Thursday, May 14, 2009

US Preparing For War With Russia

Pentagon Preparing For War With The Enemy: Russia

by Rick Rozoff

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"Today the situation is much more serious than before August 2008....[A] possible recurrence of war will not be limited to the Caucasus.

"The new President of the United States did not bring about any crucial changes in relation to Georgia, but having a dominant role in NATO he still insists on Georgia's soonest joining of
the Alliance. If it happens, the world would face a more serious threat than the crises of the Cold War.

"Under the new realities, Georgia's war against South Ossetia may easily turn into NATO's war against Russia. This would be a third world war." (
Irina Kadzhaev, South Ossetia political scientist, South Ossetia Information Agency, April 2009


On May 12 James Mattis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation [ACT] and commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, spoke at a three-day symposium called Joint Warfighting 09 in Norfolk, Virginia, where NATO's Allied Command Transformation is based, and stated: "I come with a sense of urgency. The enemy is meeting like this as well." [1]

A local newspaper summarized his speech:

"Mattis outlined a future in which wars will not have clearly defined beginnings and ends. What is needed, he said, is a grand strategy, a political framework that can guide military planning." [2]

He failed, for what passes for diplomatic reasons no doubt, to identify who "the enemy" is, but a series of recent developments, or rather an intensification of ongoing ones, indicate which nation it is.

Last week the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. Kevin Chilton, told reporters during a Defense Writers Group breakfast on May 7 "that the White House retains the option to respond with physical force - potentially even using nuclear weapons - if a foreign entity conducts a disabling cyber attack against U.S. computer networks...."

An account of his talk added "the general insisted that all strike options, including nuclear, would remain available to the commander in chief in defending the nation from cyber strikes."

Chilton "said he could not rule out the possibility of a military salvo against a nation like China, even though Beijing has nuclear arms," [3] though the likely first target of alleged retaliation against equally alleged cyber attacks would be another nation already identified by US military officials as such: Russia.

In late April and early May of 2007 the government of Estonia, which was inducted into NATO in 2004 and whose president was and remains Toomas Hendrik Ilves, born in Sweden and raised in the United States (where he worked for Radio Free Europe), reported attacks on websites in the country which were blamed on Russia.

Over two years later no evidence has been presented to substantiate the claim that Russian hackers, much less the government itself, were behind the attacks, though it remains an article of faith among US and other Western officials and media that they were.

The response from American authorities in the first place was so sudden and severe, even before investigations were conducted, as to strongly suggest that if the attacks hadn't been staged they would need to be invented.

Right afterward Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne stated, "Russia, our Cold War nemesis, seems to have been the first to engage in cyber warfare."

The US Air Force news source from which the above is quoted added that the events in Estonia days earlier "did start a series of debates within NATO and the EU about the definition of clear military action and it may be the first test of the applicability of Article V of the NATO charter regarding collective self-defense in the non-kinetic realm." [4]

NATO's Article 5 is a collective military defense provision, in fact a war clause, one which first and to date for the only time has been used to support the protracted and escalating war in Afghanistan.

References to it, then, are not to be taken lightly.

On a visit to Estonia last November Pentagon chief Robert Gates met with the country's prime minister, Andrus Ansip, and "discussed Russian behavior and new cooperation on cyber security...."

It was reported that "Ansip said NATO will operate under the principle of Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty, which states that an attack on one ally is treated as an attack on all," and "We are convinced that Estonia, as a member of NATO, will be very well defended.”[5]

That the repeated mention of NATO's Article 5 continued a year and a half after the alleged cyber attacks when none had occurred in the interim is revealing.

At the beginning of this month the Pentagon announced that it was launching what it called a "digital warfare force for the future," at Fort Meade in Maryland under the control of the U.S. Strategic Command, whose chief, Gen. Kevin Chilton, was quoted earlier as threatening the use of force up to and including nuclear weapons.

The initiative was characterized in a news report as follows:

"Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, also the Pentagon's leading cyber warfare commander, said the U.S. is determined to lead the global effort to use computer technology to deter or defeat enemies...." [6]

The Pentagon is a synecdoche for the Department of Defense and everything related to its activities is cloaked in the same euphemism, so when pressed the US will insist its new cyber warfare project is intended for defensive purposes only. Any nation which and people who have been on the receiving end of US Defense Department actions know better. The new US cyber warfare command, its rationale based on a supposed Russian threat emanating from a non-military incident in the Baltics over two years ago, will be used to cripple the computer systems of any nation targeted for direct military assault, thus rendering them defenseless, and will be particularly effective for space-based and Star Wars (missile shield, interceptor missiles) first strike plans.

On the same day the report of General Alexander's pledge to "defeat enemies" appeared another news item reported that "A quasi-classified satellite that will serve as an engineering trailblazer for ballistic missile tracking technologies flew into space Tuesday [May 12]." [7]

It was a Space Tracking and Surveillance System Advanced Technology Risk Reduction (STSS-ATRR) satellite, which "is part of a space-based system for the Missile Defense Agency.

"Sensors aboard the STSS-ATRR satellite and on the ground will communicate with other systems to defend against incoming ballistic missiles." [8]

A few days earlier the California-based manufacturer Ducommun in a news report titled Ducommun Incorporated Announces Delivery of Nanosatellites to U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command announced that "its Miltec Corporation subsidiary delivered flight-ready nanosatellites to the U.S. Army pace and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT) in Huntsville, Alabama on April 28, 2009."

The delivery was "the completion of the first U.S. Army satellite development program since the Courier 1B communications satellite in 1960."[9]

Military satellites used for neutralizing the potential of a rival nation not so much to launch a first strike but to respond to one blur the distinction between so-called Son of Star Wars missile shield projects and full-fledged militarization of space.

A recent Russian commentary saw it in just that manner:

"Withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty signified a switch to the testing and deployment of a global missile defense system, with a view to fully removing the deterrent potential of China, and partially that of Russia.

"Washington [is] still trying to eliminate international legal restrictions on the formation of a system, which would theoretically make it invulnerable towards an act of retaliation, and even a launch-under-attack strike." [10]

Added to which is another "quasi-classified" subterfuge related to a prospective resumption of Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) talks between the US And Russia.

American Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller stated this week "that the US is not prepared to cut warheads removed from delivery means and kept in storage." [11]

So in addition to US plans to deploy ground-, sea-, air- and space-based anti-missile systems primarily around and against Russia (Poland, the Czech Republic, Norway, Britain, Japan and Alaska to date), the Pentagon will hold in reserve nuclear warheads for activation without a monitoring mechanism provided to Russian inspectors and arms reduction negotiators.

