Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: U.S. To Wage War Throughout The World

2010: U.S. To Wage War Throughout The World

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January 1 will usher in the last year of the first decade of a new millennium and ten consecutive years of the United States conducting war in the Greater Middle East.

Beginning with the October 7, 2001 missile and bomb attacks on Afghanistan, American combat operations abroad have not ceased for a year, a month, a week or a day in the 21st century.

The Afghan war, the U.S.'s first air and ground conflict in Asia since the disastrous wars in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s and early 1970s and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's first land war and Asian campaign, began during the end of the 2001 war in Macedonia launched from NATO-occupied Kosovo, one in which the role of U.S. military personnel is still to be properly exposed [1] and addressed and which led to the displacement of almost 10 percent of the nation's population.

In the first case Washington invaded a nation in the name of combating terrorism; in the second it abetted cross-border terrorism. Similarly, in 1991 the U.S. and its Western allies attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait and launched devastating and deadly cruise missile attacks and bombing sorties inside Iraq in the name of preserving the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait, and in 1999 waged a 78-day bombing assault against Yugoslavia to override and fatally undermine the principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty in the name of the casus belli of the day, so-called humanitarian intervention.

Two years later humanitarian war, as abhorrent an oxymoron as the world has ever witnessed, gave way to the global war on terror(ism), with the U.S. and its NATO allies again reversing course but continuing to wage wars of aggression and "wars of opportunity" as they saw fit, contradictions and logic, precedents and international law notwithstanding.

Several never fully acknowledged counterinsurgency campaigns, some ongoing - Colombia - and some new - Yemen - later, the U.S. invaded Iraq in March of 2003 with a "coalition of the willing" comprised mainly of Eastern European NATO candidate nations (now almost all full members of the world's only military bloc as a result of their service).

The Pentagon has also deployed special forces and other troops to the Philippines and launched naval, helicopter and missile attacks inside Somalia as well as assisting the Ethiopian invasion of that nation in 2006. Washington also arms, trains and supports the armed forces of Djibouti in their border war with Eritrea. In fact Djibouti hosts the U.S.'s only permanent military installation in Africa to date [2], Camp Lemonier, a United States Naval Expeditionary Base and home to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), placed under the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) when it was launched on October 1, 2008. The area of responsibility of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa takes in the nations of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Yemen and as "areas of interest" the Comoros, Mauritius and Madagascar.

That is, much of the western shores of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, among the most geostrategically important parts of the world. [3]

U.S. troops, aerial drones, warships, planes and helicopters are active throughout that vast tract of land and water.

With senator and once almost vice president Joseph Lieberman's threat on December 27 that "Yemen will be tomorrow's war" [4] and former Southern Command chief and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Wesley Clark's two days later that "Maybe we need to put some boots on the ground there," [5] it is evident that America's new war for the new year has already been identified. In fact in mid-December U.S. warplanes participated in the bombing of a village in northern Yemen that cost the lives of 120 civilians as well as wounding 44 more [6] and a week later "A US fighter jet...carried out multiple airstrikes on the home of a senior official in Yemen's northern rugged province of Sa'ada...." [7]

The pretext for undertaking a war in Yemen in earnest is currently the serio-comic "attempted terrorist attack” by a young Nigerian national on a passenger airliner outside of Detroit on Christmas Day. The deadly U.S. bombing of the Yemeni village mentioned above occurred ten days earlier and moreover was in the north of the nation, although Washington claims al-Qaeda cells are operating in the other end of the country. [8]

Asia, Africa and the Middle East are not the only battlegrounds where the Pentagon is active. On October 30 of 2009 the U.S. signed an agreement with the government of Colombia to acquire the essentially unlimited and unrestricted use of seven new military bases in the South American nation, including sites within immediate striking distance of both Venezuela and Ecuador. [9] American intelligence, special forces and other personnel will be complicit in ongoing counterinsurgency operations against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the nation's south as well as in rendering assistance to Washington's Colombian proxy for attacks inside Ecuador and Venezuela that will be portrayed as aimed at FARC forces in the two states.

Targeting two linchpins of and ultimately the entire Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Washington is laying the groundwork for a potential military conflagration in South and Central America and the Caribbean. After the U.S.-supported coup in Honduras on June 28, that nation has announced it will be the first ALBA member state to ever withdraw from the Alliance and the Pentagon will retain, perhaps expand, its military presence at the Soto Cano Air Base there.

A few days ago "The Colombian government...announced it is building a new military base on its border with Venezuela and has activated six new airborne battalions" [10] and shortly afterward Dutch member of parliament Harry van Bommel "claimed that US spy planes are using an airbase on the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao" [11] off the Venezuelan coast.

In October a U.S. armed forces publication revealed that the Pentagon will spend $110 million to modernize and expand seven new military bases in Bulgaria and Romania, across the Black Sea from Russia, where it will station initial contingents of over 4,000 troops. [12]

In early December the U.S. signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Poland, which borders the Russian Kaliningrad territory, that "allows for the United States military to station American troops and military equipment on Polish territory." [13] The U.S. military forces will operate Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) batteries as part of the Pentagon's global interceptor missile system.

At approximately the same time President Obama pressured Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to base missile shield components in his country. "We discussed the continuing role that we can play as NATO allies in strengthening Turkey's profile within NATO and coordinating more effectively on critical issues like missile defense," [14] in the American leader's words.

"Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has hinted his government does not view Tehran [Iran] as a potential missile threat for Turkey at this point. But analysts say if a joint NATO missile shield is developed, such a move could force Ankara to join the mechanism." [15]

2010 will see the first foreign troops deployed to Poland since the breakup of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 and the installation of the U.S's "stronger, swifter and smarter" (also Obama's words) interceptor missiles and radar facilities in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the South Caucasus. [16]

U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, site of the longest and most wide-scale war in the world, will top 100,000 early in 2010 and with another 50,000 plus troops from other NATO nations and assorted "vassals and tributaries" (Zbigniew Brzezinski) will represent the largest military deployment in any war zone in the world.

American and NATO drone missile and helicopter gunship attacks in Pakistan will also increase, as will U.S. counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines and Somalia along with those in Yemen where CIA and Army special forces are already involved.

U.S. military websites recently announced that there have been 3.3 million deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 with 2 million U.S. service members sent to the two war zones. [17]

In this still young millennium American soldiers have also deployed in the hundreds of thousands to new bases and conflict and post-conflict zones in Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Colombia, Djibouti, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Mali, the Philippines, Romania, Uganda and Uzbekistan.

In 2010 they will be sent abroad in even larger numbers to man airbases and missile sites, supervise and participate in counterinsurgency operations throughout the world against disparate rebel groups, many of them secular, and wage combat operations in South Asia and elsewhere. They will be stationed on warships and submarines equipped with cruise and long-range nuclear missiles and with aircraft carrier strike groups prowling the world's seas and oceans.

They will construct and expand bases from Europe to Central and South Asia, Africa to South America, the Middle East to Oceania. With the exception of Guam and Vicenza in Italy, where the Pentagon is massively expanding existing installations, all the facilities in question are in nations and even regions of the world where the U.S. military has never before ensconced itself. Practically all the new encampments will be forward bases used for operations "down range," generally to the east and south of NATO-dominated Europe.

U.S. military personnel will be assigned to the new Global Strike Command and for expanded patrols and war games in the Arctic Circle. They will serve under the Missile Defense Agency to consolidate a worldwide interceptor missile network that will facilitate a nuclear first strike capability and will extend that system into space, the final frontier in the drive to achieve military full spectrum dominance.

American troops will continue to fan out to most all parts of the world. Everywhere, that is, except to their own nation's borders.

Notes

1) Scott Taylor, Macedonia's Civil War: 'Made in the USA'
Antiwar.com, August 20, 2001
http://www.antiwar.com/orig/taylor1.html
2) AFRICOM Year Two: Seizing The Helm Of The Entire World
Stop NATO, October 22, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/africom-year-two-taking-the-helm-of-the-entire-world
3) Cold War Origins Of The Somalia Crisis And Control Of The Indian Ocean
Stop NATO, May 3, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/cold-war-origins-of-the-somalia-crisis-and-control-of-the-indian-ocean
4) Fox News, December 27, 2009
5) Fox News, December 29, 2009
6) Press TV, December 16, 2009
7) Press TV, December 27, 2009
8) Yemen: Pentagon’s War On The Arabian Peninsula
Stop NATO, December 15, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/yemen-pentagons-war-on-the-arabian-peninsula
9) Rumors Of Coups And War: U.S., NATO Target Latin America
Stop NATO, November 18, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/rumors-of-coups-and-war-u-s-nato-target-latin-america
10) BBC News, December 20, 2009
11) Radio Netherlands, December 22, 2009
12) Bulgaria, Romania: U.S., NATO Bases For War In The East
Stop NATO, October 24, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/bulgaria-romania-u-s-nato-bases-for-war-in-the-east
13) Polish Radio, December 11, 2009
14) Hurriyet Daily News, December 30, 2009
15) Ibid
16) Black Sea, Caucasus: U.S. Moves Missile Shield South And East
Stop NATO, September 19, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/09/19/283
U.S. Expands Global Missile Shield Into Middle East, Balkans
Stop NATO, September 11, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/u-s-expands-global-missile-shield-into-middle-east-balkans
17) World’s Sole Military Superpower’s 2 Million-Troop, $1 Trillion Wars
Stop NATO, December 21, 2009
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/worlds-sole-military-superpowers-2-million-troop-1-trillion-wa


Stop NATO
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stopnato

Blog site:
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/

Guantánamo, Illinois

Guantánamo, Illinois

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President Barack Obama’s first year in office has many elements of déjà vu and feels much the same as a year of George Bush. Wars metastasize, bankers get richer and prisons migrate from Cuba to Illinois ... changing venues as policies remain in place.

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The nearly-empty prison facility in Thomson, Illinois, has been selected as the site to house Guantánamo detainees.

“Barack Obama has firmly established the continuation of Bush regime domestic, foreign and economic policy.”

It is hard to keep track of all the Obama abominations taking place as he nears his first anniversary as president of the United States. Just as the Nobel Peace Prize winner announces more war, true health care reform bites the dust. The Copenhagen climate change summit ended with the United States, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, making no commitment to change its ways and offering almost no help to the poor nations of the world who are serious about climate change.

Lost in the shuffle of ever more outrageous decisions and statements, was the administration’s announcement that some detainees held at the Guantánamo prison would be moved onto American soil in the state of Illinois. Obama’s campaign promise to close that facility was enough for easily impressed Obamaites to engage in more wishful thinking about their idol. Obama said absolutely nothing about maintaining the constitutional protections that prevailed in the American legal system before Bush took office.

“People would not have been silent had George W. Bush made the same decision.”

Bush declared that the president had the power to designate anyone, American citizen or not, an enemy combatant. Such persons would have no right to expect a trial by jury, no right to question accusers or to see evidence used against them. They also had no right to expect that they wouldn’t be tortured. Candidate Obama promised to close down the prison at Guantánamo Bay, but he said nothing about how he would treat this most terrible aspect of the Bush doctrine. It was one of many reasons to withhold support from his campaign. The Obama enablers are now complicit in the most horrific aspects of the Bush era.

The announcement of Guantánamo north was yet another example of awful policy going unnoticed by people who would not have been silent had George W. Bush made the same decision. The Bush administration chose Guantanamo precisely because they could not guarantee acceptance of their policy if prisoners were held within the borders of the United States. Having the prison under American jurisdiction but not on its soil was a way to accomplish back door legality for this process.

“Obama has gone to court to fight any effort to return the country to the rule of law.”

Obama has now gone where Bush feared to tread. Not only has he announced that the Bush doctrine is acceptable, but he has gone to court to fight any effort to return the country to the rule of law that existed before it was torn asunder in the war on terror.

The Obama administration argued that the Supreme Court should let stand a lower court ruling which among other things stated that “. . . torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants.” The Supreme Court did let the ruling stand and the constitutional law professor president succeeded in eviscerating the bill of rights.

President Barack Obama has not only asked courts to let stand pro-Bush decisions, but he has also asked an appeals court to dismiss Jose Padilla’s lawsuit against John Yoo. Yoo was the very architect of the war on terror legal decisions, and the Obama justice department has determined he did nothing wrong in arguing that detainees can be held indefinitely or tried by military tribunal without access to the legal protections that have governed American law. According to professor president, the suit poses “...the risk of deterring full and frank advice regarding the military’s detention and treatment of those determined to be enemies during an armed conflict.”

“Democrats in Illinois love the idea and lobbied hard for the new prison.”

A nearly empty prison facility in Thomson, Illinois has been selected as the site to house Guantánamo detainees. Republicans fume and fuss about security threats but never question the premise upon which detainees are still held. Democrats in Illinois love the idea and lobbied hard for the new prison. Governor Pat Quinn had this to say: “This is an opportunity to dramatically reduce unemployment, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and breathe new economic life into this part of downstate Illinois.”

Democratic Illinois Senator Richard Durbin is also in favor of the facility being opened in his state. In 2005 Durbin compared interrogation tactics at Guantánamo to those used by the Nazi regime and the Soviets in the gulags. He was later forced to make a tearful apology on the senate floor, but he was right the first time. Durbin was punished for his truth telling and as a result he now makes the case for the American prison industrial complex to devour foreign prisoners, too.

In less than one year in office, Barack Obama has firmly established the continuation of Bush regime domestic, foreign and economic policy. While Guantánamo is unseen, Illinois is right in the middle of the United States. None of us can now claim absolution from our government sin. Obama and his supporters have made us all accomplices. The ongoing Guantánamo crime now belongs to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and to every American citizen.

GMAC to Receive $3.8 Billion More in Government Aid

GMAC to Receive $3.8 Billion More in Government Aid

Financing Arm of General Motors Poised to Get Third Infusion of Taxpayer Support

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GMAC, the ailing financing arm of General Motors, is set to receive $3.8 billion in government aid, ABC News has learned. The funds will be the third infusion of federal support for the troubled lender.

The Treasury Department said that the latest injection of $3.8 billion was actually less than the $5.6 billion that it had expected to loan GMAC to keep the finance giant from collapsing.

The latest government aid will bring the total federal assistance for GMAC to $16 billion when combined with the $12.5 billion that the lender has already received dating back to December 2008. Due to its prior cash infusions, the government already owns 35 percent of GMAC.

"These actions offer the best chance for GMAC to complete its overall restructuring plan and return to the private capital markets for its debt financing and capital needs in 2010," Treasury said in its press release. "We are pleased that we could complete this restructuring of our investment with $1.8 billion less capital than was projected in May."

GMAC was the only one of 10 banks that was unable to fill the capital hole exposed by the government's stress tests last spring. The other nine banks all succeeded in raising necessary capital through the private sector.

In late October, with discussions about a third dose of aid underway between GMAC and Treasury, an administration official noted, "When we laid out the stress tests, we expressly said that some additional TARP capital may be needed given the severity of the downturn, so this capital need is not new information. But the transparency into the balance sheets of banks brought about by the stress tests allowed all others to raise the capital required by the stress tests."

But discussions were brought to a halt Nov. 16 when GMAC CEO Alvaro de Molina resigned, replaced by board member Michael Carpenter.

In announcing the change in leadership, GMAC said that their board had asked Treasury to "postpone its decision on the planned follow-on investment of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds in GMAC until Carpenter and the management of GMAC have assessed the current situation and can advise the board and Treasury regarding the appropriate amount and form of such funding."

GMAC's struggles stem in part from severe losses at the lender's residential mortgage business, ResCap, which has suffered from the housing crisis.

"As we have previously stated, GMAC has been conducting a strategic review of its business and evaluating options to address the challenges at ResCap and the mortgage operations," Proia said Wednesday. "Critical objectives in the process would be to take actions that position GMAC for improved financial performance and to repay the U.S. government."

The additional government aid for the lender, combined with recent repayments of federal funds by big banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo, has led to GMAC rapidly rocketing up the list of institutions currently receiving the most taxpayer assistance.

Due to the federal aid, GMAC remains under the supervision of the Obama administration's pay czar Ken Feinberg, who in October slashed total 2009 direct compensation at the lender by $413 million.

Court: Feds Can Hide Alleged Spying on Gitmo Lawyers

Court: Feds Can Hide Alleged Spying on Gitmo Lawyers

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A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the government’s refusal to admit or deny it has documents related to warrantless eavesdropping on Guantanamo Bay detainees and their lawyers.

In doing so, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals accepted a little-known defense called the Glomar doctrine. The doctrine, the court ruled, allows the National Security Agency to refuse to acknowledge to the lawyers suing under the Freedom of Information Act that there are any documents responsive to allegations their clients had been or are being targeted under the Terrorist Surveillance Program adopted following the 2001 terror attacks.

The Glomar doctrine is named after the Glomar Explorer, a vessel used by the CIA to salvage a Soviet nuclear sub off the Hawaiian coast in the 1970s. Photo: AP

“Confirming or denying the mere existence of specific records in a general surveillance program would logically be both confirming or denying that the NSA was targeting a specific individual and confirming or denying that the NSA is conducting a general surveillance program,” (.pdf) the New York-based appellate court wrote Wednesday.

Typically, under Freedom of Information Act requests unrelated to national security, the government announces that it has documentation related to a request, and releases or withholds some or all of it for a variety of reasons.

In the national-security Glomar context, the government usually prevails when invoking the doctrine — but not always.

In a case the American Civil Liberties Union brought against the Department of Defense, a federal judge in 2005 ordered the release of documents and photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison despite the Glomar doctrine.

The Guantanamo Bay lawyers said the purpose of their Freedom of Information Act request was to gain information to determine whether they are being monitored in their interactions with their clients. If so, they would seek to alter the way in which they represent and interact with them.

The Glomar doctrine draws its name from a 1970s case, when The Los Angeles Times sought information on whether the Central Intelligence Agency was attempting to salvage a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine about 360 miles northwest of Honolulu. It was eventually revealed that the project was code-named “Jennifer” and was undertaken on the Glomar Explorer, a salvage vessel formerly owned by Howard Hughes’ Summa Corp.

The circuit court’s decision Wednesday did not address the legality of the Terror Surveillance Program that President Bush secretly adopted following the 2001 terror attacks. The New York Times revealed the program’s existence in 2005, but the government has never acknowledged the complete nature of the warrantless, electronic eavesdropping program.

An unsuccessful lawsuit challenging that program is on appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Among other things, the case accuses the nation’s telecoms of secretly funneling electronic communications to the NSA without warrants.

Gold and Guns

Gold and Guns

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In his extraordinary book Democracy: The God that Failed, Hans Hermann Hoppe points out that the process of civilization is stopped when government continually violates property rights.

The natural process of civilization comes through delaying consumption, saving, and building capital. Undoing it leads to higher societal time preference.

When natural disasters strike or a gunman robs you in an alley, "the effect of these on time preference is temporary and unsystematic," Hoppe explains.

Victims are entitled to defend themselves against the individual aggressor and prepare themselves for the calamities of the occasional act of God. Resources will be reallocated to defend one against potential robbers, and provisions will be made for potential natural disasters.

However, when government aggresses, it is considered legitimate and "a victim may not legitimately defend himself against such violations." Democracy legitimizes this government aggression because the violence is sanctioned by a majority of voters.

