Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mosaic News - 3/31/08: World News from the Middle East

Delusionary, Dancing Bush

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By Ray McGovern

Events of the last week offer a metaphorical glimpse at the delusion pervading President George W. Bush’s White House and other enclaves of Iraq supporters in Washington. Bush and the First Lady spent last Monday clowning with the Easter Bunny (White House counsel Fred Fielding having donned the costume).

At the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), war cheerleaders, dressed as academicians, were delivering a panegyric on how peaceful and stable the situation in Iraq had become. The "surge," they announced, had nipped a civil war in the bud.

"The civil war is over," AEI’s Fred Kagan, co-author of the surge, declared proudly. Brookings twins Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack led the cheering section.

Meanwhile, back in the southern Iraq city of Basra and elsewhere, full-blown civil war seemed about to explode. And in Baghdad, formerly protected folks were getting killed by mortar and rocket fire in what is customarily referred to as "the highly fortified Green Zone," which has sequestered U.S. embassy and military officials as well as those of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

Two American officials and two Iraqi guards of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi died in the Green Zone attacks, which are continuing.

At ABC in New York, Good Morning America’s Diane Sawyer was trying hard Thursday to understand it all. Shaking her head in disbelief after four straight days of attacks on the Green Zone, she asked how a round "can actually get inside the embassy; how fortified is that?" ABC national security correspondent Jonathan Karl let her down easy, explaining that artillery fire can actually get "over the walls … so it does happen: they do get inside the embassy compound."

A teaching moment. Mortar and artillery fire can actually get "over the walls." Quick, someone tell Gen. David Petraeus.

But Don’t Bother Bush

No need to drag the president away from the Easter Bunny with such nettlesome details. Interestingly, it was Sawyer herself who asked Bush, during an interview on Dec. 16, 2003, where he gets his news and how he reacts to criticism. The president’s answer was revealing:

"Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got… it’s not just Condi and Andy [Andy Card, former chief of staff], it’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities, and they come in and say this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening."

By Thursday, someone did tell the president about Maliki’s big gamble in taking on militias loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr in the Basra area, the stiff resistance Iraqi government forces encountered, and the application of U.S. ground and air support.

And someone told the president to take the line that the outbreak of major violence was "a positive moment," and so that’s what he said. No matter that the upsurge in hostilities threatened to demolish the myth of a "successful surge." The White House spin machine could be counted on to take care of that. And, for good measure, the shelling of the Green Zone could be blamed on Iran. Indeed, Petraeus was quick to label the projectiles "Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets."

Reality? We Make Our Own

It is comfortable to stay in denial, and President George W. Bush basks in it. Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska saw that early on. In June 2005 he told U.S. News & World Report:

"The White House is completely disconnected from reality… it’s like they’re just making it up as they go along."

Would that someone had summoned the courage to tell Bush of William F. Buckley Jr.’s observations about Iraq in National Review on Feb. 24, 2006:

"Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. … Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality … different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat."

A few months later, on June 13, 2006, Bush flew to Baghdad to size up Prime Minister Maliki. The president told American troops gathered in the "heavily fortified Green Zone" that he had come "to look Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes – to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are. I believe he is."

This, of course, was not the first display of the president’s propensity to draw significant impressions from eyeballing foreign leaders. Five years before, Bush had quickly taken the measure of Russia’s Vladimir Putin: "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. … I was able to get a sense of his soul."

Souls can change, I suppose. But apparently not eyeballs. Maliki’s retinal scan apparently remains valid for at least two years, judging from the president’s automatic endorsement of Maliki’s major gamble last week in the Basra area. Bush has now ordered U.S. ground and air units to support Maliki’s effort. The general objective is to root out Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army units in the area, but the campaign faces formidable obstacles and does not appear to be going well.

Doesn’t Make a Lot of Sense? So?

In the past, Bush has let himself be convinced by Vice President Dick Cheney’s "analysis" that increased enemy attacks were signs of desperation – an indication that the enemy is in its "last throes," if you will. And it seems clear that Cheney is still, as Col. Larry Wilkerson has put it, "whispering in Bush’s ear."

That is scary. There were abundant signs during Cheney’s recent visit to the Middle East that, among other things, he continues to be receptive to Israeli importuning, as Israeli president Shimon Peres put it on March 23, to deal with what both referred to as "the Iranian threat" before Bush leaves office. Bush and Cheney seem to have given Israeli leaders the impression that the Bush administration has made a commitment to do precisely that.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to the president’s father and who was appointed chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board by the son, took the unusual step of going public with a startling remark in October 2004 that should give us all great concern. Just before he was sacked, the usually discreet Scowcroft told the Financial Times that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had George W. Bush "mesmerized." Eyeballing again – this time in Bush’s direction, it appears.

And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with masterful tutoring from the psychologists in the Israeli Mossad, has shown he can duplicate the spell. Who can forget watching Olmert’s fulsome praise of George W. Bush during his recent visit to Israel and how Bush seemed to turn to putty. Aw, shucks, he seemed to be saying, at least the Israelis respect me. And they are "mighty tough fellas."

Attacking Iran

The point is that if Cheney and Olmert both whisper "attack Iran," the president may give the order with the full expectation that – with Adm. William Fallon out of the way – a malleable secretary of defense and martinet generals and admirals left over from former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s reign will salute smartly and launch a much wider and more dangerous war in the Persian Gulf area. (After all, those rockets hitting the Green Zone are, according to Gen. Petraeus, "Iranian-provided, Iranian-made.")

Why attack Iran? Israeli officials have not been reluctant to insist publicly that they want our impressionable president to take care of their Iran problem before he leaves office.

Last October, for example, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Sallai Meridor rang several changes on the theme of Iran’s "threat" to Israel. In warning dripping with chutzpah and unintended candor, the Israeli ambassador served notice that countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions will take a "united United States in this matter," lest the Iranians conclude that, "come January ’09, they have it their own way." Meridor stressed that "very little time" remained to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and the time frame he has in mind is clear.

Why attack Iran? Well, also, just because! Because, as Bush is fond of saying, he is commander in chief. And he considers the U.S. armed forces his plaything. And because he can. Never mind the consequences. When has anyone held George W. Bush accountable for consequences?

Worse still, Bush’s open-ended rhetorical commitment to defend Israel if attacked could spell big trouble. If Iran were to strike Israel, Bush has said, "We will defend our ally, no ifs, ands, or buts." That is great rhetoric; trouble is that it surrenders the initiative to the Israelis, who have it within their power to provoke the Iranians.

And, Please, No Jimmy Baker

Bush chafes at any thought that those he considers his father’s cronies could rein him in. Bête noire number-one is the fella the president calls "Jimmy Baker." Negotiate with Iran? Draw down troops? George W. Bush will instinctively do the opposite. If Baker says Guantanamo should be shut down (as he did, joining five other former secretaries of state last week), then keep it open.

But, most of all, enjoy the last 10 months of "unitary executive" power.

That is perhaps most disturbing of all. George W. Bush is tap-dancing through it all. And the worse things get, the more jocular he seems to become. Commenting on Bush’s recent manic behavior, Justin Frank, M.D., author of Bush on the Couch, suggests that Bush is "acting like a kid planning to make a real mess as only he knows how – given his comfort with sadism, his lack of shame or conscience, and his propensity to take delight in breaking things."

Trouble is that as he tap dances the next few months away, he is systematically destroying the armed forces of the United States, and there does not seem to be anyone with the courage to try to stop him.

Eight months ago, Dr. Frank and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) collaborated on an article we called "Dangers of a Cornered Bush." The president and his imperial court now have 10 more months to act out. The scenarios we explored in that memo are still worth pondering.

Let me close with a remark Seymour Hersh made last year, even though it may seem flippant and in no way conveys the enormity of the danger we face in the coming months:

"These guys are scary as hell… you can’t use the word ’delusional,’ for it’s actually a medical term. Wacky. That’s a fair word."

With so much destructive power at the disposal of George W. Bush, we need to be increasingly alert to signs that additional delusional policies are about to be executed.

