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Corporatism and Fascism


Corporatism and Fascism

Kucinich Questions Treasury’s Assistance to Fannie and Freddie

Kucinich Questions Treasury’s Assistance to Fannie and Freddie | Press Release

Is lifting the cap on assistance a back door TARP?

Washington DC, December 29--Dennis Kucinich, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced today his Subcommittee will launch an investigation into the Treasury Department’s recent decision to lift the current $400 billion cap on combined federal assistance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, opening the way for additional, unlimited funds through the end of 2012. Kucinich’s investigation will include the role played by Fannie Mae chief executive Michael J. Williams and Freddie Mac chief executive Charles E. Haldeman in the decision, if any, and will seek to ensure that the additional assistance is used for homeowners and not Wall Street.

“Many questions remain unanswered regarding this move by the Treasury. Why suddenly remove the cap?”, Kucinich asked. “Indications are that Freddie and Fannie, even as millions of Americans lose their homes, have used just $111 billion of the $400 billion previously available to them.”

“Additionally, I want to determine whether Fannie and Freddie have a cohesive plan to buy up the underperforming mortgages that remain on the books of the big banks, at appropriate prices, and undertake a massive reworking of the terms of the mortgages so as to stem the foreclosure crisis that continues to plague our country,” Kucinich said. “This new authority must be used responsibly and for the benefit of American families. This cannot be used simply to purchase toxic assets at inflated prices, thus transferring the losses to the U. S. taxpayers and acting as a back door TARP.

As a result of a curiously-timed Christmas Eve announcement by the Treasury Department, the mortgage giants will have access to unlimited funds without having to come back to Congress. Since the federal government is the majority owner of both companies, their operations will remain under Administration control.

“This relationship between Treasury and Fannie and Freddie bears inspection, particularly in the wake of reports that the mortgage giants’ chief executives will now receive $900,000 each in annual compensation, bonuses of up to $6 million each, and an additional $42 million in special compensation will be spread among a dozen other executives.”

The Problem with the Revolving Door - It Brought Us Too-Big-To-Fail

The Problem with the Revolving Door - It Brought Us Too-Big-To-Fail
By Tiffiniy Cheng | Bankster USA

Bailouts and political connections go hand in hand according to a just released academic study. The study, which was conducted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan researchers, shows concretely that lobbying, campaign contributions, and the finance/federal government revolving door has helped the most damaging banks despite the dangers they pose to our economy.

In the age of the bailout, blaming the revolving door between corporate lobbying and politics is so obvious that it has become almost cliche. But the reason why it is one of the greatest handicaps to our political system is critically important. The revolving door turns "survival of the fittest" on its head by masking failure, propping up underperforming companies, and hiding inefficiencies in the markets. The new study shows the extent to which political connections influenced how TARP bailout funds were paid out.

The researchers found that there was a 31% increase in the likelihood of receiving bailout funds at financial companies whose executives had served on the board of the Federal Reserve. Banks that had connections with members of Congress who serve on key finance committees were found to be 26% more likely to receive bailout funds than banks without those kinds of connections. It is the revolving door between lobbyists and politicians that undermine a fair and accurate system for determining healthy policy.

But the research hits just the tip of the iceberg. Zach Carter at The Nation recently reported on a much deeper case of how the revolving door shapes U.S. policy. Our "too-big-to-fail economy" was developed in large part by one of the country's current top bank regulators; someone who has major conflict of interest with the banks he is supposed to regulate, Carter reports. Read more.

Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA?

Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA?
By Ray McGovern

In the past I have alluded to Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs. The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors—the ones who sent President Barack Obama a letter on Sept. 18 asking him to “reverse Attorney General Holder’s August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations.”

Panetta reportedly was also dead set against reopening the investigation—as he was against release of the Justice Department’s “torture memoranda” of 2002, as he has been against releasing pretty much anything at all—the President’s pledges of a new era of openness, notwithstanding. Panetta is even older than I, and I am aware that hearing is among the first faculties to fail. Perhaps he heard “error” when the President said “era.”

As for the benighted seven, they are more to be pitied than scorned. No longer able to avail themselves of the services of clever Agency lawyers and wordsmiths, they put their names to a letter that reeked of self-interest—not to mention the inappropriateness of asking a President to interfere with an investigation already ordered by the Attorney General.

