Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama Sides With Bush in Spy Case

Obama Sides With Bush in Spy Case

By David Kravets

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The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.

In a filing in San Francisco federal court, President Barack Obama adopted the same position as his predecessor. With just hours left in office, President George W. Bush late Monday asked U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to stay enforcement of an important Jan. 5 ruling admitting key evidence into the case.

Thursday's filing by the Obama administration marked the first time it officially lodged a court document in the lawsuit asking the courts to rule on the constitutionality of the Bush administration's warrantless-eavesdropping program. The former president approved the wiretaps in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"The Government's position remains that this case should be stayed," the Obama administration wrote (.pdf) in a filing that for the first time made clear the new president was on board with the Bush administration's reasoning in this case.

The government wants to appeal Walker's decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, a legal maneuver requiring Judge Walker's approval. A hearing in Walker's courtroom is set for Friday.

The legal brouhaha concerns Walker's decision to admit as evidence a classified document allegedly showing that two American lawyers for a now-defunct Saudi charity were electronically eavesdropped on without warrants by the Bush administration in 2004.

The lawyers — Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo — sued the Bush administration after the U.S. Treasury Department accidentally released the Top Secret memo to them. At one point, the courts had ordered the document, which has never been made public, returned and removed from the case.

The document's admission to the case is central for the two former lawyers of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation charity to acquire legal standing so they may challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless-eavesdropping program Bush publicly acknowledged in 2005.

The Friday hearing is needed, because disputes with pretrial decisions generally require the trial judge to permit an appeal.

The Obama administration is also siding with the former administration in its legal defense of July legislation that immunizes the nation's telecommunications companies from lawsuits accusing them of complicitity in Bush's eavesdropping program, according to testimony last week by incoming Attorney General Eric Holder.

That immunity legislation, which Obama voted for when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois, was included in a broader spy package that granted the government wide-ranging, warrantless eavesdropping powers on Americans' electronic communications.

A decision on the constitutionality of the immunity legislation is pending before Judge Walker in a separate case brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

President orders air strikes on villages in tribal area

President orders air strikes on villages in tribal area

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Villagers demonstrate in in Laghman province as president Hamid Karzai condems Sunday's military operation and says 16 civilians were killed Link to this video

Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for his first military action yesterday, missile strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan which killed at least 18 people.

Four days after assuming the presidency, he was consulted by US commanders before they launched the two attacks. Although Obama has abandoned many of the "war on terror" policies of George Bush while he was president, he is not retreating from the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

The US believes they are hiding in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, and made 30 strikes last year in which more than 200 people were killed. In the election, Obama hinted at increased operations in Pakistan, saying he thought Bush had made a mistake in switching to Iraq before completing the job against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US marine corp commander said yesterday that his 22,000 troops should be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan. Gen James Conway said "the time is right" to leave Iraq now the war had become largely nation-building rather than the pitched fighting in which the corps excelled; he wanted the marines in Afghanistan, especially in the south where insurgents, and the Taliban and al-Qaida, benefit from both a nearby safe haven in Pakistan and a booming trade in narcotics.

Obama has warned that he is prepared to bomb inside Pakistan if he gets relevant intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He had also said he would act against militants along the border if the Pakistan government failed to.

The US missiles were fired by unmanned Predator drones, which hang in the sky gathering intelligence through surveillance and, when commanded and directed by remote control, to launch attacks.

The strikes will help Obama portray himself as a leader who, though ready to shift the balance of American power towards diplomacy, is not afraid of military action.

The first attack yesterday was on the village of Zharki, in Waziristan; three missiles destroyed two houses and killed 10 people. One villager told Reuters of phonethat of nine bodies pulled from the rubble of one house, six were its owner and his relatives; Reuters added that intelligence officials said some foreign militants were also killed. A second attack hours later also in Warizistan killed eight people.

The Pakistan government publicly expressed hope that the arrival of Obama would see a halt to such strikes, which stir up hostility from Pakistanis towards the government; in private, the government may be more relaxed about such attacks.

There is a lot of nervousness in the new administration about the fragility of Pakistan, particularly as it has nuclear weapons, but it also sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as being linked. In the face of a Taliban resurgence, there is despair in Washington over the leadership of the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, and there will not be much disappointment if he is replaced in elections later this year.

But Washington insists on seeing as one of its biggest problems the ability of the Taliban and al-Qaida to maintain havens in Pakistan. Obama on Thursday announced he was making veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke a special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, spoke by phone to the Pakistan president, Asif Ali Zardari.

