"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Fakest Military Withdrawal Imaginable-‘Rebranding’ U.S. Combat Troops in Iraq

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Oldspeak:” In the immortal words of  Flavor Flav “Don’t Believe The Hype!” The political theater of withdrawal can’t mask Iraq’s rising violence and corruption, political rifts and that some 50,000, mostly combat-ready, US personnel will remain in multiple permanent bases; not to mention the 96,000 private corporate soldiers operating under direction of the U.S. State Department. OBAMA. BRING ‘EM HOME.”

From Ramzy Baroud@Asia Times:

The soldiers of the US 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division hollered as they made their way into Kuwait. “We won,” they claimed. “It’s over.”

But what exactly did they win?

And is the war really over?

It seems we are once again walking into the same trap, the same nonsensical assumptions of wars won, missions accomplished, troops withdrawn, and jolly soldiers carrying cardboard signs of heart-warming messages like “Lindsay & Austin … Dad’s coming home.”

While much of the media is focused on the logistics of the misleading withdrawal of the “last combat brigade” from Iraq on August 19 – some accentuating the fact that the withdrawal is happening two weeks ahead of the August 31 deadline – most of us are guilty of forgetting Iraq and its people. When the economy began to take center stage, we completely dropped the war off our list of grievances.

But this is not about memory, or a way of honoring the dead and feeling compassion for the living. Forgetting wars leads to a complete polarization of discourses, thus allowing the crafters of war to sell the public whatever suits their interests and stratagems.

In an August 22 Washington Post article entitled “Five myths about the Iraq troop withdrawal”, Kenneth M Pollack unravels the first “myth”: “As of this month, the United States no longer has combat troops in Iraq.” Pollack claims this idea is “not even close” because “roughly 50,000 American military personnel remain in Iraq, and the majority are still combat troops — they’re just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called “brigade combat teams” and instead will be called “advisory and assistance brigades”. But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.

So what if the US army downgrades its military presence in Iraq and re-labels over 50,000 remaining soldiers? Will the US military now stop chasing after perceived terrorist threats? Will it concede an inch of its unchallenged control over Iraqi skies? Will it relinquish power over the country’s self-serving political elite? Will it give up its influence over every relevant aspect of life in the country, from the now autonomous Kurdish region in the north all the way to the border with Kuwait in the south, which the jubilant soldiers crossed while hollering the shrieks of victory?

The Iraq war has been one of the most well-controlled wars the US has ever fought, in terms of its language and discourse. Even those opposed to the war tend to be misguided as to their reasons: “Iraqis need to take charge of their own country”; “Iraq is a sectarian society and America cannot rectify that”; “It is not possible to create a Western-style democracy in Iraq”; “It’s a good thing Saddam Hussein was taken down, but the US should have left straight after”. These ideas might be described as “anti-war”, but they are all based on fallacious assumptions that were fed to us by the same recycled official and media rhetoric.

It’s no wonder that the so-called anti-war movement waned significantly after the election of President Barack Obama. The new president merely shifted military priorities from Iraq to Afghanistan. His government is now re-branding the Iraq war, although maintaining the interventionist spirit behind it. It makes perfect sense that the US State Department is now the one in charge of the future mission in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq, while it promises much violence and blood, is now a political scheme. It requires good public relations.

The State Department will now supervise future violence in Iraq, which is likely to increase in coming months due to the ongoing political standoff and heightened sectarian divisions. An attack blamed on al-Qaeda in an Iraqi army recruitment center on August 17 claimed 61 lives and wounded many. “Iraqi officials say July saw the deaths of more than 500 people, including 396 civilians, making it the deadliest month for more than two years,” reported Robert Tait in Radio Free Europe.

Since the March elections, Iraq has had no government. The political rift in the country, even among the ruling Shi’ite groups, is large and widening. The disaffected Sunnis have been humiliated and collectively abused because of the misguided claim that they were favored by Saddam. Hate is brewing and the country’s internal affairs are being handled jointly by some of the most corrupt politicians the world has ever known.

Washington understands that it needs to deliver on some of Obama’s many campaign promises before the November elections. Thus the re-branding campaign, which could hide the fact that the US has no real intention of removing itself from the Iraq’s military or political milieus. But since the current number of military personnel might not be enough to handle the deepening security chaos in the country, the new caretakers at the State Department are playing with numbers.

“State Department spokesman P J Crowley said [a] plan would bring to some 7,000 the total security contractors employed by the government in Iraq, where since the 2003 US invasion private security firms have often been accused of acting above the law,” according to Reuters.

It’s important that we understand the number game is just a game. Many colonial powers in the past controlled their colonies through the use of local forces and minimal direct involvement. Those of us oppose the Iraq war should do so based on the guiding principle that foreign invasions, occupations and interventions in sovereign countries’ affairs are a direct violation of international law. It is precisely the interventionist mindset that must be confronted, challenged, and rejected.

While it is a good thing that that thousands of American dads are now coming home, we must also remember that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi moms and dads never did. Millions of refugees from the US-led invasion are still circling the country and the Middle East.

War is not about numbers and dates. It’s about people, their rights, their freedom and their future. Re-branding the army and the war will provide none of this for grief-stricken and vulnerable Iraqis.

The fact is, no one has won this war. And the occupation is anything but over.

Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and head of the Research Studies Department at Aljazeera.net English.

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Gates Foundation Invests In Monsanto, Buys $21 Million Worth Of Stock; Both Will Profit At Expense Of Small-Scale African Farmers

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 at 9:32 am

Oldspeak:” “The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels. First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”

From Jill Richardson @ La Vida Locavore:

Well, well, well. It’s about time. Kind of like when Fox News gave $1 million in campaign contributions to Republicans. It wasn’t exactly a secret before, but now it’s official. The Gates Foundation just bought a whopping 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with buying stock. My parents hold lots of BP stock, and they are hardly guilty of dumping the 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. But this is one more step in a long line of actions by the Gates Foundation in which it is advocating policies and agricultural technologies that will directly benefit and profit Monsanto while screwing over the most vulnerable people on earth: hungry subsistence farmers in developing countries.

I wrote a piece recently about what happens when American industrial agriculture collides with poor, uneducated subsistence farmers in the developing world and it ain’t pretty. In fact, it’s tragic. It’s criminal. For a corporation to prey upon such a vulnerable population for its own gain, when the result is the starvation, continued impoverishment, or loss of land and lifestyle of the poor.

Perhaps Gates thinks he is doing something good for the world with his advocacy of biotechnology and industrial agriculture. No doubt all of the executives from Monsanto and other biotech and chemical companies tell him that every day. He should instead listen to the 400 scientists who spent 3 years performing the most comprehensive study of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology in the history of the world, the IAASTD report. The report recommends agroecology – what many in the U.S. would refer to as “organics” (even though the term is more nuanced than that).

See the press release from AGRA Watch below.

GATES FOUNDATION INVESTS IN MONSANTO
Both will profit at expense of small-scale African farmers

Seattle, WA – Farmers and civil society organizations around the world are outraged by the recent discovery of further connections between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and agribusiness titan Monsanto. Last week, a financial website published the Gates Foundation’s investment portfolio, including 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock with an estimated worth of $23.1 million purchased in the second quarter of 2010 (see the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission). This marks a substantial increase from its previous holdings, valued at just over $360,000 (see the Foundation’s 2008 990 Form).

“The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels,” said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering. “First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”

Monsanto has already negatively impacted agriculture in African countries. For example, in South Africa in 2009, Monsanto’s genetically modified maize failed to produce kernels and hundreds of farmers were devastated. According to Mariam Mayet, environmental attorney and director of theAfrica Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg, some farmers suffered up to an 80% crop failure. While Monsanto compensated the large-scale farmers to whom it directly sold the faulty product, it gave nothing to the small-scale farmers to whom it had handed out free sachets of seeds. “When the economic power of Gates is coupled with the irresponsibility of Monsanto, the outlook for African smallholders is not very promising,” said Mayet. Monsanto’s aggressive patenting practices have also monopolized control over seed in ways that deny farmers control over their own harvest, going so far as to sue-and bankrupt-farmers for “patent infringement.”

News of the Foundation’s recent Monsanto investment has confirmed the misgivings of many farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates in Africa, among them the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, who commented, “We have long suspected that the founders of AGRA-the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-had a long and more intimate affair with Monsanto.” Indeed, according to Travis English, researcher with AGRA Watch, “The Foundation’s ownership of Monsanto stock is emblematic of a deeper, more long-standing involvement with the corporation, particularly in Africa.” In 2008, AGRA Watch, a project of the Seattle-based organization Community Alliance for Global Justice, uncovered many linkages between the Foundation’s grantees and Monsanto. For example, some grantees (in particular about 70% of grantees in Kenya) of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)-considered by the Foundation to be its “African face”-work directly with Monsanto on agricultural development projects. Other prominent links include high-level Foundation staff members who were once senior officials for Monsanto, such as Rob Horsch, formerly Monsanto Vice President of International Development Partnerships and current Senior Program Officer of the Gates Agricultural Development Program.

Transnational corporations like Monsanto have been key collaborators with the Foundation and AGRA’s grantees in promoting the spread of industrial agriculture on the continent. This model of production relies on expensive inputs such as chemical fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and herbicides. Though this package represents enticing market development opportunities for the private sector, many civil society organizations contend it will lead to further displacement of farmers from the land, an actual increase in hunger, and migration to already swollen cities unable to provide employment opportunities. In the words of a representative from the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, “AGRA is poison for our farming systems and livelihoods. Under the philanthropic banner of greening agriculture, AGRA will eventually eat away what little is left of sustainable small-scale farming in Africa.”

A 2008 report initiated by the World Bank and the UN, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), promotes alternative solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty that emphasize their social and economic roots. The IAASTD concluded that small-scale agroecological farming is more suitable for the third world than the industrial agricultural model favored by Gates and Monsanto. In a summary of the key findings of IAASTD, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) emphasizes the report’s warning that “continued reliance on simplistic technological fixes-including transgenic crops-will not reduce persistent hunger and poverty and could exacerbate environmental problems and worsen social inequity.” Furthermore, PANNA explains, “The Assessment’s 21 key findings suggest that small-scale agroecological farming may offer one of the best means to feed the hungry while protecting the planet.”

