Tuesday, June 10, 2008

US trade deficit jumps to 60.9 billion dollars

US trade deficit jumps to 60.9 billion dollars

Go To Original

A surge in imports and skyrocketing oil prices pushed the US trade deficit in April to 60.9 billion dollars, government data showed Tuesday.

The monthly jump in the trade gap by 7.8 percent was the largest since September 2005 and was higher than economists' estimates of 60 billion dollars.

The Commerce Department report showed a surge of 9.4 billion dollars in imports, including 5.4 billion dollars for oil and related products, outstripping the increase in exports of 5.0 billion dollars.

The politically sensitive trade deficit with China leapt 25.9 percent to 20.2 billion dollars, representing one-third of the overall gap.

The other big factor, petroleum, accounted for 34.5 billion dollars of the overall deficit. That was the second highest on record after the gap posted in January 2008.

The agency revised down its estimate for the March trade deficit to 56.5 billion dollars from an initial report of 58.2 billion.

The big US deficit is a factor in the weak dollar because it results in an outflow of cash from the United States, requiring foreign sellers to accept a growing amount of dollars. A high deficit also can result in weaker US economic growth by transferring output abroad.

US exports saw the biggest change since February of 2004, driven by a 2.2 billion dollar rise in capital goods, 769 billion of which was civilian aircraft. The value of Boeing's foreign deliveries rose 20 percent in April and the ups and downs of its sales are frequently the single biggest monthly change in US exports.

Iraq Nears Title as World's Most Corrupt

Iraq Nears Title as World's Most Corrupt

By Joel Brinkley

Go To Original

During the five years the United States has occupied Iraq, the Bush administration has created a new state with a number of notable features: A venal, dysfunctional government. A terrorist haven and training ground. A nation so violent and dangerous that 10 percent of the population has fled.

Add to that a new hallmark: Nearly the most corrupt nation on Earth.

Only two states out of 180, Somalia and Burma, outrank Iraq in Transparency International's latest worldwide corruption index. They are tied for last place. But Iraq has plummeted through the rankings since 2004, when it was near the middle of the pack, and is now within a hair's width of crashing to the bottom.

Along the way, American officials say, Iraqi government officers, from Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki on down, have embezzled not only uncounted billions of dollars from their own treasury - but also $18 billion in American aid.

That's about equal to the annual budget for the state of Colorado. Radhi al-Radhi, an Iraqi judge who provided that figure, was the state's chief anti-corruption official, until death threats forced him to flee last year. He called the theft among the largest in modern history.

In recent months, several American government reports have detailed the problem, and Congress has held hearings. The conclusion: Not only has the United States provided much of the money Iraqi officials have purloined, American officials have actually aided and abetted the theft.

The State Department, particularly, has seemed eager to obfuscate and cover up the thievery - afraid, it seems, of tarnishing the Iraqi government's reputation. Last summer, embassy officials in Baghdad researched a 70-page internal but unclassified report that detailed the plundering of the nation's wealth. The pillage was so widespread, the report said, that it threatened the Iraqi government's very survival.

A few months later, when Congress requested a copy of the report, the State Department retroactively classified it and demanded that any officials called to testify would do so in a closed, classified session. All this for corruption in a foreign government. Since when is that a state secret?

State Department officials have long suffered from what detractors call "client-itis" - too close identification with the nations they serve.

But allowing that proclivity to hide larceny of this scale stretches client-itis beyond the point of absurdity and verges on criminality.

Asked about this, over and over, the department has refused to explain its actions and instead falls back on bromides.

"We are very concerned about corruption in Iraq" deputy spokesman Tom Casey said last week.

At the same time, another State Department office with different political priorities issued the 2008 Human Rights Report a few weeks ago and said "large-scale corruption pervaded the government at all levels." In fact, it concluded, "rampant corruption and organized criminality" are "embedded in a culture of impunity."

Certainly Saddam Hussien's Iraq was corrupt. Who can forget the $656 million in cash discovered behind a wall in one of his palaces? But the United States set up the new government with accountability in mind and, among other steps, mandated that one central office manage contracting for the entire government. The Maliki government repealed that law so that dozens of individual agencies could let contracts - freeing them to demand kickbacks. Various ministries also forbade corruption investigators from entering their buildings. That, plus the assassinations of 31 corruption investigators, convinced Radhi to flee. He and others offered numerous anti-corruption recommendations. Among them:

-Iraqi ministers should make annual income declarations. They have refused.

-Oil terminals should be metered so a record can be kept of the barrels sold. The Oil Ministry objected.

-The U.N. urged Iraq to implement the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Malaki has demurred and instead appointed a new head of the anti-corruption office who, three weeks earlier, had been arrested and sent to jail on corruption charges. He was out on bail.

No one has yet documented theft by Maliki. But suspicions abound because he has worked aggressively to stymie corruption investigations.

In fact, Radhi said Malaki issued a secret order saying he was not allowed to investigate the prime minister or anyone in his cabinet without Maliki's permission. If Radhi believed Malaki was corrupt, he'd have to ask Malaki's permission to investigate.

James Mattil, a former State Department anti-corruption official, said he told the U.S. embassy about all of this. Still, asked about this during a congressional hearing, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice professed ignorance, adding: "I will have to get back to you."

Now, months later, Congress is still waiting.

BBC Uncovers Lost Iraq Billions

BBC Uncovers Lost Iraq Billions

A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.

By The BBC

Go To Original

For the first time, the extent to which some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding has been researched by the BBC's Panorama using US and Iraqi government sources.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

War profiteering

While George Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

The President's Democrat opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

Henry Waxman who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, its egregious.

"It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

In the run up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.

Unusually only Halliburton got to bid - and won.

Missing Billions

The search for the missing billions also led the programme to a house in Acton in West London where Hazem Shalaan lived until he was appointed to the new Iraqi government as minister of defence in 2004

He and his associates siphoned an estimated $1.2 billion out of the ministry.

They bought old military equipment from Poland but claimed for top class weapons.

Meanwhile they diverted money into their own accounts.

Judge Radhi al-Radhi of Iraq's Commission for Public Integrity investigated.

He said: "I believe these people are criminals.

"They failed to rebuild the Ministry of Defence , and as a result the violence and the bloodshed went on and on - the murder of Iraqis and foreigners continues and they bear responsibility."

Mr Shalaan was sentenced to two jail terms but he fled the country.

He said he was innocent and that it was all a plot against him by pro-Iranian MPs in the government.

There is an Interpol arrest out for him but he is on the run - using a private jet to move around the globe.

He stills owns commercial properties in the Marble Arch area of London.

American Dream Unraveling

American Dream Unraveling

Go To Original

Today's America is no longer the land of economic optimism it was before the turn of the century. Most Americans feel that the American Dream has unraveled, and "their once steady march toward affluence has derailed." A new USA Today poll finds that 54 percent of those surveyed say "their standard of living is no better today than five years ago," while a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll showed that 78 percent of respondents believe the current state of the nation's economy is poor or very poor. Nineteen percent think the economy is somewhat good, a mere 3 percent say it is very good, and only 46 percent of respondents expect conditions to be somewhat good at this time next year. The Bush administration's economic stimulus package, meant to bolster consumer spending and kick start growth, has instead thus far been used by many Americans to pay off bills and debt, while small businesses and Wall Street are continuing to feel the strain from the weak dollar and inflationary trends.

CONSERVATIVE RESPONSE: President Bush and his key advisers appear to be living in a different America than the rest of us -- an America that is not plagued by stagnant wages, a credit crunch, and crises in both the housing market and the grocery store. Bush's view is that our economy is still "continuing to grow in the face of unprecedented challenges" because it is "large and it's open and flexible." Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson argued that "we are on the right path to resolving market disruptions." But it is the administration's assertion that the economy is improving, even as gas prices skyrocket and consumer spending plummets, remains the most out of touch. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino offered that America's economy has time to sit around waiting for things improve: "We would ask the Congress to act on the things we think would have an impact -- not necessarily an immediate impact, but an impact, nonetheless, so that the future of our economy can continue to grow."

MAIN STREET'S PAIN: The White House seems blind to the realities of Main Street. Middle-class America is experiencing the faltering health of the American economy as costs of health care, housing, transportation, and childcare have been steadily rising above the rate of inflation. From a long-term perspective, public and private investment have remained at consistently low levels, yielding deflated confidence about the future of economic growth. With gas topping $4.00 per gallon, some Americans are spending more than 16 percent of their income on fuel. Soaring costs of food are pushing up grocery bills, prepared meals, school lunches, and even pet food. Over the past year, food prices have increased by 5 percent nationally, the highest annual increase in 20 years. The Labor Department reports that egg prices are up more than 30 percent, dairy prices have jumped 12 percent, and the price of baked goods has risen 9 percent. "The question now is the rate of the increase," says the USDA's Economic Research Service. The housing market is faring no better. With one out of 11 homes facing loan payment problems, "the economy is treading water, and the housing market is one of the undercurrents trying to pull it down," noted Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. In the job market, "[t]he economy is now literally at stall speed." Over three million Americans are currently receiving unemployment benefits, and some who have managed to keep their jobs have taken paycuts on average of 10-15 percent. "I believe that we are already in a recession," said billionaire Warren Buffett. "Perhaps not in the sense as defined by economists. ... But people are already feeling the effects of a recession."

