Friday, October 23, 2009

Goldman Sacks

Blocking Escalation Not Good Enough


By David Swanson

Why is it that every time we elect "peace" candidates we defund the peace movement, stop calling for an end to wars, and limit our demands exclusively to opposing war escalations?

In 2006 we voted into Congress the candidates who looked most likely to end the war in Iraq. We congratulated ourselves on a job well done. Then we mildly urged them not to escalate the war they'd been elected to end, and they escalated it anyway.

In 2008 we voted into Congress and the White House the candidates who looked most likely to end the war in Iraq. Candidate Obama promised to pull out two brigades per month for sixteen months. Here we are in month 10 and that withdrawal has yet to begin. And what in the name of all that is true, good, and free-of-hope are we doing about it? Not a god damned thing.

Meanwhile Obama promised, much less noisily, to escalate a war in Afghanistan and has done so with no resistance, even as the American people have (at least in polls) turned against it. Now party leaders in Congress have given Obama the go-ahead for a larger escalation, and what have we done?

To begin with we've accepted the terms of the debate that our government officials always impose on us following an election: Are you for an escalation or do you think the current troop/mercenary levels are adequate? There is no room in that debate for arguing that the entire enterprise is illegal, barbaric, self-destructive, and must be immediately replaced with civilized acts of aid and diplomacy.

Of course we should oppose an escalation, just as we should prefer a "public option" to no healthcare reform at all. But self-censoring our demand for single-payer shifts the debate so far right that we can't even pass a public option. And self-censoring our demand for an end to wars shifts the debate to a point where the middle ground becomes an escalation of half the largest size anyone proposes -- and the war in Iraq is not even mentioned.

Well-meaning peace groups are pointlessly urging us to lobby the president, and are publicly whipping congress members on the following items: sponsorship of a bill that would require some sort of non-binding exit plan for Afghanistan if actually passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president, and sponsorship of a bill that would deny funding for an escalation in Afghanistan if actually passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president. But getting either of those bills through the Senate is going to be significantly more difficult than getting the House to stop funding the wars, and thus far no organizations have begun building a public list of House members committed to voting No on war money.

Oh, the shame!

It's always sunny on West Bank's Sesame Street

By Joseph Nasr

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – It's always a sunny day on Sesame Street in the West Bank, where the neighbors are friendly and the Muppets never see an Israeli army checkpoint all day long.

The Shara'a Simsim version of the popular television program teaches Palestinian children they can achieve their dream of an independent Palestinian state through tolerance, education and national pride -- and not anti-Israeli violence.

"Our problem is that for so long we've been focusing on resistance and we gave up on other things like culture, education and tolerance," said executive producer Daoud Kuttab.

"I believe that an educated, confident and tolerant society will help us build an independent, peaceful and non-violent state," he added.

The fourth series, which airs on Palestine TV in January and has 52 half-hour episodes, aims to teach Palestinian children -- mainly boys -- non-violent ways of expression, by exposing them to empowered characters who serve as role models.

One such is six-year-old Basel, meaning brave in Arabic, who in one episode is seen brushing his teeth, wearing his clothes and tying his shoelaces alone and then waving a Palestinian flag and declaring: "It's Basel's independence day!"

The show's Palestinian producers chose to make no reference to symbols of the Israeli occupation such as the West Bank barrier and the network of Israeli army checkpoints, which Palestinians say are sources of hardship.

"This is a program for pre-schoolers and we don't need to show them all the things they see too much of anyway, which are the tensions that exist in their daily lives," said Gary Knell, president of Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street.

