Friday, March 27, 2009

Washington escalates “drug war” intervention in Mexico

Washington escalates “drug war” intervention in Mexico

By Bill Van Auken

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With the announcement of a new border security plan Monday and the two-day visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico City and Monterrey which ended Thursday, Washington is launching a major intervention in Mexico in the name of combating drug trafficking and associated violence.

The flurry of activity by the US government—similar trips to Mexico are scheduled next week by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder and by Obama himself next month—has been accompanied by a campaign in the American media to create an atmosphere of near panic over the "war" in Mexico and the supposed threat that it is spilling over into the US itself.

The sudden concern over an emergency on the US-Mexican border has not been driven by any recent major change in the objective situation. The right-wing government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed the country's military in the anti-drug trafficking campaign for two years. The violence associated with this effort has been steady ever since, with over 6,000 people killed last year and 1,000 so far this year.

Rather than responding to some sudden crisis, it appears that the Obama administration is executing plans drafted and developed under the Bush administration, and particularly the Pentagon and the US national intelligence apparatus.

At the heart of the program rolled out this week is $700 million approved by the US Congress as part of the so-called Merida Initiative, a three-year $1.4 billion aid package signed by Bush and Calderon in June of last year. Also known as Plan Mexico for its resemblance to Plan Colombia, which initiated the largest US-backed counterinsurgency campaign in the hemisphere, the central thrust of the initiative is US support for the militarization of Mexico's counter-narcotics operations and border security and closer coordination between the US and Mexican militaries in the development of counter-terrorism strategies.

Under the plan unveiled Monday by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, in addition to the $700 million in Merida Initiative aid previously requested by the Bush administration, Washington is sending an additional 360 Homeland Security agents to the border along with 116 agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The FBI announced that it is forming a Southwest Intelligence Group (SWIG) to coordinate all FBI activities related to Mexico.

"This issue requires immediate action," said Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano in announcing the initiative. "We are guided by two very clear objectives. First, we are going to do everything we can to prevent the violence in Mexico from spilling over across the border. And second, we will do all in our power to help President Calderon crack down on these drug cartels in Mexico."

In subsequent testimony on Capitol Hill and in an interview with the Spanish news service EFE, Napolitano referred to the potential deployment of US troops on the border and a "contingency plan" that has been drawn up to deal with the potential for violence in Mexico triggering a "massive emigration" to the US.

The deployment of troops—Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry has called for 1,000 troops to be sent to his state's border with Mexico—"is under active consideration in the Department of Defense and will depend on several factors," Napolitano told EFE.

In testifying Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Napolitano acknowledged that the border plan being enacted by her department—the "Southwest Border Violence Operations Plan"—had been drafted by her predecessor, Bush's Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff.

She also made reference to the central role being played by the Pentagon in developing US strategy towards Mexico. "The Department of Defense has been a close partner in scenario planning," she said. Napolitano added that her department is "working with the Department of Defense to determine if there are other support roles for the Department of Defense to assist us in securing our southwestern border."

Significantly, the first trips to Mexico City initiated by the Obama administration involved Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who touched off a controversy in Mexico by claiming that the country's military had shed its historically rooted prejudices against collaboration with the Pentagon, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, who said the US military was prepared to assist the Mexican military in implementing counterinsurgency tactics learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US military is carrying out its own aid program separately from the Merida Initiative under Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in 2006, allowing it to funnel money, training and equipment to foreign militaries under the pretext of combating terrorism. The program—which provided the Mexican armed forces with nearly $13 million in arms and training this year—is one of the means by which Washington has increasingly delegated foreign policy to the Pentagon.

The stepped-up US intervention in Mexico was highlighted by Secretary of State Clinton's two-day trip which ended Thursday in Monterrey.

Much was made of Clinton's acceptance of the fact that US money and arms play a decisive role in fueling the Mexican drug trade and violence and her repudiation of claims made in the media and by sections of the US military and foreign policy establishment that Mexico is on the verge of becoming a "failed state."

This aspect of the trip represented an exercise in damage control, under conditions in which Washington has increasingly antagonized Mexico, in no small measure through the repeal earlier this month of a pilot program allowing a limited number of Mexican long-haul trucks to travel US highways. Mexico denounced the move as protectionism and imposed $2.4 billion worth of tariffs on US goods in retaliation.

Clinton announced while in Mexico City that the US is providing the Mexican army with five Blackhawk assault helicopters and the Mexican navy with a reconnaissance plane to "respond aggressively" to drug traffickers.

"The criminals and kingpins spreading violence are trying to corrode the foundations of law, order, friendship and trust between us that support our continent," Clinton declared Wednesday at a joint press conference with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa. "They will fail."

The rhetoric, employing the pseudo-democratic phrasemongering of the "war on terrorism," ignores the obvious. The "kingpins" aren't concerned with "corroding" the values extolled by Clinton. Their principal motivation is no different than that of the bankers and financiers on Wall Street: profit.

There is ample evidence that US bankers are among the principal beneficiaries of drug profits. Earlier this year, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said his agency had found mounting indications that money from drug trafficking was playing a key role in the bailout of failing banks.

"Interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told the Austrian magazine Profil. There were "signs that some banks were rescued in that way," he added.

As for the hundreds of thousands of people involved in one form or another in the lower ranks of the drug trade, their objective is obtaining an income and escaping the poverty that afflicts over half of Mexico's 104 million people.

"Clearly what we have done has not worked," Clinton said in relation to the US "war on drugs." But the reality is that the program being launched by the Obama administration in relation to Mexico represents a continuation and escalation of that same policy, treating the complex and deeply rooted problems associated with drugs as a security question to be solved through military action.

That this policy has been a failure is indisputable. The number of people taking illegal drugs in the US has not declined, nor has the supply of drugs, despite the US spending an estimated $2.5 trillion over the past four decades in its "war on drugs" and increasing the US prison population seven-fold in the last 30 years, in large part due to drug-related convictions.

The failure is inevitable, given that the policy treats what is essentially a question of social conditions and public health as a military campaign to be won with increased firepower and measured by the number of narco-traffickers killed or imprisoned.

Nothing said by Clinton or the other US officials who have spoken on the drug violence in Mexico has addressed the conditions of poverty there. Nor have any proposals been made to curtail the demand for illegal drugs in the US, either through decriminalization of drug use or expanded drug treatment programs.

Why would the US administration continue and even escalate a policy that its chief foreign policy representative admits is a failure? The answer lies in the fact that the "war on drugs," like the "war on terrorism," is a façade behind which are concealed strategic aims of US imperialism, which seeks to exert its hegemony over resource-rich regions of the globe by military means.

