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Obama's Not Really Closing Guantánamo After All

Thomson Correctional Center, The New Guantánamo

By Paul Craig Roberts

Obama’s dwindling band of true believers has taken heart that their man has finally delivered on one of his many promises--the closing of the Guantanamo prison.

But the prison is not being closed. It is being moved to Illinois, if the Republicans permit.

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

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

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

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

Neither the public nor the media have ever shown any interest in how the detainees came to be incarcerated. Most of the detainees were unprotected people who were captured by Afghan war lords and sold to the Americans as “terrorists” in order to collect a proffered bounty.

It was enough for the public and the media that the Defense Secretary at the time, Donald Rumsfeld, declared the Guantanamo detainees to be the “780 most dangerous people on earth.”

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

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

The London Times on December 14 summed up the case against Blair in a headline: “Intoxicated by Power, Blair Tricked Us Into War.” Two days later the British First Post declared:

“War Crime Case Against Tony Blair Now Rock-solid.” In an unguarded moment Blair let it slip that he favored a conspiracy for war regardless of the validity of the excuse [weapons of mass destruction] used to justify the invasion.

The movement to bring Blair to trial as a war criminal is gathering steam. Writing in the First Post Neil Clark reported:

“There is widespread contempt for a man [Blair] who has made millions [his reward from the Bush regime] while Iraqis die in their hundreds of thousands due to the havoc unleashed by the illegal invasion, and who, with breathtaking arrogance, seems to regard himself as above the rules of international law.”

Clark notes that the West’s practice of shipping Serbian and African leaders off to the War Crimes Tribunal, while exempting itself, is wearing thin.

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

Here in Great Moral America we only hold accountable celebrities and politicians for their sexual indiscretions. Tiger Woods is paying a bigger price for his girlfriends than Bush or Cheney will ever pay for the deaths and ruined lives of millions of people.

The consulting company, Accenture Plc, which based its marketing program on Tiger Woods, has removed Woods from its Web site. Gillette announced that the company is dropping Woods from its print and broadcast ads. AT&T says it is re-evaluating the company’s relationship with Woods.

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

Americans are more upset by Tiger Woods’ sexual affairs than they are by the Bush and Obama administrations’ destruction of US civil liberty.

Americans don’t seem to mind that “their” government for the last 8 years has resorted to the detention practices of 1,000 years ago--simply grab a person and throw him into a dungeon forever without bringing charges and obtaining a conviction.

According to polls, Americans support torture, a violation of both US and international law, and Americans don’t mind that their government violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and spies on them without obtaining warrants from a court.

Apparently, the brave citizens of the “sole remaining superpower” are so afraid of terrorists that they are content to give up liberty for safety, an impossible feat.

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

New Terrorist Attack Raises Disturbing Questions

The Huffington Post

Jasper Schuringa was interviewed on CNN. He describes how he "freaked" when he saw Mutallab lighting something and then dove across four seats to tackle and subdue the suspect.

Jasper Schuringa has been identified as the principal man who tackled the would-be terrorist on Northwest flight 253. The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, attempted to ignite some kind of explosive device between his legs when Schuringa leaped over the seat and tackled Mutallab, extinguishing the fire and burning himself in the process.
Schuringa, a video producer and director from Amsterdam according to the Daily News, is being hailed as a hero. CNN interviewed Schuringa:

By Barry Grey 
The attempted plane bombing is being used for domestic propaganda purposes. Under conditions of popular opposition to the expanding war in Afghanistan, government officials and the media are already using it to cow and frighten the population.

This is the well-tried method to justify both foreign wars and increased attacks on democratic rights at home. Once again, Al Qaeda is being summoned up to make the American people more willing to accept restrictions on their personal freedoms.

That a Nigerian national was involved in last week’s attempted plane bombing underscores the global consequences of Washington’s militarist policies.

While nothing can justify terrorist attacks against civilians, Washington’s neo-colonial wars are responsible for creating the conditions for new recruits for terrorist operations.

What has been reported about Adbulmutallab’s biography is evidence of this fact. The young student, from a privileged and wealthy family, seems to have been radicalized in tandem with the escalation of US military violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He left his family home in London’s West End, broke off relations and disappeared during the period when it had become clear that the Obama administration was continuing and intensifying the warmongering policies of Bush.

The nearly catastrophic attempt to blow up a US passenger jet during its final approach to Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day raises a number of serious questions.

While many details of the attempted terror attack and the biography of the would-be suicide bomber remain sketchy, widely-reported facts that have been corroborated by US officials make clear that the near-destruction of the airliner was the result of a colossal and as yet unexplained security failure.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, was overpowered by other passengers and crew members when he attempted to set off an explosive device he had taped to his person and smuggled onto Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam.

In November, or six months ago (press accounts differ), Abdulmutallab’s father, a retired banker and former Nigerian government minister, told US Embassy officials in the Nigerian capital that he was concerned about his son’s extreme religious views and activities.

The Washington Post on Sunday quoted a “senior administration official” as saying the father had warned of his son’s “radicalization and associations.” Some press reports say the father also spoke with US intelligence officials and Nigerian security agencies.

The family had evidently lost contact with Abdulmutallab, who six months ago said he was breaking off relations. Family members reportedly said they believed he had gone to Yemen, the birthplace of his mother.

US officials say that as a result of the father’s warning, Abdulmutallab was placed on a counter terrorism database in November, but they nevertheless had no actionable grounds for barring him from flying or subjecting him to any special pre-boarding search or questioning.

The media is dutifully and uncritically parroting these explanations, but they strain credulity. Since 9/11, there have been innumerable reports of people being barred from flying by government security officials for no apparent reason.

One of these was the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who in 2004 was placed on the Homeland Security Department’s “no-fly” list and prevented from boarding a shuttle from Washington DC to Boston.

Yet despite being identified as a potential terrorist threat by his own father, a highly placed former Nigerian official, Abdulmutallab was allowed to retain his multi-entry US visa, board a plane to the US, and smuggle explosives on board.

The incident is all the more disturbing and suspicious, coming just weeks after President Obama announced a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and singled out Yemen and Somalia as alleged Al Qaeda bases where US military attack could be justified.

This episode has the appearance of another in a series of ostensible security lapses which have more the character of deliberately turning a blind eye than mere incompetence.

The case of Abdulmutallab seems to follow a well-established pattern dating back to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

A number of the hijack-bombers were known to US intelligence and security officials as Al Qaeda operatives, and were nevertheless allowed to enter the country, train as pilots, and eventually board the doomed airliners on 9/11.

Warnings of impending terror attacks involving the hijacking of airplanes went unheeded.

None of this has ever been explained. No one has been held accountable. Instead, numerous government investigations were carried out, culminating in the 9/11 Commission report, which whitewashed government agencies and officials.

Notwithstanding Obama’s pledge to investigate last week’s attempted terror attack, the 9/11 pattern will likely be repeated.

The latest episode occurs within days of US air attacks against insurgents in Yemen, which US officials and the media are increasingly portraying as a center of Al Qaeda activity nearly on a par with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

The linking of Abdulmutallab to Yemen is an ominous sign that these attacks will increase, and the country may well become a new front in the expanding drive by the US to dominate oil-rich, strategic regions in the Middle East and Central Asia.

This danger was underscored by statements from politicians and the media over the weekend.

