Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cheney Ex-Aide Scooter Libby Disbarred

Cheney Ex-Aide Scooter Libby Disbarred

Go to Original
By Carol D. Leonnig

Vice president’s former chief of staff convicted of lying to investigators in Plame case.

Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was disbarred today by a District of Columbia court that ruled that his convictions last year for perjury and obstructing justice in a White House leak investigation disqualify him from practicing law.

Under the ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals, Libby will lose his license to practice or appear in court in Washington until at least 2012. As is standard custom, he also would lose any bar membership he might hold in any other states.

Libby was convicted of lying to the FBI and federal investigators about whether he discussed the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame with reporters in the spring and summer of 2003. At the time, according to evidence presented at trial, Cheney had instructed Libby to talk to reporters to rebut claims made by Plame’s husband that the administration had twisted intelligence to justify going to war with Iraq.

A three-member panel of the Court of Appeals decided that the D.C. Code gave it no choice on the decision. Libby has not disputed the D.C. Bar Counsel’s recommendation that he be disbarred.

"When a member of the Bar is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory," the judges wrote. "This court has held that obstruction of justice and perjury are crimes of moral turpitude per se."

Libby’s disbarment is effective as of June 12, 2007, when he first filed a declaration saying he would voluntarily comply with the court’s rules on professional ethics for lawyers. Libby, 57, could seek reinstatement to the bar five years from that date, in June 2012.

Last July, a federal judge sentenced Libby to 30 months in jail. President Bush commuted the sentence, calling it "excessive."

Blackwater "Blood Money" Angers Iraqis

Blackwater "Blood Money" Angers Iraqis

Go to Original
By Aadel Faiq

Two Iraqi families of victims killed by Blackwater guards tell ABC News they’ve refused compensation from the company.

At least two Iraqi families of victims killed by Blackwater security guards in September tell ABC News they have refused compensation offered by the company.

The father of a 9-year-old boy, who says his son was one of the 17 civilians killed when Blackwater guards, escorting a diplomatic convoy, opened fire at Baghdad’s Nisour Square on Sept. 16, says he is trying to file a lawsuit against the company. He told that Blackwater offered him $20,000 through an Iraqi prosecutor, but he refused the money.

Another Iraqi who lost both his wife and son in the incident says he too has refused the company’s offer of compensation of $20,000 for each victim.

Adel Jabur Shamma, who was injured in the incident, says he was bed-ridden for six months after being shot in the thigh. He says he was given $10,000 by the Iraqi prosecutor who is mediating between the families and Blackwater, but that the amount isn’t nearly enough to cover his surgery. He says he took the money because he had no other choice.

While a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. investigates the deaths, Blackwater has been operating behind the scenes in Iraq to settle with survivors and families of the dead.

Officials familiar with the case told last month that Blackwater had resisted U.S. government demands that the company pay at least $100,000 per death, claiming the U.S. government itself hasn’t paid that much in similar situations.

Requests to Blackwater for comment were not immediately returned.

As has reported, the federal grand jury criminal investigation is focusing on two or three Blackwater guards who opened fire, claiming they perceived a threat. Other Blackwater guards have testified to federal agents, however, that they saw no such threat.

Several of the Iraqi families have already filed lawsuits against Blackwater in U.S. courts, alleging the security guards were guilty of "war crimes."

Oil Deal for Alaska Wildlife Refuge on Fast Track

Oil Deal for Alaska Wildlife Refuge on Fast Track

Go to Original

Yukon Flats land exchange tied to oil development but no time for appraisals.

Washington, DC - A massive land-for-oil swap in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge aims to open much of eastern Alaska up to petroleum development, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The land exchange is moving quickly despite the absence of any land appraisals for the more than half-million acres involved. One preliminary estimate puts potential undiscovered Yukon oil resources at one-third the size of Alaska’s largest North Slope field.

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is considered one of the greatest waterfowl breeding grounds in North America. The 11 million acre refuge (more than twice the size of Massachusetts) is located on the eastern side of the state along the Canadian border and is bisected by the Yukon River.

Under the agreement, the Interior Department would give up 110,000 acres of land and subsurface rights and subsurface rights for another 100,000 acres of the Yukon Flats NWR to a Native Corporation called Doyon, Ltd. In return, Interior would receive 150,000 acres of Doyon refuge in-holdings and the Doyon would waive rights to 53,000 more acres. Then, depending upon the oil and gas developed by Doyon and its value, Interior could get additional lands and a small royalty.

Currently, there is no oil development in the region. The trade would put the refuge’s most commercially promising areas under corporate control and facilitate pipelines to carry oil and gas to market.

"Interior is trying to accomplish on the Yukon what Congress denied them on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," stated Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. "The net result will sweep a vital wildlife refuge into an oil rush, crisscrossed with pipelines and roads."

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the exchange outlines a panoply of potential detrimental impacts, including higher air pollution, discharge of greenhouse gases, "excessive draw down of surface waters," loss of wetlands from drainage to build oil platforms, as well as threats to water quality and the risk of oil spills. The deadline for public comments on the land exchange is March 25th.

The transaction is classified as "an equal value exchange" even though no appraisals have been conducted. Waiting for appraisals, however, would delay the deal until the next administration. In addition to not knowing the relative land values, Interior would earn only miniscule royalties on recovered oil and gas from land that the federal government now owns.

"This deal is a pig in a poke and it is one darned big pig," Hocutt added, noting that Interior is refusing numerous requests to extend the comment period on the exchange. "There is a rush to complete this exchange before anyone realizes what has been given away."

Heads Monsanto Wins, Tails We Lose; The Genetically Modified Food Gamble

Heads Monsanto Wins, Tails We Lose; The Genetically Modified Food Gamble

Go to Original
By Robert Weissman

There have been few experiments as reckless, overhyped and with as little potential upside as the rapid rollout of genetically modified crops.

Last month, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a pro-biotech nonprofit, released a report highlighting the proliferation of genetically modified crops. According to ISAAA, biotech crop area grew 12 percent, or 12. 3 million hectares, to reach 114. 3 million hectares in 2007, the second highest area increase in the past five years.

For the biotech backers, this is cause to celebrate. They claim that biotech helps farmers. They say it promises to reduce hunger and poverty in developing countries. "If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of cutting hunger and poverty in half by 2015," says Clive James, ISAAA founder and the author the just-released report, "biotech crops must play an even bigger role in the next decade."

In fact, existing genetically modified crops are hurting small farmers and failing to deliver increased food supply - and posing enormous, largely unknown risks to people and the planet.

For all of the industry hype around biotech products, virtually all planted genetically modified seed is for only four products - soy, corn, cotton and canola - with just two engineered traits. Most of the crops are engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide sold by Monsanto under the brand-name Round-up (these biotech seeds are known as RoundUp-Ready). Others are engineered to include a naturally occurring pesticide, Bt.

Most of the genetically modified crops in developing countries are soy, says Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety and co-author of "Who Benefits from GM Crops," a report issued at the same time as ISAAA's release. These crops are exported to rich countries, primarily as animal feed. They do absolutely nothing to supply food to the hungry.

As used in developing countries, biotech crops are shifting power away from small, poor farmers desperately trying to eke out livelihoods and maintain their land tenure.

Glyphosate-resistance is supposed to enable earlier and less frequent spraying, but, concludes "Who Benefits from GM Crops," these biotech seeds "allow farmers to spray a particular herbicide more frequently and indiscriminately without fear of damaging the crop." This requires expenditures beyond the means of small farmers - but reduces labor costs, a major benefit for industrial farms.

ISAAA contends that Bt planting in India and China has substantially reduced insecticide spraying, which it advances as the primary benefit of biotech crops.

Bt crops may offer initial reductions in required spraying, says Freese, but Bt is only effective against some pests, meaning farmers may have to use pesticides to prevent other insects from eating their crops. Focusing on a district in Punjab, "Who Benefits from GM Crops" shows how secondary pest problems have offset whatever gains Bt crops might offer.

Freese also notes that evidence is starting to come in to support longstanding fears that genetically engineering the Bt trait into crops would give rise to Bt-resistant pests.

The biotech seeds are themselves expensive, and must be purchased anew every year. Industry leader Monsanto is infamous for suing farmers for the age-old practice of saving seeds, and holds that it is illegal for farmers even to save genetically engineered seeds that have blown onto their fields from neighboring farms. "That has nothing to do with feeding the hungry," or helping the poorest of the poor, says Hope Shand, research director for the ETC Group, an ardent biotech opponent. It is, to say the least, not exactly a farmer-friendly approach.

Although the industry and its allies tout the benefits that biotech may yield someday for the poor, "we have yet to see genetically modified food that is cheaper, more nutritious or tastes better," says Shand. "Biotech seeds have not been shown to be scientifically or socially useful," although they have been useful for the profit-driven interests of Monsanto, she says.

Freese notes that the industry has been promising gains for the poor for a decade and a half - but hasn't delivered. Products in the pipeline won't change that, he says, with the industry focused on introducing new herbicide resistant seeds.

