Friday, January 29, 2010

Breaking News: Bin Laden blasts U.S. for climate change

News Alert: Bin Laden blasts U.S. for climate change
06:49 AM EST Friday, January 29, 2010

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has called in a new audiotape for the world to boycott American goods and the U.S. dollar, blaming the United States and other industrialized countries for global warming. In the tape, aired in part on Al-Jazeera television Friday, bin Laden warns of the dangers of climate change and says that the way to stop it is to bring "the wheels of the American economy" to a halt

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Quick Fact: Palin falsely suggested health reform would increase deficit, denied Obama cut taxes

Media Matters for America

Fox News contributor Sarah Palin falsely suggested in a January 28 Facebook post that Democrats' health care reform plans would increase the deficit and that President Obama has not cut taxes. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the health care reform bills passed by both the House and Senate would reduce federal deficits through 2019 and beyond, and the recovery act signed into law by Obama included $288 billion in tax relief.

In response to State of the Union address, Palin suggests health reform would increase deficit, denies Obama cut taxes

From Palin's January 28 Facebook post:

[Obama] dared us to "let him know" if we have a better health care plan, but he refused to allow Republicans in on the negotiations or consider any ideas for real free market and patient-centered reforms. We've been "letting him know" our ideas for months from the town halls to the tea parties, but he isn't interested in listening. Instead he keeps making the nonsensical claim that his massive trillion-dollar health care bill won't increase the deficit.

Americans are suffering from job losses and lower wages, yet the president practically demanded applause when he mentioned tax cuts, as if allowing people to keep more of their own hard-earned money is an act of noblesse oblige. He claims that he cut taxes, but I must have missed that. I see his policies as paving the way for massive tax increases and inflation, which is the "hidden tax" that most hurts the poor and the elderly living on fixed incomes.

FACT: CBO estimated that health reform bills would reduce deficits over next 10 years and beyond

CBO: Senate bill yields "a net reduction in federal deficits of $132 billion" over 10 years. On December 19, 2009, CBO reported of the Senate bill incorporating the manager's amendment:

CBO and JCT estimate that the direct spending and revenue effects of enacting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act incorporating the manager's amendment would yield a net reduction in federal deficits of $132 billion over the 2010-2019 period.

CBO also estimated on December 20, 2009, that the bill will continue to reduce the deficit beyond the 10-year budget window that ends in 2019 "with a total effect during that decade that is in a broad range between one-quarter percent and one-half percent of GDP."

CBO estimated the House bill will result in $138 billion in deficit reduction through 2019. On November 20, 2009, CBO reported of the House health care reform legislation, "CBO and JCT now estimate that the legislation would yield a net reduction in deficits of $138 billion over the 10-year period." CBO also stated in its November 6 estimate that "[i]n the subsequent decade, the collective effect of its provisions would probably be slight reductions in federal budget deficits. Those estimates are all subject to substantial uncertainty."

FACT: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $288 billion in tax relief

Recovery act included significant tax relief for individuals, families, and businesses. As Media Matters for America has noted, the recovery act contained $288 billion in tax relief, including the Making Work Pay tax credit, a two-year annual credit of $400 per individual or $800 for families. In addition, the recovery act included a temporary increase in the earned income tax credit, a temporary increase in the refundable portion of the child tax credit, an increase in the first-time homebuyer tax credit, and tax incentives for businesses.

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Media conservatives falsely claim Obama's Supreme Court criticism was "unprecedented"

Media Matters for America

Right-wing media are attacking President Obama for his criticism of the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC during the State of the Union, calling it "unprecedented" and accusing the president of "intimidation." In fact, Obama's comments were not "unprecedented"; Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have previously used the State of the Union to criticize judicial actions, including those of the Supreme Court.

Right-wing media accuse Obama of "intimidation" in "unprecedented" Supreme Court criticism

Drudge: "INTIMIDATION: Obama directly condemns Supreme Court; Dems cheer." On January 27, the Drudge Report linked to a video clip of the State of the Union speech with the following headline:


Napolitano: Obama's "attempt to intimidate" the Supreme Court has "never happened before." On the January 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano said that the president's comments regarding the Supreme Court decision had "never happened before" and that he had "insulted them to their faces." He claimed that the Supreme Court justices were "guests" at the State of the Union and that "in that environment, [Obama] attacks them in a position where they cannot respond, and then attempts to intimidate them by inducing members of Congress to stand up and applaud, suggesting that he's right and they're wrong."

Krauthammer: Obama's comment "I believe is unprecedented." On the January 28 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said, "President Obama attacked the Supreme Court at the State of the Union address, which I believe is unprecedented." He called the comments "a direct attack" and "a breach of etiquette which shouldn't have happened."

In fact, presidents have a history of directly addressing and criticizing the Supreme Court

Harding criticized the Supreme Court for overturning the Child Labor Law in his 1922 State of the Union. In 1922, the Supreme Court found the Child Labor Law of 1919 to be unconstitutional. In his State of the Union address, President Warren G. Harding criticized the court for putting "this problem outside the proper domain of Federal regulation until the Constitution is so amended as to give the Congress indubitable authority. I recommend the submission of such an amendment."

Reagan criticized the court for its ruling on school prayer. In his 1988 State of the Union address, Reagan expressed his displeasure with the court's recent ruling on school prayer:

And let me add here: So many of our greatest statesmen have reminded us that spiritual values alone are essential to our nation's health and vigor. The Congress opens its proceedings each day, as does the Supreme Court, with an acknowledgment of the Supreme Being. Yet we are denied the right to set aside in our schools a moment each day for those who wish to pray. I believe Congress should pass our school prayer amendment.

Reagan directly attacked the Supreme Court for Roe v. Wade. In his 1984 State of the Union address, Reagan attacked the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, during a discussion on abortion:

And while I'm on this subject, each day your Members observe a 200-year-old tradition meant to signify America is one nation under God. I must ask: If you can begin your day with a member of the clergy standing right here leading you in prayer, then why can't freedom to acknowledge God be enjoyed again by children in every schoolroom across this land?


During our first 3 years, we have joined bipartisan efforts to restore protection of the law to unborn children. Now, I know this issue is very controversial. But unless and until it can be proven that an unborn child is not a living human being, can we justify assuming without proof that it isn't? No one has yet offered such proof; indeed, all the evidence is to the contrary. We should rise above bitterness and reproach, and if Americans could come together in a spirit of understanding and helping, then we could find positive solutions to the tragedy of abortion.

Bush condemned "activist judges" who are "redefining marriage by court order." In his 2004 State of the Union address, Bush criticized "activist judges" who, according to him, were "redefining marriage by court order":

Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our Nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.

The outcome of this debate is important, and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ignorant racist: Limbaugh To Obama: "Let Me Be The Father That You Never Had"

Media Matters for America

By Tom Allison

Rush responds to Obama's State of the Union with name-calling

Rush wasted no time today ripping into last night's State of the Union address, opening the show by claiming that we now know what it was like to sit through a speech by Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro. Among his other criticisms, Limbaugh said that he "forgot" Obama was president, that the speech was "horrible," "pathetic," "disjointed," "utterly predictable," and not "presidential." Limbaugh thought that Obama was "angry," "defiant," "delusional," "megalomaniacal," "boorish," "a petty little man," and "a little kid."

Limbaugh added that Obama is always the least experienced, most condescending person in the room and that we also found out last night what it's like when a kid becomes the monarch due to an untimely death in the royal family.

