Saturday, April 14, 2012

Thirteen Ways Government Tracks Us

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Privacy is eroding fast as technology offers government increasing ways to track and spy on citizens. The Washington Post reported there are 3,984 federal, state and local organizations working on domestic counterterrorism. Most collect information on people in the US. (Source)

Here are thirteen examples of how some of the biggest government agencies and programs track people.

One. The National Security Agency (NSA) collects hundreds of millions of emails, texts and phone calls every day and has the ability to collect and sift through billions more. WIRED just reported NSA is building an immense new data center which will intercept, analyze and store even more electronic communications from satellites and cables across the nation and the world. Though NSA is not supposed to focus on US citizens, it does. (Source)

Two. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) has more than 1.5 billion government and private sector records about US citizens collected from commercial databases, government information, and criminal probes. (Source)

Three. The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times recently reported that cellphones of private individuals in the US are being tracked without warrants by state and local law enforcement all across the country. With more than 300 million cellphones in the US connected to more than 200,000 cell phone towers, cellphone tracking software can pinpoint the location of a phone and document the places the cellphone user visits over the course of a day, week, month or longer. (Source)

Four. More than 62 million people in the US have their fingerprints on file with the FBI, state and local governments. This system, called the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), shares information with 43 states and 5 federal agencies. This system conducts more than 168,000 checks each day. (Source)

Five. Over 126 million people have their fingerprints, photographs and biographical information accessible on the US Department of Homeland Security Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT). This system conducts about 250,000 biometric transactions each day. The goal of this system is to provide information for national security, law enforcement, immigration, intelligence and other Homeland Security Functions. (Source)

Six. More than 110 million people have their visas and more than 90 million have their photographs entered into the US Department of State Consular Consolidated Database (CCD). This system grows by adding about 35,000 people a day. This system serves as a gateway to the Department of State Facial Recognition system, IDENT and IAFSIS. (Source)

Seven. DNA profiles on more than 10 million people are available in the FBI coordinated Combined DNA index System (CODIS) National DNA Index. (Source)

Eight. Information on more than 2 million people is kept in the Intelligence Community Security Clearance Repository, commonly known as Scattered Castles. Most of the people in this database are employees of the Department of Defense (DOD) and other intelligence agencies. (Source)

Nine. The DOD also has an automated biometric identification system (ABIS) to support military operations overseas. This database incorporates fingerprint, palm print, face and iris matching on 6 million people and is adding 20,000 more people each day. (Source)

Ten. Information on over 740,000 people is included in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) of the National Counterterrorism Center. TIDE is the US government central repository of information on international terrorist identities. The government says that less than 2 percent of the people on file are US citizens or legal permanent residents. They were just given permission to keep their non-terrorism information on US citizens for a period of five years, up from 180 days. (Source)

Eleven. Tens of thousands of people are subjects of facial recognition software. The FBI has been working with North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles and other state and local law enforcement on facial recognition software in a project called “Face Mask.” For example, the FBI has provided thousands of photos and names to the North Carolina DMV which runs those against their photos of North Carolina drivers. The Maricopa Arizona County Sheriff’s Office alone records 9,000 biometric mug shots a month. (Source)

Twelve. The FBI operates the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR) that collects and analyzes observations or reports of suspicious activities by local law enforcement. With over 160,000 suspicious activity files, SAR stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime but who are alleged to have acted suspiciously. (Source)

Thirteen. The FBI admits it has about 3,000 GPS tracking devices on cars of unsuspecting people in the US right now, even after the US Supreme Court decision authorizing these only after a warrant for probable cause has been issued. (Source)

The Future

The technology for tracking and identifying people is exploding as is the government appetite for it.

Soon, police everywhere will be equipped with handheld devices to collect fingerprint, face, iris and even DNA information on the spot and have it instantly sent to national databases for comparison and storage.

Bloomberg News reports the newest surveillance products “can also secretly activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobile devices,” change the contents of written emails mid-transmission, and use voice recognition to scan phone networks. (Source)

The advanced technology of the war on terrorism, combined with deferential courts and legislators, have endangered both the right to privacy and the right of people to be free from government snooping and tracking. Only the people can stop this.

Russia Is Massing Troops On Iran's Northern Border And Waiting For A Western Attack

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The Russian military anticipates that an attack will occur on Iran by the summer and has developed an action plan to move Russian troops through neighboring Georgia to stage in Armenia, which borders on the Islamic republic, according to informed Russian sources.

Russian Security Council head Viktor Ozerov said that Russian General Military Headquarters has prepared an action plan in the event of an attack on Iran.

Dmitry Rogozin, who recently was the Russian ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, warned against an attack on Iran.

"Iran is our neighbor," Rogozin said. "If Iran is involved in any military action, it's a direct threat to our security." Rogozin now is the deputy Russian prime minister and is regarded as anti-Western. He oversees Russia's defense sector.

Russian Defense Ministry sources say that the Russian military doesn't believe that Israel has sufficient military assets to defeat Iranian defenses and further believes that U.S. military action will be necessary.

The implication of preparing to move Russian troops not only is to protect its own vital regional interests but possibly to assist Iran in the event of such an attack. Sources add that a Russian military buildup in the region could result in the Russian military potentially engaging Israeli forces, U.S. forces, or both.

Informed sources say that the Russians have warned of "unpredictable consequences" in the event Iran is attacked, with some Russians saying that the Russian military will take part in the possible war because it would threaten its vital interests in the region.

The influential Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper has quoted a Russian military source as saying that the situation forming around Syria and Iran "causes Russia to expedite the course of improvement of its military groups in the South Caucasus, the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions."

This latest information comes from a series of reports and leaks from official Russian spokesmen and government news agencies who say that an Israeli attack is all but certain by the summer.

Because of the impact on Russian vital interests in the region, sources say that Russian preparations for such an attack began two years ago when Russian Military Base 102 in Gyumri, Armenia, was modernized. It is said to occupy a major geopolitical position in the region.

Families of Russian servicemen from the Russian base at Gyumri in Armenia close to the borders of Georgia and Turkey already have been evacuated, Russian sources say.

"Military Base 102 is a key point, Russia's outpost in the South Caucasus," a Russian military source told the newspaper. "It occupies a very important geopolitical position, but the Kremlin fears lest it should lose this situation."

With Vladimir Putin returning to the Russian presidency, the prospect that he again would order an attack on Georgia as he did in August 2008 also has become a possibility, these informed sources say.

The Russians believe that Georgia would cooperate with the United States in blocking any supplies from reaching Military Base 102, which now is supplied primarily by air. Right now, Georgia blocks the only land transportation route through which Russian military supplies could travel.

Fuel for the Russian base in Armenia comes from Iran. Russian officials believe this border crossing may be closed in the event of a war.

"Possibly, it will be necessary to use military means to breach the Georgian transport blockade and establish transport corridors leading into Armenia," according to Yury Netkachev, former deputy commander of Russian forces in Transcaucasia. Geography of the region suggests that any such supply corridor would have to go through the middle of Georgia approaching Georgia's capital of Tbilisi given the roads and topography of the country.

In September, the Russian military plans to hold its annual military exercises called Kavkaz 2012. However, informed Russian sources say that preparations and deployments of military equipment and personnel already have begun in anticipation of a possible war with Iran.

These sources report that new command and control equipment has been deployed in the region capable of using the Russian GPS system, GLONASS for targeting information.

"The air force in the South Military District is reported to have been rearmed almost 100 percent with new jets and helicopters," according to regional expert Pavel Felgenhauer of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

In 2008, Felgenhauer pointed out, Kavkaz 2008 maneuvers allowed the Russian military to covertly deploy forces that successfully invaded Georgia in August of that year.

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov already has announced that new Spetznaz, or Special Forces units, will be deployed in Stavropol and Kislovodsk, which are located in the North Caucasian regions.

Russian sources say that the Russian military believes that if the U.S. goes to war with Iran, it may deploy forces into Georgia and warships in the Caspian Sea with the possible help of Azerbaijan, which since has stated that it will not allow its territory to be used by Israel to launch an attack on neighboring Iran.

There had been speculation that given the improved relations between Israel and Azerbaijan, the Jewish state may use bases from which to launch air attacks on neighboring Iran's nuclear sites. Israel recently agreed to sell Azerbaijan $1.6 billion in military equipment.

A further irritant to Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili is the prospect that Russian assault airborne troops, or VDV units, with helicopters could be moved into Georgia's two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two provinces were taken by the Russian military during the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. Initially they were declared by Moscow to be independent countries, but now the Kremlin is indicating they may be annexed to Russia.

Similarly, Lt. General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the VDV, has announced that Russian troops in Armenia will be reinforced by paratroopers, along with attack and transport helicopters.

"The Russian spearhead (from the Transcaucasia region) may be ordered to strike south to prevent the presumed deployment of U.S. bases in Transcaucasia, to link up with the troops in Armenia and take over the South Caucasus energy corridor along which Azeri, Turkmen and other Caspian natural gas and oil may reach European markets," Felgenhauer said.

"By one swift military strike, Russia may ensure control of all the Caucasus and the Caspian states that were its former realm, establishing a fiat accompli the West, too preoccupied with Iran, would not reverse," he said.

"At the same time, a small victorious war would unite the Russian nation behind the Kremlin, allowing it to crush the remnants of the prodemocracy movement 'for fair elections,' and as a final bonus, Russia's military action could perhaps finally destroy the Saakashvili regime."

Putin has made no secret that he despises Saakashvili and with his return to the presidency, he may consider taking out the Georgian president as unfinished business. Just as in 2008, Putin will not have much to worry about if he sends Russian troops into Georgia, since there was muted reaction from the U.S. and the European countries to the Russian invasion and subsequent occupation

The Invisible Hand Is Invisible Because It Isn't There

The Invisible Hand Is Invisible Because It Isn't There

Americans have had it drilled into them that government is bad, but a new narrative is surfacing. Last Thursday, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick kicked off the Roosevelt Institute's new flagship initiative, Rediscovering Government, at an event in New York City, declaring, "There is no economy without government. There is no America without government. Government doesn't have a role; it is integral." In a keynote address, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Joseph Stiglitz also argued that healthy societies have strong governments and that his research has shown that "the reason the invisible hand often was invisible was that it wasn't there."Watch the full video of the opening remarks and keynote below:

Stiglitz says that "most Americans don't realize that we are no longer the country of opportunity that we think of ourselves, that America today has less equality of opportunity than any of the other advanced industrial countries." He points out how many like to say that our economy is doing well because GDP is growing, but that "if you're going to be judging how well an economy is doing, clearly I think the key metric that one wants to focus on is what is happening to the living standards of most citizens." He says that most Americans don't realize how bad we're doing, including the fact that "the median income of a full-time male worker today is the same as it was in 1968," and "if you look at median household income it is the same today as it was a decade and a half ago."

How did our society get to a place where government has taken a back seat and where people are wary of government control? Stiglitz thanks the conservatives who have successfully touted false ideology about markets over the past 40 years. While they like to blame the government for inequality, Stiglitz notes that not even Adam Smith thought markets were anything beyond efficient. "Nobody ever said that they were fair, that they would lead to a distribution of income that was socially acceptable." Furthermore, he says, "many of the aspects of our inequality are a result of market failure. People who don't have health insurance when they get sick wind up in extreme poverty and they can't get health insurance because of a whole set of market failures." He says it's "striking that in spite of the fact that there is no intellectual basis for what you might call a 'Smithian' view that unfettered markets lead to efficiency," conservatives have marched ahead with this idea.

So why was there so much economic growth after World War II? Stiglitz says one reason is "the legacy of the Roosevelts, the legacy that government made a difference." In making the case for government he also points out that "government has played an important catalytic role in a whole variety of other areas. If you think about our modern economy, you think about Internet, you think about biotech, you think about telecommunications and all of these things rest on government-funded basic research." He recalls a conversation with a Scandinavian finance minister who, when asked how his economy was so successful, answered "high taxes." Stiglitz took away that "if you're going to have a well-functioning economy... you have to pay for what you get. You need to have a well-functioning government that provides education, infrastructure, research, technology, all these things, and we have to pay for it." Given that markets are not predictable nor interested in social problems, our government should stop bailing the financial institutions out and start investing in its people and the institutions that benefit them.

Who Takes the Gold for Tax Avoidance in 2011?

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This is tax time, or in the case of many big businesses, just another time without taxes. These companies deserve to be recognized. With the help of SEC data and the results of several excellent research studies, PayUpNow.org has selected the 'winners' of the 2011 Tax Avoidance Awards.

First a review of last year's results. The top spot went to General Electric, which made pre-tax profits of $44 billion from 2008 to 2010 but received almost $5 billion in refunds. A GE spokesperson added, "We are committed to acting with integrity in relation to our tax obligations."

A close second was Exxon, notable for having the nation's highest pre-tax earnings three years in a row, a 2% federal income tax payment rate, and hubris comparable to that of GE: "Any claim we don't pay taxes is absurd...ExxonMobil is a leading U.S. taxpayer."

There were numerous other candidates, each no less unworthy than the next. Verizon and Boeing and Dow and DuPont all made profits three years in a row, but all paid zero taxes over the three-year period. Banking leaders Citigroup and Bank of America, with a combined $8 billion of pretax earnings in 2009 and 2010, each paid zero taxes two years in a row. From 2008 to 2010, Chevron paid less than 5% a year. Merck paid 5%. Hewlett-Packard 3%. IBM 2%. Carnival 1%.Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) recently noted other companies who were tax-free over the 2008-10 period, including Pepco Holdings, Computer Sciences, Consolidated Edison, Honeywell International, and Wells Fargo.

In the past year new information has surfaced about past and present nominees for the avoidance awards. According to one CTJ report, "From 2001 through 2010, GE's U.S. net federal cash income taxes paid appear to have been less than zero!" Another CTJ analysis concludes that the company paid 2.3% of its $81.2 billion U.S. pretax profits in federal income taxes over the last 10 years.

