Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Barack Obama's kettle of hawks

Barack Obama's kettle of hawks

The absence of a solid anti-war voice on Obama's national security team means that US foreign policy isn't going to change

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Barack Obama has assembled a team of rivals to implement his foreign policy. But while pundits and journalists speculate endlessly on the potential for drama with Hillary Clinton at the state department and Bill Clinton's network of shady funders, the real rivalry that will play out goes virtually unmentioned. The main battles will not be between Obama's staff, but rather against those who actually want a change in US foreign policy, not just a staff change in the war room.

When announcing his foreign policy team on Monday, Obama said: "I didn't go around checking their voter registration." That is a bit hard to believe, given the 63-question application to work in his White House. But Obama clearly did check their credentials, and the disturbing truth is that he liked what he saw.

The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war, militaristic interventionism, neoliberal economic policies and a worldview consistent with the foreign policy arch that stretches from George HW Bush's time in office to the present.

Obama has dismissed suggestions that the public records of his appointees bear much relevance to future policy. "Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost," Obama said. "It comes from me. That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing." It is a line the president-elect's defenders echo often. The reality, though, is that their records do matter.

We were told repeatedly during the campaign that Obama was right on the premiere foreign policy issue of our day – the Iraq war. "Six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so," Obama said in his September debate against John McCain. "Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment." What does it say that, with 130 members of the House and 23 in the Senate who voted against the war, Obama chooses to hire Democrats who made the same judgement as Bush and McCain?

On Iraq, the issue that the Obama campaign described as "the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation", Biden and Clinton not only supported the invasion, but pushed the Bush administration's propaganda and lies about Iraqi WMDs and fictitious connections to al-Qaida. Clinton and Obama's hawkish, pro-Israel chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, still refuse to renounce their votes in favour of the war. Rice, who claims she opposed the Iraq war, didn't hold elected office and was not confronted with voting for or against it. But she did publicly promote the myth of Iraq's possession of WMDs, saying in the lead up to the war that the "major threat" must "be dealt with forcefully". Rice has also been hawkish on Darfur, calling for "strik[ing] Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets".

It is also deeply telling that, of his own free will, Obama selected President Bush's choice for defence secretary, a man with a very disturbing and lengthy history at the CIA during the cold war, as his own. While General James Jones, Obama's nominee for national security adviser, reportedly opposed the Iraq invasion and is said to have stood up to the neocons in Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, he did not do so publicly when it would have carried weight. Time magazine described him as "the man who led the Marines during the run-up to the war – and failed to publicly criticise the operation's flawed planning". Moreover, Jones, who is a friend of McCain's, has said a timetable for Iraq withdrawal, "would be against our national interest".

But the problem with Obama's appointments is hardly just a matter of bad vision on Iraq. What ultimately ties Obama's team together is their unified support for the classic US foreign policy recipe: the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of US militarism to defend the America First doctrine.

Obama's starry-eyed defenders have tried to downplay the importance of his cabinet selections, saying Obama will call the shots, but the ruling elite in this country see it for what it is. Karl Rove, "Bush's Brain", called Obama's cabinet selections, "reassuring", which itself is disconcerting, but neoconservative leader and former McCain campaign staffer Max Boot summed it up best. "I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain," Boot wrote. The appointment of General Jones and the retention of Gates at defence "all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign."

Boot added that Hillary Clinton will be a "powerful" voice "for 'neoliberalism' which is not so different in many respects from 'neoconservativism.'" Boot's buddy, Michael Goldfarb, wrote in The Weekly Standard, the official organ of the neoconservative movement, that he sees "certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush in his second term."

There is not a single, solid anti-war voice in the upper echelons of the Obama foreign policy apparatus. And this is the point: Obama is not going to fundamentally change US foreign policy. He is a status quo Democrat. And that is why the mono-partisan Washington insiders are gushing over Obama's new team. At the same time, it is also disingenuous to act as though Obama is engaging in some epic betrayal. Of course these appointments contradict his campaign rhetoric of change. But move past the speeches and Obama's selections are very much in sync with his record and the foreign policy vision he articulated on the campaign trail, from his pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan to his "residual force" plan in Iraq to his vow to use unilateral force in Pakistan to defend US interests to his posturing on Iran. "I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel," Obama said in his famed speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last summer. "Sometimes, there are no alternatives to confrontation."

UAW pledges to impose further job losses and concessions on auto workers

UAW pledges to impose further job losses and concessions on auto workers

By Joe Kishore

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United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger gave his most open pledge yet Sunday that the union would work to impose further sharp concessions on US auto workers.

Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "Late Edition," Gettelfinger said the union is "prepared to go back to the bargaining table" and reopen the four-year labor agreements signed in 2007.

The UAW president's remarks came as Detroit's Big Three automakers were readying proposals to present to Congress on Tuesday that will include outlines for further downsizing and cost-cutting in the attempt to return the companies to profitability. According to a report in the New York Times Monday, these plans include a "significant shrinking" of GM's North American operations, including shutting more factories, eliminating brands and delaying or reneging on billions the company pledged to pay into a newly-established union-controlled fund for retiree health care benefits.

Both Democrats and Republicans have demanded concessions in return for any government loan to avert bankruptcy. The UAW bureaucracy completely accepts the consensus of the American political and media establishment, and is working behind the backs of its membership to negotiate cuts.

The contracts signed by the union last year imposed historic concessions on auto workers, including a fifty percent cut in wages for new-hires and so-called non-assembly workers, and the ending of employer-paid retiree health care benefits. But this was considered inadequate by the most powerful financial and political interests, which are using the crisis in the auto industry to destroy the conditions of auto workers and set a precedent for an attack on the entire working class.

In questioning Gettelfinger, Blitzer relied on the statements of prominent Democrats, including President-Elect Barack Obama, demanding "change" in the auto industry. He cited Obama's statement, "We can't just write a blank check to the auto industry. Taxpayers can't be expected to pony up more money for an auto industry that has been resistant to change."

Blitzer also cited a joint statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding that the auto companies present a plan for "long-term viability" and "a restructuring in the industry" in return for a loan.

In response, Gettelfinger pointed to the major concessions the union has already accepted in its 2005 and 2007 contracts. He made clear that the UAW would consider additional concessions, but asked for company management to accept nominal cuts as well. "We need the board members, the management, the suppliers, the dealers, the creditors and the equity holders to all come at the table to make sure that one group doesn't have to accept all the sacrifice." The UAW bureaucracy hopes such bogus claims of "equal sacrifice" will help it sell concessions to a skeptical and largely hostile membership.

Gettelfinger's pledge to "go back to the table" comes only one year after bitter contract disputes that pitted auto workers against the companies and the UAW. The contracts with GM, Ford and Chrysler included new two-tier wage and benefit structures that included starting pay for new workers of $14 an hour.

In exchange for pushing through concessions, the union secured control of a multi-billion dollar retiree health-care trust—a voluntary employees' beneficiary association (VEBA)—to which auto companies pledged to contribute less than half of their health-care liabilities.

Gettelfinger did not go into any details on his discussion with the Big Three management, but media reports have reported the jobs bank—which subsidizes laid off workers for a period of time—will be eliminated. An article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday ("Big Three Discuss Ending Idle-Workers Plan" by Matthew Dolan), reported, "The United Auto Workers union is in talks with some of Detroit's Big Three auto makers to stop a program that pays idled workers, people familiar with the matter said."

