 2009

President Obama has outlined a comprehensive strategy for the war in Afghanistan which is now the central front of our campaign against Islamic terrorism.

The strategy strongly connects our prosecution of that war to our policy in Pakistan and internal developments there as a necessary condition of victory. But the strategy has also provided for a new logistics road through Central Asia.

In this monograph, Dr. Stephen Blank argues that a winning strategy in Afghanistan depends as well upon the systematic leveraging of the opportunity provided by that road and a new coordinated nonmilitary approach to Central Asia.

That approach would rely heavily on improved coordination at home and the more effective leveraging of our superior economic power in Central Asia to help stabilize the region so that it provides a secure rear to Afghanistan.

In this fashion we would help Central Asia meet the challenges of extremism, of economic decline due to the global economic crisis, and thus help provide political stability in states that are likely to be challenged by the confluence of those trends.

This timely monograph contributes directly to the debate on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Central Asia in the hope that policymakers will find it informative and useful, and those who may be called upon to implement the policy will be able to do so more effectively.

Specific Recommendations

Specifically, the U.S. Government under President Obama should consider and act upon the following recommendations and policies to facilitate the aforementioned strategic goals of victory in Afghanistan and the enhanced independence of Central Asian states.

First, it must continue the Bush administration’s emphasis upon regional integration of Central Asia with South and East Asia in regard to energy, electricity, and other commodities.

As S. Frederick Starr, Director of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, has written, Clearly defeating the Taliban and destroying Al Qaeda should be a priority.

But these goals are best pursued in the context of a broader and more positive regional purpose. This would be true even if the rise of the SCO and Eurasec [Eurasian Economic Community] did not call for a strategic response from the United States.

Washington should also expand its horizons to foster greater U.S.-European and U.S.-Japanese cooperation in Central Asia so that these states are able to trade more openly with Europe and the United States as well.

In other words, the West should leverage its superior economic power to achieve constructive and jointly conceived strategic objectives. While energy and access to pipelines are the priorities, other goods and services must also be included wherever possible. Greater involvement by the EU and Japan that parallels NATO involvement would therefore contribute to this latter enhancement of existing U.S. policies.

Second, the administration must build upon that foundation and conceive of the road it now seeks to build for logistical purposes to supply U.S. forces as also being a powerful engine for regional economic development and integration.

This aspect of the policy called for here as part of the overall strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan and stabilizing Central Asia must be a multilateral project with as many local and other key partners (NATO, Russia, and China) as possible.

This is because “The more consent America attracts abroad, the greater the practical assistance upon which the country will be able to draw and the more likely that U.S. policy will succeed. If this sometimes elusive condition is met, American strategy should prove sustainable.”

This multilateral support is essential to persuade local participants that U.S. aims are not inimical to their own but rather in sync with them. As Sir Michael Howard wrote in 2003,

American power is indispensable for the preservation of global order, and as such it must be recognized, accommodated, and where possible supported. But if it is to be effective, it needs to be seen and legitimized as such by the international community.

If it is perceived rather as an instrument serving a unilateral conception of national security that amounts to a claim to world domination—pursuing, in fact, a purely “American War against Terror”—that is unlikely to happen.

Third, it must not detach this road from other parts of U.S. policy. Instead the administration should see it as the centerpiece of a coordinated policy and policy actions to integrate existing programs for trade, investment, and infrastructural projects, particularly with regard to water quality and increasing water supplies for all of Central Asia.

This will lay a better foundation for the lasting economic and thus political security of Central Asian states, and indirectly through such support will help their continuing economicpolitical independence and integration with Asia and the global economy.

Fourth, it must, at the same time, reform the interagency process which is universally regarded as broken. We need to pursue security in this region and in individual countries as specified above, namely in a holistic, multidimensional, and integrated way that enhances all the elements of security, not just military security. While we do not espouse any particular course of reform of the interagency process, several points should be made here.

First, the strategy and policy outlined is not purely or mainly military. Second, it therefore optimally should not be led by the U.S. military but include it under civilian leadership as an important, but not dominating, element in that strategy for Central Asia.

