Saturday, May 17, 2008

Spreading Freedom across the prison at a time

May 17, 2008

U.S. Planning Big New Prison in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come.

The proposed detention center would replace the cavernous, makeshift American prison on the Bagram military base north of Kabul, which is now typically packed with about 630 prisoners, compared with the 270 held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Until now, the Bush administration had signaled that it intended to scale back American involvement in detention operations in Afghanistan. It had planned to transfer a large majority of the prisoners to Afghan custody, in an American-financed, high-security prison outside Kabul to be guarded by Afghan soldiers.

But American officials now concede that the new Afghan-run prison cannot absorb all the Afghans now detained by the United States, much less the waves of new prisoners from the escalating fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The proposal for a new American prison at Bagram underscores the daunting scope and persistence of the United States military’s detention problem, at a time when Bush administration officials continue to say they want to close down the facility at Guantánamo Bay.

Military officials have long been aware of serious problems with the existing detention center in Afghanistan, the Bagram Theater Internment Facility. After the prison was set up in early 2002, it became a primary site for screening prisoners captured in the fighting. Harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used widely, and two Afghan detainees died there in December 2002, after being repeatedly struck by American soldiers.

Conditions and treatment have improved markedly since then, but hundreds of Afghans and other men are still held in wire-mesh pens surrounded by coils of razor wire. There are only minimal areas for the prisoners to exercise, and kitchen, shower and bathroom space is also inadequate.

Faced with that, American officials said they wanted to replace the Bagram prison, a converted aircraft hangar that still holds some of the decrepit aircraft-repair machinery left by the Soviet troops who occupied the country in the 1980s. In its place the United States will build what officials described as a more modern and humane detention center that would usually accommodate about 600 detainees — or as many as 1,100 in a surge — and cost more than $60 million.

“Our existing theater internment facility is deteriorating,” said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the senior Pentagon official for detention policy, in a telephone interview. “It was renovated to do a temporary mission. There is a sense that this is the right time to build a new facility.”

American officials also acknowledged that there are serious health risks to detainees and American military personnel who work at the Bagram prison, because of their exposure to heavy metals from the aircraft-repair machinery and asbestos.

“It’s just not suitable,” another Pentagon official said. “At some point, you have to say, ‘That’s it. This place was not made to keep people there indefinitely.’ ”

That point came about six months ago. It became clear to Pentagon officials that the original plan of releasing some Afghan prisoners outright and transferring other detainees to Afghan custody would not come close to emptying the existing detention center.

Although a special Afghan court has been established to prosecute detainees formerly held at Bagram and Guantánamo, American officials have been hesitant to turn over those prisoners they consider most dangerous. In late February the head of detainee operations in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, traveled to Bagram to assess conditions there.

In Iraq, General Stone has encouraged prison officials to build ties to tribal leaders, families and communities, said a Congressional official who has been briefed on the general’s work. As a result, American officials are giving Iraqi detainees job training and engaging them in religious discussions to help prepare them to re-enter Iraqi society.

About 8,000 detainees have been released in Iraq since last September. Fewer than 1 percent of them have been returned to the prison, said Lt. Cmdr. K. C. Marshall, General Stone’s spokesman.

The new detention center at Bagram will incorporate some of the lessons learned by the United States in Iraq. Classrooms will be built for vocational training and religious discussion, and there will be more space for recreation and family visits, officials said. After years of entreaties by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States recently began to allow relatives to speak with prisoners at Bagram through video hookups.

“The driving factor behind this is to ensure that in all instances we are giving the highest standards of treatment and care,” said Ms. Hodgkinson, who has briefed Senate and House officials on the construction plans.

The Pentagon is planning to use $60 million in emergency construction funds this fiscal year to build a complex of 6 to 10 semi-permanent structures resembling Quonset huts, each the size of a football field, a Defense Department official said. The structures will have more natural light, and each will have its own recreation area. There will be a half-dozen other buildings for administration, medical care and other purposes, the official said.

The new Bagram compound is expected to be built away from the existing center of operations on the base, on the other side of a long airfield from the headquarters building that now sits almost directly adjacent to the detention center, one military official said.

It will have its own perimeter security wall, and its own perimeter security guards, a change that will increase the number of soldiers required to operate the detention center.

