Thursday, April 29, 2010

U.S. House subcommittee has hearings on legality of drone attacks.

Not a very impressive article. The arguments against drone use are not advanced at any length. The defense is a joke. As is inevitably the case the argument starts out with the inevitable move of framing their use as part of a war. No one questions that according to the article. No doubt there is a war on drugs, a war on crime, and a war on poverty. Lets use drones on the same premise in those areas. The are some assumptions that are just not to be examined since the whole house of cards would fall down. This is from CNN so it is not too surprising the reporting is so bland and uncritical.

House subcommittee hearing questions legality of drone attacks

By the CNN Wire Staff

NEW: ACLU calls drone attacks part of illegal program for U.S. to target, kill terror suspects
Since President Obama took office, number of drone attacks has risen
U.S. law professors debate legality of such attacks during a House subcommittee hearing
Biggest controversy: legality of strikes conducted by CIA, as opposed to U.S. military

Washington (CNN) -- Congress delved Wednesday into the politically explosive issue of unmanned drone attacks, questioning the legality of operations increasingly used to combat al Qaeda and Taliban militants in countries such as Pakistan.

In the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, unmanned aircraft -- or drones -- attacked militant targets 45 times.

Since President Obama took office, the numbers have risen sharply: 51 last year and 29 so far this year.

Most attacks have targeted suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan. While the United States is the only country in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones -- which are controlled remotely -- U.S. officials normally do not comment on suspected drone strikes.

Based on a CNN count, all of the 29 drone strikes this year have hit locations in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, along the 1,500-mile porous border that Pakistan shares with Afghanistan.

Several top U.S. law professors debated the legality of the attacks in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, the second such hearing held by the subcommittee within the past two months.

"The United States is committed to following international legal standards," said Rep. John Tierney, D-Massachusetts, the subcommittee's chairman. "Our interpretation of how these standards apply to the use of unmanned weapons systems will set an example for other nations to follow."

The four legal scholars invited to testify, however, offered sharply contrasting views of what constitutes an acceptable legal standard. The biggest controversy appeared to surround the legality of strikes conducted by CIA operatives, as opposed to strikes by the U.S. military.

"Only a combatant -- a lawful combatant -- may carry out the use of killing with combat drones," said Mary Ellen O'Connell, a professor from the University of Notre Dame law school.

"The CIA and civilian contractors have no right to do so. They do not wear uniforms, and they are not in the chain of command. And most importantly, they are not trained in the law of armed conflict."

O'Connell also said that "we know from empirical data ... that the use of major military force in counterterrorism operations has been counterproductive." The U.S. government, she said, should use force only "when we can accomplish more good than harm, and that is not the case with the use of drones in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia."

David Glazier, a professor from Loyola law school in Los Angeles, California, defended the drone attacks on the grounds that there is "no dispute that we are in an armed conflict with al Qaeda and with the Taliban." That fact "allows the United States to call upon the full scope of authority which is provided by the law of war."

Glazier said there is "nothing within the law of war that prohibits the use of drones. In fact, the ability of the drones to engage in a higher level of precision and to discriminate more carefully between military and civilian targets than has existed in the past actually suggests that they're preferable to many older weapons."

He conceded, however, that there are legitimate concerns about the CIA's use of drones. CIA personnel are "clearly not lawful combatants, [and] if you are not a privileged combatant, you simply don't have immunity from domestic law for participating in hostilities."

Glazier warned that "any CIA personnel who participate in this armed conflict run the risk of being prosecuted under the national laws of the places where [the combat actions] take place." CIA personnel, he said, could be guilty of war crimes.

William Banks, the founding director of Syracuse University's Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, said the U.S. government has engaged in targeted killings of individual combatants dating at least back to a 1916 border war with Mexican bandits.

Banks said the authors of the 1947 National Security Act, which traditionally gives the CIA much of its legal authority, probably didn't contemplate the targeted killings tied to drone attacks. But the statute, he said, was "designed as dynamic authority to be shaped by practice and by necessity."

"The intelligence laws permit the president broad discretion to utilize the nation's intelligence agencies to carry out national security operations, implicitly including targeted killing," he said. U.S. laws "supply adequate -- albeit not well-articulated or understood -- legal authority for these drone strikes."

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a public letter to Obama on Wednesday that said the drone attacks are part of an illegal program authorized by the administration allowing suspected terrorists -- including Americans -- to be targeted and killed by U.S. operatives.

"The program you have reportedly endorsed is not simply illegal but also unwise, because how our country responds to the threat of terrorism will in large measure determine the rules that govern every nation's conduct in similar contexts," ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said.

"If the United States claims the authority to use lethal force against suspected enemies of the U.S. anywhere in the world -- using unmanned drones or other means -- then other countries will regard that conduct as justified. The prospect of foreign governments hunting and killing their enemies within our borders or those of our allies is abhorrent."

Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan group, suggested that the increase in drone attacks during the Obama administration is, in part, revenge for the bombing of a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan that killed seven Americans on December 30, 2009.

"The people who died in this suicide attack were involved in targeting people on the other side of the border," he said earlier this year.

Long War Journal, an online publication that charts data for U.S. airstrikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, says the air campaign "remains the cornerstone of the effort to root out and decapitate the senior leadership of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other allied terror groups, and to disrupt both al Qaeda's global and local operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Such attacks, which have taken a civilian toll in many cases, have frequently caused tension between Pakistan and the United States.

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prompt Global Strike Program expensive and dangerous

As the article points out, this whole project is a Rumsfeld throwback. There seems to be very little discussion of this among all the talking heads of the mainstream media. Not only may the missiles be mistaken for a nuclear attack but it seems rather ludicrous to be using these against terrorists. The fight against terrorism costs a tremendous amount for what is achieved. Terrorists ruin multi-million dollar vehicles with 15 dollar IED's now very expensive weapons are being used to attack very small groups of terrorists apparently. No doubt many potential U.S. enemies will wonder if all of this has anything to do with terrorism. They will start their own programs to counteract the weapons beginning a new arms race. This is the legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize President who is following in the footsteps of Rumsfeld. This is from

How To: Risk World War III, and Blow Billions Doing It
By Noah Shachtman
The Pentagon’s plan to fire ballistic missiles at terrorists isn’t just a nuclear Armageddon risk. It’s a ludicrously expensive way to accidentally start World War III: each weapon could cost anywhere from a few hundred million to $1 billion.

The Defense Department wants to spend about $240 million next year on the controversial “prompt global strike” project. Eventually, it could lead to weapons that could strike virtually anywhere in the planet within an hour or two. (Here’s an interview I did with Rachel Maddow on Friday about the plan.) But that quarter-billion would be the tiniest of down payments.

“There are no accurate cost estimates for the program, largely because the technology is unproven,” writes Joe Cirincione at His back-of-the-envelope calculation: $10 billion for 10 conventionally-armed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, meant to strike at terrorists on the move. “Each missile with its tiny payload could easily go over $1 billion each.”

Official price tags are a little lower. The Air Force figures a single demonstration of such a missile might eat up $500 million. Follow-on weapons missiles might only cost $300 million apiece, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz guessed at a recent House subcommittee hearing. But Schwartz isn’t at all sure such how much use there’d be for a budget-buster like that.

“There is a place, I think, for that kind of capability. I don’t think that that’s the sort of thing you would use broadly, because you know, fundamentally what you don’t want to have is a 300 — let’s just say, a $300 million weapon applied against a $30,000 target,” Schwartz recently told a House subcommittee.

Critics like Cirincione (and me) are worried such conventional ICBMs would look to Russia and China like nuclear launches — risking an atomic response every time one of the weapons was sent into the sky. Defenders of the prompt global strike effort note that the missiles would be based far from America’s nuclear arsenal, and would follow different flight paths. So the risk of one of these missiles touching off an atomic showdown are very small. “Nuclear in one place. Conventional in another. This isn’t a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup,” notes the National Space Studies Center’s blog.

Maybe the U.S. can put enough safeguards in place to persuade Moscow and Beijing that America’s conventional ICBMs aren’t nukes. (And maybe, as commenter “Almanac” notes, the Russian and Chinese radars are functioning well enough to tell the difference.) Maybe. But what happens other countries follow our lead, and start assembling their own conventional ballistic missile stockpiles? Will Pakistan and India be able to assure eachother that their intentions are pure? How and Israel and Iran? Perhaps a unipolar planet can survive an American global strike arsenal. A multipolar planet — that’s less likely.

Prompt global strike first came to prominence during Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Pentagon. Back then, the Defense Department had a knack for spending outlandishly on far-fetched programs: laser-equipped 747s, lightning guns, quarter-weight tanks that could stop bombs with data. Under Bob Gates, the culture has shifted a bit. Common sense, wartime relevancy, and fiscal restraint now figure more prominently in weaponeering. And that’s what makes the embrace of prompt global strike such a mystery. It’s a Rumsfeld throwback - risky, willfully ignorant of how the world works, and ridiculously expensive.

[Photo: Wikimedia]

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CIA boss promises new cover for secret ops.

No doubt your friendly neighborhood contractor or NGO will be harboring CIA spies in future if it is not happening already. As it is now apparently the vast majority operate out of U.S. embassies. No wonder places such as Iraq need such huge embassies with lots of luxuries to keep spies in the style to which they are accustomed. This is from the Washington Post.

