Dec 222011
 

 

* LOCAL POLICE STOCKPILE HIGH-TECH, COMBAT-READY GEAR

By Andrew Becker, Center for Investigative Reporting

If terrorists ever target Fargo, N.D., the local police will be ready.

In recent years, they have bought bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers in foreign wars. For local siege situations requiring real firepower, police there can use a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. Until that day, however, the menacing truck is mostly used for training runs and appearances at the annual Fargo picnic, where it’s been displayed near a children’s bounce house.

“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” said Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”

Fargo, like thousands of other communities in every state, has been on a gear-buying spree with the aid of more than $34 billion in federal government grants since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

The federal grant spending, awarded with little oversight from Washington, has fueled a rapid, broad transformation of police operations in Fargo and in departments across the country. More than ever before, police rely on quasi-military tactics and equipment, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.

Since Occupy Wall Street and similar protests broke out this fall, confusion about how to respond has landed some police departments in national headlines for electing to use intimidating riot gear, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Observers have decried these aggressive tactics as more evidence that police are overly militarized. Among them is former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who today regrets his “militaristic” answer in 1999 to the infamous “Battle in Seattle” protests.

Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The list of equipment bought with the federal grants reads like a defense contractor catalog. High-tech gear fills the garages, locker rooms and patrol cars in departments across the country.

Although local officials say they have become more cautious about spending in recent years, police departments around the country are continually expanding the equipment and tactics of their jobs, despite, in many cases, the lack of an apparent need.

The share of federal grants for Fargo and the county it anchors is more than $8 million, a considerable sum for terrorism defense given its remote location and status as one of the safest areas in America. Fargo has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there have been no prosecutions of international terrorism in the state for at least a decade, if ever.

North Dakota’s biggest city is a humble place set on plains so flat that locals like to say you can watch your dog run away for two weeks. Yet all patrol officers in Fargo now carry an assault rifle in their squad car.

Fargo police Lt. Ross Renner, who commands a regional SWAT team, said the world is a dangerous place, and the city wants to be ready for anything.

With that in mind, Renner pushed for military-style assault rifles to become standard issue in department patrol cars.

“It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected,” Renner said. “We don’t have every-day threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”

Other communities also have ramped up as well. In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone. In Garland County, Ark., known for its pleasant hot springs, a local law enforcement agency acquired four handheld bulletproof protective shields costing $600 each. In East Baton Rouge, La., it was $400 ballistic helmets. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. And for police in Des Moines, Iowa, it was two $180,000 bomb robots.

Homeland security and law enforcement officials say the expenditures and modern training have helped save civilian and police lives. Do the armored vehicles and combat dress produce a sort of “shock and awe” effect? Lt. Jeremy Clark of the West Hartford Police Department in Connecticut hopes so. He said it can persuade suspects to give up sooner.

“The only time I hear the complaint of ‘God, you guys look scary’ is if the incident turns out to be nothing,” said Clark, who organizes an annual SWAT competition.

But the gear also can be used for heavy-handed – even excessive – tactics. In one case, dozens of officers in combat-style gear raided a rave in Utah as a police helicopter buzzed overhead. An online video shows the battle-ready team wearing masks and brandishing rifles as they holler for the music to be shut off and pin partygoers to the ground.

Arizona tactical officers this year sprayed the home of ex-Marine Jose Guerena with gunfire as the man stood in a hallway with a rifle that he did not shoot [PDF]. He was hit 22 times and died. Police had targeted the man’s older brother in a narcotics-trafficking probe, but nothing illegal was found in the younger Guerena’s home, and no related arrests had been made months after the raid.

Police say greater firepower and more protective equipment became increasingly necessary not only as everyday criminals obtained deadlier weapons, but also in response to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks. They point to a 1997 Los Angeles-area shootout with heavily armed bank robbers and the bloody 2008 shooting and bombing attack in Mumbai, India, which left 164 people dead and 300 wounded.

Every community in the country has some explanation for why it needs more money, not less, to protect against every conceivable threat. It could be a shooting rampage at an amusement park, a weapon of mass destruction hidden at a manufacturing plant, a nuclear device detonated at a major coastal port. Nothing short of absolute security seems acceptable.

“The argument for up-armoring is always based on the least likely of terrorist scenarios,” said Mark Randol, a former terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service. “Anyone can get a gun and shoot up stuff. No amount of SWAT equipment can stop that.”

Law enforcement leaders nonetheless bristle at the word “militarization,” even if the defense community itself acknowledges a convergence of the two.

“I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society,” said former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, now chairman of Kroll Inc., the security consulting firm. […]

READ @ http://americaswarwithin.org/articles/2011/12/21/local-police-stockpile-high-tech-combat-ready-gear

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* OCCUPY PROTESTERS INDICTED ON FELONY CHARGES IN HOUSTON

By Miranda Leitsinger, msnbc.com

Cody Duty / AP Occupy Houston protesters lay in the exit ramp at the Port of Houston Authority on Dec. 12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Occupy protesters were indicted on felony charges by a grand jury in Houston on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office says, in connection with their demonstration at the local port as part of a national day of action by the movement.

