Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Goldman bankers arming selves for fear of ‘populist uprising’

Goldman bankers arming selves for fear of ‘populist uprising’

Bankers like to think of themselves as 'Clint Eastwood' types: reporter

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Senior executives at Goldman Sachs are so afraid that they could be the targets of a "populist uprising" against banks that they have taken to arming themselves, says an unconfirmed report at Bloomberg News.

Citing only an unnamed "friend" at the New York-based investment bank, columnist Alice Schroeder alleged that "senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank."

"They're concerned about social unrest, they're concerned about the fact that we've got a country where a quarter of the kids are on food stamps and they've become a symbol of greed," Schroeder said in an interview at Bloomberg TV.

Schroeder, a former insurance analyst known for her biography of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, reported that the New York Police Department responded "preliminarily" to a freedom-of-information request by saying the names of some Goldman executives appear on the list of people licensed to carry firearms.

"I don't think this should lead people to think that there are a bunch of pin-striped bankers hunkered down with Uzis, protecting themselves from the populace," Schroeder said, adding that the trend among Goldman bankers started before the controversy over Goldman's huge bonuses exploded earlier this year.

Schroeder says she was half-joking when she wrote in her column that "this is the kind of foresight that Goldman Sachs is justly famous for. [Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd] Blankfein somehow anticipated the persecution complex his fellow bankers would soon suffer."

Schroeder also suggested that Goldman employees may well want to cultivate this sort of image, as gun-toting tough guys:

Talk of Goldman and guns plays right into the way Wall- Streeters like to think of themselves. Even those who were bailed out believe they are tough, macho Clint Eastwoods of the financial frontier, protecting the fistful of dollars in one hand with the Glock in the other. The last thing they want is to be so reasonably paid that the peasants have no interest in lynching them.

Dan Carter at Air America speculates that the alleged Goldman gun rush may be a sign that the company is preparing for another round of controversial bonuses:

It seems patently obvious: Goldman is preparing to unload another monstrous round of bonuses. Instead of scaling back on their multi-million dollar end-of-the-year wads of cash in an effort to quell a bit of the outrage, Wall St. executives are challenging the public to pry their bonuses from their cold dead hands. The cowboys of finance have taken that title literally and are preparing--no daring--any would-be vigilantes to make a move.

"It’s never good when anyone buys guns, particularly not rich weenies with persecution complexes," Matt Taibbi half-jokes on his True/Slant blog. Taibbi is credited with focusing the public's anger over the bank bailout at Goldman Sachs with his Rolling Stone article "Inside the Great American Bubble Machine," which alleges that Goldman played a pivotal role in every asset bubble that has plagued the US economy over the past 80 years.

Taibbi sees some humor in Goldman employees' alleged gun frenzy.

"There’s even the impossible-to-resist image of a future accidental shooting of some innocent hot dog vendor on Park Avenue, followed by the inevitable P.R. response from Goldman in which the bank claims that the only thing its employees are guilty of is 'being really good at shooting people,'" Taibbi quips.

If the Bloomberg report is accurate, it would hardly mark the first time that America has seen armed bankers. "Before bank insurance, before the FDIC, a bank's vault cash was its sole source of funds to cover its customers' withdrawals," write Beverly and Curtis Wayne in the ABA Banking Journal:

[In the 19th century] at the National Iron Bank in Falls Village, Conn., tellers were held accountable for the funds they handled. The bank took pains to help them protect those funds; bank robbers were mostly deterred by the elaborate bronze teller cages.

Upon completion of his teller's course, each National Iron Bank teller was issued a Colt .44 revolver. Confronted by a robber, the teller was trained to reach forward into a specially made recess, grab the .44, and deter the robber.

Watch Schroeder's interview at Bloomberg TV here.

Pentagon and NATO Complete Their Conquest of The Balkans

Geopolitical Crossroads: Pentagon and NATO Complete Their Conquest of The Balkans

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Bosnia and Montenegro being incorporated as full NATO members and Macedonia following suit would expand the world's only military bloc to 31 nations, almost twice that of ten years ago when it first began its drive into Eastern Europe. And with Serbia and Kosovo, which even before becoming a member is the world's first NATO political entity, included the Alliance's numbers will have more than doubled since 1999, a decade after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. All seventeen new acquisitions would be in Eastern Europe, and the majority of NATO member states would be former Warsaw Pact members or Yugoslav republics and a province.


NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited the capital of Montenegro on November 26 and that of Bosnia the following day.

A Balkans news source wrote of the visits that Rasmussen would "discuss the possibility of approving Montenegro’s action plan for NATO membership" and "discuss strengthening NATO and BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] cooperation." [1]

Ahead of the Balkans tour Rasmussen was in Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and recruit more troops for the war in Afghanistan.

The NATO chief has been even busier than usual of late, simultaneously recruiting troops from nations throughout Europe for Afghanistan on Washington's behalf, working on the bloc's new Strategic Concept, drumming up support for a continent-wide, U.S.-led interceptor missile system and preparing for a NATO foreign ministers meeting on December 3-4.

The Balkans fit into all the above aspects of what has in recent years routinely been referred to as 21st Century, global and expeditionary NATO, one feverishly seeking new "third millennium challenges" and invoking "a myriad deadly threats" [2] as pretexts for increasing its already widening role in five continents and the Middle East.

Several days before Rasmussen arrived in the world's newest (recognized) nation, Montenegro, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Alexander Vershbow was in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to preside over the fifth meeting of defense chiefs of the US-Adriatic Charter, set up by Washington in 2003 to fast-track Balkans nations into NATO.

The first three members enlisted by the U.S. were Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. The first two were formally inducted into full NATO membership at the bloc's sixtieth anniversary summit this April and Macedonia also would have been dragged into the Alliance except for the lingering dispute with Greece over its name. Bosnia and Montenegro were added to the Charter last year and Serbia - and breakaway Kosovo - are to be next. With Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia becoming full member states at the Istanbul summit in 2004 and Greece and Turkey members for decades, all of Southeast Europe has been transformed into NATO territory, from the Adriatic to the Black and from the Aegean to the Ionian Seas.

The November 17 meeting in Bosnia was attended by, in addition to the Pentagon's Vershbow (who was U.S. ambassador to NATO during the 1999 war against Yugoslavia), the deputy defense minister of Albania and the defense chiefs of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Also present were the defense ministers of Serbia and Slovenia, Dragan Sutanovac and Ljubica Jelisic, the last two nations in a category labeled "guest and observer countries."

"Vershbow reiterated US support for the early approval of BiH and Montenegro's applications for the Membership Action Plan (MAP). He also said full NATO membership for Macedonia will be backed, as soon as the issue of its name is resolved." Additionally, the defense chiefs "agreed to sign a joint statement on enhancing co-operation through regional centres in the Western Balkans." [3]

An Associated Press dispatch at the time of the Adriatic Charter meeting mentioned of the December 3-4 assembly in Brussels (which will also be a forum for enlisting thousands of more NATO troops for the Afghan war) that "An upcoming meeting of NATO foreign ministers will provide a boost for Bosnia and Montenegro to become the 29th and 30th members of the trans-Atlantic alliance." [4]

Bosnia and Montenegro being incorporated as full NATO members and Macedonia following suit would expand the world's only military bloc to 31 nations, almost twice that of ten years ago when it first began its drive into Eastern Europe. And with Serbia and Kosovo, which even before becoming a member is the world's first NATO political entity, included the Alliance's numbers will have more than doubled since 1999, a decade after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. All seventeen new acquisitions would be in Eastern Europe, and the majority of NATO member states would be former Warsaw Pact members or Yugoslav republics and a province.

The Pentagon has already secured seven new military bases in Bulgaria and Romania [5] which border the Black Sea in the Northern Balkans, including the Graf Ignatievo and Bezmer airbases in the first country and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in the second. The airfields have been used for "downrange" military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Romanian installation now hosts the Pentagon's Joint Task Force – East.

The U.S.'s colossal Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is now ten years old and the use and upgrading of Croatian and Montenegrin Adriatic harbors for U.S. Navy deployments is an imminent possibility.

The further the fragmentation of former Yugoslavia proceeds, the more thoroughly the region will be transformed into a string of so-called forward operating bases and "lily pads" (Donald Rumsfeld's term) for military action to the east and south.

