Thursday, November 20, 2008

Child hunger in US rose by 50 percent in 2007

Child hunger in US rose by 50 percent in 2007

By Kate Randall

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Some 691,000 children went hungry in America in 2007, a rise of 50 percent over the previous year, while one in eight Americans overall struggled to feed themselves. The figures are reported in a study on food security conducted annually by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Of the 36.2 million people who struggled with hunger during the year, almost a third of these adults and children faced a substantial disruption to their food supply, meaning they went hungry at some point. The number of these most hungry Americans has grown by more than 40 percent since 2000, rising to 11.9 million individuals in 2007.

These statistics are all the more alarming since they do not reflect the impact of the current economic crisis. James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, predicted the 2008 numbers would show even more hunger.

"There's every reason to think the increases in the number of hungry people will be very, very large," Weill said, "based on the increased demand we're seeing this year at food stamp agencies, emergency kitchens, Women, Infants and Children clinics, really across the entire social service support structure."

The USDA study covered about 45,600 households, selected as representative of the approximately 118 million households in the US. Households were classified as being "food secure," having "low food security" or having "very low food security," according to their answers to a set of questions, including:

• In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry, but didn't eat, because there wasn't enough money for food?

• Did you or other adults in your household ever not eat for a whole day because there wasn't enough money for food?

Households with children up to 18 years of age were asked additional questions, such as:

• In the last 12 months, did you ever cut the size of any of the children's meals because there wasn't enough money for food?

• In the last 12 months, did any of the children ever skip a meal because there wasn't enough money for food?

Children were identified as having "very low food security" if they lived in households that answered "yes" to 25 percent or more of the questions asked (calculated according to a formula designed by the study).

Some 691,000 children met the criteria. At some point during the year, these children went to school without breakfast, ate meals providing inadequate calories and nutrients, or went to bed hungry. Their families could not provide for them because they did not have the financial resources to do so.

These statistics translate into real and lasting suffering for society's youngest members. Research has shown that hunger and malnourishment have a profound impact on the mental and physical development of preschool and school-aged children. They are more likely to exhibit higher levels of chronic illness, anxiety and depression, and behavioural problems than well-fed children.

Uncertainty about the ability to provide adequate food is devastating for parents and families, both physically and mentally. Of the 4.7 million families estimated to suffer from very low food security, 98 percent worried that their food would run out before they got money to buy more. Some 94 percent reported that they could not afford to eat balanced meals.

Close to a third of these households reported that on occasion an adult did not eat for an entire day because there was not enough money for food. In 45 percent of these households an adult had lost weight because he or she could not afford enough food. Often parents went without so that the children could eat, or the youngest children ate at the expense of older siblings.

Conditions of hunger for these households were not adequately counteracted by assistance from the three largest federal food and nutrition programs—the Food Stamp Program, the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—or by help from food pantries or soup kitchens.

Not surprisingly, the study showed that poverty is the greatest contributing factor to hunger. In 2007, the federal poverty line was set at $21,027 for a family of four, an amount woefully inadequate to provide for sufficient food and nutrition, let alone pay for housing, utilities and other necessities. In households where income fell below this line, food insecurity stood at 37.7 percent.

The rate of food insecurity was 22.2 percent for African-American households and 20.1 percent for Hispanic households. Food insecurity was also more prevalent in households headed by a single parent where there were children—30.2 percent for those headed by women, 18 percent for those headed by men.

Southern states saw the highest rates of food insecurity. Measured over three years, from 2005 through 2007, the states reporting the highest figures were Mississippi (17.4 percent), New Mexico (15 percent), Texas (14.8 percent), and Arkansas (14.4 percent).

Food insecurity is not restricted to inner-city or urban metropolitan areas, but is prevalent in rural and less-populated areas as well. The highest growth in food insecurity over the last nine years has been in the states of Alaska and Iowa, both of which saw a 3.7 percent increase in families who faced substantial food disruptions.

A majority of US households are concerned about the cost of food. A study released last month by the Opinion Research Group, commissioned by Minnesota-based Hormel Food Corp., showed that 84 percent of Americans are worried about rising food prices and 58 percent have had to make cuts in their food purchases as a result.

More than half of those surveyed have had to take steps to reduce food costs, including using more generic or store brands, eating out less often, buying less expensive cuts of meat and increasing their purchases of cheap staples such as potatoes and rice.

Of those polled, 14 percent said they or an immediate family member had received food from a food bank, soup kitchen, shelter or other charitable organization in the past year due to a lack of money for food.

Among those who had not, 21 percent said it is very or somewhat likely that rising food costs, a job loss or other circumstance might force them to seek help for food from a charitable organization in the future. These conditions will inevitably worsen as the economic crisis intensifies.

The growing hunger crisis should be seen within the context of the massive use of taxpayer funds to bail out Wall Street bankers and financiers. Hundreds of billions are being handed over to these interests, while no serious measures are being contemplated to confront a social crisis that will intensify rapidly over the coming months as layoffs mount and the recession deepens.

Presiding judge has declined to sign Cheney, Gonzales indictment

South Texas county indicts Cheney, Gonzales

By Alex Lantier

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A grand jury in southern Texas' Willacy County has indicted US Vice President Dick Cheney and former US attorney general Alberto Gonzales on state charges of misconduct involving private prisons. The indictment, brought by District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, also names several local officials.

The indictment alleges conflict of interest stemming from an $85 million investment by Cheney in the Vanguard Group, a company that holds shares in private companies running federal detention centers, noting that Cheney had influence over the federal contracts awarded to the prison companies held by the Vanguard Group. The indictment also names Cheney as responsible for "at least misdemeanor assaults" at these prisons. The indictment accuses Gonzales of intervening, as US Attorney General in 2006, to stop an investigation into abuses at private prisons.

As of this writing, the presiding judge has declined to sign the indictment, halting any further action on the case.

Willacy County hosts a series of federal, state and county prisons, some of which are outsourced to private prison companies such as MTC and the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut). These prisons have a long history of corruption and misconduct. In 2005 Guerra obtained guilty pleas from three former county commissioners while investigating bribery charges related to MTC's federal prison contracts.

In 2006, a Willacy County jury ordered GEO Group to pay a $47.5 million fine in a civil judgment on a 2001 case, when Wackenhut guards allowed other inmates to beat inmate Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. to death with padlocks stuffed into socks.

Guerra told the Associated Press the current indictment is a "national issue" and that experts from around the country had testified before the grand jury. The indictment reportedly refers to the de la Rosa case.

The indicted officials brushed off the charges. Agence France-Presse wrote, "Cheney's spokeswoman [Megan Mitchell] declined to comment because his office had not yet received a copy of the indictment." Mitchell arrogantly added, "Let's wait and see if we even receive one."

Gonzales' attorney George Terwilliger III said, "This is obviously a bogus charge on its face, as any good prosecutor can recognize," adding that he hoped Texas authorities would stop "this abuse of the criminal justice system."

