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Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama speaks, Fascism the Cure

I don't want to do the Republicans' work for them, dragging down Obama, or help the McCain or Nader ticket succeed in beating him. As a result I've been trying, with great effort and restraint, to push criticism of Obama lower down in my blog posts. With this post, I could no longer suppress this urge.

In his July 25th speech in Berlin, Obama said "walls between Muslims and Jews cannot stand, they must be torn down." "The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another," Obama said. This comment came on the heels of a trip to Israel where at one point Obama crossed the Israel's apartheid wall to meet with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank.

Like the War on Terror, which works under the principle that security of one people justifies any action against another, Israel's wall harasses Palestinians in the West Bank. Over 100 Palestinians have died in hospitals in Gaza, waiting for life-saving medicines to be delivered. Is the needless murder of innocents security for Israel or state-sponsored terrorism?

Under Bush, Israel has greatly expanded its settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Late in his speech, Obama had the audacity to say that "our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or country" despite advocating the eternal and unconditional defense the state of Israel, no matter what. Pandering to AIPAC displayed the extent of Obama's commitment to the Jewish tribe--or at least the Zionists who've hijacked that religion.

I also don't know where Obama stood in August of 2006 when Israel attacked Lebanon when he claims "we must support the Lebanese who have marched and bled for democracy." The bleeding continues, Mr. Obama, as Lebanese children play with the millions of US-made cluster bombs that the Israelis dropped, alongside civilian areas shelled with Depleted Uranium projectiles.

Obama was sounding quite Bush-like in pronouncing the urgency of the War on Terror. Lines like "this is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it," could have been taken out of any post-9/11 Bush speech. With Obama, the impression is that he will bring change, but apparently little change is forthcoming in the scope and intentions of the insidious War on Terror, a political creation that's become simply too large to stop, like any Federal program that generates its own bureaucratic momentum.

Obama has made Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror."We have too much at stake to turn back now," he said, which is a lot like the gambler who has to keep dropping coins into the slot machine in order to compensate, hopefully, for all he's lost.

In a Clintonesque piece of triangulation, Obama brought up the highly implausible notion of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Since the days of the Pershing medium range missile based in Europe in the late '70s, Europeans have opposed nuclear weaponization of the continent, so making a hollow promise like that falls on eager ears, and earns large applause.

One picture on HuffPo captures the Obama sensation that has swept crowds in the United States. In one still photo, just above advertisement, to the right of a young woman climbing on the crowd), a presumably German man raises his hand in a Sieg Heil fashion. The gesture appears to be spontaneous, and made me wonder just what kind of base charisma Obama exudes, and how similar his reception might have been to Germans succumbing to Hitler in the 1930s.

The cult of personality that surrounds Obama scares me in the same way. Just what have the Obamanatics bought into? Like the rise of Hitler, we have no way of knowing just what absolute power would do to Obama. Certainly, Obama doesn't sound like any demagogue, but neither did Hitler. It was only after he'd tightened his grip on power that the raging lunatic side came out.

Comparing the rise of Hitler to Obama seems ludicrous on a number of levels. For one thing, Obama talks about engagement and peace. Didn't Hitler, though, claim to be building a stronger Germany for the purpose of securing the peace? Obama is also multi-racial, tolerant, and diversity-minded, with a background and values wholly inconsistent with any traditional definition of fascism.

Could Obama lead the US into some sort of nanny-state, where political correctness is enforced with rigid authority, a sort of neoliberal dictatorship where corporations and government rule? I'd say this threat is virtually nil, however seeing Congress capitulate again and again to Bush, I'd say the rise of a dictatorship is not impossible now that our Constitutional rights have been eviscerated. And corporate money controls elections as well.

Limits on executive power have been breached like never before, and could easily by abused by a democratically elected leader in the future. Government can now spy on Americans, hold them without charges. The idea that government power would only be directed at "enemies" is in itself a matter of perspective, as politically speaking, one side's enemies are simply the competition.

Italian dictator Mussolini did say that if fascism ever came to America it would be a greatly perfected version of the ideology--an almost friendly brand of control barely recognizable to the people who lived under it.

Writing in the Toronto Star in 2005, Paul Bigioni writes about the potential rise of fascism here:
Before the rise of fascism, Germany and Italy were, on paper, liberal democracies. Fascism did not swoop down on these nations as if from another planet. To the contrary, fascist dictatorship was the result of political and economic changes these nations underwent while they were still democratic. In both these countries, economic power became so utterly concentrated that the bulk of all economic activity fell under the control of a handful of men. Economic power, when sufficiently vast, becomes by its very nature political power. The political power of big business supported fascism in Italy and Germany.(source)

American pride may have taken a few knocks, but our national pride is nowhere near as injured as Germany's was after World War I. 9/11 was clearly an event that stirred our nation into action in the form of military occupation of two countries. But it wasn't as if we'd been ripped apart by total war--instead 9/11 was an isolated incident, a dastardly deed.

Also, the condition of the economy appears far better than post-World War I Germany, which suffered hyperinflation. While inflation is rising rapidly, it still has far to go.

Hitler was much more about stroking the fires of German nationalism, a sensitive topic on the heels of the defeat in World War 2, followed by a crumbling economy and humiliating reparations paid out to the victorious allies. From the economic crisis came political opportunity.

Throughout the world, the Great Depression ushered in new political programs which attempted to reinvigorate the economy through a union of corporate and government interests. Fascism could only have risen out of the ashes of economic calamity--people who unaffected by crisis seldom feel any need to change.

Roots of crisis

Economic failures can speed up political changes. In this, failure points that escalate into crises become opportunities for the rich and powerful. Just how much of our business cycle is engineered to fail? Maybe by shunning sustainability, the masters of our economic universe set us on a course of economic self-destruction, which ultimately becomes a vehicle by which they can amass greater wealth and through it, political control.

Bigioni explains the economic roots of fascism:
It is particularly perilous to forget about the economic origins of fascism in our modern era of deregulation. Most Western liberal democracies are currently in the thrall of what some call market fundamentalism. Few nowadays question the flawed assumption that state intervention in the marketplace is inherently bad.
As in Italy and Germany in the '20s and '30s, business associations clamour for more deregulation and deeper tax cuts. The gradual erosion of antitrust legislation, especially in the United States, has encouraged consolidation in many sectors of the economy by way of mergers and acquisitions.

We're told greed is good. Regulatory standards are relaxed, in a form of government called laissez faire, or do nothing. Now as long as everyone's making money, interest rates are low, everything is fine. It's as if everything works better if government will just stay out. Hedge funds are emblematic of this surge in wealth; a half dozen or so hedge fund managers "earn" over $1 billion per year.

In an unregulated environment, people get greedy. Easy profits that had earlier come through the availability of low interest debt--like those of the mortgage industry--dry up.

Keeping rates of return on investments becomes increasingly challenging--to keep sales up gets harder and harder the higher they go. Eventually profit forecasts get harder to meet. It's been said that if something can't last forever, it won't.

Then comes the downside, the inevitable down-cycle. Profits drop. Banks like IndyMac collapse overnight. Foreclosures sky-rocket. Then economic activity slows and unemployment rises, expanding the recession from a few industries to the overall economy.

Rumors circulate as to the eleventh hour shenanigans that preceded the demise of this financial institution, or that company. Congressional inquiries are launched, investigation launched of banks that may have committed fraud in their last days. Hedge managers fake their own deaths.

In a turnaround from laissez faire government, all of a sudden the government gets active, under the premise that it must act to stabilize the market. In reality, it's compensating for the consequences of inadequate regulatory enforcement and overly expansive monetary policies. The Fed opens up a discount window, accepting junk-rated mortgage-backed securities for triple-A U.S. government bonds. The FDIC steps in, taking over insolvent banks. All of a sudden, previous decisions to deregulate the mortgage and commodities markets are reexamined.

A precedent exists for minimizing the role of government in present day America. Paul Bigioni explains in his article on fascism:
As in pre-fascist Germany and Italy, the laissez-faire businessmen call for the state to do their bidding even as they insist that the state should stay out of the marketplace. Put plainly, neo-liberals advocate the use of the state's military force for the sake of private gain. Their view of the state's role in society is identical to that of the businessmen and intellectuals who supported Hitler and Mussolini. There is no fear of the big state here. There is only the desire to wield its power. Neo-liberalism is thus fertile soil for fascism to grow again into an outright threat to our democracy. (source)

Liquidity Crisis

In the rush to get everyone's money out, financial institutions must provide more and more liquidity, or cash, to placate those who want out. A run on the banks is what this used to be called--now it's simply phrased as a shortage of liquidity.

Earlier this year, one money center bank, Citigroup, went to sovereign wealth funds and rich sheiks in the Gulf states to gather some $7 billion in capital, to shore up its books as its mortgage portfolio sagged. These oil-producing nations, particularly the Saudi monarchy who is so close to Bush the Younger (as well as the Elder) have seen their dollar holdings explode during his reign, as apparently two wars in the heart of the world's oil basket have been good for business. Should we be surprised that we have no program for energy conservation, save the laissez faire reaction which says people will be forced to use less as it gets more costly, costs which flow to Big Oil and people like the 15-of-the-19 Saudis?

Well, at least our oil money comes back to us. Wait, it doesn't come back to us, it goes to Citigroup, who then uses for the altruistic purpose of balancing its books, to compensate for reckless purchases of mortgage-backed securities.

At least repatriating oil money via Citigroup isn't as ludicrous as the Saudis buying billions of dollars of US military hardware, then letting it rot in the desert. Then again, a good number of Americans are employees by Defense Industries USA, one of the corporate entities that compromises the nexus with the National Security State. While they may not make things that better the world, or do anything to defend us, at least the military industrial complex makes something real, physical, tangible and doesn't just push piles of money around. The financial system, on the other hand, is like a supreme tapeworm that drains the dollar of its value, and sends billions into a black hole through excessive risk-taking that produces nothing except more debt and burden.

On Thursday, New York Attorney General Cuomo announced an investigation into auction rate securities. Apparently bankers sold their personal holdings even as the banks talked up these "exotic derivatives." This is but one effort in what will be many to uncover the extent of wrong-doing, even as the consequences cascade out of control.

Regulatory crisis or Naked opportunism?

A great example of regulatory collapse is Enron, which transfered many accounts overseas, which would later lead to its collapse and a energy crisis on the West Coast with soaring prices. Enron's failure was preceded by a de-regulatory effort in the trading of energy contracts made by then-senator Phil Gramm of Texas, who recently made the news claiming the recession existed not in reality, but was rather a product of the imagination--a "mental recession" (link). Graham has since left his position as one of McCain's economic advisers. It's worth noting that Enron was George Bush's top corporate contributor for the 2000 Election.

Corporate executives have participated in the looting of the entities over which they are supposed to exert fiduciary responsibility. Enron executives talked up their company's stock while they liquidated their own positions. Closer to home, I remember a buyout of Indianapolis Power and Light (IPALCO) by energy consortium AES a few years back. IPALCO executives managed in selling their company, then sold out completely, just before the purchasing company knew they'd bought a loser and the stock of the acquirer tanked.

Just like Enron, many employees were caught holding IPALCO stock in their 401(k) accounts, which meant they could only sell after the merger, long after their stock had been converted into shares of the acquirer. To up morale--and the company's stock price, employees are fed the line that the company is doing well. Invariably many do buy in to the rhetoric and end up owning more shares than they should.

Considering a great deal of the employees' financial security is tied to their continued employment, investing in company stock doubly risky--a collapse of company means both losing a job and nest egg. Still, employees are enticed to buy company stock. Often the purchase price is subsidized, though not reduced as low as that offered to the top executives through their stock purchase plans, which also tend to allow larger sales. Company executives are typically given more liberal rules for selling company stock within their private retirement plans--set up as a perk for company managers--and often sell at the peak.

Of course, the executives know the true value of their company, which is one reason analysts treat internal stock sales--which must be reported quarterly to the SEC--very seriously. If an executives is selling, it could mean that Skip and Biffy need a summer home in the Hamptons. Or it could mean that Skip knows his employer's stock will soon become worthless because of all the off-shore, off-balance accounts set up in the Cayman Islands have become worthless.

A buyout offers a great incentive to cook the books. In some ways, it represents a market-thyself achievement of the highest order. "Yes, of course we'd be a wonderful complement to your existing lines of business, Mr. Acquirer," executives could say. "A purchase of our company would do great things for you bottom line," so on and so forth the spin goes.

Meanwhile the executives can wait for the opportune time just before acquisition, when the market is likely to bid the price up to its high point, then sell. Unlike the peons at the lower levels, who are typically limited in the maximum quantity of stock they can move, executives can dump almost limitless quantities. IPALCO executives end up being sued by 1,800 company employees, who were unable to liquidate their holdings of company stock before the parent of the acquiring company, AES, tanked.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, then Budget Director for the Bush White House, got caught up in the IPALCO scandal (link). Daniels was latter cleared of any wrong-doing, showing that there are in fact two versions of justice depending on one's tax bracket and level of political influence.

Tax avoidance

Now while I'm all for making a lot of money, I don't think it's fair to make workers on the payroll have to pay more in taxes than the executives who are simply cashing in capital gains--not exactly working for it in a way that earns my respect.

It's a belief among advocates of supercapitalism or investor-class capitalism, now in the mainstream, that taxes are such an inhibitor to business growth that they need to be held low or, in the case of some of the ultrarich, utterly done away with! While investor capital does stimulate business activity, I just think the idea of a billionaire paying a lower tax rate than his maid is ridiculous. Warren Buffet apparently agrees with me.

Then there are many executives take also involve dodging those pesky taxes which they don't feel like paying. Rather than pay taxes--their brand of capitalism is all about greed--the super-rich have chosen to dump profits overseas. Apparently even capital gains tax rate of 20% is too high.

Recently a former UBS employee in the tiny nation of Liechtenstein came forward with a list of private banking clients, which he proceeded to send to the tax authorities in the wealthy people's home nations. Eager to protect their reputation for discretion--others might call it secrecy, the government of Liechtenstein--titan of nations that it is--has decided to pursue the whistleblower, Heinrich Kieber by charging him with a violation of the nation's banking laws (source). He's now in hiding, hero to the far more populous group of taxpayers--which probably includes you, unless you've managed to salt away some little nest egg in some overseas tax haven. The ultrarich on Kieber's list, however, have begun the process of pay penalties to avoid jail time. Some of the alleged tax cheats have been brought before a Senate investigatory panel, according to ABC News.

Speaking of off-shore accounts, Citibank recently put back on its books over $1 trillion of loans made off-the-books. It's as if the money disappeared, then flew back to the Citigroup's headquarters. You'd think the newfound assets would be to Citigroup what finding a $20 bill in your blue jeans before you put them in the wash would be to you, but the money isn't reacquired, it's simply debt that's resurfaced. These assets don't really represent assets at all, but rather debt--promises to pay which may or may not be fulfilled.

As anyone who's seen the Jim Kirwan's excellent video about money knows, money represents not an accumulation of capital, but rather a promise to pay--a debt. So upside down has our monetary system become, that we now believe we are accepting something of value--money--by accepting nothing more than a promise to be paid back.

Making money the new-fashioned way

Unlike the medieval period, the Federal Reserve (actually a private corporation) can simply lend us more money created out of thin air. There's no real asset backing the currency, only a pledge to pay to the holder the face value. The holder of the IOU receives a guarantee of repayment, but there's nothing that says the value will be maintained.

Now the more debt that the US government accumulates, the less reliable the promise that the holder of debt becomes. Also, in the digital age, when the creation of money is as simple as a few strokes of the keyboard, the monetary system is rife with opportunities for abuse.

The Treasury Department prints the bills at a penny or so each and gives them to the Fed to use. To spend money, our government actually borrows the people's money back, and pays interest to those who buy our Treasuries in exchange. By the way, I just saw that the states of the Gulf region are on the way to becoming the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasuries, exceeding the Japanese, who've held the top spot for decades, at some $500 or so billion.

No investor will simply just sit on currency notes, so the Gulf nations buy interest-producing federal securities. Are the U.S. Treasuries we send to the Gulf states for their oil actually worth something? Sure, but they are worth less every year, and higher denominations will have to be offered in order to pay the equivalent amount of inflation-adjusted interest going forward. Higher interest rates reward these foreign speculators and keep them buying dollars. No matter what interest rate the Fed sets, foreign creditors need to receive more interest on their investments--if not, the price of those securities in the open market will fall to the point their yields become attractive.

So the Fed can offer money for virtually free--interest rates are now at 2%, which is almost free--to other banks. They've also taken the extraordinary step of allowing brokerages to swap mortgage securities of questionable value to the Fed in exchange for Treasury notes. That's right-you, the U.S. taxpayer, are supporting the losers in the free-wheeling, under-regulated mortgage-backed securities market.

U.S. Treasuries are more secure because they are backed by the full faith and confidence of the U.S. government, a term which essentially means that money will be created out of thin air and given out in exchange for the bonds. This makes for a liquid market, which means that anyone can buy or sell Treasuries without fear that the investment will become worthless, just worth less.

On the other hand, all these bailouts cost money. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are called Government-sponsored entities (GSEs) because they carry an "implicit" guarantee that the government will bail them out. This is of course grossly unfair to those of us who own our homes outright, or don't want to carry a mortgage, or make money from mortgages.

Freddie Mac was created during the Depression era, to push what is and was essentially a political goal to increase home ownership. The idea is that by supporting private-sector investments into housing development, the housing industry--traditionally a vital piece of the American economy--will grow. The implicit designation has undoubtedly created moral hazard for the managements of Freddie and Fannie, which means risks that should have been avoided were instead assumed.


As the example of the Soviet Union showed, command control economic decisions really don't work--the act of government meddling just ends up precipitating more meddling. The theory of business cycles would indicate that down cycles are a natural part of the capitalist system. Yet despite the President's rhetoric, our government is now intervening on a regular basis in the markets. Paradoxically, much of the problems in the financial system could be traced to government's failure to regulate and the Fed's chronically low interest rates which made money almost free for lenders. Apparently, so determined was our government to expand the politically popular housing industry that it allowed mortgage brokers and lenders to cheat, distort incomes in a gold rush to sell as many houses as possible.

The result: overcapacity and foreclosures on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. Rather than reduce demand for housing as prices went up, the gold rush kept boosting prices until the entire market collapsed. House prices in some levels have fallen by 50%. Plus there's the contagion effect--one foreclosure leads to others. And the housing construction industry--always a darling of the politicians, particularly Republicans--has suffered losses far greater than they would have if government had done its job, regulated the mortgage industry, and not tried so hard to make money available to developers and lenders through the Fed.

The Freddie and Fannie bailouts could be in the trillions of dollars. Meanwhile, all those newly minted dollars will hit circulation. I'm not sure how big our money supply is, but $5 trillion for the banks is already a certainty, and Freddie and Fannie could well cost just as much. Bush has tripled the money supply since coming into office--is it such a surprise that the dollars out there now buy less? Adding ten to twenty trillion to our money supply will devalue the amount of dollars out there, making prices go up for anything we import, or anything that uses a lot of energy in its production or transportation, as those costs will rise. Oil prices will go up, and not because we can't drill, but because the dollar--which is ultimately a commodity whose supply will reflect its price--are being over-produced and over-lent.

Starving the beast is an approach which attempts to cut government spending but systematically eroding the public treasury to the point it can be controlled out of necessity. One way out of spending less is to inflate the money supply. While costs go up, the government can restrain expenditures at a slower rate than it can print and borrow dollars, which is easy because they are simply paper, fiat currency. Ironically, if it weren't for the Fed, our government probably would have depreciated our currency even more, robbing from all of us, especially those on fixed incomes.

It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Where there exists a will to defraud others, people will find a way to avoid regulatory standards. One of the easiest and cost-effective methods to rip people off is to legalize the theft through the passage of laws. Virtually every piece of legislation passed by Congress contains some benefit to one industry or another. Corporate lobbying in Washington just recently passed the $1 billion mark. Compared to the tax savings from just one piece of legislation, corporate lobbyists can return in benefit to their corporate sponsor benefits many magnitudes larger than their expense. Why make money the old fashioned way when you can lobby Congress for free breaks instead. Naturally whatever corporations don't pay must in turn be borrowed or taken from individuals. Once the easily available credit dries up--victim of higher interest rates or growing doubts over the fiscal solvency of our government--higher taxes are the only possible consequence. By exerting influence over politicians, corporations are first in line for the gravy train, and can redirect the tax burden to individuals.

US Economic Future

Things are certainly bleak for the US. In the short term, we must contend with huge bailouts, or as Robert Borosage has written, "Wall Street socialism. Their losses are socialized; their profits are pocketed. You and I will pay for their failures" or what has been phrased as "the socialization of losses and privatization of profits."

One look at Baby Boomer savings rates will tell you that the money simply isn't there to retire. Many will toil until they die, like the serfs of the medieval period. Medical benefits will continue to shrink for all except the wealthy, who are entitled to good health care if they have government jobs, or enough income. Scolding the poorer classes for their limitless needs and constantly unfilled wants is an old game for the gentry, who've always seen themselves as the bestowers of wealth and privilege, the caretakers of wealth and well-deserving recipients of the blessings of the divine.

The middle classes were always viewed suspiciously by the ruling elite, as this is where most revolutions begin. The poor were simply too exhausted with their labors to entertain any notions of wealth or freedom from political repression. For them, this is how their lives always had been and always would be--there was no escape for them, or so they thought. Social mobility was not only restricted but advancement almost impossible.

America could well be turning back the clock to the medieval period. Americans work more hours than people of any other nationality. Yet we don't appear to be advancing in our quality of life relative to other nations.

Of course there will always be the trappings of higher technology, and some protections for the health and financial security, but to the rich most of the spoils will go. More and more wealth is controlled by the top 1-2% of the population. Most of the decent jobs in such a society go to those who service the ruling classes, or those who protect them.

I guess we will know how far we've regressed when public funds run out. Already spending on "social services" is at grave risk. The bastion of the Right--the military--competes with other needs, rhetoric is naturally introduced which defends the fiscal propriety of national security and need to protect the American people.

So where to now? Looks like things aren't going to work out here, and that the political system is so dominated by corporate and Zionist influence based on political contributions. Will we continue down the path to Hell: war with Iran, and economic ruin in a financial system that's teetering on the edge of collapse?

Ultra-low interest rates ostensibly benefit our society have turned out to be a giant credit trap which has mired millions of Americans in homes they cannot sell for what they owe. Lower tax rates--a Bush mantra based on Friedman's Chicago School of Economics argument that government regulation and taxation slow economic growth--just mean the continued degradation of our nation's fiscal status as uncontrolled spending amasses debts too large to pay back. Inflation is a method that relieves debtor of their burden--they can simple pay back old loans with new, less valuable dollars.

Here's Gerald Celente of trendsresearch.com as quoted on rense.com:
Despite calls from the business media and politicians from both parties for government intervention to rescue the failing institutions, there are no bailouts, buyouts, quick fixes or magic remedies that will save America's economy from going under. The formula is simple and the outcome predictable: The more money the government prints to cover the multi-trillion dollar losses, the weaker the dollar gets. The weaker the dollar gets, the higher inflation goes. The higher the rate of inflation, the more it costs to live. With wages going down and unemployment going up, the poorer the nation becomes. Americans will be facing the worst economic times in living history, and so too will much of the world.

Once the current business cycle bottoms, we'll know just how much damage a laissez faire approach to the financial markets does, and the costs of the short-term greed as brokers are fired by the thousands and banks continue to fail. Last week, rumors in the markets spread about the insolvency of Lehman Brothers, and a possible bankruptcy filing by GM, whose stock has regressed to levels of more than 50 years ago.

The precipitous drop in bank stock values has coincided with the creative accounting gimmicks. Sinking stock values should ring warning bells, if not for government regulatory and accountants, than for investors who are reluctant to invest in American financials. Instead of letting the financial companies earn their just reward--getting punished by the market--Congress just restricted naked short sales, which has lead to a rally in their stock prices. In the long-term, this kind of meddling will likely discourage investment.

Economically, things just aren't getting better, but somehow people think they will get where they want to go simply if they wish hard enough, a sort of Peter Pan reality. Buddhists might tell you all that well see is transient, ultimately an illusion. Human nature makes living in abject denial of the facts not only possible, but a guiding motif.

Other resources

Worth seeing/reading is an interview of Naomi Klein on DemocracyNow.

William Engdahl writes about "The Financial Tsunami -- the next big wave is breaking: Fannie Mae Freddie Mac and US mortgage debt" at onlinejournal.com.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Child abuse part of War on Terror

I just read a Toronto Star article by Michelle Shepard concerning an appalling video that was just released showing 16 year-old Omar Khadr interrogated at Guantanamo in 2003.

Khadr faced special treatment for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a US medic. The Geneva Conventions were violated in this case. It's illegal under international law, under treaties signed by the US, to remove a person from the field of battle, to another nation--in this case Cuba. Also, the US must treat prisoners of war under established guidelines--the video shows Khadr under mental duress. He's apparently suffered psychological and physical trauma during his detention.