Jane Harman, the Democratic congresswoman from California who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee, issued a statement declaring:

“The facts are still emerging, but there are strong suggestions of a Yemen-Al Qaeda connection and an intent to blow up the plane over US airspace.”

The Los Angeles Times wrote in its news account Sunday, “If corroborated, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s travel to Yemen for terrorist instruction and explosives underscores the emergence of that country as a major hub for Al Qaeda, perhaps beginning to rival the terror network’s base in Pakistan.”

The attempted plane bombing is also being used for domestic propaganda purposes. Under conditions of popular opposition to the expanding war in Afghanistan, government officials and the media are already seeking to use it to cow and frighten the population so as to justify both foreign wars and increased attacks on democratic rights at home.

Once again, Al Qaeda is being summoned up to make the American people more willing to accept restrictions on their personal freedoms.

That a Nigerian national was involved in last week’s attempted plane bombing underscores the global consequences of Washington’s militarist policies.

While nothing can justify terrorist attacks against civilians, Washington’s neo-colonial wars are responsible for creating the conditions for new recruits for terrorist operations.

What has been reported about Adbulmutallab’s biography is evidence of this fact. The young student, from a privileged and wealthy family, seems to have been radicalized in tandem with the escalation of US military violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He left his family home in London’s West End, broke off relations and disappeared during the period when it had become clear that the Obama administration was continuing and intensifying the warmongering policies of Bush.


Obama The Golfer

By David Michael Green

Hey, did you hear about the iconic African-American guy who plays golf, and whose relationship with the public is in a free-fall lately?
No, as a matter of fact – I’m not talking about Tiger Woods.
You know, I’ve really been trying not to write an article every other week about all the things I don’t like about Barack Obama.

But the little prick is making it very hard.

Like any good progressive, I’ve gone from admiration to hope to disappointment to anger when it comes to this president. Now I’m fast getting to rage.

How much rage? I find myself thinking that the thing I want most from the 2010 elections is for his party to get absolutely clobbered, even if that means a repeat of 1994.

And that what I most want from 2012 is for him to be utterly humiliated, even if that means President Palin at the helm. That much rage.

Did this clown really say on national television that “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of you know, fat cat bankers on Wall Street”?

Really, Barack? So, like, my question is: Then why the hell did you help out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street?

Why the hell did you surround yourself with nothing but Robert Rubin proteges in all the key economic positions in your government? Why did you allow them to open a Washington branch of Goldman Sachs in the West Wing?

Why have your policies been tailored to helping Wall Street bankers, rather than the other 300 million of us, who just happen to be suffering badly right now?

Are you freakin’ kidding me? What’s up with the passive president routine, anyhow, Fool? You hold the most powerful position in the world. Or maybe Rahm forgot to mention that to you.

Or maybe the fat cat bankers don’t actually let do that whole decision-making thing often enough that it would actually matter...

But, really, are you going to spend the next three interminable years perfecting your whiney victim persona? I don’t really think I could bear that.

Hearing you complain about how rough it all is, when you have vastly more power than any of us to fix it? Please. Not that.

Are you going to tell us that “I did not run for office to be shovel-feeding the military-industrial complex”? But what – they’re just so darned pushy?

“...I did not run for office to continue George Bush’s valiant effort at shredding the Bill of Rights. It’s just that those government-limiting rules are so darned pesky.”

“...I did not run for office to dump a ton of taxpayer money into the coffers of health insurance companies. It’s just that they asked so nicely.”

“...I did not run for office to block equality for gay Americans. I just never got around to doing anything about it.”

“...I did not run for office to turn Afghanistan into Vietnam. I just didn’t want to say no to all the nice generals asking for more troops.”

Here’s a guy who was supposed to actually do something with his presidency, and he’s turned into the skinny little geek on Cell Block D who gets passed around like a rag doll for the pleasure of all the fellas with the tattoos there. He’s being punked by John Boehner, for chrisakes.

He’s being rolled by the likes of Joe Lieberman. He calls a come-to-Jesus meeting with Wall Street bank CEOs, and half of them literally phone it in. Everyone from Bibi Netanyahu to the Japanese prime minister to sundry Iranian mullahs is stomping all over Mr. Happy.

And he doesn’t even seem to realize it.

Did you see him tell Oprah that he gave himself “a good solid B+” for his first year in office? And that it will be an A, if he gets his healthcare legislation passed?

Somebody please pick me up and set me back on my chair, wouldya?

I am seriously beginning to worry that this cat is delusional. He has lopped off twenty full points from his job approval rating in less than a year’s time, falling now below fifty percent.

His party, once dominant in generic congressional election poll questions, is today almost even with hated Republicans in the public mind.

Last month, Obama’s inverted coattails (don’t even ask where those go) got two Democrats clobbered running for governor in New Jersey and Virginia.

The otherwise obnoxious George F. Will (very) rightly points out that in Kentucky, “a Republican candidate succeeded in nationalizing a state Senate race.

Hugely outspent in a district in which Democrats have a lopsided registration advantage, the Republican won by 12 points a seat in Frankfort by running against Washington”.

Wow. Obama is now wrecking state senate races! What’s next? Will local Republican candidates for sheriff win office just by opposing the embarrassment in the White House who chooses abysmal policies and then refuses to fight for them, lest he should ruffle any feathers?

“For Democrats, the red flags are flying at full mast," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart in a recent AP article. "What we don't know for certain is: Have we reached a bottoming-out point?”

Au contraire, Peter. Au contraire. I think anyone more sentient than a newborn amoeba can answer that question. The first thing to note is that the economy is not coming back anytime soon, if it comes back at all. Unless, of course, you’re a fat cat Wall Street banker.

Then you’re just fine, because the Bush-Obama administration took care of you quite nicely, thanks very much. The rest of us poor slobs out here in real-world land, on the other hand, got a “jobs summit”.

I can’t even begin to describe how insulting Obama conducting a “jobs summit” is to me, or what an unbelievably ham-fisted piece of public relations that was for the White House, which is increasingly showing itself not just to be sickeningly regressive, but also fully inept.

I think I speak for a whole lot of Americans when I say that, one year into his stewardship over a destroyed economy that was actually atomizing for at least six months before inauguration day, I don’t want my president sitting around a table, running a dog-and-pony show, pretending to kick around ideas on how to generate jobs.

I wanted him to have those ideas, himself, before he was inaugurated. I wanted those to be real ideas, that produce real jobs for real Americans who are really hurting.

I wanted that to be, and still be, the be-all and end-all of his presidency, not some distant fourth-place priority, behind healthcare and the White House dog selection process. And, especially not some fourth-place priority behind jive healthcare reform.

Which brings us to the second answer to Mr. Hart’s question. If Democrats think they’ll be screwed next November because of unemployment, wait till Congress passes this healthcare monstrosity. Or doesn’t. At this point, either way they’re gonna get slammed for it, and rightly so.

If they don’t pass anything, they will be seen as unable to govern. This perception will be quite true because they will have failed to pass a major piece of legislation, despite having 60-40 majorities in both houses of Congress and control of the presidency.

It doesn’t get much better than that for a governing party in the American system. But it will be true in an even more profound sense, because the whole priority structure of the Democratic agenda is wrong.

Sure, people want healthcare reform right now (especially if it were to miraculously also have the virtue of being authentic healthcare reform), but what they really want, overwhelmingly, is jobs.