The 2006 Western-supported dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, itself a transitional mechanism devised by Javier Solana, NATO Secretary General during the 1999 war and since then the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, completed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia into its six federal republics. The unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia by Kosovo in 2008, not only backed but engineered by NATO and its civilian complements, the government of the United States and the European Union, began the second phase of the dismemberment of the nation: The breaking apart of former republics into mini-states. [6]

Behind Kosovo lie Vojvodina, the Presevo Valley and Sandzak in Serbia, where ethnic separatism, cross-border armed attacks and outright terrorism have raised their heads, respectively.

Macedonia faces the same alarming prospect. Attacks by adjuncts of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army - the National Liberation Army (NLA) of Ali Ahmeti - from inside Kosovo in 2001 placed the new nation on the precipice of all-out war and violent fragmentation.

Last week Menduh Thaci, head of the Democratic Party of Albanians, called on his sponsors in the West to reduce Macedonia to an international protectorate. Speaking of a current political crisis largely of his making, Thaci said "I am convinced that the only way out is an urgent international protection, which will be a preventive measure for possible events." The next step is for the name of the nation to be changed or adjusted and for whatever it will then be called to be brought into NATO. Both the Greek government and pan-Albanian forces in Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, South Serbia and Montenegro will be satisfied with the result and NATO will acquire its 29th (or 31st) member state. [7]

Montenegro, barely three years old, will soon deploy the first contingent of its armed forces to serve under NATO in Afghanistan. When it arrives it will join troops from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia. The last seven nations also provided soldiers for the military occupation of Iraq after 2003. Montenegro didn't exist as an independent state at that time, so its initiation as a NATO candidate country will be in Afghanistan.

With Serbia as an observer nation of the Adriatic Charter and with it having joined NATO's Partnership for Peace transitional program in 2006, Washington and Brussels will also soon call on it to prove its right to Alliance candidacy by dispatching troops to the Afghan war front. As the U.S. and NATO are on the verge of a qualitative escalation of the war in South Asia, the Serbian foreign and defense ministries have announced the opening of a mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels. "[T]he point of the mission will be to improve cooperation and everyday communication with NATO, participate in the work of 100 expert committees, and improve...cooperation with '50 member-states' of the 'political' alliance." [8] Fifty states are almost exactly the number that have provided NATO troops for the war in Afghanistan. Serbia could be the 51st.

Even for the representative of a battered, splintered, demoralized nation, recent statements by current Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac are offensive in their shameless fawning and obsequiousness.

He will soon be the first Serbian defense chief to visit the Pentagon in a quarter of a century, a fact he is proud of, and recently said that his trip will be "without a doubt, politically and militarily very important," as much of the money - $500 million - Washington has bribed Belgrade authorities with since the overthrow of President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 "[was] used by the Serbian military."

Sutanovac, who graduated from the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, jointly run by the U.S. Department of Defense and the German Defense Ministry, and who is described as "speaking perfect English," added these revealing details:

"The Serbian MoD [Ministry of Defense] has stable relations with the U.S. military and we can say that cooperation in defense is the backbone of relations between the United States and Serbia at the moment."

"Considering the fact that the U.S. defense budget is as large as the defense budget of the rest of the world, it is crystal clear what the most important thing is to U.S. foreign policy and international relations." [9]

The former Kosovo Liberation Army, then Kosovo Protection Corps (and now Kosovo Security Force) offered troops to the U.S. for the war in Iraq shortly after the invasion of 2003 and the NATO-equipped and trained Kosovo Security Force, a nascent national army in all but name, will offer troops to NATO for the Afghan war as it drags on indefinitely. [10]

During recent municipal elections in Kosovo, the first since its nominal independence, one not recognized by 140 of 192 nations and by few outside the NATO world (the exceptions including Afghanistan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Marshall Islands, San Marino, Belize, Malta, Samoa, the Maldives, the Comoros, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau), supporters of former KLA chieftains Hashim Thaci - the Western-recognized prime minister - and war criminal Ramush Haradinaj were at daggers drawn and "people used rocks to attack a line of cars that transported Hashim Thaci....Thaci's party accused Haradinaj of directly inciting and organizing [the] attack...." [11]

A Russian report on the Western-endorsed and -celebrated elections placed the West's Kosovo strategy in a broader context:

"EU officials are the ones forcing the Serbian government to accept several very unpleasant decisions - recognition of the municipal elections in Kosovo, dissociation from Russia and the pullout of joint energy projects with Russia.

"As for democratic values in the EU policy with regard to Serbia, they are hard to believe in, given the EU officials' open sympathies with the Albanian militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Incidentally, the supporters of two KLA leaders, former 'prime minister' Ramush Haradinaj and his successor Hashim Thaci, caused a violent clash in one of the Albanian enclaves.

"It is worth reminding here that Haradinaj was allowed to leave the Hague occasionally 'to rule' Kosovo during his trial, while Thaci was eventually cleared by the Hague Tribunal of all charges of genocide against Serbs." [12]

Nevertheless the United States and its NATO allies, the self-proclaimed "international community" and champions of democracy, human rights and so forth wherever and whenever it suits their political purposes, continue to embrace the Kosovo entity as a brother-in-arms in the new global order.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was in the Kosovo capital of Pristina on November 1 for the unveiling of a particularly vulgar and meretricious gold-sprayed statue of himself [13], the ceremony presided over by the former head of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim "The Snake" Thaci, the creation of whose pseudo-nation is a cause of great pride in Western capitals.

The Associated Press reported on the event in Europe's drug-smuggling criminal black hole:

"The statue portrays Clinton with his left arm raised and holding a portfolio bearing his name and the date when NATO started bombing Yugoslavia, on March 24, 1999.

"Many waved American, Albanian and Kosovo flags and chanted 'USA!' as the former president climbed on top of a podium with his poster in the background reading 'Kosovo honors a hero.'" [14]

That Albanian flags were flaunted reveals what NATO mercilessly bombed the length and breadth of Yugoslavia for 78 days to achieve.

Three weeks afterward the mayor of a town in Albania - the distinction between that nation and Kosovo is now a strictly academic one - announced plans to follow suit and dedicate a statue to George W. Bush. Bush and Clinton have jointly sired the Kosovo/Greater Kosovo aberration. "The small Albanian town of Fushe-Kruje plans to erect a statue of former U.S. President George W. Bush to commemorate his June 2007 visit, when he was feted as a hero in an outpouring of love for America."

The town's mayor, Ismet Mavriqi, was quoted as saying, "If I had the final say, I would very much like a three-meter statue, probably in bronze, that captures his trademark way of walking with energy." [15]

The legacy that Washington and Brussels have left the people of Kosovo - those remaining that is, as hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma and others have fled for their lives since June of 1999 - was detailed in a recent Reuters report.

It said that although "Over the past decade it has received 3 billion euros in aid, according to the World Bank, and is expecting another billion by 2011," nevertheless "unemployment is 40 percent and average per capita income is 1,760 euros. That compares with average joblessness of just under 10 percent in the European Union and an average salary of about 24,000 euros ($35,930)." [16]

Ten years of NATO-KLA collaboration have produced this human catastrophe.

This is the stability and prosperity that the West has brought to the Balkans.

That afflicted part of Europe has been the testing ground for NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe and since into Asia, Africa and the Middle East, starting with Bosnia in 1995 when NATO dropped its first bombs and deployed its first troops outside the territory of its member states.

As early as January of 1996 the now deceased American scholar Sean Gervasi warned that "There are deeper reasons for the dispatch of NATO forces to the Balkans, and especially for the extension of NATO to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in the relatively near future. These have to do with an emerging strategy for securing the resources of the Caspian Sea region and for 'stabilizing' the countries of Eastern Europe - ultimately for 'stabilizing' Russia and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States." [17]

NATO now has solidified military partnerships, conducts regular war games and has established permanent bases in several countries on and near the Caspian Sea - Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, not to mention Afghanistan.

It has absorbed three former Soviet republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - and continues to insist that former Commonwealth of Independent States member Georgia and current one Ukraine will become full members of the Alliance.

