Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Paltry Humanitarian Priorities

Paltry Humanitarian Priorities

Go To Original

"Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet." Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882.

Canada's contribution to Afghanistan's death toll, in the ironically named: "Operation Enduring Freedom" (7th October 2001-3rd June 2003) resulted in eternity's "enduring freedom" for up to 23,600 fellow beings, young, old. Even the unborn in their mothers' wombs. The "Coaltion" mass murders, at checkpoints, in vehicles, schools, homes, markets, communities, continue unabated. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, recently stated that General Stanley McChrystal believes that continued "casualties" (translation: dead) at the hands of US and NATO troops imperil the entire war effort in the country. You couldn't fault Gates and McChrystal for critical perception (clarity that took nearly nine years to figure.)

Professor Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire has attempted to keep an accurate, careful, dogged, woeful toll of the decimation of Afghanistan's population. He deserves a medal, for service to humanity and for upholding the vow that: "To the dead, we own only the truth." (

The levellers in their war for oil (Iraq) and for a gas pipeline (Afghanistan) have destroyed all integral to a civil society: educational establishments, government buildings, clinics. hospitals, electricity stations, roads, drainage, farms, fruit groves, livestock. Many water sources have been poisoned at worst or polluted at best. The simplest travel has become a death defying experience, with random, unaccounted loss of life by occupying forces guns, and bombs transforming a farmer and his family, going to his flock or fields, to the dismembered deaths of "insurgents", "terrorists" - and that ultimate bogeyman : "Al Qaeda operatives."

It should be heartening to know, then, that there is a part of Canada which cares about the health and safety of travellers in hazardous urban environments, and is fighting back. Students at the University of British Columbia's School of Community and Regional Planning are indeed concerned about the hazard to life and limb by venturing out. They have this week named Amman, capitol of Iraq's western neighbour, Jordan, second amongst the five most unwalkable cities in the world - for the state of its sidewalks. (Jordan Times, 20th April 2010.)

Ancient Amman - formerly named Philadelphia after Ptolemy 11 Philadelphus (309-246 BC) Hellenic ruler of Egypt - is one of the most ancient, continuously inhabited cities. It thrived under the Romans; the remains of the Roman Temple to Hercules can still be seen, as the spectacular Roman theatre, with its acoustics to equal any modern recording studio. Jordan's Byzantine period (632-661 AD) was followed by the Umayyads (661-750 AD)The Abbasids, the Crusaders, the Zengids and Ayyubids, the Memelukes, the Ottomans, the British. The all, followed the Sumerians of the 5th C BC., the Akkadians, the Iron Age and the Persians (539-333 BC.) Just to skim, a vast, panoramic history.

Amman, originally built on seven hills (jabal) after which each area is named, for the hill or mountain on which they lie, with its climbing, winding streets, from level to upper level, or the "short cut" : the countless dozen stone steps, worn and polished by the feet of the ages, reaching level to higher level of neighbourhoods. Those with less stable physiology, watch in awe, as those born to them, leap down their near perpendicular architechtonics, in jeans, or work-day garb, with litheness of gazelles.

The city has taken in its own population again, with great generosity, in refugees from Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, throughout the Iraq embargo years (1990-2003) from the 2003 Iraq invasion and - ongoing. Prior to that, Jordan has, and continues to host, Palestinians displaced from the formation of the State of Israel on Palestinian and Jordanian lands, in 1948; from the Six Day War of 1967, from Palestinian uprisings over the decades, against further Israeli land grabs. Amman is, resultantly, now a city on nineteen hills. Civic and State finances and jobs have paid a huge price for being a good neighbour. Yet the University of British Columbia is concerned about the state of the city's pavements.

A really worthwhile project for the University's School of Community and Regional Planning, might be to check the state of the sidewalks in next door Gaza, since the Christmas and New Year blitzkreig by Israel in December-January 2008-2009. Whilst there, they could check on what remains of the schools, homes, UN stores of essentials, hospitals, clinics, mortuaries, cemetaries, threatened and destroyed Mosques; essential infrastructure. They might also note that, with or without sidewalks, Palestinians are prisoners , walled in, hostage to checkpoints, in their own land.

Then they could re-run this survey in Iraq, Jordan's eastern neighbour, equally destroyed for seven years, with the aid of their country's troops. Baghdad, the "Paris of the ninth century", roads and bridges destroyed, this formerly great, sparkling city nurtured by the Tigris, now, as Palestine, walled, much in ruins, its history, buildings, statues, largely erased.

From there, they they might hop over a couple of countries to Afghanistan and check their compatriots handywork, aided by their coaliton friends, with the sidewalks - and all of the above - there. They might find the travel to, from and these countries a little hazardous, but that, after all, is seemingly their academic expertise.Their raison d'etre, so to speak.

Arrogance married to paucity of contextual fact does neither individuals, or institutions any favours. Perhaps the University might consider a change of tack and invite, or establish a link, with some architectural, post graduate students including of Community and Regional Planning disciplines, from Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, for further studies, in order to assist them in rebuilding their countries. The latter two, which, as Canadian troops have helped destroy, would (minimally) redress some of the balance. The architecture and culture of the country would need to take priority, not trivia such as sidewalks - though given the number of limbless, courtesy , liberators (and in Palestine's case, "the only democracy in the Middle East") attention might indeed be paid to crutch and wheel-chair friendly, ramped pavements.

Last word on Amman's sidewalks: a quick straw poll among several delegations taken to Jordan by the Iraq Solidarity Campaign. Asked: "What did you think of the pavements in Amman?" there was incomprehension. They had been bowled over by the history, the genuine warm welcome, whether in the soukh, street, taxi, bus, restaurant. By the scents as they walked the city: the kebabs, chicken and numerous, salivating-making culinary wonders, cooked in the open, on spits in little side streets; by the herb and spice stalls, the crafts, the gold market and by a memorable, generous, most ancient little capitol city, that is always a joy to visit.

New Jersey: Thousands of high school students walk out to protest education cuts

New Jersey: Thousands of high school students walk out to protest education cuts

Go To Original

Tens of thousands of students from across New Jersey left their classes Tuesday to protest $820 million in education budget cuts by Republican Governor Chris Christie.

The budget cuts, averaging 11 percent across all districts, will result in the mass layoff off teachers and the destruction of arts and sports programs throughout the state.

This praiseworthy display of mass opposition among student youth was organized entirely by the students themselves. The movement developed on the social networking site Facebook, where an event announcing the strike accumulated more than 17,000 participants.

The demonstration tapped into growing opposition among students and broad sections of the working class to the attack on public education. Large protests took place in Newark and Camden, two of the most impoverished cities in the United States, as well as in more middle class districts.

The political establishment and the schools themselves condemned the actions, even as they work to push through the budget cuts. Many students said they had been suspended for taking part, and the demonstrations were greeted by police throughout the state.

In downtown Newark, hundreds of students converged on City Hall, chanting “save our schools!” as mounted police officers watched from a close distance. (A video of the demonstration can be found here)

According the Newark’s Star-Ledger, “Thousands of students filled the streets of Newark in protest of Christie’s budget cuts shortly before noon today as police struggled to corral them into Military Park.”

At West Orange High School in West Orange, a wealthier suburb of Newark, students also walked out of class. They raised chants and sang in support of their teachers. One West Orange senior was cited by the Star-Ledger as telling a group of students: “This is not our mistake and we will not suffer for it. Enough cuts! Enough is enough!”

Byron at Camden High School in Camden in southern New Jersey told the World Socialist Web Site, “We walked out because the governor of New Jersey is cutting educational funds for public schools and also college. It’s causing some teachers to even retire in fear that they’ll lose their jobs. It’s bad enough that Camden schools have old torn books and half of the computers barely work. They expect us to succeed but they won’t provide the tools for success?”

Victoria from Cherry Hill High School West near Camden, where over 300 students walked out, told the WSWS, “Our teachers aren’t allowed to strike and teachers who haven’t been there for more than ten years are getting fired. We actually like those teachers so we all decided that we would go through with it and walk out at 10:00. Nobody thought that so many people would actually do it, and all of a sudden, the whole school walked out.

“There were campus police in the front and back of the school,” Victoria added. “They told us that nobody would be getting in trouble for being involved, but one girl already got a call from the school that she was suspended for it. Nobody should be getting in trouble for it!”

When students walked out at Williamstown High School in southern New Jersey, police responded by telling students to leave school.

A student from Williamstown High remarked on a Facebook site: “The announcement was made that anyone participating had to leave the premises. Around 10:30am, we were told we were in lockdown, which ended about 10:40am …we were told anyone else leaving to be in the news would get disciplinary action as well as everyone else who left before.”