The decision comes nearly a week after a judge initially dismissed the charges, saying the protesters could not be charged with possessing or using a “criminal instrument” – a felony in Texas – for their use of PVC pipe.

The protesters — three from Austin, four from Houston — put their arms through the pipe and used latches on it to connect together, making their arrest more difficult but not preventing it, said one of their attorneys, Daphne Silverman, of the National Lawyer’s Guild in Houston. Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, confirmed the indictment.

“They are feeling, ‘wow,’ is the word. … They’re in a lot of shock. They were very happy with the justice’s decision last week, they believed in her, they believed in the justice system,” Silverman said. “These people … are not criminals. These folks are out there attempting to make the country better for all of us.”

Silverman, who noted that she believed the law had been wrongly applied by the prosecutor, said it’s likely the protesters will be back in court in January to talk about the next step, such as negotiations or to go to trial. If convicted, they face up to two years in jail.

READ @ http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/20/9587551-occupy-protesters-indicted-on-felony-charges-in-houston?mid=55

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* DO PRIVATE MILITARY CONTRACTORS HAVE IMPUNITY TO TORTURE?

By Laura Raymond, Firedoglake

Unbelievably, in 2011 this question has not yet been settled in the courts of the United States. Human rights attorneys are headed back to court in the coming month to argue that, yes, victims of war crimes and torture by contractors should have a path to justice. Attorneys from my organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with co-counsel, are representing Iraqi civilians who were horribly tortured in Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq in seeking to hold accountable two private contractors for their violations of international, federal and state law. By the military’s own internal investigations, private military contractors from the U.S.-based corporations L-3 Services and CACI International were involved in the war crimes and acts of torture that took place, which included rape, being forced to watch family members and others be raped, severe beatings, being hung in stress positions, being pulled across the floor by genitals, mock executions, and other incidents, many of which were documented by photographs. The cases, Al Shimari v. CACI and Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla and L-3 aim to secure a day in court for the plaintiffs, none of whom were ever charged with any crimes.

The Department of Justice has thus far failed to prosecute any of the contractors involved, so the only path currently available for any accountability is through these human rights lawsuits. However, after years of litigation, the allegations of torture by contractors in these cases have still never been seriously examined, much less ruled on, by the courts. None of the plaintiffs in any of these cases has yet to have his or her day in court to tell their account of what they suffered. The reason is because the private military contractors have raised numerous legal defenses– many of which the plaintiffs’ lawyers have argued are plainly inapplicable to private corporations–which have kept the cases from moving into the discovery phase, where the nature of the contractors obligations, actions and oversight, as well as what happened to the plaintiffs would be the examined in detail. So far, CACI and Titan/L-3 have focused the courts on any question but whether the plaintiffs were tortured. As CCR and co-counsel summarize the question in their brief in Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla and L-3:

Are corporate defendants entitled to categorical “law of war” immunity for their alleged torture and war crimes when such a proposed immunity runs counter to settled understandings of the law of war and centuries of Supreme Court precedent, and would give for-profit contractors more protection from suit than genuine members of the U.S. Armed Forces?

This week, CCR and co-counsel filed briefs that argue the cases must go forward. Additionally, yesterday a number of other human rights organizations along with a group of retired high-ranking military officers are filing supporting amicus briefs to add their voices to the chorus of concern over contractor impunity. The military officers’ brief argues that, “given that employees of civilian contractors indisputably are not subject to the military chain of command, and therefore cannot be disciplined or held accountable by the military, it makes little sense to extend to them such absolute tort law immunity for their misconduct.” […]

READ @ http://my.firedoglake.com/lauraraymond/2011/12/21/do-private-military-contractors-have-impunity-to-torture/

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* THE DEFINING ISSUE: NOT GOVERNMENT’S SIZE, BUT WHO IT’S FOR

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog

The defining political issue of 2012 won’t be the government’s size. It will be who government is for.

Americans have never much liked government. After all, the nation was conceived in a revolution against government.

But the surge of cynicism now engulfing America isn’t about government’s size. The cynicism comes from a growing perception that government isn’t working for average people. It’s for big business, Wall Street, and the very rich instead.

In a recent Pew Foundation poll, 77 percent of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.

That’s understandable. To take a few examples:

Wall Street got bailed out but homeowners caught in the fierce downdraft caused by the Street’s excesses have got almost nothing.

Big agribusiness continues to rake in hundreds of billions in price supports and ethanol subsidies. Big pharma gets extended patent protection that drives up everyone’s drug prices. Big oil gets its own federal subsidy. But small businesses on the Main Streets of America are barely making it.

