Federal Reefer Madness

SUBHEAD: Under the Obama Administration the Feds seem intent on destroying medicinal marijuana legal in 16 states.

By Ethan Nadlemann on 7 November 2011 for Alternet,org - 
(http://www.alternet.org/story/152997/reefer_madness%3A_the_feds_seem_intent_on_destroying_medical_pot_)

 
Image above: Detail of poster for movie "Reefer Madness" wildly misportraying the effects of marijuana. From (http://www.sportressofblogitude.com/2009/06/18/oh-man-old-man-pinella-just-called-weed-a-reefer-this-is-the-best-day-of-my-life/).




This year, federal authorities have done almost everything in their power to undermine state regulation of medical marijuana. It is time Obama implement his original policy.



Marijuana is now legal under state law for medical purposes in 16 states and the District of Columbia, encompassing nearly one-third of the American population. More than 1,000 dispensaries provide medical marijuana; many are well regulated by state and local law and pay substantial taxes. But though more than 70 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, any use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

When he ran for president, Barack Obama defended the medical use of marijuana and said that he would not use Justice Department resources to override state laws on the issue. He appeared to make good on this commitment in October 2009, when the Justice Department directed federal prosecutors not to focus their efforts on “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

But over the past year, federal authorities appear to have done everything in their power to undermine state and local regulation of medical marijuana and to create uncertainty, fear and confusion among those in the industry. The president needs to reassert himself to ensure that his original policy is implemented.

The Treasury Department has forced banks to close accounts of medical marijuana businesses operating legally under state law. The Internal Revenue Service has required dispensary owners to pay punitive taxes required of no other businesses. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently ruled that state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients can not purchase firearms.

United States attorneys have also sent letters to local officials, coinciding with the adoption or implementation of state medical marijuana regulatory legislation, stressing their authority to prosecute all marijuana offenses. Prosecutors have threatened to seize the property of landlords and put them behind bars for renting to marijuana dispensaries. The United States attorney in San Diego, Laura E. Duffy, has promised to start targeting media outlets that run dispensaries’ ads.

President Obama has not publicly announced a shift in his views on medical marijuana, but his administration seems to be declaring one by fiat. The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele M. Leonhart, a Bush appointee re-nominated by Mr. Obama, has exercised her discretionary authority to retain marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” And the pronouncements on marijuana, medical and otherwise, from Mr. Obama’s top drug policy adviser, R. Gil Kerlikowske, have been indistinguishable from those of Mr. Bush’s.

None of this makes any sense in terms of public safety, health or fiscal policy. Apart from its value to patients, medical marijuana plays an increasingly important role in local economies, transforming previously illegal jobs into legal ones and creating many new jobs as well, contributing to local tax bases and stimulating new economic activity. Federal crackdowns will not stop the trade in marijuana; they will only push it back underground and hurt those patients least able to navigate illicit markets.

Perhaps not since the civil rights era has law enforcement played such an aggressive role in what is essentially a cultural and political struggle. But this time the federal government is playing the bully, riding roughshod over states’ rights, not to protect vulnerable individuals but to harm them.

At the federal level, there have been few voices of protest. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill shy away from speaking out. Republicans mostly ignore the extent to which anti-marijuana zealotry threatens core conservative values like states rights, property rights and gun ownership.


Video above: Part 6 of a color enhanced version of the 1937 film "Reefer Madness". From (http://youtu.be/qxn7uScpxEg).

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Angels don't play this HAARP

SOURCE: Nola Ann Conn (https://www.facebook.com/nola.conn) SUBHEAD: A video explaining the DARPA research project HAARP and some of the risks and dangers associated with it. By Dr. Nick Begich on 8 November 2010 for BrassTV - (http://www.brasschecktv.com/videos/offensive-technology/angels-still-dont-play-this-haarp.html) Image above: View of 180 element HAARP array. From (http://www.haarp.alaska.edu/haarp/photos.html). What is HAARP - High-frequency Active Auroral Research Project? Based on the best selling book "Angels Don't Play This HAARP", narrator Dr. Nick Begich presents a compelling discussion of one of the important military advances of the United States government. The technology is designed to manipulate the environment in a number of ways that can jam all global communications, disrupt weather systems, interfere with migration patterns, disrupt human mental processes, negatively affect your health and disrupt the upper atmosphere. The U.S. military calls this new zapper the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program or HAARP. The rest of the story is revealed in the patents, technical papers and other documents that continue to emerge regarding this project. Begich has presented on the subject as an expert witness for the European Parliament, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defense Policy Subcommittee on Security and Disarmament, GLOBE and others. In a useful and important book, Manning and Begich have attacked many problems and told many stories. Best of all they have told how they and a gallant lot of nongovernment people in Alaska have fought battles to expose the HAARP project, which is the latest modernization of the Pentagon's electromagnetic warfare preparations, under test in the Alaskans' own backyard. HAARP has been a mysterious project, whose true nature has been hidden, they say, by lies and disinformation. It has posed as university ionospheric research, which it only partly is, so as to conceal its military character. The great service that Manning and Begich have done is to uncover just enough technical and organizational information to leave no doubt about the centrality of HAARP to the Pentagon's aims of perfecting electromagnetic warfare. HAARP stands for High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It follows upon a long line of ionospheric research, some of it military, in which bursts of radiofrequency radiation have been beamed up into the ionosphere in order to study the effects so produced. Installations that send high intensity electromagnetic waves into the ionosphere have been called ionospheric heaters. Some have been in Greenland, the Pacific, Japan, Norway, and Russia. What is new about HAARP and should give grounds for concern is the much greater power level contemplated and the hugely greater power flux aimed at in the projected transmission. Scientists often study a system by perturbing it, observing the processes that take place during the recovery to the original state of the system. HAARP, however, promises to perturb the system so drastically that it may never recover to its original state, even assuming that it is stable enough that it returns to its former state under less drastic bombardment. Furthermore, the very scientists planning the research do not know what the results may be. If Manning and Begich are to be believed, the nuclear explosions carried out by the Soviet Union and the United States outside the Earth's atmosphere, prior to the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty forbidding such detonations, did in fact damage the ionosphere in the long term. For example, there is now radioactivity in outer space that wasn't there prior to the nuclear explosions, so that in this one sense at least, the ionosphere certainly isn't the same as it was. HAARP threatens to blast the ionosphere again, but possibly in a new and very frightening way. Video above: "Angels still don't play this HAARP" by Nick Begich. From (http://youtu.be/mLZcaItj70U). See also: www.LayInstitute.org www.EarthPulse.com .

APEC approach has doubters

SOURCE: Curtis Ellis (curtis.w.ellis@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: Alterna*APEC imagines what a local economy could be beyond what global businesses propose.  

By Susan Essoyan on 6 November 2011 for the Star Advertiser -  
(http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/hawaiinews/20111106_Free_trade_approach_has_its_doubters.html)

 
Image above: Members of alterna*APEC, including Eva Enriques, left, and Gaye Chan, right, were among those painting slogans on recycled cardboard at thirtyninehotel in Chinatown. From original article.
 
The largest gathering of world leaders in the state's history gives a global megaphone to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation that critics of the organization hope to share.

Although such APEC Leaders Meetings produce no legally binding agreements, they have galvanized thousands of protesters at recent gatherings in Japan, South Korea and Australia, raising a range of grievances from the Iraq War to global warming. At last November's APEC meeting, farmers turned out in force in Yokohama, Japan, to resist efforts to open their markets to foreign competition.