On May 6 Euronews conducted an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who warned, "The way it [the US anti-ballistic missile shield] is designed has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program. It is aimed at Russian strategic forces, deployed in the European part of the Russian Federation." [12]

To add to the concerns of Russia and other nations, On April 30 the US established a Navy Air and Missile Defense Command (NAMDC) at the Naval Support Facility at Dahlgren, Virginia.

"NAMDC is the lead organization for Navy, joint and combined Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD). NAMDC serves as the single warfare center of excellence to synchronize and integrate Navy efforts across the full spectrum of air and missile defense to include air defense, cruise missile defense and ballistic missile defense." [13]

The past two weeks has been a fertile period for stories in this vein and, to bring attention nearer the Earth, the US-based Strategy Page reported from a Russian source that "The United States has bought two Su-27 fighter jets from Ukraine" to "be used to train American military pilots, who may face opponents in them" and that the "US military will use them to test its radar and electronic warfare equipment." [14]

This was at the very moment that the US client in Ukraine, President Viktor Yushchenko, his national poll ratings plummeting to near 1%, signed a directive to prepare for full NATO membership and a few days after a US military delegation visited the country to inspect a tank unit and to plan "reforming the system of combat training...." [15]

In terms of US training for warfare against the Russian Air Force, the Ukrainian development is only the latest in a number of such activities.

Immediately following the nation becoming a full member of NATO, the US 81st Fighter Squadron flew to Constanta, Romania (in which nation the Pentagon has acquired four new bases since) to engage in combat training against Russian MiG-21s.

According to one US pilot present, “It was pretty neat - you’re sitting in a MiG-21 that will be airborne with a MiG-21 pilot within days. This was an arm of the Soviet Union. These pilots were flying before the Soviet Union fell. They have quite a bit of perspective.” [16]

In July of the next year the US 492nd Fighter Squadron was deployed to the Graf Ignatievo Air Base in neighoring Bulgaria to insure the opportunity for "Air Forces from multiple nations to learn about each other’s aircraft tactics and capabilities.

"The pilots of the F-15E Strike Eagles and the MIG-29s and MIG-21s are sharing knowledge of aircraft and tactics as the exercise wraps up its first week of training."

A US Air Force colonel was quoted as saying, “Only two of the 38 aircrew members have had a chance to fly against MIGs. By the time the exercise is over, everyone will have had a chance to either fly in a MIG or fly against one.” [17]

A month afterward the US Air Force 22nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron arrived in Romania for the Viper Lance exercises which "marked the first time U.S. F-16 pilots have trained in Romania" and "where "MiG-21 and F-16 pilots [flew] integrated formations to conduct basic fighter maneuvers, dissimilar air combat training and air-to-ground strike missions...." [18]

This time the quote is from an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot:

"My flight in the backseat of a Lancer [MiG-21] is a good opportunity to look at different aircraft and it's a real privilege and an honor. I want to see what they see from their cockpit, and view a new angle of understanding against our adversaries." [19]

Two weeks ago a US Air Force fighter squadron flew to the Bezmer Air Base in Bulgaria where an American airman said, "This is the first time a USAFE [United States Air Forces in Europe] fighter squadron has deployed to this location....The most rewarding part of this experience is knowing that I am helping the pilots train for war." [20]

To prepare the US for air combat against the full range of Russian military aircraft, India was invited to the annual Red Flag air combat exercises in Alaska in 2007, war games "meant to train pilots from the US, NATO and other allied countries for real combat situations.

"This includes the use of 'enemy' hardware and live ammunition for bombing exercises." [21]

India provided six Sukhoi SU-30MKI fighters which were "particularly interesting to the exercise as [they are] Russian-made, thus
traditionally considered 'hostile.'" [22]

May 1st, on the occasion of the Czech Republic taking over the six-month NATO air patrol rotation in the Baltic skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - five minutes flight from Russia's second largest city of St. Petersburg - a Czech official boasted "The area we are protecting is about three times larger than that of the Czech Republic. This is a NATO outpost."

Lithuanian Air Force Commander Arturas Leita announced that "the Baltic countries would probably ask for the prolongation of the air force mission within NATO until 2018." [23]

From June 8-16 Sweden will host a NATO drill, Loyal Arrow, described as "biggest air force drill ever in the Finnish-Swedish Bothnian Bay," [24], also not far from St. Petersburg, with a British aircraft carrier and more than 50 fighter jets participating.

That exercise will begin exactly a week after the US-led NATO Cooperative Lancer 09 war games end in Georgia on Russia's southern flank.

In speaking of the dangers of the last-named but with equal application to all that has preceded it, the South Ossetian Ministry for Press and Mass Media website recently quoted political scientist Irina Kadzhaev as warning:

"Today the situation is much more serious than before August 2008. The then threat endangered only South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but after Russia's recognition of these states' independence and the conclusion of agreements envisaging the presence of Russian armed forces on their territories, a possible recurrence of war will not be limited to the Caucasus.

"The new President of the United States did not bring about any crucial changes in relation to Georgia, but having a dominant role in NATO he still insists on Georgia's soonest joining of the Alliance. If it happens, the world would face a more serious threat than the crises of the Cold War.

"Under the new realities, Georgia's war against South Ossetia may easily turn into NATO's war against Russia. This would be a third world war."[25]

Notes

1) Virginian-Pilot, May 13, 2009
2) Ibid
3) Global Security, May 12, 2009
4) Air Force Link, June 1, 2007
5) U.S. Department of Defense, November 12, 2008
6) Associated Press, May 5, 2009
7) Space Flight Now, May 5, 2009
8) Pratt & Whitney, May 5, 2009
9) Ducommun Incorporated, April 29, 2009
10) Russian Information Agency Novosti, May 7, 2009
11) Russia Today, May 5, 2009
12) Euronews, May 6, 2009
13) Navy News, April 30, 2009
14) Moscow News, May 11, 2009
15) National Radio Company of Ukraine, April 29, 2009
16) Air Force Link, August 2, 2005
17) U.S. Air Forces in Europe, July 24, 2006
18) Stars and Stripes, August 26, 2006
19) Air Force Link, August 17, 2006
20) Air Force Link, April 28, 2009
21) Indo-Asian News Service, November 26, 2007
22) Avionews (Italy), November 28, 2007
23) Czech News Agency, May 1, 2009
24) Barents Observer, May 7, 2009
25) Ministry for Press and Mass Media of the Republic of South Ossetia, April 27, 2009


New York City demands rent from the homeless

New York City demands rent from the homeless

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The New York City administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently began charging rent to some of the 9,000 homeless families who are presently living in publicly run city shelters. About 2,000 families, including single mothers who have minimum wage or other low-paying jobs, are expected to be affected. They are being told that they must pay hundreds of dollars a month to stay in the shelters. The city claims that their homeless shelter “rent” will not exceed 50 percent of their income.

