Sunday, March 28, 2010

Louder Than Reality

Under normal circumstances, I would never consider posting a Beetle Bailey comic strip, but I was thunderstruck when I read one today with an honest political message. There is no military draft in the US, a common argument used by cretins who disdain conscientious objectors, but the fact is that there is really an economic draft happening here. And for Mort Walker to make that point is inspiring.

Richard Jehn / Fluxed Up World

Click to see full cartoon.

Source / Seattle PI

Fluxed Up World

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Heinberg: The Resource / Population Crunch

Turning the Corner on Growth
By Richard Heinberg / March 24, 2010

Everyone agrees: our economy is sick. The inescapable symptoms include declines in consumer spending and consumer confidence, together with a contraction of international trade and available credit. Add a collapse in real estate values and carnage in the automotive and airline industries, and the picture looks grim indeed.

But why are both the U.S. economy and the larger global economy ailing? Among the mainstream media, world leaders, and America’s economists-in-chief (Treasury Secretary Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke), there is near-unanimity of opinion: these recent troubles are primarily due to a combination of bad real estate loans and poor regulation of financial derivatives.

This is the conventional diagnosis. If it is correct, then the treatment for our economic malady would logically include heavy doses of bailout money for beleaguered financial institutions, mortgage lenders, and car companies, better regulation of derivatives and futures markets, and stimulus programs to jumpstart consumer spending.

But what if this diagnosis is fundamentally flawed? The metaphor needs no belaboring; we all know that tragedy can result from a doctor’s misreading of symptoms, mistaking one disease for another.

A case can be made that dire events having to do with the real estate market, the derivatives markets, and the auto and airline industries are themselves mere symptoms of an even deeper, systemic dysfunction that spells the end of economic growth as we have known it.

For several years, a swelling subculture of commentators has been forecasting a financial crash, basing this prognosis on the assessment that global oil production was about to peak. The reasoning went like this: continual increases in population and consumption cannot continue forever on a finite planet. This is an axiomatic observation with which anyone familiar with the mathematics of compounded arithmetic growth must agree, even if they hedge their agreement with vague references to “substitutability” and “demographic transitions.”

This axiomatic limit to growth means that the rapid expansion in both population and per-capita consumption of resources that has occurred over the past century or two must cease at some particular time. But when is this likely to occur?

Energy is the ultimate enabler of growth (again, this is axiomatic: physics and biology both tell us that without energy nothing happens). Industrial expansion throughout the past two centuries has in every instance been based on increased energy consumption. More specifically, industrialism has been inextricably tied to the availability and consumption of cheap energy from coal and oil (and more recently, natural gas). However, fossil fuels are by their very nature depleting, non-renewable resources. Further, burning these fuels releases climate-changing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, setting up conditions for droughts, famines, and the drowning of coastal cities. None of these events is compatible with continued, easy economic growth.

Thus, either climate catastrophe or the eventual inability to continue increasing supplies of cheap fossil energy will likely lead to a cessation of economic growth, unless alternative energy sources and efficiency of energy use can be deployed rapidly and to a sufficient degree.

Of the three conventional fossil fuels, oil is arguably the most economically vital, since it supplies nearly all transport energy. Further, it is the fuel that is likely to encounter supply problems soonest because global petroleum discoveries have been declining for decades, and most oil producing countries are already seeing production declines.

During the period from 2005 to mid-2008, demand for oil was growing, especially in China (which went from being self-sufficient in oil in 1995 to being the world’s second-foremost importer after the U.S. by 2006). But the global supply of oil was essentially stagnant: from month to month, production figures for crude oil bounced around within a fairly narrow band between 72 and 75 million barrels per day. As prices rose, production figures barely budged in response. There was every indication that all oil producers were pumping flat-out: even the Saudis appeared to be rushing to capitalize on the price bonanza.

Today, oil prices are only half what they were in July 2008. Why has the economy not quickly recovered? Clearly, peak oil is not the only cause of the current economic crisis. Enormous bubbles in the real estate and finance sectors constituted accidents waiting to happen, and the implosion of those bubbles has created a serious credit crisis (as well as solvency and looming currency crises) that will take several years to resolve, even if energy supplies are not a problem.

But now the potential for renewed high oil prices acts as a ceiling for economic recovery. Whenever the economy does appear to show renewed signs of life (as has happened in May-July this year, with stock values rebounding and the general pace of economic contraction slowing somewhat), oil prices will take off again as oil speculators anticipate a recovery of demand. Indeed, oil prices rebounded from $30 in January to nearly $70 in early August, provoking widespread concern that high-energy prices could nip recovery in the bud.

The problem extends beyond oil and other fossil fuels, and even beyond climate change: the world’s fresh water resources are strained to the point that billions of people may soon find themselves with only precarious access to water for drinking and irrigation. Biodiversity is declining rapidly. We are losing 24 billion tons of topsoil each year to erosion. And many economically significant minerals—from antimony to zinc—are depleting quickly, requiring the mining of ever lower-grade ores in ever more remote locations. Thus the peak oil crisis is really just the leading edge of a broader Peak Everything dilemma.

In essence, humanity faces an entirely predictable peril: our population has been growing dramatically for the past 200 years (expanding from under one billion to nearly seven billion), while our per-capita consumption of resources has also grown. For a species, this is virtually the definition of biological success. And yet all of this has taken place in the context of a finite planet with fixed stores of non-renewable resources (fossil fuels and minerals), a limited ability to regenerate renewable resources (forests, fish, fresh water, and topsoil), and a limited ability to absorb industrial waste products, including carbon dioxide. If we step back and look at the industrial period from a broad historical perspective that is informed by an appreciation of ecological limits, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are today living at the end of a relatively brief pulse—a 200-year rapid expansionary phase enabled by a temporary energy subsidy (in the form of cheap fossil fuels) that will inevitably be followed by an even more rapid and dramatic contraction as those fuels deplete.

The winding down of this historic growth-contraction pulse doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world, but it does mean the end of a certain kind of economy. One way or another, humanity must return to a more normal pattern of existence characterized by reliance on immediate solar income (via crops, wind, or the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity) rather than stored ancient sunlight.

This is not to say that the remainder of the 21st century must consist of a collapse of industrialism, a die-off of most of the human population, and a return by the survivors to a way of life identical to that of 16th century peasants or indigenous hunter-gatherers. It is possible instead to imagine various acceptable and even inviting ways in which humanity could adapt to ecological limits while further developing cultural richness, scientific understanding, and quality of life (more on this below).

But however it is negotiated, the transition will spell an end to economic growth in the conventional sense. And that transition appears to have begun.

If the physical scientists who warn about limits to growth are right, confronting the global economic meltdown implies far more than merely getting the banks and mortgage lenders back on their feet. Indeed, we face a fundamental change in our economy as significant as the advent of the industrial revolution. We are at a historic inflection point—the ending of decades of expansion and the beginning of an inevitable period of contraction that will continue until humanity is once again living within the limits of Earth’s regenerative systems.

A case can be made that after all this is done, the end result will be a more satisfying way of life for the vast majority of citizens—offering more of a sense of community, more intergenerational solidarity, more of a connection with the natural world, more satisfying work, and a healthier environment. Indeed, it is essential at a challenging time like this to emphasize solutions and benefits rather than dwelling only on the enormity of the crisis confronting us. But those in charge need to understand that looking on the bright side doesn’t mean promising what can’t be delivered—such as a return to the days of growth and thoughtless consumption.