Thirteen years ago Gervasi also warned that "The United States is now seeking to consolidate a new European-Middle Eastern bloc of nations....This grouping includes Turkey, which is of pivotal importance in the emerging new bloc. Turkey is not just a part of the southern Balkans and an Aegean power. It also borders on Iraq, Iran and Syria. It thus connects southern Europe to the Middle East, where the US considers that it has vital interests....With the war against Iraq [1991], the US established itself in the Middle East more securely than ever. The almost simultaneous disintegration of the Soviet Union opened the possibility of Western exploitation of the oil resources of the Caspian Sea region." [18]

Events in the interim have proceeded exactly as Gervasi indicated they would and for the motives he attributed to them.

Having undermined the United Nations, violated international law, humiliated Russia and moved NATO forces into the Balkans, the West was embarked in earnest on its drive for global domination in the post-Cold War world. As NATO's first war, the Operation Allied Force bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, was dragging on and assuming ever more ominous dimensions, even before the destruction of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO bombs, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin appeared on his nation's television and said: "I told Nato, the Americans, the Germans, don't push us towards military action.

"Otherwise there will be a European war for sure - and possibly world war." [19]

That Yeltsin was the dependable friend of Washington that he was made the statement even more foreboding. Less than a month afterward the Chinese embassy was in ruins as the war raged on.

Europe and the world avoided a broader war ten years ago. But NATO, using the Balkans as its global springboard, may yet succeed in triggering a conflict that will not be contained and will not remain within the realm of conventional warfare.

Notes


1) Macedonian Radio and Television, November 26, 2009
2) Thousand Deadly Threats: Third Millennium NATO, Western Businesses Collude
On New Global Doctrine
Stop NATO, October 2, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/thousand-deadly-threats-third-millennium-nato-western-businesses-collude-on-new-global-doctrine
3) Southeast European Times, November 20, 2009
4) Associated Press, November 18, 2009
5) Bulgaria, Romania: U.S., NATO Bases For War In The East
Stop NATO, October 24, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/bulgaria-romania-u-s-nato-bases-for-war-in-the-east
6) Adriatic Charter And The Balkans: Smaller Nations, Larger NATO
Stop NATO, May 13, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/adriatic-charter-and-the-balkans-smaller-nations-larger-nato
7) Threat Of New Conflict In Europe: Western-Sponsored Greater Albania
Stop NATO, October 8, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/new-threat-of-conflict-in-europe-western-sponsored-greater-albania
8) Vecernje Novosti, November 4, 2009
9) Politika, November 27, 2009
10) Balkans: Staging Ground For NATO’s Post-Cold War Order
Stop NATO, February 9, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/balkans-staging-ground-for-natos-post-cold-war-order
11) Tanjug News Agency, November 12, 2009
12) Russian Information Agency Novosti, November 17, 2009
13) Kosovo: Marking Ten Years Of Worldwide Wars
Stop NATO, October 31, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/kosovo-marking-ten-years-of-worldwide-wars
14) Associated Press, November 1, 2009
15) Reuters, November 21, 2009
16) Reuters, November 20, 2009
17) Sean Gervasi, Why Is NATO In Yugoslavia?
http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/GER108A.html
18) Ibid
19) BBC News, April 9, 1999


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The Hollow Politics of Escalation

The Hollow Politics of Escalation

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An underlying conceit of the new spin about benchmarks and timetables for Afghanistan is the notion that pivotal events there can be choreographed from Washington. So, a day ahead of the president’s Tuesday night speech, The New York Times quoted an unnamed top administration official saying, "He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down."

But "eventually" is a long way off. In the meantime, the result of Washington’s hollow politics is more carnage.

The next days and weeks will bring an avalanche of hype about insisting on measurable progress and shifting burdens onto the Afghan army - while the US military expands the war. In the groove, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, told CNN viewers on Sunday, "The key element here is not just more troops. The key element is shifting the operations to the Afghanis [sic]. And if that can be done, then I would support the president."

That’s the kind of talk that I. F. Stone disparaged at the height of the Vietnam War, in mid-1970, when he concluded, "Not enough Asians are going to fight Asians for us even if the price is right."

Now, President Obama’s decision to massively escalate the Afghanistan war is confronting people and institutions in the United States with a challenge of historic dimensions.

Among those inclined to be antiwar, it doesn’t much matter whether they "support" the escalation. What matters is whether they openly oppose it - and, if so, how vocally and emphatically.

There’s a clear and well-trod pathway for ineffectual dissent from members of Congress who end up passively assisting the escalation by a fellow Democrat in the Oval Office. Avid support for the war effort is helpful but not necessary. Scarcity of determined opposition will suffice to keep the war politically viable in Washington.

At the core of the enabling politics is inner space that’s hollow enough to reliably cave under pressure. Typically, Democrats with antiwar inclinations weaken and collapse at push-comes-to-shove moments on Capitol Hill. The habitual pattern involves loyalty toward - and fear of - "the leadership."

Early on, during President Johnson’s Vietnam War escalation, Sens. Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening and then Frank Church were prophetic antiwar pariahs. As years went by, the war’s horrors and growing domestic opposition led some others in Congress to find a solid inner core that withstood pro-war pressures. Eventually.

We’re now in an early stage of such a progression. Due to careful silences in US politics, many more lives will be shattered. Soon. And eventually.

The essence of a core becomes evident under pressure. It’s one thing to voice opposition to sending more troops into Afghanistan; it’s another to really try to prevent the escalation. Few in Congress have gotten serious enough about halting the war’s deadly spiral to sign onto Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill H.R. 3699, which would prohibit any increase in funding for additional troop deployment to Afghanistan.

Among Democrats in powerful positions, some misgivings about the war are evident - but willingness to withhold spending for the war is not.

The tragic limits of those misgivings were evident last week when ABC News interviewed Rep. David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who called for a war surtax.

"On the merits, I think it’s a mistake to deepen our involvement," Obey said. "But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don't, if we don't pay for it, then the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every other initiative that we have to try to rebuild our own economy."

Then came a direct question from the network correspondent, "The White House comes and asks you again to get through this Congress money for an increased commitment in Afghanistan - are you going to be there fighting to get that passed?"

The congressman replied, "I’m going to be there fighting to get whatever they do paid for."

But Congress can’t stop the war while paying for it.

War Fraud Whistleblowers Under Wraps

War Fraud Whistleblowers Under Wraps

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Recently, the Congressional Research Service released an amazing statistic – it will cost one million dollars a year to support one soldier for one year in Afghanistan.

This mind-blowing number partly includes the cost of private contractors who have moved into areas of support that have been strictly military in the past. Estimates for the numbers of contractors have been as high as one contractor for every soldier. As President Obama prepares to announce his decision on Afghanistan, the price of this war is also on his mind since he included Peter Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in his last war council.

One of the reasons for the high costs of maintaining each soldier is the lack of oversight of private contractor billings over the course of these two wars. The Department of Defense (DOD), and especially the Army, has fought the auditors and the investigators in the military who have attempted to expose fraud, waste, overbillings and other abuses of costs in contractor contracts. The contractors, using contingency contracting, which is similar to the old cost plus contracts, knew that their profits and, more important, their future task orders and contracts would be priced based on what they spend in the beginning of the wars. So the contractor billing meter, especially in labor costs, spun vigorously in the first years of the war with little oversight. When the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) tried to withhold a small percentage of payment from KBR, the largest contractor, because it believed that the billings were excessive and they wanted to scrub the numbers, the Army pushed past the DCAA and paid KBR the excessive costs. This set the tone to let the contractor billings run wild.

Click here to see Truthout's Matt Renner interview Dina Rasor.

These unscrubbed, uninvestigated contractor billings promise to become the base costs for all the future contracts with all the fraud, waste and fat built into the baseline of future war contractor contracts. That is partly how it can cost a million dollars to take care of each soldier in Afghanistan for a year. KBR, the largest contractor which supports most of the Army’s basic needs, has already run up a bill of over $32 billion to feed troops, do their laundry, drive trucks and maintain the buildings in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a service industry with no big plants or permanent workforce to maintain; yet it has billed an astonishing amount of money for everyday tasks.

So where are all the whistleblowers who have witnessed this fraud? There have been some who came forward to testify to some Congressional hearing but there has been very little follow-up. A few have also talked to the news media, but the story of exorbitant contractor billings comes and goes with little progress in solving the problem. There should be many whistleblowers out there since most of these contractors, unlike regular DOD contractors who build weapons, do not have a large permanent workforce but instead have a high turnover of employees.