The military plans to request $24 million in fiscal year 2009 and $7.4 million in fiscal year 2010 to pay for educational programs, job training and other parts of what American officials call a reintegration plan. After that, the Pentagon plans to pay about $7 million a year in training and operational costs.

There has been mixed support for the project on Capitol Hill. Two prominent Senate Democrats, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, have been briefed on the new American-run prison, and have praised the decision to make conditions there more humane.

But the senators, in a May 15 letter to the deputy defense secretary, Gordon England, demanded that the Pentagon explain its long-term plans for detention in Afghanistan and consult the Afghan government on the project.

The population at Bagram began to swell after administration officials halted the flow of prisoners to Guantánamo in September 2004, a cutoff that largely remains in effect. At the same time, the population of detainees at Bagram also began to rise with the resurgence of the Taliban.

Military personnel who know both Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site, 40 miles north of Kabul, as far more spartan. Bagram prisoners have fewer privileges, less ability to contest their detention and no access to lawyers.

Some detainees have been held without charge for more than five years, officials said. As of April, about 10 juveniles were being held at Bagram, according to a recent American report to a United Nations committee.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Great Depression of the 2010s
Economics is not rocket science. Neither is power

Darryl Robert Schoon
May 6, 2008

Depressions are monetary phenomena caused by central bank issuance of excessive credit. In 1913, the newly created US central bank, the Federal Reserve, began issuing credit-based money in the US. Within ten years, the central bank flow of credit ignited the 1920s US stock market bubble; and shortly thereafter, following the collapse of the bubble in 1929, the world entered its first Great Depression in 1933.

Investment banks are the undoing of central banking. While all banks, central, commercial and investment, view credit as the opportunity to exploit society's growth and productivity, investment bank exploitation of growth and productivity exposes society to extreme risks - for investment banks use society's savings to make their volatile and speculative bets.

The speculative risks undertaken by investment banks is done by leveraging the savings of society; and, when investment bank bets are sufficiently large enough and the bets go bad - as they inevitably do as the luck of investment bankers is due more to their proximity to credit than to their ability to foresee the future - it is society that will bear the brunt of the pain in the loss of its savings.

Inevitably, investment bankers cannot resist the temptations of excessive credit and, like the buyers of teaser-rate home mortgages, they will always overreach themselves - an overreaching that will have disastrous consequences for the society whose savings they bet.

The leveraged overreaching by investment banks in the 1920s caused the Great Depression of the 1930s and their more recent overreaching in this decade, the 2000s, is about to cause another Great Depression in the next, the 2010s.

It is the proximity of investment banks to the pools of savings that allows investment banks to profit. By their access to society's savings, investment banks use society's wealth as the foundation of their highly leveraged bets in financial markets; and in so doing, they have now placed all of us in harms way.


The collapse of financial markets in the first Great Depression led to the US Congress to enact laws that would hopefully insure that such a collapse would never again happen. To that end, in 1933 the Glass-Steagall Act was passed by Congress and signed into law.

Acknowledging the role that investment banks had played in the Great Depression, the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1933 separated investment banking and commercial banking to insure that investment bank speculation would not again destabilize commercial banks as it did during the Great Depression leading to the loss of America's savings.

What bankers hath joined together let no man put asunder

However, in 1999, the US Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and America was once again vulnerable to the highly leveraged shenanigans of Wall Street. This time, however, it was not only the US but the entire world whose futures were to be bet and lost by Wall Street gamblers.

The globalization of financial markets had spread the dangers of US investment banking to banks, insurance companies, and pension funds around the world. Now, the savings of Europe and Asia as well as the US were to be impacted by the wagers of Wall Street who in the 2000s literally bet the house on the possibility that subprime CDOs were actually worth their AAA ratings.

Glass-Steagall, the law enacted in1933 to prevent another Great Depression was repealed at the behest of bankers. While it is true that at certain times the US government will act in the best interest of society, usually (and usually in the guise of so doing) the US government is the pawn of the special interests that benefit from the trough of government largesse and regulation. The repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 was therefore a reversion to the mean.

We are today in the initial stages of another collapse that will lead to another Great Depression. The safeguards put in place to prevent such from happening were not only disassembled in 1999; but, now in 2008, the US government has moved even closer to exposing its citizenry and indeed the world to the speculative carnage and folly of investment banking excess.

