President Barack Obama Arrives in Europe

Obama arrives in London, first leg of Europe trip

LONDON – President Barack Obama embarked on his Europe trip Tuesday, with a hefty economic and national security agenda for his first journey across the Atlantic since taking office two months ago. The president and first lady Michelle Obama arrived in London Tuesday night local time. First up for the president was a summit of the world’s economic powers to address the global financial meltdown.

Obama planned to meet with leaders of Britain, Russia and China — major players in the U.S. financial system. He also scheduled meetings with leaders of India and South Korea while in London.

During his eight-day, five-country trip, Obama is scheduled to meet with European leaders who split with the United States over the war in Iraq and the treatment of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under President George W. Bush.

He also will participate in a NATO summit marking the 60 years since the alliance was founded to blunt Soviet aggression in Europe.

Obama plans to attend international summits on urgent topics, including the downward-spiraling fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also will make his first stop in a Muslim nation, Turkey.

Wildly popular around the globe but relatively inexperienced in foreign affairs, Obama and the first lady also will squeeze in a Buckingham Palace audience with Queen Elizabeth II. He will deliver a speech in France on the trans-Atlantic relationship and an address in Prague on weapons proliferation. And he will host a round-table session with students in Turkey.

British Troops Are Like: “We’re Out of Iraq, Cheerio”

(CNN) — British troops will begin leaving Iraq in May, more than six years after joining the U.S.-led invasion that ousted former dictator Saddam Hussein, Britain and Iraq announced Wednesday.

The British mission will wrap up by the end of May, with the last troops withdrawing over the next two months, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki, said in a joint statement during Brown’s visit Wednesday to Baghdad.hemp-96

The pair said the partnership between the two countries would continue. Brown — on his fourth trip to Iraq as prime minister — said British troops had made a huge contribution and given people an economic stake in the future of Iraq.

Brown’s previously unannounced visit comes three days after a similar trip by President Bush, who was forced to duck when an Iraqi journalist threw a pair of shoes at him during an appearance Sunday with al-Maliki.

Britain was the leading U.S. ally during the invasion of Iraq, and still has about 4,000 troops based outside the southern city of Basra. About 140,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq.

Besides the U.S. and Britain, five nations — Albania, Australia, El Salvador, Estonia and Romania — maintain fewer than 2,000 troops total in Iraq, according to the Multi-National Force-Iraq Web site.

In their statement, Brown and al-Maliki said: “The role played by the UK combat forces is drawing to a close. These forces will have completed their tasks in the first half of 2009 and will then leave Iraq.”

On Tuesday, the Iraqi council of ministers agreed to a new resolution allowing troops to remain in the country until the end of July. It sets the end of May as the final date for combat operations.

Speaking at a press conference after the talks, Brown said: “We have agreed today that the mission will end no later than May 31 next year. Our troops will be coming home within the next two months [after that].

“The biggest reduction will be at the end part of the period we are talking about.”

Brown added: “It is important to remember we have been engaged in the most difficult and challenging of work: the tasks of overthrowing a dictatorship, the task of building a democracy for the future and defending it against terrorism.

“We have made a huge contribution and of course given people an economic stake in the future of Iraq. We leave Iraq a better place.

“I am proud of the contribution British forces have made. They are the pride of Britain and the best in the world.”

Al-Maliki confirmed that the agreement included a provision for the Iraqi government to request an extension of the British military presence. However, both leaders indicated that it was not expected to be used.

Like the United States, Britain has been negotiating with the Iraqi government on the future of its military presence there. Ahead of Brown’s arrival, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said those talks were making “good progress.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, chief of the defense staff, is accompanying Brown on the visit.

Also Wednesday in Baghdad, a double bombing in a commercial district killed 18 people and wounded dozens of others, with police officers among the casualties, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

The first explosion was a car bomb, followed by a roadside bomb that targeted traffic police responding to the initial blast, the official said. Three of the dead were police officers, the official said. Another 52 people, including eight police, were wounded.

Bank of England Cuts Rate to Year 1694 Levels

BLOOMBERG

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Feb. 5  — The Bank of England lowered the benchmark interest rate to 1 percent, extending the most aggressive round of cuts in its three-century history as officials try to limit fallout from the deepening recession.

The nine-member Monetary Policy Committee, led by Governor Mervyn King, cut the bank rate to 1 percent from 1.5 percent. That’s the lowest since the central bank was founding in 1694 by William III to fund a war against France. The move matched the median estimate of 61 economists of a Bloomberg News survey.

The U.K. economy will shrink the most since 1946 this year and faster than any other industrialized country, International Monetary Fund forecasts show. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government has given the central bank powers to spend up to 50 billion pounds ($73 billion) on bonds and commercial paper as interest rates lose their potency to aid economic growth.

