Sunday, November 1, 2015

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Video Report - Turkish police fire tear gas at protesters dissatisfied with election results

Video - U.S. - The Establishment strikes back

U.S. : The Mystery of the Vanishing Pay Raise


AMID the global economic turmoil and seesawing markets, millions of Americans have one overriding question: When will my pay increase arrive? The nation’s unemployment rate has fallen substantially since the end of the Great Recession, sliding to 5.1 percent from 10 percent in 2009, but wages haven’t accelerated upward, as many had expected.

 In fact, the labor market is a lot softer than a 5.1 percent jobless rate would indicate. For one thing, the percentage of Americans who are working has fallen considerably since the recession began. This disappearance of several million workers — as labor force dropouts they are not factored into the jobless rate — has meant continued labor market weakness, which goes far to explain why wage increases remain so elusive. End of story, many economists say.

But work force experts assert that economists ignore many other factors that help explain America’s stubborn wage stagnation. Outsourcing, offshoring and imports exert a steady downward tug on wages. Labor unions have lost considerable muscle. Many employers have embraced pay-for-performance policies that often mean nice bonuses for the few instead of across-the-board raises for the many.
Peter Cappelli, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, noted, for instance, that many retailers give managers bonuses based on whether they keep their labor budgets below a designated ceiling. “They’re punished to the extent they go over those budgets,” Professor Cappelli said. “If you’re a local manager and you’re thinking, ‘Should we bump up wages,’ it could really hit your bonus. Companies have done this in order to increase the incentive to hang tough on budgets, and it works.”
In recent years, wage increases, before factoring in inflation, have averaged about 2 percent annually. But real, after-inflation wages have remained dismayingly flat since 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even though real wages did bump up last fall when the drop in oil prices pulled down inflation. (In a minority view, the Heritage Foundation and some other conservative groups say the bureau has underestimated wage increases.)

Continue reading the main story

The Economy Is Up, but Pay Is Not

Wages have
stayed flat …
… Despite
sharply falling

Average hourly wage of all employees, in 2015 dollars
Monthly rate, seasonally adjusted

Many economists don’t expect real wages to pick up until the job market tightens further. Federal Reserve officials hoped wages would begin rising at today’s 5.1 percent, but economists are increasingly saying the rate might need to fall to 4.9 percent or lower to push wages higher (although some fear that inflation will climb if the jobless rate is that low). The only time in the past four decades when after-inflation wages bounded upward was from 1998 to 2001, when the jobless rate fell below 4.5 percent.
Even as business executives urge the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to prevent inflation, a move that might increase unemployment, Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s chairwoman, says she might want to let the jobless rate fall below 5 percent. The reason: Only then might hundreds of thousands of discouraged workers or the long-term unemployed finally find jobs.

Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive research group, voiced frustration that while wages regularly rose faster than inflation in the 1950s and ’60s, that’s no longer the case. “Why is there this assumption that wages are only going to rise faster than inflation at very low unemployment?” he asked. “Where does that come from?”
Ever since the Great Recession battered corporate revenues and profits, many companies have been far tougher in containing fixed costs, including labor expenses. “With the stock market’s wild behavior and what we’ve seen in China, companies continue to hold on to huge amounts of cash and are reluctant to increase their costs in the form of increasing wages,” said Kerry Chou, a senior practice specialist at WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association.
Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., put it another way: “There’s this pervasive norm” among employers “that labor costs must be held down at all costs because maximizing profits is the be-all and end-all.”
He added that the “atomization” of the American workplace — with the use of more temps, subcontractors, part-timers and on-call workers — had reduced companies’ costs and workers’ bargaining power. As a result of all these trends, the share of corporate income going to workers has sunk to its lowest level since 1951. The Economic Policy Institute found that the decline in labor’s share of corporate income since 2000 costs workers $535 billion annually, or $3,770 per worker.
“The labor share has declined more than you would think in light of the tightening of the labor market,” said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard labor economist. “It suggests we’re seeing a decline in worker bargaining power.”
Another important trend depressing pay is that more than ever, companies are paying top dollar to star performers — whether marketing wizards or software programmers — while skimping on paying the many workers without special skills.
Right now the labor market is good if you’re a new graduate of Harvard or Stanford in computer science or a new economics Ph.D. or if you’re coming out with a specialized skill in some health occupation,” Professor Katz said. “The upper 10 percent are probably doing O.K. in the labor market, but typical workers are still facing a lot of difficulties.” As part of this embrace of pay for performance, many companies are giving raises or one-time bonuses only to their best performers, thus helping retain and attract top talent while subtly showing the door to less stellar workers. “The higher performers are attracted to and will stay with organizations that differentiate higher performers,” said Ken Abosch, North American compensation practice leader for Aon Hewitt, a consulting firm. “Low performers are uncomfortable working in environments that emphasize higher performance so they will sort themselves out.”
In a study of 1,200 American companies, Aon Hewitt found that 25 percent overwhelmingly emphasize rewards to high performers and give far less or nothing in raises or bonuses to average or poor performers. “Those 25 percent say, ‘We’re going to give 6 percent to the top performers, 1.5 percent to average performers and we’re not going to give anything to below average,’ ” Mr. Abosch said. Just 10 percent of companies give equal raises spread across the board, Mr. Abosch said. And the remaining companies do something in between — giving somewhat higher raises to top performers and somewhat less to everybody else. Notwithstanding the overall decline in worker leverage, labor efforts like the Fight for 15 and Our Walmart have succeeded in pushing employers to lift some wages. McDonald’s has raised wages at its company-owned restaurants, and Walmart and Target will increase minimum pay to $10 an hour in February. Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles have adopted a $15 minimum wage, while Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has ordered a $15 minimum wage for New York’s fast-food workers.
Such efforts offer hope to those who are eager to lift wages for everyone. “If you increase the bargaining power of workers, they might say, ‘No, we don’t want you just to give more pay just to the top layer,’ ” said Linda Barrington, executive director of the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University. “We want you to share the rewards more evenly.”


Saudi protesters denounce death sentence against Sheikh Nimr
People have taken to the streets in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province to denounce a death sentence by the country's top court against the prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr.
The protesters marched down the streets of the town of Awamiyah in the Qatif region on Thursday, condemning the decision by the Saudi Supreme Court.
The demonstrators pledged to continue their campaign until the death verdict is overturned.
On October 25, the Saudi court upheld a death sentence issued against the cleric last year. The execution warrant will be sent to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to be approved and then carried out.
The execution of the Shia cleric can be carried out by the Interior Ministry without any prior warning if the Saudi king signs the order.
Sheikh Nimr was attacked and arrested in Qatif in July 2012, and has been charged with undermining the kingdom’s security, making anti-government speeches, and defending political prisoners. He has denied the accusations.
In a Monday letter to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al Hussein, the Islamic Human Rights Commission called for exerting pressure on Riyadh to revoke the death sentence and release the cleric immediately.
Nimr “was detained on trumped up charges of apostasy and terrorism after leading anti-government protests in the country. He has been severely tortured in detention,” the letter read.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also called on Saudi Arabia to halt Nimr’s execution.
Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Ban’s spokesmen, Stephane Dujarric, said that during a phone call, the UN chief has asked King Salman to overturn the death sentence against the Shia cleric.
Peaceful demonstrations erupted in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province in February 2011, with protesters demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to widespread discrimination against the people of the oil-rich region. Several people have been killed and many others injured or arrested during the rallies.
International rights bodies, including Amnesty International, have criticized Saudi Arabia for its grim human rights record.

Did Saudi Arabia Nuke Yemen?

Only a week after Veterans Today exposed Germany’s deal to trade submarines for Israeli nuclear weapons and the related transaction, tactical nukes for Saudi Arabia as well, Saudi Arabia may well have used one of these weapons in Yemen.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has documented nearly 50 clandestine nuclear explosions since 1945.

In lieu of soil samples and closer photographic evidence of the blast site, and based on the cover story, a “scud missile site” being used, the initial assumption that this is a nuclear explosion is not out of line, Veterns Today reported.