According to news reports over the past weekend, more than 500 families have already been informed of the new policy, which conjures up images of the poorhouses in Victorian England like the one where the family of Charles Dickens lived for some time during his youth.

The WSWS spoke to residents at the Clinton Family Inn in Manhattan, one of the shelters where families have been told to pay rent or get out.

Yvette at New York City's Clinton Family InnYvette at New York City’s Clinton Family Inn

Yvette, now living at the Clinton Family Inn, had been forced to leave a shelter in Harlem after they demanded back rent. “I had been there for three months and I had to go, due to the fact that they were judging my finances by my gross income. They told me to pay $542 a month, but that comes out of $700 that I keep after I pay $600 for childcare.” Yvette had been sent to PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness), which referred her to the Clinton shelter. She said that she didn’t know what she would do if the Clinton Family Inn made her pay rent.

Selma Ramsey also spoke to the WSWS: “I think it’s bizarre [to charge the homeless rent]. Being here is being down and out. You don’t have much. I can barely afford food.” Ms. Ramsey also spoke of her frustration over her inability to find any help for her efforts to get out of the shelter system. “For four years I’ve applied for housing...and nothing.” Speaking of the rich and the city government, she said, “They don’t care about the hardships of people. Quite frankly, they just don’t care.”

Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society criticized the new policy, calling it “poorly conceived, but even more alarmingly...poorly executed.” Banks pointed out that families were given no explanation of how the rent was calculated. Many families have been callously notified through warnings placed under their doors. “We’ve already had a case of a survivor of domestic violence who was actually locked out of her room,” Banks told the New York Times. One mother of a teenage son reported that the authorities were demanding $1,099 a month in rent out of her $1,700 income as a security guard, which clearly exceeds even the extraordinary 50 percent cap.

The city is basing its punitive new policy on a 1997 New York state law that was not enforced until last week. Apparently a 2007 state audit forced the city to pay back $2.4 million in state housing aid because it had not collected rent money from the homeless. The change in policy stems from that action.

The Bloomberg administration defended the new rules. Robert V. Hess, the city’s commissioner of homeless services, said, “I think it’s hard to argue that families that can contribute to their shelter cost shouldn’t.” Bloomberg himself, the eighth richest man in the United States, with a fortune estimated at $8 billion and a five-story townhouse off Fifth Ave. on the Upper East Side as well as residences in Bermuda, London, Vail, Westchester County and Park Ave., told the media with a straight face, “Everybody else is doing it, and we’re told we have to do it, so we’re going to do it.”

This ruthless attack on the homeless is only the latest in a series of Bloomberg policies designed to punish the poor. In late 2004, for instance, the city adopted the policy of denying federal housing vouchers to the homeless. These vouchers had allowed the working poor to pay their landlords no more than 30 percent of their income in rent, with the balance being paid by the federal government. Bloomberg decided that some families were entering the shelter system in order to obtain the vouchers. The authorities claimed that stopping the voucher supply would lead to a decrease in applications for emergency shelter.

Exactly the opposite happened. The number has steadily increased in the last four years. According to a report issued by the Coalition for the Homeless a few weeks ago, the number of new families entering the system in 2008 is greater than in any year since the 1980s. The 9,400 families currently in shelters represent more than 28,000 people, including 16,000 children.

The report makes clear that the sharp increase in the number of homeless is bound up with the economic crisis and growing unemployment, which has jumped by nearly four percent in the last year alone.

Just since last June, the number of homeless staying in city shelters has risen by 9 percent, and the number of families has risen by 12 percent. In 2008 nearly 110,000 New Yorkers slept in the shelters some time during the year—a 32 percent increase compared to six years ago.

The coalition further reports, “Over the past decade, the number of homeless families sleeping in New York City shelters and welfare hotels has nearly doubled. The average stay for homeless families in the municipal shelter system is currently 10 months.”

In addition to rising joblessness, housing cost, among the steepest in the US, is a major contributor to homelessness. Affordable apartments are fast disappearing. According to the report, between 2005 and 2008, the city lost nearly 55,000 apartments with rents below $800/month and 80,000 more renting for less than $1,000.

Patrick Markee, a spokesman for the Coalition for the Homeless, called the new policy of demanding rent from the homeless “impractical.”

“It’s going to make families stay in shelters longer because they’ll have fewer financial resources,” said Markee.

As the Coalition’s own report demonstrates, however, Bloomberg’s policy is no aberration. It is part and parcel of the decades-long demonization of the poor. The 1997 state law was passed with the aid of the Democrats and on the heels of the Clinton Administration’s so-called welfare reform legislation that set limits on public assistance and forced many into minimum wage dead-end jobs. During this same period, “workfare” began forcing those on welfare to “earn” their pitiful stipend through minimum wage labor replacing municipal workers in such agencies as parks and public transit.

All of these measures were designed to divide the working class while the ruling elite conducted a one-sided class war that methodically impoverished broad layers of the population, while further enriching the wealthiest one percent.

The billionaire mayor, so willing to comply with this state-mandated attack on the poorest sections of the working class, showed no similar willingness to comply when the legislature recently considered raising taxes on the wealthiest sections of the population to help close the record budget deficit. “We love the rich people,” said Bloomberg, explaining that his fellow billionaires and multi-millionaires would pick up and leave the city if they were asked to pay anything more in taxes.

Bloomberg and the Democratic state administration in Albany have sought to deal with their growing budget gaps by cutting services, laying off workers, proposing to increase the city’s sales tax and imposing hikes on transit fares and various fees. All of these regressive measures are designed to place the weight of the crisis created by Wall Street’s financial speculation and criminality squarely on the backs of working people. With the move to collect rent from the homeless, this general policy has reached an unprecedented level of callousness and brutality.

US economic crisis deepens

US economic crisis deepens

By Andre Damon

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A batch of economic figures released this week undermined claims by the White House and Federal Reserve that economic recovery is just around the corner. Retail sales fell for the second month in a row in April, foreclosure activity hit a new record, states announced huge budget shortfalls and home prices continued to decline.

Retail sales of consumer goods to fell by 0.4 percent month-to-month in April, according to figures released Wednesday by the Commerce Department. This was worse than the expected 0.1 increase, and comes together with a downward revision to the previous month’s decline from 1.2 to 1.3 percent.

Consumer spending had increased by 2.2 percent in the first quarter of the year, following a 4.3 percent drop in the last quarter of 2009. The upturn of this figure in January and February, together with rising stock values and an uptick in consumer sentiment, formed the justification for the “green shoots” theory—advanced by the White House and Federal Reserve—that recovery would set in within the next few months.