The Gates Foundation has been challenged in the past for its questionable investments; in 2007, the L.A. Times exposed the Foundation for investing in its own grantees and for its “holdings in many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility because of environmental lapses, employment discrimination, disregard for worker rights, or unethical practices.” The Times chastised the Foundation for what it called “blind-eye investing,” with at least 41% of its assets invested in “companies that countered the foundation’s charitable goals or socially-concerned philosophy.”

Although the Foundation announced it would reassess its practices, it decided to retain them. As reported by the L.A. Times, chief executive of the Foundation Patty Stonesifer defended their investments, stating, “It would be naïve…to think that changing the foundation’s investment policy could stop the human suffering blamed on the practices of companies in which it invests billions of dollars.” This decision is in direct contradiction to the Foundation’s official “Investment Philosophy”, which, according to its website, “defined areas in which the endowment will not invest, such as companies whose profit model is centrally tied to corporate activity that [Bill and Melinda] find egregious. This is why the endowment does not invest in tobacco stocks.”

More recently, the Foundation has come under fire in its own hometown. This week, 250 Seattle residents sent postcards expressing their concern that the Foundation’s approach to agricultural development, rather than reducing hunger as pledged, would instead “increase farmer debt, enrich agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta, degrade the environment, and dispossess small farmers.” In addition to demanding that the Foundation instead fund “socially and ecologically appropriate practices determined locally by African farmers and scientists” and support African food sovereignty, they urged the Foundation to cut all ties to Monsanto and the biotechnology industry.

AGRA Watch, a program of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice, supports African initiatives and programs that foster farmers’ self-determination and food sovereignty. AGRA Watch also supports public engagement in fighting genetic engineering and exploitative agricultural policies, and demands transparency and accountability on the part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and AGRA.

The Trillion Dollar Bailout You Didn’t Hear About – Commercial Real Estate Values Plummet Again; Banks Hide Losses.

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2010 at 10:22 am

Oldspeak: “A $3.5 trillion financial disaster in the making.  The Federal Reserve (a private bank) now owns loans to Hilton hotels in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Malaysia and Trinidad. It owns loans to the Miami airport, and the Civic Opera House in Chicago. It also owned a loan to Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City. Then, when the owners of the mall couldn’t make the payments, the Fed foreclosed. So now it owns the mall, which includes a Chick-fil-A and an AMC theater.”

From MyBudget360:

The latest data on existing home sales should tell you exactly where we are in this so called recovery.  Average Americans are unable to purchase big ticket items without massive government subsidies.  It is also the case that all the too big to fail banks are standing only because of the generous support of taxpayer money.  Without large tax credits and the Federal Reserve buying down mortgage rates the housing market is extremely weak.  Yet very few of the housing “analysts” actually bother to ask why they are weak in the first place.  The employment market is in disarray and wages have fallen for everyone outside of the top 1 percent of income earners.  The bailout fatigue is running out of steam but banks are using clandestine methods to offload trillions of dollars of commercial real estate to taxpayers.  The next giant bailout is already happening but you probably haven’t heard about it.

Commercial real estate values continue to slide:

Source:  MIT

For the latest month of data prices fell an additional 4 percent.  Now this is coming at a seasonal time when real estate values usually see price increases.  But people are pulling back and spending less money on discretionary items.  This is happening for a couple of reasons including the fact that wages have been stagnant for over a decade and the underemployment rate is still near peak levels.  Commercial real estate in places like Las Vegas has crashed because who is out buying million dollar condos in this market?  Very few and that is why you are seeing many places having vacancy rates of 50, 60, or even 70 percent.

TALLAHASSEE — Condo bills have flooded the Capitol.

More than five dozen have been filed during the legislative session, as Florida grapples with its real estate crisis. But boil down the language of the proposals to help cash-strapped condo dwellers, and there are only a handful of ideas:

Make it easier for investors to buy multiple units in empty buildings. Delay state-mandated upgrades. Discover ways to punish owners who don’t pay skyrocketing association dues.”

So instead of letting prices correct and allowing markets to set the actual price based on lower incomes, the government and specifically the banking and housing industry are trying to do everything to keep home prices inflated.  Ironically they are using agencies that were intended to help low to moderate income buyers purchase, in essence, affordable housing.   And if the prices don’t stay inflated, they offer big discounts only to their crony friends.  So how exactly is this benefitting the typical American family?

Over a year ago, the U.S. Treasury was secretly discussing “Plan B” about gearing up for a giant commercial real estate bailout.  Not much was said about this in the mainstream media.  Yet now we know that banks specifically the Fed are taking on incredible amounts of CRE loans onto their books.  In other words, the bailout is already happening.  Think this isn’t the case?  We now own a mall out in Oklahoma:

Source:  NPR

“(NPR) As part of the bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York spent more than $70 billion to buy toxic assets the companies owned. Last week, prompted by a lawsuit filed by Bloomberg News, the Fed finally told the world exactly what it bought.

The Fed now owns loans to Hilton hotels in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Malaysia and Trinidad. It owns loans to the Miami airport, and the Civic Opera House in Chicago.

It also owned a loan to Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City. Then, when the owners of the mall couldn’t make the payments, the Fed foreclosed. So now it owns the mall, which includes a Chick-fil-A and an AMC theater.”

How much demand exists for this out in the current market?  There isn’t much if you look at current CRE values.  But prices are continually distorted as more and more money is filtered to the banking sector of the economy.  Keep in mind that many banks have incredible amounts of CRE debt.  As we just saw with existing home sales, without massive tax subsidies the market is still overpriced.  CRE values are coming down to reflect their true values yet the suspension of mark to market and the ability of banks to roll over bad loans keeps price discovery hidden long enough to devise additional ways to push this toxic waste to taxpayers.

The fact that the entire banking system is now held up by taxpayer money, we have in effect nationalized the banking system with no actual benefits of nationalization.  That is, all the profits go to banks while all the losses hit the taxpayer.  This goes for Bank of America, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, and every other entity that is a ward of the state in one way or another.

Commercial real estate has gotten zero play in the mainstream media even though this is a $3 trillion market.  Does the public drive by an empty condo building or strip mall and think about the larger implications?  Maybe they don’t and that is why the government and banks are working together to slowly work their shadow bailout.

U.S.A. A Failed State? It May Be Closer Than You Think

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2010 at 3:12 pm
Oldspeak:” Everything is a version of something else…”
From Paul Wallis @ Digital Journal:
There’s only one common factor in the failure of great nations: Mismanagement. The USA is heading down a well traveled road to its own Armageddon. Rome, China, Russia, the British Empire and others have all been there before.
The Caligula- like state of the US as a corporate entity is hardly a secret. Caligula made his horse a god, the US media has made dis-informative demagogues gods. Any factually inaccurate piece of information has a fairly good chance of becoming accepted as gospel truth in this environment.
The political environment is utterly incapable of governance without melodrama. The GOP doesn’t listen, and the Democrats apparently don’t learn. The ultra-constipated movement of legislation regularly brings actual government to an actual standstill, it just carries on by inertia until someone condescends to pass an appropriation.
Economically the nation’s a disaster area, and the only notable growth in employment is for press release writers who don’t particularly care what they write or why they write it.
This could be considered a continuation of the Civil War by other means. This time, however, the enemy is the public. “They the people” have no effective means of fighting back, and the slaves are now bonded to cheapskate salaries which have created a class of Working Poor which never really existed except in the absolute bottom minimum wage jobs before about 1980. The public has been politically neutered.
Nothing gets done well. Wars, budgets, policies, whatever, they all stagger along in a dysfunctional daze until some new crisis emerges. This is exactly the same story as many fallen civilizations.
The rule the Romans could have taught the US is simple: “Don’t go broke.” Economic chaos was more common than not in the Roman Empire, and the disasters multiplied as the financial tangles and lack of money progressively beggared everything but the military. Ultimately, the military auctioned off the job of Emperor to somebody, decided they didn’t like him, and killed him, before another succession of emperors killed off the Western Roman Empire and an entirely different civilization emerged in the east.
The Chinese could have taught the US another basic lesson: “Insularity destroys countries.” The Chinese went from being the most advanced nation on Earth to a primitive, closed society incapable of dealing with Western and Japanese expansion. That wasn’t ancient China, by the way. It was the story of China up to 1911. Nearly a half a century of unrestrained bloodbaths did the rest.
The Russians can provide a lesson that “A monomaniacal approach to spending is fatal.” The crash of the Soviet Union was a hideous event inside Russia, resulting in the life expectancy dropping by a few decades for a while. The end result was a totally different nation, much amended geographically and politically.
The British Empire has another lesson: “However big you are, ignorance and hidebound policies will wipe you out.” A few wars, a lot of social and economic mismanagement, and where’s the British Empire?
Poland could have taught the US a thing about politics: “Politics and sleaze are the same things”. In the 18th century, 100% vote was required to pass legislation. The result was a roaring trade in vote buying, national poverty and the country was absorbed by Prussia and Russia.
The US, through a truly insane, self-inflicted mix of these factors, has managed to achieve a condition which would have been unthinkable a generation ago. A complete misconception of itself has helped a lot. The US is a super power, not because of its nukes, but because of its economic clout. That clout has been reduced to a paper fan by the recession, unprecedented loss of real capital, and the shutdown of America’s truly global range secret weapon, credit, now well and truly disarmed by its own operators. Trade, internal and external, is now a twitching mess of signals, with all indicators looking every way but up.
The social results are well known. Crime, media pandering to privileged nutcases and politics are now the only real growth industries. The basics of Middle America have been falling to pieces. Home ownership, health, education, welfare, you name it. The state economies are deficit-riddled disaster areas. The Midwest has been gutted. Michigan was in deep recession long before the crash. Jobs which generate domestic capital were long ago exterminated by outsourcing. California has been battling its budget for decades. The South is a “job free zone”, made worse by the recession. The West? What West? There’s a West?

And the result so far?