Limbaugh said that Obama can stand up there and rip anything, but if someone mouths a comment like Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, then that person is criticized by the media. Limbaugh concluded that Obama criticizing the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case is "pure banana republic" and was either ignorant or "out-and-out lying" about the case's implications.

Limbaugh offers "wild guess" about O'Keefe arrest

For the second day in a row, Rush complained about a CNN poll. This time, Rush was upset that the headline on the article about the poll said that half of the speech watchers had a positive reaction, but the first paragraph of the story said it was 48 percent. (The article states that 48 percent had a "very positive" reaction -- another three in 10 had a "somewhat positive" reaction, while 21 percent had a "somewhat negative" or "very negative" reaction. Limbaugh was apparently among the 21 percent.)

Limbaugh spoke briefly on the James O'Keefe arrest, saying that his "wild guess" was that O'Keefe had entered Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in New Orleans to try to "find out if somebody had jimmied with the lines so that constituents could not call the office and complain."

Limbaugh played a clip from Mark Halperin criticizing Obama's speech in which Halperin comparing him to Michael Dukakis, something Limbaugh did yesterday.

Back from the break, Limbaugh criticized this Michael Scherer piece for Time magazine, incredulous that Obama would expect applause for discussing cutting taxes. Limbaugh claimed "it was a lie" that Obama cut taxes for anyone.

Rush: "Let me be the father that you never had"

Limbaugh then initiated a disturbing segment in which he said to Obama, "[l]et me be the father that you never had" and purported to offer "guidance" to Obama on how to "man up," "grow up," and govern.

Limbaugh told his first caller that Obama was "wrong" in saying that the Citizens United ruling might lead to foreign corporations contributing to American political campaigns. Despite this, Limbaugh mentioned that Politico reported that Obama was right. I guess he just wasn't that impressed with their reporting this time.

In the second hour, Limbaugh claimed that his listeners had been calling and emailing to ask for the transcript of his "letter" to Obama in which Limbaugh spoke as if he were Obama's father.

After complaining that the media wouldn't hold Obama to the facts, Limbaugh claimed that the Associated Press had a "hard-hitting" fact check.

Limbaugh complained about Obama's call for gender pay equality, calling it a "cliché" and "not true" that women make 70 cents on the dollar.

Limbaugh then called it "petulant" and "immature" that Obama would "blame" President Bush so much. He clarified that Obama is "mad" and "angry" that health care reform hasn't passed yet. Limbaugh concluded that he has a general "entitled" feeling, is mad that things aren't going his way, and that it was a "threat" for Obama to say he wasn't going to give up on his policy proposals.

Limbaugh mentioned reports of coral reefs dying from cold to repeat his false claim that global warming and glacial melting are hoaxes.

As usual, Limbaugh petered out at the end of his show, repeating his same criticisms of last night's speech -- he actually reread his letter to Obama from the perspective of Obama's father.

Michael Timberlake contributed to this edition of the Limbaugh Wire. 


LIMBAUGH: Everybody wants to get in on the act. I know. We did. We found out what it's like last night to sit through a speech by Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro. And if you didn't see it, and if you want to know what sitting through a speech by Castro or Chavez is like, find a way to watch a little bit of it, and you'll get a grand idea. It was disjointed. I thought it was pathetic. It's striking to me, and it's utterly predictable. You listen to the pro-Obama people in the media, and they talk about, "Oh, it was great. It was the most wonderful speech. It was right [unintelligible]" -- it was a horrible speech. It was disjointed. It was contradictory. It was all over the place. Heritage Foundation today says it's like it had numerous authors.

And Chris Matthews. Did you hear what Chris Matthews said? Chris Matthews said while he was watching -- it was a lecture last night; it wasn't a speech. Chris Matthews said while he was watching the lecture, he forgot Obama was black for an hour. He forgot Obama was black for an hour. I forgot he was president for an hour. I watched a community agitator. And not a very good one. I saw a guy that's angry. I saw a guy that's defiant. And Nancy Pelosi -- she missed her calling. I mean, she's up and down, jack-in-the-box. She should've been a trained seal at Sea World the way she was behaving last night. And she and Biden -- everybody color-coordinated in purple.


LIMBAUGH: He's boorish. Bill Clinton knew all this and hasn't received sufficient credit. Credit -- he tried to tell us about this guy. And I guess for Chris Matthews -- he forgot that he was black for an hour. That must mean Obama was not using his black dialect last night. According to Dingy Harry Reid. But I don't know. This must be what it feels to live in a monarchy when some little kid becomes king due to a premature death.


LIMBAUGH: These people have turned off their phones, or they're redirecting calls from constituents to go somewhere to a dead line. And then they're saying, "Our phones are jammed. Nobody can get through. We don't know what's wrong." And I bet you -- I mean, I don't know this. I'm just speculating. But I'll bet you O'Keefe and his buddy who posed as telephone repairmen, I'll bet they were in there to try to find out if somebody had jimmied with the lines so that constituents could not call the office and complain. Because, remember, during amnesty a couple summers ago, nobody had trouble getting through. And the members of Congress, House and Senate both, got fed up with it. But it was enough to convince everybody that -- not to vote for it. Put together behind closed doors, just like the Senate was.

I've always -- you know, during the August recess and during last fall, I was always puzzled -- why in the world. Michele Bachmann called and a couple other people called, said, "Look, these phone calls aren't doing it anymore. We have to have people actually show up. Have to have people show up in the Capitol and eyeball these people, congressman and senators, and let them see firsthand the rage, 'cause the phone calls aren't working, and the email isn't working." Well, maybe it wasn't working because the calls were not getting through, calls were being jammed or forwarded -- redirected somehow. I'm just wild-guessing, but don't doubt me. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what O'Keefe was doing.


LIMBAUGH: I penned a message to Obama that I would like to deliver now. Because, Mr. Obama, I think it's time we had a heart-to-heart talk. Let me be the father that you never had or never really knew. Because I think you need some guidance. It's time to man up. It's time to grow up.

That speech last night was an embarrassment. You couldn't focus. You lashed out in all directions. You refused to accept responsibility for your own actions, and you were angry. And he was, folks. He's mad. Being president is big job. It's a big responsibility. You wanted the position, Barack. You campaigned for it. You told the public to trust you with it, and they elected you. And you're now president of the greatest country mankind has ever known, and yet you act like this was all coming to you, like you deserve it, that you're better than the people you are supposed to serve.

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Unhinged Beck lashes out in response to Obama's SOTU with attacks, conspiracy theories

Media Matters for America

Responding to President Obama's January 27 State of the Union speech on his radio show the following day, Glenn Beck offered a series of harsh and bizarre comments, ranging from ad hominem attacks on Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Vice President Joe Biden to baseless conspiracy theories. Beck claimed that Obama detailed his "enemies' list" during the speech -- a list he compared to similar lists from "radicals" including Lenin and Stalin -- and warned his audience that we may be witnessing "the beginning" of a "dictorial [sic] kind of state" and that Obama will "pick us off to send you a message."  

Beck attacks: Obama an arrogant liar, "punk," like a husband cheating on a "meaningless wife"

Beck jumps on conservative bandwagon: responds to State of the Union by calling Obama arrogant and a liar. Beck attacked Obama by saying "there's no humility there," and cited the "the arrogance from the moment this guy walked in" and the "arrogance of the lies that he told last night." Media Matters previously documented other conservatives responding to the speech by claiming Obama was arrogant or that he lied.