WALL STREET'S WORRIES: The Federal Reserve has voiced concern that problems on Wall Street may be getting deeper. Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren said yesterday that "there was no sign that wage costs were rising to meet higher food and gasoline prices." Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher worried that the weak U.S. dollar might create a "negative feedback loop" by cutting into growth and raising prices. "I think the inflationary impulses we have are beginning to dampen economic activity," he said. Donald Koln, the Federal Reserve Vice Chair, spelled out the problem's complexity: "Over the coming months, we expect banking institutions to continue to face deteriorating loan quality. House prices are still declining sharply in many localities and losses related to residential real estate -- including loans to builders and developers -- are bound to increase further. In addition, weak economic conditions could well extend problems to other segments of lending portfolios including consumer installment or credit card loans, as well as corporate loan portfolios."

Gates: ’US nuclear deterrent was likely to grow in importance’

US Defense Secretary: important to maintain nuclear deterrent

Go To Original

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday the importance of the US nuclear arsenal was likely to grow in importance in coming years as Russia moves to strengthen its nuclear forces.

Gates said he made the comment in a closed door question-and-answer session with rank-and-file airmen in explaining his decision to replace the air force leadership over two major nuclear blunders.

In a speech earlier, Gates told airmen he regretted having to remove General T. Michael Moseley as chief of staff and Michael Wynne as air force secretary.

"But there is no room for error in this mission. Nor is there, unfortunately, any room for second chances -- especially when serious questions about the safety and security of our nuclear arsenal have been raised in the minds of the American people and international partners," he said.

"When systemic problems are found, I believe that accountability must reached beyond NCOs and even colonels," he said.

Reporters were made to leave the room when Gates opened the floor to questions from the airmen at this headquarters for US air combat forces.

However, Gates told reporters later on a flight to Colorado Springs, Colorado that among the points he made is that the US nuclear deterrent was likely to grow in importance, not diminish.

He said that was in part because of the risk of nuclear proliferation, but also because Russia has shifted its efforts from a traditional focus on conventional forces to strengthening its nuclear forces.

"It seems clear that the Russians are focused, as they look at the future, more on strengthening their nuclear capabilities," he said.

"So to the extent that they rely more and more on their nuclear capabilities, ... it underscores the importance of our sustaining a valid ...nuclear deterrent," he said.

An investigation led by Admiral Kirkland Donald found that a 10-year decline in standards, performance and oversight led to fuses for nuclear weapons being shipped by mistake to Taiwan in 2006.

Discovery of that error came just six months after a B-52 bomber inadvertently flew across the United States with nuclear armed cruise missiles on its wings.

The Pentagon announced earlier that General Norton Schwartz had been tapped to replace Moseley as chief of staff, and that Michael Donley, a Pentagon director of administration, would replace Michael Wynne as secretary.

The choice broke precedent in a service that has been dominated by fighter and bomber pilots. Schwartz is a former C-130 pilot who flew some of the last missions to evacuate Saigon in 1975.

Schwartz, currently the head of the US Transportation Command, has previously served as the director of the Joint Staff and as deputy commander of the US Special Operations Command.

Gates said Schwartz' military-wide experience and his knowledge of special operations were what made him stand out.

He said a top priority for him should be to find the right balance in the air force's modernization programs and to get them moving. Delays and cost overruns have plagued air forces weapons procurement programs.

Gates, however, denied his actions were related to broader differences with the air force leadership over some of those issues, including the acquisition of the fifth generation F-22 fighter.

Moseley had lobbied for funding to buy more than double the number of F-22s than the 183 approved by the administration.

Gates said that he was asked about China several times during the question and answer session, in the context of the tension between current requirements and future military needs.

"I basically said I'm the last person to dismiss the possibility of a near-peer conflict at some future date, but I thought that date was well into the future if it ever came.

"And therefore we would not starve the forces that are actually at war today to prepare for a war that may or may not ever come," he said.

In his speech, he acknowledged that the air force, like the other services, also is under stress and said he was working on ways to ease the burden.

"For example, I intend immediately to stop further reductions in air force personnel," he said.

To free up funds for its modernization programs, the air force began cutting its strength in 2006 from 356,000 to about 316,000 in 2010.

Halting the cuts would leave the air force with about 330,000, air force officials said.

Immunity for private guards in Iraq a sticking point

Immunity for private guards in Iraq a sticking point

Go To Original

Immunity from Iraqi law for foreign private guards is a sticking point in the deal between Washington and Baghdad over long-term US troop presence in the country, a top US official said Tuesday.

"The issue of contractors including (foreign) security contractors is a sensitive one, is a significant one," David Satterfield, the US State Department's top Iraq adviser told reporters in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

"There are outstanding issues, obviously, including issues focused on security side."

The presence of tens of thousands of foreign private security contractors has been heavily criticised, especially after last year's brutal massacre of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad by Blackwater company which offers protection to US officials in Iraq.

These contractors, however, enjoy immunity from Iraqi law. The contract of Blackwater was also recently renewed for another year.

Negotiations for a long-term US military presence in Iraq come amid strong criticism from Baghdad and former foe turned friend Tehran over the details of the deal which aims to maintain American soldiers in the country beyond 2008.

Iraqi media reports have suggested the United States is seeking to keep as many as 50 military bases indefinitely in Iraq, control the nation's air space, and grant both its troops and foreign private contractors continuing immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law.

American diplomats and military officials have vehemently denied that Washington wants to create "permanent" bases, but Iraqi politicians -- supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- are unconvinced.

"We will do nothing in these negotiations that in any way could harm or weaken the Iraqi government. We will do nothing in these negotiations that is not ultimately fully transparent," insisted Satterfield.

US President George W. Bush and Maliki agreed in principle last November to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the end of July.

More than five years after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, there are still around 150,000 US troops deployed in Iraq, even after the ongoing drawdown of the additional personnel sent out under the controversial surge policy announced in February last year.

Make No Mistake: McCain's a Neocon

Make No Mistake: McCain's a Neocon

By Robert Parry

Go To Original

Since clinching the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain has sought to hide the forest of his neoconservative alignment with George W. Bush amid the trees of details, such as stressing differences over military tactics used in Iraq.

But the larger reality should be clear: McCain is a hard-line neoconservative who buys into Bush’s “preemptive war” theories abroad and his concept of an all-powerful “unitary executive” at home.

From McCain’s pre-Iraq invasion speeches to his campaign’s recent embrace of Bush’s imperial presidency, American voters should realize that if they choose John McCain, they will be locking in at least four more years of war with much of the Islamic world while selling out the Founders’ vision of a democratic Republic where no one is above the law.

Take, for instance, an address that McCain gave to the Munich Conference on Security Policy on Feb. 2, 2002. In the speech – with the ambitious title, “From Crisis to Opportunity: American Internationalism and the New Atlantic Order” – the Arizona senator laid out the “full monte” of a neocon agenda.

In those heady days after the U.S. ouster of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, McCain hailed “a new American internationalism” designed “to end safe harbor for terrorists anywhere, to aggressively target rogue regimes that threaten us with weapons of mass destruction, and to consolidate freedom’s gains through institutions that reflect our values.”

To McCain, this meant that the United States had a fundamental right to invade any country on earth that was viewed as an actual or potential threat, a theory of American exceptionalism to international law that was at the heart of Bush’s strategy of “preemptive war.”

“Americans believe we have a mandate to defeat and dismantle the global terrorist network that threatens both Europe and America,” McCain said. “As our President has said, this network includes not just the terrorists but the states that make possible their continued operation.

“Many of these are rogue regimes that possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction which threaten Europeans and Americans alike. We in America learned the hard way that we can never again wait for our enemies to choose their moment. The initiative is now ours, and we are seizing it.”

Neocon Forerunner

McCain even presented himself as a forerunner to Bush’s neoconservative policies.

“Several years ago, I and many others argued that the United States, in concert with willing allies, should work to undermine from within and without outlaw regimes that disdain the rules of international conduct and whose internal dysfunction threatened other nations,” McCain said.

“Just this week, the American people heard our President articulate a policy to defeat the ‘axis of evil’ that threatens us with its support for terror and development of weapons of mass destruction,” McCain said in reference to Bush’s warning to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

“Dictators that harbor terrorists and build these weapons are now on notice that such behavior is, in itself, a casus belli. Nowhere is such an ultimatum more applicable than in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.”