“The global economy is in the throes of a severe and synchronized downturn,” the central bank said in a statement. “Business and household sentiment in many countries has deteriorated. The supply of credit remains constrained.” In Britain, “credit conditions faced by companies and households have tightened further,” it said.

King will present the bank’s updated economic forecasts on Feb. 11. Minutes of this month’s meeting, showing how the members voted, will be published on Feb. 18.

The pound rose against the dollar and the euro, trading at $1.4635 and 87.36 pence per euro as of 3:10 p.m. in London.

Global Rate Cuts

The Bank of England has now lowered its rate by 4 percentage points since October. The U.S. Federal Reserve has reduced its key rate to a range between zero and 0.25 percent. The European Central Bank kept its rate at 2 percent today.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, speaking to reporters in Frankfurt, said he “doesn’t exclude” a half-point interest- rate cut for the 16-country euro area in March.

Central banks in South Africa and the Czech Republic joined the U.K. in cutting interest rates today to fight the global slump. South Africa’s central bank cut its benchmark rate by 1 percentage point, the biggest reduction in more than five years, to 10.5 percent. The Czech central bank lowered the key rate for the third consecutive time, by half a point to 1.75 percent.

“We have a deep recession and a credit crunch,” said Michael Saunders, chief Western European economist at Citigroup Inc. in London. “Why wait? The debate is about how the economy can ever recover, and the Bank of England has the answer to that in its hands.”

Undershoot Risk

The bank said there is “a substantial risk” that inflation will fall too far below the 2 percent target even though rate cuts since October, a 20 billion-pound package of tax cuts, cheaper commodities and a sharp drop in the value of the pound are likely to provide “a considerable stimulus.”

“The key is the line that credit conditions have tightened further,” Brian Hilliard, chief U.K. economist at Societe Generale SA in London, said on Bloomberg Television. “That’s the key emphasis for the government and the bank. They’ve got to continue to do things about it. And the asset purchase facility is the next button to press.”

King’s next step may be to pump additional money into the financial system. He said Jan. 20 that the central bank will buy “high-quality” assets within “weeks and not months” to ease market strains, a policy in line with similar measures pursued by Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

Brown and King are trying to rescue an economy that will contract 2.8 percent in 2009, according to IMF forecasts. House prices fell an annual 16.4 percent in January, mortgage lender Halifax said today.

Job Cuts

Ford Motor Co. said today it plans to cut up to 850 jobs in the U.K. as demand for autos and commercial vans slumps. As many as 5,000 British companies may file for bankruptcy this year, a report by accounting and insolvency firm KPMG showed.

The downturn is cooling inflation. Consumer prices rose 3.1 percent from a year earlier in December, compared with 4.1 percent the previous month, the biggest drop in the annual rate since records began in 1997. The central bank’s target is to keep inflation at 2 percent.

Brown said yesterday that the world is suffering a “depression,” suggesting he may increase measures to stimulate the economy. The government has already pledged hundred of billions of pounds to prop up banks, and the pound has fallen 26 percent against the dollar and 16 percent against the euro in the past year, making British exports cheaper.

‘Stimulus Factors’

“There are many stimulus factors in place, cuts in interest rates, various fiscal packages will help,” said Nick Bate, an economist at Merrill Lynch & Co. in London and a former Treasury official. “But given that we’re in a world where many central banks are cutting severely, the ability to fine tune the economy has passed.”

The Federation of Small Businesses said yesterday that recent interest rate cuts aren’t helping companies because they cannot get access to loans. More than two-thirds of small businesses wanted the central bank to keep the rate unchanged, according to an FSB poll. The Building Societies Association, representing customer-owned lenders, also called for no change.

For now, the central bank may still have little choice but to keep cutting.

“The fundamentals are still weak and there is still some scope for orthodox policy easing,” said Ross Walker, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London. “It’s preferable to nudge rates further now than to turn to the printing presses.”

General Barry McCaffrey Exposed For The Ultimate Spineless Shill That He Is

THE NEW YORK TIMES

November 30, 2008

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

In the spring of 2007 a tiny military contractor with a slender track record went shopping for a precious Beltway commodity.

The company, Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.

Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales, and Defense Solutions soon found its man. The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News, to a consulting contract starting June 15, 2007.

Four days later the general swung into action. He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. “No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,” he said.

Thus, within days of hiring General McCaffrey, the Defense Solutions sales pitch was in the hands of the American commander with the greatest influence over Iraq’s expanding military.

“That’s what I pay him for,” Timothy D. Ringgold, chief executive of Defense Solutions, said in an interview.

[Read more…]

President-Elect Barack Obama’s Press Conference | Dec 1 2008

Part Two

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