Earlier concessions have already substantially reduced the number of workers receiving benefits through the jobs bank. "The size of the revamped program ... has dropped to about 3,000 hourly employees" according to the Big Three. "That's down from 15,000 workers just two years ago, a trend largely driven by time restrictions put in place as part of current union contracts."

The elimination of the jobs bank is largely symbolic, however, and is seen as a down-payment from the union for far more sweeping concessions. The newspaper continued, "UAW officials, including its president Ron Gettelfinger, are said to understand that they are under pressure to deliver cost concessions. Mr. Gettelfinger ‘understands the UAW is part of the solution here,' a person close to the UAW president said. ‘He doesn't want to be characterized as the problem.'"

GM may also seek to alter the funding schedule for the VEBA program, which would threaten the health care benefits for hundreds of thousands of retirees and their dependents. Earlier this year, the union agreed to GM deferring a payment of $1.7 billion. Another payment of $4 billion is due in December 2009 and GM is reportedly seeking another delay.

As the number of unionized workers has declined—and with it the dues base of the UAW—the union bureaucracy sought out the VEBA as a new source of income. The VEBA is set to take over funding of retiree health benefits in 2010. If auto company funding for the VEBA is delayed or cut back, it will fall on the union to impose further cuts on retirees, or eliminate some benefits altogether.

The Big Three, including General Motors, are still considering bankruptcy as a possible option if a government loan is not secured. GM CEO Richard Wagoner is said to be opposed to the option, but according to a Wall Street Journal article on Monday ("GM and Board Race to Craft Convincing Viability Plan" by John Stoll), individuals on the board of directors are actively considering the possibility.

"‘Everything is on the table,' according to one person familiar with the board's thinking," the newspaper reported. "Following Mr. Wagoner's poor performance in Washington last month, the board began meeting more and taking more seriously its obligation to investigate other options," including Chapter 11 and the replacement of Wagoner.

Bankruptcy will mean concessions for auto workers as well, but in a different form. Existing contracts would be ripped up and concessions imposed by a bankruptcy judge.

US stock market plunges 680 points on signs of severe recession

US stock market plunges 680 points on signs of severe recession

By Joe Kishore

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The National Bureau of Economic Research, an independent economic body in the US, said Monday that the country has been in a recession for one year, since December 2007.

The NBER report combined with additional signs of deep global recession and looming depression, sent US stocks into another tailspin Monday, with markets suffering their biggest losses since October and the fourth-worst point drop for the Dow on record. The bureau is considered to be the arbiter for determining when the country is in a recession.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 680 points, or 7.7 percent, while the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 each fell nearly 9 percent. The drop wiped out half of last week's market surge, which was partly a response to President-elect Barack Obama's picks for top economic posts—picks highly favorable to Wall Street.

The NBER defines a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in production, employment, real income, and other indicators." The NBER noted that payroll employment figures reached a peak in December 2007 and have declined every month since.

The statements of the NBER only confirm a trend that has become obvious in recent months, as indicator after indicator has shown a sharp drop in economic activity and consumer spending in the US as part of a severe global economic downturn.

Monday saw the release of several new reports along these lines.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported that its index of manufacturing activity fell to a 26-year low. The index fell to 36.2 from 38.9 in October, a steeper fall than expected by economists.

The Financial Times cited ING Financial Markets analyst James Knightly noting that the fall in the manufacturing report likely portends a sharp drop in employment for the month of November—a figure that will be released on Friday. The newspaper reported, "The ISM's employment component has fallen to a level consistent with a 150,000 drop in manufacturing payrolls, [Knightly] said, and with initial jobless claims continuing to surge, he expected to see total payrolls decline by around 400,000 in November and the unemployment rate pushing up to 6.9 percent."

In October, official unemployment in the US rose to 6.5 percent from 6.1 percent, with 240,000 jobs lost. The US Commerce Department also reported that construction spending fell by 1.2 percent last month, also more than expected. The spending decline was led by yet another drop in housing construction, which fell 3.5 percent. Nonresidential construction also fell by 0.7 percent.

US economic figures were accompanied by poor reports in other parts of the world. The Chinese purchasing managers index fell to 38.8 in November, from 44.6 in October. The index is at its lowest level since the measure's inception in 2005. Export growth in China has collapsed as a product of the economic decline in the US and Europe.

Manufacturing and sales figures in Europe were also sharply down. A purchasing managers survey in Europe showed manufacturing activity at its lowest level since the survey began in 1987. Major European markets were all down 5 to 6 percent on Monday.

Bank stocks led declines in the US, with Citigroup falling 22 percent, Merrill Lynch 23 percent, Goldman Sachs 17 percent, and Bank of America 21 percent.

JPMorgan Chase announced Monday that it would shed 9,200 jobs at Washington Mutual, the US bank that failed in September and was subsequently bought up by JPMorgan. The cuts amount to more than 20 percent of Washington Mutual's workforce. These come on top of thousands of job cuts already announced in the financial industry.

On November 17, banking giant Citigroup announced that it was cutting 53,000 jobs after four consecutive quarterly losses and just last week the government announced a $250 billion bailout on extremely favorable terms for the bank. A day later, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson committed $800 billion to prop up the home mortgage and consumer credit markets.

These moves, bringing the amount of government commitments to some $8 trillion, reflect the disoriented and desperate maneuvers of the US government in response to an unprecedented crisis. On Monday, Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke both announced that they stood ready to make further funds available for Wall Street in coordination with the incoming Obama administration.

The continued volatility in the markets expresses a fear on the part of investors that the government's various multibillion-dollar bailout plans have failed to stem a sharp economic downturn that threatens to drive the financial sector into further crisis.

Meredith Whitney, a prominent analyst at Oppenheimer, forecast on Monday that the credit card industry would cut lending by more than $2 trillion over the next year and a half.

In a column in the Financial Times, Whitney warned, "Capital destruction has been so intense that multi-trillions in capital raised by institutions through both private and public capital has gone to plug holes and not stabilise the effects of shrinking liquidity to corporations and consumers. More than $3,000bn (€2,365bn, £1,955bn) of available credit has been expunged from the markets and therefore corporate and consumer borrowers so far this year."

Whitney noted that the decline in credit card lending would have a major impact on consumer spending in the US, which is already down sharply. "We believe we are now entering a new era in the financial landscape that will be characterised by expanded forced consumer deleveraging, with a pronounced downshift in consumer spending," Whitney wrote in a separate note released on Monday.

Sales prospects for the Christmas season in the US look gloomy, despite initial reports of an increase in sales figures for "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving. Much of the early increase in sales—which dropped off on Saturday and Sunday—was driven by steep discounts that will likely hurt retail profits. Stocks for the major retailers were also down sharply on Monday.

Pentagon to deploy 20,000 troops on domestic “anti-terror” mission

Pentagon to deploy 20,000 troops on domestic “anti-terror” mission

By Patrick Martin

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The Pentagon has begun to implement plans for the mobilization of 20,000 regular Army troops in anti-terror operations alongside state and local forces, a dramatic change in US military operations within the borders of the United States.

Some 4,700 troops, a full combat brigade based at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, were made available to the US Northern Command on October 1. The remaining troops will be assigned to the Northern Command as they complete assignments in Iraq or Afghanistan and are redeployed home by 2011.