Michael Cowen--the attorney for State Senator Eddie Lucio, who is also named in the indictment--issued a statement declaring, "It is a shame that Guerra has chosen to dedicate his energy to fighting with his fellow public servants, rather than actually prosecuting criminals." In a revealing comment, Cowen added that Guerra dismissed so many cases that local officials disparagingly called him "The Great Emancipator"--a common name of respect for President Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves after the US Civil War. Cowen added that his office was planning to file a motion to quash the indictment.

The pose of incredulity and aggrieved innocence struck by Cheney and Gonzales reeks of hypocrisy and bad faith. Far from clearing them, their record as members of the Bush administration suggests that accusations of misconduct directed against them deserve due consideration.

Cheney is hated in the US and around the world for framing and executing the Bush administration's policy of aggressive war, most notably in Iraq, in flagrant violation of international law. His longstanding policy is to shield himself from public oversight, notably evading Congressional attempts to obtain records of his 2001 Energy Task Force meetings on Iraq with the grotesque claim that his office is not part of the executive branch.

As for Gonzales, he resigned as Attorney General in disgrace last year, after refusing to answer Congressional inquiries into the Department of Justice's improper firings of US attorneys. As White House counsel during the first Bush administration, he played a key role in promoting the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program and helped draft legal memoranda arguing that the Geneva Convention's provisions were "quaint" and need not be applied to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. Gonzales also requested the "torture memo" that defined torture so narrowly as to permit US forces to use abusive interrogation methods banned by US and international law.

District Attorney Guerra, on the other hand, has been the continuing target of a campaign of official harassment, facing bogus charges of extorting money from a bail bond company and using his office for personal business.

In March 2007 Guerra was jailed during a grand jury investigation of these charges. Two special prosecutors were appointed in the investigation: former US attorney Mervyn Mosbacker and Gus Garza, who ran against and lost to Guerra for the position of District Attorney in 1992. Since 1996, notes the Harlingen, Texas Valley Morning Star, "Guerra has won three elections, largely drawing support from working-class residents." However, Guerra lost the 2008 Democratic primary elections.

An appeals court later ruled that the special prosecutors were improperly appointed to investigate Guerra, and last month Judge Manuel Banales dismissed the indictments altogether.

Is Obama Screwing the Netroots?

Obama’s Long Arm/Short Arm Stiff Of The Netroots

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When I was first sworn into the bar, I had the good fortune of being mentored by an experienced and wise senior partner. One of the first things that he taught me in dealing with other parties was to be aware of the long arm-short arm syndrome. This is where a person has a long arm for taking, and a short arm for giving.

When it comes to the netroots, Barack Obama has the long arm-short arm syndrome. He has taken much from us in terms of support, voice, momentum, money, footwork and energy. Obama has given little, if anything, in return to the netroots. Unless you count disdain and scorn. And pokes in the eye with a blunt stick.

Let's go through a bill of particulars, starting with oh, say, today:

(Bonus: Even Pat Buchanan is feeling sorry for the progressive netroots. Catch the video after the flip.)

Eric Holder: Eric Holder is a horrid choice for Attorney General. Looseheadprop knows this and gave her take earlier. Holder conspired with his friend Scooter Libby to get a pardon for Marc Rich; Obama must have been mighty impressed by that. Or maybe he was more impressed with Holder's ability to skate his Republican/Bush bigwig friends at Chiquita Brands for their complicity in paying millions of dollars to rightwing death squads in Colombia that murdered union leaders and workers. Uh, and then Chiquita paid off the other side. While they were probably smuggling narcotics for the CIA. Another excellent entry on the resume for Obama I guess. Oh, and Holder was not very popular with the career rank and file at DOJ when he was there; he was seen as very divisive. So we got that going for us. Just what is needed for the rotting carcass at DOJ that Bush/Cheney is leaving.

In short, hey, seriously, if you like the corporate apologist, rich people coddling, torturing approving and covering, illegal wiretapping loving, breakdown in the career ranks bullshit DOJ of the last eight years, you will absolutely love Eric Holder. He will, of course, be nominally better that Mukasey. If that is good enough for you, he is your guy! Thanks Barack!

Joe Lieberman: As y'all might have heard, Rape Gurney Joe Lieberman was ejected from the Democratic Caucus, er stripped of his DHS Chair, .... Oh, hell, Harry Reid kissed the sucker on both cheeks and thanked the back stabbing little prick for being magnanimous.

Now, how exactly did we come to the point to where the guy who bolted the party and actively campaigned side by side, hand in hand, for the better part of two years for the race baiting Republican shame-meister John McCain? Who caused this love to be given to one of the netroots' most hated men? Uh, that would be good old long arm-short arm Barack Obama.

Obama didn't just shaft the netroots though, he stuck the shiv in the American people by engineering Lieberman's retention of his DHS Chairmanship. That man should not be allowed in the same universe as that committee. The American people are entitled to a man that will do the freaking job. A great American city was drowned. People are dead. Tens maybe hundreds of thousands are effectively still homeless. Billions of dollars were wasted. He. Did. Freaking. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Say goodnight New Orleans, and tell Barack Obama thank you!

The FISA Lie: Barack Obama gave his word (likely to cravenly gain credibility with Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democratic primary voters, and the netroots) that he was against retroactive telcom immunity and would filibuster any attempt to pass it through the Senate. Then, when his nomination was all but assured and the bill came up for a vote, Barack Obama showed his colors and shoved the shiv once again in the raw bloody back of the progressives and netroots. Obama turned on a dime and not only did not filibuster, it was his lead that Pelosi and Reid followed in ramming the craptastic FISA Amendments Act through with retroactive immunity for the Bush/Cheney criminals. Heckuva job Baracky! It is an action that is second nature for Obama; he literally seems to enjoy it. Hard to understand how Obama was not seen as a con man on the spot; mostly the desperate netroots needed a few more blade strokes I guess. Well, we have those now; can we start calling the progressive bashing Obama out for what he is yet?

More Particulars: Here are some more greatest hits from Barack Obama the progressive hater: Campaigning for Barrow in Georgia and against the wonderful progressive candidate, wobbliness on the auto bailout, lack of interest in pursuing torture and war crime offenders in the justice department and throughout the government, appointment of ultimate DLC centrist hack Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, agreement to offshore drilling and dissing of clean coal technology.....

The list is getting awfully long. Almost as long as Barack Obama's arm that he used to take our money and efforts to get himself elected. All we have seen is the short arm he has used to punch us in the face and collect street cred with villagers for having done so.

It is sickening. It is so bad that even Pat Buchanan (see video above) is feeling sorry for the progressive netroots and is calling on President-Elect Obama to at least have the mercy to throw a little bone. Looks like it will be a damn small bone.

Heckuva job Barack!

Are Pentagon Nerds Developing Packs of Man-Hunting Killer Robots?

Are Pentagon Nerds Developing Packs of Man-Hunting Killer Robots?

By Scott Thill

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The Pentagon's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program recently sent out a call for contractors to design a pack of robots whose main purpose would be to track down what the SBIR ominously referred to as "noncooperative human subject[s]."

How does the robot pack decide which human is cooperative and which is not? Welcome to the wonderful, dystopian world of defense pork.

