The Rise Disaster Capitalism Again – Credit Default Swaps

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April 14, 2005
By Naomi Klein

Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.

Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, Pascual’s office keeps “high risk” countries on a “watch list” and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to “mobilize and deploy quickly” after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks–some, Pascual told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October, will have “pre-completed” contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken. Doing this paperwork in advance could “cut off three to six months in your response time.”

The plans Pascual’s teams have been drawing up in his little-known office in the State Department are about changing “the very social fabric of a nation,” he told CSIS. The office’s mandate is not to rebuild any old states, you see, but to create “democratic and market-oriented” ones. So, for instance (and he was just pulling this example out of his hat, no doubt), his fast-acting reconstructors might help sell off “state-owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy.” Sometimes rebuilding, he explained, means “tearing apart the old.”

Few ideologues can resist the allure of a blank slate–that was colonialism’s seductive promise: “discovering” wide-open new lands where utopia seemed possible. But colonialism is dead, or so we are told; there are no new places to discover, no terra nullius (there never was), no more blank pages on which, as Mao once said, “the newest and most beautiful words can be written.” There is, however, plenty of destruction–countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God). And where there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of “the terrible barrenness,” as a UN official recently described the devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.

“We used to have vulgar colonialism,” says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. “Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it ‘reconstruction.'”

It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites–Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti–a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand- dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision-making. Expert “democracy builders” lecture governments on the importance of transparency and “good governance,” yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.

Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh, the New York Times ran a distressing story reporting that “almost nothing seems to have been done to begin repairs and rebuilding.” The dispatch could easily have come from Iraq, where, as the Los Angeles Times just reported, all of Bechtel’s allegedly rebuilt water plants have started to break down, one more in an endless litany of reconstruction screw-ups. It could also have come from Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai recently blasted “corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable” foreign contractors for “squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid.” Or from Sri Lanka, where 600,000 people who lost their homes in the tsunami are still languishing in temporary camps. One hundred days after the giant waves hit, Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement in Negombo, Sri Lanka, sent out a desperate e-mail to colleagues around the world. “The funds received for the benefit of the victims are directed to the benefit of the privileged few, not to the real victims,” he wrote. “Our voices are not heard and not allowed to be voiced.”

But if the reconstruction industry is stunningly inept at rebuilding, that may be because rebuilding is not its primary purpose. According to Guttal, “It’s not reconstruction at all–it’s about reshaping everything.” If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them. Kumara, in another e-mail, warns that Sri Lanka is now facing “a second tsunami of corporate globalization and militarization,” potentially even more devastating than the first. “We see this as a plan of action amidst the tsunami crisis to hand over the sea and the coast to foreign corporations and tourism, with military assistance from the US Marines.”

As Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz designed and oversaw a strikingly similar project in Iraq: The fires were still burning in Baghdad when US occupation officials rewrote the investment laws and announced that the country’s state-owned companies would be privatized. Some have pointed to this track record to argue that Wolfowitz is unfit to lead the World Bank; in fact, nothing could have prepared him better for his new job. In Iraq, Wolfowitz was just doing what the World Bank is already doing in virtually every war-torn and disaster-struck country in the world–albeit with fewer bureaucratic niceties and more ideological bravado.

“Post-conflict” countries now receive 20-25 percent of the World Bank’s total lending, up from 16 percent in 1998–itself an 800 percent increase since 1980, according to a Congressional Research Service study. Rapid response to wars and natural disasters has traditionally been the domain of United Nations agencies, which worked with NGOs to provide emergency aid, build temporary housing and the like. But now reconstruction work has been revealed as a tremendously lucrative industry, too important to be left to the do-gooders at the UN. So today it is the World Bank, already devoted to the principle of poverty-alleviation through profit-making, that leads the charge.

And there is no doubt that there are profits to be made in the reconstruction business. There are massive engineering and supplies contracts ($10 billion to Halliburton in Iraq and Afghanistan alone); “democracy building” has exploded into a $2 billion industry; and times have never been better for public-sector consultants–the private firms that advise governments on selling off their assets, often running government services themselves as subcontractors. (Bearing Point, the favored of these firms in the United States, reported that the revenues for its “public services” division “had quadrupled in just five years,” and the profits are huge: $342 million in 2002–a profit margin of 35 percent.)

But shattered countries are attractive to the World Bank for another reason: They take orders well. After a cataclysmic event, governments will usually do whatever it takes to get aid dollars–even if it means racking up huge debts and agreeing to sweeping policy reforms. And with the local population struggling to find shelter and food, political organizing against privatization can seem like an unimaginable luxury.

Even better from the bank’s perspective, many war-ravaged countries are in states of “limited sovereignty”: They are considered too unstable and unskilled to manage the aid money pouring in, so it is often put in a trust fund managed by the World Bank. This is the case in East Timor, where the bank doles out money to the government as long as it shows it is spending responsibly. Apparently, this means slashing public-sector jobs (Timor’s government is half the size it was under Indonesian occupation) but lavishing aid money on foreign consultants the bank insists the government hire (researcher Ben Moxham writes, “In one government department, a single international consultant earns in one month the same as his twenty Timorese colleagues earn together in an entire year”).

In Afghanistan, where the World Bank also administers the country’s aid through a trust fund, it has already managed to privatize healthcare by refusing to give funds to the Ministry of Health to build hospitals. Instead it funnels money directly to NGOs, which are running their own private health clinics on three-year contracts. It has also mandated “an increased role for the private sector” in the water system, telecommunications, oil, gas and mining and directed the government to “withdraw” from the electricity sector and leave it to “foreign private investors.” These profound transformations of Afghan society were never debated or reported on, because few outside the bank know they took place: The changes were buried deep in a “technical annex” attached to a grant providing “emergency” aid to Afghanistan’s war-torn infrastructure–two years before the country had an elected government.

It has been much the same story in Haiti, following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In exchange for a $61 million loan, the bank is requiring “public-private partnership and governance in the education and health sectors,” according to bank documents–i.e., private companies running schools and hospitals. Roger Noriega, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has made it clear that the Bush Administration shares these goals. “We will also encourage the government of Haiti to move forward, at the appropriate time, with restructuring and privatization of some public sector enterprises,” he told the American Enterprise Institute on April 14, 2004.

These are extraordinarily controversial plans in a country with a powerful socialist base, and the bank admits that this is precisely why it is pushing them now, with Haiti under what approaches military rule. “The Transitional Government provide[s] a window of opportunity for implementing economic governance reforms…that may be hard for a future government to undo,” the bank notes in its Economic Governance Reform Operation Project agreement. For Haitians, this is a particularly bitter irony: Many blame multilateral institutions, including the World Bank, for deepening the political crisis that led to Aristide’s ouster by withholding hundreds of millions in promised loans. At the time, the Inter-American Development Bank, under pressure from the State Department, claimed Haiti was insufficiently democratic to receive the money, pointing to minor irregularities in a legislative election. But now that Aristide is out, the World Bank is openly celebrating the perks of operating in a democracy-free zone.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been imposing shock therapy on countries in various states of shock for at least three decades, most notably after Latin America’s military coups and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet many observers say that today’s disaster capitalism really hit its stride with Hurricane Mitch. For a week in October 1998, Mitch parked itself over Central America, swallowing villages whole and killing more than 9,000. Already impoverished countries were desperate for reconstruction aid–and it came, but with strings attached. In the two months after Mitch struck, with the country still knee-deep in rubble, corpses and mud, the Honduran congress initiated what the Financial Times called “speed sell-offs after the storm.” It passed laws allowing the privatization of airports, seaports and highways and fast-tracked plans to privatize the state telephone company, the national electric company and parts of the water sector. It overturned land-reform laws and made it easier for foreigners to buy and sell property. It was much the same in neighboring countries: In the same two months, Guatemala announced plans to sell off its phone system, and Nicaragua did likewise, along with its electric company and its petroleum sector.

All of the privatization plans were pushed aggressively by the usual suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had thrown their weight behind the [telecom] sale, making it a condition for release of roughly $47 million in aid annually over three years and linking it to about $4.4 billion in foreign-debt relief for Nicaragua.”

Now the bank is using the December 26 tsunami to push through its cookie-cutter policies. The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank’s emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities–more than 80 percent of the wave’s victims–the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms. As for the damaged public infrastructure, like roads and schools, bank documents recognize that rebuilding them “may strain public finances” and suggest that governments consider privatization (yes, they have only one idea). “For certain investments,” notes the bank’s tsunami-response plan, “it may be appropriate to utilize private financing.”

As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was–dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money.

In January Condoleezza Rice sparked a small controversy by describing the tsunami as “a wonderful opportunity” that “has paid great dividends for us.” Many were horrified at the idea of treating a massive human tragedy as a chance to seek advantage. But, if anything, Rice was understating the case. A group calling itself Thailand Tsunami Survivors and Supporters says that for “businessmen-politicians, the tsunami was the answer to their prayers, since it literally wiped these coastal areas clean of the communities which had previously stood in the way of their plans for resorts, hotels, casinos and shrimp farms. To them, all these coastal areas are now open land!”

Disaster, it seems, is the new terra nullius.

About Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). more…

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BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

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BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

By Jane Corbin, BBC News

A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.

The BBC’s Panorama programme has used US and Iraqi government sources to research how much some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

War profiteering

Henry Waxman

Waxman: “It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history.”

While Presdient George W Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

The president’s Democratic opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

Henry Waxman, who chairs the House committee on oversight and government reform, said: “The money that’s gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, it’s egregious.

“It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history.”

In the run-up to the invasion, one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth $7bn that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.

Unusually only Halliburton got to bid – and won.

Missing billions

The search for the missing billions also led the programme to a house in Acton in west London where Hazem Shalaan lived until he was appointed to the new Iraqi government as minister of defence in 2004.

He and his associates siphoned an estimated $1.2bn out of the ministry. They bought old military equipment from Poland but claimed for top-class weapons.

Meanwhile they diverted money into their own accounts.

Judge Radhi al-Radhi of Iraq’s Commission for Public Integrity investigated.

Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi

Judge Radhi al Radhi: “I believe these people are criminals.”

He said: “I believe these people are criminals.

“They failed to rebuild the Ministry of Defence, and as a result the violence and the bloodshed went on and on – the murder of Iraqis and foreigners continues and they bear responsibility.”

Mr Shalaan was sentenced to two jail terms but he fled the country.

He said he was innocent and that it was all a plot against him by pro-Iranian MPs in the government.

There is an Interpol arrest warrant out for him but he is on the run – using a private jet to move around the globe.

He stills owns commercial properties in the Marble Arch area of London.

Panorama: Daylight Robbery will be on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday 10 June 2008.
Published: 2008/06/10 17:25:48 GMT

Scott Ritter on War With Iran

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Scott Ritter on War With Iran

By Scott Ritter, Dec 19, 2007

Scott Ritter

The Truthdig columnist (and WMD expert) warns that war with Iran could be inevitable, despite the National Intelligence Estimate report that says Iran dismantled its nuclear program in 2003. Bush, Ritter argues, doesn’t let facts get in the way of what he wants.