While in Afghanistan actual hostilities requiring a military strategy are required, it is also accepted that an important component of our policy and strategy there must be to improve governance and economic conditions for the population.

The overall strategy must shun the previous procedures and lack of integrated planning for both hard and soft power elements that have led to “stovepipe efforts that do not achieve full and efficient results and effects in areas of operations.”

Unfortunately this attribute is pervasive and not only in regard to Afghanistan and Central Asia.Thus, in 2005 Congressman J. Randy Forbes testified to the congressionally mandated U.S.-China Commission that,

At every briefing we attend, no matter how high ranking the participants, we are told that there is no coordinated approach to analyzing the multi-faceted complex nature of the China problem and the communication between agencies is inadequate at best.

This must be remedied as soon as possible. Instead, as one recent paper on the subject of reforming this process notes, if the U.S. system is to address the ever increasing level of complexity in providing security at home and abroad, “indeed if it is to operate as a system at all rather than a collection of separate components—then security reform must stress unity, integration, and inclusion across all levels.”

This new process must take a long-term view of the problems with which it will grapple, especially in the light of our own financial crisis.122 Within that call for reform, there are several common themes in recent works and statements on this subject that emphasize, as well, the need for multilateral support for such programs.

Furthermore, in all our efforts, whether they are regional or within a particular country, experience shows the absolute inescapable necessity that the operation to provide such multidimensional security must be organized along lines of unity of command and unity of effort to succeed.

Whether the format is one of a country team led by the ambassador that pulls all the strings of U.S. programs together or a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF) is almost a secondary question. The paramount need is for well-conceived plans that can be implemented under the principle of this unity of command leading to a unity of effort.

Fifth, a key component of an expanded, integrated, and holistic approach to security in both Afghanistan and Central Asia must entail a vigorous effort to combat narcotics trafficking.

This is not just because it is a scourge to both Afghanistan and the CIS, but also because it is clear that the Afghan government is either incapable or unwilling to act and is more concerned with blaming others for its deficiencies.

Furthermore, such action will convince Central Asian states and Russia that we take their security concerns seriously and will facilitate their cooperation with our policy and strategy.

Sixth, the administration and NATO should jointly offer Central Asian states an expanded menu of “a la carte” programs for enhancing security, border defense, train and equip programs, interoperability, antinarcotics, and, if possible, combat support roles for Central Asian countries in Afghanistan. “Parallel to this, the United States should enter into 5-year militaryto-military agreements with each country similar to what it has recently renewed with Kazakhstan.”

Doing so would further engage the U.S. military with those forces in Central Asia and provide them with an alternative model to the Russian army’s ways of doing business.

This would also be a visible sign of continuing high U.S. interest in Central Asian countries’ defense and security and of its desire to cooperate with them toward realizing their goals.

Conclusions

Arguably, only on the basis of such an integrated multidimensional and multilateral program can a strategy to secure Central Asia against the ravages of economic crisis and war be built, while we also seek to prosecute the war in Afghanistan in a similarly holistic way.

It has long since been a critical point in U.S. policy for Central Asia that we seek to advance these states’ independence, security, and integration, both at a regional level and with the global economy.

U.S. experts and scholars have also argued for such a perspective. Thus this project could and probably should serve as the centerpiece of a renewed American economic strategy to help Central Asia fight off the Taliban and cope simultaneously with the global economic crisis.

An integrated program of economic and military action in Central Asia is surely called for given the scope of our growing involvement and the stakes involved in a region whose strategic importance is, by all accounts, steadily growing.

Especially as we are now increasing our troop commitment to Afghanistan and building this new supply road, challenge and opportunity are coming together to suggest a more enduring basis for a lasting U.S.contribution to Central Asia’s long-term security.

In effect, the present crisis has brought matters to the point where the United States has obtained a second chance in Central Asia, even as it is becoming more important in world affairs.

It is rare that states get a second chance in world politics. But when the opportunity knocks, somebody should be at home to answer the door.