I know where many of the whistleblowers, with their stories and documentation, are. They have in the past five years filed qui tam False Claims Act cases on behalf of the federal government to get some of the ill-gotten support money back from the contractors. Qui tam is a provision of the Federal False Claims Act that allows private citizens to file a lawsuit in the name of the US government charging fraud by government contractors and others who receive or use government funds, and share in any money recovered. One of the provisions of this law is that these cases are filed under seal, meaning in secret, so that the companies don’t know that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Attorney Offices are investigating them. This also means that the cases do not show up on the court docket, so the general public also does not know about these cases. The seal was originally envisioned to last months but usually lasts years because the DOJ doesn’t have the necessary investigative resources or internal will to move these cases quickly. Many of the cases will be rejected by the DOJ and the whistleblower (called a relator), and his or her attorneys have the right to take the case through the courts themselves on behalf of the government. Because of the prohibitive costs and recent bad court rulings, it has been very difficult for relators to do that. So the relators do everything to help the DOJ investigate and intervene in the case and it is in their best interest not to object when the DOJ asks for extensions of the seal year after year even while the companies continue to defraud the government and the troops they are serving. In other words, while these seals run on for up to five years, the contractor overbilling meter is running.

But what this does is to lock up fraud cases for years, and in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan war contractors, allows them to continue to commit fraud under a compliant military. Truthout editor Matt Renner wrote about this problem of piled-up war contractor cases last year before Obama took office and it was estimated that there were 50-70 Iraq and Afghanistan war contractor cases under seal in the DOJ awaiting a decision. There was an anticipation that the DOJ would intervene in more of these cases with the new administration. That isn’t happening for several reasons.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked as an investigator on many qui tam cases for over 20 years (and these cases have returned over $100 million back to the US Treasury) and am currently working on Iraq and Afghanistan war cases which I cannot discuss due to the court seal. So I know about these types of cases and see the problems of not bringing these contractors to justice firsthand. I have also co-authored a book on Iraq war contractors and their failings. For this analysis, I have interviewed five top qui tam relator attorneys about why so many DOD cases languish in the DOJ. These are attorneys who have, or have considered, filing cases against Iraq and Afghanistan war contractors. They have all requested to speak off the record so that they can speak freely and not jeopardize their working relationship with the DOJ and others in government.

I was surprised at how these top attorneys separately listed the same main problems of why so many war contractor cases are stuck in the DOJ. The very first problem that came up was that the DOJ and the DOD don’t have the investigative resources to effectively investigate the fraud charges. The DOD, over the past two decades, has dramatically cut its internal investigators and auditors as the defense budget rose. The DOJ usually has to rely on these remaining investigators, who are already pushed to the limit by DOD, to investigate the procurement and auditing aspects of the fraud in these cases. The attorneys agree that most of the time, it is very hard for the DOJ and the local US Attorney Office to investigate these cases because of the lack of expertise at their disposal.

Another major problem is that the DOD, especially the Army, is less than enthusiastic in investigating their war contractors for fraud. Therefore, the DOJ has the problem of getting the DOD to cooperate, and some of the DOJ attorneys see their role as being the department’s legal counsel on these cases. (I would like to think that the DOJ is the taxpayers’ counsel in these fraud cases.) One attorney went as far as to say that he wasn’t afraid of questioning the witnesses from the war contractor’s side but was worried about the Army contract personnel because they all too often excuse the contractor’s fraudulent activity and weaken the case. One of the attorneys theorized that the Army was afraid to be tough on its biggest war contractors because it had to rely on them in the battlefield and had to keep good relationships, no matter how large the fraud.

In my book, "Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War," I documented that KBR, on numerous occasions, threatened the generals in charge of bases with stopping work in the middle of a war zone. One KBR manager threatened not to feed the troops on the base the next day unless the general got the Army to approve payments right away to KBR on dubious billings. Because many generals caved in to these threats, one can see why the Army would not want to threaten these large contractors during a war situation to get back ill-gotten gains through qui tam lawsuits.

Almost all of these attorneys have filed some war contracting cases, but they say that it is becoming more and more difficult to take any DOD qui tam case and especially the war contractors’ cases. They believe it is because of the lack of oversight by the Army and the political influence the large war contractors have with the Congress and the Army bureaucracy. They say that the DOJ is emphasizing health care and so Medicare cases and pharmaceutical cases are easier and those government bureaucracies don’t fight you to protect the thousands of health care and pharmaceutical companies. So they are opting to spend their time with the healthcare whistleblowers because the lawsuits are more likely to be successful. There is a great need to recover money from fraudulent health-care companies, but it is coming at the expense of our troops and our military’s ability to fight a war. Many of these attorneys have fought defense fraud in the past and believe that, more than ever, and especially with the war contractors, there needs to be successful prosecutions of defense fraud, but the system is making it too hard to do.

The largest war contractors know this and have shown more arrogance for committing fraud than I have seen in my 30 years of investigating defense fraud. This will help these contractors continue to run up the costs and ignore or wait out the lawsuits, knowing that the DOJ is likely to dump them because they are hard and take up resources.

The DOJ recently issued a press release that illustrates this problem and imbalance in the DOJ qui tam prosecutions. In part the press release says:

"A top priority for this administration is fighting health care fraud. On May 20, 2009, the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the creation of a new interagency task force, the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Team (HEAT), to increase coordination and optimize criminal and civil enforcement. These efforts not only protect the Medicare Trust Fund for seniors and the Medicaid program for the country’s neediest citizens, they result in higher quality health care at a more reasonable price.

"In fiscal year 2009, health care fraud recoveries reached $1.6 billion, two-thirds of the year’s total. The Department of Health and Human Services reaped the biggest recoveries, largely attributable to its Medicare and Medicaid programs. Recoveries were also made by the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the Department of Defense for its TRICARE insurance program and the Department of Veterans Affairs, among others.

"The largest health care recoveries came from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, which accounted for $866.7 million in settlements, including Aventis Pharmaceuticals Inc., Bayer HealthCare LLC, Eli Lilly & Company and Quest Diagnostics Inc. and its subsidiary, Nichols Institute Diagnostics Inc. In addition to federal recoveries, these pharmaceutical and medical device fraud cases returned $402 million to state Medicaid programs."

The release does address the recoveries from defense contractors and particularly war contractors at the end of the release:

"Procurement fraud accounted for a quarter of fiscal year 2009 recoveries with $608.4 million in settlements and judgments, including $422 million attributable to Department of Defense contracts. Of that amount, $59 million related to contracts in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including two settlements with The Boeing Company totaling $27 million and a $26.3 million settlement with APL Limited. This brings settlements and judgments in procurement fraud cases involving the wars in Southwest Asia to a total of $76 million, with many matters still pending."

It is interesting that they put a $27 million Boeing settlement in the war contractor category even though that case was defective work on the aerial refueling fleet used in Iraq and Afghanistan, not directly in service support of the troops. And APL Limited had a shipping contract to ship goods to Iraq and Afghanistan, which is not the main problem of overcharging while serving the troops in these countries. Even with that addition of $27 million and the $26.3 million, the whole recovery was $76 million. To put that in perspective, KBR, the largest war contractor supplier on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, has billed the government over $32 billion over the course of the war even though there have been congressional and media exposes of their overbilling, especially in labor costs.

The DOJ has just recently announced that it has intervened in a war contractor case in which a Kuwait-based contractor, Public Warehousing Co. KSC, has been accused of overbilling the DOD for food for the Iraq and Afghanistan troops in an $8.5 billion contract. It is a start but it doesn’t solve the problem with American war contractors because the Army is not going to be as loyal to a foreign company and this Kuwaiti company will not have as much political favoritism in Congress.

So what will it take for the DOJ to take war contactor qui tam cases seriously and get the resources that they need? First, the White House and the Civil Division of the DOJ needs to put the DOD, the Army and the contractors on notice that they will give these cases the needed resources and priority so that the DOJ can sort out the best cases that have been hung up under seal for as long as five years. Tony West, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, claims in his recent press release that all qui tam cases will have high priority, and Senator Claire McCaskill asked him about the war contractor cases recently during her subcommittee hearings. Over the course of two months, I have been requesting comment from Mr. West or some DOJ spokesperson on this problem but they decline to comment.