CIA chief promises spies 'new cover’ for secret ops
New cloaks for old daggers?

CIA Director Leon Panetta told employees today that the spy agency is going to give undercover operatives more ways to avoid exposure overseas.

“The CIA will enhance its use of more flexible and innovative deployments overseas—including new approaches to cover—paving the way for even better intelligence collection,” Panetta told a gathering of employees in the agency’s auditorium, in remarks also broadcast to agency workers around the world via closed-circuit TV.

It was difficult to discern exactly what Panetta had in mind.

There are two kinds of cover used by the CIA (and the rest of the world’s major spy services) to hide agents overseas -- official and non-official.

The most common, official CIA cover, is provided by the State Department, which permits operatives to carry out diplomatic duties in an American embassy by day and their real jobs by night: trying to get local officials and other foreign nationals to turn coat and secretly work for the CIA.

Other U.S. government agencies provide cover as well. In South Vietnam, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided cover for CIA operatives so widely that the two became almost synonymous.

It’s not an arrangement that pleases legitimate State Department diplomats, who complain that they’re put at risk by the practice.

In recent decades the agency has often said it was deploying more “NOCs,” or officers under non-official cover. U.S. multinational companies -- banks, oil companies, airlines, construction firms -- are generally happy to help the CIA, on patriotic grounds, with legitimate-looking jobs for its operatives.

Just as often, the CIA creates a company out of whole cloth -- a “proprietary,” in spy lingo -- to carry out secret operations under the cover of conducting legitimate business. So it was with “Air America,” created during the Cold War for CIA operations in Asia.

It's a touchy subject, kept in the lockbox of "sources and methods" that the spy agency seeks to protect at all costs.

Clarification of what Panetta meant Monday was hard to come by at CIA headquarters.

Agency spokesman George Little would say only, “Operational cover is an essential shield for intelligence activities. For that very compelling reason, we do not discuss publicly the specifics of how the Agency employs this vital tool.”

Likewise, a U.S. official who insisted on anonymity would say only that “cover is much more than status" -- the phony job that allows a spy to work undercover overseas -- "although there’s no shortage of options on that score. Technology also enables some very creative means of providing cover."

But two agency operations veterans scoffed at Panetta’s evocation of “new approaches to cover.”

Said a former operative who writes under the pseudonym Ishmael Jones:

"In response to criticism that more than 90 per cent of its officers live and work entirely within the United States, and that the remainder work within American embassies, the CIA periodically promises to get more officers under cover, on the street, in foreign countries."

"Jones" worked under nonofficial cover for several years.

Said another, a counterterroism specialist: “They are just admitting indirectly that, despite all the hype, they still have done next-to-nothing on getting out of embassies.”

Meanwhile, Panetta also said the agency was putting more analysts in the field with operatives.

“This sort of fusion has more than proved its value over the years,” he said, “and has been key to victories in counterterrorism and counterproliferation, among other disciplines.”

Panetta also said the agency was “investing in technology to extend the CIA’s operational and analytic reach and become more efficient,” which would include “human-enabled technical collection and … advanced software tools to help agency officers tackle the huge volume of data they encounter in their work.”

“The third pillar is to achieve a new level of agility in maintaining the agency’s global presence and surging for emergencies,” Panetta said.

“The agency will transform its support platforms around the world and consolidate certain business functions.”

By Jeff Stein | April 26, 2010; 4:47 PM ET
Categories: Intelligence

Clegg claims Labour should not rule if it comes third in votes

The author may be reading a bit into what Clegg says but it would seem to imply that he would not form a coalition with Labour but no doubt Clegg will wait for the results before he really makes any firm commitment to anything. It seems that the British electorate is not about to give any party a clear majority to govern. Canada has had a minority government for some time now. It seems to muddle through especially now when no party can see a majority if they defeat the government only another situation with about the same distribution of seats! This is from abc(Australia)

Clegg hints at Conservative coalition
By Europe correspondent Philip Williams

British Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg Clegg finally made it clear it is the votes, not seats, that count. (Reuters: Andrew Winning)

With just 11 days to go before Britain's election, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, is finally laying the ground rules for a possible coalition government.

Up until recently the idea of either the Tories or Labour sharing power with a third party at Westminster would have been considered absurd, but it is shaping up as a possibility.

Mr Clegg's Liberal Democrats, who have surged from third to second place in opinion polls after he performed strongly in TV debates, are unlikely to win enough votes to form a government after the tight battle.

But the race is now so tight that the Liberal Democrats could hold the balance of power in a hung parliament - where no party wins an overall majority - and team up with Labour or the Conservatives to govern.

The Liberal Democrats have never said which party they would support in the event of a hung parliament.

The big question was whether the criteria would be the biggest number of seats or the largest number of votes.

Because of the way the Labour vote is clustered in urban seats, it is possible for that party to win the most seats but not the most votes.

But today Mr Clegg finally made it clear it is the votes, not seats, that count.

"It's just preposterous, the idea that if a party comes third in terms of the number of votes, it still somehow has the right to continue swatting at Number 10 [Downing Street] and continue to lay claim to having the prime minister form the government," he said.

"What I'm saying here is pointing at a very, very irrational possible outcome of our potty electoral system, which is that a party which has spectacularly lost the election because fewer and fewer people are voting for it than any other party, can nonetheless, according to constitutional tradition and convention, still lay claim to providing the prime minister."

That is bad news for prime minister Gordon Brown because his Labour party is trailing in the polls. If they do not shift he will be jobless come May 7.

Mr Brown has promised a referendum to replace the first-past-the-post system with the Australian-style proportional representation.

But the promise has been seen by some as an attempt to curry favour with the Liberal Democrats, because they would prosper under an Australian-style system.

On current polls, it is David Cameron's Conservatives who will benefit from the Liberal Democrats' decision to go with the votes rather than the seats.

Mr Cameron says he is determined to win outright, something he emphasised at a rally calling for better schools.

"Hung parliament, hung councils, they don't get things done," he said.

"You need people with the right values, the right ideas, to set people free to give them their chance to set up a great school.

"This is a perfect example of why a decisive, authoritative result would be much better for our schools, much better for our country, and that's what we're fighting for every day until polling day.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Lessons of the Kyrgyz Revolution.

The Tulip revolution brought Bakiyev to power and hopes of reform but Bakiyev to a considerable extent returned to the same type of corruption and nepotism that led to the Tulip revolution. Bazhanov points out that democratization often leads to unmet hopes and when these are blocked revolution can result.
In countries such as Singapore the ruling elites were able to reform themselves stop corruption and promote change and modernization that helped the majority of the people. However South Korea often suffered from corrupt regimes. There it was probably the introduction of advanced capitalist production that led to improvement of the lives of many and led to relative stability. However, the North has been reasonably stable with no revolution and relatively little progress economically. This is from the MoscowTimes.

The Lessons of the Kyrgyz Revolution

By Yevgeny Bazhanov

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan was on its way to becoming a model of nation-building. Russian officials praised the leadership of the mountainous republic for its wise economic and national policies. The West was delighted with the democratization of the Kyrgyz state, with its separation of powers, increasingly strong parliamentary system and respect for the freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

But Kyrgyzstan ran into a host of problems along its way toward democratization — rampant corruption, sharp social stratification and nepotism. The economy entered a prolonged period of stagnation, and the people got markedly poorer.

As a result, in 2004, mounting social unrest erupted that led to the ousting of President Askar Akayev, who was replaced by Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the Tulip Revolution. Hopes again soared, but they soon gave way to deep disappointment. Bakiyev and his extended clan behaved like depraved medieval khans, looting the country and exploiting the people, and this sparked the second revolution in a decade.

But Kyrgyzstan is not the only Central Asian state afflicted by severe social and economic ills. Why didn’t Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Kazakhstan experience the same regime changes? One reason is that there were no periods of democratization in these countries. The people there have always lived under authoritarian regimes, going back to the Soviet era.

Revolutions usually do not break out in countries having long periods of stagnation, but in countries where democratic and economic reforms have begun and where people’s hopes for a better life are raised — and then shattered.

In the early 1900s, the attempt by Tsar Nicholas II to implement economic and political reforms while preserving his autocracy only led to its own collapse. The Soviet Union offers another good example. During the 30-year period of stagnation starting with Nikita Khrushchev to Leonid Brezhnev, few uttered a word of protest. But when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev initiated perestroika and glasnost reforms in the late 1980s — once again, raising the people’s hopes without fulfilling them — the bottom fell out of the Communist system, and the Soviet Union collapsed.

This, of course, does not mean that democracy always leads to false expectations and social upheavals. On the contrary, without democracy, development would either never happen at all, or else it would eventually hit a dead end.

The Korean Peninsula provides strong proof of the evils of totalitarianism. Communist North Korea remains one of the most backward countries on Earth, while people of the same ethnicity created an economic miracle in South Korea. At the same time, however, the economic success of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore began under authoritarian regimes.

One feature that distinguishes the successful Asian Tigers from Russia or Kyrgyzstan is that the ruling elites have been more concerned with the general welfare of the people and the country rather than in padding their own pockets. For example, the legendary father of Singapore’s economic miracle, Lee Kuan Yew, was able to nearly eradicate corruption, and he started with himself and his inner circle.