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Born to Hazara parents who escaped to Iran, 12-year-old Fiza and her family have returned to Afghanistan “to be in our own country,” says Amin, her father. Photograph by Steve McCurry


Hazaras: Afghanistan’s Outsiders

The Outsiders

Set apart by geography and beliefs, oppressed by the Taliban, the Hazara people could be Afghanistan’s best hope.

NGO, By Phil Zabriskie

At the heart of Afghanistan is an empty space, a striking absence, where the larger of the colossal Bamian Buddhas once stood. In March 2001 the Taliban fired rockets at the statues for days on end, then planted and detonated explosives inside them. The Buddhas had looked out over Bamian for some 1,500 years. Silk Road traders and missionaries of several faiths came and went. Emissaries of empires passed through—Mongols, Safavids, Moguls, British, Soviets—often leaving bloody footprints. A country called Afghanistan took shape. Regimes rose and collapsed or were overthrown. The statues stood through it all. But the Taliban saw the Buddhas simply as non-Islamic idols, heresies carved in stone. They did not mind being thought brutish. They did not fear further isolation. Destroying the statues was a pious assertion of their brand of faith over history and culture.

It was also a projection of power over the people living under the Buddhas’ gaze: the Hazaras, residents of an isolated region in Afghanistan’s central highlands known as Hazarajat—their heartland, if not entirely by choice. Accounting for up to one-fifth of Afghanistan’s population, Hazaras have long been branded outsiders. They are largely Shiite Muslims in an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country. They have a reputation for industriousness yet work the least desirable jobs. Their Asian features—narrow eyes, flat noses, broad cheeks—have set them apart in a de facto lower caste, reminded so often of their inferiority that some accept it as truth.

The ruling Taliban—mostly fundamentalist Sunni, ethnic Pashtuns—saw Hazaras as infidels, animals, other. They didn’t look the way Afghans should look and didn’t worship the way Muslims should worship. A Taliban saying about Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnic groups went: “Tajiks to Tajikistan, Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, and Hazaras to goristan,” the graveyard. And in fact, when the Buddhas fell, Taliban forces were besieging Hazarajat, burning down villages to render the region uninhabitable. As autumn began, the people of Hazarajat wondered if they’d survive winter. Then came September 11, a tragedy elsewhere that appeared to deliver salvation to the Hazara people.

Six years after the Taliban fell, scars remain in the highlands of the Hazara homeland, but there is a sense of possibility unthinkable a decade ago. Today the region is one of the safest in Afghanistan, mostly free of the poppy fields that dominate other regions. A new political order reigns in Kabul, seat of President Hamid Karzai’s central government. Hazaras have new access to universities, civil service jobs, and other avenues of advancement long denied them. One of the country’s vice presidents is Hazara, as is parliament’s leading vote getter, and a Hazara woman is the first and only female governor in the country. The best-selling American novel The Kite Runner—now a feature film—depicted a fictional Hazara character, and a real Hazara won the first Afghan Star, an American Idol-like program.

As the country struggles to rebuild itself after decades of civil war, many believe that Hazarajat could be a model of what’s possible not just for Hazaras but for all Afghans. But that optimism is tempered by past memories and present frustrations—over roads not built, a resurgent Taliban, and rising tides of Sunni extremism.

A project is now under way to gather thousands of stone fragments and rebuild the Buddhas. Something similar is occurring among Hazaras as they try to repair their fractured past, with one notable difference: There are pictures of the destroyed Buddhas. The Hazaras have no such blueprint, no sense of what a future free from persecution is supposed to look like.

Musa Shafaq wants to live in that future. He is 28, with shoulder-length black hair and typical Hazara features, not unlike those of the Buddhas. He stands at the gate of Kabul University in a red sweater, black jeans, and tinted prescription glasses. Classes are out for the day. In two months, he will graduate, a notable achievement for any Afghan given the country’s instability. Because he is Hazara, his success signals a new era. Shafaq is poised to finish at the top of his class, which should guarantee him the job he most wants, a teaching post at Kabul University.


