Truthout Stories Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:10:35 -0500 en-gb Viggo Mortensen Helps Mark 10 Years of Howard Zinn's "Voices of a People's History"

Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald are gathering in New York today for a reading of "Voices of a People’s History of the United States," based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s book "A People’s History of the United States" — which has sold over a million copies. The event marks the 10th anniversary of publication of "Voices," which was edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove. Mortensen, an Academy Award-nominated actor whose credits include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has appeared in numerous performances of "Voices" and is a cast member of the television documentary version, "The People Speak." He joins us along with Anthony Arnove to discuss the 10th anniversary of "Voices" and its continued political relevance today.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald are gathering in New York today for a reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States, which has sold over a million copies. The event marks the 10th anniversary of publication of Voices, which was edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove. At a reading in 2005 in Los Angeles, Zinn talked about why he wrote the book.

HOWARD ZINN: It seems that a lot of people who read the book were particularly struck by the fact that there were a lot of quotations in it, a lot of sort of nuggets of statements by people you don’t normally hear from, because I wasn’t quoting presidents and congressmen and industrialists and generals. No, I was quoting Native Americans and factory workers and women who went to work in the Lowell Mills at the age of 12 and died at the age of 25, very often. I was quoting dissenters of all sorts. Socialists and anarchists and antiwar people are heroes in this book. The people we quote are not Andrew Jackson, but the Indians that he ordered removed from the Southeastern states of the United States. You know, our heroes are not the war makers. Our heroes are not Theodore Roosevelt, but Mark Twain, not Woodrow Wilson, but Helen Keller.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, speaking in 2005 at a reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. At the event, the actor Viggo Mortensen read an excerpt of the 16th century Spanish historian Bartolomé de las Casas, who wrote a short account of the destruction of the Indies.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: [reading Bartolomé de las Casas] "The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. Forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, perhaps the most densely populated place in the world.

“There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island, and all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.

“And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady.

“Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days—killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.

"Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts—no, for thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Viggo Mortensen in 2006, reading Bartolomé de las Casas in a Voices of a People’s History of the United States event. The Academy Award-nominated actor joins us now in New York. He’s appeared in many films, including Lord of the Rings trilogy. Viggo has appeared in numerous performances of Voices and is a cast member of the television documentary version of The People Speak. Also with us, Anthony Arnove, co-editor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People’s History of the United States and co-directed the documentary, The People Speak.

We welcome you to, both, Democracy Now! Tell us about Bartolomé de las Casas and why he matters to you, Viggo.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Bartolomé de las Casas was a priest, a religious man, who accompanied some of the first Iberian expeditions to what we call the New World, you know, and what he’s talking about in that text, where he talks about extreme cruelty and basically that period in history’s corporate takeover of what we now call Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, that region, it’s really–it is very disturbing, what he describes. And he wrote these texts and presented them to the court, to the king in Spain, and complained about it. Nothing really changed, because economic interests are what they are, just as they are in this country and other places. Citizens have to do something, have to demand change, you know.

And, you know, this book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, is unusual in that it has to do with firsthand accounts, contemporary accounts, throughout this nation’s history by people that maybe we’ve never heard of, events that we’ve never heard of, unfortunately. You know, I think that all tribes, all nations have what some call foundation myths, you know, which are—foundation myths, I think, are—well, Anthony can correct me, he’s the scholar here, but they are stories that we like to tell, or that governments like to tell, to protect, to further, to enforce a status quo, you know, established states of affairs. And what this book presents, however, are texts that are, as I say, firsthand historical accounts, reactions by more or less regular people to real social, political events. I think what I call this is foundation facts, you know, which is, I think, what you guys deal with or try to every day here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and the relevance of Zinn’s great work for today, for this specific day, this historic day after President Obama has made his announcements. We had on the show today an immigrant, an undocumented mother, who’s an immigrants’ rights activist, and her daughter; a priest leading a sanctuary movement, a New Sanctuary Movement; and an organizer for the farm workers, Immokalee workers—part of those people’s histories. Anthony, the relevance for today of the book?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, absolutely, and that’s why we’ve just done a new edition of the book. It’s the 10th anniversary of the first edition. Howard and I had an opportunity to update it in 2009, and I’ve just updated it for 2014 with 10 new voices, including voices of the undocumented, voices of a day laborer, voices of new movements that are emerging. And as bittersweet as it was to work on this project and to see Howard’s work continuing after he passed away in 2010, I know that he would have wanted to continue to document these struggles, highlight those voices, which are all too often pushed to the margin, and see the connections between today’s struggles and historical struggles for change.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to a clip of Kerry Washington reading Sojourner Truth.

KERRY WASHINGTON: [reading Sojourner Truth] "Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?

“Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

“Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? ... Intellect... That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."

AMY GOODMAN: There you have actress Kerry Washington, most recently of Scandal fame, reading Sojourner Truth from Voices of a People’s History of the United States. And that Sojourner Truth speech, Anthony?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Yeah, well, that’s from 1851, and it really exemplifies the spirit that Howard was trying to capture and gather in these voices. And, you know, the origin of this project was that when Howard wrote A People’s History of the United States, readers came up to him and said, "I hadn’t heard that speech before. I hadn’t read Eugene Debs in my school classroom. I hadn’t come across these powerful, eloquent voices of dissent." And they began to wonder, "Why hadn’t I learned that? Why had my history teacher not taught me these lessons?" And it opens up a totally different way of thinking about history. And that’s why Howard wanted to create this book, because he realized that the most powerful thing that people got out of A People’s History of the United States was that connection with the voices of struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: And Howard Zinn, what he meant to you, Viggo, in this last few seconds?

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Well, he was a gentleman. He had a great sense of humor. He loves donuts. He would sneak away to Dunkin’ Donuts behind his wife’s back. But this contribution that this book makes, it’s not—and Howard’s efforts throughout his life—he didn’t look at historical references or, more importantly, democracy, or progressive work, as a fixed thing, as something that you accomplish—democracy. Like this show is called Democracy Now! Now is not yesterday. Now is now. It’s a process. It’s a game that moves as you play. And I think it makes sense, perfect sense, that Anthony has—

AMY GOODMAN: Two seconds.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: —has included new text. Can I—since—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this after the show. Viggo Mortensen, Anthony Arnove, thanks so much.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:56:31 -0500
Postal Workers Push Back Against Privatization and Post Office Closures

Union workers at the US Postal Service staged one of their largest national demonstrations to date November 14, protesting fresh job cuts and continuing efforts to privatize some post office operations.