"I've been looking at APEC since the 1990s and I think that it is thoroughly clear that while APEC has really been a boon for particular businesses, for many of the people in the APEC countries it's actually been quite devastating," said Nandita Sharma, associate professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Critics of APEC in Hawaii say the forum has helped multinational corporations run roughshod over local needs in the region. Its focus on free trade and lifting barriers to commerce, they argue, hurts local businesses and small farmers. Reducing regulations makes it easier for multinationals to operate and extract their profits, at the expense of the environment and workers' rights, they say.

Tung Bui, director of the UH APEC Studies Center, argues that such concerns are more appropriately directed at entities such as the World Trade Organization, which actually handles trade rules and agreements.

"APEC is among the international gatherings that has the most cordial meetings because there is no binding agreement," said Bui, who holds the Matson Navigation Co. chair of global business at the UH Shidler College of Business. "It's just a platform where people get together and share their views. Everybody tries to get a consensus, and all we expect to see in the Honolulu declaration is going to be very general."

Given Hawaii's remote location and its tradition of relaxed hospitality, the street scene is expected to be relatively quiet at the Honolulu APEC conference. So far, just one group -- World Can't Wait Hawaii -- has applied for city permits to stage demonstrations during the Tuesday-through-Sunday summit on Oahu.

Many people in the islands are not familiar with APEC and do not feel a direct connection to it, although that is changing as they learn of road closures and restricted ocean access.

"A month ago, almost no one had heard of APEC," said Carolyn Hadfield, an activist with World Can't Wait Hawaii. "They still don't know anything about what APEC really is."

Along with taking it to the streets, Hawaii residents are organizing alternative forums to raise awareness of APEC and to sketch out a different way forward. "Moana Nui 2011: The Pacific Peoples, their Lands and Economies," set for Wednesday through Friday, will focus on indigenous stewardship of land and resources.

"When you have these big international gatherings, you don't necessarily want to spend your time complaining, though there's a lot to complain about," said Arnie Saiki, coordinator of the conference. "One of the objectives for Moana Nui was to offer a place where Pacific island peoples could actually have a very informed discussion over what could be an alternative Pacific island economy."

Moana Nui's keynote speaker is Walden Bello, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, co-author of "The American Lake" and a leading critic of corporate globalization. Conference sessions will cover competition over regional resources and how small island nations can maintain or regain control of their economic and cultural viability.

ARTISTS ARE getting involved as well in response to APEC. Alterna*APEC, an informal body of artists and community members, is holding a series of events designed to imagine "what a local economy could be beyond what global businesses propose" and consider the role of art, said Jaimey Hamilton, a UH assistant professor of contemporary art history who heads that project.

At a recent alterna*APEC arts demonstration, an eclectic group gathered at thirtyninehotel in Chinatown, silk-screening T-shirts, painting slogans on recycled cardboard, and even crocheting with brightly colored yarn.

"Especially for an island community, it's important to understand that our resources are finite," said Lauren Ballesteros, a server and community actor who attended the event and hopes to participate in street theater during APEC. "We do have the ability to sustain ourselves."

The weight of the APEC conference lies largely in who attends and the opportunity for dialogue. President Barack Obama will meet with leaders of 20 other nations, including President Hu Jintao of China and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. Also participating are the leaders of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Vietnam.



In conjunction with the Leaders Meeting next weekend, business executives from around the region will also gather in Waikiki at the APEC CEO Summit, described as "essentially the board meeting of the Asia-Pacific" by Monica Whaley, president of APEC 2011 US Host Committee. Among them are officials from Boeing, Wal-Mart Asia and Sumitomo Chemical Co.
"The summit is unlike any other event in the world, allowing senior business executives to engage with world leaders and have an immediate impact on economic policy decisions," Whaley said in a statement. "These discussions move markets."
Founded in 1989, APEC champions free trade and investment, economic integration and technical cooperation in the region. A November 2010 assessment of progress toward its goals by APEC's Policy Support Unit noted that trade barriers have fallen across the region, economic growth has outpaced the rest of the world and standards of living have risen.
Bui said he considers APEC's focus on liberalization of trade and investment as "outdated" because so much has been done on that front already. Instead, he said, leaders should take heed of the backdrop for this year's meeting -- the Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate greed.
"In the context of APEC, I would argue that the major problem we are facing this year is the increase of this disparity in income between the rich and the poor," Bui said. "This is not only happening in the developing countries like China and Vietnam and the Philippines, but also in the United States."
He added that he expects that, in their declaration on economic growth, leaders will recognize "that growth has got to be inclusive for everyone -- there should be a fair share for the rich and the poor as well."
Vanessa Chong, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, said it is working with the city to ensure that lawful protesters have room to exercise their rights to free speech. The organization has set up a "Know Your Rights" hot line at 522-5906 and an APEC First Amendment Toolkit on its website.
"The 'know your rights' line will be geared up and monitored frequently so we can respond to problems as they arise," Chong said. "If the city and other officials remain as responsive as they have been, Hawaii has a very good chance of having a good APEC experience. It would be great for Hawaii to show the world that the First Amendment is alive and well in the Aloha State."

Anti-APEC Hawaiian organizations  

Eating in Public Website: http://www.nomoola.com/about/index.html E-mail: info@nomoola.com
Eating in Public was founded in 2003 in Hawaii by Gaye Chan and Nandita Sharma. We have grown and shared food on private/public land. We have set up a growing ‘chain’ of free stores where anyone and everyone can leave or take goods. We are implementing an anarchist recycling system on the island of Oahu. We have done all of this without ever asking for permission.
World Can’t Wait Hawaii Contact: Carolyn Hadfield Website: http://worldcantwaithonolulu.blogspot.com E-mail: worldcantwaithawaii@yahoo.com hawaii@worldcantwait.org Phone: 808-534-2255
The World Can’t Wait organizes people living in the United States to repudiate and stop the fascist direction initiated by the Bush Regime, including: the murderous, unjust and illegitimate occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; the global “war of terror” of torture, rendition and spying; and the culture of bigotry, intolerance and greed. This direction cannot and will not be reversed by leaders who tell us to seek common ground with fascists, religious fanatics, and empire. It can only be possible by the people building a community of resistance - an independent mass movement of people - acting in the interests of humanity to stop, and demand prosecution, of these crimes.
Moana Nui Website: http://moananui2011.org Email: moananui2011@ gmail.com Phone: (808) 255-1700 (directions, planning, scheduling) (808) 218-4367 (general information)
Moana Nui is hosting The Pacific Peoples, their Lands and Economies. It is a three-day summit that is being planned for the second week in November 2011, commencing on November 9th, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Organized by a partnership of scholars, community and political activists and Hawaiian and Pacific Islander cultural practitioners, Moana Nui is intended to provide a voice and possible direction for the economies of Pacific Islands in the era of powerful transnational corporations, global industrial expansion and global climate change.
Occupy APEC Website http://occupyapec.com
Occupy APEC is a small team supporting Occupy Wall Street in protest and rightful economic reconciliation that joins the dots with human rights and the environment. The corporate representatives within “Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation” are gathering here to subvert almost half of the world’s economy. With that agenda, of course we are shut out at every step and they are holding our 20 heads of state hostage. The concrete barricades, the deployed police troops, the theatre of motorcades are evidence enough of an attack on sovereignty and, sadly, aloha itself.
Alterna*APEC
Website: http://www.globoflo.com/category/alternaapec
Alterna*APEC is an informal body of artists and community members from the region, who will gather at the same time as APEC, to present creative research, to propose their own recommendations, to demonstrate active intervention, and to advocate art’s role in transforming regional and global economies.


