Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hidden Agenda: The "Debt Crisis Plan" was to Strike a Blow at the National Social Safety Net

Hidden Agenda: The "Debt Crisis Plan" was to Strike a Blow at the National Social Safety Net

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The debt crisis has been averted and people across the globe are breathing sighs of relief.

But in the back rooms of the US Congress, politicians are celebrating for a different reason. It's the kind of celebration that erupts when a group executes a complicated plan to perfection. The objective in this case was to strike the first blows against the national social safety net without encountering massive resistance. Mission half-accomplished thus far.

Half accomplished because only half of the $2.5 billion in cuts have been decided on. The other half will be sent to a bi-partisan committee where, according to the White House Fact Sheet:

"... the committee will consider responsible entitlement [Social Security and Medicare] and tax reform [cuts to entitlement programs]. This means putting all the priorities of both parties on the table – including both entitlement reform [Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid] and revenue-raising tax reform.”

If the committee fails to agree on the cuts, they would be automatically triggered, and Medicare would be the target: "...any cuts to Medicare would be capped and limited to the provider side." This means that fewer doctors would accept Medicare patients or they would provide fewer services to Medicare beneficiaries.

When it comes to cutting Social Security and Medicare, the Democrats are Republicans are only trying to get their foot into the door. Nevertheless, the potential cuts will have a massive impact on the millions of Americans who depend on these vital services. And if these cuts are allowed to happen unopposed, the possibility of future, more dramatic cuts is certain.

Equally bad is that the budget deal makes the unemployment situation even worse. In writing about the effect the cuts would have on employment, a Moody’s analyst predicted that:

"The deal announced last night calls for a yearly average of $240 billion in cuts over the next decade. Very roughly, that suggests the new plan would cost around 1.6 million jobs per year during that time. [!]" (August 1st, 2011).

This noxious level of contempt for working people was the product of a manufactured crisis, with Democrats and Republicans playing along. How did Obama and the Democrats essentially push through the long-term objectives of the Republican Party? Author Michael Hudson explains on Democracy Now:

"... There has to be a crisis. Now, in reality, there is no crisis at all. In reality, raising the debt ceiling has been done for a hundred years automatically. There is no connection between raising the debt ceiling and arguing over tax policy. Tax policy takes many years to work out. All of a sudden, Mr. Obama is going along with the charade of saying, "Wait a minute, let’s create a crisis."... And Wall Street doesn’t like real crises, so there’s an artificial non-crisis that Obama is treating as a crisis so that he can put forth the recommendations of the Deficit Reduction Commission to get rid of Social Security that he has supported all along." (July 22nd, 2011).

Thus, it's not true that Obama was "held hostage" by the Republicans. If he told the country only half of what Mr. Hudson explained on Democracy Now, the Republicans would have folded instantly. If Obama would have told the country that the Republicans wanted massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare, instead of purposely hiding these issues, Republican voters would have converged on Capitol Hill with torches and pitchforks. Instead, Obama went along with the charade; because in order for it to succeed, he was required to play a leading role in the drama.

Liberal groups and the major labor federations -- AFL-CIO and Change to Win -- have given a left cover to Obama's far-right policies, wrongly blaming only the Republicans every step of the way. But this willful blindness has its limits. These groups intend to "get out the vote" for Obama in 2012 while ignoring all the damage he's done to working families, while they also ignore all the promises Obama made to them and didn't keep last time.

The rank-and-file members of labor unions and liberal groups are among the million of Americans suffering under Obama's economic policies and will not follow their leaders like lemmings over the cliff for Obama's next presidential run. There will be a profound lack of rank-and-file volunteers to campaign for Obama, even as labor union leaders throw away their members’ dues money for the campaign. And because fewer members will campaign for Obama, he will feel less inclined to reward them after (or if) he wins. Instead, he'll again reward Wall Street, meaning, he'll continue to take from working people and give to the rich, further exacerbating the problem.

To change this downward spiral for labor and liberal groups a new approach is desperately needed, and can be started in two steps: 1) Put forth independent demands. 2) Wage a real fight for these demands. The most immediate demands for the majority of people are job creation and saving Social Security, Medicare, and the broader safety net including Medicaid. These demands require that revenue be raised by taxing the rich and corporations, since no other group can afford any taxes, and inequality continues to skyrocket.

There is a direct link between the decades-long lowering of taxes on the wealthy and corporations and deficits rising on the national and state level. Economist Richard Wolff explains on Democracy Now:

"We’re running a deficit because the people who run this society would like us to deal with our economic problems, not by taxing those who have it, the way we used to, but instead by endlessly borrowing from them. And now the ultimate irony, we’ve borrowed so much as a nation from the rich and the corporations, they now are not so sure they want to continue to lend to us, because we’re so deeply in debt. And they want us instead to go stick it to poor people and sick people instead. It’s an extraordinary moment in our history as a nation." (July 29th, 2011).

So instead of directly taxing the very rich and corporations, we are borrowing money from them with interest. Much of the money we are borrowing from them was given to them via the bank bailouts; they were given free taxpayer money and lent the money back to the taxpayers, while demanding that programs that benefit working people be slashed! This extraordinary moment requires extraordinary action from working class organizations, including mass demonstrations as part of a sustained, independent campaign.

The deficit reduction plan worked out by the cooperation between Republicans and Democrats is not set in stone. Massive, ongoing protests have a tendency to make politicians re-think their policies.

"Sudden And Unexpected" Burst Of Downsizing Causes Layoffs To Explode Nearly 60% In July

"Sudden And Unexpected" Burst Of Downsizing Causes Layoffs To Explode Nearly 60% In July

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July was a HUGE month for layoffs according to a survey from Challenger.

The announcement is here:

A sudden and unexpected burst in private-sector downsizing pushed the number of announced job cuts to a 16-month high of 66,414 in July, according the latest report on downsizing activity released Wednesday by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The 66,414 job cuts last month were up 60 percent from the previous month, when employers announced plans to shed 41,432 workers. The July figure was 59 percent higher than the 41,676 layoffs recorded in July 2010. It was the largest monthly total since March 2010, when 67,611 job cuts were announced by the nation’s employers.

The July job-cut surge was dominated by a flurry of large layoffs by a handful of private-sector employers, including Merck & Co., Borders, Cisco Systems, Lockheed Martin and Boston Scientific. The job cuts from these five companies alone accounted for 38,100 or 57 percent of the July total.

Here's a look at month-by-month totals:


Next up: The ADP report comes out at 8:15.

Unemployment rose in 90 percent of U.S. cities in June

Unemployment rose in 90 percent of U.S. cities in June

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Unemployment rates rose in more than 90 percent of U.S. cities in June, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Unemployment rose in 345 large metro areas during the month, according to the report. Rates dropped in 20 cities, and remained steady in seven.

The national unemployment rate increased in June to 9.2 percent.

The statistics show a drastic change in unemployment rates in recent months. In May, unemployment rates rose in only 210 cities. In April, rates decreased in nearly all metro areas.

In June, employers added just 18,000 jobs, the lowest number in nine months. It was also a sharp decrease from the average of 215,000 jobs that were added in February, March, and April.

Many of the highest unemployment rates were seen in metro areas that are college towns. Champaign-Urbana, Ill., the home of the University of Illinois, saw its unemployment rate rise from 6.9 percent in May to 9.6 percent in June. College towns in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico reported similar increases.