Beck compares Obama's relationship with the American people to a husband cheating on his wife. Beck painted Obama as a cheating husband with "no respect" for his wife -- the American people -- who must be "meaningless" to Obama due to his purported willingness to lie to her:

BECK: If you're cheating on your wife ... and she's got pictures of you doing it with a chick, and you're like, "Honey, no, absolutely not," do you have any respect for your wife? ... But if you're then treating her like an imbecile -- she's got access to the information -- there's no respect. No respect, and no fear. None. She's meaningless to you. That's what we have in the president.

Beck says Obama is a "punk" for calling out an "equal branch of government" during State of the Union. After playing a clip of Obama disagreeing with the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United case in his address, Beck said: "This is an equal branch of government, and the president, humiliated -- like a punk -- calls them out last night."

Beck: "Do you know how many children could be fed" with money "in plastic surgery" between Pelosi and Biden? Beck said of Nancy Pelosi's and Joe Biden's appearances at the State of the Union: "Do you know how many children could be fed with just the amount of money in plastic surgery between Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden?" Beck added: "Did you see them sitting behind them -- sitting behind the president last night? Two things came to mind. First of all, I think Nancy Pelosi was just -- she may have a cold or something, she took NyQuil or whatever -- but she just like -- she was staring out in space, a few times I thought she was going to drool. ... I can't even look at her because of the plastic surgery."

Beck producer: Obama "spit in our face" with his State of the Union address. In response to a clip of Obama's speech where he suggests his goal to move forward with health care reform, Beck's producer Stu Bruguiere said: "He spit in our face last night. I mean, that was just spit in your face."

Conspiracy theorist: Obama "made an enemies list," "will pick us off to send you a message," and the "media is complicit" in conspiracy

Beck says Obama "made an enemies list last night," suggests Obama's "TV pundits" comment was about him.  After referencing Obama's criticism of "TV pundits" for "reduc[ing] serious debates to silly arguments," Beck suggested that Obama was talking about him, saying "Barack Obama, just mention us by name from here on out." He then concluded that Obama "made an enemies list last night." He later added that "Keith, our phone screener, came in this morning and he said, 'Man, I pray for you every night.' He said, 'Did you see that, what the president did?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'The only thing he didn't say is, "Glenn Beck is an instigator." ' And it's -- and I looked at him and said, 'Oh, its coming. It's coming.' "

Beck: Obama's purported "enemies list" like those made by Lenin, Stalin, Chavez. Continuing with his theory that Obama has an "enemies' list" which includes Beck, Beck warned his audience "if you look at the radicals in the past" -- of which Beck named Lenin, Stalin, and Hugo Chavez -- "the enemies list is always the same." According to Beck, the "enemies list" always includes "the capitalists, the greedy industry owners, the banks, those who are speaking out against this movement" and "the dissenters in the media."

Beck says Obama criticism of Congress, SCOTUS is "the beginning" of U.S. possibly becoming a "dictorial [sic] kind of state." In response to Obama's disagreement with a Supreme Court decision and his statement that because the Senate had not passed an amendment that would have established a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, he planned to create one by executive order, Beck asked: "Do you see what we have been saying, that if you don't respect the balance of power, this could quickly turn into a dictorial [sic] kind of state? You are seeing the beginning of it."

Beck: the "media is complicit" with purported Obama lies and "damn near treasonous." Beck said that Obama will "get away" with his purported lies because Obama "knows the media won't corner him." Beck declared: "The media is complicit. The media is damn near treasonous."

Beck warned that "they" will "pick us off to send you a message," but is "begging" his audience to "pick up the torch." Beck warned his audience that "they" are coming to "shut those people up" who are dissenters, like Beck, and any one who has "a megaphone or a microphone." He added that "they pick somebody out and make an example of them...all they have to do is pick us off to send you a message." Beck went on to say that he was "begging" his audience to "do your homework now" and "know the news, know the constitution" because "there may come a time when there are no people speaking out in the media" and "there may be a time when you are the leader. You're the only voice that people will hear." He concluded: "Please, I beg of you, I beg of you: Pick the torch up, because there may come a time where you are the keeper of the flame, and if you do not pick up that flame when it is handed to you, if you don't pick that torch up, it will go out." From the January 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:

BECK: They have to shut those people up who have a megaphone or microphone. They must shut them down. This is why I'm begging you: Please, please -- I've said this now for how many years? From the bottom of my heart, I say this to you. Please, there may come a time when there are no people speaking out in the media. There may come that time. That's why you must do you homework now. You cannot waste another minute. Doing your homework, knowing history, knowing the news, following -- knowing what the Constitution says. There may be a time when you are the leader .You're the only voice that people will hear. Please, I beg of you, I beg of you: Pick the torch up, because there may come a time where you are the keeper of the flame, and if you do not pick up that flame when it is handed to you, if you don't pick that torch up, it will go out.


What did David Axelrod say on ABC? We don't view Fox News as a news organization -- they're not. He followed it with, "And we're not going to treat them that way, and we suggest to you, ABC, that you don't treat them that way, either." They set an example. They pick somebody out and make an example of them, and then fear does the rest. So he is now getting closer and closer to saying that -- I mean, he is -- the TV pundits in the State of the Union. The only thing he has to do is destroy us. They've already -- I mean, the forces arrayed are staggering. I'm an individual, man. Staggering, the forces arrayed against us. It will happen. I don't expect to, you know -- I don't expect to go out in flames. Maybe I do, but I don't expect -- it's gonna end, at some time it will end. Especially expanding the fight to progressives -- that's both sides now. All they have to do is pick us off to send you a message: You see what we did to them? They had a platform, you've got nothing. Sit down and shut up. Don't you do it.

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AIG-Geithner hearing - Isn't it amazing how a little fear of losing an election can snap even the laziest politicians into action?


Stammering Hank Paulson and Tim "Dead Man Talking" Geithner couldn't wait to get out of the witness chair yesterday when they appeared before the House Oversight Committee.

The former and current Treasury secretaries were grilled separately, in one of the few bipartisan events since President Obama took office.

Not a single member of either political party cut these two guys any slack. As we used to say in Brooklyn, Paulson and Geithner got their asses kicked.

Isn't it amazing how a little fear of losing an election can snap even the laziest politicians into action?

As a matter of course, one congressman yesterday brought up Geithner's past tax troubles. And everyone mentioned the apparent conflict of interest that occurred when AIG was bailed out by taxpayers and Goldman Sachs -- Paulson's old firm -- just happened to score enormous benefits.

At one point, Paulson was asked to stay for an additional eight minutes of questioning. When the clock hit 10 minutes, Paulson asked to be excused like he suddenly had a bathroom emergency.

But Paulson and Geithner were very lucky that their interrogators really didn't know what they were doing, so they took their inquisition down a dead end.

What do I mean? The main line of questioning is about AIG, the insurance company that invested in risky stuff and needed taxpayers to save its behind.

Not only did companies like Goldman, which invested on the other side of AIG trades, get all of their money back, but it turns out the New York Fed decided to keep details of the deals secret.

That's all very interesting stuff. The problem is, Paulson and Geithner have an easy explanation that they invoked over and over.

At various times the two either proclaimed that they weren't the ones who negotiated the AIG deal or -- and this is the real winner -- the whole freakin' financial world would have fallen apart if the AIG bailout hadn't occurred.

In other words, Paulson and Geithner were saying: Why are you people bothering us? You should be giving us a ticker-tape parade.

"If, if, if, if AIG had failed, with the system as fragile as it was, I believe it would have taken down the whole financial system and the economy," Paulson said at one point. And in case that didn't frighten you enough, Paulson was nice enough to provide threatening numbers -- 25 percent unemployment instead of the current 10 percent and housing prices "much lower" than they are today.

