Thursday, August 13, 2009

US Might Use Colombia's Military Bases

U.S. says it might operate from -- but not run -- Colombian military bases

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Colombia's armed forces chief Wednesday said negotiations could conclude this weekend on an agreement to increase the U.S. military presence in the South American country -- a vaguely explained deal that has sparked strong protests in the hemisphere.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has warned that ``the winds of war are blowing.'' Bolivia's Evo Morales urged Latin Americans to ``rescue'' Colombia from the grip of U.S. imperialism. Argentina's Cristina Kirchner called the move ``belligerent.'' And Fidel Castro alleged it could ``block social change'' in the region.

Even moderates like Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva joined the more strident leftists in expressing concerns, indicating that the controversy is undermining the Obama administration's efforts to forge warmer ties with the region and reviving memories of past U.S. interventions around the hemisphere.

USE OF BASES

The agreement involves the use of Colombian military bases by U.S. aircraft and troops engaged in counter-narcotics and counter-guerrilla surveillance programs. They would make up for last month's closure of a similar U.S. operation out of the Ecuadorean port of Manta, from where U.S. planes swept the Pacific for vessels smuggling cocaine north to Central America and Mexico, where it would be taken by land to the U.S. border.

Manta was one of the three U.S. ``Forward Operating Locations'' (FOLs) -- others are in El Salvador and Aruba-Curaçao -- that feed data to the counter-drug Joint Interagency Task Force based in Key West.

U.S. officials are adamant that the Colombia FOLs will not be ``bases'' -- no U.S. flags, no U.S. sovereignty, no U.S. controls over base security, no lethal equipment, no use of force.

``We're not talking about U.S. bases at all. . . . We're talking about access by U.S. personnel to existing Colombian bases,'' said a State Department official on condition of anonymity. Also included in the agreement may be ``modest'' U.S. funding for infrastructure improvements, he added.

Gen. Freddy Padilla, commander of the Colombian armed forces, told reporters that negotiations over the Washington-Bogotá agreement could be concluded by this weekend. He spoke to reporters at the Palanquero air force base northwest of Bogotá, one of the possible FOLs.

But exactly what the FOLs would include remained vague Wednesday -- perhaps work spaces for pilots, crewmen and ground mechanics as well as secure communications and firefighting units (in case of plane crashes), as well as warehouses for spare aviation parts or emergency humanitarian supplies.

The Pentagon usually also requires ``quality of life'' facilities for U.S. troops stationed abroad, such as U.S.-quality food, housing and medical facilities.

BAD P.R.

Both U.S. and Colombian officials have acknowledged that they mishandled the public relations side of the deployments, initially saying little or nothing in the face of media reports of plans for up to seven new U.S. military ``bases'' in Colombia.

``There's been no clarity, no explanation of why and how the bases will operate,'' said Rafael Pardo, former Colombian defense minister and presidential hopeful in the 2010 elections.

Colombian officials first spoke publicly about the FOLs a full week after the Cambio newsweekly in Bogotá reported ongoing negotiations for ``U.S. military operations'' at five Colombian armed forces bases. Later media reports mentioned three Colombian air force, two navy and two army bases.

Reaction from Colombia's neighbors was immediate and harsh, in part because of the long U.S. history of meddling in Latin American affairs..

Chávez called the FOLs part of a Pentagon plan to invade Venezuela, now the leading exit point for Colombian cocaine and fountainhead for the leftist and anti-American policies adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and Nicaragua.

Ironically, Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa has also complained bitterly about the planned U.S. FOLs next door, although his country hosted the Manta FOL since 1999. He ordered the facility closed shortly after his election in 2006, but followed the required advance notification procedure for the closure.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a conservative with long-tense relations with Venezuela and Ecuador, visited Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil last week to explain the U.S. arrangements and try to assuage concerns.

President Barack Obama waded into the brouhaha last week, saying, ``There have been those in the region who have been trying to play this up as part of a traditional anti-Yankee rhetoric . . . We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia.''

Washington officials say there's been some signs that U.S. and Colombian efforts to better explain the plans for the FOLs are having some impact.

Peru and Paraguay have issued statements saying they ``understand'' Bogotá's position. Chile moderated its initial expressions of concern and Brazil has been ``listening to our explanations.''

Rethinking US Penal Policy

Rethinking US Penal Policy

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The proportion of US citizens behind bars far exceeds that of every other nation on Earth. Further, there is a class and race dimension to US incarceration: blacks and Latinos are imprisoned at a much higher rate than are whites.

The total incarceration rate per 100,000 individuals, including federal and state imprisonment and local jail detention, is: 820 for whites, 5,126 for blacks, and 1,907 for Hispanics. Latinos represent the fastest-growing segment of the minority prison population, having risen from 5 percent of federal and state inmates in 1978 to 21 percent in 2007, write Hanna Holleman, Robert W. McChesney, John Bellamy Foster, and R. Jamil Jonna.

How did this incarceration frenzy come to loom so large in the US? Politics is part of the answer. State and federal lawmakers have drafted and passed increasingly tough sentencing laws, beginning during the 1980's "War on Drugs." The 1984 Sentencing Reform Act pushed judges to apply the longest prison terms allowable by law.

Some state lawmakers followed suit with the "tough on crime" approach. The 1990's spawned the "three strikes" law in California, expanding the prison population with mandatory life sentences for third-felony convictions. Next came the "10-20-life" law, which mandates that judges impose a life sentence penalty for shooting a victim during the commission of a felony crime.

As a result of such "tough on crime" laws, California's prison population has increased by 750 percent since the middle of the 1970's, according to a panel of three federal judges. (The population of California has increased 80 percent since 1970.) Recently, those judges ordered a reduction in the state's prison population by 27 percent, or 40,000 people, to decrease overcrowding.

Harsh policy alone does not account for the explosion of America's prison population. For the rest of the story, we turn to economics. Let us begin with a brief look at one example: spending policy.

In California in recent years, a higher percent of tax dollars went to prisons than to colleges and universities. New prison construction became a growth industry. However, once California's current budget crisis hit, the yawning gap between tax revenues and spending began to call these budget priorities into question. Suddenly, staffing 33 state prisons became untenable. Something had to give, and it did. Before the three federal judges ordered a reduction of the state prison population, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers reached a new budget deal including deep spending cuts in government services, from health care to parks to schools - and even to prisons.

Unemployment also factors into the imprisonment equation. In the US labor market, blacks and Hispanics are most likely to be last hired and first fired. Federal jobs data shows, month after month, in expansion and recession, that employers' demand for the labor services of nonwhites is weaker than their demand for the labor services of whites.

Weak demand for employment creates the conditions for an increased rate of imprisonment. Consider the slow, steady decline in the size of the US manufacturing work force that provided union jobs to minority workers during the quarter-century of prosperity after WWII. Since then, as international competition to US corporations grew, those companies shifted production abroad, drawn by lower wages and weaker environmental laws. Also accounting for the fall in US factory jobs is a process that some economists call "technological unemployment," i.e. machines replacing people. This process had, and has, the effect of boosting the
productivity of the fewer workers remaining employed.

The politics and economics of prison policy are two sides of the same coin. Meanwhile, the Great Recession may be creating the right conditions to shrink the US prison-industrial system. This opening creates both new perils and new prospects for the American public. While the recession encourages a calculated decrease in the prison population, new jobs programs could potentially help remedy racial discrepancies in unemployment. Hopefully, Americans will not miss this opportunity for a broad social discussion, and will forge more decent policies and begin to repair class and race injustice.

Is Health Care Reform on Life Support?

Is Health Care Reform on Life Support?

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According to 2008 US Census Bureau data, approximately 47 million, or 15.8 percent of the US population, were without health insurance during 2006 - a 4.9 percent increase. In 2005, census figures showed that 44.8 million people, or about 15.3 percent of the population, lacked health insurance coverage. According to a report released by the Institute on Medicine, the average cost of family health care coverage more than doubled from 1999 to 2008, from $1,543 to $3,354.

Based upon these realities, presidential candidate Obama made health care reform a central theme of his campaign. He promised to achieve universal health care in his first term and to cut the average family's health care health care costs by $2,500. In the on-going health care reform debate, it is very important to remember that as a result of this and other campaign promises, President Obama won the 2008 presidential election with 53 percent of the popular vote to Senator McCain's 46 percent and 68 percent of the Electoral College vote to McCain's 36 percent.

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken in June, 85 percent of respondents said the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt. According to a June poll conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 83 percent of respondents favored and only 14 percent opposed "creating a new public health insurance plan that anyone can purchase." These numbers indicate that health care reform is very important to the American people.

In spite of these numbers indicating overwhelming support for reform, recent Rasmussen polls indicate that only 42 percent of Americans support the health care reform plan spearheaded by President Obama and the Democratic Party. A record 53 percent of Americans are opposed to the plan.

What is at the heart of this disconnect? How is the Obama administration's message and health care reform plan seemingly so out of sync with the public's perception of reality? Is health care reform on life support?

The opponents to health care reform, particularly those opposed to the Obama administrations plan, are taking control of the public debate by force, distortions and partisan politics. They are changing the debate on health care into a debate on health care for illegal immigrants, abortion, and other wedge issues.

According to The Associated Press, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called President Barack Obama's health plan "downright evil". She posted on her Facebook page that he would create a "death panel" that would deny care to the neediest Americans.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care ... Such a system is downright evil."

According to McClatchy newspapers, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) has vowed to make health care Obama's "Waterloo," and urged conservative activists to help "break him." DeMint has compared the United States under Obama to the 1930's Nazi Germany under Hitler; and cast the heated health care fight as "a real showdown between socialism and freedom ... This is a battle I've been waiting for and hoping for, for years ... We've got to stop the socialization of medicine.... We've stirred up a fight."

Recently, conservative talk show host and Republican spokesman and operative Rush Limbaugh compared President Obama to Hitler: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, ruled by dictate." This serves no positive interests and has no place in intelligent and informed public discourse.

The public debate on health care reform is becoming contentious at best. At many town hall meetings, people are doing more shouting than listening. In Tampa, Florida, a crowd began to loudly chant and scuffle with organizers posted at doorways after the auditorium filled to capacity. In Mehlville, Missouri, St. Louis police arrested six people, some on assault charges, outside another forum that was billed as a meeting on aging, but was attended by activists on both sides of the health care debate. In another incident, protesters surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (D-New York) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety.

A lot of the outbursts at the health care reform town hall meetings appear to be coordinated. PolitiCo.com reports that much of the decent "... is being encouraged by Washington-based groups that are devoting considerable online resources to encouraging turnout. Some of the groups even supply supporters with scripts and 'talking points.'" This is one reason why so much of their rhetoric sounds the same. They are reading from the same talking points. This tactic is similar to what was used by Enron Corp. in 2000 when the "Brooks Brothers Rioters" were paid and flown into Florida to protest and disrupt the vote recount.

These types of distortions, rhetoric and diatribes are counterproductive to bringing about real reform and do the American people and democracy a great disservice. Democracy works best when individuals with opposing views engage in open and honest debate in the public square, not contrived debate based on lies and distortions.

Is health care reform on life support? Right now, yes. The Democrats are loosing the patient because they have allowed the opposition to control the debate. To move health care reform from the ICU, Democrats will need more voices than that of the president - STAT!

Internal Memo Confirms White House Giveaways To Big Pharma

Internal Memo Confirms Big Giveaways In White House Deal With Big Pharma

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A memo obtained by the Huffington Post confirms that the White House and the pharmaceutical lobby secretly agreed to precisely the sort of wide-ranging deal that both parties have been denying over the past week.

The memo, which according to a knowledgeable health care lobbyist was prepared by a person directly involved in the negotiations, lists exactly what the White House gave up, and what it got in return.