California was the state that suffered the most in June—11 of the 12 metro areas that reported unemployment rates of more than 15 percent were in California. El Centro, Calif., had the highest unemployment rate in the country at 28.5 percent.

In contrast, the lowest unemployment rate in America belonged to Bismarck, N.D., at 3.6 percent.

The report is consistent with what was shown in the July Consumer Reports Index, which found that many Americans are still pessimistic about the economy amid high unemployment rates and a stalled jobs market.

The Beast Is Starved: Welcome to the Next Great Depression

The Beast Is Starved: Welcome to the Next Great Depression

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Since Reagan, Republicans have been on a “starve the beast” campaign – by which they mean eviscerate the government by taking away as much revenue as they can.

Starving the beast has been the biggest bait and switch con game that has ever been perpetrated on the American people. And the most tragic.

As Paul Krugman pointed out, Republicans offered popular tax cuts so that they could later cut popular government programs “as a necessity.” Oh, we’d love to continue providing low cost, effective medical care under Medicare, but you see, the country just can’t afford it … Of course we can’t. Billionaire hedge fund managers and Wall Street traders pay less in taxes than their secretaries. And most corporations pay little or no taxes.

Starve the Beast was coupled with a clever campaign to make government appear to be a collection of bumbling bureaucrats who wasted tax money for pure pleasure. Long after it became politically impossible to stereotype racial and ethnic groups (with the possible exceptions of Muslims) it was – and is – quite acceptable to characterize government workers as shiftless, lazy and incompetent.

As a result, once the Republicans succeeded in cutting government revenue to the bone and beyond, it became impossible to raise taxes – who wants to give any more of their hard earned money to a bunch of lazy bureaucrats?

Never mind that most big government programs are far more efficient than their private sector equivalents. That’s a mere fact. Can’t let that get in the way of starving the beast.

Bait and switch. Divide and Conquer.

So, after starting with a surplus in 2000, Republicans used two wars, two rounds of tax cuts, and a giant giveaway to big Pharma, to get the country racking up debt like a drunken sailor.

Along comes the Bush recession, and the debt accelerates, and the Republicans declare the debt to be an “emergency” and right on schedule immediately attack popular programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Student loans –and virtually anything that doesn’t help the uber rich or the corporations suddenly must be cut if we are to stay solvent.

Never mind that cutting Social Security to balance the budget is like attacking the mailman because your car doesn’t work. It has nothing to do with the budget – but again, that’s a mere fact. When you’re drowning the beast, facts don’t matter.

So OK. The beast is drowned. Keynes is dead. Now what?

Well, if past is prologue, welcome to the next Great Depression.

See, the dirty little secret is that we never had a debt “crisis.” We had a jobs crisis.

While Republicans were arguing about the faux “crisis” and the press and Obama joined them, we got a series of disturbing economic signals. Consumer confidence was down, manufacturing was off, May and June’s job numbers were pathetic. In fact, if not for a hiring binge by McDonald’s there would have been a net job loss in May. That’s something to hang your hat on: McDonalds accounted for what little job growth there was. What’s next, America gets saved by an uptick in Wall Mart greeters?

Look. This whole drown the beast strategy has been nothing more than a stealth tactic for instituting an extremist version of a laissez faire, market uber-alles policy designed by and for the Plutocracy.

And to be sure, it’s worked great for them. Today, the richest 1% owns 40% of the nation's wealth, and the top 10% owns nearly 75% of it.

The rest of us? Not so much.

Income and wealth inequality in the US has been increasing rapidly since Reagan, (with a slight break under Clinton). In terms of income inequality, the US now ranks about the same as Ivory Coast, Uganda and Cameroon – countries not exactly noted for being prosperous, equitable and just societies.

News flash for all the debt mongers, Tea Partiers and other assorted ignoramuses. You can’t run a consumer-based economy when the vast majority of consumers don’t have enough money to buy anything. After all, Paris Hilton can only buy so many yachts; Corporate CEOs can only purchase so many jetliners – even with their special jet tax credits; and Wall Street traders can only buy so many Bugattis. But middle and working class Americans need to spend their money on food, lodging, and other necessities.

Here’s the dirty little secret: Republicans want the economy to fail. They want Obama to fail, and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process. They want these things, because the beast is in the bathtub and they can almost taste its demise.

The pieces are in place for the Plutocrats final victory … an industry friendly Supreme Court; a Democratic Party that is either in collusion with the plutocrats, or so cowardly as to be neutered; a press that reports outlandish lies and objective facts as if they were equivalent; and a public that is dazed and confused and convinced the government is their enemy.

But government isn’t the enemy. Laissez faire economic policies are. Every time we’ve tried them, they've produced profound income inequalities and the severe economic downturns that inevitably follow.

With private industry sitting on top of some $2 trillion in profits, exporting jobs, and shutting down plants, only government spending stood between us and an economic Armageddon.

Now, nothing does.

So, congratulations, America. You’ve finally gotten big bad gubmint off your back.

Enjoy the coming Great Depression.

Joe Lieberman Says U.S. Should Cut Social Security To Pay For Fighting ‘The Islamist Extremists’

Joe Lieberman Says U.S. Should Cut Social Security To Pay For Fighting ‘The Islamist Extremists’

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This past April, right-wing war hawk John Bolton suggested during an interview on Fox News that the United States should cut Social Security and Medicare to finance the defense budget.

During debate over the debt deal today on the Senate floor, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) appeared to endorse this call. Lieberman explained that he is working with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on a Social Security spending reduction plan and that “we can’t protect these entitlements and also have the national defense…to protect us…with Islamist extremists”:

LIEBERMAN: I want to indicate today to my colleagues that Senator Coburn and I are working again on a bipartisan proposal to secure Social Security over the long term, we hope to have that done in time. To also forward to the special committee for their consideration. So, bottom line, we can’t protect these entitlements and also have the national defense we need to protect us in a dangerous world while we’re at war with Islamist extremists who attacked us on 9/11 and will be for a long time to come.

Watch it:

As ThinkProgress’s Ben Armbruster notes, the Bolton-Lieberman plan is “is basically a reverse Robin Hood scheme: robbing the poor to pay the rich, or really, the Military Industrial Complex on steroids.” As Ambruster points out, a “recent Reuters poll found that Americans would rather cut defense spending than raid social services in order to solve the debt and deficit problems.” Americans do not appear to have the priorities of these two war hawks.

Data Shows All of Earth's Systems in Rapid Decline

Data Shows All of Earth's Systems in Rapid Decline

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Protecting bits of nature here and there will not prevent humanity from losing our life support system. Even if areas dedicated to conserving plants, animals, and other species that provide Earth's life support system increased tenfold, it would not be enough without dealing with the big issues of the 21st century: population, overconsumption and inefficient resource use.

Without dealing with those big issues, humanity will need 27 planet Earths by 2050, a new study estimates.

The size and number of protected areas on land and sea has increased dramatically since the 1980s, now totaling over 100,000 in number and covering 17 million square kilometres of land and two million square kilometres of oceans, a new study reported Thursday.

But impressive as those numbers look, all indicators reveal species going extinct faster than ever before, despite all the additions of new parks, reserves and other conservation measures, according to the study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

"It is amazing to me that we haven't dealt with this failure of protected areas to slow biodiversity losses," said lead author Camilo Mora of University of Hawaii at Manoa.

"We were surprised the evidence from the past 30 years was so clear," Mora told IPS.

