Thursday, September 4, 2008

Payroll report: Nation loses 33,000 jobs in August

Payroll report: Nation loses 33,000 jobs in August

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A national report released Thursday finds that the private sector shed 33,000 jobs in August.

The decline was lead by a drop of 78,000 jobs among goods-producing companies -- the 21st consecutive monthly decline, according to payroll manager Automatic Data Processing Inc. The service sector, however, gained 45,000 jobs in August.

Companies with 500 or more workers cut 28,000 jobs in August and companies with between 50 and 499 employees cut 25,000 jobs. Businesses with less than 50 workers added 20,000 employees in August, after adding a revised 46,000 jobs in July.

ADP's August numbers reflect a sharp turn from July, when the private sector gained 1,000 jobs, spurred by a boost in small business employment. The July reading, however, was revised down from an increase of 9,000 jobs.

Data used in the ADP National Employment Report represents averages from the company's payroll figures representing 24 million U.S. employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor will release its August employment figures Friday.

'Ethnic Cleansing By Stealth'

'Ethnic Cleansing By Stealth'

With every cruel and unusual punishment meted out against West Bank villagers, Israel is fomenting more and more hate against its own people

By Seth Freedman

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When Israel was first created, I had a lot of admiration and respect for the Jews; now I want to throw them all into the sea." The choice of phraseology was no accident on the part of the speaker, who wanted to make crystal clear the effects that more than 40 years of Israeli occupation have had on him and his family.

We were sitting in his tent in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, situated just outside the perimeter fence of the West Bank settlement of Karmel. Thanks to Karmel's proximity, the Bedouins suffer almost daily harassment at the hands of the settlers and their security team, resulting in the vitriolic volte-face performed by the head of the family in terms of his feelings towards Israelis.

The residents of Umm al-Kheir, and several other villages in the area, are prevented from building on their own land, or from grazing their flocks in the pastures nearby, due to the severe restrictions imposed on them by the army and police. In order to protect the ever-expanding settlements, more and more land is annexed under the guise of erecting "security zones", effectively strangling the natural growth of the Palestinian communities, and destroying their livelihoods in one fell swoop.

Their sorry situation is by no means unique; similar repressive tactics are used throughout the West Bank. The policy was described to me by a local activist as "ethnic cleansing by stealth", with the ultimate aim being to make life so tough for the Palestinians that they hold their hands up in despair and relocate elsewhere. Where they go is of little interest to those holding the reins of Israeli power, so long as it's far enough away for the vacated land to be redistributed to a new generation of settlers.

This type of low-level bullying is neither sensational nor violent enough to make regular headlines in either the local or international media, but its effects are no less harshly felt just because the methods employed are less violent than all out brute force. Erecting roadblocks at the entrance of villages to force the residents to take hour-long detours; taking no action against settlers who routinely beat and harass Palestinian children on their way to school; demolishing shacks built in the middle of the desert on the pretext of being security risks: the army's actions play a huge part in making the impoverished Palestinians' already difficult lives ten times harder.

Judaism teaches its adherents not to "place a stumbling block before the blind"; yet – as is seen time and again – despite ostensibly being a Jewish state, Israel pays scant attention to the laws of our religion, and runs its business according to an entirely different rulebook. Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why the clan chief of Umm al-Kheir has lost all faith in the Israelis under whose control he is forced to live.

A similar effect has been had on the village of Nil'in, which I visited a day later. The town is having the life slowly crushed from its lungs, with the annexation of vast tracts of its farmland by the army, and the separation wall being erected through its fields. Two children have died at the hands of the IDF during recent protests, with dozens more seriously wounded from rubber bullets and live rounds, only adding fuel to the already raging fire in the hearts of the locals.

One family I visited had a huge Hamas flag hung prominently in the centre of their lounge, testament to their own growing disillusion with the idea that they could ever live on peaceful terms with those occupying and oppressing them. The youngest children of the house silently emptied a bag of spent missiles on to the coffee table, wanting to ram home to their guests the kind of experience they had growing up in the shadow of the IDF.

Rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, stun grenades and sound bombs were all laid out for our benefit; chubby hands grasping the weapons of war, and eyes which had seen far too much peering at the visitors to see what kind of response their display elicited. "They can even tell just from the sound what kind of ammunition the soldiers are shooting", said their father with a shake of his head, while outside their older siblings prepared for yet another demonstration against the bulldozers scything their way through the town's olive groves.

If the Israeli authorities' aim is truly to protect their citizens, then their tactics are backfiring on a massive scale. As I have said before, all that is happening is simply a case of Israel creating what it fears, and driving ordinary Palestinians into the welcoming arms of the extremists. At the climax of the film Adulthood, Sam – wielding a loaded gun as he stares at his enemies with fire in his eyes – warns: "Never fuck with a guy who ain't got nothing to lose"; his mantra could be the motto of Palestinians the length and breadth of the Occupied Territories.

With every passing day, and every cruel and unusual punishment meted out against farmers, villagers, students and labourers alike, Israel is fomenting more and more hate against its own people, and ensuring months and years of conflict to come. More than that, they are undermining their own desired goal of a two state solution, since the carving-up of the West Bank to make way for Jewish-only access roads and buffer zones around settlements erodes any chance of a viable Palestinian state being created.

Those who are too blind to see that this is what is occurring under their noses are the same people who convince themselves that the true aim of Israel is to live in peace with its neighbours. The Palestinians, however, live and breathe the reality every day of their lives, and they are not so easily fooled. And if they are to be prevented from feeling as though they've got nothing to lose and resorting once more to violent resistance, there needs to be a major change in the way Israel treats their, and their children's, human rights and needs.

The Problem Is Empire

The Problem Is Empire

By Tom Hayden


Tom Hayden delivered these remarks to a gathering of activists at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. It appears as part of the Moral Compass series, focusing on the spoken word.

Let me tell you some of my story and lessons I have learned over these past five decades. I have always tried to improve my country, always trying from the places around me.

I was smart and ambitious and athletic, but something never felt right in my suburb, school and church. I felt more at home with the underdogs and misfits than with the authorities. I was Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye against Alfred E. Newman at Mad magazine.

I editorialized against overcrowded classes in high school. I editorialized against racist fraternity discrimination at the university. I went to the Democratic Convention in 1960 and was moved by Martin Luther King and John Kennedy, and a new student movement.

I moved to Georgia, became a Freedom Rider, got beaten up for civil rights. I helped start a movement on campuses called Students for a Democratic Society that believed in what we called participatory democracy, the right of everyone to a voice in the decisions affecting their lives. We wanted to bring the spirit of the Southern movement to the North.

I left graduate school and became a community organizer in the slums of Newark for four years. During that time the US government, led by the Democratic Party, invaded Vietnam with hundreds of thousands of troops after promising not to. The draft started up, and I was classified IY, the category for potential troublemakers.