Retail Sales (Federal Reserve Economic Database)Retail Sales (Federal Reserve Economic Database)

US Gross Domestic Product contracted at an annualized rate of 6.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to a 6.3 percent fall in the last quarter of 2008. Consumer spending makes up 70 percent of GDP. Excluding the 2.2 percent increase in consumer spending, the fourth-quarter data would likely have been worse than that of the previous quarter.

Unemployment also continues to soar. Most economists surveyed last month by the Wall Street Journal said that they think unemployment will not begin to fall for at least another year.

Noting the second consecutive monthly decline in retail sales, Joshua Shapiro of MFR wrote, “We do not view the 2.2% annual rate of increase in consumer spending recorded in the first quarter GDP accounts as the beginning of a recovery in consumption, but rather as a temporary bounce after two quarters of absolutely abysmal results.”

“Although the worst is now over, there is still no evidence of an actual recovery,” noted Paul Dales of Capital Economics. “Greens shoots withering...” added Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics.

The Commerce Department also said business inventories fell less than expected, indicating a slowing adjustment to worse-than-expected sales. Since March of 2008, inventories have fallen by 4.8 percent, while sales have shot down by 15.6 percent.

The housing market, meanwhile, continues to deteriorate. Housing prices fell by 6.2 percent in the first quarter of this year from three months before, according to non-seasonally adjusted figures released Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors. The average home now sells for $169,000, down from $227,600 in 2005.

The latest figures from the Case-Schiller index—released April 28 with a lag of two months—present a similar picture. They show consistent month-to-month declines of around 2 percent from September to February, the latest month available. Both indexes show no slowdown in the collapse of housing prices.

The National Association of Realtors said that housing values had fallen by 14 percent within the last year, and were down by 26 percent from their peak in 2007. Half of the purchases were from first-time homebuyers, many of whom sought to offset economic difficulties buy purchasing a foreclosed home at discount rates.

Forclosure rates, meanwhile, set a new record for the second month running in April, according to Realtytrac.com. Foreclosure activity—which includes default notices, auction notices and repossessions—increased by 1 percent in April, and by 32 percent over the last year. Foreclosure activity was reported on a third of a million mortgages last month. If last month’s rate continues, there will be 4 million properties facing foreclosure this year alone.

Realtytrac said that foreclosure rates are set to rise even further in the coming months, since a number of temporary freezes on foreclosure activity ended last month.

All of this has created a social crisis affecting all parts of American society and putting tremendous strains on what remains of the social safety net. State governments, which provide the bulk of these services, have seen their budgets devastated by the crisis. The 47 states that have already turned in their first-quarter finances saw their revenues fall by $20 billion, or 12.6 percent, according to a study published Wednesday by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute.

Robert Ward, deputy director the organization, said that state revenues are set to fall still further as the downturn progresses. “We don’t normally use the word plummet but that is the operative word right now,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

The report came a day after a New York Times reported that the US government had only spent 6 percent, or $47.2 billion, of its promised $787 billion economic stimulus package. In contrast to this figure, the US government has thus far spent more than four trillion dollars in “financial stability operations” (i.e., bank bailouts), according to the congressional panel that oversees the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Despite the relatively miniscule sums thus far expended, Vice President Joe Biden said that the government is “ahead of schedule in most programs” relating to the stimulus plan, according to the New York Times. The government said that the stimulus bill had already ‘created or saved’150,000 jobs, a claim that is belied by the fact that the economy is shedding more than half a million jobs a month.

But despite the administration’s promises of aid, states are accelerating layoffs. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the state of Washington is planning 1,000 layoffs in public colleges and thousands more in public schools. Massachusetts announced another 250 layoffs, in addition to the thousand laid off last year, while Arizona has already laid off eight hundred workers this year. The state is cutting back social services and has stopped investigating some cases of child abuse, according to the Post.

The Obama Administration has been quick to proclaim imminent recovery, not from naive optimism but from cynical motives. Its aim was to hide the recovery of bank profits, the speedy repaying of government loans to Wall Street under the auspices of an expected recovery of the whole economy.

But, as Joshua Shapiro of MFR, an economics consultancy, pointed out in response to the latest figure, “The inescapable fact is that...wage and salary income growth has evaporated, credit is very tight, home prices continue to decline, financial asset values have been decimated, and household balance sheets are generally a wreck.” All of this points to a further contraction of the US economy and rising unemployment.

While millions of people face unemployment, states cut back essential services, and millions of families are uprooted, the banks and Wall Street firms have returned to profitability [See, “The Obama recovery”] It is to mask this basic reality that Obama was so quick to talk about economic ‘glimmers’ and ‘green shoots.’

Obama bows to Republican right and military on torture photos

Obama bows to Republican right and military on torture photos

By Bill Van Auken

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The Obama administration’s decision Wednesday to renege on its promise to comply with a court order and release photographs of US personnel torturing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan represents another capitulation by his administration to mounting pressure from the right and the military-intelligence apparatus.

Speaking briefly to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Obama said that the photographs would “further inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger.”

He claimed that the images are “not particularly sensational” and “would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.” Obama failed to explain what makes the US president the arbiter of what is of “benefit to our understanding.”

The Pentagon, with Obama’s declared support, announced last month that it would release a “substantial number” of photos of US personnel abusing detainees at several prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision was taken in compliance with a decision last September by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals upholding a lower court victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had sought the photographs in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The full appeals court refused to rehear the case.

The photographs, reportedly 44 in all, were set to have been released May 28.

The Bush administration had argued that the release of the photos would generate international outrage and violate the rights of the detainees under the Geneva Conventions, rights that the administration had explicitly claimed had no application to detainees, who were classified as “enemy combatants.”

Apparently, the Obama administration is preparing to repackage the arguments made under George W. Bush, claiming that the release of the photos would threaten national security and, as the president asserted unconvincingly Wednesday, would have a “chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

In making its “national security” case for suppressing the photographs, the Obama administration would likely be compelled to go to the US Supreme Court.

Amplifying on Obama’s statements, an administration spokesman told the media, “The president would be the last to excuse the actions depicted in these photos. That is why the Department of Defense investigated these cases and why individuals have been punished through prison sentences, discharges, and a range of other punitive measures.”