With rallies at more than 150 locations nationwide, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) called for a cancellation of plans to close 82 mail processing centers early next year and the reversal of broader privatization efforts that eliminate good union jobs.

The flash point of the demonstrations was in Washington, D.C., where some 250 union members and supporters led by APWU President Mark Dimondstein sought to enter the public meeting of the USPS Board of Governors. The demonstrators were denied entrance, but they kept up a loud demonstration at the entrance to the USPS headquarters to make their anger known to the Board members inside, according to union spokesperson Sally Davidow. Protesting in solidarity with APWU were representatives of several other unions, and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) gave supporting speeches.

A moment of dark levity came when the Board announced that it had accepted the resignation of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, a development that was cheered by the union members. While Donahoe’s resignation was not tied directly to the plan to close the 82 processing centers or other specific job-cutting plans, the union has been focusing much of its criticism on Donahoe as the author of many of those initiatives. Earlier this year, for example, APWU launched a nationwide boycott of the Staples office supplies chain for its part in a Donahoe-engineered plan to shift some postal operations into the hands of the privately owned, non-union company.

“I think the resignation will be significant only it represents a policy change [at USPS]. If not, we are in the same fight, the same battle” with new Postmaster General Megan Brennan, Dimondstein says. “We want the policies of privatization reversed.”

“She can’t possibly be any worse” than Donahoe, “so there is some hope” for a policy change, says George Askew, President of Baltimore-based APWU Local 181. Leading a group of about 30 protestors at the city’s main post office November 14, Askew said Donahoe’s four-year tenure has been marked by attacks on union jobs and increasing anxiety and disaffection among union members.

APWU’s immediate demand is for a one-year moratorium on the processing center closures now scheduled for 2015. According to Dimondstein, APWU and the other postal unions have gathered the support of 51 US Senators in favor of the moratorium, and Brennan should take this expression of public sentiment into account.

“The Postmaster General has the authority to make the determination,” to order a moratorium, and Brennan should do so when she officially takes office Feb.1, Dimondstein says.

At the informational picket line in Baltimore, Local 181 Shop Steward Courtney Jenkins stated that USPS privatization policy “impacts people like me, who will have to find work elsewhere. It affects hundreds of thousands of us” across the country.

A six-year veteran at the USPS mail facility in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, Jenkins said talk among his co-workers is “apprehensive and stressful” over the potential for job cuts. “People are afraid. They want to know: ‘Is it coming here?’”

Jenkins said he was not hopeful that the appointment of a new Postmaster General would bring any immediate change.

“All of the [recent job cuts and moves towards privatization] have happened under her watch,” he said, in reference to Brennan’s current position as the chief operating officer of USPS. “She was successful at USPS [in earning promotion] by following along with Donahoe the whole time. She would have to change her stripes,” to agree with the union demands for policy changes, he says.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:53:11 -0500
FAIR TV: Keystone Misinformation, War "Works" and NPR's Cosby Questions

On this week's edition: The Keystone XL pipeline is back in the news - and so is a lot of the same old misinformation. Plus we'll look at how some TV journalists think about how war "works." And NPR's Scott Simon got a lot of credit for asking comedian Bill Cosby about rape allegations - but did he actually do that?

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:52:38 -0500
Longest-Serving US Prisoner in Solitary Ordered Free Again, but State Obstruction Bars His Release

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling ordering Louisiana to release Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther who has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement, longer than any prisoner in the United States. Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, another prisoner of the "Angola 3," were convicted of murdering a guard at Angola Prison. The Angola 3 and their supporters say they were framed for their political activism. A federal judge ruled last year that Woodfox should be set free on the basis of racial discrimination in his retrial. It was the third time Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned, but prosecutors have negated the victories with a series of appeals. Thursday’s ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the order for Woodfox’s release in a unanimous decision. But prosecutors could still delay its enforcement with more appeals to keep Woodfox behind bars. We are joined by two guests: Robert King, a member of the Angola 3 who spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a murder he did not commit; and Carine Williams, a lawyer for Albert Woodfox with the firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:48:51 -0500
What "Free Trade" Has Done to Central America

With Republicans winning big in the midterm elections, the debate over so-called “free-trade” agreements could again take center stage in Washington.

President Barack Obama has been angling for “fast-track” authority that would enable him to push the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP—a massive free-trade agreement between the United States and a host of Pacific Rim countries—through Congress with limited debate and no opportunity for amendments.

From the outset, the politicians who support the agreement have overplayed its benefits and underplayed its costs. They seldom note, for example, that the pact would allow corporations to sue governments whose regulations threaten their profits in cases brought before secretive and unaccountable foreign tribunals.

So let’s look closely at the real impact trade agreements have on people and the environment.

A prime example is the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, or DR-CAFTA. Brokered by the George W. Bush administration and a handful of hemispheric allies, the pact has had a devastating effect on poverty, dislocation, and environmental contamination in the region.

And perhaps even worse, it’s diminished the ability of Central American countries to protect their citizens from corporate abuse.

A Premonition

In 2004 and 2005, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled Central America’s streets.

They warned of the unemploymentpovertyhungerpollution, diminished national sovereignty, and other problems that could result if DR-CAFTA were approved. But despite popular pressure, the agreement was ratified in seven countries—including Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

Ten years after the approval of DR-CAFTA, we are seeing many of the effects they cautioned about.

Overall economic indicators in the region have been poor, with some governments unable to provide basic services to the population. Farmers have been displaced when they can’t compete with grain importedfrom the United States. Amid significant levels of unemploymentlabor abuses continue. Workers in export assembly plants often suffer poor working conditions and low wages. And natural resource extraction has proceeded with few protections for the environment.

Contrary to the promises of US officials—who claimed the agreement would improve Central American economies and thereby reduce undocumented immigration—large numbers of Central Americans have migrated to the United States, as dramatized most recently by the influx of children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras crossing the US-Mexican border last summer. Although most are urgently fleeing violence in their countries, there are important economic roots to the migration—many of which are related to DR-CAFTA.

One of the most pernicious features of the agreement is a provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. This allows private corporations to sue governments over alleged violations of a long list of so-called “investor protections.”

The most controversial cases have involved public interest laws and regulations that corporations claim reduce the value of their investments. That means corporations can sue those countries for profits they say they would have made had those regulations not been put into effect.