Watts blew up in 1965. My Newark neighborhood became an occupied war zone in 1967, and that was it for the war on poverty. I wanted to know who we were really fighting, so I went to North Vietnam in December 1965, my first trip outside America. I was shocked at the civilian destruction, and the brave resistance of a small nation of peasants. I came back and immediately lobbied for a negotiated withdrawal, and got nowhere.

Now I was living in two worlds, still knocking on doors in Newark and opposing a war that was ending the war on poverty I believed in. The contradictions becoming too much, I helped organize antiwar protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. Nixon, the FBI and even Lyndon Johnson said we were part of an internationally funded communist conspiracy. I was still fighting against wrongdoing at home, while my father's generation thought we were pawns of an enemy abroad.

I went back to Berkeley set on organizing youth and student communities. I was yanked away to be indicted by the Nixon government for the street riots in Chicago. I spent about five years, including five straight months on trial, living under a cloud, until the courts threw out the case of the Chicago 8. I really didn't know if we were descending into a police state or not. During our trial, one defendant, Bobby Seale, was chained and gagged, and two Panthers working on his legal defense were shot with ninety police rounds while sleeping in their apartment.

I went back to mainstream antiwar work trying to defund the Indochina war, from 1972 until 1976. I supported George McGovern as a peace candidate, Vietnam veterans against the war like John Kerry, the Berrigan brothers' civil disobedience, and those who went underground to Canada. I didn't join them, but I thought the Weather Underground was completely predictable and understandable.

After the long radicalizing interruption of the war, I tried to combine community organizing and electoral politics. I served in the California legislature for eighteen years, once again returning to local and state issues. Based on the early vision of participatory democracy, and building on the progress towards political rights like voting, I helped build a statewide grass roots campaign for economic democracy, pressuring the great corporations to become accountable.

Some of the issues we worked on were these:

• Protecting the right to local rent control, which saved Santa Monica residents alone about $500 million over little more than a decade.

• Stopping a nuclear power plant in Sacramento by a democratic vote of the people.

• Stopping a Liquified Natural Gas terminal on Indian land in Santa Barbara.

• Empowering neighborhoods to bargain effectively with big developers. Saving the oldest building in LA from the wrecking ball.

• Saving salmon, stream beds, wetlands, deserts and redwood forests from the power of developers and special interests.

• Trying to replace the war on gangs, mass incarceration and unconstitutional police misconduct, with gang peace processes and employment opportunities, from LA to El Salvador.

• Involvement in over fifty political campaigns at local levels, including some of the earliest elections of feminists, gays and lesbians, renters, Asian-Americans and former '60s radicals.

• Getting Hollywood celebrities engaged in supporting political causes and candidates.

It was said by Washington consultants that we had the greatest grassroots organization in the national Democratic Party. But it was also the '80s, and Ronald Reagan was invading Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and placing nuclear missiles in Europe. My world of domestic issues became small and secondary again, like my days in Newark when Vietnam was escalating. And I noticed that our foreign policy interventions were creating a wave of new refugees who could be exploited either as cheap labor or scapegoated as my Irish ancestors were the century before.

And so it has gone. Even when the Soviet Union collapsed. Even when Bill Clinton was elected on the strategy of "it's the economy, stupid," we soon were bombing the Balkans, inventing new doctrines of humanitarian war and expanding NATO. By carving Kosovo out of the former Yugoslavia, we were creating an incentive for Georgia to invade South Ossetia--and try to reignite the cold war.

Then came 9/11, and a legitimate security crisis was transformed into the invasion of Iraq along with the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and perhaps soon Iran. The neocons and hawks applauded and funded Israel's ill-considered war with Hezbollah and Lebanon, completing a new battlefield of the war on terrorism to replace the cold war.

So there you are. We will have to go back to the lessons Roman and British empires to learn the painful lessons of imperial overextension. The lessons in blood bravely shed in lost or dubious causes. The lesson of a weakened capacity to fund healthcare, education, our children's futures. The lesson that democracy is diminished as the secrecy of the warmaking state expands. The lesson of being hated in a world where alliances are a necessity, not a choice.

For too long we have divided our movement labor between domestic and foreign policy issues. Sometimes there are contradictions, for example, when the cold war liberals--today's humanitarian hawks--believed we could have both guns and butter, the world's most massive arsenal, fueled by oil, combined with robust domestic initiatives on healthcare or the environment or inner city jobs. It just hasn't worked out that way. The richest country in the world still lacks a national healthcare program, still is pockmarked by ghettos and barrios, still has massive school drop out rates combined with the largest incarceration rate in the whole world.

And despite any evidence of significant success, the wars go on, the war on terror, the war on drugs and the war on gangs.

Despite the evidence, the organized peace movement is weaker than any other social movement, or network of NGOs, in America. The peace movement is a mainly voluntary expression of antiwar feeling that rises and falls depending on the body counts and media coverage. The peace movement is not institutionalized, not in comparison with the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the environmental movement. It is not funded by the great liberal foundations nor by the wealthy liberals of Hollywood or other moneyed circles.

The point I am making is that our progressive priorities are wrong. Any hope for transformational domestic change depends on reversing the entrenched interests driving the dual agenda of military and corporate empire, including the Pentagon and the oil industry and the narrow elitist thinking of most national security and economic experts.

The battle is between the empire, or whatever euphemism by which is goes, and participatory democracy.

Our adversaries, who once favored monarchy and then white supremacy, have done a successful makeover and attempted to steal the banner of democracy. For example, they are exuberant about imposing democracy by force across the Middle East and to the borders of Russia, but they show no enthusiasm for the democratic process sweeping away the former dictatorships that our government backed in Latin America. Our government is opposed to democracy on our borders if those democracies reject our military bases, our special forces and our corporate dominance over their resources and services. Venezuela, Bolivia and, of course, Cuba are being targeted for isolation and subversion, while Colombia is the American spear in the Andes.

Latin America is the brightest democratic spot on the planet today. But its democratic revolution is not enough; an enormous shift in global finance, investment and trade policies is needed to address underdevelopment and poverty. The resources to build a movement here against military intervention in Latin or Central America are sorely needed. An alternative to the Monroe Doctrine is sorely needed. An alternative to the top-down secretive WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA and FTAA models is sorely needed. The movement for immigrant rights and labor rights is where domestic policy and Latin American policy should meet.

I am campaigning for and voting for Barack Obama not because I agree with him on every foreign policy issue but because I think we need to unleash the energy of those who fight for justice and housing and healthcare and jobs and the environment here at home. The Obama movement is registering and mobilizing millions of new voters, young people, working class, people of color and poor. The mere fact of their being mobilized will create a pressure for new priorities on the economic home front against the present priorities of militarization abroad. The fact that Obama rose to his present position on the tide of antiwar sentiment forces Obama and the Congressional Democrats to pay greater attention to our needs at home or pay a political price. If he expands the quagmires in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we will have to oppose those wasteful wars as well.