The October 1 deployment was reported in the Army Times newspaper but not otherwise noted in the national media. The larger mobilization for 2011 was reported on the front page of the Washington Post Monday morning, an indication that the Pentagon seeks wider publicity about the move in order to accustom the American public to the sight of uniformed troops in the streets.

The pretext for the increased militarization of American society is, as always, the danger of terrorism, and in this case, a "nuclear terrorist attack," although the Post added that some "other domestic catastrophe" could be the trigger for military action. While the article suggests that this means a natural disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, there is no doubt that the social and economic consequences of the meltdown in financial markets could well qualify as a "domestic catastrophe" requiring military intervention.

The Bush administration has worked for years to undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law dating back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, barring the use of regular military forces for domestic policing duties. The only exceptions to this longstanding ban have been the use of the National Guard during natural disasters, and the deployment of federal troops during the ghetto riots of the 1960s.

Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said the use of 20,000 troops in a domestic deployment "would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable" before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to the text of a speech given to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, quoted by the Post. He described the new policy as "a fundamental change in military culture."

Two additional brigades will be assigned to create a total of three response teams to address what the military calls a CBRNE event, for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosives. The teams are known in Pentagon jargon as CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces, or CCMRF. Another 6,000 troops would be drawn from specialized groups of National Guard and reserve troops trained to respond to a CBRNE event.

A combat post training exercise involving elements of three brigades was held September 8-19, 2008. The forces represented in Operation Vibrant Response included the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, the unit at Ft. Stewart; the 1st Medical Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas; and the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C.

McHale told the Post that the armed units would still be subject to the Posse Comitatus Act and would not engage in security duties except those relating directly to the CBRNE event or to protecting themselves while so engaged.

According to the Post account, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed a directive in late 2007 providing $556 million over five years to fund the program. The Pentagon began a pilot project last month funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in which civilian officials in five states—Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia—would use military planners to help them develop disaster response plans.

When the Ft. Stewart unit was assigned to the Northern Command on October 1, the Army Times reported the event as "the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities." The unit returned from duty in Afghanistan last spring.

According to the Army Times, the troops would "learn new skills [and] use some of the ones they acquired in the war zone.... They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack...."

The unit's commander, Col. Roger Cloutier, was quoted as follows: "It's a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they're fielding. They've been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we're undertaking we were the first to get it."

The package includes equipment to stand up a roadblock; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and beanbag bullets. It also includes the use of Tasers.

The deployment to NorthCom was made possible by the 2006 Defense Authorization Act, whose Section 1076 empowered President Bush to impose martial law in the event of a threat to "public order," regardless of its cause—i.e., potentially one produced by domestic political or social upheaval, not a terrorist attack.

That provision was drafted by the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, and the leading Democrat on the panel, Carl Levin of Michigan. According to one press account, the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act limited the power to declare martial law, but Bush issued a signing statement suggesting he did not accept those restrictions.

Both Democratic and Republican governors objected to Section 1076 as an unneeded expansion of presidential authority to federalize the National Guard and usurp the powers of state officials, according to a letter jointly signed by Governor Michael Easley of North Carolina, a Democrat, and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, in 2007.

Pentagon to Detail Troops to Bolster Domestic Security

Pentagon to Detail Troops to Bolster Domestic Security

By Spencer S. Hsu and Ann Scott Tyson

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The U.S. military expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon officials.

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department's role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts, defense analysts said.

There are critics of the change, in the military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law restricting the military's role in domestic law enforcement.

But the Bush administration and some in Congress have pushed for a heightened homeland military role since the middle of this decade, saying the greatest domestic threat is terrorists exploiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to domestic response -- a nearly sevenfold increase in five years -- "would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable," Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a catastrophe prompted "a fundamental change in military culture," he said.

The Pentagon's plan calls for three rapid-reaction forces to be ready for emergency response by September 2011. The first 4,700-person unit, built around an active-duty combat brigade based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was available as of Oct. 1, said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command.

If funding continues, two additional teams will join nearly 80 smaller National Guard and reserve units made up of about 6,000 troops in supporting local and state officials nationwide. All would be trained to respond to a domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive attack, or CBRNE event, as the military calls it.

Military preparations for a domestic weapon-of-mass-destruction attack have been underway since at least 1996, when the Marine Corps activated a 350-member chemical and biological incident response force and later based it in Indian Head, Md., a Washington suburb. Such efforts accelerated after the Sept. 11 attacks, and at the time Iraq was invaded in 2003, a Pentagon joint task force drew on 3,000 civil support personnel across the United States.

In 2005, a new Pentagon homeland defense strategy emphasized "preparing for multiple, simultaneous mass casualty incidents." National security threats were not limited to adversaries who seek to grind down U.S. combat forces abroad, McHale said, but also include those who "want to inflict such brutality on our society that we give up the fight," such as by detonating a nuclear bomb in a U.S. city.

In late 2007, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed a directive approving more than $556 million over five years to set up the three response teams, known as CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces. Planners assume an incident could lead to thousands of casualties, more than 1 million evacuees and contamination of as many as 3,000 square miles, about the scope of damage Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005.

Last month, McHale said, authorities agreed to begin a $1.8 million pilot project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through which civilian authorities in five states could tap military planners to develop disaster response plans. Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia will each focus on a particular threat -- pandemic flu, a terrorist attack, hurricane, earthquake and catastrophic chemical release, respectively -- speeding up federal and state emergency planning begun in 2003.

Last Monday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered defense officials to review whether the military, Guard and reserves can respond adequately to domestic disasters.

Gates gave commanders 25 days to propose changes and cost estimates. He cited the work of a congressionally chartered commission, which concluded in January that the Guard and reserve forces are not ready and that they lack equipment and training.

Bert B. Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College's Center for Strategic Leadership, said the new Pentagon approach "breaks the mold" by assigning an active-duty combat brigade to the Northern Command for the first time. Until now, the military required the command to rely on troops requested from other sources.

"This is a genuine recognition that this [job] isn't something that you want to have a pickup team responsible for," said Tussing, who has assessed the military's homeland security strategies.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute are troubled by what they consider an expansion of executive authority.

Domestic emergency deployment may be "just the first example of a series of expansions in presidential and military authority," or even an increase in domestic surveillance, said Anna Christensen of the ACLU's National Security Project. And Cato Vice President Gene Healy warned of "a creeping militarization" of homeland security.

"There's a notion that whenever there's an important problem, that the thing to do is to call in the boys in green," Healy said, "and that's at odds with our long-standing tradition of being wary of the use of standing armies to keep the peace."

McHale stressed that the response units will be subject to the act, that only 8 percent of their personnel will be responsible for security and that their duties will be to protect the force, not other law enforcement. For decades, the military has assigned larger units to respond to civil disturbances, such as during the Los Angeles riot in 1992.

U.S. forces are already under heavy strain, however. The first reaction force is built around the Army's 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, which returned in April after 15 months in Iraq. The team includes operations, aviation and medical task forces that are to be ready to deploy at home or overseas within 48 hours, with units specializing in chemical decontamination, bomb disposal, emergency care and logistics.

The one-year domestic mission, however, does not replace the brigade's next scheduled combat deployment in 2010. The brigade may get additional time in the United States to rest and regroup, compared with other combat units, but it may also face more training and operational requirements depending on its homeland security assignments.

Renuart said the Pentagon is accounting for the strain of fighting two wars, and the need for troops to spend time with their families. "We want to make sure the parameters are right for Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. The 1st Brigade's soldiers "will have some very aggressive training, but will also be home for much of that."

