President Barack Obama told lawmakers on Thursday he plans to withdraw most American troops from Iraq by August 2010 but leave tens of thousands behind to advise Iraqi forces and protect U.S. interests, congressional officials said.
In a closed-door meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders, Obama and his top advisers estimated that 35,000 to 50,000 troops would remain in Iraq after the bulk of troops are withdrawn.
Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war and pledged to do so in 16 months.He said in his speech to the marines in Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, the u.s. will:
"....retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilianand military efforts within Iraq."
I have problems with what Obama is telling us.
Implying that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are "non-sectarian" stinks. The ISF's main role is to protect Iraq's new government, which was created under U.S. influence, is supported by the U.S., and has been deservedly accused of instituting sectarian policies (eg: http://tinyurl. com/atl4ke ). In my cynical view, Obama's "non-sectarian" remark is another classic example of schizophrenic, Orwellian double-speak from Washington, when translated means, "a function of the U.S. transitional force in Iraq will be to enable the sectarianism that's beneficial to the U.S. in its pursuit of foreign-policy goals."
Another reason to keep up to 50,000 troops in Iraq, in Obama's words, is to conduct "targeted counter- terrorism missions". Could be this was just a slip of the tongue and he meant to say, "targeted counter-counter- terrorism missions." Nah. Obama, like Bush, would never publicly acknowledge the fact that when the U.S. uses violence to coerce people (on a massive scale in Iraq) it's committing acts of terrorism or that victims of U.S. terrorism have a right to defend themselves. In Orwellian double-speak from Washington language, victims can be terrorists and terrorists can be terrorists, victims, and/or liberators.
Lastly, Obama says that a third function of the up to 50,000 troop transitional force is to protect "our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq." If I use examples of past U.S. military efforts as a guide, "ongoing military efforts" means the ongoing murder ( eg: http://tinyurl. com/dabnpg ) , rape (eg: http://tinyurl. com/avswef ), and torture (eg: http://tinyurl. com/bkjm5l ) of innocent Iraqis.
Shameful that is.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I think he's right on.
Other consequences of being 'assaulted', in my view, are apathy and complacency, which could explain why we can so easily rationalize and passively accept grave injustices....
(source: http://www.zmag.org/zmag )
Fundamentalist Consumerism and an Insane Society
At a giant Ikea store in Saudi Arabia in 2004, three people were killed by a stampede of shoppers fighting for one of a limited number of $150 credit vouchers. Similarly, in November 2008, a worker at a New York Wal-Mart was trampled to death by shoppers intent on buying one of a limited number of 50-inch plasma HDTVs.
Jdiniytai Damour, a temporary maintenance worker was killed on "Black Friday." In the predawn darkness, approximately 2,000 shoppers waited impatiently outside Wal-Mart, chanting, "Push the doors in." According to Damour's fellow worker Jimmy Overby, "He was bum-rushed by 200 people.
They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me." Witnesses reported that Damour, 34 years old, gasped for air as shoppers continued to surge over him. When police instructed shoppers to leave the store after Damour's death, many refused, some yelling, "I've been in line since yesterday morning."
The mainstream press covering Damour's death focused on the mob of crazed shoppers and, to a lesser extent, irresponsible Wal-Mart executives who failed to provide security. However, absent in the corporate press was anything about a consumer culture and an insane society in which marketers, advertisers, and media promote the worship of cheap stuff.
Along with journalists, my fellow mental health professionals have also covered up societal insanity. An exception is the democratic-socialist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980). Fromm, in The Sane Society (1955), wrote: "Yet many psychiatrists and psychologists refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. They hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only that of the number of 'unadjusted' individuals, and not of a possible unadjustment of the culture itself."
While people can resist the cheap-stuff propaganda and not worship at Wal-Mart, Ikea, and other big-box cathedrals—and stay out of the path of a mob of fundamentalist consumers—it is difficult to protect oneself from the slow death caused by consumer culture. Human beings are every day and in numerous ways psychologically, socially, and spiritually assaulted by a culture which:
creates increasing material expectations
devalues human connectedness
socializes people to be self-absorbed
alienates people from normal human emotional reactions
sells false hope that creates more pain
Increasing material expectations. These expectations often go unmet and create pain, which fuels emotional difficulties and destructive behaviors. In a now classic 1998 study examining changes in the mental health of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States, public policy researcher William Vega found that assimilation to U.S. society meant three times the rate of depressive episodes for these immigrants. Vega also found major increases in substance abuse and other harmful behaviors. Many of these immigrants found themselves with the pain of increased material expectations that went dissatisfied and they also reported the pain of diminished social support.