How have Lee and other East Asian leaders been so successful at controlling corruption and fostering economic growth? Many believe that Confucian values provide the real foundation —a healthy work ethic, a strong sense of personal responsibility, honesty, humility, and respect for the state, the community and family. Confucianism teaches that morality, fairness and justice must be the guiding principles for ruling the state. Rulers are expected to be paragons of these values; otherwise, they would loose their “mandate from Heaven.”

Another view holds that the Asian Tigers succeeded because they were able to apply Western practices and methods to matters of governance and the economy.

In any case, it is obvious that the economic development of the Japan, South Korea and Taiwan paved the way for subsequent political reforms. They were able to transform their authoritarian regimes into democracies without revolts, riots or revolutions.

In Kyrgyzstan, however, the rulers bathed in a sea of luxury while the people lived in dire poverty. It is no surprise that it ended in a popular revolt two weeks ago.

Yevgeny Bazhanov is the vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ex-Russian air force commander criticizes new U.S. Orbital Test Vehicle.

While the U.S. rejects any idea that this new vehicle has anything to do with placing weapons in space it is not surprising that others should see it otherwise. The U.S. is also developing a hyperfast missile which also has Russians and others worried about U.S. intentions. Most of the information about the X 37 B is kept secret another factor that arouses suspicions in other countries. This is from monstersandcritics.

Ex-Russian air force commander slams US "space plane"

Moscow - Former Russian air force commander Anatoly Kornukov has sharply criticized the US launch of an unmanned space craft, saying that Russia now needs to develop a new defence system against space and air attacks, Russian media reported Friday.
A rocket carrying the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, commonly referred to as the 'space plane,' took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida late Thursday.
The space craft will significantly increase US fighting power and shows that the country has ambitions to 'reach space and threaten us,' Kornukov argued.
'The US has completely spit on calls from Russia and the world to abandon plans for the deployment of weapons in space,' he said.
Moscow has to react with 'actions instead of words,' he added.
'The aggressors from space could turn Russia into something like Iraq or Yugoslavia,' Kornukov said, referring to the destruction caused by past US air raids in both countries.
The US Air Force has flatly rejected suggestions that the X-37 project could mark the beginning of the weaponization of space.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wall Street: Betting on all sides.

Sam Webb is the chairman of the Communist Party USA. This is an interesting article especially his quotes from Ben Bernanke. It is surely true that Wall Street firms bet on all sides. This is common and a form of hedging but then what Goldman Sacks did along with Paulson and company was truly sleazy and a reason for the SEC to make charges--taking a brief break from watching pornography I guess. Paulson and Goldman knew that the securities that they were bundling and selling to investors were going to tank and so they in effect sold them short. We will have to wait and see what comes out of the regulation bill but given that Wall Street provides plenty of funds for both parties and has on top of that plenty of lobbyists and inside connections it is unlikely that the bill will hurt them much. The stock markets are not dropping but going up.! This is from peoplesworld.

Betting on all sides
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If you listened to the recent testimony of Wall Street executives before the bipartisan commission looking into the financial crisis, you would think that they were mere innocent spectators to it all.

That takes a lot of .... You can fill in the blank.

Did the Masters of the Universe really think that housing prices could only go in one direction - up, that investor risk was a non-issue in their financial games, that economic turbulence was a thing of the past?

I know that many economic theorists peddled these notions in recent years, actually going back to the late 1970s. Federal Reserve Bank governor (now chairman) and former Princeton economics professor Ben Bernanke, for example, asserted in a speech in 2004:

"One of the most striking features of the economic landscape over the past 20 years or so has been a substantial decline in macroeconomic volatility. ... Several writers on the topic have dubbed this remarkable decline in the variability of both output and inflation 'The Great Moderation.'"

Then the supposedly erudite Bernanke went on to say:

"The increased depth and sophistication of financial markets, deregulation in many industries, the shift away from manufacturing toward services, and increased openness to trade and international capital flows are other examples of structural changes that may have increased macroeconomic flexibility and stability." (my italics)

Such was the conventional wisdom of the economics profession and too many politicians, Republican and Democratic alike.

Still, I doubt that the "titans" of finance, who manipulate money and markets 24/7, embraced this "wisdom" entirely. Unlike university professors, they have to pay attention to what is happening in the real world. The bottom line is what guides their behavior, not high-sounding generalizations resting on unrealistic assumptions (free, efficient and self-correcting markets, for example).

So assuming that I am right, that financial executives themselves, unlike the free-market theorists, kept at least one eye on the real world, and further assuming that they aren't just plain stupid, why did they continue to invest in bundles of subprime mortgages of deteriorating quality in terms of return and risk? Why didn't they reconsider their investment bets in a ballooning and increasingly unsustainable housing market in which prices got so out of whack with actual value?

The short answer is that financial firms operate in a very competitive capitalist market in which there are internal and external compulsions to accumulate higher and higher profits in the short term. (That get-rich-quick compulsion was aptly summarized by economist John Maynard Keynes, who famously said: "In the long run, we are all dead.")

The longer, and more revealing, answer is that a few giant firms dominate the financial industry, and with size comes competitive advantage - resources and connections, an ability to make deals on both sides of the market (when it is going up and when it is coming down) - and an assumption (backed by earlier precedent) that the government will bail out these same firms when trouble arises. As a result these "too big to fail" financial institutions are both unafraid to ride the speculative wave as long as it lasts and also nimble enough to pull themselves safely out of turbulent waters when the wave breaks - so they think.

In other words, the financial giants are positioned to win no matter what the outcome. There is no better example of this phenomenon than Goldman Sachs. As the Security and Exchange Commission complaint alleges and as Michaels Lewis's new book "The Big Short" discusses in some detail, Goldman Sachs (and probably other financial giants) played all sides of the market and, not surprisingly, broke laws while doing it and suckered the government into cleaning up its bad bets with taxpayer dollars.

To be more specific, Goldman was drowning in mounting piles of worthless securities and was effectively insolvent (more liabilities than assets), as many of its bets on subprime mortgages went sour (not all of its bets though, because it shrewdly and apparently illegally bet that the housing bubble would burst - "shorting" the market - which brought billions into its coffers).

In the meantime, Goldman executives, arguing (correctly) that financial markets occupy a strategic position in the overall economy and relying on their web of connections with the White House, Congress and federal agencies, rushed to Washington and demanded ransom money and a Wall Street fix to the market meltdown. Washington quickly obliged.

In hindsight, President Obama and congressional Democrats, for whatever reason, and there is more than one, missed an opportunity to insist that the biggest financial institutions be placed under public democratic control or, more modestly, broken up and scaled down in size. Public opinion, shaken by the enormity of the crisis and seething with anger towards Wall Street, could have been mobilized to support such far-reaching measures.

Now the moment is less opportune. Nevertheless, anti-bank anger continues and some form of financial regulatory reform is going to become the law of the land. The question is: will the new law have teeth?

Will it break up "too big to fail" banks?

Will it bring the shadow banking system (hedge funds, private equity firms, etc.) and derivatives (financial instruments that bet on the future price of housing mortgages, interest rates, currencies, etc.) under tight control?

Will it establish a consumer protection agency with real power to rein in credit card companies and the like?

Will it increase leverage requirements (money on hand at financial institutions to cover outstanding bets on financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds, futures, swaps, options, etc.)?

Will it guarantee that regulators will be tough on and independent of financial institutions?

Will it provide for public oversight of the regulators and the Federal Reserve Bank?

Will it prohibit banks from selling derivatives and other exotic financial instruments?

Will it contain a tax on financial transactions?

All this will be decided soon. Much will depend on the bargaining posture of the president and the mobilization of the American people for real regulatory reform. So far the labor movement and its leadership are setting the pace. The rest of us need to get on board.

Friday, April 23, 2010

In UK election debate Liberal Democrat Clegg shines again.

Although not so clearly a winner this time around he still seemed to do very well and was perhaps even best. The Conservative leader improved quite a bit. Although Clegg wants to distance UK policy somewhat from following the US line on foreign policy he still did not commit to any immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. He is just making some rhetorical flourishes to woo the anti-US anti-Afghanistan voters. This is from npr.

In U.K. Debate, Outside Candidate Shines Again

Nick Clegg proved he wasn't a one-hit wonder in Britain's second election debate Thursday, holding his own against Labour's Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Conservatives' David Cameron over thorny issues such as Afghanistan, the Catholic sex-abuse scandal and the special relationship with the United States.

An initial poll gave Clegg a slight edge in the debate, but it appeared to be close to a three-way tie. Still, Clegg managed to keep some of his political stardust -- respondents said the Liberal Democrats' 43-year-old leader seemed the most honest.

Clegg shook up the race last week, emerging as a clear winner after giving a smooth and confident performance in Britain's first U.S.-styled election debate and boosting his party's profile.

Thursday's debate came as dozens of anti-war protesters and other activists clashed with police outside the studio hosting the prime-time duel. Pro-Palestinian groups outside protested Israeli incursions in Gaza. Others held placards that read "Troops Home!" There are some 10,000 British troops still stationed in Afghanistan.

It was the closest Britain has come to the famous 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate -- every grimace and blemish were seen in high-definition television format. The candidates' performances make the razor-close May 6 election even harder to predict.

Polls suggest that no party will win an outright majority. That situation could turn the Liberal Democrats into a kingmaker, bartering with both Labour and the Conservative for things they want -- namely electoral changes that could weaken Britain's traditional two-party system.

Rivals Compared To Children

Brown was on the attack for most of the debate, ridiculing Clegg and Cameron -- both 16 years his junior -- and at one point comparing them to his children. He also lashed out at Clegg, accusing him of being anti-American, and going after Cameron for being "anti-European."

"These two guys remind me of my two young boys squabbling at bathtime, squabbling about referendums on the EU when what we need is jobs and growth and recovery," said Brown, 59. "I'm afraid David is anti-European, Nick is anti-American and both are out of touch with reality."

Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats voted against the U.S.-led Iraq war and who has questioned British "subservience" to U.S. interests, denied he was anti-American, but said Britain should reevaluate how it deals with its trans-Atlantic ally.

"It's an immensely important special relationship, but it shouldn't be a one-way street," he said. "We shouldn't always do what our American friends tell us to do."

An automated telephone poll taken by ComRes after the debate showed that 2,691 viewers favored Clegg by a tiny margin. About a third of viewers believed that Clegg won the debate, while 30 percent believed that Brown or Cameron won. The margin of error for that sample size is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Cameron, who gave a lackluster performance in last week's debate, appeared to learn from his mistakes -- he looked directly at the camera and seemed more confident Thursday. He almost lost his temper when he accused Brown of allowing campaign leaflets that suggested a Conservative government would cut benefits for the elderly.

"These lies you are getting from Labour are pure and simple lies," he said. "I have seen these lies and they make me very, very angry."

Divisive Issues

Both Labour and the Conservatives voted for Britain to go to war in Iraq, a stance that has hurt them with anti-war sentiment still strong in Britain. The Labour Party, which has been in power for 13 years, lost many seats in the 2005 general election when voters cast protest ballots against Tony Blair's decision to lead Britain into Iraq.

Afghanistan, the latest nettlesome mission, in which 280 British troops have died, is now one of Britain's longest and most costly conflicts, draining government coffers as the country tries to recover from its worst recession since World War II.

Clegg criticized the strategy in Afghanistan and said troops needed better equipment. The party would support other operations if they were in the interests of Britain but, "If you put soldiers into harm's way, you either do the job properly or don't do it at all," he said.

An audience member asked whether the leaders backed Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain in September, and if they supported the church's stance on the sex-abuse scandal, condoms, homosexuality and stem cell research.

All three men said they supported the visit, which is due to cost taxpayers some $22.5 million.

Cameron was most definitive, however, on other differences with the church, saying the church has "very serious work to do to unearth and come to terms with some of the appalling things that have happened."

Clegg, a former member of the European Parliament, once backed Britain adopting the euro and has talked about forging stronger ties with Europe. He stressed Thursday that Britain needs cooperation from other European countries if progress is to be made on terrorism, immigration, climate change and bank regulation.

Cameron has long been a euro-skeptic and stood apart from both Clegg and Brown on Thursday when he suggested again there should be a referendum allowing British people to decide how they feel about being a part of the European Union.

Clegg is unlikely to become prime minister because Britain's electoral system is not proportional so parties must win the majority of districts not the popular vote. This puts smaller and newer parties at a disadvantage. Most core voters still either vote Conservative or Labour.

Candidates managed to get across their campaign mantras throughout the debates -- with the Conservatives warning that a hung Parliament and a coalition government could hurt the pound and Britain's credit rating and Brown insisting that a government shake-up could jeopardize an economic recovery.

The British electorate has reached an all-time low for trust in politicians after an expenses scandal last year tarred all three major parties.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Allwai fears Baghdad vote recount could be manipulated.

Allawi has reason to fear. Maliki has been doing everything possible to overturn the results of the election even though he if anyone had most control over the process. Many Sunni candidates were disqualified. As the article mentions international observers certified the process as fair. Yet Maliki is contesting the results even in Baghdad where he won. If there are no observers then everyone will suspect that the recount was meant to help Maliki even if it is fair. If there are no observers this will only heighten an already tense situation as the Sunnis and Allawi will believe that Allawi's right to form a coalition government is being stolen away from them.

Allawi fears Baghdad vote recount could be manipulated
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

BAGHDAD: Former Iraqi Premier Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya bloc narrowly won last month’s general election, said on Tuesday he was concerned about possible irregularities during a recount ordered for Baghdad.

Iraqiya “supports the manual recount of ballots, but we are worried about practices that could accompany this exercise and which could lead to a change in the results that would benefit certain groups,” he told a news conference.

Allawi beat Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki nationwide by securing 91 seats against the incumbent’s 89, according to unofficial results.

In Baghdad, with 70 seats the largest prize in the 325-seat parliament, Allawi gained 24 seats to 26 for Maliki’s State of Law bloc.

“Are there going to be any international observers to supervise this process,” Allawi asked, adding the outcome of the March 7 election was “favorably welcomed” by the international community.

Although Maliki came out ahead in the capital, he alleged there had been manipulation in voting stations as he lost a total of 750,000 votes in five provinces, including Baghdad.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Afghan hash production at an all time high.

We are apt to think of Afghanistan as the top world producer of opium but it also now a top producer of hashish. As this article points out it is not only the Taliban that profits from the drug trade but all sorts of government officials and police. Of course these people who are plentiful and part of the corruption western officials continually carp about are not about to help out in poppy eradication or attempt to reduce the production of hashish. After all they benefit greatly from that production.

Of course the industry could never survive at production rates this high if it were not for demand from outside the country. Nor could it survive without global distribution networks. Somehow the distribution networks manage to survive and drug demand continues at high levels. This is from asiatimes.

Afghan hash at an all-time high
By Julien Mercille

In addition to being the world's leading producer of opium, Afghanistan has now become the largest producer of hashish, according to the first-ever cannabis survey released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) this month. Again, the US invasion is behind the new record.

The 2009 Afghanistan Cannabis Survey revealed that there is large-scale cannabis cultivation in half (17 out of 34) of Afghanistan's provinces, covering a total area of 10,000 to 24,000 hectares every year (lower than opium cultivation, which covers 125,000 hectares). Afghanistan's crop yield is so high at 145 kilograms of resin per hectare that it overtakes other leading producers like Morocco, where cannabis covers a larger land area but whose yield is lower, at 40 kg/ha.

It is estimated that Afghanistan produces 1,500-3,500 tons of

hashish annually, an industry involving 40,000 households. The total export value of Afghan hashish is still unknown, but its farm-gate value - the income paid to farmers - is estimated at about US$40-$95 million, roughly 15% that of opium ($438 million in 2009).

Abundance of supply fuels demand, making hashish the most commonly used drug in Afghanistan, whose more than 500,000 users are mostly men. Marijuana, the other drug that can be obtained from the cannabis plant, is a minor product in Afghanistan as compared with hashish. Farmers choose to grow cannabis mainly because it sells at a higher price than licit crops and even opium, fetching over $3,000/ha compared to $2,000 for opium and $1,000 for wheat. Many farmers grow both drugs but opium is still more important, in part because cannabis has a short shelf life and is a summer crop (when less water is available for irrigation).

The history of the two plants and the ways in which they have supported US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is similar, although opium's impact has been more important in scale. In the 1960s, Westerners traveled to the Orient on the "Hippie Hashish Trail", passing through Istanbul, Delhi and Kabul. They found Afghan hashish of such a high quality that they started smuggling it back to their home countries, through syndicates such as "The Brotherhood of Eternal Love", a famous American group. This popularized hashish consumption in the West and generated an enormous demand, which Afghanistan and Pakistan filled starting in the 1970s.

King Zahir Shah (1933-1973), under whose rule cannabis cultivation was allowed in Afghanistan, even encouraged farmers to use fertilizers to boost exports to the West, before outlawing cultivation in the early 1970s under pressure from Richard Nixon, who had just launched his war on drugs. The Afghan police succeeded in eradicating a lot of the cannabis crops, but conveniently, cannabis farms controlled by Afghan government officials were spared, a bias reminiscent of today's situation.

The 1979 Soviet invasion further disrupted cannabis cultivation, which partly moved to Pakistan's tribal areas, where transformation into hashish and export took place, just like poppy cultivation and heroin processing. The US-supported mujahideen used the hashish trade to finance their fight against the Russian invaders.

The Taliban regime used opium to finance itself in the 1990s, but outlawed hashish production, some say because hashish was consumed by Afghans whereas opium was for the unbelievers in the West, although the real reason had more to do with the fact that there would have been an uprising against the Taliban if farmers had not been allowed to grow poppies. The Taliban ban on hashish was extremely effective - the crop persisting only in a few places - just like their later ban on opium in 2000-2001. But the 2001 US invasion changed all that, leading to the spread of cannabis to new areas, especially from 2005 onwards, according to independent experts and UNODC.

US/NATO policy played a role in stimulating cannabis and hashish production in several ways. First, the invasion itself removed the Taliban's ban and empowered Northern Alliance and other drug lords who received the necessary protection to continue and increase their production and trafficking of cannabis and opium, up to this day.