Nothing could more clearly sum up the criminal character of the Obama administration’s decision to prevent the release of these photos. Those subjected to “punitive measures” have consisted of a handful of junior enlisted men, such as those individuals punished in connection with the photographs uncovered in 2004 depicting the horrific treatment of detainees held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The entire point of exposing the photographs of similar abuse from a half dozen other prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan was that they prove that the torture of detainees was not the work of a few “bad apples” or psychopaths in uniform, but was systemic. The photographs showing prisoners at Abu Ghraib being beaten, threatened with attack dogs, piled naked in pyramids, smeared with feces, hanging from shackles and dragged on leashes did not represent an aberration. Rather these odious practices and worse were carried out on orders that came from the White House to the Pentagon and down the military chain of command.

The ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony D. Romero denounced the about-face by the White House. “The Obama administration’s adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “This decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice Department’s failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration.

Romero continued, “It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. In America, every fact and document gets known—whether now or years from now. And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration’s complicity in covering them up. Any outrage related to these photos should be due not to their release but to the very crimes depicted in them. Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated.”

Jameel Jaffar, who argued the case for the ACLU called the decision “inconsistent with the promise of transparency that President Obama has repeated so many times.”

What is to account for the Obama administration’s sudden reversal?

The New York Times cited administration officials arguing that the photographs should be suppressed because “the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan were entering risky, new phases. In Iraq, American combat forces are withdrawing from urban areas and are reducing their numbers nationwide. In Afghanistan, more than 20,000 new troops are flowing in to combat an insurgency that has grown in potency.”

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that Generals Raymond Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, David McKiernan, the recently sacked commander in Afghanistan, and David Petraeus, the chief of US Central Command, which oversees both wars, “have all voiced real concern about this.” He added, “Particularly in Afghanistan, this is the last thing they need.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appearing before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday, said that the generals had “expressed very serious reservations about this and their very, very great worry that release of the photographs will cost American lives. That was all it took for me.”

Obama informed Odierno of his decision at a White House meeting Tuesday, before announcing it to the public.

Thus, Obama bowed to the demands of Gates, Petraeus, Odierno and McKiernan, all of whom were placed in their present positions by the same Bush administration that instituted torture as a standard operation procedure for the military and the CIA.

Even more importantly, Obama’s U-turn on the question of the torture photos has been carried out in the face of a concerted campaign led by former Vice President Dick Cheney to defend torture and portray the new administration’s decision to repudiate “enhanced interrogation techniques” and to release Justice Department memos justifying torture methods as paving the way for new terrorist attacks.

This has been accompanied by an attempt to justify the crimes of the Bush administration in relation to torture by emphasizing the complicity of key Democrats, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who were briefed on the use of waterboarding and other acts of torture being carried out against detainees and voiced no objection.

This effort has apparently been spearheaded by the CIA itself, which leaked documents detailing the number of briefings provided to members of Congress on the ongoing torture of detainees beginning in 2002.

There is no doubt that Obama is retreating in the face of this offensive by the Republican right and the national security complex. More fundamentally, however, the administration has made it clear from the outset that it has no interest in seeing any serious investigation of the torture carried out under the Bush administration, much less in the prosecution of those who ordered these practices, from Bush, Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and other cabinet members on down.

Its aim is to preserve intact the police-state infrastructure erected by the Bush administration in its “global war on terror,” while continuing to wage the wars of aggression that the previous government began in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This policy of political cowardice and complicity has inevitably turned Obama himself into a defender of torture, using the same “national security” arguments as the Bush administration to cover up its crimes.

US: Cuts in Social Security, Medicare to pay for bank bailouts

US: Cuts in Social Security, Medicare to pay for bank bailouts

By Tom Eley

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A government report made public Tuesday indicates that Social Security and Medicare will deplete their trust funds more quickly than previously forecast. This has sparked new demands from within the US financial elite for substantial cuts in the two entitlement programs, which pay retirement and medical benefits for tens of millions of working class Americans.

The report was issued by the programs’ trustees, a group of four Obama administration officials headed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Because regressive payroll taxes on workers’ earnings fund the two programs, mounting unemployment has worsened the projections. Since December 2007, 5.7 million jobs have been lost, and the official unemployment rate now approaches 9 percent.

The slump has slowed the rate of inflation to below the level required by law to trigger a cost-of-living raise for Social Security recipients. As a result, the trustees project that in 2010 and 2011, for the first time since automatic cost-of-living raises were incorporated into Social Security in the 1970s, there will be no increase in retirement benefits, and only a minuscule 1.4 percent rise in 2012.

Since the trustees base their projections of the fiscal state of both programs by estimating future economic growth, the current slump has moved forward the projected point at which each program will begin to run a deficit. Social Security currently operates at a surplus, which the report anticipates will end in 2016, when the program would finally have to begin withdrawing from its own fund—potentially cutting into the other areas where the federal government currently funnels the money. The effective freeze in retirement benefits will be combined with substantially higher monthly premiums for many Medicare recipients.

Even by its alarmist critics’ own admission, Social Security is not about to collapse under its own weight. It would deplete its funds by 2045, thirty years from now, according to the trustees’ report. For years, Social Security funds have been used to pay directly or indirectly for reactionary federal budget priorities—including tax cuts for the rich, bank bailouts, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has shelled out hundreds of billions, no strings attached, to the biggest financial institutions, under the false rationale that this would “kick-start” lending and generate jobs. All told, between direct cash infusions, loans, and guarantees on debt, Washington has handed over around $10 trillion to Wall Street in less than a year. In comparison, Medicare would need $13 trillion and Social Security $5 trillion over the next 75 years to remain solvent, according to the report. In other words, retirement benefits and healthcare benefits for several generations of the elderly could be secured at the cost of one year’s bailout of the financial aristocracy.

But the vast payouts to Wall Street and the imperialist wars abroad require the plundering of Social Security and Medicare. After giving hundreds of billions to the banks and setting a new record for military spending, Obama has no other credible target for “fiscal discipline.” Yesterday the White House revised upwards its budget deficit estimate by 5 percent from February to $1.84 trillion.

Secretary Geithner’s dual role as Wall Street frontman and “trustee” of the retirement and health care for the working class underscores the duplicitous nature of the Obama administration. Disregarding the trillions he has handed over to the banks, Geithner claimed yesterday that “there is no more important long-term fiscal measure than gaining control of the growth of Medicare costs.”

The first target for cuts will be Medicare, followed by Social Security. Geithner explained: “After we have passed health-care reform that puts our nation on a path to lower growth in health-care costs and expanded affordable coverage, this president will work to build a bipartisan consensus to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security.”

Geithner’s reference to “bipartisan consensus” is Washington code for the sort of reform that can bring the most far-right, pro-market forces aboard. To make sure the significance of this was not lost, Geithner reiterated that Obama “explicitly rejects the notion that Social Security is untouchable politically.” Republican lawmakers reacted favorably.

