Wednesday, October 22, 2008

OECD report ranks US third worst in inequality and poverty

OECD report ranks US third worst in inequality and poverty

By Patrick O'Connor
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A report issued yesterday by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed the United States has the third worst level of income inequality and poverty among the group's 30 member states. Only Mexico and Turkey ranked higher in those categories. OECD states in western Europe, along with Japan, South Korea, Canada and Australia, all recorded better figures than the US, as did central and eastern European states, including Poland and Hungary.

The 300-page report, entitled "Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD countries," was based on three years of research into the relevant data of the organization's member countries over the past two to three decades. With increased inequality and poverty levels recorded in three-quarters of OECD countries, the report's central conclusion was that "the economic growth of recent decades has benefitted the rich more than the poor."

On the US, the report explained: "Since 2000, income inequality has increased rapidly, continuing a long-term trend that goes back to the 1970s ... Rich households in America have been leaving both middle and poorer income groups behind. This has happened in many countries, but nowhere has this trend been so stark as in the United States. The average income of the richest 10 percent is US$93,000 in purchasing power parities, the highest level in the OECD. However, the poorest 10% of the US citizens have an income of US$5,800 per year—about 20% lower than the average for OECD countries." [Original emphasis]

These income figures actually underestimate the gulf between the ultra-wealthy and the working class and poor. Wealth inequality is far higher than reported income disparities. A tiny elite layer comprising less than 1 percent of the population has amassed unprecedented levels of wealth over the last three decades through various forms of speculation and financial parasitism. But this wealth, largely concealed through tax evasion schemes and other mechanisms, is difficult for economists and statisticians to accurately measure.

The OECD said it recorded income rather than wealth inequalities because many countries do not gather data on household assets and because of other difficulties in comparing wealth between countries. The report noted, however, that available statistics showed that wealth inequality was substantially higher than income distribution in every country. In the US, it was estimated that the top 10 percent hold 71 percent of the national wealth (compared to 28 percent of total income), while the top 1 percent control between 25 to 33 percent of total net worth.

The report cited estimates that average income inequality across the OECD was 7 to 8 percent higher in the mid-2000s than in the mid-1980s. "This may not sound like much of an increase," it explained, "but it is equivalent on average to taking $880 away from the poorest 50 percent and giving $880 to the richest 50 percent, although incomes at every level grew over the two decades."

The OECD report defined those in poverty as households with an income below half of median national incomes. On this basis, poor people comprise 17 percent of the US population—higher than all the advanced OECD economies and only marginally behind Mexico and Turkey.

The US also ranked among the worst in OECD countries in regard to the length of time people remain trapped in poverty. According to the report, in most member states about half of poor people move above the poverty line within three years. But deep disparities were discovered; in Denmark and Holland the "persistently poor" comprise less than 2 percent of the population, while in the US the figure is 7 percent.

The US also ranks among the worst countries in "inequality of opportunity." Comparing income levels between fathers and their sons, the OECD assigned member countries an "earnings mobility" rating, with zero meaning the younger generation would earn the same income as the previous one, and 100 indicating no relationship between the two generations' earnings. An inverse relationship was found to exist between income inequality levels and earnings growth between generations. While several countries, such as Canada, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, recorded more than 80 on the earnings mobility index, the US scored just over 50.

These various findings point to the deepening class divide that dominates every aspect of American society. They also put paid to the various right-wing nostrums advanced in defence of the extraordinary levels of social inequality in the US. Far from having anything to do with merit or "hard work," individuals' incomes are largely determined by the family and social circumstances they are born into.

The OECD report also documented the correlation between higher social spending and reduced poverty and inequality. In Scandinavian and western European countries, social spending on people of working age (such as family benefits) averaged 7 to 8 percent of national income in 2005 and the proportion of working-age people in poverty was 5 to 8 percent. In the US, Mexico, Turkey and South Korea, 2 percent or less of national income was spent on equivalent benefits, while 12-15 percent of the working age population lived in poverty.

The unfolding financial crisis and the deepening world recession is set to rapidly accelerate the regressive poverty and inequality trends, both in the US and internationally.

Oxford University economist Anthony Atkinson published an article, "Unequal growth, unequal recession?," in the OECD Observer magazine to coincide with the major report's release. "The time of its publication inevitably leads the reader to ask: what will happen if the next decade is one, not of world growth, but of world recession?" he wrote. "If a rising tide does not lift all boats, how will they be affected by an ebbing tide? Recession—if it comes—does not sound like good news for those on the margins of the labour force."

Juan Somavia, director general of the International Labour Organization (ILO), announced on Monday that global unemployment could next year rise by an additional 20 million people, to a total of 210 million. An ILO press release explained that this figure was derived from UN data, revised International Monetary Fund economic growth rates and recent reports of layoffs in several countries.

Somavia also estimated that the number of working poor living on less than $1 a day could rise by another 40 million, and those on less than $2 a day by more than 100 million. He added these projections "could prove to be underestimates if the effects of the current economic contraction and looming recession are not quickly confronted."

Earlier this month the ILO director general told officials of the IMF and the World Bank meeting in Washington that "The crisis of the international financial system has grave consequences for enterprises, workers and families around the world. Coming on top of still high food and fuel prices, its effects are provoking a slide into a recession that unless averted by prompt and coordinated government actions could be severe, long lasting and global."

He warned the banking and political elite that they had to take action to get credit flowing again quickly "before more serious damage is done to the productive capacity and social fabric all around the world."

Police prepare for unrest

Police prepare for unrest

By Alexander Bolton

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Police departments in cities across the country are beefing up their ranks for Election Day, preparing for possible civil unrest and riots after the historic presidential contest.

Public safety officials said in interviews with The Hill that the election, which will end with either the nation's first black president or its first female vice president, demanded a stronger police presence.

Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations. Others based the need for enhanced patrols on past riots in urban areas (following professional sports events) and also on Internet rumors.

Democratic strategists and advocates for black voters say they understand officers wanting to keep the peace, but caution that excessive police presence could intimidate voters.

Sen. Obama (Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president, has seen his lead over rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) grow in recent weeks, prompting speculation that there could be a violent backlash if he loses unexpectedly.

Cities that have suffered unrest before, such as Detroit, Chicago, Oakland and Philadelphia, will have extra police deployed.

In Oakland, the police will deploy extra units trained in riot control, as well as extra traffic police, and even put SWAT teams on standby.

"Are we anticipating it will be a riot situation? No. But will we be prepared if it goes awry? Yes," said Jeff Thomason, spokesman for the Oakland Police Department.

"I think it is a big deal — you got an African-American running and [a] woman running," he added, in reference to Obama and GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. "Whoever wins it, it will be a national event. We will have more officers on the street in anticipation that things may go south."

The Oakland police last faced big riots in 2003 when the Raiders lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. Officials are bracing themselves in case residents of Oakland take Obama's loss badly.

Political observers such as Hilary Shelton and James Carville fear that record voter turnout could overload polling places on Election Day and could raise tension levels.

Shelton, the director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, said inadequate voting facilities is a bigger problem in poor communities with large numbers of minorities.

"What are local election officials doing to prepare for what people think will be record turnout at the polls?" said Shelton, who added that during the 2004 election in Ohio voters in predominantly black communities had to wait in line six to eight hours to vote.

"On Election Day, if this continues, you may have some tempers flare; we should be prepared to deal with that but do it without intimidation," said Shelton, who added that police have to be able to maintain order at polling stations without scaring voters, especially immigrants from "police states."

Carville, who served as a senior political adviser to former President Bill Clinton, said that many Democrats would be very angry if Obama loses. He noted that many Democrats were upset by Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) loss to President Bush in the 2004 election, when some Democrats made allegations of vote manipulation in Ohio, the state that ultimately decided the race.

Experts estimated that thousands of voters did not vote in Ohio because of poor preparation and long lines.
Carville said Democratic anger in 2004 "would be very small to what would happen in 2008" if the same problems arose.

Carville said earlier this month that "it would be very, very, very dramatic out there" if Obama lost, a statement some commentators interpreted as predicting riots. In an interview Tuesday, however, Carville said he did not explicitly predict rioting.

"A lot of Democrats would have a great deal of angst and anger," said Carville, who predicted that on Election Day "the voting system all around the country is going to be very stressed because there's going to be enormous turnout."

Other commentators have made such bold predictions.

"If [Obama] is elected, like with sports championships, people may go out and riot," said Bob Parks, an online columnist and black Republican candidate for state representative in Massachusetts. "If Barack Obama loses there will be another large group of people who will assume the election was stolen from him….. This will be an opportunity for people who want to commit mischief."

Speculation about Election-Day violence has spread on the Internet, especially on right-wing websites.

This has caught the attention of police departments in cities such as Cincinnati, which saw race riots in 2001 after police shot a young black man.

"We've seen it on the Internet and we've heard that there could be civil unrest depending on the outcome of [the election,]" said Lt. Mark Briede of the Cincinnati Police Department. "We are prepared to respond in the case of some sort of unrest or some sort of incident."

Briede, like other police officials interviewed, declined to elaborate on plans for Election Day. Many police departments have policies prohibiting public discussion of security plans.

James Tate, second deputy chief of Detroit's police department, said extra manpower would be assigned to duty on Election Night. He said problems could flare whichever candidate wins.

"Either party will make history and we want to prepare for celebrations that will be on a larger scale than for our sports teams," Tate said.

He noted that police had to control rioters who overturned cars after the Tigers won the 1984 World Series.

"We're prepared for the best-case scenario, we're prepared for the worst-case scenario," he said. "The worst-case scenario could be a situation that requires law enforcement."

But Tate declined to describe what the worst-case scenario might look like, speaking gingerly like other police officials who are wary of implying that black voters are more likely than other voting groups to cause trouble.

Shelton, of the NAACP, said he understands the need for police to maintain order. But he is also concerned that some political partisans may point their finger at black voters as potential troublemakers because the Democratic nominee is black.

Shelton said any racial or ethnic group would get angry if they felt disenfranchised because of voting irregularities.

Police officials in Chicago, where Obama will hold a Nov. 4 rally, and Philadelphia are also preparing for Election Day.

"The Chicago Police Department has been meeting regularly to coordinate our safety and security plans and will deploy our resources accordingly," said Monique Bond, of the Chicago Police Department.

Frank Vanore, of the Philadelphia Police Department, said officials were planning to mobilize to control exuberant or perhaps angry demonstrations after the World Series, which pits the Phillies against the Tampa Bay Rays.

He said the boosted police activity would "spill right over to the election."

Sen. Warner Supports Domestic Use of Military

Sen. Warner Supports Domestic Use of Military

Senator Warner Responds to Concern Over Posse Comitatus Violation by Proposing to Change the Law

By David Swanson

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A citizen of Virginia named Moya Atkinson wrote to Senator John Warner to express concern over the recent violation of the Posse Comitatus Act created by the assigning of U.S. soldiers to duty within the United States, reported by the Army Times as intended for "crowd control" among other duties. This, like other changes imposed by President Bush, of course violates the Posse Comitatus Act. It also served to strengthen the threats of martial law that Congressman Brad Sherman reported the White House making to Congress members in order to win their support for the $780 billion give-away to Wall Street.

Warner sent back the following note, proposing that, rather than changing the president's behavior to comply with the law, we should -- as with warrantless spying, habeas corpus, etc. -- change the law to comply with the president's behavior:

Thank you for contacting me regarding your opposition to Northern Command dedicating a combat infantry team to work within the United States. I appreciate your thoughtful inquiry on this important matter.