Three of the seven—George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden—were themselves involved, in one way or another, in planning, conducting, or covering up all manner of illegal actions, including torture, assassination, and illegal eavesdropping. In this light, the most transparent part of the letter may be the sentence in which they worry: “There is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.”

Obama's Outrageous Christmas Gift to Fannie and Freddie

Obama's Outrageous Christmas Gift to Fannie and Freddie
By Dean Baker | Comment Is Free | Alternet

After throwing the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the financial industry has used its political power to become stronger than ever.

On Christmas night in 1776, George Washington led a surprise attack on a group of Hessian mercenaries employed by the British to suppress the American revolution. This was one of the biggest military victories of the Revolutionary War.
In the same spirit of surprise, the Obama administration announced on Christmas eve that it was removing the $400bn cap on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's access to the U.S. Treasury. The new draw is limitless. It also announced that the chief executives of the two government-controlled mortgage giants would be getting compensation packages worth $6m a year. This was another big blow for the financial sector in its effort to sap every last cent from the productive economy.

After throwing the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression and bringing the whole sector to the edge of collapse, the financial industry has used its political power to succor itself back to life. It is now stronger than ever.
In the last quarter, the financial sector accounted for 34% of all corporate profits, dwarfing the share reached in the mad days at the peak of the housing bubble. The economy might look bleak on Main Street, with double-digit unemployment rates and nearly 200,000 foreclosures a month, but they were dividing up $13bn in bonuses at Goldman Sachs this Christmas. Read more.

House Backers of Public Insurance Option May Yield

House backers of public insurance option may yield
They say focus is on keeping the costs down
By Calvin Woodward, Associated Press | Boston Globe

Some House Democrats who favor a government insurance plan, a central element of health care legislation passed in their chamber, acknowledged Sunday that it might have to be sacrificed as negotiators work out a final agreement with the Senate.

Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the number three Democrat in the House and one who had appealed to President Obama not to yield on the public plan, set out conditions for yielding himself.

Asked during rounds on the Sunday news shows whether he could vote for a final bill that does not embrace a public plan, Clyburn said: “Yes, sir, I can.’’

Clyburn added: “We want a public option to do basically three things: Create more choice for insurers, create more competition for insurance companies, and to contain costs. So if we can come up with a process by which these three things can be done, then I’m all for it. Whether or not we label it a public option or not is of no consequence.’’ Read more.

New Year's Resolution: Don't Apologize for Democrats

New Year's Resolution: Don't Apologize for Democrats
By Jeff Cohen | Huffington Post

For the new year, let's resolve: Don't defend Democrats when they don't deserve defending. And that certainly includes President Obama.

Let's further resolve: Put principles above party and never lose our voice on human rights and social justice.

When we mute ourselves as a Democratic president pursues corporatist or militarist policies, we only encourage such policies.

If it was wrong for Bush to bail out Wall Street with virtually no controls, then it's wrong for Obama. If indefinite "preventative detention" was wrong under Bush, then it's wrong under Obama. If military occupation and deepening troop deployments were wrong under Bush, then they're wrong under Obama. Read more.

Criticizing the President on Health Care is “Naderite” and “Hurts the Progressive Agenda”


Criticizing the President on Health Care is “Naderite” and “Hurts the Progressive Agenda”
By Jane Hamsher | FireDogLake

There’s a very slick PR letter posted online that’s being furiously retweeted by DC political operatives. I wasn’t going to address it, but the editor of the Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel started pushing it. It becomes widely disseminated based on her role as a validator within the progressive community, and that necessitated a reply.

The letter says:

I do not doubt that you genuinely feel that your very vocal opposition to the Senate health care bill is in the absolute interests of the American populace and progressive politics. I honestly believe that you feel that the administration has let you and other progressives down by not publically pushing harder for elements in the bill that we all hoped would survive the legislative process.

What I doubt is that your actions will ultimately serve the advancement of the progressive agenda that you obviously care so much about. I believe in fact, that quite the opposite will be the result. Pushing for the very best bill that we can get through this congress is laudable, attacking the administration for dealing with the reality that is congress is not.