What’s most fascinating about this train wreck is the aura of respectability so many people who’ve contributed to it seem to think they have. Duly elected ignoramuses claiming they know a damn thing about running a hot dog stand. Arguably the most gutless, talentless, and notably very unelected collection of people in history providing a Rent A Mob Rule effect in the media. A collection of naïve, absolutely powerless dupes like the Tea Party somehow deciding they’ve figured out what’s wrong with everything and can fix it with slogans.
The Tea Party could rename itself the Tea Towel, because that’s how much actual influence they have. They’re free publicity for political interests, have no power base, no capital, no direct enabling connections and no way of influencing anything that doesn’t want to be influenced. They’re also paying very large amounts of money for the privilege.
On the Liberal side, “Hunker Down” has replaced “Yes We Can”. Once again, idealism is supposed to educate, house, tend to the sick and employ people, and create a future out of rhetoric.
Wanna bet?
The great immovable sewer blockage which is modern Washington is hardly the best tool for actual achievement. Its contribution to date over what feels like centuries of bipolar girlish tantrums is self delusion. Nothing, a round and jolly zero, has been done to de-clog the thing. Legislation is one thing, working methods are another, and facts don’t seem to agree with either of them. Ideology has gone from a revolutionary principle to an excuse. This lesson seems never to be learned.
It doesn’t matter how sincere you may be, how talented, or how pragmatic. What matters is what’s achieved. The US needs to get its head out of its backside and start working on real achievements. If liberal progressives want to claim any sort of achievement, that’s where to start. Find the methods, and stop tinkering with a machine which no longer works, or even pretends to work.

The definition of a failed state is “Can’t get anything done and things keep getting worse”. How close is that, would you say?

Despite Fresh Rhetoric About Saving U.S. Manufacturing, Obama Is Quietly Pushing Failed Bush Trade Policies

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2010 at 10:02 am

President Barack Obama is given a tour of the Trinity Structural Towers Manufacturing Plant by Senior Vice President, Mark Stiles, Wednesday, April 22, 2009, in Newton, Iowa. White House Photo/Pete Souza

Oldspeak: “Close to 2 years into his presidency, why is Obama still turning his back on American workers?! With jobs at the forefront of every voter’s mind, President Barack Obama  has been publicly promoting new trade policies to make sure that U.S. companies don’t send manufacturing jobs overseas. Behind the scenes, the administration is still pushing for the same failed Bush-era trade policies that sent millions of American jobs abroad and created global imbalances that helped fuel the financial crisis.Yet another example of The President saying one thing and doing the EXACT OPPOSITE. :-|”

From Mike Elk @ Alter Net:

With jobs at the forefront of every voter’s mind, President Barack Obama and key members of his administration have been publicly promoting new trade policies to make sure that U.S. companies don’t send manufacturing jobs overseas. It’s a politically and economically sound strategy—but unfortunately, it’s all talk. Behind the scenes, the administration is still pushing for the same failed Bush-era trade policies that sent millions of American jobs abroad and created global imbalances that helped fuel the financial crisis.

After witnessing the outrageous Congressional hurdles presented to Obama’s efforts to pass a jobs bill, the administration is understandably looking for an inexpensive, politically popular way to create jobs in America. Encouraging companies to make more of their goods in the United States creates jobs directly and indirectly, since additional jobs associated with the services for manufactured goods become needed. The plan also eases international capital imbalances that funneled trillions of dollars into the Wall Street casinos, making the entire global economy less susceptible to financial shocks. It also happens to poll very well, something Obama adviser Rahm Emmanuel clearly understands.

“In coming weeks, the president will expand his push to create clean-energy jobs to include more traditional industries such as automobiles and railroads.”Made in America” will become the “big theme,” Rahm Emanuel said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

The numbers on American manufacturing are grim. In October 2009, more people were officially unemployed (15.7 million) than were working in U.S. manufacturing. That hasn’t happened since the Great Depression. And much of the damage has been dealt in the past decade alone — 5.5 million manufacturing jobs, nearly 32 percent of the U.S. total, have been lost in the United States since George W. Bush took office in 2000.

Rebuilding an economy based on manufacturing makes our society less susceptible to the risks created by Wall Street speculation, and spurs further economic activity outside of manufacturing itself. We can’t have a stable economy without a sturdy manufacturing base– without it, our prosperity is dictated by the whims of big financiers. By 2007, nearly 40 percent of U.S. corporate profits were coming from finance, leaving a feeble base to support workers when Wall Street crashed. Fortunately, for each dollar invested in manufacturing, another $1.43 of economic activity in industries linked to manufacturing is created—a multiplier effect that makes the sector an efficient way to create jobs.

There are few political slogans more popular on the left or the right than “Let’s make things in America again!” House Democrats began to talk about rolling out a massive “Making it in America” strategy after getting briefed on a poll by the Melman Group and the Alliance for American Manufacturing. The poll revealed that 74 percent of self-described Tea Party supporters would support a “national manufacturing strategy to make sure that economic, tax, labor, and trade policies in this country work together to help support manufacturing in the United States.” The top concerns of most Americans, including Tea Party supporters, is not the size of the federal budget deficit, but our relationship with China, which includes a massive trade imbalance that neither major political party is directly challenging.

After seeing this poll, Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said Democrats in Congress were eager to help revive the American manufacturing base. Nancy Pelosi then pressed the White House to adopt a more formal strategy and was seen leaving the White House with a folder labeled “Making It in America.”

So House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer consulted with the Obama team and announced a play to roll out 18-20 bills focused on promoting manufacturing in the United States. Roll Call labeled it a “Hail Mary” eager to show they can do something on jobs. It’s political gold, since Republicans will have a hard time obstructing measures strongly supported by their own political base. And the plan is cheap—it doesn’t impact the budget much, since most of the bills deal with simply re-routing government subsidies to companies that make products here, rather than paying them to companies that offshore jobs.

This program marks a complete about-face from the Obama administration’s prior stance on trade. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch said that seeing Rahm Emanuel pushing Buy America provisions put her in a state of shock. “The White House has systematically pushed back against the actual attempts by members of Congress to expand Buy America policy.” Forces in the White House are working against attempts to include Buy America legislation in clean water legislation.

But the reality is that Rahm Emmanuel has only taken the polling on manufacturing to heart, not the actual trade policies. Despite efforts by House Democrats to revive manufacturing, the White House is actively pushing the exact opposite agenda with the South Korea Trade Agreement—a deal negotiated by the Bush administration that would offshore hundreds of thousands of jobs and widen the already yawning trade deficit with Korea.

“The Made in America frame works politically,” says Wallach. “But to translate it into policy the administration needs to renegotiate the leftover Bush-era Free TradeAgreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia that the International Trade Coalition says would increase our global trade deficit and explicitly forbid Buy America preferences, not push them toward passage and stop pushing back against congressional efforts to expand Buy America government procurement rules in other areas.”

One of the primary impacts of the deal will be on the automobile industry, a struggling U.S. industry that employs half a million people. Put simply, the South Korea FTA would deal it a devastating blow. At the end of 2008, the U.S. had a $13.4 billion trade deficit with Korea, $10.5 billion of which came from the auto sector. For every car the United States exports to Korea, we import over 1,000 into the United States.

Passing the South Korea treaty would only widen that gap, because Korean companies can abuse their labor without reprise, cutting costs for executives in the process. The nation currently refuses to comply with international labor rights stated under the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Just as troubling, the proposed treaty also explicitly bans key Buy America provisions related to clean energy production—hampering American entrance into a critical new industry while boosting Korean manufacturers with some of the world’s worst labor records.

This isn’t the first time Democratic leaders have talked the talk on Making It in America while refusing to walk the walk. Bill Clinton famously campaigned against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), then aligned himself with Republicans to push NAFTA through over the objections of House Democrats. Outright lies like these have created distrust of Democrats among manufacturing workers in the Midwest. Even though the manufacturing sector is more heavily unionized than other industries, President Obama’s approval rating is 11 points lower among households were a family member is employed in manufacturing than a household where no one is employed in manufacturing.

Clinton’s NAFTA reversal didn’t just breed long-term distrust, it also had immediate political repercussions. The agreement passed in 1994, provoking a strong rebuke to Clinton from House Leaders, including then-Majority Leader Dick Gephardt. It weakened confidence in Democrats’ governing abilities by creating needless divisions within the party. Just a few months after the deal was signed, Democrats were swept out of Congress.

Obama is already facing similar divisions today.  In late July, 109 Democrats wrote to President Obama asking him for a meeting.  The 109 congressmen put it quite bluntly in their letter to the president what they think the treaty will do: “Implementing this pact without major changes to the text will exacerbate the U.S. trade deficit; further erode the U.S. manufacturing base; jeopardize our efforts to guard against another global economic meltdown… Moreover it is simply out of touch with what the overwhelming majority of American people want.”

There are other politically and economically sound strategies the Obama team could pursue. Instead of toeing the Bush line with South Korea, the administration could back a plan to overhaul the U.S. relationship with China—a major concern for voters of many ideological persuasions. A great entry point is Chinese currency manipulation. By tampering with the value of the yuan, China is able to effectively create huge, illegal tariffs which make Chinese goods 25-40 percent cheaper than American goods.

Democrats could divide the Republican base if they brought up a bill labeling China a currency manipulator. “Almost half the Republican caucus would vote for a bill like that,” said Alliance for American Manufacturing director Paul, who knows a thing or two about counting votes on trade issues from his days as trade adviser to House Minority Whip David Bonior.

So Obama and Democratic leaders have plenty of politically options available if they want to pursue sound trade policies to strengthen the economy. So far, however, the administration is simply performing a public head-fake, while continuing the Bush-era offshoring agenda.

Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer and journalist whose work appears frequently in In These Times. He previously worked for Campaign for America’s Future and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE).

Billionaire Brothers Charles & David Koch Have Quietly Given More Than $100 Million to Right-Wing Causes:The New Yorker

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Behold the men behind the Tea Party, FreedomWorks, Americans For Prosperity, The Cato Institute, and countless other right wing causes.”

Related Articles :

Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging A War Against Obama

In Landmark Campaign Finance Ruling, Supreme Court Removes Limits on Corporate Campaign Spending

As Five States Hold Primaries, a Look at the Role of Money in Politics

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

An article in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine by Jane Mayer profiles billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, two of the richest men in America who have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes. Mayer writes, “The [Koch] brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.”

Guest:

Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity. He currently runs the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’m going to talk about another piece now, Chuck.