So I am saying that domestic groups--organized around issues from civil rights to the environment--cannot afford to leave peace simply to the peace movement. And the peace movement has to point every day to the domestic costs, including energy costs, of the Iraq War and the larger empire. And we must define an alternative vision to the undemocratic structures of corporate and military power that promise security but bring us war, that promise jobs but lower our standard of living. We need a new model of political economy that is equitable and sustainable, not one that expects every country in the world to meet our needs, including our appetite for their resources. And finally, we must build a progressive movement inside and outside the Democratic Party, one that respects the autonomy of single-issue movements, that brings our community organizing experiences to bear on this frustrating political process, that can build and strengthen a progressive power base that can fight everyday for our needs, not the empire's needs.

It is not enough to liberalize the empire; the task is to peacefully and steadily bring it to an end, making democracy safe for the world as some organizers said fifty years ago. In place of empire, we need to understand the world as a multipolar one, and drive it towards participatory democracy through social movements. Those social movements will not only pressure their existing governments but energize a global civic society that can achieve enforceable new norms on human rights, a global living wage and corporate accountability, a healthy environment instead of global warming, and the steady reduction of nuclear weapons.

Mansion Prices Drop as Slump Reaches Rich

Mansion Price Drops $7 Million; Bentley Offered on Luxury Homes

By Dan Levy

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The U.S. government needs to start using more of its money to support markets to stem a burgeoning ''financial tsunami,'' according to Bill Gross, manager of the world's biggest bond fund.

Banks, securities firms and hedge funds are dumping assets, driving down prices of bonds, real estate, stocks and commodities, Gross, co-chief investment officer of Newport Beach, California-based Pacific Investment Management Co., said in commentary posted on the firm's Web site today.

''Unchecked, it can turn a campfire into a forest fire, a mild asset bear market into a destructive financial tsunami,'' Gross said. ''If we are to prevent a continuing asset and debt liquidation of near historic proportions, we will require policies that open up the balance sheet of the U.S. Treasury.''

The government needs to replace private investors who either don't have the money to buy new assets or have been burned by losses, Gross said. Pimco, sovereign wealth funds and central banks are reluctant to fund financial firms after losses on investments they made to support the companies, Gross said. The world's biggest banks and brokers have raised $364.4 billion in new capital after more than $500 billion in writedowns and credit losses since the beginning of last year.

Since financial markets seized up a year ago as the subprime-mortgage market collapsed, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index has fallen 13 percent and home prices are down more than 15 percent. Yields on investment-grade corporate bonds, debt backed by commercial mortgages as well as credit cards reached record highs last month relative to benchmark rates.

'Mom and Pop'

Gross cast a bleaker view for the prospects of the world's financial markets than in previous notes to clients. The fund manager has previously called on lawmakers to support housing with legislation passed in July that allows lenders to forgive some of homeowners' debt and then refinance them into government-insured loans.

Pimco, a unit of Munich-based Allianz SE, is seeking to take advantage of declines in home-loan bonds. The firm is raising as much as $5 billion to buy mortgage-backed debt that has plunged in value, according to two investors with knowledge of the matter. The Distressed Senior Credit Opportunities Fund will invest in securities backed by commercial and residential mortgages, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the fund is private.

Paulson Rescue

Treasury should support not only mortgage finance providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but also ''Mom and Pop on Main Street U.S.A.,'' by subsidizing rates on home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration and other government institutions, Gross said. A new version of the Resolution Trust Corp., which bought assets from failing institutions during the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s, may also work, he said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arranged a rescue package for Washington-based Fannie and Freddie of McLean, Virginia as concern escalated the government-chartered companies didn't have capital to withstand the housing slump. Treasury pledged to pump unlimited debt or equity into the companies should they need it.

As Fannie and Freddie, banks, securities firms and hedge funds shrink, yields on all debt assets will rise compared with benchmark rates and volatility will increase, Gross said. The declines will end once sellers have depleted their assets and sufficient capital has been raised, Gross said. Unless ''new balance sheets'' emerge, prices of almost all assets will drop, even those of ''impeccable'' quality, he said.

'Anorexic' Appetite

The extra yield demanded on Ginnie Mae's 30-year, current- coupon mortgage-backed securities over 10-year Treasuries has climbed to 1.75 percentage points, from 0.87 percentage points at the start of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bonds guaranteed by the U.S. agency are backed by the U.S. government. Spreads on 2-year AAA rated bonds composed of federally backed student loans have climbed to 0.95 percentage points over benchmark rates, from 0.01 percentage points below, Deutsche Bank AG data show.

''There is an increasing reluctance on the part of the private market to risk any more of its own capital,'' Gross said. ''Liquidity is drying up; risk appetites are anorexic; asset prices, despite a temporarily resurgent stock market, are mainly going down; now even oil and commodity prices are drowning.''

Home Prices

The decline in home prices hasn't been seen since the Great Depression, Gross said. That drop translates to an even bigger decline in overall wealth as the effects ripple through markets, Gross said. Home prices in 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas fell 15.9 percent in June from a year earlier, according to an S&P/Case-Shiller index.

Fannie and Freddie 30-year fixed-rate mortgage bond yields, which influence the rates on most new home loans, have probably risen 75 basis points because of the waning demand, Gross said. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

The Pimco Total Return Fund returned 9.8 percent in the past 12 months, beating 97 percent of its peers in the government and corporate bond fund category as of Sept. 3, according to Bloomberg data. The returns are 5.76 percent annually over five years. Pimco has about $830 billion of assets under management.

About 61 percent of Gross's holdings were mortgage-backed securities as of June 30, mostly debt guaranteed by Fannie, Freddie or Ginnie Mae, according to data on Pimco's Web site.

''In a global financial marketplace in the process of delevering, assets that go up in price are rare diamonds as opposed to grains of sand,'' Gross said.

`Financial Tsunami' to Engulf Markets

U.S. Must Buy Assets to Prevent 'Tsunami,' Gross Says

By Jody Shenn

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The U.S. government needs to start using more of its money to support markets to stem a burgeoning ''financial tsunami,'' according to Bill Gross, manager of the world's biggest bond fund.

Banks, securities firms and hedge funds are dumping assets, driving down prices of bonds, real estate, stocks and commodities, Gross, co-chief investment officer of Newport Beach, California-based Pacific Investment Management Co., said in commentary posted on the firm's Web site today.

''Unchecked, it can turn a campfire into a forest fire, a mild asset bear market into a destructive financial tsunami,'' Gross said. ''If we are to prevent a continuing asset and debt liquidation of near historic proportions, we will require policies that open up the balance sheet of the U.S. Treasury.''