"As credit markets seized up, the Fed gave the 20 primary dealers in U.S. government bonds the same access to discount-window loans that had previously been reserved for banks. The central bank now auctions as much as $100 billion to lenders a month, and has cut the cost on direct loans to just a quarter-point above the overnight rate on loans between banks."

The US Federal Reserve is now underwriting, i.e. subsidizing, the commercial activities of global private investment banks. The 20 primary dealers in US government bonds include the world's largest investment banks - BNP Paribas Securities Corp. (French), Barclays Capital Inc (British), Banc of America Securities LLC (USA), UBS Securities LLC (Swiss), Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Securities LLC (German), Daiwa Securities US Inc. (Japan) etc.

In truth, these investment banks are global entities and have no actual nationality no matter what jurisdiction in which they are legally domiciled. As such, they also have no allegiance except to their own self-interests.

Why is the US government allocating public resources for the benefit of private international investment banks?

US resources are subsidizing international investment banks through the Federal Reserve Bank, a quasi private entity which was given governmental powers in 1913 (some allege in violation of the US Constitution). That a quasi private bank is bailing out private banks with public monies does make sense. What doesn't make sense is why the public allows it.

There is much discussion as to the justification and reasons for US, UK, European, and Japanese central banks bailing out private banks with public money. Issues such as moral hazard are now being raised in questioning the right and consequence of so doing.

In truth, such issues are irrelevant. Not that they are in themselves not important, but issues such as moral hazard will have no effect whatsoever on what is going to happen.

Intent is the underlying motive that explains what is about to occur. The intent of private bankers is not public stability, nor growth, nor productivity - it is the pursuit of private profit via the use of public credit and debt.

Today, most governments, especially the US and UK, are controlled by private bankers - which is why government policy continues and will continue to favor the interests of private bankers over the public good.


I am sure that in some quarters of the Catholic Church objections were raised (perhaps even on theological grounds) about the torture used by the Church during the Spanish Inquisition; just as today, there have been objections raised by some in the US in regards to the use of torture in its "war on terror".

Objections are always tolerated by those in power as long as the objections do not rise to the level of action. The objection to central bank credit and influence in our monetary affairs is therefore rhetorical. The influence of private bankers and central banking in our monetary affairs will not change until their influence has run its course - which is now about to happen.

The present epoch of central banking will perhaps be known as the period when bankers roamed the earth. Just as during the Jurassic Age, when dinosaurs roamed freely eating whatever and whomever they encountered, bankers did much the same in the present epoch that is now about to end - profiting by the productivity of society and the public and private debts incurred as a result of bankers' induced credit-based spending.

Bankers achieved their immense power during this era by exploiting flaws in human nature and systemic flaws in the economic system they constructed for their own benefit. But as with all flaws, human or economic, the consequences of so doing are exposed over time. That time has now arrived.

Money is not credit, nor is money created de jure by circulating paper coupons imprinted with a government stamp stating the coupons are now legal tender to be used in the settlement of debts.

The idea that central bank coupons/paper money, sic debt, can be used to settle another debt is astounding. That we have been led to accept it is so is even more astounding. Throughout history, every experiment with paper "money" as a settlement of debt has failed. Our experiment with paper money towards that end will be no different.

The recent correction in the price of gold and silver is just that, a correction in an otherwise direct repudiation of the on-going attempt by governments and bankers to substitute paper coupons for real money.

A paper yen, a paper euro, a paper dollar, when no longer backed and convertible to gold or silver is but a paper coupon masquerading as money - a coupon with an expiration date in invisible ink.

In truth, the bankers' real gambit is not their bet that paper money can be substituted for gold and silver or that subprime mortgages can be passed off as AAA securities. Their real gambit is that central bank issuance of debt as money and their control of governments will never be discovered by the public.


The world of credit and debt and all it has created has been made possible by bankers and their debt based system of money and central banking. Its cost, however, will be born by future generations who were not present when the debts were incurred.

Those who utter in pious simplicity those wonderful words, "our children are our future", have no idea what they have done to those very children and their future by spending today what future generations will have to earn tomorrow.