American Airlines uses bankruptcy to ward off debtors and renegotiate labor contracts. Donald Trump’s businesses go bankrupt without impinging on Trump’s own personal fortune. But the law won’t allow you to use personal bankruptcy to renegotiate your home mortgage. […]

READhttp://robertreich.org/post/14480589454

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* CHOMSKY TO OCCUPY: MOVE TO THE NEXT STAGE

By Lance Tapley, The Boston Phoenix

[…] Chomsky’s speech was entitled “Arab Spring, American Winter.” In it, he presented the Occupy movement as the first popular reaction to a “vicious class war” waged against working people for over 30 years in the United States, just as the Arab Spring uprisings this year in the Middle East and North Africa were reactions to decades or centuries of repression by wealthy elites supported by the United States and other Western powers.

Greeted with a standing ovation, on top of his game at 83, he stood, in jeans and sweater, talking and answering questions for two hours in his always-even voice.

Riffing from one topic to another, Chomsky — who, an emeritus professor at MIT, also is known as the father of modern linguistics — demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of American foreign policy and history, citing stunningly revealing official documents chronicling our country’s economic and military predations abroad.

He compared the rule of international elites over Middle Eastern, African, Latin American, and Asian countries to the rule of the rich 1 percent — it is often the rule of one-tenth of one percent, he suggested — in the United States.

Quoting Adam Smith, the 18th-century father of capitalist theory, Chomsky delved into the roots of the neoliberal soak-the-poor philosophy dominant worldwide. “We’re essentially living in a nightmare” that the classical economists predicted, he said.

This nightmare’s concentration of wealth “accelerates” political-campaign-money competition, he said, driving politicians into the arms of wealthy interests. One result: “The Democrats are now what used to be called moderate Republicans.” […]

READ @ http://thephoenix.com/boston/news/131298-chomsky-to-occupy-move-to-the-next-stage/

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* THIS BASTARDIZED LIBERTARIANISM MAKES ‘FREEDOM’ AN INSTRUMENT OF OPPRESSION

It’s the disguise used by those who wish to exploit without restraint, denying the need for the state to protect the 99%

By George Monibot, Common Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom: who could object? Yet this word is now used to justify a thousand forms of exploitation. Throughout the right-wing press and blogosphere, among thinktanks and governments, the word excuses every assault on the lives of the poor, every form of inequality and intrusion to which the 1% subject us. How did libertarianism, once a noble impulse, become synonymous with injustice?

In the name of freedom – freedom from regulation – the banks were permitted to wreck the economy. In the name of freedom, taxes for the super-rich are cut. In the name of freedom, companies lobby to drop the minimum wage and raise working hours. In the same cause, US insurers lobby Congress to thwart effective public healthcare; the government rips up our planning laws; big business trashes the biosphere. This is the freedom of the powerful to exploit the weak, the rich to exploit the poor.

Right-wing libertarianism recognizes few legitimate constraints on the power to act, regardless of the impact on the lives of others. In the UK it is forcefully promoted by groups like the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Policy Exchange. Their concept of freedom looks to me like nothing but a justification for greed.

So why have we been been so slow to challenge this concept of liberty? I believe that one of the reasons is as follows. The great political conflict of our age – between neocons and the millionaires and corporations they support on one side, and social justice campaigners and environmentalists on the other – has been mischaracterized as a clash between negative and positive freedoms. These freedoms were most clearly defined by Isaiah Berlin in his essay of 1958, Two Concepts of Liberty. It is a work of beauty: reading it is like listening to a gloriously crafted piece of music. I will try not to mangle it too badly.

Put briefly and crudely, negative freedom is the freedom to be or to act without interference from other people. Positive freedom is freedom from inhibition: it’s the power gained by transcending social or psychological constraints. Berlin explained how positive freedom had been abused by tyrannies, particularly by the Soviet Union. It portrayed its brutal governance as the empowerment of the people, who could achieve a higher freedom by subordinating themselves to a collective single will.

Rightwing libertarians claim that greens and social justice campaigners are closet communists trying to resurrect Soviet conceptions of positive freedom. In reality, the battle mostly consists of a clash between negative freedoms.

As Berlin noted: “No man’s activity is so completely private as never to obstruct the lives of others in any way. ‘Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows’.” So, he argued, some people’s freedom must sometimes be curtailed “to secure the freedom of others”. In other words, your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. The negative freedom not to have our noses punched is the freedom that green and social justice campaigns, exemplified by the Occupy movement, exist to defend.

Berlin also shows that freedom can intrude on other values, such as justice, equality or human happiness. “If the liberty of myself or my class or nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.” It follows that the state should impose legal restraints on freedoms that interfere with other people’s freedoms – or on freedoms which conflict with justice and humanity.

