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Likely Scenario That Will Be Pretense For War With Iran February 10, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Commentary, Congress, Main, Military News, Politics, US News, White House, World News.
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This will be my last post on Not A Pundit. With the birth of my second “baby pundit” I find that I am having to squeeze my news posts at odd hours of the day. I leave you all with this final post on what I hope will not come to be true, but I think that Zbigniew Brzezinski has laid out a likely scenario that will be pretense for war with Iran.

Unless you live like a hermit or live in a cave, you must be aware of the Bush saber rattling towards Iran. The nuclear weapons issue is important but some analyst agree Iran is years away from being able to build a weapon. I’m not an intelligence official so it may be true or it may not be true, but one thing that is true is the capture of five Iranians in Iraq that has increased tensions between both the US and Iran. Iraq has become a military quagmire at a time when North Korea, Venezuela and Iran are testing our world hegemony. That is not a good thing to show the world. So what to do?

Iraq has become a proxy battleground between Washington and Tehran, which is challenging – at least rhetorically – the U.S.’s dominance of the Gulf. That has worried even Iraq’s U.S.-backed Shiite prime minister, who – in a reflection of Iraq’s complexity – also has close ties to Iran.

Prof. Gary Sick, a leading authority on Iran, believes the U.S. is seeking to divert world attention from the crisis in Iraq and organize a coalition of Israel and conservative Sunni Arab states to confront Iran.

“The truth is that Iraq is a mess. It is in a state of low-level civil war. And all of these groups are largely self-motivated,” he said on the Council on Foreign Relations Web site. “But it’s much easier to blame it on the Iranians.”

Would the US go to war with Iran alone? Yes and no. At this point I don’t see the US confronting Iran militarily without some Sunni Arab support. Not necessarily military but tacit approval from those nations. Israel and NATO frankly are the better military allies.

The truth is that Iraq is a powder keg ready to explode. In more ways than just a proxy war between the US and Iran. But a powder keg indeed:

In Tehran, political analyst Hermidas Bavand said U.S. force increases were leading many Iranians to believe Washington is looking to pick a fight.

“It’s an extremely dangerous situation,” Bavand said. “I don’t think Tehran wants war under any circumstances. But there might be an accidental event that could escalate into a large confrontation.”

The US has increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf with additional battle carriers. The troop surge supposedly to go to Iraq is forming in Kuwait awaiting their orders. Hhmm…I wonder when they’ll reach Iraq?

Let there be no doubt of possible war with Iran, because our President has made it clear:

Bush said Monday the U.S. “will respond firmly” if Iran escalates military action in Iraq and endangers U.S. forces. The U.S. accuses Iran of arming and training Shiite Muslim extremists in Iraq. U.S. troops have responded by arresting Iranian diplomats in Iraq, and the White House has said Bush signed an order allowing U.S. troops to kill or capture Iranians inside Iraq.

This leads me to my final point that reminds me of an article that went over the newswires that grabbed little attention. Basically Zbigniew Brzezinski laid out to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee what he thought would be the likely outcome of a continued military quagmire in Iraq and the likely scenario leading to a confrontation with Iran.

Zbigniew Brzezinski also told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bush administration policy was driven by “imperial hubris” and has proved to be a disaster on historic, strategic and moral grounds.

“If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, and I emphasize what I am about to say, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large,” Brzezinski said.

Brzezinski set out as a plausible scenario for military collision: Iraq fails to meet benchmarks set by the U.S., followed by accusations that Iran is responsible for the failure and then a terrorist act or some provocation blamed on Iran. This scenario, he said, would play out with a defensive U.S. military action against Iran.

That, Brzezinski said, would plunge the U.S. into a quagmire that eventually would range across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Brzezinski’s Solution:

Proposing a massive shift in policy, Brzezinski said the U.S. should announce with no ambiguity its determination to leave Iraq “in a reasonably short period of time.”

Can this be something that our President will do? I’m not holding my breath. Can Congress use its legislative power to push for such a massive policy shift? Lets all hope they can. They can recall the National Guard back to the states. They can place a cap on troops in Iraq. They can refure to provide funding for additional troops. They simply can refuse to authorize the President to go to war with Iran. Plain and simple. Our congressional leaders just need to actually debate the issue this time in the full light of day, instead of the weak abdication of power they showed when authorizing the war in Iraq.