The government needs to replace private investors who either don't have the money to buy new assets or have been burned by losses, Gross said. Pimco, sovereign wealth funds and central banks are reluctant to fund financial firms after losses on investments they made to support the companies, Gross said. The world's biggest banks and brokers have raised $364.4 billion in new capital after more than $500 billion in writedowns and credit losses since the beginning of last year.

Since financial markets seized up a year ago as the subprime-mortgage market collapsed, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index has fallen 13 percent and home prices are down more than 15 percent. Yields on investment-grade corporate bonds, debt backed by commercial mortgages as well as credit cards reached record highs last month relative to benchmark rates.

'Mom and Pop'

Gross cast a bleaker view for the prospects of the world's financial markets than in previous notes to clients. The fund manager has previously called on lawmakers to support housing with legislation passed in July that allows lenders to forgive some of homeowners' debt and then refinance them into government-insured loans.

Pimco, a unit of Munich-based Allianz SE, is seeking to take advantage of declines in home-loan bonds. The firm is raising as much as $5 billion to buy mortgage-backed debt that has plunged in value, according to two investors with knowledge of the matter. The Distressed Senior Credit Opportunities Fund will invest in securities backed by commercial and residential mortgages, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the fund is private.

Paulson Rescue

Treasury should support not only mortgage finance providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but also ''Mom and Pop on Main Street U.S.A.,'' by subsidizing rates on home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration and other government institutions, Gross said. A new version of the Resolution Trust Corp., which bought assets from failing institutions during the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s, may also work, he said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arranged a rescue package for Washington-based Fannie and Freddie of McLean, Virginia as concern escalated the government-chartered companies didn't have capital to withstand the housing slump. Treasury pledged to pump unlimited debt or equity into the companies should they need it.

As Fannie and Freddie, banks, securities firms and hedge funds shrink, yields on all debt assets will rise compared with benchmark rates and volatility will increase, Gross said. The declines will end once sellers have depleted their assets and sufficient capital has been raised, Gross said. Unless ''new balance sheets'' emerge, prices of almost all assets will drop, even those of ''impeccable'' quality, he said.

'Anorexic' Appetite

The extra yield demanded on Ginnie Mae's 30-year, current- coupon mortgage-backed securities over 10-year Treasuries has climbed to 1.75 percentage points, from 0.87 percentage points at the start of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bonds guaranteed by the U.S. agency are backed by the U.S. government. Spreads on 2-year AAA rated bonds composed of federally backed student loans have climbed to 0.95 percentage points over benchmark rates, from 0.01 percentage points below, Deutsche Bank AG data show.

''There is an increasing reluctance on the part of the private market to risk any more of its own capital,'' Gross said. ''Liquidity is drying up; risk appetites are anorexic; asset prices, despite a temporarily resurgent stock market, are mainly going down; now even oil and commodity prices are drowning.''

Home Prices

The decline in home prices hasn't been seen since the Great Depression, Gross said. That drop translates to an even bigger decline in overall wealth as the effects ripple through markets, Gross said. Home prices in 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas fell 15.9 percent in June from a year earlier, according to an S&P/Case-Shiller index.

Fannie and Freddie 30-year fixed-rate mortgage bond yields, which influence the rates on most new home loans, have probably risen 75 basis points because of the waning demand, Gross said. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

The Pimco Total Return Fund returned 9.8 percent in the past 12 months, beating 97 percent of its peers in the government and corporate bond fund category as of Sept. 3, according to Bloomberg data. The returns are 5.76 percent annually over five years. Pimco has about $830 billion of assets under management.

About 61 percent of Gross's holdings were mortgage-backed securities as of June 30, mostly debt guaranteed by Fannie, Freddie or Ginnie Mae, according to data on Pimco's Web site.

''In a global financial marketplace in the process of delevering, assets that go up in price are rare diamonds as opposed to grains of sand,'' Gross said.

Why We Were Falsely Arrested By Amy Goodman

Why We Were Falsely Arrested

Mass arrests of protesters at Republican National Convention

Mass arrests of protesters at Republican National Convention

By Jerry White
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Authorities have carried out a massive mobilization of federal, state and local police and military forces to cordon off the Republican National Convention from protesters opposed to the party’s program of militarism and social reaction.

Over the last few days, nearly 300 people have been arrested near and around the Xcel Energy Center and downtown St. Paul, Minnesota has been transformed into a virtual armed camp to intimidate demonstrators and silence dissent.

The police reported Wednesday that they had arrested 11 more people Tuesday, including three at an anti-poverty demonstration, but would not give any more details. As the march of an estimated 3,000 people ended near the convention center police fired tear gas and lobbed concussion or “flash-bang” grenades to disperse protesters, who police claimed were trying to get past security fences.

A total of 295 people have been arrested, including 137 charged with felonies such as “conspiracy to commit riot.” Many continued to be detained. The bulk of those arrested were seized during an antiwar march of 10,000 people on the Monday, the opening day of the convention. Demonstrators were forced to run the gauntlet of hundreds of riot-equipped and black-uniformed police, FBI agents and 150 National Guard troops carrying shields.

The police fired tear gas, beanbags and used tasers to arrest hundreds of protesters. Also targeted were independent journalists and photographers and groups that monitor police abuse against protesters. Among those seized by the police were an Associated Press photographer, a group of University of Kentucky student journalists and Amy Goodman, the host of the liberal radio show “Democracy Now!” Goodman was arrested for “interfering with peace officers” when she questioned police about the arrest and bloodying of her show’s two producers.

WSWS reporter Ron Jorgenson described the scene:

“A helicopter hovered over downtown St. Paul all day long. There were police and sheriff’s deputies from St. Paul, Minneapolis and other cities in Minnesota, as well as across the nation, including a large number from Arlington, Texas that I saw. The largest number were riot police with no identification who wore dark blue or black. They were armed with clubs and other weapons. There were also armored black trucks, filled with an assortment darting through the streets and police on bicycles and horseback.

“I honestly believed as I watched groups of riot police line up and rows of mounted police moved into position that there was a good chance that I might get caught up if I didn’t move. It appeared there were embedded press. I got the impression that established media could move in and out of police lines. I did that once and was sharply warned by a cop. Had I chosen the wrong moment to do that while taking a picture, I could have been thrown to the ground.”

Authorities later justified this disproportionate show of force and the mass arrests that followed by citing incidents of rock throwing and window-breaking by a small group—numbering no more than 150—of self-described “anarchists.” It is very likely this group included police agents and provocateurs whose job was to encourage violence in order to discredit political opposition and create conditions for a police repression.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, about a year ago the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office began “regular surveillance” of one group, called the Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee, which included the use of “three people who posed as members—two informants and an undercover investigator. The informants monitored e-mails and conversations.”

The police produced affidavits from these informers accusing protesters of the most outlandish plans, including “kidnapping” delegates and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. Geneva Finn of the National Lawyers Guild, which represents many of those arrested, said it was impossible to judge the veracity of the so-called evidence in the affidavit because “it’s all based on the testimony of people who are not identified, and that’s a real problem.”

Based on these claims, on the eve of the convention the police carried out raids at several protest headquarters—including I-Witness Video, a New York-based group that monitors police conduct during protests—detaining activists and seizing computers, political literature and other property. The raids, which produced no serious evidence to substantiate police claims of alleged violent plans, were aimed at preempting the planned demonstrations by intimidating and creating the pseudo-legal justification for mass arrests for “conspiracy to commit riot.”

Once again, as it did during the massive repression at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the national news media has maintained a virtual silence about the police-state measures being employed against political opposition.

In many cases, the local media has enthusiastically praised the police crackdown. The Minneapolis Star Tribune published a September 2 editorial, entitled, “An appropriate show of police force.”

The editorial noted that many citizens were dismayed by the presence of police in riot gear in downtown streets, adding that one onlooker the editorial writer passed by was heard saying, “This can’t be happening in Minnesota.”

“Thankfully, it was,” the editorial flatly stated, denouncing “rogue protesters who traveled to the Twin Cities for no other reason than to damage property, abuse the police and disrupt the business of the Republican National Convention.”

Thanks to the “extensive planning” of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Police Chief John Harrington, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and other law enforcement officials, the editorial concluded, “public safety have won out, so far, over anarchism in the streets.”

Police chief John Harrington commended the media for recognizing the “heroic efforts” of his officers. “I like the term that you in fact had coined, that what you saw today in the face of numbers and agitation and mass criminals, was a restrained use of force. And that I think is a very apt description of what the officers today did.”

Reacting to the police actions, Gina Berglund, an attorney and legal observer for the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said, “We think it’s unconscionable. We think it’s out of control. The response by the police was completely out of proportion with what they were faced with.”

Both the Democratic and Republican conventions—designated as “National Security Events” under the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security Department—have been used to test out methods of widespread political repression. This must be taken as a somber warning of the way mass opposition to war, social inequality and attacks on democratic rights will be treated by the state, whoever wins the election in November.

A Major War: Not Just Rumors

A Major War: Not Just Rumors

by Srdja Trifkovic

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The crisis in relations between the United States and Russia over Georgia heralds a particularly dangerous period in world affairs: the era of asymmetrical multipolarity. A major war between two or more major powers is more likely in this configuration than in any other model of global balance known to history.

The most stable system is bipolarity based on the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which was prevalent from the 1950s until the end of the Cold War. The awareness of both superpowers that they would inflict severe and unavoidable reciprocal damage on each other or their allies in a nuclear war was coupled with the acceptance that each had a sphere of dominance or vital interest that should not be infringed upon.

With Brest-Litovsk and the Barbarossa in mind, Stalin “intended to turn the countries conquered by Soviet armies into buffer zones to protect Russia” (Kissinger). The Western equivalent, also essentially defensive, was defined by the Truman Doctrine (1947) Proxy wars were fought in the grey zone all over the Third World, most notably in the Middle East, but they were kept localized even when a superpower was directly involved (Vietnam, Afghanistan). This model was the product of unique circumstances without an adequate historical precedent, however, which are unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future.

The most stable model of international relations that is both historically recurrent and structurally repeatable in the future is the balance of power system in which no single great power is either physically able or politically willing to seek hegemony. This model was prevalent from the Peace of Westphalia (1648) until Napoleon, from Waterloo until around 1900, and from Versailles until 1933. It demands a relative equilibrium between the key powers (usually five to seven) that hold each other in check and function within a recognized set of rules that has come to be known as “international law.” Wars between great powers do occur (Solferino, Crimea, Sadowa…), but they are limited in scope and intensity because the warring parties tacitly accept the fundamental legitimacy and continued existence of their opponent(s).

If one of the powers becomes markedly stronger than others and if its decision-making elite internalizes an ideology that demands or at least justifies hegemony, the inherently unstable system of asymmetrical multipolarity will develop. In all three known instances—Napoleonic France after 1799, the Kaiserreich from around 1900, and the Third Reich after 1933—the challenge could not be resolved without a major war.

The government of the United States is now acting in a manner structurally reminiscent of those three powers. Having proclaimed itself the leader of an imaginary “international community,” it goes further than any previous would-be hegemon in treating the entire world as the American sphere of interest. As I pointed out two weeks ago, the formal codification came in the National Security Strategy of September 2002, which presented the specter of open-ended political, military, and economic domination of the world by the United States acting unilaterally against “rogue states” and “potentially hostile powers” and in pursuit of an end to “destructive national rivalries.” To that end, the administration pledged “to keep military strength beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.”

Any attempt by a single power to keep its military strength beyond challenge is inherently destabilizing, and results—sooner or later—in the emergence of an effective counter-coalition. Napoleon finally faced one at the V√∂lkerschlacht at Leipzig in 1813. “There is no balance of power in Europe but me and my twenty-four army corps,” the Kaiser famously boasted in 1901. Within years he was also building a high seas fleet, setting off alarm bells in London. By 1907, Wilhelmine Germany engendered a counter-coalition that prompted even traditional rivals like Britain and Russia to join forces (the latter to be replaced by the United States in 1917). And as for the most recent Griff nach der Weltmacht, by the second week of December 1941 Germany was irrevocably doomed to another defeat.

An early yet certain symptom of destabilizing asymmetry in action is the would-be hegemon’s tendency to claim an ever-widening sphere of influence or interference at the expense of his rivals. In the run-up to 1914 this was heralded by the Kruger Telegram (1896) and exemplified by the German bid to build the railway from Berlin to Baghdad (1903) and by the First Moroccan Crisis (1905). Neither Napoleon nor Hitler knew any «natural» limits, but their ambition was essentially confined to Europe. With the United States today the novelty is that this ambition is extended—literally—to the whole world. Not only the Western Hemisphere, not just the «Old Europe,» Japan, or Israel, but also Taiwan, Korea, and such unlikely places as Georgia, Estonia, Kosovo, or Bosnia, are considered vitally important. The globe itself is now effectively claimed as America’s sphere of influence, Russia’s Caucasian, European and Central Asian back yards most emphatically included.

Four weeks ago the game itself became alarmingly asymmetrical. For America it is still ideological, but for Russia it has become existential. Russia is now acting as a conservative, pre-1914 European power in seeking to protect its “near abroad.” America is acting like a global revolutionary power, whose “near abroad” is literally everywhere.

It is therefore futile for Russia to try to “manage” the crisis in a pre-1914 manner and hope for some elusive softening on the other side, because the calculus in Washington is not rational. The counter-strategy of unpredictability, exemplified by Medvedev’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, is an eminently rational response, however. It may yet force the remnant of sanity inside the Beltway — and especially at the Pentagon – to try and exercise some adult supervision over the bipartisan “foreign policy community” of smokers in the arsenal.

How the U.S. Garrisons the Planet and Doesn't Even Notice

How the U.S. Garrisons the Planet and Doesn't Even Notice

By Tom Engelhardt

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Here it is, as simply as I can put it: In the course of any year, there must be relatively few countries on this planet on which U.S. soldiers do not set foot, whether with guns blazing, humanitarian aid in hand, or just for a friendly visit. In startling numbers of countries, our soldiers not only arrive, but stay interminably, if not indefinitely. Sometimes they live on military bases built to the tune of billions of dollars that amount to sizeable American towns (with accompanying amenities), sometimes on stripped down forward operating bases that may not even have showers. When those troops don't stay, often American equipment does -- carefully stored for further use at tiny "cooperative security locations," known informally as "lily pads" (from which U.S. troops, like so many frogs, could assumedly leap quickly into a region in crisis).

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military "sites" abroad.

The fact is: We garrison the planet north to south, east to west, and even on the seven seas, thanks to our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers which, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard -- that is, the population of an American town -- are functionally floating bases.

And here's the other half of that simple truth: We don't care to know about it. We, the American people, aided and abetted by our politicians, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media, are knee-deep in base denial.

Now, that's the gist of it. If, like most Americans, that's more than you care to know, stop here.

Where the Sun Never Sets

Let's face it, we're on an imperial bender and it's been a long, long night. Even now, in the wee hours, the Pentagon continues its massive expansion of recent years; we spend militarily as if there were no tomorrow; we're still building bases as if the world were our oyster; and we're still in denial. Someone should phone the imperial equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But let's start in a sunnier time, less than two decades ago, when it seemed that there would be many tomorrows, all painted red, white, and blue. Remember the 1990s when the U.S. was hailed -- or perhaps more accurately, Washington hailed itself -- not just as the planet's "sole superpower" or even its unique "hyperpower," but as its "global policeman," the only cop on the block? As it happened, our leaders took that label seriously and our central police headquarters, that famed five-sided building in Washington D.C, promptly began dropping police stations -- aka military bases -- in or near the oil heartlands of the planet (Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait) after successful wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Persian Gulf.

As those bases multiplied, it seemed that we were embarking on a new, post-Soviet version of "containment." With the USSR gone, however, what we were containing grew a lot vaguer and, before 9/11, no one spoke its name. Nonetheless, it was, in essence, Muslims who happened to live on so many of the key oil lands of the planet.

Yes, for a while we also kept intact our old bases from our triumphant mega-war against Japan and Germany, and then the stalemated "police action" in South Korea (1950-1953) -- vast structures which added up to something like an all-military American version of the old British Raj. According to the Pentagon, we still have a total of 124 bases in Japan, up to 38 on the small island of Okinawa, and 87 in South Korea. (Of course, there were setbacks. The giant bases we built in South Vietnam were lost in 1975, and we were peaceably ejected from our major bases in the Philippines in 1992.)

But imagine the hubris involved in the idea of being "global policeman" or "sheriff" and marching into a Dodge City that was nothing less than Planet Earth itself. Naturally, with a whole passel of bad guys out there, a global "swamp" to be "drained," as key Bush administration officials loved to describe it post-9/11, we armed ourselves to kill, not stun. And the police stations… Well, they were often something to behold -- and they still are.

Let's start with the basics: Almost 70 years after World War II, the sun is still incapable of setting on the American "empire of bases" -- in Chalmers Johnson's phrase -- which at this moment stretches from Australia to Italy, Japan to Qatar, Iraq to Colombia, Greenland to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, Rumania to Okinawa. And new bases of various kinds are going up all the time (always with rumors of more to come). For instance, an American missile system is slated to go into Poland and a radar system into Israel. That will mean Americans stationed in both countries and, undoubtedly, modest bases of one sort or another to go with them. (The Israeli one -- "the first American base on Israeli territory" -- reports Aluf Benn of Haaretz, will be in the Negev desert.)

There are 194 countries on the planet (more or less), and officially 39 of them have American "facilities," large and/or small. But those are only the bases the Pentagon officially acknowledges. Others simply aren't counted, either because, as in the case of Jordan, a country finds it politically preferable not to acknowledge such bases; because, as in the case of Pakistan, the American military shares bases that are officially Pakistani; or because bases in war zones, no matter how elaborate, somehow don't count. In other words, that 39 figure doesn't even include Iraq or Afghanistan. By 2005, according to the Washington Post, there were 106 American bases in Iraq, ranging from tiny outposts to mega-bases like Balad Air Base and the ill-named Camp Victory that house tens of thousands of troops, private contractors, Defense Department civilians, have bus routes, traffic lights, PXes, big name fast-food restaurants, and so on.

Some of these bases are, in effect, "American towns" on foreign soil. In Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base, previously used by the Soviets in their occupation of the country, is the largest and best known. There are, however, many more, large and small, including Kandahar Air Base, located in what was once the unofficial capital of the Taliban, which even has a full-scale hockey rink (evidently for its Canadian contingent of troops).

You would think that all of this would be genuine news, that the establishment of new bases would regularly generate significant news stories, that books by the score would pour out on America's version of imperial control. But here's the strange thing: We garrison the globe in ways that really are -- not to put too fine a point on it -- unprecedented, and yet, if you happen to live in the United States, you basically wouldn't know it; or, thought about another way, you wouldn't have to know it.

In Washington, our garrisoning of the world is so taken for granted that no one seems to blink when billions go into a new base in some exotic, embattled, war-torn land. There's no discussion, no debate at all. News about bases abroad, and Pentagon basing strategy, is, at best, inside-the-fold stuff, meant for policy wonks and news jockeys. There may be no subject more taken for granted in Washington, less seriously attended to, or more deserving of coverage.

Missing Bases

Americans have, of course, always prided themselves on exporting "democracy," not empire. So empire-talk hasn't generally been an American staple and, perhaps for that reason, all those bases prove an awkward subject to bring up or focus too closely on. When it came to empire-talk in general, there was a brief period after 9/11 when the neoconservatives, in full-throated triumph, began to compare us to Rome and Britain at their imperial height (though we were believed to be incomparably, uniquely more powerful). It was, in the phrase of the time, a "unipolar moment." Even liberal war hawks started talking about taking up "the burden" of empire or, in the phrase of Michael Ignatieff, now a Canadian politician but, in that period, still at Harvard and considered a significant American intellectual, "empire lite."

On the whole, however, those in Washington and in the media haven't considered it germane to remind Americans of just exactly how we have attempted to "police" and control the world these last years. I've had two modest encounters with base denial myself:

In the spring of 2004, a journalism student I was working with emailed me a clip, dated October 20, 2003 -- less than seven months after American troops entered Baghdad -- from a prestigious engineering magazine. It quoted Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, speaking proudly of the several billion dollars ("the numbers are staggering") that had already been sunk into base construction in that country. Well, I was staggered anyway. American journalists, however, hardly noticed, even though significant sums were already pouring into a series of mega-bases that were clearly meant to be permanent fixtures on the Iraqi landscape. (The Bush administration carefully avoided using the word "permanent" in any context whatsoever, and these bases were first dubbed "enduring camps.")

Within two years, according to the Washington Post (in a piece that, typically, appeared on page A27 of the paper), the U.S. had those 106 bases in Iraq at a cost that, while unknown, must have been staggering indeed. Just stop for a moment and consider that number: 106. It boggles the mind, but not, it seems, American newspaper or TV journalism.

TomDispatch.com has covered this subject regularly ever since, in part because these massive "facts on the ground," these modern Ziggurats, were clearly evidence of the Bush administration's long-term plans and intentions in that country. Not surprisingly, this year, U.S. negotiators finally offered the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki its terms for a so-called status of forces agreement, evidently initially demanding the right to occupy into the distant future 58 of the bases it has built.

It has always been obvious -- to me, at least -- that any discussion of Iraq policy in this country, of timelines or "time horizons," drawdowns or withdrawals, made little sense if those giant facts on the ground weren't taken into account. And yet you have to search the U.S. press carefully to find any reporting on the subject, nor have bases played any real role in debates in Washington or the nation over Iraq policy.

I could go further: I can think of two intrepid American journalists, Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post and Guy Raz of NPR, who actually visited a single U.S. mega-base, Balad Air Base, which reputedly has a level of air traffic similar to Chicago's O'Hare International or London's Heathrow, and offered substantial reports on it. But, as far as I know, they, like the cheese of children's song, stand alone. I doubt that in the last five years Americans tuning in to their television news have ever been able to see a single report from Iraq that gave a view of what the bases we have built there look like or cost. Although reporters visit them often enough and, for instance, have regularly offered reports from Camp Victory in Baghdad on what's going on in the rest of Iraq, the cameras never pan away from the reporters to show us the gigantic base itself.

More than five years after ground was broken for the first major American base in Iraq, this is, it seems to me, a remarkable record of media denial. American bases in Afghanistan have generally experienced a similar fate.

My second encounter with base denial came in my other life. When not running TomDispatch.com, I'm a book editor; to be more specific, I'm Chalmers Johnson's editor. I worked on the prophetic Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which was published back in 2000 to a singular lack of attention -- until, of course, the attacks of 9/11, after which it became a bestseller, adding both "blowback" and the phrase "unintended consequences" to the American lexicon.

By the time The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, the second volume in his Blowback Trilogy, came out in 2004, reviewers, critics, and commentators were all paying attention. The heart of that book focused on how the U.S. garrisons the planet, laying out Pentagon basing policies and discussing specific bases in remarkable detail. This represented serious research and breakthrough work, and the book indeed received much attention here, including major, generally positive reviews. Startlingly, however, not a single mainstream review, no matter how positive, paid any attention, or even really acknowledged, his chapters on the bases, or bothered to discuss the U.S. as a global garrison state. Only three years later did a major reviewer pay the subject serious attention. When Jonathan Freedland reviewed Nemesis, the final book in the Trilogy, in the New York Review of Books, he noticed the obvious and, in a discussion of U.S. basing policy, wrote, for instance:

"Johnson is in deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it's just that Americans are blind to them. America is an 'empire of bases,' he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost."

Not surprisingly, Freedland is not an American journalist, but a British one who works for the Guardian.

In the U.S., military bases really only matter, and so make headlines, when the Pentagon attempts to close some of the vast numbers of them scattered across this country. Then, the fear of lost jobs and lost income in local communities leads to headlines and hubbub.

Of course, millions of Americans know about our bases abroad firsthand. In this sense, they may be the least well kept secrets on the planet. American troops, private contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees all have spent extended periods of time on at least one U.S. base abroad. And yet no one seems to notice the near news blackout on our global bases or consider it the least bit strange.

The Foreshortened American Century

In a nutshell, occupying the planet, base by base, normally simply isn't news. Americans may pay no attention and yet, of course, they do pay. It turns out to be a staggeringly expensive process for U.S. taxpayers. Writing of a major 2004 Pentagon global base overhaul (largely aimed at relocating many of them closer to the oil heartlands of the planet), Mike Mechanic of Mother Jones magazine online points out the following: "An expert panel convened by Congress to assess the overseas basing realignment put the cost at $20 billion, counting indirect expenses overlooked by the Pentagon, which had initially budgeted one-fifth that amount."

And that's only the most obvious way Americans pay. It's hard for us even to begin to grasp just how military (and punitive) is the face that the U.S. has presented to the world, especially during George W. Bush's two terms in office. (Increasingly, that same face is also presented to Americans. For instance, as Paul Krugman indicated recently, the civilian Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] has been so thoroughly wrecked these last years that significant planning for the response to Hurricane Gustav fell on the shoulders of the military's Bush-created U.S. Northern Command.)

In purely practical terms, though, Americans are unlikely to be able to shoulder forever the massive global role the Pentagon and successive administrations have laid out for us. Sooner or later, cutbacks will come and the sun will slowly begin to set on our base-world abroad.

In the Cold War era, there were, of course, two "superpowers," the lesser of which disappeared in 1991 after a lifespan of 74 years. Looking at what seemed to be a power vacuum across the Bering Straits, the leaders of the other power prematurely declared themselves triumphant in what had been an epic struggle for global hegemony. It now seems that, rather than victory, the second superpower was just heading for the exit far more slowly.

As of now, "the American Century," birthed by Time/Life publisher Henry Luce in 1941, has lasted but 67 years. Today, you have to be in full-scale denial not to know that the twenty-first century -- whether it proves to be the Century of Multipolarity, the Century of China, the Century of Energy, or the Century of Chaos -- will not be an American one. The unipolar moment is already so over and, sooner or later, those mega-bases and lily pads alike will wash up on the shores of history, evidence of a remarkable fantasy of a global Pax Americana.

Not that you're likely to hear much about this in the run-up to November 4th in the U.S. Here, fantasy reigns in both parties where a relatively upbeat view of our globally dominant future is a given, and will remain so, no matter who enters the White House in January 2009. After all, who's going to run for president not on the idea that "it's morning again in America," but on the recognition that it's the wee small hours of the morning, the bender is ending, and the hangover… Well, it's going to be a doozy.

Better take some B vitamins and get a little sleep. The world's probably not going to look so great by the dawn's early light.

[Note on Sources: It's rare indeed that the U.S. empire of bases gets anything like the attention it deserves, so, when it does, praise is in order. Mother Jones online has just launched a major project to map out and analyze U.S. bases worldwide. It includes a superb new piece on bases by Chalmers Johnson, "America's Unwelcome Advances" and a number of other top-notch pieces, including one on "How to Stay in Iraq for 1,000 Years" by TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan (the second part of whose Pentagon expansion series will be posted at this site soon). Check out the package of pieces at MJ by clicking here. Perhaps most significant, the magazine has produced an impressive online interactive map of U.S. bases worldwide. Check it out by clicking here. But when you zoom in on an individual country, do note that the first base figures you'll see are the Pentagon's and so possibly not complete. You need to read the MJ texts below each map to get a fuller picture. As will be obvious, if you click on the links in this post, I made good use of MJ's efforts, for which I offer many thanks.]

Raiding Democracy in St. Paul

Raiding Democracy in St. Paul

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In the months leading up to the Republican National Convention, the FBI-led Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force actively recruited people to infiltrate vegan groups and other leftist organizations and report back about their activities. On May 21, the Minneapolis City Pages ran a recruiting story called “Moles Wanted.” Law enforcement sought to preempt lawful protest against the policies of the Bush administration during the convention.

Since Friday, local police and sheriffs, working with the FBI, conducted preemptive searches, seizures and arrests. Glenn Greenwald described the targeting of protestors by “teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets.” Journalists were detained at gunpoint and lawyers representing detainees were handcuffed at the scene.

“I was personally present and saw officers with riot gear and assault rifles, pump action shotguns,” said Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, who is representing several of the protestors. “The neighbor of one of the houses had a gun pointed in her face when she walked out on her back porch to see what was going on. There were children in all of these houses, and children were held at gunpoint.”

The raids targeted members of “Food Not Bombs,” an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group that provides free vegetarian meals every week in hundreds of cities all over the world. They served meals to rescue workers at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and to nearly 20 communities in the Gulf region following Hurricane Katrina.

Also targeted were members of I-Witness Video, a media watchdog group that monitors the police to protect civil liberties. The group worked with the National Lawyers Guild to gain the dismissal of charges or acquittals of about 400 of the 1,800 who were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. Preemptive policing was used at that time as well. Police infiltrated protest groups in advance of the convention.

Nestor said that no violence or illegality has taken place to justify the arrests. “Seizing boxes of political literature shows the motive of these raids was political,” he said.

Further evidence the political nature of the police action was the boarding up of the Convergence Center, where protestors had gathered, for unspecified code violations. St. Paul City Council member David Thune said, “Normally we only board up buildings that are vacant and ramshackle.” Thune and fellow City Council member Elizabeth Glidden decried “actions that appear excessive and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for those who wish to exercise their first amendment rights.”

“So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protestors who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do,” Greenwald wrote on Salon.

Preventive detention violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires that warrants be supported by probable cause. Protestors were charged with “conspiracy to commit riot,” a rarely-used statute that is so vague, it is probably unconstitutional. Nestor said it “basically criminalizes political advocacy.”

On Sunday, the National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality filed an emergency motion requesting an injunction to prevent police from seizing video equipment and cellular phones used to document their conduct.

During Monday’s demonstration, law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force. At least 284 people were arrested, including Amy Goodman, the prominent host of Democracy Now!, as well as the show’s producers, Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. “St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city to be,” Greenwald wrote, “with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations.”

Bruce Nestor said the timing of the arrests was intended to stop protest activity, “to make people fearful of the protests, but also to discourage people from protesting,” he told Amy Goodman. Nevertheless, 10,000 people, many opposed to the Iraq war, turned out to demonstrate on Monday. A legal team from the National Lawyers Guild has been working diligently to protect the constitutional rights of protestors.

***

Flashback: Moles Wanted
In preparation for the Republican National Convention, the FBI is soliciting informants to keep tabs on local protest groups

By Matt Snyders - September 03, 2008

This story originally ran in our issue dated May 14, 2008, but the events of this past week have made it worth sharing again.

Paul Carroll was riding his bike when his cell phone vibrated.

Once he arrived home from the Hennepin County Courthouse, where he’d been served a gross misdemeanor for spray-painting the interior of a campus elevator, the lanky, wavy-haired University of Minnesota sophomore flipped open his phone and checked his messages. He was greeted by a voice he recognized immediately. It belonged to U of M Police Sgt. Erik Swanson, the officer to whom Carroll had turned himself in just three weeks earlier. When Carroll called back, Swanson asked him to meet at a coffee shop later that day, going on to assure a wary Carroll that he wasn’t in trouble.

Carroll, who requested that his real name not be used, showed up early and waited anxiously for Swanson’s arrival. Ten minutes later, he says, a casually dressed Swanson showed up, flanked by a woman whom he introduced as FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola. For the next 20 minutes, Mazzola would do most of the talking.

“She told me that I had the perfect ‘look,’” recalls Carroll. “And that I had the perfect personality—they kept saying I was friendly and personable—for what they were looking for.”

What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant—someone to show up at “vegan potlucks” throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort’s primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division’s website, is to “investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines.”

Carroll would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.

“I’ll pass,” said Carroll.

For 10 more minutes, Mazzola and Swanson tried to sway him. He remained obstinate.

“Well, if you change your mind, call this number,” said Mazzola, handing him her card with her cell phone number scribbled on the back.

(Mazzola, Swanson, and the FBI did not return numerous calls seeking comment.)

Carroll’s story echoes a familiar theme. During the lead-up the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division infiltrated and spied on protest groups across the country, as well as in Canada and Europe. The program’s scope extended to explicitly nonviolent groups, including street theater troupes and church organizations.

There were also two reported instances of police officers, dressed as protestors, purposefully instigating clashes. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, the NYPD orchestrated a fake arrest to incite protestors. When a blond man was “arrested,” nearby protestors began shouting, “Let him go!” The helmeted police proceeded to push back against the crowd with batons and arrested at least two. In a similar instance, during an April 29, 2005, Critical Mass bike ride in New York, video footage captured a “protestor”—in reality an undercover cop—telling his captor, “I’m on the job,” and being subsequently let go.

Minneapolis’s own recent Critical Mass skirmish was allegedly initiated by two unidentified stragglers in hoods—one wearing a handkerchief over his or her face—who “began to make aggressive moves” near the back of the pack. During that humid August 31 evening, officers went on to arrest 19 cyclists while unleashing pepper spray into the faces of bystanders. The hooded duo was never apprehended.

In the scuffle’s wake, conspiracy theories swirled that the unprecedented surveillance—squad cars from multiple agencies and a helicopter hovering overhead—was due to the presence of RNC protesters in the ride. The MPD publicly denied this. But during the trial of cyclist Gus Ganley, MPD Sgt. David Stichter testified that a task force had been created to monitor the August 31 ride and that the department knew that members of an RNC protest group would be along for the ride.

“This is all part of a larger government effort to quell political dissent,” says Jordan Kushner, an attorney who represented Ganley and other Critical Mass arrestees. “The Joint Terrorism Task Force is another example of using the buzzword ‘terrorism’ as a basis to clamp down on people’s freedoms and push forward a more authoritarian government.”