This decivilization process that Hoppe describes continues in fits and starts. The uneducated continue to live in never-never land, believing that each new ruler means change and that their lives and happiness can safely be put in the hands of a kind and caring government. But government's current ham-handedness — with its bailouts, money printing, and rights violations — has alerted more than a few individuals to do what comes naturally: defend themselves and prepare for the worst.

The government's legal-tender money — the dollar — is now under questioning. While the commercial-banking fractional-reserve monetary engine is stalled with loan write-downs and bank failures, the Federal Reserve has expanded its balance sheet like never before. Man of the Year Ben Bernanke is deathly afraid of deflation, and John Maynard Keynes is a hero again. The inflation cake is in the oven, albeit not quite fully baked.

And the current administration does not seem friendly to the property right of allowing us to protect ourselves. The president believes that only law-enforcement officers should have weapons.

So while high-time-preference folks like Shannan DeCesare shout "Merry Christmas to me" after unloading some gold jewelry for $610 at a gold party, low-time-preference types are lining up in pawnshops and gun shows to buy gold, silver, lead, and guns.

DeCesare attended a gold party that the Wall Street Journal describes as an example of the new Tupperware party. These parties appeal to the cash-for-gold crowd trying to maintain a boom-time lifestyle by unloading their valuables. The cash poor end up taking between 65 and 75 percent of what their gold would be worth to a refiner according to the WSJ.

These parties offer a comfortable atmosphere for selling the yellow metal. "It can be really difficult for a lot of people to walk into a jewelry store or pawnshop holding a little bag of gold," Lisa Rosenthal, owner of Party of Gold, told the WSJ. Ms. Rosenthal's company has specialists working more than 1,000 parties a month. And why would anyone sell their gold for 65 to 75 cents on the dollar? In his book More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places, author Michael J. Mauboussin has a chapter titled, "All I Need to Know I Learned at a Tupperware Party." People buy Tupperware because they feel like they must reciprocate the host for hosting the party and providing the free party favors. Plus, as Mauboussin explains, "the single most important fact of the Tupperware formula is the tendency to say yes to people you like."

In the case of gold parties, attendees don't want to just show up, drink the wine and eat the appetizers but leave turning their noses up at the low prices offered for their, or their departed mother's, old jewelry, especially when it's their friend down the block hosting the event. They happily trade a metal that has proven to have value for thousands of years for the government's depreciating paper.

But while gold sellers are shy to see the nearby pawn dealer, gold buyers go where they must to see who has inventory for sale. The demand for guns is so good that the gun show in Las Vegas recently charged $14 a head just to walk in and look around — after parking cost of $3. The lot was full and business was brisk.

The demand for space at gun ranges in Salt Lake City was strong enough the day after Christmas that it was a 15- to 20-minute wait to rent an "alley" at the second range we inquired with. The first range contacted was reservation only and completely booked for the day.

Panic buying of ammunition, silver, and gold has created shortages and led to price increases for all three in 2009. "Currently no .380 ammunition — I haven't seen any for about four months… .38 special, it's been at least a couple of months," Denver gun-store manager Richard Taylor told CNN earlier this year. "It's just that there's been a huge demand and it's far outweighed supply right now."

And in November, Bloomberg reported that the US Mint had suspended sales of most American Eagle coins made from precious metals, including gold and silver. With coin sales surging 88 percent in the first 10 months of this year, the mint is out of metal and sales will resume "once sufficient inventories of gold-bullion blanks can be acquired to meet market demand," the mint said in a statement posted on its website.

So, some Americans are unloading their family treasures and cheering for bailouts, money printing, and gun control, while others are stocking up on precious metals, guns, and ammo to protect themselves and their wealth.

There is no question which group is the civilized one.

Judge Dismisses Charges in Blackwater Shooting

Judge Dismisses Charges in Blackwater Shooting

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A federal judge cited repeated government missteps in dismissing all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a case that inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the case against the guards accused of the shooting in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007. (See the full text of the judge's opinion.)

The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead. The Iraqi government wanted the guards to face trial in Iraq and officials there said they would closely watch how the U.S. judicial system handled the case.

Judge Urbina said the prosecutors ignored the advice of senior Justice Department officials and built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. Judge Urbina said that violated the guards' constitutional rights. He dismissed the government's explanations as "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility."

"We're obviously disappointed by the decision," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. "We're still in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options."

Prosecutors can appeal the ruling.

Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said in a statement Friday that the government was dismayed by the court's dismissal of the case.

"The Iraqi government regrets the decision," he said. "Investigations conducted by specialized Iraqi authorities confirmed unequivocally that the guards of Blackwater committed the crime of murder and broke the rules by using arms without the existence of any threat obliging them to use force."

"The Iraqi government will follow up its procedures strictly and firmly to pursue the criminals of the above named company and to preserve the rights of the Iraqi citizens who were victims or the families who suffered losses from this crime."

Haitham Ahmed, whose wife and son were killed in the shooting, said the decision casts doubt on the integrity of the entire U.S. justice system.

"If a judge ... dismissed the trial, that is ridiculous and the whole thing has been but a farce," Mr. Ahmed said. "The rights of our victims and the rights of the innocent people should not be wasted."

Dozens of Iraqis, including the estates of some of the victims allegedly killed by Blackwater employees, filed a separate lawsuit last year alleging that Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings and beatings. The civil case is still before a Virginia court.

Blackwater contractors had been hired to guard U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The guards said insurgents ambushed them in a traffic circle. Prosecutors said the men unleashed an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades.

The shooting led to the unraveling of the North Carolina-based company, which since has replaced its management and changed its name to Xe Services.

The five guards are Donald Ball, a former Marine from West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard, a former Marine from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty, a former Marine from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn., and Paul Slough, an Army veteran from Keller, Texas.

Defense attorneys said the guards were thrilled by the ruling after more than two years of scrutiny.

"It's tremendously gratifying to see the court allow us to celebrate the new year the way it has," said attorney Bill Coffield, who represents Mr. Liberty. "It really invigorates your belief in our court system."

"It's indescribable," said Mr. Ball's attorney, Steven McCool. "It feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off his shoulders. Here's a guy that's a decorated war hero who we maintain should never have been charged in the first place."

The five guards had been charged with manslaughter and weapons violations. The charges carried mandatory 30-year prison terms.