It says the White House agreed to oppose any congressional efforts to use the government's leverage to bargain for lower drug prices or import drugs from Canada -- and also agreed not to pursue Medicare rebates or shift some drugs from Medicare Part B to Medicare Part D, which would cost Big Pharma billions in reduced reimbursements.

In exchange, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) agreed to cut $80 billion in projected costs to taxpayers and senior citizens over ten years. Or, as the memo says: "Commitment of up to $80 billion, but not more than $80 billion."

Representatives from both the White House and PhRMA, shown the outline, adamantly denied that it reflected reality. PhRMA senior vice president Ken Johnson said that the outline "is simply not accurate." "This memo isn't accurate and does not reflect the agreement with the drug companies," said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin.

Stories in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times last week indicated that the administration was confirming that such a deal had been made.

Critics on Capitol Hill and online responded with outrage at the reports that Obama had gone behind their backs and sold the reform movement short. Furthermore, the deal seemed to be a betrayal of several promises made by then-Sen. Obama during the presidential campaign, among them that he would use the power of government to drive down the costs of drugs to Medicare and that negotiations would be conducted in the open.

And over the past several days, both the White House and PhRMA have offered a series of sometimes conflicting accounts of what happened in an attempt to walk back the story.

Story continues below

The White House meeting took place on July 7th, as first reported that evening in the Wall Street Journal. Also on the same day, a health care lobbyist following the talks was provided the outline of the deal by a person inside the negotiations. That outline had been floating around K Street before being obtained by the Huffington Post. In order to learn more about its origin, HuffPost agreed not to reveal the name of the lobbyist who originally received it.

"That is the PhRMA deal," said the lobbyist of the outline. He then clarified, "It was the PhRMA deal."

The deal, as outlined in the memo:

Commitment of up to $80 billion, but not more than $80 billion.

1. Agree to increase of Medicaid rebate from 15.1 - 23.1% ($34 billion)

2. Agree to get FOBs done (but no agreement on details -- express disagreement on data exclusivity which both sides say does not affect the score of the legislation.) ($9 billion)

3. Sell drugs to patients in the donut hole at 50% discount ($25 billion)
This totals $68 billion

4. Companies will be assessed a tax or fee that will score at $12 billion. There was no agreement as to how or on what this tax/fee will be based.

Total: $80 billion

In exchange for these items, the White House agreed to:

1. Oppose importation

2. Oppose rebates in Medicare Part D

3. Oppose repeal of non-interference

4. Oppose opening Medicare Part B

"Non-interference" is the industry term for the status quo, in which government-driven price negotiations are barred. In other words, the government is "interfering" in the market if it negotiates lower prices. The ban on negotiating was led through Congress in 2003 by then-Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who is now the head of PhRMA.

The rebates reference is to Medicare overpayments Big Pharma managed to wrangle from the Republican Congress that Democrats are trying to recoup. The House bill would require Big Pharma to return some of that money. The rebate proposal would save $63 billion over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The White House, given the chance, declined to tell the Wall Street Journal for a July 17th article that it supported the effort to pursue the rebates.

The Medicare Part B item refers to "infusion drugs," which can be administered at home. If they fall under Part B, Big Pharma gets paid more than under Part D. The agreement would leave infusion drugs in Part B.

In the section on Big Pharma's concessions, "FOBs" refers to follow-on biological drugs. Democrats have pushed to make it easier to allow generic drug makers to produce cheaper versions of such drugs, an effort Big Pharma has resisted. The Senate health committee bill gives drug makers 12 years of market exclusivity, five more than the White House proposed.

PhRMA's Johnson cast doubts on the provenance of the outline. "The memo, as described, is simply not accurate," he said in a statement. "Anyone could have written it. Unless it comes from our board of directors, it's not worth the paper it's written on. Clearly, someone is trying to short circuit our efforts to try and make health care reform a reality this year. That's not going to happen. Too much is at stake for both patients and the U.S. economy. Our new ads supporting health care reform are starting this week, and we are redoubling our efforts to drive awareness of why this issue is so important to America's future."

Johnson added that "no outside lobbyists -- not a single one -- were ever involved in our discussions with the Senate Finance Committee or the White House so someone is blowing smoke."

But the lobbyist who was given the outline defended its authenticity. And although the White House now says that drug price negotiations and reimportation were not actually discussed in the talks with PhRMA, the lobbyist said: "Well, that's bull -- that's baloney. That was part of the deal, for them not to push that."

The new uncertainty surrounding the deal comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has repeatedly said that her chamber is not bound by any agreement it is not a party to. On July 8th, the day after the Journal reported some elements of the deal, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a public speech that his committee would not be tied down by the agreement.

Before recess, he followed through. His committee passed a bill that allowed for re-importation and drug-price negotiations.

In the Senate, Democrats Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) pressed White House officials at a closed-door meeting last week, asking whether the White House had tied the Senate's hands.

The health care lobbyist said that what deal still exists is uncertain, as a result of House pressure. "Now the White House is backing away from it, as you know, because of pressure from the House, because the House was not a party to the deal," he said. "The Speaker put enormous pressure on the White House, [saying], 'We weren't a party to it and we reserve the right to do whatever we want.' And which they did in the House Energy and Commerce Committee bill, which led the White House to say, 'Well, maybe it's not cast in concrete.'"

Obama is walking a tightrope here. He wants to keep PhRMA from opposing the bill, and benefits by having its support, which now includes a $150 million advertising campaign. That's a fortune in politics -- more than Republican presidential candidate John McCain spent on advertising during his entire campaign -- but it's loose change in the pharmaceutical business.

Opponents of the deal with PhRMA hope that Obama is playing a multilayered game, making a deal in order to keep the drug makers in his camp for now, but planning to double-cross them in the end if he needs to in order to pass his signature initiative.

Big Pharma, however, is still comfortable. "As far as the pharmaceutical industry, PhRMA and its member companies, yes, they say a deal is a deal. We'll see what happens," said the health care lobbyist.

States cut aid to college students as demand booms

States cut aid to college students as demand booms

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Struggling with budget shortfalls that reach into the billions, several states are making deep cuts in college financial aid programs, including those that provide a vital source of cash for students who most need the money.

At least a dozen states are reducing award sizes, eliminating grants and tightening eligibility guidelines because of a lack of money. At the same time, the number of students seeking aid is rising sharply as more people seek a college education and need help paying the tuition bill because they or their parents lost jobs and savings during the recession.

Many of the affected programs are need-based grants that provide money that complements financial aid offered by schools and the federal government. Without that cash, some students may be forced to drop out, transfer to cheaper schools or simply have less money available for rent and groceries. Experts fear others will take on too much debt or spend even more time working as they pursue a degree.

"There's almost no question the folks coming in are probably going to have much more difficulty getting by year to year in college and staying enrolled as a result," said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert on financial aid. "The safety net is falling away."

State financial aid accounted for 12 percent of the grants awarded to college students in 2007-2008, according to the New York-based College Board. While that's a fraction of the financial aid provided to millions of students by schools, the federal government and private scholarships, the demand for aid is booming. Roughly 620,000 more students applied for federal aid in the first quarter compared with last year, a jump of more than 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

University of Illinois senior Brandi Cho, 21, said her parents cannot afford to make up the $2,500 she expected to do without after her state grant runs out in the spring. She is considering two options: Find a second weekend job on top of the 15 hours a week she already works, or cram five senior-level accounting classes into the fall semester so she can graduate early.

"The best that I can do is just start saving every penny that I have," Cho said.

The cuts come as lawmakers and governors struggle to balance budgets crippled by the recession's impact on tax revenues. Lottery-funded merit aid programs in states such as Georgia, Florida and West Virginia are also pinched as revenues from the games are leveling off and in some cases declining.

In Illinois, a state scrambling to find $11 billion in budget savings, officials are telling 145,000 low-income students who receive the state's need-based Monetary Award Program grants to expect no help in the spring semester because money for the program will run out. Lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn cut the state's aid budget in half; an additional 40,000 students who rely on other state programs will be affected, too.

Ohio is eliminating grants of up to $2,496 for low-income community college students, and cutting them by more than 50 percent for low-income students at four-year universities. The state is axing $640 grants for 58,000 private school students and grants of up to $4,000 for 22,500 students attending two-year, for-profit schools.

"That's a lot of money to someone like me," said Maria Zimbardi, a 33-year-old mother of three in Youngstown, Ohio, who will not receive the nearly $3,300 grant she got last year. She is working part time as a waitress while learning administrative and accounting skills at National College, and is taking out more student loans — which now total $29,000 — so she can graduate next May.

The Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board projects that more than 20,000 low-income students will not receive grants because of a lack of money and a sharp increase in applicants. Jennifer Matamoros is among them, and the senior at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — where tuition has increased about 6 percent a year in each of the past four years — is worried about paying bills without the $2,600 grant she got last year.

She said she'll likely borrow more and graduate with $30,000 in student-loan debt, which is as much as she expects to make a year in her career as an elementary school teacher. "They just keep raising more costs and taking away more money," she said.

Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank, warned in a recent study that student debt was at an all-time high, with a rising share owed to riskier private student loans. The study warned that could eventually reduce access to higher education and lead to more students defaulting on their loans.

"It's going to start to impact the equation of whether college is worth it for some students," said Erin Dillon, a policy analyst for the group.

In Michigan, where state lawmakers have yet to pass a spending plan, about 96,000 students don't yet know the value of their Promise scholarships — or if they get one at all. The state's Republican-controlled Senate voted to eliminate the $140 million program that provides high school graduates with up to $4,000, but Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has vowed to restore some of money.

Financial aid officials in other states are making difficult choices with the limited funds they have. In Massachusetts, where the state financial aid budget was cut 10 percent, the Office of Student Financial Assistance plans to make deep cuts to other aid programs to preserve the need-based Mass Grants program. Even so, many grants could fall by $400 to $500 compared with last year.

Wisconsin decided to slightly increase the average grant awards because students are showing much greater need, said Connie Hutchison, the executive secretary of the Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board. That meant university students who applied in July for aid are learning the pool of money has run out.

"We're getting a lot of questions about why students are not getting financial aid they got last year," Hutchison said. "It's so hard to explain to them."

Foreclosure Filings in U.S. Climb to Record for Third Time in Five Months

U.S. Foreclosure Filings Set Third Record-High in Five Months

By Dan Levy

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Foreclosure filings in the U.S. climbed to a record for the third time in five months in July as falling home prices and the recession left more homeowners unable to keep up payments or refinance.

A total of 360,149 properties received a default or auction notice or were seized last month, according to data seller RealtyTrac Inc. One in 355 households got a filing, the highest monthly rate in RealtyTrac records dating to January 2005, the Irvine, California-based company said in a statement.

“We’re in a deep hole,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Chicago-based Mesirow Financial Inc., said in an interview. “There is a whole new wave of foreclosures tied to the cyclical dynamics of the economy.”

Foreclosures increased as the U.S. recorded another 247,000 job losses in July and home prices fell, leaving an increasing number of mortgage holders owing more than their properties were worth. The median price of an existing single-family house dropped 15.6 percent to $174,100 in the second quarter, the most in records dating to 1979, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday. Almost one-quarter of U.S. mortgage holders are underwater, property data firm Zillow.com said Aug. 11.

“There are a slew of factors showing fundamental weakness on the demand side: tighter underwriting, job loss, investors who’ve been badly burned,” said Stuart Gabriel, director of the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate in Los Angeles. “We have not seen the bottom of the housing market.”

Nevada, California

July’s foreclosure filings rose 32 percent from a year earlier and 6.7 percent from June, RealtyTrac said.

Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate for the 31st consecutive month as one in 56 households there got a filing, more than six times the national average. Auctions and bank seizures both rose 20 percent from the previous month.

California had the second-highest filing rate at one in 123 households, three times the U.S. average, and initial defaults were up 15 percent from June, RealtyTrac said. Arizona was third at one in 135 households as scheduled auctions rose 25 percent from the previous month.

Unemployment was 9.4 percent in July, the Labor Department reported Aug. 8.

More than 126,000 U.S. consumers filed for bankruptcy in July, 34 percent more than a year earlier, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. The number may reach 1.4 million by the end of the year as employers cut payrolls and banks restrain lending, the institute said Aug. 4.

Loan Modifications

About 235,000 troubled borrowers have begun modifying their property loans under the government’s Making Home Affordable Program, compared with a target population of 4 million, according to an Aug. 4 Treasury Department report. About 15 percent of eligible borrowers were offered loan modifications and 9 percent entered trial agreements.

Bank of America Corp. modified about 4 percent of its qualifying loans and Wells Fargo & Co. changed 6 percent, making them the two worst performers in the program among the biggest U.S. banks, Treasury said. Citigroup Inc. modified 15 percent of its eligible loans and JPMorgan Chase & Co. changed 20 percent.

“It has been more profitable to put a home in foreclosure than restructure the loan,” Swonk said. “The only thing that helps is forgiveness of principal, and there is little willingness to do that.”

Florida, Utah, Idaho, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado and Oregon accounted for the other states with the top 10 highest rates of foreclosure filings.

Four states accounted for almost 57 percent of total filings, with California leading at 108,104, or 50 percent more than a year earlier.

Top 10

Florida ranked second with 56,486 filings, up 23 percent, and Arizona was third at 19,694, up 48 percent. Nevada was fourth at 19,535, a 94 percent increase, RealtyTrac said.

Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey rounded out the top 10 states with the most filings.

New Jersey had the 18th highest rate and 6,467 filings, a 40 percent increase from a year earlier. Connecticut ranked 29th and had 1,569 filings, a 22 percent drop. New York had the 38th highest rate and 5,954 filings, down 3.5 percent.

Las Vegas had the highest foreclosure rate among metropolitan areas with a population 200,000 or more. One in 47 households got a notice, up 89 percent from a year earlier and up 6 percent from the previous month.

California had seven cities among the top 10. Stockton and Modesto ranked second and third; Merced, Riverside-San Bernardino, Bakersfield and Vallejo-Fairfield were fifth through eighth; and Sacramento was 10th.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers was fourth and Phoenix-Mesa- Scottsdale was ninth, according to RealtyTrac, which collects data from more than 2,200 counties representing 90 percent of the U.S. population.

Foreclosures rise 7 percent in July from June

Foreclosures rise 7 percent in July from June

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The number of U.S. households on the verge of losing their homes rose 7 percent from June to July, as the escalating foreclosure crisis continued to outpace government efforts to limit the damage.

Foreclosure filings were up 32 percent from the same month last year, RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday. More than 360,000 households, or one in every 355 homes, received a foreclosure-related notice, such as a notice of default or trustee's sale. That's the highest monthly level since the foreclosure-listing firm began publishing the data more than four years ago.

Banks repossessed more than 87,000 homes in July, up from about 79,000 homes a month earlier.

Nevada had the nation's highest foreclosure rate for the 31st-straight month, followed by California, Arizona, Florida and Utah. Rounding out the top 10 were Idaho, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado and Oregon. Among cities, Las Vegas had the highest rate, followed by the California cities of Stockton and Modesto.

While there have been numerous recent signs that the ailing U.S. housing market is finally stabilizing after three years of plunging prices, foreclosures remain a big concern. Foreclosures are typically sold at a deep discount, hurting neighbors' home values.

The mortgage industry has been slow to adapt to the surge in foreclosures. Many lenders have needed government prodding to get up to speed with the Obama administration's plan to stem foreclosures.

The Treasury Department said last week that banks have extended only 400,000 offers to 2.7 million eligible borrowers who are more than two months behind on their payments. More than 235,000, or 9 percent, those borrowers have enrolled in three-month trials in which their monthly payments are reduced.

"The volume of loans that are in distress simply overwhelms" those efforts, said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's senior vice president for marketing.

AIG Shuts Branches as Losses Mount

AIG Consumer Lender Cuts 900 Jobs as Losses Mount

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American International Group Inc.’s money-losing consumer lender slashed 900 jobs in the first half of the year as revenue plunged amid the recession.

American General Finance Corp. also closed 145 branches, the Evansville, Indiana-based lender said today in its quarterly report to regulators. The cuts represent about 11 percent of the 7,900 employees American General had as of Dec. 31, according to a separate regulatory filing. The company has about 1,400 branches according to its Web site.

The consumer unit scaled back lending and securitized receivables after losing access to usual funding sources. American General recorded a $1.3 billion net loss last year tied to subprime mortgages and was cut to the lowest investment grade by Moody’s Investors Service last month.

“We may implement further measures to preserve our liquidity and capital,” including securitizing loans and shutting more branches, American General said in the filing. “The exact nature and magnitude of any additional measures will be driven by prevailing market conditions.”

The second-quarter loss widened to $227.2 million from $31.8 million in the year earlier period, the lender said today. Revenue fell by about a third. Lauren Day, a spokeswoman for New York-based AIG, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

American General cut 380 jobs and closed 178 locations in the fourth quarter, including all branch offices in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, the lender said in its annual report.

‘Liquidity Concerns’

“Our liquidity concerns, dependency on AIG, results of our operations and the uncertainty regarding the availability of support from AIG have impacted our credit ratings,” the lender said today. Moody’s cut American General to Baa3 from Baa2 on “constraints in the unsecured debt markets,” the ratings firm said in a July 31 statement.

American General securitized $1.9 billion of real estate loans last month, receiving $967.3 million before expenses. The lender said in July it would receive as much as $975 million selling mortgage-backed certificates to Credit Suisse Group AG.

With AIG’s intentions to further support American General, “we believe that we will have adequate liquidity to finance and operate our businesses and repay our obligations for at least the next 12 months,” the lender said in the filing.

AIG posted its first profit in seven quarters last week. American General is among the assets AIG is trying to sell as it raises cash to repay the U.S. after taking a government bailout valued at $182 billion. The insurer has announced more than $9 billion in asset sales.

Retail Sales in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall on Concern Over Job Losses, Income

Sales Unexpectedly Decrease as Job Losses Mount

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Sales at U.S. retailers unexpectedly fell in July, raising the risk that consumers will keep cutting back as job losses mount and temper a recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s.

Purchases decreased 0.1 percent, the first drop in three months, as shrinking demand at department stores such as Macy’s Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. overshadowed a boost from the cash-for-clunkers automobile incentive program, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington.

A separate government report today showed more Americans than forecast filed claims for unemployment insurance last week, underscoring the threat to spending from the continued deterioration in the job market. Treasury securities jumped and the dollar fell after the reports, and some economists lowered estimates for growth this quarter.

“Until we start seeing job growth, consumers are still going to be very cautious,” said Michael Gregory, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto, which accurately forecast the drop in purchases excluding automobiles. “It’s premature to talk about the sustainability of a recovery,” he said, until there’s “follow-through on the demand side.”

The gain in Treasuries sent the yield on the benchmark 10- year note down to 3.66 percent at 11:40 a.m. in New York from 3.72 percent late yesterday. The dollar dropped against the Japanese yen to 95.47 yen from 96.06 on Aug. 12. Stocks were little changed.

More Claims

The Labor Department said today that 558,000 people filed first-time claims for jobless benefits last week, up from 554,000 the week before.

Retail sales were projected to rise 0.8 percent, according to the median estimate of 76 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Forecasts ranged from a decline of 0.9 percent to a gain of 2 percent. Commerce revised June sales up to show a gain of 0.8 percent from the 0.6 percent increase previously reported.

Excluding automobiles, sales fell 0.6 percent, also worse than anticipated and the biggest drop since March. They were forecast to increase 0.1 percent, according to the survey.

Americans cut back on furniture, electronics, building materials, groceries and sporting goods in July, according to the report. The drop in sales at department stores, at 1.6 percent, was the biggest this year.

‘In the Tank’

“It’s hard to find anything encouraging in this report,” said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities International Inc. in New York. “For the most part, discretionary spending is in the tank.”

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, today reported profit that exceeded some analysts’ estimates after managing inventory to lower costs. Comparable-store sales trailed the company’s forecast.

The drop in sales was attributable to consumers being “more selective” in buying discretionary items and to larger declines in grocery prices than anticipated, Eduardo Castro- Wright, Walmart’s U.S. stores chief, said on a recorded call.

Macy’s, the second-biggest U.S. department store chain, said yesterday it cut inventories 7.5 percent in the second quarter from a year ago as sales dropped.

Other reports today showed companies trimmed inventories in June for a 10th consecutive month, and prices of imported goods dropped in July for the first time in six months as the cost of commodities such as petroleum and chemicals decreased.

Cash for Clunkers

Figures from the retail sales report showed the government’s cash-for-clunkers plan did boost auto purchases, confirming industry data released earlier this month. Sales at dealerships and parts stores climbed 2.4 percent last month, the biggest gain since January.

The government is offering credits of up to $4,500 to trade in gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles. President Barack Obama last week signed into law an emergency measure giving an additional $2 billion to the program after the original $1 billion ran out three months earlier than projected. The infusion of funds was meant to extend the program through August.

Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials -- the retail group the government uses to calculate gross domestic product figures for consumer spending -- sales dropped 0.2 percent after no change in June. The government uses data from other sources to calculate the contribution from the three categories excluded.

Forecasts Trimmed

After the report, economists at Morgan Stanley in New York projected the economy will expand at a 3.7 percent annual pace this quarter, down from a prior estimate of 4.2 percent.

The economy has lost about 6.7 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007, the worst of any downturn since World War II. GDP contracted at a 1 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the fourth consecutive drop.

Federal Reserve policy makers yesterday said they will hold the benchmark interest rate “exceptionally low” for an “extended period” to help sustain a recovery. They also added “sluggish income growth” to the list of reasons why household spending is likely to be slow to rebound. Headwinds previously mentioned included job losses, tight credit and falling home values.

US Marine Corps renews ban on social networking sites

US Marine Corps renews ban on social networking sites

By Peter Kloze

Go To Original

In another attempt by the Pentagon to control all information coming from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Marine Corps has renewed its ban on popular online social networking sites (SNS), chief among them Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

The ban had already been in place on military networks, but as Marine Corps spokesman Lieutenant Craig Thomas told the Associated Press, the renewal comes with “a more detailed order defining which sites are out of bounds.” All three SNS’s are known to have members registered in the millions, with Facebook registering its 250 millionth user on July 15.

“These Internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high-risk due to information exposure, user-generated content and targeting by adversaries,” the Marine Corps said on its web site. “The very nature of SNS’s creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts operational security, communications security ... at an elevated risk of compromise.”

The order to ban these SNS’s is a response to a warning from the US Strategic Command, one of ten unified military commands under the Department of Defense (DOD). Strategic Command had told the rest of the military that it was considering a DOD-wide ban on SNS’s, forcing the rather abrupt ban on the part of the US Marine Corps.

The ban is itself part of a larger Pentagon review of SNS’s, due to be completed by the end of August. “We’re addressing the challenges from a security standpoint, but also the impact and value that [SNS's] have to the department to be able to communicate in a 21st-century environment,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told the American Forces Press Service.

