Wednesday, August 31, 2005

U.S. Savings Rate at 0%



According to a recent U.S. government report, the national savings rate is now 0%. Though it seems incredible, it's true. The last time the annual rate was this low was 1934 — during the Great Depression.

The savings rate was nearly 5 percent as recently as 1994, and double-digit savings rates were customary 25 years ago.

The question is, where did all the savings go? The answer: home purchases.

According to the Federal Reserve, the rise in home values has given the average U.S. household a net worth of more than $400,000. Household real estate assets have risen by just over two-thirds since 1999. So, Americans now view their homes almost like ATM machines, using home equity loans and refinancing to pull out cash and support their spending.

In our materialistic, consumer driven society, people are actually spending more money than they make. Every time there is a marginal uptick in incomes, there is a commensurate, or greater, increase in spending. This is the height of irresponsibility, yet it's been the engine for a growing U.S. economy.

Americans need to keep spending at this frenzied pace to maintain the economy. Experts say that if everyone were to start saving, the economy would slow considerably — potentially to the point of recession. This is an obvious problem.

Yet, the savings rate will be driven down even further when the Baby Boomers start retiring and drawing down on retirement savings. The nation will need greater savings to fund the onslaught.

One of the factors driving down the savings rate is rising energy costs. If not for that factor, it is estimated that savings would still be closer to the 2 - 2.5 % rate of two years ago, when energy prices were lower.

Yet, with rising world demand, coupled with the production, refining and shipping problems associated with Hurricane Katrina, the problem will likely worsen.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

STATES TAKE STEPS TO LOWER EMISSIONS

Taking a small step in the reduction of dangerous greenhouse gasses, the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon have announced that they will adopt California's stringent new vehicle emission standards.

California's regulations will be phased in starting in 2009, and when all of the regulations take full effect in 2016, the entire Pacific Coast from Canada to Mexico will have the strictest standards in the nation. The move gives the auto industry a decade to comply.

Yet, not surprisingly, auto industry lobbyists fought to kill the legislation in Washington and Oregon, and the auto industry is suing California over its new standards, saying the state lacks authority to implement such regulations. But, under the federal Clean Air Act, California can set pollution standards for cars and trucks that are stricter than federal standards. Other states can choose either California's standards or the looser federal rules.

At least six Northeast states - New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine - are also moving to adopt California's new standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and will likely finalize rules by the end of this year. A seventh state, Rhode Island, is considering whether to adopt the new California standards. Other states, such as Pennsylvania, Illinois and North Carolina, also are also contemplating a move to the new California standards.

The West Coast and Northeast states comprise about one third of the U.S. car market, and the adoption of the new rules will put significant pressure on auto makers to produce cleaner, more fuel efficient cars. The stiffer requirements would mean new cars sold in those states would have to emit 30 percent less carbon dioxide, 20 percent fewer toxic pollutants and up to 20 percent fewer smog-causing pollutants than the established federal standards.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said, "If the federal government doesn't want to move forward on global warming, then the states are going to have to do it."

Though President Bush has ignorantly stated that there's still not enough science on the matter, a consortium of 300 of the world's leading scientists are in agreement that emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are a leading cause of global warming. The President knows the facts, he just won't accept them because they don't fit his ideology. After all, he dismissed his own government's 2002 report on the human contributions to global warming. When asked about the EPA report at the time, Bush said dismissively, "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy." And it was revealed that a former White House aide, a former petroleum industry lobbyist who has since returned to the industry, repeatedly censored and softened references to global warming in reports by the president's Council on Environmental Quality.

But denial doesn't change the facts. In the Arctic, which includes Alaska, polar ice is retreating, glaciers are receding, and the permafrost is melting. A group of four senators - Hillary Clinton (D), John McCain (R), Susan Collins (R) and Lindsay Graham (R) - flew over Alaska last week and were shocked by what they saw. McCain called what he saw "a little scary", Clinton said "We saw devastation as far as the eye can see," and Collins warned that the Arctic "is crying out to us to pay attention to the impact."