You can argue that this bill helps people and is therefore progressive. I would argue that it forces the middle class to pay almost as much to private insurance companies as they do in federal taxes, weakens the coverage of those who have employer-based insurance, and is a Shock Doctrine attempt to raid the public sphere of unprecedented magnitude. I come down on the side of Marcy Wheeler, wrote an important post entitled “Health Care on the Road to Neofeudalism“: Read more.

Reason no. 1827 Why It's A Bad Idea To Go To War Behind Leaders Whose First Interest Is Compensating For Their Tiny Penises


Reason no. 1827 why it's a bad idea to go to war behind leaders whose first interest is compensating for their tiny penises
By Ken | Down With Tyranny

It's hard to believe that stupidity and deceit practiced at this level don't rise to the level of a crime.

I know we've said it, and said it, and said it. But we are paying a horrendous price for pretending that it's okay to allow the crimes and malfeasances of the Bush regime go unaccounted for. President Obama's nice-sounding rhetoric about wanting "to look ahead" is, I"m sorry to have to say, nonsense. Allowing past blunders to go unexamined -- and, yes, unpunished where that applies -- all but guarantees that those same blunders will be repeated, and compounded.

The indications are that not only are we going to continue paying, but the price is going to continue going up. I think most Americans still have little idea the extent to which the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were planned by ideologically blinded dimwits, liars, and wholly unaccountable thugs. Read more.

Health Care on the Road to Neo-Feudalism

Health Care on the Road to Neo-Feudalism
By emptywheel | FireDogLake

I believe that if the Senate health care bill passes as Joe Lieberman has demanded it–with no Medicare buy-in or public option–it will be a significant step further on our road to neo-feudalism. As such, I find it far too dangerous to our democracy to pass–even if it gives millions (perhaps unaffordable) subsidies for health care.

20% of your labor belongs to Aetna

Consider, first of all, this fact. The bill, if it became law, would legally require a portion of Americans to pay more than 20% of the fruits of their labor to a private corporation in exchange for 70% of their health care costs.

Consider a family of 4 making $66,150–a family at 300% of the poverty level and therefore, hypothetically, at least, “subsidized.” That family would be expected to pay $6482.70 (in today’s dollars) for premiums–or $540 a month. But that family could be required to pay $7973 out of pocket for copays and so on. So if that family had a significant–but not catastrophic–medical event, it would be asked to pay its insurer almost 22% of its income to cover health care. Several months ago, I showed why this was a recipe for continued medical bankruptcy (though the numbers have changed somewhat). But here’s another way to think about it. Senate Democrats are requiring middle class families to give the proceeds of over a month of their work to a private corporation–one allowed to make 15% or maybe even 25% profit on the proceeds of their labor.

It’s one thing to require a citizen to pay taxes–to pay into the commons. It’s another thing to require taxpayers to pay a private corporation, and to have up to 25% of that go to paying for luxuries like private jets and gyms for the company CEOs. Read more.

No Murderous CIA Drones! Protest Saturday, 1/16/2010, 1-4 PM, CIA Headquarters!

NO MURDEROUS CIA DRONES!

When: Saturday, January 16, 2010, 1:00pm - 4:00pm

Where: CIA Headquarters (Langley, Virginia)

It was recently announced that the White House gave the CIA permission to increase its drone bombings in Pakistan of which to date over 1/3rd of the deaths are civilian.

The CIA is a profoundly violent and corrupt organization and, while we don't think the Military should be using manned, or unmanned aerial vehicles, we think the drone bombings from CIA robots are particularly despicable.

Many of us will be in the DC area for the Witness Against Torture vigil-fast from Dec 11-22, so we decided to do this protest on Saturday, January 16th.

Speakers: Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, Kathy Kelly, Debra Sweet and Col. (Ret.) Ann Wright, Bruce Gagnon, Joshua Smith (Technical Briefing).

Songs of Social Significance to be performed by David Rovics.

Event flyer is attached below. Please join us if you can!

Ain’t Nothin Wrong With Yemen An Invasion Can’t Solve, Right?

Ain’t Nothin Wrong With Yemen An Invasion Can’t Solve, Right?
By Spencer Ackerman | FireDogLake

That vein in your forehead that throbs when someone says something stupid? I formally petition the American Medical Association to rename it the Lieberman:

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, (I-Conn) a renowned hawk and one of the foremost champions of the invasion of Iraq, warned on Sunday that the United States faced “danger” unless it pre-emptively acts to curb the rise of terrorism in Yemen.