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UNITY OF COMMAND IN AFGHANISTAN:

A FORESAKEN PRINCIPLE OF WAR

Unity of Command: Unity of command is best achieved by vesting a single commander with requisite authority.

—Principles of War 1954


This Carlisle Paper discusses the traditional importance of unity of command in American doctrine and practice from World War I until now, and how this principle has been forsaken in the evolution of military command for Afghanistan.

It examines the unprecedented departure from the principle of unity of command in Afghanistan in 2006, when Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan passed control of the ground fight to the International Security Assistance Force, and operations became split between several unified or “supreme” commanders in charge of U.S. Central Command, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and U.S. Special Operations Command.

It argues for a renewal of understanding of the importance of unity of command, and recommends that the United States revert to the application of this principle by amending the Unified Command Plan to invest one “supreme commander” with responsibility for the current Operation ENDURING FREEDOM Joint Operations Area.

In Afghanistan today, want of moral singleness, simplicity, and intensity of purpose harp of military failure. This is attributable to an abrupt departure from a long-standing and distinctly American practice of insisting on unity of command. The United States is the only country where military doctrine recognizes the principle of “unity of command,” and has successfully applied it in multiple alliances and coalitions since 1918.

It was the guiding principle during World War II that convinced Allied powers to invest “supreme command” upon singular operational level commanders in distinct geographic areas. Unity of command was the principle behind the 1946 Unified Command Plan (UCP), which institutionalized the practice of unifying forces under one commander-in-chief.

This paper examines the departure from this principle that occurred in Afghanistan in 2006, when Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A) passed control of the ground fight to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and operations became split between Commander U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Supreme Allied Command.

Conclusion

This Carlisle Paper has discussed the traditional importance of unity of command in U.S. doctrine and practice from World War I until now, and how this principle has been forsaken in the evolution of command construct in Afghanistan. It has argued for a renewal of understanding of the importance of unity of command, and recommends that the United States revert back to application of this principle by amending the UCP and granting responsibility for the current OEF JOA to USEUCOM.

This would see two immediate improvements. First, it would invest SACEUR with the “supreme” authority over operations in Afghanistan that he presently is denied; second, it would make full use of a long-standing alliance to ensure the formulation of strategy and the sustainment of commitment that is obviously missing in the region today.

This realignment would require designation of EUCOM as a supported combatant command, establishing EUCOM/NATO JFLCC and JFACC, the embedding within ISAF HQ the necessary elements to create an integrated subordinate unified command in Kabul, and streamlining the chain of command to have HQ ISAF report directly to SHAPE and SACEUR. To ensure full unity of command, the United States should transfer its counternarcotics and regional engagement functions to the NAC and NATO military council, and consolidate Title 10 and special operations functions under EUCOM.

Failure to address the current problems of unity of command will result in the failure of the alliance—and the coalition—in Afghanistan. The threats posed by the large-scale  and enduring cross-border insurgency, steadily growing opium production, and endemic corruption, are sufficient to defeat our bifurcated military and civilian efforts in that conflicted country. We should heed the words of Eisenhower:

Alliances in the past have often done no more than to name the common foe, and “unity of command” has been a pious aspiration thinly disguising the national jealousies, ambitions and recriminations of high ranking officers, unwilling to subordinate themselves or their forces to a command of different nationality or different service. . . . I was determined, from the first, to do all in my power to make this a truly Allied Force, with real unity of command and centralization of administrative responsibility.

See Complete Report (pdf): Unity of Command in Afghanistan: A Forsaken Principle of War


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Top officer offers a dire assessment on Afghanistan

The nation’s top military officer, in a deeply pessimistic assessment of the war in Afghanistan, said yesterday that due to years of neglect the United States is basically “starting over’’ in its battle against the radical Taliban movement and its Al Qaeda allies.

Acknowledging that public support for the war is waning, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US operation needs “12 to 18 months to turn this thing around.’’ “It is doable, but it is going to take some time,’’ he said, urging Americans to be patient.