These stricter emissions standards are a good start, and we can only hope that all states will soon follow suit. The auto industry cries wolf every time regulations are imposed to reduce emissions and/or to improve fuel economy, such as with the introduction of catalytic converters and unleaded gasoline. But like the boy who cried wolf, no one believes them anymore. We all know where their interests lie, and that's solely with their bottom line. Profits trump all else - our environment, and even the air we all breathe.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.
STEM CELL BREAKTHROUGH SHOWS PROMISE

In a breakthrough that could one day bridge the present cultural divide, Harvard scientists have announced that they've discovered a way to fuse adult skin cells with embryonic stem cells. In essence, the researchers actually converted a skin cell into an embryonic stem cell. According to the scientists, the fused cell "was reprogrammed to its embryonic state."

The promising discovery could eventually lead to the creation of useful stem cells without the use of human embryos.

In a summary of their work, the Harvard team said they had created hybrid cells that "had the appearance, growth rate, and several key genetic characteristics of human embryonic cells."

"They also behaved like embryonic cells, differentiating into cells from each of the three main tissue types that form in a developing embryo."

If the research holds up, it could alleviate the current controversy over stem cell research.

Although researchers currently derive embryonic stem cells from embryos that would otherwise be destroyed at fertility clinics anyway, many Americans are still offended by the prospect. The practice is privately funded at present, but large and prestigious research centers are hoping to secure federal funding to help advance their efforts.

President Bush and many religious conservatives oppose taxpayer funded fund stem cell research that would destroy human embryos. Yet, next month the Senate will take up debate on an already passed House bill that would allow just such funding. That bill is widely expected to pass even with the threat of a Bush veto.

But the prospect of having one less thing to divide Americans is something to celebrate, and the benefits of such research has the potential to positively affect the lives of millions.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

CLASSIC QUOTES FROM OUR NATION'S POLICY MAKERS:

"I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk..."
-- Defense Policy Board Member Ken Aldelman, 2/13/02

"Simply stated, There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney, 8/16/02

"We do know that (Saddam) is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon."
-- National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, 9/10/02

"It is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks, I doubt six months."
-- Secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfield, 2/7/03

"My belief is we will in fact, be greeted as liberators."
-- Cheney, 3/16/03

"We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon."
-- Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, 3/27/03

"We know where (the weapons) are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and East, West, North and South somewhat."
-- Rumsfeld, 3/3/03

"Iraq will not require sustained aid."
-- OMB, Director Mitch Daniels, 3/28/03

"Major combat operations have ended."
-- President George W. Bush, 5/1/03

"A year from now I'd be surprised if there's not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush."
-- Former Pentagon Advisor Richard Perle, 9/22/03
WHY OBSTINACY CAN BE A VERY BAD THING

"There's overwhelming evidence" of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. "I am very confident there was an established relationship there." -- Vice President Dick Cheney, January 2004

"[Saddam Hussein] had long established ties with al-Qaeda."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking at the James Madison Institute, June 14, 2004

"If we're successful in Iraq . . . then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." "The Iraqi government or the Iraqi intelligence service had a relationship with al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC's "Meet the Press," September 2004

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney, 8/16/02

"My belief is we will in fact, be greeted as liberators."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney, 3/16/03

But then....

We have found no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda.
-- The bipartisan Sept. 11 Commission, June 16, 2004

"To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two [Saddam and al Qaeda]."
-- Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, October 4, 2004

Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit chemical and biological weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, had not begun any program to produce them, and his nuclear capabilities were deteriorating, not advancing.
-- Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, at a Senate Armed Services committee hearing, October 6, 2004

And yet....

"What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do. If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the same course of action. The world is far safer today because Saddam Hussein is in jail, his government is no longer in power. And we did exactly the right thing."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney at the Vice Presidential Debate, October 5, 2004
POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY AND THE CASE FOR WAR

According to the Bush Administration, in the months leading up to 9/11/01, Saddam Hussein was not a threat.

"Frankly, (sanctions) have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."
-- Secretary of State, Colin Powell, February 24, 2001

"But in terms of Saddam Hussein being there, let's remember that his country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."
-- National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, July 29, 2001

BUT THEN AFTER 9/11, SADDAM SUDDENLY BECAME AN IMMINENT THREAT.

"Simply stated, There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney, 8/16/02

"We do know that (Saddam) is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon."
-- National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, 9/10/02

"Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more."
-- President George W. Bush, October 2002

"The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."
-- President George W. Bush, October 2002

Saddam Hussein "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons."
-- President George W. Bush, October 2002

"The danger is already significant and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?" -- President George W. Bush, October 7, 2002

BUT THE STORY CHANGED AS THE TRUTH WAS REVEALED.

Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit chemical and biological weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, had not begun any program to produce them, and his nuclear capabilities were deteriorating, not advancing.
-- Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, at a Senate Armed Services committee hearing, October 6, 2004

"Why the intelligence proved wrong [on weapons of mass destruction], I'm not in a position to say. I simply don't know."
-- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, October 4, 2004

"To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two [Saddam and al Qaeda]."
-- Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, October 4, 2004
STATE DEPARTMENT MEMO WARNED OF 'SERIOUS PLANNING GAPS' IN POST-WAR IRAQ

The hits just keep on coming. In yet another embarrassing public revelation for the President and his advisors, a memo obtained by George Washington University through the Freedom of Information Act illustrates that a month before the start of the Iraq war, State Department officials warned military planners about "serious planning gaps" for the post-war period.

The documents, dated February 7, 2003, noted that a lack of focus and preparation for adequate policing after the invasion could have negative consequences. Specifically, the State Department officials warned that "a failure to address short-term public security and humanitarian assistance concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally."

The memo's authors said they had "raised these issues with top CENTCOM officials" and offered to help the military "develop plans for accomplishing these goals." Obviously their appeals went unheeded and they were ignored.

The military's bungling of the post-war period, which saw widespread looting and the rise of an insurgency, has been widely criticized, including in a March 2004 British parliamentary report. The Defense Select Committee, which oversees the work of Britain's Ministry of Defense, said that Britain failed to plan adequately for the end of the war, and "squandered Iraqi goodwill" by being slow to stop looting.

At least one critical member of the Bush team views the U.S. as being equally guilty. L. Paul Bremer, former U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq said "horrid" looting was occurring in May of 2003 when he arrived in Baghdad to head the U.S.- led Coalition Provisional Authority. "We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," Bremer said. "We never had enough troops on the ground."

Earlier, Bremer had said the U.S. could have planned better. "The single most important change ... would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout." Bremer claimed he "raised this issue a number of times with our government" but allowed that he "should have been even more insistent."

The British report went on to add that the coalition failed to properly guard munitions dumps after the fall of Saddam's regime. That failure "cost Iraqi civilian lives and also provided potential enemies ... with a ready stock of easily accessible weaponry."

In October of last year, the IAEA, a UN agency, reported that 380 tons of explosives were missing in Iraq, presumably stolen by insurgents. The explosives were under IAEA control until the US led invasion of Iraq in March or 2003. Iraqi officials said that the explosives had vanished from a former Iraqi military installation as a result of "theft and looting...due to lack of security."

At the time, a senior administration official played down the importance of the missing explosives, describing them as dangerous material but "stuff you can buy anywhere." The official also noted that the administration did not necessarily see the theft as a "proliferation risk."

"In the grand scheme -- and on a grand scale -- there are hundreds of tons of weapons, munitions, artillery, explosives that are unaccounted for in Iraq," the official said.

"And like the Pentagon has said, there is really no way the U.S. military could safeguard all of these weapons depots or find all of these missing materials."

Those remarks are representative of the cavalier and nonchalant attitude that has marked the planning and execution of this war from the start. And the memo is just one more example of the irresponsibility and negligence of our war planners. There has been a total lack of accountability from the outset, and that sort of attitude and behavior is entirely unacceptable. It is time for accountability. It is time for heads to roll. It is time to legally prosecute the people, at all levels, who've bungled this charade, resulting in the loss of more than 1850 Americans lives - and there will be more to come. The death toll countinues to mount on an almost daily basis, and it is important to remember that the President claimed that major combat operations had ended in May of last year. In a time of war, the counry needs - and deserves - more than platitudes and banality.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

THE "MOST INSIDIOUS OF TRAITORS"?

Reporter addressing Press Secretary Scott McClellan during a 2003 White House press briefing:
"(Joe) Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove..."

McClellan's reply: "I haven't heard that. That's just totally ridiculous."


For the moment, at least, the furor over the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to the press has waned a bit. But the tempest will renew itself when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald concludes his inquiry into the matter.

The central question? Who revealed to TIME reporter Matthew Cooper that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and then confirmed that information to columnist Robert Novak. Cooper has testified that it that it was Rove who leaked the info to him - specifically that the ambassador's wife worked at the CIA on WMD issues - without specifically using her name. However, a routine Google search turned up her name. Cooper says that he has a distinct memory of Rove ending their conversation by saying, "I've already said too much."

The 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a federal offense to intentionally reveal a covert operative's identity. But Fitzgerald's investigation may uncover other crimes as well, such as perjury or obstruction of justice. Wherever it's headed, the prosecutor is serious about his work. He's already interviewed both the President and the Vice President.

Bloomberg broke a story which revealed that Rove’s explanation to the grand jury of how he learned Plame’s identity differs sharply from the explanations journalists have given. That could mean Rove lied to the grand jury—a felony. Initially, Rove claimed that he heard of Plame's identity either through a reporter or someone else in the Administration - he just couldn't remember which.

The controversy has become a matter of splitting hairs, and defining the difference between illegal and unethical. Rove's explanation has evolved from insisting that he hadn't done anything to claiming that he hadn't done anything wrong. Walking a fine legal line, he said that he didn't know Plame's name or leak it. It's up to the special prosecutor to determine if Rove broke the law, but what's already clear is that Rove's actions were highly unscrupulous, irresponsible and unpatriotic. Rove has long been known as a tough and gritty political adversary, but he has now proven himself to be vindictive and ruthless as well.

The whole episode began in February 2002, when CIA officials sent Wilson to Niger to explore reports that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from the African nation. Wilson, an Africa expert who knew the Nigerian Prime Minister, determined that there was nothing to the claim and reported his findings to the CIA. It's also been revealed that the State Department had already disproved the allegation through its own inquiries. Nearly a year later, in his January 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush publicly made the uranium claim anyway.

In a New York Times piece on July 6, 2003, when the war in Iraq was well underway, a bewildered and disturbed Wilson wrote that, "intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." A week later his wife's cover was blown as the White House went on damage control and sought to destroy Wilson's credibility.

The day after Wilson's article appeared, a classified State Department memo was sent to the White House. The memo, intended for Secretary of State Colin Powell, contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified. The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level. Seven days later, Plame was outed in a syndicated column by Robert Novak. Sending the memo to Powell was "directly in response to Wilson going public," says a senior Republican aide who is familiar with the document. Fitzgerald is said to be very interested in who else at the White House had access to the memo.

Cooper says he couldn't help wonder "why government officials, publicly and privately, seemed to be disparaging Wilson. It struck me as odd and unnecessary, especially after their saying the President's address should not have included the 16-word claim about Saddam and African uranium."

Undoubtedly this has turned into a partisan affair. Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman made the extraordinary claim that neither Plame nor Wilson were the victims, but instead that it was Rove who'd become the victim of "blatant partisan political attacks."

An ABC News poll shows that a solid majority of Americans—some 75 percent—support firing Rove for what he did. This is true even among 71 percent of Republicans.

President Bush came into office in 2001 proclaiming that his Administration would "restore honesty and integrity to the White House." To that end, Bush initially vowed to fire anyone in his Administration who was found to have leaked the name of Wilson's wife and blown her cover. But that's Rove's defense. Not only didn't he specifically use her name, but his defenders claim that she had no cover to blow. They claim that she was no longer undercover in her role at the Agency. But at least one CIA official strongly disagrees. "I am beyond disgusted. I am especially angry about the bullshit explanations that she is not a covert agent. That is an official status, and there are lots of people in this building who are on that status. It's not up to the Republican Party to determine when that status will end for an agent."

The controversy has worsened an already tenuous relationship between the White House and the CIA. CIA employees are said to be furious that one of their own was sacrificed in a political turf battle. Plame's colleagues at the CIA say the disclosure of her name has "destroyed her career, and put her at risk." Agency analysts have complained about evidence being distorted or ignored. One analyst said, "I know the analyst who was subjected to withering questioning on the Iraq / al-Qaeda links by (Lewis) Libby (VP Cheney's Chief of Staff) with the Vice President sitting there. So I think there was an anger at the CIA for not getting it and not being on board. The political side of the Administration was pissed at the CIA. So I can see how they responded to that - and Wilson - by implying he couldn't be trusted because, 'well just look where his wife works.'"

Following the disclosure, foreign intelligence services are known to have investigated her contacts in an attempt to uncover CIA operations in their countries. Lives could be at stake.

It's puzzling that Novak isn't facing the same heat and being forced to take responsibility for the outing. He's as guilty as Rove appears to be, and his actions seem to amount to treason. The first President Bush, a former head of the CIA, once described anyone who unmasked an undercover agent as "the most insidious of traitors." That seems to be a most apt description.

The President needs to be true to his word. His credibility is on the line. Karl Rove needs to be dismissed, and he should have been already. America deserves better. Republicans would never tolerate this sort of disclosure in a Democratic Administration. This isn't about partisanism; it's simply about doing the right thing.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

ASTRONAUTS SEE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE FROM SPACE

On her recent mission in space, Commander Eileen Collins said astronauts on shuttle Discovery had seen widespread environmental destruction on Earth and warned that greater care was needed to protect natural resources.

"Sometimes you can see how there is erosion, and you can see how there is deforestation. It's very widespread in some parts of the world," Collins said. "We would like to see, from the astronauts' point of view, people take good care of the Earth and replace the resources that have been used."

Collins noted that the view from space revealed that Earth's atmosphere must also be protected.

"The atmosphere almost looks like an eggshell on an egg, it's so very thin," she said. "We know that we don't have much air, we need to protect what we have."

Commander Collins' words should give pause to all world leaders. China is an area of particular concern.

According to the World Bank, China is home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities. Three hundred thousand Chinese citizens die prematurely each year due to respiratory illness, and the life expectancy of a traffic cop in Beijing is approximately 40 years.

Acid rain has damaged a quarter of Chinese soil, and more than a quarter of their landmass has been turned into desert as a result of erosion and logging.

Following the US, China is the world's second largest greenhouse gas polluter. The UN reported that Chinese emissions nearly doubled from 1994 to 2002, and the problem is only getting worse.
IRAQ, POLITICS, AND A HEALTHY SERVING OF HUMBLE PIE

In what has to be seen as a stunning reversal, the White House has sought to diminish expectations for what can be achieved in Iraq. With its sobering admission, the Bush administration has finally revealed that it will have to settle for much less than it had been hoping for, and touting.

Aims for a model democracy in the Middle East, a self-supporting oil industry, or a secure and economically stable society have essentially been dashed.

A senior official lamented, "What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground. We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

"Shedding the unreality" seems to be a course of action that is long overdue.

It now appears that Islamic law, or Sharia, will take precedence over democracy in Iraq. There is the distinct possibility that women will not have equal rights in Iraq, but will instead face harsh restrictions.

After a Saddam/al Queada link was disproved, and in the absence of alleged WMD, the invasion of Iraq was then justified by the lofty goal of establishing a secular and united nation that would honor human rights as well as ethnic and religious differences. That now seems quite unrealistic.

"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," one U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

The process of trying to create national unity through the drafting of an Iraqi constitution is essentially being abandoned.

"We are definitely cutting corners and lowering our ambitions in democracy building," said Stanford University's Larry Diamond, who helped the U.S. occupation government develop a strategy for democracy in Iraq.

The administration originally expected U.S. soldiers to be greeted as liberators. But the unpredicted intensity of the insurgency, and a surge of foreign fighters, has compelled officials to repeatedly lower their expectations of how long it would take to suppress the insurgency, as well as establish a well-trained and unified Iraqi force capable of handling security on their own.

If the security problem needs to be made any more clear, killings of Iraqi security forces have tripled since January and Islamic extremists, convinced that beards reflect religious piety, are attacking barber shops and killing barbers.

Judith S. Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst at the National Defense University, says "There has been a realistic reassessment of what it is possible to achieve in the short term and fashion a partial exit strategy. This change is dictated not just by events on the ground but by unrealistic expectations at the start."

According to officials, the administration no longer expects to be able to defeat the insurgency before withdrawing, but instead to weaken it. The notion of handing over security responsibilities to an Iraqi military that doesn't meet the original U.S. expectations that they'd actually be prepared for the task is gaining momentum.

But the President is attempting to show resolve. In a weekend radio address he said, "Iraqis are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And we're helping Iraqis succeed."

To that end, Iraqi forces appear to be growing in number. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, charged with developing Iraqi security forces, says that more than 110 Iraqi police and army combat battalions - a total of 178,000 forces - have been trained and equipped since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Petraeus said he believes that progress is being made and that "Iraqis will save Iraq," which is clearly the current White House position. However, in a recent assessment the Pentagon reported that only half of Iraqi police battalions were capable of carrying out operations against insurgents. Furthermore, the Defense and State Departments recently issued a joint report which revealed that, as a result of poor screening procedures by U.S. forces, Iraqi police ranks have been infiltrated by insurgents and other criminals.

US officials say that large scale military operations have resulted in hundreds of insurgents being killed, hundreds being captured, and many more being driven away. The problem is the majority of the insurgents eventually return.

One defense official said that that there are not enough troops — either American or Iraqi — to sweep, clear, and hold an area, and that they have to repeat the same operations again and again.

Roadside bomb attacks continue to be a primary concern. The use of improvised explosive devices has doubled over last the year, to about 30 a week. And since the beginning of the year, the total number of insurgent attacks has averaged about 60-65 a day. A recently returned soldier described the enemy as disciplined, professional, and constantly evolving. Lieut. Colonel Ernest Benner said, "This is a pro team of terorists we're facing in Iraq, and we're working everyday to beat them."

Seven more US soldiers were killed over the weekend in a roadside bombing and a shooting, bringing the death total for US soldiers to 1850. Nearly 14,000 US troops have been wounded in action.

The escalating death toll in Iraq has negatively affected President Bush's polling numbers.  The President's standing with the American public is now lower than that of the last two men who won re-election to the White House (Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton) at this point in their second terms.

Bush's job approval in recent polls ranges from the low- to mid-40s, and was 42 percent in the latest AP-Ipsos poll. His approval ratings are at all-time lows on everything from handling Iraq to the economy to Social Security and other domestic issues.

But the partisan divide is stunning; 80 percent of Democrats disapprove of the President's overall performance while nearly 90 percent of Republicans approve.

Congressional Republicans are already worried about the 2006 election. If Bush's approval ratings continue to slide, more of them may be unwilling to go along with his major initiatives for fear of losing voters. Next year's elections could very well initiate, and expedite, the US withdrawal from Iraq. War ambitions may suddenly take a back seat to domestic political ambitions.

How very fickle. And that's certainly not a description that most Americans have come to associate with President Bush.


Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.
REPORT: Insurgents Infiltrate Iraq Police

A recently released joint report by the U.S. Defense Department and State Department reveals that, as a result of poor screening procedures by U.S. forces, Iraqi police ranks have been infiltrated by insurgents and other criminals.

The 100-page report, issued by the inspectors general of both departments said that there was "sufficient evidence to conclude" that insurgents were "among the ranks of the Iraq police service."

The report also noted, "Recruitment and vetting procedures are faulty. Despite recent improvements, too many recruits are marginally literate; some show up for training with criminal records or physical handicaps."

Numerous bombings of Iraqi police and army recruiting centers have been orchestrated by insurgents -- often while potential recruits were waiting in long lines outside. More than 1,600 police have been killed in attacks in the past year, and killings of Iraqi security forces have tripled since January

Iraqi Ministry of Interior officials believe that they would be better able to screen candidates, instead of the current process in which coalition military personnel conduct background checks on all incoming recruits, and the inspectors general agreed.

It was also determined that Iraqi police training should be immediately handed over to the Iraqis.

In a recent assessment of the situation in Iraq, the Pentagon reported that only half of Iraqi police battalions were capable of carrying out operations against insurgents.