CHARLES LEWIS: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Chuck Lewis, you’re quoted in this major article in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine by Jane Mayer—

CHARLES LEWIS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —that profiles billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have quietly given more than $100 million to right-wing causes. Jane Mayer writes, quote, “In Washington, [David] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.

“With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars…The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.”

The New Yorker piece goes on to say, “The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.”

Jane Mayer goes on to write, quote, “Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.”

Koch Industries has a response to the New Yorker article on its website. It reads, quote, “We submitted extensive facts and background information to the magazine. Given that all we provided did not change the publication’s negative, unbalanced tone and agenda, we declined their requests to speak to Koch executives. The story dredges up issues resolved long ago and mischaracterizes our business philosophy and principles, our practices and performance record, and the education efforts and policies we support.” It then goes on to address specific points like their environmental record, climate change, the groups Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for a Sound Economy, healthcare reform, and so on.

Well, Chuck Lewis, talk about the significance of these oil billionaires, the Koch brothers, and what their money, what more than $100 million funneled into right-wing causes, including climate change-denying groups, has meant.

CHARLES LEWIS: Well, yeah, I have been following the Koch brothers now—unofficially, I guess you’d say—I mean, when I ran the Center for Public Integrity for fifteen years, I first brushed up against them because they were one of Bob Dole’s top ten career patrons. And then I wanted to see what—

AMY GOODMAN: We should say Koch, by the way, is spelled K-O-C-H, for people who’ve seen it, but didn’t know how it’s pronounced.

CHARLES LEWIS: Yeah, K-O—yeah, right, not the soft drink, yeah.

Anyway, I started noticing this company some years ago. It is true, they have—I think the $100 million number may be a very conservative number by The New Yorker and by Jane Mayer. And by the way, the Koch Industries company and the Koch brothers essentially planted a very fawning profile of the Koch brothers in the New York Magazine days before as a way of preempting the New Yorkerarticle. And they never consent to interviews. I tried to interview them for two different Buying of the President books, and they had no interest whatsoever in talking. And in one case, they mildly threatened to sue. So they are—these are very aggressive brothers and, of course, among the wealthiest people on planet earth.

What makes them different—we have seen rich people try to influence politics in America since the beginning of the republic. What makes them unusual—and I’ve been around Washington since roughly around Watergate in the mid-’70s. What makes the Koch brothers unusual is the amount of money that they have spent, and done it in a stealthy, undisclosed manner. But we have—folks have found out over the years how much the money is: over $100 million, and it’s probably much larger. That is almost entirely spent to further the interest of the Koch Industries. They are ideologues. Their father, Fred Koch, who started the company, was part of the John Birch Society. And so, we’re talking extreme right-wing ideologues. And to say that they believe in free enterprise is almost too mild to describe their politics. But what they have done is they have tried to subvert legislation that they saw would impact on their company.

Let me give you an example. And this is where I discovered their activities in the mid-’90s. I noticed not only that they were one of Robert Dole—then-Senate Majority Leader running for president against Bill Clinton—not only were they among his biggest donors ever in his long forty-four-year career, but I also noticed that they funded this thing called the Citizens for a Sound Economy, which there was no disclosure of the donors, but it was obvious they had given huge amounts of money, millions of dollars. They were being prosecuted for 300 oil spills by the Customs and EPA and Justice Department, parts of the federal government. And they asked the Senate Majority Leader to insert in the so-called regulatory reform legislation a clause that would get rid of any current prosecutive effort by the US government against Koch Industries. And it was—the person writing the draft for that legislation was the chair of the board of Citizens for a Sound Economy, former White House counsel in the first Bush administration Boyden Gray. This did not work, because several people died from bad hamburgers from an E. coli outbreak, and the public started to realize that maybe we do need regulation. And the whole idea for regulatory reform kind of eased, and that thing kind of went away. But the fact that this company tried to manipulate things to that extent just astonished me. I’ve never seen a bare-knuckles move like that quite so obvious. It was then discovered that they had cutout groups called Triad, and they were running attack ads in sixteen states, running it through a third party, another third party cutout, that were nonprofits running these outside group attack ads. And all the people being attacked were Democrats running against free enterprise Republicans in places where they had manufacturing facilities. And so, their activities are not only substantial and almost entirely undisclosed, in terms of how much they spend and where, but it’s virtually entirely for the furtherance of Koch Industries. And that’s what makes them so extraordinary, in my experience. I’ve never seen anything quite like these guys. And I did say in the Jane Mayer New Yorker article that Koch Industries is the Standard Oil of our time. This is a very powerful, almost entirely unknown company that is exceedingly aggressive in its tactics and its political maneuverings.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s very interesting, because, on the one hand, they’re funding the Tea Party and Tea Party organizations around the country that are growing.

CHARLES LEWIS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And on the other hand, they’re funding for the arts. The article by Jane Mayer, called “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama,” begins with a scene at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, where they’re honoring—it’s the seventieth annual spring gala of the American Ballet Theatre. David Koch is being honored. He had recently given two-and-a-half million to the company’s upcoming season. He was standing next to Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Only Michelle Obama wasn’t there, who was supposed to be there, and maybe we now know why, though they said a scheduling conflict. The Kochs have donated a million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears its name, David Koch’s name. He’s given $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he pledged $10 million to renovate them. And he serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than $40 million, an endowed chair and research center were named for him.

Now, later in the piece, it’s very interesting, because it talks about the fact that Koch Industries became a major producer of formaldehyde after it bought Georgia-Pacific, the paper and wood products company, for $21 billion. So Jane Mayer asked James Huff, an associate director at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, a division of the NIH, about this. He said it was “disgusting” for Koch to be serving on the National Cancer Advisory Board. Huff said, “It’s just not good for public health. Vested interests should not be on the board.” He went on, “Those boards are very important. They’re very influential as to whether N.C.I. goes into formaldehyde or not. Billions of dollars are involved in formaldehyde.”

And then she quotes Harold Varmus, the director of the National Cancer Institute, who knows David Koch from Memorial Sloan-Kettering, which he used to run. He said, at Sloan-Kettering, “a lot of people who gave to us had large business interests. The one thing we wouldn’t tolerate [in our board members is] tobacco.” When told of Koch Industries’ stance on formaldehyde, Varmus said he was “surprised.”

Charles Lewis, talk about the link between the chemical companies that they’re involved with and also just the Koch brothers’ funding of Tea Party movements and organizations.

CHARLES LEWIS: Right. You know, the chemical companies, my—the Center for Public Integrity investigated formaldehyde and the chemical companies. And the industry, in general, has always tried, of course, to avoid regulation, to keep formaldehyde legal, so they can continue to make money. And they have infiltrated groups like the American Cancer Society and all kinds of other groups. So, industries getting in the face of and in penetrating inside the federal worlds of these regulatory agencies is, as you know, a long and old and very sad story.

That article also mentions the Smithsonian has an exhibit that basically has clearly anti-climate change, you know, sort of conservative-slash-oil industry rhetoric about that whole subject of how the world has evolved and how warm is it getting and all that stuff. And the idea that there’s the Koch—this the Koch wing of the Smithsonian, but then you find out that the exhibits kind of reflect the Koch Industries’ view of the world. This oil company’s view of the world is, I think, incredibly disturbing. If I was a trustee at the Smithsonian or these other places, or Congress, having oversight, I think these are significant issues. I don’t know the extent to which anything will happen, but it’s outrageous.

You know, I have followed Koch pretty closely, but I didn’t actually know about the Tea Party involvement, really, to the extent that Jane Mayer lays it out. It’s totally predictable, now that I think about it, because they also helped to fund the term limit movement and the Libertarian Party as far back as 1980. Libertarians, of course, don’t believe in any environmental regulation. And so, the Tea Party thing is just the latest example, but, as Jane points out, is the most populist one. It’s got—they’ve actually found a public out there, so it’s not a top-down. It’s actually—it starts to have the public appearance of being grassroots. What most Americans don’t know is that these folks are trained by and taught, “educated,” quote-unquote, by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Industry group. So now we know who’s funding the Tea Party movement, and I think this article is a very constructive thing for the public to get the truth about what’s really going on with these folks.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have President Obama actually naming them. Jane Mayer says, “The Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing [all the] details about them. They have been content to operate what David Koch has called ‘the largest company that you’ve never heard of.’ But with the growing prominence of the Tea Party, and with increased awareness of the Kochs’ ties to the movement, the brothers may find it harder to deflect scrutiny.” Recently, President Obama, in Austin, at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, said—he warned supporters that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Citizens United case, which struck down laws prohibiting direct corporate spending on campaigns, had made it even easier for big companies to hide behind what Obama said were “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity.” Obama said, “They don’t have to say who, exactly, Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation,” or even, he added, “a big oil company.”

Last thirty seconds, Charles Lewis?

CHARLES LEWIS: Well, this is a problem we have, and it’s a problem we have with both parties, of these cutout groups that have nice-sounding names and we have no idea what they’re doing. It’s dangerous for a president, in a way, to single out a group, because Bill Clinton tried it during the healthcare debate, and it brought the president of the United States down to the level of a trade association or a nonprofit. But what Obama said is correct. We don’t know who these people are. We don’t know what they’re about. There should be disclosure about these groups, and there isn’t. And, you know, we have a wild and untenable atmosphere when it comes to political discourse in this country, because money is going to rule everything here. It already has for years, and it’s going to get worse.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Lewis, thanks so much for joining us, founder and former president of the Center for Public Integrity, now teaching Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. We will link to Jane Mayer’s very important piece in The New Yorker called “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama.”

6 Reasons To Have Casual Sex

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2010 at 11:33 am

Oldspeak:“Casual sex is often presented as damaging. But it could be a good path to discovering important things about your sexuality. If women’s mags like Cosmo are to be believed, sex is a pretty predictable phenomenon, more like operating a basic machine than learning the unique tastes of an individual. Given our culture’s obsessive promotion of narrow beauty aesthetics and even narrower sexual practices, one might never suspect that people have wildly divergent preferences, arousal triggers, and responses to touch. Variety in partners makes it nearly impossible to maintain the “one size fits all” mentality, while never experiencing more than one partner might actually reinforce it.”

