Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Obama calls for austerity in Washington "jobs speech"

Obama calls for austerity in Washington jobs speech

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President Barack Obama’s Tuesday speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., which was touted as a major address on job creation, outlined an agenda that will only exacerbate the nation’s unemployment crisis.

Obama made no suggestion that the government would allocate significant funds to directly promote job creation, much less undertake any major public works program such as those that typified Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression.

Instead, Obama repeated the free market mantras that “there is only so much government can do” and that “job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators: businesses across America.” These callous remarks come from a president who has handed over trillions to the finance industry, under conditions in which nearly 30 million people in the US are either unemployed or underemployed.

Obama used the speech to emphasize “restoring fiscal responsibility,” and reaffirmed his commitment “to halving the deficit we inherited by the end of my first term.” Given his extraordinary outlays for Wall Street and to the war in Afghanistan—which will cost at least $1 trillion over the next decade—this can only entail a relentless drive to cut all forms of social spending.

Obama acknowledged popular anger toward the Wall Street bailout, while attempting to obscure the nature and dimensions of what has been, in fact, the largest plundering of public wealth in the history of the nation.

“There has rarely been a less loved or more necessary emergency program than TARP [Troubled Asset Relief Program],” Obama said. “[But] as galling as the assistance to banks may have been...[it] is on track to actually reap billions in profit for the taxpaying public.”

This is a lie. In fact the $700 billion TARP was just one small part of a federal bailout of the finance industry that relied far more heavily on the Federal Reserve Board of Ben Bernanke. According to Neil Barofsky, the inspector general appointed to make an accounting of the Wall Street bailout, the federal government is potentially on the line for nearly $24 trillion in the form of loans, direct cash infusions, and guarantees on debt.

The resulting deficits will be paid for not by the financial elite who have benefited from these policies, but by the working class. This Obama alluded to cryptically by discussing the need to “solve tough problems,” and confront “hard choices.” “We have begun to make the hard choices necessary to get our country on a more stable fiscal footing in the long run,” Obama said.

In the days leading up to the speech, a handful of Congressional Democrats had suggested that money from from TARP might be diverted to pay for jobs programs or for specific forms of social relief. TARP is over-funded by an estimated $200 billion, largely the result of a number of major banks repaying their loans to avoid relatively toothless government restrictions on executive pay.

Such a jobs program the Obama White House has ruled out categorically, according to an article Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal. The White House and Congressional leaders have determined that their “ability to use Wall Street bailout funds for a new job-creation initiative will be strictly limited by budget rules and the terms of the original bailout legislation”—i.e., the rules and terms they themselves drafted in collaboration with the Bush administration. Instead, “bailout funds are likely to be restricted mainly to a new small-business lending effort.”

This proved to be the central theme of Obama’s speech, the president declaring that he would order Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “to continue mobilizing the remaining TARP funds to facilitate lending to small business.”

Here it is noteworthy Obama said the money will be used to facilitate lending, rather than lent to small businesses directly. This is because Obama’s “help” for small businesses is in fact a means of turning the money repaid by the likes of Goldman Sachs and Bank of America back to the finance industry.

The Small Business Administration, which Obama indicated would disburse the remaining TARP funds, does not loan to small businesses. It instead guarantees such loans to participating banks, who in turn try to sell packaged loans to larger financial institutions. The administration “hopes that by supporting the secondary market [i.e., the big banks], lenders will gain their confidence back and make new loans,” as a Business Week analysis put it in describing this element of TARP in March.

Whatever remains from TARP not allocated to the SBA will be used to pay down the federal deficit, Obama indicated.

Other elements of Obama’s speech ostensibly aimed at small business included a proposal for “the complete elimination of capital gains taxes” on small businesses, and tax credits for businesses that hire workers.

Only after discussing policies that will benefit Wall Street and private industry did Obama call for a “boost in investment in the nation’s infrastructure,” in addition to what was appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He offered no figure, and did not say how this would be paid for, besides excluding TARP as a source.

The amount of money set aside in the Recovery Act for infrastructure—between $70 billion and $111 billion depending on the estimate—is not only a small fraction of the Wall Street bailout. It is a drop in the bucket set against both the needs of the country’s physical wellbeing (crumbling roads, transportation system, water supply, schools, hospitals) and the vast unemployment crisis.

Even according to the Obama administration’s own imaginative (and dubious) accounting methods, the Recovery Act has so far “created or saved” between 600,000 and 1.6 million jobs. However, the economy has shed well over 3 million jobs since Obama’s inauguration, and has purged more than 7 million since the economic crisis began in late 2007 during the presidency George W. Bush.

As for the infrastructure, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” infrastructure needs require $2.2 trillion in investment over the next five years to stop the advanced decay of roads, bridges, water, and sewerage, or at least 20 times the outlay of the Recovery Act. (See: “America’s crumbling infrastructure”.)

The third point in Obama’s “jobs” speech was a plan to encourage homeowners to “retrofit their homes.” This so-called “cash for caulkers” program would offer government rebates to lessen the cost of making homes energy efficient. In this portion of his speech, Obama also mentioned encouraging the production of “wind turbines and solar panels.”

Even those enthusiastic about Obama’s “green economy” proposals concede that there is little chance they will fundamentally alter unemployment levels.

The fourth point on Obama’s agenda was relief. He dedicated only one sentence to the subject, stating that he favors the extension of “emergency assistance to seniors, unemployment insurance benefits, COBRA, and relief to states and localities to prevent layoffs.”

In fact, COBRA benefits—through which the federal government makes contributions to the health care premiums of laid off workers—last week began expiring for hundreds of thousands of households, with neither the Obama administration nor Congressional Democrats taking any action to extend the benefits.

As for state and municipal governments, they are buckling under record budget deficits that have been translated into unprecedented cuts to social programs and public education.

Just before Obama delivered his speech, the U.S. Conference of Mayors published a report showing a 26 percent increase in demand for food assistance in one year. It follows recent reports by the US Department of Agriculture, the New York Times and Feeding America, a major food charity, in revealing a dramatic increase in hunger in the US over the past two years.

With the scourges of joblessness, hunger, and homelessness at levels not seen since the Great Depression, Obama’s closing words can only be deemed provocative.

“The storms of the past are receding,” the president said. “The skies are brightening. And the horizon is beckoning once more.”

Congressional hearings set stage for escalation of Afghanistan war

Congressional hearings set stage for escalation of Afghanistan war

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Testimony Tuesday by the senior US military commander and the US ambassador in Afghanistan before the House and Senate armed services committees has set the stage for a dramatic escalation of the war in Afghanistan and its further expansion across the border into Pakistan.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, a retired general who previously commanded US forces in Afghanistan, both asserted their agreement with President Barack Obama’s decision—announced at West Point on December 1—to send another 30,000 US troops into the country.

The review process that consumed countless hours of discussion by Obama and his top aides has produced a policy that essentially provides McChrystal with everything he requested and leaves the strategy that he was pursuing in Afghanistan unchanged.

Ambassador Eikenberry, who together with McChrystal repeatedly referred to the two men’s shared military careers, told the House panel, “I can say without equivocation that I fully support this approach,” adding that he was “exactly aligned with General McChrystal.”

The remark was aimed at distancing himself from a cable he sent from Kabul, which was leaked to the media last month, warning that the deployment of tens of thousands more American troops would not accomplish US objectives, given the corruption and impotence of the Afghan puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai.

In his opening statement, McChrystal repeated the standard justification for the US war, stating that to achieve the “core goal of defeating Al Qaeda and preventing their return to Afghanistan, we must disrupt and degrade the Taliban’s capacity, deny their access to the Afghan population, and strengthen the Afghan Security Forces.”

US military and security officials have estimated that there are no more than 100 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and have presented no evidence to back the repeated assertions that the organization is operating under the wing of the Taliban.

As for the Taliban itself, the term is used indiscriminately to describe the armed resistance to the US-led occupation that has spread over at least 80 percent of Afghanistan and has been fueled by the killing of civilians in US airstrikes and ground operations.

The real aim of the US escalation, which will increase the number of American soldiers and Marines in the country to over 100,000, is to suppress this resistance through the use of overwhelming force.

The questioning of McChrystal was, with few exceptions, characterized by the habitual obsequiousness of the politicians, Democratic and Republican alike, to the generals who head the US military. Republicans attempted to maneuver McChrystal into making statements critical of President Obama, questioning, in particular, whether he had been shortchanged on the number of troops being sent to Afghanistan. Media reports suggested he had asked for 40,000.

They also focused on Obama’s pledge in his West Point speech that the Afghanistan “surge” would begin to wind down in July 2011, when a gradual withdrawal of US forces would commence. The Republicans demanded to know whether this promise did not undermine the mission and allow the insurgents to wait out the US occupation forces.

McChrystal, who in the run-up to Obama’s decision had pressured the White House to agree to his troop request, using leaked memos and even a public speech in London, did not take the bait.

The general said he was “comfortable” with the number of troops and did “not anticipate the requirement to ask for additional forces.” The difference between his request for 40,000 troops and Obama’s decision to send 30,000 will doubtless be erased with the sending of additional “support” troops and the use of private military contractors.

In the Bush administration’s Iraq “surge” an announced deployment of an additional 21,000 troops was surreptitiously increased to nearly 30,000, with the Pentagon sending additional forces in the form of support units. This process has already begun in Afghanistan, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates announcing to a Senate committee last week that he may need to send 3,000 more troops to assist the 30,000 stipulated by Obama.

There are nearly 10,000 private military contractors in Afghanistan, a number that has grown sharply in recent months. In total, the Department of Defense employs over 100,000 contractors in the country to support the US occupation by providing essential services formerly provided by military personnel.

As for Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing American troops by July 11, McChrystal dismissed it with the contempt it deserves, knowing full well that the White House tacked it on to the escalation proposal in a bid to counter mass popular opposition to the war in the US.

“I don’t view July 2011 as a deadline,” McChrystal told the House Armed Services Committee. “At that time, we’ll evaluate the time and scope of a possible drawdown.”

Asked whether he had recommended setting a date for withdrawing some of the additional occupation troops, McChrystal acknowledged, “I made no recommendations at all on that.” Nor does he see himself bound by Obama’s political gesture.