These conflicts of negative freedom were summarized in one of the greatest poems of the 19th century, which could be seen as the founding document of British environmentalism. In The Fallen Elm, John Clare describes the felling of the tree he loved, presumably by his landlord, that grew beside his home. “Self-interest saw thee stand in freedom’s ways / So thy old shadow must a tyrant be. / Thou’st heard the knave, abusing those in power, / Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free.”

The landlord was exercising his freedom to cut the tree down. In doing so, he was intruding on Clare’s freedom to delight in the tree, whose existence enhanced his life. The landlord justifies this destruction by characterizing the tree as an impediment to freedom – his freedom, which he conflates with the general liberty of humankind. Without the involvement of the state (which today might take the form of a tree preservation order) the powerful man could trample the pleasures of the powerless man. Clare then compares the felling of the tree with further intrusions on his liberty. “Such was thy ruin, music-making elm; / The right of freedom was to injure thine: / As thou wert served, so would they overwhelm / In freedom’s name the little that is mine.”

But right-wing libertarians do not recognize this conflict. They speak, like Clare’s landlord, as if the same freedom affects everybody in the same way. They assert their freedom to pollute, exploit, even – among the gun nuts – to kill, as if these were fundamental human rights. They characterize any attempt to restrain them as tyranny. They refuse to see that there is a clash between the freedom of the pike and the freedom of the minnow. […]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/20-5#.TvCu4tED_ZY.facebook

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* A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM AMERICA’S RICH

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

It seems America’s bankers are tired of all the abuse. They’ve decided to speak out.

True, they’re doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don’t have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn’t have to apologize for being so successful.

But while they haven’t yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays. Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:

“Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”

Former New York gurbernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the billionaire owner of the billing firm Paychex, offered his wisdom while his half-his-age tennis champion girlfriend hung on his arm:

“If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share’ one more time, I’m going to vomit,” said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Then there’s Leon Cooperman, the former chief of Goldman Sachs’s money-management unit, who said he was urged to speak out by his fellow golfers. His message was a version of Wall Street’s increasingly popular If-you-people-want-a-job, then-you’ll-shut-the-fuck-up rhetorical line:

Cooperman, 68, said in an interview that he can’t walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said.

“You’ll get more out of me,” the billionaire said, “if you treat me with respect.”

Finally, there is this from Blackstone CEO Steven Schwartzman:

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”

There are obviously a great many things that one could say about this remarkable collection of quotes. One could even, if one wanted, simply savor them alone, without commentary, like lumps of fresh caviar, or raw oysters.

But out of Abelson’s collection of doleful woe-is-us complaints from the offended rich, the one that deserves the most attention is Schwarzman’s line about lower-income folks lacking “skin in the game.” This incredible statement gets right to the heart of why these people suck.

Why? It’s not because Schwarzman is factually wrong about lower-income people having no “skin in the game,” ignoring the fact that everyone pays sales taxes, and most everyone pays payroll taxes, and of course there are property taxes for even the lowliest subprime mortgage holders, and so on.

It’s not even because Schwarzman probably himself pays close to zero in income tax – as a private equity chief, he doesn’t pay income tax but tax on carried interest, which carries a maximum 15% tax rate, half the rate of a New York City firefighter.

The real issue has to do with the context of Schwarzman’s quote. The Blackstone billionaire, remember, is one of the more uniquely abhorrent, self-congratulating jerks in the entire world – a man who famously symbolized the excesses of the crisis era when, just as the rest of America was heading into a recession, he threw himself a $5 million birthday party, featuring private performances by Rod Stewart and Patti Labelle, to celebrate an IPO that made him $677 million in a matter of days (within a year, incidentally, the investors who bought that stock would lose three-fourths of their investments).

So that IPO birthday boy is now standing up and insisting, with a straight face, that America’s problem is that compared to taxpaying billionaires like himself, poor people are not invested enough in our society’s future. Apparently, we’d all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.  

But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You’ve got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you’d better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.

But citizens of the stateless archipelago where people like Schwarzman live spend millions a year lobbying and donating to political campaigns so that they can jump the line. They don’t need to make sure the government is fulfilling its customer-service obligations, because they buy special access to the government, and get the special service and the metaphorical comped bottle of VIP-room Cristal afforded to select customers.

Want to lower the capital reserve requirements for investment banks? Then-Goldman CEO Hank Paulson takes a meeting with SEC chief Bill Donaldson, and gets it done. Want to kill an attempt to erase the carried interest tax break? Guys like Schwarzman, and Apollo’s Leon Black, and Carlyle’s David Rubenstein, they just show up in Washington at Max Baucus’s doorstep, and they get it killed.