“Somebody in our government said to me in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war,” Lieberman said, during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday”. “That’s the danger we face.”

So unless we make it today’s war, it’ll be tomorrow’s war. And presumably next Thursday’s Surge when everything goes wrong and needs to be magically rescued. How can you have a surge without an invasion? It’s time to think seriously, people. Read more.

Have Americans Traded Freedom For Security?

Have Americans Traded Freedom For Security?
According to polls, Americans support torture and don't mind that their government spies on them without obtaining warrants from a court.
By Paul Craig Roberts | CounterPunch

Obama's dwindling band of true believers has taken heart that their man has finally delivered on one of his many promises -- the closing of the Guantanamo prison. But the prison is not being closed. It is being moved to Illinois, if the Republicans permit.

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

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

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

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

We Need A Hero

Sign our "we need a hero" petition to top progressive senators:

"We need a hero -- someone who will fight for the will of the American people by declaring they will only vote for a final bill if it has a public option. That would be change we can believe in."

UPDATE: In 24 hours, over 15,000 35,000 signers...and growing.

All we need is one hero.

If just one brave senator says they will block a final bill without a public option, that will force President Obama and Senator Harry Reid to make a choice.

They can either force Joe Lieberman and other corporate Democrats to accept the public option OR they can pass the bill through "reconciliation," a Senate procedure that only needs 51 votes.

One hero can transform a bill that requires millions of Americans to buy junk products from private insurance companies into a bill that creates real reform and competition for consumers.

Please click to sign our petition on the left -- then tell your friends.

Nation Reporter Unmasks Extraordinary Rendition-Like Subfields Run By ICE

Nation reporter unmasks extraordinary rendition-like subfields run by ICE
by Lets Breakthrough | Daily Kos

A couple months ago, Jacqueline Stevens, a reporter for the Nation, went on a road trip with Mark Lyttle, a U.S. citizen, born in North Carolina, who had been kidnapped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stripped of his rightful identity documents, rendered stateless, and deported to Mexico, to re-locate the government offices that had temporarily held him.

Using google maps, they punched in 140 Centrewest Court, an address that appeared on a number of the documents issued to Lyttle by ICE in Cary, North Carolina. But when they arrived, Stevens was surprised that the government site was an unmarked building, no sign, no flag, with 15 equally unmarked vans next to an Oxford University Press production plant and a few gated communities.

Wondering how many other clandestine locations existed like this across the country, upon returning to Berkeley, Stevens picked up the phone and began a rigorous investigation of "America's Secret ICE Castles," the findings of which will appear in the January 4th edition of the Nation. First off, she read through, a recent report by Dora Shriro,"Immigration Detention Overview and Recommendations," and discovered that there were 186 "subfields" which were used to primarily hold people for up to 12-16 hours for 84% of all book-ins. But because these secret sites are below the legal radar, it's hard to say how long people are actually held and under what conditions. Read more.

The Pretenders

Sir Jeremy Greenstock Testimony Before British Committee of Inquiry on the Iraq War

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British ambassador to the UN, testified before an official inquiry, the Committee of Inquiry on the Iraq War, into the decision to invade Iraq and intelligence information as the basis for the decision.

This is about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and war crimes; it is important evidence. This committee will decide whether Tony Blair will be charged with war crimes.

This video can't be embedded. Click the picture to view the testimony.

Opinion: Big Oil Gets The Biggest U.S. Energy Subsidies of All

Opinion: Big oil gets the biggest U.S. energy subsidies of all
By Blaine Townsend | Mercury News

Ever since New England Whalers ran the oil business, we've been a country of "barrel half-full" types. There will always be more oil! All it takes is a prone leviathan, a deposit in an unstable, war-torn country or a new find in the middle of some environmentally sensitive area.

Unfortunately, we need to find the equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia every four years just to keep up with demand around the world. And that isn't getting any easier. Pumping seawater under the Arabian Desert and squeezing oil from tar sands near Glacier National Park is a lot more expensive than boiling blubber or watching oil gush on the West Texas plains. And we all foot the bill.

Today, the oil industry receives north of $100 billion per year in subsidies and collateral support. This is the equivalent of one AIG bailout per year, every year. The web of direct subsidies includes billions in government sponsored low-cost construction loans and tax breaks like the Foreign Tax Credit. "Last in, first out" accounting practices, special write-downs for core operations and royalty "relief" for leases in the Gulf of Mexico have robbed the federal coffers of billions more.