Listen to this interview. (PodCast)

Transcript:

James Harris: This is Truthdig. James Harris sitting down with Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector in Iraq. And today we’re talking about the latest report from the National Intelligence Estimate. The report says that Iran is not, as of mid-July, in the nuclear weapons business. Scott Ritter-I think, wisely-told me to look at this report with caution and that this means nothing to the White House, that they [members of the Bush team] are about regime change. Please explain.

Scott Ritter: Well, I think it’s important to assess patterns of behavior. When we take a look at the Bush administration and how it has sought to implement its policies of regional transformation in the Middle East, inclusive, these policies include the notion of regime change, removing unpopular regimes, regimes that the United States unilaterally declares incompatible with its vision, removing them from power. This includes Saddam Hussein and the theocracy in Tehran. They have demonstrated a tendency to exaggerate threats in the form of weapons of mass destruction to exploit the ignorance of the American public and the fear that is derived from this ignorance. They did so with Iraq. They made a case for war based upon weapons of mass destruction that they fail to back up with anything other than rhetoric. I can say, as a former weapons inspector who ran the intelligence programs from ’91 to ’98, that we had fundamentally disarmed Iraq, so for the president to say that there’s this new weapons capability, he would have to demonstrate some new information, and he failed to do so. And that’s why I said, unless he provides this new data, that there isn’t the WMD threat that he said. The same thing can be said about Iran.

Harris: Why should we be cautious about what President Bush is telling us right now?

Ritter: Here’s a president who has said Iran is a threat, a threat in the form of a nuclear weapons program. But for some time now I have been saying, “Where’s the beef, Mr. President? …”

Harris: Hmm.

Ritter: ” … I hear the rhetoric, but your pattern of behavior leads me to believe that you might be exaggerating the threat, fabricating the threat, misrepresenting data to achieve your policy objective of regime change, trying to exploit the ignorance of the American public and the fear derived from this ignorance.” Now we have a National Intelligence Estimate that is released that says, “Time out. There hasn’t been a nuclear weapons program in Iran since 2003.” Now I need to make a point here: I continue to say that there’s never been a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And the National Intelligence Estimate doesn’t provide any evidence to sustain its assertion that there was a nuclear program. But be that as it may, they’re saying that the concept of Iran today pursuing nuclear weapons is a fallacy. There’s no data to promote this. Now, if we lived in world where government functioned the way it’s supposed to when it comes to policy-that is, you get your intelligence, you look at it, you examine it, you assess it, and you say, “OK, how do we now interact with the target, the nation, in this case, Iran?”-that’s normal. That’s cause-and-effect relationship.

Harris: Sure.

Ritter: But what we have is, the administration has already made up its mind about what it wants to do with Iran and had been fabricating a case based upon a nuclear weapons program that the U.S. intelligence community now says doesn’t exist today. Do you think there will be a change in policy? And the answer, of course, is no, because they’ve got the cart before the horse. They put the policy out in front. Inconveniently, the intelligence community didn’t back them on the nuclear weapons issue. …

Harris: But you say Iran’s status as a terrorist organization also plays into this. How so?

Ritter: Not only does the Bush administration continue to say that Iran is a terrorist state, that it supports terrorists who were directly or indirectly involved in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The United States Senate has passed a resolution that says the same thing and certifies the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command is a terrorist organization. So anybody who thinks for a second this National Intelligence Estimate somehow retards the ability of the Bush administration to engage in military action against Iran, you’re sadly mistaken. The Bush administration’s policy has been made. This estimate was not used to make that policy, and as you yourself have reflected, the president’s not going to let this estimate get in the way of his continuing to articulate Iran as a threat.

Harris: Well, Scott, if you’re right, that’s a high crime. That’s wanton disregard for American wishes, disregard for any of the national intelligence agencies that supposedly cover our back.

Ritter: It’s wanton disregard for everything we stand for as a nation. We elect representatives to government to do our bidding. We expect them to operate within a framework of due process set forth by the rule of law. We might call this the Constitution or laws derived from the Constitution. We speak of checks and balances where we have three separate but equal branches of government, and when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy, really, two. The judiciary takes a step aside and it becomes the executive and the legislative branch. And there’s a system, a bureaucratic system there-the State Department, the CIA, the Defense Department-that is supposed to weigh in on these issues. And like I said, you want to gather the facts, examine the reality, and then make the policy. What we have here is an administration that, ideologically, has committed itself to certain policy actions divorced from what we’ll call reality, early on in the Bush administration.

Harris: Hmm.

Ritter: We heard people speak of a new reality, that the Bush administration can make its own reality. I’m not joking. Paul O’Neill, former secretary of the Treasury, who sat in Cabinet meetings where this was said. And so we now take a look at a situation where the president and his administration are continuing to march forward on a policy direction, regardless of what the data says. Am I jaded? No. I’m alarmed, as much as you are, but I think it’s imperative that we address this responsibly by first realistically acknowledging what’s occurring. There’s too many pundits out there today who are raising the flag of victory, saying, “Aha! Because of this NIE, this National Intelligence Estimate, war’s off the table. We don’t have to worry about it. The Bush plan has been undermined.” It most certainly hasn’t, because the Bush administration has never shown a tendency to respect the normal system of government. This estimate won’t have an impact at all.

Harris: Is it likely that George Bush will look at this report, throw it in the garbage and continue on, business as usual? The business, in this case: engage hostilely with Iran.