The Democrats on the two committees, in their overwhelming majority, indicated their support for the war’s escalation. Several of them, however, attempted to shift the focus of the questioning to Pakistan. Representative Rob Andrews, a Democrat from New Jersey, referred to the decision to send additional US troops into Afghanistan as a “bank shot,” suggesting that the real target should be Pakistan.

Andrews asked McChrystal whether “force protection” could be invoked to allow the pursuit of insurgents across the border into Pakistan.

The US general allowed that while he would reserve the right of US forces to do whatever is required to defend themselves, he would be “very cautious” about cross-border raids. “The sovereignty of Pakistan is as sacred as the sovereignty as any other country,” he proclaimed.

Such sentiments were not in evidence in September 2008, when Special Operations units, then under McChrystal’s direct command, carried out a raid against a Pakistani village. Local officials said that the raid killed 20 people, most of them women and children.

While both McChrystal and Eikenberry dodged questions on Pakistan by insisting that it was not their direct responsibility, it has become increasingly evident that a central feature of the Obama administration’s escalation will be stepped up military operations in that country as well.

The New York Times Tuesday cited US and Pakistani officials as reporting that Washington had warned the Pakistani government “that if it does not act more aggressively, the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan.” The warning came, the Times reported, during a visit last month to Islamabad by Obama’ national security advisor, Gen. James Jones, and the administration’s chief advisor on counterterrorism, John Brennan.

The warning was interpreted by Pakistani officials as a threat to launch new raids by US Special Operations troops across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and to expand Predator drone missile attacks, including against the city of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, where Taliban leaders have reportedly taken refuge.

In his testimony before the House panel Tuesday, McChrystal hinted at the sharp rise in US casualties—as well as the hundreds of billions of dollars in additional spending—that will accompany the Afghanistan “surge.” He said, “Success will require steadfast commitment and incur significant costs.”

This warning was spelled out more explicitly the day before in an address by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, who are to be among the first elements deployed in the escalation.

“I don't want to be in any way unclear about that,” said Mullen in predicting a sharp increase in the killing and wounding of American troops. “This is what happened in Iraq during the surge and, as tragic as it is, to turn this thing around, it will be a part of this surge, as well.”

Mullen also told the Marines: “We are not winning, which means we are losing and as we are losing, the message traffic out there to [Afghan resistance] recruits keeps getting better and better and more keep coming.”

Unmentioned by the witnesses, the members of Congress and, of course, the media, is what the escalation will mean in terms of the killing and maiming of Afghan civilians. Behind all of McChrystal’s euphemisms about “degrading” or “rolling back” the Taliban, what is being prepared is the unleashing of massive and sustained violence designed to crush those resisting the US-led occupation as well as those civilians who support or harbor them.

Obama expands war into Pakistan

Obama expands war into Pakistan

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One week ago, President Obama in a speech at West Point sought to portray his escalation of the war in Afghanistan as the prelude to an early withdrawal of US troops. It has since become increasingly apparent that the speech was nothing more than a calculated exercise in public deception.

The speech was crafted to chloroform the public, the better to defy and disorient mass popular opposition to the war.

It is now clear that the actual policy Obama has decided to pursue is not only the maintenance of an indefinite military occupation of Afghanistan, but a vast expansion of the war into Pakistan.

Within hours of the speech, administration officials were “clarifying” Obama’s talk of beginning the withdrawal of US forces by July 2011 to make clear that there is no such deadline and that US troops will remain in Afghanistan long after that date. Now it has emerged that a central component of Obama’s war plan is an expansion of US drone missile strikes in Pakistan and the deployment of US Special Operations forces on Pakistani territory to carry out attacks on insurgents in that country.

Obama said nothing in his speech about expanding the war into Pakistan. As the New York Times reported Tuesday, quoting an unnamed senior aid to the president, “We concluded early on that whatever you do with Pakistan, you don’t want to talk about it much.”

The Times, which has for months been campaigning for an escalation of the war and its expansion into Pakistan, reported the day after Obama’s speech that the White House last month signed off on an expansion of CIA operations in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, the newspaper reported that prior to Obama’s speech, his national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, met with the heads of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service and told them that unless Pakistan moved quickly to expand its military offensive against insurgents to Baluchistan and North Waziristan, “the United States was prepared to take unilateral action to expand Predator drone strikes beyond the tribal areas and, if needed, to resume raids by Special Operations forces into the country against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.”

In an editorial on Tuesday bristling with imperialist arrogance, the Times demanded that the Pakistanis “stop temporizing and get fully into the fight.” On the expansion of US missile strikes in Pakistan, including their extension into Baluchistan, the newspaper wrote: “Such strikes have killed several top extremists, but the program is hugely unpopular in Pakistan and Mr. Obama must be judicious about expanding it. That means three things: extremely careful targeting, no civilian casualties, or as few as possible [i.e., as many as needed], and no publicity.”

In other words, the American people are to be kept in the dark about targeted assassinations, civilian casualties from missile strikes, and other covert military operations in Pakistan. And the Times will do its part to suppress any information about such actions.

The editorial went on to declare that Obama had to persuade the Pakistanis that “the United States is in it for the long haul this time.”

What this points to is an unprecedented program of US military aggression and subversion and the transformation of both Afghanistan and Pakistan into US protectorates. This is the meaning of the recent statement by National Security Adviser Jones that “We are not leaving the region. We have enormous strategic interests in Afghanistan, east of Afghanistan in Pakistan…”

Since Obama’s lying speech, a program of US colonial domination of Central and South Asia has been unfurled, and the US media has swung into action to bolster the effort with a new round of pro-war propaganda, including the dispatch of TV news anchors to American bases in Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan is only part of the global strategy of American imperialism to assert its domination of a region rich in oil and gas and of critical geo-strategic importance for supremacy over the Eurasian continent. The implications of this drive are catastrophic for the peoples of the region, who will pay the price in countless deaths, social devastation and neo-colonial oppression. But they are also disastrous for the people of the United States, whose sons and daughters will be sacrificed and whose living standards will be further slashed to pay for never-ending military adventures.

There is an element of immense recklessness in Washington’s aggressive policy toward Pakistan. It is driving the country into civil war, which would rapidly destabilize the entire region and heighten the danger of war between India and Pakistan and between India and China, all three of which are nuclear powers. Russia and Iran would inevitably be drawn into the maelstrom as well.

Obama’s election was promoted by sections of the American ruling elite who believed he could serve as the figurehead for a certain recalibration of US foreign policy after the disasters of the Bush years. It is now clear that Obama is the front man for the military and the most ruthless representatives of the ruling class.

It is necessary for workers and youth to draw the requisite conclusions. The fight against the war is a fight against the Obama administration. It is a fight against the Democratic Party and the two-party system. And it is a fight against American imperialism and the capitalist system upon which it is based.

Homeland Security Embarks on Big Brother Programs to Read Our Minds and Emotions

Homeland Security Embarks on Big Brother Programs to Read Our Minds and Emotions

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In the sci-fi thriller Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a D.C. police detective, circa 2054, in the department of "pre-crime," an experimental law enforcement unit whose mission -- to hunt down criminals before they strike -- relies on the psychic visions of mutant "pre-cogs" (short for precognition) who can see the future. It may be futuristic Hollywood fantasy, but the underlying premise -- that we can predict (if not see) a person's sinister plans before they follow through -- is already here.

This past February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded a one-year, $2.6 million grant to the Cambridge, MA.-based Charles Stark Draper Laboratory to develop computerized sensors capable of detecting a person's level of "malintent" -- or intention to do harm. It's only the most recent of numerous contracts awarded to Draper and assorted research outfits by the U.S. government over the past few years under the auspices of a project called "Future Attribute Screening Technologies," or FAST. It's the next wave of behavior surveillance from DHS and taxpayers have paid some $20 million on it so far.

Conceived as a cutting-edge counter-terrorism tool, the FAST program will ostensibly detect subjects' bad intentions by monitoring their physiological characteristics, particularly those associated with fear and anxiety. It's part of a broader "initiative to develop innovative, non-invasive technologies to screen people at security checkpoints," according to DHS.

The "non-invasive" claim might be a bit of a stretch. A DHS report issued last December outlined some of the possible technological features of FAST, which include "a remote cardiovascular and respiratory sensor" to measure "heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia," a "remote eye tracker" that "uses a camera and processing software to track the position and gaze of the eyes (and, in some instances, the entire head)," "thermal cameras that provide detailed information on the changes in the thermal properties of the skin in the face," and "a high resolution video that allows for highly detailed images of the face and body … and an audio system for analyzing human voice for pitch change."

Ultimately, all of these components would be combined to take the form of a "prototypical mobile suite (FAST M2) … used to increase the accuracy and validity of identifying persons with malintent."

Coupled with the Transportation Security Administration's Behavior Detection Officers, 3,000 of whom are already scrutinizing travelers' expressions and body language at airports and travel hubs nationwide, DHS officials say that FAST will add a potentially lifesaving layer of security to prevent another terrorist attack. "There's only so much you can see with the naked eye," DHS spokesperson John Verrico told AlterNet. "We can't see somebody's heart rate…. We may be able to see movements of the eye and changes in dilation of the pupil, but will those give us enough [information] to make a determination as to what we're really seeing?"

Ideally, Verrico says, FAST mobile units would be used for security, not just at airports, but at "any sort of a large-scale event," including sporting events or political rallies. ("When the Pope visited Washington D.C.," he says, "it would have been nice to have something like this at the entrance of the stadium.")

"Basically," says Verrico, "we're looking to give the security folks just some more tools that will help to add to their toolbox."

If you think eye scanners and thermal cameras sound like the twisted props of some Orwellian dystopia, you're not alone. FAST may be years from being operational, but civil libertarians have already raised concerns over its implications.

"We think that you have an inherent privacy right to your bodily metabolic functions," Jay Stanley, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty program told AlterNet. "Just because somebody can build some high-tech piece of equipment that can detect your pulse and perspiration and breathing and heart rate, that doesn't mean that it should be open season to detect that on anybody without suspicion."

Besides, he says, the FAST program is based on "the same old pseudo-scientific baloney that we've seen in so many other areas. As far as I can tell, there's very little science that establishes the efficacy of this kind of thing. And there probably never will be."

Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and bestselling author who has been one of the most vociferous critics of such new high-tech DHS initiatives, concurs. In fact, he says, all the evidence suggests the opposite. "The problem is the false positives," he says.