McCain then reprised what turned out to be the bogus case for invading Iraq.

”Almost everyone familiar with Saddam's record of biological weapons development over the past two decades agrees that he surely possesses such weapons. He also possesses vast stocks of chemical weapons and is known to have aggressively pursued, with some success, the development of nuclear weapons,” McCain said.

“Terrorist training camps exist on Iraqi soil, and Iraqi officials are known to have had a number of contacts with al-Qaeda. These were probably not courtesy calls,” McCain added in the smug, sarcastic tone common to that period.

As it turned out, the “vast stocks” of chemical weapons and the prospect of nuclear weapons were non-existent. The “terrorist training camps” on Iraqi soil were hostile to Hussein’s secular regime and were located outside Baghdad’s control in areas protected by the U.S.-British-enforced “no-fly zone.”

Evidence collected after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 revealed that Saddam Hussein rebuffed overtures from al-Qaeda, which he regarded as an enemy in the Arab world. Those contacts were not even “courtesy calls.” [For details, see Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Rush to War

However, in February 2002, McCain was a leading voice in the neocon rush for war in Iraq, as an extension of Bush’s “war on terror.”

“The next front is apparent, and we should not shirk from acknowledging it,” McCain said. “A terrorist resides in Baghdad, with the resources of an entire state at his disposal, flush with cash from illicit oil revenues and proud of a decade-long record of defying the international community's demands that he come clean on his programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

”A day of reckoning is approaching. Not simply for Saddam Hussein, but for all members of the Atlantic community, whose governments face the choice of ending the threat we face every day from this rogue regime or carrying on as if such behavior, in the wake of September 11th, were somehow still tolerable.

“The Afghan campaign set a precedent, and provided a model: the success of air power, combined with Special Operations forces working together with indigenous opposition forces, in waging modern war.

”The next phase of the war on terror can build on this model, but we also must learn from its limitations. More American boots on the ground may be required to prevent the escape of terrorists we target in the future, and we should all be mindful that such a commitment might entail higher casualties than we have suffered in Afghanistan,” McCain continued.

”The most compelling defense of war is the moral claim that it allows the victors to define a stronger and more enduring basis for peace. Just as September 11th revolutionized our resolve to defeat our enemies, so has it brought into focus the opportunities we now have to secure and expand freedom.”

McCain’s full embrace of this neocon global theory – both in its grandiose substance and its grandiloquent rhetoric – marked the over-the-top hubris that contributed to the suppression of any serious pre-Iraq War debate in the United States and then to the ill-considered rush to invade Iraq.

As the war in Iraq turned sour and anti-Americanism swept the Middle East, McCain began criticizing the Bush administration not for its imperial overreach but for not reaching even farther. McCain began advocating a larger U.S. expeditionary force to pacify Iraq, a policy that gave rise to the “surge.”

‘League of Democracies’

Despite these tactical differences, McCain has shown no sign of rethinking his vision of an alliance of “willing” nations going around the world challenging and replacing disfavored governments. Indeed, he has made this neocon concept a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has proposed a “League of Democracies,” which would apply economic and military pressure on “rogue states” when the United Nations Security Council refuses to do so.

Though McCain has dressed up his League of Democracies in pretty language about respecting international law and spreading freedom, its essence is to make permanent Bush’s “coalition of the willing” concept used in Iraq.

McCain insists his League won’t supplant the Security Council, but it would do just that, fulfilling a long-held neocon dream of voiding the international system that U.S. leaders fashioned after World War II to enforce the Nuremberg principle that aggressive war was the “supreme” international crime.

McCain’s League would create for the U.S. President a standing organization for engaging in aggressive war against “rogue regimes” whether they are an immediate, potential -- or imaginary -- threat.

The irony is that when McCain and Bush talk about the danger of “rogue regimes” operating outside international law and threatening other nations, that is exactly what their neocon theories have made the United States: a country that – along with a few allies – becomes a law onto itself.

Similarly, McCain and Bush share the view that the President of the United States should embody and personify these new imperial powers. Just as the U.S. government can act in any way it sees fit under these neocon theories, its Commander in Chief also can do whatever he wants without legal constraints.

That was spelled out by a top McCain adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, declaring in a letter to the right-wing National Review that McCain agreed with Bush’s assertion that the President may override laws that he deems an impediment to fighting the “war on terror.”

Holtz-Eakin said McCain supports Bush’s program of warrantless wiretaps despite the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and a 1978 law requiring the Executive to gain approval from a special court for intelligence-related wiretaps inside the United States.

“Neither the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Holtz-Eakin wrote in describing McCain’s position.

Article II Powers

Holtz-Eakin further cited Article II powers of the Constitution in explaining how McCain would act as President, suggesting that McCain – like Bush – would exercise virtually unlimited executive powers for the duration of the indefinite “war on terror.”

McCain also has announced that he would appoint Supreme Court justices like Samuel Alito and John Roberts who – along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – represent four votes in favor of reinterpreting the Constitution to grant the President the broad powers claimed by Bush and McCain.

If a President McCain gets to replace one of the five other justices with another Alito or Roberts, the new court majority could, in effect, rewrite the rules of the American Republic to declare the imperial presidency “constitutional.”

If that happens, the American people would no longer possess “unalienable rights,” as promised by the Founders and enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The President would possess what the neocons call “plenary” – or total – power.

That means the President would have the authority to arrest anyone as an “unlawful enemy combatant,” deny the person the right to a lawyer or a trial by jury, and subject the individual to any treatment that the President sees fit, from indefinite imprisonment up to torture and death.

This neocon vision also holds that the President – on his own authority – could take the nation to war anywhere in the world for whatever reason.

In essence, the United States would cease to be a democratic Republic with citizens guaranteed fundamental liberties and with an Executive possessing limited authority constrained by the Legislature. All meaningful power would be invested in the President as a modern-day monarch.

John McCain may criticize President Bush on the edges of neoconservative policies, such as failing to prosecute the Iraq War more aggressively, and he may differ with Bush on the efficacy of torture, given McCain’s own mistreatment as a Vietnam prisoner of war.

But there should be no doubt that a McCain victory would give the neocons another four-year lease on the White House. And, after those four years, there might be no feasible way back for the great American Republic.

The job market's big slump

The job market's big slump

The month of May had the sharpest increase in the US unemployment rate in 22 years.

Go To Original

The United States is now in a jobs recession.

For five consecutive months, there has been a steady loss of jobs, mostly in construction and manufacturing. Now, the job losses are spreading to restaurants, retailers, airlines, and even professions such as accounting. Teens are having an especially tough time finding work this summer.

The lack of hiring and increase in firing have wide ramifications for the US. The job losses will probably intensify the debate in the presidential campaign over who can best stimulate the economy. With more of their constituents out of work, members of Congress may act to provide additional aid to the unemployed. And a higher rate of unemployment – it hit 5.5 percent in May – may put additional pressure on the Federal Reserve, which has indicated it may have stopped lowering interest rates for now.

Last Friday, as the price of oil soared, Wall Street reacted badly, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 394.64 points.

"The economy is now literally at stall speed," says Bob Gay of Fenwick Advisers in Rye, N.Y. "When the economy is operating at its potential, we can create about 100,000 jobs a month. But now, we are losing about 50,000 jobs a month."

The latest evidence of job slippage came on Friday, when the Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate moved up 0.5 percent in May from April – the sharpest increase in the rate in 22 years. At the same time, the payroll survey found a net loss of 49,000 jobs, which means the economy has lost about 300,000 jobs so far this year.

The latest numbers may have been somewhat swayed by a large increase in the number of teenagers looking for work. Last month, the labor force increased by 577,000, including 261,000 who were between 16 and 19 years of age.

"In the recent past, the labor-force participation by teens has been very low," says Richard DeKaser, chief economist at National City Corp., a bank based in Cleveland. "But it looks like kids are back in the job market in a very aggressive way."

The challenges in the job market come at a time when many Americans are getting their tax-rebate checks in the mail. Discounters, such as Wal-Mart, have reported a sharp increase in sales as some of the money is spent instead of saved.

Some of that money is also going to pay for gasoline. Last Friday, the price of oil soared by $10.75 to $138.54 a barrel. On Saturday, gasoline hit an average of $4.01 a gallon in the US, according to GasPriceWatch.com. This is causing people to cut back on eating out, traveling, and buying impulse items.

"The full bore of the $4-a-gallon gas price did not hit until May," Mr. Gay says. "Now, people are more aggressive at cutting back their discretionary spending, and I expect we will see the full effect of that in the coming months."

Until April, it appeared that employers were trying to keep their workforce. But in the past two months, announced job cuts have soared, according to the Chicago outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Last month, companies announced 103,522 layoffs, the highest pace since December 2006.

"I'm concerned layoffs are moving to a new level," says John Challenger, the company's CEO.