Here, in the US, an entire generation has grown up on the suspect promises of easy credit and paper money. That generation is now beginning to suspect that something is wrong, that the price of their gas, food and healthcare is rapidly rising and their dream of home ownership is a trap from which bankruptcy is increasingly their only escape.

Still, this generation has no idea of how terribly wrong it actually is and why it has happened; and their ignorance of such will give them little comfort during the Great Depression that lies directly ahead.

The chickens are coming home to roost; and they closer they come, the more they are looking like vultures.

Note: I will be speaking at Professor Antal E. Fekete's Session IV of Gold Standard University Live (GSUL) July 3-6, 2008 in Szombathely, Hungary. If you are interested in monetary matters and gold, the opportunity to hear Professor Fekete should not be missed. A perusal of Professor Fekete's topics may convince you to attend (see Fekete, in my opinion, is a giant in a time of small men.

Darryl Robert Schoon

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why

March 25, 2008

Al Hicks was standing outside an old mine in the Adirondacks, the largest bat hibernaculum, or winter resting place, in New York State.

It was broad daylight in the middle of winter, and bats flew out of the mine about one a minute. Some had fallen to the ground where they flailed around on the snow like tiny wind-broken umbrellas, using the thumbs at the top joint of their wings to gain their balance.

All would be dead by nightfall. Mr. Hicks, a mammal specialist with the state’s Environmental Conservation Department, said: “Bats don’t fly in the daytime, and bats don’t fly in the winter. Every bat you see out here is a ‘dead bat flying,’ so to speak.”

They have plenty of company. In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter.

Wildlife biologists fear a significant die-off in about 15 caves and mines in New York, as well as at sites in Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever is killing the bats leaves them unusually thin and, in some cases, dotted with a white fungus. Bat experts fear that what they call White Nose Syndrome may spell doom for several species that keep insect pests under control.

Researchers have yet to determine whether the bats are being killed by a virus, bacteria, toxin, environmental hazard, metabolic disorder or fungus. Some have been found with pneumonia, but that and the fungus are believed to be secondary symptoms.

“This is probably one of the strangest and most puzzling problems we have had with bats,” said Paul Cryan, a bat ecologist with the United States Geological Survey. “It’s really startling that we’ve not come up with a smoking gun yet.”

Merlin Tuttle, the president of Bat Conservation International, an education and research group in Austin, Tex., said: “So far as we can tell at this point, this may be the most serious threat to North American bats we’ve experienced in recorded history. “It definitely warrants immediate and careful attention.”

This month, Mr. Hicks took a team from the Environmental Conservation Department into the hibernaculum that has sheltered 200,000 bats in past years, mostly little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) and federally endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis), with the world’s second largest concentration of small-footed bats (Myotis leibii).

He asked that the mine location not be published, for fear that visitors could spread the syndrome or harm the bats or themselves.

Other visitors do not need directions. The day before, Mr. Hicks saw eight hawks circling the parking lot of another mine, waiting to kill and eat the bats that flew out.

In a dank galley of the mine, Mr. Hicks asked everyone to count how many out of 100 bats had white noses. About half the bats in one galley did. They would be dead by April, he said.

Mr. Hicks, who was the first person to begin studying the deaths, said more than 10 laboratories were trying to solve the mystery.

In January 2007, a cave explorer reported an unusual number of bats flying near the entrance of a cavern near Albany. In March and April, thousands of dead bats were found in three other mines and caves. In one case, half the dead or living bats had the fungus.

One cave had 15,584 bats in 2005, 6,735 in 2007 and an estimated 1,500 this winter. Another went from 1,329 bats in 2006 to 38 this winter. Some biologists fear that 250,000 bats could die this year.

Since September, when hibernation began, dead or dying bats have been found at 15 sites in New York. Most of them had been visited by people who had been at the original four sites last winter, leading researchers to suspect that humans could transmit the problem.

Details on the problem in neighboring states are sketchier. “In the Berkshires in Massachusetts, we are getting reports of dying/dead bats in areas where we do not have known bat hibernacula, so we may have more sites than we will ever be able to identify,” said Susi von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

In Vermont, Scott Darling, a wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Department, said: “The last tally that I have is approximately 20 sites in New York, 4 in Vermont and 2 in Massachusetts. We only have estimates of the numbers of bats in the affected sites — more or less 500,000. It is impossible for us to count the dead bats, as many have flown away from the caves and died — we have over 90 reports from citizens across Vermont — as well as many are still dying.”