One poster, elmysterio, in the comment thread explains the situation thusly:
1) The US IS the belligerent party in Afghanistan, and DEFENDING yourself against an invading army is NOT a war crime.
2) One ‘Soldier’ killing another soldier on the battlefield does not constitute war crimes.
3) Omar Khadr was a CHILD soldier at the time of the incident.
4) There is reasonable doubt that Omar even threw the grenade that killed the US soldier.
5) Omar has been TORTURED and mistreated by the Americans in violation of both the Geneva conventions, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which mandates special protection for child soldiers.
6) By refusing to intervene in Omar’s case, Stephen Harper is complicit in torture and war crimes.

Even if he did do it--in this case throwing a grenade, killing a US soldier--Khadr can't be charged with a crime as he was too young.

The basis for protecting young people in armed conflict is well founded on the common tragedy of child soldiers involved in conflicts throughout the world. Thousands of African children were involved in the genocide in Rwanda, as well as in the civil war in Liberia. The Burmese government uses child soldiers in its war against the indigenous Karen people. Many of these children are cherished by the more ruthless commanders for their youthful indiscretion and capability to commit murder remorselessly.

Child soldiers are scarred deeply by their experiences--as active combatants, they participated in long campaigns of ongoing violence. Aid organizations across the developing world have made extensive efforts to rehabilitate these children. The international community has seen to it that boy soldiers could be properly rescued from the consequences of long-term internments with military forces.

The US, not quite getting it, seems to think that it can do whatever it wants to child soldiers, as if they bear the same level of culpability as older combatants.

The US has a big problem with an Iraqi juvenile detention facility as well. Posted on uruknet.de is the article "'Worse than the adult prisons' U.S.: Torture, murder at Iraqi juvenile prison" by Matthew LaPlante of the Salt Lake Tribune. The Iraqi facility shows just how atrocious Iraqis can be to one another, largely on the basis of racial and ethnic hatreds. The decrepit state of Iraq's juvenile justice system really undermines our nation-building efforts, and makes the results of regime change virtually unchanged from the now-nostalgic days of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay's torture of various innocents and failed Olympic hopefuls.

With its adult prisons in Iraq, the US is caught in the awkward position of holding onto predominantly Sunni detainees lest they be imprisoned by brutal Shia, who've been handed the keys to the kingdom, alongside the keys to the jails should the US pull out and leave a pro-Iranian Shia government in place which, through penetration by Shia militia, has shown itself capable of the mass murder of Sunnis. If the US frees the Sunni prisoners outright, it risks re-igniting the insurgency. If the US abandons the prisons, it risks re-establishing Saddam era-like conditions for enemies of the Shia regime, which might include any Sunnis.

Shia treatment of Sunni prisoners could make even Abu Ghraib look tame. An ancillary benefit of the occupation appears to be reducing prisoner abuse. Even if US treatment of Iraqi prisoners is in violation of international law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and US laws, our presence must be considered an improvement over the treatment Sunnis would face at the hands of the Maliki government.

A pattern of child abuse

The 2003 Khadr's interrogation video is a Canadian release. Khadr did end up in Guantanamo, though. A message was clearly meant to be sent to Khadr's family, and to any potential al Qaeda supporter that you can have your rights taken away. It didn't matter that Khadr had killed the American medic with a grenade, but rather he was essentially selected for the purpose of controlling the Arab population, in intimidating anyone--no matter their nationality--who might be thinking about openly voicing support for al Qaeda as Khadr's sisters apparently did. Guantanamo appears to be the physical manifestation of a tool for inspiring fear in Muslims worldwide. Behave or pay the price--the US is going after the terrorists among you. And if we can't find the terrorist, we'll find their family and even their children.

Several times, I've talked about the abduction of Khalid Shiek Mohammed's two sons in 2002. Here is an excerpt from Amnesty International's Report "Off the Record; U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the 'War on Terror'":
In September 2002, Yusuf al-Khalid (then nine years old) and Abed al-Khalid (then seven years old) were reportedly apprehended by Pakistani security forces during an attempted capture of their father, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was successfully apprehended several months later, and the U.S. government has acknowledged that he was in the U.S. Secret Detention Program. He is presently held at Guantánamo Bay.

In an April 16, 2007 statement, Ali Khan (father of Majid Khan, a detainee who the U.S. government has acknowledged was in the U.S. Secret Detention Program and is presently held at Guantánamo Bay) indicated that Yusef and Abed al-Khalid had been held in the same location in which Majid Khan and Majid’s brother Mohammed were detained in March/April 2003. Mohammed was detained by Pakistani officials for approximately one month after his apprehension on March 5, 2003 (see below). Ali Khan’s statement indicates that:
Also according to Mohammed, he and Majid were detained in the same place where two of Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s young children, ages about 6 and 8, were held. The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs, and were denied food and water by other guards. They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.(13)

After Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s arrest in March 2003, Yusuf and Abed Al Khalid were reportedly transferred out of Pakistan in U.S. custody. The children were allegedly being sent for questioning about their father’s activities and to be used by the United States as leverage to force their father to co-operate with the United States. A press report on March 10, 2003 confirmed that CIA interrogators had detained the children and that one official explained that:
"We are handling them with kid gloves. After all, they are only little children...but we need to know as much about their father's recent activities as possible. We have child psychologists on hand at all times and they are given the best of care."(14)

This is clearly a moral outrage. All the individuals who participated in the torture of children should be tried for crimes against humanity. These people, no matter what uniform they might be wearing, are no better than the terrorists they presume to be saving us from.

Frontier justice and media cover

Bush's primitive West Texas style sense of justice--exemplified during his days as governor of Texas by his mocking of a death row inmate who pleaded for clemency--overshadowed any cooler minds after 9/11 got the administration all riled up. Torture was deemed justifiable if it got results and saved American lives. And transcending international treaties and laws was part of the Bush regime's assertion of executive privilege, and a flaunting of the law under the guise of War on Terror. The contrived circumstances for eviscerating the Constitution remain in place, uncontested by a servile Congress given over to Executive authority and bloodlust.

If what went on in the Iraqi facility were done by US guards, the corporate media would make no mention of it. Like the Abu Ghraib photos released only to Congress, the corporate media will help hide the wrongdoing of our government.

A media blackout on what has transpired in interrogation rooms of America's secret prison system has been going on for some time now. Like a good suspense, the public can only discover what went on (goes on?) piecemeal as videos and reports emerge. Through the use of extreme interrogation techniques, confessions can be arranged which offer politically popular examples progress in the War on Terror, whether or not the torture victims are guilty of the crimes they stand accused of, as oftentimes tortured detainees will say anything to stop the pain.

Exposing the evil conduct provides little direct benefit other than the fact that the grisly details heighten a state of fear like that of the movie Children of Men. In making people afraid, the State can grow in power and intimidate any who would try to limit its authority. Meanwhile, the fabric of society is ripped apart by the gross immorality of the deeds committed by the government's siege mentality and lawless police state tactics, coupled with the brutal resistance it can inspire.

In a democratic society, one ray of hope in holding the inappropriately behaving incumbents accountable is the role of former insiders telling all. Look no farther than Scott McClellan for an example of the truth coming out, that the American people were deceived, and that the media cooperated in the scheme. The War on Terror shows how vital a free and independent media is to the proper functioning of democracy. Otherwise, the people succumb to the Great Lie, or whatever propaganda the government wishes to spew.

Goebbels may have said that some creative re-telling was in order, to facilitate propaganda. In our day and age, at least in America, darkness reigns. Hopefully the light of truth will shine through, and while it won't make it to our TV networks, on the internet Americans can oppose collusion between the corporate empire and National Security State.

I think we can trace most of the deception and suppression of information to Zionists and the Right wing through the swap of political influence for campaign contributions. Hardcore Zionists (proponents for the expansion of Israel) control a large number of conglomerates who've been winners in the media consolidation game enabled by Bush's FCC deregulation. I've said on my blog that a quid pro quo exists between our government and the media. In exchange for political contributions, media moguls are given ever bigger slices of the public airwaves, draining independent and local-owned sources of news. Nowadays corporate media types lean towards Republicans although I'm sure loyalties could shift should the Democrats take the White House.

Many AIPAC members hold prominent positions in the media. In the Bush administration, Zionist neocons shaped the Iraqi war policy as well as crafting a largely anti-Arab (not coincidentally Israel's chief rivals in the Middle East) response to 9/11.