Devaluing of human connectedness. A 2006 study in the American Sociological Review noted that the percentage of Americans who reported being without a single close friend to confide in rose in the last 20 years from 10 percent to almost 25 percent. Social isolation is highly associated with depression and other emotional problems. Increasing loneliness, however, is good news for a consumer economy that thrives on increasing numbers of "buying units"—more lonely people means selling more televisions, DVDs, psychiatric drugs, etc.Promotes selfishness. Self-absorption is one of many reasons for U.S. skyrocketing rates of depression and other emotional difficulties—and self-absorption is exactly what a consumer culture demands. The Buddha, 2,500 years ago, recognized the relationship between selfish craving and emotional difficulties, and many observers of human beings, from Spinoza to Erich Fromm, have come to similar conclusions.
Obliterates self-reliance. The loss of self-reliance can create painful anxiety, which fuels depression and other problematic behaviors. In modern society, an increasing number of people—women as well as men—cannot cook a simple meal. They will never know the anti-anxiety effects of being secure in their ability to prepare their own food, grow their own vegetables, hunt, fish, or gather food for survival. In a consumer culture, such self-reliance makes no sense. At some level, people know that should they lose their incomes—not impossibilities these days—they have no ability to survive.
Alienation from humanity. The priests of consumer culture—advertisers and marketers—know that fundamentalist consumers will buy more if they are alienated from such normal reactions as boredom, frustration, sadness, and anxiety. If these priests can convince us that a given emotional state is shameful or evidence of a disease, then we will be more likely to buy not only psychiatric drugs, but also all kinds of products to make ourselves feel better. When we become frightened and alienated from a natural human reaction, this "pain over pain" creates more fuel for depression and other self-destructive behaviors and harmful actions.
Pain of false hope. The false hope of fundamentalist consumerism is that we will one day discover a product that can predictably manipulate moods without any downsides. Modern psychiatry is a full member of consumer culture. Its "Holy Grail" is a search for the antidepressant that can take away the pain of despair, but not destroy life. In the late 19th century, Freud thought he had found it with cocaine. In the middle of the 20th century, psychiatrists thought they had found it with amphetamines, and later with tricyclic antidepressants like Tofranil and Elavil. At the end of the 20th century, there were the SSRIs, such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft, which were ultimately found to create dependency and painful withdrawal and to be no more effective than placebos. Whatever the antidepressant drug, it is introduced as taking away depression without destroying life. Time after time, it is then discovered that when one tinkers with neurotransmitters, there is—as there is with electroshock and psycho-surgery—damage to life.
Fundamentalists reject both reason and experience. Fundamentalists are attached to dogma and if their dogma fails, they don't give it up, but instead resolve to deepen their faith and double down on their dogma.
Erich Fromm, 54 years ago, concluded: "Man [sic] today is confronted with the most fundamental choice; not that between Capitalism or Communism, but that between robotism (of both the capitalist and the communist variety), or Humanistic Communitarian Socialism. Most facts seem to indicate that he is choosing robotism and that means, in the long run, insanity and destruction. But all these facts are not strong enough to destroy faith in man's reason, good will, and sanity. As long as we can think of other alternatives, we are not lost."
Breaking free of fundamentalist consumerism means thinking of alternatives and it also means an active defiance: choosing to experience the various dimensions of life that have been excluded by the dogma.
Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).
Monday, February 23, 2009 - AFP
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) — The Palestinian Authority urged the US president on Monday to press Israel to scrap a plan to raze almost 90 homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
"We call on President Barack Obama to intervene personally to have this project stopped," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the main aides of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The Palestinian owners of 88 houses in the Silwan neighbourhood have received eviction notices saying that the structures will be destroyed because they were built or expanded without the necessary permits. The move would affect about 1,500 people.
"It is a massacre that Israel will commit in this Holy City," Abed Rabbo told a news conference, calling for "urgent Arab and international action to halt this dangerous project."
He said some of the houses affected by the orders had been built before Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.
He called for a day-long strike in east Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank to protest against the plan.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups the six Gulf Arab states, backed the call for US intervention to stop what it called these "racist acts that defy human rights and international law." Read On
Friday, February 20, 2009
Throngs crowd a court in support of Muntather Zaidi, the man who hurled his shoes at President Bush. Judges will decide March 12 whether the assault charge is warranted.
By Tina Susman and Raheem Salman, LA Times
February 20, 2009
Reporting from Baghdad — It was the hottest ticket in town. It drew spectators from as far away as Sweden and sparked a scramble for choice seats. Police formed human chains to block the crowds that surged forward to glimpse the star attraction: a defiant-looking man in black loafers.
This time, Muntather Zaidi's shoes stayed put as he went on trial Thursday for flinging his footwear at President Bush during a December news conference in Baghdad. If convicted of assaulting a visiting head of state, the Iraqi journalist could face 15 years in prison. Nobody questions whether Zaidi, 30, hurled his shoes at the president's face during Bush's farewell visit to Iraq on Dec. 14. The act was captured live on TV and has been replayed endlessly, like a spectacular touchdown pass.
Nor does Zaidi deny trying to clock Bush as he stood at a lectern beside Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki that night, shortly before the two leaders sat down to dinner.
On Thursday, standing in the wooden defendant's pen, Zaidi said he acted in a burst of rage as Bush, "smiling that icy smile," spoke of achievements in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in March 2003 and mentioned his upcoming meal with Maliki.
Zaidi, voice calm but forceful and an Iraqi flag draped like a cravat around his neck, said it was more than he could bear. "I thought about what the achievements were -- killing about a million Iraqis," Zaidi said. Read On
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
How the working poor get by. Barely.
—By Sasha Abramsky Mother Jones
January/February 2009 Issue
"I'll take a sandwich to work and that's about it," says Aubretia Edick, who is 58 and works in the pharmacy department of a Wal-Mart in Hudson, New York. "I drink a lot of tea. Once in a blue moon I'll go into Save-A-Lot and I'll get some meat. Eggs is kinda like a luxury kind of thing."
Edick first landed a $6.40-an-hour gig at Wal-Mart back in 2001, and over time her wages inched upward, reaching $10.50 last year. But with inflation factored in, it isn't that much better than when she first started. To make matters worse, while Edick was technically full time, her manager often slashed her hours due to the slowing economy. In mid-2008, she was grossing roughly $297 a week—$195 after taxes and deductions.
It's not just the unemployed who are hurting. Across the country, unskilled, nonunionized workers like Edick are barely scraping by on stagnant or declining wages. Bob Pollin, codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, calculates that a single person needs about $400 a week, pretax, to achieve even a semblance of economic security—the ability to pay bills on time, eat three square meals a day, and set aside a small rainy-day fund. By Pollin's calculation, tens of millions of American workers fall short of that minimum.
You'll find many of them in food prep, where more than 11 million Americans command a median hourly wage of $8.24, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are another 4.5 million workers doing maintenance-related tasks for $10.18 an hour, 3.3 million in "personal care" at $9.50, and 14.5 million in retail jobs that pay $11.41. Last year, Wal-Mart said its employees averaged $10.83 an hour, although labor-activist group Wal-Mart Watch claims that many longtime workers still make less than $10. These meager wages have helped push 6.2 million more Americans into poverty between 2000 and 2007. And that was before the banking industry imploded.
The fallout can be seen in breadlines across the country. Dozens of food-pantry workers I've interviewed for my upcoming book on hunger report a flood of working-poor clients. Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest), a nonprofit that supplies 63,000 pantries and once primarily served "the poorest of the poor," learned in 2006 that more than one-third of its beneficiaries come from working households. "We're seeing faces we've never seen before," says spokesman Ross Fraser. At a pantry in Gallup, New Mexico, visited back when gas prices were soaring, one 29-year-old Navajo woman told me how the grueling drive to her 7-Eleven job in the town of Cuba came to burn up nearly half of her $6.80-per-hour take. In the end, the math didn't make sense, so she quit. "I feed my three boys potatoes," she said. "We eat two meals a day—just breakfast and dinner. Usually oatmeal for breakfast, and in the evening, gravy potatoes with tortillas."
Edick's monthly take-home pay—about $800 at the time I visited—doesn't go far either. She lives in a tiny apartment with a broken stove and mostly empty fridge that barely works. Rent and utilities run about $450 a month; when it's cold outside, she often sets the thermostat to 50 degrees to lower her bill. Gas and car insurance cost another $160 or so, depending on prices at the pump. And then there are the doctor visits, covered only after a $1,000 deductible—plus medicines for a thyroid problem, chronic anxiety, and osteoporosis.
To balance the budget, Edick often skimps on food, some weeks spending little more than $10 on groceries, about one-quarter what the federal food stamp program calculates is needed for three "thrifty meals" a day. She patronizes the grimy discount stores whose prices run even lower than Wal-Mart's, and can tick off their notable sales going back for months. "I had some oranges," she recalls with a self-deprecating smile. "A couple of months ago, they had grapes on sale." And, "If it's less than three dollars for a package of six steaks, that looks like a good deal to me." (She tries not to think too hard about the quality of a 50-cent steak.) Her staples include PB&J, canned ham salad, soup: "I'll get chicken noodle or Campbell's Chunky. There's meat in there. You can pour it over noodles and put butter on it. It's like a delicacy."
In essence, the nation's biggest employers of unskilled labor often leave workers having to feed from the public trough. In 2004, a year in which Wal-Mart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Other studies have revealed widespread use of publicly funded health care by Wal-Mart employees in numerous states. In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children.