As you may know, the Northern Command has assigned the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry to deal with catastrophes in the United States. While the unit would not take over as the lead, the Army reports that this unit would be deployed to help local, state, or federal agencies deal with matters such as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incidents. The unit will be based in Fort Stewart, Georgia, and will focus primarily on logistics and support for local police and rescue personnel.

Looking back, the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts highlighted the important role our military plays during domestic crises. From providing security in destroyed neighborhoods, to treating patients aboard naval vessels, to rebuilding damaged levees and unwatering New Orleans, the military has performed vital work that no other federal or state entity has the capacity to undertake.

Not withstanding these tremendous achievements, I am deeply concerned that the Department of Defense and the President may not have authority to use active duty personnel in the most effective manner. In our federal system, we normally, and rightly, depend upon state and local authorities to maintain order and protect the public. The National Guard, operating under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, is the primary military organization authorized to employ police powers in times of crisis. However, in a situation of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina, the level of destruction, coupled with the difficulty in maintaining order, brings into question the prohibition on using federal active duty military personnel, operating under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, to perform law enforcement duties.

I believe we must review the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act and similar provisions that limit the role of the active duty military to ensure that every available asset is properly employed in any type of future emergency situation. Title 18, Section 1385 of the U.S. Code, commonly referred to as the Posse Comitatus Act, prevents the armed forces from becoming involved in law enforcement activities for which, in most cases, they are not specifically trained or equipped. Posse Comitatus is largely rooted in historical tradition that prohibits military involvement in civilian affairs.

To be clear, I do not believe that U.S. law pertaining to this matter needs to be entirely rewritten. I do, however, think it is necessary that we review the regulations governing use of military personnel in domestic operations in order to better understand how all of our military assets can best assist during emergency situations.

Once again, thank you for contacting me on this issue.

With kind regards, I am

Sincerely,

John Warner
United States Senator

Al-Qaeda Leaders Root for McCain

Al-Qaeda Leaders Root for McCain

By Robert Parry

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Gloating over the U.S. economic crisis, al-Qaeda strategists are telling each other that a John McCain victory is crucial if the slide of their American enemies is to continue and possibly accelerate.

With McCain struggling in the polls, some al-Qaeda operatives even are discussing the possibility of a new terrorist attack timed before the Nov. 4 election to rally the American people to McCain’s candidacy.

“Al-Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election,” declared one commentary on a password-protected site, al-Hesbah, which has been linked to the terrorist organization.

The commentary argued that a last-minute terrorist strike could galvanize American voters behind McCain’s hard-line positions and bring about a McCain administration that would follow the “failing march” of George W. Bush. [Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2008]

This al-Qaeda logic is something that U.S. intelligence agencies have long understood, that Bush’s tough-guy strategies often have played into al-Qaeda’s bloody hands by exacerbating anti-Americanism in the Islamic world.

For instance, CIA analysts recognized that al-Qaeda’s “October Surprise” for Campaign 2004 – a videotape of Osama bin Laden denouncing Bush that was released on Oct. 29, the Friday before the election – had the predictable effect of driving American voters to Bush.

“Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President,” said deputy CIA director John McLaughlin in opening a meeting to review secret “strategic analysis” after the videotape had dominated the day’s news, according to Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine, which draws heavily from CIA insiders.

Suskind wrote that CIA analysts had spent years “parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons. … Today’s conclusion: bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.”

Jami Miscik, CIA deputy associate director for intelligence, expressed the consensus view that bin Laden recognized how Bush’s heavy-handed policies – such as the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and the war in Iraq – were serving al-Qaeda’s strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.

“Certainly,” Miscik said, “he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.”

As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts were troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. “An ocean of hard truths before them – such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected – remained untouched,” Suskind wrote.

Spinning bin Laden

However, in the outside world, Bush’s supporters accepted bin Laden’s videotape at face value, calling it proof the terrorist leader feared Bush and favored John Kerry.

In a pro-Bush book entitled Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats and Confounding the Mainstream Media, right-wing journalist Bill Sammon devoted several pages to bin Laden’s videotape, portraying it as an attempt by the terrorist leader to persuade Americans to vote for Kerry.

“Bin Laden stopped short of overtly endorsing Kerry,” Sammon wrote, “but the terrorist offered a polemic against reelecting Bush.”

Sammon and other right-wing pundits didn’t weigh the obvious possibility that the crafty bin Laden might have understood that his “endorsement” of Kerry would achieve the opposite effect with the American people.

Bush himself recognized that political impact. “I thought it was going to help,” Bush said in a post-election interview with Sammon about bin Laden’s videotape. “I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the President, something must be right with Bush.”

In Strategery, Sammon also quotes Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman as agreeing that bin Laden’s videotape helped Bush. “It reminded people of the stakes,” Mehlman said. “It reinforced an issue on which Bush had a big lead over Kerry.”

But bin Laden, a student of American politics, surely understood that, too.

There always has been this logical flaw in Bush’s insistence that the American people must “listen” to what al-Qaeda says in its public pronouncements, like taking note that al-Qaeda supposedly has called “Iraq the central front in the war on terror.”

While it may make sense to give some credence to internal communications between al-Qaeda operatives – if one judges that the words reflect the organization’s real strategies – it can be a huge mistake to believe al-Qaeda’s public declarations.

Steeped in clandestine activities, bin Laden and his followers understand the value of disinformation, something that CIA analysts also appreciate.

That’s why in 2004, the CIA analysts concluded that bin Laden’s denunciation of Bush was something of a Brer Rabbit ploy, telling your adversary to do the opposite of what you really want done. “Don’t throw me in the briar patch,” Brer Rabbit said, when that was exactly where he wanted to go.

So, just days before Election 2004, bin Laden acted as if he feared a Bush second term when that appears to have been what he privately desired.

‘Prolonging the War’

Similarly, Bush’s insistence that the United States must stay in Iraq – because al-Qaeda says it wants to drive American troops out – falls victim to the same Brer Rabbit question: What if bin Laden really wants to keep the United States bogged down in Iraq, so al-Qaeda can rebuild its operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Indeed, the possibility of such deception is why U.S. intelligence analysts give greater weight to al-Qaeda’s internal communications, such as a December 2005 captured letter from one of bin Laden’s deputies, “Atiyah,” to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In the letter, Atiyah counseled Zarqawi to tamp down his indiscriminate violence so as to avoid alienating Sunni tribal chieftains. Atiyah also said a drawn-out war in Iraq that keeps U.S. forces tied down would advance al-Qaeda’s strategic goals.

“Prolonging the war is in our interest,” Atiyah wrote. [To view this excerpt in a translation published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, click here. To read the entire letter, click here. ]

The logic of Atiyah’s advice is now apparent. Not only did Sunni chieftains – offended by Zarqawi’s brutality – agree to take U.S. payments in turning against al-Qaeda in 2006, but the continued concentration of U.S. military resources in Iraq has bought time for al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies to rebuild operations inside Pakistan.

(Zarqawi, however, largely ignored Atiyah's advice and was killed by U.S. forces in June 2006 after an Iraqi informant tipped them off on his whereabouts.)

Meanwhile, with two open-ended wars and other draining costs from the “war on terror,” the Bush administration has driven the federal budget deep into the red, weakening the nation’s ability to invest in domestic needs, from repairing the infrastructure to investing in a modern, energy-efficient economy.

In messages to each other on radical Islamic Web sites, al-Qaeda and other extremists boast about their success in luring the United States into this strategic trap that has “exhausted its resources and bankrupted its economy,” according to the Washington Post’s review of these communications.

The commentaries argue that McCain – as a stalwart supporter of Bush’s war policies – is al-Qaeda’s preferred candidate who deserves a boost that could come from a last-minute terrorist strike inside the United States.

“It will push the Americans deliberately to vote for McCain so that he takes revenge for them against al-Qaeda,” according to a posting attributed to longtime contributor Muhammad Haafid. “Al-Qaeda then will succeed in exhausting America.”

Though these Web postings appear intended for internal discussions – and thus may reflect al-Qaeda’s true opinions – the publicly expressed views of these extremists must always be taken with a grain of salt.

However, in this case, the logic of al-Qaeda wanting a new U.S. President who will continue the occupation of Iraq indefinitely makes sense. It fits with other private al-Qaeda communications, like the Atiyah letter, and with the judgment of CIA analysts who recognize the counterproductive nature of Bush’s “war on terror.”

The more immediate question, however, may be whether al-Qaeda has the capacity to mount some terrorist attack that would transform the U.S. presidential race in its waning days – and give John McCain enough fresh momentum to win.

Bush Authorizes Record Defense Budget

Bush Authorizes Record Defense Budget

Maya Schenwa

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Last week, Bush signed the 2009 Defense Authorization Act, allowing $611 billion to be spent this fiscal year on defense. Though the number was not a surprise - the money in the bill had already been appropriated over the last few months - this bill makes it official, placing ceilings on spending, granting authority on who gets to spend what, and nailing the 2009 defense budget into place. It is the highest defense budget since World War II, and Pentagon officials estimate that it will increase by $450 billion over the next five years. Coming in the midst of global economic chaos, the defense authorization bill casts a sharp light on the US's budgetary priorities.

A report by the nonpartisan think tank Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), released in late September, notes that an increasing number of experts, both inside and outside of government, have favored a rebalancing of defense funds: spending less on military projects and more on nonmilitary, preventative security efforts. The FPIF report, titled "A Unified Security Budget," outlines $61 billion that could be trimmed from military programs without compromising national security. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has encouraged this mentality, stating last November, "Funding for non-military foreign affairs programs … remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military."

Yet, the Bush administration's 2009 defense budget actually increased the imbalance between military and nonmilitary spending, and, as the fiscal year's budget is finalized, Congress has done little to alter the administration's plans.

If public opinion had its way, Congress would rein in the military budget, according to Kate Gould, legislative program assistant at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, citing a February 2008 Gallup poll.

"A majority of Americans who identify as both Republicans and Democrats believe that military spending should be capped at current levels or cut - and those polls were taken before the financial crisis captured global attention," Gould told Truthout. However, she noted, both presidential candidates support an increase in military spending, and Congress has consistently approved the Bush administration's bloated defense budgets, year after year.

The explanation for this disconnect may simply be that the government is used to a large military budget, and changes would require the Defense Department to undergo a major reprioritization.

"This year's enormous base budget is really just a continuation of bad habits the Pentagon has picked up," military policy analyst Travis Sharp, one of the FPIF report's authors, told Truthout.

Over the past eight years, the Pentagon has developed a pattern of requesting war spending through supplemental bills, which are not included in the general defense budget, making the defense budget look much smaller than it is, even as it grows. This is why the $611 billion authorization bill looks so huge: it includes both war and nonwar defense costs, which aren't grouped together in any other single bill.

Moreover, Sharp noted that the Pentagon regularly inserts war-related funding into its general defense budget, and tacks general defense costs, like new equipment, onto the supplemental bills that are used to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This type of messy budgeting can conceal skyrocketing military expenditures, many of which are unnecessary, according to Sharp.

"If the defense budget is indeed going to decline, the Pentagon will have to do something it hasn't done in years," Sharp said. "It will have to choose what to spend money on instead of just buying everything it wants."

Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, points out in a recent report in Armed Forces Journal that, in contrast with their price tag, our military forces are smaller than they have been since the end of World War II, and major military equipment is older than it has ever been. Wheeler attributes this strange disparity to gross misappropriation of funding, with more money now being used to buy fewer weapons - some of which will not even be used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Additionally, Sharp noted the high price tag of "high-risk missile defense programs," as well as Cold-War-era weapons systems that are not only costly, but also out of date.

"There's lots of low-hanging fruit, if ever there were a Congress or a Secretary of Defense willing to make cuts," Wheeler told Truthout.

Rethinking military spending right now is trickier than it might look, according to Craig Jennings, federal fiscal policy analyst at the government watchdog group OMB Watch. In a time of deep economic crisis, Jennings told Truthout, it doesn't make sense to cut government funding. Yet, a shifting of funds from the military to other priorities could work well.

"Defense spending is largely a white-collar jobs program and is responsible for funding untold thousands of jobs," Jennings said. "If, however, there was a one-to-one trade off in defense expenditures for other government spending aimed at lower-income families, then we could see a boost in economic growth."

Increasing funding for diplomacy would also fuel jobs, according to Sharp, who cites a recent Stimson Center report showing that the employment vacancy rate at the State Department and US consulates is nearing 15 percent.

Decreasing funds for military operations and increasing funds elsewhere could do more than stimulate the economy, though: it could pave the way for a more peaceful world, Sharp noted. One significant way to cut costs would be reducing our nuclear arsenal, according to the FPIF report, which states that cutting the arsenal down to 1,000 warheads would save the US $14.5 billion.

"This type of arrangement clearly would have to be negotiated with countries like Russia, but there is momentum growing in Washington to start working towards a world free of nuclear weapons, a proposal that enjoys support from both liberals and conservatives," Sharp said.

Funding nonmilitary prevention programs would also save billions of dollars by stopping wars before they start, according to a new report by the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The report recommends increased funding for civilian conflict management, the UN Peacebuilding Commission and development assistance to address the root causes of conflict, among other areas.

Such a rebalancing of priorities would be best initiated at the presidential level, because special protections for the Pentagon budget prevent Congress from cutting defense funds to pay for other priorities, according to Bridget Moix, a co-author of the report. So, while members can easily slash spending for diplomacy and humanitarian aid, they can't mess much with the defense budget. Instead of transferring funds from military to nonmilitary areas, asking for more money for nonmilitary priorities is the best way to start, Moix told Truthout.

"The most effective way to increase spending for diplomacy and development is a higher request for nonmilitary programs from the presidential level," Moix said.

With a new administration entering t he White House during a historic economic downturn, Gould said that the peace movement has an opening to push for a wholesale shift in priorities.

"It is a tragedy that it took such a financial crisis for closer analysis of military spending to happen, and we hope that such lessons can be learned before it gets much worse," Gould said. "Few initiatives would be as cost effective as decreasing the bloated military budget and investing in human security during the next administration and the 111th Congress. It is in the interests of all of us that we pressure our decision-makers to reprioritize [their] spending before greater financial catastrophes do."

Foreclosure crisis falls hard on veterans

Foreclosure crisis falls hard on veterans

By MALCOLM GARCIA

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It was always hard for him to make the house payment.

James Wilson, a disabled veteran of the Iraq War, knows his monthly mortgage payment of $532 doesn’t sound like much. But living on a fixed income with a family to support caused difficulties he had not anticipated.

Now he is more than three months behind on his mortgage.

“I’m still working with the lender,” Wilson, 30, said. “They’re friendly, but they want their money.”

Wilson, who survived an ambush and separate car and truck explosions in Iraq, joins other veterans who have found themselves caught in the mortgage crisis.

Although solid numbers on veteran foreclosures are not available, RealtyTrac, a Web site that follows foreclosures nationwide, reported earlier this year that areas with large numbers of military personnel have foreclosures at a rate four times the national average.

For some of the veterans, like Wilson, disability is a major factor. But even veterans without disabilities are having trouble for a variety of reasons: unemployment and repeated calls to duty, frequent relocations that limit the chance to build equity, and low pay for active service members.

Additionally, many military families were targeted by subprime mortgage sellers that opened offices near bases, leaving the families paying higher interest rates and more loan fees.

“They either can’t make a rent payment or mortgage payment, or they’re losing their car, or at least the threat is there,” said Shari Grewe, a transition patient advocate at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center for veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She deals with about 35 veterans a day who are having trouble making payments, among other problems.

Like Wilson, Vietnam-era veteran Terry Wright, 57, worries he will lose his house. He receives $894 a month in VA disability payments. He’s about $1,500 behind on his Kansas City house, he said. He comes up short every month because of the increased prices of gas and food.

“I owe so much money I barely have my eyes above water,” Wright said.

Problems arise when an unexpected difficulty breaks an already thin budget, Grewe said.

“Something comes up and they can’t do it,” she said. “They lose a job or can’t get work in the first place. Maybe when they get out, they can’t do the same job they did before. What they were able to live on six months ago doesn’t buy the same things today.”

Judith Epperson, homeless coordinator at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita, sees on average three veterans a day who are having problems with mortgage or rent payments. She attributes most of their difficulties to job loss, caused in part by post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of them joined the armed services in 1990 or later.

“Since the spring, we’re seeing a lot more veterans in this situation,” Epperson said. “A lot more females. A lot have kids. I had one pregnant veteran with two kids. She was let go at her job and had nothing and lost her house.”

Epperson also works with veteran Kenneth Green, 51, who served in the Air Force from 1977 to 1981. Last year Green was approved to buy a condominium he had been renting. About the same time he had both his hips replaced and could no longer hold his $60,000-a-year maintenance job. He applied for disability and went through his savings until finally he had to leave the condo. In July, he and his two children moved in with his sister-in-law.

“It’s very depressing to go from providing to no income, to go from the status I was in to zero,” Green said. “I had big plans. A three-bedroom condo, fully furnished. I had two vehicles, one fully paid for, the other I made monthly payments. I had to give it up too. It hurts. It’s not a manly feeling at all.”

Wilson, the Iraq vet, expects to receive a foreclosure notice on his house any day now.

He served a tour in Iraq and returned in 2004 for eight months. In May of that year, his convoy was ambushed. One bullet hit his chest, another his back. His body armor saved him.

Two weeks later, a car exploded at a gate to Camp Taji, sending shrapnel through one of his arms and deafening his right ear.

Then, on Sept. 8, 2004, he was on a routine delivery mission into Baghdad. He stopped to fuel the truck, and for a reason that’s still unclear, the vehicle exploded, engulfing him in flames and burning 50 percent of his body.

After a lengthy rehabilitation, including diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, he returned to marry a woman he’d met over the Internet. They now have three children.

Wilson was declared 100 percent disabled by the VA and receives about $2,800 a month.

In March 2006, Wilson bought a house at Crystal Lakes, northeast of Excelsior Springs. It needed a lot of repairs. It cost him $1,000 to fill the propane tank that heated the house. Diapers and formula and gas to drive back and forth to doctor’s appointments also added up. Bills for pain medication he said he did not receive through the VA consumed his credit card.

“I began thinking, ‘I can miss this payment and pay it next month and pay something else this month.’ You do that enough you get shut out and can’t catch up. Now I think I’m too far behind.”

Depending on a veteran’s circumstances, the VA can intercede with the lender on the veteran’s behalf to pursue options — such as repayment plans and loan modifications — to allow a veteran to keep a home. But many veterans prefer not to turn to the VA.

For instance, many of the Vietnam vets seen by Nicole McCrory, a certified foreclosure intervention and default counselor at Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, do not want to go to the VA.

“Korean and Iraq (era veterans) seem more willing,” she said.

Wright, the Vietnam-era veteran, tries to save money by driving as little as possible and spending no more than $50 a week for food. Still, he keeps falling behind with his mortgage.

“I’ve been in this house since 2002 and really don’t want to lose it,” he said. “But I’m about ready to pull my hair out and give up.”

Wilson did give up when he no longer could afford to heat his house. In May, he and his family moved into his in-laws’ house in Kearney. His father is trying to help by taking over his loan, but he expects it will be foreclosed. He is uncertain what his next move will be.

“I just can’t afford it,” he said. “It’s not a good feeling at all.”

The Global War on Terror Report Card

F is for Failure

The Bush Doctrine in Ruins

By Tom Engelhardt

Go To Original

On the brief occasions when the President now appears in the Rose Garden to "comfort" or "reassure" a shock-and-awed nation, you can almost hear those legions of ducks quacking lamely in the background. Once upon a time, George W. Bush, along with his top officials and advisors, hoped to preside over a global Pax Americana and a domestic Pax Republicana -- a legacy for the generations. More recently, their highest hope seems to have been to slip out of town in January before the you-know-what hits the fan. No such luck.

Of course, what they feared most was that the you-know-what would hit in Iraq, and so put their efforts into sweeping that disaster out of sight. Once again, however, as in September 2001 and August 2005, they were caught predictably flatfooted by a domestic disaster. In this case, they were ambushed by an insurgent stock market heading into chaos, killer squads of credit default swaps, and a hurricane of financial collapse.

At the moment, only 7% of Americans believe the country is "going in the right direction," Bush's job-approval ratings have dropped into the low 20s with no bottom in sight, and North Dakota is "in play" in the presidential election. Think of that as the equivalent of a report card on Bush's economic policies. In other words, the Yale legacy student with the C average has been branded for life with a resounding domestic "F" for failure. (His singular domestic triumph may prove to be paving the way for the first African American president.)

But there's another report card that's not in. Despite a media focus on Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the record of his Global War on Terror (and the Bush Doctrine that once went with it) has yet to be fully assessed. This is surprising, since administration actions in waging that war in what neoconservatives used to call "the arc of instability" -- a swath of territory running from North Africa to the Chinese border -- add up to a record of failure unprecedented in American history.

On June 1, 2002, George W. Bush gave the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The Afghan War was then being hailed as a triumph and the invasion of Iraq just beginning to loom on the horizon. That day, after insisting the U.S. had "no empire to extend or utopia to establish," the President laid out a vision of how the U.S. was to operate globally, facing "a threat with no precedent" -- al-Qaeda-style terrorism in a world of weapons of mass destruction.

After indicating that "terror cells" were to be targeted in up to 60 countries, he offered a breathtakingly radical basis for the pursuit of American interests:

"We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long… [T]he war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act… Our security will require transforming the military you will lead -- a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world."

This would later be known as Vice President Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine" -- even a 1% chance of an attack on the U.S., especially involving weapons of mass destruction, must be dealt with militarily as if it were a certainty. It may have been the rashest formula for "preventive" or "aggressive" war offered in the modern era.

The President and his neocon backers were then riding high. Some were even talking up the United States as a "new Rome," greater even than imperial Britain. For them, global control had a single prerequisite: the possession of overwhelming military force. With American military power unimpeachably #1, global domination followed logically. As Bush put it that day, in a statement unique in the annals of our history: "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge -- thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace."

In other words, a planet of Great Powers was all over and it was time for the rest of the world to get used to it. Like the wimps they were, other nations could "trade" and pursue "peace." For its pure folly, not to say its misunderstanding of the nature of power on our planet, it remains a statement that should still take anyone's breath away.

The Bush Doctrine, of course, no longer exists. Within a year, it had run aground on the shoals of reality on its very first whistle stop in Iraq. More than six years later, looking back on the foreign policy that emerged from Bush's self-declared Global War on Terror, it's clear that no President has ever failed on his own terms on such a scale or quite so comprehensively.