You see, Scud B missiles, such as those Yemen acquired with the help of the Bush family, from North Korea in 2002 use unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) as fuel:

Unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) (1,1-dimethylhydrazine) is a chemical compound with the formula H2NN(CH3)2. It is a colourless liquid, with a sharp, fishy, ammoniacal smell typical for organicamines. Samples turn yellowish on exposure to air and absorb oxygen and carbon dioxide. It mixes completely with water, ethanol, and kerosene. In concentration between 2.5% and 95% in air, its vapors are flammable. It is not sensitive to shock. Symmetrical dimethylhydrazine (CH3NHNH(CH3)) is also known but is not as useful.[3]

The initial explosion from the Saudi weapon and the billowing pristine white cloud afterward are indicative of a lie, you see Scud fuel burns yellow and brown, the vapor trails on launch unwholesome and ugly.

North Korean Scuds

2002 article by Peter Symonds

In the midst of Washington’s efforts to ratchet up its “weapons of mass destruction” rhetoric and establish a pretext for war against Iraq, a peculiar episode took place this week in the Arabian Sea.

On Monday, two Spanish warships, which form part of a US-led anti-terrorist naval task force, intercepted in international waters a North Korean freighter, the So San, heading towards the Middle East. According to Spanish and US officials, the ship, which was about 1,000km from the Horn of Africa, was unflagged, its identification markings had been painted over and it failed to stop when challenged.

The Spanish frigate Navarra fired three bursts of warning shots at the vessel. Snipers shot out cables crisscrossing the deck, enabling a helicopter to hover and land a boarding party of armed marines who seized the ship. A search uncovered 15 medium-range Scud missiles packed under bags of cement, along with conventional high explosive warheads and drums of fuel.

The Spanish were ordered directly by President George W. Bush to “stand down” and allow the delivery of the North Korean Scud missiles, brokered by Prescott Bush and Company, his uncle.
Before that happened, Vice President Cheney went to Bush, advising him to try to spin the event as a provable WMD provocation by Saddam.  However, Yemen, who had placed the order for the missiles nearly two years before, demanded delivery and the White House had to scramble to cover its lies to the press.

In any case, the Saudi’s did not hit Scud missiles.  The explosions are “primary” only with no secondaries, which at a missile facility would have been several, fueled missiles, fuel storage facilities, fuel trucks and warheads, popping off for some time, each leaving a telltale plume of nasty looking smoke as complex petrochemical tend to do.

With control of the press and easy availability of low to moderate output tactical nuclear weapons, some with obscure and nearly non-existent radiation signatures,

From a Veterans Today interview between Senior Editor, Gordon Duff and Science Editor and Nuclear Physicist and former IAEA inspector, Jeff Smith:

Gordon:  If Germany and Japan have covert nuclear weapons programs, what is the IAEA’s secret list, you know, other than Israel? What nations were sold stolen nuclear pits taken from the Pantex facility?

Jeff Smith:  Most likely there are several other countries that are involved in this nuclear conspiracy including the Ukraine, Koreas N and S, Taiwan, India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Saudi, ETC. It starts to put the context on the stolen US nuclear pits and just how big the operation was or is and why they took out Roland Carnaby in Houston. Israel is the open back door (the elephant in the room) to getting around IAEA NNP. They bribe everybody with small tactical nukes to keep them in line and vote against the Palestinians.

Gordon:  You say Israel uses tactical nukes as party favors? Who are their stooges in Washington, not just congress, but those involved directly in the theft of nuclear weapons?J
Jeff Smith:  This is why they will never sign the NNP treaty or ever allow inspection. 

Richardson’s role at DOE under Clinton is now becoming more interesting. Along with Tom Countryman’s head of NNP at State. This explains why the FBI watched him so closely.

Mushroom clouds rise in the sky in western Sanaa where the capital’s largest weapons caches are located.

Powerful explosions have rocked the Yemeni capital, shattering windows and damaging structures, as Saudi-led air strikes targeted suspected weapon caches and missiles held by Houthi fighters.
Mushroom clouds on Monday rose in the sky over Fag Atan, in western Sanaa, where the capital’s largest weapons caches are located.

The air strike was reportedly targeting a Scud missile base held by the Shia Houthi rebels in Fag Atan mountain. Nearby homes were being evacuated.

Hakim al-Masmari, the editor-in-chief of Yemen Post, told Al Jazeera that the weapons depot in Fag Atan was not hit.