The call immediately raised red flags, as well as philosophical and moral chills, from one end of humankind to the other. Not surprisingly, it was quickly removed from the public Web site before its cyborg spark evolved into a full-fledged paranoia over machine armies and murderous artificial intelligence, the likes of which were previously known only in seminal science-fiction exercises as old-school as Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Philip K. Dick's stories, "Minority Report" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and as new-school as the Star Wars, Terminator and Matrix franchises.

According to the SBIR offer, the "Multi-Robot Pursuit System" would need "a software and sensor package to enable a team of robots to search for and detect human presence in an indoor environment." The robots would be led by a human commander using "semiautonomous map-based control." For good measure, the offer added that there "has also been significant research in the game-theory community involving pursuit/evasion scenarios." According to the offer, the robots should weight a little over 200 pounds apiece, and there should be three to five of them assigned to their human overlord.

The superficial logic at work in this curious merge of machine and flesh dictates that this speculative pack of robots would greatly reduce the human danger inherent in hunting down armed or violent persons hiding indoors. After all, robots are used today to detect and detonate incendiary devices; in fact, those very robots were evolved, armed and deployed to Baghdad, where they are currently awaiting orders to fire. The Pentagon's future robot pack is just the next inevitable step in that machine evolution: An armed machine given game-theory programming in predation and differentiation. The reduction is slightly convincing: If a robot is smart enough to detect bombs, it's smart enough to hunt down enemies. Give it a gun and count the saved lives on reality TV.

But slightly convincing is also akin to slightly terrifying, in this case, and not because of what it means for machines. Rather, it's terrifying because of what it says about their masters.

I, Dehumanizer

"It's not technology we have to worry about, it's the humans," argue Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, editors of the academic technology and culture journal CTheory, which also counts as contributers famed theorists Bruce Sterling, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio and DJ Spooky. "Why blame technology? It generally does what it is coded to do. It's the human sentient understanding of how to take cruel advantage of human weakness that's the problem. If the image of lethally armed robots can give rise to futurist dystopian visions, it's probably because that future has already happened with a military command that specializes in dehumanization."

It's not just the military: From entertainment spectacles like Heroes to the New York Police Department and all the way down to the torture porn of Rube Goldberg films like Saw and games like Manhunter, American culture is blitzkrieged by mechanized violence.

One of our currently mediated weapons of choice is the Taser, which has been seen on several Heroes episodes in the hands of mortal secret agents looking to hunt and take down renegade and innocent superbeings. In late September, a mentally disturbed Brooklyn man named Iman Morales was Tasered by an NYPD officer, against departmental rules and protocol, and fell immobilized to his death. Michael Pigott, the lieutenant who ordered the illegal Tasering of Morales, was found a couple of weeks later with a bullet in his head and a suicide note at his side.

We have created more ways to kill and die in our heroic narratives, it seems, than to coexist and compromise. Check any of the hyperviolent installments of culturally charged phenomena like Grand Theft Auto, Hostel and Fear Factor, or just watch the rerun in Iraq, and you get the point quickly. Suddenly, armed-robot pursuit seems perfectly normal.

"If robotics and artificial intelligence advance to this, the question will not be about technology but control being used to concentrate power," explains Jay Stanley, public education director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Project. "We need to get our house in order, institutionally. The underlying problem isn't the technoogy, but this large national security establishment grabbing more power and subject to no checks and balances. The National Security Administration has something like 60,000 employees, and who is overseeing them? Congress and its staff of hundreds? We need to appoint privacy commissioniers like every other modern industrial country. During the Cold War, we built a massive security establishment; during the War on Terror, we turned the lenses on ourselves, and it was done rapidly."

Like the grinning, gorgeous greenhorns of Paul Verhoven's criminally underrated film adaptation of Robert Heinlein's sci-fi classic, Starship Troopers, American society has sleepwalked through an intense, expensive militarization that looks like must-see TV. The reality-television phenomenon supplanted real-world privacy invasions and covert torture, replacing the latter civil liberties violations with wide-screen automatons posing as humans in any number of soap-operatic exercises. Bradbury imagined this world in his foundational novel, Fahrenheit 451, which extrapolated television onto entire walls of mundane programming while, yes, packs of robot hounds hunted down noncooperative human subjects clinging to their books. Which is to say, their human history.

Don't Do the Precrime If You Can't Travel Time

"This technology may well come back into the civilian world, if required," says Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield. "A number of U.S. police forces and SWAT teams are already using robots regularly for dangerous situations, and iRobot, the makers of the military packbot, have been working with Taser International to arm the packbot for civilian use.

"Sending a pack of robots into a building for clearance would obviously be useful in some police operations. I can easily imagine them being used for policing riots or demonstrations. Who knows where it will lead with society developing so many laws under the cloak of terrorist prevention?"

Those laws have been fearsome and abused in equal measure. Take the RNC 8, for example, mild-mannered Twin Cities political activists who were pre-emptively arrested, in Philip K. Dick "precrime" fashion, before they had a chance to protest the 2008 Republican National Convention and are now facing charges of -- what else? -- "furthering terrorism." That may sound like science fiction, but it's worse: It's an apotheosis of Minnesota's enforcement of the Patriot Act.

"Do robots have to look like sci-fi cyborgs? Or something else?" asks Arthur Kroker, who is professor of political science and director of the Pacific Center for Technology and Culture at the University of Victoria. "How about lethal hunting packs of computer-generated financial markets, configured by robo-traders, running and crashing on automatic, and taking most of the world down with them? Maybe there's nothing more dystopian than the present."

Fighting the Future

"This is a clear step towards one of the main goals of the Future Combat System's project of making a single soldier the nexus for a large scale robot attack," Sharkey says of the Multi-Robot Pursuit System. "Force multiplication of this sort can only be achieved through group robot autonomy. It is also another slide down the ramp toward autonomous fighting weapons. Independently, ground and aerial robots have been tested together, and once the bits are joined, there will be a robot force under command of a single soldier with potentially dire consequences for innocents around the corner."

Or benefits for innocents, the Pentagon might argue. Using robots saves lives, goes the aphorism. Of course, that argument could easily be rejoined by the military's current record on murdering innocents in wartime: So far, the occupation of Iraq has erased hundreds of thousands of civilians off the face of the Earth at an economic cost running into the trillions, with no victory defined and no end in sight. In fact, when it comes to war, the United States is a money pit. Just like the Multi-Robot Pursuit System.

"I suspect that these contracts in the short term may not come to much," cautions the ACLU's Stanley. "But taxpayer money is best spent on research and education. That's the best long-term investment in our nation's future, broader than these narrow military purposes. This is not to say that technological advances can't be useful, and there certainly is the potential for this project to save lives. But it's mostly military guys playing with high-tech toys, as they have been doing for decades. And robot armies are a lot scarier than the illegally wiretapped intelligence sitting on a rack in a server farm. But a robot pack's time is better spent cleaning up litter on Interstate 66. This controversy is telling us more about the present than the future."

