Moral Outrage
Whew! God help us!

Jan
03

Why is there intolerance and hate?

A sign inside a church in Northern Ireland:  “If we’d been born where they were born and taught what they were taught, we would believe what they believe.”

George Orwell: “People can foresee the future only as it coincides with their own wishes. And the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”

Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia: “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war. And until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes. And until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war.

“And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained… now everywhere is war.”

Sep
18

Seven weeks before voters decide on their next president, a secretly recorded video threatens to further undo Republican candidate Mitt Romney by portraying him as out of touch with ordinary Americans. Taped with a hidden camera at a private fund-raising event in May, the video shows Romney telling his millionaire donors that nearly half of Americans back President Barack Obama because they rely on government support.

Romney displays a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow American citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don’t contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the wealthy donors he was speaking to) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative.

Here it is in Romney’s own words:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

Romney went on: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mother Jones has obtained video of Romney stating this at an intimate fundraiser—where he candidly discussed his campaign strategy and foreign policy ideas in stark terms he does not use in public—and has confirmed its authenticity.

Sep
10

Johnny Barber writes from Kabul:

On September 11th, 2001, George W. Bush announced, “We are at war. Somebody is going to pay.” Eleven years later, we are still paying. Bullets, mortars and drones are still extracting payment. Thousands, tens of thousands, millions have paid in full. Children and even those yet to be born in Fallujah will continue to pay for decades to come.

Our soldiers, some physically damaged by IED’s, some mentally destroyed by PTSD, will pay for these wars for the rest of their days. Drug and alcohol abuse is out of control. Suicide among the troops is an epidemic. The Veterans Administration estimates about 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Mental illness plagues 45% of homeless vets and 70% suffer from some kind of substance abuse.

84,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan. While the occupation is rarely mentioned in the U.S. mainstream media, that doesn’t mean the killing has stopped. On average, one U.S. soldier dies everyday. Not an enormous sum, unless it is your mother, father, son or daughter that has perished. Afghan loses are not reported. They have loved ones who grieve as well.

And what of the $2 billion dollars per week we are spending on war in Afghanistan? What would $2 billion per week look like in our devastated communities, in our schools, in creating jobs or in caring for our elders? Politicians in both parties claim our first priority is to reduce the debt. If they were really serious, if they were honest, they would end this occupation and stop calling for cuts to Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Social Security.

In America, 35 million people are hungry or do not know where their next meal is coming from and 13 million of them are children. Who benefits from the “War on Terror”?

In Kabul, children freeze to death in the winter, and they starve to death all year round. Meanwhile on the edge of Kabul a “New City” is being built. Hamid Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, the owner of a construction company, benefits as his company “wins” government contracts without the hassles of competitive bidding. Karzai’s relatives are also benefiting from lucrative contracts in the oil and mineral sectors. According to the NY Times, another brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai was involved in the heroin trade and was also on the CIA’s payroll for several years before his assassination in 2011. The Karzai family brings in billions of dollars a year while 42% of Afghans live on less than a dollar a day.

In 2011 overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market. Russia was second, with $4.8 billion in deals. Who benefits from the War on Terror and who benefits when America threatens war?

People continue to pay an enormous price, while the elites, including our own government and the corporations it answers to, ignore everything but the influx of cash into their coffers.

 

Sep
06

“Corporations are not people.

“People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die.

“And that matters, because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”

“People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged…

“Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.”

–Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law School professor, and Democratic Party candidate in the 2012 United States Senate election

Aug
17

Paul Ryan was chosen by Mitt Romney as his Vice Presidential pick. Here’s 6 things to know about Paul Ryan, as researched by MoveOn:

1. His economic plan would cost America 1 million jobs in the first year. Ryan’s proposed budget would cripple the economy. He’d slash spending deeply, which would not only slow job growth, but shock the economy and cost 1 million of us our jobs in 2013 alone and kill more than 4 million jobs by the end of 2014.

2. He’d pickpocket the middle class to line the pockets of the rich. His tax plan is Robin Hood in reverse. He wants to cut taxes by $4.6 trillion over the next decade, but only for corporations and the rich, like giving families earning more than $1 million a year a $300,000 tax cut. And to pay for them, he’d raise taxes on middle- and lower-income households and butcher social service programs that help middle- and working-class Americans.

3. He’d kill Medicare. He’d replace Medicare with vouchers for retirees to purchase insurance, eliminating the guarantee of health care for seniors and putting them at the mercy of the private insurance industry. That could amount to a cost increase of more than $5,900 by 2050, leaving many seniors broke or without the health care they need. He’d also raise the age of eligibility to 67.

4. He’d dismantle Social Security. Ironically, Ryan used the Social Security Survivors benefit to help pay for college, but he wants to take that possibility away from future generations. He agrees with Rick Perry’s view that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and he supported George W. Bush’s disastrous proposal to privatize Social Security.

5. He’d eliminate Pell grants for more than 1 million low-income students. His budget plan cuts the Pell Grant program by $200 billion, which could mean a loss of educational funding for 1 million low-income students.

6. He’d give $40 billion in subsidies to Big Oil. His budget includes oil tax breaks worth $40 billion, while cutting “billions of dollars from investments to develop alternative fuels and clean energy technologies that would serve as substitutes for oil.”

Aug
14

The government is now referring to our Social Security checks as a “Federal Benefit Payment.” –This isn’t a benefit – its earned income!

Not only did we all contribute to Social Security but our employers did too. It totaled 15% of our income before taxes. If you averaged $30K per year over your working life, that’s close to $180,000 invested in Social Security.

If you calculate the value of your monthly investment in social security ($375/month, including both your and your employer’s contributions) at a meager 1% interest rate compounded monthly, after 40 years of working you’d have more than $1.3+ million dollars saved! This is your personal investment.

Upon retirement, if you took out only 3% per year, you’d receive $39,318 per year, or $3,277 per month.

That’s almost three times more than today’s average Social Security benefit of $1,230 per month.

And your retirement fund would last more than 33 years –Meaning if you retired at age 65, it would last until you’re 98!

I can only imagine how much better most average-income people could live in retirement if our government had just invested our money in low-risk interest-earning accounts. Instead, the folks in Washington pulled off a bigger Ponzi scheme than Bernie Madoff ever did.

And now, to add insult to injury, they’re calling it a “benefit,” as if we never worked to earn every penny of it.

Aug
01

The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, undaunted at 92 and full of the fire that makes him one of this nation’s most courageous voices for justice, recently campaigned to get charges dropped against Occupy activists in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. What drives Rev. Berrigan?

It is as a religious radical that Rev. Daniel Berrigan gained national prominence, as well as numerous enemies within the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He and his brother Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest and World War II combat veteran, along with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, led some of the first protests against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Philip Berrigan was arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Philip’s sentence spurred Daniel to greater activism. He traveled to Hanoi with the historian Howard Zinn to bring back three American prisoners of war. And then he and eight other Catholic priests concocted homemade napalm and on May 17, 1968, used it to burn 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Catonsville, Md., draft board.

Berrigan believes, as did Martin Luther King, that “the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism.” And he has dedicated his life to fighting these evils.

“This is the only way to bring faith to the public and the public to the faith,” Berrigan says. “If faith does not touch the lives of others it has no point. Faith always starts with oneself. It means an overriding sense of responsibility for the universe, making sure that universe is left in good hands and the belief that things will finally turn out right if we remain faithful.”

There is one place, Berrigan says, where those who care about justice need to be—in the streets. The failure by large numbers of citizens to carry out mass acts of civil disobedience will only ensure that we remain hostages to corporate power.

In 1980 Daniel and Philip, along with six other protesters, illegally entered the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pa. They damaged nuclear warhead cones and poured blood onto documents. He was again sentenced and then paroled for time already served in prison.

By the time he died in 2002, Philip Berrigan had spent more than a decade in prison for acts of civil disobedience. Historian Howard said in eulogizing him that Philip Berrigan was “one of the great Americans of our time.”

In a culture that lacks many authentic heroes, and continues to preach that military service is the highest good, Daniel Berrigan is a potent reminder of what we must seek to become. His is a life of constant agitation, constant defiance, constant disobedience to systems of power, a life of radical obedience to God. His embrace of what has been called “Christian anarchism,” because of its persistent alienation and hostility to all forms of power, is the most effective form of resistance. And it is the clearest expression of the Christian Gospel.

“Some people today argue that equanimity achieved through inner spiritual work is a necessary condition for sustaining one’s ethical and political commitments,” Berrigan writes. “But to the prophets of the Bible, this would have been an absolutely foreign language and a foreign view of the human. The notion that one has to achieve peace of mind before stretching out one’s hand to one’s neighbor is a distortion of our human experience, and ultimately a dodge of our responsibility.”