Mexico is the third largest source of US imported oil, trailing only Saudi Arabia and Canada. In addition to military support, Washington has provided strong political backing to the Calderon government's bid to open the state-owned oil monopoly Pemex to foreign capitalist investment. The proposal is opposed by the overwhelming majority of the Mexican people.

For the Calderon government as well there is a large element of pretext in the escalating drug war. It has militarized the country under conditions of a deepening economic crisis and a growing potential for social explosions.

A poll conducted earlier this month by Mexico's leading polling firm found that nearly twice as many Mexicans saw the economy, unemployment and poverty as the main problems confronting the country as those who cited security and drug trafficking. In the same poll, 35 percent said that at least one member of their family had lost a job in the previous six months.

According to Mexico's National Institute of Statistics, 472,000 workers joined the ranks of the unemployed in January and February. Industrial production is in free fall, having declined 15 percent since last year, with many of the layoffs hitting export assembly plants (maquiladoras) operating in border cities like Ciudad Juarez, now subjected to an occupation by 10,000 Mexican troops and federal police.

Insurance Industry is Simply a Parasite Feeding on the US Health System

Insurance Industry is Simply a Parasite Feeding on the US Health System

by Dave Lindorff

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As the country contemplates a major reform and restructuring of the way we run our national health care system (if it can even be called that), it needs to be pointed out that the mammoth health insurance industry is nothing but a parasite on that system.

Health insurance companies add zero value to the delivery of health care. Indeed, they are a significant cost factor that sucks up, according to some estimates such as one by the organization Physicians for a National Health Program, as much as 31 percent of every dollar spent on medical services (a percentage that has been rising steadily year after year).

Insurance companies are damaging in more ways than simply cost, though.

They also actively interfere in the delivery of quality medical care, as anyone who has had to battle with some “nurse” on the phone at an insurance company to get required pre-authorization for needed procedure can attest. Just recently, the editor of a local weekly alternative paper in Philadelphia, Brian Hinkey, the victim of a near fatal hit-and-run accident last year who spent several days in a coma, and has been working hard to regain the use of all his limbs and faculties, reported in an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer on how his insurer after a few successful weeks of in-hospital rehab, denied him coverage for six critical weeks for out-patient rehab services, though every specialist on head injuries knows that early, consistent therapy is crucial to recovery of lost brain function.

This kind of human abuse is standard operating procedure for companies whose bottom lines are fattened the more services they can deny to insured clients. My own father, once doomed by a metastasized cancer following prostate surgery, was saved by a procedure offered by a physician in Atlanta that his Blue Cross plan in Connecticut refused to pay for. He had to finance the expensive treatment himself.

Now these medical system parasites are suddenly running scared, because it is clear that if everyone in America is to be guaranteed health insurance coverage—a promised goal of the new administration of President Barack Obama, and, according to polls, the desire of a large majority of the American people—they are going to stand exposed as a costly impediment to achieving that goal.

Insurance companies have managed to stay profitable and at least somewhat affordable to the private employers and workers who, together, have to pay for them, by denying care not just to policy holders, who are denied certain tests and treatments but especially to those who have known ailments, who are simply denied coverage altogether.

For decades, people with “pre-existing conditions” have been either barred from coverage, or have had to sign waivers that excluded them from getting coverage for treatment of those pre-existing conditions. In the worst case, which is all too common, people have ended up dying because they couldn’t get treatment for common and easily treated ailments like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Now we hear that two big insurance trade groups, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, have offered to "phase out the practice of varying premiums based on health status in the individual market" in the event that all Americans are required to obtain health insurance.

Well sure they’re doing that. If they didn’t, the government would force them to! The insurance industry, in saying that it would not price sick people out of coverage in a nationally-mandated health insurance scheme, is merely recognizing the political firestorm that would arise if it were not to do that, and were to force the sick and infirm onto some government insurance plan, subsidized by taxpayers, while they just cherry-picked the healthy population, as they’ve been doing now for decades.

The whole point is that if everyone is included in the insurance pool, instead of only the healthy population, then the overall cost of being chronically or critically ill to the individual is spread over the whole of society. Premiums get adjusted accordingly.

Medicare is the model. Here we already have a government plan that covers every single elderly and disabled person.

If we were to simply extend Medicare to cover everyone in America, we would essentially have the Canadian model of health care (which, it should be pointed out, costs half what we pay in America for health care when private insurance and government programs are added together). As with current Medicare, the government would pay for treatment, with private doctors and hospitals providing the care, and with the government negotiating the permissible charges. That, in a nutshell, is what “single-payer” means—the government is the single payer for all health care. It doesn’t mean, as the right-wing critics claim in their scaremongering propaganda, that people would be forced to use certain doctors and certain hospitals. Far from it. That’s what private HMOs do right now.

Medicare is efficient (only 3.6% of Medicare’s budget goes to administrative costs, compared to 31% for health care delivered through private insurance plans), its clients like it, and doctors and hospitals accept it.

We should not be tricked by this seeming sudden appearance of decency on the part of these corporate parasites. There is simply no valid reason for preserving the private insurance industry’s role in any health care reform plan that is aimed at giving everyone access to health care in America. The Obama administration needs to jettison its “free market” fetish when it comes to health care. The financing of health care for all Americans can all be handled much better by the government. Medicare has proven this. Other countries—Britain, Australia, France, Canada, Taiwan and most other modern nations have proven this.

Leave the insurance industry to handle our car insurance and our life insurance. It has no more place in the delivery of health care than do tapeworms in the digestive process of our bowels. Quote this article on your site

Courage To Resist

Courage To Resist

by Lisa 'Stienster' Nerone

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"The Posse Comitatus Act of June 16, 1878 was reversed on October 17, 2006 by Bill 5122 (sponsored by John Warner). Now our government can use our own Military against “We The People”.

"On October 1, 2008 the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, which, said the Army Times newspaper, has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq, was brought home. This begins the first breech of what the Posse Comitatus was created to prevent." (source)

The truly savage behavior of "our" government officials (with few exceptions) are not only directed at those members of humanity who are often easily targeted as undeserving of civility, ex: violent criminals. The malevolence expressed in their actions- when not in their words- have existed with virtually zero counter-measures from the majority of Americans, whom are obviously the true target of the malignant evil that grows on The Hill.

In complete polarity, true Constitutional patriots who are/were in the military services are standing up against the tyrannical faction who have usurped The Constitution on many levels. These truly brave men and women have formed several united groups against the lying oligarchs who pursue their fabricated "global war on terrorism".