But Mullen indicated he believes that, at a minimum, more specialists will be needed to train the Afghan security forces. “We all believe there is going to be a need to accelerate the training of the Afghanistan security forces, army and police, and that is going to take additional trainers,’’ he said

Mullen, who became the nation’s top military officer in October 2007, visited patients at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Jamaica Plain earlier yesterday and plans to speak today at a Harvard Medical School conference about traumatic brain injuries, which have become much more common among combat troops.

He has expressed deepening concern in recent days about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, calling the situation “serious and deteriorating.’’ Yet his comments to Globe reporters and editors suggested outright alarm that without the right combination of cooperation from the Afghan government and the Pakistani military and an even greater US commitment, the Taliban could seize control of Afghanistan again.

“It is much more capable and much more potent than it was back’’ in 2001, he said, when the radical Islamic movement was toppled by the United States and its allies for harboring Al Qaeda. “And it is much broader than it was back then, and much deeper.’’

He also said that the Taliban’s ties to Al Qaeda leaders have been strengthened as the United States has trained its attention on Iraq. “The Taliban is much closer to Al Qaeda than it used to be,’’ Mullen said. “They are much more affiliated with each other than they were a few years ago. Call it a federation.’’

He added that Al Qaeda is “still very focused on trying to advance this corrupt view of Islam as far as they can. And one of the ways they do that is to focus on eliminating and killing as many Americans and Westerners as they can.’’

The US military, however, is behind the curve and struggling to retake control of the situation, Mullen said. For one, the focus on Iraq has meant that there are too few American troops with experience in Afghanistan, requiring precious time for new units to get up to speed upon arriving in the country.

“I’d like to take people who have been to Afghanistan and send them back to leverage the cultural awareness and language awareness, which are critical pieces,’’ Mullen said. “The problem is I don’t have that many because I haven’t had that many in Afghanistan.’’

But Mullen dismissed calls by some specialists that the United States should immediately seek to negotiate with some elements of the Taliban who may be willing to put down their arms in exchange for a political stake in the Afghan government. General David Petraeus, who is overseeing US forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, in recent weeks has also suggested that negotiations with some members of the Taliban could help reduce violence in parts of Afghanistan.

“This is the eighth year, but there is a newness here,’’ Mullen told the Globe yesterday in Boston. “There is a starting again, or starting over. Iraq has been the focus, it hasn’t been Afghanistan.’’

Mullen, however, said he is awaiting a new assessment by the top commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, before making any recommendations on whether more US troops are needed to take on an increasingly emboldened Taliban.

Military commanders on the ground told Richard Holbrooke, the president’s special envoy, during the weekend that the force was not big enough to defeat the Taliban, particularly in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The United States currently has about 68,000 troops dedicated to the war in Afghanistan, including 21,000 additional forces ordered by Obama earlier this year who are still flowing into the country.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found that 51 percent of Americans now say the war is not worth fighting and only 24 percent support sending more troops. President Obama, in a speech last week to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, conceded that the fighting has become more fierce but called Afghanistan “a war of necessity.’’

Mullen’s wide-ranging interview came on a particularly bloody day in Afghanistan. Five car bombs simultaneously hit Kandahar, the country’s largest southern city, killing at least 41 people. And four more US troops were killed by another bomb in southern Afghanistan, bringing the August total to 41 and making this year already the deadliest yet of the war for American forces.

With the intense focus until recently on fighting the war in Iraq – where the United States plans to keep nearly twice as many troops as in Afghanistan until at least early next year – he said that the Tali ban are far more potent than they were during the US invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Taliban’s alliance with Osama bin Laden and other leaders of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, who he said are hiding in neighboring Pakistan’s lawless border region, is stronger than ever, he said.


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AFGHANISTAN’S NARCO WAR

BREAKING THE LINK BETWEEN DRUG TRAFFICKERS AND INSURGENTS

A REPORT TO THE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS UNITED STATES SENATE ONE HUNDRED ELEVENTH CONGRESS FIRST SESSION

AUGUST 10, 2009

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

At the end of March when President Obama fulfilled his pledge to make the war in Afghanistan a higher priority, he cast the U.S. mission more narrowly than the previous administration: Defeat Al Qaeda and eliminate its safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  To accomplish these twin tasks, however, the President is making a practical commitment to Afghanistan that is far greater than that of his predecessor—more troops, more civilians, and more money. As the American footprint grows, so do the costs. July was the deadliest month yet for American and coalition troops in Afghanistan, and military experts predict more of the same sad trajectory in the coming months.