This choice of priorities is the equivalent of, say, invading Iraq when you’ve been attacked by people in Afghanistan. Surely no president would be that stupid, right? Surely any political party would realize the costs of having priorities so divorced from those of the voters, right?

On the other hand, the Democrats and their hapless president are probably in worse shape if they actually pass this legislation.

Especially now that it’s been stripped of nearly every real progressive reform imaginable, it has become an incredibly stupid bill, from the political perspective.

It will force people who can’t afford it to spend a giant amount of money on lousy insurance, without any real choice to hold down costs, and it will fund this by hacking away at the Medicare budget.

No wonder an insurance industry lobbyist broadcast an email last week declaring: “We WIN. Administered by private insurance companies. No government funding. No government insurance competitor.”

But here’s a little riddle that any sixth-grader can easily figure out, although it seems to have eluded the brain trust at the White House: If insurance companies are winning big-time, then who is doing the losing?

Something tells me that if Democrats are dumb enough to pass their own legislation, voters will provide them the answer to that puzzle in November of 2010, and then again two years later.

What could be stupider than saddling thirty-five million Americans with a new monthly bill that will probably represent the second or third biggest item in their budget.

This is in exchange for crappy private sector health insurance that is unlikely to pay out when needed, and wastes a third of the dollars paid in premiums on bureaucracy and profits anyhow?

Slapping big fines on them if they don’t pony up for the insurance, perhaps? Yep, that’s in there too.

This bill alone could mobilize legions of people to go to the polls and vote for whichever party didn’t do it, and I’m pretty sure the GOP won’t be shy about reminding Americans who that is.

I mean, if Democrats were searching for legislation less likely to win them votes, why didn’t they just bring back slavery or the debtor’s prison? Why not come out for pedophilia?

It would have been so much more efficient. At least they wouldn’t have spent the last year looking like idiotic bunglers who, in addition to sponsoring really unpopular ideas, also inadvertently left their testicles at the coat check and have spent the last thirty years trying to find their way back to the gala.

Ah, but wait! If you order now, there’s more!

As I understand it, the bill doesn’t even actually force insurance companies to cover people, at least in the sense that they can charge prohibitive amounts to those with whatever they define as pre-existing conditions.

You know, like the young woman who had a policy but died when she was denied cancer treatment because she had a bad case of acne as a teenager.

This will be a total train wreck for the Democratic Party. Already, the public opposes the plan by a ratio of 47 to 32 percent. And they haven’t even been handed the bill for it yet. And they haven’t even had their premiums skyrocket yet.

And they haven’t even seen insurance corporation executives buy small countries for use as second homes with the increased compensation they will be floating in.

And they haven’t even found out what this does to their Medicare yet. And they haven’t even seen the impact on the national debt yet. And they haven’t even realized that the ‘good’ parts of the bill don’t go into effect until FOUR YEARS from now.

You know, elite Republicans may be sociopaths, and they may be lower on the moral totem pole than your basic cannibal, but they’re not stupid. I bet they’re salivating at the idea that this thing passes.

I bet they’d even have Olympia Snowe vote for it if necessary, just to put it over the top. They must be laughing their asses off at this gift.

All they have to do is oppose it right down the line, then say “Told ya so!” at the next election, squashing the pathetic Demognats, one after the next.

Hey, even if worse comes to worse and the thing eventually becomes popular, they can always wait a decade or two and become champions of the new publically beloved healthcare system – just like they did for Medicare, Social Security, civil rights, etc.

This is President Nothingburger’s great gift to America, along with doing nothing about jobs, doing nothing about the Middle East, nothing about civil liberties, nothing about civil rights, and now doing nothing at Copenhagen.

Regarding the latter, the world is literally on fire, and he jets in, gives a speech haranguing the delegates that “Now is not the time for talk, now is the time for action”, then splits even before the vote in order to beat the snowstorm headed to the east coast that might delay him getting home to his comfy bed. I’m not kidding. You can’t make this shit up, man.

This guy is killing me, though at the same time I still can’t quite figure him out.

Here’s what I get: This president is a corporate hack. Like Bush or Clinton, he has constituents, alright – but you and I are not on that particular list.

Here’s what I don’t get: He is radically tanking, at a moment when people no longer have patience for those kind of politics anymore.

Here’s what I get: This president has his fingers in many pies, as he needs to, ranging from global warming to economic implosion to two wars abroad to massive federal debt.

Here’s what I don’t get: Why does he bother to do these things in a way that pleases no one, and only dramatically undercuts his own political standing? Why does he refuse to make anyone his enemy, thus making everyone his enemy?

Is he just massively deluded? I wouldn’t have thought so, but watching the guy give himself a very good grade for 2009 – straight face and all – during the same year he’s lost twenty points off his job approval rating, and at a moment when even blacks and gays are deserting him, you know, you have to wonder.

Is he happy just to be a one-term president – just to say he’s been there and done that, and then sell some more books – even if he is reviled as one of the worst in history?

Maybe. But what about the rest of us?

The rest of us, indeed. It’s been quite some time since anyone in the White House ever cared about that sorry pack of rabble.

Obama looked like he could’ve been something different. He ain’t.

So this is it, folks.

Change you can believe in?

More like bullshit you can take a bath in, if you ask me.

Behind The Goldman Sachs Curtain

By Janet Tavakoli

The New York Times published a Christmas Eve expose of Goldman Sachs's so-called "Abacus" synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). They were created with credit derivatives instead of cash securities. Goldman used credit derivatives to create short bets that gain in value when CDOs lose value. Goldman did this for both protection and profit and marketed the idea to hedge funds.

Goldman responded to the New York Times saying many of these deals were the result of demand from investing clients seeking long exposure. In an earlier Huffington Post article, I wrote about Goldman's key role in the AIG crisis; it traded or originated $33 billion of AIG's $80 billion CDOs. AIG was long the majority of six of Goldman's Abacus deals. These value-destroying CDOs were stuffed with BBB-rated (the lowest "investment grade" rating) portions of other deals. These BBB-rated portions were overrated from the start. Many of them eventually exploded like firecrackers.

Goldman said it suffered losses due to the deterioration of the housing market and disclosed $1.7 billion in residential mortgage exposure write-downs in 2008. These losses would have been substantially higher had it not hedged. Goldman describes its activities as prudent risk management. Many Wall Street firms wound up taking losses. The question is, however, how did they manage to get through a couple of bonus cycles without taking accounting losses while showing "profits?"

The answer is that they sold a lot of "hot air" disguised as valuable securities. Goldman claims this was prudent risk management. In reality, Goldman created products that it knew or should have known were overrated and overpriced.

If Wall Street had not manufactured value-destroying securities and related credit derivatives, the money supply for bad loans would have been choked off years earlier. Instead, Wall Street was chiefly responsible for the "financial innovation" that did massive damage to the U.S. economy.

Earlier, Goldman denied it could have known this was a problem, yet acknowledged I had warned about the grave risks at the time. If Goldman wants to stick to its story that it didn't know the gun was loaded, then it is not in the public interest to rely on Goldman's opinion about the greater risk it now poses to the global markets.

Goldman excuses its participation by saying its counterparties were sophisticated and had the resources to do their own research. This is a fair point if Goldman were defending itself in a lawsuit with a sophisticated investor trying to recover damages. It is not a valid point when discussing public funds that were used to bail out AIG, Goldman, and Goldman's "customers."