A Williamstown High student, Joe, told the WSWS, “We didn’t do anything wrong. We left school in a peaceful protest. We were demonstrating against Chris Christie’s budget cuts, and we were punished for it. There were a lot of cops there telling us to leave and that we weren’t allowed back in the school. The school even went on lockdown while we just demonstrated in the parking lot.

“Channel 3 said that there were 300 of us but there was more like 500,” Joe added. “It’s unfair that we’re getting suspended for it. I could understand detention, but not suspension.”

Hundreds of students left classes in Montclair in North Jersey, where over $100,000 will be cut from the high school’s athletic program.

“A large group” of students from Lincoln High in Jersey city in Hudson County walked out at 1:15 PM, according to the Jersey Journal, and marched to the Board of Education’s offices, chanting “Hell no, we won’t go.” Some members of the group attempted to march to Snyder High to ask students there to join the walkout, when the “police forced the group to head back toward Lincoln.” According to a school board member cited by the Jersey Journal, Snyder students also walked out of class.

One Lincoln High student was injured after she was struck in the head by a rock.

The protest at County Prep and High Tech was particularly well organized, according to local media. The school district plans to eliminate all the school’s athletic programs.

Along the Jersey shore near Atlantic City, in Pleasantville, where 52 school staff will be cut, smaller numbers students walked out of class. quotes one parent, Virginia Faulkner, who had joined the protest: “The students have the right to stand up for themselves. The budget cuts aren’t fair to the students and staff.”

In South Jersey, students boycotted class at Voorhees’s Eastern Regional High School. Mount Holly’s Rancocas Valley High School also was hit by the boycott, where students held up homemade placards that read, “Help our teachers help us.”

Predictably, Governor Christie’s press office denounced the students’ actions: “Students belong in the classroom, and we hope all efforts were made to curtail student walkouts,” Christie’s office said. The press spokesman failed to note that as a result of the governor’s own actions, the classrooms of students are being “curtailed” through massive budget cuts.

The response of the teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, was the same. While many teachers face layoffs and supported the student action, the union is working with the state to impose cuts. The NJEA said that students were “engaging in civil disobedience” but should not walk out of classes. The NJEA has not considered even the most minimal statewide strike action in response to the cuts.

The actions of the students run into conflict with the demands of both the Democrats and the Republicans. The attack on public education is a bipartisan policy. In New Jersey the cuts are being forced through by a Republican governor. In New York, however, they are led by a Democratic governor.

At a national level, they are spearheaded by the Obama administration. Many young people supported Obama in the hopes that he would change the hated polices of Bush. On coming to office, however, Obama expanded the bailout of the banks, handing trillions of dollars to the major Wall Street institutions. As a result, the top 25 hedge fund managers took home over $25 billion dollars in 2009—that is, on average each made more than the entire amount of the devastating cuts in New Jersey.

The bank bailout has been followed by the demand for cuts, including in education. Obama has conditioned the limited funds available for education to the shutting down of schools in more impoverished areas and the mass firing of teachers. Obama himself publicly supported the firing of all teachers in Central Falls Rhode Island in March.

The treatment by the authorities of students, including police bullying and suspensions by school administrators, is outrageous, and the politicians bear full responsibility for it.

The students who participated in these actions should be praised and all actions against them must be dropped.

The actions by students in New Jersey are part of a growing movement of opposition throughout the United States. To be successful, this opposition must be guided by a new political perspective.

Public education cannot be defended within the framework of a society in which every aspect of political and economic life is determined by the interests of a tiny layer of the population—which controls both political parties.

Hidden toll of US wars: 18 veterans commit suicide daily

Hidden toll of US wars: 18 veterans commit suicide daily

Go To Original

An average of 18 US military veterans are taking their lives every day as the Obama administration and the Pentagon grow increasingly defensive about the epidemic of suicides driven by Washington’s wars of aggression.

The stunning figure was reported last week by the Army Times, citing officials in the US Veterans Affairs Department.

The department estimates that there are 950 suicide attempts every month by veterans who are receiving treatment from the department. Of these, 7 percent succeed in taking their own lives, while 11 percent try to kill themselves again within nine months.

The greatest growth in suicides has taken place among veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who accounted for 1,868 suicide attempts in fiscal 2009, which ended on September 30. Of these, nearly 100 succeeded in killing themselves.

The connection between the “surge” in military suicides and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is undeniable. The suicide rate within the military doubled between 2001 and 2006, even as it remained flat among the comparable (adjusted for age and gender) civilian population. And the numbers continue to rise steadily. In 2009, 160 active-duty military personnel killed themselves, compared to 140 in 2008 and 77 in 2003.

Many have blamed the increasing number of suicides on the repeated combat deployments to which members of the all-volunteer US military are subjected, with the so-called “war on terrorism” approaching its 10th year and nearly 200,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The effect of the repeated deployments is compounded by the shortness of so-called “dwell time”—the interlude at home bases between combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over most of the two wars, this has been limited to just one year because of personnel pressures. While it is now closer to two years, psychological research has indicated that at least three years are necessary to ameliorate the psychological stress inflicted by these deployments.

The military command has tried to obscure the connection. Last month, for example, the Army’s surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, told a Senate committee that the most common factor in military suicides was “fractured relationships of some sort.” Clearly, however, the multiple deployments and the psychological impact that they have upon soldiers is the leading cause of broken marriages and mental health problems that lead to the breaking off of relationships.

Craig Bryan, a former Air Force officer and University of Texas psychologist who advises the Pentagon on suicides, linked the phenomenon to the training given by the military itself.

“We train our warriors to use controlled violence and aggression, to suppress strong emotional reactions in the face of adversity, to tolerate physical and emotional pain and to overcome the fear of injury and death,” he told Time magazine earlier this month. These qualities, designed to prepare soldiers to kill unquestioningly, “are also associated with increased risk for suicide,” he said. He added that these psychological traits cannot be altered “without negatively affecting the fighting capability of our military.” To put it bluntly, suicide, according to Bryan, is an occupational hazard. “Service members are, simply put, more capable of killing themselves by sheer consequence of their professional training,” he said.

The same training, combined with traumatic experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, has created severe difficulties for many veterans of the two wars trying to re-integrate themselves into civilian society. While the suicides are the most glaring and tragic indicator of these problems, there are many others.

Last month, the jobless rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan reached 14.7 percent, nearly 50 percent higher than the official nationwide unemployment rate in the US.

According to one recent Veterans Administration estimate, 154,000 US veterans are homeless on any given night, many of them living on the streets. Increasingly, the ranks of this homeless army are being swelled by those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

General Schoomaker, the Army’s surgeon general, was compelled to acknowledge on Monday that the military’s response to soldiers returning from combat with psychological problems has been one of “over-medication.”

“I can tell you that we are concerned about over-medication,” the general said, adding that “we're very concerned about the panoply of drugs that are being used and the numbers of drugs that are being used.”

According to a report in the Military Times last month, one in six members of the US military is using some form of psychotropic drug, while 15 percent of soldiers admitted to abusing prescription drugs over the previous month.

Schoomaker’s comments came at a press conference called to respond to an article published in the New York Times Sunday exposing a so-called “warrior transition unit” at Fort Carson, Colorado. It referred to this facility and similar units as “'warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers.”

Soldiers interviewed in the article said that they were given pain pills to which they became addicted as well as sleeping pills and other medication, while alcohol and heroin were readily available in their barracks. Little or no therapy was on offer, however.

At least four soldiers sent to the unit at Fort Carson have committed suicide there since 2007.

On April 16, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, testified on Capitol Hill on veteran suicides, providing equally telling numbers. He reported that VA suicide hotlines were fielding 10,000 calls a month.

Shinseki told a congressional panel that he was haunted by two images of US military personnel. The first was that of new recruits who “outperform all of our expectations, great youngsters.”

The second is that of veterans who make up a “a disproportionate share of the nation’s homeless, jobless, mental health (problems), depressed patients, substance abusers, suicides.”

“Something happened” along the way, said Shinseki, “and that’s what we’re about is to try to figure this out.”

It is not a great mystery. These “great youngsters” are thrown into wars of aggression and colonial-style occupations where they are exposed to horrific violence and employed in the subjugation of entire populations, with the inevitable killing of civilian men, women and children. Those who acknowledge the mental and emotional trauma created by these conditions are treated as pariahs and weaklings

On the same day that Shinseki was testifying in Washington, 27-year-old Jesse Huff, an Iraq war veteran, killed himself outside a Veterans Administration medical facility in Dayton, Ohio, where he had been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Huff, who had been injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, shot himself twice in the head with an assault rifle at the foot of a statue to the Union soldiers of the Civil War. A cousin told the Associated Press that he “hadn’t been the same” since returning from Iraq, while the father of a young man with whom he lived said that Huff was “really hurting.”

US soldier in WikiLeaks massacre video: "I relive this every day"

US soldier in WikiLeaks massacre video: “I relive this every day”

Go To Original

Iraq war veteran Ethan McCord, who is seen running with an Iraqi child in his arms in the video posted by WikiLeaks of a July 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad, talked to the World Socialist Web Site about the impact of this and similar experiences in Iraq.

The video, which records the shocking deaths of at least 12 individuals, including two Iraqi journalists employed by Reuters, has been viewed more than 6 million times on the Internet.

McCordEthan McCord

McCord, together with another former member of the company, Josh Stieber, have addressed an open “Letter of Reconciliation” to the Iraqi people taking responsibility for their role in this incident and other acts of violence. Both soldiers deployed to Iraq in 2007 and left the Army last year.

In the letter, McCord and Stieber said, “…we acknowledge our part in the deaths and injuries of your loved ones.” They insisted that “the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences of this war: this is the nature of how US-led wars are carried out in this region.”

The night before speaking to the WSWS, Ethan McCord had learned that the widow of one of the dozen men killed—the father of the two children he tried to rescue—had forgiven him and Stieber for their role in the incident.

Ahlam Abdelhussein Tuman, 33, told the Times of London: “I can accept their apology, because they saved my children and if it were not for them, maybe my two little children would be dead.”

Her husband, Saleh Mutashar Tuman, had arrived on the scene of the carnage caused by a US Apache helicopter firing into a crowd and attempted to aid the wounded. The helicopter opened fire again, killing him and at least one wounded man and wounding his two children, who were sitting in his van.

The widow urged the two former soldiers to continue to speak out. “I would like the American people and the whole world to understand what happened here in Iraq. We lost our country and our lives were destroyed.”

Can you explain why you and Josh Stieber wrote the “Letter of Reconciliation” to the Iraqi people?

We originally wanted it to go to the family members of those involved that day in the WikiLeaks video. Then in turn we wanted it to be more along the lines of to all Iraqi people as well. We wanted the Iraqi people to know that not everybody sees them as being dehumanized and that there are plenty of Americans and other people who care for them as human beings and wish for them to live long and happy lives and don’t agree with the war and the policies behind it.

I just found out last night that the letter was shown to the family, the children and the mother as well. She has forgiven myself and Josh and is very happy to see the work that Josh and I are doing. There was a London Times reporter who went there to see what they felt about the letter. And there is one comment from the mother that she could forgive me because if it wasn’t for me her children might be dead.

That must make you feel pretty good.

Definitely, but it doesn’t stop there for me or for Josh. We are definitely going to continue speaking out on this and do everything we can to have our voices heard about the policies, the rules of engagement and the war. As well, we are hoping to set up a trust fund for the children, as we know that they’ve had a pretty rough life afterward due to the injuries and whatnot. Hopefully, it will get them some medical care.

Could you describe the events of that day and what your platoon was doing?

It was much like many of the days in Iraq. The neighborhood we were in was pretty volatile; at least it was on the rise, with IED emplacements and with our platoons being shot at with RPGs and sniper fire. We didn’t know who was attacking us. It was never actually really clear, at least in my eyes, who the supposed “enemy” was.

We were conducting what were called knock-and-searches, where we would knock on the doors of the homes and search for documents pertaining to militias or any weapons they weren’t supposed to have or any bomb-making materials. We didn’t really find anything at all.

We were getting ready to wrap up at about one o’clock in the afternoon. We started to funnel into an alleyway and started to take small arms fire from rooftops from AK-47s. We didn’t know what was happening with the Apache helicopters. They were attached to us from another unit to watch over us for this mission, which was called “Ranger Dominance.”

We could hear them open fire, but those of us who were on the ground, outside of the vehicles, had no idea what was taking place. We couldn’t hear the radio chatter and we were pretty caught up in our own situation.

When that situation was neutralized, we were told to walk up onto the scene. I was one of about six soldiers who were dismounted to first arrive on the scene.

What did you see when you got there?

It was pretty much absolute carnage. I had never seen anybody shot by a 30-millimeter round before, and frankly don’t ever want to see that again. It almost seemed unreal, like something out of a bad B-horror movie. When these rounds hit you they kind of explode—people with their heads half-off, their insides hanging out of their bodies, limbs missing. I did see two RPGs on the scene as well as a few AK-47s.

But then I heard the cries of a child. They weren’t necessarily cries of agony, but more like the cries of a small child who was scared out of her mind. So I ran up to the van where the cries were coming from. You can actually see in the scenes from the video where another soldier and I come up to the driver and the passenger sides of the van.

The soldier I was with, as soon as he saw the children, turned around, started vomiting and ran. He didn’t want any part of that scene with the children anymore.

What I saw when I looked inside the van was a small girl, about three or four years old. She had a belly wound and glass in her hair and eyes. Next to her was a boy about seven or eight years old who had a wound to the right side of the head. He was laying half on the floorboard and half on the bench. I presumed he was dead; he wasn’t moving.

Next to him was who I presumed was the father. He was hunched over sideways, almost in a protective way, trying to protect his children. And you could tell that he had taken a 30-millimeter round to the chest. I pretty much knew that he was deceased.

I grabbed the little girl and yelled for a medic. Me and the medic ran into the houses behind where the van crashed to check whether there were any other wounds. I was trying to take as much glass out of her eyes as I could. We dressed the wound and then the medic ran the girl to the Bradley. You can hear in the video where he says, “there’s nothing else I can do here; we need to evacuate the child.”

I then went back outside and went to the van. I don’t know why. I thought both of them were dead, but something told me to go back. That’s when I saw the boy move with what appeared to be a labored breath. So I stated screaming, “The boy’s alive.” I grabbed him and cradled him in my arms and kept telling him, “Don’t die, don’t die.” He opened his eyes, looked up at me. I told him, “It’s OK, I have you.” His eyes rolled back into his head, and I kept telling him, “It’s OK, I’ve got you.” I ran up to the Bradley and placed him inside.

My platoon leader was standing there at the time, and he yelled at me for doing what I did. He told me to “stop worrying about these motherfucking kids and start worrying about pulling security.” So after that I went up and pulled security on a rooftop.

Did you face further repercussions for what you did that day?

After coming back to the FOB [forward operating base], nobody really talked about what had happened that day. Everybody went to their rooms; they were tired. Some of them went to make phone calls. And I was in my room because I had to clean the blood off of my IBA [body armor] and my uniform—the blood from these children. And I was having a flood of emotions and having a real hard time dealing with having seen children this way, as I’m sure most caring human beings would.

So I went to see a staff sergeant who was in my chain of command and told him I needed to see mental health about what was going on in my head. He told me to “quit being a pussy” and to “suck it up and be a soldier.” He told me that if I wanted to go to mental health, there would be repercussions, one of them being labeled a “malingerer,” which is actually a crime in the US Army.

For fear of that happening to me, I in turn went back to my room and tried to bottle up as much emotion as I could and pretty much just suck it up and drive on.

You had another nine months or more still to go in your tour then?

That’s right. It was a pretty long time with having to deal with the emotions, not only of that, but of many other days. What happened then was not an isolated incident. Stuff like that happens on a daily basis in Iraq.

Are there other incidents that took place in the following months of your tour that bear this out?

Yes. Our rules of engagement were changing on an almost daily basis. But we had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP [standard operating procedure].

He goes, “If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker on the street.” Myself and Josh and a lot of other soldiers were just sitting there looking at each other like, “Are you kidding me? You want us to kill women and children on the street?”

And you couldn’t just disobey orders to shoot, because they could just make your life hell in Iraq. So like with myself, I would shoot up into the roof of a building instead of down on the ground toward civilians. But I’ve seen it many times, where people are just walking down the street and an IED goes off and the troops open fire and kill them.

During this period were you conscious that you were suffering from post-traumatic stress?

Yes I knew, because I would be angry at everyone and everything and at myself even more. I would watch movies and listen to music as much as possible just to escape reality. I didn’t really talk to many people.

The other problem I had is that before the incident shown in the WikiLeaks video, I was the gung-ho soldier. I thought I was going over there to do the greater good. I thought my job over there was to protect the Iraqi people and that this was a job with honor and courage and duty.

