Showing posts with label "Hope and Change". Show all posts
Showing posts with label "Hope and Change". Show all posts

December 02, 2009

Obama Approval on Afghanistan at 35%

By Jeffrey M. Jones - December 1, 2009

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are far less approving of President Obama's handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.

2009 Trend: Do You Approve or Disapprove of the Way Barack Obama Is Handling the Situation in Afghanistan?

Full article

December 01, 2009

Obama's exceedingly familiar justifications for escalation

December 1, 2009

In order to prepare Americans for Obama's Afghanistan escalation speech tonight at West Point (at least he's not wearing a fighter pilot costume), White House officials have been dispatched to speak to the media (anonymously, of course) to preview all of the new and exciting aspects of the President's plan. As a result, media accounts are filled with claims that there are major changes ordered by Obama that will transform our approach there.

But to anyone with a memory that extends back for more than a few weeks, all of this seems anything but new. In December, 2007, George Bush delivered a speech to the nation announcing his escalation in Iraq -- that one only 20,000 troops, compared to the 30,000-40,000 Obama has ordered for Afghanistan. It's worthwhile to compare what Obama officials are excitedly featuring as new and innovative ideas with what Bush said; I'm not comparing the Iraq and Afghan escalations: only the rhetoric used to justify them.

ABC News: "While tomorrow night's speech will have many audiences ... a senior administration official tells ABC News one key message will resonate with all of them: 'The era of the blank check for President Karzai is over. . . The president will talk about, this not being 'an open ended commitment'..." Bush:

I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act.

The Afghan leader has heard our ultimatum and understands it ("The president was described as heartened to hear that Karzai spent much of his inaugural address discussing corruption"). Bush:

The Prime Minister understands this. Here is what he told his people just last week: "The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of their sectarian or political affiliation."

The Afghan government will have strict benchmarks they must meet (Gibbs: "the new strategy will include many of the same benchmarks, but with ramifications to US support to Karzai and his government if they are not met"). Bush:

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

We're going to ensure that Afghan troops are trained to provide the security which the country needs (Gibbs: "the goal and the purpose of the strategy is to train an Afghan national security force, comprised of an Afghan national army and a police that can fight an unpopular insurgency in Afghanistan so that we can then transfer that security responsibility appropriately back to the Afghans"). Bush:

Our troops will have a well-defined mission: To help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs. . . . We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army -- and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq.

We're going to have a strategy based on funding and strengthening local leaders ("much of it will be targeted at local governments at the province and district level, and at specific ministries, such as those devoted to Afghan security"). Bush:

We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance. We will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams. These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self reliance.

If we don't escalate, Al Qaeda will get us ("The focus of the new strategy, sources say, will be going after al Qaeda and affiliated extremists"). Bush:

As we make these changes, we will continue to pursue al Qaeda and foreign fighters. Al Qaeda is still active in Iraq. Its home base is Anbar Province. Al Qaeda has helped make Anbar the most violent area of Iraq outside the capital. A captured al Qaeda document describes the terrorists' plan to infiltrate and seize control of the province. This would bring al Qaeda closer to its goals of taking down Iraq's democracy, building a radical Islamic empire and launching new attacks on the United States at home and abroad.

We must fulfill our moral responsibility to stand with the Afghan people. Bush:

From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. And they are looking at Iraq. They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists -- or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?

Obama's decision came only after serious and careful deliberations on all the competing options (ABC: "The decision comes after months of discussions and deliberations with the president's national security team"). Bush:

Our new approach comes after consultations with Congress about the different courses we could take in Iraq. Many are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States -- and therefore, our policy should focus on protecting Iraq's borders and hunting down al Qaeda. Their solution is to scale back America's efforts in Baghdad or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces. We carefully considered these proposals. And we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale. Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.

To keep the asthetics the same, we even have Michael O'Hanlon leading the way, as always, providing the Serious Expertise to justify further war.

This is all to be expected. Ostensible justifications for war are more or less universal, as is the familiar mix of fear, claims of moral necessity (and superiority), and appeals to patriotism and military love that are always hauled out to justify their continuation and escalation. Beyond that, Bush's escalation was based on many of the same counter-insurgency dogmas in which Obama's escalation is grounded, designed by many of the same people. So it's anything but surprising that it all sounds remarkably similar. And it's possible that once we hear the actual speech, rather than the White House's coordinated depiction of it, that there will be new elements.

Still, this pretense that Obama spent months carefully deliberating in order to devise some new and exotic thought pattern about the war seems absurd on its face. At least if his top aides are to believed, what he intends to say tonight should sound extremely familiar.

* * * * *

In The Guardian yesterday, the courageous Malalai Joya -- who might actually deserve the Nobel Peace Prize -- explains why escalation and ongoing occupation are so devastating for her country.

And on that note: Obama is scheduled to receive his Nobel Peace Prize next week in Oslo. No matter your views on Afghanistan, and no matter your views on whether he deserved the Prize, is there anyone who disputes that there is some obvious tension between his escalating this war and his receiving this Prize? Unless one believes that War is Peace, how could there not be?

UPDATE: The most bizarre defense of Obama's escalation is also one of the most common: since he promised during the campaign to escalate in Afghanistan, it's unfair to criticize him for it now -- as though policies which are advocated during a campaign are subsequently immunized from criticism. For those invoking this defense: in 2004, Bush ran for re-election by vowing to prosecute the war in Iraq, keep Guantanamo opened, and privatize Social Security. When he won and then did those things (or tried to), did you refrain from criticizing those policies on the ground that he promised to do them during the campaign? I highly doubt it.

November 30, 2009

U.S.: Release of secret reports delayed

By Bryan Bender
November 30, 2009

President Obama will maintain a lid of secrecy on millions of pages of military and intelligence documents that were scheduled to be declassified by the end of the year, according to administration officials.

The missed deadline spells trouble for the White House’s promises to introduce an era of government openness, say advocates, who believe that releasing historical information enforces a key check on government behavior. They cite as an example the abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War, including domestic spying and assassinations of foreign officials, that were publicly outlined in a set of agency documents known as the “family jewels.’’

The documents in question - all more than 25 years old - were scheduled to be declassified on Dec. 31 under an order originally signed by President Bill Clinton and amended by President George W. Bush.

But now Obama finds himself in the awkward position of extending the secrecy, despite his repeated pledges of greater transparency, because his administration has been unable to prod spy agencies into conformance.

Some of the agencies have thrown up roadblocks to disclosure, engaged in turf battles over how documents should be evaluated, and have reviewed only a fraction of the material to determine whether releasing them would jeopardize national security.

In the face of these complications, the White House has given the agencies a commitment that they will get an extension beyond Dec. 31 of an undetermined length - possibly years, said the administration officials, who spoke on the condition they not be identified discussing internal deliberations. It will be the third such extension: Clinton granted one in 2000 and Bush granted one in 2003.

The documents, dating from World War II to the early 1980s, cover the gamut of foreign relations, intelligence activities, and military operations - with the exception of nuclear weapons data, which remain protected by Congress. Limited to information generated by more than one agency, the records in question are held by the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Security Agency; the departments of Justice, State, Defense, and Energy; and other security and intelligence agencies.

None of the agencies involved responded to requests for comment, saying they could not discuss internal deliberations.