"Iraqi Veterans Against War" (IVAW) and the resulting protest group, The Hempstead 15 (so named by alternative non-main-stream-media), are two such groups of current and veteran military members who are willing to stand on the 'front-line' of the illegal and unconstitutional wars of aggression against Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Hempstead 15 are members of IVAW who requested admittance to the Hempstead New York Presidential Debate held at Hofstra University in October, 2008. One of these IVAW members, US Army veteran, Matthis Chiroux, details the ensuing fascist crimes of The Nassua County Police Department.

Their respectful written request to address the candidates with one question directed to each candidate was issued to "Bob Schieffer, the debate moderator (Hofstra University), as well as Det. Thomas J. Calvert and Det. Robert Annese of the Nassau County Police Department the day before the action (Hofstra-Debate Police Security Controllers). IVAW were "assured (Police security) would instruct their officers to respect the non-violent spirit of the action by using restraint towards peaceful veterans and demonstrators". But at the time of the debate event, the assurances of Calvert and Annese didn't materialize.

A few members of IVAW, in full military dress, peaceably approached the entrance to the debate facility and were met by riot-gear clad, horse-mounted Hempstead Police. A few "lucky" IVAW members were instantly arrested for "disorderly conduct" and placed in a police bus, where they watched in horror as "the police charged their horses onto a sidewalk and unprovokedly knocked Nick Morgan to the ground, trampling his head and face, then arrested him".

The Nassau County Police Department continued it's vile, illegal, and aggressively abusive activities, as can be heard and seen here.

Army Veteran Chiroux further stated, "Police pulled other members and supporters of IVAW from the sidewalk and arrested them, while horses spun in circles causing injury to most who couldn’t escape their paths... One officer, when I brought up the prospect of speaking to a lawyer, threatened to put me in the back (jail) where 'the big boys will pop your cherry'. When I asked this officer if he had just threatened an honorably discharged veteran of Afghanistan with prison rape and told him I wanted his name and rank, he refused and told me to look it up on the police report, which the Nassau County Police Department has refused to provide.".

Also of important mention is "Courage To Resist" (CTR), whose members' resistance pivots on the huge impact to all of humanity of the immoral and illegal wars. CTR comprises current enlisted American military personnel who refuse to deploy or re-deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Veteran Chiroux is a member and has his Army hearing on April 21, 2009, in St. Louis, MO. But prior to his hearing, Mr. Chiroux, "at the request of members of the German Parliament" will be present "to speak about why they should not be supplying troops to the occupation of Afghanistan nor supporting the NATO alliance." He will then also participate in the protest demonstrations being held in Europe on April 1-4, 2009, against the G20 and NATO summits in London and Strasbourg, France. (Matthis Chiroux website)

The members of The Nassua County Police Department who inflicted the above listed attacks, are quite obviously not members of "The Oath Keepers". These well welcomed police, sheriff, and military members of America have banded together to speak out against and oppose the tyranny and unconstitutional actions being ordered of our police and military forces against We The People. Their commitment to their sworn-to oath to serve and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic is taken seriously, and they state: "Our oath is to the Constitution, not to the politicians, and that oath will be kept. We won’t 'just follow orders'."

These honorable servants used to be the norm. But because such integrity of character is now seldom found, these respectable patriots stand out as the shining hope of what our future can STILL BE. If we can stay focused on what We The People require of each other- and also then must require of ourselves- conscionable policies that reflect the spirit of who we thought we were, then we can again become a nation of industrious, morally strong individuals who together form an America of immeasurable spiritual and material prosperity.

More US troops for Afghan war

Obama vows to defeat al-Qaida in Afghanistan


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President Barack Obama on Friday ordered 4,000 more military troops into Afghanistan, vowing to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" the terrorist al-Qaida network in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. In a war that still has no end in sight, Obama said the fresh infusion of U.S. forces is designed to bolster the Afghan army and turn up the heat on terrorists that he said are plotting new attacks against Americans.

The plan takes aim at terrorist havens in Pakistan and challenges the government there and in Afghanistan to show more results.

Obama called the situation in the region "increasingly perilous" more than seven years after the Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan.

"If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged," Obama said, "that country will again be a base for terrorists."

He announced the troop deployment, as well as plans to send hundreds of additional civilians to Afghanistan, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top intelligence and national security figures at his side. The announcement followed a policy review Obama launched not long after taking office.

The 4,000 troops bolster the dispatch of an additional 17,000 forces to the war-weary nation.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai welcomed the additional help to train his country's army and police force, saying in a statement that Obama's strategy "will bring Afghanistan and the international community closer to success."

There are clear risks and costs to Obama's strategy.

Violence is rising. The war in Afghanistan saw American military deaths rise by 35 percent in 2008 as Islamic extremists shifted their focus to a new front with the West. Obama's plan will also cost many more billions of dollars.

And the president's plan includes no timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Yet Obama bluntly warned that the al-Qaida terrorists who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were actively planning further attacks on the United States from safe havens in Pakistan. And he said the Afghanistan government is in peril of falling to the Islamic militants of the Taliban once again.

"So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," the president said.

"That is the goal that must be achieved," Obama added. "That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you."

Obama's plan will put more U.S. troops and money on the line. He said Pakistan and Afghanistan will be held to account, using benchmarks for progress, although those measures are just being developed and the consequences if not met remain unclear.

The president spoke just hours after a suicide bomber in Pakistan demolished a mosque packed with hundreds of worshippers attending Friday prayers near the Afghan border, killing at least 48 people and injuring scores more, in the bloodiest attack in Pakistan this year. Rising violence in Pakistan is fueling doubts about the pro-Western government's ability to counter Taliban and al-Qaida militants also blamed for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani central government has relatively little control in some areas bordering Afghanistan and has tolerated or even ignored the creation of Taliban and al-Qaida havens inside Pakistan.

In a direct challenge, Obama said Pakistan must show a commitment to hunt down the extremists within its borders.

"We will insist that action be taken one way or another when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets," Obama said.

Obama called the mountainous border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan "the most dangerous place in the world."

"This is not simply an American problem — far from it," Obama said. "It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al-Qaida and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al-Qaida's leadership in Pakistan."

The president added: "The safety of people around the world is at stake."

That strategy fits with Obama's operating premise — that the U.S. failed mightily in the years following the Sept. 11 terror attacks by focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan. He said he is sending in the 4,000 military trainers after military commanders watched their demand for such help go unmet for years.

His moves comes ahead of a U.N. conference on Afghanistan next Tuesday in The Hague, where Clinton will join representatives from more than 80 countries. And Obama himself is attending a NATO meeting next week in France and Germany.