The strategic goal for the Zionists, and a major political objective was to implement a strategy of military aggression towards Iraq and other nations that threaten Israel's military and economic dominance over the region. Zionist sympathizers offer extensive plans to help the Jewish state, and operate through a loose federation coordinated by groups like AIPAC and JINSA. Recently they've faced competition from the new J Street organization, a Jewish lobby in the US oriented around engagement with Israel's enemies, and a less militarized solution to resolving Arab-Israeli problems.

Bush Press Conference July 15th

Bush, who said he was loathe to respond to comments by a Presidential candidate, did have some advice for Obama in his press conference Tuesday. Obama should listen to (Ambassador to Iraq) Crocker and Petraeus, Bush said. Perhaps thinking about Obama's upcoming trip to Iraq, Bush then told Obama to go listen to the Iraqis! I laughed when I heard that--surely Bush knew that the Iraqis has asked us to leave!

Bush quickly covered up his gaffe, and went on to explain how the Iraqis want us to leave, so we needed to meet certain security benchmarks. Bush didn't say what the victory conditions exactly were, or what sanctions the Iraqi government would face if they failed to do their part. Still he stumbled and blew the advice for Obama portion of the press conference so badly it showed how utterly stupid Bush's gibberish can be.

Talking with the Iraqis would produce an answer quite different from what Petraeus or Crocker would say: get out now, that's how you can make things better. Nonetheless Bush did succeed in glossing over the glaring fact that the Iraqis want us gone.

Maybe the days of the Iraqi government relying on the US military to legitimize itself have passed, with the surge's supposed success and decline in the apparent threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq. As we've stood up, and neutralized the threat, so have we reduced our value to the Iraqi government, who needs us less now. The credibility of the Iraqi government depends on its ability to please the majority Shia, who are led by the influential Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

According to needlenose.com's swopa--and other sources listed there--, Sistani has expressed his discontent with the potential Status of Forces Agreement:
"As the head of a government installed in large part though the will of Ayatollah Sistani (and against the wishes of the U.S. occupation), it’s part of Maliki’s job to placate the Bushites…but he has to obey Sistani. And if Sistani refuses to allow a deal that legitimizes the occupation indefinitely, then I don’t think there’s going to be one."
At some point the US almost needs the Iraqi to have a threat, or military problem that only we can solve. Otherwise, the Iraqis might not need us at all.

Under this new relationship, the Iraqi/US security dialogue will easily lose any sense of reality, like trying to reason with mobsters offering their services where no need exists.

Here's how the two governments might talk to each other:
"Oops, failed to meet the security benchmarks again," says the Iraqi government.
"Oh. OK, get it right in the future then, OK? Oh and by the way have you signed that Status of Forces Agreement yet?" the U.S. government might inquire.
"Ah, yeah, about that...we're not sure about giving you permanent bases and control over our airspace" the Iraqis would say.
"Sure, once you sign the agreement, we'll talk about leaving," the US might ask, while refusing to commit to any timetable.
"Can you just leave...please?" the Iraqis might ask.
"Sure, we'll talk about leaving once you sign the agreement."
"But if we sign the agreement, you can stay here forever," the Iraqis, exasperated, might say.
So on and so forth. Sounds like we'll never leave. And we can't, or the Baghdad government would go overtly pro-Iranian, which would show how much of a failure the invasion and occupation have been. At least while our troops are there they "need" us, to protect them (or is it their oil?) from al Qaeda and Iran. A protection racket indeed.

* * *

More on Obama

Looks like criticism of Obama over the FISA cave reached a crescendo last week. Rightfully, many of Obama's primary supporters have discovered for the first time where their candidate stands on certain issues.

I don't know if you noticed, but I've tried really hard to keep my doubts about Obama buried deep in my last posts, as not to give Obama's foes any more ammunition, as I do recognize just how destructive a McCain presidency would be. (Pardon me the indulgence to my ego of assuming anyone actually reads what I write and what I say would thus matter.)
Contrary to what you might see constantly posted in forums, failing to vote for Obama is tantamount to voting for McCain. Don't get me wrong--I don't like the two party duopoly and choice of lesser evils it seems to produce in the choice of candidates. I guess if Obama is really that bad, as Mike Whitney ponders in "Worse than McCain" on Counterpunch, you should vote for a protest candidate, but don't be surprised when four more years comes as a result of the protest.

Maybe 'four more years' isn't so bad, if we want to see the US crater and therefore be more willing to face the need to change its political system. In the comment stream under a Norman Solomon article on Obama, 'thong-girl' writes:
"It’s really too bad we can’t vote Bush into office for four more years, that way, we’d see him truly hit bottom and, possibly, the masses would storm the White House and deal with him the way he deals with those whom he hates. McCain is a loser and always has been and I doubt he will even be audible by November. Obama is simply too ambitious and not willing to face the music. The bottom is the only place from which our nation can change. We don’t have much further to go to get to the bottom, but we’re not quite there yet."

Hitting bottom may be necessary before Americans wake up, and even then they would have to mobilize to effect change in a system that's clearly broken, built on the continued evisceration of our Constitutional rights as evidence by the Senate's capitulation on FISA and telecom immunity.

Also, in the Solomon article's comments, user Dick Reilly comments that Obama fans "have been left with little more than treadmarks on their backs as the 'Hope and Change' campaign bus merrily makes another right turn."

Lacking Reilly's flair for imagery, I posted the following:
"Assuming an Obama wouldn't mean much change in the direction our country is going, who is thinking of getting out of our country entirely?
The thought of voting for that dried-up old shrimp McCain is too much to bear. So is the premise that a progressive candidate can make it to the roster. Protest voting in a narrow election is the only place it matters, and that can imperil progressives (and future generations) if a demagogue like Bush ascends the throne as a result.
Where were all these great comments when the Democratic primary was still going on? I faced a lot of criticism for criticizing Obama, although I also had some praise for him. I simply said I didn't think he would be able to win, largely on account of his race. It appears as if I was right, but the reason for Obama's downfall appears to be shift to the right, and the corresponding alienation of his liberal base, which he apparently takes for granted.

I acknowledge the necessity for getting the Democrat elected. Yes, Obama may be taking progressive votes for granted, but that could be a huge mistake being that it only took a few thousand Floridians voting for Nader to "win" it for Bush in 2000 (alongside some hanging shads, butterfly ballots, and disenfranchised voters.)

The damage has been done to Obama's reputation as a progressive. Some progressives do understand the need for politicians to move to the "center", but a double standard has emerged where Obama supporters now unconditionally accept whatever position their candidate takes, under the mistaken belief that Obama will revert to more progressive ideologies after the election.

I would argue the opposite: once Obama is in, he'll have no concern for what the little people have to say. So the election provides the last chance for progressives to get their piece of Obama before the corporations and elite surround him with their influence. Unfortunately, the risks of not electing Obama are dire, just as they were in 2000 for the protest voters in Florida who catapulted George W. Bush to victory. Still, if progressives do nothing, and unconditionally accept Obama's decisions, they're little more than a flock of believers who follow a Great Leader rather than a set of independent thinkers more representative of the US general population, which has yet to fall under Obama's spell.

Clinton Comeback?

For the good of the party, we may have to bring Hillary back! Hillary would help cement the bonds between Obama followers and the rest of the progressive community. Also, Clintonian expertise would be invaluable in facing what may be a very difficult Presidency, coming on the heels of Bush II, with rising inflation, unemployment, and gas prices. Will Bill Clinton shoot his mouth off? Why, naturally. Maybe Barack and Hillary can find some faraway island with lots of young girls to entertain Bill.

Undoubtedly Obama's development as a politician owes much to Hillary, who was one of his mentors in the Senate. By his recent reaching out to the right, Obama has shown himself to be quite a triangulator, shifting his positions to an electoral sweet spot, a proverbial middle ground that may not really even exist outside the minds of creative political consultants inside the Beltway.

Obama's victory in the primary did not spell an end to "Clintonism"-- a derogatory term based on the James Carville-influenced brand of political sleazebaggery, connivance, and audacious capacity for pandering to constituencies. Hillary was blamed for being too much about issues, while Obama was lauded for his focus on values, character, and change.

Perhaps Clintonism has been reborn in Obama, who appears more willing to tack right on a number of issues, if he thinks that will bring him more votes. Like other commentators, I've said Obama needs to be true to his positions, and use that righteous mantle of forthright honesty to make his case to the American people. Even voters who don't agree with his position on various issues might vote for him if they think he's a person who follows his convictions.

The best example of these identity politics was George Bush. Even today, people will say how they don't particularly agree with him on this issue or that issue, but think he's basically a good guy. They identified with the man George Bush, and didn't with the eminently more qualified yet barely likable Gore and Kerry. Bush was just a guy. Whether he could do the President's job was secondary, at least with the 50% or so of Americans who actually voted. More educated and enlightened populations would likely be dismayed by the prospect that the President of the United States was chosen not based on his ability to manage the office for which he was running, but how similar to average voter Bush was thought to be.

Where have these identity politics taken us? To a poorly run America, one whose young people are increasingly falling behind other industrialized nations. While continuing to lengthen, our life expectancy is dropping in rank relative to other countries. Our manufacturing infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is losing out. Bridges are collapsing. Fields flooding. The end is near.

Maybe the Christian evangelicals sought a candidate who would bring on the apocalypse, someone who would speed up the events leading to the second coming of Jesus. A whole category of End Times literature and prophecy has been made available to Christian fundamentalists. Perhaps Bush fell under the spell that Armageddon's time had come, and perhaps he's even worked to assure the total destruction of the human species, preceded by a time when non-believers would be Left Behind as true believers ascend to heaven.


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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Racial Profiling won't win War on Terror

The broad brush of racial profiling has spilled into our post-9/11 domestic security apparatus. The FBI and Homeland Security will now profile terrorists according to their ethnicity. In other words, if you look Middle Eastern, you are more likely to be considered a terrorist. Whether guilty or innocent, you will be presumed to be a bigger threat if you appear to be of Arab descent.

I'm trying to understand exactly how racial profiling will be put to use. Whether it will actually work is the subject for another day.

We already have have another war--one against drugs--that uses racial profiling. Its eminently questionable results include the disparate legal treatment of African Americans, who serve longer sentences than do whites.

The admission of profiling in another war--the one against terror--emerges from the reality that most anti-terrorist surveillance will be directed towards people of Middle Eastern descent. Since 9/11, Americans have grown to loathe a stereotypical "Middle Eastern." The image is not that far removed from that drawn about Jews by the Nazis, where racial features are grossly distorted--noses lengthened, or eyes slit, like the Japanese. With the War on Terror, the stereotypical picture of a Middle Eastern is not that far removed from the turban-wearing Osama bin Laden, or the "diabolical-looking" Saddam.

Inconsistencies in the uniformity of racial stock (attesting to intermarriage) leave much of the profiling of Arabs to the imagination. Just who looks Middle Eastern? Just who can we trust to know the differences between Middle Easterners and those from elsewhere, Central Asia or North Africa perhaps? What about the millions of people of Arab descent who look virtually the same as an Anglo--will they be screened out on the basis of their names? Or, in a high tech world, will face recognition software be deployed that identifies Middle Easterners-and thereby the more likely terrorists--through their facial structure? Will ICE agents have some swath of skin color samples by which to measure ethnicity, like a dentist replacing a tooth, comparing the color of the tooth with that of its replacement?

FBI agents can't be sufficiently well-versed in their knowledge of ethnicity as to distinguish between people of traditional Arab descent and other groups. Unlike the Israelis, who are masters of racial profiling, as their treatment of Palestinian journalist Muhammed Omer attests, most Americans have little practice distinguishing someone Middle Eastern from someone from other regions.

Just how dark or brown is a typical Middle Eastern? Some terrorists, like Richard Reid, might look marginally Middle Eastern, but certainly don't look like they're from the Gulf, which tends to be darker in complexion, I guess though I couldn't say. I do know darker skin is more likely to generate more fear and suspicion among whites, so will Homeland Security--being mostly white--find "darkies" more worthy of extra scrutiny and suspicion? Under this new brand of racial profiling, I suppose lighter skinned people of Arab descent--looking like Mohammed Atta--might actually receive less attention from the authorities.

We are who others think we are

In prison, Malcolm X--then a Muslim--begins tutoring a fellow inmate. His first act is to get his new pupil to open the dictionary and begin learning words. Soon thereafter, Malcolm instructs his student to turn to "black" and asks him to read back what is said: "dirty", "evil", "sad" are just a few I have in my dictionary. Malcolm X then turns to the word "white", which is defined as the opposite of black: "good", "pure" are a few descriptors.

We grow to become what society expects of us, Malcolm X explains, and blacks often grow to accept the mentality of a slave just as their carry the surnames of slavemasters, as many blacks in North America do.With a slave's name comes a slave's attitude, and so Malcolm X extols his newfound convert to Islam to shed his slave name, and pick up a new name, shed the identity of a slave and start anew.

Malcolm X's example shows just how much society shapes our perception of who we are around the color of our skin. We base a whole set of assumption on what it is to be black, versus what it is to be white--this thinking pervades our sense of who we are within our society.

Those practicing black liberation theology might be a target of the profilers, although Islam does preach non-violence, which our government should find non-threatening. Instead, during the 1960's, black radicals were hunted down alongside antiwar dissidents, student activists, and revolutionary types. In the Cold War, Operation Cointelpro was launched which spied on vocal dissidents who opposed the Vietnam War. It took the discovery of FBI files in Media, Pennslyvannia, in 1974 and the extensive hearings of the Church committee in the US Senate to enact legislative reform. The end result was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, which made spying on US citizens illegal, even abroad, and constructed a legal framework to protect the privacy of American citizens. Now, FISA has come under attack, being labelled inadequate despite the fact that FISA judges--who are on 24-hour stand-by alert--have only twice in their history denied any warrants requested by the government.

Will the terror war be like the drug war, where people of dark color--black--are arrested in droves while whites face fewer arrests for drug-related crimes? A July 2007 report (.pdf) by the Sentencing Project lists drug arrests county-by-county. In some counties, the ratio of black-to-white drug arrests was more than 100 blacks for every white. In practice, the war on drugs is indeed a war on blacks. See The Sentencing Project's website for more on the vast racial disparity.

Like the War on Terror, the success should be leading to results, there should be fewer drugs on the street with so many imprisoned for so long. Not so. Garden pests always come back, it seems.

Racial profiling also leaves a more subtle imprint on the functioning of law enforcement and the judicial system. By focusing attention on one group, members of that group are increasingly likely to be found guilty of something. "Driving while black," African Americans call it. Jim Crow laws in the South worked along patterns still prevalent in many American communities today: any blacks outside their historic physical community were automatically suspected of criminal activity. In the extreme, any non-White became an immediate suspect, traffic stops are routine, and arrest is therefore much more likely.

Do blacks commit more crimes per capita? Perhaps. But to profile is to make someone's blackness sufficient evidence of criminality in and of itself. By assuming blacks will commit more crimes, we deny African Americans the opportunity to be treated equally. These prejudices also extend to the Courts, where heightened suspicion translates into higher conviction rates as well as longer sentences.

Profiling in some form needs to be done. Bill Maher's 2002 book When you ride alone you ride with bin Laden shows an excellent illustration by James Bentley of bin Laden walking through a metal detector as a grandma and child are subject to enhanced screening. The caption reads "Political correctness is dangerous."

While terrorists among us will probably be non-White, they might be Arabic-looking. You may recall that soon after 9/11, in airports across America, passengers with 11 digits in their name were automatically pulled aside for additional screening at airports. Using the arbitrary standard gives the impression that our government is doing something to protect us. In times of crisis, security measures may need to be felt in order to reassure the public.

So much of the War on Terror is about public perception--how the public sees its government. In the drug war, whites might feel better seeing blacks arrested--it provides the image of progress in the war on drugs. Likewise, airport travelers upset about 9/11 would probably feel better if the dark-skinned foreigners were given additional screening. So for perception purpose, the practical side of enhanced security measures--preventing terror--is subordinate to the political message that predominates, which is that yes, your government is working to keep you safe, that 9/11 was mistake--we're doing better now.

Can the government be trusted when it spins every event, so the "facts" resemble the message? Look at the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman stories. In times of war, revealing the truth becomes a crime. What if the entire War on Terror is nothing more than show, an Orwellian version of the War with East Asia that Londoners in a 1984 world wake up to each morning? What if the War on Terror and all its malignant tentacles had been created out of a false flag operation--or to glaze over the fact that our government knew 9/11 was coming, yet did nothing?