Thus, after only four months, the historical significance of the Obama administration’s “domestic agenda” has come into focus. As it took a Democratic president, Bill Clinton to undo welfare, it will be a Democrat in the White House who takes the axe to Medicare and that last vestige of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Social Security.

The freeze in cost of living increases for Social Security and increased user payments for Medicare are only the beginning. The Obama administration used the release of the new data to amp up its demands for what it calls a “major overhaul” of health care in the US.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, also a trustee of the two programs, called the report “a wake-up call for anyone concerned about Medicare. ... it’s another sign that we can’t wait for real, comprehensive health care reform.”

In fact, the revelations on Social Security and Medicare only served to underline that Obama’s health care “reform” will be predicated on a sharp curtailment of the provision of medical services to the working class. The entire effort will take as its starting and ending point the defense of the profit margins of the various “players” in the health care industry—the insurance corporations, the HMOs and the pharmaceuticals.

Earlier this week, Obama gained pledges from representatives of five health industry trade groups and the Service Employees International Union that they would “try” to rein in costs by 1.5 percent per year for the coming decade. There will be no penalties for non-compliance and Congress is likely to authorize generous tax incentives to pay for cooperation. Obama claims that the voluntary pledges could result in an increase in annual health care costs of 5.5 percent compared to the currently forecast 7 percent for the coming years. In other words, even in the best-case scenario, the health care burden on workers would increase only slightly less rapidly.

The industry players have been tempted to cooperate with potentially lucrative promises from the Obama administration. “Groups like the insurance industry hope that cuts to their payments would be offset by new rules that would require all Americans” to pay for private insurance plans, the Wall Street Journal reports. Other groups “want to head off regulations that could pose new burdens or curb their profits.” (“Health-Care Providers Pledge to Try to Curb Costs.”)

Frozen out of Obama’s discussion on health care reform are advocates of government-run or “single-payer” health insurance schemes, such as those that prevail—and are being rolled back—in Canada and Western Europe.

On Tuesday, police removed about thirty nurses and doctors from Senate Finance Committee hearings convened to consider financing changes to the health care system. The health care workers had launched a protest against the exclusion of single-payer advocates from the discussion.

Any new health care bill will be funded by cuts in other social programs and taxes on workers. On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that a health reform bill would be on the House floor by July 31. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, “the final financing package is likely to include a mix of tax increases and spending cuts in federal health programs. Among the possibilities are tax increases on alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and sugary soft drinks, and restrictions on other health care-related tax breaks, such as flexible spending accounts.”

An article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, “Idea on Hill: Taxing Health Benefits,” pointed to a growing consensus among lawmakers and Obama administration officials that workers’ health care benefits should be taxed to pay for any reform.

Ensuring the best health care and a secure retirement for all is not a technical, but a political question. The looming attack on Social Security and the transparent bankruptcy of Obama’s health care “reform” are dictated by powerful financial interests who believe that workers should work until they can work no longer, and that thereafter they should expect little or nothing in the way of public assistance or medical care to maintain themselves. That is considered too costly.

There is no resolution outside of a struggle against this financial aristocracy. The medical industry must be wrested from the hands of the insurers, pharmaceuticals and for-profit hospital chains and placed under the democratic control of its doctors, nurses and health care workers, who will determine how medicine’s enormous potential can be best deployed to meet human needs, ensuring long and healthy retirements.

GM Europe and the global fight for jobs

GM Europe and the global fight for jobs

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The threatened bankruptcy of General Motors epitomises the social fate of millions of workers under conditions of global recession. It raises the burning necessity for a united offensive against efforts to place the burden of the capitalist crisis onto the backs of the working class, and for a political rebellion against the trade unions and their policy of economic nationalism.

General Motors only survives due to a combined $21 billion-plus bailout by the Obama administration in the United States. As with the trillions squandered on bank and corporate handouts, however, the funds are not to safeguard the livelihoods of its tens of thousands of employees, but to guarantee the interests of the international stock markets and financial institutions. Consequently, GM is using its threatened insolvency to press forward with a massive restructuring operation in the US and to dispose of its European operations in Germany, Italy, Spain, Britain, Belgium, Sweden, France and Russia.

Only the mobilization of the entire workforce of GM—along with workers at its suppliers and at the corporations presently bidding for GM Europe—can defeat such a global onslaught.

Support for such an offensive exists amongst auto workers. In France “bossnappings” are one expression of widespread anger and a spirit of resistance, especially in the auto industry. Workers have mounted occupations and industrial actions at Visteon in England and Northern Ireland, Caterpillar and Continental tyres in France including joint protests with workers in Germany, as well as protests at threatened Fiat plants in Italy.

But the unions throughout Europe, like the United Auto Workers (UAW) in the US, have worked to suppress all such actions. They have lined up behind “their” governments and competing corporations to demand “their” national industry is safeguarded at the expense of workers in other countries. In return, the unions are offering to help restructure Opel, Vauxhall, Saab and their suppliers by imposing job losses, speed-ups and cuts in wages and pensions.

GM Europe directly employs 55,000 workers, with the largest concern being Opel. The Italian car company Fiat, which employs over 80,000 people, is the favoured bidder for Opel. Having recently taken a share in the bankrupt Chrysler company, Fiat’s plan is to create a separate $106 billion company that will be one of the world’s “Big Five”.

Any such move will be at the direct expense of auto workers. A leaked plan revealed that discussions in Germany initially proposed 18,000 job losses and the closure of 10 assembly and component sites. German jobs would be prioritized, while the entire Vauxhall operation in the UK employing over 4,000 would be closed. Opel’s sole plant in Belgium, which employs 2,600 workers, would also be shut, along with plants in Spain and Austria and three Fiat factories in Italy and Poland. Even so, there would still be mass redundancies and possible closures in Germany.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line in related industries. There are 12 million jobs dependent on the auto industry in the European Union, which is the world's largest producer of motor vehicles. Over seven million jobs are dependent on auto manufacture in the US.

In what amounts to a major shakedown operation, Fiat head Sergio Marchionne went straight from his negotiations with the German government and trade unions to discuss with the Brown government in Britain and the Unite trade union. Fiat is pressing for up to seven billion euros in subsidies and loan guarantees, along with major concessions from the trade unions. Without this, the company’s prospects are grim. Its debt in recent months has soared to $8.6 billion and its bonds have been downgraded to junk status.

Fiat hopes to exploit both national antagonisms within Europe and the collective desire of European capital to compete with the US and its other major rivals. Any government aid forthcoming will only be to aid major cuts and the pursuit of a trade war.

The trade unions share this outlook and are hostile to any cross-border struggle by auto workers that would jeopardize the close relationship between the unions, governments and the corporations.