Such lawsuits can be financially devastating to poor countries that already struggle to provide basic services to their people, much less engage in costly court battles with multinational firms. They can also prevent governments from making democratically accountable decisions in the first place, pushing them to prioritize the interests of transnational corporations over the needs of their citizens.

The Mining Industry Strikes Gold

These perverse incentives have led to environmental deregulation and increased protections for companies, which have contributed to a boon in the toxic mining industry—with gold at the forefront. A stunning 14 percent of Central American territory is now authorized for mining. According to the Center of Research on Trade and Investment, a Salvadoran NGO, that number approaches 30 percent in Honduras and Nicaragua—and rises to a whopping 35 percent in Honduras.

In contrast to their Central American neighbors, El Salvador and Costa Rica have imposed regulations to defend their environments from destructive mining practices. Community pressure to protect the scarce watersheds of El Salvador—which are deeply vulnerable to toxic mining runoff—has so far prevented companies from successfully extracting minerals like gold on a large scale, and the Salvadoran government has put a moratorium on mining. In Costa Rica, after a long campaign of awareness and national mobilization, the legislature voted unanimously in 2010 to prohibit open-pit mining and ban the use of cyanide and mercury in mining activities.

Yet both countries are being punished for heeding their citizens’ demands. Several US and Canadian companies have been using DR-CAFTA’s investor-state provisions to sue these governments directly. Such disputes are arbitrated by secret tribunals like the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is hosted by the World Bank and is not accountable to any democratic body.

In 2009, the US-based Commerce Group sued El Salvador for closing a highly polluting mine.The case was dismissed in 2011for lack of jurisdiction, but El Salvador still had to pay several million dollars in fees for its defense. In a case still in process, the gold-mining conglomerate Pacific Rim has also sued El Salvador under DR-CAFTA for its anti-mining regulations. To get around the fact that the Canadian company wasn’t from a signatory country to DR-CAFTA, it moved its subsidiary from the Cayman Islands to Reno, Nevada in a bid to use the agreement’s provisions. Although that trick failed, the suit has moved forward under an outdated investment law of El Salvador.

Elsewhere, Infinito Gold has used DR-CAFTA to sue Costa Rica for nearly $100 million over disputes related to gold mining. And the US-based Corona Materials has filed a notice of intent to sue the Dominican Republic, also claiming violations of DR-CAFTA. These costly legal cases can have devastating effects on the national economies of these small countries.

Of course, investor-state disputes under DR-CAFTA are not only related to mining.

For example, TECO Guatemala Holdings, a US corporation, alleged in 2009 that Guatemala had wrongfully interfered with its indirect subsidiary’s investment in an electricity distribution company. Specifically, TECO charged that the government had not protected its right to a “minimum standard of treatment”— an exceptionally vague standard that is open to wide interpretation by the international tribunals that rule on such cases — concerning the setting of rates by government regulators. In other words, TECO wanted to charge higher electricity rates to Guatemalan users than those the state deemed fair. Guatemala had to pay $21.1 million in compensatory damages and $7.5 million in legal fees, above and beyond what it spent on its own defense.

The US-based Railroad Development Corporation also sued Guatemala, leading to the country paying out an additional $11.3 million, as well as covering both its own legal fees and the company’s. Elsewhere, Spence International Investments and other companies sued Costa Rica for its decision to expropriate land for a public ecological park.

A Chilling Effect

What’s at stake here is not only the cost of lawsuits or the impact of environmental destruction, but also the ability of a country to make sovereign decisions and advance the public good.

Investment rules that allow companies to circumvent national judicial systems and challenge responsible public policies can create an effect that’s been dubbed “regulatory chill.” This means that countries that might otherwise have curtailed corporate activity won’t—because they’re afraid of being sued.

Guatemala is a prime case. It’s had to pay companies tens of millions of dollars in investor-state lawsuits, especially in the utility and transportation industries. But it hasn’t yet been sued by a mining company. That’s because the Guatemalan government hasn’t limited the companies’ operations or tampered with their profit-making.

Take the Marlin Mine in western Guatemala, for example. In 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights advised the Guatemalan government to close the mine on account of its social and environmental impacts on the surrounding region and its indigenous population. Nonetheless, after briefly agreeing to suspend operations, the Guatemalan government reopened the mine a short time later.

In internal documents obtained by activists, the Guatemalan government cited potential investment arbitration as a reason to avoid suspending the mine, writing that closing the project could provoke the mine’s owners “to activate the World Bank’s [investment court] or to invocate the clauses of the free trade agreement to have access to international arbitration and subsequent claim of damages to the state.” As this example demonstrates, just knowing that a company could sue can prevent a country from standing up for human rights and environmental protection.

More recently in Guatemala, the communities around San Jose del Golfo— about 45,000 people — have engaged in two years of peaceful resistance to prevent the US-based Kappes, Cassiday, and Associates from constructing a new mine. Protesters estimate that 95 percent of families in the region depend on agriculture, an industry that would be virtually destroyed if the water were to be further contaminated. But the company threatened to sue Guatemala if the mine was not opened. “They can’t afford this lawsuit,” a company representative said. “We had a big law group out of [Washington,] DC fire off a letter to the mines minister, copied to the president, explaining what we were doing.”

On May 23, the people of San Jose del Golfo were violently evicted from their lands by military force, pitting the government in league with the company against its own people—potentially all to avoid a costly lawsuit.

A Prelude to the TPP

Warnings about the crises that “free trade” would bring to Central Americans were, unfortunately, correct. Central America is facing a humanitarian crisis that has incited millions to migrate as refugees from violence and poverty, thousands of them children. One push factor is the environmental degradation provoked by ruthless mining corporations that are displacing people from their rural livelihoods.

And it’s not just DR-CAFTA. The many investor-state cases brought under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and in countries all over the world, have exposed the perniciousness of investor protection rules shoehorned into so-called “free-trade” pacts. Many governments are realizing that these agreements have tied their hands when it comes to protecting their own environments and citizens.

We must use these egregious investor-state cases to highlight extreme corporate power in the region. We must work to help Central American people regain their livelihoods lost to ruthless extractive projects like mining. And we must change trade and investment agreements to stop these excessive lawsuits that devastate communities, the environment, and democracy itself.

Like DR-CAFTA, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership includes investor-state provisions that are likely to hurt poor communities and undermine environmental protections. Instead of being “fast tracked” through Congress, future trade agreements like the TPP—and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the European Union and the United States—must be subject to a full debate with public input.