This past September, the Environmental Law Institute released a study on direct subsidies to Big Oil from 2002-2008. The conservative tally was $72 billion, compared to $13 billion for nonethanol alternatives. And unlike support for alternative energy or other industries, many of these direct subsidies are written permanently into the tax code, not phased in and out of various legislations.

By contrast, funding for alternative fuels waxes and wanes with political will. For example, funding for alternatives took a precipitous drop in 2006 and 2007 before rebounding last year. Read more.

A Big Win For PhRMA, Health Insurance Companies, Obama, Reid, Nelson, Lincoln, Lieberman; A Big Loss For The American People...

A Big Win For PhRMA, Health Insurance Companies, Obama, Reid, Nelson, Lincoln, Lieberman; A Big Loss For The American People And the Progressive Movement
By Jon Walker | FireDogLake

Today’s vote in the Senate to pass their health care reform bill was a big win for many people. It was a big win for the drug companies, the biologics industry, the hospital companies, and the for-profit health insurance corporations. They will all get billions of government dollars piled on to their ledgers, and and millions of Americans now forced to buy their products. The vote was also a huge win for the lobbyists who just saw their profits jump thanks to this great opportunity to show their clients just how powerful their hold on Washington really is.

This vote was also a political win. It was a big deal for politicians–like Barack Obama, Max Baucus, Rahm Emanuel, and Harry Reid–who cared more about putting up a “W” on the scoreboard than about the policy. It was also a big day for senators like Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Joe Lieberman. The incredibly broken rules of the Senate gave them an absurd amount of anti-constitutional power that allowed them to hold reform hostage for pork and industry favors.

It was loss for the country. Our broken health care system will remain broken and costs will continue to rise at an alarming rate. Things like drug re-importation and a robust public option, which would have helped bring down prices for millions of Americans, were stripped from the bill at the request of powerful industry lobbyists.

It was also a big loss for the progressive movement. We were out-gunned by industry lobbyists, and many of our movement “allies” failed us. A woman’s right to choose was thrown under the bus just to get something passed. The supposed “progressives” in the Senate refused to go all-out and use every tool to achieve the most progressive reform. Lawrence O’Donnell is right, most importantly, this bill will give liberalism a very bad name. Read more.

Holy Family of New Rochelle NY Closed To Talk of Wars

HOLY FAMILY CLOSED TO TALK OF WARS
By Nick Mottern | Church Visit #24

On a grey, chill Sunday morning, December 13, 2009, Martha Conte, Theodora “Ted” de Soyza, Nora Freeman, Debbie Kair and I visited Holy Family Catholic Church in New Rochelle, NY, in the latest of our bannering visits to urge the religious community in Westchester County to become aggressive in opposing the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

We hit a rock, except for two parishioners.

The Holy Family congregation meets in a huge yellow brick ark of a building, Italian in architectural style. The nave of the church, where the congregation sits, has a low flat ceiling of natural wood panels and massive wooden beams, decorated with fine red and green lines and flowers, creating a sense of sanctuary. This feeling is enhanced by large, arched, extremely intricate, stained glass, windows.

On walls are bas-relief sculptures of various scenes leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion known as Stations of the Cross. In one of the walls next to the altar is a sculpture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus - the Holy Family – in a manger scene. On the altar were four, very tall candelabra, and over the altar is a crucifix with, as Nora pointed out, a nearly life-size, very life-like sculpture of Jesus in pain, spiked to a cross.

The sense of the building is that of ancient tradition, a feeling reinforced by the liberal use of incense during the ceremony. The church’s website says the building “is comparable to a basilica.” But the church is not ancient, although, like many, many ancient Catholic churches, it was built out of the devotion of working-class people.

End Of The Year: U.S. Recruits Worldwide For Afghan War

End Of The Year: U.S. Recruits Worldwide For Afghan War
Rick Rozoff | Stop NATO | Blog site

The first of 33,000 more U.S. troops have arrived in Afghanistan for a Christmas surge and they will soon be joined by as many as 10,000 additional non-American troops serving under NATO in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Washington will have over 100,000 uniformed personnel and tens of thousands of new military contractors in the South Asian war zone, and with more than 50,000 other NATO and NATO partner forces present total troop strength will exceed 150,000.