Goldman claims the portfolios were fully disclosed to its customers. Yet at the time of the AIG bailout, Goldman did not disclose the nature of its trades with AIG, and Goldman did not disclose these portfolios to the U.S. public. If it had, the public might have balked at the bailout.

The public is an unwilling majority owner in AIG, and public money was funneled directly to Goldman Sachs as a result of suspect activity. The circumstances of AIG's crisis were extraordinary and without precedent. I maintain that the public is owed reparations, and it would be fair to make all of AIG's counterparties buy back the CDOs at full price, and they can keep the discounted value themselves.

American "Holy" War


By Rodrigue Tremblay

Since September 11, 2001, a new type of “holy war” may have begun. This time, the new crusade with strong religious overtones pits fundamentalist Christian America and its allies, against political Islam and the radical Islamist al Qaeda network.

On September 16, 2001, then President George W. Bush set the tone when he said: “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is gonna take awhile.”

On December 1, 2009 Nobel “Peace” laureate Barack Obama, president of the United States since January 20, 2009, decided to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

He announced a policy of stepping up the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan-Pashtunistan. He announced an escalation in the military occupation of Afghanistan by sending extra American troops in that Muslim country, putting the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan at more than 100,000.

Not satisfied in using the same vocabulary as George W. Bush, Barack Obama pushed the symbolism by adopting Bush’s practice of announcing policies surrounded by more than 4,000 students dressed as soldiers at the West Point Academy.

This was all too reminiscent of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s fatal decision in 1965 to acquiesce to the request from U.S. commanders to enlarge the Vietnam war by sending scores of additional U.S. soldiers to that Asiatic country.

America seems to be in a constant need of a foreign enemy. First, it was the British. Then it was the Indigenous peoples. Then it was the Mexicans. Then it was the Spanish. Then it was the Filipinos.

Then it was the Japanese. Then it was the Germans. Then it was the Italians. Then it was the Koreans. Then it was the Cubans. Then it was the Vietnamese. Then it was the Soviets. Then it was the Iraqis.

Then it was the Islamists. Then it was the Taliban. And, once the current conflict in Pashtunistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan is over, it will possibly be the Iranians, the Chinese, the Russians…etc.!

The reason for such a permanent-war mentality is most likely related to the U.S. military-industrial complex, an enormous beast that must be fed regularly hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions of dollars, to sustain itself.

In the months following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the high echelons at the Pentagon were busy designing a new post-cold-war strategy designed to keep the U.S. war machine humming.

Paul Wolfowitz, then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in the George H. Bush administration, wrote a memorandum titled “The Defense Policy Guidance 1992-1994”, which was dated February 18, 1992.

The new so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine was a blueprint to “set the nation’s [military] direction for the next century.” This new neocon military doctrine called for the replacement of the policy of “containment” with one of military “preemption” and international “unilateralism”, in effect, discarding the United Nations Charter that forbids such international behavior.

The Pentagon’s overall goal was to establish, through military force, a “one-Superpower World”. The more immediate objectives of the new U.S. neocon doctrine was to “…preserve U.S. and Western access to the [Middle East and Southwest Asia] region’s oil.”

And, as stated in an April 16, 1992 addendum, to contribute “to the security of Israel and to maintaining the qualitative edge that is critical to Israel’s security”.

Because of some opposition within the U.S. Government, the new policy did not become immediately effective. But the objective remained.

For instance, in September 2000, under the auspices of “The Project for the New American Century”, a new strategic document was issued and was entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Strategy: Forces and Resources For a New Century”. The same goals expressed in the 1992 document were reiterated.

The belief was expressed that the kind of military transformation the (neocon) planners were considering required “some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor”, to make it possible to sell the plan to the American public.

They were either very prescient or very lucky, because exactly one year later, they were served with the “New Pearl Harbor” they had been openly hoping for. Indeed, the Islamist terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, turned out to have been a bonanza for the American military-industrial complex.

The military planners’ wish for a “New Pearl Harbor”, was fulfilled at the right time. It is important to remember that from 2001 to 2005, Paul Wolfowitz served as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration, reporting to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

In this capacity, he was well positioned to implement his own Wolfowitz doctrine that later morphed into the George W. Bush Doctrine.

For the time being, this is the “doctrine” that newly-elected President Barack Obama continues to implement in the Pashtunistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan corridor. As a politician, Barack Obama may be new at the job, but the policy he is being asked to implement was crafted long before he even set foot in Washington D.C.

Another possible reason why the United States is so often involved in foreign wars, besides its obvious aim of imposing a New American Empire on the world, may be due to the strong influence of religion in the United States.

Just as for some aggressive Islamic countries, the U.S. is also the most religious of all first world countries.

Researchers have found strong positive correlations between a nation’s religious belief and high levels of domestic stress and anxiety, and other indicators of social dysfunction.

These include homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births and abortions, corruption, large income inequalities, economic and social insecurity, etc.

It is possible that wars serve as an emotional outlet that allows some Americans to forget about their nation’s domestic problems. I suppose more research would be necessary on this issue.

Indeed, is it possible that foreign wars, including wars of aggression, are a way for the American elites to deflect attention from domestic social problems and, as such, are a convenient pretext to direct tax money to defense expenditures rather than to social programs?

The issue deserves at least to be raised. This could explain why U.S. foreign policy is so devoid of fundamental morality.

U.S. politicians who become president understand this American proclivity for war. They know that the best way to popularity is to be seen as a “war president”.

A president who does not start a war abroad or who does not enlarge one already in progress is open to criticism and is likely to suffer politically.

He must be seen less as a president than as “commander-in-chief”, in effect, as an emperor. How could this be, when the framers of the U.S. Constitution attempted precisely to avoid that?

Indeed, Article One (the War Powers Clause) of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress, and not the President, the authority to declare war.

Since World War II, however, this central article of the U.S. Constitution has been circumvented by having Congress give the President a blanket authorization to deploy troops abroad.

This sleight of hand is euphemistically called “police actions“, which means it doesn't need an explicit or formal congressional declaration of war. The term was first used by President Harry S. Truman to describe the Korean War.

This artifice has done a lot to trivialize the act of war. It also contributed much in the transfer of the powers of war and peace from the legislative branch to the executive branch.

In doing so, it has reinforced the role of the U.S. president as a commander-in-chief or as a de facto emperor. Only a formal constitutional amendment could restore, in practice, the framers’ initial intent.

All said, it is easy to understand why when political faces change in Washington D.C., policies do not necessarily change. This push toward empire on the part of the United States can also explain why there is resentment and an anti-Americanism movement abroad.