Beyond the fact that ordinary travelers are likely to exhibit many of the symptoms supposedly indicative of malintent (how many people run to catch a plane and end up overheated and out of breath?), compare the rarity of terrorist attacks with the millions of travelers who pass through a security checkpoint. Statistically, Schneier argues, it's a fool's errand. "If you run the math, you get several million false positives for every real attack you find. So it ends up being as useless as picking people randomly. If you're going to spend money on something, you can spend money on dice -- it's cheaper. And equally as effective."

'The Theory of Malintent'

The FAST program, and others like it, have been in the works for a few years. In 2007, New Scientist reported on a DHS project called Project Hostile Intent, which "aims to identify facial expressions, gait, blood pressure, pulse and perspiration rates that are characteristic of hostility or the desire to deceive." Under the purview of DHS's Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), the project would "include heart rate and breathing sensors, infrared light, laser, video, audio and eye tracking."

According to New Scientist, "PHI got quietly under way on 9 July, when HSARPA issued a 'request for information' in which it asked security companies and U.S. government labs to suggest technologies that could be used to achieve the project's aims. It hopes to test them at a handful of airports, borders and ports as early as 2010 and to deploy the system at all points of entry to the U.S. by 2012."

Subsequent news reports have conflated Project Hostile Intent and FAST, claiming that the latter is the same program, under a new name. But Verrico says this is incorrect. They are two separate programs, both seeking to "find the things that we can't see with the naked eye."

FAST was inspired by what DHS officials refer to as the "Theory of Malintent." Don't bother Googling it; it seems to exist primarily in relation to FAST, apparently pioneered in the service of the program. According to Verrico, the theory was -- and continues to be -- developed by Dr. Dan Martin, an adviser to the program, who posits that one can identify specific physiological cues that are diagnostic of malintent. Currently, Verrico says, researchers are trying to devise an algorithm that can differentiate between people whose heart rate is up because they are, say, afraid of flying, and those who are potential terrorists about to carry out some sort of attack. Verrico says they are searching for the "combination of signs that will tell us the difference between somebody who's just stressed or out of breath or overheated or whatever … and somebody who really is planning to do something nasty." But can such (admittedly common) variables really be distilled into an equation and fed into a machine?

Stanley argues that it is misguided to pour so much faith into "this idea that everything can be reduced to machinery and numbers." He says it shows naivete on the part of government officials about the limits of technology. He also blames it on "vendors pushing expensive new products." In the search for the next cutting-edge counter-terrorism tool, DHS has thrown millions of dollars at scientists purporting to be developing the Next Big Thing in security technology. As private military contractors know, providing security equals big bucks.

"I've heard it called the 'Security Industrial Complex,'" says Schneier. "There's money to be made and there are people out there who are going to say it can be done. And, yeah, it's techie and sexy and sounds good."

Schneier, who travels around the world speaking about the intersection of security and technology, says this has been especially true since 2001. "After 9/11 the money faucets turned on. And anybody with any half-baked security idea got funded."

Technology v. Fourth Amendment

It will probably be years before FAST is implemented. "It's sort of at the 'gee whiz' stage," says Stanley. The technology has only been tested using human subjects twice; once last year, at the Prince George's County Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD, and another time this summer at Draper Labs.

According to Verrico, the demonstrations were partly intended to test the theories behind FAST, "but were mostly done to demonstrate the system to government observers and the media."

"We can't go into too much detail on the laboratory protocol," he says, "but basically, participants were told they were going to attend a special event. Some of them were asked to create some sort of disturbance. As they were entering the facility, they were asked a series of questions while being observed by the various sensors. The earlier tests were done to determine whether the sensors could detect the physiological signs we were looking for and to validate their accuracy. For example, some people wore contact heart monitors and readings were compared to those picked up by the remote sensor."

Verrico is quick to clarify that none of the study's participants had their personal data stored; last December DHS issued an official Privacy Impact Statement asserting that subjects would have their privacy vigorously protected.

As for broader privacy concerns about the program itself, Verrico denies there's a problem. "We're not X-raying you," he says. Besides, "these are things that you are already presenting. Your body temperature is what it is. The fluctuations on your skin are what they are. Your heart rate is what it is. All we're doing is trying to see it a little better."

But when similar logic was presented to the Supreme Court, in Kyllo v. United States a few years back, the justices were unconvinced that this was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In that case, federal agents used a thermal imaging device in order to detect an unusual level of heat emanating from the home of an Oregon man named Danny Lee Kyllo. According to authorities, there was an unusually high level of heat radiating from Kyllo's garage, as compared with the rest of the house, suggesting that there were high-intensity lamps inside, of the type used to grow marijuana. On these grounds, federal agents searched the house, uncovering more than 100 marijuana plants; a crime for which Kyllo was subsequently convicted. Kyllo's appeal reached the Supreme Court, and in 2001, the justices ruled 5 to 4 in his favor.

"It would be foolish to contend that the degree of privacy secured to citizens by the Fourth Amendment has been entirely unaffected by the advance of technology," Judge Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. "The question we confront today is what limits there are upon this power of technology to shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy."

'We Don't Live in a Police State'

Existing precursors to FAST, like the TSA's SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) program, have so far had pretty dismal results. As I reported last month, in 2008 alone, TSA's Behavior Detection Officers across the country pulled 98,805 passengers aside for additional screenings, out of whom only 813 were eventually arrested. SPOT's defenders argue that at least this means we are catching "bad guys" -- as Dr. Paul Ekman, who helped pioneer the program told AlterNet, "I would think that the American public would not feel badly that they are catching money or drug smugglers, or wanted felons for serious crimes" -- but Bruce Schneier calls this "ridiculous."

"I can just invent a program where I arrest one in every ten people in the street," he says. "I guarantee you I'm gonna catch bad guys. I mean, shoot, how about we arrest everybody whose name starts with G?"

"We don't live in a police state," says Schneier, "so be careful of the logic, 'Well, you know, we catch some bad guys.'"

Jay Stanley hopes the FAST machinery will never get off the ground. "But it's possible that this kind of thing could be perceived as blunderingly effective, even though it's violating privacy rights and it could catch people who are nervous for other reasons," he warns. "The authorities could push to expand it and that's a very troublesome notion. I think that only concerned citizens making their voices heard could stop it if things turn out this way."

"I think maybe we need more English majors in the Department of Homeland Security," he jokes, "because each person is like a walking War and Peace: We all have complicated lives that could be written into thousand-page novels. The idea that somebody could take a snapshot of our breathing rate and decide that, of all the possible sources of human stress and excitement, that it is a terrorist attack we're plotting is simply absurd."

University of Wisconsin puts Nike on Notice

University of Wisconsin puts Nike on notice

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University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin has decided to give Nike four months to clear up problems of reported workers' rights abuses at two factories that the sports apparel giant subcontracts with in Honduras.

If the situation isn't remedied, the university could end its apparel contract with Nike -- a deal which brings the university nearly $50,000 per year.

Martin said Monday that she hopes to build a coalition of interested schools from the Big Ten Conference and other peer institutions to put pressure on Nike. The success of these attempts may go a long way in determining whether Nike is brought to its proverbial knees -- or continues with business as usual.

"I think in order to be effective it's necessary to get other schools involved, and I know there are other campuses considering and researching what's going on," Martin said following a Faculty Senate meeting at Bascom Hall.

Dawn Crim, a special assistant to the chancellor for community relations, said that in discussions with Nike it has "become clear" the company is working to rectify the situation.

"But we wanted to nail down a time frame," Crim said Monday. "These issues do take time, and the chancellor thought 120 days was reasonable. If, in fact, (Nike) is working to solve problems, that's enough time -- but it's not open ended."

The university first made the announcement about Martin's message to Nike in this press release.

If you think getting an apparel giant to stop its alleged anti-sweatshop practices is simply a pipe dream, you haven't been paying attention.

UW-Madison and student activists on campus played a key role in persuading Russell Athletic -- one of the nation's leading sportswear companies -- on Nov. 17 to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras who had lost their jobs when Russell shuttered its factory shortly after workers unionized. In that instance, UW-Madison was one of nearly 100 colleges and universities which ended apparel deals with Russell -- forcing the company to change its ways if it wanted to get back into the profitable collegiate apparel-making business. For more on that story, click here.

According to an October report produced by the Worker Rights Consortium, two factories Nike subcontracts with in Honduras -- Vision Tex and Hugger de Honduras -- closed in January without paying more than $2 million in legally mandated severance and back pay to 1,800 workers. As a licensee of UW-Madison apparel, Nike is bound by a university code of conduct for producers that require payment of these legally mandated wages and other benefits.

Martin first wrote a letter to Nike on Nov. 3 expressing concerns about the allegations and asking the company to "provide us with detailed information about your company's remediation plans" by Nov. 11. According to University Communications, Martin was the first college president to write Nike to ask for a detailed remediation plan.

On Nov. 10, Nike sent a generic letter to all universities that had been asking about the situation, stating the company is "deeply concerned about the issues raised by the Worker Rights Consortium ...."

That letter also states: "It is important to note that, to the best of our knowledge, none of the products manufactured for Nike at either Hugger or Vision Tex was collegiate licensed apparel, aside from a one-time order of 800 units in 2007 for one university partner."

UW-Madison administrators, however, were not satisfied with that blanket response.

Crim said Nike has "since apologized for not getting back to us quicker and now they say they're glad to be working with us on this."

UW-Madison's Labor Licensing Policy Committee voted 7-2 on Nov. 13 to recommend that Chancellor Martin start taking steps to end the university's apparel contract with Nike. (For a story on this, click here.) The committee's vote, however, is strictly advisory.

Late last week, Martin wrote to members of the committee to notify them that she believes Nike is working in good faith toward a resolution. Therefore, Martin plans to give Nike four months to solve the issue, make "satisfactory, demonstrable progress," or allow the company's relationship with the university to lapse.

But not everyone is happy with Martin's timeline.

Jan Van Tol, a UW-Madison senior and a member of both the Labor Licensing Policy Committee and the Student Labor Action Coalition, said: "We are very disappointed with the Chancellor's response. Not only has she given Nike an absurdly long timeline, but she's also set the bar very low. Let's be clear: Nike could pay its debts tomorrow -- it simply doesn't want to. That's why giving them four months just to make ‘progress' is so bizarre."