Spherion, a staffing and recruiting agency based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says its temporary-workers business is still "surprisingly" steady. However, "We're seeing more caution from clients on permanent and direct hiring," says William Grubbs, chief operating officer. Companies are also taking longer to make decisions on hiring, he says. "There are still pockets of strong demand, like engineering," he says, "but it is certainly a mixed message."

Advocates for the unemployed hope the latest numbers persuade Congress to pass an extension of unemployment benefits – similar to what it did in March 2002. The Senate has already passed such an extension, and the House has included it in the Iraq war funding bill. On Friday, Rep. Sander Levin (D) of Michigan and two other leading sponsors of extending the benefits wrote President Bush, asking him to clarify his position on the issue.

In an e-mail, Kevin Smith, press secretary for the office of Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, told the Monitor, "Many members support extending unemployment benefits, and the House should consider this legislation as a separate matter."

An extension of the benefits, which would cost about $11 billion, would help stimulate the economy, says economist Jeffrey Kling, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It essentially puts money into the pockets of people who will spend it, and it's targeted to people who need it," he says.

That would be the case for Chicago resident Kathy Henry, who was laid off from her job at an advertising company last August when the company lost a large account. In February, the mother of three children, all of whom are living at home, saw her unemployment benefits run out. "I must have had 100 interviews, and no one wants to hire," the college graduate laments. "An extension of unemployment benefits would give me more time to look for a job, and I would be less stressed about my bills."

It would also help Michael Cottle, an information-technology consultant in Browns Mills, N.J., who was laid off in April 2007. The father of four went back to school for additional IT training and saw his unemployment benefits end last month. "In the past, I've had no trouble getting a job," he says. "But then there was not such a huge number of applicants."

Mr. Cottle estimates that he has applied for 75 jobs but has had only two interviews. "If they extended unemployment, it would give us a little extra leeway," he says. "I am actively seeking work. I haven't given up."

Some additional economic stimulus might also help Chantel Anderson, who was laid off last September from her job as an accountant at an auto dealership in Frederick, Md. In March, her unemployment benefits ran out, and she and her husband depleted their savings. Now, the mother of an 11-year-old is working from 3 p.m. to midnight.

"I don't see my daughter until the weekend because of the hours," she says. "Honestly, I was sending out 20 to 30 résumés a day, including Saturday and Sunday. But even though people are posting jobs, they aren't hiring."

Washington ordered destruction of Guantánamo interrogation records

Washington ordered destruction of Guantánamo interrogation records

By Bill Van Auken

Go To Original

In another confirmation of the criminal character of Washington’s handling of so-called “enemy combatants,” a “Standard Operating Procedure” manual has come to light that explicitly instructs US interrogators at the American prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to destroy contemporaneous records of their interrogations.

The existence of the document was made public by the military defense attorney for Omar Khadr, a Canadian national who has been held for six years since being captured by American forces as a 15-year-old minor in Afghanistan.

The lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, filed an affidavit on the manual, reporting that it had been shown to him only last week.

The document, issued for “intelligence exploitation teams,” also known as “tiger teams” operating inside the Guantánamo camp, explicitly orders destruction of evidence to avoid potential exposure of government criminality.

“This mission has legal and political issues that may lead to interrogators being called to testify,” states the manual, cited in an affidavit filed by Kuebler. It continues, “Keeping the number of documents with interrogation information to a minimum can minimize certain legal issues.”

Citing the document, the military attorney has asked for the charges against Khadr to be dismissed, on the grounds that his supposed confession, which comprises the core of the prosecution case, cannot be challenged as to its accuracy based on existing records.

The patent purpose of the order was to assure the destruction of evidence implicating the US government in the systematic torture of those it has detained in the so-called “global war on terrorism.”

Khadr is being tried as a war criminal for acts he is alleged to have committed at the age of 15. These acts stem from the siege mounted by US troops of a house in which Khadr was staying in an Afghan village.

The youth was captured after the house was demolished by 500-pound bombs, grenades and gunfire. He is accused of murder in connection with one US soldier killed by a grenade in the siege, though evidence—including the fact that the youth was shot in the back—suggests that he was not responsible.

The United Nations and numerous human rights groups have condemned the US for the prolonged imprisonment of Khadr and the attempt to try him as an adult on charges that could put him in prison for life.

“The government’s case against Omar is based almost entirely on statements interrogators extracted from him in the course of interrogations at Bagram [Afghanistan] and Guantánamo Bay,” Lieutenant Commander Kuebler told the Canadian daily Globe and Mail. “If handwritten notes were destroyed in accordance with the [Standard Operating Procedure manual], the government intentionally deprived Omar’s lawyers of key evidence with which to challenge the reliability of his statements.”

The Canadian youth was subjected to torture, beatings and abuse at both the Bagram and Guantánamo prisons. He was also denied adequate medical treatment for wounds suffered in the US assault, which have left him nearly blind in one eye and with severely impaired vision in the other.

The military defense attorney also indicated that he would seek to file his affidavit for a dismissal of the charges with the US Supreme Court. Earlier attempts to appeal to the high court have been rejected by the military authorities. The Supreme Court is expected to rule sometime this month on whether those held at Guantánamo have a right to challenge their detention.

The exposure of the manual ordering the destruction of evidence follows the Pentagon’s removal of the military judge charged with hearing Khadr’s case. The judge, Colonel Peter Brownback, was replaced last month after he ordered military prosecutors to turn over numerous documents they had been withholding to the defense. Included among them were records detailing Khadr’s treatment while at Guantánamo.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported Sunday that the military defense attorney for another Guantánamo detainee—who was also arrested as a minor and charged as a war criminal—has asked that all charges against his client be dismissed based on the release of documents demonstrating that his client had been subjected to abusive treatment tantamount to torture.

The detainee, Mohammed Jawad, is accused of throwing a grenade at US military convoy in Afghanistan in December 2002, when he was 16 or 17 years old. He faces a possible death penalty based on this alleged act, which he denies committing.

Guantánamo’s “frequent flier” torture

Based on daily prison logs, Jawad’s defense lawyer, Air Force Major David Frakt, has established that the youth was subjected to what military interrogators dubbed the “frequent flier program,” in which he was moved back and forth between two cells 112 times in just 14 days.

These cell extractions, conducted every 2 hours and 55 minutes, were aimed at “breaking” the detainees through sleep deprivation. There has been no attempt to claim that Jawad held any intelligence value for the US military, and the tactic appeared to have been employed largely as part of the sadistic “standard operating procedure” utilized against all of the Guantánamo inmates. In Jawad’s case, the disorienting and abusive treatment was organized in 2004, just a few months after the youth had attempted suicide.

“I think it reflects the abandonment of basic American values of human decency that occurred on a widespread basis in detention operations in the first two to three years of the global war on terror,” Major Frakt said of his client’s torture. “What started as an effort focused on a few detainees believed to possess critical intelligence filtered down to ordinary detainees and became routine.”

The use of this procedure against Jawad also occurred two months after it was supposedly banned at Guantánamo in March 2004, after FBI interrogators filed reports expressing concern about it and other forms of torture being carried out at the offshore US detention facility. A subsequent military investigation claimed, falsely, that it had been carried out solely against so-called high-value detainees and discontinued. No mention was made in the report of Jawad’s treatment.

The military’s chief prosecutor at Guantánamo, Colonel Lawrence Morris, while acknowledging that Jawad had been subjected to the protracted sleep deprivation technique, insisted that just “because the government may have stumbled some in how he was treated,” this constituted no grounds for dropping the charges.

The 2006 Military Commissions Act, under which the detainees are to be tried, treats confessions extracted through torture as well as hearsay and secret evidence as admissible. It explicitly denies all those declared by the president to be “illegal enemy combatants”—US citizens and non-citizens alike—any rights under the US Constitution or the Geneva Conventions.

The new revelations of torture and cover-up in the cases of these two individuals—the first in history to be charged as war criminals for acts committed when they were minors—has served to further discredit the entire military commissions system, which is now being revved up to conduct a politically motivated show trial of individuals charged in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington.

Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the legal advisor to the civilian appointees overseeing the trials, told the media over the weekend that the Pentagon has made the trials “the No. 1 obligation” for its legal services division and is dispatching another 108 uniformed lawyers to participate in the sham proceedings.

Hartmann has been charged by other participants in the process with politically interfering in the organization of the drumhead trials. Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who formerly served as the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo, has given sworn testimony that Hartmann had instructed him to speed up trials of “sexy...high profile cases,” cases “with blood on them” in order to generate popular support for the military commissions.

Davis has likewise accused the second highest civilian official at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, of demanding that he rush the prosecution of the 9/11 defendants, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “because there could be strategic value before the [November] election.”

This process is moving full steam ahead. Five individuals allegedly involved in the planning of the September 11 attacks were brought before a military commission in Guantánamo for the first time last Thursday in preparation for a trial that is set to begin a week and a half after Republican presidential candidate John McCain is formally nominated and to run through the height of the election campaign.

In this initial arraignment, the defendants rejected their defense teams—uniformed lawyers presented to them on the eve of the trial after they had spent at least five years in isolation and undergoing torture.

While observers were allowed into the courtroom, they were seated behind soundproof glass and provided a time-delayed audio transmission of the proceedings, in which prisoners’ statements referring to their torture at the hands of interrogators, drugs that had been administered to them and the circumstances of their arrests were all deleted.

One of the defendants, Ammar al-Baluchi, mocked the military judge when he explained the “rights” of the accused. Speaking in fluent English, he declared, “Everything that has happened here is unfair and unjust.”

“Since the first time I was arrested, I might have appreciated that,” he said in response to the judge’s assurance that he would be provided free legal counsel. “The government is talking about lawyers free of charge,” he continued. “The government also tortured me free of charge all these years.”

The mounting revelations about the criminality dominating the imprisonment of detainees at Guantánamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and secret CIA prisons around the world have thoroughly discredited these sham legal proceedings before they can even begin.

More than ample evidence has been uncovered in the course of these exposures to place Bush, Cheney, Rice and other top officials in the Bush administration on trial for their own war crimes.

Conspicuous By Their Absence

Conspicuous By Their Absence

Miren Gutierrez

Go To Original

Observe any summit picture -- you won't find many women. The mystery of female underrepresentation in the echelons of power persists: after so many decades of the feminist movement, why are women at the helm scarce? A look at the media sector may provide some answers.

"The media is a mirror on society so it needs to be a reflection of that society. If our newsrooms are male-dominated spaces, they will reflect a male-dominated world. That, for me, is not living true to our mission of creating non-racial (in the case of South Africa), non-biased, non-sexist societies," says Ferial Haffajee, the first woman editor of the South African Mail & Guardian.

Media organisations are the gatekeepers of much of what is known in the public sphere, while journalistic stories contribute to perpetuating stereotypes, or changing them. It is quite revealing, then, to find out who is in the kitchen cooking the news.

"The influence of women in journalism is one of the most central problem areas in feminist media research," acknowledges a recent report entitled "The Gender of Journalism", authored by researcher Monika Djerf-Pierre.

It is difficult to draw global conclusions about the role of women in media organisations, since studies are largely focused on specific countries, and deal mainly with western women or with how women are portrayed in stories as sources or topics. So let's have a look at some examples, even if fragmented.

Djerf-Pierre's study shows that even in a female-friendly nation such as Sweden, "journalism as a field has remained male-dominated". (Sweden ranks number one -- or the country with the narrowest disparity -- in the Global Gender Gap [GGG] published by the World Economic Forum).

A period of tokenism was followed by the upsurge of a critical mass of women who entered the newsrooms in the last 25 years. Today, almost half of Swedish journalists are women, she says in the study. However, three out of four leaders in the media industry are men.

Only in two sectors, public broadcasting and magazines, do women fill more than 40 percent of leadership positions. Djerf-Pierre explains that a general pattern -- she calls it "gender logic" -- persists: men typically cover the public sphere of politics, business, and power, speaking to male sources and assuming the mantle of objectivity; women tend to cover the private sphere, drawing on female sources and writing in a more intimate style.

"The main finding is that status, prestige and power have been associated with conceptions of masculinity and these conceptions, in turn, have been associated to the beliefs that underpin the field -- the image of the journalistic mission," says Djerf-Pierre.

According to a survey published in 2005 mentioned in her report, "many women journalists... feel that women are at a disadvantage when stories are assigned, but say at the same time that gender has no importance with respect to how a desk chief performs his or her job."

Similar patterns emerge in the U.S. (GGG rank 31), which is in a worse position regarding equality.

"Women have reached the proverbial glass ceiling in the media," proclaims the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) in its 2006-2007 report.

A study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2006 showed that the number of women executives has stagnated in this sector. "The percentage of women in daily newsrooms increased slightly to 37.7 percent... 64.5 percent of all supervisors are men. They are also 58.5 percent of all copy editors, 60.3 percent of reporters and 72.6 percent of photographers," says the study.

"Part of the reason could be that women are frustrated with their progress. A 2002 study by the American Press Institute and the Pew Centre for Civic Journalism documented a brain drain among women who didn't anticipate moving up in their organisations and thought they might leave journalism," says the IWMF report.

The group Media Report to Women, a provider of information about how media depicts women, cites a 2006 study by the Atlantic, Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, which found a 3 to1 ratio of male to female bylines.

And the American Journalist Survey, released in 2003 by Indiana University, showed that female journalists' median salary in 2001 was about 81 percent of men's salary of 46,758 dollars. The wage gap widened as journalists grew older.

The situation is analogous to other places. "Our network members report common types of sexist discrimination, such as wage inequality and unequal opportunity in reporting assignments" in different newsrooms around the world, IWMF Executive Director Jane Ransom told IPS.

In Spain (GGG rank 10), there are 1.22 women to each man at university, but in terms of leading roles, women are far from achieving equality, "even in the most 'feminised' sectors (of culture), such as literature," says a report about women and culture published recently by El Pais newspaper.

"In the media, in spite of the fact that 46 percent of journalists are female, women take up only 24 percent of managing positions," according to the paper, which quotes the Annual Report on the Journalistic Profession 2006.

The writer Laura Freixas attributes this gap to what she calls the "patriarchal ideology".

"Female presence among cultural agents is very marginal. How is this marginalisation perpetuated, when faculties are mainly female? Let's have a look at an example: an article about biography as a genre, published by a magazine (Letras Libres, January 2008). The text contains 60 names. Only two are feminine. Were there no female biographers or biographied in history? If there were, weren't they good enough for inclusion? And if they were, why weren't they included?"

"The important thing is not the answer to these questions, but that the author didn't even wonder why...," she concludes. "The absence of women among culture creators produces only contents that legitimise the absence of women [as subjects] and vice versa."

It is not enough that women flood universities, if the "patriarchal ideology" not only distorts our perceptions but also acts upon reality, argues Freixas.

There are even comparatively more women at university in Italy than in Spain, 1.35 per each man, according to the GGG report. However, women were only one-third of the journalists working in Italian newsrooms in 2006, and the situation hasn't changed much since 2002, researcher Marina Cosi, who works for the Italian National Press Federation (known as FNSI), told IPS.

The daily papers were in the worst position, with only 27 percent female journalists, while news agencies employ more women (35 percent). Women make up 37 percent of the journalists in national television, and 38 percent of spokespersons in public institutions.

There is no information, though, about how many of these women are top editors, directors, publishers and media owners. IPS approached Stampa Romana, a national association of registered journalists, and women's organisations, without success.

Family felt like 'lab rats' in FEMA trailer

Family felt like 'lab rats' in FEMA trailer

It was when the sight of a bloody child became routine that Lindsay Huckabee broke down and cried. She and her husband, Steve, had spent months dealing with "two, three, four nosebleeds a week," in their FEMA mobile home, she said. When it wasn't a nosebleed, one child or another had burning eyes, coughing, congestion and "colds" that wouldn't go away.

The Huckabee children - Vicki, now 13, Caitlin, 9, Lelah, 6, Steven, 4, and Michael, 2 - were regulars at the emergency room from early 2006 onward. Lelah and Michael had surgeries related to chronic breathing problems. Every week, it seemed, at least one child went to the doctor.

"The receptionist knew me by my first name, and I swear she probably knew my voice, too," Huckabee said.

The Huckabees have become icons for a Sierra Club movement that believes formaldehyde fumes in FEMA trailers have caused widespread poisoning of hurricane victims. The organization tested the formaldehyde levels of 69 FEMA trailers. Based on an industrial standard, most tested high, as did the Huckabees'. The Sierra Club is now campaigning for stringent standards on formaldehyde levels in building products, where it is used in glues, resins, particle board and sometimes insulation.

There is no one standard for an acceptable level of formaldehyde exposure. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has one set of standards. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has another. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, has another set of standards far below the others. The Huckabees' mobile home tested just above one of OSHA's standards, just below HUD's standard and well above ATSDR's standard.

Several agencies list formaldehyde as a likely carcinogen.

Lindsay has become an erstwhile spokeswoman for the movement, having testified before Congress twice about her family's health issues while living in FEMA trailers, once for House Oversight Committee and again for the Committee for Science and Technology.

The Huckabees' Pass Christian apartment was flooded to the ceiling by Katrina. They received a travel trailer in October 2005, then a mobile home in December 2005. Lindsay went into early labor. Michael was born four weeks prematurely, and within a few days he was congested. For the first two years of his life, she said, he stayed that way. Before FEMA housing, the Huckabees said most illnesses were treated with Tylenol; they didn't chase their children around with anti-bacterial gel or call the doctor for every sniffle.