Plato, The Allegory of the Cave


The son of a wealthy and noble family, Plato (427-347 B.C.) was preparing for a career in politics when the trial and eventual execution of Socrates (399 B.C.) changed the course of his life. He abandoned his political career and turned to philosophy, opening a school on the outskirts of Athens dedicated to the Socratic search for wisdom. Plato's school, then known as the Academy, was the first university in western history and operated from 387 B.C. until A.D. 529, when it was closed by Justinian.
Unlike his mentor Socrates, Plato was both a writer and a teacher. His writings are in the form of dialogues, with Socrates as the principal speaker. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato described symbolically the predicament in which mankind finds itself and proposes a way of salvation. The Allegory presents, in brief form, most of Plato's major philosophical assumptions: his belief that the world revealed by our senses is not the real world but only a poor copy of it, and that the real world can only be apprehended intellectually; his idea that knowledge cannot be transferred from teacher to student, but rather that education consists in directing student's minds toward what is real and important and allowing them to apprehend it for themselves; his faith that the universe ultimately is good; his conviction that enlightened individuals have an obligation to the rest of society, and that a good society must be one in which the truly wise (the Philosopher-King) are the rulers.
The Allegory of the Cave can be found in Book VII of Plato's best-known work, The Republic, a lengthy dialogue on the nature of justice. Often regarded as a utopian blueprint, The Republic is dedicated toward a discussion of the education required of a Philosopher-King.
The following selection is taken from the Benjamin Jowett translation (Vintage, 1991), pp. 253-261. As you read the Allegory, try to make a mental picture of the cave Plato describes. Better yet, why not draw a picture of it and refer to it as you read the selection. In many ways, understanding Plato's Allegory of the Cave will make your foray into the world of philosophical thought much less burdensome.
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[Socrates] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
[Glaucon] I see.
[Socrates] And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
[Socrates] Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
[Glaucon] True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
[Socrates] And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
[Glaucon] Yes, he said.
[Socrates] And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
[Glaucon] Very true.
[Socrates] And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
[Glaucon] No question, he replied.
[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
[Glaucon] That is certain.
[Socrates] And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
[Glaucon] Far truer.
[Socrates] And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
[Glaucon] True, he now.
[Socrates] And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
[Glaucon] Not all in a moment, he said.
[Socrates] He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
[Glaucon] Certainly.
[Socrates] Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
[Glaucon] Certainly.
[Socrates] He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?
[Glaucon] Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.
[Socrates] And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the cave and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
[Glaucon] Certainly, he would.
[Socrates] And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,
Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,
and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?
[Glaucon] Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
[Socrates] Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
[Glaucon] To be sure, he said.
[Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the cave, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
[Glaucon] No question, he said.
[Socrates] This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
[Glaucon] I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you.
[Socrates] Moreover, I said, you must not wonder that those who attain to this beatific vision are unwilling to descend to human affairs; for their souls are ever hastening into the upper world where they desire to dwell; which desire of theirs is very natural, if our allegory may be trusted.
[Glaucon] Yes, very natural.
[Socrates] And is there anything surprising in one who passes from divine contemplations to the evil state of man, misbehaving himself in a ridiculous manner; if, while his eyes are blinking and before he has become accustomed to the surrounding darkness, he is compelled to fight in courts of law, or in other places, about the images or the shadows of images of justice, and is endeavoring to meet the conceptions of those who have never yet seen absolute justice?
[Glaucon] Anything but surprising, he replied.
[Socrates] Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the cave.
[Glaucon] That, he said, is a very just distinction.
[Socrates] But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.
[Glaucon] They undoubtedly say this, he replied.
[Socrates] Whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.
[Glaucon] Very true.
[Socrates] And must there not be some art which will effect conversion in the easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of sight, for that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and is looking away from the truth?
[Glaucon] Yes, he said, such an art may be presumed.
[Socrates] And whereas the other so-called virtues of the soul seem to be akin to bodily qualities, for even when they are not originally innate they can be implanted later by habit and exercise, the of wisdom more than anything else contains a divine element which always remains, and by this conversion is rendered useful and profitable; or, on the other hand, hurtful and useless. Did you never observe the narrow intelligence flashing from the keen eye of a clever rogue --how eager he is, how clearly his paltry soul sees the way to his end; he is the reverse of blind, but his keen eyesight is forced into the service of evil, and he is mischievous in proportion to his cleverness.
[Glaucon] Very true, he said.
[Socrates] But what if there had been a circumcision of such natures in the days of their youth; and they had been severed from those sensual pleasures, such as eating and drinking, which, like leaden weights, were attached to them at their birth, and which drag them down and turn the vision of their souls upon the things that are below --if, I say, they had been released from these impediments and turned in the opposite direction, the very same faculty in them would have seen the truth as keenly as they see what their eyes are turned to now.
[Glaucon] Very likely.
[Socrates] Yes, I said; and there is another thing which is likely. or rather a necessary inference from what has preceded, that neither the uneducated and uninformed of the truth, nor yet those who never make an end of their education, will be able ministers of State; not the former, because they have no single aim of duty which is the rule of all their actions, private as well as public; nor the latter, because they will not act at all except upon compulsion, fancying that they are already dwelling apart in the islands of the blest.
[Glaucon] Very true, he replied.
[Socrates] Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.
[Glaucon] What do you mean?
[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.
[Glaucon] But is not this unjust? he said; ought we to give them a worse life, when they might have a better?
[Socrates] You have again forgotten, my friend, I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.
[Glaucon] True, he said, I had forgotten.
[Socrates] Observe, Glaucon, that there will be no injustice in compelling our philosophers to have a care and providence of others; we shall explain to them that in other States, men of their class are not obliged to share in the toils of politics: and this is reasonable, for they grow up at their own sweet will, and the government would rather not have them. Being self-taught, they cannot be expected to show any gratitude for a culture which they have never received. But we have brought you into the world to be rulers of the hive, kings of yourselves and of the other citizens, and have educated you far better and more perfectly than they have been educated, and you are better able to share in the double duty. Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the cave, and you will know what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth. And thus our State which is also yours will be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good. Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.
[Glaucon] Quite true, he replied.
[Socrates] And will our pupils, when they hear this, refuse to take their turn at the toils of State, when they are allowed to spend the greater part of their time with one another in the heavenly light?
[Glaucon] Impossible, he answered; for they are just men, and the commands which we impose upon them are just; there can be no doubt that every one of them will take office as a stern necessity, and not after the fashion of our present rulers of State.
[Socrates] Yes, my friend, I said; and there lies the point. You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after the' own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State.
[Glaucon] Most true, he replied.
[Socrates] And the only life which looks down upon the life of political ambition is that of true philosophy. Do you know of any other?
[Glaucon] Indeed, I do not, he said.
[Socrates] And those who govern ought not to be lovers of the task? For, if they are, there will be rival lovers, and they will fight.
[Glaucon] No question.
[Socrates] Who then are those whom we shall compel to be guardians? Surely they will be the men who are wisest about affairs of State, and by whom the State is best administered, and who at the same time have other honors and another and a better life than that of politics?
[Glaucon] They are the men, and I will choose them, he replied.
[Socrates] And now shall we consider in what way such guardians will be produced, and how they are to be brought from darkness to light, -- as some are said to have ascended from the world below to the gods?
[Glaucon] By all means, he replied.
[Socrates] The process, I said, is not the turning over of an oyster-shell, but the turning round of a soul passing from a day which is little better than night to the true day of being, that is, the ascent from below, which we affirm to be true philosophy?
[Glaucon] Quite so.

Obama's Health Care Hierarchy

Under newly proposed measures, the estimated cost of Medicare for individuals 55-64 years old would be $7,600 per year, or $633 per month, per person. That would put a recipient on about tier 4 of the pyramid (ten being the top), a level with mediocre services, at best. Who would’ve thought that $633 a month would provide so little?