Bush Axes Added Oil, Gas Royalty Relief As Unwarranted February 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The Bush administration on Monday called for a repeal of two oil and natural gas royalty relief provisions, saying in its fiscal year 2008 budget it didn’t believe additional relief for Outer Continental Shelf development was warranted because of high energy prices.

Specifically, the administration called for the repeal of the deepwater lease and deep-gas royalty relief provisions in the Energy Policy Act 2005. Repealing the provisions would also cancel a prohibition from the federal government charging companies fees when they apply for drilling permits on federal lands.

Although it hasn’t yet become law, the repeal of the deepwater royalty relief incentive was part of the House’s H.R. 6 Clean Energy Act of 2007, passed by the U.S. House in January.

According to the Interior Department’s budget, total revenues from offshore oil and gas royalties are expected to increase by around $640 million to an estimated $7.04 billion from $6.4 billion in 2007. Total offshore rents and bonuses are forecast to quadruple to $2.15 billion, an increase of $1.74 billion in 2008 from an estimated $411 million in 2007. A DoI spokeswoman couldn’t immediately say if the increase was related to the proposed repeals.

The administration also axed funding in the Department of Energy’s budget, calling for a cut of two different oil and gas exploration and development research programs under the Energy Policy Act 2005.

Speaking generally about cutting subsidies to the oil and gas industry, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at a budget press conference: “The president has never been in favor of or supportive of federal subsidies…for the development of oil and gas research.”

If current oil and gas prices aren’t sufficient incentive to develop reserves, “I don’t know what is,” he said.

Interior Department Assistant Secretary Stephen Allred said at a separate conference that repealing the royalty relief and a previously announced increase of royalty rates to 16.67% from 12.5% wasn’t budgeted to offset lost revenues from 1998-1999 oil and gas leases that omitted royalty price thresholds.

The controversial omission, which has already cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion in lost royalty revenues and could mean billions more in uncollected fees if the leases aren’t re-negotiated, has been the subject of a series of congressional oversight hearings.

Under H.R. 6 language, companies that refuse to re-negotiate the leases to include payment of royalties from past production, may not be able to participate in upcoming lease sales, or could pay much higher leasing fees.

By Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswires

Bush Delays Private Accounts As Olive Branch To Democrats February 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Politics, US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–President George W. Bush still thinks private accounts are needed to help shore up the Social Security system, but he postponed their implementation in his fiscal 2008 budget as a goodwill gesture to Democrats, White House budget director Rob Portman said Monday.

“We do include private accounts in the budget, but as an olive branch, I suppose you could say, they are delayed,” Portman said at a briefing on Bush’s budget request, adding that “as a practical matter, probably they would not be able to be implemented until 2012.”

The budget includes voluntary retirement accounts, which Democrats fiercely oppose, beginning in 2012, when workers would be able to divert as much as 4% of their Social Security taxable earnings, up to a $1,300 yearly limit. The accounts would cost $29.3 billion in 2012 and $637.4 billion over a decade.

In last year’s budget, Bush proposed rolling the accounts out two years earlier. The delay helps the administration reach its target of balancing the budget in five years, and shows Bush hasn’t given in to Congressional pressure to abandon the plan.

“The president continues to believe that this is part of the answer to Social Security, particularly for younger people,” said Portman, who heads the Office of Management and Budget.

Democrats, however, haven’t backed down in their opposition, saying private accounts would undermine the structure of Social Security and jeopardize future benefits. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., called the idea’s reprisal a “total waste of time.”

“Even though the American people have rejected Social Security privatization, even though it couldn’t pass a Republican Congress – much less this Democratic one – the White House is at it again,” Baucus said. “I led the fight to defeat Social Security privatization in 2005, and I don’t intend to let this bad idea back on the table.”

A bipartisan Social Security fix looks to be a non-starter with the Democrats inflexible on private accounts and the White House resisting a hike in payroll taxes.

Nonetheless, Portman lauded Bush’s “great political courage” on entitlement reform and said the president wants Democrats to come to the negotiating table without conditions.

“He’s made clear that there will be no preconditions, that all sides should come together and we can talk about these issues, and that there would be no preconditions on our side, nor should there be on the other side,” Portman said. “And I think this is exactly the way we must proceed. It’s the only way to proceed.”

Bush’s budget blueprint for fiscal 2008 proposes $96 billion in savings on mandatory programs over five years, an amount the White House says is a first step in reforming entitlements, which threaten to crowd out all discretionary spending by 2040.

