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Corporatism and Fascism
Corporatism and Fascism
January 1 will usher in the last year of the first decade of a new millennium and ten consecutive years of the United States conducting war in the Greater Middle East.
Beginning with the October 7, 2001 missile and bomb attacks on Afghanistan, American combat operations abroad have not ceased for a year, a month, a week or a day in the 21st century.
The Afghan war, the U.S.'s first air and ground conflict in Asia since the disastrous wars in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s and early 1970s and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's first land war and Asian campaign, began during the end of the 2001 war in Macedonia launched from NATO-occupied Kosovo, one in which the role of U.S. military personnel is still to be properly exposed  and addressed and which led to the displacement of almost 10 percent of the nation's population.
In the first case Washington invaded a nation in the name of combating terrorism; in the second it abetted cross-border terrorism. Similarly, in 1991 the U.S. and its Western allies attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait and launched devastating and deadly cruise missile attacks and bombing sorties inside Iraq in the name of preserving the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait, and in 1999 waged a 78-day bombing assault against Yugoslavia to override and fatally undermine the principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty in the name of the casus belli of the day, so-called humanitarian intervention.
Two years later humanitarian war, as abhorrent an oxymoron as the world has ever witnessed, gave way to the global war on terror(ism), with the U.S. and its NATO allies again reversing course but continuing to wage wars of aggression and "wars of opportunity" as they saw fit, contradictions and logic, precedents and international law notwithstanding.
A federal judge dismissed manslaughter charges Thursday against five Blackwater security guards in the 2007 deaths of Iraqi civilians in a Baghad square, finding that prosecutors wrongly used the men's own statements against them.
The September 2007 shootout in Baghdad's Nusoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and two dozen wounded. The killings led Iraq's government to slap limits on security contractors hired by Blackwater, now known as Xe, and other firms.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina found that the government's case was built largely on "statements compelled under a threat of job loss in a subsequent criminal prosecution," a violation of the Fifth Amendment rights of the five men charged.
"In their zeal to bring charges against the defendant in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation," Urbina wrote in a 90-page decision.
Federal prosecutors "repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors assigned to the case" in doing so, he found. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
You know, the year 2009 started out kind of nicely. We watched Barack Obama take the oath of office, serenaded by the awesome Aretha Franklin (wearing her awesome hat), after first hearing Pete Seeger sing the real Woody Guthrie verses to "This Land Is Your Land" on the steps of the Lincoln Monument.
And we saw Congress pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to correct a scum-sucking decision by the US Supreme Court's conservative woman-hating, corporation-loving majority that said women (and minorities and the elderly) couldn't sue for pay discrimination unless they acted within six months of the initiation of the violation, even if they didn't learn about it until years later.
Why Powerful People -- Many of Whom Take a Moral High Ground -- Don't Practice What They Preach
ScienceDaily (Dec. 30, 2009)— 2009 may well be remembered for its scandal-ridden headlines, from admissions of extramarital affairs by governors and senators, to corporate executives flying private jets while cutting employee benefits, and most recently, to a mysterious early morning car crash in Florida. The past year has been marked by a series of moral transgressions by powerful figures in political, business and celebrity circles. New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University explores why powerful people - many of whom take a moral high ground - don't practice what they preach.
Researchers sought to determine whether power inspires hypocrisy, the tendency to hold high standards for others while performing morally suspect behaviors oneself. The research finds that power makes people stricter in moral judgment of others - while being less strict of their own behavior.
Crony capitalism unchanged
Wall St: More complicated means more profitable - Click "Read more" to watch second video.
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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?
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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...
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 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.
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. 
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. 
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.
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.
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.