From Monica Shores @ Alter Net:

Casual sex and one-night stands are almost always framed as damaging to women, particularly young women. In recent years, writers like Laura Sessions Stepp and Wendy Shalit have issued dire warnings about the alleged dangers of sex outside of committed relationships.

Let’s call this rhetoric what it is: a tired repeat of the sexist double standards that have haunted women for centuries. (The subtitle of Shalit’s second book, “It’s Not Bad To Be Good,” clearly articulates the regressive notion that chastity and sexual restraint renders one “good.”)

The idea that women are so fragile that a bad one night stand leaves them scarred —or “in turmoil” as Laura Sessions Stepp puts it—is destructive. (So is the common belief that men are incapable of feeling empty or sad after a similar encounter; Sessions Stepp absurdly claims that when it comes to being in turmoil, “boys are not.”)

With consensual, no-strings-attached sex so regularly under fire, the positive aspects of “hooking up” rarely come to light. Here are six ways that having (safe) sex outside of a monogamous relationship might actually be good for you.

1. Asserting your desires can create a tremendous sense of power.

The word “empowerment” is so fraught as to be nearly useless. But for girls who are constantly bombarded with the message that they need commitment before enjoying sex, there’s real strength in freeing their sex drive from conservative norms.

Some women don’t need a deep spiritual connection in order to enjoy carnal pursuits and some men do; the old stereotypes aren’t useful in navigating your own needs, and breaking anachronistic expectations through experience could lead you to a better understanding of your own sexuality. Sex educator Heather Corinna’s ongoing, massive survey of sexual experience and attitudes—8,553 respondents so far (4,990 women, 81% casual sex participants)—shows many women have sex outside of relationships for that very reason: 80% of her respondents chose “to find out more about my sexuality” as a motivation for having casual sex.

Similarly, almost 80% cited their desire “to feel free/uninhibited,” which leads us to the next point.

2. It might help you transcend your inhibitions.

When most of us embark on a new relationship, we’re inundated with anxieties. We usually want to please the other person and we want them to think well of us, because we think highly of them and we want to make the connection last. Above all, we definitely don’t want to weird them out with our strange fantasies and turn-ons. We save that type of honesty for much later, when we feel safer. Many couples never share at all: lack of disclosure is the norm for married couples in a variety of ways, whether the issue isfinances or hopes and dreams. In a 2001 poll, only 52% of male respondents and 62% of female respondents told their spouses about their sexual history.

There’s less at stake emotionally with a casual partner. This is the very target at which critics aim their arrows—how can women enjoy sex without an emotional connection?!—but this lack of investment can be freeing. It’s the same relative anonymity that causes some people to blurt out their deepest secrets to their hairdresser or a taxi driver. When we’re with someone who isn’t a fixture of our daily life, our egos relax enough to let a little authenticity come through. Rather than worrying about impressing the other person, you can be more assertive about what satisfies them in bed. And in doing so…

3. You’ll learn more about your sexuality

Through encountering new techniques and tastes, through subduing the urge to self-censor, you’ll start to recognize what brings you the greatest amount of pleasure as well as what completely turns you off. In a perfect world, this type of exploration can take place with someone you’re in love with. But many men and women have had the sad experience of falling in love with someone who refuses to indulge in playful sex or whose preferences are entirely at odds with their partner’s.

The heart and the libido are by no means guaranteed to be compatible. (The New York Times recently reported that 15% of marriages were sexless, meaning the couple had not had sex in six months to a year. Casual sex bypasses this by concerning itself primarily with the libido, which is typically regarded as a source of shame and fear, but can yield its own profound and revelatory moments.

4. You might learn about yourself emotionally

The fear and propaganda around one-night stands isn’t just sexist, it’s illogical. Bad long-term relationships involving miscommunication, unmet expectations, and lies are just as likely to damage participants as any sexual disappointment on a short-term scale. Both men and women are only as vulnerable as they allow themselves to be, and provided they’re with someone who won’t exploit it, vulnerability can be a beautiful thing whether in the confines of a traditional relationship or not.

A series of hook ups might lead you to the conclusion that you’re enjoying single life and not ready for anything longer-term, or may prove to you that you feel the best sexually and emotionally when you’re serious about someone. Either way, it will be a truth about yourself that you’ve tested out, not something you assumed out of fear. As Laura Sessions Stepp says dismissively, “everyone’s had some sort of sexual experience and they all think they’re experts on it.” But no one other than yourself can be the expert on your sexual experience.

5. You might be a better partner in a committed sexual relationship

In Corinna’s results on reasons for engaging in committed sex, almost 90% cited motivation due to “feelings of obligation” and 86% listed “to earn something from my partner.” Surely this can’t be the utopian sexual experience we’re supposed to hold out for?

Should a monogamous commitment appeal to you, your knowledge about yourself and sexuality in general will be an invaluable tool to bring to the table. If you’ve experienced sex as a vehicle for relatively emotionally uncomplicated pleasure, you may even be less likely to go along with sex you don’t want, or to seize upon sex as a tool for manipulation.

You might get more than you bargained for. Contrary to conservative insistence that sex before emotions renders an emotional connection impossible, sexual intimacy so powerfully fosters emotional intimacy that partners sometimes end up dating the person they thought would be a one night stand. In Corinna’s survey, an impressive 82.5% said that one or more of their casual sex relationships became long-term and/or serious.

If you need even more convincing that casual sex won’t ruin you, consider this. Another recent study, one conducted on 1,311 Minnesotans between the ages of 18 and 24, found that there was no correlation between emotional or mental distress and casual sex. The professors were “surprised,” said Marla Eisenberg, lead researcher. “The conventional wisdom is that casual sex […] is harmful. That’s what we’ve been teaching kids for a decade.”

6. You’ll learn more about sex

We’ve all heard the stories about undereducated, traditionalist marriages in which the partners never realized that sex is possible in a position other than missionary, or that a woman can orgasm. With public school programs throughout the country refusing to provide young people with accurate, useful information, Americans are often left to educate themselves through the oldest and arguably best form of learning: experience.

If women’s mags like Cosmo are to be believed, sex is a pretty predictable phenomenon, more like operating a basic machine than learning the unique tastes of an individual. Given our culture’s obsessive promotion of narrow beauty aesthetics and even narrower sexual practices, one might never suspect that people have wildly divergent preferences, arousal triggers, and responses to touch. Variety in partners makes it nearly impossible to maintain the “one size fits all” mentality, while never experiencing more than one partner might actually reinforce it.

Heather Corinna’s survery, which is part of a broader examination of the history of casual sex and cultural messaging about casual sex in America over the last 100 years, can be accessed here or here.

U.S. “Leaves” Iraq Much Worse Off Than It Was Under Saddam

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2010 at 8:33 am

Oldspeak: “Democrazy. Brought to you by your friends at War Inc., U.S.A. Nevermind the sham “withdrawl” of U.S. troops and “end of combat operations”. There are still 50,000 U.S. troops, about the same # of  U.S. State Dept. Mercenaries, a billion dollar a year fortress a.k.a U.S. embassy, and at least 5 other permanent U.S. military bases, draining imaginary monetary resources desperately needed here at home. ‘So why are people in the United States not concerned and saddened by the conditions in Iraq? Because most people in the United States do not know what happened in Iraq and what is happening there now. Our government, including the current administration, looks the other way and perpetuates the myth that life has improved in post-invasion Iraq. Our major news media reinforces this message.’ ”

From By Adil E. Shamoo @ Foreign Policy In Focus:

Iraq has between 25 and 50 percent unemployment, a dysfunctional parliament, rampant disease, an epidemicof mental illness, and sprawling slums. The killing of innocent people has become part of daily life. What a havoc the United States has wreaked in Iraq.

UN-HABITAT, an agency of the United Nations, recently published a 218-page report entitled State of the World’s Cities, 2010-2011. The report is full of statistics on the status of cities around the world and their demographics. It defines slum dwellers as those living in urban centers without one of the following: durable structures to protect them from climate, sufficient living area, sufficient access to water, access to sanitation facilities, and freedom from eviction.

Almost intentionally hidden in these statistics is one shocking fact about urban Iraqi populations. For the past few decades, prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the percentage of the urban population living in slums in Iraq hovered just below 20 percent. Today, that percentage has risen to 53 percent: 11 million of the 19 million total urban dwellers. In the past decade, most countries have made progress toward reducing slum dwellers. But Iraq has gone rapidly and dangerously in the opposite direction.

According to the U.S. Census of 2000, 80 percent of the 285 million people living in the United States are urban dwellers. Those living in slums are well below 5 percent. If we translate the Iraqi statistic into the U.S. context, 121 million people in the United States would be living in slums.

If the United States had an unemployment rate of 25-50 percent and 121 million people living in slums, riots would ensue, the military would take over, and democracy would evaporate. So why are people in the United States not concerned and saddened by the conditions in Iraq? Because most people in the United States do not know what happened in Iraq and what is happening there now. Our government, including the current administration, looks the other way and perpetuates the myth that life has improved in post-invasion Iraq. Our major news media reinforces this message.

I had high hopes that the new administration would tell the truth to its citizens about why we invaded Iraq and what we are doing currently in the country. President Obama promised to move forward and not look to the past. However problematic this refusal to examine on the past — particularly for historians — the president should at least inform the U.S. public of the current conditions in Iraq. How else can we expect our government to formulate appropriate policy?

More extensive congressional hearings on Iraq might have allowed us to learn about the myths propagated about Iraq prior to the invasion and the extent of the damage and destruction our invasion brought on Iraq. We would have learned about the tremendous increase in urban poverty and the expansion of city slums. Such facts about the current conditions of Iraq would help U.S. citizens to better understand the impact of the quick U.S. withdraw and what are our moral responsibilities in Iraq should be.

Adil E. Shamoo is a senior analyst at Foreign Policy In Focus, and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He writes on ethics and public policy. He can be reached at: ashamoo@umaryland.edu.

The Looming Threat Of Industrial Pig, Dairy And Poultry Farms On Humans And The Environment

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Oldspeak:“I’d like more arsenic in my chicken please! 😐 Big Food/Agribusiness’ business practices are inherently dangerous and unsustainable. Much of the livestock americans consume comes from petri dishes of disease and misery a.k.a. factory farms. And noone is minding the store. As we’ve seen in the Banking and Energy industries, regulation via self-policing and the honor system = a recipe for disaster.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

Guest:

David Kirby, author of the book Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms on Humans and the Environment. Website: “AnimalFactoryBook.com”http://animalfactorybook.com

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about the largest egg recall in US history, at this point half a billion eggs, our guest is David Kirby. His book is Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms on Humans and the Environment.