In Germany, IG Metall is supporting a rival bid for Opel by Canadian-Austrian auto supplier Magna. In Britain, Unite is concerned solely with the fate of Vauxhall, while the Italian unions complain that Fiat is not sufficiently prioritizing national interests. In France, the CGT union campaigns for a “sales offensive” by Renault, while complaining that buying cars from other countries is ecologically unsound.

The nationalism of the trade unions is exemplified by the European Trade Union Confederation’s decision to organize European Action Days between May 14-16 in Madrid, Brussels, Prague and Berlin. The confederation is not proposing a pan-European action, instead urging that a “New Deal” is struck with the various governments. The demonstration organised by Britain’s Unite makes no mention of the situation facing European workers, calling for “Action by our government to defend manufacturing on the scale of our EU competitors”.

The trade unions are not workers’ organizations. The income and privileges of the trade union bureaucracy is entirely separate from the fate of those workers it nominally represents, and it is fully integrated into the structures of corporate management and the state. This finds its most finished expression in the UAW’s potential majority share in the proposed new Chrysler corporation, and its assumption of direct responsibility for pushing through job and wage cuts, and the gutting of health and pension benefits.

This transformation of the UAW into a business enterprise is not merely an American phenomenon. In Germany, trade union representatives occupy half the seats on the Opel supervisory boards and work hand in glove with company management and the government. During the recent wave of job losses at BMW in England, trade union representatives admitted that they had concealed the planned redundancies from their members until the last moment.

Whatever the immediate outcome of the fight for GM Europe and its various sectors, no job is secure. Workers are being pitted against one another in a fratricidal race to the bottom, in which there will be no winners.

The comparisons between the present world economic crisis with that of the 1930s must sound a warning. Once again, capitalist breakdown is leading to the growth of economic nationalism and protectionism, threatening trade and military war.

The auto companies must be taken out of the control of the private corporations and transformed into public utilities, democratically owned and controlled by working people themselves. Only on the basis of a socialist perspective is it possible to defend modern auto production facilities and produce environmentally friendly and affordable autos while developing a new viable transport model for the future.

The struggle against globally organised corporations must itself be international. Only by marshalling the immense resources of Europe’s highly integrated economy is it possible to meet social needs. This means the fight for the United Socialist States of Europe as an integral component of a broader appeal to workers in the US, Asia, Latin America and throughout the world for class unity in the face of the common enemy.

This perspective can only be realised through new independent rank and file organisations, formed in a root and branch rebellion against the trade union leadership that functions as a fifth column of management. It requires the building of new internationalist and socialist parties of the working class throughout Europe, as sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

Pundits Blame You for Bush and Cheney's Torture Policies

Hey Americans, the Pundits Blame You for Bush and Cheney's Torture Policies

By Rory O'Connor

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What is it about torture that is so seductive to our mainstream media?

First, our leading (and often "liberal") commentators and analysts, writing in supposedly respectable publications such as Newsweek and The Atlantic, tried to appear as tough-minded believers in realpolitik by siding with such REALLY tough-minded believers as Dick Cheney when he led our country over to "the dark side."

Then multiple Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman -- ever consistent and persistent in his excuse making for the powerful -- hailed, in a recent column, Barack ("Split the baby") Obama's "torturous compromise" to expose, but not prosecute, those responsible for violating our Constitution and international law by torturing in our names. This despite the fact that, as Friedman accurately noted, "more than 100 detainees died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, with up to 27 of those declared homicides by the military. They were allegedly kicked to death, shot, suffocated or drowned. Look, our people killed detainees, and only a handful of those deaths have resulted in any punishment of U.S. officials."

Then Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group, agreed with Friedman's contention that there should be no torture prosecutions because we had all "acquiesced" in the Bush-Cheney Torture Agenda; we were all "the President's accomplices," and thus "pursuing criminal charges would be too hard legally and politically and too easy morally.' According to Weisberg's twisted morality and logic, "Prosecuting Bush and his men won't absolve the rest of us for what we let them do."

His explanation for this astounding conclusion is simply that "everyone knew" about the torture -- so no one should be prosecuted for it:

"Congress was informed about what was happening and raised no objection. The public knew, too. By 2003, if you didn't understand that the United States was inflicting torture on those deemed enemy combatants, you weren't paying much attention. This is part of what makes applying a criminal justice model to those most directly responsible such a bad idea. The issue we need to come to terms with is not just who in the Bush administration did what but how we were collectively complicit in their decisions."

Unfortunately, seeing and hearing leading and allegedly liberal media figures such as Weisberg and Friedman blame the rest of us for the Bush-Cheney moral failings -- and then claim that prosecuting senior officials who break the law will "rip our country apart" -- has now become as common as seeing and hearing the likes of NewsweekNBC News correspondent Jonathan Alter, or The Atlantic's National Correspondent Mark Bowden, say things like "In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to torture," which can "be morally sound," as Bowden wrote. "It may be clear that coercion is sometimes the right choice." Senior Editor and

"Couldn't we at least subject them to psychological torture, like tapes of dying rabbits or high-decibel rap?" Alter demanded. "How about truth serum, administered with a mandatory IV? Or deportation to Saudi Arabia, land of beheadings?"

As Bowden explained in the formerly august pages of The Atlantic, "The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matterTorture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced."

That makes US accomplices? I think not - remember, the same media figures told us, falsely, that "Some torture clearly works," that "we need to keep an open mind" about it, and that "we'll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that's hypocritical." After all, my fellow "accomplices," as Alter wrote in his Newsweek column shortly after 9/11: "Nobody said this was going to be pretty."

But nobody ever said it would get this ugly, either! As if the calls for torture and the claims that prosecution will "be too hard legally and politically and too easy morally" weren't infuriating enough, we now find the latest media/torture depredation: The Philadelphia Inquirer has had torture architect John Yoo on its payroll as a columnist since last year!

As revealed by Will Bunch in his excellent Attytood blog, the Inquirer now "defends the indefensible" with its warding of a monthly column to Yoo, author of the infamous 'torture memos' that in 2002 and 2003 gave Bush and Cheney "the legal cover to violate the human rights of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, based on the now mostly ridiculed claim that international and U.S. laws against such torture practices did not apply." As Bunch noted, "Working closely with Dick Cheney, Cheney's staff and others, Yoo set into motion the brutal actions that left a deep, indelible stain on the American soul."

Not deep enough, however, to prevent Bunch's "colleagues upstairs at the Philadelphia Inquirer" from signing Yoo up for a regular monthly column. "The Inquirer thus handed Yoo a loud megaphone on what was once a hallowed piece of real estate in American journalism," Bunch pointed out. "To write on the very subjects that have now led Justice Department investigators to reportedly recommend disbarment proceedings against Yoo and has led international prosecutors as well as millions of politically engaged Americans" to consider him worthy of charging with war crimes.