The ability of protected areas to address the problem of biodiversity loss - the decline in diversity and numbers of all living species - has long been overestimated, the study reported. The reality is that most protected areas are not truly protected. Many are "paper parks", protected in name only. Up to 70 percent of marine protected areas are paper parks, Mora said.

The study shows global expenditures on protected areas today are estimated at six billion dollars per year, and many areas are insufficiently funded for effective management. Effectively managing existing protected areas requires an estimated 24 billion dollars per year - four times the current expenditure.

"Ongoing biodiversity loss and its consequences for humanity's welfare are of great concern and have prompted strong calls for expanding the use of protected areas as a remedy," said co-author Peter Sale, a marine biologist and assistant director of the United Nations University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

"Protected areas are a false hope in terms of preventing the loss of biodiversity," Sale told IPS.

The authors based their study on existing literature and global data on human threats and biodiversity loss.

When asked about the 2010 global biodiversity protection agreement in Nagoya, Japan to put 17 percent of land and 10 percent of oceans on the planet under protection by 2020, Sale said it was "very unlikely those targets will be reached" due to conflicts between growing needs for food and other resources.

"Even if those targets were achieved, it is not going to stop the decline in biodiversity," he said.

One reason for this is "leakage". Fence off one forest and the logging pressure increases in another. Make one coral reef off limits to fishing and the fishing boats go the next reef.

Another reason protected areas aren't the answer is that fences or patrol boats can't keep out the impacts of pollution or climate change.

Finally, the pressures on the planet's resources are escalating so quickly that "the problem is running away from the solution", he said.

The loss of biodiversity is a major issue because it is humanity's only life-support system, delivering everything from food, to clean water and air, to recreation and tourism, to novel chemicals that drive our advanced civilization, said Mora. Right now the dominant strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity is with protected areas.

"That's putting all our eggs in one basket," he said. "A major shift is needed to deal with the roots of the problem."

The ever-expanding footprint of humanity is the primary cause of global biodiversity loss. When the world's population was five billion people in 1985, the amount of nature's resources being used or impacted became more than the planet could sustain indefinitely according to many estimates, said Mora.

The world population, currently at seven billion, is well beyond Earth's ability to sustain. By 2050, with a projected population of 10 billion people and without a change in consumption patterns, the cumulative use of natural resources will amount to the productivity of up to 27 planet Earths, the study found.

Sustaining the current seven billion people on the planet requires a major shift in resource use. At present, the average U.S. citizen's ecological footprint is about 10 hectares, while a Haitian's is less than one. The planet could sustain us if everyone's footprint averaged two ha, Mora said.

If there are more people, then there are simply fewer resources available for everyone, so population control will be needed along the lines of "one child per woman", he said.

"I'm from Colombia, it blows my mind that some governments in the developing world pay women to have more children," he added.

Hardly anyone is focused on the pressing need for a major shift, said Sale.

"The awareness of the public about this is shockingly low," he noted. What is needed is for humanity as a mass to change direction, he said.

"But can we find the hook, the lever that's needed to make that happen?" Sale asked.

The Real Reason The Debt Ceiling Fight Was Horrible News For Markets

The Real Reason The Debt Ceiling Fight Was Horrible News For Markets

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The cuts next year aren't actually all that dramatic, although they're certainly very unhelpful at a time when the private sector is weak and deleveraging.

But the fight did reveal some bad news.

See, people talk about the Bernanke Put (will the Fed chair step in to ease conditions if things get bad enough?) but throughout history you've always had a Washington Put.

When things get bad, governments do stuff. That's not just limited to America. There isn't a government in the world that doesn't try to ameliorate hard times, whether they be economic, natural disaster-related or something else.

The recent action in Washington really does call into question whether the Washington Put exists at all. One party was completely unyielding in its demands, and seemingly willing to seriously damage the economy to pursue its agenda. And it's not just the debt ceiling where you see this. This FAA nonsense shows again a total inability to do basic, obvious stuff.

The Republicans have even shown an unwillingness to deal with actual natural disasters. Remember when Eric Cantor said there would be no relief for Joplin Missouri unless there were budget offsets found?

Even if you agree with the GOP's hardcore stance, you must admit that when disaster relief comes with conditions, the usual buffers for the economy are eroding.

After Congress gets back from recess, there are a number of things which, theoretically, should be possible and palatable, including a continuation of the payroll tax holiday, and other jobs-type bills that would normally be agreeable. But the situation in Washington does not look as though it will be conducive to any of that until at least January 2013.

And if things get really bad -- you know, if the banking system starts creaking again -- you can forget about getting any more help there.

The Washington Put is no more. The market is realizing that, and has been since that Friday when talks first collapsed between Obama and Boehner.

The debt ceiling fight didn't end in default (thank god) and in all truth it didn't even result in severe austerity in the near term.

U.S. Gross National Debt Jumps $238 Billion In One Day

U.S. Gross National Debt Jumps $238 Billion In One Day

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As reported in Le Figaro, the French business daily, and in other foreign media,
but curiously not in the major US media, the US Gross National Debt jumped by
 $238 billion to $14.580 trillion the day after the debt-ceiling deal was signed.

US GDP for 2010 was $14.526 trillion. The 100% mark has been broken.

The reason for the sudden jump is that the Treasury reversed the numerous
 actions it had taken since May to keep its official numbers within the limit of the
debt ceiling.

GDP for 2011 may come in slightly higher, at around $15 trillion, but our debt is 
growing much faster than our GDP, and the ratio will only get worse.

The US will break through Ireland's 114% by early 2013 and Italy's 120% half a 
year later. Greece, at 152%, will take a while longer. King of the Hill is Japan at a
 mind-boggling 229%.

War and the Tragedy of the Commons, Part 2: Military Hazardous Waste Sickens Land and People

Military Hazardous Waste Sickens Land and People

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Worldwide, the military is the most secretive, shielded and privileged of polluters because the hallowed mantra, national security, trumps the public's right to know. Thus, most of the extant data on pollution from US-military-related sites is available solely because of citizen pressure on the Department of Defense (DoD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress to inventory, assess, and divulge the extent of the

military's environmentally hazardous activities. Citizen awareness and demands for disclosure of military site pollution grew during the 1980's, in the heyday of the new hazardous waste laws, which set standards for storing, transporting, and disposal of solid and hazardous waste as defined in the statutes - namely, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA 1976) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which initiated the Superfund program in 1980.

By the late 1980's, public data revealed that the Pentagon was generating a ton of toxic waste per minute, more toxic waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined, making it the largest polluter in the United States. (This figure did not include the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons plants and the Pentagon's civilian contractors.) The Army Corps of Engineers labeled the 100-acre basin at Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado, which stored waste from the production of nerve gas and pesticides from World War II through the Vietnam War era, "the earth's most toxic square mile." Military testing requires national and international "sacrifice zones," among them, Jefferson Proving Grounds in Madison, Indiana, which are 100 square miles of the most contaminated contiguous land in the United States, cordoned off and abandoned because the land was too dangerous to clean up.[1]

Today nearly 900 of EPA's approximately 1,300 Superfund sites - the suite of waste sites classified as those most hazardous to human and ecological health - are abandoned military bases or facilities or military industrial manufacturing and testing sites that produced weapons, military vehicles, and other military-related products and services. The sites include chemical warfare and research facilities; plane, ship and tank manufacture and repair facilities; training and maneuver bases; and abandoned disposal pits. Common contaminants include metal cleaning solvents, pesticides, machining oils, metals, metalworking fluids and chemical ingredients used in explosives. Dumped into pits, leaking from corroding containers, buried in unlined landfills, and left on test ranges, military toxics have leached into groundwater and polluted drinking water.