[Excerpt of Truthdig article by Chris Hedges, a veteran foreign correspondent for The New York Times, who also graduated from Harvard Divinity School]

Jul
19

[America] conditions the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites.

War comes wrapped in patriotic slogans; calls for sacrifice, honor, and heroism; and promises of glory. It comes wrapped in the claims of divine providence. It is what a grateful nation asks of its children. It is what is right and just. It is waged to make the nation and the world a better place, to cleanse evil. War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. From a distance it seems noble. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a bit part in the great drama of history. It promises to give us identities as warriors, patriots, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war-makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits.

But up close war is a soulless void. War is about barbarity, perversion, and pain. Human decency and tenderness are crushed, and people become objects to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded all combine to spin those in combat into another universe.

As a nation we prefer to listen to those who speak from the patriotic script. If veterans speak of terrible wounds visible and invisible, of lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we fill our ears with wax. … This is why so many veterans are estranged and enraged. This is why so many succumb to suicide or addictions.

[Excerpt of article by Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist]

Jul
17

The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff views military recruitment through a distorted lens that glosses over such socio-economic discrepancies and the failure of the American education. He remarked that this generation is “wired to serve, and we just have to figure out how to give them the paths to serve.” He affirms that “everyone is aware of the threat and yet they do sign up, they do raise their right hand and they come to serve because of [the 9/11 attacks].”

Educational incentives (e.g. GI Bill, Tuition Assistance, College Loan Repayment Program) are the primary reason for joining the American Armed Forces. [Similarly in Afghanistan] “the number one motivator to join the [Afghan] army and police is literacy,” according to the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan Commander’s deputy.

Tragically, many service-members join or remain in uniform for the hyper-economic benefits associated with military service. While there ought to be non-violent alternatives, one cannot blame these men and women for looking out for themselves and their families. If that means multiple deployments to preventable wars, like Iraq, then they must do so to make ends meet.

In this regard, US service members are victims upon enlistment; with jobs increasingly scarce in America’s corporate economy, more and more enlist just for the basic benefits.

A struggling American economy and the largest wealth gap between minorities and Caucasians in generations means that the Pentagon will have plenty of fodder from which to recruit into the proletariat of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

[Excerpts from a Counterpunch article by Christian Sorensen]

Jun
29

Facts shared in a speech by US Senator Bernie Sanders, the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history:

The American people are angry because they are living through the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Unemployment is not 8.2%, real unemployment is closer to 15%.

Today the wealthiest 400 individuals in America own more wealth than the bottom half of America –150 million people.

This recession was caused by the greed, the recklessness and illegal behavior of the people on Wall Street.

Wall Street then received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world. Not just the $700 billion that congress approved through the TARP program, but the Federal Reserve provided a jaw-dropping $16 trillion in virtually zero interest loans to every major financial institution in this country, central banks all over the world, large corporations and, in fact, to wealthy individuals.

If the Fed can provide $16 trillion to large financial institutions, why can’t they begin to move to protect homeowners, unemployed workers, and the middle class of this country?

Now, four years after the financial crisis caused by J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and the other huge financial institutions, one might have thought that perhaps they learned something, that maybe the lesson of the great financial crisis was you cannot continue to maintain the largest gambling casino in the history of the world. But apparently they have not learned that lesson. They are back at it again and we have recently seen the $2 billion or $3 billion or $5 billion in gambling losses at J.P. Morgan Chase.

The American people are … angry not just because unemployment is high, they’re angry not just because millions of people have lost their homes and their life savings. They are angry because they understand that the middle class of this country is collapsing, poverty is increasing, while at the same time the people on top are doing phenomenally well. They, the taxpayers of this country, bail out Wall Street, and Wall Street recovers. Wall Street does well, but now we have kids in this country graduating college deeply in debt, can’t find a job. We have older workers losing their jobs and people are saying what is going on in America?

Today the top 1% own 40% of all of the wealth in America. What do we think the bottom 60% of the American people own? …Well, the answer is they own less than 2%.

This country … is losing its democratic values, and, in fact, is moving toward an oligarchic form of government where a handful of billionaires control the economic and political life of this nation.

Read Bernie Sanders’ full speech made June 27, 2012

Jun
18

When neoconservatives, politicians, and high ranking military officers speak of a 30-year war against terrorism, there is no discussion about its affordability or whether the one significant attack (September 11, 2001) that is attributed, perhaps incorrectly, to Muslim terrorists justifies an open-ended war against a dozen countries.

There is no discussion of the burden on future generations of the massive increase in the public debt in order to finance today’s wars. Meanwhile conservatives constantly assert that Social Security is unaffordable and decry the intergenerational basis for Social Security retirement.

Since the 1980s Congress has been cutting back Social Security benefits in a number of ways. For example, the retirement age is being extended from 65 to 67, and the switch from a real cost of living adjustment to a substitution-based consumer price index results in the erosion of the real value of Social Security benefits, which was the reason for the switch.

Up to 85% of Social Security benefits are now subject to income tax if the recipient has earnings or other retirement income above a minimum amount. The taxation of Social Security was another way that the political system reneged on the promised benefits.

In addition, during the 1980s Alan Greenspan and David Stockman accelerated the phase-in of payroll tax increases that the Carter administration had enacted. By causing the payroll tax to rise before it was needed to finance benefits, more than $2 trillion has been collected than was paid out in benefits. The government spent the earmarked payroll tax revenues (leaving non-marketable IOUs in their place) on other things, such as the wars of the 21st century. As none of this $2 trillion reached retirees, the real “theft” from those of working age was committed by Greenspan and Stockman for the benefit of other spending programs.

None of this is to say that there are not legitimate criticisms of Social Security. One is that Social Security does not provide a personal nest egg that a retiree can either spend down or manage carefully, living off the investment income and passing on any remainder to heirs, thus building wealth in society.

What we have witnessed in the 21st century is a clear decision by political elites and the private interests that control them that gratuitous wars are more important than the elderly. In the budget deliberations it is not the trillion dollar annual budgets of the military/security complex that are seen as excessive. Instead, the focus is on cutting the sparse benefits for the elderly.

[Excerpt of article by Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy]

Jun
06

Americans ask, “Why do they hate us?” Stephen M. Walt, Harvard professor of international relations, suggests:

Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ve been thinking that Americans ought to reflect a bit more on the long-term costs of our willingness to do unto others in ways we would most definitely not want them to do unto us.

This past week, the New York Times has published two important articles: The first described Obama’s targeted assassination policy against suspected terrorists, and the second describes the U.S. cyber-warfare campaign against Iran. When our government is doing lots of hostile things in far-flung places around the world and the public doesn’t know about them until long after the fact, then we have no way of understanding why the targets of U.S. power might be angry and hostile. (As a result, we will tend to attribute their behavior to other, darker motivations.)

Remember back in 2009, when Obama supposedly extended the “hand of friendship” to Iran? At the same time that he was making friendly video broadcasts, he was also escalating our cyber-war efforts against Iran. Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei reacted coolly to Obama’s initiative, saying: “We do not have any record of the new U.S. president. We are observing, watching, and judging. If you change, we will also change our behavior. If you do not change, we will be the same nation as 30 years ago.”

U.S. pundits immediately saw this as a “rebuff” of our supposedly sincere offer of friendship. With hindsight, of course, it’s clear that Khamenei had every reason to be skeptical; and now, he has good grounds for viewing Obama as inherently untrustworthy. I’m no fan of the clerical regime, but the inherent contradictions in our approach made it virtually certain to fail. As it did.

We keep wondering: “Why do they hate us?” Well, maybe some people are mad because we are doing things that we would regard as unjustified and heinous acts of war if anyone dared to do them to us.

I don’t think Americans should be so surprised or so outraged when others are angered by actions that we would find equally objectionable if we were the victims instead of the perpetrators. And if we keep doing unto others in this way, it’s only a matter of time before someone does it unto us in return.

[Excerpt of article by Stephen M. Walt, Harvard professor]

May
25

What if Memorial Day reminds us of times when we had more freedom? What if the memory of the past is more fulfilling than the reality of the present?

What if the federal government could write any law, regulate any behavior and tax any event, no matter what the Constitution authorized?

What if the House of Representatives seriously considered letting the military lock up whatever Americans the president ordered the troops to arrest, without charges filed or lawyers present or a judge presiding?

What if the Constitution’s guarantees are not guarantees at all, but are subject to the whims of whoever is in power?

What if the government only permitted freedom so long as it was exercised as the government pleases?

What if the government could hire thugs to keep you safe? What if it gave the thugs uniforms and badges and sent them to airports? What if it gave them rubber gloves to wear and told them they could touch you and your children and your parents however and wherever they wished? What if these thugs touched the private parts of little babies and old ladies and intentionally restrained those who have criticized them while the rest of us just watched and let this happen?