"This would have been an economic nightmare," Paulson said.

The best anyone could say about Geithner's performance is that he didn't start crying when one member of the committee accused him of being a politician and another cut him short by repeating, "you've answered the question, you've answered the question."

AIG is a dead end. The culprits can argue that they were under a lot of pressure and even if mistakes were made, they were honest ones.

But there's nothing honest about Paulson's habit of phoning up friends on Wall Street when he got the itch. There is nothing Paulson and someone like Lloyd Blankfein, his successor at Goldman, could have spoken about -- six times, for instance, on Sept. 18, 2008 -- that would not have been inside information.

If others are prosecuted for having information that the public doesn't, why is it that Goldman had a hot line to the Treasury?

Was this very profitable financial institution suddenly invested with certain quasi-government powers?

If you look through Paulson's phone logs, there are dozens upon dozens of calls made between Blankfein and Paulson during the latter's tenure as Treasury secretary.

And those calls don't even include ones likely made on cell phones. One congressman said during yesterday's hearing that Geithner also made hundreds of calls to Goldman Sachs during the AIG timeframe. Or, as he put it, 103 calls to Goldman and 100 calls to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

I'd be shocked if Tim Geithner, lasts much longer as Treasury Secretary.

His mouth keeps moving, but Geithner continues to say incredibly stupid things -- like, insisting again yesterday that he in herited today's financial problems when in fact he was head of the New York Fed when this mess started.

Ailing Banks Favor Salaries Over Shareholders

Finding the winners on Wall Street is usually as simple as looking at pay. Rarely are bankers who lose money paid as generously as those who make it.

But this year is unusual. A handful of big banks that are struggling in the postbailout world are, by some measures, the industry's most magnanimous employers. Roughly 90 cents out of every dollar that these banks earned in 2009 — and sometimes more — is going toward employee salaries, bonuses and benefits, according to company filings.

Amid all the commotion over the large bonuses that many bankers are collecting, what stands out is not only how much the stars are making. It is also how much of the profits lesser lights are taking home.

To compete with well-heeled rivals, banks like Citigroup are giving their employees an unheard-of cut of the winnings. Citigroup paid its employees so much in 2009 — $24.9 billion — that the company more than wiped out every penny of profit. After paying its employees and returning billions of bailout dollars, Citigroup posted a $1.6 billion annual loss.

Granted, the bankers and traders who work for Wall Street's biggest moneymakers are still collecting the richest rewards. But this bonus season, banking executives are rethinking how to divide the spoils.

Goldman Sachs, that highest of highfliers, is doing the unthinkable. It is giving its employees an unusually small cut of its profits — about 45 cents out of every dollar — even though its paydays will, in dollar terms, rank among the richest of all time.

That 45-cent figure, known as the payout ratio, represents the amount of compensation that Goldman is meting out relative to the pool of profits available for compensation. Until recently, the ratio for most Wall Street banks hovered around 60 cents of every dollar, in line with other labor- and talent-intensive industries like retailing and health care.

Most Americans would be thrilled to collect a Goldman-style paycheck. If compensation were spread evenly among the bank's 36,200 employees, each would take home about $447,000.

But to keep up with the Goldmans, laggards like Citigroup are handing out fat slices of their profits, leaving little left over for their shareholders. Citigroup is, in effect, paying its employees $1.45 for every dollar the company took in last year. On average, its workers stand to earn $94,000 each.

Bank of America, meantime, is spending 88 cents of every dollar it made in 2009 to compensate its workers. At Morgan Stanley, that figure is 94 cents.

JPMorgan Chase, which has fared better than those three, paid out 63 cents of every dollar.

Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley — all of which have repaid their federal aid — defend their pay practices. Press officers for the banks say a number of factors, from one-time accounting charges to the constant need to lure and retain top producers, drove decisions about compensation.

But some analysts and investors say these and other banks are rewarding their employees at shareholders' expense. The banking industry is quick to pay its workers when times are good but slow to penalize them when times are tough. Pay for performance? Not on Wall Street, the critics say.

"The investor in America sits at the bottom of the food chain," said John C. Bogle, the founder and former chairman of the Vanguard Group, the mutual fund giant. "The financial industry gets paid before their clients, and we get paid whether times are good or bad."

Institutional investors are alarmed by what they characterize as excessive rewards for bank employees. While banks are increasing salaries and bonuses for many employees, many have yet to restore dividends that were cut during the financial crisis.

"It's not a fair shake," said John A. Hill, chairman of the trustees at Putnam Funds, another big mutual fund company. "I think the shareholders who paid for building that franchise should be getting a bigger share of the franchise's profits."

Even now, after all those big bonus numbers, the pay-to-profit ratio for the financial industry might come as a surprise to many people. The five largest banks on Wall Street — Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — earned a combined $147.4 billion before paying compensation and taxes last year. They plowed back a combined $31.2 billion into their companies and returned a total of $2.1 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends. They paid $114.1 billion to their employees.

Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley traditionally set aside about half their revenue for compensation. Big diversified banks, like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, typically set aside about a third. Most banks have typically viewed compensation as the cost of bringing in new income, even though the main concern for most shareholders is profits.

At some banks, the relationship between pay and profit is a bit tenuous. In 2005, for instance, Morgan Stanley made a pretax profit of $7.4 billion. That year, compensation at the bank averaged $212,000 for each employee. Last year, Morgan Stanley made about $857 million before taxes. But compensation averaged $235,000 for each employee.

In other words, Morgan Stanley employees collected roughly 61 cents out of every dollar the bank made in 2005, and about 94 cents of every dollar last year.

Mark Lake, a Morgan Stanley spokesman, said that 2009 compensation per employee was the lowest in at least seven years if the business then looked as it did today, and that adding thousands of Smith Barney brokers and a large accounting charge led to a higher payout ratio.

Bank of America traditionally paid out a small sliver of its profits to workers and maintained a relatively high dividend. But the bank reversed course after its acquired Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial. Now Bank of America has more than doubled the share of earnings it sets aside for employees. It was forced to cut its quarterly dividend to a penny as a condition of its second government bailout and has yet to restore it.

Scott Silvestri, a Bank of America spokesman, attributed the higher compensation costs to a "change in the business mix" after the Merrill Lynch deal. "We must pay those, or we have no company," Mr. Silvestri said.

Shareholder advocates maintain that Wall Street pay works in favor of management and employees rather than shareholders. The industry's bonus culture is widely viewed as having helped foster the excessive risk-taking that led to the financial crisis.

In the three years before the crisis, the five Wall Street giants set aside a total of $295 billion in compensation. Had they not handed out bonuses or shifted more compensation into stock, pay experts estimate, those banks might have kept $118 billion of additional capital in the financial system. That is almost equal to the $135 billion of bailout funds that taxpayers poured into those five institutions.

"It's heads I win, and tails they don't lose too badly," said Jesse M. Fried, a professor at Harvard Law School and co-author of "Pay Without Performance."

Some investors and Washington policy makers argue that shareholders should get a say on pay, even if their vote is nonbinding. Mr. Bogle, of Vanguard, says big investors need to be vigilant.

"If the shareholders would wake up, executive compensation would not be what it is," he said.

NY AG calls Internet discount clubs 'deceptive' - Fandango, has already agreed to stop sharing customer billing information

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - New York's attorney general warned Internet retailers Wednesday that they should stop funneling unsuspecting customers into "deceptive" Web discount clubs that have been accused of slamming people with hidden fees.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said his office has sent investigative subpoenas to 22 prominent merchants, including Barnes & Noble, Priceline and Pizza Hut, that allowed the marketing companies Affinion, Vertrue and Webloyalty to piggyback on their Web sites.

Those companies have been the subject of thousands of complaints in recent years from irate customers who say they were unwittingly enrolled in clubs while buying things such as flowers and movie tickets.

In many cases, the consumers clicked a box offering cash back on their purchase without noticing fine print warning that accepting the offer would enroll them in a club with a monthly fee. Many people learned the truth only when those fees turned up on their credit cards.

"We want it stopped," Cuomo said. "We believe it is a classic consumer fraud."

At least one retailer, the movie ticket seller Fandango, has already agreed to stop sharing customer billing information with the companies, Cuomo announced.

Fandango has also agreed to pay $400,000 in restitution and make better disclosures about any third-party offers on its Web site, the attorney general's office said.

Cuomo encouraged others to follow suit, saying that while the sign-up system for the discount clubs wasn't "illegal per se," it could be considered a "deceptive practice."

The companies getting subpoenas included Barnes & Noble, Orbitz,, Ticketmaster,,, Shutterfly,, Avon, Budget, Staples, Priceline, GMAC Mortgage,, Travelocity, Vistaprint, Intelius, Hotwire, Expedia,, Columbia House, Pizza Hut and Gamestop/EB Games.

Some of those companies said they have already taken action. Vistaprint, Priceline, Expedia and said they severed ties with the companies last fall. Barnes & Noble confirmed that its Web site has directed customers to Webloyalty, but said it never shared credit card information with the company.

Affinion, Vertrue and Webloyalty, all based in Norwalk, Conn., have been accused of improper conduct many times before.

Webloyalty recently settled a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts. Vertrue and Affinion, which previously did business under different names, have both been sued by attorneys general in other states over their sales tactics.

Each company says their practices are legal, but all have recently promised changes.

After a U.S. Senate committee in November accused them of acting unethically, all three began requiring customers to re-enter all 16 digits of their credit card number before they are signed up as members.

Previously, that billing information was automatically forwarded by retailers without the knowledge of customers.

"We have listened to consumers, lawmakers and regulators and have led the industry in evolving our practices," said Webloyalty spokeswoman Beth Kitchener. She said the company also introduced new language on its offering page to clarify that people will be billed for joining a club.

Vertrue said in a statement that its marketing practices "are not only clear," but also "provide consumers with access to significant and realizable benefits." Affinion said that while it believed its marketing material "has always incorporated clear, prominent and unambiguous terms, we are constantly evaluating our offers to consumers."

A report issued by the Senate's Commerce committee in November said the three companies have taken $1.4 billion from customers in a little more than a decade. Retailers that gave the companies a spot on their Web sites got a sizable cut of that cash, often worth millions of dollars each.

The report said managers at the companies appeared to be aware that customers were being deceived. One Webloyalty employee noted in an e-mail that "90 percent" of the people getting billed "don't know anything about the membership."

Each company also has call centers staffed by workers whose primary job is to process membership cancellations.

Some companies appear to be sticking with the clubs, despite complaints. said in a statement that it had improved its sign-up process with Webloyalty in a way that will ensure consumers know they are consenting to membership in a paid club.

(This version CORRECTS company to, not

(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Kucinich Plan to Create One Million Permanent Job Opportunities from

Kucinich Plan to Create One Million Permanent Job Opportunities | Press Release

Washington D.C. (January 25, 2010) – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) will soon introduce legislation to create one million permanent job opportunities for unemployed workers by temporarily reducing the minimum age for Social Security early retirement benefits.

"Many older workers can't wait to retire, while many younger workers desperately need work. My plan enables older workers to take early retirement, thereby freeing up those jobs for younger workers who are currently unemployed. If just 25% of eligible workers choose to retire early, we can very quickly open one million job opportunities. These are not temporary jobs, but permanent jobs that already exist in our economy, even under the current recessionary circumstances," said Kucinich.

Nearly 70 percent of workers elect to take early retirement under current rules, which allow eligible individuals to begin receiving a reduced Social Security benefit starting at age 62. The Kucinich Plan would reduce the eligibility age to 60 for the first million workers who want to take advantage of an earlier retirement date.

The cost to the federal government of the expanded early retirement option would be less than $15 billion. The plan will impose no additional costs to Social Security, since individuals electing to take Expanded Early Retirement will receive a Social Security benefit, paid for entirely by money already appropriated to deal with the financial crisis. The Kucinich Plan also addresses the health insurance of these workers by expanding the federal COBRA subsidy passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"While many workers want to retire because their jobs are physically demanding, they continue to work for financial or health reasons. For these workers, an early retirement can be a welcome relief. Decades ago the United Auto Workers negotiated with the auto companies to secure early retirement and it was considered to be an advancement of social progress. My plan is a cost-effective way to create job opportunities for younger workers while making it possible for older workers to retire with an income," said Kucinich.


For Immediate Release:

Contact: Nathan White (202)225-5871

Countrywide Fails to Add Promised Texas Jobs

Former top mortgage lender Countrywide, now owned by Bank of America, failed to bring an additional 7,500 jobs to the state of Texas as promised back in 2004.

Six years ago, the Calabasas, CA-based home loan lender received a $20 million grant after pledging to create 7,500 new jobs in the Lone Star State by 2010.

But after the unprecedented mortgage crisis, subsequent layoffs, and its merger with Bank of America, the company failed to make good on the promise.

Bank of America reportedly notified Texas Governor Rick Perry's office on December 31, 2009 that it was terminating the $20 million deal, as it was unable to meet the goal, falling more than 1,600 jobs short of target.

As a result, the company will repay $8.45 million to the state.

rest at

Obama’s speech addressed several categories of people and communities except race and ethnicity

What a long, strange year it's been.

A year that began with the loud insistence by some that Barack Obama's election confirmed the United States as an essentially colorblind, post-racial nation went on to present a series of spectacular counterpoints to that claim – flaps over Attorney General Eric Holder's "nation of cowards" race speech, Joe Wilson's shouted "you lie!" during the president's health care address, Professor Henry Louis Gates' encounter with a white police officer at his home, the Senate inquiry into Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment, and more.

And yet, while President Obama's State of the Union address sprinkled references to several categories of people and communities about whom he expressed concern, race was altogether absent from his remarks. "Small towns and rural communities" received early mention. So, too, did "those who had already known poverty," "working families," "small business owners," "first-time homebuyers," gays in the military, women (with respect to equal pay laws), and, of course, "middle-class Americans," among others. Race? Ethnicity? Nothing.

As a matter of political calculus, the silence was unremarkable and unsurprising, coming as it did from a president reluctant to publicly tread the ground of race except, at times, in the context of his personal biography. However, with respect to on-the-ground realities and the opportunity presented for social transformation, a continued failure to engage race would be devastating.

The pain of economic recession has been felt widely, but not equally. President Obama noted that 1 in 10 Americans could not find work. (The fraction would be much larger if we included those so discouraged that they have stopped looking for work and therefore are not included among the "officially" unemployed.) He didn't tell us that joblessness is much worse for African Americans (1 in 6) and for Latinos (1 in 8 ) and has worsened much faster for them than for Americans as a whole. The president referred to declining home values. He did not acknowledge that African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and women have borne the brunt of the resulting dramatic loss in wealth. He pointed out that in the 21st century "one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education." However, the president neglected to mention that young Latino adults earn bachelor's degrees at one-third the rate of their white peers, and that African Americans earn degrees at only half the rates of whites.