In 2011, GE paid a generous 5.1% of its total net income in U.S. federal taxes (11.3% of its reported US profit).

Joining the 10-year nonpayment club was Boeing, which from 2002 to 2011, according to CTJ, "has paid nothing in net federal income taxes, despite $32 billion in pretax U.S. profits." The huge aerospace company, which has two U.S. plants working overtime to fill contracts for 800 Dreamliner jets, claimed the largest percentage refund among the top tax avoiders in 2011.

Citigroup also claimed a refund, despite announcing a profit of almost $15 billion for the year.

Exxon paid its usual 2.1%, Chevron 4%. Verizon, IBM, and Dow each paid a little something. The data can be found at PayUpNow.

Now for the awards. Tax Avoidance Gold goes to Boeing for its long record of worsening tax avoidance and massive 2011 refund despite billions in Dreamliner contracts. The Silver Award defaults to GE, whose unparalleled history of tax avoidance kept it near the top. The Bronze Award goes to Citigroup for avoiding tax obligations on $15 billion of net income.

And all the nominees should be recognized for their skills in avoiding payment for the benefits derived from building up their companies in America.

The Great American Foreclosure Song ?

USDA ‘Doesn’t Know’ if You Are Eating Cloned Meat

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It may come as a surprise, but you may be consuming cloned meat on a regular basis. In fact, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (head of the USDA) says that he has no idea whether or not cloned meat has been sold inside the United States — or even how much. But instead of investigating or setting up parameters, the USDA asserts that it is safe in their view so there is no cause for alarm. It is currently forbidden by the agency itself for any producer to distribute or sell cloned meat.

The news came back in August of 2010, when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack went on record saying that he really doesn’t know whether or not cloned meat is being put on dinner tables nationwide. The announcement was made after the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency told consumers that meat from descendants of cloned animals had already entered the food supply. Of course the agency made the statements a year after the cloned products leaked into the food chain. Still, just like the USDA, the UK’s FSA stated that they believe cloned meat poses no risk, so citizens should not panic. The reason? They say that cloned meat has ‘ no substantial difference’ to traditional meat, and therefore it is safe.

The statements echo those of Monsanto, whose genetically modified creations have been linked to everything from organ damage to toxicity-induced cell death.

Here’s what Tom Vilsack’s response is to whether or not cloned meat is being sold in United States stores and subsequently being eaten by citizens:

“I can’t say today that I can answer your question in an affirmative or negative way. I don’t know. What I do know is that we know all the research, all of the review of this is suggested that this is safe,” Vilsack said to reporters.

Conventional meat packing industries and suppliers often utilize disturbing growth techniques with zero regard for the welfare of the animals and the consumer. It is not to believe that cloned meat would slip into this chaotic process and be passed off as traditional meat. In order to avoid the threat of not only cloned meat but a copious amount of antibiotics (that you will soon be eating), you should search for high quality meat sources that utilize grass as a main feed source. The antibiotic problem is so pervasive, in fact, that a judge recently ordered the FDA to remove antibiotics from animal feed in order to halt the production of super viruses.

Why the Insurance Industry Needs Obamacare to Stay In Business

Why the Insurance Industry Needs Obamacare to Stay In Business

If there is a group of people more anxious about how the Supreme Court will rule on the health care reform law than President Obama and the millions of Americans who are already benefiting from it, it is health insurance executives.

Not only have their companies been spending millions of dollars implementing the parts of the law that pertains to them — and most of them do — but they also have been counting on the law as very possibly the only thing that can preserve the free market system of health insurance in this country. This is why it is so ironic that defenders of the free market are the most vocal critics of the law and the ones hoping most ardently that the Court will declare it unconstitutional.

Health insurers have known for years that their business practices of excluding growing numbers of Americans from coverage and shifting more and more of the cost of care to policyholders are not sustainable over the long haul. That’s why their top priority during the health care reform debate was to make sure whatever bill Congress passed included the much-vilified individual mandate. And it’s also why the big insurance companies have been working almost frantically to reinvent themselves lately.

Cigna and Aetna recently became the latest of the biggest national firms to rebrand themselves and roll out new logos and self-descriptions. Cigna is now “a global health service company“ while Aetna is now “one of the nation's leading health care benefits companies.” What this means is that these companies and their competitors have come to understand that the very policies that enabled them to make Wall Street-pleasing profits over several years has led to a health insurance marketplace that is shrinking. And as it continues to shrink, so will their profit margins.

Cigna and Aetna and a handful of other companies got to be the giants they are today largely by acquiring scores of their smaller competitors in the 1990s and 2000s. Their acquisition strategy now is very different because they know the glory days of being able to report profits every quarter that are greater than what they reported a year earlier, which shareholders demand, are over. So instead of acquiring other insurers, the big firms are now diversifying by buying data and care management businesses and, to the alarm of many consumer advocates, hospitals and physician groups.

They are doing this because they have failed miserably at expanding coverage and controlling skyrocketing medical costs, as they promised they could do as they were torpedoing Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health care reform bill two decades ago. Even though they hated many of the Clintons’ proposals, they recognized even then that government intervention in the health insurance business would be necessary, that we couldn’t rely solely on them or the free market to fix our broken system.

Here’s what Karen Igagni, who heads America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s largest PR and lobbying group, told a Congressional panel in the fall of 1993:

“The need for national health care reform has been well documented … Universal coverage at broadly affordable cost becomes possible only when insurance risks are spread across a large community. Currently, most health coverage is priced using 'experience rating,' where high premiums are set for high cost groups and low premiums are set for low cost groups. Experience rating financially discriminates against populations that experience high costs: the very young, the very old, the chronically ill, and those with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes.”

And here’s what Larry English, the former president of Cigna HealthCare, told that same Congressional committee:

“There are many specifics in the President’s plan we believe should be supported enthusiastically. Among them are universal coverage, portability, the elimination of pre-existing condition limitations, the elimination of cream-skimming and cherry picking underwriting practices, the use of community rating, a standard benefit plan and malpractice reform.

When it became clear, however, that some of the regulations the Clintons were proposing might curtail profits, the insurers began to disown what they had told Congress. They embarked on a campaign to persuade the public that the “invisible hand of the market,” as English said in a speech the next year, would do a much better job of controlling costs and expanding coverage than the Clinton plan.

When the Clinton bill died in Congress, that invisible hand went to work. But it proved to be so ham-fisted that physicians and patients soon rebelled. As it turned out, people didn’t like being required to change doctors, as many of them had to do. And women didn’t like being forced out of the hospital within hours of having a baby or undergoing a mastectomy. So insurers had to ditch many of the practices that presumably would bring down health care costs.

The free-market solution the insurers came up with after the failure of managed care was to herd people into high-deductible plans, just as they herded us into restrictive HMOs 20 years ago. The problem, of course, is that the insurers have to keep increasing both premiums and deductibles to keep meeting Wall Street’s profit expectations. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how that is not a sustainable strategy — unless, of course, the government requires all of us buy coverage and gives subsidies to people who can’t afford the premiums on their own.

Without the individual mandate, so loathed by free market lovers, the pool of people willing and able to buy coverage will continue to shrink, as will insurers’ profit margins. Over the coming years, that pool will become increasingly older and sicker, meaning premiums will soar. Insurers will begin to desert the marketplace. They will not go out of business, but, as their acquisition strategy shows, they will be very different companies.

Insurance executives know they will have to transform their companies even more rapidly — and get out of the risk business sooner rather than later — if the individual mandate is struck down. They have run out of silver bullets. As for those who believe the free market can work in health care just as well as any other sector of the economy, they will see, if the Court declares the law unconstitutional, that it simply does not.

Left Behind: What We Lost in Iraq and Washington, 2009-2012

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People ask the question in various ways, sometimes hesitantly, often via a long digression, but my answer is always the same: no regrets.

In some 24 years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid just hid the mistakes and flaws of those anonymous functionaries.

What I saw while serving the State Department at a forward operating base in Iraq was, however, different. There, the space between what we were doing (the eye-watering waste and mismanagement), and what we were saying (the endless of success and progress), was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not scaredy-cat bureaucrats.

That was too much for even a well-seasoned cubicle warrior like me to ignore and so I wrote a book about it, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. I was on the spot to see it all happen, leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in rural Iraq while taking part up close and personal in what the U.S. government was doing to, not for, Iraqis. Originally, I imagined that my book’s subtitle would be “Lessons for Afghanistan,” since I was hoping the same mistakes would not be endlessly repeated there. Sometimes being right doesn’t solve a damn thing.

By the time I arrived in Iraq in 2009, I hardly expected to be welcomed as a liberator or greeted -- as the officials who launched the invasion of that country expected back in 2003 -- with a parade and flowers. But I never imagined Iraq for quite the American disaster it was either. Nor did I expect to be welcomed back by my employer, the State Department, as a hero in return for my book of loony stories and poignant moments that summed up how the United States wasted more than $44 billion in the reconstruction/deconstruction of Iraq. But I never imagined that State would retaliate against me.

In return for my book, a truthful account of my year in Iraq, my security clearance was taken away, I was sent home to sit on my hands for months, then temporarily allowed to return only as a disenfranchised teleworker and, as I write this, am drifting through the final steps toward termination.

What We Left Behind in Iraq

Sadly enough, in the almost two years since I left Iraq, little has happened that challenges my belief that we failed in the reconstruction and, through that failure, lost the war.

The Iraq of today is an extension of the Iraq I saw and described. The recent Arab in Baghdad, hailed by some as a watershed event, was little more than a stage-managed wrinkle in that timeline, a lot like all those purple elections the U.S. sponsored in Iraq throughout the Occupation. If you deploy enough police and soldiers -- for the summit, Baghdad was shut down for a week, the cell phone network turned off, and a “public holiday” proclaimed to keep the streets free of humanity -- you can temporarily tame any place, at least within camera view. More than $500 million was spent, in part planting flowers along the route dignitaries took in and out of the heavily fortified International Zone at the heart of the capital (known in my day as the Green Zone). Somebody in Iraq must have googled “Potemkin Village.”

Beyond the temporary showmanship, the Iraq we created via our war is a mean place, unsafe and unstable. Of course, life goes on there (with the usual lack of electricity and potable water), but as the news shows, to an angry symphony of suicide bombers and targeted killings. While the American public may have changed the channel to more exciting shows in Libya, now Syria, or maybe just to American Idol, the Iraqi people are trapped in amber, replaying the scenes I saw in 2009-2010, living reminders of all the good we failed to do.

Ties between Iraq and Iran continue to strengthen, however, with Baghdad serving as a money-laundering stopover for a Tehran facing tightening U.S. and European sanctions, even as it sells electricity to Iraq. (That failed reconstruction program again!) Indeed, with Iran now able to meddle in Iraq in ways it couldn’t have when Saddam Hussein was in power, that country will be more capable of contesting U.S. hegemony in the region.

Given what we left behind in Iraq, it remains beyond anyone, even the nasty men who started the war in 2003, to claim victory or accomplishment or achievement there, and except for the odd pundit seeking to rile his audience, none do.

What We Left Behind at Home

The other story that played out over the months since I returned from Iraq is my own. Though the State Department officially cleared We Meant Well for publication in October 2010, it began an investigation of me a month before the book hit store shelves. That investigation was completed way back in December 2011, though State took no action at that time to terminate me.

I filed a complaint as a whistleblower with the Office (OSC) in January 2012. It was only after that complaint -- alleging retaliation -- was filed, and just days before the OSC was to deliver its document discovery request to State, that my long-time employer finally moved to fire me. Timing is everything in love, war, and bureaucracy.

The charges it leveled are ridiculous (including “lack of candor,” as if perhaps too much candor was not the root problem here). State was evidently using my case to show off its authority over its employees by creating a parody of justice, and then enforcing it to demonstrate that, well, when it comes to stomping on dissent, anything goes.

My case also illustrates the crude use of “national security” as a tool within government to silence dissent. State’s Diplomatic Security office, its internal Stasi, monitored my home email and web usage for months, used computer forensics to spelunk for something naughty in my online world, placed me on a Secret Service Threat Watch list, examined my finances, and used hacker tools to vacuum up my droppings around the web -- all, by the way, at an unknown cost to the taxpayers. Diplomatic Security even sent an agent around to interview my neighbors, fishing for something to use against me in a full-spectrum deep dive into my life, using the new tools and power available to government not to stop terrorists, but to stop me.

As our government accumulates ever more of what it thinks the American people have no right to know about, there will only be increasing persecutions as prosecutions. Many of the illegal things President Richard Nixon did to the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg are now both legal (under the Patriot Act) and far easier to accomplish with new technologies. There is no need, for instance, to break into my psychiatrist’s office looking for dirt, as happened to Ellsberg; after all, the National Security Agency can break into my doctor’s electronic records as easily as you can read this page.

With its aggressive and sadly careless use of the draconian Espionage Act to imprison whistleblowers, the Obama administration has, in many cases, moved beyond harassment and intimidation into actually wielding the beautiful tools of justice in a perverse way to silence dissent. More benign in practice, in theory this is little different than the Soviets executing dissidents as spies after show trials or the Chinese using their courts to legally confine thinkers they disapprove of in mental institutions. They are all just following regulations. Turn the volume up from six to ten and you’ve jumped from vengeance to totalitarianism. We’re becoming East Germany.

What I Left Behind

There has been a personal price to pay for my free speech. In my old office, after my book was published in September 2011, some snarky coworkers set up a pool to guess when I would be fired -- before or after that November. I put $20 down on the long end. After all, if I couldn’t be optimistic about keeping my job, who could?

One day in October, security hustled me out of that office, and though I wasn’t fired by that November and so won the bet, I was never able to collect. Most of those in the betting pool now shun me, fearful for their own fragile careers at State.

I’ve ended up talking, usually at night, with a few of the soldiers I worked with in Iraq. Some are at the end of a long Skype connection in Afghanistan, others have left the military or are stationed stateside. Most of them share my anger and bitterness; generally feeling used and unwanted now that they need a job rather than rote praise and the promise of a parade.

We Meant Well is, I think, pretty funny in parts. I recall writing it as an almost out-of-body experience as I tried to approach the sadness and absurdity of what was happening in Iraq with a sense of irony and black humor. That’s long gone, and if I were to write the story today, the saddest thing is that it would undoubtedly come out angry and bitter, too.

A Member of a Club That Would Have Me

Having left behind friends I turned out not to have, a career that dissolved beneath me, and a sense of humor I’d like to rediscover, I find myself a member of a new club I don’t even remember applying for: The Whistleblowers. I’ve now met with several of the whistleblowers I’ve written about with admiration: Tom Drake, Mo Davis, John Kiriakou, and Robert MacLean, among others.

As ex- or soon-to-be-ex-government employees all, when we meet, we make small talk about retirement, annuities, and the like. No one speaks of revolution or anarchy, the image of us the government often surreptitiously pushes to the media. After all, until we blew those whistles, we were all in our own ways believers in the American system. That, in fact, is why we did what we did.

My new club-mates represent hundreds of years of service -- a couple of them had had long military careers before joining the civilian side of government -- and we cover a remarkably broad swath of the American political spectrum. What we really have in common is that, in the course of just doing our jobs, we stumbled into colossal government wrongdoing (systematized torture, warrantless wiretapping, fraud, and waste), stood up for what is right in the American spirit, and found ourselves paying surprising personal prices for acts that seemed obvious and necessary. We are guilty of naiveté, not treason.

Each of us initially thought that the agencies we worked for would be concerned about what we had stumbled upon or uncovered and would want to work with us to resolve it. If most of us are now disillusioned, we weren’t at the outset. Only by the force of events did we become transformed into opponents of an out-of-control government with no tolerance for those who would expose the truth necessary to create Thomas Jefferson’s informed citizenry. In meeting my club-mates, I learned that whistleblowers are not born, but created by a government with much to hide and an unquenchable need to hide it.

One of those whistleblowers, Jesselyn Radack, wrote a book about her experiences called Traitor: The Whistleblower and the American Taliban. At the dawn of the War on Terror, Radack, an attorney at the Department of Justice (DOJ), wrote a memo stating that John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” captured in Afghanistan, had rights and could not be interrogated without the benefit of counsel.

The FBI went ahead and questioned him anyway, and then DOJ tried to disappear Radack’s emails documenting this Constitutional violation. Ignoring her advice, the government tossed away the rights of one of its own citizens. Radack herself was subsequently forced out the DOJ, harassed, and had to fight simply to keep her law license.

As proof that God does indeed enjoy irony, Radack today helps represent most of the current crop of government whistleblowers (including me) in their struggles against the government she once served. Radack and I are now working with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker James Spione on a documentary about whistleblowers.

What Will Be Left Behind

So what’s left for me in my final days as a grounded State Department worker assigned to timeout in my own home? Given my situation, there is, of course, no desk to clean out; there are no knickknacks collected abroad over my 24 years to package up. All that’s left is one last test to see if the system, especially the First Amendment guaranteeing us the right to free speech, still has a heartbeat in 2012.

Though I could be terminated by State within a few weeks, I am otherwise only months away from a semi-voluntary retirement. Since I’m obviously out the door anyway, State’s decision to employ its internal security tools and expensive, taxpayer-paid legal maneuvers at this late date can’t really be about shortening my tenure by a meager four months. Instead, it’s clearly about mounting my head on a pike inside the lobby of State’s Foggy Bottom headquarters as a warning to its other employees not to dissent, or mention wrongdoing they might stumble across. Better, so the message goes, to sip the Kool Aid and keep one’s head down, while praising the courage of Chinese dissidents and Egyptian bloggers. The State Department is all about wanting its words, not its actions, to speak loudest.

Running parallel to the State Department termination process is an investigation by the Office of the Special Counsel into my claim of retaliation, which State is seeking to circumvent by tossing me out the door ahead of its conclusion. State wants to use my fate to send a message to its already cowed staff. However, if the Special Counsel concludes that the State Department did retaliate against me, and then the message delivered will be quite a different one. It just might indicate that the First Amendment still does reach ever so slightly into the halls of government, and maybe the next responsible Foreign Service Officer will carry that forward a bit further, which would be good for our democracy.

One way or another, sometime soon the door will smack me in the backside on my way out. But whether the echo left behind inside the State Department will be one of justice or bureaucratic revenge remains undecided. My book is written and my career is over either way. However, what is left behind matters not just for me, but for all of us.

East Timor: A Lesson in Why the Poorest Threaten the Powerful

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Milan Kundera's truism, "the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting," described East Timor. The day before I set out to film clandestinely there in 1993, I went to Stanfords map shop in London's Covent Garden. "Timor?" said a hesitant sales assistant. We stood staring at shelves marked South East Asia. "Forgive me, where exactly is it?"

After a search he came up with an old aeronautical map with blank areas stamped, "Relief Data Incomplete." He had never been asked for East Timor, which is just north of Australia. Such was the silence that enveloped the Portuguese colony following its invasion and occupation by Indonesia in 1975. Yet, not even Pol Pot succeeded in killing, proportionally, as many Cambodians as the Indonesian dictator Suharto killed or starved in East Timor.

In my film, "Death of a Nation," there is a sequence shot on board an Australian aircraft flying over the island of Timor. A party is in progress, and two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. "This is an historically unique moment," babbles one of them, "that is truly uniquely historical." This is Gareth Evans, Australia's foreign minister. The other man is Ali Alatas, the principal mouthpiece of Suharto. It is 1989 and they are making a symbolic flight to celebrate the signing of a piratical treaty that allowed Australia and the international oil and gas companies to exploit the seabed off East Timor. Beneath them are valleys etched with black crosses where British and American-supplied fighter aircraft have blown people to bits. In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament reported that "at least 200,000," a third of the population, had perished under Suharto. Thanks largely to Evans, Australia was the only Western country formally to recognize Suharto's genocidal conquest. The murderous Indonesian special forces known as Kopassus were trained in Australia. The prize, said Evans, was "zillions" of dollars.

Unlike Muammar al-Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, Suharto died peacefully in 2008 surrounded by the best medical help his billions could buy. He was never at risk of prosecution by the "international community." Margaret Thatcher told him, "You are one of our very best and most valuable friends." The Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating regarded him as a father figure. A group of Australian newspaper editors, led by Rupert Murdoch's veteran retainer, Paul Kelly, flew to Jakarta to pay their tribute to the dictator; there is a picture of one of them bowing.

In 1991, Evans described the massacre of more than 200 people by Indonesian troops in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor's capital, as an "aberration." When protesters planted crosses outside the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, Evans ordered them torn up.

On 17 March, Evans was in Melbourne to address a seminar on the Middle East and the Arab Spring. Now immersed in the busy world of "think tanks," he expounds on great power strategies, notably the fashionable "Responsibility to Protect," which NATO uses to attack or threaten uppity or out-of-favor dictators on the false pretext of liberating their people. Libya is a recent example. Also attending the seminar was Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at San Francisco University, who reminded the audience of Evans' long and critical support for Suharto.

As the session ended, Evans, a man of limited fuse, stormed over to Zunes and yelled, "Who the fuck are you? Where the fuck are you from?" Zunes was told, Evans later confirmed, that such critical remarks deserved "a smack on the nose." The episode was timely. Celebrating the tenth anniversary of an independence Evans once denied, East Timor is in the throes of electing a new president; the second round of voting is on 21 April, followed by parliamentary elections.

For many Timorese, their children malnourished and stunted, the democracy is notional. Years of bloody occupation, backed by Australia, Britain and the US, were followed by a relentless campaign of bullying by the Australian government to maneuver the tiny new nation out of its proper share of the seabed's oil and gas revenue. Having refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the Law of the Sea, Australia unilaterally changed the maritime boundary.

In 2006, a deal was finally signed, largely on Australia's terms. Soon afterwards, Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri, a nationalist who had stood up to Canberra and opposed foreign interference and indebtedness to the World Bank, was effectively deposed in what he called an "attempted coup" by "outsiders." Australia has "peace-keeping" troops based in East Timor and had trained his opponents. According to a leaked Australian Defence Department document, Australia's "first objective" in East Timor is for its military to "seek access" so that it can exercise "influence over East Timor's decision-making." One of the two current presidential candidates is Taur Matan Rauk, a general and Canberra's man who helped see off the troublesome Alkitiri.

One independent little country astride lucrative natural resources and strategic sea lanes is of serious concern to the United States and its "deputy sheriff" in Canberra. (President George W. Bush actually promoted Australia to full sheriff). That largely explains why the Suharto regime required such devotion from its Western sponsors. Washington's enduring obsession in Asia is China, which today offers developing countries investment, skills and infrastructure in return for resources.

Visiting Australia last November, President Barack Obama issued another of his veiled threats to China and announced the establishment of a US Marines base in Darwin, just across the water from East Timor. He understands that small, impoverished countries can often present the greatest threat to predatory power, because if they cannot be intimidated and controlled, who can?

U.S. Standard of Living Has Fallen More Than 50%

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In writing about the relentless collapse of Western economies, I frequently point to “forty years of plummeting wages” for Western workers, in real dollars. However, where I have been remiss is in quantifying the magnitude of this collapse in Western wages.

On several occasions I have glibly referred to how it now takes two spouses working to equal the wages of a one-income family of forty years ago. Unfortunately that is now an understatement. In fact, Western wages have plummeted so low that a two-income family is now (on average) 15% poorer than a one-income family of 40 years ago.

Using the year 2000 as the numerical base from which to “zero” all of the numbers, real wages peaked in 1970 at around $20/hour. Today the average worker makes $8.50 hour – more than 57% less than in 1970. And since the average wage directly determines the standard of living of our society, we can see that the average standard of living in the U.S. has plummeted by over 57% over a span of 40 years.

There are no “tricks” here. Indeed, all of the tricks are used by our governments. The green line shows average wages, discounted by inflation calculated with the same methodology for all 40 years. Obviously that is the only way in which we can compare any data over time: through applying identical parameters to it each year.

Then we have the blue line: showing wage data discounted with our “official” inflation rate. The problem? The methodology used by our governments to calculate inflation in 1975 was different from the method they used in 1985, which was different than the method they used in 1995, which was different than the method they used in 2005.

Two obvious points flow from this observation. First, it is tautological that the only way in which data can be compared meaningfully is to use a consistent methodology. If the government thinks it has improved upon its inflation methodology, then all it had to do was take all of its old data and re-calculate it with their “improved” methodology. Since 1970 there is this invention called “computers” which makes such calculations rather simple.

This brings us to the second point: the refusal of our governments to adopt a consistent methodology in reporting inflation statistics can only imply a deliberate attempt to deceive, since it is 100% logically/statistically invalid to simply string together disconnected series of data – and present it as if it represents a consistent picture. More specifically, we can see precisely what lie our government was attempting to get us to believe.

Roughly speaking, the blue line trends flat. Thus, our governments have been lying about inflation for the last 40 years as a deliberate means of hiding the 57% collapse in our standard of living. Meanwhile, the situation is more than reversed if you’re one of the fat-cats at the top. While average American workers have seen their wages plummet by 57% over the past 40 years, in just 15 years (1992-2007) the 400 wealthiest Americans saw their incomes rise by 700%.

Now we have the complete picture: wages grinding steadily lower year after year, decade after decade for the Little People, while wages go straight up for the fat-cats. To say this is “unfair” would rank as one of history’s greatest understatements. This is economic rape, plain and simple.

To this point I have only presented the consequences of our economic rape, in a chart which is totally unequivocal/incontrovertible. The causes of that economic rape are equally obvious in terms of categories, although the actual analysis of those causes is somewhat more complex.

1) Taxation oppression. As I detailed in a previous three-part series, income taxation is the worst possible form of taxation which could possibly be devised. The length of criticisms is virtually infinite, but at the top of the list is the fact that as a matter of basic arithmetic, all income-taxation systems must funnel all wealth into the hands of the ultra-wealthy, over time. This is precisely what we see today. Billionaires and trillionaires sit with the largest fortunes in history – while ordinary people have been turned into “the working poor”.

2) Systemic/structural unemployment. Technology always eliminates jobs faster than it creates new opportunities. This means that our economies are permanently reducing jobs (and creating structural unemployment) every day, every week, every month, every year. For more than 200 years, our governments have dealt with this permanent structural unemployment problem by shortening the work week every few decades…until now. The refusal of our governments to shorten the work week (while we have the worst structural unemployment in history) is a deliberate attempt to maintain massive unemployment – which is the strongest downward driver of average wages.

3) Oligopolies/monopolies. It is elementary capitalist theory that monopolies and oligopolies are unmitigated evils. By definition they are 100% parasitic, and 100% non-competitive – and have absolutely no place in any capitalist economy. Yet today the global economy is totally overrun with these gigantic, non-competitive parasites. With these mega-parasites permanently blood-sucking us, the impoverishment of our societies was an inevitable result.

Having now seen the consequences of our problems and the causes of our problems, the solutions are obvious. To even halt the slide in our wages (and standard of living) we must eradicate at least one of these three problems. To reverse this trend (and restore our standard of living) requires eradicating all three problems.

Taxation oppression can be solved by implementing a flat wealth tax. Everyone pays at the same rate. No one gets to hide their wealth with sleazy, tax loopholes. And once we tax wealth, we get to eliminate all of the ridiculous, inefficient taxes which discourage economic activity: our income taxes, our consumption taxes, our capital gains taxes, our corporate taxes. What kind of idiots create a capitalist economic system, and then strangle that system with taxes which discourage all capitalist activity?

Structural unemployment can be eliminated, at virtually zero cost; the same way that it has been done for 200 years: by reducing the length of the work week. The basic work week at the Dawn of the Industrial Revolution was 7 days a week, 12 hours a day – an 84-hour week. For 200 years our governments steadily shortened the work week, and our societies became steadily more prosperous. Suddenly our governments refuse to shorten the work week, and we immediately see our standard of living reverse lower for the first time in modern history.

Exterminating all of the parasitic oligopolies and monopolies is considerably more problematic. These corporate behemoths have been allowed to grow to unimaginable sizes. Not only do our governments lack the moral courage to eradicate this economic cancer, but they effectively even lack the political power to do so.

As a first step, I have recommended we adopt the progressive economic strategy known as “protectionism”. Big Business sold us “globalization”; pretending that it was the same thing as free trade. They all fattened-up to many times their original sizes and we got a 50+% drop in our standard of living. Bigger is not better (when it comes to parasites). And there is no more direct path to a Small Business (high prosperity) economy than protectionism.

At the very least, protectionism makes it impossible for these corporate behemoths to grow even larger. Add a flat wealth tax and a four-day work week to that equation and we have a means to genuinely “stimulate” our economies – which does not require any significant amounts of government spending (i.e. additional debt).

Big Media (itself another oligopoly) tells us we should have even more globalization, and allow these corporate behemoths to grow even larger and more concentrated. Not only do our economics text books dictate the opposite, but so does 40 years of empirical evidence.

Big Media tells us that our deadbeat governments (the biggest debtors in human history) are going to “bail out” each other by borrowing much, much more money. Simple arithmetic tells us this cannot possibly be true.

We need to completely tune-out the economic voodoo preached by these media charlatans. Fixing our economies requires returning to what has worked in the past, not continuing what has failed in the present. Fixing our economic balance sheets is another matter entirely.

Most of our governments are already past the point of no return in terms of indebtedness. It makes no sense at all to completely destroy economies with some form of Friedman Austerity first (as was done in Greece) – only to end up with an even larger default in the end. Had the bond parasites accepted a 50% haircut at the beginning of Greece’s debt-crisis, Greece’s economy would have remained intact, and they would have salvaged 50% more of their dubious debts (rather than the 75% default with which they ended).

Our morally bankrupt political leaders would have us believe that the collapse in our standard of living was some sort of inevitable “accident” of history. The truth is that the economic oppression inflicted upon us has been deliberate and intentional. We have been given the very worst taxation policies, solely to benefit the few at the top. We have been given the very worst employment policies, solely to benefit the few at the top.

Instead of our governments vigilantly preventing the spread (or even birth) of any oligopolies or monopolies, they have totally abdicated all responsibility – and allowed these monstrosities to devour most of the global economy. Even more reprehensible has been the silence of the economics community as these corporate behemoths have been allowed to rampage across the globe. Were all of these economists absent from class during the two weeks of study devoted to explaining why these oligopolies/monopolies should never be allowed to come into existence?

It is a tragedy that the standard of living in the United States (and much of the Western world) has plummeted by more than 50% over the last 40 years – unless you’re one of the privileged few. It is a crime that this take-down in our standard of living is an obvious matter of cause-and-effect.

Putting Syria Into Some Perspective

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The Holy Triumvirate — The United States, NATO, and the European Union — or an approved segment thereof, can usually get what they want. They wanted Saddam Hussein out, and soon he was swinging from a rope. They wanted the Taliban ousted from power, and, using overwhelming force, that was achieved rather quickly. They wanted Moammar Gaddafi's rule to come to an end, and before very long he suffered a horrible death. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was democratically elected, but this black man who didn't know his place was sent into distant exile by the United States and France in 2004. Iraq and Libya were the two most modern, educated and secular states in the Middle East; now all four of these countries could qualify as failed states.

These are some of the examples from the past decade of how the Holy Triumvirate recognizes no higher power and believes, literally, that they can do whatever they want in the world, to whomever they want, for as long as they want, and call it whatever they want, like "humanitarian intervention". The 19th- and 20th-century colonialist-imperialist mentality is alive and well in the West.

Next on their agenda: the removal of Bashar al-Assad of Syria. As with Gaddafi, the ground is being laid with continual news reports — from CNN to al Jazeera — of Assad's alleged barbarity, presented as both uncompromising and unprovoked. After months of this media onslaught who can doubt that what's happening in Syria is yet another of those cherished Arab Spring "popular uprisings" against a "brutal dictator" who must be overthrown? And that the Assad government is overwhelmingly the cause of the violence.

Assad actually appears to have a large measure of popularity, not only in Syria, but elsewhere in the Middle East. This includes not just fellow Alawites, but Syria's two million Christians and no small number of Sunnis. Gaddafi had at least as much support in Libya and elsewhere in Africa. The difference between the two cases, at least so far, is that the Holy Triumvirate bombed and machine-gunned Libya daily for seven months, unceasingly, crushing the pro-government forces, as well as Gaddafi himself, and effecting the Triumvirate's treasured "regime change". Now, rampant chaos, anarchy, looting and shooting, revenge murders, tribal war, militia war, religious war, civil war, the most awful racism against the black population, loss of their cherished welfare state, and possible dismemberment of the country into several mini-states are the new daily life for the Libyan people. The capital city of Tripoli is "wallowing in four months of uncollected garbage" because the landfill is controlled by a faction that doesn't want the trash of another faction.1 Just imagine what has happened to the country's infrastructure. This may be what Syria has to look forward to if the Triumvirate gets its way, although the Masters of the Universe undoubtedly believe that the people of Libya should be grateful to them for their "liberation".

As to the current violence in Syria, we must consider the numerous reports of forces providing military support to the Syrian rebels — the UK, France, the US, Turkey, Israel, Qatar, the Gulf states, and everyone's favorite champion of freedom and democracy, Saudi Arabia; with Syria claiming to have captured some 14 French soldiers; plus individual jihadists and mercenaries from Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Libya, et al, joining the anti-government forces, their number including al-Qaeda veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who are likely behind the car bombs in an attempt to create chaos and destabilize the country. This may mark the third time the United States has been on the same side as al-Qaeda, adding to Afghanistan and Libya.

Stratfor, the private and conservative American intelligence firm with high-level connections, reported that "most of the opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue." Opposition groups including the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights began disseminating "claims that regime forces besieged Homs and imposed a 72-hour deadline for Syrian defectors to surrender themselves and their weapons or face a potential massacre." That news made international headlines. Stratfor's investigation, however, found "no signs of a massacre," and declared that "opposition forces have an interest in portraying an impending massacre, hoping to mimic the conditions that propelled a foreign military intervention in Libya." Stratfor added that any suggestions of massacres are unlikely because the Syrian "regime has calibrated its crackdowns to avoid just such a scenario. Regime forces have been careful to avoid the high casualty numbers that could lead to an intervention based on humanitarian grounds."2

Reva Bhalla, Stratfor's Director of Analysis, reported in a December 2011 email on a meeting she attended at the Pentagon about Syria: "After a couple hours of talking, they said without saying that SOF [Special Operation Forces] teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce [reconnaissance] missions and training opposition forces." We know of Bhalla's comments thanks to the 5 million Stratfor emails obtained by the Internet hacker group Anonymous in December and passed on to Wikileaks.3

Human Rights Watch has reported that both Syrian government security forces and Syria's armed rebels have committed serious human rights abuses, including kidnapings, torture, and executions. But only the Holy Triumvirate can get away with the sanctions they love to impose. Assad's wife is now banned from traveling to EU countries and any assets she may have there are frozen. Same for Assad's mother, sister and sister-in-law, as well as eight of his government ministers. Assad himself received the same treatment last May.4 Because the Triumvirate can.