I was hit by an IED within two weeks of my being in Iraq. And I didn’t understand why people were throwing rocks at us, why I was being shot at and why we’re being blown up, when I have it in my head that I was here to help these people.

But the first real serious doubt, where I could no longer justify to myself being in Iraq or serving in the Army, was on that day in July 2007.

How did you come to join the military?

I had always wanted to be in the military, even as a child. My grandfather and my uncles were military. Then September 11 happened, and I decided it was my duty as an American to join the military, so that’s what I did in 2002. I joined the Navy. In 2005, when the Army had what they called “Operation Blue to Green,” pulling sailors and airmen into the Army with bigger bonuses, I made a lateral transfer.

I had pretty much had it in my head that I was going to make a career out of the military. But going to Iraq and dealing with the Army completely changed my outlook.

What was your reaction when you saw the WikiLeaks video?

Shock. I had dropped my children off at school one morning, came home and turned on MSNBC, and there I am running across the screen carrying a child.

I knew immediately it was me. I know the scene. It is burned into my head. I relive it almost every day. It was just a shock that that it was up there, and it angered me. I was angry because it was in my face again.

I had actually started to get a little bit better before the tape was released. I wasn’t thinking about it as often; it was getting a little bit easier to go to sleep. But then everything that I had buried and pushed away came bubbling back to the surface. And the nightmares began again, the anger, the feeling of being used. It all came back. It wasn’t a good feeling; it was like a huge slap in the face.

Do you think that the way you were told to forget about the kids and suck it up is indicative of the general culture in the military?

Yes, there is such a stigma placed on soldiers seeking mental health. It’s like you’re showing a huge sign of weakness for needing to speak about things or for seeking help even for getting to sleep. There’s fear of being chastised or being made fun of. So you end up self-medicating on alcohol. And as you probably know, alcohol is a depressant and just makes it worse.

I was self-medicating when I came home, and I was hospitalized in a mental institute by the Army because of my problems with PTSD and self-medication.

There were many times when I felt that I could no longer take what was going on in my head and the best thing for me to do would be to put a bullet in my head. But each time I thought about that, I would look at the pictures of my children and think back on that day and how the father of those children was taken away and how horrible it must be for them. And if I were to do that, I would be putting my children in the same position.

Do you think that the pressure to bury these problems is driven by a fear that if you are allowed to question your own experiences, it can call into question the nature of the war itself?

I was not able to talk about it, not able to get answers to like how I was feeling about this, why were we doing this, what are we doing here? It was just straight up, “You’re going to do this, and you’re going to shut up about it.”

Soldiers aren’t mindless drones. They have feelings. They have emotions. You can’t just make them go out and do something without telling them, this is why we’re doing it. And the pressure just builds up.

You hear in the video the Apache helicopter crew saying some things that are pretty heart-wrenching and cold. I’m guilty of it too. We all are. It’s kind of a coping mechanism. You feel bad at the time for what you did and you take those emotions and push them down. That’s what the Army teaches you to do, just push them down. And in a sense it works. It helps you get through the hard times. But unfortunately, there’s no outlet for that anymore, once you get out of the Army. When you get back home, there’s no one to joke around with, nobody you can talk to about these instances.

What happens to that soldier? He’s going to blow up. And when he blows up, more than likely it’s going to be on his family, his close friends or on himself. So I think that’s why soldiers end up killing themselves.

So a terrible price is being paid for this war in the US itself?

Yes, I feel that just as the Iraqis, the soldiers are victims of this war as well. Like we say in our letter to the Iraqis, the government is ignoring them and it is also ignoring us. Instead of people being upset at a few soldiers in a video who were doing what they were trained to do, I think people need to be more upset at the system that trained these soldiers. They are doing exactly what the Army wants them to do. Getting angry and calling these soldiers names and saying how callous and cold-hearted they are isn’t going to change the system.

What do you think drives this system? Why are they sent to do this?

As far as the hidden agenda behind the war, I couldn’t even begin to guess what that is. I do know that the system is being driven by some people with pretty low morals and values, and they attempt to instill those values in the soldiers.

But the people who are driving the system don’t have to deal with the repercussions. It’s the American people who have to deal with them. They’re the ones who have to deal with all of these soldiers who come back from war, have no outlets and blow up.

I still live with this every day. When I close my eyes I see what happened that day and many other days like a slide show in my head. The smells come back to me. The cries of the children come back to me. The people driving this big war machine, they don’t have to deal with this. They live in their $36 million mansions and sleep well at night.

Were you hopeful that with the 2008 election these kinds of things would be brought to a halt. Were you disappointed that they have continued and escalated?

I am not part of any party. Was I hopeful? Yes. Was I surprised that we are still there? No. I’m not surprised at all. There’s something else lying underneath there. It’s not Republican or Democrat; it’s money. There’s something else lying underneath it where Republicans and Democrats together want to keep us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I am hopeful that the video and our speaking out will help. There’s the old adage that war is hell, but I don’t think people really understand just what a hell war is. Until you see it first-hand, you don’t really know what’s going on. Like I said, this video shows you an every-day occurrence in Iraq, and I can only assume, in Afghanistan. So I hope people wake up and see the actual hells of war.

The video can be viewed below:

In Senate testimony: Goldman Sachs executives defend deceptive marketing of securities

Goldman Sachs executives defend deceptive marketing of securities

Go To Original

Testifying Tuesday before a Senate investigative panel, Goldman Sachs executives defended their deceptive marketing of mortgage-backed securities and denied any responsibility for the global economic crisis.

Appearing before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, CEO Lloyd Blankfein and other Goldman officials denied that they had bet against their clients in connection with the bank’s packaging and marketing of subprime mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs was indicted by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier this month. The civil complaint charged Goldman with “fraudulent misconduct” in relation to a $2 billion CDO Goldman sold to clients in 2007.

The SEC alleged that Goldman, for a $15 million fee, brokered the CDO at the behest of hedge fund manager John Paulson, who placed bets against the very mortgage securities that were included in the CDO. Goldman, according to the SEC, did not inform its clients that Paulson played a role in selecting the mortgage securities and that he was betting that they would lose value.

Goldman was, according to the indictment, defrauding its clients by itself betting against the very securities it was selling, without informing its clients that it was doing so. Goldman clients lost $1 billion in the deal as the subprime mortgage market crashed, while Paulson made a profit of about $1 billion.

Opening the hearing, the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Carl Levin (Democrat of Michigan), said that Goldman “helped spread toxic mortgages throughout the financial system… and when the system finally collapsed, Goldman profited from the collapse.”

CEO Blankfein rejected this characterization, stating, “We didn’t have a massive short against the housing market and we certainly did not bet against our clients. Rather, we believe that we managed our risk as our shareholders and our regulators would expect.”

Despite the efforts of the Goldman executives to sidestep the Senate panel’s specific questions about their operations, a clear picture emerged at the hearing of Goldman’s deliberate policy of palming off as sound investments securities comprised of junk assets.

Internal emails and other Goldman documents produced by the Senate panel and referred to in the course of the hearing indicate that the company’s actions in betting against the housing market yielded significant profits. Goldman generated $4 billion in trading profits in 2007, betting heavily on a sub-prime mortgage collapse.

A summary following a board of directors meeting at the firm stated, “[A]lthough broader weaknesses in the mortgage market resulted in significant losses in cash positions, we were overall net short on the mortgage market and thus had very strong results.”

The fleecing operations of Goldman were not limited to the so-called Abacus CDO cited in the SEC indictment. The Senate subcommittee provided evidence of other complex securities during the same period as the Abacus CDO in which Goldman bet on a decline in the value of subprime mortgage-backed securities while selling the securities to its clients and customers.

Senator Levin referred to a June 22, 2007 email from Goldman senior executive Tom Montag to Daniel Sparks, then-head of the bank’s mortgages department. Sparks appeared at Tuesday’s hearing.

The email referred to a security called Timberwolf, a CDO being marketed by Goldman at the time. Montag wrote of the Timberwolf deal, “[B]oy, that timeberwof [sic] was one shitty deal.” The CDO lost 80 percent of its value within five months of issuance.

Leading up to 2008, Goldman profited by packaging mortgages and selling securities backed by poor-quality lenders such as Washington Mutual, Fremont, and New Century, key players in the sub-prime market. Levin asked Sparks, “How do you get comfortable with all the New Century collateral?”

Another internal email cited by Levin referred to “crap pools” of securities that Goldman continued to sell to clients, even as it was betting against them. “Do you think they [your clients] know you think something is a piece of crap when you sell it to them, and then bet against it?” he asked.