Food Bills Getting You Down? Try Dumpster Diving

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By Nicole McClelland

It's dark outside, as it tends to be past midnight, and unseasonably warm but raining. Though it was my idea to be parked behind Trader Joe's, scoping out the dumpster, I didn't really want to come; I'm kind of lazy in general, and specifically nervous right now, and it's so much easier to just make a list and go buy groceries in a sheltered, lighted shopping facility where you are guaranteed to both find what you want and avoid police harassment.

My nerdiness is showing: Before we get out of the car, I turn to my partner in crime and ask, "What's the plan?"

Dan looks at me. I've heard about dumpster diving, and read about dumpster diving, but in conversations and articles that seemed to identify it as the pursuit of anarchists and gutter punks --nothing that served as a guide for upwardly mobile middle-class squares. A few weeks ago, though, some hippie Dan went to high school with mentioned she was going to Trader Joe's to score for free the very same foodstuffs we paid good money for. It was just as good, just as edible and sanitarily packaged, and it didn't cost $100 a week if it just came out of the trash, she said. We felt like suckers.

"You're gonna get in there and grab the shit," Dan says. He starts laughing at me, like, what do I mean what's the plan? When I still don't make a move, he says, "Now ... break!"

We walk to the dumpster across the parking lot, but no one's around, and no one suddenly appears and starts yelling, as I'm for some reason expecting. We're in the kind of upscale outdoor mall complex where dumpsters are surrounded by gates, but the kind of gates that serve cosmetic rather than security purposes and give way easily when pushed. So just like that, I'm standing in front of a giant metal trash receptacle, one taller than me, with a chest-high opening in it. I quickly and incorrectly assess it, deciding that I can approach my objective from the outside and just reach in to gingerly lift the goods out.

My dreams of clean and easy die quickly; the dumpster is less than a quarter full, and I can't get hold of anything but piles of discarded shrink-wrap. "I don't think there's any food in here, pal," I say, disappointed, but maybe a bit relieved. I'm about to advocate giving up and going home when I pull out a cardboard box containing three sealed bags of perfectly comestible banana chips. "Except how there's food right here."

Picking up that first handful of free groceries is a bit like Christmas, exciting, enchanting. I hadn't known what I was going to get, so I hold the goods out in front of me for inspection. And here it is, my favorite kind of present: something I want and can actually use. I feel satisfied and, absurdly, a little proud. I planted some initiative, and it is bearing fruit, sliced, deep-fried, hermetically sealed pieces of fruit. I grab the sides of the window into the dumpster and climb in.

It wasn't an especially big throw-away day at the store, but I stand shin-deep amid the waste with a snake light wrapped around my neck, tearing open huge clear plastic garbage bags and examining their contents for salvageable eats. A sweet pepper, a dented tub of chocolate chip cookies, yes. A package of precooked sausages leaking juice out of a hole in the package, no. Half-pound hunks of somewhat moldy Monterey Jack cheese, sure. I sink my cotton-gloved hands into some items wet and unsavory-busted salsa containers, broken eggs, smashed bananas, while rain drips through the crack in the two-piece lid above my head. Liquid soaks into my socks: milk, I think, from the layer of discarded half-gallon cartons lining the bottom of the dumpster.

"This is actually a little grosser than I thought it was going to be," I say, as, even though I earlier pictured myself standing in a giant trash bin, I never actually considered the tactile details. I work out a system, sifting thoroughly through one corner first and then tossing bags into it after I clear it for items I want, which I hand to Dan. Nobody comes by. Nobody asks us what the hell we think we're doing. Half an hour after we parked the car, we walk back to it with seven plastic bags full of food. We go home, unload our groceries, just like we would after any other trip, and take showers, unlike we would after any other trip. We eat some garbage cookies, and go to bed.

It was a lucrative score: two bananas, one half-gallon of organic 2 percent milk, two prepared and packaged Asian-style noodle salads with ginger cilantro lime dressing, one red pepper, one orange pepper, one package prewashed salad, one package Asian stir-fry mix, one package organic mini chocolate chip cookies, one prepared and packaged chef salad, one prepared and packaged Greek salad, one prepared and packaged chicken Caesar salad, one sausage and roasted tomato pizza, one package sliced white mushrooms, six apricots, two bags cocktail tomatoes, three carrot and ranch dip snack packs, a half a pound of ginger, 1.5 pounds petite Yukon gold potatoes, 1 pound green olives, 1.5 pounds eggs, 1.5 pounds Monterey Jack cheese, 3 pounds California minneolas, 5 pounds clementines, 2 pounds rainbow carrots, three packages banana chips, one package fresh basil, 24 roma tomatoes, one package fat-free crumbled feta, one prepared and packaged fresh mozzarella and focaccia sandwich, two mixed flower bouquets, one bouquet Gerber daisies, and one dozen rainbow roses.

The next morning, Dan is already making cheese omelets and fried potatoes with our booty when I saunter out of bed. At lunch, we split the focaccia sandwich (after we scraped the mold off the mozzarella), and I invent a banana, apricot, and clementine smoothie. As I walk around our apartment, abloom with fresh flowers, I feel unusually fulfilled by the glass of dairy and pulp in my hand. It's not like I grew the fruit. Still, I've come by it by slightly more industrious means than grocery shopping, and I can't wait for the impending week of garbage dinner.

The USDA says Dan and I each eat almost 5 pounds of food every day, but more than enough food gets tossed in the United States for us to scavenge from: about 100 billion pounds annually, in fact, enough to also feed the entire great states of California and New York, more than a sixth of the entire population of the country. Retailers are responsible for some 70 percent of that waste, $30 billion worth. Even recovering just 5 percent of American food waste would feed the whole of New Zealand for a day. And if heartbreaking resource squandering isn't a compelling enough reason to dumpster dive, there's thriftiness. If you're like most Americans, you spend about 13 percent of your income on eating -- and environmental impact. In 2006, more than 12 percent of total municipal solid waste was food. And if you have neither hippie sensibilities, nor pocketbook constraints, nor a soul, how about good old-fashioned economic sense: putting said food into landfills costs taxpayers $50 million a year.

All things considered, the arguments for dumpster diving seem stronger than any against it. Though some cities and states have passed laws criminalizing it (it's not a federal offense, as the Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that searching and seizing garbage isn't prohibited), and the fact that our particular dumpster lives inside a fence means accessing it probably requires trespassing, cops don't generally patrol my grocery store parking lot at night, and I'd be surprised if I couldn't sweet-talk or run my way out of an incident with any officer bored enough to instigate one. There's also the concern, voiced by many of my friends, that food from a dumpster could be bad for you. Indeed, Dan has to drink half a glass of the milk and exhibit no signs of disaster for 20 minutes before I'm convinced it's safe. And all week, for about an hour after I eat, a small portion of my consciousness inadvertently waits for regrets. But we've got bright bouquets and a huge vat of homemade salsa and a mushroom, tomato, and cheese quiche and crazy smoothies and stir-fried vegetables over noodles, and it was all made possible, free of charge, by trash picking. I have only one concern at the end of the first week of eating garbage, and it's that I didn't take as much as I should have.