Adds Van Tol, who graduates later this month: "Nike has been given ample opportunity to pay its workers, but continues to stall. Giving them more time, after they've already had eleven months, is simply irresponsible and is not an effective way to enforce the code of conduct."

War and Poverty in Afghanistan

War and Poverty in Afghanistan

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President Obama has made the wrong decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan--at a cost of $1 million per soldier, or $30 billion a year. What we need is not more war but attention to problems like poverty which so often play a role in breeding insecurity and terrorism.

In Afghanistan, as we dispatch these first soldiers, it's important that we pay attention to the dire problem of extreme poverty in that tormented country.

The statistics are stunning: Afghanistan is the fifth least developed country in the world according to a UN report; the fifth lowest GDP per capita in the world at $426, according to the World Bank; life expectancy is 43 years compared to 59 for people in low-income countries worldwide; only 13 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water and 12 percent to adequate sanitation; 15,000 Afghan women die annually from pregnancy-related causes and the maternal mortality rate is second highest in the world; thirty Afghans die of tuberculosis every day; fewer than one in four Afghans are literate.

The counterinsurgency strategy itself calls for 80 percent of resources to be used for non-military purposes like economic development, and just 20 percent for the military. Yet both Presidents Bush and Obama have flipped this ratio, and with the new Obama surge, it seems the skewed allotment of resources will only get worse. (The Obama surge also contradicts counterinsurgency principles which demand twenty soldiers for every 1000 inhabitants, or 270,000-plus forces.)

Imagine what we might be able to accomplish to build security if we gave up on an outmoded "war" on terror and the hundreds of billions of dollars it squanders on military force, and instead funded sustainable development programs?

Living by the Gate From Hell

The Great Wall of Israel

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Try to imagine this: An American president visits Israel and in a speech given close to the vast “separation wall” Israel continues to build in part through Palestinian territory, says: “Mr. Netanyahu, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for Israel and the region, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Netanyahu, open this gate! Mr. Netanyahu, tear down this wall!”

I’m sure you recognize that set of famous lines. With the name “Gorbachev” in place of “Netanyahu,” President Ronald Reagan intoned them on June 12, 1987, in front of the Berlin Wall. Less than two-and-a-half years later, of course, that stain on Europe, that prison wall of Soviet power which, in all the years of the Cold War, was seldom long out of the U.S. news, was gone -- and 20 years later we’re still celebrating. The Israeli wall, endlessly under construction, is far longer, approximately twice as high, no less militarized, and no less a dystopian wonder of prison architecture. It is also a thief. As it meanders, it steals land. It is, as the Berlin Wall once was, a stain on the human landscape. But no American president, including Barack Obama, is likely to make a Reaganesque journey to the Middle East, denounce the wall, and call for its dismantlement. It plays little part in the news in this country when the Israeli-Palestinian situation is raised. It’s hard to imagine us celebrating its fall.

In the meantime, while that grotesque wall grows, while the talk is of shuttling diplomats and diplomatic cul-de-sacs, of paths to nowhere and missing Plan B’s for the Obama administration, as well as potential Israeli strikes against Iran, those in the shadow of the wall suffer. Ellen Cantarow, who covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Village Voice back in the 1980s, recently spent time on Palestinian farmland in the shadow of the Great Wall of Israel and offers a portrait, from under the olive branches, not from the heights of diplomatic exchanges, of what it’s like, and what it takes, to live near today’s version of a mega-Berlin Wall. Tom

Living by the Gate From Hell
A Portrait of Nonviolent Resistance in One Palestinian Village
By Ellen Cantarow

Much is heard of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the story of the determined, long-term nonviolent resistance of many Palestinian villagers to the loss of their lands, striking as it may be, is seldom told. Here’s my report from just one village on the West Bank.

At no time since its 1967 West Bank occupation have Israel’s seizures of Palestinian land and water resources seemed as shocking as the ones attending its construction of “the wall,” begun in 2002. Vast, complex, and shifting in form, the wall appears most dramatically as 25-foot-high concrete slabs punctuated by militarized watch towers, supplemented by electronically monitored electrified fences stretching over vast distances.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared the wall illegal, but Israel ignored the ruling. Now, it undulates through the West Bank for over 280 kilometers, clasping Israel’s major colonies and some minor ones in its embrace. The completed wall will incorporate more than 85% of the West Bank’s settler population, a de facto annexation by Israel of significant chunks of the territory it first occupied in 1967. This is the dream of Greater Israel rapidly turned into architecture. For the Palestinians, however, the wall means theft, separating many Palestinian cities and villages from their land and water.

Jayyous, with a population of 3,500, is one of those villages. It lies nestled in a mountainous northern West Bank landscape with the Palestinian city of Qalqilya just to its west. The scenery here remains one of the Mediterranean’s loveliest, a cross, let’s say, between Tuscany and parts of Yugoslavia. Greek and Roman ruins mark the village’s great age. This was one of the West Bank’s most fertile areas. Farming involving a lively variety of nut, citrus, and olive trees, as well as vegetables, flourished around Jayyous, drawing life from abundant underground wells. The aquifers beneath Jayyous and Qalqilya, in fact, constitute a West Bank treasure. Lands belonging to both the city and the village abut Israel’s pre-1967 border -- the “Green Line.”

Before the wall’s advent, Qalqilya’s merchants and Israelis did regular business on either side of the border, while Jayyous’s farmers worked their land all the way up to the Green Line. Now, the monstrous, concrete version of the wall surrounds Qalqilya entirely, bringing to mind high-security prisons or ghettoes from other eras. Jayyous is segregated from most of its former land by the wall in what one could call its “barrier” form -- a system of steel fences, razor wire, and patrol roads manned by Israeli soldiers.

Four thousand of the village’s olive and citrus trees were uprooted to make way for the wall. All the village’s wells and over 75% percent of the land are now sequestered behind the wall, isolated on its west -- that is, “Israeli” -- side. A small Israeli settler colony called Zufim sits amid Jayyous’s former wealth. Israeli plans are on the books to build up to 1,500 new housing units on the bounty confiscated from the village. The new units will destroy the only road over which Jayyous’s farmers can now travel to and from their land: there used to be six of these roads. Israel has already blocked five of them.

Sixty-five year-old Sharif Omar Khalid, known more familiarly as Abu Azzam, has spent half his life struggling to preserve Jayyous’s land. In 1980, with other farmers representing villages throughout the West Bank, he founded the Land Defense Committee, one of 18 organizations that now make up the Stop the Wall campaign. Gifted with stubborn optimism, he counts as victory an Israeli Supreme Court decision in April 2006, which pushed the path of the wall back from the south side of the village. The decision returned 11% of Jayyous’s former land -- 750 dunams of the 8,600 blocked by the barrier. (A dunam is a little over a quarter of an acre.)

The wall remains, as does one of its most essential parts: the “agricultural gate.” There are two of these on Jayyous’s land -- one to the north; another to the south. Almost all of the village’s farmers are forced to use the north gate. Opened by Israeli soldiers for two 45-minute intervals at dawn and dusk, the gate blocks a patrol road manned by the Israelis.

But to get beyond the gate, across the patrol road, and from there to their farmland, Jayyous’s farmers need “visitors’ permits.” Since 2003, Israel has decreed that the villagers are only “visitors” on land they have worked for generations. Obtaining the permits is an excruciating obstacle course that only begins with proof of land ownership. Abu Azzam is one of the village’s major landowners; his title goes back several generations to the time when Jordan occupied the West Bank. Being a known activist, he was periodically denied his permit until the Israeli Supreme Court finally granted him a permanent permit noting that its bearer is a “security problem.” This produces extra problems for him in his daily odyssey to his fields and back.

The Gate from Hell

The first time I saw an “agricultural gate” was in 2004 outside the northern Palestinian village of Mas’ha. It was terrible to behold. Immense steel jaws painted a bright ochre-yellow creaked open, thanks to the Israeli Occupation Forces’ finest, for about 30 minutes at dawn and again at dusk. Between those two moments, it remained locked, leaving the local farmers with no possibility of returning home for lunch or emergencies, nor even for crop-irrigation at the appropriate time (after sundown).

Each opening of the Mas’ha gate permitted a lone farmer, Hani Amer -- his home locked in on three sides by the wall and on the fourth by an Israeli settlement -- to make sporadic trips to his fields. At both sides of the gate lay coils of razor wire snarled in front of a barrier ditch which stretched into the distance as far as we could see. Beyond this ditch, more razor wire. Then a “military road” meant for Israeli soldiers patrolling the boundaries of an Arab world considered burdensome to the Greater Israel.

Across the military road lay yet more razor wire and another ditch before Hani Amer could finally reach his fields.

To grasp what the gate really means, though, you’d have to stay, as I did, at least a night with a farmer in Jayyous at harvest time. You’d awaken with his wife and him at 5:30 A.M., drink a cup of strong Arabic coffee, eat bread spread with jam made from fruit he grows on the land remaining to him, and then go jolting down the white, rutted, stony road on his tractor. Finally, of course, you would wait with him in a gathering line of farmers at the gate.

Now watch, in the dawn of another day in the forty-second year of occupation, in front of this steel raptor out of some mad film-maker’s imagination, as they all arrive: one on his tractor, another on a donkey laden with sacks and harvest tools, until finally a long line stands waiting. Note those ubiquitous coils of razor wire, and the ditches, and that military road, just one form of the endless wall that imprisons Palestine’s people. Watch as the soldiers turn languidly and unlock the gate, swinging its jaws wide to transform it, and the military road it bars, into a checkpoint for the brief morning opening.

As I waited and watched from Abu Azzam’s tractor this past October, I imagined the hillside on the other side of the road as it must have been decades ago, when I still reported regularly from the West Bank. The region’s steep hills were then punctuated by lines of dry-wall terracing that enclosed olive trees whose leaves billowed silver in the wind, and the darker greens of fruit trees and grapevines. The Greater Israel’s new, California-style urban sprawl, its cities that now ooze through the West Bank, were still part of an expansionist dream, not a burgeoning reality, and of course there was no wall, nor a “military road,” nor, of course, an agricultural gate.