People are not believed to be susceptible to the affliction. But New Jersey, New York and Vermont have advised everyone to stay out of all caverns that might have bats. Visitors to affected caves and mines are asked to decontaminate all clothing, boots, ropes and other gear, as well as the car trunks that transport them.

One affected mine is the winter home to a third of the Indiana bats between Virginia and Maine. These pink-nosed bats, two inches long and weighing a quarter-ounce, are particularly social and cluster together as tightly as 300 a square foot.

“It’s ironic, until last year most of my time was spent trying to delist it,” or take it off the endangered species list, Mr. Hicks said, after the state’s Indiana bat population grew, to 52,000 from 1,500 in the 1960s.

“It’s very scary and a little overwhelming from a biologist’s perspective,” Ms. von Oettingen said. “If we can’t contain it, we’re going to see extinctions of listed species, and some of species that are not even listed.”

Neighbors of mines and caves in the region have notified state wildlife officials of many affected sites when they have noticed bats dead in the snow, latched onto houses or even flying in a recent snowstorm.

Biologists are concerned that if the bats are being killed by something contagious either in the caves or elsewhere, it could spread rapidly, because bats can migrate hundreds of miles in any direction to their summer homes, known as maternity roosts. At those sites, females usually give birth to one pup a year, an added challenge for dropping populations.

Nursing females can eat up to half their weight in insects a day, Mr. Hicks said.

Researchers from institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center, Boston University, the New York State Health Department and even Disney’s Animal World are addressing the problem. Some are considering trying to feed underweight wild bats to help them survive the remaining weeks before spring. Some are putting temperature sensors on bats to monitor how often they wake up, and others are making thermal images of hibernating bats.

Other researchers want to know whether recently introduced pesticides, including those released to stop West Nile virus, may be contributing to the problem, either through a toxin or by greatly reducing the bat’s food source.

Dr. Thomas H. Kunz, a biology professor at Boston University, said the body composition of the bats would also be studied, partly to determine the ratio of white to brown fat. Of particular interest is the brown fat between the shoulder blades, known to assist the bats in warming up when they begin to leave deep hibernation in April.

“It appears the white nose bats do not have enough fat, either brown or white, to arouse,” Dr. Kunz said. “They’re dying in situ and do not have the ability to arouse from their deep torpor.”

His researchers’ cameras have shown that bats in the caves that do wake up when disturbed take hours longer to do so, as was the case in the Adirondack mine. He also notes that if females become too emaciated, they will not have the hormonal reactions necessary to ovulate and reproduce.

In searching for a cause of the syndrome, researchers are hampered by the lack of baseline knowledge about habits like how much bats should weigh in the fall, where they hibernate and even how many bats live in the region.

“We’re going to learn an awful lot about bats in a comprehensive way that very few animal species have been looked at,” said Dr. Elizabeth Buckles, an assistant professor at Cornell who coordinates bat research efforts. “That’s good. But it’s unfortunate it has to be under these circumstances.”

The die-offs are big enough that they may have economic effects. A study of Brazilian free-tailed bats in southwestern Texas found that their presence saved cotton farmers a sixth to an eighth of the cash value of their crops by consuming insect pests.

“Logic dictates when you are potentially losing as many as a half a million bats in this region, there are going to be ramifications for insect abundance in the coming summer,” Mr. Darling, the Vermont wildlife biologist, said.

As Mr. Hicks traveled deeper in the cave, the concentrations of bats hanging from the ceiling increased. They hung like fruit, generally so still that they appeared dead. In some tightly packed groups, just individual noses or elbows peeked through. A few bats had a wing around their nearest cavemates. Their white bellies mostly faced downhill. When they awoke, they made high squeaks, like someone sucking a tooth.

The mine floors were not covered with carcasses, Mr. Hicks said, because raccoons come in and feed on them. Raccoon scat dotted the rocks along the trail left by their footprints.

In the six hours in the cave taking samples, nose counts and photographs, Mr. Hicks said that for him trying for the perfect picture was a form of therapy. “It’s just that I know I’m never going to see these guys again,” he said. “We’re the last to see this concentration of bats in our lifetime.”