Secondly, cannabis cultivation has also been stimulated by poppy eradication campaigns, which led some farmers to simply switch to cannabis. The latter has been sometimes safer to grow, having been targeted even less than poppies, to which the US and NATO have not paid much attention in any case.

Thirdly, US/NATO's militaristic policies have not helped to contain the spread of hashish production: the UNODC report notes that “villages that had not received agricultural assistance were slightly more likely to have cannabis cultivation”. The problem is that while the US spends about $1 million a year to support the deployment of one American soldier in Afghanistan, an average of just $93 in development aid has been spent per Afghan per year over the past seven years. Put differently, the US alone has spent $227 billion on military operations in Afghanistan since 2001, while all international donors together have spent less than 10% of this amount on development aid.

US/NATO allies in Afghanistan continue to benefit from the hashish industry, as confirmed to this author by a UNODC official involved in drafting the report. The document states that “there is a clear geographic association between opium and cannabis cultivation at the provincial level” as well as at the trafficking level: “a large proportion of cannabis traders also trade opium.” This means that many members of the police, local militias, and ultimately, government officials supported actively or tacitly by international troops, do benefit from hashish production.

Yet, the American government and UNODC continue to have their eyes set on the drugs-Taliban connection. For instance, UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa declared that “All drugs in Afghanistan, whether opium or cannabis, are taxed by those who control the territory, providing an additional source of revenue for insurgents” - and what about sources of revenue for government forces?

The Taliban-cannabis association is also emphasized by repeating that, over the last few years, cannabis cultivation has shifted away from the north to the south (just like poppies), where the insurgency is raging. Costa can therefore state: "A concentration of cultivation in the southern part of Afghanistan shows that the Taliban and those insurgents that control the southern parts of the country are not only funding themselves by trafficking opium but also by trafficking cannabis. It's the same area."

True, the Taliban tax and control part of the trade in cannabis products. But as the UNODC report shows, cannabis trading centers are spread all over Afghanistan, which means that even though crops are concentrated in the south, hashish is traded everywhere and exported following similar routes as opium and heroin, to Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia. Therefore, although precise numbers regarding the total value of the cannabis industry in Afghanistan are not available yet, revenues are tapped by many segments of Afghan society, from farmers and police forces to warlords and insurgents.

This might give pause to the many pundits who argue that we must fight a war on drugs in order to cut the Taliban's finances. Wouldn't eliminating opium and cannabis crops also cut many other Afghans' income, including government forces', weakening them in their fight against insurgents?

This question has been pondered by Dutch marijuana shop owners post September 11, who have wondered if smoking Afghan hash amounts to supporting terrorism. One of the owners, Nol van Schaik, gave an interesting answer: “If the Northern Alliance are the people on the ground who are going to defeat the Taliban, people who want to defeat the Taliban should buy as much of their hash as they can," Van Schaik said. "It's a patriotic duty to buy their hash."

Whatever one thinks of this solution, it undermines mainstream experts' claims that ignore the fact that those they support are also involved in drugs. There are good reasons to eradicate drugs, but weakening the Taliban may not be the most logical one.

In fact, a double withdrawal could be the best solution for Afghanistan: get international troops out of the country to reduce locals' grievances that fuel the insurgency, and treat drug addicts in the West and Afghanistan to reduce the demand for narcotics.

Julien Mercille is lecturer at University College Dublin, Ireland. He specializes in US foreign policy and geopolitics. He can be reached at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yemen slow to pursue al-Awlaki.

It would seem the U.S. just expects every country to immediately go along with what the U.S. wants, in this case killing or capturing al-Awlaki. Yemen for its part has plenty of problems of its own and is certainly not anxious to stir up another hornet's nest and face the wrath of al-Awlaki's tribe. Saleh the president of Yemen is a survivor and is not going to jump when the U.S. commands if it means likely assassination. This is from AsiaTimes.

Yemen dithers as US hunts to kill
By Oliver Holmes

SANA'A - Yemen is dithering as the United States intensifies its anti-terrorism campaign by authorizing the killing of radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. In an act of defiance, the Yemeni government initially refused to hunt Awlaki, saying it would not take action until intelligence from the US proved he was a terrorist.

Last week, the Yemeni government appeared to have reversed its decision. Yemen's Defense Ministry said on Thursday that Awlaki was being pursued for alleged links to al-Qaeda, a move that could stir trouble in the South Arabian state.

Indecisiveness from Sana'a exemplifies the delicate balance the Yemeni government has to maintain. On one side, Sana'a is being

pressured by the international community to step up efforts against al-Qaeda; on the other, President Ali Abdullah Saleh wants to appease tribal leaders and a nation weary of foreign interference by proving he is not a puppet of the West. Yemenis warn of potential dangers if Sana'a were to cooperate with the Americans in a lethal strike against Awlaki, whom many see as a preacher rather than a terrorist.

"Killing Awlaki will create huge anti-American sentiment in Yemen," Hasan Abdul Warith, a prominent Yemeni columnist and widely respected intellectual, told Asia Times Online in a telephone interview. "Yemeni people will never accept such policies," he added. "Even if I understand [US President Barack] Obama's decision, as an Arab I feel that the decision is a sign of American arrogance."

Fighter jet engines suffer damage from volcanic ash.

There seem to be some conflicting results from test flights. Perhaps it is just a matter of where the different flights flew. Some test by civilian airliners showed no damage to engines but military fighter jet flights showed some damage to the engines. At least the cloud seems a bit less extensive now and some flights have already resumed today. I imagine if they fly somewhat lower the situation might be better. THis is from abc(Australia)

Fighter jet engines suffer volcano damage

NATO fighter jets have returned from flying through some of Iceland's drifting ash plume, and have reportedly suffered engine damage.

On Sunday, test flights in England, France Germany and the Netherlands, returned seemingly safely, with pilots reporting no problems. Their engines are still being examined.

But today, several NATO F-16 fighter jets have suffered damage, with glass fragments being found in their engines.

It comes not long after several airlines appealed for the regulator to review the blanket airspace restrictions.

The UK has called in three navy ships to help stranded commuters from Spain and other channel ports.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kucinich speaks out on extrajudicial killings

There seems to be a willingness to mute any criticism of policies which under George Bush would have led to huge liberal outcries. Cogent criticism of these policies have been left to people such as Ron Paul on the right and Kucinich on the left while mainstream liberals are silent. This is from the nation.

Kucinich: White House Assassination Policy Is Extrajudicial killings.


April 15, 2010

There has been almost universal silence among Congressional Democrats on the Obama administration's recently revealed decision to authorize the assassination of a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki, who now lives in Yemen, has been accused of providing inspiration for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged "underwear bomber," and Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter. In recent weeks, there has been a dramatic surge in US government chatter about the alleged threat posed by al-Awlaki, with anonymous US officials accusing him of directly participating in terror "plots" (his family passionately disputes this).

Several Democrats refused, through spokespeople, to comment on the assassination plan when contacted by The Nation, including Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Jan Schakowsky, both of whom serve on the Intelligence Committees. Representative Jane Harman, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee, said recently that Awlaki is "probably the person, the terrorist, who would be terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us."
One of the few Democrats to publicly address the issue of government-sanctioned assassinations is Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich. "I don't support it--period," he said in an interview. "I think people in both parties that are concerned about the Constitution should be speaking out on this. I can't account for what anyone else doesn't do."

Kucinich told The Nation he has sent several letters to the Obama administration raising questions about the potential unconstitutionality of the policy, as well as possible violations of international law, but has received no response. "With all the smart people that are in that administration, they've got to know the risks that they're taking here with violations of law," he says.

Targeted killings are not a new Obama administration policy. Beginning three days after his swearing in, President Obama has authorized scores of lethal drone strikes, including against specific individuals, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, surpassing the Bush era numbers. The elite Joint Special Operations Command maintains a list of individuals, including US citizens, which it is authorized to assassinate. In January, Dana Priest reported in the Washington Post that the CIA had US citizens on an assassination list, but the Post later ran a correction stating that only JSOC had "a target list that includes several Americans." The policy of the CIA targeting al-Awlaki, a US citizen, for assassination, therefore, appeared to be a new development, at least in terms of public awareness of approved government assassinations.

"In the real world, things don't work out quite so neatly as they seem to in the heads of the CIA," says Kucinich. "There's always the possibility of blowback, which could endanger high-ranking US officials. There's the inevitable licensing of rogue groups that comes about from policies that are not strictly controlled and that get sloppy--so you have zero accountability. And that's not even to get into an over-arching issue of the morality of assassination policies, which are extra-constitutional, extra-judicial. It's very dangerous from every possible perspective."

He added: "The assassination policies vitiate the presumption of innocence and the government then becomes the investigator, policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner all in one. That raises the greatest questions with respect to our constitution and our democratic way of life."

Kucinich says the case of al-Awlaki is an attempt to make "a short-cut around the Constitution," saying, "Short-cuts often belie the deep and underlying questions around which nations rise and fall. We are really putting our nation in jeopardy by pursuing this kind of policy."

About Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. more...
Copyright © 2009 The Nation

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Obama Dept. of Justice goes after Whistleblower

If this had happened during the Bush administration all the Liberals would be crying foul and the media would be full of this. But this is the Obama administration and criticism if any is muted. Even though on many issues such as upping the war effort in Afghanistan and using targeted killing via drones far more than Bush the silence is mostly deafening in many liberal circles. While targeting whistle blowers the same Dept. of Justice by looking forward not backward overlooks any Bush era war crimes. I guess it should because looking forward it is already overlooking any Obama continuation of those crimes. This is from salon.