At that meeting, the U.S. expects some NATO coalition members to commit more forces to the flagging war in Afghanistan, Obama officials said Thursday. They did not provide specifics.

Roughly 65,000 international forces are in Afghanistan, more than half from the U.S.

One part of Obama's plan is to expose fractures in the Taliban in hopes of weakening it.

Administration officials say the most difficult part of their approach will be in dealing with Pakistan, an often chaotic place with an erratic relationship with the United States. The administration will seek to bolster the democratic government of Pakistan, and try to get the people of that country to see the U.S.-led effort as one that is in their interests.

Obama also will call for increasing aid to Pakistan as long as its leaders confront militants in the border region. The president will work with Congress on language to attach conditions to military aid, sources said.

The U.S. will launch an intensive and expanded diplomatic effort to gain international cooperation, including reaching out to Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia and even Iran.

The 4,000 military trainers that Obama is sending to Afghanistan will come from 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. All the troops he is dispatching to Afghanistan, including the combat troops, will be there by fall.

Obama says automakers need 'drastic changes'

Obama says automakers need 'drastic changes'


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President Barack Obama plans to announce a new aid package for General Motors and Chrysler in the coming days and says the carmakers must make "pretty drastic changes" to save their industry.

Obama gave a preview of his administration's approach to fixing the struggling U.S. auto industry during an online town hall meeting Thursday, promising additional aid only if the Detroit change its ways and receives concessions from stakeholders.

"We will provide them some help," Obama said. "I know that it is not popular to provide help to auto workers — or to auto companies. But my job is to measure the costs of allowing these auto companies just to collapse versus us figuring out — can they come up with a viable plan?"

He added: "If they're not willing to make the changes and the restructurings that are necessary, then I'm not willing to have taxpayer money chase after bad money."

General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC have received $17.4 billion in federal loans since December and are seeking billions more to stay afloat. A task force created by Obama has been meeting with industry officials and studying restructuring plans submitted by the companies to put them on the path to long-term profitability through tough concessions.

"Everybody is going to have to give a little bit — shareholders, workers, creditors, suppliers, dealers — everybody is going to have to recognize that the current model, economic model, of the U.S. auto industry is unsustainable," Obama said.

The president said he agreed with a questioner at the town hall — a Maryland woman with family members who work for GM and Ford Motor Co. — that "there's been a lot of mismanagement of the auto industry over the last several years."

Obama stressed that the industry must be preserved, not only symbolically but because of the large number of jobs connected to the companies and suppliers. Obama said his job was to protect U.S. taxpayers and he wouldn't spend federal dollars on "a model that doesn't work."

"A lot of it's going to depend on their willingness to make some pretty drastic changes. And some of those are still going to be painful," he said.

The government can recall its loans to GM and Chrysler if they fail to sign deals for debt restructuring and other concessions from stakeholders, including the United Auto Workers union, by March 31. But the administration has not indicated it plans to do so. Efraim Levy, an auto analyst with Standard & Poor's Equity Research, said the companies likely will need to come close to the terms of the loans.

"There's going to be grading on a curve," Levy said. "They've got to show a plan that's close enough to get it."

The loan terms call for debt holders to accept equity in the companies for two-thirds of the automakers' debt. GM owes roughly $28 billion to bondholders, while Chrysler owes about $7 billion in first and second-term debt, mainly to banks.

Also, the UAW needs to swap equity in the companies for 50 percent of the companies' cash contributions into a union-run trust fund for retiree health care. GM owes roughly $20 billion to its trust, while Chrysler owes $10.6 billion.

Bondholders have been reluctant to go along with the cuts, saying they're being required to sacrifice more than other parties, but have been holding discussions about the changes.

The union has agreed to other terms of the loans, including work rule changes and reducing total hourly labor costs to be comparable to those at Japanese automakers with U.S. factories.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers who have talked to members of the task force in recent days said they expected the administration to provide additional loans to GM and Chrysler, but it would be the first in a series of announcements and would carry strict conditions.

"I expect them to support additional funding related to specific actions," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "I think it will be tied to specific actions that need to be taken."

The president said the industry has been hamstrung by the sharp decline in auto sales. Last year the industry sold 13.2 million new vehicles in the U.S., but the annual sales rate has dropped to around 9 million for both January and February. Obama said many Americans are struggling to get auto loans and are wary of big-ticket purchases as jobs disappear.

The president said that even as the economy bounces back, Detroit can't focus on "trying to build more and more SUVs and counting on gas prices being low."

In that vein, the administration on Friday is expected to announce plans to raise fuel efficiency standards by 2 miles per gallon to 27.3 mpg for new cars and trucks in the 2011 model year, an administration official said Thursday. That would be the first increase in passenger car standards in more than two decades.

Under the changes, new passenger cars will need to meet 30.2 mpg for the 2011 model year and pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and minivans will need to reach 24.1 mpg, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak in advance of the announcement.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama will announce his strategy for the auto industry before he leaves for Europe on Tuesday. The announcement is likely to come on Monday.

Gibbs said Obama still thinks U.S. automakers build cars that Americans want to buy. Both he and the president own Ford Escape hybrids. "It's a nice car," Gibbs said. "It really is."

Commercial real estate loan defaults skyrocket

Commercial real estate loan defaults skyrocket

With loan defaults rising, analysts say the struggling commercial real estate industry is poised to fall into the worst crisis since the last great property bust of the early 1990s.

Delinquency rates on loans for hotels, offices, retail and industrial buildings have risen sharply in recent months and are likely to soar through the end of 2010 as companies lay off workers, downsize or shut their doors.

The commercial real estate market's fortunes are tied closely to those of the sinking economy, especially unemployment, which hit 8.1 percent in February.

"Until jobs start coming back and industry starts doing better we don't see performance increasing" among landlords, said Christopher Stanley, an associate with research firm Reis Inc.

While the commercial real estate industry's woes led to the recession of nearly 20 years ago, this time the industry is "the victim of the economic and financial crisis," said Hessam Nadji, managing director at Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services in Walnut Creek.

Vacancies at retailers, Nadji forecasts, will shoot up to 11 percent by year-end, matching the peak of the early 1990s. Office vacancies are likely to hit 18 percent by year end, he said, short of the 1990s-era peak of more than 20 percent.

US backing for world currency stuns markets

US backing for world currency stuns markets

US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shocked global markets by revealing that Washington is "quite open" to Chinese proposals for the gradual development of a global reserve currency run by the International Monetary Fund.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

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The dollar plunged instantly against the euro, yen, and sterling as the comments flashed across trading screens. David Bloom, currency chief at HSBC, said the apparent policy shift amounts to an earthquake in geo-finance.