“We sent reporters to the scene who confirmed that the strike missed the depot. The impact site was far away from it,” he said.

Residents of Sanaa said the explosions sent large shockwaves through the city.

“The hanging ceiling and chandelier fell because of the explosions,” resident Mohammed Mohsen told the Associated Press.In a separate development, Riad Yassin, Yemen’s foreign minister said thousands of Houthis and fighters loyal to the former president have been killed since the operation started.

Saudi Arabia and allied countries began the air campaign on March 26, hoping to roll back the Houthi fighters who seized Sanaa in September and have overrun large parts of the country.

Riyadh says air strikes will continue until President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled the country, is reinstated.

Video Report - Criticizing Erdogan is risky in Turkey - Opposition takes courage

Video - Halloween ravers clash with London riot police after illegal party shut down

Turkey - HDP says unfair election conditions, deliberate polarization behind poll result

The leaders of Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) have said that unfair election conditions and a deliberate policy of polarization by President Tayyip Erdoğan explain their drop-off in Sunday's parliamentary elections.
The HDP was forced to cancel election rallies following two deadly attacks on pro-Kurdish gatherings since July. Television stations gave party representatives little air-time amid government attacks branding the party as the political wing of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
HDP's co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş told reporters that "there wasn't a fair or equal election... We were not able to lead an election campaign. We tried to protect our people against attacks."
Co-chair Figen Yuksekdağ said he HDP would analyze in a detail a drop in its support since the last parliamentary election in June, but said the fact the party had crossed the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament was nonetheless a success.
She said the HDP has faced the most challenging circumstances during this process and recalled that 258 civilians, including 33 children, lost their lives during the last five months since the June 7 election. “Yet, today's success was achieved by those who walked against attacks,” she said.
Following the vote Sunday, small clashes broke out in Diyarbakır in the Kurdish southeast between protesters and police.

Video Report - 'Russian engagement in Syria made parties seek solutions'

Air crash a sad sign of daunting challenges Russia faces

An Airbus A321 passenger plane operated by a Russian airline crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday. None of the 224 passengers and crew on board survived. The tragedy astonished the world. It is among the worst air accidents in recent years, and public opinion immediately went into overdrive, trying to connect Russia's can of worms, from its economy to its geopolitics, to the plane crash.

The crash happened a month after Russia started its air strikes against the Islamic State, an offshoot of which in Egypt has claimed responsibility. Is it revenge against Moscow from the extremist group from the Middle East? The question cropped up soon after the accident. Both Egypt and Russia have denied that the plane was shot down by a missile, but still, the threat of terrorism, although with certain misgivings, has become the first guess from public opinion. 

More suspicions are over technical problems. There are many clues and materials in this regard that can be discussed. First of all, the airliner was an 18-year-old, second-hand plane that had been in service for several airlines in the Middle East. 

It also hit people's minds that there are still quite a few airliners from the former Soviet Union, ferrying passengers across the sky until today. The manufacturing industry of civil aerospace was once so powerful in the former Soviet Union, with the lowest rate of civil aviation accidents worldwide. Yet today, more than half of the industry is shut down. It is now the norm to purchase or rent foreign second-hand passenger planes. In addition, poor management of certain small-scale airlines in the country has also led to a sharp rise in the accident rate, which is three times the world average. 

Russia has strong military power and a firm diplomatic stance. However, it has not yet extricated itself from the sluggish economy since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Russian life today depends to a large extent on the international oil price, since the foundation of its original industry was badly damaged, while its capability to innovate is not yet revitalized. 

But no matter how hard it seems, the country is no less significant. It has a strong scientific technological base, well-developed education and a Russian population that is hard-working and dauntless.  

Russia is now facing huge challenges, including dealing with the aftermath of the accident, and ensuring the safety of its civilian flights. As its neighbor, China shows the utmost sorrow and sympathy for Russia. We hope all the airliners and passengers will be safe in the future. 