The evidence on yields for the biotech crops is ambiguous, but there is good reason to believe yields have actually dropped. ISAAA's Clive James says that Bt crops in India and China have improved yields somewhat. "Who Benefits from GM Crops" carefully reviews this claim, and offers a convincing rebuttal. The report emphasizes the multiple factors that affect yield, and notes that Bt and Roundup-Ready seeds alike are not engineered to improve yield per se, just to protect against certain predators or for resistance to herbicide spraying.

Beyond the social disaster of contributing to land concentration and displacement of small farmers, a range of serious ecological and sustainability problems with biotech crops is already emerging - even though the biotech crop experiment remains quite new.

Strong evidence of pesticide resistance is rapidly accumulating, details "Who Benefits from GM Crops," meaning that farmers will have to spray more and more chemicals to less and less effect. Pesticide use is rising rapidly in biotech-heavy countries. In the heaviest user of biotech seeds - the United States, which has half of all biotech seed planting - glyphosate-resistant weeds are proliferating. Glyphosate use in the United States rose by 15 times from 1994 to 2005, according to "Who Benefits from GM Crops," and use of other and more toxic herbicides is rapidly rising. The U.S. experience likely foreshadows what is to come for other countries more recently adopting biotech crops.

Seed diversity is dropping, as Monsanto and its allies aim to eliminate seed saving, and development of new crop varieties is slowing. Contamination from neighboring fields using genetically modified seeds can destroy farmers' ability to maintain biotech-free crops. Reliance on a narrow range of seed varieties makes the food system very vulnerable, especially because of the visible problems with the biotech seeds now in such widespread use.

For all the uncertainties about the long-term effects of biotech crops and food, one might imagine that there were huge, identifiable short-term benefits. But one would be wrong.

Instead, a narrowly based industry has managed to impose a risky technology with short-term negatives and potentially dramatic downsides.

But while it is true, as ISAAA happily reports, that biotech planting is rapidly growing, it remains heavily concentrated in just a few countries: the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China.

Europe and most of the developing world continue to resist Monsanto's seed imperialism. The industry and its allies decry this stand as a senseless response to fear-mongering. It actually reflects a rational assessment of demonstrated costs and benefits - and an appreciation for real but incalculable risks of toying with the very nature of nature.

William Shoots Himself in The Head and Goes For Steak

This Week in Time has been all about weird science.

Apparently, Scotland Yard thinks it's a great idea to start storing DNA from children as young as five so they can find out if they will become criminals later on in life.

It's such a great idea, in fact, that William Mac shoots himself in the head. But, since the government took all his real guns, he goes for a steak instead.

Mosaic News 3/19/08 - World News from the Middle East

Noam Chomsky Interview on CBC

Evan Solomon talks with Noam Chomsky about his book "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance". The show is Hot Type on CBC.

The Doomsday Code

Tony Robinson investigates the people with powerful political friends in the White House, who are trying to bring about the end of the world. Julia Bard reports.

'We live in a nightmare. Death and carnage is everywhere' Ali, Baghdad resident

’We live in a nightmare. Death and carnage is everywhere’ Ali, Baghdad resident

Go to Original
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

In most cities of the world a person might expect to be feted for surviving a single bomb attack. In Baghdad, survival stories can be found on every street corner.

Ali is a painter and a student at the academy of art in north Baghdad. A few years ago he moved to the Baghdad suburb of Karrada, where many artists live because of its art market.

When I meet him, Ali is limping slightly. A white bandage protrudes from the sleeve of his striped jumper, and he frequently drops his left shoulder so that his arm rests on his thigh. These are the only outward signs of the injuries he sustained in the previous week.

In a shy, soft voice Ali tells me how he had been standing with a friend in Karrada when a bomb went off at the side of the road. "I heard an explosion very close by," he says. "I saw smoke and chaos and people screaming. I saw my friend Hassan, who was running and carrying a child who had lost an arm. I saw a nice-looking girl - the Karrada girls, you know how beautiful they are. She was dead. And I saw a girl who had only one eye.

"I couldn't bear it," he tells me. "I started to scream and cry.

"Then suddenly there was another explosion. This time, you know, I didn't hear much, I just saw a tall column of orange fire a few metres away from me and then smoke. I didn't know what had happened, but the people who had run over to tend the injured from the first bomb were now lying on the street screaming.

"I stood there in the middle of it all. I saw people picking bodies up and carrying them. A police car arrived and the police started to fire bullets in the air. I ran away and hid at the entrance of a shop. When a woman saw me, she started screaming. There was blood on my arm and on my leg." A friend of Ali's stopped a passing ambulance and helped him into it. Inside, he found a man whose face was black from burns and whose shoulder was covered with blood. A younger man was bleeding from his legs. "When he tried to lift one of them it bent not at the knee but from the middle of his thigh," Ali says. "He was screaming, 'Fix my leg! Fix my leg!' "

At the hospital, Ali and the others sat in a corridor waiting to be treated by the overstretched medical team. "There were children there who were all red," he remembers. "It looked as if they had no faces, they were so covered with blood."

After waiting a while he was transferred to another hospital, where a doctor examined him. "The doctor told me I just had two bits of shrapnel in my arm and leg," Ali says. "He asked me why I was crying. I told him it wasn't for myself but for all the boys and girls around me."

The doctor took out what looked like pliers and asked Ali to look away. "He got the first bullet out, but the second didn't come so easily and I screamed."

After Ali has finished telling me this story I look around at his immaculately clean apartment. On one side of the room are a pile of paintings. He points at three small ones hanging on the wall, a mixture of orange and red splashes. "These are my attempts at surrealism," he says.

"Immediately after the war, I had a strong feeling of optimism. I was sure the Saddam era wouldn't come back, we had money and were spending all the money.

"But then the conspiracy theories started. I began hearing my brothers and friends say the Americans were here only for the oil, and after that I would go to bed and lie awake thinking how much oil they were stealing from me. Now I don't care if they steal the money, I am so tired."

"I ask myself why life in Iraq is so cheap. We are living in a nightmare. It is like there is a camera recording us and by its light we see images of death and carnage everywhere. The Iraqi have good hearts, but we are living in a state of hysteria."

This is Ali's second apartment. His first was blown up. On a mobile phone he shows me grainy video footage of smoke mixed with broken furniture. There are some muffled sounds and then I make out someone shouting: "Are you OK? This is a mortar. We're getting shelled."

In fact it was a car bomb, Ali says.

He shared that flat with two other friends, Mamdouh and Sarmad. "They were the best people in the world. Mamdouh and I would listen to [the Arab singer] Fairuz and paint all night.

"The night before that bomb, Mamdouh told me he felt guilty he hadn't done any work for so long. He told me he would go out for breakfast early in the morning.

"I stayed in the flat, sleeping. Then I heard the first explosion. It was at the end of the street. I went to the window to look, and then as I was walking back the second bomb went of, just under my window."


As Ali ran down the stairs, he saw someone who lived on the first floor wrapped in a blanket. He was dead. "I asked if anyone had seen Mamdouh and Sarmad. They told me no one had seen them. I was crying in the street . A few hours later a friend called me and told me that Sarmad was dead and Mamdouh was in hospital."

Ali went to the hospital. His eyes and voice are calm - as usual - while he recounts the scene. "He was lying on a bed there in the Kindi hospital, there was a filthy smell all around, the smell of urine. He looked like Mamdouh, but he was like someone else ... he smiled and I smiled back, but I felt a great pain in my heart." Two days later, Ali tells me, Mamdouh died.

"We came, his friends, me and Hassan and Hadi, and washed him and put him in a shroud. You know I am too emotional. I cry very quickly. For six months I didn't talk to anyone, I was just sad and silent.

Ali loves Arabic calligraphy and has studied it for many years. Now, he says, all he writes are the black mourning signs for his dead friends, which, according to Iraqi custom, he hangs in the street.

Five Years of Genocide

Five Years of Genocide

Go to Original
By Zuheir Kseibati

Five years ago to the day, it was the dawn of the American invasion that carried Iraq to the endless darkness of the occupation. The fall of Baghdad, the Arab capital which they almost dubbed Saddam Hussein's capital, was nothing but the onset of a massive volcanic eruption in the region; its fires still consume the Arabs' stability and security and rewrite maps from the Ocean to the Gulf.

The captain of the invasion, George Bush, celebrates the "first large-scale Arab uprising against Usama bin Laden." He reassures Americans that the costs of the invasion and war against and in Iraq, now touching $500 billion, are petty when bearing the "gains" in mind…notably ending "Saddam's tyranny" and lighting the candles of hope towards "democracy."

As he celebrates the fifth anniversary of the invasion, Bush forgets the big misleading lie about the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The battle has turned into a front against al-Qaeda and terrorism, and its strategic goal is to prevent shifting the battlefield to the US. Let it then be the 100-year war fought with Iraqi blood!

Those were five years of tears and blood. They are good enough a price for the Baghdad government to prevent a quick American withdrawal, which would sweep away the "achievements" realized so far, including the reduction of death tolls and rates. The suicide bombers, however, continue to come in waves, while hundreds of thousands have been left dead since the invasion and occupation began. Millions are now refugees all over Mesopotamia and neighboring countries, announcing the worst humanitarian "crisis" in a country that holds the world's third largest oil reserves. Perhaps it is certainly much worse than a crisis.

Despite all this, Bush is still celebrating the liberation of Iraqis from tyranny, and also from their blood, wealth, sovereignty, security, stability, and unity. By all moral standards, neither he nor his Vice President Dick Cheney feel embarrassed when they present on their list of victories the face of a new Iraq in which al-Qaeda is weakened and the resources of terrorism are dried up. They conveniently overlook al-Qaeda's students and women, the swamps of corruption drowning ministers and officials, the impoverishment of the homeless and the insanity of those who have been plagued by massacres and bombings that have turned Iraq into the home of the forgotten genocide.

The president, the captain of occupation, and his vice president who has bestowed upon his wife an adventurous and challenging trip to the secret base, are not ashamed of revealing the "logical" conclusion of the extremely costly war: that no other generation of Americans will have to be sent here to deter a potential confrontation on American soil. And if the cost is the blood, wealth, and unity of Iraqis, that would be their problem.

When Mesopotamia becomes the nation of unified plagues falling upon the necks of a nation, the American president finds no reason to apologize for his lies about weapons of mass destruction. Only a handful of the original war architects remain with him but mostly in hiding, while Cheney promises the Iraqis that he would not tire. The battle still has chapters to come, and if the Americans were to be bored by any slackness on al-Qaeda's side, there would still be the Iranian "influence." It is as if the vice president is taking the risk to address the victim of murder and warn him against the murderer!

Five years of tears and blood. The deafening bombs are still louder than the wailing of the mothers who lost their children and the weeping of men every time they lost children and fathers. But does any of this happen in Iraq? Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is commending the "healing of the nation," for Iraqis are no longer killed on the basis of their sectarian identity! Genocide has become "fair," as it no longer discriminates between Sunni and Shiite. To become indiscriminate, the genocide has had to last as long as the occupation itself. Everything that has been since the dawn of March 20th, 2003 is a "success" according to Cheney's testimony.

According to al-Maliki's account, life goes on in Iraq. The only obstacle that hinders "reconciliation" between the ruling forces and the disgruntled parties is a final resolution over the oil law to divide the inheritance of the murdered victim.

The "Iraqis were liberated" five years ago. All they need to do is to believe the American when he offers them a medal for defeating tyranny so they can prepare themselves for another decade or two of war on terror, while he promises them "strategic" military bases to guard oil facilities …and the dead.

Cheney wonders about the Arabs and why they are so shy in front of Iran and al-Qaeda. In the century-long war, everyone has a role to play.
In the long night and the epic of forgotten genocide, only Bush hallucinates about victory….All the politicians of Iraq hallucinate about democracy-deception. It is the long night of genocide.

What Do We Owe Iraq?

What Do We Owe Iraq?

Death, Destruction and Reparations

Go to Original
By John Ross

Lurching down Valencia Street in San Francisco last week, I all but stumbled over a homeless young man squatting against the wall of the now moribund New College. Begging his pardon, I could not help but note that he was leafing through a dog-eared volume scavenged from a nearby free book box serendipitously entitled "What We Owe Iraq." Indeed, my inattentiveness to the young man’s pedal extremities was the by-product of my contemplation of just that subject.

What do we owe Iraq for over a million dead and ten times that number wounded or otherwise devastated in five years of Bush’s unrelenting bloodletting?

For 5,000,000 people who have been uprooted and displaced from their homes, half of them forced to flee their homeland, 65% of them women and children, 80% of the children less than 12 years of age?

What do we owe Iraq for having perverted governance into an aggregation of death squads? For corrupting public officials and leveling essential services, leaving the nation in the dark most days, contaminating the water supply, destroying the agricultural sector in the birthplace of agriculture, and aiding and abetting the looting of the cradle of civilization?

What do we owe this country "where the first letter was written, the first law put, the first university built, the first money issued, and the first poetry written?" asks Eman Kammas, a fearless Iraqi journalist now forced into exile.

The $3,000,000.000.000 USD Joseph Stiglitz calculates this illegal war will cost U.S. taxpayers will not compensate Iraq in per capita reparations. The quotient of Iraqi blood shed in this genocidal exercise cannot nearly be repaid by all the hemoglobin extracted from the 4000 dead Americans who gave up their lives in this pointless fracaso. The blood they spilled is only a drop in this bottomless bucket.

What do we owe Iraq? The damage can never be quantified. "The debt is too great to comprehend," considers my colleague Sasha Crow, founder of the Collateral Repair Project whose NGO seeks to repair some of the damage done.

The book the homeless comrade on Valencia Street (was he a vet?) was perusing consists of a series of essays by one Noah Feldman, a New York University law professor and once senior constitutional adviser on "the ethics of nation building" to L. Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority. On its now tattered pages, Feldman grapples with framing "the interests of the people being governed (read conquered) and our own interest in exercising power over them." The problem, as Bremer’s lawyer saw it, was how to build "responsible, capital-driven nations whose own citizens will not seek to destroy us" (sic.) Or. in other words, how to save Iraq by breaking it, an ethical quandary that 40 years ago perplexed the architects of the U.S. genocide in Vietnam.

Feldman’s moral compass only tackles the "nation-building" part and evades completely the legality of invading and breaking a sovereign nation. The constitution Feldman helped to write indeed handed Iraq over to the assassins and their U.S. sponsors. What we owe Iraq is to string Professor Feldman up from the nearest lamppost in Washington Square.

What Bush’s America thinks it owes Iraq was strikingly encapsulated in a recent New York Times dispatch that told of the "exceptional luck" of an Iraqi toddler. When Marines raided two year-old Amenah al-Bayati’s home in Anbar province to detain her father on suspicion of supporting the insurgency, they noted that her feet were turning blue, a sign of congestive heart failure. Captain Kevin Jarrard prevailed over the objections of Homeland Security to have the child flown to Tennessee for corrective surgery. "The kid couldn’t help who her daddy was," Captain Jarrard told the New York Times, adding that he now was friends with the imprisoned man. Amenah’s homecoming when she returned to Haditha was described by the Times as "a public relations coup" for the Marines.

In April 2005, a U.S. Marine unit killed 24 civilians in Haditha in cold blood, five of them children. The killers have since been absolved.

One thing we do not owe Iraq is another "public relations coup" but that’s what appears to be up ahead as the war de-accelerates. Youngsters maimed by the aggression that Professor Feldman rationalizes will be flown to the U.S. by "humanitarian" aid scams and faith-based Christian charities to massage the collective guilt of America for having slept through the massacre into coughing up big bucks. Celebrity telethons and "We Are The World" clone mega-concerts will follow. Reconstruction swindles with billions in contracts let to Halliburton and Blackwater (to protect the reconstructors) and the annexation of the nation’s damaged oil fields by Big Oil will drive the final neo-liberal nail into Iraq’s coffin. Just like the Feldman scenario, first we destroy ’em and then we save ’em. It’s the American way.

What we owe Iraq is about to become one more corporate boondoggle - if we let it.

In the years after the debacle in Vietnam, those who had savaged that country and those who had stood fast against the carnage considered this same question: what did we owe the people of Vietnam and their damaged land for our appalling war upon them both? Some returned to the scene of the crime to fraternize with the enemy and calculate the damage they had done. Vets’ groups and peace activists took action to repair what collateral damage they could. Hospitals were built and potable water systems installed. Kids horribly burnt by our napalm were flown to California for plastic surgery. It seems almost axiomatic that once the U.S. has destroyed a nation, we are driven to repair it.

Who repairs the collateral damage is crucial in this equation. Should repair and reparations be relegated to the same profit-driven corporate entities responsible for the damage? Or are the people we have indiscriminately bombed best served by grassroots response?

Military euphemisms aside, collateral damage is the willful decimation of a civilian population designed to terrorize those who might consider resisting the conquest of their country. One antidote to this homicidal hypocrisy is collateral repair.

Collateral repair begins at home. Having read of the killing of an ambulance driver by U.S. troops in the northwest city of al-Qaim during the first days of "Operation Iron Fist" in October 2005, Crow began collecting small donations from her Seattle neighbors to repair a part of the damage, eventually providing the driver’s widow and four children with four walls and a roof and a few sheep. Others joined in and a Vets for Peace group installed a potable water system at the hospital whose ambulance had been crunched. The first effort blossomed into the Collateral Repair Project ( which seeks to soften some of the unspeakable damage Bush Inc. has inflicted upon the Iraqi people, person to person, family to family, hand to hand. and heart to heart.

Small things are accomplished: a kids’ school uniform is paid for, a tank of propane to heat refugee hovels in winter is purchased, dollar reading glasses for sewing women are shipped over, soccer balls exchanged for toy guns - band-aids, yes, but as CRP asks "what else can we do?"

The dimensions of the damage are hard to comprehend. One does what they can and where they can do it. For the past year, Collateral Repair has focused on the nearly 1,000,000 Iraqis who have been driven into exile in Jordan, sometimes with only the shirt on their back, where they are hounded by authorities much as ICE beats up on undocumented Mexicans on the homefront.

Iraqi families who have sought sanctuary in Jordan now have until April 17th to pay thousands of dollars in fines for seeking refuge in that Hashemite kingdom or face deportation and possible death back to Iraq, or flee to a third country - the U.S. which instigated this butchery in the first place and where Homeland Security restricts refuge to collaborators, is not an option. However, its not all bad news - those Iraqis with $100,000 in the bank will be allowed to remain in Jordan.

Crow understands what we have taken from Iraq is irreplaceable, so she and her partner Mary Madsen work on the little things, the sewing machines, the price of baking a loaf of bread, a camcorder for Um Muna to record the ceremonies of life in her Amman refugee community. A collection we took up at my 70th birthday party paid for it.

What else can we do?

What we owe Iraq is our attention. It has faded as the years and the corpse heaps have piled up, remembered once a year on the anniversary of the invasion when those who have suffered this damage must live it 364 more days a year for five years now and how many more?

What do we owe Iraq? Not a new president who praises the U.S. killing machine and pledges "orderly withdrawal" by 2013. Not corporate solutions to the suffering of those we have treated so callously until now.

What we owe Iraq is to change the way America does business in the world and the only way to do that is to radically change this gangrenous system and root out the source of all this damage. What we owe Iraq is really nothing short of a revolution.

John Ross is back in Mexico and will now turn his attention to this beautifully chaotic republic for a while. If you have further information, write

There is no such thing as a war for free

There is no such thing as a war for free

Go to Original
By J. E. Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes

Five years ago, as the Bush administration was preparing to attack Iraq, it claimed that the war would cost $50 billion to $60 billion. We are now spending for military operations alone that amount every three months—and that sum does not even include future costs, such as disability and health benefits for returning troops. We estimate conservatively that by the time the war is over, it will have cost America in excess of $3 trillion, an amount so vast it is hard to fathom. The only way to grasp such numbers is to translate them into what a day or an hour of fighting costs, what economists refer to as the opportunity costs, what else we might have purchased. Many are worried about China's growing influence in Africa. But what we spend in aid to Africa amounts to but 10 days of upfront costs of fighting in Iraq. President Bush talked about the enormous financial problems facing Social Security, saying that drastic reforms—even privatization—were needed. Well, for one-sixth of the cost of an Iraq war, one could put Social Security on firm financial footing for at least the next 50 to 75 years.

War is always expensive, but this war is particularly expensive. It is now the nation's second longest (after Vietnam) and the second costliest (after the all-encompassing World War II). The cost per troop, even adjusted for inflation, is some eight times greater than earlier wars. Many of these costs arise because the administration tried to persuade the American people that they could have a war for free. The government kept upfront costs down, not spending money on, for instance, vehicles that would have protected our troops against improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which have led to so many deaths and disabilities, even after they were urgently requested. This war is distinctive in the huge number of injuries, some 15 times the number of fatalities—a tribute to modern medicine, but an unfunded liability in excess of $600 billion, costs that we will be paying for decades. (The administration has done all it can to hide these numbers; working through veterans groups, we had to use the Freedom of Information Act to get the full scope of the injuries.)

This war relied more on National Guards, which are intended to protect us against domestic emergencies like Hurricane Katrina, not to fight foreign ventures. This war has been privatized more than any other war. The contractors have done well—just look at Halliburton Co.'s share prices, which almost tripled in value. But these strategies, too, have been penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Going from $50 billion to $3 trillion is mostly a matter of simple arithmetic. We first added up the budgetary costs—beginning with some $600 billion that goes to actual operations, requested in dribs and drabs, still five years into the war funded with emergency appropriations, which itself is more than 10 times what the administration said. But there are huge costs to come. Most important of these are the veterans' costs. Our armed forces have been drained: America is less prepared to meet a new challenge than it was five years ago (this is part of the security opportunity cost of the war). It will be expensive to restore the military to its pre-war strength.

But then there are huge costs to our economy and society that go beyond the budget. Many are not quantifiable—the loss of America's standing in the world may be among the greatest. But some can be quantified. The death benefit for a soldier is at $500,000 far less than any economic measure of the value of life (including those used by the Bush administration itself in determining whether an environmental regulation is worth the cost). Disability pay, too, does not cover the economic loss—including the cost of care. In one of five families with a seriously disabled military person, someone has to give up a job to care for the returning veteran. And finally, there is the cost to the macroeconomy—a cost that is just now becoming fully apparent.

From an economic perspective, most striking is that this is the first war in America's history that ordinary citizens have not been asked to make an economic sacrifice as their sons and daughters risked their lives; as we went to war, there was a huge deficit, but in spite of this, we actually cut taxes on upper-income Americans, meaning the costs are being passed on to future generations.

Even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers) has pointed out that the deficits reduce our room to maneuver as the economy faces the worst downturn in a quarter-century, perhaps the worst since the Great Depression. The war, indirectly, is in fact more than a little responsible for our current problems. The war set off the rise in oil prices. Oil cost $25 a barrel before the war, and the futures markets—which already took into account the projected growth in demand by China and other emerging markets—nonetheless expected prices to remain at this level for another decade. The invasion of Iraq changed the equation, and supply did not grow to meet demand. To be conservative, we have only attributed $5 to $10 of the more than $85-a-barrel increase in the price of oil to the Iraq war.

However, even this has a major impact on the U.S. economy. It has transferred money out of the pockets of consumers and businesses into the coffers of oil exporters like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Kuwait and Russia. This money does not stimulate the U.S. economy. Indeed, most of the money we have spent on Iraq has not stimulated the U.S. economy because so much has been spent on things that have no economic benefit to us—like paying contractors from Nepal, the Philippines and elsewhere to cook food, wash laundry, construct barracks and drive trucks in Iraq. Clearly this is less beneficial to the U.S. economy than if we had spent the money on schools or roads in America.

The Fed, in effect, covered up this downdraft on the American economy with a flood of liquidity, which together with lax regulations led to a housing bubble and a consumption boom. More than $1.5 trillion was taken out of houses in mortgage equity withdrawals. Household savings plummeted to zero. But we were living on borrowed money and borrowed time; a day of reckoning had to come. It has now come—a little too soon for the politicians who hoped that this problem, like the war, could be passed on to the next administration.

Economists say that there is no such thing as a free lunch. And there is no such thing as a free war. America will be paying dearly for this war, partly because this administration tried to persuade the American people that they could repeal the laws of economics and have a war for free. We will be paying for these mistakes, with interest, for years to come.

The Costs of Freedom

The Costs of Freedom

Five years of this war, and no end in sight.

Go to Original
By Monica Benderman

I received an email from a friend in Iraq. She was asking me to sign a petition and distribute it as widely as possible. Young Iraqi refugee girls were being forced into prostitution in Syria. She was working to draw attention to their situation and hoped for a global response of help for them.

What can be said about this? I signed the petition and passed it along. I’ll talk about it with those who will listen. The young girls hope things change – I would not want to give them a false sense of hope. Are you willing to pay the cost of their freedom?

I received a phone call from a man representing a publicity organization preparing a press release for the anniversary of the war. He was looking for a quote from us about the war.

What is left to be said? When things have been repeated over and over; when the subject has been broached in as many different ways as possible in the hope that different voices might finally reach the people – what is left to be said?

My quote – “These past five years have been nothing but wasted – wasted lives, wasted money, wasted breath, and wasted time.” Emptiness took over where I had tried to put feeling, and as I thought about the war and what this man was asking, the emptiness became very dark, frustrating, and cold. I have hope for my life – I make my choices and live knowing I will deal with the consequences of my choices – therein lies my freedom. I know well what freedom costs, and I am willing to pay.

In the years before the war I lived a different life – not a military life, but one in which I learned just how little the veterans who served this country really did receive in the way of valid support for what they had given in the name of justice and civic responsibility. People criticized them for having served and others praised them. But few people ever seemed to make the real effort to support the sacrifice the veterans had made to help move us all closer to peace; a peace the veterans stood on the frontlines for, so that those behind the scenes might be able to do the work needed to see that the roots of that peace took hold. I worked to facilitate the care of veterans, World War II, Korea, even those from Viet Nam – I listened to their stories and those of their families. I saw war from the outside looking in.

In the last five years, I have come to see the real cost of freedom up close and personal. I have lived it every single day of my life, oftentimes twenty four hours of each day. I lived the days while my husband was stationed in a combat zone and I received no word from him for months on end. I lived the days when he returned and I saw someone home who seemed far removed from the man who left. I lived the days when the anger inside him grew – at times becoming a fearsome rage emanating from a man I seemed to have never known. I lived the days when that anger grew so quiet even the breathing was hard to hear and the silence became a darkness no light was strong enough to pervade.

I lived as my husband struggled against a corrupt command, an abusive leadership who refused to do what was right to ensure the soldiers who had entrusted their lives to this command were given the care and respect they needed for their service. I lived through his anger as he reached out to do what he could to call attention to what was needed to bring about the change he and those he served with knew was needed. The soldiers were doing all they could. They volunteered to defend their constitution, a leadership abused the commitment the soldiers made and the laws of this country bound our soldiers, trapping them into a service that no longer represented the duty for which they had enlisted.

For some, conscience stepped in. I lived as my husband made the most difficult decision he has ever had to make – and all I could do was tell him I would do what I could to be there for him, to help him with the choice he made – I said I would not leave. I didn’t want him to return to war, I could see what the effect of war was doing to him – not the combat tour, but the lack of responsibility anyone in a leadership role felt they had to the oath of service they had taken. In the end, my husband made his choice, and spent the past three years in a different war; a war for his conscience. The first year of this battle was spent in jail.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay to stand by their word even when corrupt individuals abuse the very laws they have taken a sworn oath to follow.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when these corrupt individuals are placed in leadership positions with no intention of leading with any sense of honesty or commitment to truth; and yet people continue to stand with integrity and dignity for the principles in which they believe.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when men and women forget their humanity, believing their power lies in their ability to amass material wealth: when their success is defined by how much they have, not how well they live; and yet people continue to face their adversaries with respect for their own lives and purpose.

The cost of freedom is the price real people pay when their strength is held in servitude to those who have little strength of their own – and in their role as cowardly leaders seek to control the strength of those who serve with a sense of obligation that becomes so overwhelming there seems to be no way out other than to bow to the false authority; and yet people continue to stand strong knowing someday the tables will turn.

I know the cost of freedom. I know the price that must be paid. I know the power of the evil domination that threatens to overwhelm the hope that is left in this country.

I know how much this false power has to lose when people finally see the light and stand against it. I know with that much to lose, the corrupt leadership of this false power will do anything they must to maintain control over the illusion they have come to love. They will destroy life, claiming it to be a sacrifice in defense of life. They will destroy the financial base of a country, claiming the money is needed to keep that country free. They will destroy the unity of the people which makes the country strong; keeping us divided with talk of racial disharmony, sexist abuse, class inferiority, all the while insisting on the power of unity.

The cost of freedom is the strength it takes to stand against a current of adversity and stay committed to principle – the strength to keep one’s word.

The cost of freedom is what happens to a man when he faces the anger and the rage of a machine he has dared to speak against – one man, one human being – relying on the strength of his heart against a mechanized adversary with no conscience. The price is that man’s conscience in a victory for the machine if he has nothing to hold on to giving him hope that his struggle will one day result in something more than mere survival.

I have lived while wars have been fought. I have lived when the anger and regret for giving up the illusion of success granted by servitude to the machine has become uncontrollable in a man trained to keep his emotions in check, as he struggles to survive in a place society promised would be better than the illusion if he would only leave it. Promises shouldn’t be given if there is no intention that they will be kept.

I have lived full of reassurances – offering the hope desperately needed – insisting that the machine can be beaten if we just stand together facing it without giving in. The difference, the machine doesn’t breathe, or eat, or sleep – the machine doesn’t know doubt, the fear of failure, or the sense of worthlessness at taking one’s family to the brink of disaster for a stand on principle that seems to have so little meaning in a society where illusion has the power.

What we, as a nation of citizens of conscience, have allowed to happen is incomprehensible in terms of the costs to humanity. Five years and counting, and the conscience of this nation has gone into hiding as we hear those in our leadership positions seeking to reassure us that their deplorable actions as human beings actually have any real value in moving us all closer to peace and justice in the world.

There is nothing our leadership has done that has value to anyone but themselves and there is nothing left to say to a nation of citizens who can’t seem to figure out that the freedom they demand takes diligent responsibility, real effort and a sacrifice of life few seem willing to pay.

It’s not about dying on the battlefield – freedom demands something far more difficult. It’s about living with conviction – the courage to stand on principle knowing the consequences will be stiff, and at times quite painful.

Death for freedom is a cowardly concept, and to believe in our leadership when they tell us of the noble honor in dying to defend our freedom is to live as cowards believing in an illusion destined to destroy our humanity.

Freedom takes strength; strength those in our leadership positions fear – for it is a strength they can only borrow from others. They lack the understanding of reality needed to acquire such strength for themselves. The kind of strength freedom demands is not found in lies, manipulations, secrecy and deception; the lifestyle an illusion of power must have to continue. The strength of freedom comes from living what we know to be true and doing so against all odds.

Those who claim to lead us now are nothing more than cowards hoping the people of this nation do not wake up and realize the strength they have – in conscience. Conscience requires a hard look into the eyes of reality - it’s not an easy road, but freedom is worth the effort.

I know the cost of freedom and I am willing to pay. Are you?

Russia charges Zaslavsky brothers with 'spying' after BP raids

Russia charges Zaslavsky brothers with ’spying’ after BP raids

Go to Original
By Tony Halpin

Two prominent members of the British Council’s alumni club have been charged with spying for foreign companies by Russia’s security service.

Brothers Alexander and Ilya Zaslavsky are accused of collecting commercial secrets from a Russian oil company on behalf of foreign rivals in the energy market.

Alexander Zaslavsky is President of the British Alumni Club in Russia, a networking group under the patronage of the British Council that brings together thousands of Russians who have studied in Britain. The British Ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, is the club’s honorary president.

Ilya Zaslavsky, who graduated from Oxford University in 2004, is in charge of the club’s energy committee, made up of members involved in this field. He has also been employed at the Anglo-Russian oil giant TNK-BP since last September in the gas regulation department.

Members of the alumni club told The Times that Alexander described himself as an “energy consultant”, while Ilya had also been involved in gas consultancy before joining TNK-BP.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said that the two men, who also have US citizenship, were arrested on March 12 while allegedly attempting to obtain classified information from a Russian “employed with a national hydrocarbon institution”.

“The brothers were illegally collecting classified commercial information for a number of foreign hydrocarbon companies, which wished to have advantages over their Russian rivals, including those in the CIS markets,” the FSB said.

They were charged with industrial espionage yesterday. The announcement came just a day after police seized documents during raids on the Moscow headquarters of TNK-BP and BP, which holds a 50 per cent stake in TNK-BP.

The FSB said that the search had produced “material evidence of industrial espionage . . . and business cards of representatives of foreign defence departments and the Central Intelligence Agency”.

The arrests are certain to reignite tensions between Britain and the Kremlin, which has repeatedly accused the British Council of being a front for espionage.

Alexander Zasvlavsky, who also graduated from Oxford, was elected president of the alumni club in December, only a month before the Russian Foreign Ministry began a campaign to close the British Council’s regional offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg

The British Council initially defied the demand, but was forced to close after the FSB summoned its Russian employees for interrogation while Russia’s tax police paid late-night visits to their homes.

More than 160 members of the British Alumni Club, which has branches in Moscow and five Russian regions, sent a letter of protest to President Putin against the forced closure of the Council’s offices.

Neither Ilya nor Alexander Zaslavsky were among the signatories. Organisers of the protest said at the time that many members had wanted to sign the letter but feared retribution from the authorities.

Water Shortages Affect Food, Transit, Security

Water Shortages Affect Food, Transit, Security

Go to Original
By Brad Knickerbocker

A thousand tons of water produces just one ton of grain.

For 15 years, the United Nations has been observing "World Water Day," a time to consider the opportunities and challenges presented by a resource essential to the environment and to humankind.

It’s becoming clear now that climate change may be altering the way people and governments think about water.

The UN reported this week that the world’s glaciers are melting at "an alarming rate." Like reservoirs, glaciers store water and then release it at predictable rates, around which humans have formed communities and built economies. Agency France-Presse, the French news service, quotes Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, as saying:

"Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry, and power generation during key parts of the year."

As a result of shrinking glaciers, people will have to change their lifestyles, their farming, even move their homes, Mr. Steiner says. Britain’s Sunday Observer further quotes Steiner as saying:

"While I’m always cautious about ’water wars,’ certainly the potential for water to become a trigger for more tension and, where there’s already conflict, to exacerbate conflict is another issue that’s not hypothetical."

Global warming is raising ocean levels, meaning seawater will encroach on wetlands, rivers, and streams, according to recent reports by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Research Council (NRC), the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change also could adversely affect transportation, the NRC reported last week. The Associated Press reports:

"The nation’s transportation system was built for local conditions based on historical weather data, but those data may no longer be reliable in the face of new weather extremes.… The report notes, for example, that drier conditions are likely in the watersheds supplying the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. The resulting lower water levels would reduce vessel shipping capacity, seriously impairing freight movements in the region, such as occurred during the drought of 1988."

Water also complicates a shift from fossil fuels, researchers pointed out at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Toronto Star reports:

"University of Texas professor Michael Webber, an environmental policy specialist, said so-called green fuels for vehicles all require much more water to produce than ordinary gasoline. Conventional oil refineries use comparatively modest amounts of water, largely for cooling.

"Webber said the water required for an alternate fuel vehicle to travel a certain distance can be up to 100 times that required for a gas-powered vehicle. This extra water use stems from the irrigation of crops like corn that are turned into ethanol, or in the production of the electricity for recharging hybrids."

In China, drought has made it difficult to supply reservoir water for irrigation while also providing generating capacity for downstream hydropower dams. Reuters reports:

"The frequency of both the droughts and floods that regularly batter China are expected to increase in a warmer world. And rural demands could compound the impact of short supplies, because China tends to time releases of water to suit the needs of farmers rather than power companies."

Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute think tank in Washington, is concerned that declining water supplies combined with the push for water-intensive biofuels could be a threat to global food security. Another Reuters story reports:

"The thing to keep in mind is that it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain.... Seventy percent of all the water we use in the world - that we pump from underground or divert from rivers - is used in irrigation. Not everyone has connected the dots to see that a future of water shortages will be a future of food shortages."

Blackwater's World of Warcraft

Blackwater’s World of Warcraft

Go to Original
By Bruce Falconer and Daniel Schulman

Need a private-label armored vehicle? A detachment of Chilean infantrymen? A special forces "engagement team"? Erik Prince’s expanding global private army is at your service-and the war in Iraq was just the beginning.

When Blackwater founder Erik Prince took his seat before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last October, in the midst of a firestorm over the killing of 17 civilians in Baghdad by his contractors the previous month, the 38-year-old was at the helm of a fast-growing global business-and had the confidence to match. Sporting a neatly pressed suit and a fresh military-style haircut that evoked his service as a Navy seal, Prince had been prepped by crisis-management specialists from the Beltway PR firm Burson-Marsteller, and throughout the tense four-hour hearing he leaned back frequently to confer with his lawyer. A private man who seldom gives interviews, he nevertheless seemed at ease in a room filled with politicians, cameras, and reporters. He extolled his men’s professionalism-"I believe we acted appropriately at all times"-and bristled at the term most commonly used to describe his line of work. "The Oxford dictionary defines a mercenary as a professional soldier working for a foreign government," he said. "We have Americans working for America, protecting Americans."

The truth is a bit more complex. As profit margins in the private security industry have narrowed-Blackwater clears just 10 percent on its primary State Department contract, Prince testified-the ceo has increasingly looked beyond American shores. More and more of his foot soldiers now come from Third World countries, and his corporate network is aggressively pitching for business from foreign governments. (It has already trained naval commandos in Azerbaijan and has been hired to train special forces troops in Jordan.) In his most ambitious moments, Prince has set out a vision in which his companies would act as for-profit peacekeepers, working with the United Nations and other international organizations in conflict areas around the world. Even Blackwater’s marketing materials are infused with the imagery of global humanitarianism; one of the company’s recent ads shows a tiny malnourished infant being spoon-fed and proclaims the company’s intention to "provide hope to those who still live in desperate times."

Yet the most important vehicle for Prince’s global aspirations isn’t Blackwater proper, but Greystone Limited, a company he quietly founded in 2004 as his firm’s "international affiliate." According to Chris Taylor, a former Marine Recon soldier who until May was Blackwater’s vice president for strategic initiatives, Prince sought to build a new brand. "Blackwater has a sexy name and people pay attention to it," Taylor says, and sometimes that high profile "may not fit the proposed mission." In particular, he says, "international opportunities" were to be "looked at through Greystone."

Nearly all of the 20 or more companies Prince has launched or acquired over the years are U.S. based. Greystone, however, was incorporated in the Caribbean tax haven of Barbados, although it is managed from Blackwater’s headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina. (The Barbados address and phone number listed in the federal government’s contractor database trace back to a firm that specializes in shielding corporate revenues from U.S. tax authorities.) "As far as I know, they were the same company with different names," notes a contractor who worked for Blackwater in Iraq.

Unlike Blackwater, Greystone has managed to stay almost entirely out of public view, and it remains a mystery even to industry insiders. Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group of which Greystone was a member until late last year, couldn’t say what the company does. (Blackwater pulled out of the group last October after the ipoa launched an investigation into its conduct; Greystone followed suit in November.) Neither could R.J. Hillhouse, a political scientist and private-security expert who follows the industry closely. Even a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which has issued contracts to Blackwater on which Greystone works as a subcontractor, admits he has never heard of the company.

Despite-or perhaps because of-its close-to-the-vest MO, the company has built up a certain mystique. One contractor we spoke to said he was present when Greystone managers arrived to claim their office space at Blackwater’s Baghdad headquarters. They were a different breed from the "yee-haw cowboys" that filled Blackwater’s ranks, and their tattoos indicated backgrounds in elite military units like Marine Recon, the Navy seals, and the Green Berets. "They didn’t talk to the other Americans," he said, let alone foreigners. "They had different bodies, different mentalities, and used different language. They had a different professional attitude."

Greystone’s managing director is a 40-year-old ex-seal named Christopher Burgess, who first met Prince while the pair was in training for the Navy’s elite unit. Burgess rarely grants interviews, but he agreed to answer some of our questions in writing. Asked why Greystone had chosen to incorporate in Barbados, he responded that the country "is a well known business center with established business practices and banking systems."

Tax benefits aside, at least one industry observer has suggested that offshoring Blackwater’s sister company may have been an attempt to skirt strict regulations on the export of military services. Burgess disputes the notion. Greystone, he said, seeks "State Department licensure for all security services overseas," and complies with "other trade controls and restrictions." Taylor admits that taxes were a factor, but says the primary goal was to better position Greystone for international contracts. "It’s a matter of focus and efficiency," he says. "I don’t think it obfuscates anything."

The scion of a prominent and politically connected Michigan family, Erik Prince followed in his father’s entrepreneurial footsteps. Edgar Prince was a billionaire auto-parts maker who provided seed money for conservative activist Gary Bauer’s Family Research Council. After his father’s death in 1995, Prince combined his inherited wealth and Special Forces background to launch Blackwater.

The company’s original business goal was modest-training state and local cops to be better marksmen. But then came the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with them a bonanza for the private security industry. Since then, Prince’s holding company, Prince Group llc, has come to include numerous ventures. Among them are Presidential Airways, an air-charter and cargo-transport firm; Pelagian, a maritime security operation with its own 153-foot vessel, helipad-equipped and outfitted for training and disaster response; and defense projects to make high-tech armaments such as mine-resistant armored vehicles and surveillance blimps. In February 2007, Prince rounded out his operations with Total Intelligence Solutions, a "one-stop" intelligence and risk consultancy for the private sector staffed by former cia officials.

The total of the Prince Group’s federal contracts, some of which are classified, is hard to ascertain. But according to government records, Blackwater alone pulled in close to $600 million in fiscal year 2006-an impressive figure considering its annual take from government work was well under $1 million prior to 9/11. Its checks come from a host of agencies, including the departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, and the cia, which, a European Parliament investigation alleges, has hired Prince’s air-charter company to transport terrorist suspects to secret interrogation sites. (Blackwater denies any involvement in rendition flights.)

The Prince business model calls to mind an earlier generation of private security companies typified by South Africa-based Executive Outcomes and U.K.-based Sandline International. Through the 1990s, these companies deployed private armies for the embattled regimes of countries such as Angola and Sierra Leone, waging war against rebels allegedly in exchange for diamond and oil concessions. Although both are now defunct, their alumni remain among the industry elite; Tim Spicer, Sandline’s former ceo, now runs Aegis Defence Services, which contracts with the Pentagon to coordinate security for all reconstruction projects in Iraq. And as Executive Outcomes founder Eeben Barlow wrote in a memoir released in South Africa last year, the main difference between his company and those now working in Iraq "under the guise of security companies" may simply be that Blackwater et al. have government backing. "After we had blazed the path for military consultancy and advisory work," he wrote, "companies realised that the military market was an open playing field."

None, perhaps, realized it more than Greystone, which has set out to meld government and corporate business into a seamless global web. In February 2005, the company was inaugurated at an exclusive event at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C. There, a carefully selected coterie of foreign dignitaries and international businessmen strode past armored vehicles conspicuously parked near the entrance. Inside, they browsed tables stocked with military-grade weapons and equipment, including uniforms, boots, knives, and gas masks, according to one invited guest. The keynote speaker was Cofer Black, the former State Department and cia official who, as head of the Agency’s Counterterrorist Center, famously promised after 9/11 to deliver Osama bin Laden’s head to the White House in a box of dry ice. Just two weeks before the Ritz-Carlton shindig, Black (now chairman of Total Intelligence Solutions) had joined a parade of officials leaving government service to work for Prince. In his speech, he urged attendees to consider our "changing world," the "far different threats" America faces, and the "creative solutions and approaches" required to deal with them.

Black’s rhetoric closely echoed Greystone’s promotional materials. "In today’s grey world," reads one of the company’s pamphlets, "the solutions to your security concerns are no longer as simple as black and white." Greystone offers clients full protective details staffed by special operations, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel "for any threat scenario around the world." It is prepared to train indigenous forces "in developing a capability to conduct defensive and offensive small group operations." Greystone contractors can stage mock "red team" attacks on secure installations to identify potential vulnerabilities. The company will work "in support of national security objectives as well as private interests" and is prepared to deploy "proactive engagement teams"-suggestive of offensive forces, not just security guards. Prince’s companies maintain a small fleet of aircraft, including Little Bird helicopters, commonly used in Special Forces operations, and casa-212s, rugged turboprops with high-mounted wings for moving cargo or up to 28 passengers. Blackwater also has sought to acquire at least one Embraer Super Tucano fighter-a lightweight plane used by several Latin American governments for counterinsurgency, pilot training, and monitoring. In an early promotional video (see, Greystone operators, some wearing black ski masks, are shown doing everything from handing out food to refugees and protecting diplomats to jumping out of airplanes, running cars off the road, and landing strike teams on Iraqi rooftops-all to a synthesized drum-and-bass soundtrack.

"They have the ability to do whatever tickles your pickle," says one private-security contractor. "They have services literally from A to Z. Aviation. Special operations. Rescue. Ransom. You name it. If you got the money, they got the honey. You can hire 17 James Bonds with Arnold Schwarzenegger in charge, or you can knock on the same door and tell them, ’I’m a Kuwaiti businessman and would like protection for my convoys between Kuwait City and Baghdad, but I only have half a million dollars a month.’ Greystone will take the contract, and they’ll hire grunts."

In addition to being a regular subcontractor for Blackwater in Iraq, Burgess said Greystone has also been hired directly by "foreign governments and private sector clients to provide static security, K-9 support, [vulnerability] assessments, aviation maintenance and management, and training." He wouldn’t specify clients or countries of operation "due to operational security concerns," except to say Greystone has worked "in various Middle Eastern countries."

The company has also registered with the UN’s procurement division, theoretically allowing it to compete for international peacekeeping contracts; speaking at a 2006 conference in Amman, Jordan, Black suggested that Blackwater could rapidly dispatch a brigade-size force to, say, Darfur. Taylor, the former Blackwater VP, says: "You just can’t deny the capability that Erik Prince has developed to assuage human suffering around the world."

So far, though, the world seems disinclined to take advantage of Greystone’s capabilities: In late December, after we asked a UN official about the company’s presence in the organization’s procurement database, Greystone and Presidential Airways were removed from the list; a UN source told us it was a temporary move pending an investigation into "ethical" concerns. For its part, Blackwater has tried to crack the African market with a bid to train South Sudanese security forces long engaged in battle with the country’s Islamic regime, although a company spokeswoman says it has no current contracts to do so. Writing in the Lebanese daily An-Nahar late last year, Sudan’s ambassador to Lebanon said that Blackwater had sought permission to enter Sudan under "a different name"-Greystone.

In addition to prospecting for international contracts, Greystone has become Prince’s primary recruiter of foreign military muscle. On its website, the company says its operators are drawn "from the best militaries throughout the world" and represent "numerous nationalities." Its reliance on foreign recruits, it claims, is a matter of "cultural sensitivity" and "awareness." What the PR materials don’t say is that Greystone, along with other security companies, likely outsources its work overseas for the same reason many other businesses do-it brings down costs and helps bypass bothersome regulations. "They’re going to pay these people a lot less, and they’re not going to respect the same type of employee and labor rights that U.S. nationals would require," says Erica Razook, an Amnesty International lawyer whose work focuses on private-security contractors.

Consider the case of Greystone subcontractor ID Systems. Incorporated in Panama and headquartered in a nondescript office complex in Bogotá, Colombia, the company in 2005 placed newspaper ads that drew men with military experience-a plentiful commodity in a country torn by civil war and terrorized by guerrillas and paramilitaries. According to one ID Systems recruit, a former Colombian army officer who asked to remain anonymous, he and at least 30 other men were promised $4,000 per month to do security work for Blackwater in Iraq. They went through a quick refresher course in firearms and hand-to-hand combat at the Colombian army’s cavalry school in northern Bogotá, he said; among the instructors were several Americans, all ex-U.S. military working for Greystone. Afterward, the recruits returned home to wait for the call to Iraq.

It came late one evening in June 2006. The men assembled at ID Systems’ offices, where they were met by Gonzalo Adolfo Guevara, a former Colombian army captain who had overseen their recruitment. He handed them contracts and told them to be at the airport in four hours. They were told they would be making not $4,000 but $2,700 per month-still not bad in Colombia, where some workers only earn that much in a year. But the actual contract, which some of them didn’t read until after they were airborne, provided for just $1,000 per month, or $34 per day.

On arriving in Baghdad, the men were issued weapons and introduced to Blackwater and Greystone managers. Bitterness turned to anger when they discovered that their pay was about one-fourth that of the Romanians they were replacing. They composed a letter to managers at ID Systems, Greystone, and Blackwater demanding either a raise or a ticket back to Colombia. The companies stonewalled, and it wasn’t until three months later, after reports of the dispute had appeared in Semana, Colombia’s largest newsmagazine, that the men were finally sent home. (Chris Taylor says there was no impropriety: "Before every single one of those professionals were deployed, they understood there was a change in the contract. Those who went understood perfectly what they were signing.") According to the former recruit, ID Systems continues to supply personnel to Greystone. But Guevara, the man who deceived the recruits about their wages, is no longer involved-he was shot and left to die outside a Bogotá bakery last May.

It was neither guevara nor Erik Prince who pioneered the idea of hiring foreign soldiers to do the business of the U.S. government. That took the imagination of a Chilean American businessman named José Miguel Pizarro. "Pizarro opened the door," says José Luis Gómez del Prado, a former diplomat who heads the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries; it’s thanks to Pizarro that recruiting ex-soldiers from Latin America has become "a big business."

Born in California and raised in Santiago, Pizarro served ten years as an officer in the Chilean army and another three as a Marine Corps translator attached to the U.S. Southern Command. By March 2003, he was heading a small defense-consulting firm in suburban Washington, D.C. Pizarro was connected and well spoken. He was also telegenic, and as the U.S. stormed toward Iraq he was hired as an on-air military analyst with cnn en Español, the network’s Spanish-language affiliate. It was there, in the cafeteria between shows, that he befriended a former U.S. general, also working as an analyst, who helped him hatch the idea of renting former Chilean soldiers to American private security companies. "He explained to me how the opportunity to do business in the Middle East was growing, that there was a need for private, professional security forces in Iraq," Pizarro recalls. "I started showing up in the cafeteria with pen and paper, taking notes, taking names. It took me several weeks to form the idea."

Before long, Pizarro was cold-calling security contractors to pitch his commandos. It wasn’t an easy sell. "No one in any of the firms would even return his calls," says one industry expert Pizarro turned to for advice. Pizarro recalls his first meeting with Blackwater president Gary Jackson: "He told me, ’This is a respectable company, and we’re going into a war zone. I need professional commandos, not peasants with rifles.’"

Not easily discouraged, Pizarro scored an appointment with Prince, who signed on for an initial batch of recruits to add to Blackwater’s security operations in Iraq. Pizarro left the meeting starstruck with his first paying customer. "He’s my hero," Pizarro says. "He’s a patriot, a great Christian, and has the balls that 250 million Americans would love to have."

Back in Santiago, Pizarro formed a new company called Grupo Táctico-incorporated in Uruguay to sidestep Chilean laws prohibiting paramilitary activity-and posted an ad in a Chilean newspaper offering recruits $3,000 per month. More than a thousand men sent résumés, including some active-duty Chilean soldiers. Blackwater reps traveled to Chile to review the applicants, and by February 2004, Pizarro and about 75 of his top recruits-most of them former Chilean special forces, marine commandos, and paratroopers-were brought to Blackwater’s compound in Moyock for training. Within weeks, they flew to Iraq, where they found themselves working alongside a veritable United Nations of security contractors: Nepalese and Indian Gurkhas, South Africans, and Eastern Europeans, to name a few. They became known as the "Black Penguins" because of the distinctive figures they cut on foot patrol, weighed down by weapons and flak jackets. Pizarro took to the term and designed a shoulder patch for his recruits: a penguin with an M-4 carbine across its chest.

to find their discount soldiers, Blackwater, Greystone, and their competitors have built recruitment networks reaching deep into the paramilitary milieus of the Third World. It works like this: Blackwater, for example, will win a U.S. government contract; it will then subcontract with itself-that is, with Greystone-to do the job. From there, Greystone looks to its network of international affiliates, firms like Pizarro’s Grupo Táctico in Chile or ID Systems in Colombia, which maintain informal relationships with what are known in the trade as "briefcase recruiters"-individuals with connections to the local paramilitary scene. These men find the recruits and funnel them back up the chain until, finally, they are deployed alongside U.S. forces in Iraq. The practice also serves as a convenient firewall, shielding U.S.-based companies from direct liability for the actions of their subcontractors. "If a court is looking at these issues, where the contract is signed is a factor," explains Amnesty’s Razook. "There is a lot there that would take it out of a U.S. court’s control."

Briefcase recruiting is a little-known niche of the private security business that has attracted some less-than-savory characters. Take Julio (a.k.a. "George") Nayor, a Cuban American currently serving an 11-year sentence at a federal prison in Miami for drug trafficking. A one-time associate of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Nayor escaped arrest in the United States in the early 1990s and fled, by means of a fake passport and various false identities, to San Salvador. There he reportedly opened a gym and several restaurants including one he named Karaoke George, which was adjacent to an upscale shopping mall.

In late 2004, Nayor placed newspaper ads seeking men to work on contract in Iraq for an unspecified U.S. security firm; recruits were to meet him at the karaoke bar. According to a Washington Post reporter who witnessed the scene, men lined up outside for weeks. "This is the future of global security," Nayor bragged to the reporter, adding that he’d already accepted 300 Salvadorans and expected to sign up many more, including veterans of the 380-man contingent that the Salvadoran government had contributed to the Coalition of the Willing. As soldiers in Iraq, they had earned a monthly salary of $280; as hired guns, they expected to make as much as $2,400.

Nayor disappeared as quickly as he had emerged, but nine months later many of the men who had interviewed with him were contacted by capros, a new company headed by two high-ranking Salvadoran military officers that, according to a Salvadoran newspaper, was recruiting for Greystone. In December 2005, Greystone representatives visited El Salvador to review the recruits, although it’s unclear whether they were ever sent to Iraq. Some of the men later told the Salvadoran press that the company had encouraged them to rack up credit-card purchases in preparation for their deployment, then failed to reimburse them.

Nayor’s own career as a briefcase recruiter was cut short in September 2006 by his arrest for allegedly plotting to assassinate El Salvador’s president by shooting down his helicopter with a shoulder-fired missile. He was subsequently extradited to the United States to face some of his old drug charges.

By then, Greystone’s search for contractors had expanded far beyond Latin America. In 2005, a Croatian newspaper reported that Greystone had dispatched a man named Marko Radielovic, who once worked for the aid group Mercy Corps, to perform a "feasibility study" on hiring former Croatian soldiers and police. The following year, the Filipino press reported that a company called Satelles Solutions had applied to lease land (about 25 acres) within the former U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay. Satelles was a Greystone front; its Filipino "owners" included a former high-ranking general and an attorney at a major law firm that specialized in advising foreign investors. Each held a few pennies’ worth of Satelles stock, while Greystone controlled the rest.

The firm had been courting the Filipino government for some time; seven of its embassy employees were invited to Greystone’s unveiling ceremony in Washington, the largest contingent by far of any foreign embassy. Greystone, according to Filipino news reports, hoped to build a jungle-survival training facility capable of processing up to 1,000 trainees a week. "It was merely a place to be able to provide training to customers in that part of the world," says Chris Taylor; it wasn’t about creating a "third-country-national offensive force." Nevertheless, after Filipino legislators called for an investigation, the company withdrew its application.

For a while, it seemed to José Miguel Pizarro as if the private security boom might never end. Following Erik Prince’s example, he began to diversify-launching a Chilean business intelligence firm catering to the defense industry, and a security company that, like Blackwater, could provide guards, police and military trainers, and even bomb-sniffing dogs. He also took on a new client, Virginia-based Triple Canopy. But then, as quickly as his star had risen, it fell as both Greystone and Triple Canopy canceled his contracts. Pizarro blames corporate intrigue-Blackwater didn’t like his doing business with the competition, he claims-but the true reason may be far simpler. At the height of his operation, Pizarro charged a monthly fee of $4,500 per recruit, of which his men received $3,200. Recruits from other Latin American countries, meanwhile, were willing to deploy to Iraq for as little as $700 per month. "You can get five Colombian rifles for one Chilean," Pizarro says. "Do the math."

In January 2006, the last of his 1,157 Chilean commandos left Iraq. By the time Erik Prince testified before the House oversight committee last October, he acted as though he didn’t remember Pizarro: "He might have been a vendor to us," he ventured when Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) asked him point-blank.

But if Prince has lost all memory of the Chilean recruiter, Pizarro hasn’t forgotten his role model. Having focused of late on the strategic-consulting side of his business, he says he remains prepared to muster more than 1,200 Chilean commandos for deployment anywhere in the world. "Privatization of certain security services is a long-term trend with historical consequences," he says. "The entire future of private military companies is being redesigned as we speak."

Indeed, the private security industry could be heading toward a shake-up-though not necessarily in the way Pizarro would like. Many of the new players could suffer the fate of any startup, disappearing or being swallowed by larger firms. "The problem these guys have is that they’re not very profitable," says Larry Johnson, a former cia officer who works as a consultant for Special Forces. Johnson, who’s part of an investment group that was offered a crack at purchasing Triple Canopy when it went up for sale last year, says the firm clears, at most, 5 percent on about $170 million in annual revenue. "They’re like a dollar wind machine," he says. "Dollars come in and dollars go out, but I don’t see how they stay in business doing that."

Prince and his diversified group of companies, though, are positioned to endure. The Greystone model doesn’t depend on America’s wars: Whether the future of the business lies in what the industry calls "peace and stability" work or in providing "proactive" strike forces to private clients, some element of the Prince network is in a position to deliver. "They’re soldiers of fortune," says the security director of a well-known humanitarian ngo. "Today they are willing to do the bidding of the United States, because the United States is willing to pay them. Who are they willing to work for tomorrow?"

Democrats, Bush Square Off Over Housing Relief

Democrats, Bush Square Off Over Housing Relief

Go to Original
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Lori Montgomery

President resists wide-scale assistance.

Now that the Federal Reserve has pledged billions of dollars to rescue Wall Street bankers from possible default, lawmakers and regulators are turning their attention to helping average citizens - from homeowners in danger of foreclosure to people who want to buy a home.

But unlike the Fed’s rapid moves last week to stabilize financial markets, the consumer benefits are likely to progress slowly as they face resistance from the Bush administration on some broad issues and from special interests on some narrow ones.

Bush officials are working with lawmakers on proposals that would help new home buyers and small investors by strengthening rules that govern mortgage lending.

The House, meanwhile, plans to move within weeks to approve a multibillion-dollar program to prevent hundreds of thousands of home foreclosures. The outlook for the plan, the most ambitious of several proposals, is uncertain; President Bush continues to resist large-scale legislation to bail out homeowners in distress.

"We have not seen any new ideas out there that we’re willing to support," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

But Democratic congressional leaders and industry lobbyists do not see the president as immovable and expect that he will compromise eventually, pushed by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and other senior officials in his administration. "I think Paulson understands you need to move," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. "But Paulson can’t move as quickly as the rest of us."

Industry representatives agree. "There’s real fear about where this crisis is going to end up," said Francis Creighton, a senior lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association. "This administration appears to be ready to do what it needs to address this crisis."

On Sunday night, the Fed backed J.P. Morgan Chase’s acquisition of the wounded investment firm Bear Stearns, promising to take the risk of up to $30 billion in troubled assets now on Bear’s books, and increased the flow of money to other banks pinched for credit. The Fed could move quickly because it is sheltered from the politicking that surrounds administration and congressional initiatives.

So far, the administration is trying to work with the authority it already has. Yesterday, federal regulators increased the flow of mortgage money by giving the federally chartered mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac permission to increase their investment in mortgages by a combined $200 billion. That will improve the availability and affordability of home loans, the companies said.

Congressional Democrats said they want to do more and intend to press the president to accept their plans. "Democrats believe that the time is now to build on the Fed’s efforts by taking action to ease the economic burdens facing everyday Americans," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in a statement. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) added: "While it is important to calm the turmoil on Wall Street, we must just as urgently help the families and communities on Main Street who are threatened by this mortgage meltdown."

The Democrats are homing in on a proposal advanced last week by Frank and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). Under the measure, the Federal Housing Administration, which helps provide low-cost home loans, would be given a key role in helping renegotiate distressed mortgages and would provide insurance for up to $300 billion in new mortgages.

The program would target homeowners who are solvent and can afford reasonable mortgages, but who face foreclosure because their loan costs are escalating while the value of their homes is declining. A homeowner could seek help from an FHA-approved lender, which would determine the home’s value and how much the homeowner could pay. The mortgage holder would be asked to accept the lower payment to clear the old mortgage, and the new one would be insured by the FHA.

Lenders would take a big hit under the legislation. The proposal would limit their payoff to 85 percent of the home’s appraised value. At the same time, borrowers would help fund the program by paying FHA mortgage insurance.

Frank has scheduled two days of hearings on the proposal in the House. In the Senate, aides to Dodd said the measure might be attached to a larger "housing stimulus" package that Reid hopes to bring to a vote early this spring.

Under that larger measure, bankruptcy judges would be permitted to alter the terms of mortgages for primary residences by lowering the interest rate, extending the life of the loan or forgiving part of the loan’s principal. Advocacy groups have said the legislation would help hundreds of thousands of borrowers keep their homes. But it was blocked in the Senate earlier this year; the president and several bank lobbies opposed it because they said it would lead to higher mortgage rates.

Another proposal pending in Congress would overhaul the FHA. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the plan, which would reduce the down payment requirements for FHA-backed loans. The Senate bill would lower the limit from 3 percent to 1.5 percent, while the House would eliminate the need for a down payment.

The legislation would also require lenders to give homeowners more notice before raising their interest rates or putting them into foreclosure.

In addition, the House version of the legislation would insist that states do a thorough job of overseeing mortgage brokers or the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be asked to take over the task.

Regulators are also considering a variety of suggestions offered last week by the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, a high-level advisory panel consisting of the federal government’s top financial-market overseers. Mortgage brokers were in part blamed for allowing so many homeowners to purchase loans they could not afford.

The working group recommended that the brokers be subjected to tougher licensing and enforcement standards and that safeguards against mortgage fraud be tightened. The National Association of Mortgage Brokers called the suggestions "flawed" and said that other players in mortgage lending should also be included in any crackdown.

The American Bankers Association supported efforts to rein in mortgage brokers, but worried that the states would not have enough funds to pay for their oversight. Rules are also pending from the Fed and HUD that would require more disclosures by lenders and borrowers before a home can be bought with a mortgage.

Bush’s working group called for more transparency in how credit-rating agencies assess the risk of mortgage-backed securities - a plan the agencies are not resisting. Some of the packaged mortgages that are now expected to go bad were given high ratings when they originated.