Read other articles in the series by author Patricia Hynes on the environmental impact of US militarism.

According to the 2008-2009 President's Cancer Panel report, up to 500,000 people may have consumed solvent-contaminated drinking water in and around the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from the late 1950's through the mid-1980's. The solvents, trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene, were traced to an off-base dry cleaning company. Another solvent contaminant, the carcinogen benzene, had been used to clean military equipment. Once used, the spent benzene was routinely dumped or buried on-site near the base drinking water wells. For decades, government authorities adamantly dismissed ongoing reports of cancers, miscarriages, and birth defects among the military and their families as unrelated to Camp Lejeune's water supply. Only recently has the government agreed to set up a registry, web site and call center for residents. In 2005, a study was launched to document childhood leukemia and other serious health conditions in children born at Camp Lejeune and exposed in utero to the contaminated drinking water.

Perchlorate, an ingredient of solid rocket fuel and a byproduct of rocket and missile testing and explosives, is now omnipresent in the environment. This toxic chemical accumulates in the thyroid gland, where it can inhibit iodine transfer and result in iodine deficiency. Adequate iodine is essential for neurological development in fetuses, infants and children and for promotion of the thyroid hormone. A broad scientific consensus maintains that very low levels of perchlorate in food and water supply threaten the health of infants.

More than 12,000 military sites on which live explosive training takes place release perchlorate into groundwater, where it is exceedingly mobile and persists for decades. Perchlorate has spread from military bases and defense and aerospace contractor plants into drinking water systems, and has also accumulated in leafy food crops and fruit irrigated with contaminated water. A recent study of powdered baby formula found that all types of both soy- and milk-based formula are contaminated with perchlorate, and that it has also been detected in breast milk and human urine throughout the United States. Over half the foods tested by the Food and Drug (FDA) administration contained perchlorate.

The DoD, defense contractors and the White House fought tooth and claw the EPA's early studies of perchlorate toxicity and pollution in order to block the agency from regulating perchlorate in drinking water. The cabal successfully wrested the perchlorate assessment from the EPA and turned the study over to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which they expected to be more malleable to their agenda of downgrading the chemical's toxicity. In 2004, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) successfully sued the White House, DoD and EPA to obtain a paper trail that documented aggressive efforts by the White House and the Pentagon to influence the NAS study and findings. According to the NRDC, "This behind-the-scenes campaign included extensive involvement by White House and Pentagon officials to limit the scope of the NAS' inquiry and select the [study] panelists, as well as collaboration among the White House, Pentagon, and DOD contractors to influence the panel." Ultimately, the NAS 2005 final report concluded that perchlorate was significantly more toxic to human health - ten times more so - than the DoD had claimed.

After greater than 20 years of duress from the Pentagon and a decade of NRDC counterpressure, the EPA announced in February 2011 its decision to regulate perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Vieques: 60 Years of Ecosystem Destruction

"Clearing out without cleaning up," is how one member of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs described the exodus of the US Navy in 2003 from Vieques, a small island off Puerto Rico's east coast which was used as a bombing and gunnery practice range and amphibious training site for 55 years. Second-class citizenship and second-class environmental conditions sum up the entire Puerto Rican experience since the US invasion and takeover in July 1898, as ordered by President McKinley in a fit of manifest destiny. Court rulings since 1898 have established Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States and its residents as US citizens in name only. They cannot vote in US national elections and have non-voting representation in Congress only. Lacking political voice and clout, Vieques was an easy claim for US naval power projection in the Atlantic. During World War II, Vieques was selected - with an ensuing land grab of two-thirds of the island that dispossessed landless peasants - to provide dock, fuel and repair facilities for 60 percent of the Atlantic fleet. The island was seen as strategic for keeping Germany out of the Panama Canal Zone.

Once the war ended, the interminable arms buildup of the cold war stoked new strategic interest in Vieques. The Navy converted the eastern part into a practice bombing site and amphibious Marine training site, and the western end into a storage and disposal site for toxic military materials. Remaining residents lived in the central part of the island, where prevailing easterly winds carried air pollutants from the bombing sites to their neighborhoods. Virtually every weapon deployed by the US military between 1940 and 2003 was used on Vieques, including napalm, Agent Orange, the gamut of explosives, and, reportedly, depleted uranium (DU) bullets. Bombing took place an average of 180 days per year, with a recorded 23,000 bombs dropped in 1998. On the western end of the island, nearly two million pounds of toxic waste from military activities, including spent solvents, lubricants and other oils, have been documented; acids and heavy metals were disposed of in wetlands and mangrove swamps. Excess and defective munitions were detonated and burned on a 200-acre site on the west end. This western third of the island also housed soldiers, and turned into a no-woman's land of bars and brothels rife with violence against women, street brawls, and fights between white and black soldiers.

Local opposition to the usurpation of Vieques for dangerous and polluting military maneuvers festered for decades. However, it was the 1999 death of a Viequense civilian security guard for the Navy, David Sanes Rodriguez, by two off-target naval bombs that set off a firestorm of public protest. Civil disobedience peace camps were established in the bombing zone; locals sidled their small fishing boats next to naval vessels and ventured into their paths; physicians entered the firing range citing the Hippocratic Oath, and politicians and incumbents at all levels and from all parties, as well as religious heads, joined the peaceful protests to end the naval weapons testing program. These nonviolent actions and the recurrent jailing of peaceful protestors garnered high profile in the media, with ensuing national and international support and participation in the protests. Public pressure to end the military usurpation mounted unrelentingly.

In 2003, the Navy withdrew from the island, turning over much of the land it had decimated and contaminated to the US Department of Interior for designation as the Vieques Wildlife Refuge. This bizarre baptism of severely contaminated land riddled with craters and unexploded ordnance as a wildlife sanctuary was an alchemy that would assure the Navy could sail away, absolved of cleanup responsibilities. Wildlife doesn't compel costly environmental cleanups. Under public pressure, the EPA placed Vieques and its surrounding waters on the National Priorities List of Superfund sites - an administrative, yet feckless acknowledgement of the gravity of the military contamination. One expert summed up the federal sleight of pen in designating Vieques a wilderness refuge and a Superfund site:

The base land's designation as a wildlife refuge was a decision based more on politics that environmental concerns…The wilderness designation to the live-impact range bombed for [nearly] 60 years has less to do with maintaining the quality of the ecosystem than with evading responsibility for environmental remediation. Land inhabited by pelicans and sea turtles, simply put, is not a national priority for cleanup.

Profile of Contamination

A half-century of naval weapons testing on Vieques resulted in serious destruction of mangroves, lagoons, beaches and coco groves. One Puerto Rican researcher described the bombing site as a, "region with more craters per kilometer than the moon," with a litany of egregious violations of federal policies on land use, coastal zone protection, noise, water quality and archeological sites. The sight of unexploded ordnance, bomb fragments and shells, and soil and vegetation reduced to dust led another environmental consultant to compare the rubble to a "World War I battlefield."

Studies have found the fingerprint of explosive contaminants used by the Navy in groundwater and local drinking water wells on Vieques. Doug Rokke, the former director of the Pentagon's Depleted Uranium Project, condemned the use of DU in artillery and bombing practice on Vieques as violating Navy rules which specify that DU be used only in warfare and on specially designated sites. In testimony, Rokke stated that, "It is imperative that complete environmental remediation of all affected terrain and medical care for all affected residents of Vieques be provided."

Health Conditions on Vieques

In a 1985-1989 study, the Puerto Rican Department of Public Health determined that Vieques had a cancer rate 27 percent higher than the rest of the island, and that the risk of children dying from cancer was twice that of the rest of Puerto Rico. A later study, conducted from 1995 to 1998, found that residents under age 50 had a 56 percent greater risk of dying from cancer than Puerto Ricans of the same age living on the main island. A 1990's comparative study found infant mortality decreasing more slowly on Vieques than in Puerto Rico as a whole. In the same period, the rate of premature sexual development, or telarchia, in girls younger than 8 was significantly higher in Vieques than in the rest of Puerto Rico, which already had a high rate. The most probable sources, the study's authors concluded, are military explosive components that mimic human hormones. Other Puerto Rican scientific studies found the carcinogens arsenic, lead and cadmium in the Vieques food chain, surface home dust and residents' hair samples at high levels. Animals studied had 50 times more lead and ten times more cadmium than comparable animals on mainland Puerto Rico. The heavy metal contamination of edible crops was substantially higher than maximum acceptable levels set by the European Union Council. Still other researchers have found evidence of a higher incidence of vibroacoustic disease (thickening of heart tissue caused by low frequency noise) in Vieques residents than in residents of other parts of Puerto Rico.

Lifestyle studies have found no significant difference between Vieques residents and Puerto Rican residents in key health-related issues, including smoking and obesity. Nor is industry a likely source of the health disparities between Vieques and the rest of Puerto Rico, since very little is located on the island (given Navy expropriation of two-thirds of its land). Faced with these findings, the Navy continues to deny any links between military weapons testing and health problems in Vieques.

In 2007, three-quarters of the island's population, 7,000 Viequenses, sued the US government in a class action lawsuit for compensation for health and environmental damages caused by US military maneuvers. A US District Court judge in Puerto Rico dismissed the case in 2010 after the Obama administration claimed "sovereign immunity," that is, federal government exemption from civil suit or criminal prosecution, for any military-related damages to the island and residents. A 2007 primary campaign pledge made by Obama to the governor of Puerto Rico, "to actively work ... to achieve an environmentally acceptable clean-up ... and appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the US Navy on Vieques" - is broken. On June 9, 2011, lawyers appeared before the First Circuit Federal Appeals Court in Boston on behalf of the Vieques plaintiffs to begin the appeal process for the denial of class action. Recently, Rep. Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey) sponsored a bill in Congress, HR 1645, for the development of a full-service hospital in Vieques, and a center for the study of military contamination and financial compensation to Vieques residents affected by military contaminants. The residents of Vieques are engaged in a David versus Goliath court battle with the DoD, and Rothman's Vieques Recovery and Development Act of 2011 faces the same epic struggle in Congress.

1. Michael Renner. "Assessing the military's war on the environment," in Brown, Lester et al. State of the World 1991. New York: W.W. Norton. 1991.

Seth Shulman. The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the U.S. Military. Boston:Beacon. 1992.

NSA spooks win fight to keep secret possible ties to Google

NSA spooks win fight to keep secret possible ties to Google

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The National Security Agency will get to keep secret documents that may, or may not, show a working relationship with Google.

In a decision made public Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the curious souls at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. EPIC sought documents relating to NSA's possible relationship with Google following news of an alleged cyber attack by hackers in China and of a subsequent cooperation agreement between Google and NSA.

In best IMF mode, the National Security Agency acknowledged working "with a broad range of commercial partners and research associates," but refused to "confirm [ or] deny" whether it even had a relationship with Google. Such information, the Agency argued, "could alert our adversaries to NSA priorities, threat assessments, or countermeasures that mayor may not be employed against future attacks."

Judge Leon agreed and accepted the Agency's conclusion that the requested documents -- if they exist! -- were protected under a very special FOIA exemption. This is Exemption 3, which says material need not be disclosed if it is covered by a separate statute that prohibits disclosure; and the NSA, wouldn't you know, just happens to be covered by such a statute that broadly shields information about "the organization or any function of the National Security Agency, [or] any information with respect to the activities thereof."

Judge allows American to sue Rumsfeld over torture

Judge allows American to sue Rumsfeld over torture

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A judge is allowing an Army veteran who says he was imprisoned unjustly and tortured by the U.S. military in Iraq to sue former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld personally for damages.

The veteran's identity is withheld in court filings, but he worked for an American contracting company as a translator for the Marines in the volatile Anbar province before being detained for nine months at Camp Cropper, a U.S. military facility near the Baghdad airport dedicated to holding "high-value" detainees.

The government says he was suspected of helping get classified information to the enemy and helping anti-coalition forces enter Iraq. But he was never charged with a crime and says he never broke the law.

Lawyers for the man, who is in his 50s, say he was preparing to come home to the United States on annual leave when he was abducted by the U.S. military and held without justification while his family knew nothing about his whereabouts or even whether he was still alive.

Court papers filed on his behalf say he was repeatedly abused, then suddenly released without explanation in August 2006. Two years later, he filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington arguing that Rumsfeld personally approved torturous interrogation techniques on a case-by-case basis and controlled his detention without access to courts in violation of his constitutional rights.

Chicago attorney Mike Kanovitz, who is representing the plaintiff, says it appears the military wanted to keep his client behind bars so he couldn't tell anyone about an important contact he made with a leading sheik while helping collect intelligence in Iraq.

"The U.S. government wasn't ready for the rest of the world to know about it, so they basically put him on ice," Kanovitz said in a telephone interview. "If you've got unchecked power over the citizens, why not use it?"

The Obama administration has represented Rumsfeld through the Justice Department and argued that the former defense secretary cannot be sued personally for official conduct. The Justice Department also argued that a judge cannot review wartime decisions that are the constitutional responsibility of Congress and the president. And the department said the case could disclose sensitive information and distract from the war effort, and said the threat of liability would impede future military decisions.

But U.S. District Judge James Gwin rejected those arguments and said U.S. citizens are protected by the Constitution at home or abroad during wartime.

"The court finds no convincing reason that United States citizens in Iraq should or must lose previously declared substantive due process protections during prolonged detention in a conflict zone abroad," Gwin wrote in a ruling issued Tuesday.

"The stakes in holding detainees at Camp Cropper may have been high, but one purpose of the constitutional limitations on interrogation techniques and conditions of confinement even domestically is to strike a balance between government objectives and individual rights even when the stakes are high," the judge ruled.

In many other cases brought by foreign detainees, judges have dismissed torture claims made against U.S. officials for their personal involvement in decisions over prisoner treatment. But this is the second time a federal judge has allowed U.S. citizens to sue Rumsfeld personally.

U.S. District Judge Wayne R. Andersen in Illinois last year said two other Americans who worked in Iraq as contractors and were held at Camp Cropper, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, can pursue claims that they were tortured using Rumsfeld-approved methods after they alleged illegal activities by their company. Rumsfeld is appealing that ruling, which Gwin cited.

The Supreme Court sets a high bar for suing high-ranking officials, requiring that they be tied directly to a violation of constitutional rights and must have clearly understood their actions crossed that line.

The case before Gwin involves a man who went to Iraq in December 2004 to work with an American-owned defense contracting firm. He was assigned as an Arabic translator for Marines gathering intelligence in Anbar. He says he was the first American to open direct talks with Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who became an important U.S. ally and later led a revolt of Sunni sheiks against al-Qaida before being killed by a bomb.