Fabrice Tourre, the only Goldman employee charged with fraud by the SEC, also appeared at the hearing. He joined the firm in 2001 and later became a vice president on the structured product trading desk, where he helped create Abacus.

Tourre categorically denied the allegations against him. He claimed that Abacus was “not designed to fail” and that Goldman did not mislead its customers about the nature of the CDO at the center of the SEC indictment.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, asked Tourre if he felt he had a “a duty to act in the best interests of Goldman’s clients,” to which he responded, “I believe we have a duty to serve our clients, with respect to our role as a market-maker, by showing prices to clients and offering liquidity.”

In the wake of the SEC indictment, however, emails sent by Tourre to his girlfriend paint a picture of an environment at Goldman in which the firm knowingly marketed the toxic securities. In the emails he refers to himself as the “fabulous Fab” creating “Frankenstein” products concocted out of “pure intellectual masturbation” for sale to unsuspecting widows and orphans.

David Viniar, chief financial officer and executive vice president at Goldman since 1999, denied that the firm had deliberately bet against its clients, stating in his prepared remarks that the investment bank’s practices “had everything to do with systematically marking our positions to market, paying attention to what those marks were telling us, and maintaining a disciplined approach to risk management, which we believe served the firm, our clients, and our shareholders well during this extraordinarily challenging period.”

Other Goldman employees appearing at the hearing included Craig Broderick, chief risk officer since 2005, and Michael Swenson, managing director in fixed income currency and commodities at the firm since 2005.

While the Senate committee members—in particular, Democrats Carl Levin, Claire McCaskill (Missouri) and Edward Kaufman (Delaware)—struck a fiery pose in their questioning of the Goldman executives, their comments were confined to probing the “moral” and “ethical” failings of the investment bankers.

There were no calls for an expansion of the SEC indictment or for criminal charges to be brought against Goldman CEO Blankfein or other key players in a speculative operation that has had devastating social consequences for tens of millions of ordinary people in the US and around the world.

These actions, which helped precipitate the global financial collapse, have led to the loss of jobs, homes, and life savings, and resulted in untold misery for masses of people. The criminal practices that transpired at Goldman Sachs were not an aberration, but were repeated in banks and financial firms across the country.

The bank regulatory “reform” being promoted by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats will do nothing to rein in the power of the banks or curb their socially destructive behavior. The Senate investigation and SEC indictment of Goldman will at most result in a financial slap on the wrist for those involved, with perhaps one or two employees taking the fall.

The members of the Permanent Subcommittee of Investigations, moreover, have a personal stake in the continued profitability of Goldman Sachs. Four of the ten committee members—Republicans John McCain (Arizona) and Susan Collins (Maine) and Democrats Mark Pryor (Arkansas) and Jon Tester (Montana)—have accepted substantial contributions from the firm.

Since 1989, Goldman Sachs employees and the bank’s political action committee have given a combined $31.6 million in campaign contributions to the two big-business parties, two-thirds of this total to Democratic candidates.

The financial industry as a whole funded Barack Obama’s presidential campaign to the tune of $15 million. Goldman was Obama’s single biggest donor, giving nearly $1 million. The bank is the biggest corporate campaign donor to the Democratic Party.

World markets plunge as Greek credit downgraded to "junk" status

World markets plunge as Greek credit downgraded to “junk” status

Go To Original

Stock markets in Europe, the US, and other regions closed sharply lower yesterday after ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded its sovereign credit rating for Greece to “junk” status and also lowered Portugal by two notches. The downgrades reflected growing fears that the southern European governments will prove unable to implement promised austerity measures in the face of determined domestic opposition, raising the danger of the sovereign debt crisis spreading to the world’s major economies.

World markets were reportedly surprised by S&P’s decision to downgrade Portugal, but only plunged after the announcement was made on Greece. In Europe, the euro lost more than 1.5 percent against the US dollar, dropping below $1.32 to its lowest in more than 12 months. The pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 dropped 3.1 percent. The British FTSE 100 and German DAX finished 2.6 and 2.7 percent lower respectively, despite better than expected corporate reports from Deutsche Bank and BP. In France, the CAC-40 lost 3.8 percent.

Sharper losses were recorded in the eurozone economies now under pressure from world markets—Greece’s ASE equity index dropped 6.7 percent to a new one-year low, Portuguese markets fell 5.4 percent, Irish by 4.5 percent, and Spanish by 4.2 percent.

In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average closed 1.9 percent lower, and the S&P 500 index lost 2.3 percent, while the Nasdaq composite index dropped 2 percent. Commodities, including oil, lost value as investors favoured gold and treasuries. The Vix index—which measures expected equity market volatility and is often described as the “fear index”—leapt 31 percent, its sharpest single-day increase since the Lehman Brothers collapse in October 2008.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 2.1 percent, with Brazil and other Latin American markets among the hardest hit. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite index lost 2.1 percent, finishing at the lowest level since last October. Japan was one of the few major economies to yesterday record a modest stock market gain of 0.4 percent.

S&P downgraded Portugal from A+ to A-. In a statement, the ratings agency explained: “Fiscal and economic structural weaknesses in our view leave the Republic of Portugal in a comparably weak position to address the significant deterioration in its public finances and expected lacklustre economic growth prospects over the medium term.”

S&P complained that the country’s “rigid labour market” could “prolong the adjustment in wages we view as necessary to regain external competitiveness”. It added that the government had committed to only “limited [deficit] consolidation measures in 2010”, and that even with these initial austerity measures, “there is implementation risk”.

The Greek economy’s long-term sovereign credit rating was lowered from BBB+ to BB+, and its short-term rating from A-2 to B. S&P explained: “The negative outlook reflects the possibility of a further downgrade if the Greek government’s ability to implement its fiscal and structural reform program materially weakens in our view, undermined by domestic political opposition at home or by even weaker economic conditions than we currently assume.”

The ratings’ agency added: “We believe that the dynamics of this confidence crisis have raised uncertainties about both the government’s administrative capacity to implement reforms quickly and its political resolve to embrace a fiscal austerity program of many years’ duration... The government’s resolve is likely, in our opinion, to be tested repeatedly by trade unions and other powerful domestic constituencies that will be adversely affected by the government’s policies.”

The entire Greek working class is to be “adversely affected” by the measures being implemented by the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou. Despite the treachery of the trade unions, which are doing everything in their power to prevent the emergence of a political movement aimed at bringing down the government, working people are increasingly determined to oppose being forced to pay for a crisis not of their making.

Yesterday’s Greek credit downgrade coincided with the announcement of the date for the country’s next general strike—May 5. The 24-hour action is to include members of the private sector union GSEE and the public sector union ADEDY. Together the two organisations cover about 2.5 million workers, half the working class. Next month’s general strike will be the third staged this year.

Strikes in particular sectors are continuing with greater frequency. On Monday, dock workers established pickets at several ports in protest against the government’s shipping reforms, which are aimed at driving down labour costs. Yesterday, public transport workers in Athens halted buses, trams, and metro transport for six hours. Their Portuguese counterparts struck at the same time, with most trains, buses and ferries stopped in Lisbon and Porto. About 20,000 train conductors, engineers, bus drivers and ferry operators were involved in the action, protesting the public sector pay freeze imposed by the social democratic government of Prime Minister José Sócrates.

The class struggle in the southern European countries is intensifying amid heightened speculative activity on the world’s financial markets. Carlos Andrade, chief economist at Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo, insisted that Portugal was not on the verge of default and was instead a victim of speculation driven by the situation in Greece. “The spreads [value of Portuguese bonds] don’t reflect the country’s economic fundamentals,” he told the Associated Press. “They reflect market speculation. It’s a problem of contagion.”

The Greek and Portuguese credit downgrades immediately make it more costly for their governments to raise money from international investors to cover budget deficits, thereby heightening the risk of default. Greek 5-year bond yields yesterday hit 10.6 percent. The BBC noted that this figure is higher than that of many “emerging market” economies, including Ecuador at 10.5 percent and Ukraine at 7.1 percent. Standard & Poor’s yesterday declared that debt holders could expect to recover only 30-50 percent of what they are owed in the event of a Greek debt restructuring or payment default.

The German government is continuing to insist that the Greek government provide detailed long-term plans for even deeper austerity measures before it will release funds from a €45 billion ($US60 billion) rescue package. According to media reports, negotiations between Athens, the EU, and the International Monetary Fund on the terms of the emergency payment are due to be completed by May 2. Then a May 10 summit of eurozone heads of state and government is scheduled to reach agreement ahead of the May 19 deadline for Greece to make payment on a large portion of its debt. According to the Financial Times, the IMF is considering an additional €10 billion amid concerns that the initial sums discussed may not prevent an even worse crisis.

“The biggest risk now is that the market speculates against every single indebted peripheral country, and that could lead to a sovereign debt crisis,” Axel Botte, a fixed- income strategist at AXA Investment Managers in Paris, told Bloomberg. “The contagion risk is real.”

Fears are mounting about Spain, Europe’s fifth-largest economy, which is among the most severely indebted. However, none of the advanced capitalist countries is immune. The New York Times yesterday noted: “Some even worry that the next debt crisis may materialise closer to home—in the United Kingdom or even the United States, where budget deficits and debt burdens are growing.”

Document: Goldman "Shorted" Mortgages Because World Wouldn't Expect It

Document: Goldman "Shorted" Mortgages Because World Wouldn't Expect It

Go To original

Washington - A key Goldman Sachs trading manager indicated in his personnel performance review that he could use the "fear" in the market of a coming collapse in the nation's mortgage market to make profits for the Wall Street firm, documents released Tuesday show.

Former trader Joshua Birnbaum wrote that because "the world would think" Goldman Sachs would invest in the mortgage market for the long term, the firm should "flip our risk" and bet on an impending crisis.

"We could use that fear to our advantage if we could flip our risk," he wrote.

The disclosure was among hundreds of documents the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, released at the beginning of a hearing into the role of investment banks - and particularly Goldman Sachs - in the nation's recent economic collapse.

The Birnbaum memo also suggests that Goldman executives were creating a strategy to profit from risky mortgages at the same time they were selling similar products to unsuspecting clients.

Birnbaum began testifying about 11 a.m. Goldman chief executive Lloyd Blankfein is scheduled to testify later today, the last of seven Goldman officials due to testify under oath.

In his testimony, Birnbaum said there was a vigorous debate within Goldman about which way the housing market was headed. He said that nobody from senior management told him to make an overall "directional bet" against the subprime market, but simply to reduce risk overall.

He said he is "very proud" of his tenure at Goldman. "We provided significant liquidity to our customers in a difficult and challenging market while also managing to post a profit during this period," he said.

Comparing his panel's investigation to inquiries into the causes of the Great Depression, Levin said that what investigators see now is similar to what they saw in the 1930s. "The parallels are unmistakable to today's events," Levin said.

Held before a packed, standing-room only Senate room, the hearing met all the criteria of a Washington zoo, with protesters in prison uniforms demanding that Goldman executives do jail time and dozens of cameras trailing witnesses as they walked into the room.

When four current and former Goldman traders took seats at the witness table, they quickly learned what it means to be in the middle of a Washington scandal. A crush of photographers encircled them, setting off a rat-a-tat of clicking cameras.

In his opening statement, Levin directly took on Goldman's contention - made repeatedly in recent weeks - that it did not profit at its clients', or the nation's, expense.

"The evidence also shows that repeated public statements by the firm and its executives provide an inaccurate portrayal of Goldman's actions during 2007, the critical year when the housing bubble burst and the financial crisis took hold," Levin said. "The firm's own documents show that while it was marketing risky mortgage-related securities, it was placing large bets against the U.S. mortgage market."

He later added that the actions Goldman took undermine the pretense that it was acting as a mere "market-maker" on Wall Street _ or simply working to match buyers and sellers. "They represented major bets that the mortgage securities market - a market Goldman helped create - was in for a major decline," Levin said.

The hearing put under a microscope the firm's contention that it was only responsibly managing its risk by making negative bets on the housing market as it crested in late 2006 and 2007. Levin and his team of subcommittee investigators found that instead, many of those negative bets exploited clients, who had a reasonable expectation that Goldman would not sell products to them that would later drop in value.

In his opening statement, the Goldman executive at the heart of a fraud case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission offered a spirited defense.

"I deny - categorically - the SEC's allegation. And I will defend myself in court against this false claim," said Fabrice Tourre, a London-based executive director of a Goldman unit that prepares complex deals.

The SEC contends that Tourre, and Goldman, failed to disclose to investors that a prominent hedge fund manager, John Paulson, helped pick mortgages that he believed would fail in order to bet against the complex security being put together by Goldman.

Eric Kolchinsky, a former executive from Moody's Investors Service, told the subcommittee last Friday that he was not made aware of this information and it could have changed the way the ratings agency would have rated the deal that was eventually offered to investors as investment grade.

Tourre told Levin's panel today that others involved in the deal were sophisticated investors and that he did in fact disclose key information about the hedge fund manager Paulson, whose firm famously made more than $1 billion betting against the U.S. housing market.

Tourre denied that the complex deal being probed by the SEC was designed to fail, and said that the securities referenced in the deal "did not underperform" other securities in the same ratings class and year of the transaction.

The Real War Reporters

The Real War Reporters

Go To Original

A good friend noted recently how little we hear of Iraq and Afghanistan in the news anymore, and further noted the deafening silence regarding those ongoing wars from what he described as "dishwater left-leaning political activists" whose disengagement from the issue, according to him, makes them full of something I can't repeat in print. That bogus disengagement, he asserts, stems from the fact that Obama is in office now, so everything must be OK. It isn't, of course, but it is hard to miss the fact that we haven't heard much about the wars, or the protesters, since a couple of Januarys ago.

It's hard to argue against his point, and worse, the sense of being made of dishwater myself is difficult to avoid. I've written about the deadly messes in Iraq and Afghanistan several times in the last year or so, but it is nothing compared to the focus I had on those two conflicts going back to 2002. Back then, and until 2009, I wrote three books on those two wars, discussed them in detail in this space on a weekly basis, joined political campaigns based solely on the candidate's stance on those conflicts, and went to dozens of public protests all over the country.

Why did my coverage of these conflicts get dialed back? There are several reasons, most of which sound like excuses. Obama's new administration brought forth a torrent of issues that also deserved coverage - the Sotomayor nomination, the retirement of Justice Stevens, the rescue of Detroit's auto industry, health care reform, and the eruption of right-wing insanity both in Congress and out in the streets, to name only a few - but in the end, my own attention has most definitely wandered from two wars that deserve much more attention.

Other reporters, like Truthout's own Dahr Jamail have certainly not stepped back from covering these conflicts. Jamail, who went to Iraq to see and report what was happening from the ground, has consistently reminded us that the mayhem and bloodshed continue unabated. In an article from last month, he noted:

It is highly unlikely that the US government will allow a truly sovereign Iraq, unfettered by US troops either within its borders or monitoring it from abroad, anytime soon. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the Iraqi and US governments indicate an ongoing US presence past both the August 2010 deadline to remove all combat troops, and the 2011 deadline to remove the remaining troops.

According to all variations of the SOFA the US uses to provide a legal mandate for its nearly 1,000 bases across the planet, technically, no US base in any foreign country is "permanent." Thus, the US bases in Japan, South Korea and Germany that have existed for decades are not "permanent." Technically. Most analysts agree that the US plans to maintain at least five "enduring" bases in Iraq.

You don't see stuff like that in "mainstream" news reporting, but it is a fact nonetheless. Even without the heroic work of people like Jamail, all you need to do is scan the wire reports buried in the avalanche of information that is available to everyone online, but is rarely passed up the food chain for general public consumption. This, for example, is what happened in Iraq on Monday:

Reuters: A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol seriously wounded three policemen in Falluja, 50 km (35 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.

Reuters: A sticky bomb attached to the car of a member of a local council wounded him in southwestern Baghdad, police said.... A roadside bomb wounded two people, including a policeman, in the Amil district of southwestern Baghdad, police said.

Reuters: A roadside bomb planted close to a gas station killed two people and wounded three in Yusufiya, 20 km (12 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

Reuters: Roadside bombs planted around the houses of two policemen exploded before daybreak, killing one and wounding three other people, including one policeman's son, in Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.

Reuters: A bomb attached to a car killed the driver and wounded five bystanders in the Mansour district of western Baghdad on Sunday, police said.

Reuters: A roadside bomb wounded three people in the Saidiya district of southern Baghdad Sunday night, police said.

Reuters: A roadside bomb targeting a US military patrol wounded two Iraqi civilians in Taji, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, Sunday night, police said.

This was Afghanistan on Monday:

The Washington Post: The CIA is using new, smaller missiles and advanced surveillance techniques to minimize civilian casualties in its targeted killings of suspected insurgents in Pakistan's tribal areas, according to current and former officials in the United States and Pakistan.

The New York Times: Small bands of elite American Special Operations forces have been operating with increased intensity for several weeks in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's largest city, picking up or picking off insurgent leaders to weaken the Taliban in advance of major operations, senior administration and military officials say.

The New York Times: Twelve trucks, most of them carrying fuel to a NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, were burned by an angry crowd early Sunday less than 30 miles from Kabul, according to local officials and NATO reports. The attack was thought to be in retribution for two raids by a joint Afghan-American force over the weekend, Afghan officials said.

AFP: Twin bomb blasts killed two people on Monday in an attack targeting police in the southern city of Kandahar, which is increasingly the focus of the Taliban's fight against Kabul.

Once again, all that was from one single day. So, yeah, it's not over over there. Not by a long chalk, and despite the whistling silence, it's not over over here, either. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affect every living American well beyond the impact of the flesh-and-blood conflicts we occasionally see on TV. The issue of who is still getting rich off those wars, how our society has been wired to blindly support a permanent state of war, and why we hear so little about these all-consuming matters, remain deeply pressing and of deadly importance.

Jamail is not the only reporter focusing on this. This Thursday, a teach-in will be taking place on Capitol Hill to focus specifically on Iraq, Afghanistan and the issues that surround them. The moderator will be Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and the panelists will include Chris Hedges, author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"; Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," and former Army colonel and current political activist Ann Wright.

I spoke with David Swanson, a writer and political analyst who is one of the organizers of the event and also a panelist, about the purpose of Thursday's teach-in.

"An immediate legislative goal is to increase the number of representatives in the House who vote No on borrowing another $33 billion from our children to escalate a hopeless, counterproductive, criminal and evil war with no end in sight," says Swanson. "One purpose of raising the number of No votes is the one that Congress members and most paid activists understand: pressuring the president. But another purpose that many in Washington find hard to fathom is building a caucus of war resisters who eventually gain a majority and deny a president war funding rather than persuading him he doesn't want it. So one line of thought for teaching and discussing is that of war powers and the best arrangement of powers among the branches of government. We hope also to establish what some of the reliable facts are on what is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine and the rest of the region. Is the resistance fueled by the occupation? Can a war be ended by escalating it? What is the cost to the rule of law? What is the cost to our safety? What is the cost to our wallets, and what are we trading away in terms of jobs or green energy? Above all, what is the human cost for both the victims and the perpetrators? And how can we end these wars?

"The question of whether Congress exists to influence the president or to govern the nation," continued Swanson, "has a real impact on what people lobby Congress to do. If the purpose of voting No on the funding for the escalation is to persuade the president of something, then a toothless, unenforceable bill asking the president to draw up a plan to exit Afghanistan someday but not requiring that he stick to it seems equally good or maybe even better, since it directs the president what to do. If, on the other hand, the purpose is to move in the direction of actually ending the war in the first branch of our government, regardless of the president, then No votes on the funding are far and away the top priority. And if you think presidents, like all politicians, answer to real threats more than toothless persuasion, then a growing movement to cut off the money is the best rhetorical device as well. In that case, a weaker amendment that could offer representatives an excuse for voting Yes on the funding ('I voted for an exit timetable, so I'm antiwar') seems counterproductive - although it would be valuable if brought up the week after the funding vote."

Asked why the panelists who are to participate in the event were chosen, Swanson replied, "The original organizers asked me to participate and to find more speakers; Hedges, Scahill and Wright were among those they wanted, and all proved to be available. Hedges is one of the most skillful writers or speakers I've seen at providing a broad understanding of the critical points in large and complicated discussions. He, like Scahill and Wright, does not bend the truth to please any party or even a Party. Scahill is one of the best investigative journalists we have, and he has an amazing grasp for how a story is being told, or not told, and how it ought to be told. And Ann Wright is the greatest living combination of fearless civil resistance and amiable diplomacy. She could ask you to surrender to a life in prison but leave you smiling. I'm afraid that comes pretty close to the skill set most needed on Capitol Hill."

Lend this event your ear if you are able. Swanson, Scahill, Hedges and Wright, along with Kucinich, have not relented in their coverage and criticism of America's ongoing war, and they deserve all of our attention. The lack of attention paid recently to Iraq and Afghanistan by the "mainstream" media, and by independent journalists like myself, has been disgraceful and must change.

As the last line in the film "Jarhead" succinctly puts it, "We are still in the desert."

Who Was Responsible For Our Current Financial Crisis?

Who Was Responsible For Our Current Financial Crisis?

Go To Original

It took decades to get the U.S. into the current financial crisis, but there is little doubt that the policies and actions of the George W. Bush administration catalyzed our nation into the deepest national debt ever recorded in US history. With such enormous debt comes great responsibility. President Barack Obama picked up where Bush left off and is trying to make critical changes, some of which have significantly furthered our national debt and has divided Congress from performing in the best interests of the American people. Exactly who is responsible for our monumental financial crisis is a question that should be appropriately answered.

The financial problem began with the corporate/military complex purchasing the best government money can buy. Extreme wealth and power still manages the direction of our nation. On January 17, 1961 former President and highly honored WWII General Dwight D. Eisenhower tried to warn the American people in his Farewell Address against the establishment of "a military-industrial complex" that would rise up to determine the direction and would enforce the management of our nation's future. According to Eisenhower:

"A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be might, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. . . . American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. . . . This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Eisenhower was correct and we are fighting currently to stay above water Several things occurred during the past decade that misdirected our economic growth. It began with the Republican and Democratic Congress that accepted the wealthy campaign contributions and perks from the power hungry ultra-capitalistic and greedy for profit corporate sector. A second precursor to increased consumer spending was the easy credit made available via credit cards and the easier acquisition of home mortgage loans. A third responsibility fell upon our government again when it provided little if no reality-based oversight of the financial sector as it continued the above mentioned free-wheeling and "throw caution to the wind: activities.

What resulted with the easy credit is that people started to find themselves in deeper debt. At first the debt increased slowly until the credit cards and mortgage debts became too much to pay-off and what further caused economic and fiscal damage was increasing percentage rates. Simply stated, things "got out of hand". Consumers lost control over their financial lives and the corporate sector lost control by incurring huge debts as people could not repay their loans and card credit balances and was further generated by failed investments. Suddenly there were record breaking numbers of home foreclosures and across the board increased debt. Then businesses started laying off workers to find cheaper labor to cut costs by outsourcing American jobs. Suddenly, there was an unemployment crisis adding to the financial chaos, after which illegal ponzi schemes added to the chaos.

Then additional responsibility fell upon the corporate sector and government as during the last days of the Bush administration the big financial corporations pleaded with the government for their socialist taxpayer bail-outs. Apparently hands-off capitalism was the theme for the past decade when companies were raking in huge profits, but now that the financial markets were crumbling, corporations shifted their cry from capitalism to socialism. Obama added to the mix by promoting taxpayer bail-outs for the auto industry. Adding to the financial chaos was the ongoing and escalating costs of our daily living expenses, which included overpriced and inadequate coverage of health care for all Americans.

In closing, the responsibility for the current financial crisis in the U.S. falls upon many people, institutions and government. From the financial sector that provided loose credit to the consumers who couldn't pay off their credit and loan balances; from the greedy corporate sector that spent billions overseas for increased profiteering to manufacture the articles, implements and ammunition for various wars and to profit from them, while government provided billions of taxpayer dollars for corporate contracts and stepped on and over Americans who were quickly slipping out from the middle class into the poor unemployed sector. If we look to point a finger at the responsible and irresponsible parties who caused our current financial crisis, that finger would be directed at all of us.

Peter Stern, a former director of information services, university professor and public school administrator, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in Driftwood, Texas.

Senate probe: Goldman misled clients, nation -- and made billions

Senate probe: Goldman misled clients and nation — and made billions

McClatchy first raised the issue of Goldman's secret bets last year.

Go To original

Goldman Sachs reaped "billions and billions of dollars" in profits by secretly betting in 2006 and 2007 that the U.S. housing market would crash, a strategy that conflicted with the interests of its clients who were still buying the firm's risky mortgage securities, Senate investigators said Monday.

"The evidence shows that Goldman repeatedly put its own interests and profits ahead of the interests of its clients," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, the chairman of the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, told a news briefing. "I think they've been misleading to the country."

The panel provided the first detailed glimpse of its findings from an 18-month investigation into the world's most prestigious investment bank, setting the stage for a hearing Tuesday at which Goldman's chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, and six other company executives will give sworn testimony.

Blankfein, in testimony prepared for delivery Tuesday, denied that Goldman orchestrated a "massive short," or a series of negative bets that enabled it to ring up huge profits when the housing bubble burst and sank the nation's economy.

"And we certainly did not bet against our clients," he said.

The subcommittee's findings, however, bolstered reports by McClatchy last November and December that Goldman had marketed $57 billion in risky mortgage securities in a series of deals in 2006 and 2007, including $39 billion backed by mortgages that it bought from lenders without telling investors that it was secretly making bets on a housing downturn.

Goldman also sold billions of dollars in offshore securities that included subprime mortgages. Securities experts told McClatchy at the time that the practice might have constituted fraud because investors might have opted not to buy the securities if they knew that Goldman was betting on their collapse.

The newly released documents and Tuesday's hearing will offer the public a rare look inside the storied investment banking firm's trading activities.

The subcommittee and Goldman, which turned over 2 million documents to the panel in response to subpoenas in June 2009 and on March 12 of this year, have been publicly sparring since Saturday in the buildup to the hearing, releasing dueling sets of company e-mails.

On Monday, the subcommittee released dozens of additional excerpts from internal documents that staffers said show that Goldman mortgage traders, with the knowledge of senior company executives, shifted sharply from positive bets on the housing market to negative ones after a high-level meeting on Dec. 14, 2006. The shift followed 10 straight days of mortgage losses, Goldman has said.

In his 2007 performance review, senior Goldman trader Michael Swenson said that he knew by the summer of 2006 from the "market fundamentals in subprime" that the home mortgage market and related exotic securities were headed for "a very unhappy ending." He said he directed the firm to take a big bet that the market would go down.

As another top trader, Joshua Birnbaum, wrote in his performance review: "Much of the plan began working by February as the market dropped 25 points and our very profitable year was underway."

At about that same time — in February 2007 — Blankfein asked in an internal e-mail related to mortgage securities if the firm was "doing enough right now to sell off cats and dogs in other books throughout the division."

Later that year, Blankfein wrote that, "Of course we didn't dodge the mortgage mess. We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts."

Goldman has said repeatedly that it made bets against the housing market, via insurance-like contracts known as credit-default swaps, largely in its role as an intermediary for clients, and didn't profit massively when loan defaults soared and home prices nose-dived beginning in the summer of 2007.

Levin said that Goldman has "a lot to answer for."

He and his aides pointed to company documents that repeatedly showed the firm was making proprietary "short" bets, meaning it used its own money.

For example, they pointed to offshore deals assembled by Goldman in which it bet against risky mortgages from the likes of Long Beach Mortgage, Fremont General and New Century Financial, among the most notorious lenders to marginally qualified homebuyers. In three of the deals, Goldman bet more than $2 billion that the securities would fail, and they were later downgraded to junk status.

In one e-mail in late December 2006, Birnbaum said the company needed to decide whether clients should be invited to make short trades on some marginal securities. In response, Goldman executive David Lehman wrote, "I'd say we definitely keep for ourselves."

Swenson, in his annual review, boasted that his team saved a bundle of money by standing its ground in response to client requests that it cover their short bets on Goldman's own mortgage securities.

"Those were unpopular decisions but they saved the firm hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.

Tuesday's Senate hearing comes 10 days after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Goldman and one of its vice presidents of civil fraud for allowing a longtime client to stack one of its offshore deals with dicey home mortgage securities without telling investors that the client planned to bet they would fail. The client, the hedge fund Paulson & Co., made $1 billion in profits on the deal, while two European banks lost that much.

In his testimony, Blankfein said news of the SEC action "was one of the worst days in my professional life."

The Goldman vice president, Fabrice Tourre, said in an e-mail to his girlfriend in January 2007 that he wasn't "feeling too guilty" about the highly leveraged offshore deals he was structuring because he was making capital markets more efficient. So, Tourre wrote, "there is a humble, noble and ethical reason for my job ;) amazing how good I am in convincing myself!!!"

Tourre, Swenson and Birnbaum are among the executives scheduled to testify Tuesday.

Levin said his subcommittee focused on whether Goldman's separate contrary bets were improper, but he deferred judgment on whether they broke securities laws. His staff said that, while Goldman's conduct may not meet definitions of fraud under civil and criminal statutes, Levin has proposed legislation to tighten limits on companies' use of exotic new financial instruments to bet against the securities they sell.

In his testimony, Blankfein addresses the "supposedly massive short Goldman Sachs had on the U.S. housing market."

"The fact is we were not consistently or significantly net 'short the market' in residential mortgage-related products in 2007 and 2008," he said. He said that during the two years of the financial crisis, while profitable overall, Goldman Sachs lost approximately $1.2 billion in the residential housing market.

42,000 gallons of oil a day streaming into Gulf from sunken rig

Robotic subs race to cap leaking US oil well

Go To Original

Robotic underwater vessels raced Monday to stave off an environmental disaster by stopping 42,000 gallons of oil a day from streaming into the Gulf of Mexico from a sunken rig.

A slick measuring 48 miles (77 kilometers) by 39 miles at its widest points has developed 30 miles off the ecologically fragile Louisiana coast since the rig sank last week following an explosion that apparently killed 11 workers.

British energy giant BP, which leases the stricken Deepwater Horizon platform, has been using four robotic submarines to try to fully activate the giant 450-tonne blowout preventer and shut off the flow of oil.

But BP officials suggest the unprecedented operation, which is being conducted remotely a mile down on the seabed, is a longshot and admit they may have to resort to drilling relief wells, a process that would take far longer.

"It is possible that it could take two to three months for a relief well to be drilled," Bill Salvin, a spokesman at the joint information center set up by BP and US-based platform contractor Transocean, told AFP.

Salvin also mentioned a "worst-case scenario" that would see recovery teams "lose total control of the well" and cause the oil to start leaking at a much quicker rate.

The spokesman told AFP it should be clear by Tuesday morning if the submersible robots have been able to activate the blowout preventer and keep an environmental disaster at bay.

"It has not been done before, but we have the world's best experts working to make it happen," said BP executive Doug Suttles.

However, Richard Metcalf, a mechanical engineer at the pro-industry Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, was not optimistic, telling AFP: "Essentially, they're trying to put a cork in a bottle of champagne."

BP has also dispatched 17 skimming vessels to mop up the crude oil spilling from two leaks in the 1,500 foot riser that connected the rig to the wellhead, but those efforts have been hampered by thunderstorms and high seas.

The flotilla of skimmers, tugs, barges and other recovery vessels hoped to resume mop-up efforts on Monday, while teams reined in the use of dispersant chemicals due to the sighting of whales near the spill.

"The use of dispersants has been adjusted to avoid areas where whales have been spotted. Following adverse weather that went through the area, response crews are anticipated to resume skimming operations today," a statement said.

Officials said one of the undersea robots had sent back visual images of sunken tanks containing 700,000 barrels of diesel -- the first report of the "pontoons" that were stacked on the rig before the sinking.

"We have no evidence of diesel emanating from the pontoons at this time," said a spokeswoman for the joint information center.

Satellite images on Sunday showed the oil slick had spread by 50 percent in a day to cover an area of 600 square miles (1,550 square kilometers), though officials said it was mostly just a thin layer on the gulf's surface.

A government expert said the slick would not threaten Louisiana's ecologically fragile wetlands -- a paradise for rare waterfowl and other wildlife -- until Wednesday at the earliest.

"In the trajectory analysis we don't see any impact to any shoreline within the next three days," Charlie Henry, scientific coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told journalists.

A well-known veteran Louisiana environmentalist however warned Monday of the "huge impact" of the spill if the winds.

"The spill will start impacting the crustaceans, the oysters beds and the fish populations," said Wilma Subra, who has been involved with environmental activism in the US state for nearly 40 years, adding that "40 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States" originates in the state.

She called on anyone who sees signs of oily birds or mammals in the region to immediately call state authorities.

While not being anywhere near the same scale yet, the disaster has the potential to be the worst of its kind in the United States since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster.

That spill, considered one of the worst-ever manmade disasters, poured nearly 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska's Prince William Sound, devastating some 750 miles of its once pristine shores.

Meanwhile, there was still no news of 11 Deepwater Horizon crew members missing since Tuesday's spectacular blast which shot balls of flame into the night sky.

The US coast guard aborted a massive air and sea search for the missing workers on Friday.

Investigations are ongoing into the cause of the accident.

BP officials have said they believe it was a blowout, caused when pressure control systems fail and oil shoots uncontrolled to the surface.

Deepwater Horizon oil slick satelite pic

An April 25, 2010 satellite photo provided by NASA shows the oil slick from the 42,000 gallon-a-day oil leak from a well in the Gulf of Mexico following and explosion at the The Deepwater Horizon platform on April 20. The Mississippi Delta is at image center, and the oil slick is a silvery swirl to the right.