“They never want to give up their authority,’’ said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a research center at George Washington University that collects and publishes declassified information. “The national security bureaucracy is deeply entrenched and is not willing to give up some of the protections they feel they need for their documents.’’

The failure to meet the disclosure deadline “does not augur well for new, more ambitious efforts to advance classification reform,’’ said Steven Aftergood, a specialist on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. “If binding deadlines can be extended more or less at will, then any new declassification requirements will be similarly subject to doubt or defiance.’’

Obama laid out broad goals for reforming the system in May, when he ordered a 90-day review by the National Security Council. Government, he said, “must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment.’’

The review is part of Obama’s efforts to make all government operations more public, including his decision to release White House visitor logs and set up a new office to expedite the release of government files under the Freedom of Information Act.

Among the revisions Obama said he wanted considered were the establishment of a National Declassification Center to coordinate and speed up the process, as well as new procedures to prevent what he called “over classification.’’

But officials said an executive order that has been drafted by the White House to replace a disclosure order that Bush signed in 2003 is meeting resistance from key national security and intelligence officials, delaying its approval.

“The next phase is most crucial,’’ said William J. Bosanko, director of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives and Records Administration, who was appointed by Obama in April 2008 to oversee the government classification system. “It is a bit of a test. You have an administration that has committed to certain things and tried to shape the direction but then you have the bureaucracy which is very adept at resisting change.’’

A key concern among intelligence agencies is that they could lose what amounts to veto power over disclosure of their secrets that are maintained by other agencies, according to several officials who have been privy to the agency comments on the draft executive order.

Also, a turf war has broken out over which spy agency should be represented on a panel set up in 1996 to hear appeals from people who are seeking the release of information. Obama aides want the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, set up in 2005 to oversee all spy agencies, to replace the CIA, much to the consternation of CIA officials, the officials said.

The White House is meeting even more resistance on its position that no information shall remain classified indefinitely. Depending on the type of information involved, the White House is proposing that virtually all classified information - not just some categories - be automatically released 25 years, 50 years, or in the case of records that involve intelligence sources, 75 years after they are created. The draft Obama guidelines, a copy of which were obtained by Aftergood, include an additional five-year extension for the most sensitive documents.

Defense and intelligence information undergoes a more rigorous review before being made public - often decades after it is generated - than more general government files that do not require officials to have special security clearances to handle them. The documents in question are considered part of the nation’s permanent record, and therefore hold special historical significance. Only three percent of government records are so designated.

As the delays mount, so does the backlog of classified data to be reviewed. Aftergood and others worry that if automatic deadlines are not enforced, many documents will never reach the public because the agencies who have custody of them can continue to make the same arguments.

“The only way to get a handle on this is to allow classification to expire at some point,’’ said Aftergood. “This is information that is not just from years ago, but generations ago. The new delay is discouraging because the innovations in the Clinton order are being subverted. That means even bolder reforms that some of us hope for will be that much more difficult.’’

Still, even if such information is eventually declassified, that doesn’t mean that the public will get to see it in a timely manner. Officials estimate that there are 400 million pages of historical documents that have been declassified but remain in government records centers and have not been processed at the National Archives, where the public can view them.

9,000 Marines Heading to Afghanistan Immediately After Obama Announcement

Aims to Double Marine Presence in Helmand

by Jason Ditz, November 29, 2009

The United States is wasting no time in throwing more troops at the war in Afghanistan. Officials say as soon as President Obama makes his Tuesday announcement of the escalation of the war, 9,000 additional Marines will depart for Afghanistan.

The 9,000 Marines will head to the Helmand Province, roughly doubling the number of marines on the ground in the tense province. It will also be a significant portion of the estimated 34,000 additional troops President Obama will commit to the war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had said the escalation would come quickly, despite caution that it was complicated to add so many troops to a war in a landlocked, virtually infrastructure free country on the other side of the globe. Still, most assumed it would be at least January when the troops started arriving.

That the troops are all heading to Helmand will no doubt be troubling news to Pakistan, as Prime Minister Gilani cautioned only two days ago that he was worried a US escalation in Helmand could destabilize the nation’s Balochistan Province.


November 28, 2009

Afghan teenagers claim abuse at a US prison

Press TV - November 28, 2009 09:09:15 GMT

While US President Barack Obama had promised to put an end to the harsh interrogation methods authorized before by the Bush administration, it is claimed that the practices are continuing at certain US-run prisons.
Two Afghan teenagers held in a prison in northern Kabul say they have been abused by US forces in Afghanistan, The Washington Post has reported.

In an article published on Friday, the newspaper said the Afghan teens had been held in solitary confinement in concrete cells for at least two weeks while undergoing daily interrogation about their alleged links to the Taliban.

The two Afghans said they were beaten by American guards, photographed naked and deprived of sleep during their detention at Bagram airbase.

According to the article, the two teenagers, Issa Mohammad, 17, and Abdul Rashid, (who claimed to be under the age of 16), said they were punched and slapped in the face by American guards during their incarceration.

Obama had promised to put an end to the harsh interrogation methods previously authorized by the Bush administration.

The facility described by the two Afghans appears to be a holding center run by US Special Operations forces on a different part of the Bagram base, the main American-run prison, the paper noted.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright said all prisoners in Afghanistan are treated "humanely" and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and US law.

"Department of Defense policy is and always has been to treat detainees humanely. There have been well-documented instances in which that policy was not followed, and service members have been held accountable for their actions in those cases," he said.

Jonathan Horowitz, who works on detention issues in Afghanistan for the Open Society Institute, said: "These allegations of physical and mental abuse at a secretive facility are, if true, patently unacceptable and must be investigated."

The Washington Post says there have been different reports about the existence of an interrogation facility at Bagram run by Special Operations forces, but little has been revealed about living conditions or interrogation methods there. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been demanding access to the facility and to the detainees there but thus far, its requests have not been granted.

Get Ready for the Obama / GOP Alliance

November 26, 2009

With Obama pushing a huge troop escalation in Afghanistan, history may well repeat itself with a vengeance. And it’s not just the apt comparison to LBJ, who destroyed his presidency on the battlefields of Vietnam with an escalation that delivered power to Nixon and the GOP.

There’s another frightening parallel: Obama seems to be following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who accomplished perhaps his single biggest legislative “triumph” – NAFTA – thanks to an alliance with Republicans that overcame strong Democratic and grassroots opposition.

It was 16 years ago this month when Clinton assembled his coalition with the GOP to bulldoze public skepticism about the trade treaty and overpower a stop-NAFTA movement led by unions, environmentalists and consumer rights groups. How did Clinton win his majority in Congress? With the votes of almost 80 percent of GOP senators and nearly 70 percent of House Republicans. Democrats in the House voted against NAFTA by more than 3 to 2, with fierce opponents including the Democratic majority leader and majority whip.

To get a majority today in Congress on Afghanistan, the Obama White House is apparently bent on a strategy replicating the tragic farce that Clinton pulled off: Ignore the informed doubts of your own party while making common cause with extremist Republicans who never accepted your presidency in the first place.

“Deather” conspiracists are not new to the Grand Old Party. Clinton engendered a similar loathing on the right despite his centrist, corporate-friendly policies. When conservative Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey delivered to Clinton (and corporate elites) the NAFTA victory, it didn’t slow down rightwing operatives who circulated wacky videos accusing Clinton death squads of murdering reporters and others.