Watch now, as each farmer with his donkey, his tractor, his work-tools, approaches the passage between the gaping steel jaws. Watch each as he moves into the military road, brings his donkey to a halt, dismounts, and offers his ID card to a stout, impassive Israeli soldier. Flanked by two other soldiers, he, in turn, calls a control tower rising in the distance and in Hebrew recites each bearer’s name and ID numbers. Take in the stoicism, the resignation, the endurance of these farmers as they accept the indignity of all this because there is no other choice. Think that they are trying to do one simple thing: harvest their olives.

But first each must move into the road, stand with head bowed or eyes averted as his fate is determined for this day, and then, if he’s approved, move forward. Beyond lie more ditches at the other side of the road, more razor wire and -- at last -- something that masquerades as freedom but isn’t. The farmer is now permitted to climb the hill in his vehicle. Beyond its crest he may reach his fields, for whose sake he has endured this daily torment.

And now, consider the Israeli settlers and soldiers, whose absolute rule, running the gamut from control over this gate through vigilantism against villagers like those in Jayyous, make a nightmare of this simple thing, the olive harvest. Settlers from Zufim actually uprooted olive trees in Jayyous in 2004. (Some were carted away for sale in Israel); sewage from the colony has destroyed others.

A week after my stay, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz, Jewish settlers elsewhere in the northern West Bank “clashed with Palestinians picking olives.” The settlers called the farmers trying to bring in their crops a “security” threat because they “could gather intelligence and launch attacks from the olive groves.”

Elsewhere in the area that same week, Israeli security forces stood by as settlers entered a Palestinian village “to hold a brief rally” against the harvest. (Israel’s army is now dominated from top to bottom by ultra-religious-expansionist settlers, which makes a mockery of the “settler-soldier” distinction.) Meanwhile, near an Israeli “outpost” settlement called Adi Ad, settlers “uprooted dozens of olive trees.” As I write, similar alarums reach me by e-mail daily.

Several times since October the Israeli Army has imposed curfews on Jayyous -- collective punishment for the weekly anti-wall demonstrations staged by village youth here. Most of the time the curfews have been levied after the farmers were already in their fields and haven’t interrupted the harvest. But they have punished the rest of Jayyous. Collective punishment -- reprisals against all for the actions of a few -- is illegal under the 1949 Fourth Geneva convention.

Keeping Going

“A state gone mad,” observed Palestinian lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh when, a day after visiting Jayyous, I described the scene at the gate. This particular barrier of steel, these particular patient farmers, those particular soldiers enforcing Israel’s banality of evil -- they offer but a taste of the insane ingenuity that is the still-developing Greater Israel. A Dutch filmmaker who had interviewed some West Bank Jewish settlers, related this little exchange to Shehadeh: “What is your dream?” she asked one of the settlers. “My dream,” he replied, “is that my grandchildren will say someday, ‘Here, they say that once upon a time there were Arabs.’”

The evening before we all arose to go to the gate, Abu Azzam took a German visitor and me to see the local olive press where he and other farmers unload each day’s harvest. The sight of Jayyous’s olives moving up a conveyor belt and into the press, finally to emerge as a stream of oil bottled in large plastic containers, was joyous. Children ran and slid about on the slick floor, laughing; their parents dipped bread for them in the delicious, freshly-pressed oil. What human madness would inflict constant torment on such peaceful labor?

Later, Abu Azzam told me stories about his life as an activist, his marriage, and his children. Jailed by Jordan for belonging to the Communist Party and later by Israel for his attempts to preserve the village land, he says he can’t imagine anything but keeping going. “I have no other choice” is the way he puts it, with a shrug and a smile.

He recalled the moment back in October 2003 as the wall was being built, when an Israeli official tried to buy off the Jayyous activists by offering them 650 permits which would have allowed that many farmers to access their land. But the Land Defense Committee made “a team decision” not to use them. Accepting the permits would have meant recognizing the validity of the wall and the whole system of dispossession that went with it. Israeli soldiers closed the gate; it was the height of the olive, guava, and clementine harvests. Abu Azzam and other farmers cut gaps in the barrier and crept through to work their fields “without a tractor, without horses, without carriages, without anything. Only our bodies.”

More arrests followed. The farmers made a decision to stay on their land and not return to the village. “My wife was very angry,” Abu Azzam recalls. “She called me on October 21 asking me, ‘Are we divorced? Are we separated?’ I said ‘I’m resisting.’ ‘Resisting? Can you see one box of guavas, cucumbers, or tomatoes? ‘Enough, to be on the land is resistance.’ I said.”

Since 2003 Abu Azzam and other Jayyous farmers have continued their obdurate odyssey to their lands. This determination to keep farming on the 3,250 dunams -- of an original 8,050 -- that the villagers still have, rather than live elsewhere in the West Bank or abroad is itself resistance. In Palestine, this “just staying” is called samid. It means “the steadfast,” “the persevering,” and eloquently expresses the oldest form of Palestinian nonviolent resistance.

“You have so many problems,” I said to Abu Azzam. “Would you ever leave?” He smiled at me indulgently. “All our life is a problem. I don’t want to be a new refugee. I am against the emigration that took place through the Israelis.”

Since 2008, Jayyous’s young people have staged weekly demonstrations against the wall. One of their leaders -- Mohammed Othman -- was arrested by Israeli authorities this past fall when he returned from a speaking tour in Norway. He is still in jail under indefinite administrative detention.

Jayyousi leaders have also written to high officials in Norway and Dubai imploring them to divest from companies owned by the Uzbekistan-born Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev. In doing so, Jayyous joins growing international revulsion at, and refusal to deal with, Leviev’s companies. Their reach is vast and diverse, extending to Angola’s diamond mines, New York real estate, and Israeli settlements in whose planning and building (including Zufim) they are heavily involved. Last March, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported that the British Embassy in Tel Aviv “stopped negotiations to lease a floor in Africa-Israel’s Kirya Tower because of the [Leviev-owned] company’s involvement in settlement construction.” Oxfam has severed ties with him for the same reason.

On September 9, 2009, a month before my arrival, the Israeli Supreme Court handed down a new ruling moving the route of the wall again and returning an additional 2,448 dunams to Jayyous. “Because of your efforts?” I asked Azzam.

“It is because of Jayyous,” he replied. “It is a group struggle.”

Copenhagen's Hidden Agenda: The Multibillion Trade in Carbon Derivatives

Copenhagen's Hidden Agenda: The Multibillion Trade in Carbon Derivatives

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As I have previously shown, speculative derivatives (especially credit default swaps) are a primary cause of the economic crisis.

And I have pointed out that (1) the giant banks will make a killing on carbon trading, (2) while the leading scientist crusading against global warming says it won't work, and (3) there is a very high probability of massive fraud and insider trading in the carbon trading markets.

Now, Bloomberg notes that the carbon trading scheme will be centered around derivatives:

The banks are preparing to do with carbon what they’ve done before: design and market derivatives contracts that will help client companies hedge their price risk over the long term. They’re also ready to sell carbon-related financial products to outside investors.

[Blythe] Masters says banks must be allowed to lead the way if a mandatory carbon-trading system is going to help save the planet at the lowest possible cost. And derivatives related to carbon must be part of the mix, she says. Derivatives are securities whose value is derived from the value of an underlying commodity -- in this case, CO2 and other greenhouse gases...

Who is Blythe Masters?

She is the JP Morgan employee who invented credit default swaps, and is now heading JPM's carbon trading efforts. As Bloomberg notes (this and all remaining quotes are from the above-linked Bloomberg article):

Masters, 40, oversees the New York bank’s environmental businesses as the firm’s global head of commodities...

As a young London banker in the early 1990s, Masters was part of JPMorgan’s team developing ideas for transferring risk to third parties. She went on to manage credit risk for JPMorgan’s investment bank.

Among the credit derivatives that grew from the bank’s early efforts was the credit-default swap.

Some in congress are fighting against carbon derivatives:

“People are going to be cutting up carbon futures, and we’ll be in trouble,” says Maria Cantwell, a Democratic senator from Washington state. “You can’t stay ahead of the next tool they’re going to create.”

Cantwell, 51, proposed in November that U.S. state governments be given the right to ban unregulated financial products. “The derivatives market has done so much damage to our economy and is nothing more than a very-high-stakes casino -- except that casinos have to abide by regulations,” she wrote in a press release...

However, Congress may cave in to industry pressure to let carbon derivatives trade over-the-counter:

The House cap-and-trade bill bans OTC derivatives, requiring that all carbon trading be done on exchanges...The bankers say such a ban would be a mistake...The banks and companies may get their way on carbon derivatives in separate legislation now being worked out in Congress...

Financial experts are also opposed to cap and trade:

Even George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund operator, says money managers would find ways to manipulate cap-and-trade markets. “The system can be gamed,” Soros, 79, remarked at a London School of Economics seminar in July. “That’s why financial types like me like it -- because there are financial opportunities”...

Hedge fund manager Michael Masters, founder of Masters Capital Management LLC, based in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands [and unrelated to Blythe Masters] says speculators will end up controlling U.S. carbon prices, and their participation could trigger the same type of boom-and-bust cycles that have buffeted other commodities...

The hedge fund manager says that banks will attempt to inflate the carbon market by recruiting investors from hedge funds and pension funds.

“Wall Street is going to sell it as an investment product to people that have nothing to do with carbon,” he says. “Then suddenly investment managers are dominating the asset class, and nothing is related to actual supply and demand. We have seen this movie before.”

Indeed, as I have previously pointed out, many environmentalists are opposed to cap and trade as well. For example:

Michelle Chan, a senior policy analyst in San Francisco for Friends of the Earth, isn’t convinced.

“Should we really create a new $2 trillion market when we haven’t yet finished the job of revamping and testing new financial regulation?” she asks. Chan says that, given their recent history, the banks’ ability to turn climate change into a new commodities market should be curbed...

“What we have just been woken up to in the credit crisis -- to a jarring and shocking degree -- is what happens in the real world,” she says...

Friends of the Earth’s Chan is working hard to prevent the banks from adding carbon to their repertoire. She titled a March FOE report “Subprime Carbon?” In testimony on Capitol Hill, she warned, “Wall Street won’t just be brokering in plain carbon derivatives -- they’ll get creative.”