See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: APEC as corporate colonization 11/2/11 .

War on the Home Front

SUBHEAD: A group of American veterans march through NYC police in support of Occupy Wall Street. By Frances Fox Piven 6 November 2011 for Tom Dispatch - (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175463/tomgram%3A_frances_fox_piven%2C_the_war_on_the_home_front) Image above: American veterans marching in support of OWS and Scott Olsen, soldier injured by Oakland police. From (http://www.businessinsider.com/veterans-march-for-occupy-wall-street-2010-11#we-stopped-at-the-top-of-the-stairs-leading-into-the-park-so-the-veterans-could-speak-to-the-crowd-14).

It was a beautiful, sunlit fall morning when the patrol, many in camouflage jackets, no more than 40 of them in all, headed directly into enemy territory. Their ranks included one sailor in uniform, three women, and a small child named Viva in a stroller. Except for Viva, all of them were vets, a few from the Vietnam era but most from our more recent wars.

As they headed for Wall Street, several carried signs that said, “I am still serving my country,” and one read, “How is the war economy working for you?” Many wore Iraq Veterans Against the War t-shirts under their camo jackets, and there was one other thing that made this demonstration unlike any seen in these last Occupy Wall Street weeks: there wasn’t a police officer, police car, or barricade in sight. As they headed out across a well-trafficked street, not a cop was there to yell at them to get back on the curb.

In the wake of the wounding of Scott Olsen in the police assault on Occupy Oakland last week, that’s what it means to be a veteran marching on Zuccotti Park. Scott Kimbell (Iraq, 2005-2006), who led the patrol, later told me: “Cops are in a difficult position with vets. Some of them were in the military and are sympathetic and they know that the community will not support what happened to Scott Olsen.” Just before Broad Street, a line of waiting police on scooters picked up the marchers, for once feeling more like an escort than a gang of armed avengers, while media types and photographers swarmed in the street without police reprimand.

Suddenly, the patrol swiveled right and marched directly into the financial heart of the planet through a set of barricades. (“Who opened up the barrier there?” shouted a policeman.) It was aiming directly at a line of mounted police blocking the way. In front of them, the march halted. With a smart “Left face!” the platoon turned to the Stock Exchange and began to call out in unison, “We are veterans! We are the 99%! We swore to protect the Constitution of the United States of America! We are here to support the Occupy Movement!”

Then, the horses parted like the Red Sea, like a wave of emotion sweeping ahead of us, and the vets marched on triumphantly toward Zuccotti Park as a military cadence rang out (“...corporate profits on the rise, but soldiers have to bleed and die! Sound off, one, two...”)

The platoon came to attention in front of Trinity Church for a moment of silence for “our friend Scott Olsen,” after which it circled the encampment at Zuccotti Park to cheers and cries of “Welcome Home!” from the protesters there. (One of the occupiers shouted to the skies: “Hey, police, the military’s here and they’re on our side!”) And if you don’t think all of it was stirring, then you have the heart of a banker.

Soon after, veterans began offering testimony, people’s mic-style, at the top of the park. Eli Wright, 30, a former Army medic in Ramadi, Iraq (2003-2004), now on military disability and Viva's dad, parked her stroller when I asked him why he was here. “I came out today to march for economic justice," he responded. "I want a future for my daughter. I want her to have an education and a job. I served seven years for our country to defend our constitution only to see it being dismantled before my eyes. I think it’s time for vets and others to stand up and fight back.” As for two-year-old Viva, “This,” he said, “is the introduction to democracy that she needs to see.” As a matter of fact, amid the tumult, Viva was soundly and peaceably asleep.

Joshua Shepherd, in the Navy from 2002 to 2008, told me that, during those years, he came to realize "it wasn’t about protecting anyone, it was about making money.” Now a student, he was holding up a large poster of his friend Scott Olsen. He had been with Olsen when he was hit, possibly by a beanbag round fired by the police, and had flown in from San Francisco for this march. “It’s important that the people at Wall Street know that we support them. For the life of me I’m not sure why the police escalated the way they did [in Oakland], but the powers that be are threatened. Income disparities have never been higher and they want to keep it that way. It’s my intention to raise my voice and say that’s not right.”

T.J. Buonomo, 27 and unemployed, a personable former Army military intelligence officer, told me that he had come up from Washington specifically for the march. “Seeing what happened to Scott Olsen made me feel like we had to stand up for Americans getting their democracy back. If this country keeps going like this, we’re going to look like Latin America in the 1970s.”

Of course, as with so much else about Zuccotti Park, there’s no way of knowing whether these vets were a recon outfit preparing the way for a far larger “army,” possibly (as in the Vietnam era) including active-duty service people, or whether they were just a lost American patrol. Still, if you were there, you, too, might have felt that something was changing in this country, that a larger movement of some kind was beginning to form.

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An All-American Nightmare

SUBHEAD: This is what defeat of the American Military-Industrial Complex looks like. By Tom Englehardt on 8 November 2011 for TomDispatch - (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175464/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_the_interpretation_of_american_dreams) Image above: Carrier deck crew roll new Huey helicopter into Pacific Ocean to make room for landing of more retreating Americans from Saigon on 4/30/75. From (http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showpost.php?p=58003881&postcount=2446).

How about a moment of silence for the passing of the American Dream?

No, I’m not talking about the old dream of opportunity that involved homeownership, a better job than your parents had, a decent pension, and all the rest of the package that’s so yesterday, so underwater, so OWS. I’m talking about a far more recent dream, a truly audacious one that’s similarly gone with the wind.

I’m talking about George W. Bush’s American Dream. If people here remember the invasion of Iraq -- and most Americans would undoubtedly prefer to forget it -- what’s recalled is kited intelligence, Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent nuclear arsenal, dumb and even dumber decisions, a bloody civil war, dead Americans, crony corporations, a trillion or more taxpayer dollars flushed down the toilet... well, you know the story. What few care to remember was that original dream -- call it The Dream -- and boy, was it a beaut!

An American Dream

It went something like this: Back in early 2003, the top officials of the Bush administration had no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, drained by years of war, no-fly zones, and sanctions, would be a pushover; that the U.S. military, which they idolized and romanticized, would waltz to Baghdad. (The word one of their supporters used in the Washington Post for the onrushing invasion was a “cakewalk.”) Nor did they doubt that those troops would be greeted as liberators, even saviors, by throngs of adoring, previously suppressed Shiites strewing flowers in their path. (No kidding, no exaggeration.)

How easy it would be then to install a “democratic” government in Baghdad -- which meant their autocratic candidate Ahmad Chalabi -- set up four or five strategically situated military mega-bases, exceedingly well-armed American small towns already on the drawing boards before the invasion began, and so dominate the oil heartlands of the planet in ways even the Brits, at the height of their empire, wouldn't have dreamed possible. (Yes, the neocons were then bragging that we would outdo the Roman and British empires rolled into one!)