What the whistleblower prosecution says about the Obama DOJ
(updated below)

The more I think and read about the Obama DOJ's prosecution of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the more I think this might actually be one of the worst steps the Obama administration has taken yet, if not the single worst step -- and that's obviously saying a lot. During the Bush years, in the wake of the NSA scandal, I used to write post after post about how warped and dangerous it was that the Bush DOJ was protecting the people who criminally spied on Americans (Bush, Cheney Michael Hayden) while simultaneously threatening to prosecute the whistle-blowers who exposed misconduct. But the Bush DOJ never actually followed through on those menacing threats; no NSA whistle-blowers were indicted during Bush's term (though several were threatened). It took the election of Barack Obama for that to happen, as his handpicked Assistant Attorney General publicly boasted yesterday of the indictment against Drake.

Aside from the indefensible fact that only crimes committed by high-level Bush officials -- but nobody else -- enjoy the benefits of Obama's "Look Forward, Not Backward" decree, think about the interests being served by this prosecution. Most discussions yesterday suggested that Drake's leaks to The Baltimore Sun's Sibohan Gorman were about waste and mismanagement in the "Trailblazer" project rather than controversial NSA spying activities, but that's not entirely accurate.

Just consider this May 18, 2006, article by Gorman, describing how and why the NSA opted for the "Trailblazer" proposal over the privacy-protecting "Thin Thread" program, in the process discarding key privacy protections designed to ensure that the NSA would not eavesdrop on the domestic calls of U.S. citizens (h/t ondelette). In that article -- which really should be read to get a sense for the whistle-blowing that is being punished by the DOJ -- Gorman described at length how then-NSA head Michael Hayden rejected technologies that could "rapidly separate and encrypt U.S.-related communications to ensure privacy" and "that monitored potential abuse of the records." As she put it: "Once President Bush gave the go-ahead for the NSA to secretly gather and analyze domestic phone records -- an authorization that carried no stipulations about identity protection -- agency officials regarded the encryption as an unnecessary step and rejected it."

It's not hyperbole to say that Bush's decision to use the NSA to spy domestically on American citizens was one of the most significant stories of this generation. It was long recognized that turning the NSA inward was one of the greatest dangers to freedom, as Sen. Frank Church warned back in 1975, after he investigated America's secret surveillance apparatus: "That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide." It was, of course, the December 16, 2005, New York Times article by Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau which first disclosed that the Bush NSA was illegally eavesdropping on American citizens inside the U.S., but Gorman's articles regarding the Trailblazer program -- in the time period covered by the indictment, using NSA sources (almost certainly including Drake) -- provided crucial details about how and why the Bush NSA dispensed with key safeguards to protect innocent Americans from such invasive domestic surveillance.

And then there's the massive fraud and waste which Gorman also exposed as a result of Drake's whistle-blowing. The primary focus of her stories was that the Trailblazer project turned into a massive, billion-dollar "boondoggle" which vastly exceeded its original estimates, sucked up enormous amounts of the post-9/11 intelligence budget explosion, and produced very little of value. But look at the coalition of corporations which was contracted to develop this Trailblazer project, the familiar cast of Surveillance State interests who were the recipients of the "boondoggle" which Gorman and Drake exposed:

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) today announced a contract award from the National Security Agency to be the provider of the technology demonstration platform phase of the TRAILBLAZER program.

The TDP phase of the TRAILBLAZER program is currently estimated at $280 million and will be performed over a period of 26 months.

The NSA selected the SAIC-led Digital Network Intelligence Enterprise team that includes Northrop Grumman, Booz Allen Hamilton, The Boeing Company, Computer Sciences Corporation and SAIC wholly-owned subsidiary Telcordia Technologies to contribute to the modernization of the NSA's signals intelligence capabilities.

SAIC itself is, by its own description, an enormous defense contractor devoted to "customers in the U.S. Department of Defense, the intelligence community, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, other U.S. Government civil agencies and selected commercial markets." Just like its Trailblazer partners -- Boeing, Booz Allen and Northrop Grumman -- SAIC feeds off the massive Pentagon and intelligence budgets. In other words, Drake's leaks to Gorman exposed serious wrongdoing on the part of (a) the NSA and its illegal domestic spying activities and (b) the vast private intelligence and defense industry that has all but formally merged with the CIA, NSA and Pentagon to become the public-private National Security and Surveillance State that exercises more power, by far, than any single faction in the country.

Think about to whose interests the Obama DOJ is devoted given that -- while they protect the most profound Bush crimes based on the Presidential decree of "Look Forward, Not Backward" -- they chose this whistle-blower to prosecute (and Drake, incidentally, is apparently impoverished, as he's been assigned a Public Defender to represent him). In the process, of course, the Obama DOJ also intimidates and deters future whistle-blowers from exposing what they know, thus further suffocating one of the very few remaining mechanisms Americans have to learn about what takes place behind the virtually impenetrable Wall of Secrecy surrounding the Surveillance State -- a Wall of Secrecy which the Obama administration, through its promiscuous use of "state secrets" and immunity claims, has relentlessly fortified and expanded. Anyone who doubts that whistle-blower prosecutions like this are intended to prevent any further disclosures of wrongdoing should simply review the 2008 Pentagon report which identified WikiLeaks as a major threat to the U.S. and proposed that exposure and prosecution of their sources would crush their ability to obtain further leaks.

It's true that leaking classified information is a crime. That's what makes whistleblowers like Drake so courageous. That's why Daniel Ellsberg -- who literally risked his liberty in an effort to help end the Vietnam War -- is one of the 20th Century's genuine American heroes. And if political-related crimes were punished equally, one could accept whistle-blower prosecutions even while questioning the motives behind them and the priorities they reflect. But that's not the situation that prevails.

Instead, here you have the Obama DOJ in all its glory: no prosecutions (but rather full-scale immunity extended) for war crimes, torture, and illegal spying. For those crimes, we must Look Forward, Not Backward. But for those poor individuals who courageously blow the whistle on oozing corruption, waste and illegal surveillance by the omnipotent public-private Surveillance State: the full weight of the "justice system" comes crashing down upon them with threats of many years in prison.

UPDATE: John Cole, proving once again that one can be an enthusiastic Obama admirer without reflexively excusing and justifying everything he does, writes today:

The message is clear- you torture people and then destroy the evidence, and you get off without so much as a sternly worded letter.

If you are a whistle blower outlining criminal behavior by the government, [] you get prosecuted.

Cole is referring to the revelation today that, once he learned it was done, then-CIA-Director Porter Goss approved of the destruction of CIA interrogation videos (an act which the co-Chairs of the 9/11 Commission said constituted obstruction of justice); the message Cole describes is exactly the one being sent by the Drake prosecution.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Civilian Deaths soar in southern Afghanistan

As the article mentions most of the casualties are the result of insurgent action but some are also caused by NATO forces. One wonders too how many casualties are caused by special forces who operate underneath press radar. Once the offensive begins to forcefully attempt to dislodge the Taliban from Kandahar no doubt casualties will go up especially if there are battles right within the city as seems highly probable. This is from

Civilian Toll Soaring in Southern Afghanistan
Posted By Jason Ditz

Despite President Obama’s claims of “progress” in Afghanistan the nation’s restive south, where virtually all of the latest escalation of troops have been deployed, has continued to see soaring violence, particularly in Kandahar.

According to the latest numbers out of the Red Cross in Kandahar, the number of civilians wounded in roadside bombings has risen between 30-40 percent compared to the same months in 2009. Despite massive increases in the amount of personnel and funding the US has thrown at tackling the roadside bombs, the attacks are still rising dramatically.

These numbers are, of course, separate from the civilian toll caused by the foreign troops themselves, and while specific figures in that regard have not been released, a number of high profile attacks, like the US attack on a busload of civilians near Kandahar, seems to be on the rise as well.

The number will likely continue to rise as the June invasion of Kandahar looms. An attack today inside the city killed at least 11 people, 10 of them private security contractors, and injured at least 18 others. Two other bombings in the city earlier in the day killed at least two others and wounded 23.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chomsky Warns of Risk of Fascism in America

I am always wary of talk about Fascism in the U.S. Some on the left seem to enjoy calling any repression or even any right wing protests they do not like as fascist. Fascism arose in a context when there were strong working class movements challenging the status quo in times of crisis and economic troubles. The working class in the U.S. is extremely weak and although there are some right wing groups targeting unions this does not seem to be a prominent feature. Also, in Germany in particular Jews were targeted. This surely is not happening much in the U.S.!
This is not to say there are not family resemblances between what is happening now and during the rise of fascism. The left should be busy critiquing the Obama administration and its policies not worrying about whether the Tea Party is Fascist--which it isn't Many in the Tea Party support people such as Ron Paul who is if anything a bulwark against Fascism and U.S. imperialism. All this being said Chomsky as always has many excellent points, I just do not think they add up to anything like Fascism yet.

Chomsky Warns of Risk of Fascism in America

By Matthew Rothschild

15 April, 2010

Noam Chomsky, the leading leftwing intellectual, warned last week that fascism may be coming to the United States.