Video Report - Day of mourning in Russia: People lay toys, flowers for #7K9268 victims

Video - Debris of crashed Russian 7K9268 A321 in Sinai

An A321 passenger jet broke down in midair at high altitude - Russian air transport agency

Russian air transport agency chief Alexander Neradko said that deciphering of the plane’s flight recorders had not yet started.
Fragments of the ill-fated A321 Russian passenget jet retrieved from the crash site in northern Sinai indicate that the plane was breaking down in midair at a high altitude, Russian air transport agency chief, Alexander Neradko, said on Sunday.

"Our specialists who are taking part in the investigation along with an Egyptian commission have reached the crash site. It is a large area of more than 20 square kilometers. It is an elongated ellipse about four kilometers wide and some eight kilometers long. All indicates that the plane broke down in midair at a high altitude," he told the Rossiya-24 television channel.
He said that deciphering of the plane’s flight recorders had not yet started.
An A321 passenger jet of Russia’s Kogalymavia air carrier (flight 9268) bound to St. Petersburg crashed on October 31 some 30 minutes after the takeoff from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh. It felld down 100 kilometers south of the administrative center of North Sinai Governorate, the city of Al-Arish. The plane was carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members. There were four Ukrainian and one Belarusian nationals among the passengers. None survived.


Mission Impossible: Afghanistan

On October 15, United States President Barack Obama stepped away from his campaign pledge to remove all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan. He said that the nearly 10,000 troops that were now in the country would remain and that by the end of the year they would be reduced to half that number. During Obama’s tenure, in other words, U.S. forces would remain in Afghanistan. To be fair to Obama, he has cut the U.S. troop presence from 1,00,000 in 2010 to a mere 5,000 at the end of 2015. This is as close to a withdrawal as one might expect from the U.S.

One of the main reasons to retain a military force is that it provides the lever for the U.S. to expand its troops in Afghanistan if necessary. A total withdrawal would give it no standing to increase troop levels without new authorisations from the Afghan government. As it is, these 5,000 troops will provide the basis for an extension as and when the U.S. government wishes. Already the longest war in U.S. history, the Afghan campaign is not to end in the short term. It will extend for at least another few years. The U.S. has two main strategic goals in Afghanistan—to prevent the return of Al Qaeda and to train the Afghan National Army (ANA). Nothing more is to be expected from the U.S., neither “nation-building” nor an anti-narcotics programme. If these latter form part of the U.S. brief, they only do so marginally. Investment in infrastructure and in social welfare of the population has been minimal. What are colloquially known as the Kabul Kleptocracy and the Poppy Mafia will be untouched by the U.S. presence. In fact, they have established themselves as major players in the very government that the ANA—trained by the U.S.—is pledged to protect. How does one measure victory or defeat when an occupation force withdraws? If it leaves behind a friendly government and a vanquished enemy, then it is easy to see its occupation as a success. The U.S. occupation of Japan after the Second World War is a case in point. Japan remains a major strategic ally of the U.S. If the occupation force leaves only to find that its friendly government is weakened and its enemies return to power, then it is fair to consider the war a failure.
The United Nations now suggests that the Taliban at present fights for power in over half of the districts of Afghanistan. The seizure of Kunduz in the north-east comes alongside the failure of the ANA to secure Helmand province in the south through its Operation Zulfiqar. In both areas, north and south, the Taliban continues to be a serious force. The U.S. will withdraw its troops slowly, but nonetheless without a decisive defeat to the Taliban. In that case, the U.S. has been defeated in its Afghan war.