Yes, they'll get "creative", and we have seen this movie before inadequately-regulated carbon derivatives boom will destabilize the economy and lead to another crash.

11 Dangerous Ingredients You Should Avoid at All Costs

11 Dangerous Ingredients You Should Avoid at All Costs

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The greener we become, the more we have to scrutinize. I for one have cleaned up my home, my diet, my cleaning products and of utmost importance the products I put on my skin. I’m an avid ingredient reader and do the research -- after all, my skin is the largest organ in my body! Here’s a list of some common skin and hair care chemicals we all need to avoid.

1. Coal Tar: Coal tar is used to treat eczema, psoriasis and other skin disorders and can be found in anti-itch creams and scalp treatments. It’s also a known carcinogen.

2. Diethanolamine (DEA): A lathering agent in soaps and shampoos, DEA isn’t carcinogenic by itself, but can react with other chemicals in products to create a carcinogen readily absorbed into the skin. Look for DEA in many forms, such as Cocamide DEA, Oleamide DEA and Lauramide DEA.

3. Formaldehyde: A frighteningly common ingredient in a variety of beauty products. Formaldehyde can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, dry out and irritate your skin and even cause asthma and cancer with repeated exposure.

4. Parabens: Parabens have had a lot of press lately and I’m finding more and more products specifically labeled “paraben free.” This is because parabens, in their many forms (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben) have been linked to breast cancer. The FDA claims that parabens aren’t dangerous at very low levels, but when you consider that 25,000 different cosmetics and skincare products contain these chemicals, it’s feasible to build up quite an exposure in a lifetime.

5. Phenylenediamine (PPD): An ingredient used in hair dyes (including eyelash dye), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has run studies that show a higher in among hairdressers and cosmetologists; they have the highest PPD exposure. Although PPD is not approved for products that come in contact with the skin, hair dye usually gets on your forehead or ears for up to 30 minutes. Why take the risk?

6. Phthalates: The subject of much controversy because of hormone-disrupting phthalates being found in plastic baby bottles and teethers, let’s not forget that they’re a common ingredient in cosmetics, too.

7. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): A foaming agent in soaps and shampoos, SLS and SLES are skin irritants and can enter the heart, brain and liver through the skin and accumulate in these organs.

8. Toluene: Found in nail polish and hair dye, this is a nasty one. Toluene is toxic to the nervous system and breathing it in can cause dizziness and headaches. High exposures can lead to birth defects and miscarriage, so watch out if you work in a nail salon. Use toluene-free brands of nail polish instead.

9. Fragrance: Because of an FDA loophole, cosmetic companies can hide a whole slew of chemicals, many of which are phthalates, under the label “fragrance.” Read more about the dangers of fragrance, and avoid this ingredient like the plague.

10. Triethanolamine (TEA): TEA is used to balance PH and is a common ingredient in “gentle” cosmetic products, but unfortunately it’s been known to cause allergic reactions, is an eye irritant and can cause dry hair and skin. With consistent use, TEA is absorbed into the body and accumulates, where it can become toxic.

11. Hydroquinone: A skin-bleaching ingredient, hydroquinone is banned in Japan, the European Union, and Australia, but it’s still in use in the United States and other countries worldwide. Hydroquinone is found not only in Asian and African skin-lightening products, but in creams to lighten age-spots as well. There’s some evidence that hydroquinone is a carcinogen, and is linked to ochnronosis, a condition in which grayish brown spots and bumps occur on the skin.

When choosing cosmetics, read the ingredients, do your homework and go as simple and natural as possible. You really don’t need all that extra junk to be beautiful.

Obama to extend US attacks in Pakistan

Obama to extend US attacks in Pakistan

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President Obama’s deployment of 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan will be accompanied by increased US attacks inside Pakistan. According to the New York Times, the White House is pressuring the Pakistani government to allow US forces to assassinate alleged Taliban leaders in the province of Balochistan. The US claims that Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, is directing the insurgency against the US-led occupation of Afghanistan from the city of Quetta, the provincial capital.

The US military has been using unmanned Predator drones to kill Islamist militants in Pakistan’s tribal area bordering Afghanistan since 2001. After Obama took office, the attacks became more frequent. Of the estimated 80 strikes since mid-2008, most were ordered by Obama. At least 400 alleged Islamist militants have been killed and an unknown number of civilians. The Pakistani government publicly opposes these covert operations but makes no attempt to prevent them and its intelligence agencies are believed to collaborate with the CIA in identifying targets.

The attacks to this point have been limited to the tribal agencies, which are remote border areas thinly populated by predominantly ethnic Pashtun subsistence farmers. Generally, there is no on-the-spot media coverage of the results of Predator strikes. Quetta, by contrast, has a population of some 800,000 people and is one of the country’s most important urban centres. Any US attack inside the city would be highly publicised and provoke nationwide outrage. Most Pakistanis oppose the US occupation of Afghanistan and sympathise to some extent with the armed resistance against it.

The Obama administration is nevertheless intent on pursuing this reckless and politically explosive course of action as part of its escalating AfPak War.

Various press reports indicate that Pakistan was a central issue in the protracted White House discussions over how to respond to the burgeoning Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Afghan guerillas use Pakistani territory as a safe haven, training area and recruiting zone.

An unnamed US official, cited in an article in the Washington Post on November 30, stated: “We can’t succeed without Pakistan.” Another told the New York Times on November 25: “We agree that no matter how many troops you send, if the safe haven in Pakistan isn’t cracked, the whole mission is compromised.”

According to the Washington Post, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a message to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari during her visit to Islamabad last month that the White House wanted his government to give greater cooperation in fighting five organisations that the US claims are involved in the Afghan insurgency.

The organisations named were Al Qaeda; the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar; the militias commanded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, which control much of the tribal agency of North Waziristan; the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-e-Taliban which was largely based among the ethnic Pashtun tribes in South Waziristan; and the militant Islamist movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 173 people.

The Pakistani military, under US pressure, has already conducted major operations against Tehrik-e-Taliban in South Waziristan, other tribal agencies and areas of North West Frontier Province. In the past few months, hundreds of alleged Islamist militants have been killed and over 400,000 tribal civilians forced to flee their homes.

However, no move has been made against the Haqqani network and the Afghan insurgent bases in North Waziristan. In US military circles, the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has been repeatedly accused of maintaining close relations with the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani. The ISI actively assisted the Taliban to come to power in Afghanistan between 1994 and 1996 and supported its government until the eve of the US invasion in late 2001.

There are even greater suspicions of links between sections of the Pakistani military and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The ISI sponsored Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1990s when it was primarily focused on waging a guerrilla war against Indian rule in Kashmir. Its militants are believed to be concentrated in areas of Pakistan’s main province, Punjab.

US demands for the destruction of the Islamist networks were spelt out in a two-page letter from Obama that was delivered to Zardari by National Security Advisor and former marine general James Jones.

The web site Stratfor, which has links to US intelligence agencies, reported on December 1 that it had been told by reliable sources that the “Obama administration’s tone toward Pakistan’s current civilian government resembles the tone adopted by the Bush administration toward the Musharraf regime in the aftermath of September 11”.

By “tone”, Stratfor is referring to ultimatums. Former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf revealed in 2006 that he was told in 2001 by Richard Armitage, Bush’s Deputy Secretary of State, that Pakistan would be bombed “back to the Stone Age” if his government did not cooperate with the overthrow of the Taliban.

Eight years later, the White House can deliver somewhat more nuanced threats. The Pakistani state is on the brink of bankruptcy and depends upon the regular injection of emergency funds from the International Monetary Fund and directly from the US. Summing up the relationship between Pakistan and the US, Zulfiqar Magsi, the governor of Balochistan province, told the Daily Times: “You cannot oppose someone who pays you money. The US is paying money to Pakistan. How can we oppose it? It will do whatever it pleases.”

Obama has essentially told Islamabad that it must allow the US to even more flagrantly violate Pakistan’s national sovereignty. It has been instructed to launch a costly and unpopular military offensive in North Waziristan, crack down on Islamist activity in the major cities and submit to Predator strikes in Balochistan.

There are some signs that the entry into Pakistan of US special forces’ hit squads, to hunt down and execute Taliban leaders, has also been discussed. American ground troops have only crossed the border on one known previous occasion. In September 2008, an alleged militant compound was stormed in the tribal agency of South Waziristan. The result was the death of an estimated 20 civilians, including women and young children.

Zardari’s collaboration with Obama’s escalation of the AfPak War is certain to provoke intense opposition within the Pakistani military and the population more broadly. The president is already deeply unpopular due to the catastrophic state of the Pakistani economy. The value of the currency has plunged by 35 percent, triggering massive price rises for essential goods and services. Electricity and petrol prices have doubled in the past two years.

In a bid to stave off a move against him over long-standing corruption allegations, Zardari last month handed over control of the country’s nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and is promising to give back other powers that were taken from the parliament during Musharraf’s dictatorship. The extension of US strikes to Balochistan, however, may well be the final straw that leads to the fall of his administration, barely 15 months after it came to power.

Obama officials drop “withdrawal” ruse: US in Afghanistan to stay

Obama officials drop “withdrawal” ruse: US in Afghanistan to stay

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When President Obama delivered his speech outlining a major escalation of the Afghanistan war one week ago at West Point, he presented it as the prelude to a withdrawal that would begin in July of 2011. It has taken less than a week for this suggestion of a short-term “surge” and early withdrawal to be turned into its opposite.

Obama’s cynical attempt to package his escalation as a means of shortening the war was only one of the many lies in his address, which sought to portray the escalation of US violence and killing as an altruistic effort to protect the Afghan people and secure their freedom and independence. This included the claim that the US has no interest in occupying Afghanistan or any other country.

Obama’s reference to a supposed time table was a dishonest attempt to provide political cover for the administration’s liberal supporters and disarm the mounting popular opposition to the war. In fact, as the Washington Post noted on Monday, Obama has adopted virtually in full the military plan pushed by the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The newspaper wrote that McChrystal will “implement a war strategy that is largely unchanged after a three-month-long White House review of the conflict.”

Obama’s top officials have spent the week since the West Point speech repudiating any notion of an early withdrawal and stressing instead the open-ended character of the US occupation of Afghanistan.