Here, then, is a brief report card on Bush's Global War on Terror:

High-Value Targets

1. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda: The Global War on Terror started here. Osama bin Laden was to be brought in "dead or alive" -- until, in December 2001, he escaped from a partial U.S. encirclement in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan (and many of the U.S. troops chasing him were soon enough dispatched Iraqwards). Seven years later, bin Laden remains free, as does his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, probably in the mountainous Pakistani tribal areas near the Afghan border. Al-Qaeda has been reconstituted there and is believed to be stronger than ever. An allied organization that didn't exist in 2001, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was later declared by President Bush to be the "central front in the war on terror," while al-Qaeda branches and wannabe groups have proliferated elsewhere.

Result: Terror promoted.

Grade: F

2. The Taliban and Afghanistan: The Taliban was officially defeated in November 2001 with an "invasion" that combined native troops, U.S. special operations forces, CIA agents, and U.S. air power. The Afghan capital, Kabul, was "liberated" and, not long after, a "democratic" government installed (filled, in part, with a familiar cast of warlords, human rights violators, drug lords, and the like). Seven years later, according to an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate, Afghanistan is on a "downward spiral"; the drug trade flourishes as never before; the government of President Hamid Karzai is notoriously corrupt, deeply despised, and incapable of exercising control much beyond the capital; American and NATO troops, thanks largely to a reliance upon air power and soaring civilian deaths, are increasingly unpopular; the Taliban is resurgent and has established a shadow government across much of the south, while its guerrillas are embedded at the gates of Kabul. American and NATO forces promoted a "surge" strategy in 2007 that failed and are now calling for more of the same. Reconstruction never happened.

Result: Losing war.

Grade: F

3. Pakistan: At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration threw its support behind General Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of relatively stable, nuclear-armed Pakistan. In the ensuing years, the U.S. transferred at least $10 billion, mainly to the general's military associates, to fight the Global War on Terror. (Most of the money went elsewhere). Seven years later, Musharraf has fallen ingloriously, while the country has reportedly turned strongly anti-American -- only 19% of Pakistanis in a recent BBC poll had a negative view of al-Qaeda -- is on the verge of a financial meltdown, and has been strikingly destabilized, with its tribal regions at least partially in the hands of a Pakistani version of the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda and foreign jihadis. That region is also now a relatively safe haven for the Afghan Taliban. American planes and drones attack in these areas ever more regularly, causing civilian casualties and more anti-Americanism, as the U.S. edges toward its third real war in the region.

Result: Extremism promoted, destabilization in progress.

Grade: F

4. Iraq: In March 2003, with a shock-and-awe air campaign and 130,000 troops, the Bush administration launched its long-desired invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, officially in search of (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad fell to American troops in April and Bush declared "major combat operations…ended" from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier against a "Mission Accomplished" banner on May 1st. Within four months, according to administration projections, there were to be only 30,000 to 40,000 American troops left in the country, stationed at bases outside Iraq's cities, in a peaceful (occupied) land with a "democratic," non-sectarian, pro-American government in formation. In the intervening five-plus years, perhaps one million Iraqis died, up to five million went into internal or external exile, a fierce insurgency blew up, an even fiercer sectarian war took place, more than 4,000 Americans died, hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars were spent on a war that led to chaos and on "reconstruction" that reconstructed nothing. There are still close to 150,000 American troops in the country and American military leaders are cautioning against withdrawing many more of them any time soon. Filled with killing fields and barely hanging together, Iraq is -- despite recently lowered levels of violence -- still among the more dangerous environments on the planet, while a largely Shiite government in Baghdad has grown ever closer to Shiite Iran. Thanks to the President's "surge strategy" of 2007, this state of affairs is often described here as a "success."

Result: Mission unaccomplished.

Grade: F

5. Iran: In his January 2002 State of the Union address, Bush dubbedquip of that time was: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.") In later years, Bush warned repeatedly that the U.S. would not allow Iran to move toward the possession of a nuclear weapons program and his administration would indeed take numerous steps, ranging from sanctions to the funding of covert actions, to destabilize the country's ruling regime. More than six years after his "axis of evil" speech, and endless administration threats and bluster later, Iran is regionally resurgent, the most powerful foreign influence in Shiite Iraq, and continuing on a path toward that nuclear power program which, it claims, is purely peaceful, but could, of course, prove otherwise. Iran part of an "axis of evil" (along with Iraq and North Korea), attaching a shock-and-awe bull's-eye to that nation ruled by Islamic fundamentalists. (A neocon

Result: Strengthened Iran.

Grade: F

Unlawful Enemy Combatants

6. Lebanon: Vowing to encourage a "democratic," pro-western Lebanon and crush the Shiite Hezbollah movement, which it categorized not only as a tool of Iran but as a terrorist organization, the administration green-lighted Israel's disastrous air assault and invasion in the summer of 2006. From that destructive war, Hezbollah emerged triumphant in its southern domain and strengthened in Lebanese national politics. Today, Lebanon is once again close to a low-level civil war and the influence of Syria, essentially the unmentioned fourth member of the President's "axis of evil," is again on the rise.

Result: Hezbollah ascendant.

Grade: F

7. Gaza: As part of the President's "freedom agenda," the administration promoted Palestinian elections on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip meant to fend off the rising strength of the Hamas movement, which it considered a terrorist organization, and promote the power of Fatah's president Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, however, won the election. The U.S. promptly refused to accept the results and, with Israel, tried to strangle Hamas in its Gaza stronghold. Hamas today remains entrenched in Gaza, while Abbas is a weakened figure.

Result: Hamas ascendant.