What if the government found dupes and convinced them that they should conspire to commit acts of terrorism? What if the idea for terrorist acts and the means for committing them came from the government? What if no real threats were involved in these games and no real weapons were used, just fake threats and fake weapons, fomented and provided by the government? What if the government created these phony crimes just so that it could solve them?

What if, on Memorial Day, we remember times that were freer than today? What if, on Memorial Day, when we think of those who died for our freedom, we end up recognizing that the freedom they died for is dying?

[Excerpt of an article by Andrew P. Napolitano, a former Superior Court judge]

Apr
24

On April 17, 2012, as millions of Americans were filing their income tax returns, the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest study of world military spending. In case Americans were wondering where most of their tax money — and the tax money of other nations — went in the previous year, the answer from SIPRI was clear: to war and preparations for war.

World military spending reached a record $1,738 billion in 2011 — an increase of $138 billion over the previous year. The United States accounted for 41 percent of that, or $711 billion.

Why are military expenditures continuing to increase — indeed, why aren’t they substantially decreasing — given the governmental austerity measures of recent years? Amid the economic crisis that began in late 2008 (and which continues to the present day), most governments have been cutting back their spending dramatically on education, health care, housing, parks, and other vital social services. However, there have not been corresponding cuts in their military budgets.

In the United States, an estimated 58 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary tax dollars go to war and preparations for war.

“Almost every country with a military is on an insane path, spending more and more on missiles, aircraft, and guns,” remarked John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus. “These countries should be confronting the real threats of climate change, hunger, disease, and oppression, not wasting taxpayers’ money on their military.”

[Excerpt of CounterPunch article by Lawrence S. Wittner, professor of history emeritus]

Apr
24

Would you like to know where the federal government spend all the money you paid in income taxes during fiscal 2011?

Click here for a breakdown.

Following the above link, enter in the box the amount of federal income taxes you paid. And then click “Show My Taxes”, and you will find out where every penny was spent by the federal government during fiscal year 2011.

Apr
23

If the energy industry has its way in North America, there will be many more legitimate complaints we have been “sold out” to the energy barons.

To gain access to the additional stores of oil and gas of the United States and Canada, the industry is seeking to eliminate virtually all environmental restraints imposed since the 1960s and open vast tracts of coastal and wilderness areas to intensive drilling.

To exploit previously neglected reserves in North America, Big Oil will have to overcome a host of regulatory and environmental obstacles. It will, in other words, have to use its version of deep-pocket persuasion to convert the United States into the functional equivalent of a Third World petro-state.

It also seeks the construction of the much disputed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to transport synthetic crude oil made from Canadian tar sands — a particularly “dirty” and environmentally devastating form of energy which has attracted substantial U.S. investment — to Texas and Louisiana for further processing.

To achieve these objectives, American Petroleum Institute (API), which claims to represent more than 490 oil and natural gas companies, has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to sway the 2012 elections, dubbed “Vote 4 Energy.” While describing itself as nonpartisan, the API-financed campaign seeks to discredit and marginalize any candidate, including President Obama, who opposes even the mildest of version of its drill-anywhere agenda.

“There [are] two paths that we can take” on energy policy, the Vote 4 Energy Web site proclaims. “One path leads to more jobs, higher government revenues and greater U.S. energy security — which can be achieved by increasing oil and natural gas development right here at home. The other path would put jobs, revenues and our energy security at risk.” This message will be broadcast with increasing frequency as Election Day nears.

How we characterize our energy predicament in the coming decades and what path we ultimately select will in large measure determine the fate of this nation.

[Excerpt of a TomDispatch article by Michael T. Klare]

Apr
23

Up until 1950, the United States was the world’s leading oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of its day. In that year, the U.S. produced approximately 270 million metric tons of oil, or about 55% of the world’s entire output. But with a postwar recovery then in full swing, the world needed a lot more energy while America’s most accessible oil fields — though still capable of growth — were approaching their maximum sustainable production levels. Net U.S. crude oil output reached a peak of about 9.2 million barrels per day in 1970 and then went into decline (until very recently).

This prompted the giant oil firms, which had already developed significant footholds in Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, to scour the global South in search of new reserves to exploit. Particular attention was devoted to the Persian Gulf region, where in 1948 a consortium of American companies — Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, and Texaco — discovered the world’s largest oil field, Ghawar, in Saudi Arabia. By 1975, Third World countries were producing 58% of the world’s oil supply, while the U.S. share had dropped to 18%.

For the most part, production in Third World countries posed no such complications. The Nigerian government, for example, has long welcomed foreign investment in its onshore and offshore oil fields, while showing little concern over the despoliation of its southern coastline, where oil company operations have produced a massive environmental disaster. As Adam Nossiter of the New York Times described the resulting situation, “The Niger Delta, where the [petroleum] wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.”

As vividly laid out by Peter Maass in Crude World, a similar pattern is evident in many other Third World petro-states where anything goes as compliant government officials — often the recipients of hefty bribes or other oil-company favors — regularly look the other way. The companies, in turn, don’t trouble themselves over the human rights abuses perpetrated by their foreign government “partners” — many of them dictators, warlords, or feudal potentates.

But times change. Pressures in the Third World have forced the major U.S. and European firms — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total of France — to look elsewhere for new sources of oil and natural gas. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t many places left in the world that possess promising hydrocarbon reserves and also welcome investment by private energy giants. That’s why some of the most attractive new energy markets now lie in Canada and the United States, or in the waters off their shores. As a result, both are experiencing a remarkable uptick in fresh investment from the major international firms.

Both countries still possess substantial oil and gas deposits, but not of the “easy” variety (deposits close to the surface, close to shore, or easily accessible for extraction). All that remains are “tough” energy reserves (deep underground, far offshore, hard to extract and process). To exploit these, the energy companies must deploy aggressive technologies likely to cause extensive damage to the environment and in many cases human health as well. They must also find ways to gain government approval to enter environmentally protected areas now off limits.

The formula for making Canada and the U.S. the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century is grim but relatively simple: environmental protections will have to be eviscerated and those who stand in the way of intensified drilling, from landowners to local environmental protection groups, bulldozed out of the way. Put another way, North America will have to be Third-World-ified.

[Read full story]

Apr
22

Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal—the poor person or the rich one? It’s tempting to think that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, if you already have enough for yourself, it’s easier to think about what others may need.

But research suggests the opposite is true: as people climb the social ladder, their compassionate feelings towards other people decline.

Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner ran several studies looking at whether social class (as measured by wealth, occupational prestige, and education) influences how much we care about the feelings of others. In one study, Piff and his colleagues discreetly observed the behavior of drivers at a busy four-way intersection. They found that luxury car drivers were more likely to cut off other motorists instead of waiting for their turn at the intersection. In a different study they found that luxury car drivers were also more likely to speed past a pedestrian trying to use a crosswalk, even after making eye contact with the pedestrian.

The researchers also asked participants to spend a few minutes comparing themselves either to people better off or worse off than themselves financially. Afterwards, participants were shown a jar of candy and told that they could take home as much as they wanted. They were also told that the leftover candy would be given to children in a nearby laboratory. Those participants who had spent time thinking about how much better off they were compared to others ended up taking significantly more candy for themselves–leaving less behind for the children.

A related set of studies published by Keltner and his colleagues last year looked at how social class influences feelings of compassion towards people who are suffering. In one study, they found that less affluent individuals are more likely to report feeling compassion towards others on a regular basis. This was true even after controlling for other factors that we know affect compassionate feelings, such as gender, ethnicity, and spiritual beliefs.

In a second study, participants were asked to watch two videos while having their heart rate monitored. One video showed somebody explaining how to build a patio. The other showed children who were suffering from cancer. The results of the study showed that participants on the lower end of the spectrum, with less income and education, were more likely to report feeling compassion while watching the video of the cancer patients. In addition, their heart rates slowed down while watching the cancer video—a response that is associated with paying greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others.

These findings build upon previous research showing how upper class individuals are worse at recognizing the emotions of others and less likely to pay attention to people they are interacting with (e.g. by checking their cell phones or doodling).

But why would wealth and status decrease our feelings of compassion for others? Piff and his colleagues suspect that the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused.

Another reason has to do with our attitudes towards greed. Like Gordon Gekko, upper-class people may be more likely to endorse the idea that “greed is good.” Given the growing income inequality in the United States, the relationship between wealth and compassion has important implications. Those who hold most of the power in this country, political and otherwise, tend to come from privileged backgrounds. If social class influences how much we care about others, then the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor.

[Excerpts of article by Daisy Grewal, Stanford School of Medicine researcher]

Apr
21

When war-torn Somalia was ravaged by a drought-induced famine last year, which killed tens of thousands and displaced over a million people, international media was quick to blame the Islamist Al-Shabaab for blocking humanitarian assistance from reaching its zone of control in southern Somalia.