On March 25, the US and Turkish governments announced that they were discussing sending non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, implying quite clearly that until then they had not been engaged in such activity.5 But according to a US embassy cable, revealed by Wikileaks, since at least 2006 the United States has been funding political opposition groups in Syria as well as the London-based satellite TV channel, Barada TV, run by Syrian exiles, that beams anti-government programming into the country. The cable further stated that Syrian authorities "would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change."

Regime change in Syria has been on the neo-conservative wish list since at least 2002 when John Bolton, Undersecretary of State under George W. Bush, came up with a project to simultaneously break up Libya and Syria. He called the two states along with Cuba "The Axis Of Evil". On a FOX News appearance in 2011 Bolton said that the United States should have overthrown the Syrian government right after they overthrew Saddam Hussein. Amongst Syria's crimes have been their close relations with Iran, Hezbollah (in Lebanon), the Palestinian resistance, and Russia, and their failure to conclude a peace treaty with Israel, unlike Jordan and Egypt; all this constituting evidence to the Holy Triumvirate of Syria, like Aristide, being "uppity".

The clinical megalomania of the Holy Triumvirate can scarcely be exaggerated. And never prosecuted.

A closing word from Cui Tiankai, Chinese vice foreign minister for United States affairs:

The US has the strongest military in the world and spends more than any other country. But the US always feels unsafe or insecure about other countries. ... I suggest the United States spend more time thinking about how to make other countries feel less worried about the United States.6

President Obama's accomplishments

Last month, Alan S. Hoffman, an American professor from Washington University in St. Louis, was forbidden by the US Treasury Department to travel to Cuba to give classes in a course on biomaterials.7

At the same time, the State Department refused to grant two Cuban diplomats in Washington, DC permission to travel to New York City to speak at The Left Forum, the largest annual gathering of the left in the United States, which this year attracted over 5,000 people.8

The State Department has also been occupied recently with preventing Cuba from being invited to the Summit of the Americas in Colombia in April.9

And that's just the past month.

I mention all this to keep in mind the next time President Obama or one of his supporters lists US relations with Cuba as one of his accomplishments.

And I still cannot go to Cuba legally.

Another claim the Obamabots are fond of making to defend their man is that he's abolished torture. That sounds very nice, but there's no good reason to accept it at face value. Shortly after Obama's inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that "rendition" was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported: "Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States."10

The English translation of "cooperate" is "torture". Rendition is equal to torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo, or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, to name some of the known torture centers frequented by the home of the brave. Kosovo and Diego Garcia — both of which house very large and secretive American military bases — if not some of the other locations, may well still be open for torture business. The same for Guantánamo. Moreover, the executive order concerning torture, issued January 22, 2009 — "Executive Order 13491 — Ensuring Lawful Interrogations" — leaves loopholes, such as being applicable only "in any armed conflict". Thus, torture by Americans outside environments of "armed conflict", which is where much torture in the world happens anyway, is not prohibited. And what about torture in a "counter-terrorism" environment?

One of Mr. Obama's orders required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental manipulation such as temperature and perhaps noise, and possibly stress positions and sensory overload.

After Panetta was questioned by a Senate panel, the New York Times wrote that he had "left open the possibility that the agency could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules ... Mr. Panetta also said the agency would continue the Bush administration practice of 'rendition' — picking terrorism suspects off the street and sending them to a third country. But he said the agency would refuse to deliver a suspect into the hands of a country known for torture or other actions "that violate our human values."11

Just as no one in the Bush and Obama administrations has been punished in any way for war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries they waged illegal war against, no one has been punished for torture. And, it could be added, no American bankster has been punished for their indispensable role in the world-wide financial torture. What a marvelously forgiving land is America. This, however, does not apply to Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.

In the last days of the Bush White House, Michael Ratner, professor at Columbia Law School and former president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out:

The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it. I don't see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable.12

I'd like at this point to remind my dear readers of the words of the "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment", which was drafted by the United Nations in 1984, came into force in 1987, and ratified by the United States in 1994. Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Such marvelously clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud of humanity. We cannot slide back.

Joseph Biden

From a document found at Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan after his assassination last May: A call to kill President Obama because "Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency. ... Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis.13

So ... it would appear that the man America loved to hate and fear was no more knowledgeable of how United States foreign policy works than is the average American. What difference in the War on Terror — for better or for worse — against the likes of bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers could there have been over the past three years if Joe Biden had been the president? Biden was an outspoken supporter of the war against Iraq and is every bit the pro-Israel fanatic that Obama is. In his 35 years in the US Senate Biden avidly supported every American war of aggression including the attacks on Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1991, Yugoslavia in 1999 and Afghanistan in 2001. Whatever was Osama bin Laden thinking?

And whatever was Joe Biden thinking when he recently said the following after hosting China's presumptive next leader Xi Jinping in a visit to the United States?

America holds at least one key economic advantage over China. Because China's authoritarian government represses its own citizens, they don't think freely or innovate. "Why have they not become [one of] the most innovative countries in the world? Why is there a need to steal our intellectual property? Why is there a need to have a business hand over its trade secrets to have access to a market of a billion, three hundred million people? Because they're not innovating." Noting that China and similar countries produce many engineers and scientists but few innovators, Biden said, "It's impossible to think different in a country where you can't speak freely. It's impossible to think different when you have to worry what you put on the Internet will either be confiscated or you will be arrested. It's impossible to think different where orthodoxy reigns. That's why we remain the most innovative country in the world."14

Holy Cold War, Batman! This is exactly the kind of stuff we were told about the Soviet Union. For years and years. For decades. Then came Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be put into Earth's orbit. It was launched into an Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1's success precipitated the Sputnik crisis in the United States and ignited the Space Race. The USSR's launch of Sputnik spurred the United States to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency to regain a technological lead. Not only did the launch of Sputnik spur America to action in the space race, it also led directly to the creation of NASA. 15

Notes

  1. Washington Post, April 1, 2012
  2. Huffington Post, December 19, 2011
  3. See the document on WikiLeaks
  4. Washington Post, March 24, 2012
  5. Ibid., March 26, 2012
  6. Ibid., January 10, 2012
  7. Prensa Latina (Cuba), March 18, 2012
  8. See the video description on Cuba's UN Ambassador at Left Forum '12
  9. BBC News, "Ecuador to boycott Americas summit over Cuba exclusion", April 3, 2012
  10. Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2009
  11. New York Times, February 6, 2009
  12. Associated Press, November 17, 2008
  13. Washington Post, March 16, 2012
  14. Ibid., March 1, 2012
  15. Wikipedia entry for Sputnik 1