Within minutes of the address, administration officials began backpedaling on Obama’s suggestion that the surge would pave the way for a withdrawal of US forces. They were responding to media criticisms of the July 2011 date and attacks on the suggestion of an early withdrawal by Republican and some Democratic congressmen.

To the extent that there are elements within the Obama administration who may be concerned about the implications of an open-ended military occupation of Afghanistan, they have been silenced by the administration’s predictable rush to placate those criticizing it from the right.

Toward the anti-war sentiment of the majority of Americans, the administration shows nothing but contempt.

The day after the speech, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave testimony to Congress on the escalation. The three emphasized Obama’s own caveat that any reduction of US force in Afghanistan would be determined by “conditions on the ground.”

The caveats and disavowals from high-ranking Obama officials and military spokesmen continued throughout the week. They reached a crescendo on Sunday, when Obama’s national security team appeared on the major TV interview programs to issue categorical statements that the US military would not leave in July 2011, or any time soon thereafter.

Clinton, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said, “We’re not talking about an exit strategy.”

Gates, on “Meet the Press,” was more explicit. He said, “‘We will have 100,000 forces, troops there, and they are not leaving in July of 2011. Some handful or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, we’ll begin to withdraw at that time.”

General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, declared on “Fox News Sunday:” “There’s no timeline, no ramp, nothing like that.”

National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones was interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where he said, “[C]ertainly, the president has also said that we’re not leaving Afghanistan.”

Driving the point home, Mullen on Monday addressed Marines at Camp Lejeune who are set to depart as part of Obama’s surge. “President Obama has not said we’re leaving,” Mullen said. “I want to say for emphasis there’s no deadline, no amount of troops to come out in 2011, and there’s no withdrawal date or anything like that.”

The most revealing comments were given by Gen. Jones on CNN. When asked by host John King whether or not the US military might still be occupying Afghanistan in 2020, Jones said this would “be predicated on exactly how much progress we’re making.”

“We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times,” Jones explained. “We’re going to be in the region for a long time.”

This echoed statements Jones made the day after Obama’s speech, when he told Fox News, “We are not leaving the region. We have enormous strategic interests in Afghanistan, east of Afghanistan in Pakistan, and we intend to be supportive and helpful partners with them for many years to come.”

While Jones did not reveal the strategic interests at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he pointed to the broader, indeed, global dimensions of the US intervention in the two countries. It has nothing to do with defeating Al Qaeda, fighting terrorism or protecting the American people. Jones himself has acknowledged that there are less than 100 Al Qaeda fighters currently in Afghanistan.

The escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is part of a global strategy to maintain a dominant position for US imperialism in Asia by installing client regimes and placing the American military in proximity to the region’s vast oil and gas reserves, thereby countering the influence of rival powers, including China, Russia and Iran.

These aims are well understood and supported by the entire political and media establishment.

The American people have absolutely no say in Obama’s Afghanistan policy. In the last two elections, in 2006 and 2008, the electorate repudiated the war policies of the Bush administration. But this has had no effect on government policy.

Obama is continuing and escalating the militarist policies of his predecessor, setting the stage for new war crimes and even greater killing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the death and maiming of thousands of US troops, and future wars which will arise from the intensification of international conflicts resulting from the current war.

The struggle against war can proceed only in the form of a political fight against the Obama administration and a break with the Democratic Party and the two-party system. Such a struggle is inseparable from the fight against layoffs, poverty and attacks on democratic rights.

The fight against war is an international struggle. It must be based on the independent mobilization of the international working class against the capitalist system, the real source of war.

Blue Cross pushing plan to declare health reform unconstitutional

Blue Cross pushing plan to declare health reform unconstitutional

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Blue Cross Blue Shield appears to have embraced some rather unorthodox methods for achieving its goals.

After months of fierce insurance industry opposition to the bill, Blue Cross is working secretively with conservative front group American Legislative Exchange Council to use the issue of states' rights as a pretext to declaring health reform unconstitutional.

ALEC has for months worked to spread the notion that all the proposals put forth by President Obama and Democrats -- including industry regulations and a public option -- violate states' rights. The group wrote a resolution declaring as much this summer.

A senior executive at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS' lobbying group) has admitted to Think Progress she played a vital role in crafting ALEC's resolution, and insurance lobbyists have since worked in tandem with the group to promote it.

According to the ALEC website, the resolution was developed by a three member task force of industry representatives. One of the of the members is Joan Gardner, who is executive director of state services with the BCBS Association’s Office of Policy and Representation. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Christie Herrera, the director of ALEC’s health task force, confirmed that Gardner played a pivotal role in crafting this anti-health reform states’ rights initiative. Herrera told us that Gardner’s unique position at the BCBS Association brought “great knowledge” to the issue, and that Gardner voted to press forward with the campaign.

Numerous Republican lawmakers, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have co-opted the resolution, and amendments in its spirit have been reportedly introduced in at least half a dozen states.

The insurance industry has spoken with a largely singular voice of opposition to the current reform effort. It has released various studies and reports promising that insurance premiums will rise and that the legislation will hurt consumers. Their claims have been widely challenged or debunked, and the industry has been accused of pushing their financial agendas at the expense of regular people.

The Huffington Post reported on Friday that Aetna, a large and influential insurance firm, is preparing to rescind coverage for 650,000 customers by raising prices, in an effort to achieve higher profit margins.

Former insurance executive Wendell Porter, who now favors reform, declared that private insurers have become "consumed by rising profits, grotesque executive salaries, huge administrative expenses, the cost of weeding out people with pre-existing conditions and claims review designed to wear out patients with denials and disapprovals of the care they need the most."

The Psychological Implosion of Our Soldiers

The Psychological Implosion of Our Soldiers

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US Army Specialist Lateef Al-Saraji, a decorated combat veteran, came back from the occupation of Iraq with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Saraji joined the military because he wanted to serve his country. He served well as a linguist and translator working under secret clearance with military intelligence, according to a letter of recommendation written by his commander following his tour in Iraq, "This letter is to inform you of my endorsement of SPC Alsaraji’s superlative performance and vital contributions to the command during our recent 15-month extended combat tour in Iraq." Saraji is also a three-year trustee with American Legion Post 42 in Gatesville, Texas.

PTSD is often routed in one event, but more often, with the two ongoing occupations, it is rooted in multiple traumatizing events. While in Iraq, Saraji was horrified by discovering headless bodies of suspected spies caught by the Iraqi resistance, which were thrown in a canal near the building where he was based "so we would see them. I still have nightmares over the bodies in the water, all blue and foul-smelling," he wrote of his experience.

When he got back to the US, it took him several months to get an appointment with a counselor on his base, who then referred him to an off-base psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with severe PTSD.

In an email to Chuck Luther, the founder and director of the Soldier’s Advocacy Group of Disposable Warriors," Saraji wrote that he "felt that the Army did not care about me and my superiors did not seem to care. On July 1 [2009] the psychologist, Dr. Leach, wrote a letter recommending I have 2 weeks off."

Rather than his commander, Sgt. First Class Duncan, follow the recommendation of Dr. Leach, Saraji was accused of going absent without leave and told he would not be given the two weeks off, along with being written up.

"I got too depressed," Saraji wrote of his experience. "I thought everyone would be better with me dead. I was going to kill myself. I drank ¾ gallon of Bacardi 151, took some pills and was going to shoot myself. I was depressed and tired of the racism and prejudice that I was receiving. I was talking on the phone with the Chaplain and he heard me cock my gun."

Luckily, very shortly thereafter three officers appeared at his door and took him to nearby Fort Hood, where he was admitted to a psychiatric unit for a week. From there he was transferred to a facility in Wichita Falls, Texas, for three weeks, where he was jumped by five soldiers who harassed him and called him a "towel head" and "sand nigger." He was moved to a different floor of that hospital, but wrote, "I was afraid for my safety so I tried to run away from the hospital."

Saraji returned to Fort Hood, only to find Sergeant Duncan writing him up yet again. According to Saraji, when Sergeant Duncan learned Saraji had nearly attempted suicide, he coolly told Saraji that he should go kill himself.

Luther, a former sergeant who served 12 years in the military and is a veteran of two deployments to Iraq, where he was a reconnaissance scout in the 1st Cavalry Division, is appalled by Saraji's treatment by his superiors.

Saraji's is but one of 20 other cases Luther is working on, in hopes of avoiding yet another disaster like the one that occurred on November 5, when Major Nidal Hasan, suffering from a combination of secondary trauma and dealing with major ongoing harassment for being a Muslim, went on a shooting spree that killed 13 soldiers and wounded dozens more.

"The ground has been laid for another crisis, another shooting ... it's volatile here, nothing has been resolved," Luther told Truthout from his home in Killeen, Texas, on the outskirts of Fort Hood. "The average Joe on the street thinks things are resolved here, but they are anything but resolved. We are primed to have more soldier-on-soldier violence if something doesn't change right away."

Luther explained to Truthout that while he has had success with the base commander at Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, addressing all the issues Luther has brought to his attention, "these lower-down folks are doing what they want to do anyway. I have 20 cases like his on this base alone. Fort Hood is not good right now. It's only a matter of time, if they don’t fix these problems and fix them quickly, either Duncan was about to end up injured, or Saraji was going to injure himself. These lower-level commanders continue to intimidate and harass these soldiers, even soldiers who want to be deployed. Saraji had even offered to go back to Iraq. This is not a guy who is questionable. When you go find these guys getting kicked out for misconduct - you'll find that prior to this you had commanders pushing them, punishing them, and harassing them, then they break."

Dr. Kernan Manion is a board-certified psychiatrist who was hired last January to treat Marines returning from the occupations who suffered from PTSD and other acute mental problems born from their deployments. Working for a personnel recruiting company that was contracted by the Defense Department, NiteLines Kuhana LLC at Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine base on the East Coast, Manion not only quickly became all too familiar with the horror stories soldiers were telling him during their therapy sessions, but he became alarmed at the military's inability to give sufficient treatment to returning soldiers, and even more so at their reports of outright abuse meted out by some commanders against lower-ranking soldiers who sought help.

Manion told Truthout that last April two Marines urgently sought his help soon after the clinic opened at 7 a.m. They told him, 'One of these guys is liable to come back on base [from Iraq or Afghanistan] with a loaded weapon and open fire. '

This episode is just one that is indicative of pervasive and worsening systemic problems afflicting a military mental health care system that is not only overburdened, overstressed, understaffed and ill-equipped, it is exponentially worsened by its being administered by career military with rank, but who are ill-trained to provide the complex psychiatric expertise necessary to effectively treat psychologically impaired soldiers from both occupations.