If the DOJ and White House do not take the initiative, the Congress could mandate that the DOJ do the same type of interagency task force on war contracting cases as it did so successfully in health care. This would take some political will on the part of the Congress and would need the cooperation of the Armed Services committees in both houses of Congress so that the DOD and the Army would be put on notice to stop protecting these contractors.

What will happen if these war contractor cases just continue to languish under seal? Eventually, the judges in these cases will be more and more reluctant to extend the seals and the DOJ, because it has not had the resources to investigate the case to its satisfaction, will decline to intervene. The relators and their attorneys, who would like to try these cases in the courts themselves, will have recent legal precedent against them and most will not be able to pursue their cases. The contractors will then get away with the fraud and all the costs of that fraud will become part of the baseline or historic costs used to compete and judge future contracts. As with weapon systems, each war will build more and more fraud and waste dollars into the baseline and it could be that in the future, we would think it was a bargain to spend a million dollars a year to support each soldier in a future war. Meanwhile, money for body armor, new helmets and other protective gear for the troops will get just a small amount compared to what the contractors get for slinging hash, driving trucks, doing laundry and fixing light bulbs in support of our wartime troops.

Is this administration and this Congress up to the difficult challenge to fix this problem? Ironically, the leader of this administration, President Obama, is probably the first president to know and understand the power of the qui tam False Claims Act law. While he was an associate in a Chicago law firm, he worked on protecting a qui tam relator from retaliation and this case went to the Supreme Court and won.

Stay tuned . . . if you don’t hear about American war contracting fraud cases in the news, you will know that there is a group of very frustrated whistleblowers who cannot legally tell you what is going on with fraud in our wars.

No Bailouts for Youth: Broken Promises and Dashed Hopes

No Bailouts for Youth: Broken Promises and Dashed Hopes

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By almost any political, economic and ethical measure, Barack Obama's election victory in 2008 inherited a set of problems produced by one of the darkest periods in American history.[1] In the eight years prior to Obama's presidency, not only did the spaces where genuine politics could occur largely disappear as a result of an ongoing assault by the market-driven forces of privatization, deregulation and unrestrained corporate power, but there was also a radical hardening of the culture that increasingly disparaged democratic values, the public good and human dignity - and with these the safety nets provided by a once robust but now exiled social state. George W. Bush, the privileged and profligate son of a wealthy Texas oilman, became the embodiment of a political era in which willful immaturity and stubborn civic illiteracy found its match in an emerging culture of excess and irresponsibility.[2] As the age of finance capital reigned supreme over American society, the ongoing work of democratization - along with the public spheres needed to sustain it - became an increasingly fragile, perhaps even dysfunctional, project. Market principles now reached far beyond the realm of the economic and played a formative role in influencing and organizing every domain of human activity and interaction, while simultaneously launching a frontal attack on notions of a common good, public purpose, non-commodified values and democratic modes of governing.

Yet - even in the aftermath of the October 2008 global financial crisis and the historic election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States - the vocabulary and influence of corporate power and hapless governance can still be heard as the expansion of market fundamentalism continues, albeit more slowly, along the trajectory of privileging corporate interests over the needs of the public good, ignoring the rising demands of millions of people struggling for economic, racial and political justice. Tragically, the Obama administration seems complicit with what has become an element of common sense for a large and noisy segment of the populace - that the market, rather than politics, gives people what they want. President Obama does not talk about a much-needed job creation program to address the massive hardships and suffering many people are experiencing. Instead, he gets his cues from Wall Street and now focuses on taming the budget deficit.[3] Nor does he talk about the crippling poverty, collapsing urban infrastructures or the general despair that now grips the country. This state of affairs suggests not only a perilous future for the social state and a government willing to intervene on behalf of its citizens, but also a dangerous view of governance in which economic priorities dominate and suppress important social needs, rather than being carefully adjusted toward the goal of fostering a more just, more democratic society.

It appears ever more unlikely that the Obama administration will undo the havoc wrought by the Bush administration (itself the culmination of a decades-long trend toward market deregulation) or reverse the effects of a rampant free-market fundamentalism now unleashed across the globe. As the financial crisis looms large in the lives of the majority of Americans, government funds are used to bail out Wall Street bankers rather than being used to address either the growing impoverishment of the many people who have lost homes, jobs and hope of a better future, or the structural conditions that created such problems. In this scenario, a privileged minority retains the freedom to purchase time, goods, services and security, while the vast majority of people are relegated to a life without protections, benefits and safety supports. For those populations considered expendable, redundant and invisible by virtue of their race, class and age, life becomes increasingly precarious.

Youth, in particular, are assaulted by market forces that commodify almost every aspect of their lives, though different groups of young people bear unequally the burden of this market-driven assault. Those who are marginalized by class and power suffer more than the indignity of being endlessly commodified and commercially carpet-bombed. They are also objects of a low-intensity war that now criminalizes their behavior, subjects increasing aspects of their lives to harsh disciplinary practices and treats them as both dangerous and disposable. In a society in which the social state that has been hollowed out, largely stripped of its welfare functions, youth are no longer provided with the economic, social, and cultural supports that offer them dignity, prosperity and the promise of a better future. Instead, they are now largely governed by a corporate state that "secures power through the imposition of law, discipline and uncompromising modes of punishment and imprisonment."[4]

As the mechanisms of power, containment and policing merge, the spaces that young people inhabit become increasingly militarized. At the same time, such hyper-militarized spaces, extending from the street to the school, are abetted by a cultural apparatus and public pedagogy that jumps at every opportunity to demean and demonize young people, especially poor minority youth, by representing them as an ever-present threat to society. In this instance, it becomes all too easy for the American public to move from the notion of young people being troubled to viewing them as trouble, as a threat to be contained. Newspapers and other popular media treat their audiences to an endless stream of alarming images and dehumanizing stories about rampaging young people who allegedly occupy a domestic war zone. Youth are no longer categorized as Generation X, Y and Z. On the contrary, they are now defined rhetorically in mainstream media as "Generation Kill," "Killer Children" or, as one CNN television special labeled them, "Killers in Our Midst." [5] Capitalizing on shocking and sensational imagery not only swells the media's bottom line; it also adds fuel to a youth panic that insidiously portrays young people as pint-size nihilists and an ever-present threat to public order. Such negative and demeaning views have had disastrous consequences for young people as their lives are increasingly subjected to policies and modes of governance defined through the logic of punishment, surveillance and carceral control. Moreover, under the reign of an expanding punishing state coupled with the persistent structural racism of the criminal justice system, the situation for a growing number of impoverished young people and youth of color is getting much worse.

These are young people whose labor is unneeded, who are locked out of the commodity market and who often inhabit the impoverished and soul-crushing margins of society. Too often they fall prey to the dictates of a youth-crime-governing complex that increasingly subjects them to harsh disciplinary controls while criminalizing more and more aspects of their behavior. How else to explain that on any given day "one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention"?[6] What kind of sense does it make to pass truancy laws in which a student, even when he has a school pass that allows him to be out of classes early, is stopped by the police and issued a $570 ticket for truancy?[7] How can we reconcile the rise of zero-tolerance laws in schools with the presumption that schools should be places where young people can feel safe and receive an education that prepares them to be thoughtful, critical and socially responsible citizens when such laws impose harsh penalties for often trivial infractions, increase rates of suspension and expulsion, disproportionately target African-American youth and push poor young people out of school and often into the criminal justice system? According to the Advancement Project:

Zero tolerance has engendered a number of problems: denial of education through increased suspension and expulsion rates, referrals to inadequate alternative schools, lower test scores, higher dropout rates, and racial profiling of students. Once many of these youths are in "the system," they never get back on the academic track. Sometimes, schools refuse to readmit them; and even if these students do return to school, they are often labeled and targeted for close monitoring by school staff and police. Consequently, many become demoralized, drop out, and fall deeper and deeper into the juvenile or criminal justice systems. Those who do not drop out may find that their discipline and juvenile or criminal records haunt them when they apply to college or for a scholarship or government grant, or try to enlist in the military or find employment. In some places, a criminal record may prevent them or their families from residing in publicly subsidized housing. In this era of zero tolerance, the consequences of child or adolescent behaviors may long outlive students' teenage years.[8]