While the Marine Corps’ ban only affects government-owned computers, it “is still likely to cut off communication channels that family and friends were using with active duty personnel overseas,” said John H. Sawyer, a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “We need this outlet,” US soldier Richard Foreman said. “Sometimes this is the only way for friends or family to find out how we are doing on a deployment.”

Morale among US troops on the battlefields—already low due to factors ranging from the harmful psychological effects of counterinsurgency warfare, to confusion over the reasons for war in the first place—will likely be adversely impacted, Sawyer said.

While publicly expressing dismay, prominent SNS’s will acquiesce quietly, mirroring their counterparts in the corporate-controlled media to manifestations of military censorship.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed and a little surprised, in that they’re making a decision based on security, but they haven’t asked us for any kind of briefing” on existing security measures, said Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt. “No one would suggest cutting off postal service to men and women overseas, but what they’re proposing is the 21st-century equivalent.” Representatives from MySpace and Twitter have not responded to requests for comment.

The ban comes in the wake of a recent campaign of heavy promotion of SNS’s by the US military, which saw it as a way of increasing its depleted membership rolls. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has, as a matter of fact, 4,501 Twitter followers, who receive notification of his blog entries as they are published in real time. “Obviously, we need to find the right balance between security and transparency,” Mullen said on Twitter. “We are working on that. But am I still going to tweet? You bet.”

The British military, chief allies of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, is pursuing a seemingly less draconian policy with regards to SNS censorship.

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said August 6 that British personnel would no longer have to seek the permission of their chain of command before discussing their work online. The MoD has also agreed to sponsor individual service personnel who volunteer for regular blogs. According to the Guardian, military staff “will have their own guidelines and will be asked to use their common sense and not give away operational secrets.” While seemingly at odds with US policy, the essence remains the same. “Upbeat comments about the conflict there will no doubt be welcomed,” the Guardian said. “Criticism less so.”

The Pentagon’s transparent attempt to keep the American people in the dark about its brutal, neo-colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a measure of the growing nervousness and fears within the ruling establishment over the state of these interventions.

It follows an already well documented pattern of censorship of forces on the ground, whether they are independent journalists, foreign contractors, or even its own troops. Worried that reports might reach relatives and friends back home of some of the war crimes being carried out in these countries, as well as the brutalizing conditions that soldiers are forced to endure, producing negative backlash and radicalization, the Pentagon would rather that word not get out at all.

In another attempt by the Pentagon to control all information coming from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Marine Corps has renewed its ban on popular online social networking sites (SNS), chief among them Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

The ban had already been in place on military networks, but as Marine Corps spokesman Lieutenant Craig Thomas told the Associated Press, the renewal comes with “a more detailed order defining which sites are out of bounds.” All three SNS’s are known to have members registered in the millions, with Facebook registering its 250 millionth user on July 15.

“These Internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high-risk due to information exposure, user-generated content and targeting by adversaries,” the Marine Corps said on its web site. “The very nature of SNS’s creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts operational security, communications security ... at an elevated risk of compromise.”

The order to ban these SNS’s is a response to a warning from the US Strategic Command, one of ten unified military commands under the Department of Defense (DOD). Strategic Command had told the rest of the military that it was considering a DOD-wide ban on SNS’s, forcing the rather abrupt ban on the part of the US Marine Corps.

The ban is itself part of a larger Pentagon review of SNS’s, due to be completed by the end of August. “We’re addressing the challenges from a security standpoint, but also the impact and value that [SNS's] have to the department to be able to communicate in a 21st-century environment,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told the American Forces Press Service.

While the Marine Corps’ ban only affects government-owned computers, it “is still likely to cut off communication channels that family and friends were using with active duty personnel overseas,” said John H. Sawyer, a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “We need this outlet,” US soldier Richard Foreman said. “Sometimes this is the only way for friends or family to find out how we are doing on a deployment.”

Morale among US troops on the battlefields—already low due to factors ranging from the harmful psychological effects of counterinsurgency warfare, to confusion over the reasons for war in the first place—will likely be adversely impacted, Sawyer said.

While publicly expressing dismay, prominent SNS’s will acquiesce quietly, mirroring their counterparts in the corporate-controlled media to manifestations of military censorship.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed and a little surprised, in that they’re making a decision based on security, but they haven’t asked us for any kind of briefing” on existing security measures, said Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt. “No one would suggest cutting off postal service to men and women overseas, but what they’re proposing is the 21st-century equivalent.” Representatives from MySpace and Twitter have not responded to requests for comment.

The ban comes in the wake of a recent campaign of heavy promotion of SNS’s by the US military, which saw it as a way of increasing its depleted membership rolls. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has, as a matter of fact, 4,501 Twitter followers, who receive notification of his blog entries as they are published in real time. “Obviously, we need to find the right balance between security and transparency,” Mullen said on Twitter. “We are working on that. But am I still going to tweet? You bet.”

The British military, chief allies of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, is pursuing a seemingly less draconian policy with regards to SNS censorship.

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said August 6 that British personnel would no longer have to seek the permission of their chain of command before discussing their work online. The MoD has also agreed to sponsor individual service personnel who volunteer for regular blogs. According to the Guardian, military staff “will have their own guidelines and will be asked to use their common sense and not give away operational secrets.” While seemingly at odds with US policy, the essence remains the same. “Upbeat comments about the conflict there will no doubt be welcomed,” the Guardian said. “Criticism less so.”

The Pentagon’s transparent attempt to keep the American people in the dark about its brutal, neo-colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a measure of the growing nervousness and fears within the ruling establishment over the state of these interventions.

It follows an already well documented pattern of censorship of forces on the ground, whether they are independent journalists, foreign contractors, or even its own troops. Worried that reports might reach relatives and friends back home of some of the war crimes being carried out in these countries, as well as the brutalizing conditions that soldiers are forced to endure, producing negative backlash and radicalization, the Pentagon would rather that word not get out at all.

Pentagon: Send more troops or lose war in Afghanistan

Pentagon to Obama: Send more troops or lose war in Afghanistan

By James Cogan

Go To Original

The stage has been set for the Obama administration to announce another major escalation of the war in Afghanistan, amid warnings that the Taliban insurgency has to be stemmed over the next 12 to 18 months to avoid the risk of a humiliating US defeat.

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is continuing to use the American media to condition public opinion to accept the dispatch of more troops and the allocation of more money to bolster the occupation. The commander was due to present a review of the war to the White House this week but it has been delayed until after the August 20 Afghan presidential election.

In a weekend interview with the Wall Street Journal, extracts of which were published on Monday under the dire headline “Taliban Now Winning,” McChrystal declared the conflict was at a “critical and decisive moment.” The Taliban, he said, was “a very aggressive enemy right now” and the occupation forces had effectively 12 months to stop their “momentum” and “initiative.”

While McChrystal did not spell out his plan, unnamed officials who have taken part in the review provided details to the Wall Street Journal of what is likely to be proposed. These include:

* Funding to nearly double the size of the Afghan government army from 135,000 to 240,000, and the police from 82,000 to 160,000.

* The long-term deployment of up to 10,000 additional US troops to function as trainers and overseers for the expansion of the Afghan security forces. Most analysts agree that the process would take at least five years to complete.

* The short-term deployment of between two and eight additional combat

brigades—amounting to anywhere between 10,000 and 60,000 troops and support and logistics personnel—to enable coordinated offensives against Taliban strongholds. The Wall Street Journal highlighted concerns in the military that insurgents had largely escaped during the current US operation in Helmand Province due to the lack of troops.

Another leak this week to McClatchy Newspapers indicated that McChrystal also intends to ask for a major increase in US government employees in various advisory functions. The civilian contingent in Afghanistan was predicted to grow from 560 in late 2008 to 1,000 by the end of this year and up to 1,350 by mid-2010. Essentially, their role will be to run entire departments of the puppet government in Kabul.

McChrystal’s views are believed to be strongly backed by the head of Central Command, General David Petraeus, who was responsible for the US surge in Iraq.

The thinking in US ruling circles was spelt out this week by Anthony Cordesman, senior foreign policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Cordesman was invited by McChrystal to assist in the preparation of his review and had recently returned from Afghanistan. On August 10, he published his conclusions in a column in the British-based Times, headlined “More Troops, Fewer Caveats—Let’s Get Serious.”

Cordesman condemned the Bush administration for failing to take the Taliban insurgency seriously until 2007 and criticised NATO states for failing to provide enough troops and for placing limits on their use. Washington and NATO, he declared, had allowed “the enemy to take the initiative for more than half-a-decade.”

He also labeled the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai as “corrupt, grossly overcentralised, lacking in capacity and virtually absent in large parts of Afghanistan.” He blasted international reconstruction and aid in Afghanistan as “a dysfunctional, wasteful mess that is crippled by bureaucratic divisions.”

The result, Cordesman declared, was that “the Taliban have gone from a defeated group of exiles to a force that has threatened to defeat NATO and the Afghan government.” The insurgency had increased the number of districts under its control from 30 in 2003 to 160 by the end of 2008, and its attacks on occupation forces had soared by 60 percent between October 2008 and April 2009. Seventy-five US and NATO troops were killed in July, the highest number of the entire war, and hundreds more were wounded. So far in August, another 27 soldiers have lost their lives.

Cordesman’s proposed remedy was the dispatch of “three to nine additional combat brigades” on top of the 21,000 troops already ordered by Obama this year, the doubling of the Afghan army and police, a purge of corrupt elements from the Afghan government, an overhaul of the “divided, grossly inefficient and corrupt international aid effort” and greater action against the Pakistani border tribes that are aiding the Afghan insurgency.

The US and NATO governments, he also insisted, “will need to be more honest with their peoples” and make clear that the war in Afghanistan would require “a long-term commitment.” There is common agreement among pro-war analysts like Cordesman that while the next 12 months will be crucial militarily in pushing back the Taliban, it will take five to 10 years to completely stabilise Afghanistan as a pliant US client state.

As well as thousands of casualties, the financial cost of the war will be enormous. Since 2001, Afghanistan has already cost the US Treasury some $223 billion. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution told the Washington Post this month that the cost of military operations alone would more than likely balloon to $100 billion over the coming year. Bing West, a former assistant defense secretary, conservatively estimated that, in addition, “Afghan forces will need $4 billion a year for another decade, with a like sum for development.”

Despite the crisis confronting the US budget, a further escalation of the war is likely to pass through Congress with little difficulty. In May, 17 Democratic and Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee signed a joint letter to Obama calling for the doubling of the Afghan Army—which would necessarily involve the dispatch of more US trainers.

This week, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called on the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress to join with the Republicans in responding favourably to a request for more war funding. “Let’s not ‘Rumsfeld’ Afghanistan,” he declared, referring to Bush administration Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who notoriously insisted that the Iraq occupation could be carried out with less than half the troops recommended by senior generals.

Graham appealed to the Democrats: “Let’s not do this thing on the cheap. Let’s have enough combat power and engagement across the board to make sure we’re successful. Quite frankly, we’ve got a lot of ground to make up.”

The most significant response to the steady leaking of McChrystal’s plans has been that of the Obama administration. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones have stated on a number of occasions that the president has “not ruled out” sending more troops.

The very fact that Obama has made no attempt to silence speculation over plans for additional troops is a strong indication that a decision has already been made. Obama was propelled into office by decisive sections of the US ruling elite precisely to focus on the war in Afghanistan and shore up the geo-political interests of American imperialism in the resource-rich Central Asian region—regardless of how much it costs in blood and dollars.

Obama's Abu Ghraib solution

Obama’s Abu Ghraib solution

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In the spring of 2004, the entire world recoiled in horror and disgust at the photographs that emerged from Abu Ghraib, the US prison in Iraq.

There was the ghostly image of a terrified Iraqi detainee draped in a hood and standing on a box with electrodes attached to his fingers. Photos showed men being beaten, attacked by dogs, dragged by leashes, shackled in “stress” positions, piled naked upon each other and subjected to perverse sexual humiliation.

Grinning US soldiers were pictured giving the thumbs-up sign over the corpse of a murdered detainee. All of these images served to expose the colonial-style war waged by US imperialism in Iraq.

Ample evidence emerged that not only had these heinous acts been promoted and applauded by senior commanders in Iraq, but that the methods employed had been crafted by the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies, and the use of torture had been sanctioned by the White House itself.

To protect the Bush administration and its leading figures from the consequences of their crimes, the Bush White House and the Pentagon—with the collaboration of the Democratic Party and the media—fashioned an alibi. They presented the horrors exposed at Abu Ghraib as the work of “rogue” elements, a few “bad apples,” whose actions in no way reflected on the occupation of Iraq or what was supposedly an otherwise lawful system of detention and interrogation.

In the end, a handful of junior enlisted personnel and reservists, who no doubt deserved punishment for their acts of brutality, were prosecuted. The sole reason they were “brought to justice,” however, was to cover up the far greater crimes at the highest levels of the Bush administration and the military, where the use of torture was initiated and authorized.

Five years later, the Bush administration is history, and a Democratic president has taken office, verbally repudiating torture and promising “transparency.”

Nonetheless, according to published reports, President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, are dusting off the Abu Ghraib tactic of prosecuting a few supposed “bad apples” at the bottom of the chain of command in order to whitewash the far more serious crimes committed by those at the top.

According to Justice Department officials quoted in the Los Angeles Times last weekend, Attorney General Holder has determined that his agency cannot avoid carrying out some form of probe into the CIA’s use of torture. The pressure for such an investigation is expected to grow later this month with the court-ordered release of a CIA inspector general’s report

The Los Angeles Times quotes one unnamed senior Justice Department official who revealed that the investigation planned by Holder would be “narrow” in scope, limited to “whether people went beyond the techniques” spelled out in memos issued by the Bush administration authorizing torture.

According to the report in the Times, one focus of the probe will likely be CIA interrogators who were guilty of “waterboarding of prisoners far in excess of Justice Department guidelines.”

Holder is, according to this report, basing himself on one of the so-called torture memos drafted by his predecessors at the Justice Department, which cautioned in relation to waterboarding that “repetition will not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.”

The Times suggests that among the cases to be investigated on this basis are those involving Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded at least 83 times in August of 2002, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was subjected to this form of torture 183 times in March of that year.

The torture of both Zubaydah and Sheikh Mohammed was hardly the work of “rogue” interrogators. It was directed and followed in minute detail by the leading figures in the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and others. Bush acknowledged that he was well aware of their work and fully approved of it.

One of the reasons for the “excessive” use of this torture was the intense desire of the Bush administration to extract from the detainees confessions to non-existent ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, so that they could be exploited as propaganda for the planned aggression against Iraq.

The likelihood of a successful prosecution on this basis is exceedingly slim. The Justice Department memo limiting waterboarding is vague in the extreme and suggests avoiding over-repetition more as a matter of efficacy than policy. It is also unclear whether CIA interrogators were ever informed of the memo, which was in any case drafted after the fact to provide a pseudo-legal cover for torture methods already in use.

Moreover, there were other findings that gave a green light to torture. The administration’s definition of thousands of detainees as “enemy combatants,” with no rights under the Geneva Conventions, was drafted to facilitate torture. Other rulings claimed unfettered power for the president as the commander in chief in the “war on terrorism,” allowing him to override any legal restrictions, including proscriptions against torture.

As the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under the Bush administration, Jack Goldsmith wrote, “If you do torture, you probably have a defense; and even if you don't have a defense, the torture law doesn't apply if you act under the color of presidential authority.”

The underlying conception of Holder’s proposed probe— “torture is permitted, but only within the law” —is worthy only of contempt. Its ultimate effect would be to exonerate those who approved torture in the first place. In effect, it would provide tacit support to their contention that the methods they sanctioned—from waterboarding, to hanging people in shackles, to sealing them in boxes with insects—didn’t really constitute torture at all.

Whether any such probe will get off the ground, much less result in criminal indictments remains to be seen. There are intense divisions over the matter within the state apparatus, with the military and intelligence agencies deeply hostile to any more revelations or investigations, and increasingly making their objections known. They have already floated the argument that investigating CIA personnel for “excessive” torture will inhibit the agency, thereby jeopardizing national security and strengthening terrorism.

This latest stratagem for dealing with the systematic torture carried out under the Bush White House confirms the essential role of the Obama administration in covering up these crimes while continuing the basic policies that gave rise to them.

This is in line with the behavior of the Democratic Party over the previous eight years, in which it provided support for the continuing wars of aggression and police state measures begun under the Bush administration, out of which the use of torture emerged. Leading congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were informed of the use of torture and lent their support, while concealing these crimes from the American people.

Those responsible for the policies of torture and illegal war must be investigated and brought to trial. This includes Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Ashcroft and others. Likewise, those who crafted the pseudo-legal justifications for torture—including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, and ex-Justice Department Deputy Assistant Secretary John Yoo—must be prosecuted.

Such trials are vitally necessary to prevent the repeat of these crimes internationally and, under conditions of growing social crisis and increasing class struggle, the use of these same methods against working people in the United States itself.

Holding accountable those responsible for these crimes is a political task posed to the American working class. It can be achieved only on the basis of the independent political mobilization of working people in opposition to the Obama administration and both parties of the ruling establishment and the capitalist system which is the root cause of war and repression.

Tamiflu leaves '1,000 patients in suffering'

Drug to combat swine flu leaves '1,000 patients in suffering'

By Steve Connor

Go To Original

Officials insist Tamiflu is safe as reports of side effects continue to rise

Health officials yesterday defended the Government's policy of giving the antiviral drug Tamiflu to everyone claiming to be suffering from the symptoms of swine flu despite more than 400 reports of adverse drug reactions since the start of the outbreak.

Critics of the policy of widespread distribution of Tamiflu have also warned that people who fail to complete the course of treatment may be fuelling the evolution of drug-resistant forms of the type of H1N1 influenza A virus behind the swine flu pandemic.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said yesterday that between 1 April and 6 August there had been 418 reports of adverse side effects to Tamiflu and a further 686 suspected cases of adverse reactions. Last week alone there were 125 reports of adverse side effects in people taking Tamiflu, although not all of them may be due to the drug, the MHRA said.

For the same four-month period, there were 10 reports of adverse reactions and 14 suspected side effects in people taking Relenza, the other anti-viral drug used to treat swine flu symptoms. Unlike Tamiflu, which is a pill taken orally, Relenza is taken as a nasal spray.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that Britain is a world leader in monitoring the side effects of drugs and that this is done precisely so that health authorities can make sure that such treatments are safe and effective.

"Both Relenza and Tamiflu have been through rigorous safety and efficacy tests. They are effective against swine flu and help relieve the symptoms and length of infection," he said.

"As with many medicines, a small proportion of patients may experience some side effects, and nausea is one of them. Side effects are clearly indicated on patient information leaflets. A safety-first approach of offering antivirals to everyone remains a sensible and responsible way forward," he added.

About 300,000 people have been given Tamiflu since the start of the swine-flu outbreak and anyone who fulfils the criteria of the National Pandemic Flu Service can collect the drug free of charge after answering a series of questions about their symptoms on a questionnaire completed online or over the telephone.

A spokesman for the MHRA spokesman said that both Tamiflu and Relenza are acceptably safe medicines and that most people will not suffer any side effects. "The potential side effects are listed in the product information. The MHRA will continue to monitor the safety of Tamiflu and Relenza as their use increases during the swine-flu pandemic and we will take appropriate action should any new risks come to light," he said.

"There is a dedicated team which monitors the incoming reports from the public and healthcare professionals on an ongoing basis. The balance of risks and benefits for Tamiflu and Relenza remains positive," he added.

Tamiflu, which is manufactured by Roche, has vomiting and nausea listed as its main side effects on its packaging. A total of 11 per cent of adults and adolescents taking the drug experience nausea and 8 per cent suffer from vomiting, according to the summary of product characteristics.

Headaches are another side effect when the drug is taken preventatively rather than as a treatment. In children, the most commonly reported side effect is vomiting, with 15 per cent suffering it, and 10 per cent having diarrhoea. A total of 3 per cent of children will get nausea and 5 per cent have reported abdominal pain.

Andrew Castle: 'Tamiflu almost killed my daughter'

*Georgina Castle was one of the first people to suffer serious side effects from Tamiflu during a swine flu outbreak at her school in May. The 16-year-old was prescribed a double dose of the drug because she had asthma but within hours she was in hospital suffering from severe complications.

Yesterday her father, the GMTV presenter and former tennis star Andrew Castle, challenged the Health Secretary Andy Burnham live on television over the Government's policy of just "handing out" the drug without a proper diagnosis. Mr Castle said: "I can tell you that my child – who was not diagnosed at all – she had asthma, she took Tamiflu and almost died."

Mr Burnham said he sympathised with Mr Castle, saying it must have been "very worrying", but maintained that advice to parents to treat swine flu with Tamiflu remained unchanged.

Speaking after the programme Mr Castle said he had been shocked at how quickly his daughter's condition deteriorated. "She had a very quick descent and within 12 hours she had developed terrible breathing difficulties and seemed to be turning blue. We spoke to a GP friend of ours who advised us to call an ambulance. In the end she spent three days in hospital."

Mr Castle's wife Sophia said even at the hospital, doctors still wanted to give her the drug. "I told them: 'I don't want my daughter to have it,'" she said. "But they insisted. It was only when she tested negative for swine flu that they agreed to stop." Georgina went on to make a full recovery but her parents said they are still concerned that Tamiflu is being overprescribed while the side effects are not fully understood.

"I've told everybody I know: 'Don't give that drug to your child,'" said Mrs Castle.

"At Georgina's school we've heard stories about girls who took it getting depression during their A-levels."

Her husband added: "We've got a number of friends who are GPs and they are concerned about this. We appear to be handing out Tamiflu willy-nilly without being aware of its effects."

Swine flu may have peaked, experts say

Swine flu may have peaked, experts say

By Steve Connor

Go To Original

An expected second wave of pandemic influenza which was expected to strike Britain later this year may turn out to be less dangerous than previously thought, according to some of the world's leading flu experts.

Scientists are having second thoughts about whether they were right to expect a more lethal form of H1N1 swine flu virus to emerge this autumn following a re-evaluation of previous influenza pandemics.

A separate survey of the world's leading flu scientists has also found that the vast majority of experts do not think a nastier form of the virus is likely to emerge. They said the chances of a more virulent version of the H1N1 influenza A virus emerging when the winter flu season begins is 50/50 or less.

In a second study, two virologists reviewed the possibility of a more lethal second wave by looking at the known patterns of spread for the 14 or so previous influenza pandemics from that have occurred over the past 500 years. They found little evidence to support the likelihood of a second or third more lethal wave of H1N1 influenza.

However, most influenza experts emphasised that the flu virus is notoriously unpredictable and there is always a chance – however small – that the swine flu virus could mutate, with serious consequences for public health.

Fewer than 40 people with swine flu have died in Britain but tens of thousands are believed to have been infected. This relatively low mortality rate, combined with the mildness of the symptoms in most patients, has led to warnings that a second wave of the pandemic may actually be more deadly as a result of changes to the virus.

The idea was thought to be supported by evidence from the three previous flu pandemics of the 20th century but David Morens and Jeffery Taubenberger of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have now questioned this in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the 1918 influenza pandemic, which is estimated to have killed 50 million people worldwide, there is little evidence to support the long-held idea that the outbreak started with a first wave of milder illness which superseded a second, more deadly wave when the virus mutated into a more transmissible and virulent form, they said.