But according to Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina, the United States’ counter-terrorism laws played an equally central role in obstructing assistance from reaching famine victims in desperate need of aid. Menkhaus said humanitarian organizations suspended food aid delivery to drought- struck areas controlled by Al-Shabaab for fear of violating the USA Patriot Act.

Congress passed the Act in 2001 as part of its response to the Setp. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and under it, anyone who provides material benefits, even if unwittingly, to a designated terrorist group, could face the most severe penalties.

Given that Al-Shabaab is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., humanitarian groups were fearful that an accusation of ‘aiding terrorists’ could damage their entire organization. Thus many reached the conclusion that they were too vulnerable to operate in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

The U.S. could have issued a waiver, protecting relief agencies from counter-terrorism laws; similar waivers have been issued for relief agencies in southern Lebanon and the West Bank of the occupied Palestinian territories, where Hezbollah and Hamas operate respectively. But in the case of Somalia, Menkhaus believes the U.S. administration did not want to give its Republican opponents any political leverage on the eve of upcoming presidential elections by appearing too “soft on terrorism”.

[IPS]

Apr
20

One of the nation’s leading electronic privacy groups claimed this week that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) misled members of Congress during a February 16th hearing on whether the Department is paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to keep tabs on protected free speech and dissent against government policies on the Internet.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which triggered the hearing by publishing a trove of secret government documents in January, told Raw Story that a second round of documents they’ve obtained directly contradicts testimony given on Feb. 16, showing that the DHS instructed their analysts to do exactly what the Department denied.

“This has a profound effect on free speech online if you feel like a government law enforcement agency — particularly the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to look for terrorists — is monitoring your criticism, your dissent, of the government,” Ginger McCall, who directs EPIC’s Open Government Project, told Raw Story.

It is already a matter of public record that the U.S. Air Force has purchased software used for “persona management” across multiple social media platforms, which gives information operatives the ability to control a virtual army of fake people online.

Apr
19

The nondescript warehouse-like buildings in rural Pennsylvania are the headquarters of Combined Systems, Inc.—one of the largest manufacturers and international suppliers of teargas, stun grenades and other “non-lethal” crowd control devices in the world.

Israel, or more accurately, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), is their most frequent client. And Combined Systems’ relationship with the IDF is an emblem of a global system that binds together US weapons companies, repressive governments and taxpayer money.

Here’s how this system generally works: a foreign government requests a certain amount of military assistance from the United States government. If the US government chooses to accept this request, Congress appropriates the amount into the budget, and once the budget is passed, the recipient can use the money to purchase weapons from US manufacturers. Israel is a case in point.

The United States has given foreign aid to Israel since 1949. By 1962, this money was used to fund the purchase of US weaponry, forming the foundation of the relationship between the US government and Israeli military. Due to an Israeli economic crisis during the 1980s, military loans to Israel were eliminated and replaced with grants. In 2008, all economic aid was eliminated and replaced exclusively with military aid.

Today, Israel receives about $3.1 billion annually from the United States in foreign military financing, or more simply, military aid. Since this form of foreign assistance is part of the congressional budget, this collective amount is financed entirely by the US taxpayer.

[Excerpts of article by Anna Lekas Miller]

Apr
19

The International Monetary Fund issued a clarion call to bickering US politicians, urging them to solve the country’s debt problems before a still-vulnerable economy is tipped over the brink.

In a hallmark semi-annual report, the Washington-based fund warned policymakers on the other side of the US capital that, while the world’s largest economy is improving, they invite trouble by not addressing a looming debt crisis.

So far the United States has avoided the type of debt crisis that has ravaged Europe — with the dollar’s safe-haven status and moderate growth providing a sizable safety net even as agencies have downgraded the country’s credit rating.

But with Washington hurtling toward November presidential polls, and with the country’s politicians gripped by a culture of permanent campaigning, time may be running out to find a solution.

US debt is expected to balloon to 90 percent of total economic output by 2020, “an uncomfortably high burden,” according to the IMF.

[AFP]

Apr
18

A newly released document acquired by Wired Magazine exposes the United States Defense Department’s torture techniques.

In the 37 page report, former CIA official John Kiriakou warns the George W. Bush administration about the techniques that were being used on detainees and explains how they are against US law.

His warnings went unheard of — until Kiriakou was indicted for leaking the information to the media!

Apr
16

Nobel Laureate Óscar Arias writes:
“My country Costa Rica, has shown what a reduction in military spending can do for a society. In 1948 my country made a voluntary decision that no other had ever undertaken, to abolish its army and declare peace to the world.”

Arias, president of Costa Rica (from 1986-1990 and 2006-2010) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his peacemaking efforts in Central America. A country without any armed forces, Costa Rica is now a global model for demilitarization and the amazing social benefits it offers.

April 17 is the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS), which encourages people around the world to demand demilitarization as the first step towards achieving true human security and development.

Apr
16

At Fallujah hospital in Iraq they cannot offer any statistics on children born with birth defects – there are just too many. Parents don’t want to talk. “Families bury their newborn babies after they die without telling anyone,” says hospital spokesman Nadim al-Hadidi. “It’s all too shameful for them.”

“We recorded 672 cases in January but we know there were many more,” says Hadidi. He projects pictures on to a wall at his office: children born with no brain, no eyes, or with the intestines out of their body.

Facing a frozen image of a child born without limbs, Hadidi says parents’ feelings usually range between shame and guilt. “They think it’s their fault, that there’s something wrong with them. And it doesn’t help at all when some elder tells them it’s been ‘god’s punishment’.”

“In 2004 the Americans tested all kinds of chemicals and explosive devices on us: thermobaric weapons, white phosphorous, depleted uranium…we have all been laboratory mice for them,” says Hadidi.

Abdulkadir Alrawi, a doctor at Fallujah hospital, is just back from examining an intriguing new case. “This girl was born with the Dandy Walker syndrome. Her brain is split in two and I doubt she’ll survive.” As he speaks, the lights go off again in the whole hospital. “We lack the most basic infrastructure, how do they want us to cope with an emergency like this?”

A study by the University of Baghdad pointed out that cases of birth defects had increased tenfold in [another Iraqi city] Basra two years before the invasion in 2003. The trend is still on the rise.

According to a study released by the Switzerland-based International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in July 2010, “the increases in cancer, leukemia and infant mortality and perturbations of the normal human population birth sex ratio in Fallujah are significantly greater than those reported for the survivors of the A-Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.”

Researchers found there had been a 38-fold increase in leukemia (17-fold in the Japanese locations). Samira Alaani, chief doctor at Fallujah hospital, took part in a study in close collaboration with the World Health Organization. Several tests conducted in London point to unusually large amounts of uranium and mercury in the hair root of those affected. That could be the evidence linking the use of prohibited weapons to the extent of congenital problems in Fallujah.

Other than the white phosphorus, many point to depleted uranium (DU), a radioactive element which, according to military engineers, significantly increases the penetration capacity of shells. DU is believed to have a life of 4.5 billion years, and it has been labelled the “silent murderer that never stops killing.” Several international organisations have called on NATO to investigate whether DU was also used during the Libyan war.

[IPS]

Apr
14

The first rotation of about 200 US marines has arrived in Australia on a six-month training deployment. A total of 2,500 troops are expected to arrive over the next few years in Darwin to enhance the US’s military presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Despite the fact that the US’s final military presence in the country is to grow into a 2,500-person Marine Air Ground Task Force, Australia’s defense minister Stephen Smith insisted that the marines and their entourage cannot be qualified as a military base.

Chinese officials have already questioned whether the US’s new military alliances in the region are aimed at encircling China in order to prevent it from becoming a global power. Barack Obama dismissed these fears when announcing the deployment. Back then, he stressed that it was not an attempt to isolate China, adding that Washington welcomes “a rising, peaceful China.”

However, Stephen Smith did mention the rise of China and India in his speech, saying that the world needs to “come to grips” with this fact and respond adequately. He also added that having the US marines in Australia would enhance such efforts. The tropical port of Darwin of Australia’s Northern Territory is located 500 miles from Indonesia. The location is seen as being of the highest strategic importance in view of the escalating disputes over sovereignty in the South China Sea.

New Zealand-based Asia specialist, Tim Beal, says the hospitality may backfire on the nations involved. “Obviously, the United States is very worried about the rise of China and is taking moves to counter that,” he told RT. “Now, we have the marines going into Darwin – this is in effect an American base. It may not have the legal basis of the base, as we might have had 20-30 years ago, but that’s essentially what it is.”

One of the fundamental problems here, Beal explains, is that a number of states willingly get themselves caught between the declining United States and rising China. In this way, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand become subordinate to the complicated ties between the two giants.

[RT]

Apr
13

Over 6,400 uniformed American service-members and 2,330 mercenaries have died in the Global War on Terror since 2001.