Where is the collective anger over the use of disciplinary policies that share a shameful and close affinity to the legacy of segregated education, slavery, racial targeting, the harsh and ruthless criminalization of poor white and minority youth and pedagogies of punishment, all of which push young people out of school and into the criminal justice system? In this instance, schools neither educate nor provide even minimal training for the workplace. Instead, they simply mimic traditional lockdown institutions such as the prison and display a disdain for youth that offers no apologies because politicians, school boards, administrators and some teachers have become too arrogant and ruthless to imagine any resistance. Wedded to the bloodless values of a market-driven society deeply implicated in reproducing the structures of racism, inequality and exclusion, schools now inhabit a "dead zone" that banishes civic pedagogy, the arts, and different critical modes of intelligibility. Schools now do everything they can to deaden the imagination by defining and framing classroom experiences through a lethal mix of instrumental values, cost-benefit analyses, test-based accountability schemes and high-stakes testing regimes. These instrumentally and market-based values and practices drown out, if not repress, those spaces and pedagogical practices that provide the conditions for students to think critically, value their own voices, mobilize their curiosity, engage in shared learning and, most of all, learn the knowledge, habits, public values and social relations necessary for the practice of empowerment necessary for fostering a real democracy and taking responsibility for sustaining it. More and more, it appears that as schools become more militarized and subject to the latest technologies of regulation, surveillance and control, they are transformed into laboratories in which the limits of new authoritarian tendencies endemic to a corporate/punishing society are tamed, attenuated and tested.[9]

Where is the moral outrage over a nation that incarcerates one in 100 adults in its local, state and federal prisons and jails, fragmenting families, desolating communities and ruining the lives of millions of children?[10] Where are the intellectuals, parents, teachers and social movements expressing political indignation over a country that has the onerous and dubious distinction of being the world's leading jailer of young people? Where is the moral wrath over the racist practices that lead to the increasing criminalization of African-American youth, particularly those who drop out of schools with "nearly one in four young black male dropouts incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized on an average day"?[11] As one politician noted, "Dropping out of high school [has become] an apprenticeship for prison."[12]

The devastation wreaked by free-market policies has been largely financed in the hard currency of human suffering that such policies have imposed on children, readily evident in some astounding statistics that suggest a profound moral and political contradiction at the heart of one of the richest democracies in the world. The notion that children should be treated as a crucial social resource and represent for any healthy society important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests appears to be lost. Children, for example, make up a disproportionate share of the poor in the United States in that "they are 26 per cent of the total population, but constitute 39 per cent of the poor."[13] Just as alarming, more than eight million children lack health insurance,[14] and millions lack affordable child care and decent early childhood education. One of the most damaging statistics revealing how low a priority children are in America can be seen in the fact that among the industrialized nations in the world the United States ranks first in billionaires and in defense expenditures and yet ranks an appalling 29th in infant mortality.[15] As we might expect, behind these grave statistics lies a series of decisions to favor those already advantaged economically at the expense of the poor and socially vulnerable. Moreover, for the last three decades we have witnessed, especially under the second Bush administration, savage cuts to education, scientific research and social services such as nutritional assistance for impoverished mothers and veterans' medical care - all of which helped fund tax breaks for the inordinately rich. Sadly, it now seems reasonable to assume that under the current financial crisis non-privileged youth will experience even greater economic and educational hardships, while becoming even more invisible to the larger society.

The toll in human suffering that results from these policies of punishment and neglect becomes clear in shocking stories about poor white and minority youth who literally die because they lack health insurance, often have to fend for themselves in the face of life's tragedies and increasingly are excommunicated from the sphere of human concern. Too many youth are now rendered invisible and disposable in a world in which short-term investments yield quick profits while long-term social investments in young people are viewed as a drag on the economy. It gets worse. In what amounts to a national disgrace, one out every five children currently lives in poverty. Moreover, while 10 percent of white children live in poverty, 34 percent of all black children live in poor families.[16] With home foreclosures still on the rise, school districts across the nation have identified and enrolled almost a million homeless children.[17] There are 1.7 million more children living in poverty today than in 2000. Unfortunately, their numbers are growing at an exponential rate, as one in 50 children and teens are now living in crowded rooms in seedy welfare hotels, in emergency shelters or with relatives, or they simply live on the streets.[18] What is unique about these children and young people is not just the severity of deprivations they experience daily, but how they have been forced to view the world and redefine the nature of their own childhood between the borders of hopelessness and despair. There is little sense of a bright future lying just beyond the shadows of highly policed and increasingly abandoned urban spaces. An entire generation of youth will not have access to the jobs, material comforts or social securities available to previous generations. These children are a new generation of youth forced to grow up fast - they think, act and talk like adults. They worry about their families, which may be headed by a single parent or two out of work and searching for a job; they wonder how their parents are going to get the money to buy food and what it will take to pay for a doctor. And these children are no longer confined to so-called ghettos. As the burgeoning landscape of poverty and despair spreads across our cities, suburbs and rural areas, these children make their presence felt everywhere - there are just too many to ignore or hide away in the usually contained and invisible spaces of disposability. These young people constitute a new and more unsettling scene of suffering, one that reveals not only vast inequalities in our economic landscape but also portends a future that has no purchase on the hope that should characterize an aspiring democracy.

We are treated endlessly to stories in which young people are robbed of their innocence as they are forced to worry about problems that ordinarily are the responsibility of adults. Too many children find themselves living in cars or seedy motels, or even worse, living on the streets. They think about getting jobs to help their parents buy food, put down money for an apartment or simply get a motel room. Childhood concerns about dating, sports and hanging out with friends are now replaced with more crucial, if not time-consuming and health-draining, concerns about surviving on a daily basis.

These narratives just scratch the surface of a new social and economic reality, as millions of children now find themselves suffering physical, psychological and developmental problems that thus far go unacknowledged by the Obama administration as it bails out the automotive industries, banks and other financial institutions. What kind of country have we become that we cannot protect our children or offer them even the most basic requirements to survive? Where is the public indignation over an administration that provides a multibillion-dollar gift to Wall Street but cannot develop a jobs creation program to put poor white and minority youth to work? How can the American people put up with a government that is willing to subsidize and rescue the insurance giant American International Group but do virtually nothing to provide assistance for the nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youth who will be on food stamps at some point in their childhood? Everywhere we turn, we see untold amounts of hardship and human suffering among young and old alike. Millions of hard-working people have lost their jobs, homes, hopes and, in some cases, their sanity while Wall Street zombies flourish financially and reward their incompetence, failure and moral indifference with lavish bonuses, punctuated with renewed efforts to prevent any of the reforms that would put a check on the corrupt practices that produced a global financial meltdown. What does it mean to witness this type of suffering among so many children and not do anything about it - our attentions quickly diverted to view the spectacles and moral indifference that characterize so much of the cutthroat world of reality TV, zombie politics and a consumer culture that shapes the sensibilities and inner lives of adults and children alike? Obama's attraction for the cultural capital of the rich, his unwillingness to take risks, his Harvard-taught propensity for seeking middle ground, his increasing unwillingness to fight for the people who elected him, his willingness to and his disconnect from his own pre-election ideals make him increasingly look not just weak but like a mere puppet of corporate power, an innocent who has been practically eaten alive by the rich and powerful who now treat him with a sense of scorn and derision only matched by their own moral vacuity and arrogance. Of course, this might suggest that I and others initially expected too much from Obama, but that is not the case. I realize that reforming the current problems facing the United States do not lie in the hands of one man but reside in changing the deeply structured economic and social relations of power and interests that inform a mode of casino capitalism that for all intents and purposes is out of control. At the same time, Obama must be held responsible for the decisions he has made - and, for the most part, those decisions that have shaped everything from financial regulation to educational reform are not on the side of working and middle-class people but on the side of the rich and powerful.