And such agreements must not, at any cost, include investor-state mechanisms. Because trading away democracy to transnational corporations is not such a “free trade” after all.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:28:14 -0500
They Believe in Teachers and in Education for All: Why Finland's Kids Often Top League Tables

When looking at large-scale international studies and comparisons of education systems worldwide, everyone’s always talking about Finland. Finland seems to set the benchmark for education worldwide. Foreign educational experts, delegations of teachers and educational politicians flock to the departments of teacher education in Finnish universities, as well as schools. So what is it about education in Finland that’s so good, and why do they constantly top the league tables?

Finnish kids spend less time in schools than children in many other countries. Compared to other OECD countries, Finland does not invest an especially large portion of its budget in education. Adding up the money, teaching time and good results, the system is highly effective.

The Finns have often been characterised as a nation whose belief in the power of education is strong. Education has had, and still has, an important status in this small wooded country of about 5.4 million people.

One of the basic principles is to create equal opportunities in education for all inhabitants. Education is seen as a basic right of every Finn. Education is free of charge at all stages, although in upper secondary schools the students have to buy textbooks themselves.

The backbone of the Finnish educational system is basic education, which can also be called “comprehensive school”. This is compulsory for all children from the ages of seven to 16 (grades 1–9). There have been political debates about extending compulsory education to age of 17, but this was not considered possible in the present economic situation.

In Finland, the school administration is decentralised and there are no school inspectors. In fact, parents trust the teachers and schools, so there is no need to execute external administrative control just for control’s sake.

Most of the Finnish pupils choose the nearest school to their home. That is possible and recommended, because the variation between schools is very small and the quality of teaching does not vary significantly.

The Finnish comprehensive school is fairly uniform and its main goal is to ensure equal opportunities for the entire age group. The percentage of dropouts in compulsory education is very small. Large-scale international studies of educational achievement, such as PISA and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, have repeatedly shown that the differences between Finnish comprehensive schools are small.

Post-comprehensive education is optional, but the majority of adolescents continue their studies after the compulsory school. They can choose between two main types of education, upper secondary school and vocational education. About half of the age cohort choose the upper secondary school after compulsory education, another half the vocational path.

The majority of schools in Finland are under municipal administration, which is subsidised by the state, but they still have a fair amount of autonomy in administration. The number of private schools is quite small. There is no system of school inspections and centralised control for school textbooks was abolished in 1992.

Schools follow the broad curriculum provided by the Finnish National Board of Education. Thus, the teachers have a fairly large degree of freedom in their profession and are considered trusted professionals in their field.

Teachers and teacher education courses have traditionally had a high status in Finnish society. Teacher education was transferred to universities in the 1970s and all qualified teachers hold a Master’s degree, except kindergarten teachers who hold a Bachelor’s degree. Finnish teacher education, which is carried out in close connection with specific teacher training schools, provides quality teaching as a profession.

It has not been difficult to attract students to teacher education programs. Students are selected for teacher education with the help of two entrance tests. The class teacher course is one of the most popular university programs alongside medicine and law, and only about 5% of all applicants are admitted.

The most important thing about the Finnish way of education is that politicians, researchers, teachers and parents have whistled the same educational tune for about 40 years now: equity and equality for all in education.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:06:42 -0500
Malarkey on the Potomac: Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Are Hot Air

U.S. Soldiers from Echo Company, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade prepare to clear a stairway during a joint training exercise near Bahbahani, Iraq, on June 4, 2009.U.S. Soldiers from Echo Company, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade prepare to clear a stairway during a joint training exercise near Bahbahani, Iraq, on June 4, 2009. (Photo: Program Executive Office Soldier)

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"Iraq no longer exists." My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan's Upper West Side.  It's been years since we've last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: "Iraq just doesn't exist."

His is an opinion grounded in experience.  As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus "surge."  After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies.  Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research.  Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening.  As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

Few in Washington would endorse M's assertion, of course.  Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq's existence for granted.  Many can even locate it on a map.  They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence. To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Considered from this perspective, the "Iraqi government" actually governs, the "Iraqi army" is a nationally representative fighting force, and the "Iraqi people" genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.

Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth. But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated. Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted. Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around. Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.

So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this "mental checklist": in Baghdad, the U.S. should foster a "cleaner, less sectarian government"; to ensure security, we will have to "rebuild the military"; and to end internal factionalism, we're going to have to find ways to "win Kurdish support" and "rebuild trust with Sunnis."  Ignatius does not pretend that any of this will be easy.  He merely argues that it must be -- and by implication can be -- done. Unlike my friend M, Ignatius clings to the fantasy that "Iraq" is or ought to be politically viable, militarily capable, and socially cohesive. But surely this qualifies as wishful thinking.

The value of M's insight -- of, that is, otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don't exist -- can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq.  A similar inclination to fantasize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East.  Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

* The interests of the United States and Israel align.

* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.  To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy -- or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

Let's examine all five, one at a time.

The Presence of U.S. Forces: Ever since the U.S. intervention in Lebanon that culminated in the Beirut bombing of October 1983, introducing American troops into predominantly Muslim countries has seldom contributed to stability.  On more than a few occasions, doing so has produced just the opposite effect. 

Iraq and Afghanistan provide mournful examples. The new book "Why We Lost" by retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger finally makes it permissible in official circles to declare those wars the failures that they have been.  Even granting, for the sake of argument, that U.S. nation-building efforts were as pure and honorable as successive presidents portrayed them, the results have been more corrosive than constructive.  The IS militants plaguing Iraq find their counterpart in the soaring production of opium that plagues Afghanistan. This qualifies as stability?

And these are hardly the only examples.  Stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after Operation Desert Storm was supposed to have a reassuring effect.  Instead, it produced the debacle of the devastating Khobar Towers bombing.  Sending G.I.'s into Somalia back in 1992 was supposed to demonstrate American humanitarian concern for poor, starving Muslims.  Instead, it culminated in the embarrassing Mogadishu firefight, which gained the sobriquet Black Hawk Down, and doomed that mission.

Even so, the pretense that positioning American soldiers in some Middle East hotspot will bring calm to troubled waters survives.  It's far more accurate to say that doing so provides our adversaries with what soldiers call a target-rich environment -- with Americans as the targets.

The Importance of the Persian Gulf: Although U.S. interests in the Gulf may once have qualified as vital, the changing global energy picture has rendered that view obsolete.  What's probably bad news for the environment is good news in terms of creating strategic options for the United States.  New technologies have once again made the United States the world's largest producer of oil.  The U.S. is also the world's largest producer of natural gas.  It turns out that the lunatics chanting "drill, baby, drill" were right after all.  Or perhaps it's "frack, baby, frack."  Regardless, the assumed energy dependence and "vital interests" that inspired Jimmy Carter to declare back in 1980 that the Gulf is worth fighting for no longer pertain.