47,740 American men and women have been wounded in action since the War on Terror began.

A casualty traditionally refers to anyone wounded or killed in combat, but this term doesn’t articulate the variety of war’s victims. In addition to premature death and mangled bodies, casualties include broken hearts, shattered minds, economic instability, traumatized families, and mental depression.

These afflictions cross race and nationality. Since 2001, casualties of American, Afghan, Iraqi, European, Pakistani, Yemeni, Somali and other nationalities have fallen in the so-called Global War on Terror.

After decades in limbo, roughly 89,000 Vietnam veterans were recently paid more than $2.2 billion for exposure to Agent Orange. No Vietnamese victims were compensated in this settlement. Will the Pentagon neglect its Iraqi victims when divvying out compensation in forty years?

With an estimated 500,000 disability claims already filed from the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Veterans Administration will not be able to compensate all future disability requests. Even worse, considering the bi-partisan neglect of fiscal responsibility, the future of all military healthcare is in jeopardy.


[Excerpts from a Counterpunch article by Christian Sorensen]

Apr
13

Fukushima will start burning radioactive debris containing up to 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. As Mainchi notes:

“The state will start building storage facilities for debris generated by the March 2011 tsunami as early as May at two locations. … About 25,000 tons of debris are expected to be brought into the facilities beginning in the summer, according to the officials.

“If more than 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium are found per kilogram of debris, the debris will be transferred to a medium-term storage facility to be built by the state. But if burnable debris contains 100,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium or less, it may be disposed of at a temporary incinerator to be built within the prefecture, according to the officials.

“Within the 20-km-radius no-go zone spanning across Naraha and five other municipalities along the coast, debris caused by the magnitude 9.0 quake and the subsequent tsunami has amounted to an estimated 474,000 tons, much of remaining where it is.”

How much radiation is that? It is a lot.

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen has said that much lower levels of cesium – 5,000-8,000 bq/kg (20 times lower than what will be allowed to be burned at Fukushima) – would be sent to a special facility in the United States and buried underground for thousands of year. It is comparable to the levels of radioactivity found within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Burning radioactive debris does not destroy the radioactivity. It merely spreads it. Gundersen says that radioactivity from the burnt debris will end up not only in neighboring prefectures, but in Hawaii, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California. Gundersen said that burning radioactive debris is basically re-creating the Fukushima disaster all over again, as it is releasing a huge amount of radioactivity which had settled on the ground back into the air.

It is bad enough that radiation from Fukushima is spreading across the Pacific to the United States through air and water, that the Japanese are underplaying the enormous threat posed by the spent fuel pools, and that the Japanese have engaged in a massive cover-up of the severity of the Fukushima crisis. But intentionally burning radioactive debris to try to cover up the problem – and spreading radiation worldwide in the process – is an entirely separate affront.

[Excerpt from Washington’s Blog]

Apr
12

To get some idea of how absurd the Syria situation is, imagine the following scenario:

The United States government is under attack by an insurgent group, which lists kidnappings and bombings in its modus operandi. The insurgents are being aided by Canada and Mexico, with Mexico planning to seize some US territory in order to create a ‘humanitarian corridor’. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration tries to put down the insurgency. Sure, it is often brutal and uncaring in doing so, but when did any regime respond with passivity in the face of a guerrilla uprising?

Meanwhile, threats from China and Russia have compelled Obama to agree to United Nations inspections, and finally a ‘ceasefire’. But the terms of the ceasefire demanded by America’s imperialist rivals stipulates that the government forces remove themselves from towns and villages first, before the ‘rebels’ stop their attacks forty-eight hours later.

The imperialist struggle to remove Assad is for once not primarily based on the desire for control of natural resources within the nation ruled by the west’s latest demon. Its aim is to remove the only regional government sympathetic to Iran, which is being targeted by hugely provocative economic sanctions ahead of an international conference on its nuclear program.

The US and Israel are determined – for slightly different but overlapping reasons – to remove the clerical Iranian regime, and replace with one more willing to aid US imperialism. For Israel, Iran is a local rival, and it threatens its immediate sphere of influence. For the US, Iran is a massive source of oil wealth, albeit one that is presided over by a government allied to China and Russia – America’s up and coming rivals on the world stage.

War in Syria will almost certainly be followed by a conflict in Iran which will dwarf that of Iraq. And there is no guarantee that China and Russia will simply sit on the sidelines and allow their influence and oil supply to be diminished. The Syrian war potentially contains the seeds of World War Three.

[Excerpt of an article by Adam Ford]

Apr
11

While politicians in Washington recklessly call for bombing Syria and Iran, they ignore the economic costs of failed US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It calls into question the competence of leadership elites in the US, not to mention fundamental issues of governance involving the preservation of constitutional democracy.

In the past, the US paid for its wars through increased taxes and the sale of war bonds. The recent wars, however, have been paid for mostly through borrowing. Thus, there is an adverse economic impact with respect to the increased national debt, to the increased budget deficits, and to the upward pressure on interest rates.

Ongoing analysis of economic, human, and social costs by the Eisenhower Study Group, a team of US academics, estimates these wars have cost between $3 trillion and $4 trillion through 2011.

Much of the US national infrastructure was created after World War II and some even before. On a national basis, bridges, roads, waterways, canals and locks, and other public infrastructure are in bad condition and getting worse according to experts in civil engineering. Yet Washington’s bellicose politicians have squandered trillions on unnecessary wars and now want still further military action against Syria and Iran.

So how did the US get into its current predicament?

One explanation points to the failure of US leadership elites to adapt to the changing global correlation of forces after the end of the Cold War in 1991. At that time, clear-minded experts advised preparing for the inevitable emergence of a multipolar world. Thus, they argued, the US should completely revise its national strategy by focusing on strengthening its economy and its diplomacy.

These experts were opposed by advocates of a triumphalist, unipolar world view that called for US global hegemony.

[Excerpt of Global Times article]

Apr
08

Bluffdale sits in a bowl-shaped valley in the shadow of Utah’s Wasatch Range to the east and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west. It’s the heart of Mormon country, where religious pioneers first arrived more than 160 years ago.

But new pioneers have quietly begun moving into the area, secretive outsiders who say little and keep to themselves. They are creating a massive complex so large that it necessitated expanding the town’s boundaries. Once built, it will be more than five times the size of the US Capitol. Rather than Bibles, prophets, and worshippers, this temple will be filled with servers, computer intelligence experts, and armed guards.

The blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013.

Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. The NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

NSA gained warrantless access to AT&T’s vast trove of domestic and international billing records, detailed information about who called whom in the US and around the world. The NSA also has the ability to eavesdrop on phone calls directly and in real time.

For the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration—the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.

The potential amount of information that could be housed in Bluffdale is truly staggering. As a 2007 Department of Defense report puts it, the Pentagon is attempting to expand its worldwide communications network, known as the Global Information Grid, to handle yottabytes (1024 bytes) of data. (A yottabyte is a septillion bytes—so large that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude.) The data stored in Bluffdale include password-protected data, US and foreign government communications, and noncommercial file-sharing between trusted peers.

[An analyst who left the NSA in 2001, after 40 years in the organization] held his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says.

[Excerpt of Wired article by James Bamford]

Apr
07

It is an understatement that it now takes two spouses working to equal the wages of a one-income family of forty years ago. Western wages have plummeted so low that a two-income family is now (on average) 15% poorer than a one-income family of 40 years ago.

The average standard of living in the U.S. has plummeted by over 57% over a span of 40 years. [This may not be so apparent when government statistics are cited, but] the methodology used by our governments to calculate inflation in 1975 was different from the method they used in 1985, which was different than the method they used in 1995, which was different than the method they used in 2005. Basically, our governments have been lying about inflation for the last 40 years as a deliberate means of hiding the over-fifty-percent collapse in our standard of living.

Meanwhile, the situation is more than reversed if you’re one of the fat-cats at the top. While average American workers have seen their wages plummet by 57% over the past 40 years, in just 15 years (1992-2007) the 400 wealthiest Americans saw their incomes rise by 700%.

Now we have the complete picture: wages grinding steadily lower year after year, decade after decade for the Little People, while wages go straight up for the fat-cats. To say this is “unfair” would rank as one of history’s greatest understatements. This is economic rape, plain and simple.

[Excerpts of an article by Jeff Nielson]

Apr
07

From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. In certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders. It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran.

But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics. The M.E.K.’s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration’s fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations. American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants. The fact that M.E.K. is on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me.

A retired four-star general, who has advised the Bush and Obama Administrations on national-security issues, said that he had been privately briefed in 2005 about the training of Iranians associated with the M.E.K. in Nevada by an American involved in the program. They got “the standard training,” he said, “in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry—that went on for six months,” the retired general said. He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration’s global war on terror.

Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. Early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities.