When we return the next week, we're like cool, regular shoppers, except that we're freezing -- 150 miles north of us, the sky is dumping a foot of snow on Cleveland. Still, we're not just grabbing madly, enthusiastic but directionless rookies. We have a running conversation about what I've picked up and how we can use it before we take it or I chuck it behind me. I'm neither hurried nor worried, and we score fruits and vegetables and already-mashed potatoes and a potted purple orchid and waffles and chai spice cookies and frozen chicken masala, among other things. We're thoughtful and thorough, and it's 45 minutes before I start to climb back out, tired and accomplished. Not that it's all glamorous. When Dan says, "Watch out for rats," I yell at him for freaking me out, but I am most certainly immersed in the habitat of disease-prone rodents. When I do jump out, it's right onto the ground, right onto my ass when my feet slide out from under me because the pavement is covered in ice. Like last time, we can't find a parking space in our complex when we get back to our apartment because we live in a busy downtown district and it's club-going time on a Friday night. We run the garbage groceries, which for some reason are coated in the smell of trash this time, a block to our building and then up four flights of fire escape to our door. My fingers are that obnoxious biting pain that just precedes numbness, since I buried them in several unidentified stinky wet stuffs, and the wind is cutting across them now as they grip the plastic bags. Everything needs to be washed -- the cellophane on the cheese, the box of waffles -- to get the reek off, and we crack open a box of baking soda and put it in the back of the fridge, hoping it'll help restore appetizingness to our food. It's 2 a.m. by the time we've put everything away, mopped the kitchen floor, rolled my malodorous tomato-and-roasted-red-pepper-soup-splattered clothes into a ball before reluctantly throwing them in with the rest of our laundry, and cleaned ourselves up. I soaked in the bathtub for half an hour to get the cold -- which seeped in during the 40 minutes we had to kill wandering around the shopping center while waiting for the employees to finally leave, the time I spent wallowing in trash, and the additional carry back to the apartment -- out of my system. Lying there, my wrist throbbing from having used it to break my fall on the ice, I felt exhausted and dirty and not a little discouraged.

My socioeconomic surroundings are showing: When my father calls and asks me what I was doing last night and I say, "Dumpster diving," he says, "For what?" And when I say, "For food," there's nothing but silence. Then, as if he hasn't heard me: "What?" My best friend came over a few days earlier and complained that she was hungry. "Do you have any delicious food?" she asked, then reconsidered. "That you haven't gotten out of the garbage?" And yeah, some of the food in our fridge has to be picked free of mold before it can be eaten, and the Jack cheese has a stink that (a) makes me uncomfortable and (b) doesn't want to come off my hands. (Ultimately, we decide to re-toss it.) Yeah, we could have been arrested. Yeah, we could get food poisoning, or rabies. But when we roll out of bed late the morning after our second dive, the apartment smells fine, and we fix a breakfast of trash waffles and bananas before sitting down to make a list of groceries we still need. We consider our loot. We can make havarti, rice, and broccoli casserole. Spinach quesadillas with cheddar, mushrooms, and sauteed sweet peppers, with homemade salsa. Mashed sweet potatoes or sweet potato chowder. Warm green bean and tomato salad. Stir fry. Banana smoothies. We've recovered an entire apple pie. We figure our meal plan four different ways, and have so much food left over that we freeze some. When we finish the list of groceries we have to buy for two people for a whole week, it contains exactly five items.

Before we started dumpster diving, Dan pointed out that it would probably change our eating habits. I like to make enchiladas, for example, but it's unlikely that beans, rice, cheese, tomatoes, onions, and tortillas are all going to happen into the dumpster at the same time. I wouldn't normally eat carrots and ranch dip for breakfast, or salad for dessert, but the organizing principle of our diet has changed from "What do I want to eat?" to "What do I have? What can I make with it?" -- a much more traditional (and at the same time ultramodern, as eating local has come back into fashion) type of interaction with food. Once, when we were working on an organic farm in the South Pacific, the owner told us that if we were true ecologists, we would during the feijoa season eat only feijoas, the little green fruits that his orchard was showering us with. Like then, I won't now make such extreme compromises -- I refuse, for example, to live without milk or olive oil, so we spend $20 at the grocery store that week.

Still. We could be spending $0 on food by harvesting waste, and even with my unwillingness to make stir fry instead of cereal for breakfast, in just two trips we saved hundreds of dollars. We ate things we never would have, got creative with our menus, kept 60 pounds of edible "garbage" out of a landfill.

Dumpster diving is another one of those things that I should do for both money and the environment's sake, like buying only used clothes or not taking long, hot showers. It's kind of like going to the gym: You never want to, but after you have, you feel like you've really achieved something. The next week, though, the snow comes south and hard. Then soon after that, I get a new job and move, and the dumpsters in my neighborhood are inside garages I can't get into, and I work a lot of overtime, and I have a litany of other excuses for not salvaging groceries anymore (as I do for not taking short, cold showers). It's another way that I'm part of the culture of waste, wasting resources, wasting money.

Standing at the sink one day in my trash-eating time, I had a moment of characteristic grace in which I somehow tossed the quiche I was holding down the garbage disposal. I cursed, then threw down my dish towel, and then my shoulders. Dan, sensing a tantrum, rushed into the kitchen from the other room. "It's OK, pal," he said. "It was from the garbage anyway." True. But I couldn't believe I'd done it, just like I can't believe restaurants and grocery stores around the country so recklessly and wildly dump whole analogous quiches down the metaphorical drain every second. Like I feel a little ridiculous shopping at Trader Joe's when I know that for every four tomatoes I once took out of the dumpster, I left four dozen.

That one time, there were more than 100 pounds of discarded bananas in the parking lot, that I could entirely subsistent on trash without even making a dent in it, that for every bag of salad that made it from the garbage to my fridge, there were five more that someone else could've eaten. For the grocers and restaurateurs, throwing the food in dumpsters is, however exorbitantly wasteful, a matter of convenience. As leaving it there is for me. "I don't know," one of my friends says when I try to talk her into just getting her food out of the garbage. "That's a really good idea. But it sounds like a lot of work."

US Treasury plan shields Wall Street speculators

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By Andre Damon and Barry Grey

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Monday presented a broad plan to revamp the American financial regulatory system. The proposal, while giving the Federal Reserve Board expanded trouble-shooting powers over financial markets and institutions, would actually weaken federal oversight of Wall Street investment banks and leave virtually untouched the vast, unregulated secondary, or “derivatives,” markets.

Speaking barely two weeks after the Fed intervened to prevent the bankruptcy of the investment bank Bear Stearns and announced massive loans to other Wall Street firms to avert a meltdown of the financial system, Paulson’s “Blueprint for Financial Regulatory Reform” underscores the determination of the most powerful sections of the financial establishment to block any measures that would limit their ability to generate profits and multi-million-dollar compensation packages from various forms of financial speculation.

Paulson largely cast the proposal as a response to the bursting of the US housing bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis that have resulted in tens of billions of dollars in losses for major banks and a crisis of confidence in the entire US credit system. In fact, his department began drafting the plan last spring as a proposal to further deregulate the American financial system and make it even more profitable and more competitive against foreign rivals in Europe and elsewhere.

Paulson, a former Nixon aide and Wall Street executive, has long advocated further moves to limit government regulation of the banks and financial houses. He was the CEO of Goldman Sachs, the biggest US investment bank, before taking over as Bush’s treasury secretary in 2006, and personally benefited from the fast-and-loose risk-taking on Wall Street that was encouraged under both Republican and Democratic administrations. His compensation package, according to reports, was $37 million in 2005 and $16.4 million projected for 2006. His net worth has been estimated at over $700 million.

Not surprisingly, neither in Paulson’s remarks nor in the 214 pages of the plan he released is there any suggestion that Wall Street firms or their top executives be called to account and held legally culpable for the economic and social disaster that has resulted from their reckless and often deceptive, if not outright illegal, policies and actions.

Paulson’s remarks contained the typical euphemisms employed to mask the depth of the economic crisis. “Markets are pricing and reassessing risk,” he said, referring to the collapse of the massively inflated values of securities backed by subprime mortgages and other forms of speculation.

He sought to reassure Wall Street by declaring, “I am not suggesting that more regulation is the answer,” and hailed the repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act as a great advance. Glass-Steagall, passed at the height of the Great Depression in 1933 in response to revelations of swindling and fraud by major banks and financial houses, made it illegal for a commercial bank, which accepts deposits from individuals, to also function as an investment bank. The removal of this restriction contributed to the super-heated speculative environment that led to the current financial crisis.

He also declared, “I do not believe it is fair or accurate to blame our regulatory structure for the current market turmoil.” This “blameless” structure allowed, for example, credit-rating agencies, paid by financial firms to rate securities issued by the same firms, to give AAA ratings to subprime-backed debt, and accounting firms to allow mortgage lenders to book losses as profits.

The Treasury Department blueprint is divided into proposals for the near, medium and long term. In the near-term, it calls for an expansion of the authority and membership of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, which was initiated following the stock market crash of 1987 and presently includes the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, the treasury secretary, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

The plan also calls for the establishment of a Mortgage Origination Commission to increase federal oversight over the licensing and conduct of mortgage brokers.

Intermediate-term recommendations include greater Federal Reserve oversight of US payment and settlement systems, and the merger of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). This latter proposal would effectively lessen federal oversight of stock, bond and commodities exchanges as well as investment banks, since the more lax procedures of the CFTC would prevail.

The plan also calls for measures to increase federal oversight of insurance companies and closing down of the Office of Thrift Supervision, which presently oversees savings and loans institutions.

In the longer-term, which Paulson acknowledged would take years to carry through, the Treasury plan envisions a tri-partite federal regulatory system, with the Fed largely stripped of its current day-to-day oversight of commercial banks and instead given expanded powers to trouble-shoot over the entire array of financial institutions and markets. Under the Treasury plan, the Fed could inspect the books of any bank, investment bank, hedge fund, private equity firm or insurance company and order remedial action—such as greater capital reserves—but only if the Fed deemed the practices of the company in question to pose a “systemic threat” to the financial system.

The Fed’s current role in overseeing commercial banks and other depository institutions would be taken over by a new Prudential Financial Regulator. Significantly, the mandate of this new agency would not extend to investment banks, even though investment banks have now been given access to government-backed loans at the Fed’s discount window.

Finally, there would be a Conduct of Business Regulator to oversee the conduct of financial firms to protect consumers and investors.

The immense growth of the American financial sector over the past several decades was fueled by a series of asset bubbles and made possible by the US dollar’s preeminent role in the structure of world capitalism, which allowed the US to run deficits and accumulate imbalances of a size unthinkable in any other country. But the period in which the US ruling elite could rack up profits while letting its infrastructure and productive capacity crumble was by its very nature transitory. The current crisis represents the beginnings of a global readjustment and the formation of a new balance of economic power, to the detriment of American capitalism.

The current crisis is the culmination of a protracted decline in the global economic position of American capitalism, partially masked in the past by a vast growth of financial speculation and parasitism. It is not, as Paulson said in his remarks on Monday, merely one of the “periods of market stress” that recur “every five to ten years.”

Israel Planning to Build Hundreds of New Homes on Occupied Land

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By Griff Witte

Jerusalem - Israel said Monday that it would build hundreds of new homes on occupied land it considers part of Jerusalem, just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrapped up a three-day visit to the region by saying the peace process is "moving in the right direction."

The announcement of the new construction, the latest in a series of similar projects advanced by Israel in recent months, was likely to anger Palestinians. The issue also elicited criticism from Rice, who called on Israel to stop building in contested territory even before Monday's announcement.

"Settlement activity should stop - expansion should stop," Rice said at a news conference after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice was on her second trip to the region this month. In recent days, she met with top leaders, trying to build momentum in negotiations that thus far have yielded little public progress. President Bush has said he wants to have a "signed peace treaty" by the time he leaves office next January.

After prodding by Rice, Israel said on Sunday it would remove 50 roadblocks out of nearly 600 in the West Bank that inhibit the movement of people and goods in the name of safeguarding Israelis from Palestinian attack.

Settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been a persistent flash point in Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians, who claim the territory for their future state and want East Jerusalem as their capital.

Israel, which captured the land in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and considers an undivided Jerusalem its capital, says it has the right to continue building in Jewish neighborhoods in and around the city.

The new housing would consist of 800 apartment units in the northeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev, which is within the expanded but internationally unrecognized boundaries of the city set by Israel after the 1967 war.

Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, also said Monday it had secured his backing for the construction of hundreds of new homes in the West Bank settlement of Betar Illit. A spokesman for Olmert could not confirm that report but said Israel is allowed to build in the settlement because it will be part of Israel under any future peace deal.

Israel has justified the expansions in part by citing a 2004 letter Bush sent to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in which he acknowledged "already existing major Israeli population centers" that would prevent a return to the pre-1967 boundaries.

Olmert on Monday told fellow members of his Kadima party that the expansion of existing settlements is acceptable. "All the reports of dramatic construction projects in the territories are not true," he said, "and it's not true that we're building in violation of commitments that were made."

The Israel-based advocacy group Peace Now released a report Monday saying that construction in West Bank settlements has boomed since the Annapolis peace conference four months ago. The organization documented new construction in 101 settlements.

"It's a slap in the face to the political process," said Hagit Ofran, head of the organization's settlement watch program. "This is the same mistake Israel has made since Oslo - building in the settlements and not understanding that it's a sign to the Palestinians that Israel does not want peace."

Ofran said the move hurts moderate forces such as Abbas's Palestinian Authority and strengthens more radical groups. "It plays into the hands of Hamas, which says there's no use talking to the Israelis because they'll just build more and more," she said.

Ex-Terror Detainee Says US Tortured Him

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Tells "60 Minutes" he was held underwater, shocked and suspended from the ceiling.

At the age of 19, Murat Kurnaz vanished into America's shadow prison system in the war on terror. He was from Germany, traveling in Pakistan, and was picked up three months after 9/11. But there seemed to be ample evidence that Kurnaz was an innocent man with no connection to terrorism. The FBI thought so, U.S. intelligence thought so, and German intelligence agreed. But once he was picked up, Kurnaz found himself in a prison system that required no evidence and answered to no one.

The story Kurnaz told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley is a rare look inside that clandestine system of justice, where the government's own secret files reveal that an innocent man lost his liberty, his dignity, his identity, and ultimately five years of his life.

60 Minutes found Murat Kurnaz in Bremen, Germany, where he was born and raised. His parents emigrated there from Turkey. His father works in the Mercedes factory. Kurnaz wasn't particularly religious growing up, but in 2001 he was marrying a Turkish girl who was. And he decided to learn more about Islam.

"I didn't know how to pray. I didn't know anything," Kurnaz says. "So I had to study more about Islam so I could go to the mosque and pray."

In Bremen, he met Islamic missionaries who urged him to go to Pakistan for study. As he was planning the trip, 9/11 happened. He told 60 Minutes he was horrified by the attacks, and had never heard of al Qaeda. He decided to go ahead with his trip anyway.

"You went to Pakistan several weeks after 9/11," Pelley remarks. "Did you begin to think that that wasn't a great idea?"

"Today, I know it wasn't a great idea," Kurnaz says.

Kurnaz told 60 Minutes his story using the English that he learned from his American guards. If he seems a little distant, reserved, you'll understand why as his story unfolds. It begins in 2001, when he was at the end of that trip to Pakistan. He was headed to the airport to fly home to Germany when his bus was stopped at a routine checkpoint.

"They stopped the bus and because of my color, I'm much more different than Pakistani guys," says Kurnaz, who is lighter-skinned. "He looked into the bus and he knocked on my window."

"He" was a Pakistani cop who pulled Kurnaz off the bus. The reason Kurnaz was singled out may always be a mystery. But at the time, the U.S. was paying bounties for suspicious foreigners. Kurnaz, who'd been rambling across Pakistan with Islamic pilgrims, seemed to fit the bill. Kurnaz says that he was told that U.S. intelligence paid $3,000 for him. He ended up bound and shackled on an American military plane.

"I was sure soon as they would find out I'm not a terrorist, they will apologize for it and let me go back home," he says.

But the plane flew him out of Pakistan and to a U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was mixed with prisoners fresh off the battlefield. His new identity was "number 53." He was kept in an outdoor pen, in sub-freezing weather and interrogated daily.

"They asked me, 'Where is Osama bin Laden,' and if I am from al Qaeda or from Taliban. Questions like that. I told them, 'I don't know where is Osama bin Laden, I never saw him and I don't know anything about al Qaeda. I don't know what it is.' And I spent all my time in Pakistan," he says.

Asked what happened next, Kurnaz says, "I told them just they can call Germany to ask who I am and they can ask anybody in Germany who I am."

Back in Germany, Bremen police were investigating, and what they were hearing made matters worse: Kurnaz's worried mother told them her son had recently become more religious, had grown a beard and was attending a new mosque; schoolmates said that Kurnaz might have been headed to Afghanistan.

"It was just guessing, just fear, no more. But the fear turns into a fact," says attorney Bernhard Docke, who was hired by Kurnaz's mother.

He says there was no reason to suspect Kurnaz knew anything about al Qaeda. But this was weeks after 9/11 and some of the hijackers had been living in Hamburg. "And so close after 9/11, and close after Germany realized that 9/11 started with the Hamburg cell in Germany, everybody in the secret services got crazy," Docke says.

Docke says the police report was sent to the Americans. And Kurnaz claims his interrogations at Kandahar turned to torture. He told 60 Minutes that American troops held his head underwater.

"They used to beat me when my head is underwater. They beat me into my stomach and everything," he says.

"They were hitting you in the stomach while you're head was underwater so that you'd have to take a breath?" Pelley asks,

"Right. I had to drink. I had to ... how you say it?" Kurnaz replies.

"Inhale. Inhale the water," Pelley says.

"I had to inhale the water. Right," Kurnaz says.

Kurnaz says the Americans used a device to shock him with electricity that made his body go numb. And he says he was hoisted up on chains suspended by his arms from the ceiling of an aircraft hangar for five days.

"Every five or six hours they came and pulled me back down. And the doctor came to watch if I can still survive to not. He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart. And when he said okay, then they pulled me back up," Kurnaz says.

"The point of the doctor's visit was not to treat you. It was to see if you could take another six hours hanging from the ceiling?" Pelley asks.

"Right," Kurnaz says.

"I suspect you know that the U.S. military will deny this happened. The U.S. military will deny that you were shocked. It will deny your head was held in a bucket of water. It will deny that you hung from a ceiling for days at a time," Pelley remarks.

"Doesn't matter whatever they will say. The truth will not change," Kurnaz says.

"And you're telling me in this interview that this is the truth?" Pelley asks.

"This is the truth," Kurnaz insists.

Kurnaz isn't alone in these allegations: other freed prisoners have described electric shocks at Kandahar, and even U.S. troops have admitted beating prisoners who were hanging by their arms. Kurnaz's story fits a pattern.

After six weeks in Afghanistan, Kurnaz was loaded onto another plane, this time bound for Guantanamo. The Pentagon labeled the prisoners "unlawful enemy combatants." They didn't have the rights of prisoners of war and were beyond the reach of any court.

At Guantanamo Kurnaz says he endured endless months of interrogations, beatings at the hands of soldiers in riot gear, and physical cruelty which included going without sleep for weeks and solitary confinement for up to a month in cells that were sealed without ventilation or were set up to punish him with extreme conditions.

"It's dark inside. No lights. And they can punish you in isolation by coldness or by the heat. They have special air conditioners over there. Very strong. They can turn it very cold or very hot," Kurnaz says.

He says it went on year after year, always the same questions about al Qaeda, and the endless effort to break his will. He heard nothing from the outside and wondered whether anyone knew that he was there.

Then, in 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo prisoners did have the right to lawyers. And to his complete surprise, one day Kurnaz was told he had a visitor. It was Baher Azmy, an American lawyer.

"He was chained to a bolt in the floor around his ankle," Azmy says, recalling his first meeting with Kurnaz. "And had an absolutely enormous beard that had marked the years that he was in detention. He looked like someone who had been shipwrecked, which, of course, in a sense, he really was."

Azmy is a professor at the Seton Hall Law School. He dug into the case and found that the military seemed to have invented some of the charges. Military prosecutors said one of Kurnaz's friends was a suicide bomber, but the friend turned up alive and well in Germany.

"How could they have gotten that so wrong? I mean, you're either a suicide bomber or you're not. There's no in between," Pelley remarks.

"This goes to the utter preposterousness of the government's legal process that they established in Guantanamo, this tribunal system that was supposed to differentiate from enemy combatant and civilian. So in order to justify that he was an enemy combatant, they simply made up an allegation about someone he was associated with," Azmy says.

But far worse than the false charges was the secret government file that Azmy uncovered.

Six months after Kurnaz reached Guantanamo, U.S. military intelligence had written, "criminal investigation task force has no definite link [or] evidence of detainee having an association with al Qaeda or making any specific threat toward the U.S."

At the same time, German intelligence agents wrote their government, saying, "USA considers Murat Kurnaz's innocence to be proven. He is to be released in approximately six to eight weeks."

But Azmy says Kurnaz was kept at Guantanamo Bay for three and a half years after this memo was written in 2002.

They kept him, Kurnaz says, by inventing new charges. In a makeshift courthouse, Kurnaz claims that a military judge charged that Kurnaz had been picked up near Osama bin Laden's hideout in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban. Ironic, since it was the U.S. that flew him to Afghanistan to begin with.

"Have you ever in your legal career run across anything like this?" Pelley asks Baher Azmy.

"In my legal career, no," Azmy says. "But in Guantanamo, no detainee has ever been able to genuinely present evidence before a neutral judge. And so as absurd as Murat Kurnaz's case is, I assure you there are many, many dozens just as tenuous."

And a U.S. federal judge agreed. She ruled the Guantanamo military tribunals violated the prisoners' right to a defense, and she singled out Kurnaz's case as an example.

60 Minutes asked the Department of Defense to talk to us about Kurnaz. Instead they sent 60 Minutes a statement, calling his allegations "unsubstantiated" and "outlandish," adding that claims that the U.S. military "engaged in regular and systematic torture of detainees cannot withstand even the slightest scrutiny." The statement didn't address why Kurnaz was held to begin with. (Click here to read the full Department of Defense statement.)

The break in Kurnaz's case came when the German chancellor asked President Bush for his release. In August 2006, a plane came to take Kurnaz home. On the way out he was asked to sign a confession his captors had written for him saying he'd been al Qaeda all along. He refused. On the plane he was chained and surrounded by soldiers. But by the end of the flight, he was free.

"There's a picture of you hugging your mother. Tell me about that moment," Pelley asks.

"She wouldn't let me go. She wouldn't let me, anymore. She just hugged me. Of course, she was so happy, she cried. And I would go to my father and my brothers, also, but she didn't let me. And they had to wait," Kurnaz remembers.

He was 19 when he went in, 24 when he returned to Bremen. His wife had divorced him. Kurnaz has written a book, just translated into English called "Five Years Of My Life." And he told 60 Minutes he wanted to visit the United States, but can't because the U.S. still considers him to be an unlawful enemy combatant.

April Fools: The Fox To Guard The Banking Henhouse

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By Dr. Ellen Brown

[author’s website at www.webofdebt.com]

The Federal Reserve, which has been credited with creating the current housing bubble and bust just as it created the credit bubble of the Roaring Twenties and the bust of 1929, is now to be given vast new powers to oversee regulation of the banking industry and promote "financial market stability." At least, that is the gist of a Treasury Department proposal to be presented to Congress on Monday, March 31, 2008. Adrian Douglas wrote on LeMetropoleCafe.com, "I would like to think that this is some sort of sick April Fools joke, but, alas, they are serious! What happened to free markets?"1

In fact, what happened to regulating the banks? The Treasury’s plan is not for the private Federal Reserve to increase regulation of the banking system it heads. Au contraire, regulation will actually be decreased. According to The Wall Street Journal:

"Many of the [Treasury’s] proposals, like those that would consolidate regulatory agencies, have nothing to do with the turmoil in financial markets. And some of the proposals could actually reduce regulation. According to a summary provided by the administration, the plan would consolidate an alphabet soup of banking and securities regulators into a powerful trio of overseers responsible for everything from banks and brokerage firms to hedge funds and private equity firms. . . . Parts of the plan could reduce the power of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with maintaining orderly stock and bond markets and protecting investors. . . . The blueprint also suggests several areas where the S.E.C. should take a lighter approach to its oversight. Among them are allowing stock exchanges greater leeway to regulate themselves and streamlining the approval of new products, even allowing automatic approval of securities products that are being traded in foreign markets."2

"securities products" include the mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and other forms of the great Ponzi scheme known as "derivatives" that have been largely responsible for bringing the banking system to the brink of collapse. But these suspect products are not to be more heavily scrutinized; rather, their approval will actually be "streamlined" and may be automatic if they are being traded in "foreign markets." The Journal observes that the Treasury’s proposal was initiated last year by Secretary Henry Paulson not to "regulate" the banks but "to make American financial markets more competitive against overseas markets by modernizing a creaky regulatory system. His goal was to streamline the different and sometimes clashing rules for commercial banks, savings and loans and nonbank mortgage lenders." "streamlining" the rules evidently meant eliminating any that "clashed" with the Fed’s goal of allowing U.S. banks to be more "competitive" abroad. The Journal continues:

"While the plan could expose Wall Street investment banks and hedge funds to greater scrutiny, it carefully avoids a call for tighter regulation. The plan would not rein in practices that have been linked to the housing and mortgage crisis, like packaging risky subprime mortgages into securities carrying the highest ratings. . . . And the plan does not recommend tighter rules over the vast and largely unregulated markets for risk sharing and hedging, like credit default swaps, which are supposed to insure lenders against loss but became a speculative instrument themselves and gave many institutions a false sense of security."

Regulating fraudulent, predatory and overly-speculative banking practices has been left to the States, not necessarily by law but by default. According to then-Governor Eliot Spitzer, writing in January of 2008, state regulators tried to regulate these shady practices but were hamstrung by federal authorities. In a February 14 Washington Post article titled "Predatory Lenders; Partner in Crime: How the Bush Administration Stopped the States from Stepping in to Help Consumers," Spitzer complained:

"several years ago, state attorneys general and others involved in consumer protection began to notice a marked increase in a range of predatory lending practices by mortgage lenders. Some were misrepresenting the terms of loans, making loans without regard to consumers’ ability to repay, making loans with deceptive ’teaser; rates that later ballooned astronomically, packing loans with undisclosed charges and fees, or even paying illegal kickbacks. These and other practices, we noticed, were having a devastating effect on home buyers. In addition, the widespread nature of these practices, if left unchecked, threatened our financial markets.

"Even though predatory lending was becoming a national problem, the Bush administration looked the other way and did nothing to protect American homeowners. In fact, the government chose instead to align itself with the banks that were victimizing consumers. . . . [A]s New York attorney general, I joined with colleagues in the other 49 states in attempting to fill the void left by the federal government. Individually, and together, state attorneys general of both parties brought litigation or entered into settlements with many subprime lenders that were engaged in predatory lending practices. Several state legislatures, including New York’s, enacted laws aimed at curbing such practices . . . .

"Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye. . . . The administration accomplished this feat through an obscure federal agency called the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). . . . In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government’s actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules. But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation."

Less than a month after publishing this editorial, Spitzer was out of office, following a surprise exposé of his personal indiscretions by the Justice Department. Greg Palast observed that Spitzer was the single politician standing between a $200 billion windfall from the Federal Reserve guaranteeing the mortgage-backed junk bonds of the same banking predators that were responsible for the subprime debacle. While the Federal Reserve was trying to bail them out, Spitzer had been trying to regulate them, bringing suit on behalf of consumers.3 But Spitzer has now been silenced, and any other state attorneys general who might get similar ideas will be deterred by the federal oversight under which banking regulators are to be "consolidated."

The Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan deliberately enabled and permitted the derivatives debacle to take down the dollar and America’s credibility. Greenspan is now lauded, feted and awarded at the White House and on network television, and takes a victory lap tour promoting and signing his book and celebrating his multimillion dollar book deal, enjoying his knighthood status in England and hero status on Wall Street. And as the falling debris of the American economy still piles up around us, the very agency that enabled disaster is now seeking to consolidate ultimate authority and accountability to itself, and through centralization and arrogation of power, eliminate all those pesky little Constitutional and State regulations and agencies, recalcitrant governors and the last few whistle blowers, so that the further abuse of power can be streamlined through one agency only. That agency is to consist of an alliance of the banking powers and the executive branch, a perfect formula for the institutionalization of continual abuse.

Perhaps Spitzer was lucky that he was the target only of a character assassination. When Louisiana Senator Huey Long challenged the Federal Reserve and fought for the State’s right to oversee its own financial affairs in the 1930s, he was assassinated with bullets. Long’s local assertion of decentralized State powers, as provided for in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, enabled the State of Louisiana to loosen the grip of the corporations on the State’s wealth and allowed the setting up of schools and public institutions that elevated the people of the State and placed its "common wealth" back into the hands of its citizens, while providing employment and education. The Constitution reserves to the States and the people all those powers not specifically delegated to the federal government, arguably including the creation of money itself, which is nowhere specifically mentioned in the Constitution beyond creating coins. (See E. Brown, "Another Way Around the Credit Crisis: Minnesota Bill Would Authorize State Banks to Monetize; Productivity," www.webofdebt.com/articles, March 23, 2008.) But in this latest attempt at expanding the Federal Reserve’s already over-expansive powers, we see clear evidence that the Wall Street and global banking powers have no intention of allowing their plans to be reined in by the Constitutional powers of the States and the people. Instead, they intend to fill up the moat and pull up the draw bridge on their feudal powers, and let the serfs shiver outside the gates for as long as they will put up with it.


1Adrian Douglas, "PPT to Come Out of the Closet," www.lemetropolecafe.com (March 29, 2008).
2Edmund Andrews, "Treasury’s Plan Would Give Fed Wide new Power," New York Times (March 29, 2008).
3Greg Palast, "Eliot’s Mess" www.gregpalast.com (March 14, 2008).

Inside the Black Budget

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By William J. Broad

Skulls. Black cats. A naked woman riding a killer whale. Grim reapers. Snakes. Swords. Occult symbols. A wizard with a staff that shoots lightning bolts. Moons. Stars. A dragon holding the Earth in its claws.

No, this is not the fantasy world of a 12-year-old boy.

It is, according to a new book, part of the hidden reality behind the Pentagon's classified, or "black," budget that delivers billions of dollars to stealthy armies of high-tech warriors. The book offers a glimpse of this dark world through a revealing lens - patches - the kind worn on military uniforms.

"It's a fresh approach to secret government," Steven Aftergood, a security expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said in an interview. "It shows that these secret programs have their own culture, vocabulary and even sense of humor."

One patch shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. "To Serve Man" reads the text above, a reference to a classic "Twilight Zone" episode in which man is the entree, not the customer. "Gustatus Similis Pullus" reads the caption below, dog Latin for "Tastes Like Chicken."

Military officials and experts said the patches are real if often unofficial efforts at building team spirit.

The classified budget of the Defense Department, concealed from the public in all but outline, has nearly doubled in the Bush years, to $32 billion. That is more than the combined budgets of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Those billions have expanded a secret world of advanced science and technology in which military units and federal contractors push back the frontiers of warfare. In the past, such handiwork has produced some of the most advanced jets, weapons and spy satellites, as well as notorious boondoggles.

Budget documents tell little. This year, for instance, the Pentagon says Program Element 0603891c is receiving $196 million but will disclose nothing about what the project does. Private analysts say it apparently aims at developing space weapons.

Trevor Paglen, an artist and photographer finishing his Ph.D. in geography at the University of California, Berkeley, has managed to document some of this hidden world. The 75 patches he has assembled reveal a bizarre mix of high and low culture where Latin and Greek mottos frame images of spooky demons and sexy warriors, of dragons dropping bombs and skunks firing laser beams.

"Oderint Dum Metuant," reads a patch for an Air Force program that mines spy satellite images for battlefield intelligence, according to Mr. Paglen, who identifies the saying as from Caligula, the first-century Roman emperor famed for his depravity. It translates "Let them hate so long as they fear."

Wizards appear on several patches. The one hurling lightning bolts comes from a secret Air Force base at Groom Lake, northwest of Las Vegas in a secluded valley. Mr. Paglen identifies its five clustered stars and one separate star as a veiled reference to Area 51, where the government tests advanced aircraft and, U.F.O. buffs say, captured alien spaceships.

The book offers not only clues into the nature of the secret programs, but also a glimpse of zealous male bonding among the presumed elite of the military-industrial complex. The patches often feel like fraternity pranks gone ballistic.

The book's title? "I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me," published by Melville House. Mr. Paglen says the title is the Latin translation of a patch designed for the Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 4, at Point Mugu, Calif. Its mission, he says, is to test strike aircraft, conventional weapons and electronic warfare equipment and to develop tactics to use the high-tech armaments in war.

"The military has patches for almost everything it does," Mr. Paglen writes in the introduction. "Including, curiously, for programs, units and activities that are officially secret."

He said contractors in some cases made the patches to build esprit de corps. Other times, he added, military units produced them informally, in contrast to official patches.

Mr. Paglen said he found them by touring bases, noting what personnel wore, joining alumni associations, interviewing active and former team members, talking to base historians and filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

A spokesman for the Pentagon, Cmdr. Bob Mehal, said it would be imprudent to comment on "which patches do or do not represent classified units." In an e-mail message, Commander Mehal added, "It would be supposition to suggest 'anyone' is uncomfortable with this book."

Each year, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private group in Washington, publishes an update on the Pentagon's classified budget. It says the money began to soar after the two events of Mr. Bush's coming into office and terrorists' 9/11 attacks.

What sparked his interest, Mr. Paglen recalled, were Vice President Dick Cheney's remarks as the Pentagon and World Trade Center smoldered. On "Meet the Press," he said the nation would engage its "dark side" to find the attackers and justice. "We've got to spend time in the shadows," Mr. Cheney said. "It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

In an interview, Mr. Paglen said that remark revived memories of his childhood when his military family traveled the globe to bases often involved in secret missions. "I'd go out drinking with Special Forces guys," he recalled. "I was 15, and they were 20, and they could never say where they where coming from or what they were doing. You were just around the stuff."

Intrigued by Mr. Cheney's remarks as well as his own recollections, Mr. Paglen set off to map the secret world and document its expansion. He traveled widely across the Southwest, where the military keeps many secret bases. His labors, he said, resulted in his Ph.D. thesis as well as a book, "Blank Spots on a Map," that Dutton plans to publish next year.

The research also led to another book, "Torture Taxi," that Melville House published in 2006. It described how spies kidnapped and detained suspected terrorists around the globe.

"Black World," a 2006 display of his photographs at Bellwether, a gallery in Chelsea, showed "anonymous-looking buildings in parched landscapes shot through a shimmering heat haze," Holland Cotter wrote in The New York Times, adding that the images "seem to emit a buzz of mystery as they turn military surveillance inside out: here the surveillant is surveilled."

In this research, Mr. Paglen became fascinated by the patches and started collecting them and displaying them at talks and shows. He said a breakthrough occurred around 2004, when he visited Peter Merlin, an "aerospace archaeologist" who works in the Mojave Desert not far from a sprawling military base. Mr. Merlin argued that the lightning bolts, stars and other symbols could be substantive clues about unit numbers and operating locations, as well as the purpose of hidden programs.

"These symbols," Mr. Paglen wrote, "were a language. If you could begin to learn its grammar, you could get a glimpse into the secret world itself."

His book explores this idea and seeks to decode the symbols. Many patches show the Greek letter sigma, which Mr. Paglen identifies as a technical term for how well an object reflects radar waves, a crucial parameter in developing stealthy jets.

A patch from a Groom Lake unit shows the letter sigma with the "buster" slash running through it, as in the movie "Ghost Busters." "Huge Deposit - No Return" reads its caption. Huge Deposit, Mr. Paglen writes, "indicates the bomb load deposited by the bomber on its target, while 'No Return' refers to the absence of a radar return, meaning the aircraft was undetectable to radar."

In an interview, Mr. Paglen said his favorite patch was the dragon holding the Earth in its claws, its wings made of American flags and its mouth wide open, baring its fangs. He said it came from the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees developing spy satellites. "There's something both belligerent and weirdly self-critical about it," he remarked. "It's representing the U.S. as a dragon with the whole world in its clutches."

The field is expanding. Dwayne A. Day and Roger Guillemette, military historians, wrote an article published this year in The Space Review (www.thespacereview.com/article/1033/1) on patches from secret space programs. "It's neat stuff," Dr. Day said in an interview. "They're not really giving away secrets. But the patches do go farther than the organizations want to go officially."

Mr. Paglen plans to keep mining the patches and the field of clandestine military activity. "It's kind of remarkable," he said. "This stuff is a huge industry, I mean a huge industry. And it's remarkable that you can develop these projects on an industrial scale, and we don't know what they are. It's an astounding feat of social engineering."

Iraqi Casualties at Highest Level Since August

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By Randy Fabi

Baghdad - Fighting between Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militiamen last month has driven civilian deaths in the country to their highest level in more than six months, government figures showed on Tuesday.

A total of 923 civilians were killed in March, up 31 percent from February and the deadliest month since August 2007, according to data compiled by Iraq's interior, defense and health ministries and obtained by Reuters.

The figures will be a blow to the Iraqi government and the United States, which have pointed to reduced overall levels of violence in recent months as evidence that a major security offensive has made significant progress.

Hundreds of people were killed and many more wounded in last week's fighting after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on Shi'ite militiamen in the southern city of Basra. Many of the dead were civilians caught in the crossfire.

Basra was relatively calm for a second straight day on Tuesday after Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called his fighters off the streets on Sunday.

A Reuters reporter in Basra said more shops had opened for business and streets were filling up with residents and cars. But many schools and government offices remained closed.

The crackdown exposed a deep rift within Iraq's Shi'ite majority - between the political parties in Maliki's government and followers of the populist cleric Sadr.

Despite the sharp rise in casualties last month, the March figure was still much lower than the 1,861 civilians who died violently in the same month a year ago at a time when Iraq was on the verge of all-out civil war. A total of 1,358 civilians were wounded in March, compared with 2,700 a year ago.

Overall attacks have fallen since last June when 30,000 extra U.S. troops became fully deployed. Another key factor bringing down attacks was a unilateral ceasefire declared by Sadr last August.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday the recent violence in southern Iraq would not deter U.S. plans to withdraw 20,000 troops by July. U.S. commanders say they expect to have 140,000 soldiers in Iraq once the drawdown is complete.

The U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker will give a much-anticipated status report on Iraq to Congress next week.

Petraeus is expected to recommend a pause in troop withdrawals to avoid losing the gains made in recent months.

Uneasy Calm

Sadr ordered his Mehdi Army fighters off the streets after government authorities agreed to stop rounding up his followers and implement an amnesty to free prisoners.

Maliki on Tuesday reiterated his order to Iraqi security forces to stop their raids on Mehdi Army fighters and only arrest gunmen with a warrant.

But Sadr supporters said raids had continued.

"We have information about many operations targeting Sadr followers, especially in Basra," said Nasir al-Isawi, a member of Sadr's parliamentary bloc.

"This is very dangerous and it threatens the deal."

He said he did not know how many were arrested in Basra on Monday, but 70 were taken by Iraqi security forces in the al-Hamza neighborhood in the southern Shi'ite city of Hilla.

Analysts warn that fighting could easily flare up again as various factions vie for political influence ahead of provincial elections expected to take place by October.

The government says the military operation in Basra last week was intended to impose law and order, but Sadr's followers say it was an attempt to dilute their influence ahead of the polls.

The latest Iraqi data on casualties showed 102 policemen and 54 soldiers were killed in March, compared with 65 and 20 respectively in February. It showed 641 insurgents had been killed in March and 2,509 detained.

Empire or Humanity?

Go to Original
By Howard Zinn

With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.

However the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home. Even as I began to have second thoughts about the purity of the "Good War," even after being horrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after rethinking my own bombing of towns in Europe, I still did not put all that together in the context of an American "Empire."

I was conscious, like everyone, of the British Empire and the other imperial powers of Europe, but the United States was not seen in the same way. When, after the war, I went to college under the G.I. Bill of Rights and took courses in U.S. history, I usually found a chapter in the history texts called "The Age of Imperialism." It invariably referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines that followed. It seemed that American imperialism lasted only a relatively few years. There was no overarching view of U.S. expansion that might lead to the idea of a more far-ranging empire -- or period -- of "imperialism."

I recall the classroom map (labeled "Western Expansion") which presented the march across the continent as a natural, almost biological phenomenon. That huge acquisition of land called "The Louisiana Purchase" hinted at nothing but vacant land acquired. There was no sense that this territory had been occupied by hundreds of Indian tribes which would have to be annihilated or forced from their homes -- what we now call "ethnic cleansing" -- so that whites could settle the land, and later railroads could crisscross it, presaging "civilization" and its brutal discontents.

Neither the discussions of "Jacksonian democracy" in history courses, nor the popular book by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Jackson, told me about the "Trail of Tears," the deadly forced march of "the five civilized tribes" westward from Georgia and Alabama across the Mississippi, leaving 4,000 dead in their wake. No treatment of the Civil War mentioned the Sand Creek massacre of hundreds of Indian villagers in Colorado just as "emancipation" was proclaimed for black people by Lincoln’s administration.

That classroom map also had a section to the south and west labeled "Mexican Cession." This was a handy euphemism for the aggressive war against Mexico in 1846 in which the United States seized half of that country’s land, giving us California and the great Southwest. The term "Manifest Destiny," used at that time, soon of course became more universal. On the eve of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Washington Post saw beyond Cuba: "We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle."

The violent march across the continent, and even the invasion of Cuba, appeared to be within a natural sphere of U.S. interest. After all, hadn’t the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 declared the Western Hemisphere to be under our protection? But with hardly a pause after Cuba came the invasion of the Philippines, halfway around the world. The word "imperialism" now seemed a fitting one for U.S. actions. Indeed, that long, cruel war -- treated quickly and superficially in the history books -- gave rise to an Anti-Imperialist League, in which William James and Mark Twain were leading figures. But this was not something I learned in university either.

The "Sole Superpower" Comes into View

Reading outside the classroom, however, I began to fit the pieces of history into a larger mosaic. What at first had seemed like a purely passive foreign policy in the decade leading up to the First World War now appeared as a succession of violent interventions: the seizure of the Panama Canal zone from Colombia, a naval bombardment of the Mexican coast, the dispatch of the Marines to almost every country in Central America, occupying armies sent to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As the much-decorated General Smedley Butler, who participated in many of those interventions, wrote later: "I was an errand boy for Wall Street."

At the very time I was learning this history -- the years after World War II -- the United States was becoming not just another imperial power, but the world’s leading superpower. Determined to maintain and expand its monopoly on nuclear weapons, it was taking over remote islands in the Pacific, forcing the inhabitants to leave, and turning the islands into deadly playgrounds for more atomic tests.

In his memoir, No Place to Hide, Dr. David Bradley, who monitored radiation in those tests, described what was left behind as the testing teams went home: "[R]adioactivity, contamination, the wrecked island of Bikini and its sad-eyed patient exiles." The tests in the Pacific were followed, over the years, by more tests in the deserts of Utah and Nevada, more than a thousand tests in all.

When the war in Korea began in 1950, I was still studying history as a graduate student at Columbia University. Nothing in my classes prepared me to understand American policy in Asia. But I was reading I. F. Stone’s Weekly. Stone was among the very few journalists who questioned the official justification for sending an army to Korea. It seemed clear to me then that it was not the invasion of South Korea by the North that prompted U.S. intervention, but the desire of the United States to have a firm foothold on the continent of Asia, especially now that the Communists were in power in China.

Years later, as the covert intervention in Vietnam grew into a massive and brutal military operation, the imperial designs of the United States became yet clearer to me. In 1967, I wrote a little book called Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. By that time I was heavily involved in the movement against the war.

When I read the hundreds of pages of the Pentagon Papers entrusted to me by Daniel Ellsberg, what jumped out at me were the secret memos from the National Security Council. Explaining the U.S. interest in Southeast Asia, they spoke bluntly of the country’s motives as a quest for "tin, rubber, oil."

Neither the desertions of soldiers in the Mexican War, nor the draft riots of the Civil War, not the anti-imperialist groups at the turn of the century, nor the strong opposition to World War I -- indeed no antiwar movement in the history of the nation reached the scale of the opposition to the war in Vietnam. At least part of that opposition rested on an understanding that more than Vietnam was at stake, that the brutal war in that tiny country was part of a grander imperial design.

Various interventions following the U.S. defeat in Vietnam seemed to reflect the desperate need of the still-reigning superpower -- even after the fall of its powerful rival, the Soviet Union -- to establish its dominance everywhere. Hence the invasion of Grenada in 1982, the bombing assault on Panama in 1989, the first Gulf war of 1991. Was George Bush Sr. heartsick over Saddam Hussein’s seizure of Kuwait, or was he using that event as an opportunity to move U.S. power firmly into the coveted oil region of the Middle East? Given the history of the United States, given its obsession with Middle Eastern oil dating from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1945 deal with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and the CIA’s overthrow of the democratic Mossadeq government in Iran in 1953, it is not hard to decide that question.

Justifying Empire

The ruthless attacks of September 11th (as the official 9/11 Commission acknowledged) derived from fierce hatred of U.S. expansion in the Middle East and elsewhere. Even before that event, the Defense Department acknowledged, according to Chalmers Johnson’s book The Sorrows of Empire, the existence of more than 700 American military bases outside of the United States.

Since that date, with the initiation of a "war on terrorism," many more bases have been established or expanded: in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, the desert of Qatar, the Gulf of Oman, the Horn of Africa, and wherever else a compliant nation could be bribed or coerced.

When I was bombing cities in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and France in the Second World War, the moral justification was so simple and clear as to be beyond discussion: We were saving the world from the evil of fascism. I was therefore startled to hear from a gunner on another crew -- what we had in common was that we both read books -- that he considered this "an imperialist war." Both sides, he said, were motivated by ambitions of control and conquest. We argued without resolving the issue. Ironically, tragically, not long after our discussion, this fellow was shot down and killed on a mission.

In wars, there is always a difference between the motives of the soldiers and the motives of the political leaders who send them into battle. My motive, like that of so many, was innocent of imperial ambition. It was to help defeat fascism and create a more decent world, free of aggression, militarism, and racism.

The motive of the U.S. establishment, understood by the aerial gunner I knew, was of a different nature. It was described early in 1941 by Henry Luce, multi-millionaire owner of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, as the coming of "The American Century." The time had arrived, he said, for the United States "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit, and by such means as we see fit."

We can hardly ask for a more candid, blunter declaration of imperial design. It has been echoed in recent years by the intellectual handmaidens of the Bush administration, but with assurances that the motive of this "influence" is benign, that the "purposes" -- whether in Luce’s formulation or more recent ones -- are noble, that this is an "imperialism lite." As George Bush said in his second inaugural address: "Spreading liberty around the world… is the calling of our time." The New York Times called that speech "striking for its idealism."

The American Empire has always been a bipartisan project -- Democrats and Republicans have taken turns extending it, extolling it, justifying it. President Woodrow Wilson told graduates of the Naval Academy in 1914 (the year he bombarded Mexico) that the U.S. used "her navy and her army... as the instruments of civilization, not as the instruments of aggression." And Bill Clinton, in 1992, told West Point graduates: "The values you learned here… will be able to spread throughout the country and throughout the world."

For the people of the United States, and indeed for people all over the world, those claims sooner or later are revealed to be false. The rhetoric, often persuasive on first hearing, soon becomes overwhelmed by horrors that can no longer be concealed: the bloody corpses of Iraq, the torn limbs of American GIs, the millions of families driven from their homes -- in the Middle East and in the Mississippi Delta.

Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense -- that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization -- begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity?

Howard Zinn is the author of A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States, now being filmed for a major television documentary. His newest book is A People’s History of American Empire, the story of America in the world, told in comics form, with Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle in the American Empire Project book series. An animated video adapted from this essay with visuals from the comic book and voiceover by Viggo Mortensen, as well as a section of the book on Zinn’s early life, can be viewed by clicking here. Zinn’s website is HowardZinn.org.