For those who elected Obama, it’s important to remember the downward spiral that was accelerated by Clinton’s GOP alliance to pass NAFTA. It should set off alarm bells for us today on Afghanistan.

NAFTA was quickly followed by the debacle of Clinton healthcare “reform” largely drafted by giant insurance companies, which was followed by a stunning election defeat for Congressional Democrats in November 1994, as progressive and labor activists were lethargic while rightwing activists in overdrive put Gingrich into the Speaker’s chair.

A year later, advised by his chief political strategist Dick Morris (yes, the Obama-basher now at Fox), Clinton declared: “The era of big government is over.” In the coming years, Clinton proved that the era of big business was far from over – working with Republican leaders to grant corporate welfare to media conglomerates (1996 Telecom Act) and investment banks (1999 abolition of the Glass-Steagall Act).

Today, it’s crucial to ask where Obama is heading. From the stimulus to healthcare, he’s shown a Clinton-like willingness to roll over progressives in Congress on his way to corrupt legislation and frantic efforts to compromise for the votes of corporate Democrats or “moderate” Republicans. Meanwhile, the incredible shrinking “public option” has become a sick joke.

As he glides from retreats on civil liberties to health reform that appeases corporate interests to his Bush-like pledge this week to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, an Obama reliance on Congressional Republicans to fund his troop escalation could be the final straw in disorienting and demobilizing the progressive activists who elected him a year ago.

Throughout the centuries, no foreign power has been able to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, but President Obama thinks he’s a tough enough Commander-in-Chief to do it. Too bad he hasn’t demonstrated such toughness in the face of obstructionist Republicans and corporate lobbyists. For them, it’s been more like “compromiser-in-chief.”

When you start in the center (on, say, healthcare or Afghanistan) and readily move rightward several steps to appease rightwing politicians or lobbyists or Generals, by definition you are governing as a conservative.

It’s been a gradual descent from the elation and hope for real change many Americans felt on election night, November 2008. For some of us who’d scrutinized the Clinton White House in the early 1990s, the buzz was killed days after Obama’s election when he chose his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a top Clinton strategist and architect of the alliance that pushed NAFTA through Congress.

If Obama stands tough on more troops to Afghanistan (as Clinton fought ferociously for NAFTA), only an unprecedented mobilization of progressives – including many who worked tirelessly to elect Obama – will be able to stop him. Trust me: The Republicans who yell and scream about Obama budget deficits when they’re obstructing public healthcare will become deficit doves in spending the estimated $1 million per year per new soldier (not to mention private contractors) headed off to Asia.

The only good news I can see: Maybe it will take a White House/GOP alliance over Afghanistan to wake up the base of liberal groups (like MoveOn) to take a closer and more critical look at President Obama’s policies.

Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. He can be reached through his website.

November 26, 2009

Groups Denounce Obama Rejection of Landmine Treaty

By Jim Lobe, November 26, 2009

Human rights and disarmament activists reacted bitterly Wednesday to the decision by the administration of President Barack Obama, who will receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize next month, not to sign the 10-year-old treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.

The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL), a coalition of scores of activist groups, called the administration’s decision "shocking," while Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the Campaign’s most influential members, described it as "reprehensible."

"President Obama’s decision to cling to anti-personnel mines keeps the U.S. on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity," said Steve Goose, the director of HRW’s Arms Division, who also noted that Washington stood alone among its NATO allies in refusing to sign the treaty.

"This decision lacks vision, compassion, and basic common sense, and contradicts the Obama administration’s professed emphasis on multilateralism, disarmament, and humanitarian affairs," he added.

A leading Democratic lawmaker, who spearheaded the drive in the early 1990s to ban Washington’s export of the weapon to other countries, also decried the decision, which was announced by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly Tuesday.

Sen. Patrick Leahy said the decision constituted a "default of U.S. leadership" and charged that it appeared to be based on a review that "can only be described as cursory and half-hearted."


Like Leahy, the USCBL, which is part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), said it was especially disappointed by the way the administration’s review of the treaty was carried out.

"While we were told to expect a landmine policy review… we were taken by surprise that it had already been concluded behind closed doors without the consultation of non-governmental aid workers, legislators, and important U.S. NATO allies who are all States Parties to the treaty," said Zach Hudson, the group’s coordinator.

"We also have been offered no official reasons as to why the U.S. would continue on this present course – other than that nothing has changed since Bush reviewed the policy in 2004," he added. "President Obama should explain these actions to the international community, which held such high hopes for a different kind of U.S. engagement."

"It’s painful that President Obama has chosen to reject the Mine Ban Treaty just weeks before he joins the ranks of Nobel peace laureates, including the ICBL," Goose added.

(Inter Press Service)

November 24, 2009

The Economic Crisis and What Must be Done

by Richard C. Cook
November 24, 2009

The United States does not control its own destiny. Rather it is controlled by an international financial elite, of which the American branch works out of big New York banks like J.P. Morgan Chase, Wall Street investment firms such as Goldman Sachs, and the Federal Reserve System. They in turn control the White House, Congress, the military, the mass media, the intelligence agencies, both political parties, the universities, etc. No one can rise to the top in any of these institutions without the elite’s stamp of approval.

This elite has been around since the nation began, becoming increasingly dominant as the 19thcentury progressed. A key date was passage of the National Banking Act of 1863, when the system was put into place whereby federal government debt was used to collateralize bank lending. Since then we’ve paid the freight through our taxes for bank control of the economy. The final nails in the coffin came with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

In 1929 the bankers plunged the nation into the Great Depression by constricting the money supply. With Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, the nation struggled through the decade of the 1930s but did not pull out of the Depression until the industrial explosion during World War II.

After the war came the Golden Age of the U.S. economy, when the working man, protected by strong labor unions, became a true partner in the prosperity of the industrial age. That era lasted a full generation. The bankers were largely spectators as Americans led the world in exports, standard of living, science and space exploration, and every measure of health, longevity, and culture.

Roosevelt had kept the bankers subservient to the interests of the economy at large. The Federal Reserve was part of the New Deal team, and interest rates were held at historic lows despite a large federal deficit. One main impact was the huge increase in home ownership. After World War II, the G.I. Bill allowed home ownership to grow further and millions of veterans to attend college. The influx of educated graduates led to productivity growth and the emergence of new high-tech industries.

But the bankers were laying their plans. In the early 1950s they got the government to agree to allow the Federal Reserve to escape its subservience to the U.S. Treasury Department and set interest rates on its own. Rates rose throughout the 1950s and 1960s. By the time of the interest rate hikes of 1968, the economy was slowing down. Both federal budget and trade deficits were beginning to replace the post-war surpluses. High interest rates were the likely cause.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon removed the dollar’s gold peg, allowing the huge inflation resulting from oil price increases that the international bankers engineered through control of U.S. foreign policy when Henry Kissinger was national security adviser and secretary of state. Nixon’s opening to China resulted in early agreements, also overseen by banking interests, to begin to transfer U.S. industry to overseas producers like China which had cheap labor costs.

By the mid-1970s, the U.S. had been taken over by a behind the scenes coup-d’etat that included events in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy that could only have been instigated by the highest levels of world financial control. In the election of 1976, David Rockefeller succeeded in placing fellow Trilateral Commission member Jimmy Carter in the White House, but Carter upset the banking community, thoroughly Zionist in orientation, by working toward peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.

I was working in the Carter White House in 1979-80. Unbeknownst to the president, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, another Rockefeller protégé, suddenly raised interest rates to fight the inflation the bankers had caused by the OPEC oil price deals, and plunged the nation into recession. Carter was made to look weak and uninformed and was defeated in the election of 1980 by Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. It was through the “Reagan Revolution” that the regulatory controls over the banking industry were lifted, mainly in allowing the banks to use their fractional reserve privileges in making mortgage loans.

Volcker’s recession shattered American manufacturing and hastened the flight of jobs abroad. Under the “Reagan Doctrine,” the U.S. military embarked on an unprecedented mission of world conquest by attacking one small nation at a time, starting with Nicaragua. Global capitalism was also on the march, with the U.S. armed forces its own private police force. With the invasion of Iraq under George H.W. Bush in 1991, mainland Asia was revealed as the principle target.

The economy was floated by productivity gains through computer automation and a huge sell-off of assets through the merger-acquisition bubble of the late 1980s which ended in a recession. This resulted in the defeat of Bush by Bill Clinton in the election of 1992. Clinton was able to create another bubble through a strong dollar policy that attracted foreign capital.

The dot-com bubble that resulted lasted all the way through to the crash of December 2000. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force led the way in the destruction of the sovereign state of Yugoslavia, whereby the international bankers took over the resource wealth of the entire Balkan region, and the U.S. military gained forward bases for further incursions into Asia.

Do we need to say that none of this was ever voted on by the American electorate? But they bought into it nevertheless, both with their silence and through participation in a generally favorable job market in the emerging service occupations, particularly finance.

By the time George W. Bush was inaugurated president in January 2001, the U.S. was facing a disaster. $4 trillion in wealth had vanished when the bubble collapsed. NAFTA caused even more American manufacturing jobs to disappear abroad. The Neocons who were moving into key jobs in the Pentagon knew they would soon have new wars to fight in the Middle East, with invasion plans for Afghanistan and Iraq ready to be pulled off the shelf.

But the U.S. had no economic engine available to generate the tax revenues Bush would need for the planned wars. At this moment Chairman Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve stepped in. Over a two year period from 2001-2003 the Fed lowered interest rates by over 500 basis points. Meanwhile, the federal government removed all regulatory controls on mortgage lending, and the housing bubble was on. $4 trillion in new home loans were pumped into the economy, much of it through subprime loans borrowers could not afford.

The Fed began to put on the brakes in 2003, but the mighty work of re-floating a moribund economy had been accomplished. By late 2006 another recession loomed, but it would take two more years before the crisis of October 2008 brought the entire system down.

The impact on the job market was immediate and profound. By the time Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008, the U.S. was mired in seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the worst recession since the Great Depression was picking up speed. In order to prevent total disaster, the Bush administration ended its eight years of catastrophic misrule with a flourish, by allocating over $700 billion in financial system bailouts to cover the bad loans the banks had been making since Greenspan gave the housing bubble the green light.

It is now November 2009. Since Barack Obama was inaugurated in January, unemployment has soared from 7.9 percent to 10.2 percent. A few hundred billion dollars were allocated for “stimulus” purposes, but most of that went to pay unemployment benefits and to keep state and local governments from laying off more employees.

A fraction has been distributed for highway improvements, but largely through the bank bailouts the federal deficit has been running at an annual rate of $1.5 trillion, by far the largest in history, with the national debt now topping $12 trillion. Ironically, those Americans who still have productive jobs continue to grow in efficiency, with productivity up over five percent in the last year.

So much federal money has been spent that the Obama administration has been struggling to make its health care proposals budget-neutral through a raft of new taxes, fees, and penalties, and by announcing in recent days that the government’ first priority must now shift to deficit reduction. The word “austerity” has been mentioned for the first time since the Carter administration. Yet Congress voted $655 billion in military expenditures to continue fighting in the Middle East. A U.S. military attack on Iran, possibly in conjunction with Israel, would surprise no one.

So where do we now stand?

At present, the Federal Reserve is trying to prevent a total economic collapse. Interest rates are near-zero, to the chagrin of foreign investors in U.S. Treasury securities, and close to half of new Treasury debt instruments have been bought by the Federal Reserve itself as a way of providing free money for federal government expenditures.

But the U.S. economy shows no signs of coming back, with no economic driver emerging that could bring it back. For all the talk about alternative energy, there has been no significant growth of any home-grown industry that could possibly make up so much lost ground in either the short or the long-term.

The industries in the U.S. that are holding up are the military, including arms exports, universities that are attracting large numbers of students from abroad, especially China, and health care, especially for the aging baby boomer population. But the war industry produces nothing with a long-term economic benefit, and health care exists mainly to treat sick people, not produce anything new.

None of this provides a foundation that can bring about a restoration of prosperity to 300 million people when the jobs of making articles of consumption are increasingly scarce. On top of everything else, since government inevitably looks to its own requirements first, the total tax burden continues to increase to the point where the average employee now pays close to 50 percent of his or her income on taxes of all types, including federal and state income taxes, real estate taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, government fees, etc. Plus the cost of utilities continues to rise steadily and threatens to skyrocket if cap-and-trade legislation is passed.

The Obama administration has no plans to deal with any of this. They have projected a budget for 15 years hence that shows the budget deficit decreasing and tax revenues going way up, but it is all lies. They have no roadmap for getting us there and no plans for following the roadmap if it portrayed a realistic goal. And yet the U.S. military is still trying to conquer Asia. It is madness.

And it is madness because the big decisions are not made by the U.S., by Congress, or by the Obama administration. The U.S. has, for half-a-century, been marching to the tune played by the international financial elite, and this fact did not change with the election of 2008. The financiers have put the people of this nation $57 trillion in debt, according to the latest reports, counting debt at the federal, state, business, and household levels. Interest alone on this debt is over $3 trillion of a GDP of $14 trillion. Failure of our political leadership to deal with this tragedy over the past three decades is nothing less than treason.

But then again, at some point the decision was made that the U.S. and its population would be discarded by history, the economic status of the nation reduced to a shadow of what it once was, but that its military machine would be used for the financial elite’s takeover of the world until it is replaced by that of some other nation. All indications are that the next country up to bat as military enforcer for the financiers is China.

There you have it. That, in my opinion, is the past, present, and future of this nation in a nutshell. Great evils have been done in the world in the last century, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Except…. and that’s what each person caught up in these travesties must decide. What are you going to do about it?

In mulling over this question, it would be wise to recognize that the dominance of the financial elite has largely been exercised through their control of the international monetary system based on bank lending and government debt. Therefore it’s through the monetary system that change can and must be made.

The progressives are wrong to think the government should go deeper in debt to create more jobs. This will just create an even deeper hole of debt future generations will have to crawl out of.

Rather the key is monetary reform, whether at the local or national levels. People have lost control of their ability to earn a living. But change could be accomplished through sovereign control by people and nations of the monetary means of exchange.

This control has been stolen. It is time to take it back. One way would be for the federal government to make a relief payment to each adult of $1,000 a month until the crisis lifted. This money could be earmarked for goods and services produced within the U.S. and used to capitalize a new series of community development banks. I have called this the “Cook Plan.”

The plan could be funded through direct payment from a Treasury relief account without new taxes or government borrowing. The payments would be balanced on the credit side by GDP growth or be used by individuals to pay off debt. It would be direct government spending as was done with Greenbacks before and after the Civil War without significant inflation.

Another method increasingly being used within the U.S. today is local and regional credit clearing exchanges and the use of local currencies or “scrip.” Use of such currencies could be enhanced by legislation at the state and federal levels allowing these currencies to be used for payment of taxes and government fees as well as payment of mortgages and other forms of bank debt. The credit clearing exchanges could be organized as private non-profit regional currency co-operatives similar to credit unions.

These would be immediate emergency measures. In the longer run, sovereign control of money and credit must be returned to the public commons and treated as public utilities. This does not mean exclusive government control to replace bank control. As stated previously, it would be done in partnership between government and private trade exchanges. Nor does it mean government takeover of business, industry, or the banking system, though all should be regulated for the common good and fairly taxed.

This program would lead to a new monetary paradigm where money and credit would be available by, as, when, and where needed, to facilitate trade between and among legitimate producers of goods and services. In this way trade and commerce will come to serve human freedom, not diminish it as is done with today’s dysfunctional partnership between big government trillions of dollars in debt and big finance with the entire world in hock.

Such a change would be a true populist revolution.

source: Global Research

Global Warming On Trial: US Senator Inhofe Calls For Investigation Of UN IPCC

November 23, 2009

Climate change alarmists engaged in desperate whitewash, but scandal is not going away

In response to the astounding revelations arising out of the hacked CRU emails, Senator Jim Inhofe has stated that unless something is done within the next seven days, he will lead the call for a rigorous investigation into mounting evidence that top climate scientists conspired to manipulate data to hide evidence of global cooling while engaging in academic witch hunts to eliminate scientists skeptical of man-made climate change.

Speaking on the Americas Morning Show earlier today, Inhofe, Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the new revelations proved what he has been warning about for over four years, that politicians and bias-driven climate scientists affiliated with the UN IPCC have been fraudulently “cooking the science” to conform to their agenda.

“If nothing happens in the next seven days when we go back into session a week from today that would change this situation, I will call for an investigation,” said Inhofe. “Cause this thing is serious, you think about the literally millions of dollars that have been thrown away on some of this stuff that they came out with.”

Asked what he would call for an investigation of, Inhofe responded, “On the IPCC and on the United Nations on the way that they cooked the science to make this thing look as if the science was settled, when all the time of course we knew it was not.”

Meanwhile, even some pro-man made global warming advocates have conceded that an investigation is necessary.

Bob Ward, director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, told the London Guardianthat only a rigorous investigation could clear the names of those accused of manipulating the data, admitting that the emails “created the impression of impropriety,” which is a lot further than most have gone in accepting the damning nature of the hacked data.

Indeed, the British Met Office performed the equivalent of a child sticking his fingers in his ears by merely attempting to dismiss the emails altogether, without even explaining what was meant when scientists at CRU talked about pulling “tricks” to “hide the decline” in temperatures.

A spokesman at the Met Office, which jointly produces global temperature datasets with the Climate Research Unit, said there was no need for an inquiry. “If you look at the emails, there isn’t any evidence that the data was falsified and there’s no evidence that climate change is a hoax. It’s a shame that some of the sceptics have had to take this rather shallow attempt to discredit robust science undertaken by some of the world’s most respected scientists. The bottom line is that temperatures continue to rise and humans are responsible for it. We have every confidence in the science and the various datasets we use. The peer-review process is as robust as it could possibly be. It’s no surprise, with the Copenhagen talks just days away, that this has happened now.”

As James Delingpole of the Telegraph highlights, alarmists are not going to be effected by the scandal, because they will allow nothing whatsoever to corrupt their religious belief system. “They’ve made up their minds and no quantity of contrary evidence, however devastating, is going to shake their considered position of “Nyah nyah nyah. Got my fingers in my ears. Not listening. The world IS warming and it’s man’s fault. Must tax carbon now….”

However, there seems little doubt that this bombshell will go a long way to derailing, or at least delaying the agenda for a global carbon tax that will be collected by the very same elitists aggressively pushing the fraud of global warming.

source: Global Research

Third Intifada will have a widespread popular base

By Jack Khoury,Haaretz Correspondent

Fatah had made a strategic decision to declare a third intifada against Israel, movement officials told Nazereth-based newspaper Hadith Anas, citing the failed peace talks as the reason for their resolution.

The newspaper report quoted Fatah Central Committee members as saying that the movement wished to implement a decision made during its sixth convention, which assembled last August in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

One of the movement's top officials interviewed by Hadith Anas said the third intifada will have a widespread popular base, adding, however, that unlike the previous popular struggle against Israel, which was sparked in September 2000, the movement will not endorse an armed struggle or the use of firearms.

"We want thousands of Palestinians to demonstrate daily near the settlements of the occupation, carrying out a human siege, and calling for the end of the occupation," one senior official said.

According to the report, Fatah chief and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to the resolution in principle, stipulating only that the struggle mustn't become a violent one.

Sources estimate that Abbas could prepare the conditions which would allow for such a move by stepping down as PA President as well as by declaring the dissolution of the PA by the end of the year.

Fatah officials had commented recently on the need to duplicate the weekly anti-separation fence rallies in the villages of Na'alin and Bil'in in locations across the West Bank, as well as turning some of those demonstrations against nearby settlements.

A senior member of an Arab-Israeli Knesset party, who maintains close ties with top Fatah and PA officials, said that anti-separation fence rallies could spark renewed popular resistance, if they continued to escalate as they did week ago near the Kalandia checkpoint.

The official said that PA sources have come to understand that unarmed popular resistance, centering on symbols of the West Bank occupation, could garner sympathy for the Palestinian cause in international circles as well as embarrassing the Israeli government.

"The first intifada gained significant diplomatic ground as far as the Palestinians are concerned since its symbol, a boy throwing rocks at a tank, made it impossible for Israel to claim it was defending itself against terror as it did in the second intifada, followings the city-center bombings," the official said.

source: From Occupied Palestine with Love

November 18, 2009

Local Currencies -
The missing link in the quest for sustainability

by Helen Dew,
a founding member of the Living Economies Trust, New Zealand
November 4, 2009

Currency is the lifeblood of an economic system. Most people think that there’s only one type of money, because that’s all they’ve ever known. Cheques and credit cards etc. represent special-purpose forms of cash, but money is money, they think, regardless of the form it takes. Few realise that there are, potentially at least, many different forms of money, and each type can affect the economy, human society and the natural environment in a different way.

Bernard Lietaer, research fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Resources, California, and author of "The Future of Money" (2001), says
‘We create our exchange systems and then they create the world we live in.’

Richard Douthwaite, author of "The Ecology of Money" (1999), says
‘If we wish to live more ecologically, it would make sense to adopt monetary systems that make it easier to do so.’

Essentially, community currencies connect unused or under-utilised resources with unmet needs, enabling exchanges to take place despite a shortage of money.

A wide variety of currency models are currently in use throughout the world, including manually operated mutual credit systems, beautifully designed vouchers and on-line accounting systems.

Members form trading circles, list their offerings and needs, and offer and accept payment for goods and services either wholly or partly in the local currency.

Local Currencies are the ultimate in loyalty programs. Unlike profits derived from trading with national currencies, the wealth generated by trading with exchange systems created by and for local communities stays within the district.

Since community currencies work alongside and supplement national currency, once their advantages are understood they are welcomed by the community, particularly in times of economic stress. Historically, community currencies have been economic and social lifesavers.

The principle advantages of community currencies are

• Protection against global economic instability
• Stemming ‘leakage’ of community wealth to outsiders/offshore
• Support for local small/medium businesses
• Business opportunities in import substitution
• Less fuel needed for imported product
• Increased employment opportunities
• Less conventional money required for desirable projects
• Enhanced sense of community
• Branding opportunity for the district
• Tourist attraction, especially for early adopters

Naturally, if we decide to change how money works we first of all need to understand how the current money system is designed, how the use of it manages to leave a trail of destruction in its wake and what other options are possible.

Deirdre Kent, in "Healthy Money, Healthy Planet", brings to light some surprising facts about the history and workings of money:

Almost all of our money supply is created by private banks as interest-bearing debt. The Reserve Bank has confirmed that only about two percent of the money supply in use in New Zealand is created interest-free.

The problem with this is that money is always in short supply. When banks provide loans they create the principle only. Borrowers must find extra money to repay the interest either by increasing their production, competing with others facing the same problem or by further borrowing.

• The never-ending need to increase production causes intolerable demand to be made on natural resources.
• The competition for an inadequate supply of money is a bit like musical chairs; someone misses out; bankruptcy is inevitable for some of the losers.
• Further borrowing compounds borrower’s problems, consigning them to long-term and often inescapable debt.

Given the above options imposed by the present money system it is little wonder that regionally, nationally and globally we are now faced with escalating environmental damage, economic strain and social dislocation.

In the search for effective means of meeting these challenges, particularly the immanent problem of diminishing and more costly supplies of energy communities are beginning to recognise the potential of community currencies.

Cuba’s response to ‘peak oil’

When Cuba lost access to Soviet oil in the early 1990s, the country faced an immediate crisis – feeding the population – and an ongoing challenge: how to create a new low-energy society. Cuba transitioned from large, fossil-fuel intensive farming to small, less energy-intensive organic farms and urban gardens, and from a highly industrial society to a more sustainable one. Although barely mentioned in the documentary film, "The Power of Community" documenting Cuba’s recovery, community currency played a very important role in that process.

Kinsale 2021, Ireland

The creators of the Kinsale 2021 energy descent plan( 7) (Kinsale has a population of 7,000), recently announced that the Kinsale Town Council has unanimously adopted the proposed long term plan. The plan, which involved the community in its development, is based on the changes that can be expected in the absence of cheap fuel. It is significant that 10 of the 53 pages of the plan are devoted to the design and implementation of a community currency system. Also noteworthy is the priority given to creating their local currency as the first step in the process of implementing the plan.

Regional currencies in Germany

Mounting economic, environmental and social pressures are prompting greater openness by communities and their business and civic leaders to seriously consider the implementation of community currencies. This is particularly so in Germany, where Prof Dr Margrit Kennedy has pioneered regionally-scaled systems. Seventeen ‘Regio’ currency systems have already launched their local vouchers, with 49 more in the pipeline.

The first example was launched in March 2005 by students at a Steiner school in Chiemgau, for the purpose of raising funds for major repairs to the school building.

Regio participants purchase vouchers at 1:1 for Euros and use them to purchase goods or services, either wholly or as a percentage of the price. Vouchers may be redeemed for Euros at any time, minus an administration fee. A combination of education and built in incentives leads to a preference for trades using the local currency.

A valued feature of local currencies is their tendency to build community. Like the growing appreciation of ‘slow food’, ‘slow money’ is helping to restore the social dimension of trading. It takes more time to process a transaction, time for graciousness, time for building connection with community of place.

Once would-be participants come to appreciate the advantage of having their own exchange medium promoters sign up members from all sectors of the community; local government, banks, businesses, community organisations and ordinary citizens.

In February 2007 an ABC TV news story reported the fast spreading voucher-based BerkShares? in Massachusetts, USA. US$835,000 worth of vouchers were distributed to the participating banks prior to the 2006 launch; 225 local businesses accept the vouchers. ‘Chambers of Commerce in three neighbouring towns recently asked how they can bring BerkShares? to their communities.’

Community currencies are a vital tool for the empowerment of local communities as they come to terms with the multitude of challenges related to energy and climate change.

source:Living Economy

November 13, 2009

Obama, Hatoyama and Okinawa

Yes We Can (But We Won't)

Naha, Okinawa
November 13, 2009

Walking distance from the US Consulate in Okinawa is a Starbucks coffee shop. My wife and I sometimes go there, because they let you sit at the tables and work, so long as you sometimes order coffee. When Kevin Maher was US Consul, he also used to come in from time to time. Once, when he was sitting right next to us, we heard him apparently ingratiating himself with a young Okinawan girl, in his reasonably good (though somewhat whining) Japanese: “I have no friends at all here. People put up signs saying, ‘Maher go home’”. And the girl responding dutifully, “Oh, you poor thing!”

Maher was a Bush neocon appointee, well known for his arrogance and rudeness toward the Okinawan people. Last year when the US military insisted on its alleged right to land a shipload of GIs on the small Okinawan island of Ishigaki for “recreation”, Maher sailed in on the ship with them and made the local newspapers by shouting “Baka yaro!” (roughly, “you idiots!”) at the local demonstrators. This from a career diplomat. Not long after that he got into the papers again when, at the same Starbucks, an Okinawan customer walked up to his table and dumped a cup of hot coffee in his lap, shouting “Go Home! or words to that effect.

In his election campaign Obama made no promises to the Okinawans (politicians don’t make promises to people with no vote), but many Okinawans, like many people all around the world, including in the US, allowed their hopes to be roused by that most-marvelously-ambivalent-of-all-possible-slogans, “change.” Very soon after the election the news came in that Maher, far from being canned or given a desk job, had been promoted to the position of Director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs. So far as the Obama Administration is concerned, “Change” doesn’t apply to Okinawa. The face that Obama has turned toward Japan as a whole is that of Maher.

But if Obama made no promises to Okinawa, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) did. In its recent campaign, one of its public promises was to put an end to the plan to build a new US Marine Corps heliport on the sea off the town of Henoko, in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island.

Some background: in 1995 three US GIs kidnapped and gang raped an elementary school girl here. This event triggered an explosion of pent-up resentment against the US military bases in Okinawa. An all-Okinawa rally was held that drew some 60,000 people, a significant percentage of the prefecture’s 1.2 million population. The US and Japan decided they needed to do something, and what they came up with was to promise to shut down the US Marine Air Station at Futenma, which is located smack in the middle of heavily populated Ginowan City, on the condition that it would be relocated offshore from the less-populated town of Henoko in the north.

This launched a powerful opposition struggle that continues today. Residents of Henoko oppose the new base because it will destroy the sea that has always been their livelihood. Especially old folks remember that it was the sea that kept them alive, gave them food, during the Battle of Okinawa and after. Ecologists point out that the planned location of the heliport is right in the middle of the northernmost habitat of the rare sea mammal, the dugong, and that construction will probably contribute to that animal’s extinction. Women from Ginowan, where the base is now, have traveled to Henoko and gone door to door, not to try to persuade people there to accept the base, but to warn them of its dangers: explosive aircraft noise, accidents, pollution, crimes by GIs, etc. – all the things they have been bearing in Ginowan for so long. And most Okinawans, including those directly affected neither by the removal of the old base nor by the construction of the new one, are enraged by the idea that the US and Japan think they can pacify them by simply moving a base from one part of Okinawa to another.

Protest has been fierce and sustained. People from Henoko have been holding a daily sit-in at the Henoko fishing port; recently they celebrated their 2000th day of consecutive sit-in. Under the leadership of Henoko resident Higashionna Takuma, a team of sea kayakers was trained that has been nonviolently harassing the construction surveyors who come in to measure and test the sea bottom, and have delayed the project by many months and possibly years (and possibly forever). A court case was filed in San Francisco (Okinawa Dugong et. al. vs. Rumsfeld) arguing that the construction plan violates US laws requiring the protection of cultural properties in US construction projects overseas; in 2005 the judge handed down a favorable decision, but there has been no hint that this has affected US policy. In election results, in referenda, in opinion poll after opinion poll, Okinawans have made clear that they want this base out of their territory entirely.

It is true that the movement is divided on how to put their demand. The anti-war purists insist that the movement should make no statement whatsoever as to where the base should go: they say that it is wrong to relieve their suffering by imposing it on someone else, and that anyway as pacifists they should demand the base should not be moved, but abolished. A second group sees the issue not only as one of peace, but also of anti-colonialism. They point out that the bases are in Japan because of the Japan-US Mutual Security Treaty, which was negotiated in Tokyo without consulting Okinawa (when it was first signed Okinawa was still under US military rule). Most Japanese today seem comfortable with that treaty (the movement against it, once strong, has dwindled to almost nothing), and their comfort is made possible largely by the fact that 75 per cent of the US bases authorized under that treaty are located in tiny Okinawa, which comprises a mere 0.6 per cent of Japanese territory. They argue, if the Japanese people want US bases in their land, as their lack of opposition to the Security Treaty seems to indicate, isn’t it fair to locate those bases near the homes of the people who want them, rather than the homes of those who don’t’? (Imagine, if you can, the US government making a treaty with some foreign government to allow their bases on American soil, and then putting 75 per cent of those bases in Puerto Rico.) Another option that is talked about is Guam, which is, at least formally, US territory. But Okinawans who see themselves as a colonized people see Guam’s Chamorros as another colonized people, and argue that it would be far better to send the base to Okinawa’s colonizer, Japan.

Until a few years ago the option to move the base to Japan was almost a taboo subject, mainly because mentioning it would make mainland Japanese upset and angry, and saying that one [was] opposed it would elicit from them warm praises for one’s generosity. But more recently the taboo has been breached, and the option has become part of the public debate. And once the taboo was lifted, it turned out to have very wide support among Okinawans. So in the recent national election, the DSP made the removal of Futenma base [to] some site outside of Okinawa, either to the mainland or outside of Japan altogether, and the cancellation of the Henoko project, a campaign promise. In return for this they got electoral support from Okinawa that was crucial to their takeover of the national government.

The question now is whether they will have the backbone to keep this promise.

From even before the DPJ’s election victory, the US has been putting pressure on it to break that promise. Before the election, when the DPJ victory was seen to be a sure thing, Secretary of State Clinton came to Japan and with the lame-duck reactionary prime minister Aso Taro signed something called the Guam Agreement, a redundant instrument that was aimed at binding the incoming Japanese Government to the policies decided by the outgoing one: the Futenma base would be moved to Henoko, some troops would be moved to Guam, the Japanese Government would pay for the move, etc.; all stuff already decided. Then when Secretary of Defense Gates came to Tokyo in October, after the Hatoyama government came to power, he was pointedly rude, violating rules of diplomatic protocol (refusing to go to a dinner party held in his honor, etc.) and made as clear as he could that the Obama Administration will accept “no change” in its Okinawa policy. Either the Marine Air Station is moved to Henoko, or else it stays in Futenma, and that’s it.

With this, the Hatoyama Government has started to waffle. Defense Secretary Okada has begun explaining that there is a difference between a “public promise” and “what one says during an election campaign,” and people are beginning to wonder if the metamorphosis if the DPJ into an ordinary establishment party has already begun. After the election, Under Secretary of State for Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell said at a symposium (one can imagine the benevolent smile on his face) that the US will not be much harmed by the new Japanese Government, and that “a certain degree of independence” on the part of Japan should be welcomed. A useful slip: it means that in his view the previous Japanese Governments had not even that much. We’ll soon see if the new administration can do any better. As I write this, Obama is on his way to Tokyo. For the last three days one of the local Okinawan papers has had an English language page filled with appeals to Obama to understand Okinawa’s very special situation, and to give up the Henoko base plan. It would be wise for him to do so. For whether or not the US puts on a tough performance, or whether or not the Japanese government waffles, the Henoko residents will fight against the base as long as it takes.

Douglas Lummis is a political scientist living in Okinawa and the author of Radical Democracy. Lummis can be reached at

November 08, 2009

New ‘smart’ electrical meters raise fresh privacy issues for consumers

November 7, 2009, 1:54pm

MADRID, Nov. 7 (AFP) – The new ''smart meters'' utilities are installing in homes around the world to reduce energy use raise fresh privacy issues because of the wealth of information about consumer habits they reveal, experts said Friday.

The devices send data on household energy consumption directly to utilities on a regular basis, allowing the firms to manage demand more efficiently and advise households when it is cheaper to turn on appliances.

But privacy experts gathered in Madrid for a three-day conference which wraps up Friday warned that the meters can also reveal intimate details about customers' habits such as when they eat, what time they go to sleep or how much television they watch.

With cars expected to be fuelled increasingly by electricity in the coming years, the new meters could soon be used to gather information on consumer behaviour beyond the home, they added.

''The collection and storage and retention of the data makes it vulnerable to security breaches as well as to government access,'' Christopher Wolf, the co-chairman and founder of the Washington-based Future of Privacy Forum, told AFP.

''It is really an issue of how much information about us can be collected by a third party, how much do they really need, how long do they need to keep it, what should the rules be on retention and when should destruction of it occur.''

More than eight million ''smart meters'' have already been installed in the United States and the number is projected by the government to rise to 52 million by 2012.

Last month US President Barack Obama announced 3.4 billion dollars (2.3 billion euros) in grants to modernise the country's electricity grid, part of which will pay for about 18 million ''smart meters.''

The European Parliament passed an energy package in April which proposed that 80 percent of electricity consumers have ''smart meters'' by 2020.

In Italy 85 percent of homes already have smart meters installed, the highest penetration rate in Europe, according to the Future of Privacy Forum. France is second with a 25 percent penetration rate.

''This is certainly the next stage, the new frontier, in the potential for privacy invasion,'' Elias Quinn, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Energy and Environmental Security at the University of Colorado, told AFP.

''The potential is great for privacy invasion depending on who can have access to this information. We are kind of walking into 'smart meter' development blindly. There is no general informed consent.''

November 05, 2009

Criminal convictions of 22 CIA agents in Italy

The accountability imposed by another country for the CIA's kidnapping and torture reveals much about our own.

The criminal conviction of 22 CIA agents (and 2 Italian intelligence officers) by an Italian court yesterday -- for the 2003 kidnapping of an Islamic cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, off the street in Italy and his "rendition" to Egypt to be tortured -- highlights several vital points:

First, illustrating how these matters are typically distorted by the U.S. establishment media, note that CNN -- in the very first paragraph of its story -- claims that the CIA agents were convicted "for their role in the seizing of a suspected terrorist in Italy in 2003." What did Nasr allegedly do that warrants that "terrorist" label? Did he participate in the 9/11 attacks, or plan attacks on "the American homeland" or U.S. civilians? No. According to CNN, this is what makes him a "suspected terrorist":

He was suspected of recruiting men to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So the West invades, bombs and occupies Muslim countries, and when Muslims attempt to find people to fight against the West's invading armies, those individuals are deemed "terrorists." Or consider this quite informative 2005 Washington Post article, which details how the CIA's kidnapping derailed the Italians' criminal (i.e., legal) investigation of Nasr; that article explains:

Nasr was wanted by the Egyptian authorities for his involvement in Jemaah Islamiah, a network of Islamic extremists that had sought the overthrow of the government. The network was dispersed during a government crackdown in the early 1990s, and many leaders escaped abroad to avoid arrest.

The Egyptian government, long propped up by the U.S., is one of the most tyrannical and brutal in the world. But Egyptians who work to overthrow that government are deemed "terrorists" by the U.S., and we're apparently willing to kidnap them from around the world -- including from countries where they've received asylum -- and ship them back to our Egyptian friends to be imprisoned and tortured.

For many Americans -- probably most -- the word "terrorist" conjures up images of the people responsible for the 9/11 attack. For that reason, labeling someone a "suspected terrorist" can justify doing anything and everything to those individuals (after all, other than civil liberties extremists, who could object to the "seizing of a suspected terrorist" -- or their indefinite detention or torture?). It's therefore unsurprising that the U.S. Government would use the term "terrorist" so promiscuously and selectively (see John Cole's excellent contrast between what we deem to be "terrorism" when it happens to the U.S. versus what we deny is "terrorism" when done by the U.S.). It's a powerful term that can justify almost any government action.

But the U.S. media's willingness to mindlessly apply the term "terrorist" in exactly the subjective, self-serving way the U.S. Government dictates -- starkly contrasted with their refusal to use the far more objective term "torture" on the ground that the term is in dispute (i.e., disputed by the U.S. Government torturers) -- illustrates the establishment media's principal function: to serve American political power and justify whatever our government does. That's a major reason -- perhaps the primary one -- why the U.S. Government has been able to get away with everything it's done over the last decade. Those unseen victims of torture, rendition, indefinite detention and other government crimes are all just "terrorists," so who cares? In reporting on these convictions, CNN immediately and helpfully proclaims Nasr to be a "suspected terrorist" in a way that guts any meaningful definition of that term and -- in many minds -- justifies whatever was done to him, no matter how illegal.

It's worth asking this question: which sounds more like actual "terrorism": (a) kidnapping people literally off the street and shipping them thousands of miles away to be tortured with no legal process, or (b) what Nasr is "suspected" of having done?

Second, this incident underscores -- yet again -- that our political and media elite simply do not believe in the rule of law or accountability for high government officials. To the contrary, they explicitly believe that such officials should be entitled to break the law and be exempt from consequences. As but one example, here's a discussion on CNN last night about this matter between Wolf Blitzer and Jeffrey Toobin:

TOOBIN: This is a real criminal conviction in a country where we tend to honor reciprocal legal arrangements. So they are in a -- they are in no jeopardy as long as they are inside the United States, but, if they were to leave, they are potentially at risk for being jailed and brought to Italy.

BLITZER: Because even if they went to a third country, like England, let's say, or France, Interpol could have a warrant out for their arrest. They have been convicted by an Italian court.

TOOBIN: That's why this is such -- so troubling. It would one thing if they only had to stay out of Italy, but, because of Interpol, because of the reciprocal nature of these agreements, they are potentially at risk almost anywhere they go.

So according to Toobin, this is all "so troubling." Why? Because the people who were found by a duly constituted court to have committed a serious crime are faced with the risk that there might actually be consequences. After all, these are Americans who were part of the U.S. Government, and consequences for lawbreaking are simply not meant for them. Echoing Joe Klein's infamous Orwellian claim that torture shouldn't be prosecuted because the CIA is "asked to behave extra-legally for the greater good of the nation," Toobin added that "one of the things you do when you are a CIA agent, at least in part, is break the law of other countries" -- Toobin says that as though they have the right to do that without accountability, and without mentioning that causing people to be tortured is also a violation of U.S. law (after Nasr's kidnapping, the chief of the CIA's Milan office traveled to Egypt for three weeks to participate in his "interrogation").

Third, the glaring contrast between (a) the United States and (b) countries that (at least partially) adhere to the rule of law and precepts of accountability continues to grow. As we saw earlier this week, a U.S. appellate court ruled that American government officials are immune from consequences even when they abduct an innocent man and knowingly cause him to be tortured -- even after the Canadian government publicly disclosed its detailed investigation of that matter, publicly apologized to the victim, and paid him $9 million. Spain continues to pursue the possibility of criminal prosecution of our high government officials for war crimes even as our own government insists that our war criminals (at least all those but the lowest-level ones) should be immunized and we should look forward, not backwards. Our attempt to compile a "hit list" of Afghan citizens we intend to murder because we suspect them of drug trafficking prompted angry objections from Afghan officials that our plan violated due process and the rule of law.

And now an Italian court demonstrates actual judicial independence and adherence to equality under the law by holding American and Italian government kidnappers liable for their complicity in torture -- something our own government institutions have repeatedly failed and/or refused to do (Harper's Scott Horton has much more on the glaring contrast between U.S. and Italian political values that is reflected here).

Finally, this isn't about the past -- at least not exclusively. The U.S. Government continues to refuse even to comment on what it did here. The State Department yesterday expressed "disappointment" with the Italian court ruling -- just as it did when a British High Court recently ordered the disclosure of evidence of American torture. The DOJ continues to insist that no American courts can examine past rendition and torture cases on the grounds of secrecy. The Obama administration has explicitly decided to continue the "rendition" policy which led to Nasr's illegal kidnapping, albeit with the addition of anti-torture "safeguards" similar in language if not effect when compared to those in place under Bush (it remains to be seen to which countries these "rendered" suspects will be sent under the "new" policy). And most notably of all, we continue to be a country which -- in the name of secrecy and national security -- insists that the rule of law and accountability simply do not apply to our highest government officials when they break the law. Fortunately, other countries -- slowly and incrementally -- are rejecting that pernicious view.

UPDATE: One of the convicted CIA agents admits to ABC News that they "broke the law" when kidnapping Nasr and claims, credibly, that everything they did was approved back in Washington.

This is as good a time as any to post this new and important 9-minute video from the ACLU (with whom I consult), in which you hear from numerous individuals who were abducted and held for years at Guantanamo with no charges or trial of any kind -- only to be released with no explanation, apology or accountability. This is really worth watching; like the absence of civilian deaths caused by our wars, it's the key missing piece from typical media coverage that really illustrates what we've been doing: