Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Just Don't Call it a militia: Part 4

The Wardak Experiment: The Afghan Public Protection Program

Human Rights Watch

The Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3) in Wardak province is the most recent attempt to create a community defense force. The program was only used in Wardak, and is regarded by many international military officials in Afghanistan as a success story, largely because it is credited with reducing insurgent attacks and improving road security in the province.[156]

As shown below, AP3 also highlights the risks of such forces being hijacked by local strongmen, particularly when formation of such a force is combined with an attempt at stabilization through the co-option of commanders with ties to the insurgency. The touted security dividend came at a high cost for some communities.

Creation of AP3 in Wardak

    Wardak province in central Afghanistan saw a dramatic deterioration in the security situation in 2007-2008 as Taliban insurgents increased their presence across the province. The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office reported 11 to 30 insurgent attacks per day in Wardak province in the first quarter of 2009.[157]

    In February 2009, it was announced by the government that AP3 would be set up in four districts: Jalrez, Chak, Sayedabad, and Nirkh.[158] AP3 was put under the command of the Ministry of Interior, with the close involvement and supervision of US forces from ISAF.[159]

    AP3 was created to provide civilian protection and discourage insurgent activity. One of its functions was to provide security for critical public infrastructure, so as to free up the police from guard duties. AP3’s purpose was described more broadly by the Wardak governor, Mohammad Halim Fidai, as a “comprehensive approach, which is not just fighting the insurgency with the arms and with military means, but also with a creation of employment opportunities for the young people and also bring development to the people.” [160] The Afghan and US governments also hoped for an intelligence dividend—greater information about insurgent activity—as the local community came to trust the force. [161]

    Several government ministers and senior officials within the Ministry of Interior voiced concerns about the risk that the program could create uncontrollable militias.[162]
Local Disquiet about AP3

    While some communities in Wardak welcomed the initiative, others resisted the creation of the AP3. A number of elders from Wardak refused to sign an agreement with the government at a three-day seminar in Kabul.[163] They cited the bitter experience with government-backed militia in the last years of the Najibullah regime in 1995-96 and said that they would prefer an increase in Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army in the province.[164] One elder told Human Rights Watch:

    When we were first asked by the militia commander to give men to their arbakis, we did not want to do this, so we came to Kabul, spoke to the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the National Directorate of Security, and told them that we have a bad memory with militias because of Najibullah, and we prefer to give people to the National Police. But the ministers were not convinced.[165]

    Mohammad Osman Tariq, an Afghan political analyst who spoke to many of the elders involved at the time, said that their eventual acquiescence was far from voluntary:

    The elders were told to sign this agreement, which said that each person will introduce 10 people for the militia group. This was pushed on them. When I talked to some of these elders they said that, “We had no way not to sign it.” Although they told the conference organizers that they didn’t want to sign it, they were forced to send people.[166]

The program went ahead despite the opposition. According to Human Rights Watch interviews, elders from Sayedabad and Chak districts were particularly slow to offer any volunteers, due to fear of reprisals from the Taliban and skepticism about the program.[167] Two members of Jalrez District Council told Human Rights Watch that Taliban threats had been a major recruitment obstacle.[168] An AP3 commander from Jalrez told Human Rights Watch that the salary for AP3 members would not keep the new recruits in their jobs, particularly when they were expected to deploy in the most insecure areas, at greater risk to their lives, for less money than soldiers or police officers.[169]

Empowering a Notorious Commander

    Efforts to create an ethnically mixed force were stymied by problems recruiting sufficient Pashtuns in several districts.[170] This was addressed in December 2009 when a well-known Pashtun commander from Jalrez district, Haji Ghulam Mohammad, was made commander of AP3.[171] Lt. Col. Matthew McFarlane, the 1-503rd Battalion commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, said in a US forces news release:

    Recruiting slowed for a short time before Haji Ghulam Mohammad volunteered to serve as the program commander. He influenced many more recruits to join the program in winter and spring 2010, filling the program to almost 1,200 guardians.[172]

    Reports estimated that Ghulam Mohammad brought around 500 Pashtuns from Jalrez district with him, giving Jalrez district a disproportionately high share of the intended district total of 200.[173] The provincial total for AP3 was intended to be around 1,100.[174] A Ministry of Interior official told Human Rights Watch that Ghulam Mohammad saw the force as a means of increasing his power:

    Ghulam Mohammad told us that there are people in Kunduz that have 10,000 men, who take all their expenses from the government, and make their own empire, so why should we not have the same. He was dreaming about having 10,000 people, and having the power to choose and kick out everyone and become like militia leaders in Kunduz.[175]

    Ghulam Mohammad and his brother Haji Musa Hotak are significant local figures with strong Jihadi credentials, having previously been involved with the Taliban and the Islamist party Harakat-i-Inqilab-iIslami. Ghulam Mohammad was detained by US Forces in 2004 and spent two years in the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Haji Musa Hotak was a commander of Harakat-i-Inqilab-iIslami, a deputy minister in the Taliban government, and a member of parliament for Wardak province from 2005-2010.[176] Hotak was delisted from the UN’s sanction list in January 2010.[177]

    One shura member from Jalrez district, Obaidullah F., said that he was concerned about Mohammad’s appointment because of his strong links with the Taliban and his history of shifting allegiances.[178] An Interior Ministry official who was closely involved in the process said that he had voiced strong concerns about the choice of Ghulam Mohammad:

    He was appointed as head of APPP because of the support of the governor of Wardak. He was arguing he was a good person with a strong social base. I rejected him from the beginning.… He was illiterate, he wanted to misuse APPP.… One of his brothers was in parliament, he’s also powerful. These kinds of people always try to pursue their own tribal agenda.[179]
    The official said that Ghulam Mohammad was seen as a useful intelligence asset:
    The National Security Directorate in Wardak wanted to use him for their own intelligence purposes. This was something we didn’t like. If the governor or NDS want him they should hire him, he shouldn’t be paid by us.[180]

Weak Vetting

    Several elders from Jalrez district told Human Rights Watch that vetting was negligible for the several hundred men seen as being associated with Ghulam Mohammad. Azim M. from Jalrez said that, “All these men are his men. These men were his men during the Taliban time, and during the jihad, and they are still with him as arbakis.”[181]

    Shura member Obaidullah F. told Human Rights Watch that vetting was negligible, with most of the recruits automatically accepted by the NDS, with the exception of a small number who were disabled or elderly.[182] He recalled that shura members “were sent documents and told to sign [but] from our perspective they [referring to the AP3 men] aren’t from us.”[183] He told Human Rights Watch that the power of Ghulam Mohammad was the reason why vetting was so weak:

    Ghulam Mohammad wanted his own influence in the area, for himself. So they got lots of people who were not certified by the elders, or by the shura, they were his men. Out of 540 people, only 50 were acceptable, the rest had bad backgrounds, were criminals or Taliban or bad people.[184]

    Emal S., an elder from Jalrez district said: “They did not take up weapons for the government, they are not there for the people.”[185]
Allegations of Abuse

    Emal S. told Human Rights Watch that he suffered threats, beatings, and intimidation after a checkpoint was set up beside his house by Ghulam Mohammad men working as AP3:

    They are right next to my house, threatening me and threatening my family. Ten days ago they warned me not to participate in the local shura, otherwise they would do something to me. I am an old man, I am not afraid of losing my life, I am afraid only for the good people in my neighborhood. They beat me with guns, and they beat my son and brother.[186]

    Another Wardak resident who lives close to Emal S. told Human Rights Watch that many members of Emal S.’s family had fled the area and that others were so afraid that they felt confined to their homes.[187]

    Elders interviewed from Wardak had made a number of complaints, which they said had little impact. Ajmal B., described the activities of three commanders in his village, which included theft of money, clothing, and mobile phones at checkpoints:

    We went to complain to the government. We went to the chief of police. We told them they were looting. But they said bring us evidence. I told them I didn’t have any way to film this. Ten or fifteen elders went to see them. We said this is the evidence, you should trust us.[188]