Some of these people take that VIP-room idea a step further. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon – the man the New York Times once called “Obama’s favorite banker” – had an excellent method of guaranteeing that the Federal Reserve system’s doors would always be open to him. What he did was, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the New York Fed. […]

READ @ http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/a-christmas-message-from-americas-rich-20111222

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* VARIOUS MATTERS

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

There are several relatively brief items worth noting today:

(1) There are two new must-read articles on one of the worst legacies of the Obama presidency thus far: the failure to prosecute Wall Street executives for the criminal behavior that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis. The first is from Jeff Connaughton, the former chief of staff to former Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, who chaired Senate oversight hearings on financial fraud prosecutions; Connaughton documents what he calls the “misleading” statements and multiple actions of President Obama designed to shield those executives from accountability. The second is from Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi who, commenting on Connaughton’s piece, writes that “what makes Obama’s statements so dangerous is that they suggest an ongoing strategy of covering up the Wall Street crimewave.”

(2) A New York Times article yesterday examined the sometimes severe psychological stress experienced by the long-distance, remote-controlled operators of America’s drones. In one sense, that story angle is perverse: whatever stress these drone pilots experience is a tiny fraction of that continuously suffered by those who live with the falling bombs and missiles launched by these drones near their homes and children. But the articles makes one interesting point: while long working hours are the principal cause of the stress (necessitated by America’s massive increase in drone usage under President Obama), one source of stress for at least a small portion of these pilots is having to confront the images of the “collateral damage” they cause — meaning the innocent human life they extinguish with their joysticks and video game buttons:

In one surprising finding that challenged some of the survey’s initial suppositions, the authors found limited stress related to a unique aspect of the operators’ jobs: watching hours of close-up video of people killed in drone strikes. After a strike, operators assess the damage, and unlike fighter pilots who fly thousands of feet above their targets, drone operators can see in vivid detail what they have destroyed. . . .

Both Dr. Chappelle and Colonel McDonald said that 4 percent or less of operators were at high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, the severe anxiety disorder that can include flashbacks, nightmares, anger, hypervigilance or avoidance of people, places or situations. In those cases, the authors suggested, the operators had seen close-up video of what the military calls collateral damage, casualties of women, children or other civilians. “Collateral damage is unnerving or unsettling to these guys,” Colonel McDonald said.

The doctors conducting the study were actually surprised that the psychological injuries from seeing this was as limited as it is. Still, at least some of these drone pilots have enough of a conscience to be seriously disturbed by the horrific results of these strikes. If only the general citizenry — who are typically kept blissfully unaware of the human devastation their government is causing — were as affected.

Along those lines, CNN.com, to its credit, today has a stomach-turning story of a 4-year-girl Pakistani girl who was severely burned by an American drone strike back in 2009, when she was a year old, complete with horrifying videos of her injuries:

She has eyelashes but no eyebrows. She has all her fingers but is missing four nails. Her skin is so taut now that she can no longer frown.

But she can still smile.

Her face tells a story of suffering. . . .Shakira, believed burned in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, will undergo reconstructive surgery in January. . .

In 2009, [Hashmat] Effendi was on a medical mission with Texas-based House of Charity in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The region’s natural beauty was once compared to Switzerland’s, but by then it was a Taliban-infested area rife with violence.

One of the doctors found three little girls left in a trash bin. They’d suffered horrific injuries.

“Who are they?” the doctor asked.

Nobody knew.

Where were their parents? Where were they from?

Shakira, 4, is believed to have been burned in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in 2009.

All anyone could say is that there had been a U.S. drone attack.

The doctor, who was traveling with House of Charity, took them back with him. They were in grave condition. Two of the girls died, but the littlest one had a chance of making it if she were treated right away.

She was only a year old, Effendi guessed, but small for her age. She was skinny. Dirty. Very bloody. She had fresh burns all over her face, her scalp and on her arms.

This repeats itself over and over. And yet, it could hardly be less controversial in the country responsible for these attacks, largely because there is no partisan gain to be had from caring about it (merely to mention the irony that the GOP candidate currently leading most Iowa polls is the only major candidate from either party who opposes all of this is to trigger all sorts of recriminations; apparently, the ongoing slaughter of innocent men, women and children is far too insignificant an issue even to make the agenda of discussion). In fact, literally every time I even raise the horrors of the Obama drone program and the secrecy and lawlessness under which it’s conducted, I’m bombarded with arguments that drones are not an important issue or, from the most pathological Obama apologists, even fun drone humor designed to mock concerns about these attacks (such frivolity follows in the footsteps of their leader himself and his top aides). Contrary to the outright lie told by John Brennan, the President’s top counter-terrorism adviser, the fact is that the U.S. is continuously blowing up, burning, and killing innocent people, including numerous children, in the Muslim world. The program under which that is done is shrouded in almost complete secrecy. And it not only continues, but does so with little controversy.