Actually, David, we keep saying half a billion eggs have been pulled off the shelves. How do we know they’re pulled off the shelves?

DAVID KIRBY: Apparently they haven’t all been pulled off the shelves, because they’re still warning people to check the numbers when they get the eggs home from the market. This is a voluntary recall, which just illustrates the point that I was making before. We need more regulations, and we need enforcement of the regulations. These companies are sel- policing, and they’re operating on the honor system. And consumers are obviously paying the price. Salmonella can make you very, very sick.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we’re talking about more than thirty labels. You don’t see DeCoster. You know, you don’t—it’s not Hillandale. It’s not these—

DAVID KIRBY: These are market—usually under supermarket brand labels. A lot of these were sold to restaurants and food service operations, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the two factory farms in Iowa, as an example, what they look like in the community.

DAVID KIRBY: These things, when you drive down the highway in Iowa, for example, you see them one after the other after the other. They’re often interspersed, poultry factory next to a hog factory, which of course increases the chance for interspecies mingling of influenza virus. If we thought swine flu was bad, we may get an avian swine flu hybrid from the close proximity of these factories. From the outside, they look fairly innocuous. You’ve probably seen them on TV, this row after row of those tall green buildings. It’s once you go inside that the horrors really become apparent.

These chickens are kept in tiny little cages stacked one on top of the other, crammed in by the hundreds of thousands—same with pigs, oftentimes same with dairy cattle, crammed in by the hundreds into small confinements where the air is foul. They have to pump clean air at one end, and at the other end they push out all of the odors and gases and bacteria and ammonia and viruses and even antibiotics out into the atmosphere. These are not clean or sustainable operations. And without proper regulations, these kinds of diseases will keep coming.

AMY GOODMAN: What is salmonella?

DAVID KIRBY: Salmonella is a bacteria that can get into the intestine. It can get in the bloodstream. If not treated, it can cause all kinds of horrible problems, including arthritis, and it can even kill people, if it’s not treated in time.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know if you’re affected by it? I mean, we’ve been saying now around 1,300 people. They say none have died. What symptoms are they coming down with? And how is it that the chickens contract them—salmonella?

DAVID KIRBY: The symptoms are often masked as symptoms of flu, especially in the early stages, so people don’t even realize they have salmonella. And probably the case rate is much, much higher than what’s been reported. Usually persists longer than the average stomach flu, and the symptoms become more severe—cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills.

We still don’t know exactly how these chickens got the salmonella, but there’s widespread speculation either just from the filthy conditions in the barns or it was in the feed itself. And that’s something else that Americans don’t realize. We worry about what we eat, but we also need to worry about what we eat eats. And the quality of feed can be highly compromised in these factories, where the drive to lower costs and prices is so great, and the temptation to cut corners is there, and this is the result. And we have to remember that factory farming has produced not only salmonella, but also E. coli, also mad cow disease, also swine flu, I believe, and MRSA, the drug-resistant staph infection that now kills more Americans than AIDS.

AMY GOODMAN: You say, “Swine flu. Bird flu. Unusual concentrations of cancer and other diseases. Massive fish kills from flesh-eating parasites. Recalls of meats, vegetables, and fruits because of deadly E-coli bacterial contamination.” All as a result of animal factories, as you put them.

DAVID KIRBY: Correct. Now, those diseases could conceivably emerge in any farm, even the smallest, most sustainable farm, but they’re far more likely to emerge in these large industrial factories. And again, the scale is so much larger that when you have an outbreak, you have this massive problem that’s going to cost millions and millions of dollars, just in terms of the lost eggs and productivity.

And just to mention the workshops that you were mentioning earlier with the federal government, the Obama administration has vowed to try to even the playing field a little bit more, so that we have greater access to smaller, independently raised farms. And one way, I think, to do that is to address the subsidy issue. This farm got very cheap grain from a farmer who got millions, perhaps, of dollars in our money to lower the price of that feed. If DeCoster didn’t have access to that cheap feed, he wouldn’t be able to operate in this way, and that would provide greater access to the market for smaller producers.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain the significance of feed and what’s in it.

DAVID KIRBY: Well, feed is a huge issue. And for example, with the chickens that we eat, so-called broiler chickens, they often add arsenic into that feed to make the birds grow faster and to prevent intestinal diseases. Another thing we do in this country—

AMY GOODMAN: Arsenic?

DAVID KIRBY: Arsenic, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t that poison?

DAVID KIRBY: It is poison. Yes, it is poison.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does it affect humans? I mean, the chickens eat the arsenic. Why do they grow faster?

DAVID KIRBY: They don’t know. No one knows. The theory is that when you poison a chicken, it gets sick, so it eats and drinks more, consumes more, to try to get the poison out of its body. That makes a chicken grow faster, and it prevents intestinal parasites. The risk to humans, there have been studies done, and they have found residue of arsenic in some chickens. The real threat is in the litter that comes out the other end of the chicken. When that gets spread on farmland, people breathe in that arsenic dust. And there’s a town in Arkansas where cancer rates are just through the roof. There’s been over twenty pediatric cases in this tiny town of Prairie Grove with just a couple of thousand people.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Arkansas. Don’t—let’s not shortcut this, because you have a very interesting book, where you look at families in several different communities. Arkansas—describe what are the animal factories that are there and what happens to the people in the community.

DAVID KIRBY: Most of them are so-called broiler operations. Tyson chicken is from Arkansas. The big operators, they’re in northwestern Arkansas. It’s just—it’s chicken country. And with consolidation, you’ve had the rise of these very large factory farms. And again, up until recently, Tyson was using this arsenic product in its feed, and the other companies were, as well. And around this little town of Prairie Grove, as an example, this stuff is dry spread—the litter is dry spread on the cropland. And where the school was—

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the chicken manure.

DAVID KIRBY: The chicken manure. And the dust has been found in the air filters of homes and schools in this town, and it’s been found with arsenic that has been traced back to the feed in the chicken.

Something else we feed chickens that people don’t realize is beef products. And when those chickens eat that beef product, some of it falls into their litter. Well, we produce so much chicken litter in this country, because of these factory farms, and it is so rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, its land application uses are limited. So you have surplus chicken litter and nothing to do with it. What do they do with it? They feed it to cattle. So we feed beef cows chicken crap. That chicken litter often contains bits and byproducts of cattle. So we are actually feeding cattle to cattle, which is a risk factor for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease. We actually feed cattle products to cattle in three different ways: chicken litter, restaurant scraps, and blood products on dairy farms. And all the mad cow cases in this country came from mega-dairies where, when that calf is born, they remove it from its mother immediately, because that mother’s milk is a commodity, it’s worth money, so instead they feed that calf a formula that includes bovine blood products, and again increasing the risk of mad cow disease.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, that’s chicken factories. What about pig factories?

DAVID KIRBY: Pig factories, for me, were the hardest to witness and take in and see and hear and smell. Pigs are incredibly intelligent animals, about the same IQ as a three-year-old child, smarter than dogs. The breeding facilities, in particular, are just horrendous, where these pigs, these female sows, are kept in crates, gestation crates. They’re kept pregnant virtually their whole lives. And then, when they give birth, they’re moved into another crate where the piglets go under the bars so that the sow won’t crush the piglets. Their life is horrendous. And quite honestly, the piglets have it good, because they’re only going to live about four or five months before they go to slaughter. When you go into these facilities, they put the piglets in when they’re young, and by the time they’re done, they’re 250 pounds each, but they’re in the same space. So they’re now so big they can’t turn around. And I spent the night right across the street from a hog farm in Illinois kept up all night long—

AMY GOODMAN: Where in Illinois?

DAVID KIRBY: A little town outside of—I don’t remember, but not far from St. Louis in southwestern Illinois. Mendon. Mendon, Illinois. And at night, of course, people switch off the lights and leave. Nobody lives, typically, on a factory farm. It’s not a farm; it’s a factory. And the racket, the screaming and squealing and crying of these pigs that were obviously attacking each other and fighting and biting each other and just miserable, crammed together—they went on all night long. It sounded like a thousand children being tortured at once. It’s a sound I will never forget. And I saw and heard and smelled a lot in doing my research on this book.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happens to their manure?

DAVID KIRBY: Well, their manure is typically kept liquefied. In the Midwest, it’s kept in pits underneath where the pigs live. So they’re—when they defecate or urinate, it just goes right down into these pits, which of course creates huge amounts of ammonia and methane and hydrogen sulfide. If those fans were ever to break down, those pigs would die within minutes. That’s how bad it is. That then gets flushed out into these giant waste lagoons, and then it’s sprayed onto fields. And usually, very often, it’s overapplied. Again, these farmers operate on the honor system. They may file a manure plan with the state, but nobody is out there regulating them. And I’ve gone up in airplanes, both in the Midwest and in North Carolina, where the real hog factories are just crammed in one after another after another, and I’ve seen the spray fields, and I’ve seen those farmers out there spraying directly into creeks, applying so much of this brown water onto the fields that it pools up and you see the little rivlets and you see it running off into creeks, that bloom red, orange, purple and green with algae from all of the nutrients, and then that goes on to—we just saw a fish kill. That’s the number one cause of fish kills, including in the Gulf of Mexico every summer, a fish kill the size of New Jersey forms. That’s from agricultural runoff coming down the Mississippi River.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, say that again. A fish kill the size of New Jersey forms where?

DAVID KIRBY: In the Gulf of Mexico, right off the coast of Louisiana, every summer. And it kills billions and billions of marine life. And we don’t hear about this. We hear about the Gulf spill. But this happens every year, and it’s almost entirely due—largely due to agricultural runoff in the Midwest.

AMY GOODMAN: CAFOs, what are they?

DAVID KIRBY: A CAFO is the government designation for what we call a factory farm, concentrated animal feeding operation. It’s any operation that has more than what’s called 1,000 animal units. An animal unit is a beef cow. So it takes about fifty pigs to make an animal unit, young pigs. And the whole idea is to feed these animals and to get them to market as quickly as possible. Nothing wrong with a farmer wanting to get their animals to market quickly, but it’s the method by which we do it. It’s the mechanization. It’s the feed additives. It’s the antibiotic use, which we haven’t talked about. It’s the conditions—

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about it.

DAVID KIRBY: Well, it’s a very serious problem, and the FDA has been very lax and, I would say, asleep at the wheel, and continues to, as Patty said, offer recommendations without putting down strict rules on the overuse of antibiotics.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, FDA Commissioner Hamburg says they have very little enforcement power, unless Congress gives them—

DAVID KIRBY: They have more than they claim, and they do have the courts. And we do have Congress, as well, and the administration. Barack Obama campaigned on a bill called PAMTA to ban the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in agriculture. They give them these drugs for the same reason as arsenic: it makes the animals grow faster, and it prevents disease. It’s used as a prophylaxis against disease, but at subtherapeutic levels, so it allows the microbes to mutate and get around these drugs and become resistant. That’s why we see MRSA emerging. Three percent of US pork sampled had—fresh pork, had MRSA.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what MRSA is.

DAVID KIRBY: MRSA is a drug-resistant form of staph bacteria. It’s extremely—can be extremely dangerous. And it kills, like I said, more people than AIDS in this country. And lot of it is—a lot of it’s from overuse of antibiotics in hospitals, but 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country are given to farm animals. And a farmer can walk into the feed store and buy a big barrel of tetracycline or some antibiotic without even a prescription, and there’s just—there’s virtually no regulation at all. And it is leading to widespread antibiotic resistance that’s going to make salmonella look like a day at the beach, I’m afraid.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Kirby. His book is called Animal Factory. David, you not only talk about the crisis of corporate farming, but the people who are fighting back, like—well, describe the man in North Carolina—

DAVID KIRBY: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: —who’s taking on pig farming.

DAVID KIRBY: Sure. Yeah, my book is not really about animals, and it’s not even just about animal poop, although there’s a lot of poop in the book. It’s about the people who live near these farms, who have seen their communities overturned and, in times, destroyed, seen the water polluted, the air polluted, people like Rick Dove, who is a—comes from a very conservative Republic background. He’s a former Marine, retired colonel, a retired Marine, a JAG, moved his family to the Neuse River, which is a beautiful river in North Carolina, pristine. And then the hog factories came in, and the river started to die. This dinoflagellates called Pfiesteriastarted to appear. Rick was trying to operate a fishing business, and all of a sudden the fish were showing up dead with open sores on their sides. And the fishermen themselves were getting disoriented from the toxins being released by this protozoa. And Rick took it upon himself to—he went up in the air and saw these hog factories. And he’s still fighting them. He works with the Waterkeeper Alliance. And they are successfully suing a chicken company, Perdue, and a chicken grower in Maryland, and they’re suing some of the polluting hog farms down in North Carolina.

My other two main characters are Helen Reddout, who lives in the Yakima Valley of Washington, a cherry farmer, grandmother, and Karen Hudson, who lives in Elmwood, Illinois—all three sort of bedrock conservative Americans from small town, farmers, fishermen, not your typical environmental activists, but they have become leading national spokespeople against factory farming, because they’ve learned firsthand what’s happened. In Yakima Valley, because of the mega-dairies, the nitrate levels in the drinking water, in the groundwater, are so high, EPA—

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

DAVID KIRBY: From the cow manure. There’s so much cow manure being applied to the land, and the lagoons themselves tend to leak, that it’s getting into the groundwater, contaminating people’s wells. And nitrates can cause spontaneous abortions, diabetes, blue baby syndrome. It can aggravate autism symptoms, etc. And they are finding the levels are so high—the EPA now—they’re telling people not only to not drink your well water, but don’t even come in contact with your skin, don’t wash your hands with it. That’s how contaminated it is. And, of course, it’s always the poorest people who suffer the most, because they depend on well water.

AMY GOODMAN: Her home is covered in soot?

DAVID KIRBY: Well, it has been. It’s covered in odors. I describe the scene in the opening of the book. One summer night, she had the windows open and woke up, and she said it smelled like a thousand cows had crapped in her bed. And I hear this story over and over and over again. And that odor is unforgettable. And people run around trying to close all the windows in their house, but, of course, then you just end up trapping the odor in it. And the problem—odor was the number one problem everywhere I went. And it smells terrible, and it’s completely unpredictable. You have these clouds of hydrogen sulfide and methane and ammonia sort of blowing around. And if it blows in your direction, you may be outside on a summer day with your laundry, having a lunch outside, and you have to literally pick everything up and run inside. It’s the unpredictability of the odors. But when I came back from Yakima Valley—I went there two times—and also in the Central Valley of California, I came back with what they call manure flu, from just breathing in this stuff and the viruses and bacteria that’s contained in it. You get a mild fever, achy, chills. And it’s really—

AMY GOODMAN: How consolidated is the farm industry in this country?

DAVID KIRBY: Highly consolidated. I would say chickens were the first to become consolidated, and virtually every chicken you buy in the store comes from a factory farm. Now we have the egg industry. In the ’80s and ’90s, the hog industry became consolidated. Dairy industry has now largely become consolidated, with big exceptions. There’s still pasture-fed dairies, particularly in Wisconsin and Vermont. The beef industry is the least consolidated. Most beef growers are still independent operators who raise their cattle out on range, on pasture. But then, for the last two or three months of their lives, those cattle are sent to feed lots, which are essentially factory farms.

AMY GOODMAN: And now we have this latest news. Zemco Industries in Buffalo, New York, has recalled approximately 380,000 pounds of deli meat that may be contaminated with bacteria that can cause a potentially fatal disease. The products were distributed to Wal-Marts nationwide. The meats may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, which was discovered in a retail sample that was collected by inspectors in Georgia.

DAVID KIRBY: Yeah, that, to me, sounds more like a problem of processing than production. But processing is such a big key part of this story. I mentioned—and if we reduce antibiotic use in these factory farms, if we reduce the amount of subsidies they were getting, it would level the playing field between the big operators and the small operators. It’s the processing plants that are the final blockade. We have so few of them now that it’s harder for independent producers to get their products to market. But the other problem is, because we have so few processing plants and they’re so huge, that when you have a contamination issue like this, then all of a sudden tons—hundreds of thousands of tons of food is contaminated.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, farmers’ markets, community farms, family farms, do they stand a chance now? Describe the movement.

DAVID KIRBY: Well, from what I understand, you can’t find fresh eggs at the farmers’ market anymore. People are lining up to buy them. So this type of story only feeds demand for those things. Yes, of course, they can. And if we allow those operators—again, if we share some of these tax subsidies with them, if we ban antibiotics, if we create more processing plants so smaller producers can get into the market and get their product to market, that will level the playing field. That means we can bring prices of the smaller-produced items down. It may mean that the cheap stuff comes up a little bit and levels the playing field. So there’s great hope for independent producers.

AMY GOODMAN: David Kirby, I want to thank you for being with us. Animal Factory is his book, The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms on Humans and the Environment.

Mass Assassinations Lie At The Heart Of America’s Military Strategy In The Muslim World

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Oldspeak:” For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war. Never before has a nation unleashed so many assassins in so many foreign nations around the world (9,000 Special Operations soldiers are based in Iraq and Afghanistan alone) as well as implemented a policy that can be best described as unprecedented, remote-control, large-scale “mechanized assassination.”

From Fred Branfman @ AlterNet:

“[General McChrystal says that] for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” — The Runaway General,” Rolling Stone, 6/22/10

The truth that many Americans find hard to take is that that mass U.S. assassination on a scale unequaled in world history lies at the heart of America’s military strategy in the Muslim world, a policy both illegal and never seriously debated by Congress or the American people. Conducting assassination operations throughout the 1.3 billon-strong Muslim world will inevitably increase the murder of civilians and thus create exponentially more “enemies,” as Gen. McChrystal suggests — posing a major long-term threat to U.S. national security. This mass assassination program, sold as defending Americans, is actually endangering us all. Those responsible for it, primarily General Petraeus, are recklessly seeking short-term tactical advantage while making an enormous long-term strategic error that could lead to countless American deaths in the years and decades to come. General Petraeus must be replaced, and the U.S. military’s policy of direct and mass assassination of Muslims ended.

The U.S. has conducted assassination programs in the Third World for decades, but the actual killing — though directed and financed by the C.I.A. — has been largely left to local paramilitary and police forces. This has now has changed dramatically.

What is unprecedented today is the vast number of Americans directly assassinating Muslims — through greatly expanded U.S. military Special Operations teams, U.S. drone strikes and private espionage networks run by former CIA assassins and torturers. Most significant is the expanding geographic scope of their killing. While CENTCOM Commander from October 2008 until July 2010, General Petraeus received secret and unprecedented permission to unilaterally engage in operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, former Russian Republics, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, the Horn of Africa, and wherever else he deems necessary.

Never before has a nation unleashed so many assassins in so many foreign nations around the world (9,000 Special Operations soldiers are based in Iraq and Afghanistan alone) as well as implemented a policy that can be best described as unprecedented, remote-control, large-scale “mechanized assassination.” As the N.Y. Times noted in December 2009: “For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.”

This combination of human and technological murder amounts to a worldwide “Assassination Inc.” that is unique in human affairs.

The increasing shift to direct U.S. assassination began on Petraeus’s watch in Iraq,where targeted assassination was considered by many within the military to be more important than the “surge.” The killing of Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was considered a major triumph that significantly reduced the level of violence. As Bob Woodward reported in The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008:

“Beginning in about May 2006, the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence agencies launched a series of top secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in extremist groups. A number of authoritative sources say these covert activities had a far-reaching effect on the violence and were very possibly the biggest factor in reducing it. Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) responsible for hunting al Qaeda in Iraq, (conducted) lightning-quick and sometimes concurrent operations When I later asked the president (Bush) about this, he offered a simple answer: ‘JSOC is awesome.'”[Emphasis added.]

Woodward’s finding that many “authoritative sources” believed assassination more important than the surge is buttressed by Petraeus’ appointment of McChrystal to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s major qualification for the post was clearly his perceived expertise in assassination while heading JSOC from 2003-’08 (where he also conducted extensive torture at “Camp Nama” at Baghdad International Airport, successfully excluding even the Red Cross).

Another key reason for the increased reliance on assassination is that Petraeus’ announced counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan obviously cannot work. It is absurd to believe that the corrupt warlords and cronies who make up the “Afghan government” can be transformed into the viable entity upon which his strategy publicly claims to depend — particularly within the next year which President Obama has set as a deadline before beginning to withdraw U.S. troops. Petraeus is instead largely relying on mass assassination to try and eliminate the Taliban, both within Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The centrality of assassination to U.S. war plans is revealed by the fact that it was at the heart of the Obama review of Afghan policy last fall. The dovish Biden position called for relying primarily on assassination, while the hawkish McChrystal stance embraced both assassination and more troops. No other options were seriously considered.

A third factor behind the shift to mass assassination is that Petraeus and the U.S. military are also determined to attack jihadi forces in nations where the U.S. is not at war, and which are not prepared to openly invite in U.S. forces. As the N.Y. Times reported on May 24, “General Petraeus (has argued) that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.”

The most significant aspect of this new and expanded assassination policy is President Obama’s authorizing clandestine U.S. military personnel to conduct it. The N.Y. Times has also reported:

In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists (Military) Special Operations troops under secret “Execute Orders” have conducted spying missions that were once the preserve of civilian intelligence agencies.

Particularly extraordinary is the fact that these vastly expanded military assassination teams are not subject to serious civilian control. As the N.Y. Times has also reported, Petraeus in September 2009 secretly expanded a worldwide force of assassins answerable only to the military, without oversight by not only Congress but the president himself:

The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents. The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa. Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress. [Emphasis added]

Although sold to the American public and Congress as targeted, selective assassination aimed only at a handful of “high value” insurgent leaders, the program has in fact already expanded far beyond that. As personnel and aircraft devoted to assassination exponentially increase, so too do the numbers of people they murder, both “insurgents” and civilians.

While it is reasonable to assume that expanding the number of Special Operations commandos to its present worldwide level of 13,000 will result in increasing assassinations, the secrecy of their operations makes it impossible to know how many they have murdered, how many of those are civilians, and the effectiveness of their operations. It is not known, for example, how many people U.S. military assassins murder directly, and how many they kill indirectly by identifying them for drone strikes. Much of their activity is conducted, for example, in North Waziristan in northwest Pakistan which, as theN.Y. Times reported on April 4 “is virtually sealed from the outside world.”

More information, however, has emerged about the parallel and unprecedented mass mechanized assassinations being carried out by the C.I.A. drone programs. It is clear that they have already expanded far beyond the official cover story of targeting only “high-level insurgent leaders,” and are killing increasing numbers of people.

The CIA, of course, is no novice at assassination. Future CIA Director William Colby’s Operation Phoenix program in South Vietnam gave South Vietnamese police quotas of the number of civilians to be murdered on a weekly and monthly basis, eventually killing 20-50,000 people. CIA operatives such as Latin American Station Chef Duane “Dewey” Clarridge also established, trained and operated local paramilitary and death squads throughout Central and Latin America that brutally tortured and murdered tens of thousands of civilians, most notably in El Salvador where CIA-trained and -directed killers murdered Archbishop Romero and countless other Salvadorans.

But the present CIA assassination program in Pakistan and elsewhere is different not only because it is Americans who are themselves the assassins, but because of the unprecedented act of conducting mechanized mass assassination from the air. The CIA, asNick Turse has reported for TomDispatch.com, is exponentially increasing its drone assassination program:

“(Drone) Reapers flew 25,391 hours (in 2009). This year, the air force projects that the combined flight hours of all its drones will exceed 250,000 hours. More flight time will, undoubtedly, mean more killing.”

There were already signs in 2009, when drone strikes were a fraction of what they are now, that they were striking large numbers of civilians and proving militarily and politically counterproductive. Most Pakistanis believe it is largely civilians who are being killed, and anti-American hatred is growing accordingly. A Gallup poll conducted in July 2009, based on 2,500 face-to-face interviews, found that “only 9 percent of Pakistanis supported the drone strikes.” A Global Research study documented the drone murder of 123 civilians in January 2010 alone.

A particularly significant indication of the drone strikes’ military ineffectiveness has come from Colonel David Kilcullen, a key Petraeus advisor in Iraq, who testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 23, 2009, that, “Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. We need to call off the drones.”

Kilcullen’s testimony was ignored, however, and as drone strikes have not only been continued but exponentially increased, there are increasing signs that they have vastly increased the scope of the killing far beyond the claimed “high-level insurgent leaders.” TheN.Y. Times reported on Aug. 14:

[The CIA has] broadened its drone campaign beyond selective strikes against Qaeda leaders and now regularly obliterates suspected enemy compounds and logistics convoys, just as the military would grind down an enemy force.

Reuters reported on May 5 that:

The CIA received approval to target a wider range of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas, including low-level fighters whose identities may not be known, U.S. officials said on Wednesday. Former intelligence officials acknowledged that in many, if not most cases, the CIA had little information about the foot soldiers killed in the strikes.

What this means is clear: the CIA is assassinating an expanding number of “low-level” people, labeling them as “fighters,” but has little if any idea of who they really are. The history of such mechanized campaigns from the air, such as Laos where I have studied the U.S. 1964-’73 air war intensively, is that increased warfare from the air inevitably becomes increasingly indiscriminate, destroying civilian and military targets alike. As the drone program continues to expand, it will inevitably wind up killing more civilians — and, if McChrystal is right, exponentially create more people committed to killing Americans.

Numerous moral, legal and ethical objections have been raised to this program of mass assassination. Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions, has stated that “this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”

The notion that a handful of U.S. military and CIA officials have the right to unilaterally and secretly murder anyone they choose in any nation on earth, without even outside knowledge let alone oversight, is deeply troubling to anyone with a conscience, belief in democracy, or respect for international law. It was precisely such behavior that made the Gestapo and Soviet secret police symbols of evil. Since the U.S. Congress has never reined in an Executive Branch that has routinely ignored international law since 1945, however, it is likely that the question of whether this program will be continued will be determined by its perceived effectiveness, not its morality.

The evidence is mounting that U.S. assassinations are so ineffective they are actually strengthening anti-American forces in Pakistan. Bruce Reidel, a counterinsurgency expert who coordinated the Afghan review for President Obama, said: “The pressure we’ve put on (jihadist forces) in the past year has also drawn them together, meaning that the network of alliances is growing stronger not weaker.”

Reidel’s striking conclusion that jihadi forces in Pakistan are stronger after six years of drone airstrikes the CIA claims are weakening them, is echoed by numerous other reports indicating that General Petraeus’ strategy of using military force against Al Qaeda, Afghan and local insurgent forces in Pakistan has pushed them further east from isolated northwest areas into major cities like Karachi, where they operate freely and work together far more closely than before. The general’s miscalculations regarding Pakistan are reason enough for him to be replaced.

In the long run, General Petraeus’ strategy of expanding both ground and mechanized assassination throughout the 1.3 billion-strong Muslim world is likely to do the greatest disservice to his country’s interests. It is true that U.S. leaders have used local forces to assassinate tens of thousands since 1945 and that while these programs were largely ineffectual, they did not lead to attacks on American soil.

But 9/11 has changed the calculus. It is clear that in today’s wired and globalized world, marked by large-scale immigration, cheap telecommunications and airline travel, where crude technologies like car bombs or IEDs can be as easily detonated in New York as in Kandahar, and where America’s enemies are growing increasingly technologically sophisticated even as nuclear weapons proliferate and become miniaturized, it is the height of folly to foment geometrically growing anti-American hatred in the volatile Muslim world.

A growing number of military and counterinsurgency experts support Colonel Kilcullen’s belief that these assassination programs abroad are not protecting Americans at home. Both the “Underwear” and the “Times Square” bombers attributed their attempts to blow up Americans to their anger at the drone strikes. While Americans were saved by their incompetence, the U.S. may not be so lucky the next time, and the time after that. One thing is crystal clear: inflaming anti-American hatred throughout the Muslim world can only exponentially increase the numbers of those committed to killing Americans.

Such fears are increasing in Washington, as the N.Y. Times reported in the wake of the Times Square bombing:

A new, and disturbing, question is being raised in Washington: Have the stepped-up attacks in Pakistan — notably the Predator drone strikes — actually made Americans less safe? Are they inspiring more attacks on America than they prevent? As one American intelligence official said, “Those attacks (on two Pakistani Taliban leaders) have made it personal for the Pakistani Taliban — so it’s no wonder they are beginning to think about how they can strike back at targets here.”

As General Petraeus and the U.S. military “make it personal” to increasing number of people throughout the Muslim world, they are recklessly sowing a whirlwind for which many of us, our children and grandchildren may well pay with our lives for decades to come.

It is difficult for most Americans to grasp the fact that their leaders’ incompetence — Republican and Democrat, civilian and military — poses one of the single greatest threats to their own safety. But only when Americans do so will there be any hope of making America more secure in the dangerous years to come.

A clear place to begin protecting America is to abandon the assassination approach to war, ditch General Petraeus, end the military and CIA’s focus on worldwide and mechanized mass assassination, and halt its reckless expansion of U.S. war-making into nuclear-armed Pakistan and so much more of the Muslim world.

Final Note: Duane ‘Dewey’ Clarridge: The True Face of U.S. Policy Toward the Muslim World

We’ll intervene whenever we decide it’s in our national security interest. And if you don’t like it, lump it. Get used to it, world!” –– Duane Clarridge, interviewed by John Pilger in “The War on  Democracy”

As the N.Y. Times reported, Clarridge is presently advising CIA assassination efforts in Pakistan. (“Duane R. Clarridge, a profane former C.I.A. officer who ran operations in Central America and was indicted in the Iran-contra scandal, turned up this year helping run a Pentagon-financed private spying operation in Pakistan.”) Watch an extraordinary three-minute video interview with Clarridge that reveals the true face of U.S. policy in the Muslim world.

Fred Branfman, the editor of “Voices From the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War” (Harper & Row, 1972), exposed the U.S. secret air war while living in Laos from 1967 to 1971.