As part of the military expansion, the administration has assigned U.S. troops a lead role in trying to stop the flow of illicit drug profits that are bankrolling the Taliban and fueling the corruption that undermines the Afghan Government. Tens of millions of drug dollars are helping the Taliban and other insurgent groups buy arms, build deadlier roadside bombs and pay fighters.

The emerging consensus among senior military and civilian officials from the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries operating in Afghanistan is that the broad new counter-insurgency mission is tied inextricably with the new counter-narcotics strategy.  Simply put, they believe the Taliban cannot be defeated and good government cannot be established without cutting off the money generated by Afghanistan’s opium industry, which supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin and generates an estimated $3 billion a year in profits.

The change is dramatic for a military that once ignored the drug trade flourishing in front of its eyes. No longer are U.S. commanders arguing that going after the drug lords is not part of their mandate. In a dramatic illustration of the new policy, major drug traffickers who help finance the insurgency are likely to find themselves in the crosshairs of the military. Some 50 of them are now officially on the target list to be killed or captured.

Simultaneously, the U.S. has set up an intelligence center to analyze the flow of drug money to the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials, and a task force combining military, intelligence and law enforcement resources from several countries to pursue drug networks linked to the Taliban in southern Afghanistan awaits formal approval.

An equally fundamental change is under way on the civilian side of the counter-narcotics equation. The administration has declared that eradication of poppies, the mainstay of the former administration, is a failure and that the emphasis will shift to promoting alternative crops and building a legal agricultural economy in a country without one for 30 years. This marks the first time the United States has had an agriculture strategy for Afghanistan.

The attempt to cut off the drug money represents a central pillar of counter-insurgency strategy—deny financing to the enemy. This shift is an overdue move that recognizes the central role played by drug traffickers and drug money in the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. While it is too early to judge whether this will be a watershed, it is not too early to raise questions about whether the goals of the counter-narcotics strategy can be achieved.

Is it possible to slow the flow of drug money to the insurgency, particularly in a country where most transactions are conducted in cash and hidden behind an ancient and secretive money transfer system?  Does the U.S. Government have the capacity and the will to provide the hundreds more civilians required to carry out the second step in the counter-narcotics program and transform a poppy-dominated economy into one where legitimate agriculture can thrive?

Can our NATO allies be counted on to step up their contributions on the military and civilian sides at a time when support for the war is waning in most European countries and Canada?  The ability to stop—or at least slow—the money going to the insurgency will play a critical role in determining whether we can carve out the space required to provide the security and economic development necessary to bring a level of stability to Afghanistan that will prevent it from once again being a safe haven for those who plot attacks against the United States and our allies. But counter-narcotics alone will not win the war.

The new strategy is one aspect, albeit an important one, of the administration’s decision to move troops into Afghan villages and shift more resources to building a functioning and legal economy.  The scope of development needed to create jobs, promote alternatives to growing poppy and train Afghan security forces is enormous.  Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is not a reconstruction project—it is a construction project, starting almost from scratch in a country that will probably remain poverty-stricken no matter how much the U.S. and the international community accomplish in the coming years.

The administration has raised the stakes by transforming the Afghan war from a limited intervention into a more ambitious and potentially risky counter-insurgency. This transformation raises its own set of questions. How much can any amount of effort by the United States and its allies transform the politics and society of Afghanistan?

Why is the United States becoming more deeply involved in Afghanistan nearly eight years after the invasion? Does the American public understand and support the sacrifices that will be required to finish the job? Even defining success remains elusive: Is it to build a nation or just to keep the jihadists from using a nation as a sanctuary?