Although some Pentagon leaders initially expected to build the next two response units around combat teams, they are likely to be drawn mainly from reserves and the National Guard, such as the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade from South Carolina, which returned in May after more than a year in Afghanistan.

Now that Pentagon strategy gives new priority to homeland security and calls for heavier reliance on the Guard and reserves, McHale said, Washington has to figure out how to pay for it.

"It's one thing to decide upon a course of action, and it's something else to make it happen," he said. "It's time to put our money where our mouth is."

Censorship in America?

Censorship in America?

By Timothy V. Gatto

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The people of the United States might not know what it is that they want the new administration to do, they may not know what it is they want Congress to do, but one thing for sure is that they don’t want another repeat of the Bush Administration or the last two sessions of Congress. One reason that progressives and liberals seem to be the ones complaining about Obama’s cabinet picks is because this is a group of people that get their news not from the mainstream media, but from the internet. We are better informed than those that believe that Wolf Blitzer or Katie Couric is “informing” them and keeping the politicians honest. We don’t listen to right-wing talk radio and repeat Rush Limbaugh’s talking points; we like to figure things out on our own. That may be why some say that trying to get a liberal consensus is “like herding cats”.

We may or may not be smarter than others, the reason that we are usually the first to start complaining or coming out against something is because we get our information first. The rest of the country is just a little slower. To understand this or to validate what I just claimed, all one has to do is think how long it took the majority of Americans to realize they had been duped about Iraq. For months, anyone that was against the war was considered a traitor. Another example is the conflict between Georgia and Russia. During the Democratic National Convention both Barack Obama and Joe Biden railed against “Russian aggression” against Georgia. It’s pretty clear now to almost everyone who started the hostilities, the NY Times has reported twice during the last two weeks that Georgia initiated the hostilities. Anyone that has read the reports on the internet would have known who had initiated hostilities the day after they started. I knew what had happened and I don’t get a national security briefing every morning, nor am I brighter than most other Americans. In order to back my claims you can go to an article I posted on Information Clearinghouse on August 15, 2008.

I am surprised and dismayed at Obama and Biden when they accused the Russians of aggression. I can’t believe that they did not know what really happened. Over 1,000 American and 2,000 Israeli advisors were in Georgia when they attacked South Ossetia by firing missiles in 12-14 second intervals. It was reported by independent observers the next day. Didn’t Obama and Biden have anyone that knew how to surf the net or were they just blatantly lying to the public figuring we would never know the truth? Regardless of which is the truth, it’s all troubling. Are we going to have another President that believes all Americans are na├»ve or that we wouldn’t discover the truth?

The situation between Israel and Palestine is another example of a “news blackout” on the mainstream media. Media throughout the world is reporting on Gaza and the siege that Israel has re-imposed since November 5th. Food, medicine, fuel and other vital supplies are being withheld from the people in Gaza, even though 50% of them are under the age of 15! Israel has prohibited reporters from entering Gaza because of the suffering there, yet just about the entire world gets regular reports about it. The only nation whose population doesn’t know about the genocide against the people of Gaza is Americans. How can we justify that? Who makes the decisions on what gets aired and what doesn’t?

Really, how can we continue to remain blissfully unaware of what is happening in the world? The attacks by missile-bearing unmanned Predators have killed hundreds in Pakistan attending funerals and weddings, yet this hardly gets mentioned in the MSM. When Americans see the demonstrations and protests against our actions in the Middle-East, it is apparent that most Americans are wondering why. When the Arab world protests against what Israel is doing to the people of Gaza, wouldn’t it be better to know what is really happening so that we can all understand the situation better? When our politicians give speeches to AIPAC and vow to support Israel regardless of the world’s position, should we support that? If we aren’t getting the information the rest of the world is getting, how can we continue to blindly support our leaders?

This is all commonsense. I cannot see anyone that cannot understand this. How can this nation let it’s government know what we want if we don’t know what is really going on? The only advice I can offer to my fellow citizens is to scream like hell to end “selective” news reporting, or to go to the internet for your news. I only wish I could publish this in a venue that would actually inform those who need informing. This will be published on the internet, and sadly, we all know this information already. It won’t reach the people that need to read this.

The Cost of Hegemony is Beyond Reach

The Cost of Hegemony is Beyond Reach

By Paul Craig Roberts

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Undeterred by massive budget deficits from wars, a falling economy, and financial bailouts, the US government has managed to start a new cold war with Russia. Last Friday, the Russian military announced that it was developing a new generation of ballistic missiles in response to the US government’s decision to deploy ballistic missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The “peace dividend” that the Reagan-Gorbachev accord provided has been squandered by an arrogant American government seeking world hegemony.

In 2002 the Bush regime unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that the US government signed with the Soviet Union in
1972. This treaty stabilized the “assured mutual destruction” that prevented the two military superpowers from initiating war, thus averting a nuclear holocaust for 30 years.

When the Soviet government released its Eastern European “captive nations,” the US government promised not to recruit the Baltic and Eastern European countries for NATO membership. The US government pledged that NATO would not be brought to Russia’s borders. There would be a neutral zone between the Western military alliance and Russia. The American government broke this promise as quickly as it could, bringing former constituent parts of the Russian empire into the American empire.

Last October Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to Lithuania to give a guarantee to the Baltics of US military intervention in the event of a Russian attack. Like the British guarantee that Chamberlain gave Poland in 1939, a guarantee that precipitated World War II, Mullen’s guarantee is worthless unless the US government initiates nuclear war with Russia in defense of the tiny Baltic republics, which would be wiped out by the radiation fallout.

The US has tried to incorporate the Ukraine and Georgia, constituent parts of Russia for centuries, into NATO. To clear the way for NATO membership, the Bush regime encouraged the American puppet ruler of Georgia to cleanse provinces, attached to Georgia by Stalin, of Russians in order to end secessionist movements. When Russian troops drove the American and Israeli trained and equipped Georgian army out of the Russian parts of Georgia, the US government lied that Russia had invaded Georgia.

This malevolent lie was too much for the Russians and too much of the rest of the world. It was plain to all that the US, an aggressor state striving to encircle Russia with bases even to the edge of central Asia, had initiated a war that it then blamed on Russia. After Afghanistan, Iraq, Bush’s defense of Israel’s 2006 war criminal attack on Lebanon, and Bush’s false claims of an Iranian nuclear weapon, few, if any, countries any longer believe pronouncements of the US government. The US is regarded worldwide as an aggressor state that lies through its teeth.

This means that unless China decides to play the US and Russia off in order to emerge as the sole world power, there is no one to finance America’s side of the new cold war that the US government has created.

The only other way Washington can finance a new arms race with Russia is to cancel Social Security and Medicare, and to repudiate its massive foreign debts. If Washington does this, the likely result would be revolution at home and isolation internationally.

For decades Washington has prevailed because the US dollar is the reserve currency. It is the world’s money. This advantage allows Washington to purchase almost every other government. There are governments all over the world, from Europe to Egypt, from Ukraine to South Korea to Japan, that are owned by Washington. When Washington speaks of spreading freedom and democracy, Washington means it has purchased more governments to do its will.

These purchased governments do not represent their people. They represent American hegemony.

Now that the Great Hegemon is bankrupt and its economy is collapsing, thanks to unbridled greed, American influence is waning. The US dollar cannot survive the massive red ink that the US generates.