We have entered a new economic era in which the former “rules” no longer apply. Low interest rates and government spending no longer translate to incentives for borrowing and job production. Cheap energy won’t appear just because there is demand for it. Substitutes for essential resources will in most cases not be found. Over all, the economy will continue to shrink in fits and starts until it can be maintained by the energy and material resources that Earth can supply on an ongoing basis.

Is it too late to begin a managed transition to a post-fossil fuel society? Perhaps. But we will not know unless we try. And if we are to make that effort, we must begin by acknowledging one simple, stark reality: growth as we have known it can no longer be our goal.

[This is an edited version of Richard's article Temporary Recession or the End of Growth?.]

Source /

Thanks to Deva Wood / Fluxed Up World

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Corporate Amerikka: Soon to Be in the Halls of Congress

The pressure of corporate America is reflected in this work showing a business man with his head buried in the Citicorp Building in Los Angeles. It was sculpted by Terry Allen. Phillip Levine, the poet, wrote,"They said to get ahead I had to lose my head. They said be concrete & I became concrete. They said go, my son, multiply, divide, conquer. I did my best." Photo: Source.

Campaign stunt launches a corporate 'candidate' for Congress
By John Wagner / March 13, 2010

Murray Hill might be the perfect candidate for this political moment: young, bold, media-savvy, a Washington outsider eager to reshape the way things are done in the nation's capital. And if these are cynical times, well, then, it's safe to say Murray Hill is by far the most cynical.

That's because this little upstart is, in fact, a start-up. Murray Hill is actually Murray Hill Inc., a small, five-year-old Silver Spring public relations company that is seeking office to prove a point (and perhaps get a little attention).

After the Supreme Court declared that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to funding political campaigns, the self-described progressive firm took what it considers the next logical step: declaring for office.

"Until now, corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence-peddling to achieve their goals in Washington," the candidate, who was unavailable for an interview, said in a statement. "But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves."

William Klein, a "hired gun" who has been enlisted as Murray Hill's campaign manager, said the firm appears to be the first "corporate person" to run for office and is promising a spirited campaign that "puts people second, or even third."

The corporate candidate already has its own Web site, a Facebook page with 2,600 fans and an online ad on YouTube that has drawn more than 172,000 hits.

The ad makes a particularly passionate case for why it's necessary to have more direct corporate representation in Congress.

In a soothing voice, a narrator bemoans that "as much as corporate interests gave to politicians, we could never be absolutely sure they would do our bidding." The ad includes images of gleaming office towers and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and promises Murray Hill will bring "enlightened self-interest and corporate accounting" to Congress.

It concludes with a rousing call to action: "Vote for Murray Hill Incorporated for Congress -- for the best democracy money can buy."

The firm, whose clients include labor unions and environmentalists, is seeking to enter the Republican primary for the 8th District seat held by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).

The firm "wanted to run as a Republican because we feel the Republican Party is more receptive to our basic message that corporations are people, too," Klein said, adding that his client has no particular beef with Van Hollen.

Manifold mockery

Van Hollen welcomes the competition. "The majority on the Court has made a mockery of our campaign finance laws, and Murray Hill is just mocking the mockers," said Doug Thornell, a senior adviser to Van Hollen.

The court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission drew a torrent of criticism, including from President Obama, who said in his State of the Union address that it would "open the floodgates to special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."

An obstacle course

Murray Hill does face a couple of tiny problems in its effort to get elected to Congress.

For starters, candidates must officially register to vote as a Republican to run in a Republican primary in Maryland. Late this week, the Montgomery County Board of Elections wrote to Murray Hill, informing the firm that its voter registration application had been rejected.

It seems the corporation does not meet the "minimum requirements" for voter registration, which include being a U.S. citizen and at least 18, according to Kevin Karpinski, a lawyer for the county elections board.

Just another case of The Man sticking it to Corporate America.

Eric Hensal, the firm's president, questioned whether the age requirement should really be applicable. "It's not as if, when a corporation turns 21, it can buy beer," he said.

The firm is weighing legal action, but the ruling still leaves open another potential path to victory, said Klein, a longtime political and communications consultant whose clients have included presidential aspirant Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large).

In Maryland, independent candidates are not required to be registered voters. They can qualify for the fall ballot by collecting enough signatures from voters in their district -- about 4,500, in this case.

But the same pesky age issue is posed by the U.S. Constitution.

It requires candidates for Congress to be at least 25 -- a concern that is likely to be flagged at the point the corporation attempts to file for office, which it has yet to do, said Jared DeMarinis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

DeMarinis said the issue of whether Murray Hill is enough of a person to run for office sounds "like one of those great law school debate questions." But it's not one that he thinks will be answered in the firm's favor.

The firm has prepared to deal with other "antiquated" parts of election law through the use of a "designated human" capable of signing paperwork and showing up at debates, for example. By vote of its shareholders, Murray Hill selected Hensal, the company's president, for that.

Ideas rolling in

Whether or not a corporation ultimately replaces Van Hollen in Congress, Murray Hill's interest has sparked other speculation among the political chattering class in Maryland.

Why not have an accounting firm run for comptroller, the state's chief tax collector? Why not a law firm for attorney general? The winning firm could arrive in office with a full cadre of associates and save taxpayers money.

It remains to be seen whether the attention generated by Murray Hill's bid will be good for its bottom line.

"This really wasn't part of a marketing plan for ourselves," Hensal said. "It's an opportunity to see this court opinion play out to its logical conclusion."

In the meantime, Murray Hill is looking to franchise -- and found its first taker: Computer Umbrella of Sterling. The company is planning to run in Virginia's 10th Congressional District.

A Murray Hill tool kit available for other corporate aspirants includes a model news release, talking points and templates for other campaign materials.

"If your campaign conforms to Murray Hill Inc.'s exacting standards," the company says, "your materials may use our logo and official graphics, which tell the world you are an affiliate of the leader in corporate civil rights."

Stephen A. Horvath, a prominent Montgomery banker, said he thinks he is probably better represented in Congress by a live human than a corporation but added: "I guess with a corporation, should someone go on vacation, like many of our current members of Congress, you'd have fill-ins to take their place."

Source / Washington Post

Fluxed Up World

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The US Human Rights Record: Never Discussed in the US

On the sixth anniversary after charges were brought in the Abu Ghraib scandal, it is appropriate to raise the issue of human rights abuses by Americans and the American government. We are a callous and arrogant nation, in denial about who we are and what we've done in our short history. Wake up and smell the coffee shit.

Richard Jehn / Fluxed Up World

Chinese report documents human rights disaster in the United States
By Patrick Martin / 19 March 2010

On March 13, China’s Information Office of the State Council published a report titled, “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2009.”

This document was clearly intended as a rebuttal to the annual US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009, released two days earlier.

The Chinese report quite legitimately notes that the US government “releases Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse other countries, and takes human rights as a political instrument to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests. This fully exposes its double standards on the human rights issue…”

Delivering the US government a well-deserved dose of its own medicine does not, of course, absolve the Chinese regime of its own gross violations of human rights. It rules autocratically over 1.3 billion people, most of them desperately poor peasants and super-exploited workers.

That being said, the Chinese report is an eye-opening document—factual, sober, even understated, drawn entirely from public government and media sources in the United States, with each item carefully documented. It presents a picture of 21st century America as much of the world sees it, one which is in sharp contrast to the official mythology and American media propaganda.

Not surprisingly, the report went unmentioned in the US mass media.

The 14-page report is divided into six major sections: Life, Property and Personal Security; Civil and Political Rights; Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Racial Discrimination; Rights of Women and Children; US Violations of Human Rights Against Other Nations. The cumulative picture is one of a society in deep and worsening social crisis.

A few of the facts and figures cited on violence and police repression in the United States:
• Each year, 30,000 people die in gun-related incidents.
• There were 14,180 murders last year.
• In the first ten months of 2009, 45 people were killed by police use of tasers, bringing the total for the decade to 389.
• Last year, 315 police officers in New York City were subject to internal supervision due to “unrestrained use of violence.”
• 7.3 million Americans were under the authority of the correctional system, more than in any other country.
• An estimated 60,000 prisoners were raped while in custody last year.

On democratic rights, the report notes the pervasive government spying on citizens, authorized under the 2001 Patriot Act, extensive surveillance of the Internet by the National Security Agency, and police harassment of anti-globalization demonstrators in Pittsburgh during last year’s G-20 summit. Pointing to the hypocrisy of US government “human rights” rhetoric, the authors observe, “the same conduct in other countries would be called human rights violations, whereas in the United States it was called necessary crime control.”

The report only skims the surface on the socioeconomic crisis in the United States, noting record levels of unemployment, poverty, hunger and homelessness, as well as 46.3 million people without health insurance. It does offer a few facts rarely discussed in the US media:
• 712 bodies were cremated at public expense in the city of Los Angeles last year, because the families were too poor to pay for a burial.
• There were 5,657 workplace deaths recorded in 2007, the last year for which a tally is available, a rate of 17 deaths per day (not a single employer was criminally charged for any of these deaths).
• Some 2,266 veterans died as a consequence of lack of health insurance in 2008, 14 times the military death toll in Afghanistan that year.

The report presents evidence of pervasive racial discrimination against blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, the most oppressed sections of the US working class, including a record number of racial discrimination claims over hiring practices, more than 32,000. It also notes the rising number of incidents of discrimination or violence against Muslims, and the detention of 300,000 “illegal” immigrants each year, with more than 30,000 immigrants in US detention facilities every day of the year.

It notes that the state of California imposed life sentences on 18 times more black defendants than white, and that in 2008, when New York City police fired their weapons, 75 percent of the targets were black, 22 percent Hispanic and only 3 percent white.

The report refers to the well-known reality of unequal pay for women, with median female income only 77 percent that of male income in 2008, down from 78 percent in 2007. According to the report, 70 percent of working-age women have no health insurance, or inadequate coverage, high medical bills or high health-related debt.

Children bear a disproportionate burden of economic hardship, with 16.7 million children not having enough food at some time during 2008, and 3.5 million children under five facing hunger or malnutrition, 17 percent of the total. Child hunger is combined with the malignant phenomenon of rampant child labor in agriculture: some 400,000 child farm workers pick America’s crops. The US also leads the world in imprisoning children and juveniles, and is the only country that does not offer parole to juvenile offenders.

US foreign policy comes in for justifiable criticism as well. A country with so many poor and hungry people accounts for 42 percent of the world’s total military spending, a colossal $607 billion, as well as the world’s largest foreign arms sales, $37.8 billion in 2008, up nearly 50 percent from the previous year.

The Chinese report notes the documented torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, the worldwide US network of military bases, the US blockade of Cuba (opposed by the UN General Assembly by a vote of 187 to 3), and the systematic US spying around the world, utilizing the NSA’s “ECHELON” interception system, as well as the US monopoly control over Internet route servers.

The report also points out the deliberate US flouting of international human rights covenants. Washington has either signed but not ratified or refused to sign four major UN covenants: on economic, social and cultural rights; on the rights of women; on the rights of people with disabilities; and on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The report does not discuss the source of the malignant social conditions in the United States—nor should that be expected, since that would require an explanation of the causal connection between poverty, repression and discrimination and the operations of the capitalist profit system, something that Beijing is hardly likely to undertake.

Source / World Socialist Web Site

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / Fluxed Up World

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Seventy Percent of Us Are Fine with Torture

French Television Demonstrates Cheney Effect
By Juan Cole / March 18, 2010

AP reports on a French reality show where contestants proved willing to administer torture-level shocks to human beings, replicating the findings of the classic Milgram Study at Yale.

The show repeated the classic social psychology experiment of Stanley Milgram of Yale from the early 1960s, which has been successfully demonstrated numerous times around the world. Apparently about 70% of human beings have no independent conscience and will torture others if simply ordered to by a person in authority. The good news is that 30% will resist.

This finding helps explain the "Cheney Effect," whereby he illegally ordered torture but Americans are not eager to put him on trial for breaking the law. A super-majority is willing to go along with Abu Ghraib, and not blanch when the former vice president talks about being a "big supporter of waterboarding."

The only way you even got laws against torture is that they were self-interested-- forbidding one's own troops to torture is a way of trying to prevent their being tortured when captured by the enemy (and ensuring there is punishment, a la Nuremburg, for war crimes. Note that Stalin wanted just to summarily execute 50,000 - 100,000 German officers. Roosevelt demurred, jesting that surely 49,000 would be enough. In the end Henry Stimson's plan for war crimes trial was approved by Truman.

Nowadays, the Liz Cheneys and Bill Kristols prefer Stalin's methods of summary punishment, and are attacking the whole idea of defense attorneys for enemy combatants, as Matthew Yglesias notes. No doubt the attorneys would inconveniently object to the torture Cheney and Kristol want inflicted.

Anyway, most people don't get anti-torture laws. What is really hard to explain scientifically is how the US Republican Party got almost none of the ethical 30%. Shouldn't conscience be roughly equally distributed by party?

Update: Glenn Greenwald mischievously points out that Fox Cable News anchors expressed amazement at how horrible the French are because of this story, missing the irony that this news channel has been an unremitting cheerleader for torturing people!

Source / Informed Comment

Fluxed Up World

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Right-Wing: Taking Us Back in Time

The New McCarthyism
By Joe Conason / March 11, 2010

The national madness known as "McCarthyism" began 60 years ago in Wheeling, W.V., when Joseph R. McCarthy held up a scrap of paper that supposedly listed the names of 57 State Department officials he said were actually Communists and traitors.

Eventually, America learned that the Wisconsin Republican's famous list was a fabrication, that he was a liar and a demagogue as well as an alcoholic — and that his authoritarian appeals to fear were worse than useless in defending our security. But by then, McCarthyism's self-serving and fundamentally unpatriotic promoters had inflicted grave damage on the body politic and international prestige of the United States.

Today, McCarthy's heirs are more slick and glib than he ever was, yet their fundamental methods are the same. When Elizabeth Cheney, William Kristol and their media friends slander Justice Department attorneys as the "al-Qaida 7" and malign the "Department of Jihad," they are engaging in the smear tactics that became synonymous with McCarthy.

What is different now is the cynical hypocrisy of the new McCarthyites, who know that the flimsy accusations they level against Democrats in the Obama administration could just as easily be turned on Republicans who served President Bush.

Cheney and Kristol have charged that certain lawyers in the Justice Department represented alleged terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp — and that by so doing, those attorneys rendered themselves unfit for government service. "Whose values do they share?" asks an ominous advertisement aired by their front group, known as Keep America Safe. They mean to insinuate that the values of those Justice Department attorneys, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are somehow closer to the jihadism of al-Qaida than to those shared by most Americans.

The values that most of us share include honesty and fairness — and this sleazy campaign violates both. If every lawyer who represents someone accused of terrorism is by definition a terrorist sympathizer, then our entire system of justice is in doubt, since it requires counsel for everyone accused of a crime. More specifically, if the lawyers who have counseled terror suspects are by definition untrustworthy, then the dark cloud of suspicion extends well beyond the current roster of the Justice Department — and into the heart of the Republican Party.

As Scott Horton points out in Harper's magazine, the McCarthyite list would have to include Michael Chertoff, who headed the Justice Department's criminal division before President Bush nominated him as secretary of the department of homeland security.

Among Chertoff's clients in private practice was a New Jersey doctor named Magdy el-Amir, identified as a conduit for money-laundering to al-Qaida and other jihadist outfits.

He became a Chertoff client when the state of New Jersey sued him to recoup illicit money from a health maintenance organization he controlled, which had sent more than $5 million by wire transfers to bank accounts "where the beneficial owner is unknown." In other words, a very dubious character who had been under surveillance by the FBI for years.

There was never any reason to believe that by representing Magdy el-Amir (who was recently arrested in a prescription drug racket), Chertoff somehow disqualified himself from government service. But similar phony questions could be raised about Michael Mukasey, the former Bush attorney general whose law firm provides pro bono representation to Guantanamo detainees. Or Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of Sept. 11, whose firm has also represented detainees because, like all prisoners, they are entitled to counsel.

If this seems confusing, here's a simple principle to keep in mind: Representing someone in an American court does not mean agreeing with that person's actions or ideology. Here's another: Guilt by association is an unworthy tactic that ought to raise suspicions about those who use it rather than those against whom it is used.

The career of McCarthy and the specter of McCarthyism ended only when a handful of decent Republicans — notably including Prescott Bush, the grandfather of George W. Bush — joined in a Senate resolution of censure against him and his tactics. Perhaps we have witnessed such a moment of truth this week, when 19 prominent Republican attorneys, including Kenneth Starr and several former Bush Justice and Defense Department appointees, denounced the Keep America Safe smears as shameful, unjust and destructive.

Conservatives can effectively discredit this disgraceful campaign — and it is their responsibility to do so.

[Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer ( To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at]


Source / Creators

Fluxed Up World

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Shame On US

The Rogue Nation
By Philip Giraldi / March 11, 2010

In spite of the fact that the United States faces no enemy anywhere in the world capable of opposing it on a battlefield, the Defense budget for 2011 will go up 7.1 percent from current levels. A lot of the new spending will be on drones, America’s latest contribution to western civilization, capable of surveilling large areas on the ground and delivering death from the skies. It is a peculiarly American vision of warfare, with a "pilot" sitting at a desk half a world away and pressing a button that can kill a target far below. Hygienic and mechanical, it is a bit like a video game with no messy cleanup afterwards. The recently released United States Quadrennial Defense Review reports how the Pentagon will be developing a new generation of super drones that can stay airborne for long periods of time and can strike anywhere in the world and at any time to kill America’s enemies. The super drones will include some that can fly at supersonic speeds and others that will be large enough to carry nuclear weapons. Some of the new drones will be designed for the navy, able to take off from aircraft carriers and project US power to even more distant hot spots. Drones are particularly esteemed by policymakers because as they are unmanned and can fly low to the ground they can violate someone’s airspace "accidentally" without necessarily resulting in a diplomatic incident.

Washington’s embrace of drones as the weapon of choice for international assassination is one major reason why the United States has become the evil empire. Drones are the extended fist of what used to be referred to as the Bush Doctrine. Under the Bush Doctrine Washington asserted that it had a right to use its military force preemptively against anyone in the world at any time if the White House were to determine that such action might be construed as defending the United States. Vice President Dick Cheney defined the policy in percentage terms, asserting that if there was a 1% chance that any development anywhere in the world could endanger Americans, the United States government was obligated to act. It should be noted that President Barack Obama has not repudiated either the Bush doctrine or the 1% solution of Dick Cheney and has actually gone so far as to assert that America is fighting Christianity-approved "just wars," a position disputed by Pope Benedict XVI among others. Far from eschewing war and killing, the number and intensity of drone attacks has increased under Obama, as has the number of civilian casualties, referred to by the splendid bloodless euphemism "collateral damage."

Drones are currently killing people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. It should be noted that the United States is not at war with any of those countries, which should mean in a sane world that the killing is illegal under both international law and the US Constitution. America’s Founding Fathers used constitutional restraints to make it difficult for Americans to go to war, requiring an act of war by Congress. Unfortunately it has not worked out that way. The US has been involved in almost constant warfare since the Second World War but the most recent actual declaration of war was on December 8, 1941. And then there are the special and clandestine operations that span the globe. Apart from Israel, no other country in the world has an openly declared policy of going around and killing people. One would think that the international community would consequently regard both Tel Aviv and Washington as pariahs, but fear of offending the world’s only super power and its principal client state has aborted most criticism. Most nations are resigned to letting assassination teams and hellfire armed drones operate as they please. If Iran were operating the drones and bumping off its enemies in places like Dubai you can be sure the reaction would be quite different.

And it doesn’t stop there. Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder has effectively blocked any inquiry into the use of torture by US government officials, mostly from the CIA. The Administration claims to have stopped the practice but has declared that no one will be punished for obeying orders to waterboard prisoners, an argument that was not acceptable at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and should not be acceptable now. The United States is a signatory to the international agreement on torture and there are also both federal and state laws that prohibit either carrying out or enabling the practice, so the ruling by Holder is essentially a decision to ignore serious crimes that were committed against individuals who, in many cases, were both helpless and completely innocent. It also ignores the participation of Justice Department lawyers and CIA doctors in the process, involvement that most would consider both immoral and unethical. Worst of all, it lets off the hook the real war criminals, people like George Tenet and those in the White House who approved the practice. Tenet, one recalls, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a $4 million book deal. He still teaches at Georgetown University. Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who made the legal arguments for torture are now respectively a tenured professor at Berkeley and a federal appeals court justice. One assumes that the actual CIA torturers continue to be employed by the federal government or are enjoying a comfortable retirement. So much for accountability for war crimes under President Obama.

Finally there is assassination. On February 3rd Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair commented during a congressional briefing that the United States reserves the right to kill American citizens overseas who are actively "involved" with groups regarded as terrorist. Involvement is, of course, a very slippery expression providing maximum latitude for those seeking to make a case for summary execution. The death list involves a due process of sorts in that a government official makes the decision who shall be on it based on guidelines but it does not allow the accused to challenge or dispute evidence. It should also be noted that no one in Congress objected to the Blair statement and the media hardly reported the story, suggesting that tolerance of illegal and immoral activity now pervades the system. As former Reagan Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein has commented, the claimed authority to suspend one’s constitutional rights overseas can be extended to anyone in the United States by declaring one an enemy combatant under the terms of the Military Commissions Act. Jose Padilla was denied his constitutional rights to a fair trial even though he was an American citizen and was arrested in Chicago, not overseas. Can we anticipate extrajudicial killing of American citizens in America as part of the war on terror? Of course we can.

Three strikes and you’re out, Mr. Obama. Your government stands for preemptive killing and missile strikes on people living in countries with which America is not at war, lets torturers and torture enablers go free, and has asserted the right to assassinate its own citizens anywhere in the world based on secret evidence. Ronald Reagan once described his vision of America as a shining city on a hill. Over the past ten years the shining city has become the ultimate rogue nation, pumped up with power and hubris in spite of the clearly visible signs of decline and moving inexorably towards a catastrophic fall.

Source / Anti-War

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

US Government Deception: The Story of Marja

Afghan National Army soldiers arrive at the ANA Camp Shorab near Camp Bastian during the second day of the joint NATO-Afghan Operation Moshtarak on Feb. 14, 2010. The operation has put as many as 15,000 coalition troops against up to 2,000 Taliban fighters. Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images.

Fiction of Marja as City Was U.S. Information War
By Gareth Porter / March 8, 2010

WASHINGTON - For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a "city of 80,000 people" as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centres in Helmand.

It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict.

Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers' homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.

"It's not urban at all," an official of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted to IPS Sunday. He called Marja a "rural community".

"It's a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," said the official, adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards.

Richard B. Scott, who worked in Marja as an adviser on irrigation for the U.S. Agency for International Development as recently as 2005, agrees that Marja has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an "agricultural district" with a "scattered series of farmers' markets," Scott told IPS in a telephone interview.

The ISAF official said the only population numbering tens of thousands associated with Marja is spread across many villages and almost 200 square kilometres, or about 125 square miles.

Marja has never even been incorporated, according to the official, but there are now plans to formalise its status as an actual "district" of Helmand Province.

The official admitted that the confusion about Marja's population was facilitated by the fact that the name has been used both for the relatively large agricultural area and for a specific location where farmers have gathered for markets.

However, the name Marja "was most closely associated" with the more specific location, where there are also a mosque and a few shops.

That very limited area was the apparent objective of "Operation Moshtarak", to which 7,500 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops were committed amid the most intense publicity given any battle since the beginning of the war.

So how did the fiction that Marja is a city of 80,000 people get started?

The idea was passed on to the news media by the U.S. Marines in southern Helmand. The earliest references in news stories to Marja as a city with a large population have a common origin in a briefing given Feb. 2 by officials at Camp Leatherneck, the U.S. Marine base there.

The Associated Press published an article the same day quoting "Marine commanders" as saying that they expected 400 to 1,000 insurgents to be "holed up" in the "southern Afghan town of 80,000 people." That language evoked an image of house to house urban street fighting.

The same story said Marja was "the biggest town under Taliban control" and called it the "linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network". It gave the figure of 125,000 for the population living in "the town and surrounding villages". ABC news followed with a story the next day referring to the "city of Marja" and claiming that the city and the surrounding area "are more heavily populated, urban and dense than other places the Marines have so far been able to clear and hold."

The rest of the news media fell into line with that image of the bustling, urbanised Marja in subsequent stories, often using "town" and "city" interchangeably. Time magazine wrote about the "town of 80,000" Feb. 9, and the Washington Post did the same Feb. 11.

As "Operation Moshtarak" began, U.S. military spokesmen were portraying Marja as an urbanised population centre. On Feb. 14, on the second day of the offensive, Marine spokesman Lt. Josh Diddams said the Marines were "in the majority of the city at this point."

He also used language that conjured images of urban fighting, referring to the insurgents holding some "neighbourhoods".

A few days into the offensive, some reporters began to refer to a "region", but only created confusion rather than clearing the matter up. CNN managed to refer to Marja twice as a "region" and once as "the city" in the same Feb. 15 article, without any explanation for the apparent contradiction.

The Associated Press further confused the issue in a Feb. 21 story, referring to "three markets in town - which covers 80 square miles…."

A "town" with an area of 80 square miles would be bigger than such U.S. cities as Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But AP failed to notice that something was seriously wrong with that reference.

Long after other media had stopped characterising Marja as a city, the New York Times was still referring to Marja as "a city of 80,000", in a Feb. 26 dispatch with a Marja dateline.

The decision to hype up Marja as the objective of "Operation Moshtarak" by planting the false impression that it is a good-sized city would not have been made independently by the Marines at Camp Leatherneck.

A central task of "information operations" in counterinsurgency wars is "establishing the COIN [counterinsurgency] narrative", according to the Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual as revised under Gen. David Petraeus in 2006.

That task is usually done by "higher headquarters" rather than in the field, as the manual notes.

The COIN manual asserts that news media "directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations and the opposing insurgency." The manual refers to "a war of perceptions…conducted continuously using the news media."

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of ISAF, was clearly preparing to wage such a war in advance of the Marja operation. In remarks made just before the offensive began, McChrystal invoked the language of the counterinsurgency manual, saying, "This is all a war of perceptions."

The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marja was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a "large and loud victory."

The false impression that Marja was a significant city was an essential part of that message.

[Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.]

Source / IPS News

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Darius Guppy On Re-evaluating Money

Graphic: Source.

Our world balances on a sea of debt
By Darius Guppy / February 20, 2010

The banks that control the world’s supply of money are no better than counterfeiters – and their system of juggling debt has left the global economy teetering on the brink of ruin. Convicted fraudster Darius Guppy offers a provocative personal view.

In 1994, there resided in the cell next to mine a certain “Tommy”. He had been imprisoned for counterfeiting Dutch Guilders to such a high standard that he had fooled the banks themselves.

As was customary among prisoners who became friends, Tommy allowed me to read his legal papers and I became fascinated by the judge’s sentencing speech, the gist of which was that his activities had been parasitical. By creating money out of thin air he had reduced the purchasing power of more deserving members of society. What would happen if everyone behaved like him?

I thought of arguments used, in a different context, regarding inflation. Like counterfeiting, it dilutes the value of the community’s wealth and constitutes a social evil. Creating too much money – “real” or “fake” – can wreck an economy. Such was the Nazis’ reasoning when they planned to ruin Britain’s economy by flooding the country with near-perfect counterfeit bills.

A lot of nonsense has been written about the world’s current economic woes – about how the crash is the fault solely of the banks and, by implication, governments are blameless; and how it could all have been avoided, and can be put right, by greater financial regulation.

It is a classic example of what the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre terms “the fallacy of managerial expertise”: an attempt by “experts” to blind us with science to justify their overpaid existences and mask their confusion. After all, not one of them was able to predict the current debacle.

These “experts” will tell you that the present difficulties are simply the result of abuses and excesses in a system that is basically sound. All that is required is for some faults to be corrected. Do not believe them. The reality is that the problem is systemic and a little tinkering here or there will achieve nothing in the long term.

What is needed is a root-and-branch re‑evaluation of that most curious of cultural inventions, money: how it is created, how it circulates, and how it can best be used to serve the interests of the community.

To begin, the experts must explain in the simplest terms how money actually works. Were one to ask the man on the street – or, indeed, most politicians and bankers – who creates the money that rules our lives they would reply “the State”. They would be wrong. It is true that governments create legal tender – the physical notes and coins that circulate in an economy – but that represents, at its highest, only 3 per cent of the total money in circulation in the global economy. It is the commercial banks, largely unaccountable and privately owned, that create the world’s money.

Indeed, even if Tommy were responsible for printing every note in circulation throughout the world his power to dilute the rest of our wealth would amount to only a tiny fraction of that of the real manufacturers of money. His activities and the activities of the bankers are, in essence, identical: the creation of money out of nothing.

Without knowing it, therefore, Tommy’s judge punished him for usurping not so much the role of the State as the role of the banks. The same mistake – the mis-identification of where money truly originates – has been made by virtually all of our politicians, economists and financial commentators.

Consider the contradiction at the heart of neo-liberal, monetarist economics that has constituted the Western orthodoxy for the past few decades: to emphasise on the one hand that the money supply should be brought under control while simultaneously allowing banking – where the money is actually manufactured – to run riot.

To grasp how the global fraud works we need to step back in time and imagine ourselves next to the original goldsmith‑banker.

In his vault, 10 of his customers each deposits a bar of gold weighing 1 kilogram – for safekeeping and in the hope of a return. Our banker lends the 10 gold bars to other customers, who embark on profitable ventures that generate a surplus. The vault now contains 11 gold bars, out of which our banker can pay his depositors and himself a reasonable return.

Our banker soon questions the wisdom of keeping all the gold bars in his vault. He creates a token that will represent a given quantity of the gold either in his own vault or held to his account at some giant, more secure vault. Such a token can then be exchanged within the economy. Historians credit one of the first examples of such an instrument – the cheque – to the Knights Templar, allowing a pilgrim to cash a cheque drawn on a European preceptory at a Templar branch in the Holy Land.

So far, so good – as long as, for the face value of each of the pieces of paper in circulation, there exists a corresponding amount of gold sitting in a vault somewhere in the real world.

However, it is at this point that something wondrous and diabolical occurs. For experience has taught our banker that the bearers of the pieces of paper that they have created rarely attempt en masse to claim the gold their paper represents.

Our banker reasons: “So long as the pieces of paper that my friends and I have put into circulation are not encashed simultaneously then it is academic how many we create.”

The crucial part of the scheme is to create a culture of confidence. The bearers of our pieces of paper must feel secure about our ability to convert their paper back into gold, or real wealth.

The beauty of the scheme is that instead of earning interest on a single piece of paper our banker can earn interest on 10 such pieces of paper. Moreover, while charging interest on these 10 pieces of paper, he has only to pay out a reduced rate of interest on the single gold bar that has been deposited with him.

And this is exactly what happens.

Currently, the average fractional reserve requirements for banks amount to under 10 per cent, which means that for every dollar the banks have on deposit they can lend out at least 10 such dollars – virtual dollars summoned from nowhere – on which they charge interest.

Yet this fact – the key to understanding how the international financial system operates and why the world is in such a mess – is discussed virtually nowhere in mainstream circles.

Governments do not control the single most important mechanism when it comes to their economies: the production and distribution of money. That role has been diverted to the banks, which manufacture money out of nothing and charge interest on that conjured-up money. Beyond an interest rate cut or a token change in VAT rates our politicians have no real power to direct their country’s economy.

The picture has become a great deal more complicated. Soon pieces of paper are no longer required and instead entries on a bank’s ledger will suffice. Eventually, a further layer of virtuality is added when computers emerge and with them credits in cyberspace. Likewise all sorts of financial instruments and “products” are devised by the experts – collateralised mortgage obligations, put and call options, floating rate notes, preference shares, convertible bonds, semi-convertible bonds and endless other “derivatives” – but in essence they are mere variations of the same basic three‑card trick.

Moreover, the illusion becomes self-reinforcing. Those involved in the process, sitting behind their computer screens, no longer control the beast they have created.

Now, it may be argued that while it is true that money is manufactured in the manner I have described – in other words by creating loans to the banks’ clients – surely just as much money is destroyed every time a loan is repaid? This is true to an extent. However, the point to be grasped is that while money is indeed created and destroyed in vast amounts every second of the day, the interest on that money remains un-destroyed and accumulates within the system – and at a compounded rate, moreover.

The process is far more inflationary and parasitical than the activities of all the Tommys in the world put together. For while that money, which by now has mutated into a vast monster of mutual indebtedness, grows exponentially, the wealth it is supposed to represent cannot grow at the same pace for very long. While there is no limit to the number of zeros we can create on a computer, there is a limit to the amount of oil in the ground, the wheat in the fields and the livestock in our farms.

Capitalism, banking and growth become inseparable, but logic dictates that the virtual economy must eventually peel away from the real one and sooner or later the day of reckoning arrives – when the gulf separating these two economies is too large to be sustained – for no power on earth can match the power of compound interest in the ether.

Consider the tale of the Chinese emperor and his chess opponent. The emperor asks what reward would satisfy him if he wins; the opponent replies that a single grain of wheat, doubled for each of the 64 squares on the chess board, would suffice. The emperor, imagining that he has a good deal, loses, only to learn that he now owes his adversary the equivalent of 2,000 times the current annual worldwide production of wheat.

Such are the miracles of compound growth; and the reason why financiers have been able to award themselves astronomical sums. For their virtual printing presses are calibrated to an exponential production while no such calibration applies to Mother Earth.

Frederick Soddy, the 1921 winner of a Nobel Prize for chemistry (not economics), was among the first to articulate the mechanism by which money is created by the banks and how it mutates into debt. His arguments have been developed by thinkers such as Herman Daly and Richard Douthwaite.

The reasoning can be extended to cover the financial sector as a whole. A company makes a certain profit; a multiple of many times can be applied to that figure to arrive at a “value” for the company – based on the assumption of future growth. That value can then be leveraged yet further for it to raise debt against its share price and so on. Such super-ovulation can mean that a single company with nothing more than an idea to be applied to the internet can create yet more tokens – share certificates – worth several times the entire annual production of diamonds for the continent of Africa, a process known, retrospectively, as the dotcom bubble.

It constitutes a redistribution mechanism from the poor to the rich – which is precisely why the banks and Western governments are so desperate to ensure its survival.

Money breeds more money. Indeed, the banks never really want their loans to be repaid. So long as the interest is funded it is to their benefit for the capital to remain outstanding on their books as “assets” and for the debts to be rolled over. Every time the IMF or World Bank extends a line of credit to some impoverished nation, are they being “charitable” or simply perpetuating the enslavement?

But the system relies entirely, as do all Ponzi schemes, on the assumption of continued growth, hence its inherent instability. Once that growth is threatened the edifice collapses. Householders in Britain will appreciate such a phenomenon only too well: put up 10 per cent for a property and borrow the rest from the bank. That property’s value need rise by only 10 per cent and you have doubled your equity; if it falls by only 10 per cent you are wiped out.

This explains why a contraction of a mere 2 or 3 per cent in the global economy leads not to a correspondingly minute fall on international stock markets, but to financial Armageddon.

Likewise with the banks – lend 10 times more money than you possess and when the economy grows, or at least pretends to grow, it’s Porsches galore, but when the lack of growth is exposed it requires only 11 per cent of the loans on your books (in value terms) to be bad and you are bust. The truth is not that these institutions have suddenly become insolvent but that they were never really solvent in the first place. By rolling over their debts they have been able to keep them on their books as “assets” rather than losses and forestall the evil hour.

There is a name for this – “usury” – and our predecessors from the ancient and medieval worlds appear to have appreciated much better than us its ultimate destination: ruin.

It is a simple and devastatingly effective swindle, but largely invisible because it has become so deeply embedded in our culture. The consequences of that swindle – the desperate need for economic growth; the environmental and cultural despoliation it engenders – require some radical thinking one encounters nowhere in any of today’s political parties.

Source / The Telegraph

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Darth Cheney's Daughter: A Chip Off the Old Block

Liz "Pit-Bull" Cheney.

More Than Words
By Dahlia Lithwick / March 5, 2010
Liz Cheney says terrorists have no rights. Also, you're a terrorist.

It can be argued that when Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol accused nine lawyers in Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department of being the "al-Qaida Seven," working in the "Department of Jihad," they were simply exercising their First Amendment right to say anything that would get them on a talk show. This is, after all, America. The right to cynically accuse someone of being a terrorist is protected under the Constitution.

You would think, however, that when Cheney and Kristol launched their execrable "Keep America Safe" Web ad, they would have been very, very careful with their words. In the ad they accuse seven Justice Department lawyers and two colleagues—all of whom had represented Guantanamo detainees—of being members of the Department of Jihad. A screen shot of Osama Bin Laden and a creepy voice-over asks of these attorneys, "Whose values do they share?" Thanks to people like Kristol and Cheney, people take accusations of this sort very seriously. The Justice Department reports being swamped with panicked phone calls since the ad started running this week. In 2010, calling someone a Bin Laden-loving jihadist isn't just meaningless partisan hackery.

Ten years ago, these were just words. Ten years ago, someone accused of being a terrorist had recourse to the same panoply of rights as everyone else. Ten years ago, an accused terrorist still had the right to a trial, for instance. But thanks to people like Liz Cheney and her dad, the Sixth Amendment right to a "speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury" is gone, once you've been branded a terrorist. Just ask Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. After 9/11, once you're branded an enemy combatant, you can be held for years without any of your constitutionally protected rights, including the right to be told of the charges against you or to confront the witnesses against you. Thanks to people like Cheney, those alleged to be members of al-Qaida are stripped of their Sixth Amendment right to prove they are not.

But that's not all. Ten years ago, if you labeled someone a terrorist, he had an Eighth Amendment right to be free from torture, since the very idea of "cruel and unusual punishment" was anathema, even for our enemies. But thanks to people like Liz Cheney and the brave souls at the Bush Office of Legal Counsel, it's OK to torture terrorists these days. As long as you're pretty sure they're terrorists. This is good news for the Cheney way of thinking, because it means that you can abuse a possible terrorist into admitting that he actually is a terrorist without all that fact-finding necessitated by a criminal trial.

But there's even more. Ten years ago, if some paranoid hysteric accused you of being an al-Qaida sympathizer or a jihadist, you could find a lawyer to help you make the case that you were not. But in the ever-expanding war on the Bill of Rights being waged by Liz Cheney, once you're designated a terrorist, you lose your Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Because just by representing you — even if you're acquitted — your lawyers become terrorists, too!

Given that the Bill of Rights pretty much evaporates once you've been deemed a jihadi lover of Bin Laden, you might think Liz Cheney would be super-careful tossing around such words They have very serious legal implications. Not to mention that some of her dad's favorite people, from Alberto Gonzales to Ted Olson, scolded the then-top Pentagon official for detainees, Charles "Cully" Stimson, for suggesting on a talk radio show in 2007 that American corporations should boycott law firms that provided pro bono assistance to detainees. Stimson was forced to apologize and resign for his comments. Lucky for Cheney, she doesn't work for the Pentagon, so she doesn't have to resign. She merely has to be ridiculed by Bill O'Reilly.

Liz Cheney isn't careful about the words she throws around. She uses terrorist and killer the way normal people use words like salt and pepper. To her, they are just words. That's probably the scariest part of all.

When the "al-Qaida Seven" and their two DoJ colleagues fought to defend alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, they weren't fighting to protect jihadist murderers. They were defending the U.S. Constitution—the great whomping chunks of the Bill of Rights that Cheney and her friends are so eager to write out of existence. They did it because that's what lawyers are ethically obligated to do. They did it because — as Spencer Ackerman points out — the Military Commissions Act of 2006 expressly provided that detainees get defense lawyers. And they did it, as Jay Bookman notes, for the same reason John Adams agreed to represent British soldiers charged with killing civilians during the Boston Massacre in 1770. Because long before Liz Cheney was born and long after she's gone, the Bill of Rights requires serious people to take it seriously.

I should probably disclose at this juncture that I know several members of the nefarious "al-Qaida Nine." If I ever get to meet the rest of them, I will buy them a beer. Which, through the magic of Liz Cheney's transitive guilt property, doubtless makes me a jihadist as well.

Liz Cheney will weasel her way out of this week's hyperbole. She's already trying to parse her way out of the embarrassing fact that the Bush Department of Justice and Rudy Giuliani's law firm also housed traitorous Gitmo lawyers. Now, Keep America Safe says its problem is only with pro bono Gitmo lawyers. Yesterday, Cheney told Washington Times radio she "doesn't question anybody's loyalty." She just objects to the criminal justice model of dealing with terror. Those words jihad and al- Qaida? Having helped make them the foulest words in America, she wants you to think they're mere words.

Too late. Wednesday night, Liz Cheney told Bill O'Reilly that Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr "killed Americans." His trial doesn't start until July. So before you call the Justice Department to question the loyalty of the "al-Qaida Nine," ask yourself whether you really want to take the Bill of Rights out of the hands of the lawyers, courts, and officials sworn to defend it. Having worked for years to ensure that the word jihadist is legally synonymous with guilty, Cheney cannot be allowed to use it casually to describe anyone she simply doesn't like.

Source / Slate

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Baroud: The Preposterous War in Afghanistan

Flexible Afghanistan War Objectives: And the Agony Grinds On
By Ramzy Baroud / March 6, 2010

Washington and its willing mouthpieces in the media have for years been trying to sell us the preposterous war in Afghanistan. While they attempt to convince us that the war is predicated on a faultless military logic and moral wisdom, it remains in fact a tragic adventure with no decipherable objectives, and involving several countries, private contractors, and all sorts of firms seeking to make a quick buck.

The intellectual cowardice of some should not blind the majority to the fact that the war in Afghanistan is morally indefensible and militarily unwinnable.

The decision of the US to continue with its brutal military adventurism in Afghanistan can only be understood in terms of its limited and highly selfish political logic.