Ritter: The answer is yes. He is engaging hostilely with Iran. Remember: I’ve been saying for some time now that the Bush administration is taking the nuclear issue off the front burner. The CIA’s estimate follows on the heels of a finding by the International Atomic Energy Agency back in September that said the same thing: There’s no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. And this was one of their final analyses. They’ve been saying this for some time. The Bush administration has been, for many months now, having a hard time selling Iran’s nuclear threat as a causa bella. This is why they’ve shifted to terror and terrorism. The Bush administration is going to use the gift it was given by the U.S. Senate, this target list of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command to serve as the cornerstone of its target list when it comes to launching a limited military operation against Iran that’ll probably take place some time in the spring. This is the plan, and the NIE-I don’t think-has changed this one iota. Now, it could. Let’s say Congress woke up all of a sudden. Let’s say Congress said, “Oh my goodness, this president’s been pulling our chain, been lying to us, hyping this thing up. There’s no threat,” and Congress intervenes in a way that it’s refused to do so to date, then maybe, maybe this war could be stopped. But if Congress continues to turn a blind eye or worse, as in the case of the Senate resolution, to facilitate Bush’s hyping of Iran as a threat, I think war is inevitable.

Harris: They’ve been asleep for five years now. Why would they wake up now? Why …

Ritter: [Unintelligible.]

Harris: Yeah. Hillary Clinton voted “yes.” She’s a U.S. senator, she’s running for president, and she said, “Yes, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is indeed a terrorist organization.” Does this further the idea that “the Democrats and the Republicans-you know what?-they’re all in bed together”?

Ritter: It furthers the notion that front-runners are all in it together. The bottom line is, Hillary is getting money from the same sources that fund Giuliani. And if you take a look at their foreign policies, they’re pretty much one and the same. They’re very aggressive foreign policies. They’re based upon the premise of a unitary executive, that the president has the right to pre-emptively launch military strikes against threats that emerge, and maybe do so in a manner which negates Congress. There’s no difference between Hillary and George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani when it comes to issues of this sort. There’s other Democrats out there who of course take a more nuanced, I would say responsible, point of view. Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, an outstanding candidate. But he’s not getting money from the same sources that are underwriting Hillary and Giuliani and others.

Harris: Scott, tell me what you think our president should be all about these days.

Ritter: The president should govern in accordance with the Constitution. What we have here is a situation that has existed for some time now where successive presidential administrations, frustrated by the inadequacies of democracy, so to speak-.

Harris: [Laughs.]

Ritter: It’s an ugly process. It takes time. It’s not convenient. And presidents want to wield their executive authority. And so, especially in time of war, they’ve created this concept-and it’s totally at odds with the Constitution-of the unitary executive where the president has unilateral powers in times of war. Somebody like Ron Paul, I think, somebody who knows the Constitution, takes a look at this notion of unitary executive authority and says, “Humbug. That’s ridiculous.” And I agree with him. I think it’s imperative that whoever becomes president understands that there are constitutional restrictions on what the president can and can’t do. I also think it’s imperative that Congress start reading the Constitution and flexing its constitutional muscles. That there is a role for Congress to play. It’s called oversight. And that Congress can retard irresponsible policy, that the president doesn’t get a blank check when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy. But, as you mentioned, we don’t have a Congress that seems to be enlightened in this fashion, and outside of a Ron Paul we don’t have too many people who have announced themselves as candidates for the president who will publicly commit to reversing this trend towards a unitary executive.

Harris: Before we move on, what are you optimistic about as we close the year and some of us being to make resolutions? Having told us before, there are no weapons of mass destruction, having been vociferous about the fact that the Bush administration is not doing their job, what keeps you optimistic in all of this? How do you not become jaded? How do you not become disillusioned?

Ritter: I’m a student of history. I allow myself to go back and examine the history of the United States, and I recognize that throughout our history our nation has been faced with serious problems, and yet we overcame these problems. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I’m a firm believer in the resiliency of the American people and our system of government because it’s founded in the Constitution. And as long as we respect that Constitution and abide by that Constitution, I’m comfortable with the fact that we will recover. It’s not going to happen overnight. It won’t happen in the next decade. I’ve said-. This invasion of Iraq has set in motion events that are going to take decades to cure. And so I’m not optimistic about 2008, 2009, 2010; I’m optimistic about 2020, that America will heal itself. But we’re not going to heal ourselves without a fight. That doesn’t mean that I can just sit back and throw my feet up and say, “I’ll just wait until the time passes.” No. We’ll heal ourselves because we will wake up collectively. Congress will reawaken. The presidency will be brought in line with the Constitution, but not without a fight. And so 2008 is going to be a fight, 2009 is going to be a fight. We have to fight, because if we don’t, then I have no confidence whatsoever in America healing itself.

Harris: Tell me a little about your dig. You’re leading a dig on Truthdig, Truthdig.com. And it’s called “Calling Out Idiot America.” Can you share with us some of what you’re saying? Your thesis, if you will?

Ritter: That was the first piece I wrote. I was approached by Mr. Scheer [Robert Scheer, Truthdig editor] and Ms. Kaufman [Zuade Kaufman, Truthdig publisher] to write for Truthdig. I thought probably the best thing to do is to set the tone of how I was going to approach this, which wasn’t going to be a kinder, gentler dig; it was going to be an in-your-face dig, but not one that was irresponsible. I chose, right off the bat, the issue of Iraq. I say we have a responsibility to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are over there and a responsibility to our government to be engaged on Iraq. But, sadly, most Americans were ill equipped. I was driving down- I had just talked to the publishers and the editors of Truthdig and I was driving down from L.A. to San Diego, formulating this concept of-how do I explain Shia, Kurds and Sunni to people? And I was listening to the radio and the Green Day song came on, “Calling Out to Idiot America.” I said, “That’s a great title. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to do.” With all due respect to the American people, we’re 300 million people, technologically advanced, but we’re probably the most ignorant people in the world …

Harris: How do you mean? How do you mean?

Ritter: … so I have no qualms about calling Americans idiots when it comes to issues like Iraq, Iran and other areas around the world that somehow in our nationalistic-. We thump ourselves on the chest and say we have a right to intervene, but when you ask people to talk about the reality of that country, we know nothing about it, so we’re basically sticking our nose in an area that we’re ignorant of.

Harris: Mm-hmm. How do we cure that? Because I think that’s the main reason we can’t make change. At least that’s one speculation: that we are thousands of miles away from where the action is going down. We’re disconnected. We’re over here living our lives, we’re doing our own thing and there’s a war going on. Maybe that’s why we aren’t up in arms collectively.

Ritter: It’s a huge part of the problem, the complacency of a society that has been dumbed down by the narcotic of consumerism. If you just think about it, we wrapped ourselves in this cocoon of comfort and so long as the powers that be keep us waddling down a relative path of prosperity, we don’t want to rock the boat. But the fact is, we must empower ourselves with knowledge and information. That’s why I’m grateful to Truthdig for giving me a chance to write, because I view it as an outstanding forum for informing people and for having people empowered with knowledge and information so that we make informed decisions. We go back. We talk about our system of government. It doesn’t work if we, the people, are divorced. And if you accept, as I do, that the Constitution of the United States is the foundation of our government, that preamble says that we, the people of the United States of America, we shouldn’t take that lightly. The Supreme Court has said, because of that preamble, the Constitution belongs to us; we are the defenders of the Constitution. And so it’s imperative that we, the people, get empowered and we empower ourselves through the acquisition of knowledge and information and then assert ourselves onto a system of government. But it’s going to require people to stand up and shake off this apathy, as I said, the narcotic of consumerism brings the bear. I love Christmas. I help my Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah. I think there’s nothing wrong with this time period, but we also need to reflect on how far we’ve shifted away from a holiday that celebrates human beings coming together and instead become involved in a holiday that’s about conspicuous spending.

Harris: Yeah.

Ritter: We need to recognize that there’s an enemy out there. And if we look in the mirror long enough, we’ll realize that the enemy is us.

Harris: I think you make a good point. Some of my busy friends would say, “You know what? What time do I have to make a difference? Is there anything the average Joe can do to help affect change? Besides writing the senator and writing the congressman, what else can you do?

Ritter: The first thing is to recognize that there’s a need. That’s step one. You have to say, “There is a need for change.” The next thing, after that, is to allocate time. I keep hearing people say, “I don’t have time.” Last night was Monday Night Football. Heckuva game, by the way. I sat in a bar with my friends. These are good guys; they’re not stupid. But they keep telling me over and over again, “That foreign policy stuff is too complicated, man. How do you expect us to get our fingers wrapped around it? You’ve been living this for your life, but we don’t do this. We have jobs and everything.” And I said, “That’s fair enough.” But then we’re watching the game, and they start criticizing play calls. They say, “You know, if they’d given the ball to the fullback on this play, statistically speaking on second down through the guard and tackle off the right side, he’s going to gain 3.5 yards.” I said, “How do you know that?” They go, “Oh, we studied the stats.” I’ll tell you what: If you’ve got enough time to study sports stats so that you know this kind of information, you can make that kind of analysis, you’ve got enough time to study American foreign policy and have an informed opinion about places where Americans are dying.

Harris: You would agree, then, that the more informed, and the more masses, the more people that are informed, the better off we are. We benefit from that, don’t we?

Ritter: It’s the only way we can be. It’s not one of these things that we would say is an “elective.” We don’t get to opt out of this one. If you call yourself an American citizen, you have to be informed. It’s a responsibility of citizenship. It’s not something you can opt into or opt out of. If you opt out of it, turn in your passport and leave my country. If you want to be a citizen in America, you’ve got to opt in and say: “Hey! I’m here. I count. I’m relevant, and I’m going to be informed.”

Harris: I think it is the job of every American to know something about foreign policy and something about government and be able to talk intelligently about these subjects, because that only means a better public. So I agree with you there. But we are preaching that Americans need to participate, yet the chief American is not participating. He’s not doing the things that we’re preaching Americans should do. So then, how, at this time, can we mount an effort to overcome the backward thinking that’s coming out of the White House?

Ritter: One of the reasons why the executive headed down the path towards unilateral executive power is that they got frustrated with the slow pace of democracy. I think the first thing we have to recognize is that the American people can’t allow themselves to be frustrated by the slow process of democracy. The other thing they have to recognize is that the rule of law means nothing unless the law is enforced. And we have a president who is showing a wanton disregard for the rule of law. There are constitutional remedies for executives who behave in this manner. It’s called impeachment. And I’m a big fan of the American public letting Congress know that impeachment is on the table. It’s Congress’ job, not to impeach, per se, but to investigate. And we have clear examples in the case of Iraq of the potential of wrongdoing that Congress has yet to investigate in a satisfactory manner. And now we’re taking a look at Iran. If we speak of holding the president to account for his actions, how about starting to hold Congress accountable for their failure to act in accordance with the will of the people? And what I’m talking about is a Nancy Pelosi and a Harry Reed, these “great” Democrats. And I say “great” in quotations because I don’t think they’re great at all. These Democrats who were elected to office by the will of the people and who have said that they are going to do nothing to tie the hands of this president when it comes to issues such as Iran and Iraq. And the last thing they’re going to do is defend the Constitution by holding the president accountable for his failure to abide by the Constitution. It’s time we started holding these people accountable as well.