These core questions about commitment and sacrifice can be answered only through a rigorous and informed national debate, sparked by Congress with the support of the administration. The American people need to understand the extent of our country’s involvement in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan and try to reach a consensus to help guide policymakers and the President and his team.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has held a series of public hearings in recent months focusing on the evolving policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. In an effort to stimulate a larger debate, the committee plans another round of hearings, beginning soon after Congress returns from the Labor Day recess.

As part of that effort, the committee staff prepared this report examining the new counter-narcotics strategy as a way of evaluating the overall policy being put in place by the administration in Afghanistan. The report examines the counter-narcotics policy and addresses these questions in six chapters, followed by a set of recommendations.

REPORT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AFGHANISTAN

Accepting that Afghanistan requires a greater commitment of U.S. troops and civilians means that the public should understand the sacrifices that will be required in the coming years.

The deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan is conspicuous.  Forty-two American soldiers and Marines died in July, the highest since the start of the war, and the casualties were not just associated with the Marine push into Helmand Province. Coalition troops from Britain, Canada and other NATO allies also suffered their highest death toll since 2001. More powerful improvised explosive devices are appearing and in some cases the Taliban has demonstrated a new ability to launch complex attacks.

The coming months will test the administration’s deepening involvement, its new strategy on counter-narcotics specifically and its counter-insurgency effort in general. Some observers fear that the moment for reversing the tide in Afghanistan has passed and even a narrow victory will remain out of reach, despite the larger American footprint. Others see promise in the commitment of additional resources and the recognition that success requires providing Afghans with the security and assistance that will allow them to find their own way to the future. None of the civilian officials or military officers interviewed in Afghanistan and elsewhere expected substantial progress in the short term. They talked in terms of years—two, five and 10.

Recommendations:

1.   Congress and the administration should join in efforts to promote a national debate that will provide the public with a clear understanding of the commitment required in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The debate should articulate the administration’s goals, the costs of meeting these goals and the consequences for failing to do so.

2.   Given the significance of the new counter-narcotics strategy, the administration should provide Congress with a written description of that policy and a clear road map for how it will be integrated with the other components of the counter-insurgency, including the development of alternative crops for Afghan farmers.

3.   As requested by Congress two years ago, the administration should develop a clear system of metrics to assess progress in Afghanistan on counter-narcotics, corruption, security and economic development. These metrics should reflect both quantitative and qualitative indicators and both near-term and long-term goals.

4.   The Department of State should pursue enhanced cooperation with Afghanistan’s neighbors to identify and support regional counter-narcotics efforts and better understand the important linkages and flows of drugs, money, and people from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. In particular, Ambassador Holbrooke should lead efforts to travel to Central Asia to strengthen cooperation on Afghanistan and better link U.S. policy towards Central Asia with our strategy in Afghanistan.

5.   Sending more civilians to Afghanistan should be part of the national debate. But as the administration prepares to deploy the additional 450 civilians already committed to going, serious efforts should be made to match civilian expertise in key districts across the country and not just staff up Embassy Kabul or forward operating bases. Efforts should be made to recruit civilians with expertise in agriculture, development, and other technical skills that can be adapted to needs in Afghanistan, including recruiting civilian expertise from Afghanistan’s neighbors, which would be more cost-effective and bring people who know the region, climate, language, and soil.

See Complete pdf Report: AFGHANISTAN’S NARCO WAR: BREAKING THE LINK BETWEEN DRUG TRAFFICKERS AND INSURGENTS


Related Links

DoD NewsLink: Stavridis: Afghanistan War Challenging, But Winnable

DoD News Link:  DoD Releases Fiscal 2010 Budget Proposal

Times OnLine: Four British soldiers die for sake of 150 votes

Michaelyon-online: Bad Medicine & New Afghan war: Frontline correspondent says fight has morphed – but we still can’t afford to lose

Hot Air: Afghanistan: Obama’s toughest political challenge

Wash Post: Analysts Expect Long-Term, Costly U.S. Campaign in Afghanistan

Huffington Post: ReThinking Charlie Wilson’s War: the Afghan War that Keeps On Taking

Hot Air: Yon: Brits losing Helmand; McChrystal: Need more troops, new strategy


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