In November 2005, when he was to go on home leave, Navy Criminal Investigative Service agents questioned him about his work, refusing his requests for representation by his employer, the Marines or an attorney. The Justice Department says he was told he was suspected of helping provide classified information to the enemy and helping anti-coalition forces attempting to cross from Syria into Iraq.

He says he refused to answer questions because of concern about confidentiality, and the agents handcuffed and blindfolded him, kicked him in the back and threatened to shoot him if he tried to escape. He was then transferred to an unidentified location for three days before being flown to Camp Cropper.

For his first three months at Camp Cropper he says he was held incommunicado in solitary confinement with a hole in the ground for a toilet. He says he was then moved to cells holding terrorist suspects hostile to the United States who were told about his work for the military, leading to physical attacks by his cellmates that left him in constant fear for his life.

He claims guards tortured him by repeatedly choking him, exposing him to extreme cold and continuous artificial light, blindfolding and hooding him, waking him by banging on a door or slamming a window when he tried to sleep and blasting music into his cell at "intolerably loud volumes."

He says he always denied any wrongdoing and truthfully answered questions but interrogators continued to threaten him. Both sides say a detainee status board in December 2005 determined he was a threat to the multinational forces in Iraq and authorized his continued detention, but he says he was not allowed to see most of the evidence against him. Documents the government filed with the court only say he is suspected of a crime, without providing details.

Matt Damon, Arne Duncan and the Divisive Teacher Quality Debate

Matt Damon, Arne Duncan and the Divisive Teacher-Quality Debate


Gold Soaring To New ALL TIME HIGHS; World's Financial Markets on the Brink of New Crisis

Gold Soaring To New ALL TIME HIGHS; World's Financial Markets on the Brink of New Crisis

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Gold made a new and very important high today climbing to over $1670 for the first time in history. There are three major forces driving gold higher.

Force 1: The negotiated debt ceiling settlement is being seen by world's Financial markets as a smoke screen. No matter how many times my fellow Republicans repeat the mantra that Washington has a spending problem not a revenue problem the truth is we cannot make a dent in the national debt unless we reduce spending and raise revenues. Without swift tax reform, lowering corporate and individual rates in exchange for eliminating the special interest patch work of tax breaks and subsidies we're going to continue to see the national debt spiral higher and the dollar weaken.

Force 2: Europe is creeping forward way too slowly on addressing its fiscal and monetary problems. Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are in serious shape. Banks in Europe are on the hook as are many banks throughout the United States who have been playing interest rate arbitrage i.e. borrowing at a quarter of a percent and lending to Italy for 6% and 9% in Greece. For anyone in the know its a catastrophe in the making. Bottom line: A financial crisis worse than the one that took place in 2008 and 2009 could ignite at any moment. Meanwhile, since many Europeans take the month of Auguist off the first emergency meeting to address the Euro and the danger isn't scheduled until September 6th, in France. This is a dark cloud getting darker by the day.

Force 3: Central banks are now increasing their gold reserves away from the dollar and Euro. South Korea became the latest government to disclose a big bullion purchase, saying Tuesday that it recently bought 25 metric tons - more than doubling its holdings to 39 metric tons. Mexico, Russia and Thailand have also been HUGE buyers in 2011.

When I say HUGE I mean HUGE. This year alone, governments have almost tripled their net gold purchases, increasing their holdings by 203.5 metric tons, up from a 76-metric ton rise in 2009, according to the World Gold Council, an industry group backed by miners.

The demand marks a major shift in central banks' thinking about gold. Increasingly, they see bullion as protection against risks posed by declining paper currencies and global economic upheaval, and their vast resources and conservative bent make them a powerful force in the gold market. In short they're recognizing the safety that gold has represented during the last 5000 years of human history.

While gold doesn't generate income, which doesn't mean as much when you consider interest rates are at historic lows.that shortcoming is less glaring among historically low interest rates.

Before 2010, governments had on balance been shedding their bullion for two decades, during which gold was seen by some as a relic. According to data from GFMS Ltd., a metals consultancy, 1988 was the last year that official holdings increased.

Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are in serious shape. Banks in Europe are on the hook as are many banks throughout the United States who have been playing interest rate arbitrage i.e. borrowing at a quarter of a percent and lending to Italy for 6% and 9% in Greece. For anyone in the know its a catastrophe in the making. Bottom line: A financial crisis worse than the one that took place in 2008 and 2009 could ignite at any moment. Meanwhile, since many Europeans take the month of August off the first emergency meeting to address the Euro and the danger isn't scheduled until September 6th, in France. This is a dark cloud getting darker by the day.

"We definitely have seen a sea change" in central bank attitudes toward gold, said David Greely, chief commodities strategist at Goldman Sachs Group. Central bank buying provides "longer-term support for gold prices," he said.

I predicted that gold would hit $1750 this year back in January. With gold trading as high as $1670 today it is still fare below the inflation-adjusted record of $2,395.03, hit in January 1980. I fully expect gold to climb to $2500 in the next 12-24 months with a real possibility that it hits $2,500 in a panic.

The panic could take place any day. As you are aware the Dow and S&P have fallen for 8 straight days and is off more than 10% from its recent highs. We've seen the vast majority of indexes break their 200 day moving average.

My staff and I believe there is a good chance that the Dow and S&P could have entered a BEAR MARKET that could wind up driving the major indexes down another 10 to 15%. Yes, the odds are now in favor of a total correction of 25% putting the Dow back to 10,500.

This is a remarkable when I and my staff believe the stock market is already trading at a 10% to 15% discount of its real value.

Stop the Machine! Create a New World!

Stop the Machine! Create a New World!

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A Call to Action - Oct. 6, 2011 and onward

October 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan and the beginning of the 2012 federal austerity budget. It is time to light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are freed to create just and sustainable solutions.

We call on people of conscience and courage—all who seek peace, economic justice, human rights and a healthy environment—to join together in Washington, D.C., beginning on Oct. 6, 2011, in nonviolent resistance similar to the Arab Spring and the Midwest awakening.

A concert, rally and protest will kick off a powerful and sustained nonviolent resistance to the corporate criminals that dominate our government.

Forty-seven years ago, Mario Savio, an activist student at Berkeley, said, "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

Those words have an even greater urgency today. We face ongoing wars and massive socio-economic and environmental destruction perpetrated by a corporate empire which is oppressing, occupying and exploiting the world. We are on a fast track to making the planet unlivable while the middle class and poor people of our country are undergoing the most wrenching and profound economic crisis in 80 years.

"Stop the Machine! • Create a New World!" is a clarion call for all who are deeply concerned with injustice, militarism and environmental destruction to join in ending concentrated corporate power and taking direct control of a real participatory democracy. We will encourage a culture of resistance—using music, art, theater and direct nonviolent action—to take control of our country and our lives. It is about courageously resisting and stopping the corporate state from destroying not only our inherent rights and freedoms, but also our children’s chance to live, breathe clean air, drink pure water, grow edible natural food and live in peace.

As Mother Jones said, "Someday the workers will take possession of your city hall, and when we do, no child will be sacrificed on the altar of profit!"

We are the ones who can create a new and just world. Our issues are connected. We are connected. Join us in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6, 2011, to Stop the Machine.


Take the pledge and sign up to attend here. Let America know you are coming to make history and a new world!

"I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that criminal occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine to demand that our resources are invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation. We can do this together. We will be the beginning ."