Except for a modest amount of troops assigned to the NATO Training Mission - Iraq in Baghdad, the U.S. with its 120,000 troops is now largely alone in that country. NATO, especially new NATO, member and candidate states were ordered to transfer their forces from Iraq to Afghanistan starting approximately a year ago and are now redeploying soldiers from missions in Kosovo, Lebanon and Chad to the same destination. The Afghan battlefront, then, currently has the largest amount of military forces stationed in any war zone in the world. [1]

Troops from NATO countries stationed in Bosnia, the Central African Republic, Chad, Lebanon and off the coast of Somalia are currently assigned to European Union missions (European warships also participate in NATO's Ocean Shield naval interdiction in Somali waters and the Gulf of Aden) and their transfer to the South Asian war front indicates the virtual interchangeability of armed units assigned to NATO and the European Union. [2]

Since the beginning of this year's escalation of the war in Afghanistan and into neighboring Pakistan, Western public figures and media have dwelt frequently and at length on the war being a - or the - test for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, ostensibly the major watershed and crucible in its 60-year history.

When the bloc, the world's only military alliance, invoked its Article 5 mutual assistance clause in September of 2001 to support its leading member, the U.S., in its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the Alliance was fresh on the heels of its first-ever war: The 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in early 1999, the first all-out military assault targeting a European nation since Hitler's and Mussolini's attacks and invasions of 1939-1941.

By activating Article 5 - "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all [and] will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith" - NATO enlisted for its first land war and its first war in Asia.

It also exploited its effective war provision to launch Operation Active Endeavor in early October of 2001, a comprehensive, airtight naval surveillance and interdiction program throughout the entire Mediterranean Sea that monitors all activity in NATO's new mare nostrum (our sea) and dominates all access points into the world's most important sea: The Strait of Gibraltar, the Dardanelles Strait and the Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean, the Black Sea, the Red Sea and thence to the Indian Ocean, respectively.

The U.S.-led military alliance gained control over that vast stretch of strategic waterways by adopting the American post-September 11, 2001 pretexts of combating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The first was the rationale for invading Afghanistan, the second for invading Iraq.

Blackwater Eyes Afghan Contractor Surge

Blackwater Eyes Afghan Contractor Surge

As the United States builds up its military presence in Afghanistan, private contractors are flocking there in even greater numbers. And Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater, is in the hunt to get a share of the new work.

According to a report last week from the Congressional Research Service, there were about 64,000 uniformed U.S. troops in Afghanistan in September and 104,101 military contractors -- 62 percent of the Defense Department work force there.

The Obama administration's planned deployment of 30,000 more troops in the coming months could require as many as 56,000 more contractors, the report estimated.

Xe, the Moyock, N.C.-based private military company, is already on the ground in Afghanistan despite its controversial history in Iraq, and is in the running for additional contracts.

A company executive faced skeptical questioning Friday at a hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a bipartisan fact-finding panel created by Congress.

Fred Roitz, executive vice president, told the commission that Xe has security and training contracts in Afghanistan. Among other duties, he said, the company trains and mentors the Afghan border police, teaching such things as rifle skills, arrest procedures and narcotics interdiction.

Xe also is one of five pre-qualified companies competing for a new Defense Department contract to train the Afghan national police. Read more.

Postwar Gaza: Scars Frozen, Mideast At An Impasse

Postwar Gaza: Scars frozen, Mideast at an impasse
By Karin Laub, Associated Press | Washington Post

Gaza's scars have been frozen in place since Israel waged war a year ago to subdue Hamas and stop rockets from hitting its towns. Entire neighborhoods still lie in rubble, and traumatized residents can't rebuild their lives.

A man who lost two daughters and his home can't visit his surviving 4-year-old girl in a Belgian hospital because Gaza's borders remain sealed. A 15-year-old struggles to walk on her artificial limbs, while dozens of other war amputees still await prostheses.

Couples postpone marriage because not enough apartments survived three weeks of bombing and shelling. Thousands are homeless,and damaged systems mean electricity and water are sporadic. Untreated sewage pours into the Mediterranean.

A three-year-old blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt makes any large-scale rebuilding impossible, because the embargo includes steel and concrete.