When the dollar collapses, the image of a strutting Washington as “the world’s only superpower” will evaporate. The evil that is the American government will find itself at war with its own people and those of the rest of the world.

The End of the Affair Obama and the antiwar movement

The End of the Affair

Obama and the antiwar movement

By Justin Raimondo

Go To Original

As the euphoria of the Obama cult builds toward a climax and the pundits declaim the advent of Something Big, it's the small changes that concern me, particularly those that touch directly on my job, which is to sniff out the War Party wherever it is presently burrowed. The election of Barack Obama has been the signal for many of them to migrate like fleas from the carcasses of the campaigns they attached themselves to and hop on the warm body of the new administration, which presents a rather large target. It's a new day, and in the age of Obama, the War Party's battalions are massed on the ostensible Left. Now that's the kind of change I can believe in.

Ah, yes, the small changes, particularly the ones that concern me personally: those are what I'm really interested in, quite naturally, and the biggest change – and I have to say it comes as a welcome relief – will be in my targets. Instead of having to deal with all those tiresome neoconservatives with Republican leanings, I'll be dealing with a whole new crowd. Of course, a lot of veteran neocons will turn up, particularly at the fringes of the incoming administration, but the real core of the War Party's strength will be in the State Department, with Hillary Clintonnew nest of neocon hatchlings, albeit of the social-democratic variety. In alliance with the "humanitarian" interventionists, whose shtick is sending troops to places like Kosovo, Darfur, Congo, and Burma, this new, reinvented War Party is ready and willing to open up several new fronts in our endless "war on terrorism," with potentially cataclysmic consequences for America and the world. lording over a

The War Party's decisive influence in the Obama administration is going to be rolled out on Monday, so that even the most craven Obama-bots on the Left will be left wondering who and what they voted for. Hillary the hawk at State, Bush's warlord Robert Gates at Defense, and Gen. Jim Jones – who wants to station U.S. troops in the occupied territories under the rubric of NATO! – as national security adviser to the president. Yes, antiwar voters took a chance on Obama, reasoning that anything would be better than four more years of Bushian belligerence, yet now they discover to their chagrin that the dice are loaded.

The same old crowd that brought us the invasion of Iraq is back, if not in full force or purest form, then at least in worrying numbers and high positions. The cries of "betrayal" are already being heard. The response from the Obama cult among the liberal landed gentry, in particular the ones who own choice pieces of editorial real estate in the nation's top newspapers, was delivered by E. J. Dionne from his perch at the Washington Post:

"In electing Barack Obama, the country traded the foreign policy of the second President Bush for the foreign policy of the first President Bush. That is the meaning of Obama's apparent decision to keep Robert Gates on as defense secretary and also to select Hillary Clinton as secretary of state."

This delights Dionne, even as it depresses those anti-interventionist voters who thought they had an ally in the White House. His message to us is clear enough:

"The truth about Obama's worldview was hidden in plain sight in his most politically consequential foreign policy speech. Antiwar Democrats cheered Obama for addressing a rally against the Iraq war in Chicago's Federal Plaza on Oct. 2, 2002. His opposition to the war was a major asset in his nomination struggle with Clinton.

"Obama did indeed denounce the impending war as 'dumb,' 'rash,' and 'based not on reason but on passion.' But in retrospect, the speech may be most notable for other things Obama said that separated him from some in his antiwar audience."

In short: screw you, buddy, and you better get used to it.

Amid all the talk about the reentry of the Republican "realists" into the circle of power in Washington and the hosannas to the rising influenceBrent Scowcroft, one has to remember that this is the same gang that brought us the first Gulf war and George H. W. Bush's "New World Order." It was a war to keep the emir of Kuwait on his throne, one that started after the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, gave Saddam Hussein the green light to cross the border with his troops. Out of the slaughter of that war arose the tide of anti-American radicalism that fueled al-Qaeda's recruiting and rationalized the stationing of our troopsquite yet. of in Saudi Arabia. We had both feet in the quagmire, in Bush I's day; we just weren't up to our necks

Scowcroft and his friends are valorized by Washington's cocktail party peaceniks for not going all the way to Baghdad and toppling the regime. These people are conveniently forgetting the dicey origins of that war, its official rationale – wasn't it James Baker, who crowed "Job, jobs, jobs" in an argument of unsurpassed vulgarity? – not to mention the horrific slaughter of the Iraqi "army," which at that point was mainly boys and old men with few arms and even less willingness to fight. The first Iraq war paved the way for the second and the current occupation, as the Clinton administration took up the anti-Saddam campaign and sponsored the Iraq Liberation Act, which set the whole disastrous process in motion and led us to the present moment.

Dionne goes on to note that Obama said "I don't oppose all wars" "not once but five times." Dionne praises Obama for mentioning all the "good" wars, singling out the liberals' two favorites – World War II and the Civil War – as well as "the battle against terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11." This latter phrase is indistinguishable from George W. Bush's multi-generational twilight struggle, which Obama will continue, albeit on a different battleground, namely Afghanistan and Pakistan. So don't worry, all you hawks out there: this isn't the end of the good times!

Dionne's point, however, is this:

"Obama's national security choices are already causing grumbling from parts of the antiwar left, even if Obama made clear six years ago that while he was with them on Iraq, he was not one of them."

If you "progressives" are now feeling like someone who's been kicked out of bed before dawn, on one pretext or another – "Boy, was I drunk last night! I don't remember a thing!" – well, then, you can't say you weren't warned.

Well, somebody was drunk, though it probably wasn't Obama. After all, he's not the one who hooked up with someone he thought was cool, only to wake up with… Brent Scowcroft!

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Dionne mentions the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) as the Obama administration's source of talent and a key player in the policymaking apparatus currently being assembled. Go here for my take on CNAS. Shorter version: kind of like the Project for a New American Century, except different…

~ Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. RothbardReclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (Prometheus Books, 2000). He is also the author of (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996).

He is a contributing editor for The American Conservative, a Senior Fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

With Gates, Obama Opts for Empire

With Gates, Obama Opts for Empire

By Matthew Rothschild

Go To Original

Barack Obama’s got a big problem.

He’s suckered himself into believing that we need a bipartisan foreign and military policy.

And so he’s reappointing Robert Gates as head of the Defense Department.

Let’s remember: Gates was head of the CIA during Bush I. As such, he was involved in the invasion of Panama, the funding of a genocidal regime in Guatemala, the support of Suharto’s brutal government in Indonesia, and the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti.

With Bush I, he pushed the first war against Saddam Hussein, even when it seemed that Saddam was preparing to withdraw from Iraq.

And now with Bush II, he’s been running the Iraq War, which Obama vowed to end.

And Gates has come out with modernizing our nuclear weapons arsenal—that means making new nukes—even though Obama talked about nuclear disarmament during the campaign.

Something’s terribly wrong with this picture.

And it’s simply this: Obama doesn’t really want a change in foreign and military policy. He said as much during the campaign when he praised Bush Sr. and said he wanted to return to the bipartisan consensus of the last forty years.

In those forty years, the United States waged war against Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It helped overthrow the Allende government in Chile. It supported Suharto’s invasion of East Timor. It financed and trained death squads in Central America. And on and on.

With the Gates choice, Obama proves he’s not about ending the U.S. empire.

He’s about running the U.S. empire—with less bravado than Bush-Cheney, but perhaps more efficiently.

And he’s perfectly willing to use the old hands like Gates, bloody as they are, to get that job done.