“The M.E.K. was a total joke,” the senior Pentagon consultant said, “and now it’s a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient?” he asked rhetorically. “Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan, and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K. now has a capacity for efficient operations than it never had before.”

[Excerpts of New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh]

Apr
06

Over Holy Week, the days before celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on Easter, Christians are called to meditate on Jesus’ last days. On Good Friday, in churches and often in city streets, it is customary to retrace the “Way of the Cross,” symbolically following Jesus from his trial before the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate to his torture, crucifixion, death and burial.

The Roman Empire employed crucifixion as its preferred method of executing suspects deemed threatening to its imperial power and to the “Pax Romana” it imposed on the known world. The United States is more clearly than ever the successor of this imperial tradition. Today those deemed threats to the U.S. Empire and its “Pax Americana” are increasingly targeted by Predator and Reaper drones armed with missiles and bombs.

Just as Rome considered Jesus a “high value target” for execution, it is unlikely that today’s world empire would view Jesus’ life and teaching with any less suspicion. Jesus called for a jubilee abolition of debt, for redistribution of wealth and for freedom to those in prison. His nonviolent stance did not keep him from engaging in dialogue with the Zealots, who advocated violent revolution. This would be all the evidence the U.S. Empire needs to detain an “enemy combatant” indefinitely at Guantanamo or indeed, to put him on a CIA hit list.

Had Rome the technical capability and lack of compunction of the U.S., Joseph of Arimathaea might have paid with his life for his work of mercy, laying the tortured corpse of Jesus in his own tomb. Mary and the women who later brought ointments to bathe and anoint Jesus’ body might never had made it to the tomb; or they might have been burned beyond recognition themselves before they could deliver the good news that the tomb was empty.

[Excerpts of an article by Brian Terrell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence]

Apr
04

On March 22nd, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jr. signed off on new guidelines allowing the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a post-9/11 creation, to hold on to information about Americans in no way known to be connected to terrorism — about you and me, that is — for up to five years. (Its previous outer limit was 180 days.) This, Clapper claimed, “will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively.”

Joseph K., that icon of single-lettered anonymity from Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, would undoubtedly have felt right at home in Clapper’s Washington. George Orwell would surely have had a few pungent words to say about those anodyne words “practically and effectively,” not to speak of “mission.”

For most Americans, though, it was just life as we’ve known it since September 11, 2001, since we scared ourselves to death and accepted that just about anything goes, as long as it supposedly involves protecting us from terrorists. Basic information or misinformation, possibly about you, is to be stored away for five years — or until some other attorney general and director of national intelligence think it’s even more practical and effective to keep you on file for 10 years, 20 years, or until death do us part — and it hardly made a ripple.

National Security Agency (NSA) expert James Bamford wrote a piece for Wired magazine on a super-secret, $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center the NSA is building in Bluffdale, Utah. Focused on data mining and code-breaking and five times the size of the U.S. Capitol, it is expected to house information beyond compare, “including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

The NSA, adds Bamford, “has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net.”

And large as it is, that mega-project in Utah is just one of many sprouting like mushrooms in the sunless forest of the U.S. intelligence world.

In the new world of the National Security Complex, no one can be trusted — except the officials working within it.

[Excerpt of an article by Tom Engelhardt]

Apr
01

After Mohamed Merah died in a hail of French police bullets, people who had known him talked about “a polite and courteous boy” who liked “cars, bikes, sports and girls.” His friends had trouble believing that he had murdered seven people, including three children, in a ten-day killing spree in the city of Toulouse, and none of them believed his claim to be a member of al-Qaeda. “Three weeks ago he was in a nightclub,” one said.

The following day, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was charged with murdering seventeen Afghans, including nine children, in a lone night-time attack on sleeping civilians in two villages near Kandahar two weeks ago. “I can’t believe it was him,” said Kasie Holland, his next-door neighbor in Lake Tapps, Washington. “There were no signs. It’s really sad. I don’t want to believe that he did it.”

There are startling parallels in these cases, right down to the fact that Mohamed Merah held a little girl by the hair as he shot her in the head, and that Robert Bales allegedly pulled little girls from their beds by their hair to shoot them. And there is, of course, the underlying symmetry of the motives: both men were responding, in confused ways, to the “war on terror” that former US president George W Bush launched after the 9/11 attacks.

In Bales’ case, the trigger may have been a fourth deployment to a combat zone after three one-year deployments in Iraq since 2003, during which he suffered concussion and lost part of a foot.

Mohamed Merah was an unemployed small-time criminal with delusions of grandeur, and he wanted to “bring the French state to its knees” in retaliation for French participation in America’s war in Afghanistan. His claim to belong to al-Qaeda, however, was probably just a private fantasy.

As for the Bales atrocity, it is already being written off by the American media and public as a meaningless aberration that tells us nothing about US foreign policy or national character. Not so. It tells us that the character of American soldiers is no better or stronger than anybody else’s, and it is a reminder that ten years occupying a foreign country will make any army hated from without and rotten within.

[Excerpt of article by journalist Gwynne Dyer]

Apr
01

Charles and David Koch are each worth about $25bn, which makes them the fourth richest Americans. When you combine their fortunes, they are the third wealthiest people in the world. Their web of influence in the US stretches from state capitals to the halls of congress in Washington DC. The Kochs rarely talk to the press, and conduct their affairs behind closed doors.

According to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who wrote a groundbreaking exposé of the Kochs in 2010, they have built a top to bottom operation to shape public policy that has been “incredibly effective. They are so rich that their pockets are almost bottomless, and they can keep pouring money into this whole process”.

Koch industries, the second largest privately-held company in the US, is an oil refining, chemical, paper products and financial services company with revenues of a $100bn a year. Virtually every American household has some Koch product – from paper towels and lumber, to Stainmaster carpet and Lycra in sports clothes, to gasoline for cars.

The Kochs founded and provide millions to Americans for Prosperity, a political organization that builds grassroots support for conservative causes and candidates. Americans for Prosperity, which has 35 state chapters and claims to have about two million members, has close ties to Tea Party groups and played a key role in opposing Obama’s health care initiative.

The Kochs have also poured millions into think tanks and academia to influence the battle over ideas. According to Kert Davies, the director of research for Greenpeace in the US, the Kochs have spent more than $50m since 1998 on “various front groups and think tanks who … oppose the consensus view that climate change is real, urgent and we have to do something about it”. As operators of oil pipelines and refineries, the Kochs have opposed all efforts to encourage alternative sources of energy by imposing a tax on fossil fuels. The brothers have been the largest political spender since 2000 in the energy sector, exceeding Exxon, Chevron, and other major players.

Since 2009, there has been a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans who see global warming as a serious threat according to Gallup polls. Greenpeace has tracked more than $50m that Koch Industries has spent on lobbyists since 2006, when Cap and Trade and other legislation to combat global warming was being considered.

They are now setting their sights on defeating Barack Obama and expanding their influence in the US House and Senate. It has been reported that the Kochs are planning to raise and spend more than $200m to defeat Obama in 2012. But the brothers could easily kick in more without anyone knowing due to loopholes in US law.

A Republic Report reporter stated that the “This election will come down to a few billionaires: a couple on the left supporting the Democrats, and a lot on the right supporting the Republicans. I think in 2013 people will look back on this election as the greatest one bought and sold.”

Mar
31

A group of political activists and journalists launched a legal challenge to stop an American law they say allows the US military to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial as accused supporters of terrorism.

The seven figures, who include ex-New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, professor Noam Chomsky and Icelandic politician and WikiLeaks campaigner Birgitta Jonsdottir, testified to a Manhattan judge that the law – dubbed the NDAA or Homeland Battlefield Bill – would cripple free speech around the world.

They said that various provisions written into the National Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama at the end of 2011, effectively broadened the definition of “supporter of terrorism” to include peaceful activists, authors, academics and even journalists interviewing members of radical groups.

Controversy centers on the loose definition of key words in the bill, in particular who might be “associated forces” of the law’s named terrorist groups al-Qaeda and the Taliban and what “substantial support” to those groups might get defined as. Whereas White House officials have denied the wording extends any sort of blanket coverage to civilians, rather than active enemy combatants, or actions involved in free speech, some civil rights experts have said the lack of precise definition leaves it open to massive potential abuse.

[Read full article in The Guardian]

Mar
30

At a hearing to discuss irregular warfare, it wasn’t the threat of terrorists, drug cartels or violent global activists that prompted the biggest warning.

Rather, the greatest threat is the hubris of U.S. leaders who believe the whole world loves America and its message of peace, strength and stability, a panel of warfare experts told a House panel.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities panel, Dr. Seth Jones of the Rand Corp., Robert Killebrew of the Center for a New American Security and David Maxwell of Georgetown University’s security studies program were asked what the U.S. military needed to do to prepare for future threats.

Jones [suggested] that one of the biggest threats is a continued feeling that the U.S., because of its military might, is invulnerable to serious harm, which he said is a return to a pre-9/11 feeling.

“Hubris is thinking everybody likes us,” he said, when in reality, the U.S. image overseas “is deeply troubling.”

[Army Times]

Mar
30

The Israeli government was in a rage at a comment made by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton relating to the killing of three Jewish children in Toulouse France. Ashton decried the killing but then tied it in to equally unfortunate deaths of children in other places, including Gaza.

Her comment caused Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to explode, saying he was “infuriated” by the “comparison between a deliberate massacre of children and the defensive, surgical actions” of the Israeli Defense Forces hitting “…terrorists who use children as a human shield.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman quickly joined in, saying that Ashton should instead be thinking about the “children of southern Israel who live in constant fear of rocket attacks from Gaza.”

Where to begin? Israel’s “surgical attacks” have killed thousands of Gazans, including many children, and the stories about children as human shields comes from – you guessed it – Israeli government sources. The Goldstone report uncovered no evidence that there had been any use of civilians by Hamas militants.

Israel has deliberately attacked schools and refugee camps, with little regard for who ends up dying. In its most recent bombings of Gaza, Israel has killed 26 Palestinians, including two children. No Israelis were injured when the Palestinians responded with homemade rockets.

In 2011, 105 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, at least 37 of whom were undeniably civilians. In Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, the Israelis killed at least 1100 Palestinians, using phosphorous shells and other weapons considered to be forbidden under international law. The Palestinian-to-Israeli rate of mortality approached 100 to one.

The fact that Netanyahu and Lieberman can be taken seriously and reported in the New York Times when they rant about how humane the Israeli Army is demonstrates that there is an operating assumption in the media that the American public can believe just about anything when it comes to Israel.

[Excerpt of article by Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer]

Mar
29

Based on comments by the head of the French internal security service, there is speculation in the Italian and French regional press that the Toulouse gunman was a police informer.

Bernard Squarcini, head of the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI), took the unusual step of intervening personally to quash speculation that Mohamed Merah, 23, was an indic or “snout” for one of his own agents in Toulouse. The day after Mohamed Merah was shot while resisting arrest, Mr Squarcini told Le Monde that the killer had asked, during his 32-hour siege, to speak to a Toulouse-based officer in his agency [with whom] Merah appeared to have a friendly relationship.

In an interview with the Toulouse paper La Dépêche du Midi, a former security chief, Yves Bonnet, said it was “striking” that Merah seemed to have a DCRI “handler”. “Having a handler, that is not an innocent thing,” he said. “I don’t know how far his relationship, or collaboration, with the service went but it is a question worth raising.” (Mr Bonnet was head of the counter-espionage service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), from 1982 to 1985.)

An Italian paper, Il Foglio, citing “intelligence sources”, said Merah travelled to Israel in September 2010 using cover provided by the French external espionage service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE).

A spokesman for the DGSE, the French equivalent of MI6, dismissed the report as “grotesque”.

[Excerpts from The Independent]

Mar
29

Excerpts of an article by David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Daniel Ellsberg a former strategic analyst for the Department of Defense who released the Pentagon Papers, now a senior fellow at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

President Obama and other world leaders gathered at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, this week to address threats posed by unsecured nuclear material. If Mr. Obama is truly concerned about nuclear safety, he should seriously consider doing away with the 450 inter-continental ballistic missiles deployed and ready to fire at Russia on a moment’s notice.

America’s 450 launch-ready land-based nuclear-armed ballistic missiles are the opposite of a deterrent to attack. In fact, their very deployment has the potential to launch World War III and precipitate human extinction – as a result of a false alarm.

Last month we were among 15 protesters who were arrested in the middle of the night at Vandenberg Air Force Base, some 70 miles north of Santa Barbara, Calif. We were protesting the imminent test flight of a Minuteman III inter-continental ballistic missile. Here’s why: These nuclear missiles are first-strike weapons – most of them would not survive a nuclear attack. In the event of a warning of a Russian nuclear attack, there would be an incentive to launch all 450 of these Minuteman missiles before the incoming enemy warheads could destroy them in their silos. (And the Russians also have the same incentive to launch their land-based missiles upon warning of a perceived attack.)

If the warning turned out to be false (there have been many false warnings), and the US missiles were launched before the error was detected, World War III would be underway.

Both US and Russian land-based missiles remain constantly on high-alert status, ready to be launched within minutes. Because of the 30-minute flight times of these missiles, the presidents of both the US and Russia would have only approximately 12 minutes to decide whether to launch their missiles when presented by their military leaders with information indicating an imminent attack.

Here is the really compelling part of the story: If all 450 US land-based Minuteman III missiles with thermonuclear warheads were ever launched at Russia – with many of the targets in or near cities, as now planned – most Americans would die as a result, along with most of humanity. Our own weapons would contribute as much or more to these deaths in America and the rest of the globe as any Russian warheads launched.

[Full story at Christian Science Monitor]

Mar
28

The United States military has decided that no service members will face disciplinary charges for their involvement in a NATO airstrike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, an accident that plunged relations between the two countries to new depths and has greatly complicated the allied mission in Afghanistan.

“We found nothing criminally negligent on the part of any individual in our investigations of the incident,” said one senior American military official involved in the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The military’s decision is expected to anger Pakistani officials at a time when the two countries are gingerly trying to patch up a security relationship left in tatters over the past year from a series of episodes, including the shooting of two Pakistanis in Lahore by a CIA contractor, the Navy SEALs raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden and the deadly airstrike in November.

Last month President Obama offered a personal apology to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan over the burning of Korans by American soldiers there, as well as regrets about the massacre of Afghan civilians in which an Army staff sergeant has been charged.

[CNN]

Mar
27

Several things characterize countries of the Third World, whatever precisely “Third World” means.

The first is corruption. America is rotten with it, but American corruption is distinct from corruption in, say, Guatemala or Thailand, being less visible and better organized. In most of the Third World, corruption exists from top to bottom. Everyone and everything is for sale. By contrast, in the United States, graft flourishes mostly at the level of government and commerce.

In the United States, corruption occurs at the level of policy and contracts, between corporations, special interests, and Congress. It is done gracefully and usually legally. For example, Big Pharma pays Congress to insert, in some voluminous bill that almost no one will read, a clause saying that the government will pay list price for drugs instead of negotiating for a better price. Over time, this is worth hundreds of millions, paid by you. Yet the clause is legal. Or military industry pays Congress to buy an enormously expensive and unneeded airplane. It’s legal.

In Mexico you pay your useless daughter’s useless teacher to give her grades she didn’t earn so that she can get into university. Corruption relies on individual initiative. By contrast, in America, corruption is a class-action industry. Large groups—blacks, women, Indians, unions—bribe or intimidate Congress into giving them special privilege: affirmative action, racial and gender set-asides, casinos, loans and preferences from the Small Business Administration according to sex and ethnicity. Corruption, plain and simple. But legal.

Second, unaccountable and often intrusive police not subject to control by the public. In America formal police departments rapidly grow more militarized, jack-booted, swatted-out, and their powers grow. [The days are over that a] misbehaving cop should worry intensely when said law-abiding citizen records his badge number with intent to call the chief. And any organization involved in controlling a population is a de factor police outfit, as are TSA, “Homeland Security,” the FBI, NSA, ICE, and so on. Against none of these does the citizen have any recourse. In principle, yes, but in practice, no. Third World, but far more efficient.

Third, lack of constitutional government. This is not the same as the lack of a constitution. The Soviet Union had an admirable constitution, and paid no attention to it. America heads rapidly in the same direction.

Fourth, impunity. Wall Street runs a clear and thoroughly documented scam, the subprime-loan racket, doing immense damage to the country. How many went to jail? How many were tried? How many now have high positions in the federal government? Third World.

Fifth, a yawning gap between rich and poor. As the American economy declines, the middle class sags into the lower middle class. Yet the rich prosper. In America they carefully remain inconspicuous, not flaunting their money. But they have it. Third World.

Sixth, a controlled press. Many Americans I suspect will insist that the press is free, because they are repeatedly told that it is. American control works on the principle of fooling enough of the people, enough of the time.

Mexicans know what kind of government they have. Americans do not.

[Excerpts of an article by Fred Reed]

Mar
27

The March 11 Massacre of the 17 Afghan citizens, including at least nine children and four women, raises many fundamental issues. And this massacre is just one of several hundred committed by US armed forces according to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

After the cold-blooded murder in Kandahar Province the US military and the Obama administration constructed an elaborate cover-up. And it appears that the President of the United States has personally played a major role in the cover-up.

According to the US military command in Afghanistan and the Obama regime, at 3am on March 11, 2012 a “deranged soldier” walked off a Special Forces Base in rural Kandahar Province and without command authority entered two villages (two miles apart), shot and killed 17 unarmed civilians, mostly women and children and wounded an unspecified number of villagers; then he doused their bodies with gasoline, set them on fire and hiked back to base to surrender himself to his commanders.

This “surrender”, the Pentagon claims, was recorded on video and no less than the President of the United States, Barack Obama, vouched for its authenticity as conclusive proof for the story of a lone, unbalanced mass murderer. The military command quickly whisked the initially unnamed murderer out of the Afghanistan to the maximum security federal prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and only then identified the madman as a 38-year old, multi-decorated, 11-year army veteran, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. The US has rejected all attempts by the Afghan President, the Afghan Army Chief and members of the Afghan Parliament to interview Sgt Bales, gather testimony and bring the suspect to trial in Afghanistan.

According to an independent Afghan parliamentary, there are significant contradictions in the US military’s and President Obama’s “official story”. Eye witnesses have testified that up to 20 soldiers were involved, aided by a helicopter. What they described was typical of a US Special Forces’ night time raid.

Gordon Duff, senior editor of Veterans Today, finds the villagers’ version of events quite plausible for the following reasons: The villages, where the murders occurred, were two miles apart, making it highly unlikely that a lone, fully armed solder could haul a multi-gallon jerry can of gasoline from his base to the first sleeping village, break down the doors of one or more homes, commit the murders, douse and burn his victims and then proceed on foot two miles further on to the second village, shoot, kill and burn the next set of unarmed villagers and then walk back to his base and surrender.

It makes far more sense that a heavily armed group of Special Forces troops, engaged in village ‘pacification’ operations, left their base in military vehicles, passed through the gate in the wee hours of the morning, on a routine official operation, authorized by the bases military command and something went wrong.

When the implausibility first ‘official’ story became embarrassingly evident to the most superficial observer, the Obama ‘cover-up’ crew released a new version on March 26: According to the revised version of events, the lone, deranged Sgt. Bales committed the first massacre in the early morning hours of March 11, walked back to base for breakfast and lunch and then walked out again to a second village for another round of mass murder – before returning and turning himself in to his commander posing for a video.

Considering even the US official story, why would the Special Forces commanders in charge of the Sgt. Bales base ignore the loud bursts of gunfire and screams of women and children in a village within 100 meters of its perimeter at 3 am?

There is a huge gap between the world of the political warlords in Washington and their accomplices among the warmongering ‘lobbies’ and that of the soldiers who risk their lives in imperial wars of occupation. US combat troops in Afghanistan are demoralized and angry because their military commanders have marched them into a cul de sac – a dead end. They are engaged in a long, losing war where every dead US soldier is accompanied by scores who are maimed, blinded and mentally traumatized. These dispensable soldiers are repeatedly deployed to brutal colonial wars thousands of miles from their homes to confront an ‘enemy’ they cannot possibly understand. They end up brutalizing the families, friends, neighbors and compatriots of the elusive Afghan anti-colonial fighters – who are everywhere.

[Excerpts of an article by James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University]

Mar
26

Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today. There are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America – more than 6 million – than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.

The U.S. has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. That’s not just “many more” than in most other developed countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britain – with a rate among the ¬highest – has 153.

More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.

Bipartisan forces have created the trend that we see. Conservatives and liberals love to sound tough on crime, and both sides agreed in the 1990s to a wide range of new federal infractions, many of them carrying mandatory sentences for time in state or federal prison.

And as always in American politics, there is the money trail. Many state prisons are now run by private companies that have powerful lobbyists in state capitals. These firms can create jobs in places where steady work is rare; in many states, they have also helped create a conveyor belt of cash for prisons from treasuries to outlying counties.

Partly as a result, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education in the past 20 years. Since 1980, California has built one college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a prisoner costs it $45,006 a year.

We are creating a vast prisoner under¬class in this country at huge expense.

[Read full TIME article]

Mar
26

A commentary on Medea Benjamin’s new book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control:

Killing individuals (and whoever is near them) via drones (“unmanned aerial vehicles”) has become the primary substitute in U.S. public policy for capture/imprisonment/torture. As Medea Benjamin documents, the United States has avoided detaining people, only to murder them with a drone days later.

And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently explained at Northwestern University Law School that it is perfectly OK for a president to kill anyone anywhere. And drones allow a president to do this without any supposed risk.

War is not made legal by making it resemble assassination. And assassination is not made legal by calling it war.

Drones turn out to have the power to eliminate the Fourth Amendment. The way this works, of course, is that first people who don’t look or talk like us lose their rights.

Expert observers believe the vast majority of drone victims are not the individuals who were targeted — which is not to suggest any moral or legal case for killing those who are targeted. Drones have even killed Americans in “friendly fire.”

Noor Behram, who photographs drone victims, says, “For every 10 to 15 people, maybe they get one militant.”
Benjamin also points out that the majority of strikes are not even meant to be targeted at known individuals. Rather, they are targeted at unknown people whose “pattern of life” appears to fit that of “militants” in the eyes of the drone operator.

Prior to September 11, 2001, the U.S. ambassador to Israel went on record saying, “The United States government is very clearly on record against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”

[Yet no drone] victims are given trials. The person choosing to use the drone is judge, jury, and executioner.

“From 8,000 miles away in Nevada,” writes Benjamin, “a drone pilot can watch an Afghan as he lights up cigarettes, sits talking to friends on a park bench, or goes to the bathroom, never imagining that anyone is watching him.”

Drone “pilots” suffer extremely high rates of stress and burnout, according to the Air Force. Pilots who actually fly in planes often do not see what they kill. Drone pilots sometimes watch a family for days, feel like they’ve gotten to know the people, and then blow them all up, and watch the suffering. Drone “pilots” working in the United States can commit suicide.

Meanwhile, Congress has approved 30,000 drones for U.S. skies. … The CIA, the Joint Special Operations Command, and Blackwater (or whatever that mercenary company calls itself this month) are used to keep drone wars more secretive and less accountable.

[Excerpts of an article by David Swanson]

Mar
24

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi writes:

Americans … should be concerned by the repeated entrapment of so-called terrorists, first of all because the process reveals that our private communications are no longer very private. Second, the law enforcement use of a planted informant to encourage and enable someone to commit a crime used to be illegal. It is not so anymore.

Many of the terrorism cases are not related to actual terror but rather to what is described as material support. It is interesting to read what exactly the United States Code states in 18 USC § 2339A — Providing Material Support to Terrorists:
“the term “material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses … the term “expert advice or assistance” means advice or assistance derived from scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge.”

To see how loose the definition of support can be, consider an actual case dating from September 2011:
Pakistan-born Jubair Ahmad, 24, was accused of providing material support to the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Ahmad produced and posted a propaganda video for LeT “glorifying violent jihad” in 2010, some three years after he arrived in the United States with his parents and two younger brothers.

“Terrorist organizations such as LeT … use the Internet and other media as part of well-orchestrated propaganda campaigns,” the FBI stated in its affidavit on Ahmad. Though the charge is not spelled out in any more detail, one would assume that Ahmad is considered to be guilty of providing “expert advice or assistance” to LeT.

[Above excerpt from full article by Philip Giraldi]

Mar
24

The former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says.Wired Magazine, April 2012

Last week, in Wired Magazine, noted author James Bamford reported on an expansive $2 billion “data center” being built by the NSA in Utah that will house an almost unimaginable amount of data on its servers, along with the world’s fastest supercomputers. Part of the purpose of this new center, according to Bamford, is to store “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

The NSA has claimed it only has access to emails and phone calls of non-U.S. citizens overseas, but former NSA official William Binney [who in his interview with Bamford confirmed that] the program indeed targets US based email records. In the 11 years since 9/11, Binney estimates 15 to 20 trillion “transactions” have been collected and stored by the NSA.

An excerpt from the Wired article reads:
He explains that the agency … chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. The network of intercept stations goes far beyond the single room in an AT&T building in San Francisco exposed by a whistle-blower in 2006. “I think there’s 10 to 20 of them,” Binney says. “That’s not just San Francisco; they have them in the middle of the country and also on the East Coast.”

[EFF]

Mar
24

The West will subsidize Afghan security forces by more than $4 billion a year after US-led troops leave in 2014, President Hamid Karzai has said.

Karzai told a graduation ceremony at a military academy in Kabul: “It’s set that post-2014, for the next 10 years until 2024, the international community, with the U.S. in the lead and followed by Europe and other countries, will pay Afghanistan security forces $4.1 billion annually.”

That’s a fraction of current western spending on the war. The 10-year conflict has cost the U.S., alone, more than $444 billion.

Following Karzai’s speech, a western official stressed that the numbers were part of a model being discussed in the run-up to the NATO summit in Chicago in May, nothing had been decided and “everything is conditions based.”

[AFP]

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