Judge Urbina's ruling does not resolve whether the shooting was proper. Rather, the 90-page opinion underscores some of the conflicting evidence in the case. Some Blackwater guards told prosecutors they were concerned about the shooting and offered to cooperate. Others said the convoy had been attacked. By the time the FBI began investigating, Nisoor Square had been picked clean of bullets that might have proven whether there had been a firefight or a massacre.

The Iraqi government has refused to grant Blackwater a license to continue operating in the country, prompting the State Department to refuse to renew its contracts with the company.

In a statement released by its president, Joseph Yorio, the company said it was happy to have the shooting behind it.

"Like the people they were protecting, our Xe professionals were working for a free, safe and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people," Mr. Yorio said. "With this decision, we feel we can move forward and continue to assist the United States in its mission to help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan find a peaceful, democratic future."

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said, "I do worry about it, because clearly there were innocent people killed in that attack ... it is heart-wrenching."

The case against the five men fell apart because, after the shooting, the State Department ordered the guards to explain what happened. In exchange for those statements, the State Department promised the statements would not be used in a criminal case. Such limited immunity deals are common in police departments so officers involved in shootings cannot hold up internal investigations by refusing to cooperate.

The five guards told investigators they fired their weapons, an admission that was crucial because forensic evidence could not determine who had fired.

Because of the immunity deal, prosecutors had to build their case without those statements, a high legal hurdle that Judge Urbina said the Justice Department failed to clear. Prosecutors read those statements, reviewed them in the investigation and used them to question witnesses and get search warrants, Judge Urbina said. Key witnesses also reviewed the statements and the grand jury heard evidence that had been tainted by those statements, the judge said.

The Justice Department set up a process to avoid those problems, but Judge Urbina said lead prosecutor Ken Kohl and others "purposefully flouted the advice" of senior Justice Department officials telling them not to use the statements.

It was unclear what the ruling means for a sixth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, who turned on his former colleagues and pleaded guilty to killing one Iraqi and wounding another. Had he gone to trial, the case against him would likely have fallen apart, but it's unclear whether Judge Urbina will let him out of his plea deal.

AIG Executives Failed to Repay Majority of Bonuses

AIG Executives Failed to Repay Majority of Bonuses

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Despite previous promises, beleaguered insurance giant American International Group (AIG) has failed to return tens of millions of dollars in bonus payments the firm doled out to executives following the company’s spectacular unraveling and subsequent multibillion government bailout, according to a recent report by the special inspector general for the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Earlier this year, when it was revealed that AIG distributed $165 million in bonuses to employees in its Financial Products division, the unit responsible for AIG’s collapse, President Barack Obama vowed to “pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole."

AIG “is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?" Obama said in mid-March.

AIG rewarded executives after the government invested $173 billion in taxpayer funds to keep the firm afloat. The company argued that it needed to pay the bonuses so Financial Products employees could unwind its troubled assets. Those are the same employees whose risky bets brought the company to its knees.

“Because of their institutional knowledge, these employees are considered by AIG as key to finishing the unwinding of the complex derivatives book of business, estimated to be about $1.3 trillion in notional amount as of June 30, 2009,” the inspector general’s report says. “AIG officials emphasized that effectively retaining and recruiting quality staff throughout their organization directly relates to AIG’s ability to repay the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department for the Government’s investments in AIG.”

Intense public outrage over the bonus payments and threats by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to release the names of the individuals who received the compensation, as well as efforts by Congress to impose a hefty tax on the bonuses, led about 18 of AIG Financial Products executives who received more than $100,000 to voluntarily agree to return about $45 million in bonus payments by the end of the year.

But thus far, just $19 million has been refunded.

According to the inspector general’s report, although the “retention payments were consistent with the law” and “contractually binding” collecting the money “has been incomplete due to certain employees leaving AIG [with bonuses in hand] and reported concerns of employees who remain at AIG regarding the status of future payments under the [AIG Financial Products] retention plan.”

The inspector general’s report laid much of the blame over the $165 million in bonuses AIG paid last March on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY).

The report said the Treasury Department “did not conduct direct oversight of AIG’s executive compensation prior to March 19, 2009, but chose instead essentially to defer to FRBNY.”

“This, coupled with Treasury’s subsequent limited communications with FRBNY with respect to that issue, has meant that Treasury invested $40 billion of taxpayer funds in AIG, designed AIG’s contractual executive compensation restrictions, and helped manage the Government’s majority stake in AIG for several months, all without having any detailed information about the scope of AIG’s very substantial, and very controversial, executive compensation obligations,” the report said.

“Treasury’s failure to discover the scope and scale of AIG’s executive compensation obligations, in particular at AIG [Financial Products], potentially resulted in a missed opportunity to avoid the explosively controversial events and created considerable public and Congressional concern over the retention payments.

Populist outrage over the bonus issue, however, will likely reach a boiling point again when AIG is expected to distribute another round of retention bonuses in March totaling $198 million, which AIG executives are currently discussing with the Obama administration.

“Although a senior AIG official states future awards totaling approximately $198 million are supposed to be paid in March 2010 as part of the contractual [AIG Financial Products] retention agreements, AIG officials indicated that they are working to propose new compensation arrangements to [Financial Products] employees in light of the negative fallout surrounding the March payments,” the inspector general’s report says.

“Discussions between AIG and [Obama’s compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg] regarding the terms of new compensation agreements are ongoing. AIG officials state that changes to the terms of the previously agreed-upon retention awards have created significant compensation uncertainty within AIGFP. ...This is just one of the outstanding challenges AIG faces in structuring future compensation decisions that retain employees and comply with executive compensation regulations.”

But according to unnamed sources quoted by the Washington Post, Feinberg told senior AIG executives he would block the company from making future bonus payments unless bonuses distributed to Financial Products employees last March are refunded first.

"Feinberg is adamant those pledges be honored," said one unnamed person quoted by the Post familiar with the discussions. "It's non-negotiable."

The inspector general’s report did not that Feinberg “indicated repayment of $45 million in pledged amounts is required by individuals” who made previous agreements to do so.

Furthermore, Feinberg “has informed AIG management that the total of $198 million should be reduced,” but he has not said by how much.

Some Financial Products employees have indicated they will go to court if need be and fight to keep their six and seven figure bonuses they have already received and the future payments they say the corporation still owes them.

"They have a contractual right to be paid this money. They put in their time, and they have performed all their obligations successfully." Andrew Goodstadt, a New York lawyer who represents more than a dozen Financial Products employees, told the Washington Post, adding that previous promises to return the bonus payments were nonbinding and voluntary. "They're willing to assert their contractual rights in a court of law. They have extremely strong claims."

According to the inspector general’s report, AIG still maintains that if bonuses aren’t made the “loss of key employees in [Financial Products] and other business units could damage AIG’s ability to retain customers and sell some of its companies, which are essential factors in repaying the Federal Reserve and Treasury.”

The inspector general’s report says AIG “reportedly has already lost many employees” due to tough new compensation regulations implemented last June.

In a statement AIG released in October, the company said it fully expects employees at its Financial Products division who received bonuses last March and promised to return the money “will honor their commitments” and have until the end of the year to do so.

But with just two days left until 2009 comes to a close, it’s becoming less likely the money will be returned.

Indeed, as the inspector general’s report noted “collecting repayments for the total $45 million will be difficult because some of the more than 400 employees originally receiving retention awards and who said they would repay are no longer with the company.”

US state and local tax revenues plummet

US state and local tax revenues plummet

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New US census data show that state and local government tax revenue continued their year-long plunge in the third quarter, falling by 7 percent from the same period last year. In response, governments are cutting spending on social programs, infrastructure and education, and are laying off or cutting the wages of government workers.

It was the fourth straight quarter in which tax receipts fell on a year-over-year basis, the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Summary of State and Local Tax Revenue shows. Collections for 2009 through the third quarter were down $76 billion, or 8 percent, from a year ago, while federal tax revenue fell even more sharply in the same period, by 19 percent.

Every major form of state and local tax revenue declined. Totals for sales and personal income taxes fell by 9 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The erosion of these two taxes, on which state governments rely, is owed largely to unemployment and wage cuts.

Taxes on business profits fell precipitously, by 18 percent in the third quarter, year-over-year.

Property tax collections actually increased by 3.6 percent in the third quarter of 2009 from 2008. However, analysts explain that government property assessments have simply not yet caught up with market-determined home and commercial real estate values. This gap is expected to begin to be bridged in 2010, imperiling municipal and county governments heavily reliant on property taxes.

“At minimum, cities will be working through the catastrophic drops in revenue for the next 18 months to two years,” said Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

Like unemployment, the fiscal health of state and local governments is considered a “lagging indicator.” Even when, and if, the economy begins to improve, tax collections follow slowly. The burden is compounded by the extra costs economic downturns place on state budgets in the form of unemployment benefits, Medicaid and other social programs, and accounting tricks states have used to defer red ink from this fiscal year to the next.

“We expect continued weakness well into 2010 if not further,” concluded Lucy Dadayan of the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York.

According to a study by the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), states cut nearly $150 billion in spending to balance budgets in the current fiscal year. But already, 36 states have seen gaps reopen to a combined deficit of $28.2 billion. These deficits will worsen. In 2011, 35 states making estimates predict a combined deficit of $55.5 billion. In 2012, just 23 states offering data already estimate red ink totaling $68.8 billion.

No state has been spared from falling revenues. Energy-rich states that averted budget crises last year were hit particularly hard by third-quarter revenue declines, among them Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska. The latter, with a 65 percent decline, experienced the biggest year-over-year dropoff. In all, 22 states, including Illinois, saw a third-quarter revenue decline greater than 10 percent.

These shortfalls will inevitably lead to more cuts in social spending and further layoffs, wage cuts and furloughs for state workers. Layoffs of government workers could produce the next wave of unemployment in the US, where fully 15 percent of the non-agricultural workforce is employed by state or local governments.

By all indications, the budget cuts being put in place will not be restored. “The economic fallout has hammered state budgets with an intensity we haven’t seen since the Great Depression,” said Sujit M. CanagaRetna, an analyst with the Council of State Governments. “The way that we have cut and slashed governments indicates that we’re only going to be able to provide the most basic services.”

“Anything and everything’s on the table,” Todd Haggerty, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislators, was quoted by Stateline.org as saying. States have “cut the fat, cut the muscle and are now cutting bone,” Haggerty said. “The easy decisions have already been made.”

Among the hardest-hit states is New York. This week, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a statement saying that the nation’s third most populous state was “down to petty cash” in its treasury. “New York State is barely scraping by in December,” DiNapoli said. “While measures were taken by the legislature and Governor to get the state through December, the state is literally down to petty cash. New York’s fiscal troubles are far from over.” After the first week of January, New York may have no more than $300 million cash on-hand.

The total deficit of the states from 2009 to 2012 is now estimated at $460 billion. While an enormous amount of money, it will prove far less than US military spending and the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the same period, and is dwarfed by the multi-trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street.

There is little chance of help from the federal government, which is itself experiencing its worst budget shortfalls since World War II. On the contrary, the Obama administration will likely inflame the states’ fiscal crisis.Governors and legislators of both parties warn that health care “reform” will likely add significantly to their fiscal crises through new, unfunded mandates. And with the $300 billion in aid allotted the states through last February’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set to run out after the next fiscal year, the Obama administration has all but ruled out further relief.

Obama administration prepares public opinion for attack on Yemen

Obama administration prepares public opinion for attack on Yemen

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Five days after the unsuccessful attempt by a Nigerian student to set off a bomb aboard a Detroit-bound passenger jet, US military and intelligence officials are said to be preparing expanded military action against targets in Yemen, the Arab country where the student allegedly received terrorist training and was equipped with an explosive device.

A series of US media reports suggest that new US-backed military attacks inside Yemen are imminent. Citing “two senior US officials,” CNN reported: “The US and Yemen are now looking at fresh targets for a potential retaliation strike.”

Yemen

The network said the officials “both stressed the effort is aimed at being ready with options for the White House if President Obama orders a retaliatory strike.” CNN continued: “The effort is to see whether targets can be specifically linked to the airliner incident and its planning. US special operations forces and intelligence agencies, and their Yemeni counterparts, are working to identify potential Al Qaeda targets in Yemen, one of the officials said.”

The network said the Obama administration and the long-time Yemeni dictator, Field Marshal Ali Abdullah Saleh, had reached an agreement to allow the US to fly cruise missiles, fighter jets and armed drones, used for remote-control assassinations, in Yemeni airspace. Talks were still ongoing on whether Saleh will give permission for the entry of US helicopter-borne Special Forces.

The report comes after a series of statements by top administration officials, including Obama himself, pledging that “all elements of US power” will be used in response to the failed attack on Northwest Flight 253. The White House has been under heavy fire from its Republican opponents over the evident security failure, and a military action would serve to divert public attention from the ongoing revelations of how the CIA and other US agencies ignored warnings about the impending attack.

Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu Bakr al Qirbi, told the BBC that his country was seeking stepped up military aid, presumably as part of a package deal—in effect, a bribe for allowing the country’s territory to be turned into a battlefield for US commandos.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration was discussing nearly tripling its military and counterterrorism aid to Yemen in the coming year. US aid jumped from $4.6 million in 2006 to $67 million this year, and would rise to as much as $190 million in 2010, according to “a senior military official.”

Reuters, citing unnamed “defense and counterterrorism officials,” reported that “the Obama administration was exploring ways to accelerate and expand US assistance to Yemeni forces to root out the Al Qaeda leadership in the country, while keeping the role of the US military and intelligence agencies as behind the scenes as possible.”

The news agency reported a clash between Yemeni security forces and Al Qaeda fighters in the western Hudaydah province, around the town of Deir Jaber.

The Los Angeles Times cited a Yemeni terrorism expert as the source of an estimate that Al Qaeda has “as many as 2,000 militants and sympathizers exploiting the country’s economic and political chaos to create a base for jihad at the edge of the Persian Gulf.” This is ten times more than other media estimates of the number of such militants in Yemen, and 20 times the number of Al Qaeda forces said by US officials to be in Afghanistan now.

The Times report is part of an effort by the US media to portray Yemen as a lawless hotbed of terrorism and a major threat to the United States, in order to justify in advance an American attack, or even a full-scale invasion.

It was followed by an even more apocalyptic comment by “terrorism expert” Steven Emerson, interviewed Wednesday morning on CBS’ “Early Show.” He said that while the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was still “number one” for terrorist activity, the area surrounding the Gulf of Aden, including Yemen and Somalia, was “fast coming up the ladder.”

“Yemen possibly could surpass Pakistan in the next year, given the terrorist trajectory for providing a haven for Al Qaeda,” he claimed. In light of the fact that the Obama administration is mobilizing 100,000 American troops as well as hundreds of warplanes and drones for combat along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, such a comparison is extremely ominous.

Emerson took particular note of “literally scores of American Muslim students studying and being trained in Yemen to this day…. There’s a pool of potential terrorists out there that have Western passports that can board planes without visas.”

The clear goal of such far-fetched claims is to create a pogrom atmosphere directed against all young American Muslims, particularly those of Arab or East African origin.

These comments were made one day after press reports of an alleged abortive attempt by a Somali man equipped with explosive powder and a syringe to board a passenger jet in Mogadishu, the capital city. This is the same modus operandi as that of the Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aboard Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day. The Somali was arrested by African peacekeeping troops on November 13 and never succeeded in getting on the plane.

The Washington Post, the leading newspaper in the US capital, published an editorial Wednesday noting that in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing attempt, allegedly originating in Yemen, “some are asking whether the United States should launch a military offensive in that impoverished Arabian nation.” The editorial continued: “The answer, of course, is that it already has.”

Citing a series of raids conducted by Yemeni and US forces, the Post praised the Obama administration for having “significantly stepped up US counterterrorism operations in Yemen,” including the dispatch of CIA and Special Forces personnel. But it warned: “Still, Yemen’s steady slide toward failed-state status in recent years means that it, like nearby Somalia, will probably demand concerted and multifaceted US engagement for years to come. More than Special Forces and missile strikes are needed.”

While declaring that “US ground troops are not needed, for now, in Yemen or Somalia,” the newspaper suggested that such forces may well be required in the future. It declared, “in those countries, as in Afghanistan, a strategy limited to counterterrorism will not eliminate the threat.”

Once again, as in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, American imperialism is preparing a military bloodbath in an impoverished country, using a terrorist attack—in this case a failed attempt—as the pretext. According to reports by the UN and Yemeni government statistics, some 35 percent of the adult population of the country is unemployed. Yemen is the poorest of the Arab countries, has exhausted its very limited oil export capacity, and now faces severe water shortages.

But Yemen possesses, like Afghanistan and Iraq, a highly strategic geographic location, adjacent to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and the Red Sea, controlling access to the Suez Canal. Yemen also borders on the Gulf of Aden, the shipping route for much of the oil leaving the Persian Gulf.

US military forces are already deployed across the strait of Bab el Mandeb in Djibouti, the former French Somaliland, which remains a virtual French colony. Djibouti hosts thousands of French and US troops who could quickly move into Yemen if so ordered by Paris and Washington. A large US and NATO war fleet patrols shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and south along the Indian Ocean coast of Somalia.

Escalating War in Afghanistan Apt to Hurt Fragile U.S. Economy

Escalating War in Afghanistan Apt to Hurt Fragile U.S. Economy

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If Iraq war spending helped plunge the U.S. economy into its worst slump since the Depression, what does President Obama think his escalation of the Afghan war will do it?

Besides forcing taxpayers to cough up fresh billions to enable the Pentagon to chase down a few hundred Taliban fighters, the Afghan war is liable to continue to inflate oil prices---and this means more than the ongoing swindle of motorists at the pump.

Higher oil prices also slow the global economy, causing our trading partners to buy fewer Made-in-USA goods, thus reducing demand for our products and leading to layoffs.

Spending money on war also siphons billions of dollars from truly productive uses.

“Today, no serious economist holds the view that war is good for the economy,” write Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard government finance expert Linda Bilmes in their book “The Three Trillion Dollar War: the True Cost of The Iraq Conflict.”

Referring to Iraq, they write, “The question is not whether the economy has been weakened by the war. The question is only by how much.” They note, “Oil prices started to soar just as the war began, and the longer it has dragged on, the higher prices have gone.”

Even so, by their estimate (a word they stress), the increased price of oil attributed to the war comes “to somewhat in excess of $1.6 trillion.” Not only consumers but State and local governments “have had to cut back other spending to pay the higher prices of oil imports.”

The co-authors reason, “Government money spent in Iraq does not stimulate the economy in the way that the same amounts spent at home would.” A thousand dollars spent to hire a Nepalese worker to perform services in Iraq does not directly increase the income of Americans, Stiglitz and Bilmes point out. Ditto for Afghanistan---and Pakistan, friends.

By contrast, the same thousand dollars spent on university research in the U.S. directly boosts the U.S. economy, then ripples out as the university researchers spend their money on goods and services, many of them made in America.

“The money spent on Iraq could have been spent on schools, roads, or research. These investments yield high returns. It could also have been spent more productively within the Department of Veterans Affairs, in its teaching and research programs, or in expanding medical facilities such as mental health clinics... Expenditures on the Iraq war have no benefits of this kind.” And by fiscal year 2010, the Center For Defense Information reports, the cost of the Afghan fighting will total $739 billion on the cost of Iraq fighting $2.337 trillion. Imagine the good those dollars would have done spent at home!

Bilmes and Stiglitz say by the end of last year, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq hiked U.S. indebtedness by $900 billion and just the debt from military spending (excluding veterans’ benefits) will exceed $2 trillion.

Today, the Pentagon sponge not only causes the U.S. to borrow billions from China and others but it is also putting American entrepreneurs out of business. “As the private sector competes for funds with the government, private investment gets crowded out... As a result, output is lower.”

The co-authors add that the crowding out causes a loss in investment in our economy by $1.2 trillion and “the forgone output” (unbuilt homes, etc.) could be as high as $5trillion.

Another expense the Pentagon doesn’t talk about is the waste involved when it doles out no-bid contracts to favored insiders such as KBR. Nearly all of the top 10 war machine contractors are said to land the majority of contracts without competing bidders. What a kick in the teeth to capitalist free enterprise!

Have your stocks suffered? U.S. economist Robert Wescott, Stiglitz and Bilmes write, estimated in the years immediately following the beginning of the Iraq war that “the value of the stock market was some $4 trillion less than would have been predicted on the basis of past performance.”

Why? Because, “Uncertainties caused by the war, the resulting turmoil in the Middle East, and soaring oil prices dampened prices from what they ‘normally’ would have been. This decrease in corporate wealth implies that consumption was lower than it otherwise would have been, again weakening the economy.”

Back in 2007, Democrats on Congress’ Joint Economic Committee issued a report on the two wars estimating their cost from 2002 to 2008 at $1.6 trillion. They put the cost to an American family of four at $20,900. That’s a whopping sum---but given all the indirect ways the wars have crippled the U.S. economy, probably a gross undercount.

President Obama’s expansion of the Afghan war into Pakistan has engulfed much of the Middle East in bloodshed that is, sad to say, of America’s making. And pouring more U.S. treasure into Pakistan will only further weaken the U.S. economy. This writer believes the American people---who want only what President Eisenhower’s slogan, “Peace and Prosperity,” once promised them---are going to pay dearly for a widening war the majority of them reject. And it may also bring economic catastrophe our way, courtesy of the “military-industrial complex” of which Eisenhower warned.

Have Americans Traded Freedom For Security?

Have Americans Traded Freedom For Security?

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Obama's dwindling band of true believers has taken heart that their man has finally delivered on one of his many promises -- the closing of the Guantanamo prison. But the prison is not being closed. It is being moved to Illinois, if the Republicans permit.

In truth, Obama has handed his supporters another defeat. Closing Guantanamo meant ceasing to hold people in violation of our legal principles of habeas corpus and due process and ceasing to torture them in violation of U.S. and international laws.

All Obama would be doing would be moving 100 people, against whom the U.S. government is unable to bring a case, from the prison in Guantanamo to a prison in Thomson, Illinois.

Are the residents of Thomson despondent that the US government has chosen their town as the site on which to continue its blatant violation of U.S. legal principles? No, the residents are happy. It means jobs.

The hapless prisoners had a better chance of obtaining release from Guantanamo. Now the prisoners are up against two U.S. senators, a U.S. representative, a mayor, and a state governor who have a vested interest in the prisoners' permanent detention in order to protect the new prison jobs in the hamlet devastated by unemployment.

Neither the public nor the media have ever shown any interest in how the detainees came to be incarcerated. Most of the detainees were unprotected people who were captured by Afghan war lords and sold to the Americans as "terrorists" in order to collect a proffered bounty. It was enough for the public and the media that the Defense Secretary at the time, Donald Rumsfeld, declared the Guantanamo detainees to be the "780 most dangerous people on earth."

The vast majority have been released after years of abuse. The 100 who are slated to be removed to Illinois have apparently been so badly abused that the U.S. government is afraid to release them because of the testimony the prisoners could give to human rights organizations and foreign media about their mistreatment.

Our British allies are showing more moral conscience than Americans are able to muster. Former PM Tony Blair, who provided cover for President Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq, is being damned for his crimes by UK officialdom testifying before the Chilcot Inquiry.

The London Times on December 14 summed up the case against Blair in a headline: "Intoxicated by Power, Blair Tricked Us Into War." Two days later the British First Post declared: "War Crime Case Against Tony Blair Now Rock-solid." In an unguarded moment Blair let it slip that he favored a conspiracy for war regardless of the validity of the excuse [weapons of mass destruction] used to justify the invasion.

The movement to bring Blair to trial as a war criminal is gathering steam. Writing in the First Post Neil Clark reported: "There is widespread contempt for a man [Blair] who has made millions [his reward from the Bush regime] while Iraqis die in their hundreds of thousands due to the havoc unleashed by the illegal invasion, and who, with breathtaking arrogance, seems to regard himself as above the rules of international law." Clark notes that the West's practice of shipping Serbian and African leaders off to the War Crimes Tribunal, while exempting itself, is wearing thin.

In the U.S., of course, there is no such attempt to hold to account Bush, Cheney, Condi Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the large number of war criminals that comprised the Bush Regime. Indeed, Obama, whom Republicans love to hate, has gone out of his way to protect the Bush cohort from being held accountable.

Here in Great Moral America we only hold accountable celebrities and politicians for their sexual indiscretions. Tiger Woods is paying a bigger price for his girlfriends than Bush or Cheney will ever pay for the deaths and ruined lives of millions of people. The consulting company, Accenture Plc, which based its marketing program on Tiger Woods, has removed Woods from its Web site. Gillette announced that the company is dropping Woods from its print and broadcast ads. AT&T says it is re-evaluating the company's relationship with Woods.

Apparently, Americans regard sexual infidelity as far more serious than invading countries on the basis of false charges and deception, invasions that have caused the deaths and displacement of millions of innocent people. Remember, the House impeached President Clinton not for his war crimes in Serbia, but for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Americans are more upset by Tiger Woods' sexual affairs than they are by the Bush and Obama administrations' destruction of U.S. civil liberty. Americans don't seem to mind that "their" government for the last 8 years has resorted to the detention practices of 1,000 years ago -- simply grab a person and throw him into a dungeon forever without bringing charges and obtaining a conviction.

According to polls, Americans support torture, a violation of both U.S. and international law, and Americans don't mind that their government violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and spies on them without obtaining warrants from a court. Apparently, the brave citizens of the "sole remaining superpower" are so afraid of terrorists that they are content to give up liberty for safety, an impossible feat.

With stunning insouciance, Americans have given up the rule of law that protected their liberty. The silence of law schools and bar associations indicates that the age of liberty has passed. In short, the American people support tyranny. And that's where they are headed.