A review of other pandemics, including those in 1957 and 1968 as well as earlier ones dating back to 1510, also failed to find convincing evidence to support the idea that viruses start out relatively mild before turning into more lethal mutants.

"With little consistent evidence of wave-line behaviour in the major influenza epidemics and pandemics of the past, there is a general tendency of pandemics to quickly assume annual seasonality in temperate zones," said Morens and Taubenberger.

"Considering the long and confusing track record of pandemic influenza, it is difficult to predict the future course of the present H1N1 pandemic," they added.

A survey of 60 leading flu specialists by New Scientist magazine has found that most of them believe that the chances of a more virulent version of the H1N1 virus emerging later this year is less than 50/50.

Laurence Tiley, a molecular virologist at the University of Cambridge, told the magazine that there was no reason to expect that the virus will become substantially more virulent.

Study: Militancy on the rise in US

Study: Militancy on the rise in US

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An institutional inquiry into militia growth in the United States points to mounting activities on the part of armed groups amidst economic and state problems.

A new report published by the non-profit US legal firm, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), identifies the ailing economy and a 'moderate' Democrat president of African descent as the root causes for the increasing dissent which has led to the mushrooming sprout of armed bands and hate crimes across the country.

Researchers within the organization have voiced concern about the 'record high' campaigns on the sales of guns and ammunitions along with the appearance of new mediums of communication such as the Internet and other means of telecommunication.

The SPLC report adds that militant groups have stepped up their efforts in order to recruit individuals who are on the brink of performing violent acts.

The report draws upon recent projections of the US Homeland Security Department, which signify ominous perils of possible civil gun battles in the event of a clash between anti-government campaigners and federal security forces.

"White supremacists and militias are more violent and thus more likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks on the scale of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing," department of the Homeland Security said last year.

At least 168 people were killed and around 700 others were injured in an orchestrated bomb attack in Oklahoma City in 1995 after a number of US nationals targeted Murrah federal building in the area.

The Alabama-based rights group has pinpointed the Midwest, Pacific Northwest and the Deep South as the key locations of 'terror' activists whose efforts might bring about further attacks on state buildings and offices.

The SPLC researchers say they have tracked 50 new armed groups over the past few months alone.

The US President Barack Obama vowed to uproot active hate groups and other armed gangs upon the assumption of power earlier this year.

Over 700 active hate groups exist across the US.

State to offer 2 types of licenses for renewals

State to offer 2 types of licenses for renewals

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Hoosiers who dread having to produce multiple pieces of identification to obtain a new federally-compliant driver's license or state identification card can breathe a little easier, as Gov. Mitch Daniels today said the state will make the changes optional for people seeking a renewal.

Those who choose not to seek the federally-compliant ID will not be able to board an airplane or enter certain federal buildings beginning in 2016, when the federal government will begin enforcing the new standards.

The state will issue two forms of the driver's license or ID -- one labeled federally compliant and one labeled non-federally compliant. Those seeking a new Indiana license -- such as first-time drivers and new residents who have moved here from another state -- will have to obtain the federally-compliant ID or license.

That requires presenting multiple forms of documentation to prove identity and residency, including a birth certificate or passport; proof of a Social Security number such as the federally-issued card or a tax document; utility bills; bank statements and credit card bills.

Daniels said the state decided to give people more flexibility in meeting the requirements because of concerns from some Hoosiers that they would not be able to easily locate the necessary documents. This gives them more time to do so before the federal requirement kicks in.

"We encourage citizens to obtain a SecureID license when it is time to renew, but we're giving everyone the full six-year period in order to maximize convenience," he said.

In addition, Bureau of Motor Vehicle Commissioner Andy Miller said the BMV has alternate ways to verify identification for those people who cannot obtain some of the documents, such as a birth certificate.

The Real Grand Chessboard and the Profiteers of War

The Real Grand Chessboard and the Profiteers of War

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." Dwight David Eisenhower, "Military-Industrial Complex Speech," 1961, [1]

"My observation is that the impact of national elections on the business climate for SAIC has been minimal. The emphasis on where federal spending occurs usually shifts, but total federal spending never decreases. SAIC has always continued to grow despite changes in the political leadership in Washington." Former SAIC manager, quoted in Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow." Vanity Fair, March 2007[2]

"We make American military doctrine" Ed Soyster, MPRI[3]

The Myth of the Grand Chessboard: Geopolitics and Imperial Folie de Grandeur

In the Road to 9/11 I summarized the dialectic of open societies: how from their energy they expand, leading to a higher level of more secretive corporations and agencies, which eventually weaken the home country through needless and crushing wars.[4] I am not alone in seeing America in the final stages of this process, which since the Renaissance has brought down Spain, the Netherlands, and Great Britain.

Much of what I wrote summarized the thoughts of writers before me like Paul Kennedy and Kevin Phillips. But there is one aspect of the curse of expansion that I underemphasized: how dominance creates megalomanic illusions of insuperable control, and how this illusion in turn is crystallized into a prevailing ideology of dominance. I am surprised that so few, heretofore, have pointed out that from a public point of view these ideologies are delusional, indeed perhaps insane. In this essay I will argue however that what looks demented from a public viewpoint makes sense from the narrower perspective of those profiting from the provision of private entrepreneurial violence and intelligence.

The ideology of dominance was expressed for British rulers by Sir Halford Mackinder in 1919: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World."[5] This sentence, though expressed after the power of Britain had already begun to decline, accurately articulated the anxieties of imperial planners who saw themselves playing "the Great Game," and who thus in 1809 sacrificed an entire British army of twelve thousand men in the wilderness of Afghanistan.

Expanded by Karl Haushofer and other Germans into the alleged "science" of geopolitics, this doctrine helped to inspire Hitler’s disastrous Drang nach Osten, which in short order terminated the millenary hopes of the Nazi Third Reich. One might have thought that by now the lessons of Napoleon and Hitler would have subdued all illusions that any single power could command the "World Island," let alone the world.

Kissinger for one appears to have learned this lesson, when he wrote that: "By geopolitical, I mean an approach that pays attention to the requirements of equilibrium."[6] But (largely because of his commitment to equilibrium in world order) Kissinger was swept aside by events in the mid-1970s, leading to the triumph of the global dominance mindset, as expressed by thinkers like Zbigniew Brzezinski.[7]

Brzezinski himself has recognized how his gratuitous machinations in Afghanistan in 1978-79 produced the responses of al Qaeda and jihadi terrorism. Asked in 1998 whether he regretted his adventurism, Brzezinski replied:

"Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: 'We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.'"

Nouvel Observateur: "And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?"

Brzezinski: "What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"

When he was asked whether Islamic fundamentalism represented a world menace, Brzezinski replied, "Nonsense!"[8]

In some ways, the post-Afghanistan Brzezinski has become more moderate in his expectations from U.S. power: he notably warned against the Gulf War in 1990 and also Vice-President Cheney’s agitations when in office for some kind of preemptive strike against Iran. But he has never retracted the Mackinderite rhetoric of his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, which revives the illusion of "controlling" the Eurasian heartland:

For the first time ever, a non-Eurasian power has emerged not only as a key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world's paramount power. The defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union was the final step in the rapid ascendance of a Western Hemisphere power, the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power." (p. xiii)

"For America, the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia... Now a non-Eurasian power is preeminent in Eurasia - and America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained." (p.30)

"To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together." (p.40)[9]

This kind of brash talk is not unique to Brzezinski. Its call for unilateral dominance echoed the 1992 draft DPG (Defense Planning Guidance) prepared for Defense Secretary Cheney by neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis "Scooter" Libby: "We must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."[10] It is echoed both in the 2000 PNAC Study, "Rebuilding America’s Defenses," and the Bush-Cheney National Security Strategy of September 2002 (NSS 2002).[11] And it is epitomized by the megalomanic JCS strategic document Joint Vision 2020, "Full-spectrum dominance means the ability of U.S. forces, operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations."[12]

Such overblown rhetoric is out of touch with reality, dangerously delusional, and even arguably insane. It is however useful, even vital, to those corporations who have become accustomed to profiting from the Cold War, and who faced deep cuts in U.S. defense and intelligence spending in the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are joined by other groups (discussed below) that also have a stake in preserving the dominance mindset in Washington. These include the new purveyors of privatized military services, or what can be called entrepreneurial violence, in response to defense budget cuts.

The Real Grand Chessboard: Those Profiting from Enduring Violence

The delusional grandiosity of Brzezinski’s rhetoric is inherent above all in the false metaphor of his book title. "Vassals" are not chess pieces to be moved effortlessly by a single hand. They are human beings with minds of their own; and among humans an unjust excess of power is certain to provoke not only resentment but ultimately successful resistance. One can see this easily in Asia, from the evolution of anti-Americanism in Iran to the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) in Central Asia: although still ostensibly nonviolent, HT’s rhetoric is now more and more aggressively anti-American.[13]

The notion of a single chess player is equally false, especially in Central Asia, where dominant states (the U.S., Russia, and China) and local states are all alike weak. Here major multinational corporations like BP and Exxon are major players. In countries like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan they dwarf both local state power and also the U.S. governmental presence, whether official or covert. The true local powers are apt to be two which governments are notoriously inept at controlling: first, the "agitated Muslims" which Brzezinski insanely derided, and second, illicit trafficking, above all drug trafficking.[14]

Ultimately however Brzezinski is not constrained by his chess metaphor. The goal of a chess game is to win. Brzezinski’s goal is quite different: to exert permanent restraints on the power of China and above all Russia. He has thus sensibly opposed destabilizing moves like a western strike on Iran, while supporting the permanent containment of Russia with a ring of western bases and pipelines. (In 1995 Brzezinski flew to Azerbaijan and helped negotiate the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline linking Azerbaijan to Turkey.)[15]

As I have argued elsewhere, Brzezinski (though he no doubt thinks to himself in terms of strategy) thus promotes a policy that very much suits the needs of the oil industry and its backers. These last include his patrons the Rockefellers, who first launched him into national prominence.[16]

In March 2001 the biggest oil majors (Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Conoco, and Shell) had their opportunity to design the incoming administration’s energy strategies, including Middle East policy, by participating secretly in Vice-President Cheney's Energy Task Force.[17] The Task Force, we learned later, developed a map of Iraq’s oil fields, with the southwest divided into nine "Exploration Blocks." One month earlier a Bush National Security Council document had noted that Cheney’s Task force would consider "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields."[18] Earlier the oil companies had participated in a non-governmental task force calling for "an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments."[19]

Of course, oil companies were not alone in pushing for military action against Iraq. After 9/11, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith established the Pentagon’s neocon Office of Special Plans (OSP), which soon "rivalled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush’s main source of intelligence regarding Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda."[20] Neocon influence in the Administration, supported by Lewis Libby in Vice-President Cheney’s office, trumped the skepticism of CIA and DIA: these two false charges against Saddam Hussein, or what one critic called "faith-based intelligence," became briefly the official ideology of the United States. Some, notably Dick Cheney, have never recanted.