As there would be no real resistance, the American invasion force could begin withdrawing as early as the fall of 2003, leaving perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 troops, the U.S. Air Force, and various spooks and private contractors behind to garrison a grateful country ad infinitum (on what was then called “the South Korean model”). Iraq's state-run economy would be privatized and its oil resources thrown open to giant global energy companies, especially American ones, which would rebuild the industry and begin pumping millions of barrels of that country's vast reserves, thus undermining the OPEC cartel's control over the oil market.

And mind you, it would hardly cost a cent. Well, at its unlikely worst, maybe $100 billion to $200 billion, but as Iraq, in the phrase of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, “floats on a sea of oil,” most of it could undoubtedly be covered, in the end, by the Iraqis themselves.

Now, doesn’t going down memory lane just take your breath away? And yet, Iraq was a bare beginning for Bush's dreamers, who clearly felt like so many proverbial kids in a candy shop (even if they acted like bulls in a china shop). Syria, caught in a strategic pincer between Israel and American Iraq, would naturally bow down; the Iranians, caught similarly between American Iraq and American Afghanistan, would go down big time, too -- or simply be taken down Iraqi-style, and who would complain? (As the neocon quip of the moment went: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)

And that wasn’t all. Bush’s top officials had been fervent Cold Warriors in the days before the U.S. became “the sole superpower,” and they saw the new Russia stepping into those old Soviet boots. Having taken down the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, they were already building a network of bases there, too. (Let a thousand Korean models bloom!) Next on the agenda would be rolling the Russians right out of their “near abroad,” the former Soviet Socialist Republics, now independent states, of Central Asia.

What glory! Thanks to the unparalleled power of the U.S. military, Washington would control the Greater Middle East from the Mediterranean to the Chinese border and would be beholden to no one when victory came. Great powers, phooey! They were talking about a Pax Americana on which the sun could never set. Meanwhile, there were so many other handy perks: the White House would be loosed from its constitutional bounds via a “unitary executive” and, success breeding success, a Pax Republicana would be established in the U.S. for eons to come (with the Democratic -- or as they said sneeringly, the “Democrat” -- Party playing the role of Iran and going down in a similar fashion).

An American Nightmare

When you wake up in a cold sweat, your heart pounding, from a dream that’s turned truly sour, sometimes it’s worth trying to remember it before it evaporates, leaving only a feeling of devastation behind.

So hold Bush’s American Dream in your head for a few moments longer and consider the devastation that followed. Of Iraq, that multi-trillion-dollar war, what’s left? An American expeditionary force, still 30,000-odd troops who were supposed to hunker down there forever, are instead packing their gear and heading “over the horizon.” Those giant American towns -- with their massive PXs, fast-food restaurants, gift shops, fire stations, and everything else -- are soon to be ghost towns, likely as not looted and stripped by Iraqis.

Multi-billions of taxpayer dollars were, of course, sunk into those American ziggurats. Now, assumedly, they are goners except for the monster embassy-cum-citadel the Bush administration built in Baghdad for three-quarters of a billion dollars. It’s to house part of a 17,000-person State Department “mission” to Iraq, including 5,000 armed mercenaries, all of whom are assumedly there to ensure that American folly is not utterly absent from that country even after “withdrawal.”

Put any spin you want on that withdrawal, but this still represents a defeat of the first order, humiliation on a scale and in a time frame that would have been unimaginable in the invasion year of 2003. After all, the U.S. military was ejected from Iraq by... well, whom exactly?

Then, of course, there’s Afghanistan, where the ultimate, inevitable departure has yet to happen, where another trillion-dollar war is still going strong as if there were no holes in American pockets. The U.S. is still taking casualties, still building up its massive base structure, still training an Afghan security force of perhaps 400,000 men in a county too poor to pay for a tenth of that (which means it’s ours to fund forever and a day).

Washington still has its stimulus program in Kabul. Its diplomats and military officials shuttle in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of “reconciliation” with the Taliban, even as CIA drones pound the enemy across the Afghan border and anyone else in the vicinity. As once upon a time in Iraq, the military and the Pentagon still talk about progress being made, even while Washington’s unease grows about a war that everyone is now officially willing to call “unwinnable.”

In fact, it’s remarkable how consistently things that are officially going so well are actually going so badly. Just the other day, for instance, despite the fact that the U.S. is training up a storm, Major General Peter Fuller, running the training program for Afghan forces, was dismissed by war commander General John Allen for dissing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his generals. He called them “isolated from reality.”

Isolated from reality? Here’s the U.S. record on the subject: it’s costing Washington (and so the American taxpayer) $11.6 billion this year alone to train those security forces and yet, after years of such training, “not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from U.S. or allied units.”

You don’t have to be a seer to know that this, too, represents a form of defeat, even if the enemy, as in Iraq, is an underwhelming set of ragtag minority insurgencies. Still, it’s more or less a given that any American dreams for Afghanistan, like Britain’s and Russia’s before it, will be buried someday in the rubble of a devastated but resistant land, no matter what resources Washington choses to continue to squander on the task.

This, simply put, is part of a larger landscape of imperial defeat.

Cold Sweats at Dawn

Yes, we’ve lost in Iraq and yes, we’re losing in Afghanistan, but if you want a little geopolitical turn of the screw that captures the zeitgeist of the moment, check out one of the first statements of Almazbek Atambayev after his recent election as president of Kyrgyzstan, a country you’ve probably never spent a second thinking about.

Keep in mind that Bushian urge to roll back the Russians to the outskirts of Moscow. Kyrgyzstan is, of course, one of the former Central Asian SSRs of the Soviet Union, and under cover of the Afghan War, the U.S. moved in, renting out a major air base at Manas airport near Bishtek, the capital. It became a significant resupply station for the war, but also an American military foothold in the region.

Now Atambayev has announced that the U.S. will have to leave Manas when its lease is up in 2014. The last time a Kyrgyz president made such a threat, he was trying to extort an extra $40 million in rent from the globe’s richest power. This time, though, Atambayev has evidently weighed regional realities, taken a good hard look at his resurgent neighbor and the waning influence of Washington, and placed his bet -- on the Russians. Consider it a telling little gauge of who is now being rolled back where.

Isolated from reality? How about the Obama administration and its generals? Of course, Washington officials prefer not to take all this in. They’re willing to opt for isolation over reality. They prefer to talk about withdrawing troops from Iraq, but only to bolster the already powerful American garrisons throughout the Persian Gulf and so free the region, as our secretary of state put it, “from outside interference” by alien Iran. (Why, one wonders, is it even called the Persian Gulf, instead of the American Gulf?)

They prefer to talk about strengthening U.S. power and bolstering its bases in the Pacific so as to save Asia from... America’s largest creditor, the Chinese. They prefer to suggest that the U.S. will be a greater, not a lesser, power in the years to come. They prefer to “reassure allies” and talk big -- or big enough anyway.

Not too big, of course, not now that those American dreamers -- or mad visionaries, if you prefer -- are off making up to $150,000 a pop giving inspirational speeches and raking in millions for churning out their memoirs. In their place, the Obama administration is stocked with dreamless managers who inherited an expanded imperial presidency, an American-garrisoned globe, and an emptying treasury. And they then chose, on each score, to play a recognizable version of the same game, though without the soaring confidence, deep faith in armed American exceptionalism or the military solutions that went with it (which they nonetheless continue to pursue doggedly), or even the vision of global energy flows that animated their predecessors. In a rapidly changing situation, they have proven incapable of asking any questions that would take them beyond what might be called the usual tactics (drones vs. counterinsurgency, say).

In this way, Washington, though visibly diminished, remains an airless and eerily familiar place. No one there could afford to ask, for instance, what a Middle East, being transformed before our eyes, might be like without its American shadow, without the bases and fleets and drones and all the operatives that go with them.

As a result, they simply keep on keeping on, especially with Bush’s global war on terror and with the protection in financial tough times of the Pentagon (and so of the militarization of this country).

Think of it all as a form of armed denial that, in the end, is likely to drive the U.S. down. It would be salutary for the denizens of Washington to begin to mouth the word “defeat.” It’s not yet, of course, a permissible part of the American vocabulary, though the more decorous “decline” -- “the relative decline of the United States as an international force” -- has crept ever more comfortably into our lives since mid-decade. When it comes to decline, for instance, ordinary Americans are voting with the opinion poll version of their feet. In one recent poll, 69% of them declared the U.S. to be in that state. (How they might answer a question about American defeat we don’t know.)

If you are a critic of Washington, “defeat” is increasingly becoming an acceptable word, as long as you attach it to a specific war or event. But defeat outright? The full-scale thing? Not yet.

You can, of course, say many times over that the U.S. remains, as it does, an immensely wealthy and powerful country; that it has the wherewithal to right itself and deal with the disasters of these last years, which it also undoubtedly does. But take a glance at Washington, Wall Street, and the coming 2012 elections, and tell me with a straight face that that will happen. Not likely.

If you go on a march with the folks from Occupy Wall Street, you’ll hear the young chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” It’s infectious. But here’s another chant, hardly less appropriate, if distinctly grimmer: “This is what defeat looks like!” Admittedly, it’s not as rhythmic, but it’s something that the spreading Occupy Wall Street movement, and the un- and underemployed, and those whose houses are foreclosed or “underwater,” and the millions of kids getting a subprime education and graduating, on average, more than $25,000 in hock, and the increasing numbers of poor are coming to feel in their bones, even if they haven’t put a name to it yet.

And events in the Greater Middle East played no small role in that. Think of it this way: if de-industrialization and financialization have, over the last decades, hollowed out the United States, so has the American way of war. It’s the usually ignored third part of the triad. When our wars finally fully come home, there’s no telling what the scope of this imperial defeat will prove to be like.

Bush’s American Dream was a kind of apotheosis of this country’s global power as well as its crowning catastrophe, thanks to a crew of mad visionaries who mistook military might for global strength and acted accordingly. What they and their neocon allies had was the magic formula for turning the slow landing of a declining but still immensely powerful imperial state into a self-inflicted rout, even if who the victors are is less than clear.

Despite our panoply of bases around the world, despite an arsenal of weaponry beyond anything ever seen (and with more on its way), despite a national security budget the size of the Ritz, it’s not too early to start etching something appropriately sepulchral onto the gravestone that will someday stand over the pretensions of the leaders of this country when they thought that they might truly rule the world.

I know my own nominee. Back in 2002, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with a “senior advisor” to George W. Bush and what that advisor told him seems appropriate for any such gravestone or future memorial to American defeat:

"The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality... That's not the way the world really works anymore… We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'''

We’re now, it seems, in a new era in which reality is making us. Many Americans -- witness the Occupy Wall Street movement -- are attempting to adjust, to imagine other ways of living in the world. Defeat has a bad rep, but sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Still, reality is a bear, so if you just woke up in a cold sweat, feel free to call it a nightmare.

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After Greece it's Italy

SUBHEAD: Berlusconi cave-in on austerity package sets path to Euro bailout as Italian bond yields top 6.5%. By John Glover on 7 November 2011 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-07/italy-yield-surge-sets-berlusconi-on-bailout-path-euro-credit.html) Image above: A fist fight broke out in the Italian Parliament last month over pension austerity plans. From (http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2011/10/fist-fight-breaks-out-in-italian-parliament-over-cuts). Italy’s record bond yields are sending the nation down the same path taken by Greece, Portugal and Ireland in the days before they were forced to seek rescues. Italy’s 10-year notes traded above 5.5 percent for 40 days before breaching the 6 percent mark on Oct. 28 and reaching as much as 6.68 percent today. The bailed-out nations followed a similar trajectory, consistently averaging above 6 percent for about a month before crossing the 6.5 percent barrier. After that, it took an average of 16 days for yields to pass the unsustainable 7 percent level. “The trend appears worryingly similar,” said Riccardo Barbieri, chief European economist at Mizuho International Plc in London. “Clearly, the longer it lasts, the worse it gets.” With almost 1.6 trillion euros ($2.2 trillion) of bonds outstanding, Italy has more liabilities than Spain, Portugal and Ireland combined, making it vulnerable to increases in borrowing costs. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi triggered the latest surge in yields after bowing to domestic demands to water down a 45.5 billion-euro austerity package. Yields on Italy’s bonds rose even as the European Central Bank bought the securities. Italy’s 10-year borrowing costs have soared to a euro-era record of 473 basis points more than German bunds, the benchmark for Europe. Germany is able to borrow at a yield of 1.8 percent for 10 years, less than a third of the 6.52 percent Italy has to pay. Debt Insurance The cost of insuring Italy’s debt using credit-default swaps surged to 518 basis points today, approaching the record 534 reached in September, according to CMA. The contracts, whose cost has jumped from 405 basis points at the end of last month, rise as a borrower’s creditworthiness worsens. “The acceleration in Italy’s bond yields is very, very frightening,” said Gary Jenkins, the head of fixed income at Evolution Securities Ltd. in London “It’s surprising how quickly a difficult situation can become an impossible one. Politicians always think they have lots of time, but when the market decides to withdraw support, it can do so very suddenly.” Italy has to refinance 37 billion euros of bills and bonds by year-end and another 307 billion euros in 2012, Bloomberg data show. The nation pays an average of 4.15 percent for its debt, meaning next year’s interest payments will cost about 12.7 billion euros out of a total 54.4 billion-euro interest tab. Refinancing next year’s maturities at 7 percent would cost about an additional 8.7 billion euros. Very Difficult An increase of 1 percentage point in the nation’s borrowing costs boosts the interest bill by 0.2 percent of gross domestic product in the first year, 0.3 percent in the second and 0.5 percent in the third, said Mizuho’s Barbieri, citing Bank of Italy calculations. Yields are now more than 2 percentage points higher than the average since the inception of the euro. “Italy will be difficult, very difficult,” said Mirko Santucci, the Italian-born head of credit at Swisscanto Asset Management AG in Zurich, which manages the equivalent of about $42 billion in fixed income and credit. “The government there has to take important decisions and we don’t see it being able to do that. That said, while I can imagine a Europe without Greece, I can’t imagine a Europe without Italy.” Giuliano Ferrara, editor of newspaper Il Foglio and a former spokesman for Berlusconi, reported today that the prime minister may step down within hours and push for early elections. The beleaguered premier said yesterday he’s confident he has a parliamentary majority after two allied lawmakers defected to the opposition, and that he aims to complete his mandate through 2013. Internal Divisions “The government’s internal divisions remain the main problem for a country that now, more than ever, needs stability and credibility,” said Annalisa Piazza, a fixed-income strategist at broker Newedge Group in London. Berlusconi faced calls from the opposition to quit, and allies requested he broaden the backing for the government, after he announced Nov. 4 that he asked the International Monetary Fund to monitor Italy’s debt-reduction progress, while rejecting an offer of financial help. The prime minister, who delayed the release of his latest album of love songs because of the euro-region crisis, has been distracted from governing as he faces trial on charges of corruption, fraud and paying for underage sex. He denies any wrongdoing. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service both cited political instability and rising borrowing costs as risks to Italy meeting its fiscal goals when they downgraded the nation on Sept. 19 and Oct. 4. Even so, investors shouldn’t draw too many parallels with what happened to smaller, less-diversified economies when they look at Italy, said Fabio Fois, a European economist at Barclays Capital in London. “Investors want to see Italy doing the right thing,” said Fois. “The Italian economy is different and far larger, so the same yields don’t necessarily imply the same outcome as in Greece, Ireland and Portugal.” See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Greeks head for the exits 11/6/11 .

Critical State

SUBHEAD: We are hostages of big banking; big pharma; higher ed loan grifters; GMO agribiz; fast food and mandatory driving.  

By James Kunstler on 7 November 2011 for Kunstler.com -  
(http://kunstler.com/blog/2011/11/critical-state.html)


Image above: A rally for Pigasus, the pig candidate for President from the Yippie party during the Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention demonstartions. From (http://darkjive.com/2009/10/28/2318/).

Portents of winter and the toothless chatter of flag-draped traitors vies with a fog of lies spread by Koch Brother messenger boys, Reagan nostalgia hucksters, suck-ups in office, Murdoch empire servelings, Banker PR catamites, and Jesus terrorists to occupy the national mind-space with a narcotic Jell-O of half-formed wish fulfillment scams. The nation is hostage to a confederacy of racketeers. Banking. Big Pharma. The Higher Ed / Loan nexus. GMO agri-biz. Fast food. Mandatory motoring. You name it. What a disgrace we are, and the worst of us are the least to know that.

This winter will be the Occupy Movement's Valley Forge. An uneasy quiet may settle across this land blanketed in frozen dishonesty while OWS goes to the ground. Wait until next summer when the Occupiers head for the nominating conventions. Chicago in 1968 was nothing compared to what might go down in Charlotte, NC (Democrats) and Tampa, FLA (Republicans) in 2012. These two giant, useless, political bucket shops need to be put out of business and something else has to take their place. Who will be the new breed of genuine patriots? It would be nice to suppose that something noble and intelligent might emerge from the current miasma, a reality-based third party. But history isn't so reassuring.
I heard some rumors. Lawrence Kotlikoff at Boston University - the only economist in the USA with a coherent plan for banking, healthcare, tax, and entitlement reform - said on a podcast some weeks back that he was advising an un-named national figure who intends to mount a third party campaign. I didn't have a clue who that might be.
Last week in Virginia a professional political back-stager, who had worked for the DNC during the Howard Dean days, told me that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was stealthily hiring Hillary Clinton's old campaign staffers in seeming preparation for... something. Well, Bloomberg wouldn't have to take anybody else's money - and by "anybody" I mean especially the corporations because, you know, corporations are people, with free speech rights (and feelings!). It also happens that Bloomberg is neither a Republican or a Democrat, but a registered independent. Will he go to the ground, too, this winter like OWS, and wait for the public disgust to mount toward criticality? Hey, sometimes your country calls (for help!) and figures arise and they undertake what's necessary, even against type. Abe Lincoln, in 1859, was a railroad lawyer - the horror!
I have no idea who else might be waiting in the background, someone tortured with disgust by the leveraged buy-out of the American common good, someone capable of articulating the terms of the convulsion we face in national life if we don't start doing things differently. Surely in a population of 310 million you can find more than a few resolute personalities who refuse to just sit back and watch the sickening spectacle of inept vacillation.
Of course, the first order of business is to get corporate money out of politics. Are we capable of doing that? Can we legislate a redefinition of corporate "personhood?" After all, corporations have no allegiance whatsoever to the public interest, only to their shareholders and boards of directors. Who was the Supreme Court kidding when they proposed in 2010 that corporations have a personal stake in politics. Corporations are sociopaths. They need to be tasered!
The second order of business is to enforce the existing laws in money matters and bring back laws (e.g. the Glass-Steagall act) that were recklessly thrown away in the systematic bid to loot the working public; then move beyond that to contest the web of rackets that make it impossible for Americans to even take care of themselves.
The third order of business is to shut down the war industry and close hundreds of overseas military bases that are draining scarce public capital.
The fourth order of business is to prepare the US public for the realities of the post-Global economy and the post-cheap-energy way of life. Tell them the truth: we don't have "a hundred years" of natural gas. We can't drill-drill-drill our way to "energy independence." We have to get more local, less complex, finer, and leaner. Give the American people a clear sense of where circumstances are taking us, even if it is a tough assignment.
More likely, nobody will step forward to take on the two major parties. In which case, plan now to occupy the political conventions. Google-map your routes to Tampa and Charlotte (Home of Bank of America!). Stake out the campsites and cheap lodgings. Prepare to shame these organized grifters, and to turn their self-serving jamborees upside-down.

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Post 9/11 Hell

SUBHEAD: Me and OFAC and Ahmed the Egyptian - a misadventure in US Securityland.  

[IB Publisher's note: This is the 3,000th article we've published in the Ea O Ka Aina blog format begun in December of 2008]  

By Ann Jones on 3 November 2011 for Tom Dispatch -  
(http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175462/tomgram%3A_ann_jones%2C_the_incredible_shrinking_woman_in_post-9_11_hell/#more)
 


 
Image above: CitiGroup name on their corporate headquarters in New York City. From (http://www.conspiracyplanet.com/channel.cfm?channelid=102&contentid=7810).
 


Where did I go wrong? Was it playing percussion with an Occupy Wall Street band in Times Square when I was in New York recently? Or was it when I returned to my peaceful new home in Oslo and deleted an email invitation to hear Newt Gingrich lecture Norwegians on the American election? (Yes, even here.)

I don’t know how it happened. Or even, really, what happened. Or what it means. So I’ve got no point -- only a lot of anxiety. I usually write about the problems of the world, but now I’ve got one of my own. They evidently think I’m a terrorist.

That is, someone in the U.S. government who specializes in finding terrorists seems to have found me and laid a heavy hand on my bank account. I think this is wrong, of course, but try to tell that to a faceless, acronymic government agency.

It all started with a series of messages from my bank: Citibank. Yeah, I know, I should have moved my money long ago, but in the distant past before Citibank became Citigroup, it was my friendly little neighborhood bank, and I guess I’m in a rut. Besides, I learned when I made plans to move to Norway that if your money is in a small bank, it has to be sent to a big bank like Citibank or Chase to wire it to you when you need it, which meant I was trapped anyway.

So the first thing I noticed was that one of those wires with money I needed never arrived. When I politely inquired, Citibank told me that the transaction hadn’t gone through. Why not? All my fault, they insisted, for not having provided complete information. Long story short: we went round and round for a couple of weeks, as I coughed up ever more morsels of previously unsolicited personal information. Only then did a bit of truth emerge.


The bank wasn’t actually holding up the delivery of the money. The funds had, in fact, left my account weeks before, along with a wire transfer fee. The responsible party was OFAC.

Oh what? I wondered. OFAC. It rhymes with Oh-Tack, but you’ve got to watch how you pronounce it. Speak carelessly and the name sounds like just what you might say upon learning that you’ve been sucked into the ultimate top-secret bureaucratic sinkhole. It turns out, the bank informs me, that OFAC is a division of the U.S. Treasury Department that “reviews” transactions.

“Why me?” I ask. As a long-time reporter I find it a strange question, as strange as finding myself working on a story about me.

By way of an answer, the bank refers me to an Internet link that calls up a 521-page report so densely typed it looks like wallpaper. Entitled “Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons,” it turns out to be a list of what seems to be every Muslim business and social organization on the planet. That’s when I Google OFAC, go to its site, and find out that the acronym stands for the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Its mission description reads chillingly. It “administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.” And it turns out to be a subsidiary of something much bigger that goes by the unnerving name of “Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.”

Off With Her Head

Whoa! Perhaps it doesn’t help, at this moment, that I’ve just been reading Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, the scary new book by Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin about our multiple, overfed, overzealous, highly-classified intelligence agencies, staffed in significant part not by civil servants but by profit-making private contractors. Suddenly, I feel myself in the grip of the national post-9/11 paranoia that hatched all that new “security.” (And you, too, could find yourself in my shoes fast.)

I check OFAC’s list more carefully. It’s in a kind of alphabetical order, but with significant incomprehensible diversions -- and if my name is there, I sure can’t find it. Since I’ve spent most of the last decade working with international aid organizations as well as reporting from some of the more strife-ridden lands on the planet, including Afghanistan, the only thing I can imagine is that maybe all those odd visas in my fat passport raised a red flag somewhere in Washington.

Next, I search for the name of my Norwegian landlady. Did I say that the wired funds that never arrived were meant to pay her my rent? She’s in India, a volunteer health-care worker with Tibetan refugees, currently helping refurbish an orphanage for 144 kids. (What could be more suspicious than that?) I can’t find her name either. No Anns or Heidis at all, in fact, among the raft of Mohammads and Abduls.

Heidi is a Buddhist. I’m an atheist. Almost everybody on the list seems to be Muslim, including really dangerous-sounding guys like “Ahmed the Egyptian.” But I guess that to a truly committed and well-paid terrorist hunter, we must all look alike.

I’m desperate to get the rent to Heidi so she can cover her own expenses as a volunteer; an international organization pays for the children’s needs, but Heidi does the work. So I call the American Embassy in Oslo and speak to a nice young woman in the section devoted to “American Citizen Services.” I tell her about me and OFAC and Ahmed the Egyptian. She says, “I’ve never heard of such a thing. But there are so many of these intelligence offices now, I guess I’ll be hearing these stories more often.” (Maybe she’s been reading Top Secret America, too.)

She takes it up with her superiors and calls me back. The Embassy can’t help me, citizen or not, she says, because they don’t handle money matters and have nothing to do with the Treasury Department.
“What? The State Department doesn’t deal with the Treasury?”
“No,” she says, “I guess not.”

Perhaps since I last paid attention the Treasury stopped being considered part of the government. Maybe it now belongs to Lockheed Martin.

At least the State Department has some compassion left in it. If I’m really destitute, she assures me, the Embassy might be able to give me a loan to pay for a plane ticket that would get my two cats and me back to the States. I guess it doesn’t occur to her that under the circumstances I might feel more secure in Norway.

Down the Rabbit Hole
Still, all I want to do is clear up this mess, so I put my head in the lion’s mouth and send an email directly to OFAC. I tell them that I’m in Norway for the year on a Fulbright grant as a researcher -- that is, as part of an international exchange program founded by a U.S. Senator and sponsored by the U.S. Government, or at least one part of the State Department part of it. Among my informal responsibilities, I add, is to be a goodwill ambassador for the United States, but I’m finding it really hard to explain to Norwegians that I can’t pay my rent because a bunch of terrorist-trackers in the pay of my government have made off with the money and left nothing behind but a list of Muslim names.

Remarkably quickly OFAC itself writes back, giving me the creepy feeling that it was lurking behind the door the whole time. It is sorry that I am “frustrated.” It will help me, but only if I supply a whole long list of information, mostly the same stuff I have already provided three times to the bank, the same information the bank later said wasn’t the issue after all. (Still later, the bank would say that I had given not too little information, but too much.) I send the requested tidbits back to “Dear OFAC Functionary or Machine as the case may be.”

Two days later comes another message from OFAC, this time signed by “Michael Z.” Like Afghans, or spies, he evidently has only one name, but my hopes that he might be an actual person inexplicably rise anyway -- only to sink again when he claims OFAC needs yet more information. All this so that Michael Z., presumed person, may help me “more effectively.” (More than what, I wonder?) He is, he insists, trying to locate my money with the help of my bank, which by the way is now blocking me from seeing information about my own account online.

It seems odd to me that this top-secret office of Financial Intelligence somehow can’t manage to lay hands on the money it snatched from me, but what do I know? I’m just a citizen.

Then -- are you ready for this? -- comes what should be a happy ending. A message from the bank tells me that the money has slipped through after all, and sure enough there it is at last in a Norwegian bank, only a month late. I won’t be evicted after all, and Heidi will make sure those Tibetan kids get some fresh fruit and brand new bright green curtains.

Still, this is not a cheery story. So I have to send my apologies to the long-dead Senator J. William Fulbright: I’m sorry indeed that certain changes in the spirit and operations of the United States have occurred since that day in 1948 when you launched your farsighted program of grants to encourage open international educational and cultural exchange. And I apologize that some of those changes may have temporarily cramped my style as a goodwill ambassador; I’ll try to get back on the job if I can just figure out what hit me.

Was this all simply a mistake? A technical glitch? An error at the bank? I’d like to think so, but what about that list of “Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons”? Why was I directed to that? And what about Michael Z., who presumably is some kind of intelligence analyst at OFAC and who, when last heard from, was still seeking information and trying to find the money?

Frankly, this month-long struggle has left me mighty tired and uneasy. Right now, Senator Fulbright, I’m lying low, down here at the bottom of the rabbit hole, trying to make sense of things. (I took a last look at the “Blocked Persons” list, and just this week it’s grown by another page.) So I want to tell you the truth, Senator, and I think that with your great interest in peaceable international relations, you just may understand. Strange as it may seem, since I’ve been hunkered down here in the rabbit hole, I’ve worked up some sympathy for Ahmed the Egyptian who, I have a sneaking feeling, could be down here, too. It’s hard to tell when you’re kept in the dark, but maybe he’s just another poor sap like me, snarled in the super-secret security machine.

• Ann Jones is in Norway under the auspices of the Fulbright Scholar Program, researching the Norwegian economic, social, and cultural arrangements that cause it to be named consistently by the United Nations as the best place to live on earth. A TomDispatch regular, she is the author of Kabul in Winter (2006) and War Is Not Over When It’s Over (2010).
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Greeks head for the exits