Manion explained to Truthout that upon returning home, troops suffering from myriad new-onset deployment-related mental health problems were flooding the available resources, and when they did come they had to bear the brunt of pervasive harassment and oftentimes outright psychological abuse from Marine Corps superiors who refused to acknowledge the validity, much less the severity, of their problems.

"I saw previously strong Marines, people who were now very fragile, deeply weary and broken by one, two or often more deployments, come back and be squashed by their commanders - who told them they were "goddamn losers," Manion told Truthout, "I felt like I was witnessing child abuse. These courageous and fit men go through boot camp, and combat and the incredible duress inherent in deployment, and then you come back and your midlevel command says this to you, and there is a tremendous amount of resentment that builds up there."

According to Manion, doing psychotherapy with soldiers returning with this type of severe complex combat-related psychological trauma "is the psychological equivalent of neurosurgery."

"Yeah, of course people need symptom relief from things like insomnia and irritability (some of these guys have been averaging only about two hours of sleep a night for over a year, is it any surprise that they self-medicate with alcohol?). But really, I find these guys coming to me because they are in an utter state of interpsychic chaos and turmoil, because too many things are going on simultaneously to sort out," Manion explained to Truthout, "And too many powerful emotions that simply comprise turmoil - anger, anxiety, sadness, shame and hurt, overwhelming them."

Manion described what he sees happening with returning soldiers as their being in "a state of psychic implosion - someone that is literally having a psychological meltdown. It's like having your motherboard shut down. Just like a computer motherboard shutdown, the internal psychological apparatus, the mechanism itself, fries, it shuts down. There's currently simply no terminology in the APA [American Psychiatric Association] literature for this. When you're dealing with cumulative stress from constant guardedness because of continuous exposure to danger – multiple firefights, patrols, losses of buddies and utter exhaustion from deployment – and then you have family problems, and relationship problems, and then on top of all of that you have commanders telling you you're nothing but a worthless piece of shit, you simply can't think straight anymore, and who could be expected to. We need to name that - this is psychological implosion - what we’re talking about here is meltdown. When you have overloaded circuits that are frying the fuse box, you don’t put in a higher capacity fuse, you have to unload the circuits."

Manion continued to warn his superiors of the extent and complexity of the systemic problems, and he was deeply worried about the possibility of these leading to violence on the base and within surrounding communities.

Rather than being praised for his relentless efforts to address these concerns, Manion was fired by the contractor that hired him. While a spokeswoman for the firm says it released Manion at the behest of the Navy, the Navy preferred not to comment on the story.

Manion told Truthout that while working at Camp Lejeune, he was deeply concerned with the fact that he was seeing an inordinate number of Marines grappling with overwhelming suicidal or assaultive impulses, and felt, like others, that this was clearly indicative of the residua of extreme combat stress.

The proof was already available - in 2008, according to the Marine Corps, at least 42 Marines committed suicide, and at least 146 others attempted to do so.

Manion, who was already concerned about the increasing likelihood of violence among post-deployment Marines at Camp Lejeune, charged that medical officials at the Deployment Health Clinic where he worked simply refused to study and discuss violence among these returning Marines and work on a coherent response. Authorities at Camp Lejeune, according to Manion, did little planning to improve the handling of troubled Marines in most desperate need of treatment for their PTSD.

The national evidence was clearly apparent; those who were not getting necessary care were killing themselves and other soldiers in startling numbers. Manion remained deeply committed to confronting the ongoing reported harassment from their superiors of Marines who were seeking mental health care.

Despite being warned to essentially stop making trouble by the national director of the contractor he worked for in June, Manion felt compelled to continue with his appeals because he was not seeing the changes necessary to prevent the already bad situation from deteriorating further. Because of even more flagrant offenses, on August 30 he appealed urgently to multiple military inspectors general in a written complaint warning of an "immediate threat of loss of life and/or harm to service members' selves or others" if conditions did not improve.

Manion complained of a "complete disregard for ... implications for patient safety and well-being" and said the officials at Camp Lejeune had ignored "repeated overt and emphatically stated concerns about the very safety and overall welfare of the affected patients."

Finally, Manion warned his superiors that the lives of "many patients" were imminently at risk, concerning a disruption in care that would result from a decision that his superiors made that would prohibit him from seeing his patients.

Four days later, Manion, with 25 years of experience as a psychiatrist who specializes in PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and with an investigator from the inspector general's office just having arrived, was fired on the spot by the contractor and escorted out of his office by an armed MP.

His warnings, like those at Fort Hood, went unheeded at Camp Lejeune.

When Manion heard the news of Maj. Nidal Hasan's shooting rampage, "I thought, 'That could just as easily have been right here at Camp LeJeune. We are dealing with people who are fried, who are ready to snap.'"

Was Manion surprised when he learned that Hasan was a psychiatrist who had been treating traumatized soldiers?

"Did he snap because of all the stuff he heard?" Manion replied. "I myself came back home some nights so overwhelmed and even tearful at what I'd heard from these guys. It's possible. I wondered, 'What was available for him for his support?' We had no support structure in place for those providing treatment. I look at the mental health care work at Camp LeJeune, and people there and probably throughout the system really do not understand the absolute necessity of taking care of the treaters. I had good therapists come into my office and break down in tears because of the immensity of the stories they were hearing."

Manion holds deep concern for the future of both the soldiers themselves as well as those who treat them.

When asked if he thinks the military will incorporate the changes necessary to rectify these problems, Manion took a long, deep breath before answering.

"It concerns me greatly. How ignorant can we be that we can't learn from the immediate past and the present? How ignorant can we be that we're still not understanding the immensity of PTSD, of this overall state of psychological implosion?"

The doctor added, "If not more Fort Hoods, Camp Liberties, soldier fratricide, spousal homicide, we'll see it individually in suicides, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, family dysfunction, in formerly fine young men coming back and saying, as I've heard so many times, "I'm not cut out for society. I can't stand people. I can't tolerate commotion. I need to live in the woods." That's what we're going to have. Broken, not contributing, not functional members of society. It infuriates me - what they are doing to these guys, because it's so ineptly run by a system that values rank and power more than anything else - so we're stuck throwing money into a fragmented system of inept clinics and the crisis goes on. It's not just that we're going to have an immensity of people coming back, but the system itself is thwarting their effective treatment."

Speaking both to the problems he saw at the Deployment Health Center at Camp Lejeune and the effects of these rippling into the future, Manion said, "If we're going to respond to the immensity of people coming back who are broken, we need clinics run by people who know what they are doing. From my perspective we had a program run by folks who didn't have the expertise they needed to run it. They seemed to me to be turning a blind eye to a philosophy in the Marine Corps that treats psychological impairment or woundedness as though you are of weak character."

The warnings of Luther and Manion have already proved prophetic.

On November 22, Killeen police reported that a 20-year-old Fort Hood soldier, Army Specialist David Middlebrooks, was stabbed to death. The next day, 22-year-old Joshua Wyatt, another Fort Hood soldier, was shot to death in his residence. The killers of both soldiers are alleged to be Fort Hood soldiers as well.

Yet killings involving Fort Hood soldiers have been commonplace in recent years, even prior to the mass killing on November 5. In the years leading up to that event, soldiers from Fort Hood were involved in the deaths of at least seven people in the previous five years alone, several of these incidents being soldier-on-soldier violence. Taking one of these as an example, in September 2008, Specialist Jody Wirawan fatally shot 1st Lt. Robert Fletcher. When Killeen police arrived, Wirawan proceeded to commit suicide.

In addition, Luther told Truthout that at least two soldiers at Fort Hood have attempted suicide since the massacre on November 5.

And the killings are not limited to Fort Hood.

Less than 12 hours after Maj. Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree, Camp Lejeune officials discovered the body of one Marine and took into custody another Marine, Pvt. Jonathan Law, who was accused of killing his colleague. Law, who had served a seven-month tour in Iraq, was also suffering from self-inflicted wounds when arrested.

In upstate New York in the town of Leray, on the outskirts of Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, between November 29 and 30, soldiers Waide James, 20, and Diego Valbuena, 23, were murdered by Joshua Hunter, another Fort Drum soldier, according to Jefferson County Sheriff John Burns.

Both victims died of multiple stab wounds.

On September 29, after being refused any assurance that the patients who were in his care were OK, accounted for and being taken care of, being worried about his patients, and five weeks before the massacre at Fort Hood, Manion sent a letter to President Barack Obama, as well as copies of the letter to Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Sen. Richard Burr, and Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee, among several others, including the secretary of the Navy, and the commandant and sergeant major of the Marine Corps.

Manion's letter stated, "Frankly, in my more than twenty-five years of clinical practice, I've never seen such immense emotional suffering and psychological brokenness - literally, a relentless stream of courageous, well-trained and formerly strong Marines deeply wounded psychologically by the immensity of their combat experiences."

The letter went on to explain how he had, over the previous six months, raised serious concerns "about several very dangerous inadequacies of the clinic's [at Camp Lejeune] operations as well as recurring incidents of significant psychological abuse (by their commands) of Marines who were seeking our care."

The doctor expressed his larger concern to President Obama that his experience at Camp Lejeune "represents a more pervasive problem at Camp Lejeune and perhaps even throughout the institutional culture of the military."

Seeing the clear potential for the impending disaster of soldier-on-soldier violence as a result of untreated PTSD, Manion's letter continued with a sense of urgency:

"Mr. President, given what I've witnessed and personally experienced, I think that, beyond the immediate issue of my firing and my patients' care, it's vital that these flaws be named and examined. Please know, I am not a publicity seeker; I'm not pitching a product; and I'm not trying to rise in rank, power or compensation. I’m not even trying to restore my employment in government service. I have no agenda but to speak my truth on these matters and to confront these issues so as to ensure that these men and women receive the best of mental health treatment services that they're truly entitled to."

With President Obama's recent announcement to send an additional 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, concern for the already immense mental health crisis is increasing. Now, more than ever before, the US military needs a comprehensive health plan initiative to meet the radically different psychological implosions that are occurring due to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.