Many journalists were eager to promote the OSP doctrines. Judith Miller of the New York Times wrote a series of articles on Saddam’s WMD, relying, like OSP itself, on the propaganda of Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi.[21] Miller’s book collaborator Laurie Mylroie went even further, arguing that "Saddam was not only behind the '93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself."[22] Many of these advocates, notably Feith, Libby, and Mylroie, had links to Israel, which as much as any oil company had reasons to wish for U.S. armies to become established militarily in Central Asia.[23]

Private Military Contractors (PMCs), Whose Business is Violence for Profit

The inappropriateness of a military response to the threat of terrorism has been noted by a number of counterterrorism experts, such as retired U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich:

the concept of global war as the response to violent Islamic radicalism is flawed. We ought not be in the business of invading and occupying other countries. That's not going to address the threat. It is, on the other hand, going to bankrupt the country and break the military.[24]

Because of budgetary constraints, America has resorted to uncontrollable subordinates to represent its public power in these remote places. I shall focus chiefly in this essay on one group of these, the so-called Private Military Contractors (PMCs) who are authorized to commit violence in the name of their employers. These corporations are reminiscent of the marauding condottieri or private mercenary armies contracted for by the wealthy city states of Renaissance Italy.[25]

With the hindsight of history, we can see the contribution of the notoriously capricious Condottieri to the violence they are supposedly hired to deal with. Some, when unemployed, became little more than predatory bandits. Others, like the celebrated Farinata whom Dante placed in the Inferno, turned against their native cities. Above all, the de facto power accumulated by the condottieri meant that, with the passage of time, they came to dictate terms to their ostensible employers.[26] (They were an early example of entrepreneurial violence, and the most common way of avoiding their path of destruction was "to buy reprieve by offering bribes."[27])

To offset the pressure on limited armed forces assets, Donald Rumsfeld escalated the increasing use of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) in the Iraq War. At one point as many as 100,000 personnel were employed by PMCs in the US Iraq occupation. Some of them were involved in controversial events there, such as the Iraq Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and the killing and burning of four contract employees in Fallujah. The license of the most controversial firm, Blackwater, was terminated by the Iraqi government in 2007, after eight Iraqi civilians were gratuitously killed in a firefight that followed a car bomb explosion.[28] (After much negative publicity, Blackwater renamed itself in 2009 as Xe Worldwide.)

Insufficiently noticed in the public furor over PMCs like Blackwater was the difference in motivation between them and the Pentagon. Whereas the stated goal of Rumsfeld and the armed forces in Iraq was to end violence there, the PMCs clearly had a financial stake in its continuation. Hence it is no surprise that some of the largest PMCs were also political supporters for pursuing the ill-conceived "War on Terror."

Blackwater was the most notorious example; Erik Prince, its founder and sole owner, is part of a family that figures among the major contributors to the Republican Party and other right-wing causes, such as the Council for National Policy. His sister once told the press that "my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party."[29]

Private Intelligence Companies and the Provision of Violence

Blackwater has attracted the critical attention of the American Mainstream Media. But it was a mere knight on the grand chessboard, albeit one with the ability to influence the moves of the game. Far less noticed has been given to Diligence LLC. Diligence, a more powerful company, that unlike Blackwater interfaced heavily with Wall Street, "set up shop in Baghdad [in July 2003] to provide security for companies involved in Iraqi reconstruction. In December, it established a new subsidiary called Diligence Middle East, and expanded its services to include screening, vetting and training of local hires, and the provision of daily intelligence briefs for its corporate clients."[30]

Certainly the political clout of Diligence outshone and outlasted Blackwater’s. Two of its founding directors (Lanny Griffiths and Ed Rogers) were also founders of the influential Republican lobbying team Barbour Griffiths and Rogers (later renamed BGR). Haley Barbour, the senior founder of BGR, also served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.

Diligence LLC was licensed to do business in Iraq as a private military contractor (PMC). But it could be called a Private Intelligence Contractor (PIC), since it is virtually a CIA spin-off:

Diligence was founded by William Webster, the only man to head both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mike Baker, its chief executive officer, spent 14 years at the CIA as a covert field operations officer specializing in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. Whitley Bruner, its chief operating officer in Baghdad, was once the CIA station chief in Iraq.[31]

Its partner in Diligence Middle East (DME) is New Bridge Strategies, whose purpose has been described by the New York Times as "a consulting firm to advise companies that want to do business in Iraq, including those seeking pieces of taxpayer-financed reconstruction projects."[32] Its political clout was outlined in the Financial Times:

New Bridge was established in May [2003] and came to public attention because of the Republican heavyweights on its board – most linked to one or other Bush administration [officials] or to the family itself. Those include Joe Allbaugh, George W. Bush’s presidential campaign manager, and Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith, former George H.W. Bush aides.[33]

The firm of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers was the initial funder of Diligence, which shares an office floor with BGR and New Bridge in a building four blocks from the White House. The Financial Times linked the success of New Bridge in securing contracts to their relationship to Neil Bush, the President’s brother.[34] When Mack McLarty, Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff, resigned, he became a director of Diligence, and also joined Henry Kissinger to head, until 2008, Kissinger McLarty Associates.

Another Private Intelligence Contractor or PIC is Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), an $8 billion corporation involved in defense, intelligence community, and homeland security contracting. In the words of veteran journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele,

SAIC has displayed an uncanny ability to thrive in every conceivable political climate. It is the invisible hand behind a huge portion of the national-security state—the one sector of the government whose funds are limitless and whose continued growth is assured every time a politician utters the word "terrorism." SAIC represents, in other words, a private business that has become a form of permanent government….[SAIC] epitomizes something beyond Eisenhower's worst nightmare—the "military-industrial-counterterrorism complex."[35]

(Later their article made it clear that SAIC is not a unified bureaucracy, but more like a platform for individual entrepreneurship in obtaining contracts: "at SAIC your job fundamentally was to sell your high-tech ideas and blue-chip expertise to [any] government agency with money to spend and an impulse to buy.")[36]

Before becoming Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates was a member of SAIC's board of directors. SAIC personnel have also been recruited from CIA, NSA, and DARPA.

Scores of influential members of the national-security establishment clambered onto SAIC's payroll, among them John M. Deutch, undersecretary of energy under President Jimmy Carter and C.I.A. director under President Bill Clinton; Rear Admiral William F. Raborn, who headed development of the Polaris submarine; and Rear Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who served variously as director of the National Security Agency, deputy director of the C.I.A., and vice director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.[37]

SAIC helped supply the faulty intelligence about Saddam’s WMD that then generated ample contracts for SAIC in Iraq.

SAIC personnel were instrumental in pressing the case that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and that war was the only way to get rid of them. When no weapons of mass destruction were found, SAIC personnel staffed the commission set up to investigate how American intelligence could have been so disastrously wrong, including Gordon Oehler, the commission's deputy director for review, a 25-year CIA veteran, Jeffrey R. Cooper, vice president and chief science officer for one of SAIC's sub-units and Samuel Visner, a SAIC vice president for corporate development who had also passed through the revolving door and back to the NSA. David Kay, who later chaired the Iraq Survey Group (which showed that Hussein didn't possess WMD, thereby proving that the war was launched under false pretenses), is also an SAIC shareholder and former director of SAIC's Center for Counterterrorism Technology and Analysis.[38]

Needless to say, this SAIC-stuffed commission did not report that SAIC itself had been a big part of the problem. But according to Barlett and Steele, the same David Kay in 1998 told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

that Saddam Hussein "remains in power with weapons of mass destruction" and that "military action is needed." He warns that unless America acts now "we're going to find the world's greatest military with its hands tied."

Over the next four years, Kay and others associated with SAIC hammered away at the threat posed by Iraq. Wayne Downing, a retired general and a close associate of Ahmad Chalabi, proselytized hard for an invasion of Iraq, stating that the Iraqis "are ready to take the war … overseas. They would use whatever means they have to attack us." In many of his appearances on network and cable television leading up to the war, Downing was identified simply as a "military analyst." It would have been just as accurate to note that he was a member of SAIC's board of directors and a company stockholder….

9/11 was a personal tragedy for thousands of families and a national tragedy for all of America, but it served the interests of private intellience and military contractors including SAIC. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration launched its "Global War on Terror" (GWOT), whose chief consequence has been to channel money by the tens of billions into companies promising they could do something—anything—to help. SAIC was ready. Four years earlier, anticipating the next big source of government revenue, SAIC had established the Center for Counterterrorism Technology and Analysis. According to SAIC, the purpose of the new unit was to take "a comprehensive view of terrorist threats, including the full range of weapons of mass destruction, more traditional high explosives, and cyber-threats to the national infrastructure." In October of 2006 the company told would-be investors flatly that the war on terror would continue to be a lucrative growth industry.[39]

Barlett and Steele could have mentioned that SAIC senior analyst Fritz Ermarth, a long-time associate of Gates from his years in the CIA, is now an official of the Nixon Center. Commenting in 2003 on State Secretary Colin Powell’s briefing to the UN Security Council, Ermarth praised Powell for his charges (repeating one of Judith Miller’s false stories) about Saddam’s acquisition of aluminum tubing "for centrifuges and not rocketry." Ermarth faulted Powell however for not mentioning two matters: Iraqi involvement in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 (a charge by Laurie Mylroie now generally discredited), and that "During the 1970s and 1980s…the USSR and its allies supported terrorists in Western Europe and in Turkey," (alluding to the false charges, promoted at the time by Robert Gates and Claire Sterling, about Mehmet Ali Agça’s attempted assassination of Pope Paul II).[40]

I certainly do not wish to suggest that SAIC single-handedly created the will to fight in Iraq. The combined efforts of defense contractors, oil companies, PMCs and PICs created a mindset in which all those eager for power were caught up, including, I have to say, career-minded academics. In Iraq as in Afghanistan and Vietnam a generation earlier, a sure ticket to consultations in Washington was support for interventions that ordinary people could see would be disastrous.

The yea-saying of academics has approved even the privatization of intelligence which we have just been describing. According to political scientist Anna Leander,

Private firms not only provide, but also analyse intelligence. Private translators, analysts and ‘interrogators’ are hired, as illustrated by the involvement of Titan and CACI in Abu Ghraib. Even more directly, private firms are hired in to assess threats and risks and suggest what to do about them. This involves constructing a security picture as done for example, by Diligence LLC and SAIC, two firms specialised in intelligence gathering and analysis….. This privatisation of intelligence has direct consequences for the relation between PMCs and security discourses. It places the firms in a position where they are directly involved in producing these discourses. They provide a growing share of the information that forms the basis of decisions on whether or not something is a security concern.

Leander concludes that this privatization is beneficial: it "empower[s] a more military understanding of security which, in turn, empowers PMCs as particularly legitimate security experts."[41]

Another political scientist, Chaim Kaufmann, has noted more critically that arguments for escalation and what he calls threat inflation against Iraq were not adequately disciplined by "the marketplace of ideas." He gives five reasons for this failure, duly supported by other political scientists. But the obvious reason mentioned by Barlett and Steele – profit – is not mentioned.[42]

What we have been talking about until now is advocacy disguised as expertise. But overseas associates of Diligence LLC and its allies have also been accused of false-flag operations intended to provoke war.

The passage of the Patriot Act generated a new realm of profit for SAIC contractors -- domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens – as well as new intelligence fusion centers to carry this out.

“As part of the Pentagon’s domestic security mission, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Counterintelligence Field Activity office in 2002 and filled its staff with contractors from Booz Allen, BAE systems, SAIC, and other suppliers of cleared personnel. CIFA, as we’ve seen, was used against people suspected of harboring ill will against the Bush administration and its policies….At present, there are forty-three current and planned fusion centers in the United States where data from intelligence agencies, the FBI, local police, private sector databases, and anonymous tipsters are combined and analyzed by counterterrorism analysts.... According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the project “inculcates the project “inculcates DHS with enormous domestic surveillance powers.”[43]

These fusion centers, “which combine the military, the FBI, state police, and others, have been internally promoted by the US Army as means to avoid restrictions preventing the military from spying on the domestic population.” [44] Responding to such criticisms, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano stated in March 2009 that the mandate of fusion centers was not to launch independent domestic surveillance operations but connect the dots between lawfully obtained information already in fragmented “siloed” databases.[45] She did not mention that some of this information was from private and even anonymous sources.