Of course, had President Obama provided such facts about the racially disparate impact of our economic crisis, it would have been crucial that he also offer informed insights into the underlying dynamic.  He could have referred to overwhelming evidence about the presence and behavioral effects of cognitive biases unknowingly harbored even by many of us who mean better, bias typically directed against people of color. He could have noted that women and people of color receive risky subprime housing loans much more often than similarly qualified white men do. The president could have educated the American people about the many young African Americans and Latinos who live isolated from decent opportunities in neighborhoods that provide access only to underfunded, low-performing schools, unsafe streets, a limited number of unpromising jobs even in "good" times, and inadequate public transportation. He might have explained that such structural, institutional, and attitudinal barriers render those subject to them especially vulnerable to the ravages of crisis, economic and otherwise.

The same conditions that foster vulnerability for some often undermine the effectiveness of policy and program interventions ostensibly meant to support us all. The president deserves credit for the role played by his administration's stimulus package in mitigating the recession's harmful effects. Unfortunately, he must also accept some blame for the fact that the recovery so far has helped least those who need help most. For example, only a small fraction of the $39 billion in direct federal contracts awarded in 2009 went to small businesses owned by women, Latinos or African Americans. (State and local governments distributed four in five stimulus dollars, but those dollars are very difficult to track.) Similarly, the Associated Press reported in May 2009 that "altogether, the government is set to spend 50 percent more per person in areas with the lowest unemployment than it will in communities with the highest."

Economic recovery can serve all Americans fairly and effectively, or it can create and perpetuate unfairness and inequality based on race, gender, place or other dimensions of identity. Current and future recovery efforts not only must jump-start the economy in the short-term, but also invest in lasting opportunity for all. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast in 2005, many residents defined a successful rebuilding not in terms of what had existed before, but instead with reference to the much-improved community that could yet be. We have a similar opportunity, this time on a national scale. To invoke a Gulf Coast refrain, we must "build back better," narrowing the equity gap and promoting greater opportunity for all our people. If we are to take full advantage of that opportunity, however, "race" must become a more persistent and forceful element of our policy and programmatic vocabulary. Institute Editorial written by Deputy Director Andrew Grant-Thomas

Our goal is to revolutionize thought, communication and activism related to race and equality. Race-Talk has recruited more than 30 extraordinary authors, advocates, social justice leaders, journalists and researchers who graciously volunteered their expertise, their passion and time to deliberately discuss race, gender and equity issues in the US and globally. We intend to be a viable resource and a public forum to facilitate thoughtful but critical discussion on issues of race, ethnicity, social hierarchy, marginalized populations, democratic principles, and social justice. A range of perspectives on these and related issues is not only welcome, but necessary to achieving the desired kind of learning and exchange. Our topics range from education, politics, racial equity and pop culture. The Race-Talk is managed and moderated by the staff at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and is open to all respectful participants. The opinions posted here do not necessarily represent the views of the Kirwan Institute or the Ohio State University.

The Single Biggest Thing We Can Do To Reform Food - break up agriculture corporations that violate our nation’s antitrust laws.

When it comes to problems with our food system, we've got a chicken and egg problem on our hands. Enormous corporations sell most of our food and they use environmentally harmful methods to produce it and put unhealthy ingredients in it – much of which is legal (and sometimes when something is illegal, the law isn't enforced). The obvious solution would be changing the law, except these same corporations lobby politicians NOT to change the law (and too often, the politicians obey the lobbists).

Currently, Congress has a few bills that would ban BPA – a harmful chemical found in can linings and some types of plastic – but a powerful BPA lobby that includes aluminum can makers, soda companies, and other food companies has thus far succeeded in keeping any of those bills from passing. Then there's the climate change bill, which specifically excluded agriculture from emissions caps even though agriculture is responsible for quite a bit of greenhouse gas emissions. And there's the upcoming child nutrition reauthorization, which governs school lunch and other federal nutrition programs. Every single food industry wants to make sure that their products are allowed to be sold in schools, so their lobbyists are working on that. And, of course, there's the commonsense Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which simply says that you cannot drug livestock with classes of antibiotics important in human medicine if the animal is not sick. Sick animals would still get the care they need. The goal is to avoid creating antibiotic resistant bacteria, a problem that is already documented in livestock operations in the U.S. The bill was introduced by Louise Slaughter, a microbiologist, yet the livestock industry is lobbying hard against it and so far they are winning.

So – if we have bad food because our laws are too lax, but we can't get better laws because food companies lobby the government, what can we do? I believe that the single biggest thing we can do right now is to try to break up agriculture corporations that violate our nation's antitrust laws. We need fair competition, and that's something we don't currently have. Farm Aid recently posted a graph of consolidation in a number of agricultural industries and that says it all. In each industry within food and agriculture, only a few companies control most of the market. And, quite often, they also have a considerable amount of influence over the government as well.

Fortunately, Obama's antitrust czar, Christine Varney, stated in her confirmation hearings that she would look into anticompetitive behavior in agriculture, and she's keeping her promise. The Department of Justice recently began an investigation of Monsanto and filed a suit against dairy giant Dean Foods.

Monsanto's in trouble over its soybeans. The issue is a particularly disturbing one because it involves not just the buying and selling of seeds but ownership and patenting of life itself. Seed companies don't just own seeds – they own traits (and the DNA that governs those traits). Monsanto licenses other companies to sell seeds made with traits they own. Over the years, they've written licensing agreements in a way that makes it very hard for their competitors to compete with them. Either they were shrewd businessmen or they were breaking the law – that's what the DOJ is trying to find out. (Find more information on this here.)

The suit against Dean Foods seeks to undo their acquisition of two companies, but it won't be enough to fix the dairy industry. This past year, dairy farmers suffered the hardest times since the Great Depression. Farmers received prices as low as $10 or $11 per hundred pounds of milk even though it cost them about $18 to produce it. They lost money with each gallon of milk they sold, and many dairy farmers lost their farms altogether. Prices are beginning to go up, but the dairy farmers I know have felt for a long time that a few powerful players in the industry have been manipulating prices. They went to the Senate about this a few years ago and several Senators asked the Government Accountability Office to begin an investigation, which it did. Then the investigation got a little too close to friends of Bush, and the investigation was called off altogether.

The two actions taken by the Dept of Justice are necessary but they are a drop in the bucket. Fortunately, the Department of Justice has been accepting comments about antitrust issues in agriculture (the deadline was a month ago) and they are holding a series of public workshops on the topic as well. I look forward to these workshops, and I hope that the DOJ continues and expands its action to promote fair competition in food and agriculture.

Jill Richardson got involved in food policy activism after working for several years in health care and observing the high rate of diet-related chronic illness among the American patient population. She blogs at La Vida Locavore and her first book is Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do To Fix It

State Of The Union: Climate Change Takes A Back Seat


By Pablo Paster, TreeHugger
Posted on January 28, 2010, Printed on January 28, 2010

President Obama's first State of the Union speech highlighted many of our current challenges, but focused primarily on jobs, the economy and health care. Notably absent were visionary plans to tackle climate change in a meaningful way. Has climate change been drowned by the rising seas of economic concerns? melted by debates over health care?