Grade: F

8. Somalia: In 2006, using U.S. trained and funded Ethiopian troops, the Bush administration intervened by proxy in a Somali civil war to oust a relatively moderate Islamist militia on the verge of unifying that desperate country for the first time in a long while. Two years later, the situation has only deteriorated further: the capital Mogadishu is in chaos, militant Islamists have retaken much of the south, those Ethiopian troops are preparing to withdraw, and the Bush-backed government to fall. At least, ten thousand Somalis have died and more than a third of the population, a jump of 77%, needs aid just to survive.

Result: Catastrophe.

Grade: F

9. Georgia: Promoting Georgian democracy -- and an oil pipeline running through its territory that brought Central Asian energy to Europe while avoiding Russia -- the administration armed, trained, and advised the Georgian military, backed the country for NATO membership, and looked the other way as its leader launched an invasion of a breakaway region (where Russian troops were stationed). Support for Georgia was part of a long-term Bush administration campaign to rollback Russian influence in its "near abroad," especially in Central Asia (where results would, in the end, prove hardly more promising). The Russian military promptly crushed and then demolished the Georgian military, brought the future usefulness of the oil pipeline into question, and sidelined NATO membership for the foreseeable future. In response, the Bush administration could do nothing at all.

Result: Humiliating defeat.

Grade: F

Axis of Evil Extra Credit Target

10. North Korea: Calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il variously a "dwarf," a "pygmy," and simply "evil," and his regime "the world's most dangerous," Bush targeted it in his "axis of evil" speech. As an invasion of Iraq loomed, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made clear that the U.S. was willing to fight and win wars "on two fronts." The administration turned its back on modestly successful, Clinton-era two-party negotiations that froze North Korea's plutonium-processing program, began overt -- and possibly covert -- campaigns to undermine the regime, and regularly threatened it over its nuclear weapons program. The invasion of Iraq evidently led North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il to the obvious shock-and-aweable conclusion and he promptly upped the pace of that program. In 2006, the country tested its first nuclear weapon and became a nuclear power.

Result: Nuclear proliferation encouraged.

Grade: F

Collateral Damage

11. Global Public Opinion: In the 2003 National Security Strategy of the United States was this infamous line: "Our strength as a nation-state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes and terrorism." In other words, the U.N., the International Criminal Court, and al-Qaeda were all thrown into the same despised category, along with, implicitly, international public opinion. Who needed any of them? The result? With the help of its torture policies and its prison camp at Guantanamo for public relations, the Bush administration achieved wonders. Never has global opinion of the U.S. been lower (or anti-Americanism more rampant) than in these years -- and when the administration needed allies, they were hard to find (or expensive to buy).

Result: Public diplomacy in the tank.

Grade: F

12. The American Taxpayer: The Bush administration estimated that the war in Iraq might cost the U.S. $50-60 billion, the war in Afghanistan far less. By now, those wars have officially cost more than $800 billion, close to $200 billion in the last year (at an estimated $3.5 billion a week). Their real long-term costs are almost incalculable, though they will certainly reach into the trillions. The full price tag of the Global War on Terror, including the costs of extraordinary renditions, as well as the building and maintaining of offshore prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, and elsewhere, is unknown, but historians looking back will undoubtedly conclude that the squandering of such sums helped push the U.S. toward financial meltdown.

Result: Priceless.

Grade: F

Evaluation

If you want a final taste of pathos -- to deal with the disasters it created, the Bush administration has finally turned to the most un-Global-War-on-Terror-like diplomatic maneuvers. It rushed an envoy to North Korea to save a disintegrating nuclear deal (while agreeing to remove that country from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terror), is preparing the way for possible negotiations with parts of both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban (call it "reconciliation"), and is evidently considering setting up a "U.S. Interest Section" in Teheran soon after the election.

In these last years, the Bush administration's deepest fundamentalist faith -- its cultish belief in the efficacy of military force above all else -- has proven an empty vessel. With its "military strengths beyond challenge" all-too-effectively challenged, Bush's second-term officials are finally returning to some of the most boringly traditional methods of diplomacy and negotiation -- under far more extreme circumstances and from a far weaker position -- while their former neocon supporters scream bloody murder from right-wing think tanks in Washington and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. "Having bent the knee to North Korea," former U.N. ambassador John Bolton wrote recently in that paper, "Secretary [of State] Rice appears primed to do the same with Iran, despite that regime's egregious and extensive involvement in terrorism and the acceleration of its nuclear program."

And they do have a point. This administration does now seem to be on bended knee to the world.

As with Pandora's Box, however, what the Bush administration unleashed cannot simply be taken back. A new administration will not only inherit an arc of instability that is truly aflame, but the paradigm, still remarkably unexamined, of a Global War on Terror. Now, there is a disaster-in-the-making for you.

No Child Left Behind Fails Us All

No Child Left Behind Fails Us All

Fed injects $540bn into markets

Fed injects $540bn into markets

Go To Original

The US Federal Reserve is set to pump $540bn (£323bn) into money market assets as it joined countries around the world trying to revive the financial system.

As Japan and France extended more help to banks, the Fed provided aid to mutual funds which have suffered higher than expected redemptions from investors amid liquidity concerns.

Yesterday the Fed said the move was designed to "improve the liquidity position of money market investors, thus increasing their ability to meet any further redemption requests and their willingness to invest in money market instruments".

JPMorgan Chase will run five special funds that will buy certificates of deposit, bank notes and commercial paper from money market mutual funds.

It is the third attempt in a month by the Fed to help the market. Earlier this month it agreed for the first time to buy commercial paper - the short-term debt companies use to fund day-to-day operations - and in September agreed to lend to banks to fund purchases of asset-backed commercial paper from money markets.

The money markets showed further signs of easing yesterday as overnight Libor rates in dollars, sterling and euros fell. The cost of borrowing overnight dollar funds dropped below the Fed's 1.5% target rate.