One SAIC contractor, Neoma Syke, worked at such a fusion center, wearing two hats:

During 2003-2004, she was "working for SAIC" as a force protection analyst with "SAIC's" 205th Military Intelligence Battalion. And while she was "a contractor for SAIC", specifically, "SAIC's" 205th Military Intelligence Battalion, apparently she served as Counterintelligence Watch Officer at USARPAC's Crisis Action Center.[46]


Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is a poet, writer, and researcher. His latest prose books are The Road to 9/11 (2007) and his reissued and expanded War Conspiracy (2008). His new book of poems (including political poems) is Mosaic Orpheus, from McGill-Queen's University Press. Visit his website at http://www.peterdalescott.net/


Notes

[1] Dwight David Eisenhower, "Military-Industrial Complex Speech," 1961,
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/eisenhower001.asp.

[2] Former SAIC manager, in Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow." Vanity Fair, March 2007,
http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/03/spyagency200703?currentPage=1.

[3] The Economist, July 8, 1999.

[4] Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007), 7-9.

[5] Halford J. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality (New York: Holt, 1919).

[6] Henry Kissinger, in Colin S Gray, G R Sloan. Geopolitics, Geography, and Strategy (Portland: Frank Cass Publishers, 1999).

[7] For the events leading to the displacement of Kissinger see Scott, The Road to 9/11, 50-54, etc.

[8] Le Nouvel Observateur, January 15-21, 1998. In his relentless determination to weaken the Soviet Un ion, Brzezinski also persuaded Carter to end U.S. sanctions against Pakistan for its pursuit of nuclear weapons (David Armstrong and Joseph J. Trento, America and the Islamic Bomb: The Deadly Compromise (Steerforth, 2007). Thus Brzezinski’s obsession with the Soviet Union helped produce, as unintended byproducts, both al Qaeda and the Islamic atomic arsenal.

[9] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (New York: basic Books), xiii, 30, 40.

[10] Memorandum of February 18, 1992, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb245/index.htm.

[11] For specific parallels to The Grand Chessboard, see Scott, Road to 9/11, 191-2.

[12] "Joint Vision 2020 Emphasizes Full-spectrum Dominance," DefenseLink,
http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=45289, emphasis added.

[13] Zeyno Baran, "Hizb-ut-Tahrir: Islam’s Political Insurgency," Nixon Center, December 2004,
www.HizbutahrirIslamsPoliticalInsurgency.pdf.

[14] Brzezinski was so unafraid of Islamic jihadism that when National Security Adviser he convened a working group to deliberately stir up Muslim dissatisfaction inside the Soviet Union (Scott, Road to 9/11, 70-71).

[15] He has since taken credit for persuading President Aliyyev of Azerbaijan to commit to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Geopolitically Speaking: Russia's `Sphere of Influence’ - Chechnya and Beyond," Azerbaijan International, Spring 2000, p. 24,
http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/81_folder/81_articles/81_brzezinski.html.

This pipeline, a favor to U.S. and British oil companies, makes geopolitical but not economic sense; and is further destabilizing an already tense region. See Pepe Escobar, "Liquid War Across Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific: Postcard from Pipelineistan," The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus,
http://japanfocus.org/-Pepe-Escobar/3149.

[16] Scott, Road to 9/11, 70-79.

[17] Dana Milbank and Justin Blum, "Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force," Washington Post, November 16, 2005. This story noted that CEOs of three majors had falsely denied this: " A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress….In a joint hearing last week of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees, the chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips said their firms did not participate in the 2001 task force. The president of Shell Oil said his company did not participate `to my knowledge,’ and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know. Chevron was not named in the White House document, but the Government Accountability Office has found that Chevron was one of several companies that 'gave detailed energy policy recommendations' to the task force."

[18] Scott, Road to 9/11, 188-89; citing Linda McQuaig, Crude Dudes," Toronto Star, September 20, 2004; Jane Mayer, "Contract Sport," New Yorker, February 16-23, 2004.

[19] Scott, Road to 9/11, 189; "Strategy Energy Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century," Report of the James A. Baker Institute of Public Policy and Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, 40, emphasis added.

[20] Seymour M. Hersh, "Selective Intelligence: Donald Rumsfeld Has His Own Special Sources. Are They Reliable?" New Yorker, May 6, 2003

[21] Michael Massing, "Now They Tell Us," New York Review of Books, February 26, 2004, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16922.

[22] Peter Bergen, "Armchair Provocateur -- Laurie Mylroie: The Neocons' favorite conspiracy theorist," Washington Monthly, December 2003,
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0312.bergen.html.

[23] For Israel links, see Michael Lind, Made in Texas (New York, Basic Books), 139 (Feith); John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 166, etc. (Libby); Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (New York: Crown, 2006), 68-70 (Mylroie).

[24] Jon Wiener, "Obama's Limits: An Interview With Andrew Bacevich," Nation, August 28, 2008,
http://www.thenation.com/blogs/notion/350252/obama_s_limits_an_interview_with_andrew_bacevich.
Cf. Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008). Michael Scheuer also argues that the campaign against terrorism took a big step backwards when the U.S. invaded Iraq. "Experts Fears ‘Endless’ Terror War," MSNBC, July 9, 2005,
http://www
.msnbc.msn.com/id/8524679. Peter Bergen agrees: "Many jihadists are so happy that the Bush administration invaded Iraq. Without the Iraq war, their movement—under assault from without and riven from within—would have imploded a year or so after Sept. 11" (Bergen, "The Jihadists Export Their Rage to Book Pages and Web Pages," Washington Post, September 11, 2005). So does Richard Clarke (Against All Enemies, 246): "Nothing America could have done would have provided al Qaeda and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country."

[25] I am not the first to notice the analogy. See e.g. Thomas Jäger and Gerhard Kümmel, Private Military and Security Companies (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2007), 22; Eugene B. Smith, "The New Condottieri and US Policy: The Privatization of Conflict and Its Implications," U.S. Army War College, Parameters, Winter 2002,
www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/02winter/smith.pdf, 104.

[26] Michael Mallett, Mercenaries and their Masters: Warfare in Renaissance Italy (Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1974), 22.

[27] Donald J. Kagay and L. J. Andrew Villalon (eds.), Crusaders, Condottieri, and Cannon (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002), 286.

[28] "Iraq Reviewing Security Firms After Blackwater Shooting," FoxNews.com, September 18, 2007,
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,297153,00.html.

[29] "The former Betsy Prince -- Edgar and Elsa's daughter, Erik's sister -- married into the DeVos family, one of the country's biggest donors to Republican and conservative causes. (`I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party,’ Betsy DeVos wrote in a 1997 Op-Ed in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.) She chaired the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2003 to 2005, and her husband, Dick, ran as the Republican candidate for Michigan governor in 2006. Erik Prince himself is no slouch when it comes to giving to Republicans and cultivating relationships with important conservatives. He and his first and second wives have donated roughly $300,000 to Republican candidates and political action committees" (Ben Van Heuvelen, "The Bush administration's ties to Blackwater," Salon, October 2, 2007, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/10/02/blackwater_bush/).
Cf. Robert Young Pelton, Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror (New York: Crown Books, 2006).

[30] David Isenberg , "Corporate Mercenaries – Part 2: Myths and mystery," AsiaTimes, May 19, 2004, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FE20Ak02.html.

[31] David Isenberg, "Myths and mystery," Asia Times, 5/20/04. While in CIA, Bruner negotiated the deal for Ahmad Chalabi and the CIA to work together (Aram Roston, The Man Who Pushed America to War [New York: Nation Books, 2009], 76). Bruner later joined BGR and in 2007 became the full time chairman of BKI Strategic Intelligence. In 2004 Bruner participated with BGR and an Israeli PMC operative in a scheme to help re-elect George W. Bush. (Laura Rozen, "From Kurdistan to K Street," Mother Jones, November 2008,
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/11/kurdistan-k-street).

[32] Douglas Jehl, "Washington Insiders' New Firm Consults on Contracts in Iraq," New York Times, September 30, 2003.

[33] Financial Times, 12/11/03. Ed Rogers, Diligence's vice chairman, was one of George H.W. Bush's top assistants when he was US president. On resigning from the White House, he negotiated a lucrative contract to act as lobbyist for the former Saudi intelligence chief and BCCI front man Kamal Adham, at a time when American and British prosecutors were preparing criminal cases against him. Rogers used Adnan Khashoggi as a go-between to secure the contract, which was canceled after White House criticism of it (Truell and Gurwin, False Profits, 362-64).

[34] Ibid. Cf. Mother Jones, March/April 2004: "More recently, Bush scored a $60,000-a-year consulting deal from a top adviser to New Bridge Strategies, the firm set up by George W.'s ex-campaign manager to "take advantage of business opportunities" in postwar Iraq. His job description: taking calls for three hours a week."

[35] "SAIC, which employs 44,000 people and took in $8 billion last year—sells brainpower, including a lot of the "expertise" behind the Iraq war….[SAIC is] a "stealth company" with 9,000 government contracts, many of which involve secret intelligence work" (Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow." Vanity Fair, March 2007,
http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/03/spyagency200703?currentPage=1).

[36] Barlett and Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow."

[37] Barlett and Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow: "Mark A. Boster left his job as a deputy assistant attorney general in 1999 to join SAIC, and was already calling Justice three months later on behalf of his new employers—a violation of federal law. Boster paid $30,000 in a civil settlement." Yet another PIC for a while was Interop, combining former CIA director James Woolsey and former FBI director Louis Freeh with former Mossad chief Danny Yatom (Rozen, "From Kurdistan to K Street).

[38] Charlie Cray, "Science Applications International Corporation," CorpWatch, http://www.corpwatch.org/section.php?id=17; cf. Barlett and Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow."

[39] Barlett and Steele, "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow."

[40] Fritz W. Ermarth, "Colin Powell's Briefing to the Security Council: Brief Comments from an Ex-Intelligence Officer," In the National Interest, http://inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Powell%27s%20UN%20Speech/Powell%27s%20UN%20speech%20ermarth.html. Ermarth’s remarks were also posted by Laurie Mylroie, "Fritz Ermarth, Iraq & Al Qaeda, In The National Interest," February 5, 2003, www.mail-archive.com/sam11@erols.com/msg00040.html.

[41] Anna Leander, "The Power to Construct International Security: On the Significance of Private Military Companies," Millennium - Journal of International Studies, 2005; 33; 803, emphasis added. At the time the Observer reported from " sources in the Bush administration" an allegation that "members of the al-Qaeda network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic" ("Iraq 'behind US anthrax outbreaks,’" Observer, October 14, 2001, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/oct/14/terrorism.afghanistan6).

[42] Chaim Kaufmann, "Threat Inflation and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas," International Security (Summer 2004). http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/international_security/v029/29.1kaufmann.html. Neither SAIC nor Diligence is mentioned in his essay.

[43] Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 344.

[44] Julian Assange, “The spy who billed me twice,” Wikileaks, http://wikileaks.org/wiki/The_spy_who_billed_me_twice. The March 2009 Army manual “US Army Concept of Operations for Police Intelligence Operations” contains phrases such as "It [fusion] does not have constraints that are emplaced on MI [Military Intelligence] activities within the US, because it operates under the auspice and oversight of the police discipline and standards."

[45] Phil Leggiere, “Napolitano Praises Fusion Centers.” HSToday, March 13, 2009, http://www.hstoday.us/content/view/7616/149/ .

[46] Assange, “The spy who billed me twice.”