The President spoke about a new jobs bill, tax credits, the health care debate, the bailout bill, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When it came to the climate change, his comments were limited to the Clean Energy and Climate Bill.
Sadly, some of his proposed initiatives include such un-TreeHugger strategies as:

  • "Safe, clean," nuclear power plants (at least he pronounced it properly)
  • Opening off-shore areas for oil and gas development
  • Investment in clean coal technologies

Facing grumbles from the Right, he said that even if you doubt the "overwhelming scientific evidence" for climate change "providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy, and America must be that nation."

The failure of the Copenhagen Conference and changing public sentiment may be behind the absence of a meaningful climate change vision in President Obama's speech. Startling new surveys are showing that public concern over climate change is on the decline in America. The percentage of Americans who think global warming is happening has fallen to 57% and only 47% of Americans think that human activity is responsible for climate change.

Whether this change in opinion is influenced by misleading statements by some public figures and the news media or if it is simply the result of a change in priorities due to microeconomic worries does not matter. Climate change may not be "convenient" politically, but meaningful action was needed years ago in order to prevent some of the impacts that we are facing today and scientists now predict we are destined to face. The Clean Energy and Climate Bill, if passed, will be too little, too late. On the other hand it would be a small victory in the right direction, to build upon when the political consensus and will to act returns.

Hopefully when President Obama returns to the joint chambers of the US Congress next year he will have a bold vision to guide us to a more sustainable future.

Pablo Päster is a Greenhouse Gas and Sustainability Engineer. Pablo has a Manufacturing Engineering degree from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, and an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He advises major corporations on greenhouse gas measurement and management.

© 2010 TreeHugger All rights reserved.
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Under Obama in Afghanistan, US Conducts Night Raids, Runs Hidden Detention Centers


By Anand Gopal,
Posted on January 28, 2010, Printed on January 28, 2010

[The research for this story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.]

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished.  He had last been seen in the town's bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost's dust-doused streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaar-goers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat, handwritten note on Red Cross stationary to the family.  In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. U.S. forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn't know when he would be freed.

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan's rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families. 

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

One Dark Night in November

It was the 19th of November 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country's south. A team of U.S. soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family's one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin.  He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they -- both children -- refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates, and forced open closets. Finally, they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. He had spent time in Kuwait, and the Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of al-Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin of his to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, U.S. forces released Rahman's cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.

"We've called his phone, but it doesn't answer," says his cousin Qarar, the spokesman for the agriculture minister. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor, and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar's family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were "enemy militants [that] demonstrated hostile intent."  

Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. "Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government," Qarar says. "Rahman couldn't even leave the city because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him."

Beyond the question of Rahman's guilt or innocence, however, it's how he was taken that has left such a residue of hate and anger among his family. "Did they have to kill my cousins? Did they have to destroy our house?" Qarar asks. "They knew where Rahman worked. Couldn't they have at least tried to come with a warrant in the daytime? We would have forced Rahman to comply."

"I used to go on TV and argue that people should support this government and the foreigners," he adds. "But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so? I don't care if I get fired for saying it, but that's the truth."

The Dogs of War

Night raids are only the first step in the American detention process in Afghanistan. Suspects are usually sent to one among a series of prisons on U.S. military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogation.

In the early years of the war, these were but way stations for those en route to Bagram prison, a facility with a notorious reputation for abusive behavior. As a spotlight of international attention fell on Bagram in recent years, wardens there cleaned up their act and the mistreatment of prisoners began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites.

Of the 24 former detainees interviewed for this story, 17 claim to have been abused at or en route to these sites. Doctors, government officials, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, a body tasked with investigating abuse claims, corroborate 12 of these claims.

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan, who used to be a police officer in Gardez, a mud-caked town in the eastern part of the country. According to Sher Khan, U.S. forces detained him in a night raid in 2003 and brought him to a Field Detention Site at a nearby U.S. base.  "They interrogated me the whole night," he recalls, "but I had nothing to tell them." Sher Khan worked for a police commander whom U.S. forces had detained on suspicion of having ties to the insurgency. He had occasionally acted as a driver for this commander, which made him suspicious in American eyes.

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut, and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. "They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed."  They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. "Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me." he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, and other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent on to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from U.S. authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.

An investigation of Sher Khan's case by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and an independent doctor found that he had wounds consistent with the abusive treatment he alleges. U.S. forces have declined to comment on the specifics of his case, but a spokesman said that some soldiers involved in detentions in this part of the country had been given unspecified "administrative punishments." He added that "all detainees are treated humanely," except for isolated cases.

The Disappeared

Some of those taken to the Field Detention Sites never make it to Bagram, but instead are simply released after authorities deem them to be innocuous. Even then, some allege abuse. Such was the case with Hajji Ehsanullah, snatched one winter night in 2008 from his home in the southern province of Zabul. He was taken to a detention site in Khost Province, some 200 miles away. He returned home 13 days later, his skin scarred by dog bites and with memory difficulties that, according to his doctor, resulted from a blow to the head. U.S. forces had dropped him off at a gas station in Khost after three days of interrogation.  It took him ten more days to find his way home.

Others taken to these sites never end up in Bagram for an entirely different reason. In the hardscrabble villages of the Pashtun south, where rumors grow more abundantly than the most bountiful crop, locals whisper tales of people who were captured and executed. Most have no evidence. But occasionally, a body turns up. Such was the case at a detention site on an American military base in Helmand province, where in 2003 a U.S. military coroner wrote in the autopsy report of a detainee who died in U.S. custody (later made available through the Freedom of Information Act): "Death caused by the multiple blunt force injuries to the lower torso and legs complicated by rhabdomyolysis (release of toxic byproducts into the system due to destruction of muscle). Manner of death is homicide."

In the dust-swept province of Khost one day this past December, U.S. forces launched a night raid on the village of Motai, killing six people and capturing nine, according to nearly a dozen local government authorities and witnesses. Two days later, the bodies of two of those detained -- plastic cuffs binding their hands -- were found more than a mile from the largest U.S. base in the area. A U.S. military spokesman denies any involvement in the deaths and declines to comment on the details of the raid. Local Afghan officials and tribal elders, however, steadfastly maintain that the two were killed while in U.S. custody. American authorities released four other villagers in subsequent days. The fate of the three remaining captives is unknown.

The matter might be cleared up if the U.S. military were less secretive about its detention process. But secrecy has been the order of the day. The nine Field Detention Sites are enveloped in a blanket of official secrecy, but at least the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations are aware of them. There may, however, be others whose existences on the scores of military bases that dot the country have not been disclosed. One example, according to former detainees, is the detention facility at Rish Khor, an Afghan army base that sits atop a mountain overlooking the capital, Kabul.

One night last year, U.S. forces raided Zaiwalat, a tiny village that fits snugly into the mountains of Wardak Province, a few dozen miles west of Kabul, and netted nine locals. They brought the captives to Rish Khor and interrogated them for three days. "They kept us in a container," recalls Rehmatullah Muhammad, one of the nine. "It was made of steel. We were handcuffed for three days continuously. We barely slept those days." The plain-clothed interrogators accused Rehmatullah and the others of giving food and shelter to the Taliban. The suspects were then sent on to Bagram and released after four months.  (A number of former detainees said they were interrogated by plainclothed officials, but they did not know if these officials belonged to the military, the CIA, or private contractors.)

Afghan human rights campaigners worry that U.S. forces may be using secret detention sites like Rish Khor to carry out interrogations away from prying eyes. The U.S. military, however, denies even having knowledge of the facility.

The Black Jail

Much less secret is the final stop for most captives: the Bagram Internment Facility. These days ominously dubbed "Obama's Guantanamo," Bagram nonetheless offers the best conditions for captives during the entire detention process.

Its modern life as a prison began in 2002, when small numbers of detainees from throughout Asia were incarcerated there on the first leg of an odyssey that would eventually bring them to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In the years since, however, it has become the main destination for those caught within Afghanistan as part of the growing war there.  By 2009, the inmate population had swelled to more than 700.  Housed in a windowless old Soviet hangar, the prison consists of two rows of serried cage-like cells bathed continuously in white light.  Guards walk along a platform that runs across the mesh-tops of the pens, an easy position from which to supervise the prisoners below.

Regular, even infamous, abuse in the style of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison marked Bagram's early years. Abdullah Mujahed, for example, was apprehended in the village of Kar Marchi in the eastern province of Paktia in 2003. Mujahed was a Tajik militia commander who had led an armed uprising against the Taliban in their waning days, but U.S. forces accused him of having ties to the insurgency.  "In Bagram, we were handcuffed, blindfolded, and had our feet chained for days," he recalls. "They didn't allow us to sleep at all for 13 days and nights." A guard would strike his legs every time he dozed off.  Daily, he could hear the screams of tortured inmates and the unmistakable sound of shackles dragging across the floor.

Then, one day, a team of soldiers dragged him to an aircraft, but refused to tell him where he was going. Eventually he landed at another prison, where the air felt thick and wet. As he walked through the row of cages, inmates began to shout, "This is Guantanamo! You are in Guantanamo!" He would learn there that he was accused of leading the Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (which in reality was led by another person who had the same name and who died in 2006). The U.S. eventually released him and returned him to Afghanistan.

Former Bagram detainees allege that they were regularly beaten, subjected to blaring music 24 hours a day, prevented from sleeping, stripped naked, and forced to assume what interrogators term "stress positions." The nadir came in late 2002 when interrogators beat two inmates to death.

The U.S. Special Forces also run a second, secret prison somewhere on Bagram Air Base that the Red Cross still does not have access to.  Used primarily for interrogations, it is so feared by prisoners that they have dubbed it the "Black Jail."

One day two years ago, U.S. forces came to get Noor Muhammad, outside of the town of Kajaki in the southern province of Helmand. Muhammad, a physician, was running a clinic that served all comers -- including the Taliban. The soldiers raided his clinic and his home, killing five people (including two patients) and detaining both his father and him. The next day, villagers found the handcuffed corpse of Muhammad's father, apparently dead from a gunshot.

The soldiers took Muhammad to the Black Jail. "It was a tiny, narrow corridor, with lots of cells on both sides and a big steel gate and bright lights. We didn't know when it was night and when it was day." He was held in a concrete, windowless room, in complete solitary confinement. Soldiers regularly dragged him by his neck, and refused him food and water. They accused him of providing medical care to the insurgents, to which he replied, "I am a doctor.  It's my duty to provide care to every human being who comes to my clinic, whether they are Taliban or from the government."

Eventually, Muhammad was released, but he has since closed his clinic and left his home village. "I am scared of the Americans and the Taliban," he says. "I'm happy my father is dead, so he doesn't have to experience this hell."

Afraid of the Dark

Unlike the Black Jail, U.S. officials have, in the last two years, moved to reform the main prison at Bagram. Torture there has stopped, and American prison officials now boast that the typical inmate gains 15 pounds while in custody. Sometime in the early months of this year, officials plan to open a dazzling new prison -- that will eventually replace Bagram -- with huge, airy cells, the latest medical equipment, and rooms for vocational training. The Bagram prison itself will be handed over to the Afghans in the coming year, although the rest of the detention process will remain in U.S. hands.

But human rights advocates say that concerns about the detention process still remain. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that inmates at Guantanamo cannot be stripped of their right to habeas corpus, but stopped short of making the same argument for Bagram.  (U.S. officials say that Bagram is in the midst of a war zone and therefore U.S. domestic civil rights legislation does not apply.) Unlike Guantanamo, inmates there do not have access to a lawyer. Most say they have no idea why they have been detained.  Inmates do now appear before a review panel every six months, which is intended to reassess their detention, but their ability to ask questions about their situation is limited. "I was only allowed to answer yes or no and not explain anything at my hearing," says Rehmatullah Muhammad.

Nonetheless, the improvement in Bagram's conditions begs the question: Can the U.S. fight a cleaner war? This is what Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal promised this summer: fewer civilian casualties, fewer of the feared house raids, and a more transparent detention process.

The American troops that operate under NATO command have begun to enforce stricter rules of engagement:  they may now officially hold detainees for only 96 hours before transferring them to the Afghan authorities or freeing them, and Afghan forces must take the lead in house searches. American soldiers, when questioned, bristle at these restrictions -- and have ways of circumventing them. "Sometimes we detain people, then, when the 96 hours are up, we transfer them to the Afghans," says one U.S. Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They rough them up a bit for us and then send them back to us for another 96 hours. This keeps going until we get what we want."

A simpler way of dancing around the rules is to call in the U.S. Special Operations Forces -- the Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and others -- which are not under NATO command and so are not bound by the stricter rules of engagement.  These elite troops are behind most of the night raids and detentions in the search for "high-value suspects." U.S. military officials say in interviews that the new restrictions have not affected the number of raids and detentions at all. The actual change, however, is more subtle: the detention process has shifted almost entirely to areas and actors that can best avoid public scrutiny: Special Operations Forces and small field prisons.

The shift signals a deeper reality of war, American soldiers say: you can't fight guerrillas without invasive raids and detentions, any more than you could fight them without bullets. Through the eyes of a U.S. soldier, Afghanistan is a scary place. The men are bearded and turbaned. They pray incessantly. In most of the country, women are barred from leaving the house. Many Afghans own a Kalashnikov. "You can't trust anyone," says Rodrigo Arias, a Marine based in the northeastern province of Kunar. "I've nearly been killed in ambushes but the villagers don't tell us anything. But they usually know something."

An officer who has worked in the Field Detention Sites says that it takes dozens of raids to turn up a useful suspect. "Sometimes you've got to bust down doors. Sometimes you've got to twist arms. You have to cast a wide net, but when you get the right person it makes all the difference." 

For Arias, it's a matter of survival. "I want to go home in one piece. If that means rounding people up, then round them up." To question this, he says, is to question whether the war itself is worth fighting. "That's not my job. The people in Washington can figure that out."

If night raids and detentions are an unavoidable part of modern counterinsurgency warfare, then so is the resentment they breed.  "We were all happy when the Americans first came. We thought they would bring peace and stability," says former detainee Rehmatullah. "But now most people in my village want them to leave." A year after Rehmatullah was released, his nephew was taken. Two months later, some other villagers were grabbed.

It has become a predictable pattern: Taliban forces ambush American convoys as they pass through the village, and then retreat into the thick fruit orchards that cover the area. The Americans then return at night to pick up suspects. In the last two years, 16 people have been taken and 10 killed in night raids in this single village of about 300, according to villagers. In the same period, they say, the insurgents killed one local and did not take anyone hostage. 

The people of this village therefore have begun to fear the night raids more than the Taliban. There are now nights when Rehmatullah's children hear the distant thrum of a helicopter and rush into his room. He consoles them, but admits he needs solace himself. "I know I should be too old for it," he says, "but this war has made me afraid of the dark."

Anand Gopal has reported in Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal.  His dispatches can be read at He is currently working on a book about the Afghan war.  This piece appears in print in the latest issue of the Nation magazine.  To catch him in an audio interview with TomDispatch's Timothy MacBain discussing how he got this story, click here

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