"I asked my doctor what I was doing wrong. Why couldn't I get my kids healthy and keep them that way?" Lindsay said.

The CDC wrote in its March 2008 FEMA trailer and mobile home assessment "there is no specific level of formaldehyde that separates "safe" from "dangerous." It found although levels of formaldehyde varied from unit to unit of a particular brand, nearly all brands of FEMA housing tested had units with high levels of formaldehyde. Though it did not declare high levels of formaldehyde unsafe, CDC "supported the need to move quickly," and get people out of FEMA housing before summer, as heat can increase formaldehyde fumes.

FEMA set a target date of June 1 to close its travel trailer parks. This phase is done, said spokesperson Eugene Brezany. Eight mobile home parks are still open, and they will be closed by the end of the year. Most of the 6,400 families still in FEMA trailers are on private land.

The hearings at which Lindsay testified were convened after internal e-mails suggested FEMA and the CDC knew the trailers could be contaminated, yet delayed testing and tried to quash the results. This is the most damning thing to the Huckabees - spending extra weeks and months in a trailer the government knew was unsafe.

They have 4,000 pages of medical records. They've spent at least $10,000 out of pocket for what health insurance won't cover. Steve is a surveillance technician at Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis. They believe if the cause of their health problems was not formaldehyde alone, it certainly made things worse.

"I feel like after it was first known that the formaldehyde was a problem, we were lab rats subjected to the toxin, but no one wanted to record the results," Lindsay said.

Like Wandering Ghosts: How The U.S. Fails Its Returning Soldiers

Like Wandering Ghosts

Edward Tick On How The U.S. Fails Its Returning Soldiers

by David Kupfer

Go To Original

Edward Tick began counseling Vietnam veterans in the 1970s, at a time when the nation was trying to put the Vietnam War behind it and post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) wasn’t yet a diagnostic category. Since then he has treated veterans of numerous conflicts, from the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s to the Iraq War of today. His methods are based on his study of worldwide spiritual traditions, indigenous cultures, mythology, and the role of the warrior in society. Key to the healing process for veterans, he says, is for them to experience the emotions that they could not allow themselves to feel in the war zone and to address the spiritual damage that they suffered during combat.

Tick turned eighteen in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, but he had a high lottery number in the draft and did not have to serve. Though he was against that war and active in the protest movement, he says he felt compassion, not anger, toward the soldiers who came home. In 1975 he moved to rural New York State and began working as a psychotherapist. He had not planned on specializing in veterans and trauma, but the region he had moved to was home to many who had served in Vietnam.

Tick has an ma in psychology from Goddard College and a PhD in communication and rhetoric from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is also an ordained interfaith minister and has undergone a thirteen-year apprenticeship with a medicine man. He lives in Albany, New York, where, along with his wife, Kate Dahlstedt, he directs Soldier’s Heart (www.soldiersheart.net), a nonprofit initiative to establish veterans’ safe-return programs in communities across the nation. “Veterans need a safety net when they come home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says, “so they won’t crash and burn like so many Vietnam veterans did. People in the community should be waiting to catch them.”

Tick’s first book, Sacred Mountain: Encounters with the Vietnam Beast (Moon Bear Press), chronicles his early years working with veterans. Subsequent titles include The Golden Tortoise: Journeys in Vietnam (Red Hen Press) and The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries into Modern Medicine (Quest Books). His book War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (Quest Books) is used by combat soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as by veterans, military chaplains, social workers, and healing professionals. His latest, Wild Beasts and Wondering Souls (Elk Press), deals with shamanism in the treatment of ptsd.

Tick has led numerous reconciliation trips to Vietnam, not just for veterans and their families, but also for peace activists. He is cofounder of the Sanctuary International Friendship Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps the Vietnamese recover from the damage caused by the war. He and I sat down to talk last October, a few hours before he and his wife were to fly to Vietnam to lead a seventh reconciliation tour. Tick had just spoken on “the warrior’s path to redemption” before thousands at the Bioneers Conference in Marin County, California. We found a sunny spot overlooking the marshland near San Pablo Bay, and I turned on the digital recorder. Like the veterans he works with, Tick sometimes finds it painful to relate the horrors he’s encountered in his profession. At several points he choked back tears.

Kupfer: Though you treat ptsd, you’ve said that it is not a mental illness. Why do you believe this?

Tick: We pathologize everything in this culture. We think anything that ails us must be a medical condition that can be treated. Veterans are angry or sad because they have been through horrors, but we say it’s got to be a pathology. This is exacerbated by a profound alienation between our warrior class and our civilian class, which have almost nothing to do with one another. We don’t even think we have a warrior class, and we don’t teach our service people to think of themselves as warriors, even though societies throughout history have almost all had warrior classes and reciprocal relationships between warriors and civilians. Soldiers have a responsibility to defend their country, and it is our responsibility as citizens to heal those who have put their lives on the line for us, even if they fought a war for the wrong reasons or for lies. And we’re not doing that. Many sincere people in the veterans’ healthcare system want to do well, but the system is doing an awful job. We need to keep veterans in the community and develop new ways of responding to their pain and suffering.

Kupfer: Besides the inherent medicalizing of suffering, is there anything else wrong with a ptsd diagnosis?

Tick: PTSD is presently classified as a “stress and anxiety disorder.” But “stress and anxiety” does not begin to describe the emotions people experience during warfare. We don’t really have words for it. Also ptsd classifies veterans as “disabled” by how far they are from the civilian norm. But veterans are not disabled civilians. They are war-wounded soldiers and have different values and expectations about life. When we require that they get on with “business as usual” now that they are home, we put the blame on them for having broken down in the first place, and we pressure them to take sole responsibility for their healing. But everyone who participates in a war is changed. No one comes through unscathed.

My best understanding of what we call “ptsd” is that it is an identity disorder and soul wound that has its source in moral trauma. It is also a social disorder arising from the broken relationship between our society and its veterans. The standard clinical viewpoint on ptsd is that there can be management and control of symptoms and readjustment to life, but no healing. I believe, though, that if a veteran makes the difficult inner pilgrimage to discover the sources of the suffering, and works hard to give meaning to the wounding, and finds ways to reconcile and forgive, then healing is possible. I have seen a number of veterans fully heal their ptsd. They have satisfying lives, marriages, and jobs. They are of service to their communities. And they sleep like babies.

Kupfer: Is there a stigma attached to having a “mental disorder” rather than physical wounds?

Tick: Yes, mental disabilities are far more difficult for both the survivor and the society to accept. Veterans often feel they should be stronger, or that their loved ones don’t believe they are suffering because there’s no visible wound. Many veterans hate the ptsd label and prefer other terms, like the Civil War–era expression “soldier’s heart,” because it is symbolic rather than medical.

Kupfer: Vets used to be honored in this country. When and why did that change?

Tick: Actually veterans in the U.S. have been honored only while they are serving, to keep the patriotic fervor up, but not after a war is over. The World War ii veterans’ welcome home is the exception, the only time in U.S. history when vets were thanked and honored and given decent benefits. The typical treatment of veterans, from the American Revolution to the present, has been denial of their pain and refusal of support. Veterans of World War i were not given benefits, and when they protested in the streets of Washington, D.C., some of them were shot. There are two holidays honoring veterans in this country, but we have betrayed their sacred meaning. A lot of veterans are angry that Veterans Day, which was originally called “Armistice Day,” has become an excuse for patriotic displays. We have a parade and shoot off fireworks, which scare the hell out of many veterans. A better way to honor them would be to listen to their stories. We should give them new ways to serve and an honorable place in our communities.

Kupfer: How did you get into this work?

Tick: In the mid-1970s I heard a public-service announcement on the radio. The U.S. Veterans Administration [va] was looking for volunteer therapists to work with returning Vietnam veterans. Though my regional va did not need me, they passed my name on to Vietnam Veterans of America [vva]. One veteran who came to me for therapy was an old high-school friend I had last seen on the softball field. He and I had similar backgrounds, but when he walked into my office, the difference between us was obvious. War had turned him into a ravaged shell of a person.

I was so disturbed by the suffering of the veterans I was treating that in December 1980 I wrote an editorial for the local newspaper about how difficult Christmas was for them. Post-traumatic stress disorder had just been added to the diagnostic manual, and the president of the local chapter of the vva read my editorial and invited me to talk to the veterans about this new diagnosis. I said I wasn’t qualified: I had treated only a handful of veterans. He said, “That makes you a regional expert!” No other doctors or therapists in the area wanted to touch the issue. When I told him I just couldn’t do it, he said nobody had asked him if he wanted to go to Vietnam; he’d been drafted. The moment he said that, I felt called to serve.

I wanted to know more about what my peers’ experiences in Vietnam had done to them. I certainly didn’t love war, but I did have a deep love of warriors, and I saw important values in them: self-sacrifice and devotion to each other and to some higher ideal. These are values that we need as a society, but the ends to which they are applied in the military are often horrific. On the other hand, many civilians and people on the Left desire good ends but lack self-sacrifice and discipline. I take my values from both camps, and a lot of vets have told me that I am proof a civilian can understand them.

Kupfer: Even though you’re opposed to war.

Tick: Yes, I am still protesting the Vietnam War, and all war. There are two things we have to do as a culture to end war: One is to take full responsibility for our wounded. It’s not enough just to “bring the boys home,” because they aren’t boys anymore, and getting them home physically does not do it. We need to help them heal and help shoulder their burden. The other thing we need to do is take responsibility for the damage we have done to other countries and their people. I bring veterans to Vietnam to heal not only them but also the Vietnamese. Americans do not realize the monstrous damage we do with technological warfare. I want to bring that reality back home and educate Americans about civilian suffering in war.

Kupfer: Do you think veterans have been made scapegoats for the U.S. government’s foreign incursions?

Tick: Yes and no. Certainly the Vietnam veterans were made scapegoats for many of the illegal and brutal tactics of that war. Then there are the veterans of all the little forgotten wars: Grenada, Somalia, Lebanon, El Salvador, the secret ops in Africa and Eastern Europe. They are like wandering ghosts, neither honored nor recognized. Many of them are not even classified as combat veterans. I worked with one man who’d been in Somalia and taken part in the fighting around the U.S. Black Hawk helicopter that went down there. He isn’t classified as a combat veteran, and other combat vets don’t accept him because he was “in the shit” for only thirty hours. But anyone who knows the story of what happened that day in Mogadishu can see that it was enough to traumatize anybody.

The one thing we may have learned from Vietnam is not to blame the veterans for decisions made by our leaders. By and large the country is not blaming Iraq veterans for this war, but they still suffer terrible neglect upon their return. The burden of this war is falling on the shoulders of a relatively small number of people, who are sent on multiple deployments so that our leaders don’t have to institute a draft. This itself is a form of scapegoating.

Kupfer: Tell me about some of the other veterans you’ve worked with.

Tick: I know a forty-year-old army captain who’s been back from Iraq just a few months. He’s a history teacher and has studied warfare all his life. He says he joined up because he wanted to be at a battle like the Bulge, the Somme, Gettysburg, or Thermopylae. He wanted to experience one of the great human adventures, something unforgettable, something with meaning. But all they gave him was “this dirty, stinking little war in Iraq, meaningless, based on lies.” He felt betrayed.

Another soldier, age twenty-one, has done three combat tours — two in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. This young man was able to resist committing atrocities when others in his unit were committing them. Sometimes he’d put himself between soldiers and civilians, or he’d get the information the soldiers wanted without killing anyone. He held his ptsd in check until he returned stateside. Then he lost it on his base and destroyed some property. At his court martial, the military prosecutors did all they could to deny and disqualify ptsd as a defense. The military’s position is that elite troops don’t break, and the atrocities he witnessed never happened.

Another Iraq veteran carried his personal camera everywhere in-country to document the lives of the Iraqi people. Some of his buddies made fun of him, but he says that getting to know the people and taking their pictures was his best protection against dehumanizing them. It reminded him that the Iraqis are fascinating people with a rich and ancient culture. By protecting their humanity, he was also preserving his own.

I’ve worked with an Afghanistan combat marine who was the first person in his state to enlist after 9/11. He saw severe combat, but he also learned to speak Pashto and in his off time dressed like an Afghani and made friends with the villagers. He, too, would not let himself dehumanize them. Upon his return home, he developed an obsession with guns and began collecting them — a common symptom of ptsd. He was busted by a federal agent who posed as a Vietnam combat vet with ptsd and asked to buy a gun, claiming he needed one to feel safe. The marine thought he was helping a brother. Now he is fighting federal weapons charges as part of our “war on terrorism.” He is a sweet, sincere, harmless, patriotic young man who deserves our gratitude and support, but he may go to prison instead.

Kupfer: Would you say that most veterans’ injuries are psychological?

Tick: Disabled American Veterans says the ptsd rate in modern wars is 100 percent. It’s not whether you get ptsd; it’s how severe your case is. The va, of course, tries to keep the numbers low, but they are counting only the cases they have allowed into the va system. Everybody who goes through a war is traumatized, unless they were already psychopathic or sociopathic.

Kupfer: Are the symptoms you’ve witnessed in combat veterans also present in the American civilian psyche?

Tick: All the symptoms of ptsd — substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual promiscuity, child abuse, employment difficulties, intimacy problems, high divorce rates, suicide, homicide — all are epidemic in our population. If we can diagnose an entire culture with ptsd, then the U.S. has it. The illness of the culture may be related to the way we are practicing war against other countries and the planet while denying responsibility for it.

Moral and spiritual trauma is at the core of ptsd, and no matter how well-intentioned various therapies are — such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, stress-reduction techniques, and medications — none takes on the moral and spiritual dimensions. Therapies like these can sometimes be helpful in restoring everyday functioning, but they do not bring healing. We need public apologies, public confessions, and public grief for all that we have done to our veterans, to other nations, and to the earth. When my wife and I make trips to Vietnam, we are not just trying to help our own wounded, but also giving back what we’ve taken from that culture and from the earth itself.

Kupfer: The title of psychologist James Hillman’s most recent book is A Terrible Love of War. Is there something in us that loves war?

Tick: I am convinced there is much about war that human beings love, seek, and crave. War provides challenges and rites of passage. It unites people who would otherwise be at odds. It gives us our most intense adrenaline-rush experiences. Nothing, not even the most passionate sex, comes near the intensity of the combat experience. War fosters the strongest brother- and sisterhood bonds that most people ever experience. There is an erotic dimension to war, to the taking of life, to having so much power at your command. It is seductive and addictive.

So, yes, there truly is a terrible love hidden in war. One Israeli paratrooper told me, “I both love and hate war. I both love and hate my ptsd. How can I heal from it when I still feel so much love for it?” We must develop peaceful practices that bring us as much love and solidarity and purpose as war does.

We could have a huge national service corps and train people to serve the planet in dangerous situations. We could call them into service during peacetime. We need people to work with gangs in the inner cities. We need people to respond to the crisis the earth is experiencing. We need people to go to disaster areas like New Orleans and repair the damage. But we have a long way to go, and we have to heal from wars as a first step on the way to peace. Since we have not had a generation without war, we don’t even know what peace really looks like.

Kupfer: What approaches do you take when you work one-on-one with veterans?

Tick: I use treatments given to warriors in traditional cultures, which expected that the invisible wounds of war would be deep, penetrating, and transformative. Indigenous cultures limited the extent of warfare and its damage, and they watched over their warriors in the midst of battle and after their return. For example, among the Papago people of the American Southwest, after a warrior had his first experience of combat, they held a nineteen-day ceremony of return. He might have been in battle for fifteen minutes, and for that he’d get almost three weeks of ritual healing and community support. He’d be put in isolation and not allowed to touch food or feed himself, because he’d been poisoned by the war experience. He couldn’t see his family, and he certainly couldn’t have sex with his wife, or else he would bring the war pollution back into the community. Elders and medicine people used purification techniques to cleanse him, and also storytelling techniques, which we would call “expressive-arts therapy.” The war dance wasn’t what Hollywood portrays it as: a bunch of savages whipping themselves into a frenzy before battle. It came after battle and was a dramatic reenactment of the conflict for the tribe.

Instead of having a parade and going shopping, we could use our veterans’ holidays as an occasion for storytelling. Open the churches and temples and synagogues and mosques and community centers and libraries across the country, and invite the veterans in to tell their stories. Purification ceremonies and storytelling events are also opportunities for the community to speak to veterans and take some of the burden of guilt off them and declare our oneness with them: “You killed in our name, because we ordered you to, so we take responsibility for it, too.”

The final step is initiation into the warrior class. We need to train our veterans in the warrior tradition and not just expect them to behave as typical civilians. Many of them can’t, but they are looking for ways to be of service. Labeling a veteran “100 percent disabled” only ensures that he or she is not going to do anything for the rest of his or her life.

Traditional societies understood that warriorhood is not soldiering but a path through life — a “warrior’s path,” not a “warpath.” In traditional societies, warriors strove to live up to the highest moral standards. They hated the destruction caused by war, and they sought to preserve what was precious to them. They served as police during times of peace and used violence only as a last resort. They had responsibilities that kept them busy throughout their lives, including mentoring younger men.

We could have a veterans’ service corps that would help other vets or go into the inner cities and the schools. The ability to serve on the home front would give the war experience meaning and let veterans demonstrate that they still have skills we value. When I take veterans back to Vietnam, we engage in philanthropic activities. When a Vietnamese child calls a veteran “Uncle” or “Grandfather” and thanks him for giving the community a school or feeding the child’s family, that is transformative.

Kupfer: Do you encounter much resistance to your methodology from more-macho veterans?

Tick: Some deny the ptsd wound altogether, believing it to be evidence of cowardice or weakness. One veteran left a phone message for me recently, saying all my theories were “bullshit” and “the only cause of ptsd is losing.” Some think ptsd is real but don’t want to risk revealing their true feelings.

I often have to prove myself to veterans. They need to see that I am not afraid of them, that I have done my own form of service and walk in solidarity with them. I must accept the rage they sometimes direct at me, which they often feel toward society or protestors. I have to demonstrate that I will not break or abandon them. I strive to live up to their highest standards and to be worthy in their eyes of serving them and serving with them.

Kupfer: You write that war inverts good and evil. How does that affect a soldier’s understanding of right and wrong?

Tick: Almost all of us want to be agents of good. For many soldiers the motive for being a warrior is not to kill and destroy, but to preserve and protect. Then they find themselves in immoral wars where they are forced to be agents of destruction. I was recently discussing this issue with army chaplains, and I asked what they did to counsel soldiers who have just come back from a firefight or have committed atrocities. One chaplain said, “I teach my soldiers that they have to renegotiate their covenant with God.” The assumption that God’s going to forgive us for, say, killing a child just because we had no choice doesn’t wash with many soldiers. Their relationship with the divine is quite often damaged. As the chaplain said, they have to renegotiate it. Veterans and soldiers have to find ways to reconnect with the divine and undo that moral inversion and become again agents of creation.

Kupfer: You’ve written a book about dream healing. What is it?

Tick: Dream healing is practiced in many cultures around the world, but the tradition that I studied and wrote about is the ancient Greek version, well over three thousand years old. The Greek god of healing was Asclepius, and he visited his patients through dreams and visions. There was an extensive network of three hundred Asclepiad sanctuaries around the Mediterranean, from Egypt to Portugal, and from the Balkans to North Africa.

Dream healing was reserved for people for whom no other healing methods would work. They could travel to the sanctuaries of Asclepius and participate in a ritual process called “incubation.” First they were cleansed, purified, and treated with hydrotherapy, nutrition and exercise, acupressure, color therapy, and so on. These were used not as healing methods themselves but to prepare the patients for the vision quest. Then the patients would enter into incubation chambers, which in the earliest times were caves or holes carved into rocks. In later years the patients were swaddled on couches. Either way, they were put into intense isolation to fast, pray, and wait for a dream or vision in which the god of healing, or some surrogate, came and either healed them in the dream or gave them a prescription for how they could heal themselves later. We have records of more than a thousand of these prescriptions dating from 600 b.c. to 500 a.d., when the tradition was destroyed by the early Christian church. Then the church started to do its own form of dream healing, but now it was Christian saints who came instead of the Greek gods.

Kupfer: Have you found dream healing useful in your work?

Tick: Yes, I lead trips to Greece for veterans and nonveterans, and I use Asclepiad dream healing there. The healing dream is not an ordinary dream. It is a visit from an archetype. Jung said most of our dreams are minor, but occasionally we get a major one, which is a visit from an archetypal power or presence. Veterans often experience some form of warrior or war chief or medicine man coming to them.

The word psychotherapist comes directly from the Asclepiad tradition. It means “soul attendant.” Psychology literally means “the order and meaning of the soul.” It didn’t become a science until Freud and his followers arrived out of the medical tradition. Modern psychology left the soul far behind and has not yet reconnected with its spiritual roots, though it needs to, because psychological healing occurs at a spiritual level.

Kupfer: What is an “archetypal power”?

Tick: In neo-Jungian psychology there are four formative archetypes: the warrior, the magician, the lover, and the king or queen. All archetypes have their light and shadow sides. We need mentoring and initiation in order to become spiritual warriors. The shadow side of the warrior is violence and aggression and force and selfishness, all of which are rampant in our culture. Gang members are shadow warriors initiating themselves in the absence of an initiation by the elders. But the shadow warrior doesn’t always take the form of criminal activity or abusive or addictive behavior. Men in our culture, by and large, feel lonely, disconnected, and disempowered. That, too, is the shadow warrior.

Kupfer: And the archetypal warrior is betrayed by modern warfare?

Tick: Yes, our soldiers are not taught to behave as mythic warriors. The principles of the mythic warrior are that you never kill for vengeance or out of emotion. If you have to fight and kill, it is always for a cause that is morally sound and higher than yourself, such as defense of home and family. I know Vietnamese veterans who were at war for twenty-five or thirty years against the Japanese, the French, and the Americans. They are now healthy, happy men with no ptsd. I think this is because they were only defending their homes against invaders. PTSD seems to be more severe in the side that invades rather than defends.

Men’s-movement leaders, such as Robert Moore, Robert Bly, and Michael Meade, have been trying to bring back the idea of initiation and restore the spiritual warrior to American men. I have worked with Native American veterans who failed to find healing in the va system, so they went back to their reservations and worked with their elders and did achieve healing. There aren’t enough people working to bring spiritual warriorship to our young men, our veterans, and our inner-city populations. We need more.

Kupfer: Now that women are on the front lines, how can they fit into the traditionally male warrior role?

Tick: Many women are suffering terribly in the combat zone. One woman veteran I’ve met returned home from Iraq in a horrible depression because she had machine-gunned women and children. She refused help and was redeployed. She told her family she wanted the Iraqis to kill her as punishment for what she had done to them.

Some women veterans suffer because they feel they were created to be life givers, not life takers. So the moral trauma of war is more severe for them. But if we understand the warrior’s role to be not destroying and killing, but preserving and protecting, then we can find many women serving honorably in our military. Some of the most admirable women I have ever met are combat nurses, chaplains, and career officers.

There have been traditional cultures with women warriors and chiefs. Some Northwest Native American tribes had women warriors who were combatants. Among the Iroquois, clan mothers were given the ultimate power to declare war, because they were the ones who’d given birth to those who would be sent into battle.

Kupfer: Do you think war is innate to the human character?

Tick: Yes, in the sense that competition is built into nature, and we are a part of nature. Darwin said that if you want to understand war, look closely at a square foot of English lawn and see how the creatures there fight and devour each other. But the way we practice war is not the same as the competition for survival that we see in nature, because nature does not destroy more than it needs to in order to preserve itself. We’ve taken the competition and strife that is inherent in nature and inflated it to massive dimensions. And war is so damn seductive, because many of our primitive needs are met in its pursuit. We need to transcend both our innate tendencies toward competition and our socialized love of war.

Kupfer: What impact has this work had on you personally?

Tick: I have learned through all this that wounds are initiatory. When young men go through rites of passage, they need to be wounded in order to understand the fragility of life and to develop the powers and skills of full men. I’ve also developed secondary ptsd along the way. Psychologists can be traumatized by exposure to other people’s trauma. For a decade I had nightmares of war, sometimes intense combat nightmares. They helped me understand what veterans experience and what moral issues they have to work out. I can now tolerate even the most horrific war stories and stay connected to the heart and soul of the person telling them.

Kupfer: War is such a painful subject. Does it really help to keep talking about it?

Tick: Ironically, the way to heal pain is by diving deeper into it. Most of the pain we are in is caused by our resistance to and denial of it. To get off the suicidal path we are on, we have to feel the pain that we are in, that the earth is in, that our communities are in.

I fear for us, because the way we practice war is destroying everything. When we keep our mouths shut and don’t do anything about it, it damages every one of us, which creates more pain that has to be buried. It’s either dive into the pain or die from refusing to face it.

There are signs that people are coming to this realization. I am meeting activists on the Left who, frustrated that we have not been able to successfully protest this war and this administration, are turning their energy instead toward helping veterans. I also see people concerned about helping Iraq restore itself right now, and not waiting several decades, as we did with Vietnam.

Some in the military are saying that we need a military-civilian coalition to address the enormous problem of caring for veterans. That is good, because it truly is our responsibility too. Healing needs to be, in part, taken out of the hands of specialists and put back into the hands of the tribe, which can do a lot of things that specialists can’t. There is now less long-term isolation of veterans and hopefully less alienation among them. The public is more aware of ptsd and its consequences, such as veterans who commit suicide and homicide.

Kupfer: It must be hard to do this work. Why do you stick with it?

Tick: After the first Gulf War, I didn’t want to work with its veterans. I was war weary. I still am, but I am part of a brotherhood, and I have to keep serving. As I’ve gotten to know and respect veterans, their situation has become intolerable to me. They are home in body, but they can’t come home in mind or heart or spirit. My goal is to provide a road map to lead veterans and other survivors of trauma back into society.

So much love comes out of this work: the brotherhood that I share with veterans, the incredible forgiveness that we experience when we go to Vietnam. There are flowers in the depths of hell. Sometimes people have to walk through hell together in order to reach the deepest level of love and connection. That love is bigger and stronger than the anguish we face.