Let us start by ruling out some of the ridiculous assumptions that have permeated this war since it began in 2001. First, we were told that the war was aimed at eliminating al-Qaida. However, a retired CIA Station Chief who has served in the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff, has claimed that, “al-Qaida is finished in Afghanistan.” He further argued that, “the Obama administration, like its predecessor, claims we are fighting terrorism there. That is simply not true. It is a pure counterinsurgency issue.”

Indeed, even the most ardent war hawks are exerting little effort to delineate the link between Taliban and al-Qaida. If the link is infused, it is readily unleashed to demonstrate al-Qaida’s links to Pakistan’s tribal areas, thus urging ‘action’ in that part of the country, and not in Afghanistan.

Thanks to the random military ‘strategy’ of the US and its allies, al-Qaida has spread in all sorts of directions and branched off to many al-Qaida offshoots in various parts of the world. Without a centralized leadership in the military sense, al-Qaida inspired groups and individuals now are now working for localized sets of objectives and respond to different stimuli.

So if it’s not al-Qaida that is inspiring the awesome, although largely futile firepower and military surges in Afghanistan, then what is? This is where the idealists come in. They talk of nation-building, Western-style democracy, regional security and so on. Some of them genuinely mean what they say, and some don’t believe the present military surges and Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rural area fight to the death will yield its intended results. Still, they contribute to the illusion that good intentions – starting with the initial hype about saving Afghani women, then ‘liberation’ from foreign terrorists, then democracy and nation-building, and so on – had anything to do with this bloody war. With their insistence on using such positive terminology, they continue to provide Washington’s political elites – and Kabul’s as well – with the benefit of the doubt that while we may disagree with their methods, we still trust their overall intentions.

It behooves those democracy-inspired, nation-building enthusiasts to remember that Washington has done much to stifle genuine democracy movements around the world since its occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. Palestine and Lebanon remain the most obvious examples. As for nation-building, compare the astronomical amounts invested in financing the destructive war in Afghanistan and to prop up the corrupt puppet regime in Kabul, to the miniscule sums devoted to enhancing the country’s stone-aged economic infrastructure. The US military budget for this year is set to exceed $693 billion, not counting the $42 billion set aside for Homeland Security. According to, the financial cost of war in Afghanistan alone has exceeded the $256 billion; both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are approaching the $1 trillion threshold.

The war in Afghanistan cannot possibly be defended on any moral grounds. The official death count of Afghani civilians in 2009 is estimated at 2,412. The actual death toll is probably far, far higher, as polls do not account for the many more who perished in distant villages across the south and east, areas that are not accessible to outsiders. The death of these innocent people alone should silence the few who still speak of ethics and morality in relation to the disastrous war.

But not everyone is so overtly misguided in their assessment of the war. Some fully understand that the war in Afghanistan is a self-seeking, political and strategic venture. Still, they giddily welcome it, including one Con Coughlin whose recent article in The Telegraph was tellingly entitled, ‘India and Pakistan must bury the hatchet for the Taliban to be crushed.’

The India-Pakistan rapprochement is seen as beneficial only insofar as its potential to ‘crush’ someone else. And considering that that someone else is not a band of aimless terrorists, but a well-grounded, grass-roots, popular insurgency, the price of that “crushing” is likely to be tens of thousands of innocent people. Coughlin uses the same haughty and generalized language of “militant Islamist groups” to be crushed, failing to understand or appreciate the distinctiveness of each and every situation, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere else. Instead, Coughlin nonchalantly expresses concern about the danger these militants pose to “the survival of the ruling classes” in Islamabad. What a compelling reason to get Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s special envoy to the region all fired up over the need to preserve the survival of the ruling classes, not just in Islamabad, but in Kabul and Delhi as well.

The war in Afghanistan has turned into find-an-objective-as-you-go military march to nowhere. It is proving futile and indefensible on every ground, be it political or military or moral. Moreover, as Haviland Smith concluded in his grim assessment, “it doesn’t really matter that we think of ourselves as benevolent liberators, it only matters that Afghans think of us as foreigners occupiers.” When will we all face up to this reality?

[Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story" (Pluto Press, London), now available on]

Source / Z-Net

Fluxed Up World

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Friday, March 5, 2010

The Aftermath of the Massacre in Fallujah, Iraq

Young boy with birth defect. Many parents blame the American attacks.

Disturbing story of Fallujah's birth defects
By John Simpson / March 4, 2010

Six years after the intense fighting began in the Iraqi town of Fallujah between US forces and Sunni insurgents, there is a disturbingly large number of cases of birth defects in the town.

Fallujah is less than 40 miles (65km) from Baghdad, but it can still be dangerous to get to.

As a result, there has been no authoritative medical investigation, certainly by any Western team, into the allegations that the weapons used by the Americans are still causing serious problems.

The Iraqi government line is that there are only one or two extra cases of birth defects per year in Fallujah, compared with the national average.

'Daily cases'

But in the impressive new Fallujah General Hospital, built with American aid, we found a paediatric specialist, Dr Samira al-Ani, who told us that she saw two or three new cases every day.

Most of them, she said, exhibited cardiac problems.

When asked what the cause was, she said: "I am a doctor. I have to be scientific in my talk. I have nothing documented. But I can tell you that year by year, the number [is] increasing."

The specialist, like other medical staff at the hospital, seemed nervous about talking too openly about the problem.

They were well aware that what they said went against the government version, and we were told privately that the Iraqi authorities are anxious not to embarrass the Americans over the issue.

There are no official figures for the incidence of birth defects in Fallujah.

The US military authorities are absolutely correct when they say they are not aware of any official reports indicating an increase in birth defects in Fallujah - no official reports exist.

Mothers warned

But it is impossible, as a visitor, not to be struck by the terrible number of cases of birth defects there.

We heard many times that officials in Fallujah had warned women that they should not have children.

We went to a clinic for the disabled, and were given details of dozens upon dozens of cases of children with serious birth defects.

Baby girl with birth defect. Dozens of children were being treated at a clinic for the disabled.

One photograph I saw showed a newborn baby with three heads.

While we were at the clinic, people kept arriving with children who were suffering major problems - a little girl with only one arm, several children who were paralysed, and another girl with a spinal condition so bad I asked my cameraman not to film her.

At the clinic we were told that the worst problems were to be found in the neighbourhood of al-Julan, near the river.

This was the heart of the resistance to the Americans during the two major offensives of April and September 2004, and was hit constantly by bombs and shells.

River water

We went to a house where three children, all under six, were suffering from birth defects.

Two boys were partially paralysed, and their sister clearly had serious brain damage.

Like all the other parents we spoke to, their mother had no doubt that the American attacks were responsible.

Outside, a man who had heard we were there had brought his four-year-old daughter to show us. She had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot.

She was also suffering from a number of other serious health problems. The father told us that the house where they still lived had been hit by an American shell during the fighting in 2004.

There may well be a link with drinking-water, especially in al-Julan.

After the fighting was over, the rubble from the town was bulldozed into the river bank, and most people in this area get their water from the river.

The true causes of the problem, and the question of the effects of the weapons the Americans used, can be resolved only by a proper independent inquiry by medical experts.

And until the security situation in and around Fallujah improves, it will be difficult to carry that out.

Source / BBC News

Thanks to Deva Wood / Fluxed Up World

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