(3) In response to the criticism I voiced a couple of weeks ago of NPR’s largely one-sided news story on domestic drones (criticism apparently expressed as well by numerous NPR listeners), that outlet’s Ombudsman defended the coverage but said “the complaints raise good—even intriguing—points for a second story that focuses exclusively on the privacy concerns surrounding potential police use of drones here at home.” Yesterday, the generally excellent Tom Ashbrook devoted a full hour on his NPR On Point Show to the proliferation of drones, featuring an ACLU staff attorney specializing in privacy issues.  TPM’s Jillian Rayfield also has a good article on the growth of domestic drones and the unique dangers they pose.

(4) In Salon, Jordan Michael Smith compiles substantial evidence to argue that “the media consensus on Israel is collapsing.” Few developments are as imperative: The Australian reports today how the U.S., yet again, is alienating itself from the world consensus, and angering even close allies, by standing alone once again to shield Israel from even the mildest rebuke for the most egregious misconduct. To be sure, the smear campaigns are as concerted as ever toward those who question this bipartisan Israel orthodoxy — Time‘s Joe Klein this week responded to some of those smears aimed at him for doing so: see his Point 7 and the update – but, as Smith documents, they are increasingly ineffective.

(5) In The New Yorker, George Packer, who vocally supported the attack on Iraq but criticized it when it starting failing, writes about Christopher Hitchens, who never deviated from full-throated support. Most of what Packer writes is, as one would expect, little more than the now-trite reminiscing about Hitchens we’ve heard from his thousands of media friends which Neal Pollack parodied so brilliantly here, but Packer’s concluding paragraph struck me as something worth highlighting:

Iraq led Hitchens to some of his worst indulgences—the propaganda trip to Iraq in Wolfowitz’s entourage, the pose of Byronic heroism. But perhaps the war and the enemies it made him helped give Hitchens the courage of his last years and months—the atheist in the foxhole. Hitchens was one of the very few people who could slash and burn you in print, then meet for drinks and talk in the true warmth of friendship, discussing a writer we both admired, garrulous to the very last. It was a sign of his essential decency that he didn’t make it personal.

Is it really “a sign of decency” to refuse to view any political ideas as not merely wrong in some abstract intellectual sense, but as a reflection of the person’s character? Obviously, there are many political disagreements — most — which can and should be conducted in perfectly good faith without the need for personal animus. Conversely, though, aren’t there some political views so repellent and sociopathic that “a sign of essential decency” is to make it personal, rather than refusing to do so? This line of thought strikes me as anything but essentially decent:

Sure, he was and remained a fervent, unrepentant public cheerleader for an aggressive, baseless attack on another country that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and displaced millions more, and sure, he was very eager to fuel an Endless War that resulted in the deaths of countless innocent men, women and children that he himself never fought in, but I’m not going to hold any of that against him. I’ll argue with him as part of entertaining, invigorating political debate, but then will be happy to go out for drinks with him — he’s a really fun guy — and will proudly call him my friend.

In what sense does “decency” compel — or even permit — that line of thought? Packer, as he usually does, is simply giving voice to the standard mindset of Washington’s political and media class. As Charles Davis put it to me by email a couple of days ago when discussing David Corn’s expressed admiration for Hitchens — the irony that the Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones, of all places, waxed so effusive about one of the nation’s leading war zealots:

That’s Washington. Issues of war and peace — life and death — are just something you argue about from 9 to 5, and only when the cameras are on. Disagreeing on the wisdom of invading and occupying other nations is like disagreeing on whether the minimum wage should be $9.50 or $9.25: nothing serious enough to end a relationship over (see: Lake, Eli). And what’s a few hundred thousand dead brown people between friends?

The bottomless willingness of political and media elites to forgive each other of their sins, insulate personal relationships from everything else, and subordinate all other considerations to loyalty to their shared membership in those circles is not “a sign of essential decency.” It’s one of the leading causes of Washington’s rot.

(6) Physics Professor, noted atheist, and author Mano Singham has an interesting review of With Liberty and Justice for Some. […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2011/12/22/various_matters_15/singleton

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* THE GLOBALIZATION OF WAR: “MILITARY ROADMAP TO WWIII

ONLINE INTERACTIVE E-READER

By Michel Chossudovsky and Finian Cunningham, Global Research

The Pentagon’s global military design is one of world conquest.

The military deployment of US-NATO forces is occurring in several regions of the world simultaneously.

The concept of the “Long War” has characterized US military doctrine since the end of World War II. The broader objective of global military dominance in support of an imperial project was first formulated under the Truman administration in the late 1940s at the outset of the Cold War.

In September 1990, some five weeks after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait, US President and Commander in Chief George Herbert Walker Bush delivered a historical address to a joint session of the US Congress and the Senate in which he proclaimed a New World Order emerging from the rubble of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union.

Bush Senior had envisaged a world of “peaceful international co-operation”, one which was no longer locked into the confrontation between competing super powers, under the shadow of the doctrine of  “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) which had characterized the Cold War era.

Bush declared emphatically at the outset of what became known as “the post-Cold War era” that:

“a new partnership of nations has begun, and we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times… a new world order can emerge: A new era freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony.”

Of course, speeches by American presidents are often occasions for cynical platitudes and contradictions that should not be taken at face value. After all, President Bush was holding forth on international law and justice only months after his country had invaded Panama in December 1989 causing the deaths of several thousand citizens – committing crimes comparable to what Saddam Hussein would be accused of and supposedly held to account for. Also in 1991, the US and its NATO allies went on to unleash, under a “humanitarian” mantle, a protracted war against Yugoslavia, leading to the destruction, fragmentation and impoverishment of an entire country.

Nevertheless, it is instructive to use Bush Senior’s slanted vision of a “New World Order” as a reference point for how dramatically the world has changed in the intervening 20 years of the so-called post-Cold War era, and in particular how unilaterally degenerate the contemporary international conduct of the US has become under the Clinton, G. W. Bush Junior and Obama administrations.

Bush Senior’s “promise” of world peace has opened up, in the wake of the Cold War, an age of continuous warfare accompanied by a process of economic dislocation, social devastation and environmental degradation.

In a bitter irony, this concept of peaceful international co-operation and partnership was used as a pretext to unleash The Gulf War, which consisted in  “defending the sovereignty” of Kuwait and “upholding international law” following the Iraqi 1990 invasion.

Global Warfare

We are dealing with a global military agenda, namely “Global Warfare”. Far from a world of peaceful cooperation, we are living in a dystopian world of permanent wars – wars that are being waged in flagrant contravention of international law and against public opinion and interest.

Far from a “new era more secure in the quest for peace” we may see a world more akin to George Orwell’s 1984, dominated by perpetual conflict, insecurity, authoritarian surveillance, doublethink and public mind control.

A problem for many citizens is that “doublethink and mind control” have become so deeply embedded and disseminated by the mass media, including the so-called quality free press, such as The New York Times and The Guardian.

The Post 9/11 Era: America’s Doctrine of Pre-emptive Warfare

Allegedly sponsored by Al Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon played a central role in molding public opinion.  One of the main objectives of war propaganda is to “fabricate an enemy”. The “outside enemy” personified by Osama bin Laden is “threatening America”.

Pre-emptive war directed against “Islamic terrorists” is required to defend the Homeland. Realities are turned upside down: America is under attack.

In the wake of 9/11, the creation of this “outside enemy” served to obfuscate the real economic and strategic objectives behind the American-led wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Waged on the grounds of self-defense, the pre-emptive war is upheld as a “just war” with a humanitarian mandate.

From the outset of the Soviet-Afghan war in the early 1980s, the US intelligence apparatus has supported the formation of the “Islamic brigades”. Propaganda purports to erase the history of Al Qaeda, drown the truth and “kill the evidence” on how this “outside enemy” was fabricated and transformed into “Enemy Number One”.

The US intelligence apparatus has created it own terrorist organizations. And at the same time, it creates its own terrorist warnings concerning the terrorist organizations which it has itself created. Meanwhile, a cohesive multibillion dollar counterterrorism program “to go after” these terrorist organizations has been put in place.

Instead of “war” or “state terrorism”, we are told of “humanitarian intervention” directed against “terrorists”.

Instead of “offence”, we are told of “defense” or “protection”.

Instead of “mass murder” we are told of “collateral damage”.

A good versus evil dichotomy prevails. The perpetrators of war are presented as the victims. Public opinion is misled: “We must fight against evil in all its forms as a means to preserving the Western way of life.”

Breaking the “Big Lie” which presents war as a humanitarian undertaking, means breaking a criminal project of global destruction, in which the quest for profit is the overriding force. This profit-driven military agenda destroys human values and transforms people into unconscious zombies. […]

READ @ http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28254

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* NURSES SAY PRIVATE EQUITY FIRM STARVING MASSACHUSETTS HOSPITALS

By Mark Brenner and Mischa Gaus, Labor Notes

Nurses sang sour carols today to the private equity firm they say is starving Massachusetts hospitals and pitting workers against each other.

Massachusetts nurses came to the headquarters of Cerberus Capital in Manhattan because Cerberus is the money behind Steward Health Systems, which took over the troubled Catholic hospital system Caritas last year and now is squeezing patients and workers for ultra-profits.

Hundreds of fellow members of National Nurses United, the Massachusetts nurses’ national union, sang and chanted outside Cerberus this afternoon.

Realizing that private equity firms specialize in stripping troubled businesses down and flipping them to new owners, the Massachusetts Nurses Association had insisted during the takeover on guarantees that practices and specialties could not be phased out.

Hospital workers did take concessions, but MNA secured a multi-employer pension plan and set the stage for negotiating with the chain collectively across four of its hospitals rather than one by one.

Now Steward is challenging MNA’s pension plan, closing down units, and threatening to shutter whole hospitals in order to get nurses to open up their contracts.

“Their whole pitch was to keep the community hospitals alive,” said Linda Tasker, a telemetry nurse at Merrimack Valley Hospital. “But they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and picking out the hospitals that will make the most money.”

Steward is also laying off many staff nurses—especially those at the top of the seniority list and pay scale.

Victoria Webster and Lynne Blanchard were two of 13 nurses fired in May at Carney hospital’s psychiatric unit in Dorchester. They say the firings, which included 19 mental health counselors, came after they blew the whistle on patient violence and poor staffing at the facility. Steward hired a crop of inexperienced new nurses, they say.

Cerberus, with reported holdings of about $20 billion, has a checkered history in health care: One of its companies held a contract at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where abysmal conditions for wounded veterans came to light in 2007. A Congressional oversight committee said the decision to privatize support services to the Cerberus outfit “led to a precipitous drop in support personnel.”

READ @ http://labornotes.org/print/2011/12/nurses-say-private-equity-starving-massachusetts-hospitals

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* EUROPEANS LEAVE EN MASSE AMIDST CRISIS

By PressTV

Tens of thousands of Europeans are migrating from their homelands, many heading to the southern hemisphere, as the continent sinks deeper into financial crisis.

While official statistics shows that Portugal, Greece and Ireland had the largest stream of immigrants leaving their country’s this year, evidence points to the same happening in Spain and Italy.

In 2010, 1.21 million Greeks have emigrated, according to the World Bank, equaling 10.8 percent of the population.

The top destinations for the Greek were Germany, Australia, Canada, Albania, Turkey, UK, Cyprus, and Belgium.

This year, 2,500 Greek citizens have moved to Australia and another 40,000 have “expressed interest” in moving south.

In Ireland, where 14.5 percent of the population is jobless, in the 12 months to April this year, 40,200 Irish passport-holders left, up from 27,700 the previous year.

According to the Ireland’s central statistics office, the number will increase to 50,000 by the end of year, many heading for Australia and the US.

Meanwhile, Portugal’s foreign ministry reports that at least 10,000 people have left for oil-rich Angola this year. The Portuguese are also heading to other former colonies, such as Mozambique and Brazil.

According to Brazilian government figures, the number of foreigners legally living in Brazil rose to 1.47 million in June, which 330,000 of them are Portuguese.

Since its formation, the European Union has been a haven for those seeking refuge from war, persecution and poverty in other parts of the world.

The worsening debt crisis, however, has forced European governments to adopt harsh austerity measures and tough economic reforms, which have made life much harder for ordinary citizens, creating a new stream of immigrants leaving the continent.

The debt crisis has also sparked several incidents of social unrest, with strikes in Greece against austerity measures turning bloody and a violent protest in Rome injuring more than 100 people.

Europe plunged into a financial crisis in early 2010. Insolvency now threatens heavily debt-ridden countries such as Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain

READ @ http://www.presstv.ir/detail/217012.html

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* GUNDERSEN: GOVERNMENT DUMPING RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL INTO TOKYO BAY — CONTAMINATING SEAWEED FOUND IN AREA (VIDEO)

By ENENEWS ADMIN

Transcript Summary at 26:00 in

  • The Japanese can’t dump the radioactive waste in the ocean because they signed a convention that prohibits dumping at sea
  • What they’re doing to get around all of this is they are dumping from dump trucks into Tokyo Bay… not at sea
  • Using it as landfill
  • So eventually all this radioactive material is not being monitored
  • It is certainly not being retained in any kind of geologic fashion
  • But in fact is getting dumped in Tokyo Bay

Perhaps this is related to today’s report from EX-SKF: Radioactive Nori in Tokyo Bay, Dec. 22, 2011:

  • The Fisheries Agency publishes the result of the survey of radioactive materials (iodine, cesium only) in marine products including seaweeds. In the latest result published on December 21 for the items reported since October, radioactive cesium has been found in dried “nori” in:
  • Kanagawa Prefecture – 1 sample, at 11 becquerels/kg
  • Chiba Prefecture – 6 samples, 11, 27, 25, 16.5, 5.6, 17.7 becquerels/kg respectively […]
  • I’ve never seen the news of radioactive cesium detection in nori in the mainstream media at all. Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about it. I’m curious to know how radioactive cesium traveled from Fukushima to Tokyo Bay. The government has claimed that the Kuroshio Current would prevent the spread of radioactive materials south of Ibaraki.
  • Judging by the reaction to my Japanese tweet, there are many others like me who didn’t know about the detection. […]

READ @ http://enenews.com/gundersen-govt-dumping-radioactive-material-into-tokyo-bay-radioactive-seaweed-found-in-area-video

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