At this moment in history, it is more necessary than ever to enter this debate over the fate of American democracy by registering youth as a central theoretical, moral and political concern. Doing so reminds adults of their ethical and political responsibility to future generations and will further legitimate what it means to invest in youth as a symbol for nurturing civic imagination and collective resistance in response to the suffering of others. Youth provide a powerful referent for a critical discussion about the long-term consequences of casino capitalism and its hyper-market-driven policies, while also gesturing toward the need for putting into place those conditions that make a democratic future possible. We have been punishing children for a long time in the United States. Removed from the inventory of social concerns and the list of cherished public assets, young people have been either disparaged as a symbol of danger or simply rendered invisible. Viewed as another casualty of the recession, youth are no longer included in a discourse about the promise of a better future. Instead they are now considered part of a disposable population whose presence threatens to recall repressed collective memories of adult responsibility in the service of a social contract and democratic ideals. Injustice and inequality have a long legacy in the United States, and their most punishing modes and lethal effects have been largely directed against poor white and minority children. The shameful condition of America's youth exposes not only their unbearable victimization but also those larger social and political forces that speak to the callous hardening of a society that actively produces the needless suffering and death of its children. The moral nihilism of a market society, the move from a welfare to a warfare state, the persistent racism of the alleged "raceless" society, the collapse of education into training, the deskilling of teachers and the militarizing of schools, the continued violations of civil liberties, the commodification of knowledge and the rise of a pernicious corporate state work together to numb us to the suffering of others, especially children.

The crisis of youth is symptomatic of the crisis of democracy and it calls us to account as much for the threat that it poses as for the challenges and possibilities it invokes. One way of addressing our collapsing intellectual and moral visions regarding young people is to imagine those policies, values, opportunities and social relations that both invoke adult responsibility and reinforce the ethical imperative to provide young people, especially those marginalized by race and class, with the economic, social and educational conditions that make life livable and the future sustainable. Clearly, the issue at stake here is not a one-off bailout or temporary fix but concrete structural economic, educational and political reforms that provide everyone with real social, political and individual rights and freedoms.

None of the problems facing this generation will be solved unless the institutions, social relations and values that legitimate and reproduce current levels of inequality, power and human suffering are dismantled, along with the formative culture that supports them. The very ideal of democracy has been hijacked by casino capitalism and its rampant structures of inequality and power. We catch a glimpse of what this means in Peter Dreier's observation that "Today, the richest one percent of Americans has 22 percent of all income and about 40 percent of all wealth. This is the biggest concentration of income and wealth since 1928."[19] This type of economic inequality is not merely incompatible with a functioning democracy, it makes democracy dysfunctional and corrupt. Just as government can no longer outsource its responsibilities, the American public can no longer allow its political system to be governed by the rich and powerful. Political culture has been emptied of its democratic values and is in free fall, as it is now largely shaped by the most powerful, politically corrupt, socially irresponsible and morally tainted elements of the society. The widening gap between the rich and the poor has to be addressed if young people are to have a viable future. And that requires pervasive structural reforms that constitute a real shift in both power and politics away from a market-driven system that views too many children as disposable. We need to reimagine what liberty, equality and freedom might mean as truly democratic values and practices.

Any society that endorses market principles as a template for shaping all aspects of social life and cares more about the accumulation of capital than it does about the fate of young people is in trouble. Next to the needs of the marketplace, life has become cheap, if not irrelevant. We have lived too long with governments and institutions that use power to promote violent acts, conveniently hiding their guilt behind a notion of state secrecy or lofty claims to democracy, while selectively punishing those considered expendable - in prisons, collapsing public schools, foster care institutions and urban slums. Under the current regime of free-market casino capitalism, children lack power and agency, and are increasingly viewed as either commodities or simply rendered disposable. If Barack Obama's call to address the crucial problems facing young people is to be taken seriously, then the political, economic and institutional conditions that both legitimate and sustain a shameful attack on youth have to be made visible, open to challenge and transformed. This can only happen by refusing the somnambulance and social amnesia that coincide with the pretense of a post-racial politics and the all-too-easy equation of free-market fundamentalism and democracy, especially given the effects such illusions have on those marginalized by class and color. The road to recovery must align itself with new social movements willing to take risks and that embrace a vision of a democracy that is on the side of children, particularly young children in need. It must enable the conditions for youth to learn - to "grow," as John Dewey once insisted, as engaged social actors more alive to their responsibilities to future generations than contemporary adult society has proven itself willing to be for them.

Notes:

[1]. I have taken up this issue in more detail in Henry A. Giroux, "Against the Terror of Neoliberalism" (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008). See also Chris Hedges, "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" (New York: Free Press, 2006); and Sheldon S. Wolin, "Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

[2]. For an excellent analysis of this issue, see Chris Hedges, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle" (New York: Knopf Canada, 2009). See also George Monbiot, "The Triumph of Ignorance," AlterNet (October 31, 2008). Online here. For an extensive study of anti-intellectualism in America, see Richard Hoftstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" (New York: Vantage House, 1963); and Susan Jacoby, "The Age of American Unreason" (New York: Pantheon, 2008).

[3]. Paul Krugman, "The Phantom Menace," New York Times (November 23, 2009), p. A27.

[4]. Judith Butler, "Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?" (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Verso, 2009), p. 5

[5] "Generation Kill" is the name of a seven-part HBO television miniseries about what the New York Times calls "a group of shamelessly and engagingly profane, coarse and irreverent marines ... that spearhead[ed] the invasion" in the second Iraq war. See Alessandra Stanley, "Comrades in Chaos, Invading Iraq," New York Times (July 11, 2008), p. B1. The term "Killer Children" appears as the title of a New York Times book review. See Kathryn Harrison, "Killer Children," New York Times Book Review (July 20, 2008), pp. 1, 8.

[6]. Andrew Sum et al., "The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School: Joblessness and Jailing for High School Dropouts and the High Cost for Taxpayers" (Boston: Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University, October 2009). Online here.

[7]. Julianne Ong Hing, "Young, Brown - and Charged With Truancy," Color Lines, I52 (Sept/Oct 2009). Online here.

[8]. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, "Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline (New York: Legal Defense Fund, 2009). Online here.

[9]. This idea comes from Zygmunt Bauman, "Society Under Siege" (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), p. 67-68.

[10]. See: Pew Center for Research on the States, One in 100 (Washington, D.C., 2008).

[11]. Ibid.

[12]. Ibid.

[13]. Cesar Chelala, "Rich Man, Poor Man: Hungry Children in America," Seattle Times (January 4, 2006). Online here.

[14]. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, "The Uninsured: A Primer" (October 2009). Available online here.

[15]. Marian F. MacDorman and T.J. Mathews, "Recent Trends in Infant Mortality in the United States" (National Center for Health Statistics, October 2008). Available online here.

[16]. Kenneth C. Land, "The 2009 Foundation for Child Development Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) Report" (May 2009). Available online here. See also Sarah Fass and Nancy K. Cauthen, "Who Are America's Poor Children?: The Official Story," National Center for Children in Poverty (October 2008). Available online here.

[17]. Kenneth C. Land, Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program, Foundation for Child Development (April 2009). Available online here.

[18]. National Center on Family Homelessness, "America's Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness" (March 2009). Available online here.

[19]. Peter Dreier, "Bush's Class Warfare." See also Editors, "By the Numbers," Inequality.Org (October 14, 2007). Online here.

Two-thirds of broiler chickens contaminated

Two-thirds of broiler chickens contaminated

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Two-thirds of 382 fresh broiler chickens purchased from grocers by a U.S. consumer group were contaminated with one or both of the bacteria that cause most cases of food-borne illness, the group said on Monday.

The Consumers Union said the figure was an improvement from the 80 percent found in tests in 2007 but "still far too high." It urged the government to issue stricter food-safety rules. The group began testing for bacteria in store-bought chicken in 1998.

Salmonella, the most common cause of food-borne illness, was found in 14 percent of the chickens and campylobacter, the No 2 cause, was in 62 percent. Nine percent of chickens contained both bacteria. Consumers Union bought the chickens at 100 retailers in 22 states last spring.

The Agriculture Department, which is in charge of meat safety, reported a salmonella rate of 5 percent in its samples taken at packing plants from April 1-June 30. Its researchers say cold water baths and other antimicrobial can reduce the presence of campylobacter to 11 percent.

A USDA spokesman said salmonella levels are down sharply from 16 percent in 2005 due to its meat safety programs and a similar pathogen reduction program "will be launched soon" for campylobacter.