Analysis:Defense policy under Obama and Gates

Analysis:Defense policy under Obama and Gates

By Reuters

Go To Original

Here are some possible implications for U.S. defense policy of President-elect Barack Obama's decision, announced on Monday, to retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

IRAQ -- A PULLOUT, BUT PACE UNCLEAR

Both Obama and Gates are committed to reducing U.S. troop levels in Iraq but have disagreed over timing. Obama on Monday restated that he favored a timetable that would have U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months of his taking office but he said he would seek advice from his military commanders.

Gates has argued pullouts should be based on advice from military commanders about the security situation.

Dramatically improved security in Iraq means their past differences may not matter much -- if stability in Iraq holds, U.S. commanders will be able to recommend substantial troop cuts and Obama says he favors leaving a "residual force" in Iraq anyway after the withdrawal of combat troops.

AFGHANISTAN -- MORE TROOPS BUT STRATEGY UNDEFINED

Both Obama and Gates are committed to sending more U.S. forces to Afghanistan to tackle rising insurgent violence. U.S. military planners are already working to identify a prospective force of more than 20,000 combat and support troops.

But the precise strategy they will implement remains to be determined. The Bush administration, the U.S. military's Joint Staff and the U.S. Central Command under U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, which is responsible for that military region, are all undertaking reviews of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

GUANTANAMO BAY -- CLOSURE LIKELY

Both Obama and Gates have said they want to close the U.S. military prison for foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has attracted worldwide condemnation. But Gates has said any effort to close the prison would require legislation from the U.S. Congress, for example to ensure that no Guantanamo detainee would have the right to emigrate to the United States. He said in October the next U.S. administration should address the issue early in its term.

MISSILE DEFENSE -- TO CONTINUE WITH MORE SCRUTINY

The United States will continue to develop its system to defend the United States and its allies from ballistic missile attack by nations such as Iran or North Korea. Both Gates and Obama support the system but Obama's advisers have said it will now face closer scrutiny.

SIZE OF U.S. MILITARY -- TO INCREASE AS PLANNED

Obama has backed the Bush administration's program to increase the size of the U.S. military's stretched ground forces. He restated his commitment to a larger military at Monday's news conference.

WEAPONS PROGRAMS -- INVESTMENT, BUT SQUEEZE MAY COME

Obama's pick signals continuity in the defense budget, at least for the rest of fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010, which may prove reassuring to shareholders in big defense companies.

But budget pressures and the global economic crisis means the new administration will have to examine costly weapons programs closely soon after taking office, and some big-ticket deals may be cut back or killed entirely, especially if they are focused on distant future threats. (Reporting by Andrew Gray and Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by David Storey)

Hillary Clinton's Disdain for International Law -- Change We Can Believe In?

Hillary Clinton's Disdain for International Law -- Change We Can Believe In?

By Stephen Zunes

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For those hoping for a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy under an Obama administration -- particularly regarding human rights, international law, and respect for international institutions -- the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is a bitter disappointment. Indeed, Senator Clinton has more often than not sided with the Bush administration against fellow Democrats on key issues regarding America’s international legal obligations, particularly international humanitarian law.

This will be particularly disappointing for those in the international community who were so positive about Obama’s election as president. The selection of Hillary Clinton, at best, represents a return to the policies of her husband’s administration.

Because the Bush administration had taken things to new lows, many seem to have forgotten the fact that the Clinton administration had also greatly alienated the international community. Regarding Iraq, Iran and Israel, the Clinton administration engaged in a series of policies which put the United States sharply at odds with most of its Western allies and a broad consensus of international legal scholars. And these were not the only issues during the Clinton years over which the United States found itself isolated from the rest of the international community: there was U.S. opposition to the land mine treaty, the strengthening of the embargo against Cuba, support for Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, foot-dragging on the Kyoto Protocols, support for Turkey’s vicious military offensive in the Kurdish regions of that country, among others.

Even worse, Hillary Clinton allied herself with the Bush administration on many its most controversial actions, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, threats of war against Iran, support for Israel’s 2006 offensive against Lebanon and 2002 offensive in the West Bank, opposition to the International Criminal Court, attacks against the International Court of Justice, and support for the unrestricted export of cluster bombs and other anti-personnel munitions used against civilian targets.

Hostility Toward Human Rights

Senator Hillary Clinton has opposed restrictions on U.S. arms transfers and police training to governments that engage in gross and systematic human rights abuses. Indeed, she has supported unconditional U.S. arms transfers and police training to such repressive and autocratic governments as Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, and Chad, just to name a few.

Senator Clinton voted to send tens of billions of dollars unconditionally to Baghdad to prop up Iraq’s U.S.-backed regime during the height of its repression, apparently unconcerned about the well-documented reports of death squads being run from the Interior Ministry that were killing many thousands of unarmed Sunni men.

She has also refused to join many of her Democratic colleagues in signing a letter endorsing a treaty that would limit arms transfers to countries that engage in a consistent pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations.

Not only has she been willing to support unconditional military assistance to repressive regimes, she has little inclination to control weapons that primarily target innocent civilians. Senator Clinton has refused to support the international treaty to ban land mines, which are responsible for killing and maiming thousands of civilians worldwide, a disproportionate percentage of whom have been children.

She was also among a minority of Democratic Senators to side with the Republican majority in voting down a Democratic-sponsored resolution in 2007 restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries that use them against civilian-populated areas. Each of these cluster bomb contains hundreds of bomblets that are scattered over an area the size of up to four football fields and, with a failure rate of up to 30 percent, become de facto land mines. Civilians account for as much as 98 percent of the casualties caused by these weapons.

Senator Clinton also has a record of dismissing reports by human rights monitors that highlight large-scale attacks against civilians by allied governments. For example, in the face of widespread criticism by reputable human rights organizations over Israel’s systematic assaults against civilian targets in its April 2002 offensive in the West Bank, Senator Clinton co-sponsored a resolution defending the Israeli actions, claiming that they were “necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas.” She opposed UN efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces and criticized President Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent re-conquest of Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, when Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights groups issued detailed reports regarding Israeli war crimes during that country’s assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Senator Clinton insisted they were wrong and that Israel’s attacks were legal. Furthermore, though these groups had also criticized the radical Lebanese group Hezbollah for committing war crimes by firing rockets into civilian-populated areas in Israel, exhaustive investigations revealed absolutely no evidence that they had used the civilian population as “human shields” to protect themselves from Israeli assaults. Despite this, Senator Clinton, without providing any credible evidence to the contrary, still insists that they in fact had used human shields and Hezbollah, not the U.S-supplied Israeli armed forces, were therefore responsible for the deaths of more than 800 Lebanese civilians.

In Senator Clinton’s world view, if a country is considered an important strategic ally of the United States, any charges of human rights abuses -- no matter how strong the evidence -- should be summarily dismissed. Indeed, despite the Israeli government’s widespread and well-documented violations of international humanitarian law, Senator Clinton has praised Israel for embracing “values that respect the dignity and rights of human beings.”

Clinton’s Opposition to the United Nations

Senator Clinton has also been one the Senate’s most outspoken critics of the United Nations, even appearing outside the UN headquarters in New York twice during the past five years at right-wing gatherings to denounce the world body. For example, she has falsely accused the UN of not taking a stand against terrorism, even though terrorism has become -- largely at the insistence of the United States -- a major UN focus in recent years.