    Ajmal B. said that the reason no action was taken to stop the robberies was that the local police were receiving kickbacks. He said: “They have links with each other [the government and the arbakis]. From the money they steal everyone takes a share, even the chief of police.”[189]A local shura member said that complaints to the local police about harassment and beatings by the men at this checkpoint have been made, but that nothing had been done. [190]

    A Ministry of Interior official told Human Rights Watch that the ministry received numerous allegations of abuses by Ghulam Mohammad’s men:

    We got reports that he had grabbed land, and there was corruption. He went beyond his authority and he was taking rent from NGOs, providing security for convoys and taking money for that. He was not happy with his government salary.[191]

Converting AP3 to ALP

    In mid-2010, Ghulam Mohammad was removed from the AP3 program and a new commander was appointed to lead AP3.[192] Despite this, several elders interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they were not satisfied, since they felt he was still very influential in the area, was acting as an advisor to the governor of Wardak province, and acted with impunity.[193] A local official told Human Rights Watch that Mohammad was acting as an advisor on counter-narcotics to the Ministry of Interior.[194]

    At a meeting between elders and the provincial government in January 2011, hosted by the governor in Wardak, it was announced that AP3 would be converted into an ALP force.[195]

    Lt. Colonel John Dorrian, press spokesperson for ISAF, told Human Rights Watch that many of the AP3 members did “transition to the ALP” after being “selected and sponsored by the district shura and subjected to Ministry of Interior and National Directorate of Secutity vetting.”[196] He added:

    Abuse by the ALP is not tolerated. Any abuse allegation is taken very seriously and investigated. If specific abuse charges of situations are brought forward, they will be handled seriously and according to the law. We encourage anyone with information of wrongdoing to bring it to the proper authorities for proper adjudication. Currently, there are no pending investigations in Wardak.[197]

Corporate Warlords and the APPF

    In May 2010, there were an estimated 26,000 Private Security Contractor (PSC) personnel in Afghanistan, 90 percent of whom were employed or subcontracted by the US government.[198] Defenders of the contractor system say that there was little option but to turn to the private sector as the insurgency grew quickly and the capacity of the army and police remained limited.[199] However, while some PSC presence was unavoidable, both the Afghan government and the US government bear a heavy responsibility for the corruption and impunity of these forces, many of which have become so intertwined with the war economy they are now hard to dismantle.

U.S. Forces training Afghan police
Private security companies have provided a vehicle for many former warlords and some entrepreneurial newcomers to establish a lucrative hold on armed men and territory. Many of these companies, particularly in conflict areas, are allegedly responsible for serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings, rapes, extortion, and smuggling.[200] Often this may be little more than the abuse of their power to settle scores and attack local rivals, or to protect their illicit business interests. On September 28, 2010, the US Senate Armed Services Committee released a report highly critical of the role and oversight of PSCs in Afghanistan. The committee found “evidence of private security contractors funneling US taxpayers dollars to Afghan warlords and strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery as well as Taliban and other anti-Coalition activities.”[201]

    For these and other reasons, in August 2010, President Karzai announced that the PSCs would be disbanded within four months. The tight timetable was met with a critical response from the international community in Afghanistan, particularly the military. Karzai backed down on the deadline. In March 2011, a Bridging Strategy was announced that would allow a more gradual phasing out of registered PSCs: international military and development organizations will be able to use PSCs for convoy and area security until March 2012, after which the Afghan Protection Public Force (APPF), a Ministry of Interior-run security force tasked to protect government buildings, infrastructure projects, embassies, and international organizations, will take over. In the meantime, the capacity of the APPF is being developed by NATO and USAID.

    The most well-connected or powerful PSCs, however, will be absorbed into the APPF. For example, a deal appears to have been struck with Uruzgan warlord Matiullah Khan to absorb his private militia, which allegedly earns millions of dollars guarding the highway running through Uruzgan for NATO supply convoys, into the APPF.[202] The APPF is allowed to charge fees for its services, which go to the government and could create opportunities for corruption at the Ministry of Interior. Moreover, by bringing such militias under the APPF rather than disbanding them may allow them to hold onto their weapons and continue to wield considerable political and economic influence. It also leaves open the possibility of such groups to continue to profit, unofficially, from highway security and other contracts.

    The deal that the government appears to have struck with Matiullah illustrates how hard it is to dismantle well-entrenched militias. Matiullah’s deal was said to have been negotiated just before the August 2010 presidential decree on private security companies was issued, which is suggestive of the power that he wields and his importance to US and ISAF forces. One government official told Human Rights Watch that there has been some infighting about who gets to control Matiullah’s men, with the force initially being absorbed into the department of counterterrorism, but expected to be transferred to APPF.[203]
    Government officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch acknowledged that this was something of a compromise, because a force like Matiullah’s was just “too big” to dismantle. According to a senior government official, “[H]e is next to the president.… As you know he’s a powerful person so no one can touch him. So he’s been living in that irregular way for many years. It’s hard to bring him under government control.[204] In August 2011, Matiullah was made the chief of police of Uruzgan province.

    A senior official in the Ministry of Interior told Human Rights Watch that tougher regulation of PSCs and logistics providers would have been preferable to a government takeover: “We don’t have the capacity to take over the responsibly for all the PSCs. We should just stop the illegal ones.”[205] An international civilian official concluded that nationalization of PSCs is being done “clumsily … [the law] is full of loopholes. It keeps everyone happy, but doesn’t reform anything.”[206]


[156] Jason Motlagh, “In an Afghan Valley of Death, Good News — for Now,” Time Magazine, June 16, 2010. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1996973,00.html (accessed March 18, 2011); Jean MacKenzie, “Special report: By paying local police, the US may be funding the Taliban by another name,” Global Post, June 28, 2010, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/afghanistan/100625/us-aid-afghanistan-taliban-3-qaeda (accessed March 18, 2011).

[157] Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, ANSO Quarterly Data Report Q1 2009, p. 6 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[158] “Progress towards security and stability - Report to Congress in accordance with the2008 National Defense Authorization Act” June 2009, US Department of Defense, pp. 8, 37, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/1230_June%C2%AD2009Final.pdf (accessed March 10, 2011).

[159]Christopher Stachura, “Afghan leaders, U.S. Soldiers initiate new security program to empower local residents,” US Army news release, May 14, 2009, http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/05/14/21071-afghan-leaders-us-soldiers-initiate-new-security-program-to-empower-local-residents/ (accessed March 14, 2011). This was described as an “Afghan-led” endeavor, but the ability of significant numbers of US forces to access the province was also a factor; the US Department of Defense said that the province was chosen in order to “facilitate partnering and monitoring by U.S. forces.” Department of Defense, Progress towards security and stability - Report to Congress in accordance with the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act’ June 2009, p. 37, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/1230_June%C2%AD2009Final.pdf (accessed March 10, 2011).

[160]“DOD News Briefing with Col. Johnson, Gov. Fidai and Col. Aref.” Transcript of a US Department of Defense press briefing, September 15, 2010, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2010/09/mil-100915-dod01.htm (accessed March 17, 2011).

[161] “Unconventional Security Forces – What’s Out There?” Cable ID 09KABUL3661, Document Date: November 12, 2009,released by Wikileaks, January 24, 2011, http://wikileaks.enet.gr/cable/2009/11/09KABUL3661.html (accessed March 16, 2011).

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Interior official, Kabul, February 22, 2010.

[163]Mattieu Lefevre, “Local Defence in Afghanistan – A review of government backed initiatives,” p. 9.

[164] Telephone interviews with Haji Mukhlis, member of Wardak Provincial Council, and Gul Rahman member of Maidan Shar District Council, July 26, 2009.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with elder from Jalrez, Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[166] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohammad Osman Tariq, Afghan political analyst, March 29, 2011.