Access to Gulf oil remains critically important to some countries, but surely not to the United States.  When it comes to propping up the wasteful and profligate American way of life, Texas and North Dakota outrank Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in terms of importance.  Rather than worrying about Iraqi oil production, Washington would be better served ensuring the safety and well-being of Canada, with its bountiful supplies of shale oil.  And if militarists ever find the itch to increase U.S. oil reserves becoming irresistible, they would be better advised to invade Venezuela than to pick a fight with Iran.

Does the Persian Gulf require policing from the outside? Maybe. But if so, let's volunteer China for the job. It will keep them out of mischief.

Arab Allies: It's time to reclassify the U.S. relationship with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Categorizing these two important Arab states as "allies" is surely misleading. Neither one shares the values to which Washington professes to attach such great importance.

For decades, Saudi Arabia, Planet Earth's closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy, has promoted anti-Western radical jihadism -- and not without effect.  The relevant numbers here are two that most New Yorkers will remember: 15 out of 19.  If a conspiracy consisting almost entirely of Russians had succeeded in killing several thousand Americans, would U.S. authorities give the Kremlin a pass? Would U.S.-Russian relations remain unaffected?  The questions answer themselves.

Meanwhile, after a brief dalliance with democracy, Egypt has once again become what it was before: a corrupt, oppressive military dictatorship unworthy of the billions of dollars of military assistance that Washington provides from one year to the next.

Israel: The United States and Israel share more than a few interests in common.  A commitment to a "two-state solution" to the Palestinian problem does not number among them.  On that issue, Washington's and Tel Aviv's purposes diverge widely.  In all likelihood, they are irreconcilable.

For the government of Israel, viewing security concerns as paramount, an acceptable Palestinian state will be the equivalent of an Arab Bantustan, basically defenseless, enjoying limited sovereignty, and possessing limited minimum economical potential. Continuing Israeli encroachments on the occupied territories, undertaken in the teeth of American objections, make this self-evident.

It is, of course, entirely the prerogative -- and indeed the obligation -- of the Israeli government to advance the well being of its citizens.  U.S. officials have a similar obligation: they are called upon to act on behalf of Americans. And that means refusing to serve as Israel's enablers when that country takes actions that are contrary to U.S. interests.

The "peace process" is a fiction. Why should the United States persist in pretending otherwise? It's demeaning.

Terrorism: Like crime and communicable diseases, terrorism will always be with us.  In the face of an outbreak of it, prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue. Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat. Grown-ups understand this. They don't expect a crime rate of zero in American cities. They don't expect all people to enjoy perfect health all of the time.  The standard they seek is "tolerable."

That terrorism threatens Americans is no doubt the case, especially when they venture into the Greater Middle East. But aspirations to eliminate terrorism belong in the same category as campaigns to end illiteracy or homelessness: it's okay to aim high, but don't be surprised when the results achieved fall short.

Eliminating terrorism is a chimera. It's not going to happen. U.S. civilian and military leaders should summon the honesty to acknowledge this.

My friend M has put his finger on a problem that is much larger than he grasps. Here's hoping that when he gets his degree he lands an academic job.  It's certain he'll never find employment in our nation's capital.  As a soldier-turned-scholar, M inhabits what one of George W. Bush's closest associates (believed to be Karl Rove) once derisively referred to as the "reality-based community." People in Washington don't have time for reality. They're lost in a world of their own.

Opinion Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:23:12 -0500
Seven Years After: Why This Recovery Is Still a Turkey

December will mark the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the recession brought on by the collapse of the housing bubble. Usually an economy would be fully recovered from the impact of a recession seven years after its onset. Unfortunately, this is not close to being the case now. It would still take another 7-8 million jobs to bring the percentage employed back to its pre-recession level. There's no reason to believe policymakers have a better understanding of the economy today.

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December will mark the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the recession brought on by the collapse of the housing bubble. Usually an economy would be fully recovered from the impact of a recession seven years after its onset. Unfortunately, this is not close to being the case now.

It would still take another 7-8 million jobs to bring the percentage of the population employed back to its pre-recession level. The 5.8 percent unemployment rate (compared to 4.5 percent before the recession) doesn't reflect the true weakness of the labor force since so many people have dropped out of the labor force. Furthermore, more than 7 million people are working part-time who would like full-time jobs. This is an increase of almost 3 million from the pre-recession level.

It's not just the labor market that shows the economy's slack. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the economy is still operating close to 4.0 percentage points below its potential. This translates into roughly $700 billion a year being thrown in the garbage because we don't have enough demand in the economy. That comes to more than $2,000 per year for every person in the country.

In this context, the celebratory attitude of many pundits and politicians over recent growth numbers does not make much sense. This year's 230,000 monthly pace of job growth is considerably better than we have seen in prior years. But it will still take us many years at this pace to get back to anything resembling full employment. If the underlying rate of growth of the labor force is 900,000 a year, it would take us more than four years to get back to pre-recession employment rates.

The same story applies to recent GDP growth numbers. If the economy sustains a 3.0 percent annual growth rate, it would take us close to four years to close the demand gap estimated by CBO. And next to no one thinks the economy will be able to sustain a 3.0 percent growth rate for the next four years.

This is not just an exercise in arithmetic. In recent weeks we have been treated to many columns fretting over the fact that workers are not sharing in the benefits of the recovery. This is not really a mystery.

When the economy and the labor market are weak, workers are not in a position to press for wage gains. Workers have to take whatever jobs are available on the terms that employers are prepared to offer. As a recent study from the New York Federal Reserve Bank found, nearly half of recent college grads are working at jobs that don't typically require a college degree. In a week economy, workers have to take what they get.

And in spite of the hand-wringing by the pundits and the politicians, the continuing weakness of the economy is not really a mystery either. Before the downturn the economy was being driven by the demand generated by the housing bubble. Record high house prices pushed construction to record shares of GDP. Similarly, the $8 trillion in ephemeral housing wealth generated by the bubble led to a consumption boom, as people spent a portion of their newly created equity.

The basic problem since the collapse of the bubble is finding a way to replace the demand that it had been generating. While many may hope that the private sector will replace the lost demand on its own, there is no plausible story through which this will happen. Firms don't go on investment splurges in a weak economy. Nor is it plausible that consumers will spend at the same pace as in the bubble years now that the bubble wealth has disappeared.