Senator Clinton’s hostility to international law and the UN system is perhaps best illustrated by her opposition to the International Criminal Court. In 2002, Senator Clinton voted in favor of an amendment by right-wing Senator Jesse Helms that prohibits the United States from cooperating in any way with the International Criminal Court and its prosecution of individuals responsible for serious crimes against humanity, such as those responsible for the genocide in Darfur. In addition, this vindictive law also restricts U.S. foreign aid to countries that support the ICC. Nicknamed the “Hague Invasion Act,” the bill also authorizes the president of the United States “to use all means necessary and appropriate to free members of United States military and certain other allied persons if they are detained or imprisoned by an international criminal court,” including military force.

The International Court of Justice (also known as the World Court, which essentially serves as the judicial arm of the United Nations) has also been a target of Senator Clinton’s hostility toward international law. For example, in 2004, the ICJ ruled by a 14-1 vote (with only the U.S. judge dissenting, largely on a technicality) that Israel, like every country, is obliged to abide by provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Laws of War, and that the international community -- as in any other case in which ongoing violations are taking place -- is obliged to ensure that international humanitarian law is enforced. Affronted that an important U.S. ally would be required to abide by its international legal obligations and that the United States should help ensure such compliance, Senator Clinton strongly condemned the decision.

At issue was the Israeli government’s ongoing construction of a separation barrier deep inside the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which the World Court recognized -- as does the broad consensus of international legal scholarship -- as a violation of international humanitarian law. The ICJ ruled that Israel, like any country, had the right to build the barrier along its internationally recognized border for self-defense, but did not have the right to build it inside another country as a means of illegally annexing occupied Palestinian territory. In an unprecedented congressional action, Senator Clinton immediately introduced a resolution to put the U.S. Senate on record “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence” and “condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence.” In an effort to render the UN impotent in its enforcement of international law, her resolution (which even the then-Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass as being too extreme) attempted to put the Senate on record “urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.”

Clinton’s resolution also claimed that “the International Court of Justice is politicized and critical of Israel,” ignoring that the World Court has actually been quite consistent in its rulings. In the only other two advisory opinions issued by the ICJ involving occupied territories -- South African-occupied Namibia in 1971 and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in 1975 -- the court also decided against the occupying powers.

In addition, in what was apparently an effort to misrepresent and discredit the UN, Clinton’s resolution contended that the request by the UN General Assembly for a legal opinion by the ICJ referred to “the security fence being constructed by Israel to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel.” In reality, the UN request said nothing regarding security measures preventing terrorists from entering Israel. Instead, the document refers only to the legal consequences arising from “the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…” Moreover, the UN statement referred to the secretary general’s recently released report on the occupation, which reiterated the longstanding international consensus that Occupied Palestinian Territory refers only to the parts of Palestine seized by Israel in the 1967 War, not to any part of Israel itself.

Senator Clinton’s resolution also represented a departure from any previous congressional resolution in that it referred to the West Bank not as an occupied territory but as a “disputed” territory. This distinction is important for two reasons: The word “disputed” implies that the claims of the West Bank’s Israeli conquerors are as legitimate as the claims of Palestinians who have lived on that land for centuries. And disputed territories -- unlike occupied territories -- are not covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention and many other international legal statutes. As a lawyer, Senator Clinton must have recognized that such wording had the affect of legitimizing the expansion of a country’s territory by force, a clear violation of the UN Charter.

Support for the Illegal Use of Force

The UN Charter forbids its member states from using military force unless under direct attack or authorized by the UN Security Council. Customary international law allows for pre-emptive war only in cases of an imminent threat, such as troops massing along the border or missiles being loaded onto launchers. Senator Clinton, however, believes that the United States had the legal right to invade Iraq, even though it constituted no threat to the national security of the United States and there had been no authorization by the UN Security Council to use force. Indeed, when the United States launched its invasion of Iraq in March 2003 in defiance of widespread global condemnation of this act of aggression, she voted for a Republican-sponsored resolution categorically declaring that the war was “lawful.”

Senator Clinton has tried to rationalize her support for this illegal war by claiming that the UN authorized member states to take military action against Iraq in November of 1990. However, that resolution (687) only referred to using such means to enforce resolution 678, which demanded that Iraq withdraw its occupation forces from Kuwait. Once Iraqi forces withdrew -- which took place more than a dozen years prior to the 2003 invasion -- the resolution was moot.

Similarly, her claim that invading Iraq constituted a legitimate act of self-defense is particularly disturbing. Even if Saddam Hussein had been developing chemical and biological weapons as Senator Clinton falsely alleged, Iraq would have been just one of 40 countries to have developed such arsenals and Iraq had no delivery systems left that were capable of attacking other countries, much less the United States. Her belief that the United States somehow has the right to invade another country simply on the suspicion that it might be developing weapons for future use constitutes a radical departure from international legal norms and is a clear violation of the UN Charter. Hillary Clinton, however, believes the United States should not be bound by such restrictions and that the United States has the right to invade any country that the president believes could even potentially be a threat some time in the future.

Senator Clinton claims that she voted to authorize war against Iraq in October 2002 because "we needed to put inspectors in." However, Saddam Hussein had by that time already agreed to a return of the weapons inspectors. Furthermore, Senator Clinton voted against the substitute Levin amendment, which would have also granted President Bush authority to use force, but only if Iraq defied subsequent UN demands regarding the inspections process. Instead, Senator Clinton voted for the Republican-sponsored resolution to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing regardless of whether inspectors returned. Indeed, unfettered large-scale weapons inspections had been going on in Iraq for nearly four months at the time the Bush administration launched the March 2003 invasion that Senator Clinton had voted to authorize.

Clinton also claimed that the absence of UN personnel in Iraq during the preceding four years was because Saddam “threw out inspectors.” In reality, the inspectors were ordered out in December 1998 by President Bill Clinton in anticipation of the four-day U.S.-led bombing campaign, which was widely condemned at that time as a flagrant violation of international law. (See my article Hillary Clinton Again Lies about Iraq.)

A politician who supported preventive war in the past might do so in the future as well. Indeed, Senator Clinton has criticized Bush for allowing the Europeans to lead the diplomatic efforts with Iran over their nuclear program, insisting that the United States should keep “all options on the table,” presumably meaning military force.

Implications of Clinton as Secretary of State

Though an overwhelming majority of Americans, according to public opinion polls, believe that human rights and international law should be a cornerstone of American foreign policy, Senator Clinton has repeatedly prioritized the profits of American arms manufacturers and the extension of Washington’s hegemonic reach in parts of the world. It is ironic that, with the long-awaited return of the Democratic Party to power, the new Secretary of State essentially advocates a clear break with the internationalist and law-based principles espoused by such previous Democratic leaders as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

Hillary Clinton is not the first hawk to be appointed to a key position by Obama. The selection of Joe Biden as his vice-president, the pro-war militarist chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was seen as a slap in the face to his dovish constituency. (See my articles Biden's Foreign Policy "Experience" and Biden, Iraq, and Obama's Betrayal.) Obama’ defenders insisted that his appointment had more to do with political considerations that would enhance the likelihood of an electoral victory in November, that the vice-president does not have a formal role in foreign policy formulation, and should therefore not be interpreted as a harbinger of subsequent appointments.

Then came the selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. (See my article Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection?) Obama’s defenders emphasized that the White House position was more administrative than policy-oriented, that Emanuel was more a political operative than a policy-wonk, and that his appointment had more to do with his political skills than his political opinions.