GOP Links Nomination to Torture Prosecutions

Republican Senators resort to extortion on Holder nomination

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In an effort to derail the nomination of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder, it seems Senate Republicans are now resorting to extortion. They'll confirm Holder if he promises not to prosecute any Bush Administration officials for any involvement in acts of torture, according to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse(D-RI).

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have asked Eric Holder to make a commitment, before he is even confirmed, that he will not prosecute any Bush Administration officials for their involvement in acts of torture during the last administration.

Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system - especially those with experience as prosecutors or judges - should know that a prosecutor should make no determination about who to prosecute before he or she has all the facts, and particularly not in response to legislative pressure.
Senator Whitehouse makes a good point about the separation of powers. It isn't for the legislative branch to hold up executive branch appointments, in order to extract promises from those appointees, especially with regard to potential future prosecutions. But it's much more than that.

I understand that President Obama wants to get beyond the partisan divisions and rancor and look to America's future. That's all good and well, but the United States was founded on the rule of law. You often hear that "we are a nation of laws, not men." If the rule of law were not important, what would separate our nation from countries like Myanmar (Burma) or North Korea?

If Eric Holder, or any other Obama appointee subject to confirmation by the Senate, were to agree not to investigate alleged wrongdoing Bush Administration officials and forward alleged crimes for potential prosecution, it would be an egregious abdication of responsibility, not to mention an act of questionable legal ethics. It would say to future generations that at a time when the Bush Administration felt it was above the law, Democrats did nothing but stand idly by and let it happen.

The Coming Fight Over EFCA

The Coming Fight Over EFCA

by Sherwood Ross

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It’s estimated 86,000 workers got fired trying to exercise their legal right to organize a union during the Bush years and signs are Corporate American will fight to keep things that way.

“We like driving the car,” Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott says, “and we’re not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us.” (Or share-the-ride with their hires.)

Until now, the surest way to lose your job or get sent to vocational Siberia at outfits like Wal-Mart has been to urge your co-workers to organize. No matter the UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 23 states “Everyone has the right to form and join trade unions... ”

Scott and others are girding for a fight to stop the Employee Free Choice Act(EFCA) that would allow employees to unionize if a majority sign membership cards. It’s a much simpler method than staging company-wide elections by secret ballot.

EFCA would also stiffen penalties for intimidating or firing union supporters and impose arbitration when a firm won’t bargain. “Though union membership has slid to 12 percent in recent decades, the desire to unionize has grown” from 30% to 53% of nonunion workers since the mid-1980s, writes author Esther Kaplan in The Nation (Jan. 26).

Unionized workers, Kaplan notes, can earn nearly 30 percent more than nonunion toilers, plus they enjoy far better health and retirement benefits. Even nonunion workers cash in from unions: “when unions reach a high enough density in a particular industry, wages in nonunion shops tend to rise to meet the new standard,” Kaplan writes.

Candidate Obama backed EFCA:

“If a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union; it’s that simple,” he opined last April. “Let’s stand up to the business lobby.”

EFCA is a priority to level the workplace playing field. Kate Bronfenbrenner, the Cornell labor guru, says employers fire workers in one-fourth of organizing campaigns; threaten them with plant closings or outsourcing in half of campaigns; and threaten to fire them in meetings in two-thirds of campaigns.

“The fact that our labor law has no penalties for employer violations, no punitive damages, no financial penalties, that the worst thing that happens to employers when they commit egregious violations is a slap on the wrist, has emboldened employers to break the law at an extreme that is really astonishing,” The Nation quotes Bronfenbrenner as saying.

It’s so tough to organize, Kaplan points out, that unions avoid elections in favor of exerting public pressure on employers. In the past decade, election petitions plunged 41 percent.

When Communications Workers of America, for example, attempted to unionize Cingular, now AT&T, it signed 30,000 new members but lost three elections as a “result of antiunion threats from Comcast,” Kaplan writes. Under EFCA’s card check deal, the result likely would have a union victory.

No matter how much U.S. workers improved their productivity, during the Bush years their share of the profits pie shrank as CEO’s stuffed their own pay envelopes.

“Corporate profits have doubled since 2001, while real wages have flatlined and the number of workers earning poverty wages has risen to nearly a quarter of the workforce,” Kaplan writes.

Employers are fighting EFCA on grounds it takes away a workers’ right to the secret ballot. Actually, current law allows both the secret ballot and majority card sign-up, at the employers’ discretion. Under EFCA, employees would be the ones to choose.

The Chamber of Commerce says EFCA will devastate small employers and suppress economic growth. In fact, the more workers get paid, the more they spend, generating consumer demand for products and enriching employers.

Much as Americans have resented immigrants, each new wave brought to U.S. shores not only willing workers but consumers who had to buy everything starting from scratch. Southern employers began to wake up to a similar concept in the Sixties as African-Americans fought for better education and landed higher-paying jobs, generating demand for more goods and services. Prosperity followed. Ditto as women began demanding equal opportunities and pay.

EFCA likely will trigger the same result as the above examples, or when Henry Ford raised employees’ pay so they could buy the cars he manufactured.

Leveling the union-employer playing field will do more for the U.S. economy than any bank bailout. That’s because it’s a cure for poverty, not a fix for failure. Kaplan’s article is titled “Can Labor Revive The American Dream?” That’s a very good question.

Bad Bank, Bad Idea

Bad Bank, Bad Idea

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Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson blew it, Ben Bernancke blew it and now it looks like Lawrence Summers and David Axelrod, Obama's top economic advisers, are about to blow it big time. The horse is long since dead but the flogging continues.

"The focus isn't going to be on the needs of banks; it's going to be on the needs of the economy for credit," Lawrence Summers on Face the nation, 19th January. In the same segment, both he and David Axelrod agree that Paulson's use of the first $350 Billion of the TARP money was a failure..

"The point is to get credit flowing again to businesses and families across the country — that hasn't happened with the expenditure of the first $350 billion"

The proposal ? Set up an "aggregator" or " Bad" bank in to which Wall St. can pour it's toxic waste or keep it on their balance sheets while being guaranteed by the taxpayer. Looks like the focus is going to be on the banks after all. The fact that the banks would be unloading more than a trillion dollars in worthless junk, paid for by the taxpayer, does not seem to Summers and Axelrod as a particularly bad idea.

The emphasis on getting credit flowing again for car loans, consumer credit and mortgages ony serves to aggravate the basic problem that these pundits seem to be ignoring; Consumers are flat broke and overindebted as it is, they don't need more credit; they need more jobs. The Banks don't need any more free money; they need to be put in to bankruptcy to purge the system of the junk on which they have based their business model. The reason the banks refuse to lend is that they are holding on to the money to cover their accelerating losses. As each company fails, as each debtor loses their job the dominos are falling faster and are obliterating the banking sector.

When the original disastrous TARP was pushed by the Treasury the indispensable actions that were not taken were regulation, revelation of the Banks' balance sheets and oversight as to how the money was being used. Any rational investor would want to know what they were investing in but this minimum requirement was brushed aside in the rush to hand over taxpayer funds. As if this were not enough to start alarm bells ringing the refusal of the Fed and the financial sector recipients to open the books to public scrutiny puts the bailout on the same stage as Bernie Madoff. The latter engaged in fraud to rob his investors just as blatantly as the fraudelent bailout robbed the taxpayers. Now we are expected to believe that, without further ado, repeating the same failed policies is needed to cure the economic woes of the country.

Let's examine the results of similiar policies in Europe.

The U.K, Ireland, France and Germany are among the other victims of the same mistakes. Ireland and the U.K., after pumping billions in to the banking sector, have only succeeded in pushing themselves to the verge of bankruptcy and reduced the available capital to do anything actually constructive. Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in getting Societe Generale to break even by injecting taxpayer cash . What kind of logic is it that says that this is a good thing ? Any unprofitable company can break even if it receives taxpayer money to blot out the red ink. The fact remains; it is an unprofitable enterprise and, by any interpretation of market rules, should fail to free up more profitable ones.

The formation of the "Bad Bank" will prove to be another miserable failure. The time to call a halt to the madness is long since past and more rational policies need to be coming from Washington before the country goes bankrupt.

The Curious Case of Richard Holbrooke

Obama's Neocon The Curious Case of Richard Holbrooke

by Joshua Frank

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In wee morning hours on Friday, January 23, a U.S. spy plane killed at least 15 in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. It was Barack Obama's first blood and the U.S.'s first violation of Pakistan's sovereignty under the new administration. The attack was an early sign that the newly minted president may not be overhauling the War on Terror this week, or even next.

As the U.S. government fired upon alleged terrorists in the rugged outback of Pakistan, Obama was back in Washington appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special U.S. representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, like the remote control bombing that claimed human life, Obama's vision for the region, in the embodiment of Holbrooke, may not be a drastic departure from the failed Bush doctrine. Or a departure at all.

"[Holbrooke] is one of the most talented diplomats of his generation," Obama said during a January 22 press conference at the State Department. In his speech Obama declared that both Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the "central front" in the War on Terror. "There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problems in isolation," he said.

In 1975, during Gerald Ford's administration, Indonesia invaded East Timor and slaughtered 200,000 indigenous Timorese. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor set the stage for a long and bloody occupation that recently ended after an international peacekeeping force was introduced in 1999.

Transcripts of meetings among Indonesian dictator Mohamed Suharto, Gerald Ford, and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have shown conclusively that Kissinger and Ford authorized and encouraged Suhatro's murderous actions. "We will understand and will not press you on the issue [of East Timor]," said President Ford in a meeting with Suharto and Kissinger in early December 1975, days before Suharto's bloodbath. "We understand the problem and the intentions you have," he added.

Henry Kissinger also stressed at the meeting that "the use of US-made arms could create problems," but then added, "It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self defense or is a foreign operation." Thus, Kissinger's concern was not about whether US arms would be used offensively, but whether the act could be interpreted as illegal. Kissinger went on: "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly."

After Gerald Ford's loss and Jimmy Carter's ascendance into the White House in 1976, Indonesia requested additional arms to continue its brutal occupation, even though there was a supposed ban on arms trades to Suharto's government. It was Carter's appointee to the Department of State's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Richard Holbrooke, who authorized additional arms shipments to Indonesia during this supposed blockade. Many scholars have noted that this was the period when the Indonesian suppression of the Timorese reached genocidal levels.

During his testimony before Congress in February 1978, Professor Benedict Anderson cited a report that proved there was never an US arms ban, and that during the period of the alleged ban the US initiated new offers of military weaponry to the Indonesians:

"If we are curious as to why the Indonesians never felt the force of the U.S. government's 'anguish,' the answer is quite simple. In flat contradiction to express statements by General Fish, Mr. Oakley and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Holbrooke, at least four separate offers of military equipment were made to the Indonesian government during the January-June 1976 'administrative suspension.' This equipment consisted mainly of supplies and parts for OV-10 Broncos, Vietnam War era planes designed for counterinsurgency operations against adversaries without effective anti-aircraft weapons, and wholly useless for defending Indonesia from a foreign enemy. The policy of supplying the Indonesian regime with Broncos, as well as other counterinsurgency-related equipment has continued without substantial change from the Ford through the present Carter administrations."

If we track Holbrooke's recent statements, the disturbing symbiosis between him and figures like uberhawk Paul Wolfowitz is startling.

"In an unguarded moment just before the 2000 election, Richard Holbrooke opened a foreign policy speech with a fawning tribute to his host, Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington," reported First of the Month following the terrorist attacks in 2001.

The article continued: "Holbrooke, a senior adviser to Al Gore, was acutely aware that either he or Wolfowitz would be playing important roles in next administration. Looking perhaps to assure the world of the continuity of US foreign policy, he told his audience that Wolfowitz's 'recent activities illustrate something that's very important about American foreign policy in an election year, and that is the degree to which there are still common themes between the parties.' The example he chose to illustrate his point was East Timor, which was invaded and occupied in 1975 by Indonesia with US weapons - a security policy backed and partly shaped by Holbrooke and Wolfowitz. 'Paul and I,' he said, 'have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests."

In sum, Holbrooke has worked vigorously to keep his bloody campaign silent. The results of which appear to have paid off. In chilling words, Holbrooke describes the motivations behind support of Indonesia's genocidal actions:

"The situation in East Timor is one of the number of very important concerns of the United States in Indonesia. Indonesia, with a population of 150 million people, is the fifth largest nation in the world, is a moderate member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is an important oil producer — which plays a moderate role within OPEC — and occupies a strategic position astride the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian Oceans ... We highly value our cooperative relationship with Indonesia."

Notes From The American Lunatic Asylum

Notes From The American Lunatic Asylum

by Sherwood Ross

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If America ever is going to stop making aggressive war, Americans will first have to get into contact with reality. That’s because U.S. administrations for the past century have periodically frightened the public out of their collective wits. And a frightened nation is a malleable nation, one whose people are susceptible to being led into any struggle.

There’s usually been some evil outside force lurking to take away what we have. There was the “Red Scare” during the Wilson administration and Joe McCarthy’s terror during the Truman and Eisenhower years. President George W. Bush gave fear a new twist with his “War on Terror” in which innocent nations were illegally invaded and tens of thousands imprisoned and hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed.

In his speech of September 20, 2001, Bush claimed terrorists attacked America because they “hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

Those who believe this whopper will never deal with the reality that we might just be hated throughout the Middle East because the CIA at Eisenhower’s behest overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953. Or that we might be hated for taking Israel’s side in its ongoing efforts to displace the Palestinians. Or for taking Iraq’s side in its war of aggression against Iran and supplying it with poison gas. Or for subsequently waging an illegal war of aggression against Iraq. The idea that Muslim extremists attacked America out of envy lacks any connection to reality, especially when much of the Arab world has long made known its vehement opposition to U.S. support of Israel.

The Bush regime fanned the fears of Islamic terrorism in the American mind by making it appear the 2001 anthrax attacks that shut down Congress were staged by Muslims. One anthrax envelope read “Death to America! Death to Israel!” Bush press agents leaked stories that the attack emanated from the Middle East when, in fact, it originated at a U.S. biowarfare complex in Maryland under management of George W. Bush, commander-in-chief.

This lie helped rush through the Patriot Act and opened the door to a $50 billion spending spree to develop new bioweapons, although experts say the U.S. is under no threat of such attack. Meanwhile, we have real influenza epidemics that kill thousands every year that must be prevented and scientists who tell us they no longer are getting the money to fight. What do you call a country that ignores realities and arms itself against fantasies? Try lunatic asylum.

Down through the years our politicians have shamelessly advanced themselves by playing on the public’s fears. George W. Bush is only the most recent culprit. Presidential campaigner Jack Kennedy, for example, in 1960 falsely warned Americans of a “missile gap,” i.e., that we lagged behind the Soviets in our ability to deliver nuclear weapons. These fears were encouraged by the military-industrial complex to pump up spending on atomic bombs and their delivery systems.

Late in his life, the eloquent General Douglas MacArthur came to this realization: “Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor with the cry of a grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded.”

In the past eight years, the Big Lies have flown thick and fast. Americans today suffer from a “master race” delusion akin to what Germans believed in the 1930s. The Neocon’s “New American Century” philosophy posits the U.S. is ordained (Bush believed by god) to provide leadership and spread democracy around the globe. In this vision, America is the self-appointed policeman for the planet. Delegates to Republican National Conventions only have had to hear the phrase “United Nations” to jeer. This poisoning of the public mind could make it difficult for President Obama to use the UN effectively just as it made it easy for Bush to sell his “preventive war” doctrine.

Americans have been conditioned to think the U.S. is always in the right and its enemies are always in the wrong. A prime example: the POW/MIA flags that flutter over public buildings everywhere. Americans believe the Vietnamese held hundreds of U.S. prisoners after the war ended. If so, why couldn’t the Pentagon with its spy satellites that can spot a wooden nickel from 60,000 feet ever find and rescue them?

By claiming they refused to live up to its obligations, the Vietnamese are made to look like the bad guys even though we waged a war of aggression in their country and bombed their cities, not the other way around. I’m not saying there were no POWs being held illegally, only that the issue has been framed to inflame the public out of all proportion to reality. Today, it’s the U.S. that imprisons “ghost” POW/MIAs. Only the victims are Arabs and Muslims. General Paul Kern, who headed an Army inquiry, told the Senate in 2004 the CIA may be keeping up to 100 “ghost detainees” at Baghdad’s infamous Abu Ghraib. And it has been disclosed that the U.S. under Bush/Cheney operated a string of secret prisons where the Red Cross is denied entry. Isn’t that illegally holding POW/MIAs? To accuse others of crimes you are committing raises the suspicion that your own charges may not be true. It also suggests you might be deluded.

Again, there’s our rationale for every defeat. They’ll tell you at any veteran’s post we lost in Viet Nam only because “our boys fought with one hand tied behind their backs” and not because their foes were worthy — when we dumped more tons of bombs on Viet Nam than we did on all of Europe in WWII.

Such myths are dangerous. Recall Hitler told Germans they didn’t lose WWI because they were outfought but because they were “sold out by Jews and the Communists” that made peace behind their backs. So they should fight a new war. Millions of people the world over saw through Bush’s lies about Iraq being in league with 9/11 terrorists and possessing WMD. The war was condemned by the Vatican and termed “illegal” by the UN Secretary-General. But Congress bought the lie that Saddam Hussein, with his $5 billion military budget, threatened America with its $300 billion military budget, and voted to attack. Why could the rest of the world see reality when Americans could not? It was a repeat of the late Thirties when the whole world wondered why Germans were cheering Hitler's speeches.

Americans have repeatedly subscribed to policies of aggressive war based on lies and delusions engineered by their own chief executives. An Obama presidency will not restore peace unless such falsehoods are first exposed and expunged from the American psyche. Time to open the asylum’s doors and windows and let in the fresh air and sunshine.