This means that we have to find another source of demand if we want to get back to full employment. We can do it with government spending. We can spend more on infrastructure, on education, on retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But this is not on anyone's agenda in Washington, or at least not at the necessary levels.

We could reduce our trade deficit and create demand in the United States rather than overseas. But that means lowering the value of the dollar to make US made goods and services more competitive. And a lower valued dollar isn't macho, so our politicians won't talk about it. (Sorry, the trade deals won't help on the trade deficit. They are about increasing corporate profits.)

Finally, if we can't increase demand, we can go the other route and reduce labor supply. This can be done through policies like work sharing as well as increased family leave, sick days, and vacation. This is the secret to Germany's low unemployment rate. The average work year there is more than 20 percent shorter than in the United States.

Our economic problems are manageable, but they require some serious thought. Unfortunately economic policymaking continues to be dominated by people who were unable to see an $8 trillion housing bubble. There is no reason to believe that these people have a better understanding of the economy today than they did seven years ago.

Opinion Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:10:01 -0500
CIA's Torturous Maneuvers on Torture

“CIA may revamp how it is organized” announced a front-page Washington Post headline leading into an article based on remarks by unnamed “US intelligence officials” to the Post’s Greg Miller. The anonymous officials were authorized to share some of the contents of a Sept. 24 letter from CIA Director John Brennan to CIA staff, in which Brennan says, “The time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized as an agency.”

On Brennan’s orders, senior agency officials were put to work on what Miller reported would be “among the most ambitious [reorganizations] in CIA history.” But Miller’s sources emphasized that the activity was in its preliminary stages and that no final decisions had been made; the proposed changes might be scaled back or even discarded.

But the reorganization story on Thursday – with its suggestion of CIA “reform” – came at an opportune time to possibly distract attention from another behind-the-scenes battle that is raging over how – and indeed whether – to release the findings of a five-year Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the CIA’s use of torture during George W. Bush’s administration and how the agency lied to Congress about the efficacy of torture techniques – and their humaneness.

A New York Times article on Friday by Mark Mazzetti and Carl Hulse described a Donnybrook at the White House on Thursday, with Senate Democrats accusing White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough of acquiescing in CIA attempts to redact the report so thoroughly that its conclusions would be undermined.

The Democratic members of the Senate intelligence Committee are said to be in high dudgeon. But some may have mixed feelings about release of the report because it would surely reflect poorly on their own failures as congressional “overseers” of the CIA.

Recent press reporting would have us believe that the main bone of contention revolves around if and how to use pseudonyms of CIA officers involved in torture, though that seems implausible since there are obvious workarounds to that concern. In past cases, for instance the Iran-Contra report, numbers were used to conceal actual identities of entities that were deemed to need protection.

Ex-CIA General Counsel Spilled the Beans

Hat tip to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who took the trouble to read the play-by-play of testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee by former CIA General Counsel (2009-2013) Stephen W. Preston, nominated (and now confirmed) to be general counsel at the Department of Defense.

Under questioning by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, Preston admitted outright that, contrary to the CIA’s insistence that it did not actively impede congressional oversight of its detention and interrogation program, “briefings to the committee included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”

That “inaccurate information” apparently is thoroughly documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, which, largely because of the CIA’s imaginative foot-dragging, cost taxpayers $40 million. Udall has revealed that the report (which includes 35,000 footnotes) contains a very long section titled “C.I.A. Representations on the C.I.A. Interrogation Program and the Effectiveness of the C.I.A.’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Congress.”

Preston also acknowledged that the CIA inadequately informed the Justice Department on interrogation and detention. He said, “CIA’s efforts fell well short of our current practices when it comes to providing information relevant to [the Office of Legal Counsel]’s legal analysis.”

As Katherine Hawkins, the senior investigator for last April’s bipartisan, independent report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, noted in an Oct. 18, 2013 posting, the memos from acting OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, relied very heavily on now-discredited CIA claims that “enhanced interrogation” saved lives, and that the sessions were carefully monitored by medical and psychological personnel to ensure that detainees’ suffering would not rise to the level of torture.

There’s more. According to the Constitution Project’s Hawkins, Udall complained – and Preston admitted – that, in providing the materials requested by the committee, “the CIA removed several thousand CIA documents that the agency thought could be subjected to executive privilege claims by the President, without any decision by [Barack] Obama to invoke the privilege.”

Worse still for the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee report apparently destroys the agency’s argument justifying torture on the grounds that there was no other way to acquire the needed information save through brutalization. In his answers to Udall, Preston concedes that, contrary to what the agency has argued, it can and has been established that legal methods of
interrogation would have yielded the same intelligence.

Sen. Udall has been persistent in trying to elicit the truth about CIA torture, but has failed. Now that he has lost his Senate seat in the November elections, he has the opportunity to do what Sen. Feinstein is too afraid to do – invoke a senator’s Constitutional right to immunity by taking advantage of the “speech or debate clause” to read the torture report findings into the record, a tactic used most famously by Sen. Mike Gravel in 1971 when he publicly read portions of the Pentagon Papers.

Sen. Udall has said he would consider doing something along those lines with the torture report, and that is precisely what is needed at this point. It remains to be seen whether Udall will rise to the occasion or yield to the fear of ostracism from the Establishment.

A Terrible Idea

One of the issues to be addressed by the reorganization group that Brennan has set up reportedly is whether or not the agency should be restructured into subject matter divisions in which analysts and clandestine operators work together.

There are far more minuses than plusses in that kind of structure. Greg Miller cites the concerns expressed by his sources over the potential for analysts’ judgments to be clouded by working too closely with the operators. Miller quotes one officer who worked in the Counter-Terrorism Center, which is being cited as the template for reorganizing the rest of the CIA.

The former CTC officer – speaking from personal experience – said, “The potential for corruption is much greater if you have analysts directly involved in helping to guide operations. There is the possibility for them to get too close to the issue and to be too focused on trying to achieve a certain outcome.” Like targeting/killing suspected “militants” by Hellfire missiles from drones, rather than pausing long enough to try to discern what has made them “militants” in the first place – and whether killing them is a major fillip to recruitment of more and more “militants.”

Or take Iran, for example. If the leaders of a new Iran “issues center” are focused on sabotaging Tehran’s nuclear development program, how much visibility will be given to analysts who are trying to discern whether there is enough evidence to conclude that Iran is actually working toward a nuclear weapon.

