Just one more reason to scale down, live on less, pay in cash and do like our grandparents did; Don't buy until you've saved enough to pay for it in cash and break The Banks strangle hold.
But you decide.
With lenders still skittish about making new loans, credit bureaus and others are hawking services that help banks probe deeply into your financial closet. The new offerings include ways to look at your rent and utility payments, figure out your income, gauge your home's value and even rate your banking habits based on details like whether your direct deposits have stopped.
All of this could influence your financial freedom—not to mention the number of junk-mail solicitations you receive.
Ken Lin, CEO of Credit Karma, a credit-score information website, knew he had a good credit score. But when he recently applied for a new credit card, he was rejected: The lender had flagged him as a higher credit risk because the value of his California home had declined and his mortgage principal wasn't declining—giving away that he has an interest-only mortgage.
"It's a lot more than just your credit score today," he says.
[GETGO] Mark Matcho
Your credit record still matters, of course. But here are some newer ways lenders and financial-services companies are sizing up your financial behavior and credit-worthiness:
• Bank-depositor behavior scores. Fair Isaac, the creator of the widely used FICO credit score, is marketing bank-depositor behavior scores, which are used by banks to assess their own customers.
The scores are based on balances, deposit records and withdrawal activity, says Debb Gordon, a senior principal consultant at Fair Isaac.
Unlike credit scores—which are most affected after payments are late or credit is maxed out—behavior scores can be a leading indicator of credit risk. They also can help banks identify which of their customers might be ripe for additional services and rewards programs and which might need special attention because, for instance, their direct deposits had stopped.
• Income estimation. This business took off earlier this year after the Federal Reserve allowed lenders to use credit bureaus' income estimates to satisfy new requirements that credit-card applicants show the ability to pay their debts.
The bureaus use credit-record information, such as the size of your credit lines and the age and size of your mortgage, and plug it into models to predict your earnings. Those estimates also may be used to double-check the income you report on credit applications or to determine if you should be preapproved for credit.
You can't see those estimates. But if you are denied credit because of them, you must be given a chance to provide additional information.
• Rent payments. An estimated 40 million consumers, including young people and people who prefer to pay in cash, have too little credit experience to generate a useful credit score. But they are likely to pay rent or utility bills, which could help credit bureaus better assess their credit-worthiness.
Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, bought RentBureau—which collects rental-payment data from large property managers—and expects to integrate that information into credit records before the end of the year.
Even if those consumers don't want credit, that information could help them win better rates from insurers, which may use insurance scores based on credit records, and fatten up thin credit files, which some employers check before making hiring decisions.
Credit bureaus say they also would like to offer data on cellphone payments, but have run into concerns over privacy issues, which may require legislation to untangle.
• Collection triggers. If you owe money, you can run, but you can't hide. Credit bureaus can now send daily reports to collection companies when a debtor's financial status changes—say, if new employment information appears or if a debt starts to decline. A drop in credit use would indicate that the consumer has more capacity to pay and a better chance of repaying other outstanding debts.
• Home values. As home values have plummeted and foreclosures have soared in many states, lenders of all stripes have become more cautious, as Mr. Lin found. Using home values as a factor in credit decisions doesn't appear to be widespread, but it may come into play when someone in, say, Nevada or California applies for a new loan. Of course, it also could work in your favor if you are one of the roughly 25 million Americans who owns a home outright.
• Your wealth. Information about your assets other than homes and cars, which aren't part of the credit record, may soon play a bigger role in your financial life. With a better sense of a consumer's balance sheet, lenders might be able to target potential customers better and also have a fuller sense of their likely risk. Equifax, another of the big three credit bureaus, offers financial-service providers an estimate of liquid wealth as part of a financial "suite" of information.
As all of this becomes a widespread practice, those who are prompt and careful in all aspects of their financial life may have more options—and those who have been sloppy with, say, their bank accounts may be penalized for that.
Write to Karen Blumenthal at email@example.com
Sunday, November 28, 2010
- Treason (as in "crime") n. : a crime that undermines the offender's government
- Treason (as in "disloyalty") n. : disloyalty by virtue of subversive behavior
- Treason (as in "treachery") n. : an act of deliberate betrayal
Standing in the way of START is putting our country at risk. How is it not Treasonous ?
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the key Republican vote on the new START Treaty, said on Sunday that there was not enough time to pass a strategic arms pact with Russia this year.
The Arizona Republican didn't pinpoint specific disagreements he had with the language of START. Rather, he said failure of passage would be because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), had already scheduled away the time needed to consider the measure by packing the lame duck docket with legislative gifts to Democratic constituents.
"My issue is that you can't do everything," Kyl said on "Meet the Press." "I was stating it as a matter of reality not a matter of policy. How can Harry Reid do all the things we are talking about, deal with expiring tax provisions and in addition to that deal with the START Treaty which by itself could take two weeks?"
Two weeks would be a historically long window to debate a measure that foreign policy luminaries in both parties have insisted is a must-pass. The last START treaty was passed through Congress in five days.
"People across America who subscribe to cable [should] ask for refunds when they turn on C-SPAN and see the Senate sit there, day after day, doing nothing -- lurching from filibuster to filibuster," said Kyl's co-panelist, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
But Kyl has shown a real unwillingness to get the ball rolling with respect to START. Weeks prior to his appearance on "Meet the Press," he demanded that the administration include additional funds for nuclear weapons modernization as part of the overall package. When the White House acquiesced, his complaints about the measure focused on the need to ensure U.S. nuclear weapons deterrence. Those concerns have been called overblown by the treaty's defenders. But as the clock has continued to tick, both Kyl and others in the GOP tent have been handed another reason to drag their feet: a closing window for consideration in the lame duck Congress.
"If the leader of the Senate, Senator Reid, were to allow a couple of weeks for full debate and amendment of the resolution of ratification then theoretically there would be time," said Kyl. "But he has made it clear he has a different agenda in mind. I think clearly they have two sets of priorities here. Are they going to deal with the funding of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year? They've got to do that. Are they doing to deal with the issue which is on everyone's mind, that you mentioned earlier, and that is to make sure we don't have a big tax increase, the largest tax increase in the history of the country. These are higher priority items and if we do those things, and then potentially deal with some of the other political issues that Senator Reid has said he wants to deal with, in that event there would not be time."
Neither the White House nor Senator Reid's office immediately returned a request for comment.
UPDATE: Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Reid, emailed over the following comment:
The administration has bent over backwards to try and address every concern he and his republican colleagues have raised, yet all we heard today were more excuses, many based on an outdated 1950 era cold war mentality.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
By all means, Lets extent The Bush Tax Cuts to the Obscenely Rich while The Republicans push to eviscerate all The Social Service Programs and blame the poor for the countries woes. These days it's in Vogue to blame The Victims.....but that's just my opinion...... Patty
Wall Street bankers hiring a dwarf for an over-the-top bachelor party in Miami. Nieman Marcus selling out its 100 limited-edition $75,000 Camaros in three minutes. Socialites dropping $40,000 on a custom cellphone at a jewelry store in Chicago. An investment analyst at Goldman Sachs who hired hip-hop queen Lil' Kim to perform for 1,000 guests at his annual Halloween party last month.