"The mere fact that the US Treasury Secretary is even entertaining thoughts that the dollar may cease being the anchor of the global monetary system has caused consternation," he said.

Mr Geithner later qualified his remarks, insisting that the dollar would remain the "world's dominant reserve currency ... for a long period of time" but the seeds of doubt have been sown.

The markets appear baffled by the confused statements emanating from Washington. President Barack Obama told a new conference hours earlier that there was no threat to the reserve status of the dollar.

"I don't believe that there is a need for a global currency. The reason the dollar is strong right now is because investors consider the United States the strongest economy in the world with the most stable political system in the world," he said.

The Chinese proposal, outlined this week by central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, calls for a "super-sovereign reserve currency" under IMF management, turning the Fund into a sort of world central bank.

The idea is that the IMF should activate its dormant powers to issue Special Drawing Rights. These SDRs would expand their role over time, becoming a "widely-accepted means of payments".

Mr Bloom said that any switch towards use of SDRs has direct implications for the currency markets. At the moment, 65pc of the world's $6.8 trillion stash of foreign reserves is held in dollars. But the dollar makes up just 42pc of the basket weighting of SDRs. So any SDR purchase under current rules must favour the euro, yen and sterling.

Beijing has the backing of Russia and a clutch of emerging powers in Asia and Latin America. Economists have toyed with such schemes before but the issue has vaulted to the top of the political agenda as creditor states around the world takes fright at the extreme measures now being adopted by the Federal Reserve, especially the decision to buy US government debt directly with printed money.

Mr Bloom said the US is discovering that the sensitivities of creditors cannot be ignored. "China holds almost 30pc of the world's entire reserves. What they say matters," he said.

Mr Geithner's friendly comments about the SDR plan seem intended to soothe Chinese feelings after a spat in January over alleged currency manipulation by Beijing, but he will now have to explain his own categorical assurance to Congress on Tuesday that he would not countenance any moves towards a world currency.

States consider drug tests for welfare recipients

States consider drug tests for welfare recipients


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..Want government assistance? Just say no to drugs...

Lawmakers in at least eight states want recipients of food stamps, unemployment benefits or welfare to submit to random drug testing.

The effort comes as more Americans turn to these safety nets to ride out the recession. Poverty and civil liberties advocates fear the strategy could backfire, discouraging some people from seeking financial aid and making already desperate situations worse.

Those in favor of the drug tests say they are motivated out of a concern for their constituents' health and ability to put themselves on more solid financial footing once the economy rebounds. But proponents concede they also want to send a message: you don't get something for nothing.

"Nobody's being forced into these assistance programs," said Craig Blair, a Republican in the West Viginia Legislature who has created a Web site - - that bears a bobble-headed likeness of himself advocating this position. "If so many jobs require random drug tests these days, why not these benefits?"

Blair is proposing the most comprehensive measure in the country, as it would apply to anyone applying for food stamps, unemployment compensation or the federal programs usually known as "welfare": Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Women, Infants and Children.

Lawmakers in other states are offering similar, but more modest proposals.

On Wednesday, the Kansas House of Representatives approved a measure mandating drug testing for the 14,000 or so people getting cash assistance from the state, which now goes before the state senate. In February, the Oklahoma Senate unanimously passed a measure that would require drug testing as a condition of receiving TANF benefits, and similar bills have been introduced in Missouri and Hawaii. A Florida senator has proposed a bill linking unemployment compensation to drug testing, and a member of Minnesota's House of Representatives has a bill requiring drug tests of people who get public assistance under a state program there.

A January attempt in the Arizona Senate to establish such a law failed.

In the past, such efforts have been stymied by legal and cost concerns, said Christine Nelson, a program manager with the National Conference of State Legislatures. But states' bigger fiscal crises, and the surging demand for public assistance, could change that.

"It's an example of where you could cut costs at the expense of a segment of society that's least able to defend themselves," said Frank Crabtree, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Drug testing is not the only restriction envisioned for people receiving public assistance: a bill in the Tennessee Legislature would cap lottery winnings for recipients at $600.

There seems to be no coordinated move around the country to push these bills, and similar proposals have arisen periodically since federal welfare reform in the 1990s. But the appearance of a cluster of such proposals in the midst of the recession shows lawmakers are newly engaged about who is getting public assistance.

Particularly troubling to some policy analysts is the drive to drug test people collecting unemployment insurance, whose numbers nationwide now exceed 5.4 million, the highest total on records dating back to 1967.

"It doesn't seem like the kind of thing to bring up during a recession," said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "People who are unemployed, who have lost their job, that's a sympathetic group. Americans are tuned into that, because they're worried they'll be next."

Indeed, these proposals are coming at a time when more Americans find themselves in need of public assistance.

Although the number of TANF recipients has stayed relatively stable at 3.8 million in the last year, claims for unemployment benefits and food stamps have soared.

In December, more than 31.7 million Americans were receiving food stamp benefits, compared with 27.5 million the year before.

The link between public assistance and drug testing stems from the Congressional overhaul of welfare in the 1990s, which allowed states to implement drug testing as a condition of receiving help.

But a federal court struck down a Michigan law that would have allowed for "random, suspicionless" testing, saying it violated the 4th Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure, said Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At least six states - Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Virginia - tie eligibility for some public assistance to drug testing for convicted felons or parolees, according to the NCSL.

Nelson said programs that screen welfare applicants by assigning them to case workers for interviews have shown some success without the need for drug tests. These alternative measures offer treatment, but can also threaten future benefits if drug problems persist, she said.

They also cost less than the $400 or so needed for tests that can catch a sufficient range of illegal drugs, and rule out false positive results with a follow-up test, she said.

Modern-day Hoovervilles

The return of Hoovervilles

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During the Great Depression, shantytowns sprang up on the outskirts of American cities. Populated by those who had lost jobs and been turned out of their homes, these "Hoovervilles" became an indelible symbol of the human suffering wrought by the Depression. They were named in spiteful mockery of the president during the Depression's first four years, Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), who was fond of telling Americans that "prosperity is just around the corner," while offering virtually no government assistance to the unemployed and homeless.

American high school and college students learn of the Hoovervilles in their history textbooks, which treat the shantytowns as an example of American poverty vanquished by the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, never to return.

But the Hoovervilles are back.

A front-page article in Thursday's New York Times ("Cities Deal With a Surge in Shantytowns") describes the reemergence of itinerant encampments on the American cityscape. The most widely reported of these lies near Sacramento, California. About 125 people now reside in this Hooverville, in the capital city of America's richest and most populous state.

Yet the Hooverville is far more widespread than the media attention on the tent city near Sacramento implies. It has reemerged in Phoenix, Arizona; Olympia and Seattle, Washington; Reno, Nevada; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Fresno, California; among others.

People in these encampments live in tents, or else shacks built of old wood, scrap metal, cardboard and other waste. They live without running water, electricity, plumbing, or garbage removal.

The Times focuses on Fresno, a city of 500,000. There are now five shantytowns around Fresno. Michael Stoops, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, described the encampments' residents as "able-bodied folks that did day labor, at minimum wage or better, who were previously able to house themselves based on their income."

The population of these Hoovervilles represents only a small portion of those who find themselves without a home. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 3.4 million Americans are likely to experience homelessness this year—a 35 percent increase from 2007. This figure is equivalent to the entire population of Berlin; it is larger than the population of Chicago and the state of Iowa.

Driving the growth in homelessness is the foreclosure crisis. However, the ranks of the homeless are also filling up with former renters. Ironically, the surge in home foreclosures is forcing up rental prices nationwide as the total housing supply contracts. In addition, apartment units are being foreclosed upon, throwing out even renters who have not fallen behind on their payments.

Before the onset of the economic crisis, a majority of the homeless population held jobs, and about 41 percent were families with children. Experts believe that the portion among the homeless of working poor and families with children has risen sharply.

The rising tide of homelessness has been met with indifference by the Obama administration.

The massive social crisis that is sweeping the United States was almost completely ignored during President Barack Obama's nationally televised news conference on Tuesday evening. The only question that hinted at the dimensions of the social crisis engulfing the US pertained to the new tent cities. A reporter from Ebony magazine asked Obama "what he would say to the families, especially children, who are sleeping under bridges and in tents across the country."

Obama's response amounted to: Nothing. He assured the questioner that he was in fact "heartbroken that any child in America is homeless," a declaration that sounded about as sincere as his "anger" over bonuses at AIG. Obama made no proposals, referring vaguely to "a range of programs [that] do deal with homelessness."

"The most important thing that I can do on their behalf is to make sure their parents have a job," he said. In other words, his administration has no plan to address the homeless crisis. His proposals on jobs amount to little next to the extraordinary growth of unemployment. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that continuing claims for jobless benefits rose to 5.56 million, a number that in fact significantly underestimates the jobs crisis in the US.

This is an administration, it must be recalled, that one day earlier had unveiled a new trillion-dollar "public-private" bailout for the largest banks. This was not the first bailout of Wall Street, nor will it be the last. All told, between loans, direct cash infusions, government takeovers, and guarantees on debts, taxpayers have extended Wall Street in the range of $8 to $10 trillion. In comparison, Obama's stimulus package includes $1.5 billion for building emergency homeless shelters.

Obama has included no provisions in either his budget proposal or his stimulus package to assist low-income families with their rent payments. And his plan to resuscitate the housing market will not lessen the overpriced mortgages of millions of American households who have gone "underwater," owing more on their homes than their market value. It is thus assured the ranks of the homeless will continue to swell.

Obama's liberal defenders, such as The Nation magazine, have spilled plenty of ink attempting to compare Obama to Roosevelt. They promote the illusion that the New Deal ended the Great Depression. In fact, it was World War Two and its destruction of much of the world's economy—and at least 60 million lives—that ended the economic crisis. The real changes in social structure, moreover, came not from the political establishment, but through the mass actions of working class.

Even so, what is most remarkable about Obama's first months in office is the complete absence of any serious program of social reform.

In his first 100 days, Roosevelt—a representative of the bourgeoisie who saw social reforms as a necessary means of preserving capitalism—launched an "alphabet soup" of programs such as the Farm Security Administration (FSA), the Resettlement Administration (RA), Rural Electrification Administration (REA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that aimed to put hundreds of thousands to work, bring electricity to vast areas without it, and improve conditions of the large rural and farming population.

Obama's administration, just two months old, has been characterized by a single-minded drive to appropriate vast public wealth to the financial elite through massive bank bailouts.

To capitalize on the class anger felt by millions of Americans, Roosevelt issued regular bromides against the "moneychangers" on Wall Street. Obama, on the other hand, has gone out of his way to pander to the same financial elite primarily responsible for the economic misery confronting millions.

In a speech that turned reality completely on its head, Obama told a recent gathering of top CEOs, "Your companies have fueled the prosperity of communities across the country and the success stories of countless individuals. They've enriched our nation; they've served as a tribute to the enduring spirit of American capitalism."

Far from implementing a new reform agenda, Obama made clear on Tuesday that a massive attack on social programs was being readied, to be implemented as soon as the bank bailouts are complete. He referred repeatedly to the high cost of healthcare and the need for "Entitlement reform"—i.e., the debts building up from the Wall Street handouts will be paid for through cuts in Medicare, Social Security, and other programs.

The contrast with Roosevelt is telling. As Trotsky put it, "America's wealth permits Roosevelt his experiments." The vast industrial resources of American capitalism formed the objective foundation for a policy of social reform aimed at containing class antagonisms.

The position of the United States today is much different. The vast enrichment of the financial oligarchy—which maintains an iron grip on the entire political and media establishment—has developed in conjunction with the decline of American capitalism and the erosion of its industrial foundations. As made clear by the actions of the Obama administration, there exists no constituency within the ruling class for social reform.

Schwarzenegger Opens California Fairgrounds to Homeless Camp

Schwarzenegger Opens California Fairgrounds to Homeless Camp

By Michael B. Marois

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California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said a make-shift tent city for the homeless that sprang up in the capital city of Sacramento will be shut down and its residents allowed to stay at the state fairgrounds.

Schwarzenegger said he ordered the state facility known as Cal-Expo to be used for three months to serve the 125 tent city residents, some of them displaced by the economic recession. The encampment may be shut down within a month, said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The move comes after the Sacramento City Council last night agreed to spend $880,000 to expand homeless programs.

“Together with the local government and volunteers, we are taking a first step to ensure the people living in tent city have a safe place to stay, with fresh water, healthy conditions and access to the services they need,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “And I am committed to working with Mayor Johnson to find a permanent solution for those living in tent city.”

California, home to one of every eight Americans, has been particularly hard hit by the housing market collapse after many residents turned to exotic mortgages to afford homes. The tent city, which has long existed along the banks of the America River, gained national attention last month when some of its recently homeless residents were featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

The state has one of the highest rates of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based seller of real estate data. California home prices dropped 41 percent last month from a year earlier, more than double the U.S. decline, as surging foreclosures drove down values, the state Association of Realtors said today.

State Unemployment

The state’s unemployment rate rose to 10.5 percent in February, as construction, financial and manufacturing companies eliminated jobs, leaving the most-populous U.S. state with one of the nation’s worst job markets.

The shelter at Cal-Exp currently houses about 150 people. It will be expanded by another 50 beds, and will include facilities for families with children.

US deploys warships as North Korea prepares to launch missile

US deploys warships as North Korea prepares to launch missile

The US has deployed two warships with anti-missile capabilities in the waters off Japan as tensions mount over North Korea's plans to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile capable of striking Alaska.

By Peter Foster

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USS Chafee:The US Navy spokesman said the two destroyers, the USS McCain and USS Chafee, had left Sasebo port in southwestern Japan Photo: AP

The deployment comes as America, Japan and South Korea threaten North Korea with 'serious consequences' if it proceeds with plans to conduct the missile test in defiance of a 2006 UN resolution.

North Korea, which has informed international agencies of its plan to fire the missile between April 4 and 8, says the launch is a "satellite test" which it is entitled to make under international law.

Recent satellite imagery has shown that the North Korea has now assembled two stages of the three-stage Taepodong-2 missile on a launch pad in the country's northeast. Experts estimate that missile could be ready to fire within four days.

Japan has threatened to shoot down the missile if it crosses over Japanese territory, a move which Pyongyang has already said it would consider an "act of war".

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has warned any launch would threaten to end the six-party talks over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme. The talks have been stalled since December in a dispute over how to verify its disarmament.

"This provocative action, in violation of the United Nations mandate, will not go unnoticed and there will be consequences," she said while on a visit to Mexico, warning that the US would put the issue before the UN Security Council for additional sanctions.

It is unclear if China, Pyongyang's only major ally which has held talks with senior figures from both North and South Korea in the last week, would support a US move to deepen sanctions.

North Korea also continues to hold two Korean-American journalists who it arrested over a week ago after they strayed across North Korea's border with China while on a reporting assignment.

The US Navy spokesman said the two destroyers – the USS McCain and USS Chafee – equipped with Aegis technology capable of tracking and destroying missiles had left Sasebo port in southwestern Japan. "I would say we are ready for any contingencies," he added.

The approach launch is typical of the brinkmanship of North Korean diplomacy, analysts say, however relations on the Korean Peninsular now said to be at their lowest ebb for a decade.

A successful satellite launch would be both a blow to South Korea, which hopes to launch its own satellite later this year, and a huge fillip for Kim Jong-il, the North's ailing dictator who was reported to have a had a stroke last year.

"A successful launch, coupled with international recognition of its nuclear capabilities, would also help secure the survival of the regime," added Koh Yu-hwan, Dongguk University professor of North Korea studies in Seoul.

Bush Law Continued

Bush Law Continued

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Most of us have a favorite image from the inauguration of President Obama. Mine shows soldiers at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base replacing George W. Bush's picture with a portrait of the new president. A day later, Obama ordered that Guantánamo be closed within a year, signaling that his administration would take a stance on terrorism very different from his predecessor's. Since then, however, he has taken several actions suggesting that the differences may be less marked than that first day implied. Certainly there have been significant improvements in US policy, particularly Washington's approach to international law. But disturbingly, the Obama administration has continued the Bush administration's attempts to shield illegal exercises of executive authority from judicial review.

The Obama administration's ambivalent approach was perhaps most evident in its March 13 announcement that it was abandoning the Bush label of "enemy combatant" for those held at Guantánamo. But at the same time, in a legal brief filed in a Guantánamo detention case, the administration advanced a new definition of who may be detained--which was immediately criticized by human rights groups as differing only marginally from that used by President Bush.

In fact, there are some significant shifts in this approach to detention. Obama's administration rests its authority squarely on Congress's Authorization to Use Military Force Against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, abandoning George W. Bush's claim to inherent executive authority. And it insists that the power to detain must be interpreted in light of law-of-war principles, displaying a refreshing desire to conform its actions to international law.

Critics correctly point out that the principal definitional difference is that where Bush claimed the right to detain all supporters of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, Obama asserts the right to detain only those who provided "substantial support" to these groups. "Substantial" is admittedly a dangerously vague term. It would be far better if Congress set forth in explicit terms who may be detained and under what circumstances. But the Obama administration argues that its detention authority should be framed by reference to the laws of war, which authorize detention, during traditional wars, of those who provide substantial support to enemy forces. If the administration and the courts interpret that term narrowly, it may turn out to be a more significant difference than it first appears. Bush's lawyers infamously told a judge that a woman who unwittingly donated to a charity that turned out to be an Al Qaeda front could be detained as an enemy combatant. The Obama administration has not only rejected that view but has agreed that its detention authority must be limited by the laws of war.

More troubling, however, is the administration's stance on several other lawsuits. In all of them the bottom line is that executive wrongdoing in connection with the conflict with Al Qaeda should be shielded from judicial scrutiny. The administration has told courts that lawsuits challenging the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition programs must be dismissed because they involve "state secrets." On this theory, the executive can avoid any judicial review of criminal and unconstitutional wrongdoing simply by declaring its wrongs a secret.

The Obama administration has also adhered to the Bush administration's contention that the right of habeas corpus does not extend to detainees at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The military holds some 600 detainees at Bagram on grounds similar to those it uses to hold prisoners at Guantánamo--and with even fewer rights. Once the Supreme Court said that Guantánamo incarcerations would be subject to judicial oversight, the military simply stopped shipping its captives there, diverting them to Bagram instead. Should the executive branch be permitted to avoid accountability for its detentions simply by incarcerating them in Afghanistan rather than in Cuba?

And in a case seeking damages for torture and other abuse at Guantánamo, the Obama administration has argued that Guantánamo detainees have no constitutional rights to due process, so that even if they were tortured, no constitutional rights were violated. The Supreme Court's ruling last year that the constitutional right of habeas corpus extends to Guantánamo rested on its determination that there is nothing impracticable about extending such rights there. The same reasoning would fully support the extension of due process rights--yet the administration simply says no.

In the same lawsuit, the administration argues further that even if due process protects Guantánamo detainees, suits for damages against federal officials for violating detainees' rights should be dismissed because the suits involve matters of national security and foreign policy that are the "exclusive prerogative" of the political branches--as if the Supreme Court had not already decided three cases directly challenging the legality of Guantánamo detentions.

To sum up: in the one area where it cannot avoid judicial oversight--because the Supreme Court has ruled that Guantánamo detainees have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions via habeas corpus--the Obama administration has advanced a new legal theory for detaining the enemy that may, depending on how it is applied, mark a significant improvement over President Bush's.

But the unifying theme in the rest of the cases is that the courts should back off--no matter how illegally the executive has acted. President Bush undertook a full-scale assault on the courts, on international law and on the rule of law. President Obama, by contrast, has abandoned claims of executive supremacy and shown encouraging signs of a willingness to abide by international law. However, his resistance to judicial oversight and constitutional constraint may render his promises unenforceable in many settings. In the end, Obama seems to say that we, and the courts, should trust him. But we have learned the hard way that trust is not sufficient--the rule of law demands accountability.

Enduring Freedom

Enduring Freedom

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In Afghanistan, this is the problem, because everybody holds a piece of that mirror, and they all look at it and claim that they hold the entire truth.

- Mohsen Makhmalbaf

There was the battle of Mazari Sharif, and the battle of Qala-i-Jangi, and the battle of Tora Bora, and the massacre at Dasht-i-Leili, and the Tamak Farm incident and the slaughter of a wedding party in Uruzgan Province.

There was the Damadola airstrike in Pakistan made by US forces, and there was the Battle of Lashkagar, and the battle of Panjwaii and the Shinwar massacre. There was the battle of Chora, and the Baghlan sugar factory bombing and the battle of Musa Qala.

There was the Kabul Serena Hotel attack, the Kandahar bombing, the Gora Prai airstrike, the Sarposa Prison attack and the bombing of the Indian embassy. There was the battle of Wanat, and the Uzbin Valley ambush, and the Azizabad airstrike and the Angoor Ada raid into Pakistan again.

There was Operation Anaconda and there was Operation Red Wing. There was Operation Mountain Thrust, and Operation Medusa and Operation Mountain Fury. There was Operation Achilles and there was Operation Eagle's Summit.

All of this was, and remains, Operation Enduring Freedom. All of this was, and remains, America's war in Afghanistan.

Our war in Afghanistan began almost 3,000 days ago, on October 7, 2001. Our war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than World War I, World War II, the Civil War, the Korean War, the first Gulf War in Iraq and the second Gulf War in Iraq. If we are still fighting in Afghanistan a year from now, the war will have lasted longer than the American Revolution. Children who were born on the day the war began are now halfway through grammar school.

All the bad economic news and the turmoil in the financial and housing markets have America looking inward these days. We rarely hear anything about Iraq anymore, and even less about Afghanistan. For the record, and to bring everyone up to speed, the following events have taken place in Afghanistan during the last 72 hours.

Taliban fighters killed nine police officers. Three Australian soldiers were wounded. Pakistan's intelligence service was accused of aiding and abetting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Two Afghani farmers were killed by NATO troops. A bomb killed ten civilians in eastern Afghanistan. A Canadian woman held captive by the Taliban was made to plead for her life. Two separate bombings in southern Afghanistan killed 11 people.

All told, it's been a quiet week over there. That is about to change.

President Obama will soon be announcing his administration's plans for the future of our conflict in Afghanistan. Reportedly, this announcement will include the deployment of 17,000 more US soldiers Obama promised during the campaign, and will also reportedly include the deployment of an additional 4,000 troops, as well. "President Obama will deploy as many as 4,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, beyond the 17,000 he authorized last month, as trainers and advisers to the Afghan Army, according to a senior Pentagon official who has seen the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy Obama will unveil Friday," wrote The Washington Post.

"Since the United States invaded Iraq six years ago," reported the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday, "its attention, effort, and military know-how has tilted toward the Gulf. Perhaps as soon as Friday, President Obama is expected to shift that focus, announcing a new strategy for Afghanistan and the neighbor with which it is entwined, Pakistan. Yet the challenges presented by Afghanistan are an order of magnitude greater than they were in Iraq - involving a state with virtually no rule of law, a government rife with opium-fueled corruption, and an insurgency spanning two nations and entrenched in some of the world's most inhospitable terrain."

"President Barack Obama insisted on Sunday that military force alone would not end the war in Afghanistan," reported Reuters on Sunday, "and suggested a U.S. 'exit strategy' could be part of a new comprehensive policy he is expected to unveil soon. Obama, in an interview on CBS's '60 Minutes' program, previewed in broad terms his administration's review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy based on recommendations from senior U.S. officials and consultations with allies."

For the last seven years, the war in Afghanistan has been a collective effort shared among the United States and several other countries by way of NATO. That also appears to be changing soon. "After years of often testy cooperation with NATO and resentment over unequal burden-sharing," reported the Washington Post on Thursday, "the United States is taking unabashed ownership of the Afghan war. Even as the U.S. military expands its control over the battlefield, the number of American civilian officials will also grow by at least 50 percent - to more than 900 - under the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy Obama will announce as early as tomorrow, according to administration officials. American diplomats and development experts plan to spread into relatively peaceful western and northern regions of Afghanistan that until now were left to other NATO governments. New U.S. resources and leadership also will be brought to bear over critical issues such as counter-narcotics efforts and strengthening local government institutions."

"The Americanization of the war is visible in the turbulent south," continued the Post's report, "where the regional NATO command, led by a Dutch general, with Dutch, British, Danish and U.S. troops, faces the primary Taliban threat. Most of the additional U.S. troops will deploy there, and dozens of C-130 transport aircraft land at the Kandahar airfield every day with pallets of supplies. In a dusty parking lot not far from the main runway, more than 200 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, await the supplementary U.S. troops. When they arrive, there will be more American personnel at the Kandahar base than at the current largest U.S. facility - at Bagram, north of Kabul, the capital. 'This will become an American headquarters,' one non-U.S. military officer in southern Afghanistan said of Kandahar. 'They're going to have almost three times as many troops as any other NATO member here. And that's going to mean they'll be in charge.'"

Is the Obama administration simply working with the hand it was dealt by George W. Bush, or are the same Bush administration mistakes about to be committed all over again? Norman Solomon, writing for Truthout on Tuesday, noted, "We desperately need a substantive national debate on US military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While the Obama administration says that the problems of the region cannot be solved by military means, the basic approach is reliance on heightened military means. And so, with chillingly familiar echoes, goes the perverse logic of escalating the war in Afghanistan. 'Strategic patience' - more and more war - will be necessary so that those who must die will not have died in vain."

However this all shakes out, one thing is certain: Both the United States and Afghanistan are likely going to be Enduring Freedom for a long time to come.