As some may recall, in November 2007 an honest National Intelligence Estimate concluded unanimously and “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier – in the fall of 2003 – and had not resumed work on a nuclear warhead.

The importance of such independent analysis cannot be overestimated. In that particular case, the Estimate played a huge role in preventing the war with Iran planned by Bush and Cheney for their last year in office. Read what Bush himself writes in his Decision Points about how that “eye-popping” NIE deprived him of the military option:

“But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)

Split the CIA in Two

There are examples galore of the important value of keeping analysts free from leaders and pressures more in favor of operations than cogent intelligence analysis. Indeed, there is a strong argument to split the CIA in half and let the covert operations part, which President Harry Truman said he never intended to be joined with the analysis part of the agency, go its own way

The Defense Department and Air Force can surely find extra chairs for those CIA killing-by-drone aficionados not already at the Pentagon. And “regime change” specialists could likely find space with others engaged in similar work at the National Endowment for Democracy or the State Department.

It is of transcendent importance to insulate the serious analysts from politically motivated managers and directors or other easy-to-manipulate bureaucrats who are enmeshed in covert operations. Harry Truman, who established the CIA, had very strong thoughts about this – for very good reason.

Truman’s Edict

On Dec. 22, 1963, exactly one month after President John Kennedy was assassinated, former President Truman published an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The timing was no coincidence. Documents in the Truman library show that nine days after Kennedy was murdered, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say.

The op-ed itself reflected Truman’s concern that he had inadvertently helped create a Frankenstein monster, lamenting that the agency had “become removed from its intended role. … It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government.” Truman complained that the CIA was shaping policy through its control of intelligence and “cloak and dagger” operations.

Truman appealed for the agency to be “restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President … and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”

Five days after Truman’s op-ed appeared, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman has appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter blaming former CIA Director Allen Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than the one I tried to set up for you.”

Souers was particularly sour on Dulles’s attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ by invading Cuba with a handful of men and no air cover.” He also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into arranging “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” adding, “With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.”

Souers and Truman both felt that the CIA’s operational tail had been wagging the analytical dog – a serious problem that persists today.

Five years ago, on the anniversary of Truman’s Washington Post op-ed, I posted a piece titled “Break the CIA in Two,” demonstrating that it is indeed time that the agency’s operational duties be, as Truman had suggested, “terminated or properly used elsewhere.” In another piece, posted on the 50th anniversary of Truman’s prescient op-ed, I went into more detail not only on Truman’s article, but also on fresh signs of corruption and lying to Congress on the part of senior CIA officials.

The coin of the realm in intelligence analysis is truth and the trust that comes of consistently speaking truth to power. For intelligence analysts to have a decent chance at being taken seriously, there has to be some space between them and the self-licking ice cream cone of covert action.

Surely, there is no better way to create a steadily increasing supply of jihadists than by ignoring clear-headed analysis about why young Muslims are angry enough to strap bombs to themselves and instead dreaming up new covert operations that will have that inevitable effect of creating more jihadists.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 09:32:34 -0500
Seven Ways the Military Wastes Our Money

Here are seven absurd ways the military wastes our money--and none of them have anything to do with national defense.

1. A whole battalion of generals? The titles “general” or “admiral” sound like they belong to pretty exclusive posts, fit only for the best of the best. This flashy title makes it pretty easy to say, "so what if a few of our military geniuses get the royal treatment--particularly if they are the sole commanders of the most powerful military in human history." The reality, however, is that there are nearly1,000 generals and admirals in the U.S. armed forces, and each has an entourage that would make a Hollywood star jealous.

According to 2010 Pentagon reports, there are963 generals and admirals in the U.S. armed forces. This number has ballooned by about 100 officers since 9/11 when fighting terror--and polishing the boots of senior military personnel --became Washington’s number-one priority. (In roughly that same time frame, starting in 1998, the Pentagon’s budget also ballooned by more than 50 percent.)

Jack Jacobs, a retired U.S. army colonel and now a military analyst for MSNBC, says the military needs only a third of that number. Many of these generals are “spending time writing plans and defending plans with Congress, and trying to get the money,” he explained. In other words, a large number of these generals are essentially lobbyists for the Pentagon, but they still receive large personal staffs and private jet rides for official paper-pushing military matters.

Dina Rasor, founder of Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, explains that this “brass creep” is “fueled by the desire to increase bureaucratic clout or prestige of a particular service, function or region, rather than reflecting the scope and duties of the job itself.”

It’s sort of like how Starbucks titles each of its baristas a “partner” but continues to pay them just over minimum wage (and a caramel macchiato per shift).

As Rasor writes, “the three- and four-star ranks have increased twice as fast as one- and two-star general and flag officers, three times as fast as the increase in all officers and almost ten times as fast as the increase in enlisted personnel. If you imagine it visually, the shape of U.S. military personnel has shifted from looking like a pyramid to beginning to look more like a skyscraper.”

But the skyscraper model doesn’t mean that the armed forces are democratizing. In fact, just the opposite; they’re gaming the system to allow more and more officers to deploy the full power of the U.S. military to aid their personal lives--whether their actual work justifies it or not.

2. The generals’ flotillas. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates appointed Arnold Punaro, a retired major general in the Marines, to head an independent review of the Pentagon’s budget. Here’s the caution he came up with: “We don’t want the Department of Defense to become a benefits agency that occasionally kills a terrorist.”

So, just how good are these benefits? For the top brass, not bad at all. According to a Washington Post investigation, each top commander has his own C-40 jet, complete with beds on board. Many have chefs who deserve their own four-star restaurants. The generals’ personal staff include drivers, security guards, secretaries, and people to shine their shoes and iron their uniforms. When traveling, they can be accompanied by police motorcades that stretch for blocks. When entertaining, string quartets are available at a snap of the fingers.

A New York Times analysis showed that simply the staff provided to top generals and admirals can top $1 million--per general. That’s not even including their own salaries--which are relatively modest due to congressional legislation--and the free housing, which has been described as “palatial.” On Capitol Hill, these cadres of assistants are called the generals’ “flotillas.”

In the case of former Army General David Petraeus, he didn’t want to give up the perks of being a four-star general in the Army, even after he left the armed forces to be director of the CIA. He apparently trained his assistants to pass him water bottles at timed intervals on his now-infamous 6-minute mile runs. He also liked “fresh, sliced pineapple” before going to bed.