The Tea Party's Next Target: The Environment

The EPA: the Tea Party's next target

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House Republicans aim to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, rolling back 40 years' progress on clean air and water

Oil swirls in the Yellowstone river after an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured near Billings, Montana

Oil swirls in the Yellowstone river after an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured near Billings, Montana. A bill before the House would slash funding for the EPA, while giving millions more in grants to the oil and gas industry. Photograph: Larry Mayer/AP

You'd think Congress would be too busy wrecking the economy to attack the environment. Yet, in the midst of a packed schedule snapping at President Obama's heels and lunging for each other's throats, Republicans have found time to try and rip the heart out of the Environmental Protection Agency, killing 40 years of protections for water, air, endangered species, wildlife habitat and national parks.

Instead of taking direct shots at the environment – not even Tea Tendency zealots come out and say they're pro-pollution – Republicans are going after the EPA. It's a "job-killer". America's high unemployment rate is not the fault of the worldwide recession or the housing bubble or Wall Street hubris or two unfunded wars on top of George W Bush's silly tax cuts for the rich, it's those damned DC bunny-huggers. Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho insists, "overregulation from EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy"; his colleague, Rep Louie Gohmert of Texas, says, "Let EPA go the way of the dinosaurs that became fossil fuels."

Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann doesn't want to wait for extinction, she advocates abolishing the EPA as soon as God puts the Tea Party in charge. She blames it for a host of anti-free market evils, from what she sees as an attempt to outlaw incandescent light bulbs (she countered with the "Lightbulb Freedom of Choice Act of 2011") to the "hoax" that is global climate change. Take no notice of what elitist scientists say, Bachmann knows better, assuring us that "CO2 is a natural byproduct of Nature."

The bill funding EPA and the department of the interior (HR 2584, if you want to look it up) is a dirty bomb, meant to destroy any rule that slows down environmental degradation. The legislation is so loaded with industry-backed amendments and riders – 77 so far – that it reads like a polluters' letter to Santa Claus. One provision would allow uranium mining right next to the Grand Canyon. Another would stop EPA from regulating pesticides, even if the pesticides kill endangered plants, birds, fish and other animals. EPA's funding would be slashed by 34% over the next two years, but America's oil and gas companies would be given an extra $55m on top of the $36bn in federal subsidies they already get.

No doubt it's the merest coincidence that Koch Industries, a major funder of the Tea Party, makes an awful lot of its vast profits off oil and gas exploration, petroleum refining and coal mining.

The bill's many excrescences include assaults on fragile species, including grey wolves and Pacific salmon, America's remaining wilderness lands and the very air we breathe. The EPA would be barred from limiting toxic emissions from power plants or setting fuel efficiency standards for cars, and, in defiance of existing law (to say nothing of common sense), the government could run its vehicles on fuels such as liquid coal, even though they're dirtier than conventional fuels.

Worse still, the bill is festooned with more than two dozen riders undermining decades of progress on water pollution. Before the Clean Water Act was passed with bipartisan support in 1972, 30% of drinking water samples from around the country contained dangerous levels of chemical effluent, the Hudson River teemed with carcinogenic PCBs, piped in courtesy of General Electric and Ohio's Cuyahoga River was so full of petrochemical waste it actually caught on fire. Now, Republicans want to forbid the EPA to limit the toxic stuff that rains down on streams and infests groundwater when coal companies blast the tops of mountains, and stop the EPA from protecting wetlands in areas that have experienced flooding. Never mind that wetlands mitigate storm water, and if you drain them, the flooding will only get worse. In the Looking Glass Land inhabited by House Republicans, knowledge has a liberal bias.

The EPA bill is not about saving money, and it's certainly not about conserving ecosystems and resources. It's about ideology, rejecting the idea that government should play a role in maintaining clean air and clean water for the general welfare of its citizens. It's about asserting what rightwingers see as their God-given freedom to drive a gas-guzzler with a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint or dam a river because it's convenient. So what if the salmon die? Eat bluefin tuna instead. It's about refusing to "believe" in global climate change (as if data are faith-based), the same way they don't "believe" in evolution or the Big Bang.

The pettiness is both astounding and embarrassing. One of the amendments in the EPA bill would deny funding for a wildlife refuge in Florida. King's Bay in Citrus County teems with manatees, harmless (though large) water mammals, which resemble swimming sofas with large, liquid eyes. Manatees are endangered, often maimed or killed by speedboats running over them. The local Tea Party got their congressman, Richard Nugent, to intervene on the grounds that – as Edna Mattos, 63, leader of the Citrus County Tea Party Patriots, put it – protecting manatees "elevates Nature above people: that's against the Bible and the Bill of Rights."

Tea Party Republicans are always going on about how they want to protect the American Dream for their children and grandchildren, bequeathing them a better future. If they really care about the generation to come, they'll remember that money doesn't get you far in a world of poisoned air and filthy water. The economy cannot function if the workers are dropping from respiratory illnesses and waterborne diseases. But in the Tea-infused alternative universe, all regulation is bad; and if Barack Obama's for it, they're against it.

Everything was great in those golden days when capitalism reigned unfettered, back when the air stung your eyes, the rivers burned and the lakes stank of death.

Our Commando War in 120 Countries: Uncovering the Military's Secret Operations In the Obama Era

Our Commando War in 120 Countries: Uncovering the Military's Secret Operations In the Obama Era

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Somewhere on this planet an American commando is carrying out a mission. Now, say that 70 times and you’re done... for the day. Without the knowledge of the American public, a secret force within the U.S. military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries. This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed, until now.

After a U.S. Navy SEAL put a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s chest and another in his head, one of the most secretive black-ops units in the American military suddenly found its mission in the public spotlight. It was atypical. While it’s well known that U.S. Special Operations forces are deployed in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s increasingly apparent that such units operate in murkier conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia, the full extent of their worldwide war has remained deeply in the shadows.

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency. By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120. “We do a lot of traveling -- a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said recently. This global presence -- in about 60% of the world’s nations and far larger than previously acknowledged -- provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.

The Rise of the Military’s Secret Military

Born of a failed 1980 raid to rescue American hostages in Iran, in which eight U.S. service members died, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was established in 1987. Having spent the post-Vietnam years distrusted and starved for money by the regular military, special operations forces suddenly had a single home, a stable budget, and a four-star commander as their advocate. Since then, SOCOM has grown into a combined force of startling proportions. Made up of units from all the service branches, including the Army’s “Green Berets” and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos, and Marine Corps Special Operations teams, in addition to specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, civil affairs personnel, para-rescuemen, and even battlefield air-traffic controllers and special operations weathermen, SOCOM carries out the United States’ most specialized and secret missions. These include assassinations, counterterrorist raids, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.

One of its key components is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command whose primary mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. Reporting to the president and acting under his authority, JSOC maintains a global hit list that includes American citizens. It has been operating an extra-legal “kill/capture” campaign that John Nagl, a past counterinsurgency adviser to four-star general and soon-to-be CIA Director David Petraeus, calls "an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine." This assassination program has been carried out by commando units like the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force as well as via drone strikes as part of covert wars in which the CIA is also involved in countries like Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. In addition, the command operates a network of secret prisons, perhaps as many as 20 black sites in Afghanistan alone, used for interrogating high-value targets.

Growth Industry

From a force of about 37,000 in the early 1990s, Special Operations Command personnel have grown to almost 60,000, about a third of whom are career members of SOCOM; the rest have other military occupational specialties, but periodically cycle through the command. Growth has been exponential since September 11, 2001, as SOCOM’s baseline budget almost tripled from $2.3 billion to $6.3 billion. If you add in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has actually more than quadrupled to $9.8 billion in these years. Not surprisingly, the number of its personnel deployed abroad has also jumped four-fold. Further increases, and expanded operations, are on the horizon. Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, the former head of the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command -- the last of the service branches to be incorporated into SOCOM in 2006 -- indicated, for instance, that he foresees a doubling of his former unit of 2,600. “I see them as a force someday of about 5,000, like equivalent to the number of SEALs that we have on the battlefield. Between [5,000] and 6,000,” he said at a June breakfast with defense reporters in Washington. Long-term plans already call for the force to increase by 1,000.

During his recent Senate confirmation hearings, Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, the incoming SOCOM chief and outgoing head of JSOC (which he commanded during the bin Laden raid) endorsed a steady manpower growth rate of 3% to 5% a year, while also making a pitch for even more resources, including additional drones and the construction of new special operations facilities.

A former SEAL who still sometimes accompanies troops into the field, McRaven expressed a belief that, as conventional forces are drawn down in Afghanistan, special ops troops will take on an ever greater role. Iraq, he added, would benefit if elite U.S forces continued to conduct missions there past the December 2011 deadline for a total American troop withdrawal. He also assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that “as a former JSOC commander, I can tell you we were looking very hard at Yemen and at Somalia.”

During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, the outgoing chief of Special Operations Command, pointed to a composite satellite image of the world at night. Before September 11, 2001, the lit portions of the planet -- mostly the industrialized nations of the global north -- were considered the key areas. "But the world changed over the last decade," he said. "Our strategic focus has shifted largely to the south... certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren't."

To that end, Olson launched "Project Lawrence," an effort to increase cultural proficiencies -- like advanced language training and better knowledge of local history and customs -- for overseas operations. The program is, of course, named after the British officer, Thomas Edward Lawrence (better known as "Lawrence of Arabia"), who teamed up with Arab fighters to wage a guerrilla war in the Middle East during World War I. Mentioning Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, and Indonesia, Olson added that SOCOM now needed "Lawrences of Wherever."

While Olson made reference to only 51 countries of top concern to SOCOM, Col. Nye told me that on any given day, Special Operations forces are deployed in approximately 70 nations around the world. All of them, he hastened to add, at the request of the host government. According to testimony by Olson before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year, approximately 85% of special operations troops deployed overseas are in 20 countries in the CENTCOM area of operations in the Greater Middle East: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. The others are scattered across the globe from South America to Southeast Asia, some in small numbers, others as larger contingents.

Special Operations Command won’t disclose exactly which countries its forces operate in. “We’re obviously going to have some places where it’s not advantageous for us to list where we’re at,” says Nye. “Not all host nations want it known, for whatever reasons they have -- it may be internal, it may be regional.”

But it’s no secret (or at least a poorly kept one) that so-called black special operations troops, like the SEALs and Delta Force, are conducting kill/capture missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, while “white” forces like the Green Berets and Rangers are training indigenous partners as part of a worldwide secret war against al-Qaeda and other militant groups. In the Philippines, for instance, the U.S. spends $50 million a year on a 600-person contingent of Army Special Operations forces, Navy Seals, Air Force special operators, and others that carries out counterterrorist operations with Filipino allies against insurgent groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf.

Last year, as an analysis of SOCOM documents, open-source Pentagon information, and a database of Special Operations missions compiled by investigative journalist Tara McKelvey (for the Medill School of Journalism’s National Security Journalism Initiative) reveals, America’s most elite troops carried out joint-training exercises in Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Germany, Indonesia, Mali, Norway, Panama, and Poland. So far in 2011, similar training missions have been conducted in the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Romania, Senegal, South Korea, and Thailand, among other nations. In reality, Nye told me, training actually went on in almost every nation where Special Operations forces are deployed. “Of the 120 countries we visit by the end of the year, I would say the vast majority are training exercises in one fashion or another. They would be classified as training exercises.”

The Pentagon’s Power Elite

Once the neglected stepchildren of the military establishment, Special Operations forces have been growing exponentially not just in size and budget, but also in power and influence. Since 2002, SOCOM has been authorized to create its own Joint Task Forces -- like Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines -- a prerogative normally limited to larger combatant commands like CENTCOM. This year, without much fanfare, SOCOM also established its own Joint Acquisition Task Force, a cadre of equipment designers and acquisition specialists.

With control over budgeting, training, and equipping its force, powers usually reserved for departments (like the Department of the Army or the Department of the Navy), dedicated dollars in every Defense Department budget, and influential advocates in Congress, SOCOM is by now an exceptionally powerful player at the Pentagon. With real clout, it can win bureaucratic battles, purchase cutting-edge technology, and pursue fringe research like electronically beaming messages into people’s heads or developing stealth-like cloaking technologies for ground troops.

Since 2001, SOCOM’s prime contracts awarded to small businesses -- those that generally produce specialty equipment and weapons -- have jumped six-fold. Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, but operating out of theater commands spread out around the globe, including Hawaii, Germany, and South Korea, and active in the majority of countries on the planet, Special Operations Command is now a force unto itself. As outgoing SOCOM chief Olson put it earlier this year, SOCOM “is a microcosm of the Department of Defense, with ground, air, and maritime components, a global presence, and authorities and responsibilities that mirror the Military Departments, Military Services, and Defense Agencies.”

Tasked to coordinate all Pentagon planning against global terrorism networks and, as a result, closely connected to other government agencies, foreign militaries, and intelligence services, and armed with a vast inventory of stealthy helicopters, manned fixed-wing aircraft, heavily-armed drones, high-tech guns-a-go-go speedboats, specialized Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, as well as other state-of-the-art gear (with more on the way), SOCOM represents something new in the military. Whereas the late scholar of militarism Chalmers Johnson used to refer to the CIA as "the president's private army," today JSOC performs that role, acting as the chief executive’s private assassination squad, and its parent, SOCOM, functions as a new Pentagon power-elite, a secret military within the military possessing domestic power and global reach.

In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans. Once “special” for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.

That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows. Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral Olson: “I am convinced that the forces… are the most culturally attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive, agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers, problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer.”

Recently at the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum, Olson offered up similarly gilded comments and some misleading information, too, claiming that U.S. Special Operations forces were operating in just 65 countries and engaged in combat in only two of them. When asked about drone strikes in Pakistan, he reportedly replied, “Are you talking about unattributed explosions?”

What he did let slip, however, was telling. He noted, for instance, that black operations like the bin Laden mission, with commandos conducting heliborne night raids, were now exceptionally common. A dozen or so are conducted every night, he said. Perhaps most illuminating, however, was an offhand remark about the size of SOCOM. Right now, he emphasized, U.S. Special Operations forces were approximately as large as Canada’s entire active duty military. In fact, the force is larger than the active duty militaries of many of the nations where America’s elite troops now operate each year, and it’s only set to grow larger.

Americans have yet to grapple with what it means to have a “special” force this large, this active, and this secret -- and they are unlikely to begin to do so until more information is available. It just won’t be coming from Olson or his troops. “Our access [to foreign countries] depends on our ability to not talk about it,” he said in response to questions about SOCOM’s secrecy. When missions are subject to scrutiny like the bin Laden raid, he said, the elite troops object. The military’s secret military, said Olson, wants "to get back into the shadows and do what they came in to do.”