[167] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Haji Mukhlis, member of Wardak Provincial Council, July 26, 2009.

[168] Interviews with Jalrez shura member Obaidullah F. (pseudonym) and Commander Esmat, Wardak, June 21, 2009.

[169] Human Rights Interview with Commander Abbas, Commander of Jalrez AP3 Unit, Wardak, June 21, 2009.

[170] For example, as of April 2009, local officials in Jalrez disrict told Human Rights Watch that of 195 recruits, 66 were Sayyeds, 64 Tajiks, 38 Hazaras, and 27 Pashtuns. Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, April 2009.

[171]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ghulam Hazarat Ahmadi, Head of Jalrez District Council, March 18, 2010. Mattieu Lefevere, “Local Defence in Afghanistan – A review of government backed initiatives,” p. 10.

[172]U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bruce Cobbeldick, “Wardak Security Improves With AP3,” Task Force Bayonet Public Affairs, August 27, 2010, http://www.cjtf82.com/regional-command-east-news-mainmenu-401/3194-wardak-security-improves-with-ap3.html (accessed March 14, 2011).

[173] Mattiue Lefevre, “Local Defence in Afghanistan – A review of government backed initiatives,” p. 10. Jean MacKenzie,“Special report: By paying local police, the US may be funding the Taliban by another name,” Global Post, June 28, 2010,

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/afghanistan/100625/us-aid-afghanistan-taliban-3-qaeda (accessed March 18, 2011).

[174] Mattiue Lefevre, “Local Defence in Afghanistan – A review of government backed initiatives,” Mattieu Lefevre, May 2010, p. 10.

[175]Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Interior official who wished to remain anonymous, Kabul, February 17, 2011.

[176] Musa Hotak was appointed to the High Peace Council on its formation in September 2010.  Thomas Ruttig, “The ex-Taliban on the High Peace Council,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, April 2010, p. 4, http://aan-afghanistan.com/index.asp?id=1248 (accessed March 10, 2011).

[177] The list is mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1267 (1999) concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban and Associated Individuals and Entities, http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/docs/Delisted.pdf (accessed February 13, 2011). Many members of the early Taliban movement had roots in two political parties, Harakat-iInqilab-iIslami, and Hezb-iIslami (Khalis). In recent years Harakat has been revived and is seen by some as having the potential to be a “political party” for the Taliban. For more see Thomas Ruttig, “Dimensions of the Afghan Insurgency: Causes, Actors and Approaches to ‘Talks,’”Afghanistan Analysts Network, January 2009, p. 16. Musa Hotak was appointed to the High Peace Council on its formation in September 2010.  Thomas Ruttig, “The ex-Taliban on the High Peace Council,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, April 2010, p. 4, http://aan-afghanistan.com/index.asp?id=1248 (accessed March 10, 2011).

[178]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Obaidullah F. (pseudonym), March 18, 2011.

[179]Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Interior official who wished to remain anonymous, Kabul, February 17, 2011.


[181] Human Rights Watch interview with Azim M. (pseudonym), Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[182] Human Rights Watch interview with Obaidullah F. (pseudonym), Wardak, June 21, 2009.

[183] Human Rights Watch interview with Obaidullah F. (pseudonym), Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[184] Ibid.

[185] Human Rights Watch interview with Emal S. (pseudonym), Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[186] Ibid.

[187]Human Rights Watch interview with Ajmal B. (pseudonym), Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[188] Ibid.

[189] Ibid. Human Rights Watch was told of similar allegations in an interview with a local shura member, Wardak, June 21, 2009.

[190]Human Rights Watch interview with Obaidullah F. (pseudonym), Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[191] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Interior official, Kabul, February 17, 2011.

[192]Human Rights Watch email exchange with ISAF official, April 13, 2011.

[193]Human Rights Watch interview with Obaidullah F. (pseudonym), Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[194]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jalrez District Police chief, Haq Nawoz, May 7, 2011.

[195]Human Rights Watch interview with Obaidullah F. (pseudonym), Kabul, February 24, 2011.

[196] Human Rights Watch email exchange with Lt. Col John Dorrian, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press spokesman, April 13, 2011.

[197] Ibid.

[198] “Inquiry into the Role and Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan,” September 28, 2010, p. i,http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=328188 (accessed March 25, 2011).

[199] For example, Additional Views of Senators McCain, Inhofe, Sessions, Chamblissh, Graham, Thune, Wicker, LeMieux, Burr, Vitter, Collins and Brown, Inquiry into the Role and Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan,” September 28, 2010, p. 88, http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=328188 (accessed March 25, 2011).

[200] There have been serious allegations made against the commander of a PSC employed by US special forces in Paktia province. The allegations are of abuses against pashtun civilians by forces loyal to an ethnic Tajik commander named Azizullah, who leads an “Afghan Security Guard” (ASG) in Barmal district of Paktia province. Human Rights Watch has not investigated the allegations, but the UN raised concerns with US special forces in February 2010, and again in January 2011, when they ‘strongly recommended’ that Azizullah be removed from his position. In a confidential report, seen by Human Rights Watch, they document incidences of extrajudicial executions, mutilation of corpses, arbitrary arrests, questionable engagement in house raids, shootings, and allegations of the abduction and rape of boys. United Nations Assistance Mission Afghanistan,“Evidence on Azizullah,” January 2011, confidential, on file with Human Rights Watch; see also Julius Cavendish, “Revealed: Afghan chief accused of campaign of terror is on US payroll - Witnesses back leaked UN reports detailing claims of rape and murder against feared Tajik warlord,” The Independent, March 18, 2011,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/revealed-afghan-chief-accused-of-campaign-of-terror-is-on-us-payroll-2245369.html (accessed April 2, 2011).

[201] US Senate Armed Services Committee, “Inquiry into the Role and Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan,” September 28, 2010, p. 2, http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=328188 (accessed March 25, 2011). Another congressional inquiry found that logistics contractors used by the US were paying insurgents for safe passage of US convoys and supplies. Majority Staff, Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Warlord, Inc. - Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan,” June 2010, http://tierney.house.gov/images/stories/hnt_report.pdf (accessed March 25, 2011); Karen DeYoung, “US Trucking Funds Reach Taliban, Military-Led Investigation Concludes,” Washington Post, July 25, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-trucking-funds-reach-taliban-military-led-investigation-concludes/2011/07/22/gIQAmMDUXI_story.html (accessed July 25, 2011).

[202]Dexter Filkins,“With US Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire,” New York Times, July 5, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/world/asia/06warlords.html (accessed June 6, 2011).

[203]Human Rights Watch interview with two senior government officials, Kabul, February 2011. As of June 2011 there was still some debate about where to place Matiullah’s men within the Ministry of Interior, with some discussion about them being used in the ALP. Human Rights Watch interview with international official, Kabul, June 3, 2011.

[204] Human Rights Watch interview with senior government official, Kabul, February 2011.

[205] Human Rights Watch interview with senior Ministry of Interior official, Kabul, February 27, 2011.

[206]Human Rights Watch interview with international civilian official, Kabul, June 4, 2011.

Florida GOP nutcases now sweating over social Security remarks they made

Nothing to sweat:  all are toast in next election, along with Obama and Reid after they terrorize old, disabled, poor

Alexander Burns


Florida Republicans want the GOP presidential field to tread lightly on the subjects of Social Security and Medicare. Very, very lightly.

    Even in senior-heavy Florida, there is a willingness this cycle to talk about finally reforming entitlement programs.* But there are also growing worries about the way that debate is taking shape in the 2012 elections–and fears it could have devastating consequences for Republicans in a battleground state where roughly one in five residents are over age 65.
    More than the state’s 29 electoral votes are at stake: There’s also a U.S. Senate seat and a handful of House districts that could determine the balance of power at every level of Washington.

    “There is a way to talk about Social Security reform without scaring seniors and while demonstrating to younger workers that you’re going to have a modern system that’s going to be there for them,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “We haven’t heard it yet.”