SUBHEAD: Democracy is not dead in Greece, but as they near default it's been put on a ventilator. By Ashvin Pandurangi on 6 November 2011 for The Automatic Earth - (http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/2011/11/november-6-2011-democracy-isnt-dead-yet.html) Image above: Mashup of George Papandreou on a life support ventilator by Juan Wilson. "Canned laughter" is frequently used on TV shows to create the illusion of soothing, comedic value in the minds of the show’s viewers. Anyone who has watched a show with "canned laughter" is familiar with the logic. One of the characters says something or another that isn’t very interesting or funny, the laugh-track comes on and then we find ourselves forcing a smile or snicker as an almost "unconscious" reaction. Almost, but not quite, because many times we are still forced to face our participation in this contrived reality after the fact. The ongoing shows in the realm of the political economy are no different. They use their own versions of "canned laughter" to legitimatize a situation which is otherwise plainly illegitimate to those of us strapped into our seats, forced to watch along in agony. A great example of these political laugh-tracks is the "vote of no confidence" that is held in Parliamentary countries, where the appointed governments almost always survive in one piece by maintaining "party discipline" or slightly modifying policies to corral dissenters in. However, attempts to impose an artificial feeling of political satisfaction for the people and political legitimacy for the government cannot and will not be successful forever, under any and all circumstances, and that fact couldn't be any truer than it is now. It is evident from the "no confidence vote" that has just occurred in Greece, where Prime Minister George Papandreou was truly on the chopping block this time, and the one that will soon occur in Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will be as well. With regards to the former, Papandreou managed to survive with a slight majority of 153 votes (2 votes more than necessary), and is now claiming to be in talks with other parties about forming a "national unity government", which he almost assuredly will not be the leader of. At first blush, one could be forgiven for seeing the developments of last week in Greece, culminating in this vote of confidence for a future government coalition, as marking an unmistakable death blow to "democracy" in the developed world. Papandreou dangled the prospect of a truly democratic process in front of the Greek people as a ploy, to scare the opposition parties into throwing their support behind the oppressive EU deal of October 26 and joining a coalition government, after which both the referendum and the protection offered by "opposition" parties would be callously stripped away from the people. Indeed, a better example of blatantly anti-democratic tactics within a democracy cannot be found short of fiscal "supercommittees" and military coups. Papandreou’s government has now managed to stay in power (albeit in a different form), gain stronger commitments from opposition parties to the EU bailout/austerity deal and postpone new elections until after the deal passes and €8 billion from the IMF is disbursed to avoid "default". Merkel and Sarkozy will now sleep better knowing that the Greek people will be forced to play their part as victims in an epic criminal extortion scheme, without any inconvenient democratic processes, such as a referendum, interfering along the way. Or will they? Sometimes, when we get bogged down in the superficial details, we miss the bigger perspective that is evolving. Papandreou did win his confidence motion, but only by a slight majority of two votes, and it cost him his job. More importantly, it is not clear what kind of credible "coalition" government can be formed or whether it can really quell political dissent against the austerity deal. Now comes the part where ruling politicians must actually convince the various political factions that Papandreou's words to them in Parliament about "national unity" and "personal sacrifice" are more than just words. Deutsche Welle Reports:
Papandreou Wins Confidence Vote But Looks Set to Step Down
" It is a first in the constitutional history of Greece; parliament expressing its confidence in the prime minister so that he can soon resign. … If the conservatives continue with their refusal to take part in any government of national unity, it would leave the Socialists with no choice but to form a shrunken coalition with the populist right and the economically liberal "Democratic Alliance" of former Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis – seen as a rather pointless exercise. The leftist opposition signaled that it was particularly upset about the vote. "They want us to express our support for a government that is not even there anymore," said leader of the moderate Left Alliance Alexis Tsipras – with many commentators agreeing that there's an element of truth in Tsipras' assessment of the situation. "
CNN adds some more "clarity" to the ruling politicians' ambitious political plans for Greece (but against the people of Greece), and the ongoing negotiations with New Democracy opposition leader Samaras, who has so far refused to play his part in this Greek tragicomedy by demanding both Papandreou's resignation and snap elections for a new government within six weeks. Now it seems Papandreou has agreed to resign if a coalition government is formed, but Samaras refuses to be a part of any coalition until the resignation is put in writing, notarized and delivered to his doorstep, and only then will he be willing to discuss additional terms (i.e. when to hold elections). .

Lihue TSA radiation leak suspected

SUBHEAD: Radiation feared as cause of Lihue Airport shutdown as HazMat team test TSA equipment.

By Leo Azambuja on 4 October 2011 for the Garden Island - 
  (http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/article_68dacfc6-0787-11e1-8073-001cc4c03286.html)  

[IB Editor's note: We told you so. Maybe now the TSA management will come to their senses on the dangers imposed by irradiating everyone (including themselves). See below for more.]

 
Image above: A hazardous materials team member on Thursday night at Lihu‘e Airport. From original article.

 Mysterious emissions caused the Lihue Airport to shut down for a few hours Thursday evening and sent several Transportation Security Administration staff to Wilcox Memorial Hospital emergency room.

“Some sort of fumes affected 11 TSA personnel,” said Dan Meisenzahl, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, adding that the cause of the incident is yet to be determined.

But at least one person who was working at the airport Thursday suspects the culprit was a radiation leak in one of the TSA screening booths.

“I was there all day, I can guarantee you there was no smell,” said an airport worker who asked not to be identified for fear of being terminated.

The worker said all TSA personnel who felt ill were working next to a TSA screening booth. He took several pictures of a hazardous materials response team examining the same booth with equipment that he was told was to measure radiation levels.

“It started around 2 p.m., when two girls were sent home,” said the worker, adding that the women were standing next to the same machine the HAZMAT team had allegedly tested for radiation.

After that, a domino effect ensued, he said, resulting in 11 workers being treated for sickness.

The worker was concerned that he, his co-workers and the thousands of passengers who went through the same booth Thursday could have been exposed to unsafe radiation levels.

Meisenzahl said Friday he had no idea about radiation testing.

On Thursday, Meisenzahl stated in a press release that the TSA workers at the main checkpoint experienced dizziness, nausea, headache, throwing up and a chemical taste in their mouths.

“The HAZMAT team of the Kaua‘i County Fire Department performed an extensive investigation and could not locate the cause,” he said Friday.

County spokeswoman Mary Daubert said the HAZMAT crew tested the center checkpoint for toxic and hazardous odors and substances and found none, and found no radiation.

Meisenzahl said all TSA personnel who got sick were treated at the scene by paramedics, who determined they were fine.

As a precaution, he said, TSA management urged all workers who got sick to go to the hospital for further tests.

“All but one agreed,” Meisenzahl said. “The doctors at the hospital also determined that they were all fine.”

He said on Friday that all machines were tested and are working properly. But concerning the workers, the only thing TSA was telling him was that the operations were back to normal. “So I assume that means all workers are back to their normal shift.”

Daubert said that after HAZMAT tested the area, it was deemed safe for workers and travelers to use.
Nothing similar has happened at any of Hawai‘i’s 15 airports, according to Meisenzahl. He had no information on the status of Mainland airports.

TSA spokesman Nico Mendez said the employees have been given a clean bill of health and TSA will continue to work with local officials to determine the cause of the incident.

“The health and welfare of our officers is paramount to the success of our agency and security of the airport,” he said.

The worker who spoke with The Garden Island said TSA staff always tells travelers to put down their cameras, prohibiting them from taking pictures at the airport.

“It makes you wonder what kind of stuff is going on there,” he said.

Meisenzahl said travelers are allowed to take pictures at the airport, but not of TSA equipment and checkpoints, per TSA policy.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: TSA Radiation Exposure 12/11/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Porno Scanner X-Ray danger 11/27/10
Ea O Ka AIna: TSA Humiliations 11/19/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Pushback Against TSA Security 11/17/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Resistance to Porno-Scanners Increases 11/15/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Don't Scan Me Bro 11/12/10
Ea O Ka Aina: National "Opt-Out" Day 11/11/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Pilots reject full body scanners 11/8/10
Island Breath: It's Fascism when it happens to you 5/14/08
Island Breath: Elephant Traps for Kauai? 12/1/07

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