The extraordinary creativity and commitment of the US government has given birth finally to what appears to be a new health care financing scheme which, like everything in Obama’s America, harkens back to the age of pyramids. There are hints in the Obama bio that he knew well of things pyramid –- a post-college stint writing financial briefs on such topics as interest-rate swaps; an embrace of behavioral economics while on the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School. The health care plan takes this president’s commitment to hierarchy to new heights, in effect adding several layers to the bottom of the American Health Care Pyramid. As everyone concerned with the runaway costs, profiteering and huge voids in the health care feared, Obama’s failure ab inicio to call for fundamental change in the health care system simply builds pyramids, shifting more money from working people and the poor to the health care sector.

By the recent reckoning of one forthright New York City radiologist, health care in the US today exists on six tiers. Under the new plan, it will increase to ten. Stratification is the name of the game, not just in health care, but in wages, credit access, education: the Great Marginalization on the march.

The same prescription –greater stratification of health care services – has been decried by a number of US physicians more inclined to truthfulness and, well, public health than most. Adding Medicaid recipients and integrating them by income level will lead to the creation of “high-level” Medicaid facilities in middle-income neighborhoods. At three or four times poverty income, these new Medicaid-qualified families will be a bit less unappealing to urban health care providers, whose antipathy for the poor is well known. And there will be “mid-level” Medicaid clinics for the one-to-two times poverty income crowd – as in crowded - and on down. Don’t count on state-of-the-art medicine at any of these clinics, especially as you bottom out at the pyramid’s base. Afterall, had you saved, and planned, and worked harder in school -- been more like the Obamas –you would not be at the bottom rung. Or, good care comes to those who’ve cared for themselves. Education starts at home. Savings are possible no matter the wage. Kill more in Afghanistan now to kill less later. Etc., etc.

At no point has President Obama blasted the awful disparity in existing medical services which, with universality and cost control, is a principal argument for single payer. Notice that there is little talk of “good” jobs, not a word about living wages, nothing about working families, displaced people and others catching up, regaining the ground they’ve lost, via a good income. Off the agenda. And not a peep, no reference whatsoever, to the gross disparities in health care quality in the US today.

All attention now is focused on banks paying back their government aid lest they be forced to limit executive pay and lose the good people. Like the good people of Goldman Sachs – which accessed billions of dollars of government money, a fact it likes to play down. But as Bethany McLean reminds us in January’s Vanity Fair,

“Goldman took $10 billion… of TARP… eventually issued $28 billion of [FDIC] debt, close to the limit. As Goldman acknowledged in its public filings, the firm was ‘unable to raise significant amounts of long-term unsecured debt in the public markets, other than as a result of the issuance of securities guaranteed by the FDIC.’”

No guarantees for working Americans, who receive very little from their government: unemployment insurance and food stamps, which add up to a poverty existence. Poverty wages or poverty assistance. And now new levels of poverty health care.

Which takes us back to the pyramid. Top urologists in New York City and other major urban areas pride themselves on NOT accepting any kind of health insurance whatsoever, as do some general surgeons, neurologists and other specialists whose services are reserved for top-of-the-pyramid patients. And why not? It’s a free market… in virtually everything. Nothing being proposed by our government in the health care sphere changes those rules. What’s next? Free markets in kidneys and other organs?

Under newly proposed measures, the estimated cost of Medicare for individuals 55-64 years old would be $7,600 per year, or $633 per month, per person. That would put a recipient on about tier 4 of the pyramid (ten being the top), a level with mediocre services, at best. Who would’ve thought that $633 a month would provide so little?

Washington, D.C.-based health care expert and Medicare author Max Fine wonders why the new Medicare-eligible should be charged so much given how much they’ve already paid into the system for years. Worst, says Fine, is to have a national health insurance program based upon the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program because of its uncontrolled cost structure. What’s more, the new legislation imbeds the insurance industry further in the system, giving insurers 30 million more customers. “It’s not worth doing,” says Fine.

Even those top tiers are bound to thin out. Business Week reports that employers’ health care costs have risen 149 percent since 2000, exceeding $10,000 per employee for the first time this year. The Commonwealth Fund estimates that total premiums for employer-based health insurance will go up 94% by 2020, to almost $2,000 per month per family. For small business and freelancers those huge costs are closer, as Blue Cross/Blue Shield in New York raised premiums 22% this year to about $1,500 per family. Watch your step as you descend the pyramid.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, uses mercenaries and assassins

By Bill Van Auken
Reports that mercenaries employed by the notorious Blackwater-Xe military contracting firm participated in CIA assassinations in Iraq and Afghanistan have further exposed the real character of so-called “good war” that is being escalated by the Obama administration.

Citing former employees of the firm and US intelligence agents, the New York Times reported Friday that Blackwater gunmen, ostensibly contracted as security guards, “participated in some of the CIA’s most sensitive activities—clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees.”

These “snatch and grab” operations—many of them involving killings of individuals suspected of participating in the resistance to US occupation—“occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater employees playing central roles,” the Times reports.

Both the Times and the Washington Post quoted unnamed intelligence officials and ex-Blackwater operatives as asserting that the involvement of the company’s mercenaries in assassinations and abductions was not planned. Rather, they claimed, it was a matter of the division of labor between CIA operatives and private guards supposedly hired for the purpose of protecting them becoming “blurred.”

According to the Times, the Blackwater guards “were supposed to only provide perimeter security during raids, leaving it up to CIA officers and Special Operations military personnel to capture or kill suspected insurgents.” The newspaper added, “But in the chaos of operations, the roles of Blackwater, CIA and military personnel sometimes merged.”

The pretense that armed Blackwater contractors, most of them former US Special Operations troops themselves, would be used merely as security guards for CIA personnel is absurd on its face. Whatever justification was given for the contract, the “skill set” that Blackwater offered was precisely that of highly trained assassins.

A spokesman for Blackwater-Xe responded to the press reports by insisting that there was never any contract for the firm to participate in raids with CIA or Special Forces troops “in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else.” He added: “Any allegation to the contrary by any news organization would be false.”

The absence of a contract spelling out Blackwater’s role in assassination missions is hardly surprising, given that the mercenary outfit’s chief attraction for the CIA is precisely its ability to act without regard to any government oversight or regard for civil or military law. As the Post put it, citing a retired intelligence officer, “For government employees, working with contractors offered ways to circumvent red tape.”

Blackwater’s role as an extra-legal extension of the Central Intelligence Agency tasked with dirty operations with which the CIA did not want its employees directly associated is more than evident.

An article published in the current (January) edition of Vanity Fair, written by Adam Ciralsky, a former CIA attorney, cites intelligence sources in reporting that Eric Prince, the multi-millionaire Republican founder-owner of Blackwater, was not merely a private contractor, but a “full-blown asset” recruited by the agency precisely for such operations.

The central role played by Blackwater in the CIA’s activities became increasingly clear as key agency officials left the CIA and took up positions in Blackwater’s management. These included J. Cofer Black, the former head of the agency’s Counter Terrorism Center, Enrique Prado, the center’s former chief of operations, and Rob Richer, formerly the second-in-command of the CIA’s clandestine service.

In Iraq, Blackwater’s employees acted with complete impunity, killing large numbers of civilians without being held to account by either the Iraqi regime or US military commanders. The scope of this violence came to public attention in September 2007, when a convoy of Blackwater operatives stopped in Baghdad’s Nisour Square and without provocation opened fire on unarmed civilians, killing 17 Iraqis.