Consumers Union said it tested the chickens later in the retail chain than USDA and pointed to other studies that found high levels of campylobacter at processing plants. It said USDA should set maximum limits on campylobacter contamination.

"Consumers still need to be very careful in handling chicken, which is routinely contaminated with disease-causing bacteria," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Technical Policy at Consumers Union.

"Chicken is safe. Like all fresh foods, raw chicken may have some microorganisms present, but these are destroyed by the heat of normal cooking," said the National Chicken Council, a trade group.

Like the consumer group, the chicken council urged home cooks to refrigerate or freeze raw meat, cook it to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) and to promptly store leftovers.

Why Drug Companies Are Working To Control Natural Supplements

Why Drug Companies Are Working To Control Natural Supplements

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As the battle over government-controlled health care continues, many Americans simply want out of the whole mess. They instead seek a plan of wellness based on healthy eating and natural supplements.

That approach, however, is the opposite of the health care agenda of the American Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical industry. Those forces, which literally control America’s health industry, are based on sickness. The sicker you are, the more drugs you will buy.

In addition, insurance companies, working hand in hand with the AMA and the drug companies, refuse to provide coverage for the wellness approach. Most won’t pay for natural supplements nor will they pay for visits to homeopaths or chiropractors. The only thing most Americans can do when sick (and unable to afford to pay for natural treatment out of their pockets) is to stick with the big pharma/AMA game plan. In short, it is cheaper to be sick than to try to stay well.

However, in spite of a stacked deck in favor of the sickness agenda, more Americans are going for wellness and the natural supplement industry is growing. In response, and to preserve their dominance over health care, big pharma is lobbying hard to get the Food and Drug Administration to make many natural supplements available only by prescriptions issued by AMA licensed doctors. In other efforts, they seek to drastically reduce the dosage of natural supplements sold over the counter, making them useless. Again, only a prescription would allow a workable dosage.

As the drug industry works to get the FDA to take control of supplements here in this nation, there is also an international body working to make such regulations world-wide. Its name is CODEX (the European Food Supplements Directive).

For a full insight into the diabolical minds of the drug companies, according to Mike Adams, Editor of Natural News, here are ten reasons why organized medicine supports CODEX:

1- It eliminates access to key nutrients that prevent disease, thereby creating a population of diseased, malnourished customers who will inevitably turn to high-profit prescription drugs.

2- It focuses people on the debate over the safety of nutritional supplements, distracting them from the debate over the safety of prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs.

3- It makes nutritional supplements more expensive, putting their purchase out of reach of more consumers.

4- With the loss of vitamin sales, many natural retailers will be forced out of business, and this is good for organized medicine. The fewer health shops exist, the less competition there is for prescription drugs.

5- It establishes a legal precedent of control over not just supplements, but food. This sets the stage for the future banning of nutritious foods that prevent disease such as blueberries and garlic.

6- It allows for the arrest and incrimination of key proponents of natural health (vitamin manufacturers, retailers and consumers), removing them from the public stage so that they no longer have a voice.

7- It discredits the entire nutritional supplements industry, creating fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of consumers who aren’t aware of the real motivations behind the law.

8- It erects huge barriers to the introduction of new supplements to the market by forcing manufacturers to spend millions of dollars on compliance, even for substances that have been safely consumed by humans as medicine for thousands of years.

9- It sets a legal foundation from which other nutrients can be outlawed. Each year, watch for the ratchet to be tightened as a growing list of supplements are banned.

10- It allows natural health critics to use circular logic to attack the industry. They’ll say, “If these vitamins weren’t dangerous, then they wouldn’t have been outlawed, would they?”

Of course, they will tell you its all for your protection. It’s for the children. IT’S FOR THEIR STINKING PROFITS!

Obama issues order for escalation in Afghanistan

Obama issues order for escalation in Afghanistan

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At a White House meeting with military leaders on Sunday, President Barack Obama formally issued the order to send at least 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan. Underscoring his contemptuous attitude toward popular opposition to the war or any other democratic considerations, Obama did not wait to issue the order until he had offered his explanation for the escalation to the American people in tonight’s nationally televised speech.

The new “surge” follows the 21,000 additional troops Obama ordered to Afghanistan in the first weeks of his administration. It will bring the total US troop deployment to 100,000—the highest since the invasion eight years ago.

In escalating US violence in Afghanistan and threatening more direct military involvement in Pakistan, the administration is defying public opinion in the two countries, where popular opposition to US military operations is pervasive, and in the US itself, where opinion polls show that a majority of the American people is opposed to the war.

In its contempt for the will of the people, as in its policies on the economy, war and democratic rights, the Obama administration is continuing without a hitch the basic policies and methods of the Bush administration, which were repudiated by the electorate when it voted for Obama on the basis of his claim to be the candidate of “change.”

It is highly significant that, after the manner of his predecessor, Obama has chosen the US Military Academy at West Point as the venue for tonight’s nationally televised speech. He is not speaking as the civilian president from the Oval Office, as is traditional for major presidential policy statements, or going before the elected legislators in Congress.

Instead, he has chosen to address the officer corps who will be entrusted with carrying out his orders. He will speak as a military figure—the commander in chief—before a captive audience, outlining policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were set by the top military brass.

Obama’s choice of venue demonstrates that the main constituency to which he is appealing is the military. The more the administration pursues right-wing, unpopular policies—whether bailing out the banks, attacking civil liberties, or escalating the war—the more it seeks to base itself on the military and the national security apparatus.

The increasingly open and powerful role of the military in US political life has reached the point where the formal trappings of democracy have become almost irrelevant. Obama is signaling that the military represents an independent constituency, separate and apart from the people, whose approval must be secured, regardless the sentiments of the population.

This shift in civilian-military relations is long in the making, but the weight of the military in political matters has in recent years reached unprecedented proportions. Nearly half a century has passed since President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned of the growing power of what he called the “military industrial complex.”

The intervening years have seen an eruption of American militarism, which has grown ever more virulent as the US ruling class has sought to offset the decline in its global economic position by exploiting its military supremacy to pursue its strategic aims. The erosion of the constitutionally mandated subordination of the military to civilian authority is one of the hallmarks of the decay of American democracy.

It would have been inconceivable, for example, for John F. Kennedy to have delivered his address to the nation on the Cuban Missile Crisis before a military audience. US imperialism at that time was still compelled to adhere, at least publicly, to constitutional norms regarding the deference of the military to civilian rule.

The White House no doubt calculates that a speech by the commander in chief to a friendly audience, replete with military trappings, with the president flanked by military brass, will help whip up patriotism and intimidate those opposed to the war.

Less than one year after his inauguration, the candidate of “change” is aping his predecessor, who delivered his major policy speeches almost exclusively before military and national security audiences.

Obama has essentially adopted the position of Bush, who told a press conference in July of 2007 that in pursuing an unpopular war in Iraq he was obliged to take into account a number of constituencies. The American people were relegated to just one of several constituencies, the most important of which were the military and military families.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank in a column today points to Obama’s increasingly public association with the military. He writes: “Already in his young presidency, the Nobel Peace Prize winner has addressed the troops at Osan air base in South Korea, Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida, the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. (For different purposes, he also spoke at the memorial for shooting victims at Fort Hood and welcomed home the remains of troops at Dover Air Base.) The vice president and the first lady, in turn, have made the rounds at half a dozen other facilities.

“Presidential addresses to the uniformed military were relatively rare before Bush. A tally by George Mason University found that in past years, presidents sometimes spoke to military groups only once (Bill Clinton in 1993, Richard Nixon in 1969), twice (Gerald Ford in 1974) or not at all (Ronald Reagan in 1985). But Bush gave ‘far more’ such speeches, including 13 in 2005 alone.

“The proliferation began in 2002, when Bush went to West Point for a June 1 speech to the cadets detailing the doctrine of preemptive war… But they [the troops] are required to be loyal, and when their commander in chief talks, whether it’s Bush or Obama, they salute. Or applaud. Or yell ‘Hoo-ah.’ And on Tuesday night, this military pageantry will only compound the sense on the left that Obama is not the man they thought he was.”

The militarization of American political life is inseparably bound up with an imperialist policy, continued and intensified by Obama, of ceaseless colonial-style wars, aimed ultimately at bigger powers such as Russia and China.