What is this -- 2006?
Though the unemployment rate remains near 10 percent with millions of Americans about to run out of their jobless benefits, one in five Americans are using food stamps to buy groceries and small businesses are being forced to slash their work forces to stay alive, Wall Street's top bankers and wealthy investors are spending to excess, indulging their every whim.
Consumer spending amounts to more than two-thirds of the American economy, so this return to frivolity at the top is-- at least in theory--supposed to trickle down to less fortunate areas of life. But trickle down is one of those phrases that has yet to break out of the conceptual realm. Despite the mad rush back to the steakhouses, the high-end department stores and the jewelers, very few ordinary people seem to have gotten any work as a result.
The New York Times reports:
Two years after the onset of the financial crisis, the stock market is recovering and Wall Street's moneyed elite are breathing easier again. And this means in some cases they are spending again -- at times cautiously, but sometimes with a familiar swagger.
They're doing that, knowing that the biggest firms on the Street -- Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan have set aside $89.54 billion to pay their employees. Bonuses on Wall Street are expected to increase up to 15 percent, according to data from a report by Johnson Associates, a consulting firm.
And all of that spending is good for luxury retailers and services, from steak houses and plastic surgeons to real estate agents in the Hamptons and high-end jewelers.
"The aspirational shopper has been murdered; the mainstream shopper has problems," says Howard Davidowitz, a New York-based luxury retail consultant and investment banker told Crain's Chicago Business. "But the Saks shopper? The Neiman's shopper? As long as the capital markets continue to perform, sales will be tremendous."
Indeed, luxury jeweler Tiffany reported this morning that its quarterly results beat expectations -- global sales at stores open at least a year rose 7 percent.
"Luxury spending has rebounded as the affluent have recovered from the recession faster than others as the stock market rebounds," reports the Wall Street Journal
Over all, luxury stores saw improved results, reports Crain's. Neiman Marcus Group was up 9.5%, Saks Inc. saw an 8.1% boost and Nordstrom Inc.'s sales rose 3.4%. Sears doesn't release monthly sales figures, but mid-market rivals Kohl's Corp. dropped 2.5% and J. C. Penney Co. was down 1.9%.
Not that Wall Street wants that consumption to be overly conspicuous or decadent -- Morgan Stanley wasn't pleased when one of the firm's traders went a little over the top at a bachelor party, reports the Times. "A Morgan Stanley trader recently tried to hire a dwarf for a bachelor party in Miami, asking the dwarf to meet him at the airport in a "Men in Black" style suit, according to e-mail exchanges. The trader, who wanted to handcuff the dwarf to the bachelor, was recently fired."
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! TV and radio interviewed whistleblower Wendell Potter who revealed corporate involvement in neutralizing Targeted Individuals by "researching" them, followed by a sophisticated public discrediting campaign with media complicity. On behalf of big business, Cointelpro, the US counter-intelligence program, has historically employed these tactics to ruin lives of targets defending human rights, thorns in the side of the ruling class.
With blessings to that ruling elite, Michael Moore emailed his subscribers explaining a death threat against him.
According to the Democracy Now! interview, former Vice President of CIGNA, among America's largest health insurance companies, met with other big health insurers for planning to "push" Michael Moore "off a cliff."
Potter spoke of the industry targeting Moore due to his movie, "Sicko". Corporate elite discussed the film's potential to sway public support for the human right of health care for everyone, "socialized medicine" that cuts major industry profits, as most practiced human rights do.
"So the large health insurance companies came together over a common cause: Stop the American people from going to see "Sicko" -- and the way to do that was to cause some form of harm to me (either personally, professionally or...physically?)" writes Moore.
Moore highlights the following section of the Democracy Now! interview:
WENDELL POTTER [former executive, CIGNA]: ...We were concerned that the movie ["Sicko"] would be as successful as "Fahrenheit 9/11" had been. And we knew that if it were, it really would change public opinion about our health care system in ways that would be harmful to the profits of health insurers. So, it was very important for this [attack] campaign to succeed. At one point during a strategy meeting, one of the people from [the insurance companies' public relations firm] APCO said that if our efforts, our initial efforts, were not successful, then we'd have to move to an element of the campaign to push Michael Moore off a cliff. And not meaning to do that literally, but to—
AMY GOODMAN: Are you sure?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, I'm not sure. To tell you the truth, when I started doing what I'm doing [as a whistleblower], I was concerned about my own health and well-being, maybe just from paranoia. But these companies play to win. And we're talking about some big bucks at stake here—billions and billions and billions of dollars.
AMY GOODMAN: So what were they talking about when they said, "If this doesn't work, we're going to push him off the cliff"?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, it would be just an incredibly intense PR effort, if necessary, to spend more premium dollars to defame Michael Moore, to discredit him even more as a filmmaker.
AMY GOODMAN: So, were you doing research on him?
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You were going—personally?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, I was a part of the effort. I didn't—that was part of the reason for hiring APCO and to work with a trade association, is that it relieved me of the responsibility of doing that kind of work. You paid for it to be done by people who were experts in doing that kind of research.
AMY GOODMAN: But they were doing an investigation into him personally?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, absolutely. We knew as much about him probably as he knows about himself.
AMY GOODMAN: About his wife, about his kid, about—
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, yeah. You know, it's important to know everything that you might be able to use in some kind of a campaign against someone, to discredit them professionally and often personally.
AMY GOODMAN: And did you use that?
WENDELL POTTER: You use it if necessary.
"The interview goes on as Potter reveals how his front group was able to get its talking points and smears into stories in the New York Times and CNN," writes Moore.
"It is a chilling look inside how easy it is to manipulate our mainstream media..."
Moore also highlights Potter talking about "how they may have succeeded in influencing CNN to run a factually untrue story about "Sicko" by its reporter, Sanjay Gupta (which led to my infamous encounter with Wolf Blitzer and later, an apology from CNN for getting their facts wrong)."
The smear campaign resulted in single payer, according to Moore, reminding readers that "the public option never even made it into the real discussion on the floor of Congress."
Manipulating minds of citizens against their bes interest is rampant.
Moore calls the interview a "fascinating peek behind the curtain of how corporate America really runs this country. And how if any of us get in their way, then those people must be stopped.
"It begs the question: Seeing how there's more of us than there are of them, how long will we let their takeover of our democracy continue?"
Learn more: Read or watch the Democracy Now! interview with Wendell Potter.
"It is truer today, than ever before, that although they jail the resisters, they have not, and cannot, jail the resistance." ~ Father Roy Bourgeois,
Four targeted journalists were among twenty-six people arrested today as thousands of human rights defenders converged at Fort Benning gates for the 20th Anniversary of the November Vigil to Close the School of the Americas, the U.S. military training school dedicated to teaching new terrorists to commit war crimes: torture, disappearing and assassinating.
SOA trains participants to commit war crimes that human rights defenders oppose as a patriotic, moral duty.
The school is known by critics as the School of the Assassins, as Russia Today reported Saturday. (See Youtube (below): Inside the dark legacy of the US School of the Assassins, Russia Today, Nov. 20, 2010)
Nonviolent civil disobedience action at Fort Benning gates was followed later Saturday by indiscriminate arrests and targeting of journalists for filming the police misconduct according to SOA Watch's Hendrik Voss.
Columbus Police arrested the journalists, including the TV news crew from Russia Today America, and unrelated bystanders.
When the rally participants tried leaving the vigil area, police blocked off all exit points.The police blockade was at the corner of Torch Hill Road and Ft. Bennning Road.
"After a few minutes, the police allowed people to leave on the sidewalk, only to follow them, indiscriminately arresting people who had neither committed any crimes nor engaged in civil disobedience," stated Voss.
Human rights activists, torture survivors, veterans, faith-based communities, union workers, students, musicians and others from across the Americas are at the U.S. military base Fort Benning gates to call for the closure of the School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).
Following the SOA Watch rally, human rights activists brought their nonviolent witness to close the SOA into the street leading onto the military base.
The activists briefly shut down the road with a large sign that said, "Stop: This is the End of the Road for the SOA."
Their action is part of a longstanding tradition of creative civil disobedience to call attention to atrocities committed by School of the Americas graduates.
The 90-year old Jesuit priest Bill Brennan, and ordained Catholic priest Janice Sevre-Duszynska were among those charged.
Two human rights defenders who crossed onto Fort Benning through the highway entrance have been charged with federal trespass and face up to six months in federal prison and a fine up to $5,000.
All arrestees are presently being held in the Muscogee County Jail for up to a $5,500 bond.
Amidst a heightened police presence around the Ft. Benning gates Saturday, the thousands heeded the call of "We are One America!" and manifested their opposition to the School of the Americas and oppressive U.S. foreign policy.
SOA Watch in a prepared statement said today:
"We are committed to putting ourselves in the way of the war machine until the School is closed and a formal truth commission investigates the impact of its violence on the countries of Latin America that have suffered under the 11 military dictators who have graduated from the school."
SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots organization that works for the closing the School of the Americas and a change in U.S. foreign policy -
SOA/WHINSEC military training facility made 1996 headlines when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution.
SOA/WHINSEC trainees and graduates have been responsible for Latin American coups such including the present Honduras coup, plus torturing, raping, assassinating, disappearing, massacring families and villages of poor people. The training is transferable. Every graduate can train other persons to conduct the terrorist atrocities.
Martha Giraldo, a Colombian human rights activist and featured speaker at the 2009 November vigil to close the SOA (video), was subjected to the type of chilling death threat that innocent targeted individuals globally, including in the U.S., regularly receive for defending human rights, exposing crime including conspiracy facts, or being put the "terrorist" hit list as revenge.
Two SUVs with tinted windows, the vehicle of choice of Colombian assassins, tried to run Giraldo's car off of the road in Cali, Colombia. This is a common intimidation tactic used to suppress American targeted individuals or to murder them in an "accident."
On January 25, 2010, U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth sentenced the human rights advocates called the SOA4 arrested at the 2009 annual vigil to maximum federal prison for six months for direct action opposing the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC).
Internationally known as the Prophetic Priest, Father Roy Bourgeois, the Roman Catholic priest who founded SOA Watch organization to close the SOA, said after that sentencing, "Judge Faircloth has sentenced our sister and brothers to 6 months in federal prison for speaking the truth about the SOA/WHINSEC."
Father Roy said, "These sentences are symbolic of our nation's misdirection, but they are also great steps forward for our resistance movement. It is truer today, than ever before, that although they jail the resisters they have not, and cannot, jail the resistance."
Related articles by Deborah Dupré
Peter S. Goodman
Recently enough that you may still recall it, a secretive, paranoid man who had previously headed a major multinational energy company found himself vice president of the United States. This man deliberated privately with the heads of major oil companies as his administration set up a new energy policy that, perhaps coincidentally, wound up being strikingly generous to oil companies. The same man played a crucial role in leading the nation into a disastrous and costly war in a country that -- again, perhaps coincidentally -- held the world's second-largest oil reserves.
When, at the time, a few annoying sticklers for detail suggested there were problems with this flavor of policymaking, that perhaps it would have been better to hold deliberations in public so that people other than the heads of giant energy companies could have a say in the nation's handling of energy, they were derided by this man and members of his party as naive and idealistic. Why clutter up the proceedings with citizens, journalists and other nudges who do not know how to get oil out of the ground? Leave things to the experts, we were told.
So it is nothing short of astonishing to absorb the current spectacle. Republican members of the House -- the same people who defended national troglodyte Dick Cheney in his effort to block public scrutiny on oil policy -- are now criticizing the way Elizabeth Warren is making preparations for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as if it were some sinister plot to destroy the republic.
The White House's appointment of Warren "circumvented the advice-and-consent process and undermined one of the key checks and balances in our Constitution," declared Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) in a letter addressed Monday to the inspector general at the Treasury. "Treasury Department officials have provided little or no transparency with respect to their activities such as which organizations are meeting with Treasury officials."
Far be it from anyone to defend the Obama Treasury against charges that it lacks transparency. From its handling of its feckless homeowner-aid program, sold as a fix to the foreclosure crisis, to its administering of the Wall Street bailouts begun by its predecessors, this Treasury has been a maddening and combative model of misinformation, evasion and outright dishonesty. Again and again, it has sided with Wall Street over the public's right to know, protecting Goldman Sachs and Bank of America in much the same way Dick Cheney lavished his nurturing ways on Halliburton and Exxon.
But this idea that Republicans in Congress are now pursuing the public interest in challenging Warren's authority, trying to derail her devious plot to make the world safe for people with credit cards and bank accounts, is nothing short of hilarious. It is a brazen exercise in what regular people call balls, one that must be admired for its sheer, breathtaking nature.
Vice President Cheney, you will recall, had previously run Halliburton, a company that makes its money helping multinational energy firms extract more precious black liquid from the earth. This gave him an Oklahoma-sized conflict of interest when it came to deliberating on energy policy. It was fair to assume he would not be a particularly aggressive proponent of tighter energy-efficiency standards or an advocate for capping carbon emissions to limit climate change. He also played a central role in the nation's national-security apparatus just as the deliberations -- and perhaps that is a generous word -- commenced on the ultimately horrible decision to invade Iraq.
Cheney not only had personal truck with the heads of the oil majors, a clubby relationship with people who had every financial incentive to push for greater consumption of oil, but also the reasonable expectation of financial enrichment himself on the other side. Much as Larry Summers and Robert Rubin used their time at the Clinton Treasury to open up fresh profit-making opportunities for high finance in ways contrary to the public interest before landing on Wall Street, where they made enough to live like Maharajahs, Cheney could certainly have set himself up for a lucrative return trip to the oil patch.
In short, the less-than-transparent way he handled energy policy could reasonably have been expected to hide some sweet goodies for powerful companies whose interest might have deviated from the public's.
Elizabeth Warren, the woman tasked with creating the CFPB, on the other hand, is a longtime law professor, an author of respected books on the breakdown of the American middle class, and a darling of consumer advocates. Are Republicans suggesting that she is using her current position to set up a consumer protection bureau that is so to the liking of consumer advocates that she could some day cash in with a plum job at, say, the National Consumer Law Center? Are they intimating that she stands to benefit in some way by using her new agency to damage the public interest?
And how to square the Republican demands to know where she is drawing counsel with the Bush administration's stonewalling on efforts to glean Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's conversational partners as he was crafting plans to send $700 billion in bailout funds to his old compadres on Wall Street?
In the most generous reading, the Republicans really believe the rhetoric in their broadside and are clinging to a cultish reverence for free markets, one so extreme that they are adamant that the same bankers who brought the economy to its knees should enjoy the freedom to try it again.
But don't bet on that reading. The demands for transparency from a party that has only recently regained an appreciation for constitutional jurisprudence is merely the latest example of its oppose-everything mantra, a dynamic we are stuck with right up until the next presidential election.
It is a cynical ploy premised on the belief that American memories run short -- so short that we have already forgotten how today's ardent protectors of due process are the same people who allowed Dick Cheney to run energy policy like an elaborate Christmas morning for oil companies.
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Monday, November 22, 2010
By Robert Egger
Sunday, November 21, 2010; B02
No one goes hungry in America.
1 Hunger is supposed to happen in other places - in distant countries where droughts or storms or famine compel us to donate money and oblige our government to send relief workers and food aid. In reality, hunger also hits much closer to home.
According to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17.4 million American families - almost 15 percent of U.S. households - are now "food insecure," an almost 30 percent increase since 2006. This means that, during any given month, they will be out of money, out of food, and forced to miss meals or seek assistance to feed themselves.
Even those who get three meals a day may be malnourished. Americans increasingly eat cheap, sugary foods whose production is underwritten by government subsidies for the corn and dairy industries. As the New York Times reported this month, the USDA loudly promotes better eating habits while quietly working with Domino's to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese.
Obesity is related to hunger, too, thanks to our poor food choices and the lack of healthy food options in many communities. Many of us may be packing on the pounds, but they are life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 percent of adults are obese. The number of children who struggle with their weight is increasing, particularly among Latinos. Diet-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes are now on the list of the leading causes of death in America. We are dying not because we aren't eating, but because we're eating the wrong things.
Ending malnourishment is merely a humanitarian concern.
2Hunger threatens our economic future and our national security. An astonishing one in four American children - close to 17 million - live in food-insecure homes. A kid who is hungry cannot learn. A kid who can't learn drops out of school. A kid without an education can't get a job and help America compete in a global economy. A kid without a job may turn to crime, get arrested and cost taxpayers $40,000 a year to sit in prison.
Those children who become obese adults, meanwhile, limit our armed forces' ability to protect our nation. Military officers recently warned that more than 9 million young adults - 27 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 - weigh too much to enlist, shrinking the pool of candidates for service.
Meanwhile, more than 9 percent of medical spending, $147 billion annually, is devoted to treating obesity, and obese people spend $1,500 more per year on health care than people of average weight. The costs of poor nutrition help drag us further into debt and leave us vulnerable. America simply can't afford malnourishment anymore.
Children are the only ones who go hungry.
3The person most likely to be hungry is a single, working mother. Federal programs ensure that low-income children can get free meals at school, but their mothers - many of whom are single and work low-paying jobs in the service sector - often have to make tough choices between food, rent, gas for the car, health care or new shoes for their kids. Millions of American women who face this predicament will feed their children and go without meals themselves.
Another tragedy in America is the rapidly growing number of seniors who have to choose between food, medicine and utilities. Though few of our elders will admit to needing help, a 2007 study by Meals on Wheels indicated that as many as 6 million are going hungry. Meanwhile, that free food-delivery service has waiting lists in many cities. The 80 million baby boomers approaching retirement are expected to live longer than any previous generation, but not all have set aside enough resources for their final years. When that silver tsunami strikes, hunger will come with it.
The food that America wastes could feed everybody.
4According to Jonathan Bloom's new book, "American Wasteland," up to 40 percent of the food we produce is ultimately thrown away. Much of it, such as household waste or decomposing fruits and vegetables, is unfit to eat or impractical to collect. Unnecessary expiration dates, particularly on canned foods, condemn millions of pounds of food to landfills. Logistically, we just can't feed everyone with leftovers.
Still, that doesn't mean we shouldn't use them. Since President Bill Clinton signed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, initiatives around the country have retrieved millions of pounds of great food from restaurants and hotels and have used it to feed the hungry and provide culinary job training for the unemployed. Food banks have redistributed hundreds of millions of pounds of nonperishable items, and food activists called gleaners have taken to farms to forage for crops that won't make it to market.
Hunger is about food.
5Ever since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, the government has worked diligently to ensure that no American goes hungry. For years, the USDA flooded communities with surplus commodities such as cheese and butter. Enrollment in the food stamp program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the front-line federal weapon in the fight against hunger, is at an all-time high, with 42.4 million people receiving support.
Yet the number of Americans who struggle to put food on their tables has never decreased. This is because hunger isn't about food. It's about jobs and wages.
The passage of living-wage laws, tariffs that protect U.S. jobs and comprehensive public health care - coupled with consumer support for businesses that pay good wages, reinvest in their communities or embrace green polices - would do more to combat hunger than anything charities have tried in the past five decades. Incentives for local food production would keep us healthy and our local economies thriving.
For example, D.C. Central Kitchen, which I founded in 1989, provides locally sourced, made-from-scratch meals for public and charter schools in Washington as well as for clients of Fresh Start, our catering company. In the middle of a recession, we just added 30 well-paid employees who receive benefits, many from our own job-training program. Last year, 80 of our graduates, many of them felons or former drug addicts, earned more than $2 million in salaries and paid more than $200,000 in local payroll taxes. And while learning new skills, they produced more than 1.4 million healthy meals for shelters and food programs.
What we are doing isn't unique. It's happening all over America, and it isn't charity - it's rock-solid business.
Robert Egger is the founder and president of D.C. Central Kitchen and the Campus Kitchens Project.
firstname.lastname@example.org | HuffPost Reporting
WASHINGTON -- These days, when we think of George W. Bush, we think mostly of what a horrible mess he made of the economy. But his even more tragic legacy is the loss of our moral authority, and the transformation of the United States of America from global champion of human rights into an outlaw nation.
History is likely to judge Bush most harshly for two things in particular: Launching a war against a country that had not attacked us, and approving the use of cruel and inhumane interrogation techniques.
And that's why the two most essential lies -- among the many -- in his new memoir are that he had a legitimate reason to invade Iraq, and that he had a legitimate reason to torture detainees.
Neither is remotely true. But Bush must figure that if he keeps making the case for himself -- particularly if it goes largely unrebutted by the traditional media, as it has thus far -- then perhaps he can blunt history's verdict.
It may even be working. Extrapolating from the response to the book, former vice president Dick Cheney on Tuesday told a crowd gathered for Bush's presidential library groundbreaking in Dallas that "judgments are a little more measured than they were" and that "history is coming around."
The 'Decision' to Go to War
In "Decision Points," Bush describes the invasion of Iraq as something he came to support only reluctantly and after a long period of reflection. This is a flat-out lie. Anyone who paid any attention to the news at the time knew Bush was dead-set on war long before he sent in the troops in March 2003. And there is now an abundant amount of documentation, in the form of leaks, unclassified memos, witness interviews and other people's memoirs to prove it.
The historical record clearly shows that Bush had long harbored a desire to strike out at Saddam Hussein, was trying to link Iraq to 9/11 within a day of the terrorist attacks, and finally found the excuse he was looking for in skewed intelligence about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The only real question is whether he actively deceived the American public and the world -- or whether he was so passionate about selling the public on the war that he intentionally blinded himself to how brazenly Vice President Cheney had politicized and abused the intelligence process.
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Bush repeatedly insists in his memoir that he tried to avoid war. He describes his preferred approach to Iraq as "coercive diplomacy" and tries to explain away the military planning, the troop movements and the constant saber-rattling as being intended primarily to scare Saddam into "disarming". He even tries to retroactively justify one of his notoriously long vacations by suggesting that he needed the time to think. "I spent much of August 2002 in Crawford, a good place to reflect on the next decision I faced: how to move forward on the diplomatic track," he writes.
In an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer aired on Nov. 8, Bush declared, "I gave diplomacy every chance to work." But as David Corn put it ever so succinctly on Politics Daily, that is a "super-sized whopper." U.N. weapons inspectors had found nothing and were getting more cooperation from the Iraqi government just prior to the invasion. And Corn offered up one particularly telling anecdote from the book he co-authored, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War": On May 1, 2002 -- almost a year prior to the invasion -- Bush told press secretary Ari Fleischer of Saddam, "I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast."
Bush writes in his memoir that the idea of attacking Iraq came up at a meeting of his national security team at Camp David, four days after the 9/11 attacks. By his account, it was then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who "suggested that we consider confronting Iraq as well as the Taliban." Bush writes that he eventually decided that "[u]nless I received definitive evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 plot I would work to resolve the Iraq problem diplomatically."
But that's a hugely disingenuous version of events. It didn't take Wolfowitz and four days after 9/11 for the idea of attacking Iraq to occur to Bush. As the 9/11 Commission report documented: "President Bush had wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam Hussein's regime might have had a hand in it."
In the first tell-all book from inside Bush's national security team, Richard A. Clarke wrote in 2004 of a meeting he had with Bush the day after 9/11:
The president in a very intimidating way left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office....
I think they had a plan from day one they wanted to do something about Iraq. While the World Trade Center was still smoldering, while they were still digging bodies out, people in the White House were thinking: 'Ah! This gives us the opportunity we have been looking for to go after Iraq.'
Clarke notes that the following day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained in a meeting that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that the U.S. should consider bombing Iraq, which had better targets.
At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking. But he was serious and the President did not reject out of hand the idea of attacking Iraq. Instead, he noted that what we needed to do with Iraq was to change the government, not just hit it with more cruise missiles, as Rumsfeld had implied.
Just over two months later, on Nov. 21, 2001, Bush formally instructed Rumsfeld that he wanted to develop a plan for war in Iraq. Sixteen months after that, in March 2003, the invasion began.
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In the period during which Bush claims he was wringing his hands about whether or not to attack, he and his aides were instead intensely focused on building the public case for what was, in their minds, an inevitability.
The first concrete bits of evidence to that effect were the Downing Street Memos, first published in May 1, 2005, which documented the conclusions of British officials after high-level talks in Washington in July 2002:
Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
And just recently, the independent National Security Archives completed a major analysis of the historical record, including a new trove of formerly secret records of both the Bush administration and the British cabinet of Tony Blair. John Prados, co-director of the archives' Iraq Documentation Project, summed up their findings this way: "The more we learn about how the Iraq War began the worse the story gets."
Prados wrote that the cumulative record clearly "demonstrates that the Bush administration swiftly abandoned plans for diplomacy to curb fancied Iraqi adventurism by means of sanctions, never had a plan subsequent to that except for a military solution, and enmeshed British allies in a manipulation of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic designed to generate support for a war."
That's right: There never was another plan. And therefore -- ironically enough, considering the title of Bush's book -- there never was an actual "decision point" either. There were some debates about how to invade Iraq, and when, but not if.
In contrast to an extensive record of planning for actual military operations, there is no record that President George W. Bush ever made a considered decision for war. All of the numerous White House and Pentagon meetings concerned moving the project forward, not whether a march into conflict was a proper course for the United States and its allies. Deliberations were instrumental to furthering the war project, not considerations of the basic course.
Former CIA director George Tenet admitted as much in his own memoir, in 2007. "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," he wrote, nor "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.
And in June 2008, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller described the conclusions of his committee's exhaustive report on the Bush administration's public statements regarding Iraq:
Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence. In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.
It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.
There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.
It was, in short, a propaganda campaign. As former Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his revelatory 2008 memoir, Bush's advisors "decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.... A pro-war campaign might have been more acceptable had it been accompanied by a high level of candor and honesty, but it was not."
And as Jonathan Landay wrote for Knight Ridder in 2005, the materials that had become public to date demonstrated "that the White House followed a pattern of using questionable intelligence, even documents that turned out to be forgeries, to support its case -- often leaking classified information to receptive journalists -- and dismissing information that undermined the case for war."
That's what made Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of the Valerie Plame case so essential. It promised a public view into the heart of the administration's dirty tricks department -- and a chance to find out once and for all who the mastermind was. But Cheney aide Scooter Libby's lies stymied Fitzgerald, and we never found out for sure -- even though the signs pointed pretty clearly to Libby's boss.
Even if Cheney was the driving force behind the war campaign's deceptions, however, Bush was undeniably the chief cheerleader.
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Precisely to what extent pressure from the White House was responsible for the intelligence community's totally inaccurate assessment of Iraq's WMDs remains unclear. Bush's own WMD commission, not surprisingly, gave him a pass in their final report. But there was no doubt the community knew what its chief customers wanted to hear, and gave it to them.
Even so, the intelligence did not support Bush's insistence at the time that those weapons posed an imminent threat.
Paul R. Pillar, the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, wrote in 2006 that it was only through the overt, intentional misreading, cherry-picking and politicization of intelligence findings that the case could be made for war:
If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war - or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar US intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important US policy decisions in recent decades.
Intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive Bush's decision to go to war, Pillar continued:
A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors.
For Bush, the intelligence findings Cheney and others were feeding him -- and the media -- were not factors that needed to be weighed carefully as part of a decision-making process. There was no decision-making process. The intelligence findings were simply elements of a sales campaign.
The one time Bush is recorded as having pushed back at the intelligence at all was in the famous late 2002 Oval Office scene with Tenet. However, contrary to popular mythology, Bush's concern was manifestly not about the intelligence itself, but about its marketing potential.
When Tenet exclaimed "It's a slam dunk case!" it was in the context of the case to be made to the public.
In the memoir, Bush himself recalls having declared: "Surely we can do a better job of explaining the evidence against Saddam."
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Bush writes in the memoir: "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."
But as David Corn also points out Bush famously treated the missing WMDs like a big joke at a March 2004 press dinner. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," he said as he narrated a slideshow of pictures of him looking out his window and under his furniture.
And Bush of course never actually tells us who he's angry at, or what exactly sickened him. He's certainly not willing to say that he was angry at himself, or that going to war was a sickening mistake.
LAUER: Was there ever any consideration of apologizing to the American people?
BUSH: I mean, apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision, and I don't believe it was a wrong decision.
In fact, despite everything, Bush continues to indulge in the same unfounded rhetoric to this day"For all the difficulties that followed, America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror at the heart of the Middle East," he writes.
And the cherry-picking of the intelligence continues, as well. As Walter Pincus wrote on Monday (in a story the Washington Post buried on page A29), the book "makes selective use" of a Jan. 27, 2003, report to the U.N. Security Council by chief inspector Hans Blix, "citing elements that support the idea that Hussein was not cooperating and leaving out parts that indicate his government was. More to the point, however, Bush fails to mention two subsequent Blix pre-invasion reports in February and early March, weeks before U.S. bombs struck Baghdad. Those show Iraq cooperating with inspectors and the inspectors finding no significant evidence that Hussein was hiding WMD programs."
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George W. Bush was no reluctant warrior. The U.S. went to war in Iraq because he wanted to. The war he launched was arguably an illegal act of aggression. And the costs have been enormous.
The United States has spent $750 billion and counting on the war in Iraq. More than 4,400 members of the U.S. armed forces have perished, with nearly 32,000 wounded in action, and somewhere in the ballpark of 500,000 more suffering from brain injuries, mental health problems, hearing damage and disease. Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated to number at least 100,000 and more than a million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes.
Bush told Lauer it was worth it: "I will say, definitely, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom."
But author Nir Rosen recently addressed Bush's claim:
Certainly the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis are not better off. Their families aren't better off. The tens of thousands of Iraqi men who languished in American and subsequently Iraqi gulags are not better off. The children who lost their fathers aren't better off. The millions of Iraqis who lost their homes, hundreds of thousands of refugees in the region, are not better off. So there's no mathematical calculation you can make to determine who's better off and who's not.....
Saddam Hussein is gone, that's true. The regime we've put in place is certainly more representative, but it's brutal and authoritarian. Torture is routine and systematic. Corruption is also routine and systematic. There are no services to speak of, no real electricity or water. Violence remains very high. So, there's nothing to be proud of in this. The Iraqi people deserve much better, and they're the real victims of Bush's war.
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In what was perhaps the single most preposterous assertion of his book tour, Bush seemed to suggest to Lauer that he was actually against going to war:
LAUER: So by the time you gave the order to start military operations in Iraq, did you personally have any doubt, any shred of doubt, about that intelligence?
BUSH: No, I didn't. I really didn't.
LAUER: Not everybody thought you should go to war, though. There were dissenters.
BUSH: Of course there were.
LAUER: Did you filter them out?
BUSH: I was -- I was a dissenting voice. I didn't wanna use force.
For the nation's journalists to allow this outrageous lie to go uncontested is particularly galling. During the run-up to war, one of the elite media's most common excuses for marginalizing or ignoring the true voices of dissension and doubt was that everyone knew an invasion was a foregone conclusion.
The result back then was that instead of watchdog journalism, what we got was credulous, stenographic recitation of the administration's deeply flawed arguments for war. Or, as former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie told Howard Kurtz in 2004: In retrospect, "we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale."
Today's journalists would like to think they have learned some lessons from their poor pre-war conduct. But letting Bush get away now with saying the exact opposite of what they knew to be true even at the time -- and what has since been amply confirmed by the historical record -- would be yet another major victory of stenography over accountability.
The Embrace Of Torture
That torture is even a subject of debate today is a testament to the devastating effect the Bush administration has had on our concept of morality.
And in his book and on his book tour, far from hanging his head in shame, Bush is more explicit and enthusiastic than ever before endorsing one of torture's iconic forms. "Damn right," he quotes himself as saying in response to a CIA request to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "Had we captured more al Qaeda operatives with significant intelligence value, I would have used the program for them as well."
Bush's two-part argument is simple; That waterboarding was legal (i.e., that it was not really torture); and that it worked.
But neither assertion is remotely true.
Waterboarding -- essentially controlled drowning -- involves immobilizing someone and pouring water over their mouth and nose in a way that makes them choke. It causes great physical and mental suffering, but leaves no marks.
It's not new; villains and despots have been using it extract confessions for something like 700 years. The CIA just perfected it.
It is self-evidently, almost definitionally, torture. The U.S. government had always considered it torture. In 1947, the U.S. charged a Japanese officer who waterboarded an American with war crimes. It is flatly a violation of international torture conventions.
And as far as I know, no American government official had ever even suggested it wasn't torture until a small handful of lawyers in Bush's supine Justice Department, working under orders from the vice president, claimed otherwise.
These lawyers drafted a series of memos so lacking in legal merit -- and so cruel and inhuman -- that they were retracted and repudiated even by a later wave of Bush appointees.
The original "torture memo" from August 1, 2002, for instance, argued that to "rise to the level of torture" an act had to cause pain "equivalent to intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Anything short of that, according to the memo, was OK.
Lauer asked Bush in their interview why he thought waterboarding was legal.
"Because the lawyer said it was legal," Bush replied. "He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do."
When Lauer raised the possibility that Bush's lawyers had simply told him what they knew he wanted to hear, Bush vaguely denied it and suggested that his book might shed more light on the topic. But it doesn't, at least not much. In it, Bush writes:
Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal review. They concluded that the enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution an all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.
I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did not lasting harm.
I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public. When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised our moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real. Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked. In the wake of 9/11, that was a risk I was unwilling to take. My most solemn responsibility as president was to protect the country. I approved the use of the interrogation techniques.
But the choice between security and values was not real. And this is exactly the reason we have laws: To prevent people from doing what they may for some reason think at the moment is a good idea, but which society has determined is wrong. No man is above the law. And "the lawyer said it was legal" is not a sufficient excuse.
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As for the claim that torture worked, Bush writes in the book:
Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded. The information the detainees revealed constituted more than half of what the CIA knew about al-Qaeda. Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American military and diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.
But the only thing we know for sure is that detainees who were tortured made elaborate confessions. That, after all, is what torture is good for. We don't know how much valuable information they really provided. We don't know how much of that information came before they were tortured, rather than after. We certainly don't know how much information they would have shared under proven, standard interrogation techniques.
And under close inspection by investigative journalists, every one of Bush's specific assertions about torture having saved lives has been thoroughly debunked.
The first detainee waterboarded directly on Bush's orders was Abu Zubaydah, in August 2002.
During his presidency, Bush repeatedly used Zubaydah as his Exhibit A for torture. In the book, Bush describes him as a "senior recruiter and operator" and "trusted associate of Osama bin Laden."
After CIA interrogators strapped Zubaydah to the waterboard and suffocated him 83 times in a month, he broke down. Bush writes:
Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al Qaeda's structure and operations. He also provided leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani police picked him upon the first anniversary of 9/11.
In the book, Bush did not, as he had on several occasions during his presidency, give Zubaydah credit for identifying bin al Shibh as a terror suspect in the first place. That particular claim was undercut by the fact that, some four months before Zubaydah was captured, an FBI indictment detailed bin al Shibh's alleged involvement in the 9/11 plot.
But what Bush did assert in his memoir was equally untrue. Investigative journalist Ron Suskind, in his breakthrough 2006 book, "The One Percent Doctrine," reported that the key information about bin al Shibh's location came not from Zubaydah but from an al-Jazeera reporter who had interviewed bin al Shibh at his apartment in Karachi.
And Zubaydah was not a major player. According to Suskind, he was a mentally ill travel booker who under CIA torture sent investigators chasing after false leads about al Qaeda plots on American nuclear plants, water systems, shopping malls, banks and supermarkets.
Almost three years after Suskind's book came out, the Washington Post confirmed what Suskind had reported: that "not a single significant plot was foiled" as a result of Zubaydah's brutal treatment -- and that his false confessions "triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms."
Another detainee waterboarded on Bush's say-so was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who stands accused of plotting al Qaeda's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
As far as I can tell, Bush has never actually made any claims about any intelligence whatsoever reaped from Nashiri's brutal treatment at the hands of CIA interrogators in Poland (who, among other things, used a power drill and a handgun to terrify him.)
The unclassified transcript of Nashiri's Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing in 2007, while redacted to eliminate any mention of the specific ways in which he was tortured, indicates that his response was to tell interrogators whatever they wanted to hear.
Nashiri was asked about his statements about plans to bomb other American ships, about a plot to fly a plane and crash it into a ship, and about bin Laden having a nuclear bomb.
"I just said those things to make the people happy," he explained. "They were very happy when I told them those things."
And then there was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who the CIA asphyxiated 183 times after Bush so enthusiastically approved his waterboarding. Bush writes:
He disclosed plans to attack American targets with anthrax and directed us to three people involved in the al Qaeda biological weapons program. .He provided information that led to the capture of Hambali, the chief of al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate in Southeast Asia and the architect of the Bali terrorist attacks that killed 202 people. He provided further details that led agents to Hambali's brother, who had been grooming operatives to carry out another attack inside the United States, possibly a West Coast version of 9/11 in which terrorist flew a hijacked plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.
There seems to be little doubt that KSM provided intelligence of some value (along with a number of false confessions) -- although he might have done likewise (minus the false confessions) in the hands of a skilled interrogator using traditional methods.
But despite the lengths that the Bush White House, intelligence officials and various torture apologists have gone to over the past several years to help Bush make his case, there remains not the tiniest shred of evidence to support his assertion that KSM's torture -- or any other -- actually saved a single life.
As far as we know, none of the alleged plots that were allegedly disrupted was anything more than a fantasy. There is no evidence they presented an actual danger. There is not a single saved life they can point to. If they could, they would have.
The first time Bush disclosed what he alleged were thwarted terror plots was in a speech in October 2005. "Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least ten serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States," he said. The White House then distributed what it called a fact sheet.
But a few days later, the Washington Post reported:
Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed....
The president made it 'sound like well-hatched plans,' said a former CIA official involved in counterterrorism during that period. 'I don't think they fall into that category.'
Similarly, in a February 2006 speech Bush offered more details about that alleged Library Tower plot. The Director of National Intelligence obligingly declassified a Summary of the High Value Terrorist Detainee Program to go along with that. But the Washington Post soon reported that "several U.S. intelligence officials played down the relative importance of the alleged plot and attributed the timing of Bush's speech to politics."
And even when the CIA last year released documents that Cheney had sworn would definitively prove that torture had "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people," those documents turned out to include no such proof -- just a lot more cover-your-ass language from the CIA.
Senator Rockefeller concluded in March 2008:
As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing that makes me think the information obtained from these techniques could not have been obtained through traditional interrogation methods used by military and law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop.
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Bush's assertion that torture thwarted plots to attack Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf got some renewed attention earlier this month after portions of his memoir were serialized in the Times of London. The journalists across the pond, at least, pushed back a bit.
The Guardian reported:
British officials said today there was no evidence to support claims by George Bush, the former US president, that information extracted by "waterboarding" saved British lives by foiling attacks on Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf....
British counter-terrorism officials distanced themselves from Bush's claims. They said Mohammed provided "extremely valuable" information which was passed on to security and intelligence agencies, but that it mainly related to al-Qaida's structure and was not known to have been extracted through torture.
The Daily Mail reported:
Lord MacDonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, said: 'These stories about waterboarding thwarting attacks on Canary Wharf and Heathrow -- I've never seen anything to substantiate these claims. These claims are to be treated with a great deal of scepticism.'
Now it's true that some British intelligence officials -- notoriously close to their American colleagues -- share Bush's views. The head of Britain's MI5, for instance, actually defended the use of torture on familiar grounds last year:
Al Qaeda had indeed made plans for further attacks after 9/11: details of some of these plans came to light through the interrogation of detainees by other countries, including the US, in the period after 9/11; subsequent investigation on the ground, including in the UK, substantiated these claims. Such intelligence was of the utmost importance to the safety and security of the UK. It has saved British lives. Many attacks have been stopped as a result of effective international intelligence co-operation since 9/11.
But he offered no verifiable details, of course.
Meanwhile, the new British Prime Minister, conservative David Cameron, told the Telegraph that torture was wrong and that Bush administration detainee policy had done harm, rather than good.
"Look, I think torture is wrong and I think we ought to be very clear about that," Mr Cameron said. "And I think we should also be clear that if actually you're getting information from torture, it's very likely to be unreliable information."
When pressed on whether torture saves lives, he added: "I think there is both a moral reason for being opposed to torture -- and Britain doesn't sanction torture -- but secondly I think there's also an effectiveness thing ... if you look at the effect of Guantánamo Bay and other things like that, long-term that has actually helped to radicalise people and make our country and our world less safe. So I don't agree."
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There may be little point in speculating on what drove Cheney and Bush to cross such a clear and important ethical line. Was it that they were well and truly terrified? Did they succumb to the lures of the ticking time bomb-fallacy so popular on TV -- and among the supremely confident? Some social psychologists have speculated that the real motivation for torture is retribution.
It was the Senate Armed Services Committee, in April 2009, that actually suggested an even more nefarious possible motive: That the White House started pushing the use of torture not out of concern about an imminent threat, but when officials in 2002 were desperately casting about for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks in order to strengthen their public case for invasion.
That becomes less incredible when you consider that it was a false confession extracted under torture by Egyptian authorities from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a terror suspect who had been rendered to Egypt by the CIA, that was the sole source for arguments Bush made in a key pre-Iraq war speech in October 2002.
"We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases," Bush said at the time -- with no caveats. The same false confession provided a critical part of then-secretary of state Colin Powell's famous presentation to the United Nations, a month before the invasion.
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Finally, it's hugely important to remember that Bush's embrace of torture went far beyond the waterboard. For Bush, the best-case scenario is that the debate remains about his approval of the use of that one procedure on three top terror suspects.
But Bush's legacy is one of much more wanton and widespread cruelty -- a cruelty that was truly unimaginable before the unique combination of 9/11 and some particularly cold-blooded people occupying high office.
Bush and his helpers approved a wide range of other brutal interrogation practices, including severe beatings, painful stress positions, severe sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold and hot temperatures, forced nudity, threats, hooding, the use of dogs and sensory deprivation -- many of which, it turned out, were cribbed from techniques Chinese Communists perfected to extract confessions from captured U.S. servicemen.
Some of these tactics fall short of the legal definition of torture, some don't, but they are all, as former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora explained in 2008, morally indefensible:
Many Americans are unaware that there is a legal distinction between cruelty and torture, cruelty being the less severe level of abuse. This has tended to obscure important elements of the interrogation debate from the public's attention. For example, the public may be largely unaware that the government could evasively if truthfully claim (and did claim) that it was not "torturing" even as it was simultaneously interrogating detainees cruelly. Yet there is little or no moral distinction between cruelty and torture, for cruelty can be as effective as torture in savaging human flesh and spirit and in violating human dignity. Our efforts should be focused not merely on banning torture, but on banning cruelty.
Tactics that violated basic human dignity were not limited to three men, or even to the three dozen men subjected to "enhanced interrogation" at the CIA's black sites in Poland, Thailand, and Romania. They were employed as a matter of standard practice on countless detainees held in custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
And once cruelty was adopted as a weapon of war, that inevitably opened the door wide to abusive and degrading practices that weren't explicitly authorized.
Far from being limited to ostensibly "high value" detainees, state-sanctioned cruelty was applied willy-nilly to many of those unfortunate enough to get swept up into the system. We literally have no idea how many.
As a bipartisan Senate report in 2008 concluded:
The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo]. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002, authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
The report laid out a clear line of responsibility for Abu Ghraib that started with Bush and his February 2002 memo exempting war-on-terror detainees from the Geneva Conventions.
Mora, one of the few voices of conscience inside the government during that dark period, summed up the damage this way:
[O]ur Nation's policy decision to use so-called "harsh" interrogation techniques during the War on Terror was a mistake of massive proportions. It damaged and continues to damage our Nation in ways that appear never to have been considered or imagined by its architects and supporters, whose policy focus seems to have been narrowly confined to the four corners of the interrogation room. This interrogation policy -- which may aptly be labeled a "policy of cruelty" -- violated our founding values, our constitutional system and the fabric of our laws, our over-arching foreign policy interests, and our national security. The net effect of this policy of cruelty has been to weaken our defenses, not to strengthen them, and has been greatly contrary to our national interest.
George W. Bush has managed to duck the ignominy he deserves for launching this policy of cruelty. He has done so in part by framing the debate as one solely about waterboarding -- and counting on a lazy, amnesiac press corps to neither confront him on that count nor call him out for the wider moral breach for which he is responsible.
Back in 2004, as soon as the photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib went public, Bush and his collaborators launched a high-stakes disinformation campaign to prevent the American people from linking the White House to the pervasive, inhumane treatment of detainees -- many of whom were utterly innocent -- at prison facilities such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo. Being associated with the waterboarding of three top terrorists was at least a defensible position. Being responsible for widescale violations of the laws of war was not.
That disinformation campaign continues today, in "Decision Points." If we forget what really happened, it just might succeed.
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
I'm not anti-Christian. With the exception of my brother & his wife who are Atheists My whole family and all of my friends are Christians. What I am is anti 'hate-filled' Christian. There's a lot of hate out there and I've experienced first hand when I was still a Christian and a member of a Full Gospel, Pentecostal Christian Church....and all that hete that was coming from the Congregation. .....but that just me.
Christian Right Activist Blasts Medal of Honor as 'Feminized,' Sparks Fury
While a divided nation last Tuesday finally rallied around one bright shining moment of patriotic glory -- President Obama's awarding of the Medal of Honor to Afghan hero Army Sgt. Salvatore Giunta -- a popular right-wing Christian commentator sharply split opinions even within his own camp. He blasted the award as "feminized" because it honors Giunta for saving his comrades rather than killing the enemy.
The Army's official citation details how Giunta "exposed himself to withering enemy fire" during a daring effort to engage the enemy and extract his wounded comrades from an ambush. But Bryan Fischer, a columnist for the American Family Association who has often provoked headlines and consternation with his commentaries, read the narrative as hardly the sort of thing American soldiers were once known for.
President Obama awards Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. Salvatore Giunta"When we think of heroism in battle, we used the think of our boys storming the beaches of Normandy under withering fire, climbing the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc while enemy soldiers fired straight down on them, and tossing grenades into pill boxes to take out gun emplacements," wrote Fischer, director of issue analysis for the AFA, a longtime lobby on the Christian right. "That kind of heroism has apparently become passé when it comes to awarding the Medal of Honor. We now award it only for preventing casualties, not for inflicting them."
"So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things, so our families can sleep safely at night?" he asked.
Fischer based his claim on a line in a column in The Wall Street Journal by William McGurn, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. In the midst of his high praise for Giunta's heroism, McGurn noted that rather than "Rambos decorated for great damage inflicted on the enemy," every Medal of Honor awarded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "has been for an effort to save life."
In fact, that's not exactly the case. The official account of the first Medal of Honor given for service in Iraq, to Army Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, shows how, among other courageous acts, Smith "braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons," losing his life in the process."
But such details didn't stop Fischer from asserting that "We have feminized the Medal of Honor" -- a claim that sparked a string of fierce criticisms on the blog post that are continuing.
"Your artciles [sic] reek of ignorance and evangelical stupidity," said one of the first commenters.
"What utterly disgusting, false and un-Christian drivel," said one of the most recent.
Fischer is hardly one to slink away under hostile fire, as he told me after a post last month in which he said that the firefighters in South Fulton, Tennessee did "the Christian thing" by letting a family's house burn because they were delinquent on their $75 annual fire protection fee.
That was the column that had generated the most outrage among all of Fischer's writings, until the Medal of Honor article. But in characteristic fashion, Fischer wasn't retreating. In two follow-up posts he pointed out that he believed Giunta did deserve the award, and that the media "so badly twisted and distorted my words that they are accusing me of saying the exact opposite of what I actually said."
My point in all this is that we appear to have reached a point in awarding the MOH that we are squeamish about awarding to those who "take the hill" as well as awarding to those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their comrades.
Fischer reiterated his central criticism that "our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery."
Indeed, while Fischer's column irked many of his allies, his views are in keeping with a strain of conservative American Christianity that frets about the "feminization" of the faith as evidenced by the widespread emphasis on God's love and mercy rather than his anger and punishment, for example. And some such Christian conservatives are also concerned about efforts to accept gay clergy and to portray Jesus as a passive, wimpy victim rather than a tough-guy martyr like the Messiah portrayed in Mel Gibson's movie, "Passion of the Christ."
"Jesus' act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless -- yes, meaningless -- if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life," Fischer wrote in his original column on Giunta's Medal of Honor. "The cross represented a cosmic showdown between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and our commanding general claimed the ultimate prize by defeating our unseen enemy and liberating an entire planet from his bondage."
With repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy still possible during the lame duck session of Congress after Thanksgiving, it's likely that Fischer -- and others -- will have plenty of other opportunities to make their point, and perhaps with more support from their own troops on the religious right.
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