Whatever the conspiracy theories floating about on the Web, the War on Terror has been a political tool from the start, a oft-jerked mass panic rope designed to woo suburban moms in the 2004 Election by showering the people with Orange Alerts and other fabricated security measures that in reality do nothing to protect us. The fear has value to the State, as it motivates Americans, the perceived targets of the terrorists, to take collective action, to do something to"them" before they get us. In short, the government massaged post-9/11 fear into a political expedient, one which would make rival politicians appear soft on terror and weak against the threat.

Profiling is likely just one more technique meant to deceive us into thinking that the government is seriously focused on doing its job to protect us and that we are safer as a result. Yes, the threat of terror is real, as real as the ugly truth that people of Middle Eastern descent are more likely to commit acts of terror.

Race alone isn't very useful as an indicator of risk. How could you function on a daily basis if race is the chief determinant of suspicion? Statistically you are more likely to be robbed by a black than a white, it's true. But should you cross the street every time you see a black person? And what of the seedy-looking white lurking in the alley that you took in order to avoid the young black man--who could be a minister for all you know--walking towards you in the street?

Race is not an effective criterion for assessing risk. A good cop scouting for a criminals might consider a suspect's race as a potential indicator of criminal activity, but no more. A far more effective than profiling racially is the act of watching someone's behavior, what they say, and what they do. If they behave suspiciously, law enforcement needs to take action.

Al Qaeda--an organization created and funded by the Western intelligence agencies to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan--has adapted to the racial profiling already, and is said to be seeking to recruit terrorists from the ranks of people of European descent--who look like us. Racial profiling will divert law enforcement resources towards perfectly innocent people of stereotypical Arab descent, whatever that might mean to each individual security officer.

Limits in fighting terror

I say the war on terror should be fought with a law enforcement tactics. Don't use a strong stick where other methods can require less exertion, loss of life, and monetary cost. Wars are too pricey, and killing just a few terrorists shouldn't require indefinite occupation nor wholesale destruction alongside the loss of innocent lives.

Pakistan is demonstrating that we can only use military force in so-large a geographical space. Yes, we now have agreements with Pakistan that allow us to launch limited strikes, but recent US strikes have incurred numerous civilian deaths. The loss of innocent lives may be a price that the people in the home country are presumably willing to pay in exchange for their safety. Yet strategically, every innocent life lost incenses Iraqis and builds hostility towards the US. Hard power enthusiasts might like the way war generate their own momentum, but dead children provide anti-US insurgents with their best source of propaganda.

Each time the US exercises force, it undermines the legitimacy of the Pakistani government. The more force it exercises, the more likely and damaging the collateral damage.Politically, radical Islamic political forces are empowered, just like what would happen should we strike Iran. If the Pakistani government gives us carte blanche, we will bring to Pakistan Iraqi-style overkill simply trying to eliminate the vermin scattered through the country.

Our occupation doesn't end the terror threat. With the use of force comes a huge benefit to our enemy by generating sympathy. For these reasons, the large-scale use of force is counterproductive in a counterinsurgency.

The exercise of US force leaves a wake that inspires more hatred and violence. The flexing of our military muscle generated an insurgency. When the American empire wields "hard power," it rejects soft power alternatives and thereby relies increasingly on the barrel of a gun. Those who would oppose the exercise of American force become terrorists. Killing civilians in the name of eliminating these terrorists becomes justified, much more so than if the so-called "terrorists" were simply Iraqis defending themselves from Americans on their soil.

If stopping terrorism is the goal, Iraq has yet to be declared free of terror--nor will it ever really be--so occupation is not the method by which we can win, at least if where we are today is the sum total of our efforts.

Endless wars for endless peace

Can these wars on drugs and terror be won? We don't know the terms for victory in the war on terror. Will victory be the elimination of all terror? No, we can't do that, any more than we could eliminate the enemy in the war on poverty launched by Lyndon Johnson.

It's not that we've haven't made progress in these wars. Sure, terrorists who've needed eliminating, have been eliminated. But it's like saying we'll have a war against garden pests. Yeah, we can kill them off, but they always come back, like the Viet Cong or mujahideen, they'll just keep coming. Why? Because we've chosen to make war with them--or at least the terrorists among them--, go on their turf, and try to stretch our mission out in what degenerates into nothing more than a brutish display of military superiority.

How long are these wars to go on without being won? How much longer will those fighting these wars for us be able to continue, with victory always just out of their grasp? While defeating terror makes a great sound bite, the vast majority of Americans have no stake in the outcome, nor do they feel compelled to make shared sacrifices in the name of the war on terror.

Now there are the poor families of the military service people who've been sent overseas in what is framed as an effort to win the long war. I don't know what these poor people get out of the War on Terror. The politicians who started this war are quick to thanks the families of fallen soldiers for their sacrifice, but for George Bush the greatest sacrifice he's made in the name of supporting the troops is to give up golf. He gives up golf, while the little folks offer up their sons and daughters to be wounded, maimed, or killed--why can't the American people understand they've been duped into fighting a war that can't possibly be won? Yet so many believe in their commander-in-chief and choose to be loyal despite the total absence of impending victory in a war that won't end, as if blind obedience were a surefire path to success. Obstinacy won't help the winning formula, as time will tell. Six years in, we're already stretched to the limits of our endurance; I can't see how the passage of time will help us.

Through the ineffectual exercise of military force, the war's supporters have projected the war in Iraq as part of the War on Terror. The two were never connected. By militarizing the war on terror, making Iraq the central battleground, our political leaders have tried to apply conventional military force to stop an insurgency--a proposition which hasn't made sense since Vietnam.

Insurgency adapting to us, us to it

I recently read a good article in AlterNet by Gary Brecher comparing the problems we're facing in Iraq with those the British faced in Northern Ireland.

The US can end the resistance one way: by letting the insurgents win politically. Give them responsibilities in the government. Let the insurgents take responsibility for their country. Turn them into a political force.

Brecher brings up the strategy morph that occurred when the IRA realized it couldn't confront the US militarily, like Sadr's militia did when it tried to hold Fallujah against an American assault in 2004. The stronger power wielded by the US made the slaughter of poorly trained Iraqi insurgents a certainty. While the US did suffer casualties, the ratio might be 20 insurgent dead for each American, a ratio I came up with in regard to the Blackhawk Down mission in Mogadishu, which involved a small number of elite US forces and mostly untrained mobs.

More effective for the anti-US elements in Iraq (and the occupier as well) is transition to a smaller, more professional force. Ultimately, this transformation becomes a political task, one of reigning in radicalism, and harnessing anti-occupation sentiment in more productive ways than flinging masses of insurgents head-to-head against US troops (although I guess that's good for the body count.) The main benefit for the occupier is that the security environment can improve. More control can be brought to bear over the insurgent forces, so collateral damage and the corresponding political liability can be reduced.

The consolidation of the insurgency may be what we're told is progress in Iraq, which has been attributed to the results of the "surge" in the mainstream media. Whatever progress we've made reflects the truth--that I've said for years--that our original occupation force was too small and thus inadequate. The US faces massive strain in sustaining the surge, however, and handing over responsibility to Sadr might allow the US to focus on fighting al Qaeda, who may be resurgent in Western Iraq, where the Sunni have increasingly been driven out of positions of authority and thus have little to gain by participating in a Shia-led government.

While Iraq is radically different than Northern Ireland, Brecher's main idea is to provide a political solution when a military one achieves nothing. Rather than let US forces crush military opposition--especially one that would dare brazen confrontation--the Iraqis have learned to follow a Hezbollah model. According to Brecher, Hezbollah advisers are embedded with Al Sadr's people, as both enjoy favor with the Iranians.

Hezbollah gained huge credibility in the Arab street when it stood up to the Israeli invasion in August, 2006. In three weeks of fighting, the mighty Israeli army in some places made only a few kilometers progress into Lebanon. Casualties were far higher for the Israelis than the 20-1 kill ratio of the Somali rabble and Iraqi militiamen at US hands.

Hezbollah's fighters aren't just ordinary Lebanese, by any means. The standards are quite high, I've heard, and not just anyone can join. It is for all practical purposes a professional armed force. Sadr has a way to go before his men can claim those kind of credentials. In a politically splintered Iraq, he'll need to maintain a legitimate military authority and most likely rely on Iran to do it.