For her part, Edick, unlike many Americans, hasn't resorted to handouts. (An estimated 28 million people were on food stamps as of last April, up from 17 million in 2000.) "There's times I'm hungry, and I'll look in the refrigerator for something—I'll find a snack pudding. Some leftover rice," Edick says softly. "I'm not starving or anything like that."
Sasha Abramsky's new book, Breadline USA, is due out in May from PoliPoint Press.
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) — Afghan authorities said Wednesday that at least 13 civilians, including women and children, were killed in a US-led air strike on militants, prompting the military to order an inquiry.
The latest charges of civilian casualties from foreign operations follow tensions on the issue between Kabul and Washington, its main military backer in an escalating fight against a Taliban insurgency.
The strike outside the western city of Herat on Monday targeted a "key insurgent commander" named Gholam Yahya Akbari, the US military said.
"Killed in the attack were up to 15 militants suspected of associating with Yahya," it said.
However, provincial authorities said teams sent to the area to investigate found that civilians were killed.
"The information we have states that 13 civilians have been killed in that air strike -- six women, two children and five men," said provincial government spokesman Naqibullah Arwin.
The identities of three other men killed in the same attack were unclear, the spokesman said.
"Initial information indicates that two of the three bodies could also be civilians. Apparently they were two car mechanics taken there to fix a broken car which belonged to the armed opposition," Arwin said.
Ikramuddin Yawar, police chief for western Afghanistan, earlier confirmed the deaths of six women and two children whom he said were from a nomad tribe, and were killed close to their tents. Read On
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Obama OKs 17,000 new troops for Afghanistan
Additional Marines, Army soldiers expected to deploy in coming months
NBC News and news services
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama approved adding some 17,000 U.S. troops for the flagging war in Afghanistan, his first significant move to change the course of a conflict that his closest military advisers have warned the United States is not winning.
"To meet urgent security needs, I approved a request from (Defense) Secretary Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring and an Army Stryker Brigade and the enabling forces necessary to support them later this summer," Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. Read On
A 'fraud' bigger than Madoff
Senior US soldiers investigated over missing Iraq reconstruction billions
By Patrick Cockburn in Sulaimaniyah, Northern Iraq
The Independent, Monday, 16 February 2009
In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.
"I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad," said one US businessman active in Iraq since 2003.
In one case, auditors working for SIGIR discovered that $57.8m was sent in "pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills" to the US comptroller for south-central Iraq, Robert J Stein Jr, who had himself photographed standing with the mound of money. He is among the few US officials who were in Iraq to be convicted of fraud and money-laundering.
Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline except those at work building a new US embassy and others rusting beside a half-built giant mosque that Saddam was constructing when he was overthrown. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.
Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption. In 2004-05, the entire Iraq military procurement budget of $1.3bn was siphoned off from the Iraqi Defence Ministry in return for 28-year-old Soviet helicopters too obsolete to fly and armoured cars easily penetrated by rifle bullets. Iraqi officials were blamed for the theft, but US military officials were largely in control of the Defence Ministry at the time and must have been either highly negligent or participants in the fraud. Read On
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Fri Feb 13, 2009 6:44am EST
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Afghanistan condemned on Friday the killing of civilians in a raid by Australian soldiers in the south of the country which it says was not coordinated with Afghan forces.
The Australian Defence Force said five children had been killed in a shootout between Taliban insurgents and Australian Special Forces in southern Uruzgan province on Thursday, where they were "clearing" a number of compounds.
The Afghan Defence Ministry said one woman and two children were killed and eight other people wounded in the attack."The Defence Ministry condemns the martyring of one woman and two children and the wounding of eight others ... in an operation by international forces ... and asks international forces not to conduct operations without the coordination of Afghan forces," the ministry said in a statement. Read On
Returning U.S. combat soldiers are committing suicide and murder in alarming numbers. In a special series, Salon uncovers the habitual mistreatment behind the preventable deaths.
Editor's note: This is the introduction to a weeklong series of stories called "Coming Home." Read the first story in the series here; see photos of Heidi Lieberman painting over her son's suicide note, and a copy of the "Hurt Feelings Report," here.
By Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna
Feb. 9, 2009 FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Preventable suicides. Avoidable drug overdoses. Murders that never should have happened. Four years after Salon exposed medical neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that ultimately grew into a national scandal, serious problems with the Army's healthcare system persist and the situation, at least at some Army posts, continues to deteriorate.
This story is no longer just about lack of medical care. It's far worse than sighting mold and mouse droppings in the barracks. Late last month the Army released data showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008.
Another 15 deaths are still under investigation as potential suicides. "Why do the numbers keep going up?" Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Jan. 29 Pentagon news conference. "We can’t tell you." On Feb. 5, the Army announced it suspects 24 soldiers killed themselves last month, more than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Read On