“I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” he said, “and I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home.

Chomsky was speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, where he received the University of Wisconsin’s A.E. Havens Center’s award for lifetime contribution to critical scholarship.

“The level of anger and fear is like nothing I can compare in my lifetime,” he said.

He cited a statistic from a recent poll showing that half the unaffiliated voters say the average tea party member is closer to them than anyone else.

“Ridiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error,” Chomsky said.

Their attitudes “are understandable,” he said. “For over 30 years, real incomes have stagnated or declined. This is in large part the consequence of the decision in the 1970s to financialize the economy.”

There is class resentment, he noted. “The bankers, who are primarily responsible for the crisis, are now reveling in record bonuses while official unemployment is around 10 percent and unemployment in the manufacturing sector is at Depression-era levels,” he said.

And Obama is linked to the bankers, Chomsky explained.

“The financial industry preferred Obama to McCain,” he said. “They expected to be rewarded and they were. Then Obama began to criticize greedy bankers and proposed measures to regulate them. And the punishment for this was very swift: They were going to shift their money to the Republicans. So Obama said bankers are “fine guys” and assured the business world: ‘I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.’

People see that and are not happy about it.”

He said “the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism” is what is fueling “the indignation and rage of those cast aside.”

“People want some answers,” Chomsky said. “They are hearing answers from only one place: Fox, talk radio, and Sarah Palin.”

Chomsky invoked Germany during the Weimar Republic, and drew a parallel between it and the United States. “The Weimar Republic was the peak of Western civilization and was regarded as a model of democracy,” he said.

And he stressed how quickly things deteriorated there.

“In 1928 the Nazis had less than 2 percent of the vote,” he said. “Two years later, millions supported them. The public got tired of the incessant wrangling, and the service to the powerful, and the failure of those in power to deal with their grievances.”

He said the German people were susceptible to appeals about “the greatness of the nation, and defending it against threats, and carrying out the will of eternal providence.”

When farmers, the petit bourgeoisie, and Christian organizations joined forces with the Nazis, “the center very quickly collapsed,” Chomsky said.

No analogy is perfect, he said, but the echoes of fascism are “reverberating” today, he said.

“These are lessons to keep in mind.”

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine

Thursday, April 15, 2010

U.S. Military Confidence on Winning Afghan War Drops

Although the confidence level is dropping it is still over fifty percent. The survey seems to contain some anomalies. Although there is overwhelming support for the surge only 36 per cent think that Obama is handling the war well. It would have helped if the survey had sought more detail so that one could see why respondents felt this way. Note that the number one reason for joining the military was job security and second retirement benefits. This is from politicsdaily.

David Wood

U.S. Military Confidence Sinks on Winning Afghan War, Poll Finds

The military's confidence that it will win the Afghan war is declining, according to a new tracking poll showing only 60 percent of active-duty military personnel believe the U.S. can triumph.
The poll, conducted by the Military Times newspapers, which are not affiliated with the Defense Department, showed the percentage of respondents who believe the United States is likely to win in Afghanistan has dropped from 77 in 2008 to 68 in 2009 to 60 percent in late January and early February of this year.

The soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen taking part in the survey gave overwhelming support to President Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But only 36 percent said they approve of the way Obama is handling the war.
Obama's support is higher among the general population, according to recent polls that say more than half of those surveyed approve.
The respondents gave high marks to their own experiences in military service, with 85 percent saying they would recommend a military career to others and 76 percent saying they would support a son or daughter joining the military.
The Times said 72 percent said they would re-enlist or extend their commitment to military service if they had to decide today, with "job security'' being the number one reason, followed by retirement benefits and patriotism, the Times reported.

Israel issues new decree that allows expulsion of Palestinians from West Bank

This may not get much coverage in the western mainstream press. Even Israeli human rights groups are outraged by this move. It may be directed at Gazans who have fled the Gaza strip. These permits as mentioned were never required before so most Palestinians will not have them. This new decree allows Israel to deport Palestinians from the West Bank almost at will. Jordan has even complained about this new decree. This is from Xinhua

Israel issues west bank expulsion order

BEIJING, April 14 -- A new order may see thousands of Palentinians being expelled from the West Bank...Isreal's military tried to impose the new measures Tuesday... but were quickly denouced by human rights activists and the Palestinians themselves.

Under the new rules, anyone caught living in the West Bank without an Israeli permit could face expulsion within as few as three days or be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

The new measures have been denounced as "an affront to the most fundamental principles of human rights" by the Chief Palestinian negotiator.

The new military orders have also been slammed by Israelis.

10 Israeli human rights groups have issued a letter urging the Defense Ministry to rescind the new rules.

The human rights groups say the orders are so vague and sweeping that virtually all West Bankers are at risk.

And the military does not define what permits are required to shield against deportation.

Elad Kahana, Israeli Lawyer, Human Rights Group “Hamoked”, said, "It is very important to say that these permits that are now required were never required before, therefore no one has them and it should not be required to have to live in their own home and own land."

The most vulnerable groups under the new orders will be Gazans who have moved to the more prosperous West Bank in search of jobs, and the foreign spouses of West Bank residents.

It's estimated tens of thousands of people from the two groups are at risk of deportation.

(Source: CCTV)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Levine: Hypocrisy and the end of empires.

This is a wide ranging long article on the hypocrisy evident in the media and its alleged consequences for the U.S. empire. I doubt that the hypocrisy will have anything at all to do with the end of the U.S. empire. Hypocrisy is standard in politics and in any countries account of itself and its relationship to the rest of the world. It is necessary to build up a notion of a country as some sort of moral beacon above others especially for those countries that have an empire such as the U.S. Although the rhetorical hypocrisy requires a type of intellectual denial or blindness to contradictory data this negation actual binds people to the official story in many cases. Of course many people may come to doubt accepted view or parts of it. This is from aljazeera.

Hypocrisy and the end of empires
By Mark LeVine

Culture of hypocrisy which existed during the Bush era continues to thrive in the US today [EPA]
Every so often, a convergence occurs between a few ostensibly unrelated events in the endless swirl of news stories, polemics and propaganda, spin and advertising that make up the media sphere today.

Like the noonday sun, they pierce a hole through the fog of information that normally obscures the core dynamics behind the larger political-economic system's smooth functioning.

But unlike the sun shining through the storm clouds, this opening is not immediately obvious, and can easily be missed if one does not know where and how to look. In fact, it is more like a three-dimensional worm hole through political space, viewable if one folds specific coordinates over each other in just the right way.

In this case, the coordinates correspond to three levels of political discourse - military, media and cultural - whose harmonious interaction is crucial to the larger functioning of the system.

The brief moment of clarity reminds us of the crucial role played by one of the most subtle yet damning of human vices - hypocrisy - in sustaining the problems confronting the US, and most other global powers for that matter.

Hypocrisy laid bare

Has the US healthcare debate created an increasingly toxic political culture? [AFP]
Hypocrisy has always been an important denomination of political currency, but today it has seemingly become the coin of the realm.

One could easily ascribe it to the reascending of right-wing politics in the US and Europe, which is almost always accompanied by a politics of hypocrisy, since as a rule such politics involves the use of populist rhetoric to concentrate a country's wealth and resources in the hands of ever fewer people.

In the US, the vitriolic Republican-corporate attacks on healthcareand other much needed reforms in the name of protecting the rights of individual citizens, reflect an increasingly toxic political culture and the power of the right to manipulate deep-seated fears and prejudice for its own ends.

However, the continuities in US foreign policy between the Obama and Bush administrations reflect a more systemic hypocrisy whose negative consequences have global implications.

The US - like great powers before it - has long declared its intention to support freedom, democracy and progress while pursuing policies that encourage, or even demand, their opposite.

Not surprisingly, it has also turned a blind eye to its allies' or clients' hypocrisies: Israel declaring its desire for peace while intensifying occupation, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, promising to fight corruption while rigging elections and placing family members in crucial positions.

Then you have this or that Arab leader pledging democratic reform while continuing to arrest and abuse citizens - until the disconnect between words and deeds threatens core American interests.

With enemies, such as Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) or Iran today, hypocrisy is assumed, even when evidence suggests that at crucial moments they might actually be telling the truth.

But who's looking?

Whether friend or foe, it is the people who suffer from a geopolitics grounded in hypocrisy.

The hardships of the present economic downturn in the USonly hint at the pain caused to the peoples of the developing world, who bear the brunt of the full power of the economic and political interests lying beneath the hypocrisy of the global powers and their leaders alike.

And these consequences are often not just painful, but deadly.

Two generations ago in Southeast Asia the death toll reached into the millions, today in Iraq and Afghanistan the toll is in the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured. But the suffering rarely makes headlines, unless it can produce images that are too powerful to ignore.

The Abu Ghraib scandalproduced one such moment, although its quick dissipation (perhaps owing to an innate sense among many Americans that the hypocrisy they revealed was ultimately not merely that of the Bush administration, but the country as a whole) ensured that the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress paid no price for the activities they revealed.

The most recent opening in the haze of media and political hypocrisy began with the near simultaneous revelations of civilian deaths at the hands of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The now ubiquitous Wikileaks video footageof soldiers firing on Reuter's photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, his colleague Saeed Chmagh, and several other civilians in Baghdad in July 2007 was equalled in graphic power by the accusations that in February 2010, US special forces personnel had not only killed two pregnant women along with a teenage girl and two local officials in Khataba, Afghanistan, but carved the bullets out of the bodies to remove evidence of their responsibility for the deaths.

The hypocrisy of the official responses has been glaringly on display.

When asked whether the Wikileaks video would hurt America's image, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said it would not, precisely because what the video really showed was the fog of war.

"These people were operating in split-second situations .... And, you know, we've investigated it very thoroughly .... It should not have any lasting consequences."

'Dead bastards'

In military footage released by Wikileaks, Iraqi fatalities were called "dead bastards" [AFP]
Hypocrisy is often accompanied by arrogance.

Gates assumes that scenes of US soldiers blithely calling the victims "dead bastards," laughing, looking for an excuse to finish off an unarmed victim, and blaming other victims for "bringing their kids into a battle" will "not have any lasting consequences".

Consequences for whom, one might ask.

Perhaps Gates understands that most Iraqis and Afghans have long ago stopped believing US rhetoric about supporting democracy and protecting civilian lives.

Whether consciously or not, it seems Gates was considering public opinion in the US, not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Indeed, if we look behind his, and the soldiers', words we are reminded that it is extremely difficult to shoot people who do not present an immediate and clear threat unless you have first been desensitised by intense ideological preparation that dehumanises the occupied people.

As in Vietnam, this dehumanisation means that Iraqis and Afghan civilian deaths are easily accepted as mere collateral damage, since Americans have no connection to or sympathy for the peoples they have been occupying for most of the last decade.

The latest polls show that "voters are very responsive where Democrats talk boldly about our foreign policy of taking it to the terrorists".

And so even as four more civilians were killed by US forces firing on a crowded bus a day after Gates' remarks, Americans show no signs of changing the "secondary status" that Iraq and Afghanistan presently hold in their political discourse.

That would demand recognition of the hypocrisy that enabled their relegation to such a low status in the first place, even at the cost of upward of a trillion dollars and the loss of thousands of American soldiers.

Worse, it would demand a reevaluation of the larger premises upon which the unending 'war on terror' is being fought and confronting the fact that in so many areas, Obama is entrenching rather than reversing the policies of his predecessor.

Of course, Afghans are far less tolerant of the disconnect between US rhetoric and reality.

The latest deaths caused a new round of bitter protests against the US occupation while Afghan military leaders increasingly treat US promises to protect and respect civilians as meaningless and, like Karzai, even threaten to join the Taliban.

Tariq Ramadan's return

Gates' remarks and the more unscripted real-time comments of the soldiers he was defending exist in a media sphere that has failed miserably to educate the American public about the motivations behind and present-day realities of the Iraq and Afghan invasions and occupations.

Underlying this dynamic is a shared arrogance and hypocrisy by leading American commentators, especially those often portrayed as politically liberal or moderate, that was crucial to laying the groundwork for public acceptance of the rationale for going to war and continuing the occupations despite the numerous and manifest contradictions between them and the realities on the ground.

The process by which this dynamic proceeds was revealed last week in the coverage of the return of Swiss Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan to the US for a speaking tour, six years after he was banned from entering the country by the Bush administration.

Debating with Packer

Tariq Ramadan has been lauded by Haaretz for repudiating anti-Semitism [EPA]
Specifically, Ramadan's first event in the US was a forum on "secular Islam and democracy" held in New York, where he debated New Yorker writer George Packer.

Packer chose not to engage Ramadan, who has spent over a decade working to forge a consensus among European Muslims on the need for non-violence and to produce identities that can be both fully Muslim and Western, on the issues related to the forum's title.

Rather, while declaring that he was "not asking you to repudiate your grandfather [Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood]," he demanded that Ramadan account for and renounce anti-Semitic remarks made by al-Banna well over half a century ago.

At a time when the contemporary Muslim Brotherhood is engaged in an unprecedented generational shift in ideology and attitudes, Packer honed in his criticism of Ramadan for refusing to acknowledge that "his grandfather and the Muslim Brotherhood in its origins were characterised by anti-Semitic or totalitarian views".

Although he has held prestigious appointments at Oxford as well as Notre Dame and the University of Geneva, Packer argues that Ramadan "is not a philosopher, or an original thinker".

He provides no criteria for this judgement, but that is likely because he assumes that most readers will accept at face value that leading thinkers from the Muslim world are rarely original or philosophic - a code word for reasonable and rational, presumably like Americans and Europeans.

For his part, Packer would seem to fit neither characterisation; the term, never mind ideology of "totalitarianism" he accused al-Banna of harbouring was not even in use when the Brotherhood was founded or first rose to prominence.

'Rotten foundations'

Packer concludes that however well-meaning his bridge-building, Ramadan's hope of reconciling Islamic and Western culture is built on "rotten foundations," namely the history and ideology of the Brotherhood.

How does he know this? Clearly not by reading Ramadan's numerous books, which are clearly opposed to most of the basic tenets of the Brotherhood during his grandfather's day.

Instead, in good Orientalist fashion, Packer refers to second-hand accusations against Ramadan made by journalist Paul Berman, who is about to publish a book accusing Ramadan of being a propagandist for Islamist extremism.

Berman's last foray into the subject of Islam was Terror and Liberalism, which was celebrated in the mainstream media for, among other things, arguing that Sayyid Qutb was the ideological godfather of al-Qaeda - which scholars had been discussing for years before his "discovery" - and that political Islamist movements are ultimately "irrational" and therefore cannot be reasoned with.

Most scholarly reviews by those who actually know the region and its languages were largely critical of Berman's arguments.

US view of Muslims

Ramadan could have responded to Packer's constant pressure for him to denounce his grandfather by demanding that Packer renounce his support for the US invasion of Iraq, or his inaccurate and journalistically irresponsible dismissal of those who opposed the war - which included Ramadan - as fringe, knee-jerk and "doctrinaire" leftists who lacked any "understanding" of the region.

Perhaps he was being polite, or was too jet-lagged to respond in kind to attacks that had nothing to do with his own thinking (indeed, Ramadan has condemned anti-Semitism so many times that he was praised for doing so by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz).

Ultimately, however, it is not Ramadan's refusal to engage Packer at a lower level of discourse that is important; it is the assumption by Packer, no doubt borne out by long experience, that his arguments as to the rotten foundation and ultimately irrational basis of Ramadan's thinking will be accepted in the media sphere, since they accord so well with the general view of Muslim intellectual capabilities and motives.

Tiger Woods

Woods' fall mirrors the corruptive hypocrisy in the US today [AFP]
While Packer and Ramadan debated in New York City, Tiger Woods was preparing for his return to competitive golf at the Master's tournament that would begin later in the week.

Of all the sins Woods has been accused of, perhaps the most ubiquitous was his hypocrisy - creating a persona based on steely calm, control, integrity, and determination while in reality his private life was based on deceit and violating the trust of his family and fans.

This is no doubt a valid criticism, but by the time the first round began on Thursday most people were far more interested in what Tiger would do on the golf course than what he had done off the links.

Of course, no one could say this openly. And so Billy Payne, the chair of the Masters tournament, dutifully criticised Woods, stating that he "disappointed all of us" with his numerous marital infidelities.

Of course, neither he nor any of the journalists present thought it worth mentioning that Augusta National remains one of the few golf clubs that refuses to admit women as players. Apparently no one considered it the least bit hypocritical for a club that does not consider women worthy of membership to criticise a member and champion who treats women as unworthy of consideration beyond their sex.

With so much money riding on Woods' return to the spotlight, his main endorser, Nike, also decided it had to make a bold statement criticising Woods, while at the same time reaffirming both his iconic status and the possibility of redemption.

So it aired a commercial that saw Woods staring blankly into the camera while his late father, Earl, asked him from the grave about what he was thinking and what he had learnt.

That a company such as Nike, whose alleged record of systematic mistreatment of workers and use of child labour has been heavily criticised around the world, determined that the ghost of Woods' father could help cleanse him, and the company, of their sins, is one of the more egregious examples of corporate hypocrisy in some time.

Hypocrisy's victory

But the reality is they are probably right. Everyone is clearly anxious to get back to the way it was, and by the time Woods walked toward the 18th green on Sunday he was smiling and shaking hands with his course partner for the day, K.J. Choi, while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

No doubt most of those in attendance and watching on television will be happy to see Woods resume his golfing prowess. After all, no public figure better symbolised the power, purpose and determination of the US in the 2000s.

His fall from grace in many ways mirrored America's - the gleaming steel surface and sunny gaze turned out to be, if not quite rotten, then in need of major repair.

The blow-back of Woods' behaviour is being played out in front of the world. So is that of US policy. With enough reflection and determination, one can hope that Woods will rise above the hypocrisy that apparently has defined much of his professional and personal life.

But it is much harder for countries to do this, as it demands not one, but millions of people, from political leaders and commentators to ordinary citizens, to reflect deeply and honestly on what brought them to their present situation.

Perhaps if the fog remains lifted for long enough, one may be able to grasp the beginnings of the process of moving away from political and media cultures based on hypocrisy, greed and power and toward cultures that actually support peace, freedom and dignity.

Mark LeVine is currently visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His books include Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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