3. Scandals. Despite the seemingly limitless perks of being a general, there is a limit to the military’s (taxpayer-funded) generosity. That's led some senior officers to engage in a little creative accounting. In 2012, summer the (formerly) four-star general William “Kip” Ward was caught using military money to pay for a Bermuda vacation and using military cars and drivers to take his wife on shopping and spa excursions. He traveled with up to 13 staff members, even on non-work trips, billing the State Department for their hotel and travel costs, as well as his family’s stays at luxury hotels.

In November 2012, in the midst of the Petraeus scandal, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demoted Ward to a three-star lieutenant general and ordered him to pay back $82,000 of the taxpayers’ misused money. The debt shouldn’t be hard to repay; Ward will receive an annual retirement salary of $208,802.

Panetta may have been tough--sort of--on now three-star general Ward, but he’s displayed a complete refusal to reevaluate the bloated ranks of the military generals. Unlike his predecessor, Robert Gates, who has come out publicly against the increasing number of top-ranking officers and tried to reduce their ranks, Panetta has so far refused to review their numbers and has yet to fire a single general or admiral for misconduct. He did, however, order an “ethics training” after the Petraeus scandal.

4. Warped sense of reality. After the Petraeus scandal, the million-dollar question was: Did the general who essentially built the world’s most invasive surveillance apparatus really think he could get away with carrying on a secret affair without anyone knowing? Former Secretary of State Gates has floated at least one theory at a press conference in Chicago: “There is something about a sense of entitlement and having great power that skews people’s judgement.”

A handful of retired diplomats and service members have come out in support of Gates’ thesis. Robert J. Callahan, a retired diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, wrote an op-ed in theChicago Tribune explaining how the generals’ perks allow them to exist on a plane removed from ordinary people:

Those with a star are military nobility, no doubt, and those with four are royalty. Flying in luxurious private jets, surrounded by a phalanx of fawning aides who do everything from preparing their meals to pressing their uniform trousers, they are among America's most pampered professionals. Their orders are executed without challenge, their word is fiat. They live in a reality different from the rest of us.

Frank Wuco, a retired U.S. Naval intelligence chief, agrees.

With the senior guys and the flag officers, this is like the new royalty,” he said on his weekly radio show. “We treat them like kings and princes. These general officers in the military, at a certain point, become untouchable... In many cases, they get their own airplanes, their own helicopters. When they walk into a room, everybody comes to attention. In the case of some of them, people are very afraid to speak up or to disagree. Being separated from real life all the time in that way probably leaves them vulnerable (to lapses in moral judgement).

Sounds like a phenomenon that’s happening with another pampered sector of society (hint: Wall Street). Given the epic 2008 financial collapse, do we really want to set our security forces on a similar path of power, deception and deep, crisis-creating delusion?

5. Military golf. Of course, generals and admirals aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy some of perks of being in the U.S. armed forces. Although lower ranking service members don’t get private jets and personal chefs, U.S. taxpayers still spend billions of dollars a year to pay for luxuries that are out of reach for the ordinary American.

The Pentagon, for example, runs a staggering 234 golf courses around the world, at a cost that is undisclosed.

According to one retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, who also just happens to be the senior writer atTravel Golf, the very best military golf course in the U.S. is the Air Force Academy's Eisenhower Blue Course in Colorado Springs, CO.

He writes, “This stunning 7,000-plus yard layout shares the same foothills terrain as does the legendary Broadmoor, just 20 minutes to the south in Colorado Springs. Ponderosa pines, pinon and juniper line the fairways with rolling mounds, ponds and almost tame deer and wild turkey.” (The Department of Defense did come under fire a number of decades ago when it was discovered that the toilet seats at this course cost $400 a pop.)

And the number of golf courses is often undercounted, with controversial courses in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Mosul, Iraq, often left off the lists, which makes assessing the total costs difficult.

Yet some courses rack up staggering expenses as they become far more than mere stretches of grass.

According to journalist Nick Turse, “The U.S. Army paid $71,614 [in 2004] to the Arizona Golf Resort -- located in sunny Riyadh, Saudi Arabia... The resort actually boasts an entire entertainment complex, complete with a water-slide-enhanced megapool, gym, bowling alley, horse stables, roller hockey rink, arcade, amphitheater, restaurant, and even a cappuccino bar -- not to mention the golf course and a driving range.”

DoD's Sungnam golf course in the Republic of Korea, meanwhile, is reportedly valued at $26 million.

For non-golfers, the military also maintains a ski lodge and resort in the Bavarian Alps, which opened in 2004 and cost $80 million.

6.The Army goes rolling along!” Vacation resorts aren’t the only explicitly non-defense-related expenditures of the Department of Defense. According to a Washington Post investigation, the DoD also spends $500 million annually on marching bands.

The Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the Marine Corps all maintain their own military bands, which also produce their own magazines and CDs.

The bands are [pun intended] “an instrument of military PR,” according to Al McCree, a retired Air Force service member who owns Altissimo Recordings, a Nashville record label featuring music of the service bands.

The CDs are--by law--distributed for free, but that doesn’t mean the private sector can’t profit off these marching bands. According to the Washington Post article, “The service CDs have also created a private, profitable industry made up of companies that obtain the band recordings under the Freedom of Information Act. They then re-press and package them for public sale.”

As if subsidizing the industry of multibillion-dollar arms dealers weren’t enough, the record industry is apparently also leeching off the taxpayer-funded military spending.

7. The Pentagon-to-Lockheed pipeline. While the exorbitant costs of private planes and hundreds of golf courses may seem bad enough, the most costly problem with the entitlement-culture of the military happens aftergenerals retire. Since they’re so used to the luxurious lifestyle, the vast majority of pension-reaping high-ranking officers head into the private defense industry.

According to William Hartung, a defense analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington DC, about 70 percent of recently retired three- and four-star generals went straight to work for industry giants like Lockheed Martin.

“If you don’t go into industry at this point you are the exception,” Hartung said.

This type of government-to-industry pipeline, which he said was comparable to the odious Wall Street-to-Washington revolving door, drives up the prices of weapons and prevents effective oversight of weapon manufacturing companies--all of which ends up costing taxpayers more and more each year.

“I think the overspending on the generals and all their perks is bad enough, but the revolving door and the ability of these people to cut industry a break in exchange for high salaries costs more in the long run,” said Hartung. “This can affect the price of weapons and the whole structure of how we oversee companies. It’s harder to calculate, but certainly in the billions, compared to millions spent on staff per general.”

News Sun, 23 Nov 2014 12:10:44 -0500