Six of the Blackwater mercenaries have been charged by federal prosecutors with voluntary manslaughter over the killings. One of them has pled guilty and is expected to testify against the others in a trial starting in February.

Meanwhile, the company is being sued in separate civil cases brought on behalf of 70 Iraqis over killings by the firm’s employees in Iraq. Two ex-employees of Blackwater have filed affidavits in these cases charging that company head Prince may have either murdered or ordered the murders of individuals cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation of the firm.

Friday’s report in the Times follows a series of revelations that have surfaced since last June, when CIA Director Leon Panetta briefed Congressional intelligence committees about a covert assassination program involving Blackwater, which he claimed to have only just discovered and terminated. Panetta asserted that the program had never been implemented. Until then, it had been kept secret from Congress, reportedly on the orders of former vice president Dick Cheney.

It was subsequently revealed that employees of Blackwater, since renamed Xe Services in an attempt to shed the firm’s infamous reputation, were actively involved in an ongoing assassination program on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, carried out by means of Predator drones. The Blackwater mercenaries were assembling and loading the 500 pound bombs and Hellfire missiles used to carry out so-called “targeted killings,” which have taken the lives of hundreds of civilians. In addition, they provided security for the drone bases and according to some reports, participated in intelligence operations that determined the targets for the attacks.

There have been at least 65 such aerial assassination strikes in Pakistan since August 2008, with a reported death toll of over 625 people. Some estimates put the number killed at over 1,000, many of them women and children. Most of these attacks have taken place since the Obama administration took office.

In addition to the more than 30,000 additional US troops being sent into Afghanistan, Obama has authorized the CIA to dramatically escalate the drone attacks. US officials have also warned the Pakistani government that these attacks are to be extended beyond the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan into Baluchistan, and potentially against the crowded city of Quetta, where Afghan Taliban leaders have reportedly taken refuge.

It is far from clear, based on the Times report, to what extent Blackwater’s role in targeted assassinations, both from the air and on the ground, is continuing. Since 2001, the firm has netted over $1.5 billion in government contracts, providing armed mercenaries for the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon.

One thing is certain, assassinations of the kind involving Blackwater mercenaries are going to be carried out on a far greater scale as part of Obama’s escalation of the US war in Afghanistan.

These plans were hinted at by Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. “There’s no question you’ve got to kill or capture those bad guys that are not reconcilable,” Petraeus told the senators. “And we are intending to do that.”

The general continued, “In fact, we actually will be increasing our counterterrorist component of the overall strategy.” He said that additional “national mission force elements” will be arriving in Afghanistan by next spring.

The “elements” cited by Petraeus include Special Operations units like the Army’s classified Delta Force, as well as CIA hit squads and, in all probability, mercenary forces like those fielded by Blackwater.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, tapped by Obama to direct the Afghan war, was previously the head of the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command, which consists of such special forces troops and assassination squads. Petraeus said that McChrystal could brief members of the Senate committee on this element of the Obama surge in a closed session.

It is noteworthy that the controversy in the major media is centered on whether the use of Blackwater mercenaries to hunt down and murder individuals suspected of opposing the US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan represented an illegitimate use of private contractors in carrying out a core government function.

The murders themselves are not an issue. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order barring the CIA from directly carrying out assassinations or contracting them out to others. The decision followed a wave of public outrage over a series of revelations of CIA assassination plots around the globe that earned the agency the epithet “Murder, Inc.”

In 2001, President George W. Bush overturned Ford’s ruling, issuing his own intelligence finding that such restrictions no longer applied in the “global war on terrorism.” The Democrats offered no objections, and the media has treated it entirely as a matter of course, while blacking out any serious reporting on the resulting carnage and victims.

As with every other essential question, President Barack Obama has adopted Bush’s policy. “Targeted assassinations,” extraordinary rendition, the use of mercenaries, all of the sordid crimes carried out under the Bush administration continue. These brutal methods are about to be unleashed with redoubled force against the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan as Obama oversees new war crimes. 

Killer 'bama: Expanding The Af-Pak War

Bill Van Auken

Obama's 'surge' entails a dangerous expansion of the war into Pakistan, a sharp increase in civilian casualties, the use of assassination squads to murder suspected members of the resistance, and the employment of mercenaries on an unprecedented scale.

“The surge has begun in earnest,” a Pentagon spokesman announced Thursday. While only a few advance elements of a single Marine battalion have arrived in Afghanistan, the escalation in killing and destruction that will accompany the deployment of an additional 30,000 US troops is already underway.

A series of events over the past few days have begun to expose the murderous and protracted character of the so-called surge ordered by President Barack Obama at the beginning of this month.

Obama said in his December 1 speech at West Point that he was implementing “a strategy that works on both sides of the border” separating Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What is becoming clear is that this strategy entails intensified killing in both countries, with the potential for triggering a far more explosive regional crisis.

On Thursday and Friday, US pilotless Predator drone aircraft carried out one of the most intense in an escalating series of missile attacks on Pakistani targets near the Afghanistan frontier.

What was described as a “fleet of drones” pummeled a village in North Waziristan, killing as many as 17 people Thursday. According to media reports, 10 Hellfire missiles were fired into a residential compound allegedly occupied by “militants.”

Two other missiles were fired at a car, killing three people. On Friday, three more people, also described as “militants,” were killed in a separate attack.

The choice of targets for these missiles—fired remotely by CIA employees sitting before video screens in Langley, Virginia—was evidently political.

The Obama administration and the Pentagon have been pressuring the Pakistani government to launch an offensive in North Waziristan, but Islamabad has thus far refused.

Pakistani security forces have formalized a truce with Taliban elements in the area, and there are fears that any move against them “will spark the nationalist elements of the [Pakistani] Army and ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] to side with the pro-Islamists, and spark a civil war within the military,” according to a US intelligence official who spoke to the Long War Journal.

The unprecedented barrage of missiles is a none-too-subtle message to Pakistan’s government that, if it will not do as Washington commands, the CIA and the US military will do it themselves.

Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times, there is a heated debate within the US administration over a proposal to extend the Predator missile strikes into Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest province, and even target its capital, the crowded city of Quetta, where some Afghan Taliban leaders have allegedly sought refuge.

The increasingly aggressive and adventurist US policy toward Pakistan raises the threat that Obama’s surge will profoundly destabilize the nuclear-armed nation and create the conditions for a far wider and more catastrophic war.

On the other side of the border, civilian casualties continue to mount as elements of the surge strategy are put in place.

Three unarmed civilians were killed and a woman wounded when US helicopter gunships swept down and opened fire on their minivan as they traveled down Afghanistan’s main southern highway late Thursday night.

A spokesman for the US-led occupation forces said that the helicopters were responding to a report of men planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the road.

US military commanders have warned that the surge will entail a sharp increase in American and Afghan casualties. Incidents like the one Thursday night will increase even more as the US military unleashes bombs, missiles and artillery barrages in the name of “force protection.”

Much of the increased killing, however, will be far more carefully targeted. As the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday, “The US military command has quietly shifted and intensified the mission of clandestine special operations forces in Afghanistan.”

The report indicates that these secretive units have been ordered to mount a campaign of assassinations aimed at eliminating leaders, members and supporters of the Taliban—a term that is loosely applied by Washington and the media to any Afghan resisting foreign occupation.

“The number of raids carried out by such units as the Army’s Delta Force and Navy’s Seal Team Six in Afghanistan has more than quadrupled in recent months,” the newspaper reported.