Harris: Certainly refreshing to hear that you still maintain optimism and that you still have belief.

Ritter: I have belief in the American people. The government, as long as it’s reflective of the will of the people within the framework of the Constitution, I’ll continuously eye it in a suspicious fashion. But the government we have in play today? No, I don’t have any faith in it. It needs to be changed, and this is our collective responsibility to elect people to office who will do our bidding in accordance with the Constitution and who will be held accountable to us. Too many times we vote, but then that’s it. We don’t do the second half of the representative democracy equation, which is to hold them to account.

Harris: Yeah. If we keep calling the people, maybe they will answer one day. I believe they have to answer.

Ritter: I agree.

Harris: Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, is also the author of “Iraq Confidential” and the first man I heard say there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Scott Ritter, thank you for joining us today on Truthdig.

Ritter: Thank you for having me.

Harris: All right then. For Scott Ritter, this is James Harris, and this is Truthdig.

Seattle Activists Aim To Put Israel Divestment on City’s Agenda

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By Rebecca Spence
Wed. May 21, 2008

Los Angeles – If a local activist group has its way, Seattle could soon become the first major American city to divest from companies that provide material support to Israel.

Seattle Divest From War and Occupation, a citizens group, is angling to get an initiative on the ballot that would mandate city pension funds to divest from businesses that profit from the Iraq War, as well as from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since late March, when initiative I-97 was approved for petition circulation by the City Attorney’s Office, local Seattle Jewish groups have coalesced to beat back the nascent effort.

The ballot initiative comes as Jewish groups and their supporters emerged victorious in recent weeks from a hard-fought Israel divestment battle with The United Methodist Church. Mainstream Jewish groups undertook a major lobbying effort – at both the grass-roots and leadership levels – to keep five anti-Israel divestment measures from passing at the Methodists’ plenum early this month. Previous efforts to stymie Israel divestment measures proposed by another mainline Protestant church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), also proved successful.

This latest battle, dealing at the local level, could prove to be a different sort of testing ground. While passage of the Seattle ballot initiative would not have significant economic consequences for the Jewish state, Jewish groups fear that its repercussions could be far-reaching.

“Its symbolic impact would be fairly large, because it’s a public body of civic employees taking a stand on an unresolved issue,” said Rabbi Anson Laytner, executive director of the Greater Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “It could snowball to other cities, to other institutions. That is why we pushed very hard when first the Presbyterian Church, and later The United Methodist Church, also considered similar divestment activities.”

Already, Seattle-area Jewish groups have met with some initial success. A lawsuit filed May 13 by the Washington Israel Business Council, a statewide group, and StandWithUs, a national pro-Israel activist group that has been active on college campuses, resulted in the initiative’s language being amended. The coalition of Jewish groups – which also includes the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and the AJCommittee – raised concerns that the language of the initiative’s title and preliminary text did not adequately make clear that I-97 targeted Israel in addition to Iraq.

“They clearly put Iraq up first, with the recognition that the Iraq War was very unpopular,” said Robert Jacobs, regional director of StandWithUs Northwest. “And they downplayed the anti-Israel aspect because they would get fewer signatures if people knew they were signing a petition against Israel.”

But the initiative’s backers contend that their intent was not to mislead. A spokeswoman for the group, Judith Kolokoff, who is Jewish, said that the initiative’s aim is simply to divest Seattle pension funds from companies turning a profit from the Iraq War and from Israel’s occupation.

“It is a single issue,” Kolokoff said. “It is really an issue of stopping investing in companies that are directly involved in the wars and occupations in the Middle East that have not been authorized by the United Nations.”

The initiative specifically targets Halliburton, the military contractor that has reaped billions from its work in Iraq, and Caterpillar, which has famously provided Israel with bulldozers, some of which have been used in the destruction of Palestinian homes, Kolokoff added. The proposed measure also calls for the city to withdraw any investment in Israeli bonds in the event that the Jewish state attacks Iran.

The initiative’s backers have six months to collect 18,000 signatures in order for the initiative to appear on the ballot. If sufficient signatures are collected quickly enough, I-97 could potentially appear on the November general election ballot. Thus far, Kolokoff said, the group has collected “several thousand” signatures.

Local Jewish leaders say that if the initiative makes it to the ballot, they are prepared to launch a large-scale campaign to defeat it. Already, StandWithUs is collecting donations to go toward such a campaign. “We’re hoping that the initiative supporters are unable to get their 18,000 signatures and that Seattle residents, by not signing the petition, make a statement that the Seattle community supports Israel,” Jacobs said. “But if they do get their signatures, then the community here is fully prepared to respond to the challenge and will try to make a case in opposition to the ballot.”

Homes foreclosure more than doubled in 1Q from 2007

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Tuesday April 29, 6:18 am ET, by Alex Veiga, AP Business Writer

Number of US homes facing foreclosure jumps 112 percent in first quarter from 2007 LOS ANGELES (AP) — The number of U.S. homes heading toward foreclosure more than doubled in the first quarter from a year earlier, as weakening property values and tighter lending left many homeowners powerless to prevent homes from being auctioned to the highest bidder, a research firm said Monday.

Among the hardest hit states were Nevada, Florida and, in particular, California, where Stockton led the nation with a foreclosure rate that was 6.6 times the national average, Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc. said.

Nationwide, 649,917 homes received at least one foreclosure-related filing in the first three months of the year, up 112 percent from 306,722 during the same period last year, RealtyTrac said.

The latest tally also represents an increase of 23 percent from the fourth quarter of last year.

RealtyTrac monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions.

All told, one in every 194 households received a foreclosure filing during the quarter. Foreclosure filings increased in all but four states.

The most recent quarter marked the seventh consecutive quarter of rising foreclosure activity, RealtyTrac noted.

“What would normally alleviate the foreclosure situation in a normal market is people starting to buy properties again,” said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s vice president of marketing.

However, the unavailability of loans for people without perfect credit and a significant down payment is slowing the process, he said.

“It’s a cycle that’s going to be difficult to break, and we’re certainly not at the breaking point just yet,” Sharga added.

The surge in foreclosure filings also suggests that much-touted campaigns by lawmakers and the mortgage lending industry aimed at helping at-risk homeowners aren’t paying off.

Hope Now, a Bush administration-organized mortgage industry group, said nearly 503,000 homeowners had received mortgage aid in the first quarter. Most of the aid was temporary, however.

Pennsylvania was a notable standout in the latest foreclosure data. The number of homes in the state to receive a foreclosure-related filing plunged 24.4 percent from a year earlier.

Sharga credited the decline to the state’s foreclosure relief measures, noting that cities such as Philadelphia put in place a moratorium on all foreclosure auctions for April and implemented other measures aimed at helping slow foreclosures.

Nearly 157,000 properties were repossessed by lenders nationwide during the quarter, according to RealtyTrac.

The flood of foreclosed properties on the market has contributed to falling or stagnating home values, yet lenders have yet to implement heavy discounts on repossessed homes, Sharga said.

Nevada posted the worst foreclosure rate in the nation, with one in every 54 households receiving a foreclosure-related notice, nearly four times the national rate.

The number of properties with a filing increased 137 percent over the same quarter last year but only rose 3 percent from the fourth quarter.

California had the most properties facing foreclosure at 169,831, an increase of 213 percent from a year earlier. It also posted the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country, with one in every 78 households receiving a foreclosure-related notice.

California metro areas accounted for six of the 10 U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rates in the first quarter, RealtyTrac said.

Many of the areas — including Stockton, Riverside-San Bernardino, Fresno, Sacramento and Bakersfield — are located in inland areas of the state where many first-time buyers overextend themselves financially to buy properties that have plunged in value since the market peak.

“California still hasn’t hit bottom,” Sharga said. “We have a lot of California homes that are in early stages of default that may not be salvageable because either there’s no market or financing available, or both.”

Arizona had the third-highest foreclosure rate, with one in every 95 households reporting a foreclosure filing in the quarter. A total of 27,404 homes reported at least one filing, up nearly 245 percent from a year ago and up 45 percent from the last quarter of 2007.

Florida had 87,893 homes reporting at least one foreclosure filing, a 178 percent jump from the first quarter of last year and a 17 percent hike from the fourth quarter last year. That translates into a foreclosure rate of one in every 97 households.

The other states among the top 10 with the highest foreclosure rates were Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

RealtyTrac Inc.: http://www.realtytrac.com

What The Iraq War Is Really About and what it has Cost?

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By Paul Craig Roberts, 4-24-8

The Bush Regime has quagmired America into a sixth year of war in Afghanistan and Iraq with no end in sight. The cost of these wars of aggression is horrendous. Official US combat casualties stand at 4,538 dead. Officially, 29,780 US troops have been wounded in Iraq. Experts have argued that these numbers are understatements. Regardless, these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg.

On April 17, 2008, AP News reported that a new study released by the RAND Corporation concludes that “some 300,000 U.S. troops are suffering from major depression or post traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 320,000 received brain injuries.”

On April 21, 2008, OpEdNews reported that an internal email from Gen. Michael J. Kussman, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Administration, to Ira Katz, head of mental health at the VA, confirms a McClatchy Newspaper report that 126 veterans per week commit suicide. To the extent that the suicides are attributable to the war, more than 500 deaths should be added to the reported combat fatalities each month.

Turning to Iraqi deaths, expert studies support as many as 1.2 million dead Iraqis, almost entirely civilians. Another 2 million Iraqis have fled their country, and there are 2 million displaced Iraqis within Iraq.

Afghan casualties are unknown.

Both Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered unconscionable civilian deaths and damage to housing, infrastructure and environment. Iraq is afflicted with depleted uranium and open sewers.

Then there are the economic costs to the US. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the full cost of the invasion and attempted occupation of Iraq to be between $3 trillion and $5 trillion. The dollar price of oil and gasoline have tripled, and the dollar has lost value against other currencies, declining dramatically even against the lowly Thai baht. Before Bush launched his wars of aggression, one US dollar was worth 45 baht. Today the dollar is only worth 30 baht.

The US cannot afford these costs. Prior to his resignation last month, US Comptroller General David Walker reported that the accumulated unfunded liabilities of the US government total $53 trillion dollars. The US government cannot cover these liabilities. The Bush Regime even has to borrow the money from foreigners to pay for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no more certain way to bankrupt the country and dethrone the dollar as world reserve currency.

The moral costs are perhaps the highest. All of the deaths, injuries, and economic costs to the US and its victims are due entirely to lies told by the President and Vice President of the US, by the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of State, and, of course, by the media, including the “liberal” New York Times. All of these lies were uttered in behalf of an undeclared agenda. “Our” government has still not told “we the people” the real reasons “our” government invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.
Instead, the American sheeple have accepted a succession of transparent lies: weapons of mass destruction, al Qaeda connections and complicity in the 9/11 attack, overthrowing a dictator and “bringing democracy” to Iraqis.

The great moral American people would rather believe government lies than to acknowledge the government’s crimes and to hold the government accountable.

There are many effective ways in which a moral people could protest. Consider investors, for example. Clearly Halliburton and military suppliers are cleaning up. Investors flock to the stocks in order to participate in the rise in value from booming profits. But what would a moral people do? Wouldn’t they boycott the stocks of the companies that are profiting from the Bush Regime’s war crimes?

If the US invaded Iraq for any of the succession of reasons the Bush Regime has given, why would the US have spent $750 million on a fortress “embassy” with anti-missile systems and its own electricity and water systems spread over 104 acres? No one has ever seen or heard of such an embassy before. Clearly, this “embassy” is constructed as the headquarters of an occupying colonial ruler.

The fact is that Bush invaded Iraq with the intent of turning Iraq into an American colony. The so-called government of al-Maliki is not a government. Maliki is the well paid front man for US colonial rule. Maliki’s government does not exist outside the protected Green Zone, the headquarters of the American occupation.

If colonial rule were not the intent, the US would not be going out of its way to force al Sadr’s 60,000 man militia into a fight. Sadr is a Shi’ite who is a real Iraqi leader, perhaps the only Iraqi who could end the sectarian conflict and restore some unity to Iraq. As such he is regarded by the Bush Regime as a danger to the American puppet Maliki. Unless the US is able to purchase or rig the upcoming Iraqi election, Sadr is likely to emerge as the dominant figure. This would be a highly unfavorable development for the Bush Regime’s hopes of establishing its colonial rule behind the facade of a Maliki fake democracy. Rather than work with Sadr in order to extract themselves from a quagmire, the Americans will be doing everything possible to assassinate Sadr.

Why does the Bush Regime want to rule Iraq? Some speculate that it is a matter of “peak oil.” Oil supplies are said to be declining even as demand for oil multiplies from developing countries such as China. According to this argument, the US decided to seize Iraq to insure its own oil supply.

This explanation is problematic. Most US oil comes from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela. The best way for the US to insure its oil supplies would be to protect the dollar’s role as world reserve currency. Moreover, $3-5 trillion would have purchased a tremendous amount of oil. Prior to the US invasions, the US oil import bill was running less than $100 billion per year. Even in 2006 total US imports from OPEC countries was $145 billion, and the US trade deficit with OPEC totaled $106 billion. Three trillion dollars could have paid for US oil imports for 30 years; five trillion dollars could pay the US oil bill for a half century had the Bush Regime preserved a sound dollar.

The more likely explanation for the US invasion of Iraq is the neoconservative Bush Regime’s commitment to the defense of Israeli territorial expansion. There is no such thing as a neoconservative who is not allied with Israel. Israel hopes to steal all of the West Bank and southern Lebanon for its territorial expansion. An American colonial regime in Iraq not only buttresses Israel from attack, but also can pressure Syria and Iran from giving support to the Palestinians and Lebanese. The Iraqi war is a war for Israeli territorial expansion. Americans are dying and bleeding to death financially for Israel. Bush’s “war on terror” is a hoax that serves to cover US intervention in the Middle East in behalf of “greater Israel.”

Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider’s Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.

Where American Tax Dollars are Spent?

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Do Americans know where their Tax Dollars are being spent? If 63% cannot find Iraq on the world map, probably safe to assume they cannot accurately answer this question.

How the Pie is Divided;

1. 42.2% = Military Spending

The biggest chunk of your money — 42.2 cents of every income-tax dollar — goes to fund the military. Over half of it, or 28.7 cents, goes to pay for the current war and military, 10 cents goes to interest payments on past and present military debt and 3.5 cents is allocated for Veterans’ benefits.

2. 22.1% = Health

The second largest amount is spent on health care initiatives, including Medicare

3. 10.2% Interest on non-Military Debt

About ten cents of every federal tax dollar is spent on interest for non-military related national debt.

4. 8.7% = Anti-Poverty Programs

These funds go to a variety of programs to help the underprivileged. They include food assistance, supplemental income for those with low incomes and assistance for foster care and adoption programs.

5. 4.4% = Education, Training & Social Services

These funds go towards paying for elementary, secondary and higher education. Other beneficiaries include employment training centers.

6. 3.9% = Government & Law Enforcement

This area covers a variety of programs, including the cost of running the justice system, the cost of running the Social Security program and federal employee retirement and disability.

7. 3.3% = Housing & Community Development

This money is spent on housing assistance and community development programs

8. 2.6% = Environment, Energy & Science

Spending in this area goes to environmental programs, energy exploration and any programs that deal with general science, technology and space.

9. 1.5% = Transportation, Commerce & Agriculture

One-and-a-half cents of every federal income tax dollar is going towards agriculture and transportation spending

10. 1.0% = International Affairs

The smallest amount of your tax dollars goes to foreign affairs, including foreign humanitarian assistance, conduct of foreign affairs and international financial programs.

The median income family in the United States paid $2,628 in federal income taxes in 2007. Here is how that money was spent:

  • Military $1,109
  • Health $581
  • Interest on Non-military Debt $269
  • Anti-Poverty Programs $228
  • Education, Training & Social Services $115
  • Government & Law Enforcement $102
  • Housing & Community Development $88
  • Environment, Energy & Science $69
  • Transportation, Commerce & Agriculture $40
  • International Affairs $27

uncle sam wants out

Read the Full Report from the The National Priorities Project

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