Gen. Eaton has Obama's back in war of words with Cheney

by Gregory Patin
President Obama has a new ally in the war of words that Dick Cheney started after leaving his coffin and running his mouth once again in a speech to the Center for Security Policy.
His name is Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), who served more than 30 years in the United States Army and oversaw the training of the Iraqi military from 2003-2004. He is currently the National Security Network Senior Adviser for the Obama administration.
On Wednesday former vice president Dick Cheney criticized President Obama's approach to war in Afghanistan, accusing Obama of "dithering" in his weeks-long assessment about whether to add 40,000 new U.S. troops to the fight in Afghanistan. Cheney said Obama "seems afraid" to make a decision.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs shot back at Cheney, dismissing the Republican's criticism of delays in President Obama's decision-making on Afghanistan strategy. "What Vice President Cheney calls 'dithering,' President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public," Gibbs told reporters. "I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously."
Today, Gen. Paul Eaton also had a few words for Dick Cheney. His words are clear and need no further elaboration:
The record is clear: Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters. They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare best illustrated by: 1. Deny it.  2.  Ignore it. 3. Bomb it. While our intelligence agencies called the region the greatest threat to America, the Bush White House under-resourced our military efforts, shifted attention to Iraq, and failed to bring to justice the masterminds of September 11.
The only time Cheney and his cabal of foreign policy 'experts' have anything to say is when they feel compelled to protect this failed legacy. While President Obama is tasked with cleaning up the considerable mess they left behind, they continue to defend torture or rewrite a legacy of indifference on Afghanistan. Simply put, Mr. Cheney sees history throughout extremely myopic and partisan eyes.
As one deeply invested in the Armed Forces of this country, I am grateful for the senior military commanders assigned to leading this fight and the men and women fighting on the ground. But I dismiss men like Cheney who inject partisan politics into the profound deliberations our Commander-in-Chief and commanders on the ground are having to develop a cohesive and comprehensive strategy, bringing to bear the economic and diplomatic as well as the military power, for Afghanistan -- something Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld never did.
No human endeavor can be as profound as sending a nation's youth to war.  I am very happy to see serious men and women working hard to get it right.
The only thing to add to that is that it is ludicrous for anyone to consider a self-proclaimed expert like Cheney, who had five draft deferments and never served a day in the military, worthy of a single word in the debate on Afghanistan or any war. It is also ironic that Cheney speaks more to the press now than he did when he was in office. Perhaps you have something to hide, Dick. Do you feel the noose tightening?

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Intershame On:
Pat Buchanan
He did it.

Pat Buchanan has written an article so racist in tone, so devoid of reason and so fundamentally ignorant of the state of the union that it might very well be remembered as height of the radical conservative movement's paranoid hysteria over the election of Barack Obama. Those mesmerized by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will surely find Buchanan's article intoxicating. It is, perhaps, the movement's magnum opus.

Buchanan's article, "Traditional Americans are Losing Their Nation" has perfectly captured the conservative mentality. Namely, that everything wrong with the country is the doing of minorities, progressives and liberal ignorance of middle America.

The piece begins by describing a brand new inter-conservative organization called "Oath Keepers". Think of Oath Keepers as Tea Party activists with a penchant for violence. Buchanan describes the Oath Keepers movement in this way:
Formed in March, they are ex-military and police who repledge themselves to defend the Constitution, even if it means disobeying orders. If the U.S. government ordered law enforcement agencies to violate Second Amendment rights by disarming the people, Oath Keepers will not obey.

"The whole point of Oath Keepers is to stop a dictatorship from ever happening here," says founding father Stewart Rhodes, an ex-Army paratrooper and Yale-trained lawyer. "My focus is on the guys with the guns, because they can't do it without them.

"We say if the American people decide it's time for a revolution, we'll fight with you."
In short, Oath Keepers are radical conservatives willing to violently oppose the government. Who would join such a group? Buchanan sheds light on this as well:
"Whites are not only more anxious, but also more alienated. Big majorities of whites say the past year's turmoil has diminished their confidence in government, corporations and the financial industry. ... Asked which institution they trust most to make economic decisions in their interest, a plurality of whites older than 30 pick 'none' – a grim statement."


Moreover, the alienation and radicalization of white America began long before Obama arrived.
Apparently whites over the age of thirty who feel alienated by their country are the foundation of the Oath Keepers movement. Of course, Buchanan foreshadowed this segment of the population by using the divisive term "traditional Americans" in the title of his article.

More importantly than "who" however, is "why". Why are the Oath Keepers necessary and why would somebody find their positions attractive? This is where I believe Buchanan's article becomes infamous. In order to explain why a radical, violent conservative movement is needed, Buchanan assembles the definitive laundry list of modern conservative grievances:
In their lifetimes, they have seen their Christian faith purged from schools their taxes paid for, and mocked in movies and on TV. They have seen their factories shuttered in the thousands and their jobs outsourced in the millions to Mexico and China. They have seen trillions of tax dollars go for Great Society programs, but have seen no Great Society, only rising crime, illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates.

They watch on cable TV as illegal aliens walk into their country, are rewarded with free educations and health care and take jobs at lower pay than American families can live on – then carry Mexican flags in American cities and demand U.S. citizenship.

They see Wall Street banks bailed out as they sweat their next paycheck, then read that bank profits are soaring, and the big bonuses for the brilliant bankers are back. Neither they nor their kids ever benefited from affirmative action, unlike Barack and Michelle Obama.

They see a government in Washington that cannot balance its books, win our wars or protect our borders. The government shovels out trillions to Fortune 500 corporations and banks to rescue the country from a crisis created by the government and Fortune 500 corporations and banks.

America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.
To summarize Buchanan's commentary... It is reasonable and justified for white, middle-american's over the age of 30 to join a movement threatening violent revolution against their government in order to combat transgressions perceived to be aimed solely at them.

The most obvious fallacy of Buchanan's argument is that the problems he points out only affect white middle-america. There's an elderly black woman in New York who is just as disturbed by the decline of religious participation in this country as a soccer mom in South Carolina. A 19 year-old Latino citizen in LA is far more likely to lose a job opportunity to an illegal immigrant than a 40 year-old architect in Ohio. The tax dollars used to bail out the banks came from all corners of the country, not just the heartland and the bible-belt. Yet, according to Buchanan, the only people that have a justifiable gripe with the direction of the country are white's in the heartland i.e., "traditional Americans".

Glenn Beck Tries to Make a New ACORN by Attacking Net Neutrality & Changing the Definition of 'Freedom'

by Meg White

This may sound like the warning of an alarmist, but your ability to read the words I'm writing is already in danger, and the government has finally decided to decide whether or not it wants to do anything about it. Of course, Glenn Beck believes that decision is the end of the Internet as we know it.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether or not to begin a rule-making process on the issue of net neutrality.

What is net neutrality? Well, Science Progress has an informative but concise primer on the issue here that outlines the controversy and explains the stakes held by the government, communications companies and consumers:

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet; all content on the Internet is equally accessible, and once a person pays for access to the Internet, they alone get to choose how they use it... Internet users and their advocates generally favor net neutrality, while telecom companies see it as a threat to their use of their own property.

Or, as put even more simply by this article: "Net neutrality means that Internet service providers and network owners concern themselves only with efficiently moving bits -- not with the content embodied by the bits."

The attempt to turn this into a conservative conspiracy theory has been tough, so defenders of Big Telecom had to call in the experts in whipping up unfounded fears: Glenn Beck and FOX News.

Think Progress, in their second notification of how Phil Kerpen is using Glenn Beck's show on FOX as a platform for the anti-tax and anti-government ideology of his group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), detailed how the team went after the issue of net neutrality.

It's really quite similar to healthcare and climate change tactics, in that Beck uses Americans' historic distrust of government intervention as a reason to let Corporate America run the show. Of course, there's a dose of Red Scare in there too, for good measure.

Kerpen has launched an all-out attack against the net neutrality advocates at Free Press -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan group promoting media diversity and access -- on his Web site. With the amount of times Kerpen and Beck referred to Free Press employees as Marxists and/or communists, one would think they're talking about ACORN (if you can stomach it, here are links to part one, part two and part three of Beck's show featuring Kerpen).

Aside from the fear mongering, there's a lot Beck doesn't understand about both freedom and the Internet, and it seems that Kerpen wants to keep it that way.

Baby refused coverage

The ACORN Standard

by Jeremy Scahill

The nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight and Reform recently revealed that the top 100 government contractors made nearly $300 billion from federal contracts in 2007 alone. Since 1995 these same contractors have been involved with 676 cases of "misconduct" and paid $26 billion in fines to settle cases stemming from fraud, waste or abuse. Fines and other penalties, it seems, are simply the stunningly small price of doing government business.

Take the case of the top three war contractors, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. These companies have engaged in 108 instances of misconduct since 1995 and have paid fines or settlements totaling nearly $3 billion. In 2007 they won some $77 billion in federal contracts. Or consider pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which in September paid $2.3 billion to settle a slew of criminal and civil cases, including Medicaid fraud. According to the Justice Department, this was "the largest healthcare fraud settlement" in its history. Yet Pfizer made more than $40 billion in profits last year and won $73 million in federal contracts in 2007; it continues to do robust business with the government. Not bad for a "corporate felon."

Unfortunately, neither Pfizer nor the largest US military contractors are targets of significant Congressional action. Instead it's ACORN, a community organization that trains and advocates for poor and working-class Americans. Over the past fifteen years, ACORN has received just $53 million in federal funds, much of it for low-income housing. Despite--or perhaps because of--its efforts to empower some 500,000 member families, ACORN was the subject of a sting video produced by a right-wing activist that featured a fake pimp and prostitute seeking tax advice. The group swiftly fired the handful of employees who were entrapped, but that didn't put an end to the storm. Fox News aired the video repeatedly, and right-wing astroturf operative Rick Berman set up a Rotten ACORN website. The campaign was wildly successful. In mid-September all but seventy-five House Democrats and seven senators voted with their Republican colleagues to bar the group from receiving federal funds.

ACORN, like all organizations receiving federal dollars, should be subject to Congressional scrutiny. But ACORN was clearly singled out for political reasons. Those Democrats who voted for the "defund ACORN" bill should be required to explain their reasoning to their constituents, particularly when so few of them have taken substantive actions to apply the ACORN standard to corporate criminals with real rap sheets.

Presidential election outcome changed voters' testosterone

DURHAM, N.C. -- Young men who voted for Republican John McCain or Libertarian candidate Robert Barr in the 2008 presidential election suffered an immediate drop in testosterone when the election results were announced, according to a study by researchers at Duke University and the University of Michigan.

In contrast, men who voted for the winner, Democrat Barack Obama, had stable testosterone levels immediately after the outcome.

Female study participants showed no significant change in their testosterone levels before and after the returns came in.

The men who participated in the study would normally show a slight night-time drop in testosterone levels anyway. But on this night, they showed a dramatic divergence: The Obama voters' levels didn't fall as they should, and the McCain and Barr voters lost more than would have been expected.

"This is a pretty powerful result," said Duke neuroscientist Kevin LaBar. "Voters are physiologically affected by having their candidate win or lose an election."

In a post-election questionnaire, the McCain and Barr backers were feeling significantly more unhappy, submissive, unpleasant and controlled than the Obama voters.

The findings mirror what other studies have found in men who participate directly in an interpersonal contest -- the winner gets a boost of testosterone, while the loser's testosterone drops. Testosterone is a steroid hormone manufactured by the testes that is linked to aggression, risk-taking and responses to threats. Women have it too but in much lesser amounts and originating from different sources (their ovaries and adrenal glands), which makes them less likely to experience rapid testosterone changes following victory or defeat.

Researchers in Durham and Ann Arbor had 183 men and women chew a piece of gum and then spit into a sample tube at 8 p.m. as the polls closed on Nov. 4, 2008. When the election results were announced at about 11:30 p.m., the subjects provided a second sample, and then two more at 20-minute intervals. Those spit samples were then analyzed for concentrations of testosterone and some related stress hormones.

It would appear that even vicarious participation in such a "macro-scale dominance competition" is enough to change hormone levels, said Duke post-doctoral researcher Steven Stanton, who is the first author on a paper appearing in PLOS One on Wednesday. (

"Voters participate in elections both directly by casting their ballots, and vicariously because they don't personally win or lose the election," Stanton said. "This makes democratic political elections highly unique dominance contests."

Stanton said the scientific consensus suggests the testosterone response to fighting and competition in males affects their future behavior in a beneficial way. The loser chills out a bit so he doesn't continue to press his case and perhaps become injured. In contrast, the winner may be motivated to pursue further gains in social status. "The research on this extends beyond humans and other primates," Stanton said.

Warning - Republican Senators ahead


The Washington Post Creates Its Own Facts to Support Afghan Nation-Building

(Photo Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t;
Adapted From: divds and zoriah/flickr)

    The Washington Post is creating its own facts in order to support its argument for US nation-building in Afghanistan. In its lead editorial on Saturday, the Post asserted that the United States is capable of building a strong government in Afghanistan at the national and local levels. The Post claimed that Afghanistan had had a "working national government through most of the 1970s and 1980s." This is simply not so.

    Afghanistan has always been a diverse, loosely organized country, although there was support for King Mohammad Zahir's reign from 1933 to 1973. King Zahir was the last Afghan ruler to pretend to play a national role, but he was a weak and indifferent ruler, spending most of his time abroad. He was ousted in a bloodless coup in 1973 by Prince Mohammad Daoud, who proclaimed himself the first president of the Republic of Afghanistan. There has not been a stable government in Afghanistan since then.

   Daoud lasted until 1978, when the same leftist officers who had ousted the king occupied the palace and killed Daoud, his wife and many of his children and grandchildren. Daoud was replaced by Nur Mohammad Taraki, secretary of the People's Democratic (Communist) party, who was ousted and eventually executed by a supposedly loyal follower, Hafizullah Amin. In this period, marked by instability and violence, there was no evidence of national support for either Taraki or Amin. The conventional wisdom was that the Soviets were responsible for Daoud's coup against the king as well as the events that led to the overthrow of Daoud. In fact, it was Iran and not the Soviet Union that was responsible, as Tehran (with the encouragement of the United States) had been trying to draw Kabul into a western-tilted, Tehran-centered security sphere.

    In any event, developments were about to get worse, and Afghanistan was going to move even further from what the Post described as a strong government at the national and local levels. On Christmas Eve, 1979, Soviet armed forces invaded Afghanistan, killed Amin and replaced him with Babrak Karmal, a Communist who was subservient to Moscow's wishes. This marked the fourth Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 54 years, following small-scale interventions in 1925, 1929 and 1930. It is not widely known, but President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, sponsored covert efforts in Central Asia to foment rebellion inside the Soviet Union even before Moscow ordered the invasion of Afghanistan. President Carter then authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to assist Afghan rebels six months before Moscow invaded.

Pickens says U.S. firms 'entitled' to Iraqi oil

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens told Congress on Wednesday that U.S. energy companies are "entitled" to some of Iraq's crude because of the large number of American troops that lost their lives fighting in the country and the U.S. taxpayer money spent in Iraq.

Boone, speaking to the newly formed Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, complained that the Iraqi government has awarded contracts to foreign companies, particularly Chinese firms, to develop Iraq's vast reserves while American companies have mostly been shut out.

"They're opening them (oil fields) up to other companies all over the world ... We're entitled to it," Pickens said of Iraq's oil. "Heck, we even lost 5,000 of our people, 65,000 injured and a trillion, five hundred billion dollars."

President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq.

"We leave there with the Chinese getting the oil," Pickens said.

Iraq's Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told a Washington conference on Wednesday that his government was happy with the energy auction it held earlier this year. The auction was the first chance for foreign oil firms to compete for Iraqi oil since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

We can't pull out now