Two Goals
Obama’s approach in Afghanistan went in two directions —a surge in 2010 that was poised to destroy the morale of the Taliban and a drone policy that was intended to kill Al Qaeda members and affiliated terrorists as well as key Taliban leaders who provided assistance to Al Qaeda. The surge initially cleared large tracts of southern Afghanistan, but the U.S. was not able to pacify the Taliban. As U.S. troops went back to their bases, the Taliban reasserted its positions. Like phantoms its forces emerged at night, able to hold their ground among pockets of the country that support their insurgency.
Two years after the surge, General John Allen looked back at data on Taliban attacks and found that they were down by 3 per cent. This was not “statistically significant”, he admitted. What was the Taliban doing just as the surge ended? Its most active operations were in Panjwai and Zhare in Kandahar and Nad Ali in Helmand. Nad Ali sits beside Marja, where the U.S. troops had begun their surge in 2010, and it is where, this year, the Taliban has made regular attacks at the ANA posts. The long-term effects of the surge have been minimal. Operation Zulfiqar conducted by the ANA in northern Helmand this year also failed to meet its objectives. This means that the first goal of the U.S. mission—to defeat the Taliban and to train the ANA to continue the fight against the Taliban—has not been reached.
The second goal—to vanquish Al Qaeda and its allies —seemed to have been met early in the 2001 bombing campaign. Al Qaeda members either were killed and captured or they fled to their countries of origin. The network appeared broken, with Osama bin Laden on the run and operational ties with its terrorists totally frayed. An intelligence analyst from one of the U.S.’ 17 agencies told me in 2004 that one of the outcomes of the heavy bombardment of Afghanistan was that it would scatter Al Qaeda members around the world. “If you smash the thermometer,” he said, “the mercury will spread everywhere.”
This is precisely what happened as Al Qaeda members got scattered over an extensive geographical range from the Philippines in east Asia to Libya in northern Africa. They brought mayhem to their home countries, particularly in Libya after 2011. Even within the region, Al Qaeda was not easy to defeat. Its members headed to northern Pakistan, where they got involved in local conflicts. The black flag of Al Qaeda could be regularly spotted in small hamlets in northern Waziristan. The Obama administration built on the George Bush administration’s drone programme as the hammer to beat down the mercury. Between 2011 and 2013, the U.S. conducted Operation Haymaker to take out the main Al Qaeda and associated terrorists in northern Pakistan and in southern Afghanistan. According to documents leaked to The Intercept, this programme killed few real targets and produced more bitterness and anger. Firstly, about nine of every 10 people killed in these strikes were not the intended targets. This was perhaps through poor intelligence. The source that leaked these documents explained that the U.S. designated “military age males” (MAMs) as reasonable targets and designated those hit as “enemy killed in action” (EKIA). Ryan Devereaux, who wrote one of the stories for The Intercept, said that the targets that did get hit in most cases were neither Taliban nor Al Qaeda “but also local forces with no international terrorism ambitions, groups that took up arms against the U.S. after American air strikes brought the war to their doorsteps”. In other words, according to the U.S. government’s own assessment, the drone wars had no positive strategic effect. In fact, they had the opposite—producing the conditions for the creation of more insurgents.

Kunduz hospital bombing

The prestige of the U.S. fell further with the targeted bombing of a charity hospital in Kunduz during the fightback against the Taliban. The hospital, run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, was hit over a considerable period. The U.S. admitted that it had hit the hospital knowing it was a hospital. That this is itself a war crime did not appear to bother the Pentagon officials, who seem oblivious to considerations of international law. MSF called for an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (established by the Geneva Conventions), but this was not to be. A U.S. tank lumbered into the destroyed hospital, essentially contaminating the evidence that should have been studied by a forensic team. The U.S. military later said that the tank contained its investigators. A U.S. State Department analyst, on condition of anonymity, said that this claim was specious. There is no unanimity in the administration on how to handle the bombing in Kunduz. It will wait until the next leak to The Intercept to establish the chatter inside the Pentagon and the White House over this bombing. Obama’s team believes that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq allowed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to emerge as a serious threat to the region. If the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, the view goes, not only the Taliban but also the ISIS will emerge as a serious contender in the country. Obama does not want to preside over that fiasco. It is far better to settle in for an endless war than have to declare defeat.

Cashing In on the Decision to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan


Why Obama dropping his promise to end America's longest war is going to give contractors billions of dollars.
 In August, the nation’s top military officer came to President Barack Obama and bluntly asked him to break a promise to bring the last American troops home from Afghanistan by the time the president left office.
Obama had been repeating the vow for years, but Gen. Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States needed to keep at least 5,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 to ensure that the Islamic State didn’t take root there and to prevent al Qaeda from moving back into the country. In July, the Pentagon discovered that the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks had been running a pair of large training camps in southern Afghanistan, including one that covered nearly 30 square miles. 
The president, anxious to prevent Afghanistan from turning into another Iraq, told Dempsey that he was willing to consider the troop request. First, though, he wanted the general to tell him the “no kidding” cost of keeping U.S. forces there — including what the Pentagon would pay the thousands of contractors needed to house, feed, and support U.S. military personnel. Wisened after years of overseeing two wars, Obama didn’t want to let the additional cost of contractors escape him, particularly since the military rarely includes it in its proposals. The exchange was first reported by theWashington Post. The White House declined to comment on the president’s decision-making.
That Obama even factored “in contracting costs marks an evolution in the way leaders think,” said Sean McFate, a professor at the National Defense University and the author of The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. “Just 10 to 15 years ago, contracting costs came as an afterthought,” he said. “Now they are part of strategic planning. This makes sense, since the majority of ground personnel are contracted.”
This is certainly true in Afghanistan, where there are 30,000 contractors working for the Defense Department, according to the latest Pentagon tally. Of these, roughly 10,000 are U.S. citizens. The rest are local or third-country nationals from states like Nepal. The Pentagon figures don’t include the thousands of other contractors working for the State Department, USAID, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
That means Obama’s decision to extend America’s longest war won’t just keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan longer than had been expected; it will also keep thousands of contractors there, ensuring that the gold rush sparked by the 2001 invasion continues for the next several years.
That’s good news for companies like Fluor Corp. and DynCorp International, which have been providing U.S. troops with things like electricity and laundry services on their Afghan bases for years. They and the other contractors working for the military stand to earn billions of dollars per year.
It also means the U.S. government is going to have to continue to provide close scrutiny of their work, as major contractors have been accused of overbilling the government, failing to deliver what they promised, abusing their labor force, and, in some cases, committing outright fraud.
But contractor wrongdoing will be even harder to detect in the years ahead because the ongoing military drawdown will make it extremely difficult for government auditors to travel the country and check on specific projects. U.S. civilian personnel conducting contractor oversight only have access to about 10 percent of the country today, according to an official in the Office ofthe Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.
“With the drawdown of [coalition] forces in Afghanistan, the ability of U.S. government personnel to go out and kick the tires in order to provide proper oversight is limited,” said John Sopko, the current head of SIGAR, in a statement to Foreign Policy. “With less of the country accessible, it means the American taxpayer is footing the bill for billions of dollars in projects that a U.S. government employee may never see.”
While Obama may have gotten a clearer picture of the costs of an extended mission in Afghanistan, the American public did not. There was no mention of how much money it would cost to delay the drawdown when Obama finally announced in early October that he had decided to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of next year before reducing that footprint to 5,500 for 2017 and beyond. (Under Obama’s original 2014 proposal, only 1,000 troops, all based in Kabul, were scheduled to stay in the country beyond 2016.)
But Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has come up with a good back-of-the-envelope way of estimating the cost of operations in Afghanistan based on funding trends from 2005 to 2013.
When analyzing the data over that time period, Harrison discovered a linear relationship where the total annual cost of operations in Afghanistan equals the number of troops deployed multiplied by $1.3 million — the cost per year of keeping each soldier or Marine in the field — plus $6 billion in fixed costs that don’t vary with the size of the force.
This means the additional cost of keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan in fiscal year 2017 is about $13 billion. That would come on top of the money Washington would be spending on American reconstruction projects and to pay for the Afghan security forces.
“So all in [all], it would probably end up being about $20 billion,” Harrison said. A large portion of that would go to contractors who are involved in everything from maintaining weapons for Afghan forces to building new infrastructure projects across the country.
That doesn’t mean that’s the number you’ll see the Obama administration requesting for its war budget though, Harrison noted.
In recent years, the White House has used its war spending bill — also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, fund — to finance the purchases of $20 billion to $25 billion worth of weapons and other programs that really belong in its base budget. That has allowed it to effectively hide the true cost of some of its procurement efforts. But, Harrison noted, it means the “OCO budget is no longer a good indication of actual war costs.”
As for contractors, the number in Afghanistan has been steadily falling from its peak of 117,000 in 2012, as the number of U.S. troops on the ground shrinks. There were 15,000 more contractors working for the Defense Department in the country last October than there are today.
But with Obama’s announcement, that steady reduction will come to a halt, especially among the major contractors who directly support U.S. troops by providing them meals, doing their laundry, and keeping the lights on at the bases in Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Bagram. In Afghanistan, the big players are DynCorp International, based in McLean, Virginia, and Fluor Corp., based in Irving, Texas.
The hundreds of millions of dollars these contractors stand to gain because of the delayed withdrawal in Afghanistan mirrors the lucrative deals the Pentagon has signed with the companies charged with supporting the expanding American troop presence in Iraq. There, contractors like SOS International are winning bids to provide everything from meals to perimeter security at Iraq’s Besmaya Compound and Camp Taji.
The contractors stand to pocket even more in Afghanistan because more U.S. troops are deployed there and the reconstruction effort is ongoing. In early October, DynCorp won a $154 million one-year contract modification to continue providing support to American troops in Afghanistan. According to the company, the contract covers everything from providing the bases withelectrical power to sewage and waste management and even food and laundry services.
DynCorp’s original contract for base support in Afghanistan had been awarded in 2009 and has earned the company more than $6 billion.
The State Department has also relied heavily on the company to perform work in war zones, especially in Afghanistan. Of the $4 billion the State Department spent on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013, DynCorp won 69 percent, or $2.8 billion, according to an April 2014 SIGAR report.
But DynCorp is not without controversy. It has been charged with overbilling the government millions of dollars. SIGAR is also investigating the company, along with Fluor, in connection to reports of human trafficking in Afghanistan. The inspector general has collected evidence that shows that third-country nationals from India, Nepal, and elsewhere have been enticed by labor recruiters to pay improper “recruitment fees” and “kickback payments” to obtain their jobs working for these companies on U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
In a statement to FP, DynCorp said it has put policies and procedures in place to educate employees about and prevent human trafficking.
“The company has developed a strict code of ethics and business conduct, which includes a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking; created a position of chief compliance officer; introduced global training programs; and has taken a number of additional steps to ensure a compliant, ethical, [and] successful workplace,” a spokeswoman for the company said.
Fluor said it also strictly adheres to a policy of zero tolerance for human trafficking.
“We take any alleged violation of that policy very seriously,” a Fluor spokeswoman told FP.
Fluor said it promptly responded to a request for information from SIGAR in July 2014 and has not heard from the inspector general’s office since.
The company will “proudly continue” to support U.S. and coalition forces “in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world as directed and for as long as there are requirements,” the spokeswoman told FP.
KBR, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, used to play a much bigger role in Afghanistan, but after years of winning contracts without having to compete for them and facing charges of fraud and overbilling — not to mention failingto protect soldiers from harmful chemicals in Iraq — the Pentagon decided to change things up and let other companies compete for the business.
While KBR is not providing base support to American soldiers in Afghanistan, it still is working on American military contracts in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and other countries.
The Supreme Group, headquartered in Dubai, has also seen its business in Afghanistan dry up. It used to feed up to 130,000 troops a day in Afghanistan, raking in a total of $6.8 billion, but lost its multi billion-dollar contract in 2012 to one of its competitors, Dubai-based Anham FZCO.
Then, in December 2014, executives from the Supreme Group pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States, admitting it had overcharged the government hundreds of millions of dollars for food and water. It agreed to pay $389 million in fines and damages.
In a more staggering case of Washington’s quid pro quo economy, retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail was hired in 2008 as president of Supreme Group’s U.S. branch, aftergiving the company the New Contractor of the Year award in 2007 when he was serving as head of the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversaw the company’s contract in Afghanistan.
The Supreme Group has continued to provide fuel to U.S. and NATO forces, even after it lost its giant food contract. British military police are now investigating claims that the company may have overcharged as much as $700 million in fuel contracts, the Guardian reported last month.
Meanwhile, Anham’s contract is valued at $8 billion. In 2013, the company admitted to the U.S. Commerce and Treasury Departments that it had shipped some of its supplies through Iran because the main route through Pakistan had been closed.
These are just some examples of why close scrutiny of overseas contractors is needed, but SIGAR warns that oversight in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly restricted because of security reasons.
American civilians are only allowed access to areas in Afghanistan within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility. Because of this, U.S. government officials — from the Pentagon, the State Department, and USAID — cannot visit reconstruction projects that altogether total more than $725 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars.