Monday, April 28, 2008

A Corrosive Stain On The US Soul

A Corrosive Stain On The US Soul

By Anthony Lewis

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I
n these last weeks of turbulent events, the single most significant has not been the financial crisis, not the fall of a governor, not the passing of the fifth year of the war without end in Iraq. It has been an American president's formal blessing of the use of torture.

That was what President Bush did in early March when he vetoed legislation prohibiting the use of brutal methods of interrogation by American intelligence agents. His action was quickly overtaken by other news. But in its redefinition of American values — of the American character — it had profound implications.

I grew up believing that Americans did not torture prisoners, as Hitler's and Stalin's agents did. There were rogue episodes of American brutality, but to make torture a national policy? Unthinkable.

No one should be in any doubt that torture was what President Bush had in mind. No one should be fooled by Orwellian talk of "enhanced interrogation techniques."

What Congress sought to outlaw was such things as hanging prisoners from the ceiling by their wrists, beating them, depriving them of food and water, preventing them from sleeping for days, keeping them in freezing temperatures, using electric shocks on them and subjecting them to waterboarding — an almost-drowning technique that was used by the Inquisition and by Japanese soldiers who were successfully prosecuted for it by the United States after World War II. Torture.

All such methods are prohibited by the Army Field Manual. They are barred by international conventions that the United States has ratified. After the scandal of abuse at Abu Ghraib, Congress reiterated the ban in legislation covering the U.S. military. What President Bush vetoed was a bill to extend the explicit, reiterated ban to CIA agents.

In announcing the veto, Mr. Bush said that "the program" — his euphemistic term for interrogation methods used in secret CIA prisons at "black sites" on foreign soil — had produced information that exposed planned terrorist attacks. He made specific claims: that "the program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti," for example, and "a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles." He offered no evidence to support these claims. Nor is there proof that they are false. But skepticism is surely in order for self-serving assertions by a president who has misled the country about so much in his war, including the use of torture.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has sometimes been criticized for being too easy on the president, said of Mr. Bush's claims: "I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing that makes me think the information obtained from these techniques could not have been obtained through traditional interrogation methods used by military and law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information."

Secret opinions

The corrupting effects of the adoption of torture as an American practice have been widespread. First of all, on the law. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which makes binding interpretations of the law for the federal government, issued secret opinions defining torture away to the vanishing point, saying it must be equivalent in pain to "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" — and adding that Congress could not stop the president from ordering the use of torture. (The whole idea of secret official opinions defining the law should be anathema in a free republic, one that has boasted from the beginning of having a government of laws, not men. Secret laws are the hallmark of tyrannies.)

The Justice Department opinions were not abstractions. They were immediately taken up by political appointees at the Pentagon and led directly to the torture of dozens of prisoners and the killing of some at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Torture has had corrupting effects on our politics, too. Most Republicans in Congress have defended President Bush's claim of the right to use such methods, evidently as a matter of political solidarity. The corruption has even touched the man who more than anyone has been a symbol of resistance to torture, John McCain. Senator McCain led Congress in 2005 to pass the legislation reiterating the ban on the military's use of torture. But when it came to extending the ban to intelligence agents in this year's Intelligence Authorization Act, he sided with the president. It was as if he were saying that the North Vietnamese who so cruelly tortured him as a prisoner were war criminals if they were soldiers — but not if they were intelligence agents.

Torture Nation

Language has been corrupted, too. On March 9, the CIA's director of public affairs, Mark Mansfield, said in a letter to the editors of The New York Times that the lawfulness of the agency's interrogation methods "has been confirmed by the Justice Department." In other words, the CIA still relies for legal approval on the politicized department that approved torture in the first place. The devil citing Satan's scripture.

George W. Bush can seek his God's mercy for trying to legitimize torture by Americans. But here on earth he cannot escape judgment. For me he will always be the Torture President.

But the rest of us do not have to resign ourselves to being a Torture Nation. The Washington Monthly devoted its current issue to the subject of torture as American practice, publishing brief essays by figures across the political spectrum. Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, U.S. Army (Ret.), who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, wrote: "We must start now to recognize our crimes and our complicity. We are all guilty, and we must all take action in whatever way we can. Torture and abuse are not American. They are foreign to us and always should be. We need to exorcise them from our souls and make amends."

John McCain's Serious Foreign Policy

John McCain's Serious Foreign Policy

By Glenn Greenwald

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J
ohn McCain was on a conference call with right-wing bloggers yesterday and boasted:
I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare.
What possible reason would a U.S. President have for turning himself and our country into a "nightmare" for Hamas, let alone its "worst nightmare"? Hamas is a single-issue Palestinian group, focused exclusively on its "territorial dispute" with Israel (and, in light of its victory in the U.S.-demanded election, is also now preoccupied with governing the Palestinian Authority). Is there anyone who thinks that Hamas has tried to, will try to, or ever could attack the U.S.? Hamas is an enemy of Israel, not the U.S. Is that a distinction we even recognize any more?

What exactly is the point of feeding Israel billions of dollars every year in military aid if we're going to deem every one of its fights to be our fight, and every one of its enemies to be our Enemy? Is that actually what Americans want to do: insinuate ourselves even more into other endless, intractable religious and ethnic conflicts in the Middle East?

More disturbingly still, this chest-beating threat from McCain is merely the latest in a long line of adolescent, mindlessly belligerent war cries emanating from the Serious foreign policy candidate. In a GOP debate in May of last year, he bellowed that he would "follow [Osama bin Laden] to the gates of hell" only thereafter, according to ABC News, to then "crack[] a smile which gave the impression to some viewers that perhaps he viewed his own answer as being over the top." But he's since repeated that demonic formulation on numerous occasions, followed by the same creepy, self-satisfied smirk:


And here was McCain's sober, Serious prescription in 2006 for ending sectarian warfare in Iraq:

One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, "Stop the bullshit."
Add to that his merry singing of the joys of dropping bombs on the Iranian people, and it's clear that McCain's foreign policy approach seems even more childishly bellicose than the current occupant of the Oval Office. There's a reason that Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman are such ardent supporters.

Is there anyone outside of Lieberman and John Bolton who thinks that what we need are more cartoon-like imperial threats to the world about how we're going to pummel and smash everyone if they don't step into line? Is that mentality going to reduce complex religious and geostrategic threats or severely worsen them? McCain's foreign policy approach actually seems to be a less restrained and less complex rendition of Bush's "Bring-em-on" swagger that has really worked miracles in Iraq. Whatever adjectives might describe McCain's barren, cliched tough guy decrees, Serious -- or "moderate" -- isn't it.

UPDATE: Also, it would be great to know what McCain plans to do, exactly, to turn himself into Hamas' "worst nightmare." Will he invade Gaza? Bomb targets in the not-yet-settled-by-Israel-parts of the West Bank? Have the CIA engage in covert "regime change" efforts to remove Hamas, the democratically elected government, and replace it with rulers whom McCain likes better? Will we be an even more active participant in the endless Israeli-Palestinian dispute? What are McCain's plans specifically for unleashing

Black Hole in Bush's Brain

Black Hole in Bush's Brain

By Peter Chamberlin

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Judging from the campaign rhetoric coming out of both camps, whoever wins the Oval Office will be inclined to continue the failed military policies in Iraq and to pursue a confrontation with Iran. Apparently it does not matter to either party what will follow those actions, or what these disastrous policies have produced as they played-out in Iraq and Afghanistan. It does not matter who gets elected, whether it is "bomb, bomb Iran" McCain, or "obliterate/massive retaliation" Clinton, nothing will change.

American researcher Suzanne Maloney spells out the results of the "successfully" surging American war on Iraq:

"Of the many American illusions and delusions surrounding this war, the Administration's calculations with respect to Iran were among the most wildly off base. Instead of generating a liberal, secular democracy whose reverberations would drive out Iran's clerical oligarchs, the disastrous Bush policies fostered a sectarian Iraq that has helped empower Iranian hardliners. Rather than serving as an anchor for a new era of stability and American preeminence in the Persian Gulf, the new Iraq represents a strategic black hole, bleeding Washington of military resources and political influence while extending Iran's primacy among its neighbors." http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2008/0321_iraq_maloney.aspx

In spite of the problems these policies have created for us and the world (including the deadly fuel inflation ignited by the chaos), and the devastating human toll taken so far, the Cheney wing of the co-presidency continues to pursue every possible avenue for expanding the failed war into a regional conflagration, which could only be settled with nuclear weapons. The bulldog drive to crush all opposition that has characterized every move of the Bush White House, is once again ignoring reality to envision a new America-dominated world order that can only be built upon the ruins of the demolished old order. If only some situation could be created which would provide the perfect pretext that would justify pushing the button on Iran. Would we be correct in judging Cheney to be a super-patriot, or is he really a secret neo-communist, hoping to forcefully overthrow the world order and enthrone his elitist neocon proletariat and their corporate state as a world dictatorship?

It is no coincidence that the nations that have been targeted are all enemies of Israel. Neither is it a coincidence that Israel has been the source of the "evidence" (much of it fabricated) that has been used, and is still being used, to authorize the war resolutions. For those who charge that it is "anti-Semitic" to maintain that Israel or its Jewish-American supporters have hijacked the "war on terror," serving as prime motivators for the war in Iraq and the coming conflict with Iran and Syria, the primary "evidence" that has been used by the Israel lobby to sell these wars was clearly "made in Israel." It is not anti-Semitic to point-out that no one wants these criminal wars to escalate except Israel and the war criminal Cheney faction, who are now looking to cover their own asses for what they have done. The only voices demanding the destruction of Iran are Jewish voices and their Zionist neocon supporters.

Ariel Sharon's Israeli branch of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans produced the trumped-up "evidence" that was used to start the aggression on Iraq. The only "proof" that Iran is building a nuke came from the Mossad, even though it was alleged to have come through the MEK terrorist group. The only evidence introduced in the recent CIA hearings on the Syrian attack were three still photos, courtesy of the Mossad. Any real evidence backing-up Israeli claims was destroyed in Israel's arrogant self-defeating attack.

The Israeli attack on Syria last September was another attempt to jumpstart the highly anticipated regional war, but it was also the product of a joint American/Israeli conspiracy intended to undermine international treaties and to destroy the progress made by peace-making institutions in eliminating war. This violent assault on the arms control regime is meant to continue the privileged status for Israel that has been carved-out for it, a rogue nuclear-armed nation which refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Syria was invaded to maintain Israel's nuclear monopoly, even though Syria has signed the NPT and it has received past US support for nuclear research under the Atoms for Peace Program. Israel makes the Muslim nations pariahs in the world community, even though it has created the illegal Dimona nuclear facility, which has never been inspected, not even by the US. The double standard established by America for its outlaw ally is at the root of the Middle East's security problems.

Like the evidence on Iran's nuclear intentions, the Israeli-supplied "documentation" on an alleged Syrian reactor is not only another photoshop fraud, it is the only evidence to prove that there ever was a reactor. We are asked to believe Israel, whose nuclear policy has always been one of strategic deception, that Syria violated the laws that Israel refuses to even acknowledge. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, condemned the attack for its corrosive impact on non-proliferation issues and for the Israeli flaunting of international law in the destruction of any real evidence.

"'The director general deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the agency's responsibilities under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts,' ElBaradei said in a statement today.

He was critical of Israel's bombing of the site of the alleged reactor. 'The director general views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the nonproliferation regime,' the statement said." a href="http://uruknet.info/?p=m43423&hd=&size=1&l=e" target="_blank">http://uruknet.info/?p=m43423&hd=&size=1&l=e

Israel's nuclear program has always operated outside the law, without any international oversight, for one purpose – to produce as many nuclear weapons as possible for it to use to threaten its neighbors and anyone else who stands in their way. It was built with an oversized cooling capacity, to allow for its planned future expansion into a medium-sized bomb factory. Playing to international sympathy, following a duplicitous path of deception, Zionist Israel hid its violent secret plans for illegal expansions that were to be carried-out under the thinly veiled threats of nuclear destruction. Its secret nuclear weapons program made no pretense whatsoever of being based on a legitimate nuclear power program. Israel has no nuclear power plants and Dimona is too small for power generation.

Since its inception in the minds of militant Zionists, Israeli expansion and territorial grabs have always been necessary components of the plan for ethnic cleansing in Palestine and other select areas of the Middle East that Zionist colonizers refer to as "Greater Israel" (just as they refer to the West Bank as "Judea and Samaria," as they pretend to negotiate over Palestinian rights to this land).

"We should prepare to go over to the offensive. Our aim is to smash Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, and Syria. The weak point is Lebanon, for the Moslem regime is artificial and easy for us to undermine. We shall establish a Christian state there, and then we will smash the Arab Legion, eliminate Trans-Jordan; Syria will fall to us. We then bomb and move on and take Port Said, Alexandria and Sinai." David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar.

The steady acquisition of Western technology, especially nuclear technology has been the key to implementing the planned colonization of Arab lands. Tensions with targeted neighbors have risen and fallen as needed to create the palpable threat to Israel that would warrant the massive transfer of military technology to Israel.

"Barak gives the go-ahead for a silly and dangerous assassination attempt in tranquil Bethlehem; just to rekindle the fire, lest there be a lull...If there's a lull in Qassams fired, then Barak does everything he can to ensure their renewal to justify the 'large-scale op' in Gaza he intends to make." http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/964489.html

Part of the ongoing escalation is due to Israeli designs upon new advanced American fighters. Israel's use of deception as a tool of diplomacy, as well as a military strategy, has allowed Israel to stage terrorist attacks intended to implicate its enemies and provide cover for incursions into Arab territory. The ongoing "settlement" policy and partitioning of Palestine are justified as defensive measures, although the Palestinians are clearly the ones defending themselves against the occupation and invasion of their homeland.

America's Israel-centric foreign policy is focused upon making the Palestinians invisible, to hide the crimes being committed against them, as their human rights are stolen and they are swept from their ancestor's land. America is the classic "enabler" for the dysfunctional Jewish state, forcing the world to accept double standards for Israelis and Palestinians, making it possible to take away the guaranteed human rights of the native inhabitants of the land, in order to give special rights to the colonizers who had previously sworn to defend native rights. American leaders are doing everything possible to hide the suffering of the Palestinians and to twist the facts about the campaign to drive them from the land, in an effort to make it appear that all Israeli attacks are self-defense. Zionist Israel cannot continue its ambitious expansionist plans without harming its status in the world without this cloak to hide its murderous actions.

This war is driven by multiple delusions, the main error being that it can eventually be won by the application of greater and greater amounts of force. Advocates of this strategy ignore the basic immorality of the argument, that victory at any price is an acceptable cost. If the American people remember their power and are given time to think about the direction of the war, they will realize how wrong these policies are. Considering that Bush is following a policy that generates more enemies than can be killed without the use of nuclear weapons and he shares Cheney's obsession with finding an excuse to nuke Iran, it becomes apparent that America's leaders are working against the people's interests.

Any leader who does not support instantly stopping the prosecution of this conflict is supporting the continuation of this black hole. The only solution to the chaos in Iraq is a complete turnaround of policy, centered upon undoing the damage done by Bush's plan, which consisted of beating the Iraqi people senseless, until they submitted to all of his demands. If there is no candidate for president who advocates such a total reversal of American foreign policy, then there is not candidate worth voting for. It does not matter whether these policies have been an unending series of mistakes or if the chaotic storm that is Iraq today is the product of a cynical heartless plan, Bush or whoever succeeds him (if he allows a successor) must not be allowed to expand this failed military strategy.

GOP Objects to Bill Allowing Recounts

GOP Objects to Bill Allowing Recounts

By Ben Adler

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Voting rights activists who hoped the federal government would help local governments pay for paper trails and audits for electronic voting machines have gone from elation to frustration as they watched Republicans who supported such a proposal in committee vote against bringing it to the House floor.

The result: The elections in November will likely be marred by the same accusations of fraud and error involving voting machines that arose in the aftermath of the 2004 presidential race.

When New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt's Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act came up for a vote in the House Administration Committee on April 2, the Republicans on the committee gave it their unanimous support. But two weeks later, those same Republican members voted against moving the bill to the House floor. It would have taken a two-thirds vote to push the bill to the floor; with most House Republicans opposed, the bill didn't make it that far.

Larry Norden, director of the voting technology project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school, called the vote "a sad statement on how little Congress has done on the issue of making sure elections are as secure and reliable as possible."

In May 2003, Holt proposed the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act. That bill would have mandated a paper trail for voting machines so that voters could verify their vote and a recount could be performed, if necessary. The measure faced conservative objections on states' rights grounds and failed to make much headway.

So Holt introduced his new bill in January. Under the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act, the federal government would help localities switch to paper ballots or attach printers to their electronic voting machines in time for the November elections. To overcome states' rights objections, Holt crafted the bill as an opt-in: Nobody would be required to switch technologies or conduct audits, but federal funding would be available to offset costs for those who did.

Without a mandate, Holt's bill drew more bipartisan support; Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) was one of the 92 co-sponsors. "We need standards to ensure that things are auditable, verifiable and give the voters confidence, and [Davis] doesn't think that what we have now does that," said Davis spokesman Brian McNicoll.

"The principle reason for the bipartisan consensus is that this was opt-in," Holt told Politico after the bill passed committee. "Everybody, Democrat and Republican, would prefer fewer disputed elections and better ways of resolving disputes. You can't resolve disputes without a paper trail."

But Holt's bill hit a snag on April 15 when the White House put out a statement of opposition on the grounds that it was unnecessary to spend the money appropriated in the bill when funding could come instead from the Help America Vote Act.

Republicans say it was the bill's cost, not the White House's opposition, that caused them to change their votes. "The version that passed committee on April 2 did not authorize a specific dollar amount," said Salley Collins, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the Administration Committee. "We didn't receive the [Congressional Budget Office] score until the 14th of April, one day before it went to the floor.... So we did not know that the proposed legislation would cost $685 million - $50 million more than Holt's first version."

Holt and his staff dismissed that objection. "There's no reason to expect it would actually cost $680 million," he said, arguing that the $680 million estimate assumes more local governments will opt in than he believes is likely.

Republicans also cited concerns regarding implementation. Collins said Holt's bill is "overly prescriptive with the hand recounts," and she suggested that it might not be realistic to expect local governments to adopt new technologies in such a short timeframe. "It could wreak havoc on a hotly contested election," she said.

Holt says these issues are red herrings: Because of the opt-in nature of the bill, any state worried that it could not complete the process in time could simply choose not to participate.

While some election reform activists would have preferred a mandatory bill, many saw it as the best they could hope to get in time for the next election. "On Election Day, if machines are breaking down and there are no paper ballots, the failure of this bill will be one place to look for explanations," said Norden.

Holt is predicting exactly that: Ultimately, he said, the bill's failure will mean that "millions of voters will leave the 2008 election questioning the process and whether their vote means anything."

Pariah Diplomacy

Pariah Diplomacy

By Jimmy Carter

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Atlanta - A counterproductive Washington policy in recent years has been to boycott and punish political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. This policy makes difficult the possibility that such leaders might moderate their policies.

Two notable examples are in Nepal and the Middle East. About 12 years ago, Maoist guerrillas took up arms in an effort to overthrow the monarchy and change the nation's political and social life. Although the United States declared the revolutionaries to be terrorists, the Carter Center agreed to help mediate among the three major factions: the royal family, the old-line political parties and the Maoists.

In 2006, six months after the oppressive monarch was stripped of his powers, a cease-fire was signed. Maoist combatants laid down their arms and Nepalese troops agreed to remain in their barracks. Our center continued its involvement and nations - though not the United States - and international organizations began working with all parties to reconcile the dispute and organize elections.

The Maoists are succeeding in achieving their major goals: abolishing the monarchy, establishing a democratic republic and ending discrimination against untouchables and others whose citizenship rights were historically abridged. After a surprising victory in the April 10 election, Maoists will play a major role in writing a constitution and governing for about two years. To the United States, they are still terrorists.

On the way home from monitoring the Nepalese election, I, my wife and my son went to Israel. My goal was to learn as much as possible to assist in the faltering peace initiative endorsed by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Although I knew that official United States policy was to boycott the government of Syria and leaders of Hamas, I did not receive any negative or cautionary messages about the trip, except that it might be dangerous to visit Gaza.

The Carter Center had monitored three Palestinian elections, including one for parliamentary seats in January 2006. Hamas had prevailed in several municipal contests, gained a reputation for effective and honest administration and did surprisingly well in the legislative race, displacing the ruling party, Fatah. As victors, Hamas proposed a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah as president and offered to give key ministries to Fatah, including that of foreign affairs and finance.

Hamas had been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, and the elected Palestinian government was forced to dissolve. Eventually, Hamas gained control of Gaza, and Fatah is "governing" the Israeli-dominated West Bank. Opinion polls show Hamas steadily gaining popularity. Since there can be no peace with Palestinians divided, we at the Carter Center believed it important to explore conditions allowing Hamas to be brought peacefully back into the discussions. (A recent poll of Israelis, who are familiar with this history, showed 64 percent favored direct talks between Israel and Hamas.)

Similarly, Israel cannot gain peace with Syria unless the Golan Heights dispute is resolved. Here again, United States policy is to ostracize the Syrian government and prevent bilateral peace talks, contrary to the desire of high Israeli officials.

We met with Hamas leaders from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria, and after two days of intense discussions with one another they gave these official responses to our suggestions, intended to enhance prospects for peace:

  • Hamas will accept any agreement negotiated by Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel provided it is approved either in a Palestinian referendum or by an elected government. Hamas's leader, Khaled Meshal, has reconfirmed this, although some subordinates have denied it to the press.
  • When the time comes, Hamas will accept the possibility of forming a nonpartisan professional government of technocrats to govern until the next elections can be held.
  • Hamas will also disband its militia in Gaza if a nonpartisan professional security force can be formed.
  • Hamas will permit an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants in 2006, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, to send a letter to his parents. If Israel agrees to a list of prisoners to be exchanged, and the first group is released, Corporal Shalit will be sent to Egypt, pending the final releases.
  • Hamas will accept a mutual cease-fire in Gaza, with the expectation (not requirement) that this would later include the West Bank.
  • Hamas will accept international control of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, provided the Egyptians and not the Israelis control closing the gates.

In addition, Syria's president, Bashir al-Assad, has expressed eagerness to begin negotiations with Israel to end the impasse on the Golan Heights. He asks only that the United States be involved and that the peace talks be made public.

Through more official consultations with these outlawed leaders, it may yet be possible to revive and expedite the stalemated peace talks between Israel and its neighbors. In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation.

Developing the New "Capitalists' Man"

Developing the New "Capitalists' Man"

By Dean Baker

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In the wake of revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba, and elsewhere, there was talk of creating a new type of person with a socialist mindset. The idea was that people in the prerevolutionary capitalist societies had been educated to be individualistic and greedy. The post-revolutionary societies would instead educate people to be socially minded and to consider the collective good in their actions.

I'll leave it to others to debate the merits of these efforts. The reason that they are suddenly relevant is that our political leaders now seem concerned that people have not been adequately educated for their vision of a capitalist society.

This came to light recently when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insisted that people who are underwater in their mortgages still had an obligation to pay off their loans. Mr. Paulson is concerned that, because of the collapse of the housing bubble, many people now find themselves owing more than the value of their house and are simply walking away from their debts.

For example, in some of the rapidly deflating bubble markets, many homeowners are in situations where they owe $400,000 or $500,000 on a home that today is worth $100,000 less than the amount of their mortgage. In this situation, homeowners can effectively save $100,000 if they stop paying the mortgage and let the bank foreclose on the house.

Tens of thousands of homeowners are opting do exactly this. They calculate that it makes more sense for them to let the bank take the house than to repay the mortgage. Businesses have even opened that show people exactly how to "walk away" from their mortgage and explain the potential consequences.

As a committed capitalist, we might expect Mr. Paulson to applaud people taking initiative and acting to improve their plight. Instead, he is insisting that these homeowners should ignore their self-interest and act in the interest of the banks. In other words, he wants homeowners to keep making payments on their mortgages even if it is a bad deal for them. Apparently, individualistic behavior can go too far when it affects bank profits.

Mr. Paulson isn't the only capitalist who wants people to put aside self-interest. The entertainment industry is also struggling with the fact that people acting in their self-interest are unlikely to pay copyright protected prices for music, movies and video games when they can get the material for free over the web. To try to discourage people from acting in their self-interest, the Recording Industry Association of America (the trade association for the music industry) has developed curriculum for grade school, high school and university level courses that are supposed to instill in children the proper respect for copyright. Instead of debating the most efficient mechanism for financing creative work in the Internet Age, we are getting propaganda courses on copyright protecti
on.

Of course, no industry has a more urgent need for people to act selflessly in support of their profits than the pharmaceutical industry. Their profits depend on being able to sell drugs at prices that can be hundreds or even thousands of times the actual production cost.

With few exceptions, drugs are cheap to produce, but the industry can charge very high prices because it has a government-granted patent monopoly. The absolute highest prices are associated with drugs for diseases like cancer that can literally mean life or death for patients. The cost for a year's prescription of these drugs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If people act in their own self-interest, they will seek out unauthorized copies of high-priced drugs, either from foreign countries or from gray market producers in the United States who will step in the fill the need. (There are more efficient ways to pay for pharmaceutical research than the patent system.) Unless the government becomes ever more repressive in enforcing patent protection, the pharmaceutical companies will not be able to sustain its current business model, since people will not pay tens of thousands of dollars for drugs that cost a few dollars to produce.

But the problems of the pharmaceutical industry, the entertainment industry and the mortgage industry can all be solved if we can just perfect the new capitalists' man - a person who willingly subordinates his own needs to the greater need for corporate profit. There is an obvious name for this new man: "sucker."


Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (www.conservativenannystate.org). He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.

Is There an Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?

Is There an Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?

By Ann Wright

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The Department of Defense statistics are alarming - one in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military. The warnings to women should begin above the doors of the military recruiting stations, as that is where assaults on women in the military begin - before they are even recruited.

But, now, even more alarming, are deaths of women soldiers in Iraq and in the United States following rape. The military has characterized each death of women who were first sexually assaulted as deaths from "noncombat related injuries," and then added "suicide." Yet, the families of the women whom the military has declared to have committed suicide strongly dispute the findings and are calling for further investigations into the deaths of their daughters. Specific US Army units and certain US military bases in Iraq have an inordinate number of women soldiers who have died of "noncombat related injuries," with several identified as "suicides."

Ninety-four US military women have died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Twelve US civilian women have been killed in OIF. Thirteen US military women have been killed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Twelve US Civilian women have been killed in Afghanistan.

Of the 94 US military women who died in Iraq or in OIF, the military says 36 died from noncombat related injuries, which included vehicle accidents, illness, death by "natural causes" and self-inflicted gunshot wounds, or suicide. The military has declared the deaths of the Navy women in Bahrain, which were killed by a third sailor, as homicides. Five deaths have been labeled as suicides, but 15 more deaths occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances.

Eight women soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, (six from the Fourth Infantry Division and two from the 1st Armored Cavalry Division) have died of "noncombat related injuries" on the same base, Camp Taji, and three were raped before their deaths. Two were raped immediately before their deaths and another raped prior to arriving in Iraq. Two military women have died of suspicious "noncombat related injuries" on Balad base, and one was raped before she died. Four deaths have been classified as "suicides."

Nineteen-year-old US Army Pvt. Lavena Johnson was found dead on the military base in Balad, Iraq, in July, 2005, and her death characterized by the US Army to be suicide from a self-inflicted M-16 shot. On April 9, 2008, Dr. John Johnson and his wife Linda, parents of Private Johnson, flew from their home in St. Louis for meetings with US Congress members and their staffs. They were in Washington to ask that Congressional hearings be conducted on the Army's investigation into the death of their daughter, an investigation that classified her death as a suicide despite extensive evidence suggesting she was murdered.

From the day their daughter's body was returned to them, the parents had grave suspicions about the Army's investigation into Lavena's death and the characterization of her death as suicide. In charge of a communications facility, Lavena was able to call home daily. In those calls, she gave no indication of emotional problems or being upset. In a letter to her parents, Lavena's commanding officer Capt. David Woods wrote, "Lavena was clearly happy and seemed in very good health both physically and emotionally."

In viewing his daughter's body at the funeral home, Dr. Johnson was concerned about the bruising on her face. He was puzzled by the discrepancy in the autopsy report on the location of the gunshot wound. As a US Army veteran and a 25-year US Army civilian employee who had counseled veterans, he was mystified how the exit wound of an M-16 shot could be so small. The hole in Lavena's head appeared to be more the size of a pistol shot rather than an M-16 round. He questioned why the exit hole was on the left side of her head, when she was right handed. But the gluing of military uniform white gloves onto Lavena's hands, hiding burns on one of her hands, is what deepened Dr. Johnson's concerns that the Army's investigation into the death of his daughter was flawed.

Over the next two and one-half years, Dr. and Mrs. Johnson and their family and friends relentlessly, through the Freedom of Information Act and Congressional offices requested the Department of the Army for documents concerning Lavena's death. With each response of the Army to the request for information, another piece of information/evidence about Lavena's death emerged.

The military criminal investigator's initial drawing of the death scene revealed Lavena's M16 was found perfectly parallel to her body. The investigator's sketch showed her body was found inside a burning tent, under a wooden bench, with an aerosol can nearby. A witness stated he heard a gunshot and, when he went to investigate, found a tent on fire, and when he looked into the tent, saw a body. The Army official investigation did not mention a fire or that her body had been burned.

After two years of requesting documents, one set of papers provided by the Army included a photocopy copy of a CD. Wondering why the photocopy copy was in the documents, Dr. Johnson requested the CD itself. With help from his local Congressional representative, the US Army finally complied. When Dr. Johnson viewed the CD, he was shocked to see photographs taken by Army investigators of his daughter's body as it lay where her body had been found, as well as other photographs of her disrobed body taken during the investigation.

The photographs revealed that Lavena, a small woman, barely five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, perhaps a weapon stock. Her nose was broken and her teeth knocked backwards. One elbow was distended. The back of her clothes had debris on them indicating she had been dragged from one location to another. The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her body. The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned, apparently from a flammable liquid poured on her and then lighted. The photographs of her genital area revealed massive bruising and lacerations. A corrosive liquid had been poured into her genital area, probably to destroy DNA evidence of sexual assault.

Despite the bruises, scratches, teeth imprints and burns on her body, Lavena was found completely dressed in the burning tent. There was a blood trail from outside a contractor's tent to inside the tent. Apparently, she had been dressed after the attack and her attacker placed her body into the tent and set it on fire.

Investigator records reveal members of her unit said Lavena told them she was going jogging with friends on the other side of the base. One unit member walked with her to the Post Exchange where she bought a soda and then, in her Army workout clothes, went on by herself to meet friends and get exercise. The unit member said she was in good spirits with no indication of personal emotional problems.

The Army investigators initially assumed Private Johnson's death was a homicide and indicated that on their paperwork. However, shortly into the investigation, a decision apparently was made by higher officials that the investigators must stop the investigation into a homicide and to classify her death a suicide.

As a result, no further investigation took place into a possible homicide, despite strong evidence available to the investigators.

Another family that does not believe their daughter committed suicide in Iraq is the family of Army Pfc. Tina Priest, 20, of Smithville, Texas, who was raped by a fellow soldier in February, 2006, on a military base known as Camp Taji. Priest was a part of the 5th Support Battalion, lst Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. The Army said Tina was found dead in her room on March 1, 2006, of a self-inflicted M-16 shot, a "suicide", 11 days after the rape. Private Priest's mother, Joy Priest, disputes the Army's findings. Mrs. Priest said she talked several times with her daughter after the rape, and while very upset about the rape, she was not suicidal. Priest continues to challenge the Army's 800 pages of investigative documents with a simple question: How could her petite, five-foot-tall daughter, with a short arm length, have held the M-16 at the angle that would have resulted in the gunshot? The Army attempted several explanations, but each was debunked by Mrs. Priest and by the 800 pages of materials provided by the Army itself. The Army now says Tina used her toe to pull the trigger of the weapon that killed her. The Army never investigated Tina's death as a homicide, but only as a suicide.

Rape charges against the soldier whose sperm was found on her sleeping bag were dropped a few weeks after her death. He was convicted of failure to obey an order and sentenced to forfeiture of $714 for two months, 30 days restriction to the base and 45 days of extra duty.

On the same Camp Taji, ten days later after Tina Priest was found dead, on May 11, 2006, a female US Army Pfc. (name known to author, but not identified for the article), 19, was found dead. She died three days after she suffered what the Army called "a self-inflicted gunshot". The Army claimed she, too, had committed suicide. In her room, where her body was found, investigators discovered her diary open to a page on which she had written about being raped during training, after unknowingly drinking a date-rape drug. The person identified in the diary as the rapist was charged by the Army with rape after her death. Many who knew her did not believe she shot herself, but there is no evidence of a homicide investigation by the Army.

The September 4, 2006, the death at Camp Taji of Pfc. Hannah Gunterman McKinney, 20, of the 44th Corps Support Battalion, Ft. Lewis, Washington, was investigated. Rather than having been run over by a military vehicle as she crossed a road from a guard tower to the latrine, as initially claimed by the Army, she fell, or was pushed from, and run over by a vehicle driven by a drunk sergeant from her unit, who had first sexually assaulted her. The sergeant pleaded guilty to drinking in a war zone, drunken driving and consensual sodomy with an underage, incapacitated junior soldier to whom he had supplied alcohol. A military judge ruled McKinney's death was an accident and the sergeant was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment, demotion to private, but he would not be discharged from the Army.

Other suspicious "noncombat related injury" deaths on Camp Taji include Fort Hood's 1st Armored Cavalry Division Pfc. Melissa J. Hobart (who died June 6, 2004), 1st Armored Cavalry Sgt. Jeannette Dunn (who died November 26, 2006), 89th Military Police Brigade Specialist Kamisha J. Block (who died August, 2007), 4th Infantry Division Specialist Marisol Heredia (who died September 7, 2007) and 4th Infantry Division Specialist Keisha M. Morgan (who died February, 22, 2008). None of the deaths have been classified as suicides, but the circumstances of their deaths should be investigated further because of serious questions concerning their deaths.

The US Army has classified the deaths of four other women as suicides. In the space of three months in 2006, three members of the US Army, who had been part of a logistics group in Kuwait, committed suicide. Two of them were women. In August 2006, Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez was arrested at a restaurant in Kuwait and accused of shaking down a laundry contractor for a $3,400 bribe. He was allowed to return to his quarters, and found dead on September 4, 2006, with an empty bottle of prescription sleeping pills and an open container of what appeared to be antifreeze.

Maj. Gloria D. Davis, 47, assigned to the Defense Security Assistance Agency, which handles the sales of military equipment to other countries, reportedly committed suicide in Baghdad on December 12, 2006, the day after she allegedly admitted to an Army investigator that she had accepted at least $225,000 in bribes from Lee Dynamics, a US Army contractor, who reportedly bribed officers for work in Iraq. Major Davis had a daughter, son and granddaughter. She had worked as a police officer, was a volunteer at women's shelters and helped get disadvantaged African-American students into ROTC programs.

New York Army National Guard Sgt. Denise A. Lannaman, 46, was assigned to a desk job at a procurement office in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, that purchased millions of dollars in supplies. She received excellent performance ratings, her supervisor citing that her work eliminated misuse of funds by 36 percent. On October 1, 2006, Lannaman was questioned by a senior officer about the death of Lt. Col. Gutierrez, and reportedly told by that officer that she would be leaving the military in disgrace. Later in the day, she was found in a jeep, dead of a gunshot wound. While her family said she had attempted suicide four different times in her life, the Army has not ruled on the cause of Lannaman's death.

US Army interrogator Specialist Alyssa Renee Peterson, 27, assigned to C Company, 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, was an Arabic linguist, who reportedly was very concerned about the manner in which interrogations were being conducted. She died on September 15, 2003, near Tal Afar, Iraq, in what the Army described as a gunshot wound to the head, a noncombat, self-inflicted weapons discharge, or suicide. Peterson reportedly objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners and refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Members of her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Peterson objected to. The military says all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. After refusing to conduct more interrogations, Peterson was assigned to guard the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. She was also sent to suicide-prevention training. On the night of September 15, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle. Family members challenge the Army's conclusion.

US Army Sgt. Melissa Valles, 26, assigned to Headquarters Detachment, Company B, 64th Forward Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Fort Carson, Colorado, died on July 9, 2003, in Balad from two noncombat gunshot wounds to her abdomen. The Army has not ruled whether her death was a suicide or a homicide. But Valles's family stated that, although small in stature at five-foot-three, she was a tough person. "She really put people in their place. She did that since she was a girl. She would put little boys who were bullies in their place." The family does not believe Valles committed suicide.

One suspicious noncombat death of a military woman occurred in Afghanistan.

On September 28, 2007, Massachusetts Army National Guard Specialist Ciara Durkin, 30, a finance specialist, was found lying near a church on the very secure Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, with a single gunshot wound to her head. She had recently told her relatives to press for answers if anything happened to her while she was deployed in Afghanistan. When she was home three weeks prior to her death, she told her sister about something she had come across that raised some concern with her and that she had made some enemies because of it. Members of her family also questioned whether the fact that she was gay played a role in her death. They believe Ciara was killed by a fellow service member, intentionally or accidentally, and they are confident that she did not commit suicide.

In Bahrain, on January 16, 2007, US Navy Petty Officer First Class Jennifer A. Valdivia, 27, assigned to the naval security force for Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, was found dead three days after she was to report for duty on January 14. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has classified her death as a suicide. Valdivia was kennel master of the largest military kennel in the world. In 2005, she was named Sailor of the Year at the Bahrain Naval Base.

The circumstances surrounding each of these deaths warrants further investigation by the US military. Congress can compel the military to reopen cases and provide further investigation. I strongly urge Congress to demand further investigation of the deaths of these women.

TV Networks Silenced Anti-War Voices

TV Networks Silenced Anti-War Voices

By Jeff Cohen

Go To Original

In the fall of 2002, week after week, I argued vigorously against invading Iraq in debates televised on MSNBC. I used every possible argument that might sway mainstream viewers – no real threat, cost, instability. But as the war neared, my debates were terminated.

In my 2006 book Cable News Confidential, I explained why I lost my airtime:

“There was no room for me after MSNBC launched Countdown: Iraq – a daily one-hour show that seemed more keen on glamorizing a potential war than scrutinizing or debating it. Countdown: Iraq featured retired colonels and generals, sometimes resembling boys with war toys as they used props, maps and glitzy graphics to spin invasion scenarios.

“They reminded me of pumped-up ex-football players doing pre-game analysis and diagramming plays. It was excruciating to be sidelined at MSNBC, watching so many non-debates in which myth and misinformation were served up unchallenged.”

It was bad enough to be silenced. Much worse to see that these ex-generals – many working for military corporations – were never in debates, nor asked a tough question by an anchor. (I wasn’t allowed on MSNBC unless balanced by at least one truculent right-winger.)

Except for the brazenness and scope of the Pentagon spin program, I wasn’t shocked by the recent New York Times report exposing how the Pentagon junketed and coached the retired military brass into being “message-force multipliers” and “surrogates” for Donald Rumsfeld’s lethal propaganda.

The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld nor the Pentagon. It’s the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism.

No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or smear weapons expert Scott Ritter. Or blacklist former attorney general Ramsey Clark.

It was top NBC/MSNBC execs, not the Feds, who imposed a quota system on the Donahue staff requiring two pro-war guests if we booked one anti-war advocate – affirmative action for hawks.

I’m all for a Congressional investigation into the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation – which included an active-duty general exhorting ex-military-turned-paid-pundits that “the strategic target remains our population.”

Network Villains

But I’m also for keeping the focus and onus on CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, even NPR – who were partners in the Pentagon’s mission of “information dominance.”

And for us to see that American TV news remains so corrupt today that it has hardly mentioned the Times story on the Pentagon’s pundits, which was based on 8,000 pages of internal Pentagon documents acquired by a successful Times lawsuit.

It’s important to remember that at the same time corporate TV outlets voluntarily abandoned journalistic ethics in the run-up to Iraq, independent media boomed in audience by making totally different journalistic choices.

Programs like Democracy Now! featured genuine experts on Iraq who – what a shock! – got the facts right. Independent blogs and Web sites, propelled by war skepticism, began to soar.

As for the major TV networks, they were not hoodwinked by a Pentagon propaganda scheme. They were willingly complicit, and have been for decades.

As FAIR’s director, I began questioning top news executives years ago about their over-reliance on non-debate segments featuring former military brass. After the 1991 Gulf war, CNN and other networks realized that their use of ex-generals had helped the Pentagon dazzle and disinform the public about the conduct of the war.

CNN actually had me debate the issue of ex-military on TV with a retired U.S. Army colonel. Military analysts aren’t used to debates, and this one got heated:

Cohen: “You would never dream of covering the environment by bringing on expert after expert after expert who had all retired from environmental organizations after 20 or 30 years and were still loyal to those groups. You would never discuss the workplace or workers by bringing on expert after expert after expert who’d been in the labor movement and retired in good standing after 30 years. . . . When it comes to war and foreign policy, you bring on all the retired generals, retired secretaries of state.”

The Colonel (irritably): “What do you want, a tax auditor to come in and talk about military strategy?”

Cohen: “You hit it on the nail, Colonel. What you need besides the generals and the admirals who can talk about how missiles and bombs are dispatched, you need other experts. You need experts in human rights, you need medical experts, you need relief experts who know what it’s like to talk about bombs falling on people.”

Before the debate ended, I expressed my doubts that corporate media would ever quit their addiction to unreliable military sources:

“There’s this ritual, it’s a familiar pattern, a routine, where mainstream journalists, after the last war or intervention, say, ‘Boy, we got manipulated. We were taken. But next time, we’re going to be more skeptical.’ And then when the next time comes, it’s the same reporters interviewing the same experts, who buy the distortions from the Pentagon.”

Experts, Not Advocates?

A few years later, during the brutal U.S.-NATO bombing of Serbia, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed CNN vice-president and anchor Frank Sesno:

Goodman: “If you support the practice of putting ex-military men, generals, on the payroll to share their opinion during a time of war, would you also support putting peace activists on the payroll to give a different opinion in times of war, to be sitting there with the military generals, talking about why they feel that war is not appropriate?”

Sesno: “We bring the generals in because of their expertise in a particular area. We call them analysts. We don’t bring them in as advocates.”

It’s clear: War experts are neutral analysts; peace experts are advocates. Even when the Pentagon helps select and prep the network’s military analysts.

Shortly after the Iraq invasion, CNN’s news chief Eason Jordan acknowledged on-air that he’d run the names of potential analysts by the Pentagon: “We got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.”

Of all the excruciating moments for me – after having been terminated by MSNBC along with Phil Donahue and others – the worst was watching retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, NBC’s top military analyst, repeatedly blustering for war on Iraq.

Undisclosed to viewers, the general was a member (along with Lieberman, McCain, Kristol and Perle) of the pro-invasion “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.”

A leading figure in the Pentagon’s pundit corps, no one spewed more nonsense in such an authoritative voice than McCaffrey – for example, on the top-notch advanced planning for securing Iraq:

“I just got an update briefing from Secretary Rumsfeld and his team on what’s the aftermath of the fighting. And I was astonished at the complexity and dedication with which they’ve gone about thinking through this.”

After the invasion began, McCaffrey crowed on MSNBC: “Thank God for the Abrams tank and the Bradley fighting vehicle.”

No federal agency forced NBC and MSNBC to put McCaffrey on the air unopposed. No federal agency prevented those networks from telling viewers that the general sat on the boards of several military contactors, including one that made millions for doing God’s work on the Abrams and Bradley.

Genuine separation of press and state is one reason growing numbers of Americans are choosing independent media over corporate media.

And independent media don’t run embarrassing promos of the kind NBC was proudly airing in 2003:

“Showdown Iraq, and only NBC News has the experts. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, allied commander during the Gulf War. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, he was the most decorated four-star general in the Army. Gen. Wayne Downing, former special operations commander and White House advisor. Ambassador Richard Butler and former UN weapons inspector David Kay. Nobody has seen Iraq like they have. The experts. The best information from America's most watched news organization, NBC News?"

Dollar Slide Drives Budget as Japan Shuns Treasuries

Dollar Slide Drives Budget as Japan Shuns Treasuries

By Wes Goodman

Go To Original

Add another ailment to the U.S. misery index of soaring gasoline and wheat costs and falling home values: a federal deficit that is burgeoning as foreign investors led by the Japanese recoil from the slumping dollar.

The Japanese, who own $586.6 billion, or 12 percent of U.S. government debt, had their worst quarter in Treasuries this decade, losing 7 percent in the first three months of the year as the dollar fell to the lowest since 1995 versus the yen, Merrill Lynch & Co. indexes show. Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance Co., Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co. and Sumitomo Life Insurance Co., three of the nation's four-biggest insurers, would rather accept the world's lowest bond yields in Japan than buy U.S. debt.

“It's too early to say the dollar will stop falling,'' said Masataka Horii, head of the investment team in Tokyo for the $53.1 billion Kokusai Global Sovereign Open, Asia's biggest bond fund. “The U.S. economy will be slow for a while.''

Japan owns more Treasuries than any other nation. After raising their holdings by $9.2 billion to $620.6 billion between March and July 2007, Japanese investors trimmed that stake by $34 billion through February, the Treasury said April 15.

America relies on foreign investors, who own more than half the U.S. government debt outstanding, to finance a deficit that New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts will expand to a record $500 billion for the year ending Sept. 30, after a $163 billion gap last year. Without their support, long-term interest rates would be 0.9 percentage point higher, a 2006 Federal Reserve study found.

Diminishing Returns

The yield on the benchmark 3 1/2 percent Treasury due February 2018 rose 16 basis points last week to 3.87 percent, according to bond broker BGCantor Market Data. The yield is up from 3.28 percent on March 17, the lowest since June 2003. The note's price declined 1 9/32, or $12.81 per $1,000 face amount, to $97. It was 3.88 percent today as of 11:41 a.m. in Tokyo.

Ten-year Treasury yields fell to within 2.03 percentage points of similar-maturity Japanese government bonds on March 17, the narrowest margin in more than a decade. Japan's 1.65 percent 10-year yield is the lowest of 31 bond markets tracked by Bloomberg and compares with 4.18 percent for German bunds.

A survey of Japanese funds investing overseas found 58 percent favor euro-denominated bonds, up from 20 percent a year ago, Barclays Capital Japan Ltd., a unit of the world's fifth- biggest currency trader, said in an April 24 report. Kokusai cut its U.S. fixed income holdings to a record-low 20 percent in March, from 32 percent two years ago.

European Debt

“European debt is more attractive than Treasuries,'' said Nobuto Yamazaki, executive fund manager at Diam Asset Management in Tokyo, which runs an $8.55 billion bond fund that is Japan's third-biggest. The euro, which gained 14.5 percent in the past year against the dollar, “will continue to be strong,'' he said.

Japanese investors have lost 4 percent over the past year after converting interest income and any capital gains into yen, Merrill Lynch indexes show. That compares with a profit of 1.5 percent in Japanese debt and 4.5 percent in German bunds.

The dollar may be rebounding. It appreciated 9 percent to 104.37 yen on April 25 from the 12-year low of 95.76 on March 17. The U.S. currency rose 0.3 percent today to 104.70.

Nippon Life Insurance Co., Japan's largest, is willing to bet on the currency and plans to increase holdings of foreign bonds not hedged against swings in exchange rates by 200 billion yen ($1.91 billion) in the fiscal year that started April 1.

“The dollar at 100 yen is attractive,'' said Tomiji Akabayashi, investment manager at Nippon Life, which has the equivalent of $488 billion in assets.

Fed Concerns

Nippon Life is the only one of the four biggest life insurers willing to take the risk. Meiji Yasuda Life, the third- largest, started hedging dollar-denominated bonds in January and won't be putting new funds into overseas debt, said Yasuharu Takamatsu, head of the investment department. No. 2 Dai-ichi Mutual said it plans to focus on Japanese debt this year.

Investors are concerned Treasuries will fall as the Fed stops cutting its target rate for overnight loans because of faster inflation, said Naka Matsuzawa, chief strategist in Tokyo at Nomura Securities Co., a unit of Japan's biggest securities firm. The cost of wheat and crude oil has almost doubled in less than 12 months, helping push the annual inflation rate to 4 percent in March from 2.8 percent a year earlier.

“There's a high chance the yen will appreciate against the dollar,'' said Hirofumi Miyahara, deputy general manager of investment planning at Osaka-based Sumitomo Life Insurance, the fourth-largest. “We're cautious on Treasuries,'' said Miyahara, whose firm is increasing purchases of Japanese debt.

No `Charm'

Asian investors outside Japan are also pulling back. Money managers in China, the second-biggest overseas holder of Treasuries, with $486.9 billion, and South Korea say they favor debt in Europe, equities or commodities.

Beijing-based ICBC Credit Suisse Asset Management Co., controlled by China's biggest bank, said last week Treasuries are “not attractive'' because of currency risks. South Korea's $220 billion National Pension Service in Seoul said yields on the debt have lost their “charm.''

U.S. borrowing costs will rise in the “longer term'' because central banks may slowly cut their holdings of dollars to about 30 percent of their reserves in 15 years, from less than 60 percent now, said Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund in Washington.

“The dollar's primacy in the international financial system is being eroded,'' said Rogoff, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Foreign investors have done very poorly in U.S. Treasuries.''

Indirect bidders, a group of investors that includes foreign central banks, bought 29 percent of the $19 billion in five-year notes the Treasury sold April 24, down from 34 percent in March.

“I wouldn't jump into U.S. Treasuries,'' said Hao Kang, who manages a $443 million fund at ICBC Credit Suisse in Beijing. “I am not so confident about the currency.''

Voter-Identification Law Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

Voter-Identification Law Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

By Greg Stohr

Go To Original

The U.S. Supreme Court gave Republicans an election-year victory, ruling in an Indiana case that states can require photo identification from voters to combat fraud.

The court, voting 6-3, rejected Democratic contentions that the Indiana law will impose an unconstitutional burden on voters, particularly the elderly and poor. The Indiana measure, which will be in effect for the state's presidential primary on May 6, is by some accounts the nation's strictest voter-ID law.

Writing the court's lead opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said the risk of voter fraud is ``real'' and that fraud ``could affect the outcome of a close election.'' States, he said, have a ``valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.''

The ruling bolsters laws in dozens of states and may make it harder for some voters to cast ballots in the November elections. The decision doesn't preclude the possibility that voters could launch narrower challenges to particular applications of the Indiana law or other statutes around the country.

The case raised echoes of the 2000 Bush v. Gore case, pitting Republicans against Democrats in a fight over the rules of the polling place. That case, which resolved the presidential election dispute, split the court along ideological lines, 5-4.

Stevens let the court avert a similar split in the voter-ID case by voting with the conservative wing. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joined Stevens's opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with the result, while saying they would have given states even more leeway to enact voter-ID laws.

Dissenting Justices

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Stephen Breyer dissented. Writing for himself and Ginsburg, Souter said the law ``imposes an unreasonable and irrelevant burden on voters who are poor and old.''

Breyer said the Indiana law imposed a ``significantly harsher'' burden on voters than photo-ID requirements in other states, including Florida and Georgia.

``The good news is that the justices are searching for ways to depoliticize election law cases,'' said Edward Foley, director of the election law program at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law in Columbus. ``The less-encouraging sign, as evidenced by the 3-3-2-1 split, is that they aren't quite there yet.''

The Indiana law was enacted along party lines and signed by a Republican governor. Under the measure, voters who don't have a photo ID may cast a provisional ballot. To have their votes counted, they must visit a designated government office within 10 days and either bring a photo ID or sign a statement saying they can't afford one.

`Primary' Document

To obtain a photo ID, Indiana residents must present at least one ``primary'' document, such as a birth certificate, passport, certificate of naturalization or military ID.

Democrats contended that the new Indiana law will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, including a disproportionate number of minority, elderly and poor people.

Stevens said the evidence didn't back up those assertions. He said the record in the case ``does not provide any concrete evidence of the burden imposed on voters who currently lack photo identification.''

Stevens acknowledged that supporters of the law hadn't proven any instance of voter impersonation at the polls in Indiana. He said, however, that ``flagrant examples of such fraud have been documented throughout this nation's history,'' including William ``Boss'' Tweed's manipulation of the 1868 New York City elections.

2003 Mayoral Race

Stevens also pointed to absentee-ballot fraud in the 2003 Democratic primary in the mayoral race in East Chicago, Indiana.

In dissent, Souter questioned whether voter impersonation was a real problem in light of the possibility of criminal prosecution and the limited impact that a single fraudulent vote would have.

``It simply is not worth it for individuals acting alone to commit in-person voter impersonation, which is relatively ineffectual for the foolish few who may commit it,'' Souter wrote.

In his concurring opinion, Scalia faulted Stevens for evaluating whether the law imposed a special burden on particular voters and leaving the door open for future lawsuits.

``A case-by-case approach naturally encourages constant litigation,'' Scalia said. ``Very few new election regulations improve everyone's lot, so the potential allegations of severe burden are endless.''

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York called the ruling ``a body blow to what America stands for -- equal access to the polls.''

The Bush administration backed the Indiana Republicans in the case.

The cases are Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 07- 21, and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, 07-25.