True enough, but sci-fi has always mutated the present and engineered the future. From cell phones and satellites to invisibility cloaks and nanotechnology, it's only a dream until it becomes a reality. And it usually becomes a reality, one way or another. So I have no problem predicting that robots will replace humans on the battlefield, and I'll join some esteemed company in doing so. Eventually, we will have to tease out our totalitarian impulses and funnel them into our mechanized progeny and let them have at it while we sit on Olympus and hope they stay down there and fight. Some of us want to know just what the hell we're going to do if they decide to come home to mommy and daddy.

"As a means to express the darker aspects of our id, technology has worked to devastating effect," says Mark Pauline, whose robot armies from Survival Research Laboratories have literally gone to war with each other in punishing artistic spectacles. "However, it has been burdened with one serious and unresolved shortcoming: It's just too impersonal. What could be more impersonal than staring down a machine whose sole purpose is to kill you? As the engineering roadblocks to this type of interaction melt away, it will soon be impossible to say 'It was just a movie', or 'I had a strange dream.' When that happens, we will finally have created the one truly worthy bogeyman that has so far eluded us. We will have met the enemy, and he will not be us."

This is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama's White House

This is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama's White House

By Jeremy Scahill

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U.S. policy is not about one individual, and no matter how much faith people place in President-elect Barack Obama, the policies he enacts will be fruit of a tree with many roots. Among them: his personal politics and views, the disastrous realities his administration will inherit, and, of course, unpredictable future crises. But the best immediate indicator of what an Obama administration might look like can be found in the people he surrounds himself with and who he appoints to his Cabinet. And, frankly, when it comes to foreign policy, it is not looking good.

Obama has a momentous opportunity to do what he repeatedly promised over the course of his campaign: bring actual change. But the more we learn about who Obama is considering for top positions in his administration, the more his inner circle resembles a staff reunion of President Bill Clinton's White House. Although Obama brought some progressives on board early in his campaign, his foreign policy team is now dominated by the hawkish, old-guard Democrats of the 1990s. This has been particularly true since Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the Democratic primary, freeing many of her top advisors to join Obama's team.

"What happened to all this talk about change?" a member of the Clinton foreign policy team recently asked the Washington Post. "This isn't lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time."

Amid the euphoria over Obama's election and the end of the Bush era, it is critical to recall what 1990s U.S. foreign policy actually looked like. Bill Clinton's boiled down to a one-two punch from the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of U.S. militarism. Clinton took office and almost immediately bombed Iraq (ostensibly in retaliation for an alleged plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush). He presided over a ruthless regime of economic sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and under the guise of the so-called No-Fly Zones in northern and southern Iraq, authorized the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam.

Under Clinton, Yugoslavia was bombed and dismantled as part of what Noam Chomsky described as the "New Military Humanism." Sudan and Afghanistan were attacked, Haiti was destabilized and "free trade" deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade radically escalated the spread of corporate-dominated globalization that hurt U.S. workers and devastated developing countries. Clinton accelerated the militarization of the so-called War on Drugs in Central and Latin America and supported privatization of U.S. military operations, giving lucrative contracts to Halliburton and other war contractors. Meanwhile, U.S. weapons sales to countries like Turkey and Indonesia aided genocidal campaigns against the Kurds and the East Timorese.

The prospect of Obama's foreign policy being, at least in part, an extension of the Clinton Doctrine is real. Even more disturbing, several of the individuals at the center of Obama's transition and emerging foreign policy teams were top players in creating and implementing foreign policies that would pave the way for projects eventually carried out under the Bush/Cheney administration. With their assistance, Obama has already charted out several hawkish stances. Among them:

-- His plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan;

-- An Iraq plan that could turn into a downsized and rebranded occupation that keeps U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future;

-- His labeling of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization;"

-- His pledge to use unilateral force inside of Pakistan to defend U.S. interests;

-- His position, presented before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that Jerusalem "must remain undivided" -- a remark that infuriated Palestinian officials and which he later attempted to reframe;

-- His plan to continue the War on Drugs, a backdoor U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Central and Latin America;

-- His refusal to "rule out" using Blackwater and other armed private forces in U.S. war zones, despite previously introducing legislation to regulate these companies and bring them under U.S. law.

Obama did not arrive at these positions in a vacuum. They were carefully crafted in consultation with his foreign policy team. While the verdict is still out on a few people, many members of his inner foreign policy circle -- including some who have received or are bound to receive Cabinet posts -- supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Some promoted the myth that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. A few have worked with the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, whose radical agenda was adopted by the Bush/Cheney administration. And most have proven track records of supporting or implementing militaristic, offensive U.S. foreign policy. "After a masterful campaign, Barack Obama seems headed toward some fateful mistakes as he assembles his administration by heeding the advice of Washington's Democratic insider community, a collective group that represents little 'change you can believe in,'" notes veteran journalist Robert Parry, the former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter who broke many of the stories in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

As news breaks and speculation abounds about cabinet appointments, here are 20 people to watch as Obama builds the team who will shape U.S. foreign policy for at least four years:

Joe Biden

There was no stronger sign that Obama's foreign policy would follow the hawkish tradition of the Democratic foreign policy establishment than his selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. Much has been written on Biden's tenure as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but his role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq stands out. Biden is not just one more Democratic lawmaker who now calls his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq "mistaken;" Biden was actually an important facilitator of the war.

In the summer of 2002, when the United States was "debating" a potential attack on Iraq, Biden presided over hearings whose ostensible purpose was to weigh all existing options. But instead of calling on experts whose testimony could challenge the case for war -- Iraq's alleged WMD possession and its supposed ties to al-Qaida -- Biden's hearings treated the invasion as a foregone conclusion. His refusal to call on two individuals in particular ensured that testimony that could have proven invaluable to an actual debate was never heard: Former Chief United Nations Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter and Hans von Sponeck, a 32-year veteran diplomat and the former head of the U.N.'s Iraq program.

Both men say they made it clear to Biden's office that they were ready and willing to testify; Ritter knew more about the dismantling of Iraq's WMD program than perhaps any other U.S. citizen and would have been in prime position to debunk the misinformation and outright lies being peddled by the White House. Meanwhile, von Sponeck had just returned from Iraq, where he had observed Ansar al Islam rebels in the north of Iraq -- the so-called al-Qaida connection -- and could have testified that, rather than colluding with Saddam's regime, they were in a battle against it. Moreover, he would have pointed out that they were operating in the U.S.-enforced safe haven of Iraqi Kurdistan. "Evidence of al-Qaida/lraq collaboration does not exist, neither in the training of operatives nor in support to Ansar-al-Islam," von Sponeck wrote in an Op-Ed published shortly before the July 2002 hearings. "The U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA know perfectly well that today's Iraq poses no threat to anyone in the region, let alone in the United States. To argue otherwise is dishonest."

With both men barred from testifying, rather than eliciting an array of informed opinions, Biden's committee whitewashed Bush's lies and helped lead the country to war. Biden himself promoted the administration's false claims that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, declaring on the Senate floor, "[Saddam Hussein] possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons."

With the war underway, Biden was then the genius who passionately promoted the ridiculous plan to partition Iraq into three areas based on religion and ethnicity, attempting to Balkanize one of the strongest Arab states in the world.

"He's a part of the old Democratic establishment," says retired Army Col. Ann Wright, the State Department diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul in 2002. Biden, she says, has "had a long history with foreign affairs, [but] it's not the type of foreign affairs that I want."

Rahm Emanuel

Obama's appointment of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff is a clear sign that Clinton-era neoliberal hawks will be well-represented at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. A former senior Clinton advisor, Emanuel is a hard-line supporter of Israel's "targeted assassination" policy and actually volunteered to work with the Israeli Army during the 1991 Gulf War. He is close to the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council and was the only member of the Illinois Democratic delegation in the Congress to vote for the invasion of Iraq. Unlike many of his colleagues, Emanuel still defends his vote. As chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, Emanuel promoted the campaigns of 22 candidates, only one of who supported a swift withdrawal from Iraq, and denied crucial Party funding to anti-war candidates. "As for Iraq policy, at the right time, we will have a position," he said in December 2005. As Philip Giraldi recently pointed out on Antiwar.com, Emanuel "advocates increasing the size of the U.S. Army by 100,000 soldiers and creating a domestic spying organization like Britain's MI5. More recently, he has supported mandatory paramilitary national service for all Americans between the ages of 18 and 25."

While Obama has at times been critical of Clinton-era free trade agreements, Emanuel was one of the key people in the Clinton White House who brokered the successful passage of NAFTA.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

For all the buzz and speculation about the possibility that Sen. Clinton may be named Secretary of State, most media coverage has focused on her rivalry with Obama during the primary, along with the prospect of her husband having to face the intense personal, financial and political vetting process required to secure a job in the new administration. But the question of how Clinton would lead the operations at Foggy Bottom calls for scrutiny of her positions vis-a-vis Obama's stated foreign-policy goals.

Clinton was an ardent defender of her husband's economic and military war against Iraq throughout the 1990s, including the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which ultimately laid the path for President George W. Bush's invasion. Later, as a U.S. senator, she not only voted to authorize the war, but aided the Bush administration's propaganda campaign in the lead-up to the invasion. "Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability and his nuclear program," Clinton said when rising to support the measure in October 2002. "He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members … I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no mistake about our national unity and for our support for the president's efforts to wage America's war against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction."

"The man who vowed to deliver us from 28 years of Bushes and Clintons has been stocking up on Clintonites," New York Timesrecently wrote. "How, one may ask, can he put Hillary -- who voted to authorize the Iraq war without even reading the intelligence assessment -- in charge of patching up a foreign policy and a world riven by that war?" columnist Maureen Dowd

Beyond Iraq, Clinton shocked many and sparked official protests by Tehran at the United Nations when asked during the presidential campaign what she would do as president if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," she declared. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

Clinton has not shied away from supporting offensive foreign policy tactics in the past. Recalling her husband's weighing the decision of whether to attack Yugoslavia, she said in 1999, "I urged him to bomb. … You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?"

Madeleine Albright

While Obama's house is flush with Clintonian officials like former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Defense Secretary William Perry, Director of the State Department Office of Policy Planning Greg Craig (who was officially named Obama's White House Counsel) and Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, perhaps most influential is Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton's former Secretary of State and U.N. ambassador. Albright recently served as a proxy for Obama, representing him at the G-20 summit earlier this month. Whether or not she is awarded an official role in the administration, Albright will be a major force in shaping Obama's foreign policy.

"It will take time to convince skeptics that the promotion of democracy is not a mask for imperialism or a recipe for the kind of chaos we have seen in the Persian Gulf," Albright recently wrote. "And it will take time to establish the right identity for America in a world that has grown suspicious of all who claim a monopoly on virtue and that has become reluctant to follow the lead of any one country."

Albright should know. She was one of the key architects in the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. In the lead-up to the 1999 "Kosovo war," she oversaw the U.S. attempt to coerce the Yugoslav government to deny its own sovereignty in return for not being bombed. Albright demanded that the Yugoslav government sign a document that would have been unacceptable to any sovereign nation. Known as the Rambouillet Accord, it included a provision that would have guaranteed U.S. and NATO forces "free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout" all of Yugoslavia -- not just Kosovo -- while also seeking to immunize those occupation forces "from any form of arrest, investigation or detention by the authorities in [Yugoslavia]." Moreover, it would have granted the occupiers "the use of airports, roads, rails and ports without payment." Similar to Bush's Iraq plan years later, the Rambouillet Accord mandated that the economy of Kosovo "shall function in accordance with free-market principles."

When Yugoslavia refused to sign the document, Albright and others in the Clinton administration unleashed the 78-day NATO bombing of Serbia, which targeted civilian infrastructure. (Prior to the attack, Albright said the U.S. government felt "the Serbs need a little bombing.") She and the Clinton administration also supported the rise to power in Kosovo of a terrorist mafia that carried out its own ethnic-cleansing campaign against the province's minorities.

Perhaps Albright's most notorious moment came with her enthusiastic support of the economic war against the civilian population of Iraq. When confronted by Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” that the sanctions were responsible for the deaths of "a half-million children … more children than died in Hiroshima," Albright responded, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it." (While defending the policy, Albright later called her choice of words "a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy, and wrong.")

Richard Holbrooke

Like Albright, Holbrooke will have major sway over U.S. policy, whether or not he gets an official job. A career diplomat since the Vietnam War, Holbrooke's most recent government post was as President Clinton's ambassador to the U.N. Among the many violent policies he helped implement and enforce was the U.S.-backed Indonesian genocide in East Timor. Holbrooke was an Assistant Secretary of State in the late 1970s at the height of the slaughter and was the point man on East Timor for the Carter Administration.

According to Brad Simpson, director of the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, "It was Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski [another top Obama advisor], both now leading lights in the Democratic Party, who played point in trying to frustrate the efforts of congressional human-rights activists to try and condition or stop U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, and in fact accelerated the flow of weapons to Indonesia at the height of the genocide."

Holbrooke, too, was a major player in the dismantling of Yugoslavia and praised the bombing of Serb Television, which killed 16 media workers, as a significant victory. (The man who ordered that bombing, now-retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, is another Obama foreign policy insider who could end up in his cabinet. While Clark is known for being relatively progressive on social issues, as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, he ordered bombings and attacks that Amnesty International labeled war crimes.)

Like many in Obama's foreign policy circle, Holbrooke also supported the Iraq war. In early 2003, shortly after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the UN, where he presented the administration's fraud-laden case for war to the UN (a speech Powell has since called a "blot" on his reputation), Holbrooke said: "It was a masterful job of diplomacy by Colin Powell and his colleagues, and it does not require a second vote to go to war. … Saddam is the most dangerous government leader in the world today, he poses a threat to the region, he could pose a larger threat if he got weapons of mass destruction deployed, and we have a legitimate right to take action."

Dennis Ross

Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Ross was one of the primary authors of Obama's aforementioned speech before AIPAC this summer. He cut his teeth working under famed neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon in the 1970s and worked closely with the Project for the New American Century. Ross has been a staunch supporter of Israel and has fanned the flames for a more hostile stance toward Iran. As the lead U.S. negotiator between Israel and numerous Arab nations under Clinton, Ross' team acted, in the words of one U.S. official who worked under him, as "Israel's lawyer."

"The 'no surprises' policy, under which we had to run everything by Israel first, stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required for serious peacemaking," wrote U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2005. "If we couldn't put proposals on the table without checking with the Israelis first, and refused to push back when they said no, how effective could our mediation be? Far too often, particularly when it came to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, our departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one -- Israel." After the Clinton White House, Ross worked for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a hawkish pro-Israel think tank, and for FOX News, where he repeatedly pressed for war against Iraq.

Martin Indyk

Founder of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Indyk spent years working for AIPAC and served as Clinton's ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, while also playing a major role in developing U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran. In addition to his work for the U.S. government, he has worked for the Israeli government and with PNAC.

"Barack Obama has painted himself into a corner by appealing to the most hard-line, pro-Israel elements in this country," Ali Abunimah, founder of ElectronicInifada.net, recently told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, describing Indyk and Dennis Ross as "two of the most pro-Israel officials from the Clinton era, who are totally distrusted by Palestinians and others across the Middle East, because they're seen as lifelong advocates for Israeli positions."

Anthony Lake

Clinton's former National Security Advisor was an early supporter of Obama and one of the few top Clintonites to initially back the president-elect. Lake began his foreign policy work in the U.S. Foreign Service during Vietnam, working with Henry Kissinger on the "September Group," a secret team tasked with developing a military strategy to deliver a "savage, decisive blow against North Vietnam."

Decades later, after working for various administrations, Lake "was the main force behind the U.S. invasion of Haiti in the mid-Clinton years," according to veteran journalist Allan Nairn, whose groundbreaking reporting revealed U.S. support for Haitian death squads in the 1990s. "They brought back Aristide essentially in political chains, pledged to support a World Bank/IMF overhaul of the economy, which resulted in an increase in malnutrition deaths among Haitians, and set the stage for the current ongoing political disaster in Haiti." Clinton nominated Lake as CIA Director, but he failed to win Senate confirmation.

Lee Hamilton

Hamilton is a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was co-chairman of both the Iraq Study Group and 9/11 Commission. Robert Parry, who has covered Hamilton's career extensively, recently ran a piece on Consortium News that characterized him this way: "Whenever the Republicans have a touchy national-security scandal to put to rest, their favorite Democratic investigator is Lee Hamilton. … Hamilton's carefully honed skill for balancing truth against political comity has elevated him to the status of a Washington Wise Man."

Susan Rice

Former Assistant Secretary of Sate Susan Rice, who served on Bill Clinton's National Security Council, is a potential candidate for the post of ambassador to the U.N. or as a deputy national security advisor. She, too, promoted the myth that Saddam had WMDs. "It's clear that Iraq poses a major threat," she said in 2002. "It's clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're on." (After the invasion, discussing Saddam's alleged possession of WMDs, she said, "I don't think many informed people doubted that.")

Rice has also been a passionate advocate for a U.S. military attack against Sudan over the Darfur crisis. In an op-ed co-authored with Anthony Lake, she wrote, "The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan's oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy -- by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing."

John Brennan

A longtime CIA official and former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Brennan is one of the coordinators of Obama's intelligence transition team and a top contender for either CIA Director or Director of National Intelligence. He was also recently described by Glenn Greenwald as "an ardent supporter of torture and one of the most emphatic advocates of FISA expansions and telecom immunity." While claiming to oppose waterboarding, labeling it "inconsistent with American values" and "something that should be prohibited," Brennan has simultaneously praised the results achieved by "enhanced interrogation" techniques. "There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hard-core terrorists," Brennan said in a 2007 interview. "It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the death of 3,000 innocents."

Brennan has described the CIA's extraordinary rendition program -- the government-run kidnap-and-torture program enacted under Clinton -- as an absolutely vital tool. "I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in," he said in a December 2005 interview. "And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives."

Brennan is currently the head of Analysis Corporation, a private intelligence company that was recently implicated in the breach of Obama and Sen. John McCain's passport records. He is also the current chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), a trade association of private intelligence contractors who have dramatically increased their role in sensitive U.S. national security operations. (Current Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is former chairman of the INSA.)

Jami Miscik

Miscik, who works alongside Brennan on Obama's transitional team, was the CIA's Deputy Director for Intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. She was one of the key officials responsible for sidelining intel that contradicted the official line on WMD, while promoting intel that backed it up.

"When the administration insisted on an intelligence assessment of Saddam Hussein's relationship to al-Qaida, Miscik blocked the skeptics (who were later vindicated) within the CIA's Mideast analytical directorate and instructed the less-skeptical counterterrorism analysts to 'stretch to the maximum the evidence you had,' " journalist Spencer Ackerman recently wrote in the Washington Independent. "It's hard to think of a more egregious case of sacrificing sound intelligence analysis in order to accommodate the strategic fantasies of an administration. … The idea that Miscik is helping staff Obama's top intelligence picks is most certainly not change we can believe in." What's more, she went on to a lucrative post as the Global Head of Sovereign Risk for the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers.

John Kerry and Bill Richardson

Both Sen. Kerry and Gov. Richardson have been identified as possible contenders for Secretary of State. While neither is likely to be as hawkish as Hillary Clinton, both have taken pro-war positions. Kerry promoted the WMD lie and voted to invade Iraq. "Why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don't even try?" Kerry asked on the Senate floor in October 2002. "According to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons … Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents."

Richardson, whose Iraq plan during his 2008 presidential campaign was more progressive and far-reaching than Obama's, served as Bill Clinton's ambassador to the UN. In this capacity, he supported Clinton's December 1998 bombing of Baghdad and the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq. "We think this man is a threat to the international community, and he threatens a lot of the neighbors in his region and future generations there with anthrax and VX," Richardson told an interviewer in February 1998.

While Clinton's Secretary of Energy, Richardson publicly named Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as a target in an espionage investigation. Lee was accused of passing nuclear secrets to the Chinese government. Lee was later cleared of those charges and won a settlement against the U.S. government.

Robert Gates

Washington consensus is that Obama will likely keep Robert Gates, George W. Bush's Defense Secretary, as his own Secretary of Defense. While Gates has occasionally proved to be a stark contrast to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he would hardly represent a break from the policies of the Bush administration. Quite the opposite; according to the Washington Post, in the interest of a "smooth transition," Gates "has ordered hundreds of political appointees at the Pentagon canvassed to see whether they wish to stay on in the new administration, has streamlined policy briefings and has set up suites for President-elect Barack Obama's transition team just down the hall from his own E-ring office." The Post reports that Gates could stay on for a brief period and then be replaced by Richard Danzig, who was Clinton's Secretary of the Navy. Other names currently being tossed around are Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (a critic of the Iraq occupation) and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who served alongside Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Ivo H. Daalder

Daalder was National Security Council Director for European Affairs under President Clinton. Like other Obama advisors, he has worked with the Project for the New American Century and signed a 2005 letter from PNAC to Congressional leaders, calling for an increase in U.S. ground troops in Iraq and beyond.

Sarah Sewall

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance during the Clinton administration, Sewall served as a top advisor to Obama during the campaign and is almost certain to be selected for a post in his administration. In 2007, Sewall worked with the U.S. military and Army Gen. David Petraeus, writing the introduction to the University of Chicago edition of the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. She was criticized for this collaboration by Tom Hayden, who wrote, "the Petraeus plan draws intellectual legitimacy from Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, whose director, Sarah Sewall, proudly embraces an 'unprecedented collaboration [as] a human rights center partnered with the armed forces.'”

"Humanitarians often avoid wading into the conduct of war for fear of becoming complicit in its purpose," she wrote in the introduction. "'The field manual requires engagement precisely from those who fear that its words lack meaning."

Michele Flournoy

Flournoy and former Clinton Deputy Defense Secretary John White are co-heading Obama's defense transition team. Flournoy was a senior Clinton appointee at the Pentagon. She currently runs the Center for a New American Security, a center-right think-tank. There is speculation that Obama could eventually name her as the first woman to serve as defense secretary. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported: "While at CNAS, Flournoy helped to write a report that called for reducing the open-ended American military commitment in Iraq and replacing it with a policy of 'conditional engagement' there. Significantly, the paper rejected the idea of withdrawing troops according to the sort of a fixed timeline that Obama espoused during the presidential campaign. Obama has in recent weeks signaled that he was willing to shelve the idea, bringing him more in line with Flournoy's thinking." Flournoy has also worked with the neoconservative Project for the New American Century.

Wendy Sherman and Tom Donilon

Currently employed at Madeline Albright's consulting firm, the Albright Group, Sherman worked under Albright at the State Department, coordinating U.S. policy on North Korea. She is now coordinating the State Department transition team for Obama. Tom Donilon, her co-coordinator, was Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff at the State Department under Clinton. Interestingly, Sherman and Donilon both have ties to Fannie Mae that didn't make it onto their official bios on Obama's change.gov Web site. "Donilon was Fannie's general counsel and executive vice president for law and policy from 1999 until the spring of 2005, a period during which the company was rocked by accounting problems," reports the Wall Street Journal.

***

While many of the figures at the center of Obama's foreign policy team are well-known, two of its most important members have never held national elected office or a high-profile government position. While they cannot be characterized as Clinton-era hawks, it will be important to watch Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert, co-coordinators of the Obama foreign policy team. From 2000 to 2005, McDonough served as foreign policy advisor to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and worked extensively on the use-of-force authorizations for the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which Daschle supported. From 1996 to 1999, McDonough was a professional staff member of the House International Relations Committee during the debate over the bombing of Yugoslavia. More recently, he was at the Center for American Progress working under John Podesta, Clinton's former chief of staff and the current head of the Obama transition.

Mark Lippert is a close personal friend of Obama's. He has worked for Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, as well as the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Democratic Policy Committee. He is a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve and spent a year in Iraq working intelligence for the Navy SEALs. "According to those who've worked closely with Lippert," Robert Dreyfuss recently wrote in The Nation, "he is a conservative, cautious centrist who often pulled Obama to the right on Iraq, Iran and the Middle East and who has been a consistent advocate for increased military spending. 'Even before Obama announced for the presidency, Lippert wanted Obama to be seen as tough on Iran,' says a lobbyist who's worked the Iran issue on Capitol Hill, 'He's clearly more hawkish than the senator.' "

***

Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to bring change to Washington. "I don't want to just end the war," he said early this year. "I want to end the mindset that got us into war." That is going to be very difficult if Obama employs a foreign policy team that was central to creating that mindset, before and during the presidency of George W. Bush.

"Twenty-three senators and 133 House members who voted against the war -- and countless other notable individuals who spoke out against it and the dubious claims leading to war -- are apparently not even being considered for these crucial positions," observes Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy. This includes dozens of former military and intelligence officials who spoke out forcefully against the war and continue to oppose militaristic policy, as well as credible national security experts who have articulated their visions for a foreign policy based on justice.

Obama does have a chance to change the mindset that got us into war. More significantly, he has a popular mandate to forcefully challenge the militaristic, hawkish tradition of modern U.S. foreign policy. But that work would begin by bringing on board people who would challenge this tradition, not those who have been complicit in creating it and are bound to continue advancing it.

Jeremy Scahill pledges to be the same journalist under an Obama administration that he was during Bill Clinton and George Bush's presidencies. He is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army and is a frequent contributor to The Nation and Democracy Now! He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

The Morning After, Voting Problems Remain

The Morning After, Voting Problems Remain

Anyone walking through Election Protection's headquarters on Nov. 4 could have been forgiven for thinking the invasion of a small country was under way rather than an election.

Dozens of volunteers fielded calls from harassed or confused voters in a command center complete with a 20-foot-high wall of digital maps and statistics. Upstairs, teams of lawyers hunched around conference tables littered with soda cans and cups of cold coffee, working the phones and dispatching legal teams to troubled polling stations.

In the press room, the coalition's leaders clambered over one another to report the latest voting malfeasance. TV cameras rolled and calls poured in from newspapers around the country concerned about long lines and voter disenfranchisement. Standing before a bank of television screens and interactive maps, Jonah Goldman, the director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections and one of the leaders of Election Protection, paused to encourage the assembled press to see the day as a jumping-off point for future stories of election reform.

"When we wake up tomorrow, there will be a lot of coverage of who won and who lost, but we don't want to be here in two or four years," he said.

Reporters nodded and tap-tap-tapped on their laptops in approval.

In the early evening, polls began closing and the press room thinned out. As networks started calling states, views of long lines at polling stations were replaced by talking heads and color-coded maps and Obama's march to 270 electoral votes. The story at Election Protection headquarters was over.

But the constellation of voting problems -- 50,000 calls that day about long lines, registration errors, machine malfunctions and voter intimidation -- certainly hadn't disappeared.

"If this election were being decided by 537 votes," Goldman said last week, referring to the margin of victory in Florida in 2000, "there were a dozen different areas where you could find them."

Sidebar: An Election Reformer's Wish List

The voting rights groups that spent millions observing this fall's election haven't forgotten, and they are hoping to leverage the wealth of data they collected on Nov. 4 to pass reforms. Election Protection will release a report highlighting the mishaps -- though Goldman said he and his colleagues could have predicted most of them months in advance. Video the Vote, which commissioned amateur filmmakers to document polling problems, is editing and distributing its footage.

The Election Protection groups' ultimate goal, organizers said, is to help pass legislation currently being crafted in the House and Senate that would automatically register eligible voters nationwide and mandate that all states provide early voting options.

Political Will, But For What?

This year's decisive outcome in the presidential race might seem to take away some of the urgency behind election reform. But voting rights advocates contend that shifting the debate away from something seen as politically motivated and toward a good-governance policy movement increases its chances of success.

"The fact that this election was decided by such huge margins allows us to take it out of a partisan lens and deal with this in a more American way," Goldman said.

Yet not all reformers are in lockstep when it comes to implementing potential solutions. While most agree that a form of universal voter registration is needed, some want to give the federal government that power, and others want to delegate the responsibility to states.

Expanding early voting is another option that many reformers support. More people casting their ballots before Election Day this year meant fewer people at the polls on Nov. 4, Goldman said, and early voting states had fewer machine malfunctions since their equipment was battle-tested before most voters went to the polls.

But George Mason University professor of government Michael McDonald warned that absentee ballots, a key component of early voting, have a high rate of disqualification: More than 1 percent weren't counted nationally in 2004, with some states rejecting as many as 4 percent.

"One of the easiest ways for a voter to disenfranchise himself is with a mail-in absentee ballot," said McDonald, who studies early voting patterns.

Low-information, low-income voters (the majority of whom are Democrats) are responsible for a disproportionate number of ballots missing signatures, marked improperly or not sealed correctly, he added. And in elections decided by fractions of a percent, tossing out a few percent of the absentee ballots can make the difference.

Election officials can try to minimize sources of electoral error but, McDonald conceded, when a race gets as tight as the one for Minnesota Senate (down to a 206-vote margin and counting), it becomes a crapshoot.

"That race is essentially a tie," he said. "And whoever we decide wins, it is going to be random."

Poor Track Record

Activists may favor reworked election laws, but the government response to the disputed 2000 election suggests that legislation is the beginning rather than the end of the solution. The Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002 after Florida's "hanging chad" debacle, provided billions to help states institute a provisional balloting system, replace punch-card voting machines and improve access to polls for the disabled.

The law also created the Election Assistance Commission, designed to serve as a clearinghouse for HAVA information and help states coordinate the changes. But the agency was wracked by charges of partisanship from the get-go and was so underfunded that staff meetings were held in a downtown Starbucks. A former commissioner has called his time there "the worst experience of my life."

"It doesn't do anything," said McDonald, who is himself contributing to an Election Assistance Commission report on the 2008 election.

When states started buying up shiny, new electronic voting machines with federal money, the commission provided little guidance, said Jon Greenbaum, director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Those machines have since proved unreliable, and some states are going back to optical scan systems.

"You pass legislation that has lot of problems, and then you create a commission that doesn't have any teeth," Greenbaum said. "It doesn't get listened to very much."

Election reform advocates have had even less legislative luck recently. In 2007, the House passed the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, which would have established criminal penalties for spreading voter misinformation, but the bill died in the Senate.

Rosemary Rodriguez, the chairwoman of the Election Assistance Commission, said her agency hasn't lived up to expectations because "maybe some of the deadlines were unrealistic."

"What we're learning," she added, "is if you really want to set something up that can improve the field, it takes some time."

See you Nov. 2, 2010.

The Wrong Place to Be Chronically Ill

The Wrong Place to Be Chronically Ill

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Chronically ill Americans suffer far worse care than their counterparts in seven other industrial nations, according to a new study by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation that has pioneered in international comparisons. It is the latest telling evidence that the dysfunctional American health care system badly needs reform.

The results of the study, published by the respected journal Health Affairs, belie the notion held by many American politicians that health care in this country is the best in the world. That may be true at a handful of pre-eminent medical centers, but it is hardly true for the care provided to a huge portion of the population.

The Commonwealth Fund’s survey of 7,500 patients in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Britain and the United States focused on patients who suffered from at least one of seven chronic conditions: hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, lung problems, cancer or depression.

The care they received in this country — or more often did not receive — ought to be a cause for shame. More than half of the American patients went without care because of high out-of-pocket costs. They did not visit a doctor when sick, skipped a recommended test or treatment or failed to fill a prescription. The uninsured suffered most, but even 43 percent of those who had insurance all year skipped care because of costs.

Americans also were most likely to report wasting time because their care was so poorly organized. About a third reported that medical records and test results were not available when needed or that tests were duplicated unnecessarily. A third experienced a medical error, such as being given the wrong medication or test results. Some 40 percent found it very difficult to get after-hours care without going to an emergency room.

The United States did comparatively well in some areas, such as providing relatively prompt access to specialists and clear instructions to patients leaving the hospital. But the nation’s overall performance was abysmal.

By contrast, Dutch patients reported far more favorable experiences with their health care system, largely because the Netherlands provides universal coverage (through individual mandates and private health insurance), a strong primary care system and widespread use of electronic medical records. It should be possible to achieve the same level of performance here.

Employee Free Choice Act Would Restore Worker Protections

Employee Free Choice Act Would Restore Worker Protections

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Legislation that makes it easier for workers to form unions died in the Senate last year but union advocates are hoping Barack Obama can perform some CPR. Obama has said that if the Employee Free Choice Act comes across his desk, then he will sign it into law. Still, union interests probably shouldn't count their chickens. The filibuster remains, as does a powerful anti-union lobby, to derail this legislation. Our president-elect has lots of squeaky wheels to fix in January as well, but only so much grease.

Organized labor has been the victim of captive politicians and business leaders over the last 60 years. Our labor laws originally were designed to protect workers from their powerful employers by encouraging unionization and punishing employers who interfered with the collective bargaining process. But a rash of strikes after World War II caused a legislative about-face. Enacted over President Harry Truman's veto in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act shifted the focus from protecting workers, to protecting big business from the purported abuses of workers. The Harvard Law Review in 1947 deemed Taft-Hartley an outright rejection of our previous policy of encouraging collective bargaining.

The kiss of death for unions, however, was President Ronald Reagan's 1981 firing of 11,345 striking air-traffic controllers who had ignored his work order, sending a rallying cry to employers across the nation, which they promptly heeded. Union membership as a percentage of the workforce has declined and is today but a small fraction of what it used to be.

And no wonder. Under the current law, unions have about as good a chance of getting off the ground as Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose, an enormous wooden aircraft that flew only once. Even if all employees in a workplace sign up for union representation, employers, backed by armies of corporate lawyers, can still force workers to suffer through labyrinthine National Labor Relations Board-sanctioned elections, which can take years. In these elections, employers have every advantage - more resources, virtually all of the economic leverage and unimpeded employee access.

The Employee Free Choice Act resurrects common sense. It says that if a majority of employees want union representation, then the employer must deal with the union. Democracy anyone? It also streamlines dispute resolution in initial contract talks, and imposes stiffer penalties on employers for unfairly interfering with union organizing.

Critics stoke fear and loathing of the proposed new law by asserting that the act deprives workers of the secret ballot NLRB elections. Not true. The act does not affect the option to hold a secret ballot NLRB election, except to make it the workers' option not the employer's.

The suggestion that the creation of more unions might pinch an already moaning economy may carry more appeal at a time when our economy needs stimulation. But don't be fooled - the prevailing approach to economic stimulation applies the self-same trickle-down theories that got us into this economic mess.

While the music may have changed on election day, we need to make sure the dance does, too. That means rebuilding our economy from the bottom up, by restoring respect, dignity and fairness for working Americans.

The Employee Free Choice Act would help do that. Which is why President-elect Obama should do more than sign it if it comes across his desk. He should use his mandate to make sure it gets there. Starting now.

Aaron T. Knapp is en employment lawyer, writer and consultant living in San Francisco. To comment, e-mail him at aarontknapp@gmail.com.