The unprecedented use of Israeli firepower against the Palestinians has had repercussions far beyond the pain inflicted on Gaza's long-suffering 1.5 million people.

It emboldened Gaza's Hamas rulers by failing to topple them, and weakened their Western-backed Fatah rivals, whom Palestinians increasingly see as subordinate to Israel. It deepened the political split between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-governed West Bank, making a unified Palestinian government - a prerequisite for any peace deal - even less likely. Read more.

“Would You Vote for the Senate's Health Legislation?”

“Would You Vote for the Senate's Health Legislation?”
Bill Moyers, With Matt Taibbi and Robert Kuttner | PBS

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

Something's not right here. One year after the great collapse of our financial system, Wall Street is back on top while our politicians dither. As for health care reform, you're about to be forced to buy insurance from companies whose stock is soaring, and that's just dandy with the White House.

Truth is, our capitol's being looted, republicans are acting like the town rowdies, the sheriff is firing blanks, and powerful Democrats in Congress are in cahoots with the gang that's pulling the heist. This is not capitalism at work. It's capital. Raw money, mounds of it, buying politicians and policy as if they were futures on the hog market.

Here to talk about all this are two journalists who don't pull their punches. Robert Kuttner is an economist who helped create and now co-edits the progressive magazine THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, and the author of the book OBAMA'S CHALLENGE, among others.

Also with me is Matt Taibbi, who covers politics for ROLLING STONE magazine where he is a contributing editor. He's made a name for himself writing in a no-holds-barred, often profane, but always informative and stimulating style that gets under the skin of the powerful. His most recent article is "Obama's Big Sellout," about the President's team of economic advisers and their Wall Street connections. It's been burning up the blogosphere. Welcome to both of you.

BILL MOYERS: Let's start with some news. Some of the big insurance companies, Well Point, Cigna, United Health, all surged to a 52 week high in their share prices this week when it was clear there'd be no public option in the health care bill going through Congress right now. What does that tell you, Matt?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, I think what most people should take away from this is that the massive subsidies for health insurance companies have been preserved while it's also expanded their customer base because there's an individual mandate in the bill that's going to provide all these companies with the, you know, 25 or 30 million new people who are going to be paying for health insurance. So, it's, obviously, a huge boon to that industry. And I think Wall Street correctly read what the health care effort is all about.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Rahm Emanuel, the President's Chief of Staff, was Bill Clinton's Political Director. And Rahm Emanuel's take away from Bill Clinton's failure to get health insurance passed was 'don't get on the wrong side of the insurance companies.' So their strategy was cut a deal with the insurance companies, the drug industry going in. And the deal was, we're not going to attack your customer base, we're going to subsidize a new customer base. And that script was pre-cooked so it's not surprising that this is what comes out the other side. Continue reading transcript, watch video.

Federal War Spending Exceeds State Government Outlays

Federal War Spending Exceeds State Government Outlays
By Sherwood Ross

The U.S. spends more for war annually than all state governments combined spend for the health, education, welfare, and safety of 308 million Americans.

Joseph Henchman, director of state projects for the Tax Foundation of Washington, D.C., says the states collected a total of $781 billion in taxes in 2008.

For a rough comparison, according to Wikipedia data, the total budget for what the government terms "defense" (i.e., war) in fiscal year 2010 will be at least $880 billion and could possibly top $1 trillion. That’s more than all the state governments collect.

Henchman says all American local governments combined (cities, counties, etc.) collect about $500 billion in taxes. Add that to total state tax take and you get over $1.3 trillion. This means Uncle Sam’s Pentagon is sopping up nearly as much money as all state, county, city, and other governmental units spend to run the country.

If the Pentagon figure of $1 trillion is somewhat less than all other taxing authorities, keep in mind the FBI, the various intelligence agencies, the VA, the National Institutes of Health (biological warfare) are also spending on war-related activities.

A question that describes the above and answers itself is: In what area can the Federal government operate where states and cities cannot tread? The answer is: foreign affairs---raising armies, fighting wars, conducting diplomacy, etc. And so Uncle Sam keeps enlarging this area. His emphasis is not on diplomacy, either.

For every buck spent by the State Department, which gets some $50 billion a year, the Pentagon spends $20. As for the Peace Corps, its budget is a paltry $375 million---hardly enough to keep the Pentagon elephant in peanuts.