Hezbollah has a great deal to offer the Iraqis, especially if the US uses Israeli-style tactics in an attack on Iran. The month-long August 2006 war provided Hezbollah with a great deal of intelligence into how any outside invader might behave in an insurgency. Also, the effectiveness of Iranian anti-ship missiles was proven, a major factor that the US must contend with should it strike Iran and that country respond by sinking ships in the Straits of Hormuz

The next act

Getting tired of Vietnam war analogies yet? Hopefully things can get much worse. With a little more trying we could have ourselves embroiled in yet another budget-busting extravaganza in Iran. Join Bush and his crew in its last Gotterdammerung, as Eric Margolis calls it, writing for the Toronto Star. The German term comes from a Wagner play that refers to "a war of the gods which brings about the end of the world" (according to Wikipedia.)

With an end to the Bush regime just months away, there's only so much time left available and so much to do. The path to hell is only half paved. To do the bidding of AIPAC, it seems Bush must attack Iran. Obama, the alternative, is willing to do whatever is necessary to defeat Israel's enemies--and he means whatever, so the US military machine might be able to wait 'til the new king is crowned. The collateral deaths come as part of the price of military intervention, paid of course by The Others, those who just so happen to be in too close proximity to our bombs.

Just how much will things change under Obama? If elected, Obama will taper our military presence in Iraq down to what is necessary to interdict terrorists. Yet the SOFA under consideration would force him to defend Iraq from outside enemies. In other words, we're on the hook to defending the Iraqi regime, one which could be dominated by Iranian operatives and sympathizers.

I've heard a troop number of 60-90,000 batted around, but unfortunately Obama appears to be waffling on the extent of his troop withdrawal commitment. Where the spinning wheel of Team Obama's foreign policy decisions will land is anyone's guess.

How professional is Obama with the selection of his advisers? Obama's primary campaign was unorthodox in its open recruitment. Twenty-somethings with no experience in politics were given leadership responsibilities over entire cities. Such an approach has no place in the highly professional world of Mideast policymaking, which is no amateur's place.

Choosing advisers is a careful business because Obama has admitted that he would rely on his inner circle to compose many of his positions. While this much delegation sounded fine on the primary trail, appeasing the Democratic base, proving to Americans that he can handle the complexity of the Middle East might be a bigger issue. The choice of advisers puts progressive policies at risk.

The 60-90,000 troop number comes from an adviser, Colin Kahl, in the Obama camp who wrote a paper on what the occupation of Iraq might look like in the future. See the New York Sun article which explains Obama's policy on Iraq thusly:
"In early Iowa debates, the senator would not pledge to remove all soldiers from Iraq, a distinction from his promise to withdraw all combat brigades. Also, Mr. Obama has stipulated that he would be open to having the military train the Iraqi Security Forces if he received guarantees that those forces would not be the shock troops of one side of an Iraqi civil war."

During an April interview at DemocracyNow (link-1/3 way down), Obama hedged. He rightfully questioned the current criteria for victory, but steered well clear of a precipitous withdrawal. He said maintaining a "sloppy status quo" would be a mistake.

In other comments, Obama has said that he didn't want the large force of American contractors to remain, but did say that it would be good to replace some of our soldiers with these "contractors," who could more accurately be called mercenaries. Not all present-day private sector employees in Iraq fight--like the Hessians of our Revolutionary War period--but instead provide support functions, part of a general move towards privatization of many duties traditionally assigned to our armed forces, a highly dubious transition well documented by author and West Pointer Andrew Bacevich in his book "The New American Militarism."

Now Obama's critics--which at least on unconditional support for Israel would have to include me--can't say that Obama has flip-flopped because the Senator from Illinois hasn't clearly committed to withdrawing all forces from Iraq. In other words, staying vague provides Obama with political cover. But the constant delegation of important foreign policy decisions and vacillations hint at an emerging agenda which might be far less antiwar and progressive than we are told.

As for Obama's actual position, it's hard to determine if he wants total withdrawal within 16 months, which is what Robert Creamer claims in HuffPo. Creamer goes a step farther and extols progressives to help protect Obama's reputation from GOP accusations of flip-flopping, similar to those that damned Kerry (alongside a lot of help from Diebold in Ohio.)

I understand the need to lock arms in defense of the Democratic candidate, who happens to be Obama. Still, I have a right to know where Obama stands before I "have to" vote for him. If the conclusion of the primary serves as a example of what is to come, after the election Obama will likely feel free to do as he pleases. Trying to hold him accountable now is the real responsibility of progressives, whether he becomes President or not. Without any accountability to the progressive base, Obama can continue towards the Right (called the middle in the MSM) on Iraq, FISA, and wherever else he feels like triangulating. (A few posts ago I talked about how important it is for Obama to stay true to his character, not to succumb to the dumbing down of his positions or commitment to them.)

Controlling damage from accusations of flip-flopping is really the responsibility of Obama's campaign managers and reflect their skills and abilities. Their inability to do their jobs, and clarify Obama's positions reflects poorly on them, and their candidate, not on the progressive community, which knows quite well where it stands on Iraq and other important issues. It's not the responsibility of progressives to demand consistency in what Obama says, or see to it that he upholds his positions, even under fire. That is Obama's job, and that of his staffers. If progressives must blindly support Obama, they risk putting their values at the whim of a single man, one whose political orientation might have already taken a serious turn to the right since securing his nomination. Alienate the base at your expense, Mr. Obama; it may only take a few thousand defections to Nader to sink you.

Already we've seen the penetration of Obama's foreign policy team by Zionist zealots, judging by Obama's AIPAC performance. "Oh, yessir Senator Obama, we do need to do whatever Israel says," goes the line. Just how much can we trust Obama if his international policy advisers are beholden to the interests of another nation?

Meanwhile a Status of Forces Agreement is getting rammed through the Iraqi parliament. I guess the sole benchmark for the effectiveness of the "pact" will be how well the Iraqis stand besides their obligations to more or less be good guys, and let us continue to stay while all the while supporting our counterinsurgency effort. I say "pact" because the agreement with Iraq can't be called a treaty as it has not been, nor will it ever be, ratified by the people's representatives in Congress.

A Iraqi government that we prop up can't stand without our military presence--US military power is the sole source of its authority. The SOFA would mire US forces in Iraq for decades, which would allow us to provide a continuing protection racket in exchange for defending the Iraqi government from foes both external and internal, which is a recipe for disaster. Corrupt, and illegitimate, the Iraqi government will need constant help. Meanwhile the Oil companies would reap the profits from oil contracts wrangled out of the Shia in Baghdad. US taxpayers will pay for the continued occupation, just as they pay more and more to Big Oil for the oil that their tax dollars and their soldiers' sacrifices helped liberate.

See Gary Leupp's article about the proposed Status of Forces Agreement in Counterpunch.

All about oil

Hopefully Obama will figure out that the higher troop presence is precipitated not by anti-terror interdiction needs, but rather the geopolitical considerations of American empire, which revolve around the continual pursuit of a scarce resource: oil.

Now oil can be had all over the globe, and there are huge reserves all around. So in this sense oil supplies will last for centuries. Problem is the cost of extraction. Many are in inhospitable climes, or deep in the sea. Extraction could simply be astronomically expensive. Even a simple exploratory operation can cost tens of millions.

The oil companies need to meet investor expectations and are thus inclined to drill at the easiest locations first. This could explain why some 68 millions acres have been leased by oil and gas companies yet go undrilled year after year. Yes, any number of decent sites could be brought to productive use, but at what net profit to the company that must pay the costs of exploration and take the risk of failure? Plus, in a rising market for oil, every day that goes by, the price of reserves--on which so much of an oil company's share price and ability to borrow is based--rises. So why do today what can be put off until tomorrow?

The availability of easily extracted oil is the real golden egg. And the Middle East has it. The alternative is very expensive extraction. Cheney's is quoted by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship in their article "The Iraq War Was About Oil, All Along":
"...the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."

Major oil companies have been rewarded with control over vast portions of Iraq's oil fields. Originally, the US had claimed that its oil majors would bid on undeveloped fields, but just recently the US acknowledged that its oil companies (alongside BP and Total) would tap into Iraq's developed fields, the same ones discussed by Dick Cheney in his secret Energy Task Force meetings before 9/11.

Oilman Ray Hunt, friend of W. and member of the task force, actually negotiated independently with the Kurds, using his insider information based on access to national security data. See the article by Jason Leopold.

The Iraqis' portion of the profits will be only 25%, which will require the US to continue to work the protection racket, claiming that the oil infrastructure is vulnerable to attack, and thereby justifying a continued troop presence in Iraq, just like some government mafioso.


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