Then came the word that Obama was going to keep Robert Gates, Bush’s current Secretary of Defense and a proponent of the Bush’s disastrous Iraq policy, as the Pentagon chief. Obama’s defenders then insisted that Gates wasn’t as bad as his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, that continuity in such a position was important in time of war, and that Gates could provide cover from right-wing attacks in the face of an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Then came the apparent selection of the recently-retired Marine General James Jones, a prominent hawk who supported John McCain for president, as Obama’s national security advisor. Obama’s defenders pointed out that his role would simply be that as an advisor, not a policy maker, and that someone with his strategic understanding and international contacts would be a positive influence.

With the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, however, it is no longer possible to make any more excuses. It is getting harder to deny that Barack Obama intends to tilt his foreign policy to the right.

This is not simply a situation where Obama desires an opportunity to listen to alternative perspectives from hawks as a means of strengthening his dovish proclivities. These hawkish perspectives have long been dominant in Washington and in the mainstream media, so even without these appointments, Obama would be getting plenty of this kind of feedback anyway. It appears that he has appointed Clinton and these other hawks because he does not have any principled objections to their disdain for human right and international law.

It is important to remember, however, that it has been rare for elected Democratic officials to take the lead in building a more progressive foreign policy. From Vietnam to South Africa to the nuclear freeze to Central America to East Timor to Iraq it has been mass movements which have forced the Democrats away from their initially right-wing militarist agenda to one more supportive of human rights and international law. Hillary Clinton’s about-face on Iraq just prior to her run for president is but one example of how popular pressure can turn an unrepentant war hawk into an anti-war candidate.

As a result, while it is important to recognize the serious implications of the Clinton appointment, it is also important to realize that the ultimate direction of Obama’s foreign policy will not be determined by his Secretary of State, but by the American people.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.

Cops Get Their Kicks, Tasering

Mission Creeps

by digby

Go To Original

Torridjoe at Loaded Orygun is following the taser controversy and sees the same problem that I do with this weapon. He recounts this interesting story in the Portland Mercury about the city's use of tasers, which discusses at some length the data that shows the seemingly inevitable "mission creep" that overtakes police departments when they start using the weapon.

Torrid Joe writes:

Now, ordinarily I might not jump so quickly to allow Australia's empirical study to characterize the situation in Portland, especially without more precise data from our bureau on usage patterns. But the new head of the police union, Scott Westerman, does a bang-up job of reflecting exactly the kind of sentiment that would lead to a broader, more aggressive style of use:

"As more and more people mistakenly believe it's socially acceptable to publicly challenge the police, it creates an environment where people think that it is okay to ignore a uniformed police officer giving them commands," Westerman continues. "The environment in Portland allows this more frequently than in other cities."

I had to read that a couple of times to make sure he was saying what I thought he was saying, but he is: Westerman is telling us that Portland tases people because they're disrespectful punks who are insufficiently restrained by the city's social culture.

I frankly don't know what he's referring to when he talks about "social acceptability," other than the idea that Portland residents may actually better understand their legal rights to challenge police activity, and asserting that knowledge is more acceptable here than elsewhere. It is entirely legal to challenge police on their behavior regarding your rights, certainly until one is told they are under detention for some reason (not arrest, but detention--as in, when you ask "am I free to go," they say no.") Cops of course don't like to have their authority challenged, and Westerman is pretty clear that in his view, it's this permissiveness about boldly attempting to assert one's rights that's the problem--not, say, the fact that Portlanders tend to pose a more consistent threat to public safety, which would explain the tasings on a more rational-legal basis.

By giving this response to the question of changing usage patterns at PPB, Westerman not only implicitly admits that the focus has shifted from less-than-lethal to compliance circumstances--but pins that shift on cultural issues in the community, rather than those of the police bureau. In other words, if people would just shut up and do exactly as they're told without being rude or asking questions, they wouldn't be asking for the short sharp shock.

This is exactly right and that attitude is reflected by an awful lot of people, even those who appear in my comment section from time to time.

Yes, it's awful that Tasers can cause death and injury in some people. Clearly, they are much more dangerous than the manufacturers or the police will admit. But that isn't really the point. The fact is that Americans have a legal right not to comply with the police, and the police have no right to shoot them with electricity for having a "bad attitude."

A "little bit" of torture isn't any more legal than a whole lot of it. Pain that doesn't leave marks is still pain. And the police requiring the citizens of this country to comply or risk being tortured until they do is un-American.

It seems that juries (in Seattle) are starting to get the message:

Bonner, his wife, his daughter and 3-year-old granddaughter had been called to the department by Lievero, who was investigating allegations that Bonner's wife had physically abused the couple's grandchild. The allegations stemmed from a bitter custody battle involving Bonner's daughter and her former boyfriend. Bonner and his family came to the department to dispute the allegations, according to court documents.

Lievero took the family into an interview room, where things did not go well. Bonner said he was frustrated, at one point telling Lievero, "We know you are not an idiot, so why are you acting like one?" according to trial briefs.

The detective ended the interview and told Bonner to leave.

Bonner thought he might have better luck with Chief Rick Kieffer, whose office was just a few steps down the hallway from the interview room, but in the opposite direction from where he had come in, according to documents filed by Bonner's attorney, Jeffrey Needle.

Lievero told Bonner he couldn't leave that way. When Bonner said he wanted to talk to the chief, Lievero responded that he had to make an appointment with the receptionist and that he would be arrested if he didn't stop, the documents say.

"By the time Detective Lievero had finished making this statement, (Bonner) had arrived at Chief Rick Kieffer's door and had stopped walking," Needle wrote.

Kieffer was standing in the doorway, but before Bonner could speak, witnesses said Lievero grabbed Bonner's arm and forced it behind his back. Bonner complained to Kieffer that the detective was "out of control and shaking" as another officer joined Lievero, grabbed Bonner's other arm and began walking him back toward the reception area.

Bonner claims he did not resist, although the officers say otherwise. Lievero described Bonner as belligerent, and the city's attorneys said in court documents that he "stormed" the chief's office...

While Bonner was being escorted out of the station, Lievero delivered at least two jolts from his Taser, set on "touch-stun mode." Bonner said the first one knocked him to his knees. The second time, he was on his stomach while being handcuffed.

"Lievero testified that he Tased (Bonner) only after he observed (the other officer's) unsuccessful efforts to place plaintiff in a position to be handcuffed," according to Needle's trial brief.

The other officer, however, said in a deposition that Bonner "was under control."

[...]

The panel, after eight days of testimony, acquitted the detective of assault, but found that Lievero violated Bonner's civil rights by using excessive force during the arrest. It awarded him $35,000 in compensatory damages and, because the panel found Lievero's actions were "malicious ... oppressive, or in reckless disregard" of Bonner's rights, awarded him $25,000 more in punitive damages.

In defense of the police, it has to be said that they are told over and over again by the Taser manufacturers, the politicians and the public that it's no big deal if they inflict horrifying pain on the citizens of this country whenever they want to. We've turned "don't Tase me bro" into a national joke. They have no reason to think it's any worse than wrestling a suspect to the ground or screaming at them in an interrogation room.

But it is far worse. The intent, more often than not, is to incapacitate citizens by inflicting horrible pain and force their compliance with threats of more of that pain. Sometimes it's used as punishment for being disrespectful or uncooperative, as in the case above. Those are the methods of a police state, not a democracy.