New ASVAB Website & Push for MD Law to Protect Students' Privacy

New ASVAB Website & Push for MD Law to Protect Students' Privacy
By Pat Elder

Check out this new website on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, ASVAB.

This is a fantastic resource dedicated to everything ASVAB. The site contains an excellent overview of the issue, news articles about military testing, and compelling resources for students, parents and school officials. There is also an impressive collection of military documents pertaining to the administration of the ASVAB program. This is an excellent resource activists can use for reaching out to school administrators and state legislators.

ASVAB legislation will again be introduced in the Maryland General Assembly for the upcoming session. Several activists affiliated with the Maryland Coalition to Protect Student Privacy have launched a state-wide lobbying campaign to pass a bill that would preclude the ASVAB from being used to recruit youth for military service from Maryland's high schools. We'll be calling on you to help! In the meantime, here's the rationale behind the law:

The Case for Legislation Protecting the Privacy of Maryland Public High School Students Who Take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)

The ASVAB has been administered by the Department of Defense in Maryland's public high schools for nearly 40 years, long before the passage of the Family Educational Rights Protection Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, both of which contain requirements for opt-out notifications in releases of student information. The administration of the ASVAB program in Maryland's schools denies parents the right to stop their child's personal information from being released to a third party, in this case, the Department of Defense.

Legislation designed to protect the privacy of 6,800 students who take the ASVAB in 156 public high schools throughout Maryland will be introduced in the Maryland General Assembly this year.

Neither sleet nor snow or all that other stuff stops protest

Protest on the ice at the mansion of United Health Group's CEO, Stepthen Hemsley

Channel 4 news coverage and Channel 5 news coverage

On Saturday morning, 12/19/09, eight of us met at the intersection of Shoreline Drive and Ferndale Road West, about ¾ mile from the 7.8 million dollar Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota mansion of United Health Group CEO Stephen Hemsley. We had to spend some time at this location waiting for everyone to find their way to this meeting place. So we put up some of our banners and talked to passers by.

Not shown in these photos was a banner that really upset some of the locals that said, “HOME OF INS. BANDIT S. HEMSLEY”. Some of the people in the neighborhood supported us, but this guy was pretty upset!

Obama Year One: Betrayal and Failure (Part II)

Obama Year One: Betrayal and Failure (Part II)
Read Part I here.
By Stephen Lendman | Blog

Part II concludes an account of Obama's betrayal, not promised change.
Obamacare Plans to Ration Healthcare and Enrich Big Providers

After House passage in November, the Senate is now about to pass a stealth scheme to ration care and enrich insurers, the drug cartel, and large hospital chains, the way Washington always works.

It plans market-based solutions, featuring cost-containing measures, mostly affecting working Americans, the poor, elderly, and chronically ill to make a dysfunctional system worse, under the guise of reform, the most dangerous and deceptive word in the language to take cover from when announced.

Besides enriching providers, Obamacare will force millions to pay more, get less, with millions still uninsured and left out. Employers will be able to opt out of providing coverage, but since insurance for most will be mandated, those without it will have to buy it or face hundreds of dollars in penalties, whether or not they can afford it. Even with a public option, looking less likely, insurers will get to skim off the cream, charge what they wish, profit handsomely at low risk, and leave Washington stuck with ones industry doesn't want. For providers, it's a win-win under any version being considered.

Most disturbing are planned Medicare cuts, around $400 - $570 billion, depending on which numbers are most accurate, and these are for starters, a foot in the door if enacted, toward the long-term aim ending Medicare, then Medicaid and Social Security because, at $106 trillion in unfunded liabilities, budget constraints can't sustain them.

The Congressional Budget Office's June 2009 "Long-Term Budget Outlook" suggests a nation in decline, eventual hyperinflation, possible bankruptcy because of a greater national debt than during the Great Depression and near-surpassing WW II. The administration's solution - end entitlements over 100 million Americans rely on, but it still may be too little, too late given an overstretched budget, a weakening dollar, and foreign investors looking for safer returns on their capital, so are less willing to fund Washington's excesses.

In Obama's America, the least advantaged will carry the load, not privileged elites, but don't expect congressional opposition to stop him or news reports to explain it.

Obama's Permanent War Agenda

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