By Henry J. Pulizzi, Dow Jones Newswires

Bush Budget Has Smaller Pay Hikes For Health Care Providers February 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Health care providers would get smaller pay increases when caring for the elderly, poor and disabled under President George W. Bush’s budget plan submitted to Congress Monday.

The recommendations, if adopted, would trim Medicare spending by $66 billion over five years. That means the health care program for seniors would grow at a 6.7% clip rather than a 7.6% rate, budget officials said.

Bush also calls for reducing Medicaid spending by about $25 billion over five years, which would just slightly dent the more than $1.2 trillion the federal government will spend on health care for the poor over the next five years. Congress would have to sign off on about half of the proposed Medicaid savings, while the remainder are regulatory changes that administration will pursue.

The president, who said he seeks a balanced budget by 2012, took aim at the two programs, which account for $1 out of every $4 spent by the federal government. However, the president called for smaller reductions last year, and those proposals went nowhere.

Democratic lawmakers were cool to the recommendations. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., described the Medicare and Medicaid proposals as “declaring war” on the poor and on Democrats. Stark, who oversees the House Ways and Means Committee’s health subcommittee, said that savings can be achieved by targeting payments to health care providers, but not in the ways that Bush sought.

For example, Stark said he believes Congress can lower payments to insurance companies that provide managed care for seniors, a concept the administration opposes.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, noted that the proposed Medicare reductions are more than the president asked from any previous Congress.

Baucus said payments to insurance companies that provide managed care should be “on the table” of potential spending cuts. He took issue with the changes that Bush seeks for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage to about 6 million people.

The program cost about $5 billion annually. The president called for an additional $4.2 billion in funding over five years, but Baucus said it may take as much as $15 billion simply to maintain current coverage.

“Simply put, Congress must do more to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program than the president suggests here,” Baucus said.

Hospitals, nursing homes and other providers say that they can’t afford lower payments from the government.

“Today’s budget is devastating news for children, seniors and the disabled who depend on the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” said Rich Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association. “They are being unfairly singled out to carry the burden of achieving a balanced budget.”

Even with the attempt to slow entitlement spending, the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services will rise about 8.7% next year.

The other parts of the HHS budget didn’t fare nearly so well.

The budget recommends a $50 million reduction for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the principal agency for protecting the health and safety of all Americans. Funding for the agency would total $5.76 billion. Grants to states for bioterrorism preparation would be reduced, and funding remains at current levels for preventing the nation’s leading health problems – heart disease and cancer.

Meanwhile, funding for the National Institutes of Health, which oversees medical research, would rise nearly 2% to about $28.7 billion.

Pentagon: White House Seeks $623 Billion In FY 2008 Defense Budget February 5, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The White House on Monday submitted $623 billion in requests for fiscal year 2008, along with a request for more war funding in the current fiscal year, according to Defense Department documents.

The 2008 defense request includes $481.4 billion in the base budget, plus $141.7 billion in extra funds related to the global war on terrorism. The base budget is about 11% above the enacted 2007 budget, or 8.6% more when adjusted for inflation, according to Pentagon projections.

Big weapons programs like Lockheed Martin Corp.’s (LMT) Joint Strike Fighter and Boeing Co.’s (BA) Future Combat Systems upgrade for the Army get big chunks of the 2008 request. But the military services each expect lots of unpaid bills and will campaign heavily for more money, while trying to maintain the appearance of Defense Department-wide cooperation.

Wartime spending has helped the big defense contractors post healthy fourth-quarter earnings with strong prospects for 2007. The new budget suggests the defense industry hasn’t yet peaked, analysts said.

“There’s no sign of a flagging in demand for military goods or services,” said Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren Thompson. “I continue to believe that we’re at a top, but you can’t find that in these numbers.”

Most big weapons programs saw their requested funding increase over 2007 levels. But the 2008 request includes a $500 million cut to missile defense programs.

Some weapons program requests in the new budget include:

– $27 billion for various aircraft programs, including $6.1 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, $4.6 billion for the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and $2.6 billion for the V-22 Osprey, made by Boeing Co. and Textron Inc.’s (TXT) Bell Helicopter unit.

– $3.7 billion for the Army’s Future Combat Systems

– $6.0 billion for satellite systems and other space programs

– $8.9 billion for missile defense programs

– $14.4 billion for shipbuilding programs, including $3 billion for the next generation DDG-1000 destroyer made by Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) and General Dynamics Corp. (GD)

-By Rebecca Christie, Dow Jones Newswires