    Putnam, a former Republican congressman, expressed concern about Rick Perry’s criticism about the creation of Social Security in his book. He also mentioned Florida straw poll winner Herman Cain’s repeated references to switching over to the “Chilean model” of entitlement programs.

    “Claiming that Social Security is unconstitutional is a way bigger problem than saying it’s a Ponzi scheme,” Putnam said. “And I don’t think the average American aspires to the Chilean standard of living.”

     So far, the 2012 entitlements fight has largely been a contest between Perry and Mitt Romney, the two Republican frontrunners who have both endorsed overhauling Social Security and Medicare – in Perry’s case, with some inflammatory language.

"Mittens" Romney, douchbag
But whoever emerges as the GOP nominee, Democrats have indicated they plan to make Social Security a central theme of the 2012 race, a prospect that makes Republicans uneasy given the combustible properties of the issue.

Former Florida Sen. George LeMieux, who’s challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, agreed with Putnam that Republicans need to be “very careful to talk about things that people rely on, things that people paid into, in ways that are reassuring.”

    A Quinnipiac University poll released last week put in sharp terms the political challenge that would-be entitlement reformers face in Florida.

    Two-thirds of voters – including 73 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans – said they were against reducing benefits for future retirees. Fifty-two percent opposed raising the retirement age. Fifty-eight percent disagreed with the statement that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.

    In another cycle, the GOP might seek to avoid the twin issues of Social Security and Medicare entirely, and opt to focus entirely on attacking Obama for the weak economy.

    But that approach leaves many Republicans cold. The GOP has redefined itself since the 2008 campaign as the party of austere fiscal conservatism. Even establishment solons such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels have called on the candidates to speak plainly about the fiscal crisis facing the popular federal entitlements.

    The trouble for Republicans – in Florida and across the country – is that the more specific they get on addressing entitlement programs, the bigger a target they give Democrats to shoot at.

    It was only last May that Democrats seized a conservative House district in upstate New York by campaigning against House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare.

    Ahead of the GOP primary debate last Thursday in Orlando, the Democratic National Committee released a memo signaling that Social Security would be a central part of the case against either of the president’s leading challengers.

    “When it comes to their plans for Social Security and Medicare … Romney and Perry are equally wrong,” wrote DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman. “They both seek to eliminate Social Security as it currently exists, threatening to dismantle it entirely or gamble with the program’s funds in the stock market.”

Perry:  "I didn't say that!  Romney did!
Wasserman Schultz circled back to the Ryan budget, too, pointing out that Romney and Perry “have also both expressed their support for the Republican budget plan which passed the House that would end Medicare as we know it.”

Some Florida Democrats caution that the national party shouldn’t assume Social Security and Medicare will amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card for Democrats seeking to campaign in a prolonged economic downturn. 

    The Florida economy has been hit particularly hard, with an unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent in August.

    And voters here have already shown they may be willing to overlook offenses against the entitlement system: 

    In 2010, they narrowly elected a governor, Rick Scott, who whose former company had been implicated in massive Medicare fraud. Scott’s jobs-oriented campaign slogan was, “Let’s Get to Work.”

    “I don’t think there’s another issue, at least for people in central Florida,” said Buddy Dyer, Orlando’s Democratic mayor, acknowledging that senior-heavy parts of the state – such as Palm Beach and Broward County – wouldn’t “think warmly of a candidate who’s thinking about” cutting back entitlements.

    Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham agreed that the economy is “the bull’s-eye of Florida politics and the president needs to treat it as the bull’s-eye.”

    But Graham suggested that the economic slump could heighten voters’ alarm at the prospect of changing entitlement programs that many rely on for financial support.

    “The current beneficiaries haven’t been very much seduced by the idea that, ‘We won’t make any changes that affect you,’” Graham said. “If they feel less secure or if they in fact have less buying power, that will have an effect on Florida more than most states.”

    So far, the set of issues of surrounding Social Security hasn’t been the subject of substantive debate.

    Romney has accused Perry of wanting to “kill” Social Security because he questioned the constitutionality of the program. The Texas governor has shot back that Romney himself compared the financial management of Social Security to a criminal enterprise.

    Neither candidate has articulated a plan to bring the two programs into solvency. Nor, for that matter, has President Obama.

    The president has, however, protected his position as the candidate best able to cast himself as a defender of entitlement programs, omitting from his recent deficit-cutting proposal any large-scale changes to Social Security and Medicare.

    Adam Hasner, a former Florida House majority leader who is also challenging Nelson, said neither of his party’s top presidential candidates had struck the right chord on entitlements – or offered the kind of policy solutions that would give voters faith in the GOP.

    “They’re both right and they’re both wrong,” Hasner said of Perry and Romney. “Can you get people’s attention to show them that something’s wrong by calling [Social Security] a Ponzi scheme? Yes, but then you have to share with them what your answers are.”

    Of the Democrats’ approach to Social Security, Hasner said: “They may think it’s a silver bullet to win an election. We’re trying to save the country.”

* The best way to "save" Social Security and Medicare is to prevent the government from looting both programs.  Why is this so hard for Americans to understand?  There are no such things as "entitlement programs," this a Rovian/Obama propaganda creation of the Bush and Obama administrations, GOP, senate and congress in order to further loot Social Security and Medicare, both of which would be far into the black and self-sustaining had they not been continually emptied of worker contributions by the legislators and successive administrations over the years.  This is money taken from American's paychecks and now it is due and owing to millions.  These are mandatory deductions, therefore, there must be mandatory repayments.  They are lucky that workers are screwed out of interest on their money - you can bet if it was a "loan" from the government we would be paying sky-high interest on every damn dime.  In actuality, both tremendously successful programs are funded by mandatory deductions from payroll checks from all Americans throughout their working lives and must now be repaid, a huge problem for the administration and congressional and senate "lawmakers" as the coffers are now near empty.  - Ed.,  The 5th Estate.

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Analysis: Mideast heading into dangerous paralysis

Continued imperial grabs by America and the West moving the area closer to Crusade-like war

Associated Press

With combative speeches at the United Nations the Palestinian and Israeli leaders have locked themselves into positions that seem to preclude a resumption of peace talks and usher in a season of confrontation over a Palestinian state.

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will now focus on rallying international support, his aides say, in hopes of pressuring and isolating Israel and driving up the political cost of holding on to the lands it occupied in the 1967 war.

    Abbas insisted Saturday that he won't go back to talks without an Israeli settlement freeze or acceptance of pre-1967 borders as a starting point. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while calling for new talks, gave no sign he's willing to consider those demands. Instead, he reiterated in interviews with Israeli TV stations that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that talks would first have to address security arrangements.

 Considering the vast gaps, international mediators did not offer bridging proposals after the two leaders' speeches, instead simply urging a resumption of talks and a deal within about a year. But such target dates have little meaning without real pressure and previous timetables were quickly cast aside.

The Palestinians, bypassing what they see as pointless talks with the historically hardline Netanyahu, will now try to boost their standing, mainly at the U.N. On Friday, Abbas submitted a request for U.N. membership of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967 and since populated with half a million settlers living among about 4 million Palestinians.

    Even though the recognition bid is sure to be derailed—either by insufficient support or a U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Counci—the Palestinians stand a good chance of a General Assembly status upgrade that would grant them access to U.N. agencies and international courts. The aim is to "pressure Israel through all U.N. agencies," said Abbas aide Nabil Shaath.

    Some Palestinians said the new strategy is nothing less than a paradigm shift, following two decades in which the Palestinians pursued a series of bilateral efforts to reach agreement with a much stronger Israel with the U.S. and other international players mediating but never imposing terms on either side.

    Twice over the past decade, the negotiators seemed to make serious progress, with Israel—which had pulled its troops out of Gaza in 2005—also offering to give up large chunks of the West Bank and parts of east Jerusalem. In the end, gaps could not be bridged.

    "For a long time, the program was just to negotiate with the occupier," said Mustafa Barghouti, an independent West Bank politician. "Now we should defy our occupier. We gave them enough time."
Abbas' new approach, especially his defiance of the Obama administration, which opposes the recognition bid, has proven to be hugely popular at home. The Palestinian leader has clearly enjoyed the sudden adoration from flag-waving crowds after six years in power with few political achievements and many setbacks, including the loss of Gaza to the Islamic militant Hamas in 2007.

    On the flight home Saturday, he told reporters he was exhausted after marathon meetings and intense pressure on him to desist, even from some Arab countries, but that "this didn't affect our spirits to reach the goal and deliver the Palestinian message officially."

   Yet he also cautioned that "we don't want to push people to have high expectations."

   Palestinian officials acknowledged that there is no detailed plan to move forward, beyond calling for nonviolent protests against Israel and eventually asking the General Assembly to admit Palestine as a non-member observer state, with the implied recognition of the pre-1967 borders.

    Abbas has not said how he'll handle his Hamas rivals, who have been criticizing his U.N. recognition bid because it would limit a Palestinian state to the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

   A power-sharing deal with Hamas, struck in principle earlier this year, is currently on hold. Reviving an alliance with the militants, who still seek Israel's destruction, could cost the Palestinian leader international support at a crucial time. On the other hand, Abbas cannot claim to control a key Palestinian territory, Gaza, and rocket fire from there on Israel has drawn reprisals and complicated matters.

Hard sell:  Hmas
In the quest for recognition, it remains unclear whether the Palestinians have the required support of at least nine of the 15 Security Council members, which would trigger a U.S veto. The Obama administration hopes to get a blocking majority and avoid a veto, which would hurt its fragile standing in the Arab world. Palestinian officials have said trying to force the U.S. to use the veto is part of their new pressure campaign.


    Abbas said Saturday that he expects the Security Council to decide in weeks, not months.

    If the Palestinians get a sense that the U.S. is trying to stall a vote in the Security Council, they might turn to the General Assembly in the meantime, said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador. "I think there is no problem for us to apply for the non-member state while our application is processed in the Security Council," he said.

    Netanyahu's options of counterpressure appear limited at the moment.

    Members of his ruling coalition have called for punitive steps, from annexing parts of the West Bank to withholding millions of dollars in monthly tax rebates Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians. The Israeli leader has not said how he would respond. However, retaliation might be counterproductive and only generate more international sympathy for the Palestinians.

    Palestinian officials have dismissed threats from the U.S. Congress to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid, noting that keeping Abbas' West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in place is a key U.S. interest, particularly security forces that cooperate closely with Israel in preventing attacks by militants. In their statement calling for a resumption of talks, the Quartet of Mideast mediators, of which the U.S. is a leading member, called for another conference to raise aid for Abbas.

    While Abbas was upbeat following the standing ovations he received at the General Assembly, Netanyahu also seemed pleased with his U.N. performance and the strong show of U.S. support.

    Asked by Israel TV's Channel 10 if the trip went well, he said: "I think so. I came to stop something that is not good for Israel. To thwart a maneuver that is problematic diplomatically. To present our truth to the world that is used to hearing lies and slander about Israel and Zionism."

     Netanyahu said he hoped the Palestinians would eventually return to "serious talks about how to ensure security that is the foundation of peace and also to recognize us and be rid of these demands of flooding Israel with refugees."

    The Israeli leader has repeatedly appealed for a resumption of talks without the conditions required by Abbas, such as a settlement freeze and adopting the pre-1967 frontiers as a baseline. The Palestinians say they're simply insisting on parameters adopted by the international community, and that Netanyahu wants endless talks as a shield for continued settlement building.

    In May, President Barack Obama for the first time laid out his own framework for talks, saying the pre-1967 frontier should serve as a baseline, angering Israel. Obama did not repeat those words in his U.N. speech earlier this week, apparently trying to avoid controversial statements as the campaign for the 2012 U.S. presidential election kicks into gear.

    The region is now headed into a dangerous year of paralysis, said Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher.

    "We are not going to make any progress and this poses the danger of the opposite, deterioration," he said. 

    "Obama made it clear that he is not actively sponsoring peace talks or any serious process in the coming year. Netanyahu has nothing new to offer, and Abbas will get some sort of recognition of a state, but that's not a state." 

     Daraghmeh reported from the United Nations.

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The 5th Estate is making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Decline and Fall of Just About Everyone

In the criminal bankers' world these days, there is no black and white, only different shades of grey

Asia Times
By Pepe Escobar

More than 10 years ago, before 9/11, Goldman Sachs was predicting that the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) would make the world economy's top 10 - but not until 2040. Skip a decade and the Chinese economy already has the number two spot all to itself, Brazil is number seven, India 10, and even Russia is creeping closer. In purchasing power parity, or PPP, things look even better. There, China is in second place, India is now fourth, Russia sixth, and Brazil seventh.

     No wonder Jim O'Neill, who coined the neologism BRIC and is now chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, has been stressing that "the world is no longer dependent on the leadership of the US and Europe". After all, since 2007, China's economy has grown by 45%, the American economy by less than 1% - figures startling enough to make anyone take back their predictions.

   American anxiety and puzzlement reached new heights when the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections indicated that, at least by certain measurements, the Chinese economy would overtake the US by 2016. (Until recently, Goldman Sachs was pointing towards 2050 for that first-place exchange.) 

Within the next 30 years, the top five will, according to Goldman Sachs, likely be China, the US, India, Brazil and Mexico. Western Europe? Bye-bye!

A system stripped to its essence
    Increasing numbers of experts agree that Asia is now leading the way for the world, even as it lays bare glaring gaps in the West's narrative of civilization. Yet to talk about "the decline of the West" is a dangerous proposition. A key historical reference is Oswald Spengler's 1918 essay with that title. Spengler, a man of his times, thought that humanity functioned through unique cultural systems, and that Western ideas would not be pertinent for, or transferable to, other regions of the planet. (Tell that howler to the young Egyptians in Tahrir Square.)

     Spengler captured the Western-dominated zeitgeist of another century. He saw cultures as living and dying organisms, each with a unique soul. The East or Orient was "magical", while the West was "Faustian". A reactionary misanthrope, he was convinced that the West had already reached the supreme status available to a democratic civilization - and so was destined to experience the "decline" of his title.
     If you're thinking that this sounds like an avant-la-lettre Huntingtonesque "clash of civilizations", you can be excused, because that's exactly what it was.

    Speaking of civilizational clashes, did anyone notice that "maybe" in a recent Time cover story picking up on Spenglerian themes and headlined "The Decline and Fall of Europe (and Maybe the West)"? In our post-Spenglerian moment, the "West" is surely the United States, and how could that magazine get it so wrong? Maybe?
    After all, a Europe now in deep financial crisis will be "in decline" as long as it remains inextricably intertwined with and continues to defer to "the West" - that is, Washington - even as it witnesses the simultaneous economic ascent of what's sometimes derisively referred to as "the South."

    Think of the present global capitalist moment not as a "clash", but a "cash of civilizations".

     If Washington is now stunned and operating on autopilot, that's in part because, historically speaking, its moment as the globe's "sole superpower" or even "hyperpower" barely outlasted Andy Warhol's notorious 15 minutes of fame - from the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union to 9/11 and George W Bush's doctrine. The new American century was swiftly throttled in three hubris-filled stages: 9/11 (blowback); the invasion of Iraq (preemptive war); and the 2008 Wall Street meltdown (casino capitalism).

     Meanwhile, one may argue that Europe still has its non-Western opportunities, that, in fact, the periphery increasingly dreams with European - not American - subtitles. The Arab Spring, for instance, was focused on European-style parliamentary democracies, not an American presidential system. In addition, however financially anxious it may be, Europe remains the world's largest market. In an array of technological fields, it now rivals or outpaces the US, while regressive Persian Gulf monarchies splurge on euros (and prime real estate in Paris and London) to diversify their portfolios.

     Yet, with "leaders" like the neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prime Minister David (of Arabia) Cameron, Premier Silvio ("bunga bunga") Berlusconi, and Chancellor Angela ("Dear Prudence") Merkel largely lacking imagination or striking competence, Europe certainly doesn't need enemies.

     Decline or not, it might find a whole new lease on life by sidelining its Atlanticism and boldly betting on its Euro-Asian destiny. It could open up its societies, economies, and cultures to China, India, and Russia, while pushing southern Europe to connect far more deeply with a rising Turkey, the rest of the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa (and not via further North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) "humanitarian" bombings either).

     Otherwise, the facts on the ground spell out something that goes well beyond the decline of the West: it's the decline of a system in the West that, in these last years, is being stripped to its grim essence. Historian Eric Hobsbawm caught the mood of the moment when he wrote in his book How to Change the World that "the world transformed by capitalism", which Karl Marx described in 1848 "in passages of dark, laconic eloquence is recognizably the world of the early twenty-first century."

In a landscape in which politics is being reduced to a (broken) mirror reflecting finance, and in which producing and saving have been superseded by consuming, something systemic comes into view. As in the famous line of poet William Butler Yeats, "the centre cannot hold" - and it won't either.

     If the West ceases to be the center, what exactly went wrong?

Are you with me or against me?
    It's worth remembering that capitalism was "civilized" thanks to the unrelenting pressure of gritty working-class movements and the ever-present threat of strikes and even revolutions. The existence of the Soviet bloc, an alternate model of economic development (however warped), also helped.

     To counteract the USSR, Washington's and Europe's ruling groups had to buy the support of their masses in defending what no one blushed about calling "the Western way of life". A complex social contract was forged, and it involved capital making concessions.

     No more. Not in Washington, that's obvious. And increasingly, not in Europe either. That system started breaking down as soon as - talk about total ideological triumph! - neo-liberalism became the only show in town. There was a single superhighway from there and it swept the most fragile strands of the middle class directly into a new post-industrial proletariat, or simply into unemployable status.

   If neo-liberalism is the victor for now, it's because no realist, alternative developmental model exists, and yet what it has won is ever more in question. Meanwhile, except in the Middle East, progressives the world over are paralyzed, as if expecting the old order to dissolve by itself. Unfortunately, history teaches us that, at similar crossroads in the past, you are as likely to find the grapes of wrath, right-wing populist-style, as anything else - or worse yet, outright fascism.

     "The West against the rest" is a simplistic formula that doesn't begin to describe such a world. Imagine instead, a planet in which "the rest" are trying to step beyond the West in a variety of ways, but also have absorbed that West in ways too deep to describe. Here's the irony, then: yes, the West will "decline", Washington included, and still it will leave itself behind everywhere.

Sorry, your model sucks
   Suppose you're a developing country, shopping in the developmental supermarket. You look at China and think you see something new - a consensus model that's turning on the lights everywhere - or do you? After all, the Chinese version of an economic boom with no political freedom may not turn out to be much of a model for other countries to follow.

     In many ways, it may be more like an inapplicable lethal artifact, a cluster bomb made up of shards of the Western concept of modernity married to a Leninist-based formula where a single party controls personnel, propaganda, and - crucially - the People's Liberation Army. 

Financial crises' are old as the hills
For its part, Europe is hawking a model of supra-national integration as a means of solving problems and conflicts from the Middle East to Africa. But any shopper can now see evidence of a European Union on the verge of cracking amid non-stop inter-European bickering that includes national revolts against the euro, discontent over NATO's role as a global Robocop, and a style of ongoing European cultural arrogance that makes it incapable of recognizing, to take one example, why the Chinese model is so successful in Africa.

     Or let's say our shopper looks to the United States, that country still being, after all, the world's number one economy, its dollar still the world's reserve currency, and its military still number one in destructive power and still garrisoning much of the globe.

     That would indeed seem impressive, if it weren't for the fact that Washington is visibly on the decline, oscillating wildly between a lame populism and a stale orthodoxy, and shilling for casino capitalism on a side street in its spare time. It's a giant power enveloped in political and economic paralysis for all the world to see, and no less visibly incapable of coming up with an exit strategy.

     Really, would you buy a model from any of them? In fact, where in a world in escalating disarray is anyone supposed to look these days when it comes to models? 

    One of the key reasons for the Arab Spring was out-of-control food prices, driven significantly by speculation. Protests and riots in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Austria and Turkey were direct consequences of the global recession. In Spain, nearly half of 16- to 29-year-olds - an overeducated "lost generation" - are now out of jobs, a European record.

     That may be the worst in Europe, but in Britain, 20% of 16- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, about average for the rest of the European Union. In London, almost 25% of working-age people are unemployed. In France, 13.5% of the population is now officially poor - that is, living on less than $1,300 a month.

     One of the key reasons for the Arab Spring was out-of-control food prices, driven significantly by speculation. Protests and riots in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Austria and Turkey were direct consequences of the global recession. In Spain, nearly half of 16- to 29-year-olds - an overeducated "lost generation" - are now out of jobs, a European record.

     That may be the worst in Europe, but in Britain, 20% of 16- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, about average for the rest of the European Union. In London, almost 25% of working-age people are unemployed. In France, 13.5% of the population is now officially poor - that is, living on less than $1,300 a month.

As many across Western Europe see it, the state has already breached the social contract. The indignados of Madrid have caught the spirit of the moment perfectly: "We're not against the system, it's the system that is against us."

     This spells out the essence of the abject failure of neo-liberal capitalism, as David Harvey explained in his latest book, The Enigma of Capital. He makes clear how a political economy "of mass dispossession, of predatory practices to the point of daylight robbery, particularly of the poor and the vulnerable, the unsophisticated and the legally unprotected, has become the order of the day".

Will Asia save global capitalism?
    Meanwhile, Beijing is too busy remixing its destiny as the global Middle Kingdom - deploying engineers, architects, and infrastructure workers of the non-bombing variety from Canada to Brazil, Cuba to Angola - to be much distracted by the Atlanticist travails in MENA (aka the region that includes the Middle East and Northern Africa).

     If the West is in trouble, global capitalism is being given a reprieve - how brief we don't know - by the emergence of an Asian middle class, not only in China and India, but also in Indonesia (240 million people in boom mode) and Vietnam (85 million). I never cease to marvel when I compare the instant wonders and real-estate bubble of the present moment in Asia to my first experiences living there in 1994, when such countries were still in the "Asian Tiger", pre-1997-financial-crisis years.

     In China alone, 300 million people - "only" 23% of the total population - now live in medium-sized to major urban areas and enjoy what's always called "disposable incomes". They, in fact, constitute something like a nation unto themselves, an economy already two-thirds that of Germany's. 

Great Leap Backwards:  China holds too much toxic U.S. debt
The McKinsey Global Institute notes that the Chinese middle class now comprises 29% of the Middle Kingdom's 190 million households, and will reach a staggering 75% of 372 million households by 2025 (if, of course, China's capitalist experiment hasn't gone off some cliff by then and its potential real-estate/finance bubble hasn't popped and drowned the society).

     In India, with its population of 1.2 billion, there are already, according to McKinsey, 15 million households with an annual income of up to $10,000; in five years, a projected 40 million households, or 200 million people, will be in that income range. And in India in 2011, as in China in 2001, the only way is up (again as long as that reprieve lasts).

     Americans may find it surreal (or start packing their expat bags), but an annual income of less than $10,000 means a comfortable life in China or Indonesia, while in the United States, with a median household income of roughly $50,000, one is practically poor.

     Nomura Securities predicts that in a mere three years, retail sales in China will overtake the US and that, in this way, the Asian middle class may indeed "save" global capitalism for a time - but at a price so steep that Mother Nature is plotting some seriously catastrophic revenge in the form of what used to be called climate change and is now more vividly known simply as "weird weather".

Back in the USA
    Meanwhile, in the United States, Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Barack Obama continues to insist that we all live on an American planet, exceptionally so. If that line still resonates at home, though, it's an ever harder sell in a world in which the first Chinese stealth fighter jet goes for a test spin while the American Secretary of Defense is visiting China.

     Or when the news agency Xinhua, echoing its master Beijing, fumes against the "irresponsible" Washington politicians who starred in the recent debt-ceiling circus, and points to the fragility of a system "saved " from free fall by the Fed's promise to shower free money on banks for at least two years. 

Hilarious:  Pelosi made sure she had hers before global meltdown
Nor is Washington being exactly clever in confronting the leadership of its largest creditor, which holds $3.2 trillion in US currency reserves, 40% of the global total, and is always puzzled by the continued lethal export of "democracy for dummies" from American shores to the Af-Pak war zones, Iraq, Libya and other hot spots in the Greater Middle East. Beijing knows well that any further US-generated turbulence in global capitalism could slash its exports, collapse its property bubble, and throw the Chinese working classes into a pretty hardcore revolutionary mode.

     This means - despite rising voices of the Rick Perry/Michele Bachmann variety in the US - that there's no "evil" Chinese conspiracy against Washington or the West. In fact, behind China's leap beyond Germany as the world's top exporter and its designation as the factory of the world lies a significant amount of production that's actually controlled by American, European, and Japanese companies.

     Again, the decline of the West, yes - but the West is already so deep in China that it's not going away any time soon. Whoever rises or falls, there remains, as of this moment, only a one-stop-shopping developmental system in the world, fraying in the Atlantic, booming in the Pacific.

    If any Washington hopes about "changing" China are a mirage, when it comes to capitalism's global monopoly, who knows what reality may turn out to be?

Wasteland redux

    The proverbial bogeymen of our world - Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Mahmud Ahmadinejad (how curious, all Muslims!) - are clearly meant to act like so many mini-black holes absorbing all our fears. But they won't save the West from its decline, or the former sole superpower from its comeuppance.

     Yale's Paul Kennedy, that historian of decline, would undoubtedly remind us that history will sweep away American hegemony as surely as autumn replaces summer (as surely as European colonialism was swept away, NATO's "humanitarian" wars notwithstanding).

     Already in 2002, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, world-system expert Immanuel Wallerstein was framing the debate this way in his book The Decline of American Power: the question wasn't whether the United States was in decline, but if it could find a way to fall gracefully, without too much damage to itself or the world. The answer in the years since has been clear enough: no. 

Sign of the times:  World needs to foreclose on United States
Who can doubt that, 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, the great global story of 2011 has been the Arab Spring, itself certainly a subplot in the decline of the West? As the West wallowed in a mire of fear, Islamophobia, financial and economic crisis, and even, in Britain, riots and looting, from Northern Africa to the Middle East, people risked their lives to have a crack at Western democracy.
     That dream has been at least partially derailed, thanks to the medieval House of Saud and its Persian Gulf minions barging in with a ruthless strategy of counter-revolution, while NATO lent a helping hand by changing the narrative to a "humanitarian" bombing campaign meant to reassert Western greatness.

     As NATO's secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen put the matter bluntly, "If you're not able to deploy troops beyond your borders, then you can't exert influence internationally, and then that gap will be filled by emerging powers that don't necessarily share your values and thinking."

    So let's break the situation down as 2011 heads for winter. As far as MENA is concerned, NATO's business is to keep the US and Europe in the game, the BRICS members out of it, and the "natives" in their places. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic world, the middle classes barely hang on in quiet desperation, even as, in the Pacific, China booms, and globally the whole world holds its breath for the next economic shoe to drop in the West (and then the one after that).
    Pity there's no neo-TS Eliot to chronicle this shabby, neo-Medievalist wasteland taking over the Atlanticist axis. When capitalism hits the intensive care unit, the ones who pay the hospital bill are always the most vulnerable - and the bill is invariably paid in blood.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The 5th Estate is making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

"Towards a World War III Scenario: The Dangers of Nuclear War"

Idiot world "leaders" stumble towards Armageddon

Global Research
By Michael Chossudovsky

The World is at a critical crossroads. The Fukushima disaster in Japan has brought to the forefront the dangers of Worldwide nuclear radiation.

    Coinciding with the onset of the nuclear crisis in Japan, a new regional war theater has opened up in North Africa, under the disguise of a UN sponsored "humanitarian operation" with the mandate to "protect civilian lives".

Destroyed reactors at Fukushima
These two seemingly unrelated events are of crucial importance in understanding both the nuclear issue as well as the ongoing US-NATO sponsored war, which has now extended its grip into Libya. The crisis in Japan has been described as "a nuclear war without a war". Its potential repercussions, which are yet to be fully assessed, are far more serious than the Chernobyl disaster, as acknowledged by several scientists.

    The crisis in Japan has also brought into the open the unspoken relationship between nuclear energy and nuclear war. Nuclear energy is not a civilian economic activity. It is an appendage of the nuclear weapons industry which is controlled by the so-called defense contractors. The powerful corporate interests behind nuclear energy and nuclear weapons overlap. In Japan at the height of the disaster, "the nuclear industry and government agencies [were] scrambling to prevent the discovery of atomic-bomb research facilities hidden inside Japan's civilian nuclear power plants".[1] The media consensus is that the crisis at Fukushima's five nuclear power plants has been contained. The realities are otherwise. The Japanese government has been obliged to acknowledge that "the severity rating of its nuclear crisis ... matches that of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster". Moreover, the dumping of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean constitutes a potential trigger to a process of global radioactive contamination. Radioactive elements have not only been detected in the food chain in Japan, radioactive rain water has been recorded in California:

    "Hazardous radioactive elements being released in the sea and air around Fukushima accumulate at each step of various food chains (for example, into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow's meat and milk, then humans). Entering the body, these elements - called internal emitters - migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, continuously irradiating small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years often induce cancer".[2]

A New War Theater in North Africa

    The War on Libya was launched within days of the Fukushima disaster. As we go to press, a dangerous process of military escalation is ongoing. NATO warplanes are hitting civilian targets in Libya including residential areas and government buildings in violation of international law.

    The war on Libya is an integral part of the broader military agenda in the Middle East and Central Asia which until recently consisted of three distinct areas of conflict : Afghanistan and Pakistan (the AfPak War), Iraq, Palestine. A fourth war theater has opened up in North Africa, which raises the issue of escalation over a vast geographical area. These four war theaters are interrelated. They are part of a broader region of conflict, which extends from North Africa and the Middle East, engulfing a large part of the Mediterranean basin, to China's Western frontier with Afghanistan, and Northern Pakistan.

How does the war on Libya relate to this broader US-NATO military agenda?

    Is a World War III scenario unfolding?

    Is the use of nuclear weapons contemplated in North Africa?

    With regard to nuclear doctrine, the concept of a US sponsored pre-emptive nuclear attack applies to a number of countries or "rogue states" including Libya. An all out war against the Qadhafi regime has been on the drawing board of the Pentagon for more than 20 years, Moreover, Libya was the first country to be tagged for a preemptive attack using tactical nuclear weapons.[3] The Clinton administration's plan to nuke Libya had been announced in no uncertain terms in a 1996 Department of Defense press briefing:

    "[The] Air Force would use the B61-11 [nuclear weapon] against Libya's alleged underground chemical weapons plant at Tarhunah if the President decided that the plant had to be destroyed. 'We could not take [Tarhunah] out of commission using strictly conventional weapons,' Smith told the Associated Press. The B61-11 'would be the nuclear weapon of choice,' he [Assistant Secretary of Defense Harold P. Smith] told Jane Defence Weekly.[4]
Libyan war still grinds on
Clinton's Defense Secretary William Perry had confirmed in a statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "the U.S. retained the option of using nuclear weapons against countries [e.g. Libya] armed with chemical and biological weapons."[5] The Department of Defense's objective was to fast track the "testing" of the B61-11 nuclear bomb on an actual country and that country was Libya: "Even before the B61 came on line, Libya was identified as a potential target".[6]

    While the 1996 plan to bomb Libya using tactical nuclear weapons was subsequently shelved, Libya was not removed from the "black list": "The Qadhafi regime" remains to this date a target country for a pre-emptive ("defensive") nuclear attack. As revealed by William Arkin in early 2002, "The Bush administration, in a secret policy review... [had] ordered the Pentagon to draft contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against at least seven countries, naming not only Russia and the "axis of evil" Iraq, Iran, and North Korea but also China, Libya and Syria.[7]

Operation Odyssey Dawn. Nuclear Weapons against Libya? How Real is the Threat?

    Has the project to nuke Libya been definitively shelved or is Libya still being contemplated as a potential target for a nuclear attack? (This preface serves as an update on the potential dangers of a nuclear war against a defenseless non-nuclear State). The air campaign directed against Libya commenced on March 19, 2011. America deployed its Bat-shaped B-2 Spirit Stealth bombers operating out of the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Described as "deadly and effective", the B-2 was used as an instrument of "humanitarian warfare".

    Barely two weeks after the commencement of the war, the Pentagon announced the testing of the B61-11 nuclear bomb using the same B-2 Stealth bombers which had been deployed to Libya at the very outset of Operation Odyssey Dawn. The B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber is the US Air Force's chosen "carrier" for the delivery of the B61-11 nuclear bomb. These timely tests pertained to the installed equipment, functionality and weapon's components of the B61-11 nuclear bomb. The tests were conducted by the B-2 bombers operating out of the same Air Force base, from which the B-2 bombing raid on Libya were conducted.[8]

    Is the timing of these tests in any way related to the chronology of the Libya bombing campaign?

    The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command was in charge of both the JTA tests of the B61-11 as well as the deployment of three B-2 Spirit Stealth bombers to Libya on March 19 under operation Odyssey Dawn. Both the deployment of the B-2s to the Libya war theater as well as the tests of the equipment of the B61-11 (using the B-2 bomber for delivery) were coordinated out of Whiteman Air Force base.

America's Long War: The Global Military Agenda

    The US has embarked on a military adventure, “a long war”, which threatens the future of humanity, the "Cult of Death and Destruction" underlying this global military agenda. US-NATO weapons of mass destruction are portrayed as instruments of peace. Mini-nukes are said to be "harmless to the surrounding civilian population". Pre-emptive nuclear war is portrayed as a "humanitarian undertaking". Nuclear war has become a multibillion dollar undertaking, which fills the pockets of US defense contractors. What is at stake is the outright "privatization of nuclear war".

    US nuclear doctrine is intimately related to "America's War on Terrorism" and the alleged threat of Al Qaeda, which in a bitter irony is considered as an upcoming nuclear power. Under the Obama administration, Islamic terrorists are said to be preparing to attack US cities. Proliferation is tacitly equated with “nuclear terrorism”. Obama's nuclear doctrine puts particular emphasis on “nuclear terrorism” and on the alleged plans by Al Qaeda to develop and use nuclear weapons.

   America's Holy Crusade, the Battle for Oil and the “Global War on Terrorism” requires going after the terrorists, using advanced weapons systems. US foreign policy upholds a pre-emptive religious-like crusade against evil, which serves to obscure the real objectives of military action. In the inner consciousness of Americans, the attacks of September 11, 2001 justify acts of war and conquest against evil-doers. The Global War on Terrorism is presented as a “clash of civilizations”, a war between competing values and religions, when in reality it is an outright war of conquest, guided by strategic and economic objectives. The lies behind 9/11 are known and documented. The American people’s acceptance of this crusade against evil is not based on any rational understanding or analysis of the facts. "The American inquisition" purports to extend Washington’s sphere of influence. Military intervention is justified as part of an international campaign against “Islamic terrorists”. Its ultimate intention, which is never mentioned in press reports, is territorial conquest and control over strategic resources. Ironically, under the Global War on Terrorism, these plans of conquest are instrumented by covertly supporting Islamic paramilitary armies, which are then used to destabilize non-compliant governments and impose Western standards of "governance" and "democracy".

World War III Scenario

    The Pentagon’s global military design is one of world conquest. The military deployment of US-NATO forces is occurring in several regions of the World simultaneously. Militarization at the global level is instrumented through the US military's Unified Command structure: the entire planet is divided up into geographic Combatant Commands under the control of the Pentagon. According to (former) NATO Commander General Wesley Clark, the Pentagon’s military road-map consists of a sequence of war theaters: “[The] five-year campaign plan [includes]... a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.”

    While Iran remains on the Pentagon's drawing board, a fundamental shift in the sequencing of military operations has occurred. The US-NATO-Israel alliance realizes that Iran has significant capabilities to respond and retaliate. With the onset of the US-NATO led war in North Africa, Washington and its allies have chosen to wage war on countries with lesser military capabilities. This factor in itself has been crucial in the decision by the US and its allies to put "the Iran operation" on hold, while launching a "humanitarian war" on Libya.

How to Reverse the Tide of War

    Central to an understanding of war, is the media campaign which grants it legitimacy in the eyes of public opinion. A good versus evil dichotomy prevails. The perpetrators of war are presented as the victims. Public opinion is misled: “We must fight against evil in all its forms as a means to preserving the Western way of life.” Breaking the "big lie" which upholds war as a humanitarian undertaking, means breaking a criminal project of global destruction, in which the quest for profit is the overriding force. This profit-driven military agenda destroys human values and transforms people into unconscious zombies.

    The holding of mass demonstrations and antiwar protests is not enough. What is required is the development of a broad and well organized grassroots antiwar network, across the land, nationally and internationally, which challenges the structures of power and authority. People must mobilize not only against the military agenda, the authority of the state and its officials must also be challenged. This war can be prevented if people forcefully confront their governments, pressure their elected representatives, organize at the local level in towns, villages and municipalities, spread the word, inform their fellow citizens as to the implications of a nuclear war, initiate debate and discussion within the armed forces.

    The international public needs to forcefully reverse the tide of war, challenge the war criminals in high office and the powerful corporate lobby groups which support them.

    Break the American Inquisition.

    Undermine the US-NATO-Israel military crusade.

    Close down the weapons factories and the military bases.

    Members of the armed forces should disobey orders and refuse to participate in a criminal war.

    Bring home the troops.


1. See Yoichi Shimatsu, Secret Weapons Program Inside Fukushima Nuclear Plant? Global Research, April 12, 2011
2. Helen Caldicott, Fukushima: Nuclear Apologists Play Shoot the Messenger on Radiation, The Age, April 26, 2011
3. See Michel Chossudovsky, America's Planned Nuclear Attack on Libya, Global Research, March 25, 2011.
4. Federation of American Scientists, The Nuclear Information Project: the B61-11
5. Ibid, See also Greg Mello, The Birth Of a New Bomb; Shades of Dr. Strangelove! Will We Learn to Love the B61-11? The Washington Post, June 1, 1997
6. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - September/ October 1997, p. 27. For further details see Michel Chossudovsky, America's Planned Nuclear Attack on Libya, Global Research, March 25, 2001
7. See William Arkin, "Thinking the Unthinkable", Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2002.
8. In late March or early April (prior to April 4), the B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber from the 509th Bomber Wing operating out of Whiteman Air Force Base, was used in the so-called "Joint Test Assembly" (JTA) of the B61 Mod 11 nuclear bomb.
Michel Chossudovsky is an award-winning author, Professor of Economics (Emeritus) at the University of Ottawa. He is the Founder and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), Montreal and Editor of the globalresearch.ca website. He is the author of The Globalization of Poverty and The New World Order (2003) and America’s “War on Terrorism” (2005). He is also a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. His writings have been published in more than twenty languages.



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