According to the Times, these units had been employed in the Afghan theater largely to pursue members of Al Qaeda. Now, however, the Pentagon has ordered them to shift their focus to the Afghan resistance.

Apparently, under the guise of “protecting the Afghan people,” the US strategy will involve the deployment of conventional combat troops to “clear and hold” population centers, using raids and repression to squeeze out resistance elements, who can then be hunted down in more rural areas.

The character of the Obama surge has also been illuminated by a report released Wednesday by a Senate subcommittee charged with contract oversight, which found that between June and September of this year there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of civilian contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan.

This includes the doubling of private security contractors over the same period, from 5,000 to 10,000.

According to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, the total number of contractors in Afghanistan is expected to rise to between 130,000 and 160,000, far outnumbering the number of uniformed military personnel.

Finally, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (a retired general who formerly commanded US troops occupying the country) assured Afghan officials in a speech at the puppet government’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, that Washington has no intention of ending the US military occupation, Obama’s pledge to begin pulling out troops in July 2011 notwithstanding.

“This is not a deadline, despite what some people in the United States and Afghanistan have said,” Eikenberry told his audience. He insisted that “our military commitment will not end or decline even as our combat forces [withdraw].”

In other words, promises to begin pulling out of Afghanistan within a year and a half are meant solely for domestic consumption—a means of deceiving the American people about the real nature of the US intervention.

For the officials of the Karzai regime, whose survival depends entirely on the protection of US troops, the truth is important: Washington intends to militarily occupy Afghanistan on a permanent basis.

Thus, the outlines of Obama’s escalation begin to emerge. It entails a dangerous expansion of the war into Pakistan, a sharp increase in civilian casualties, the use of assassination squads to murder suspected members of the resistance, and the employment of mercenaries on an unprecedented scale.

It is in all respects a dirty, colonial-style war aimed at suppressing popular resistance and subjugating Afghanistan—and ultimately the entire oil-rich region of Central Asia—to US domination.


Muslims Living in the West are Still Unfairly Slandered


What a strange paradox: Muslims escaping to the West, physically and figuratively, only to find double standards, self-negation and, at times, pure hypocrisy.

So this is how democracy works?

In 2004, France banned headscarves and school principals chased after young "defiant" Muslim girls who continued to cover their heads in school.

Now, following a national referendum, Switzerland has banned the construction of minarets, because minarets also somehow symbolize oppression.

Thanks to the dedicated action of the far-right Swiss People's Party, the Alpine skies will be free from the snaking menace, which would spread intolerance and taint the splendor of Swiss architecture.

In between these two peculiar events, the targeting of Muslims in Western countries and the subjugation of entire Muslim nations all over the world has never ceased. Not for a day.

Moreover, the collective targeting of small or large Muslim communities in Western countries, and the deliberate abuse and degradation of Muslim individuals and Islamic symbols (from the Holy Koran to the Prophet Mohammed) has also never ceased.

Bizarrely, most of these actions have been done through "democratic" channels and justified in the name of democracy, on the basis of upholding the principles of secularism and Western values.

Many thoughts come to mind here; all unreservedly angry.

I remember when the word "democracy" used to resonate so loudly among Arabs and Muslims around the world. The more they were denied it, the more they yearned for it.

University campuses in Cairo, Gaza and Karachi took their student union elections so very seriously.

Innocent blood was spilled in clashes around campuses as students desperately tried to express their right to vote, to speak out and to assemble.

Those were the days, when al-demoqratia, Arabic for democracy, was the buzzword in the Middle East and beyond.

Even Palestinian political prisoners held their elections, ever so faithfully, surrounded by highly fortified towers and under the deriding gaze of armed men in the unforgiving heat of the Naqab desert.

Arab and Muslim masses were keen on democracy to the extent that there was a near consensus that democracy, although a Western conception, could be distinguished from the many ills invited by Western interventions, imperialism and wars that scarred and continued to impair the collective Muslim psyche.

An entire school of Muslim thought was in fact established around the concept that democracy and Islam are very much compatible.

Such a notion goes back to Egypt's Azharite scholar Rifa'a al-Tahtawi, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that the principles of European modernity were compatible with Islam.

"Al-Tahtawi's work influenced the philosopher Muhammad Abduh [1849-1905], another Azharite who is often described as the founder of Islamic modernism, which is captured in his statement that in Europe he found Islam without Muslims, while in Egypt he found Muslims without Islam," wrote German anthropologist, Frank Fanselow.

If one sets his prejudices aside to ponder this for a moment, one would realize the intellectual valor it takes to consider and even embrace commonalities with the very powers that have instilled so much harm and fear.

Even in their darkest, least proud moments, Muslim intellectuals and nations displayed impressive open-mindedness. They are hardly ever credited for that.

More recently, in Egypt, people tried hard to vote, in the face of beatings, public humiliation and imprisonment. In Palestine in 2006 the price was even higher - starvation. Gaza continues to endure under a medieval Israeli siege, ultimately because of an election.

Muslim communities in the West have long been considered the luckiest; after all, they live in the abodes of democracy. They drink from the fountain of rights and freedoms that never runs dry.

However, these idealized assumptions missed the fact that Western democracy was conditional. And unconditional democracy can only be a farce.

Much has been said to explain the West's faltering on its own commitment to democracy. No, the tragedy of September 11, 2001, is hardly the defining moment that created the growing chasm that made the West fearful of Islam.

Despite all that has taken place since then - the constant spewing out of right-wing hatred, evangelical fanatic preaching and all the rest - America is still more tolerant than Europe.

Nor was the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe a response in solidarity to America's woes.

Honestly, the French are not fond of Americans, nor are the Germans necessarily that passionate about the Swiss.

But this didn't stop a German Christian Democratic state interior minister, Volker Bouffier, from making a "recommendation" to Muslim communities in his own country: "Naturally the Muslims in Germany have a right to build mosques. But they should make sure not to overwhelm the German population with them."

How do you overwhelm people with minarets? Is this a post-post-post-modernistic logic that we are yet to be informed of?

There are only four minarets in the entire country of Switzerland, a country with a population of approximately 7.6 million people.

How overwhelming can that be? And aren't religious freedom and the freedom of collective and individual expression basic rights guaranteed by democratic values?

But this is hardly about a 4.8-meter tall minaret in the northern Swiss town of Langenthal. It's about the fact that the one who suggested the structure is a Muslim furniture salesman by the name of Mutalip Karaademi.

He didn't know, of course, that his modest idea of adding a minaret to the community's mosque would generate a nationwide referendum, and an international "controversy".

Karaademi was not trying to "Islamificate" the Swiss. He just wanted his community to have a place for worship (as opposed to the unused paint factory it currently uses for prayer), to be able to express its collective identity without fear.

Ironically enough, the Muslim community in Langenthal is mostly Albanians, refugees who fled Kosovo seeking escape and deliverance.

What a strange paradox: Muslims escaping to the West, physically and figuratively, only to find double standards, self-negation and, at times, pure hypocrisy.

For now, however, a new consensus is forming: democracy can be invoked and used against Muslims only, and not for Muslims. It can be manipulated to deny them their identity in Europe and their freedom in Palestine, to ensure their subjugation in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and to meddle in their internal affairs everywhere else.

Al-demoqratia, indeed.