"Yoo's immoral guidance," Bunch says, "aided the United States in sanctioning the torture practice known as waterboarding -- used in the Spanish Inquisition, by despots such as Pol Pot and by Chinese Communists in the Korean War to obtain false confessions from Americans -- as well as slamming detainees into walls, part of a harsh interrogation regime that has been linked to the deaths of at least a dozen U.S. detainees and possibly more. But apparently the Inquirer didn't get the memo on Yoo."

Or maybe they did - and that's why they hired him. After all, defending torture -- and the torturers -- is now a long accepted practice in American journalism, one that brings you much acclaim and access to power, bylines, headlines, prestigious awards, and lucrative contracts.

Plus there are all the reader benefits to consider as well! As editorial page editor Harold Jackson's stated, Inquirer readers now "have been able to get directly from Mr. Yoo his thoughts on a number of subjects concerning law and the courts, including measures taken by the White House post-9/11. That has promoted further discourse, which is the objective of newspaper commentary."

Oh good -- just what we need from our leading media - further discourse on why torture is a good thing from a columnist who is also America's top defender of the practice. And of course let's remember, while we're at it, never to prosecute Yoo for actions that have shredded our democratic values. After all, we're all his accomplices if you believe the media!

Weisberg, Friedman and their ilk should be ashamed of themselves. Kudos instead to Will Bunch, who had it right when he concluded:

"For a much-honored newspaper like the Inquirer to pay someone like Yoo to write a regular column is surely the exclamation point on a dark period in which most of my profession flunked its greatest moral test. As an American citizen, I am still reeling from the knowledge that our government tortured people in my name. As a journalist, the fact that my byline and John Yoo's are now rolling off the same printing press is adding insult to injury."

Baucus Healthcare Plan: Arrest Doctors, Nurses

Baucus Healthcare Plan: Arrest Doctors, Nurses

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Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, the insurance industry-friendly Democrat who is managing show hearings on healthcare reform, has come up with a novel way to express his commitment to care for the almost 50 million Americans who have no healthcare and roughly equal number who have inadequate care.

The senior senator from Montana is ordering the arrest of doctors and nurses.

Medical practitioners who have shown up at Baucus-chaired "roundtable discussions" to demand consideration of a real fix -- the single-payer, genuinely-public reform that assures all Americans will have health care while at the same time holding down costs -- are being taken into custody and removed from the hearing rooms.

At the first Finance Committee session last week, Dr. Margaret Flowers and seven others were taken into custody when they urged Baucus to include witnesses who support single-payer.

Dr. Flowers discussed her arrest on Ed Schultz's MSNBC show, explaining that physicians, nurses and reform groups representing more than 20 million Americans had repeatedly asked to be heard by Baucus and his colleagues.

But the answer from Baucus, who has been charged by the Obama administration with shaping a health-care plan, has been to call in the cops.

"They just don't want to hear from single-payer," explained Dr. Flowers, a pediatrician from Maryland. "We've been trying for months now, meeting with members of Congress, to be included in the hearings at the events that they are holding and they keep excluding us."

After reviewing the details of the Baucus overreaction, Schultz asked: "President Obama: Do you support excluding people from the discussion?"

Obama has not responded.

But Baucus has.

On Tuesday, at the second Finance Committee session, dozens of California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee members and their allies showed up to protest the heavy-handed tactics. At the opening of the hearing, roughly thirty of them rose and turned their backs to Baucus. On their backs were signs reading: "Pass Single-Payer" and "Nurses Say: Patients First." Other signs, reading "Stop AHIP," protested the collaboration by the Obama administration and Baucus with the country's most powerful industry lobby, the America's Health Insurance Plans group.

While the health-insurance lobby has been welcomed to the roundtable discussions organized by Baucus, the nurses and their allies were told to leave. When five objected to their exclusion from the hearing, and to the the exclusion of single-payer from the debate about how to fix a broken private healthcare system, they were arrested. Among those taken into custody were Dr. Judy Dasovich, Dr. Steven Fenichel and California nurses DeAnn McEwen and Sue Cannon.

Their crime? As healthcare professionals, they dared to dissent from the Baucus-led attempt to impose an insurance company approved plan under the guise of "reform."

Dr. Dasovich, a physician from Springfield, Missouri, dared to say, "We request that single-payer advocates be allowed at the table. Healthcare should be for patients, not for profits." Nurse Cannon said, "People at the table have failed Americans for 30 years. We want single-payer at the table. We want guaranteed health care so we can give the care we need, when we need to give it."

When the doctors, nurses and their allies left the Capitol, activist David Swanson reported, members of the CNA/NNOC, Progressive Democrats of American, Code Pink and allied single-payer advocates chanted: "Lock Up Baucus!" and hoisted a sign reading: "Most Physicians Want a Single-Payer National Health System."

At the White House, reporter Helen Thomas asked Obama administration spokesman Robert Gibbs: "Did anyone represent single-payer at this meeting today?"

Gibbs tried to spin it.

"Well, I don't think it was a full meeting of those that might be at the table," the scrambling spokesman said. "I believe that people of varying opinions have been here for different meetings, have been part of the larger healthcare reform summit that was done earlier this year, and I don't doubt that in the coming days differing viewpoints about how to achieve cost savings in increased coverage will be part of that discussion."

If that sounded like a dodge, it was.

But single-payer advocates weren't fooled.

They're raising the banner of real reform higher, with events such as Tuesday's Florence Nightingale Day Protest organized by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and Physicians for a National Health Program. Explained CNA/NNOC: "May 12 is Florence Nightingale's Birthday – an opportunity to honor her advocacy of healthcare by protesting Congressional hearings that have been stacked in favor of the big insurance companies while silencing the voices of nurses and doctors who favor guaranteed healthcare, as in a single-payer, expanded Medicare-for-all system with a single standard of quality care."

Those physicians and nurses groups, along with Progressive Democrats of America and other members of the Leadership Conferences for Guaranteed Health Care rallied Wednesday with feature key congressional advocates for single-payer healthcare, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Michigan Congressman John Conyers, as well as CNA/NNOC executive director Rose Ann DeMoro, Dr. Flowers and actor Mike Farrell.

The rally was held at Washington's Upper Senate Park, a location outside the Capitol where doctors and nurses are able to talk about curing what ails American healthcare without facing arrest.

Indefinite Detention Weighed

Obama Considers Detaining Terror Suspects Indefinitely


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The Obama administration is weighing plans to detain some terror suspects on U.S. soil -- indefinitely and without trial -- as part of a plan to retool military commission trials that were conducted for prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The proposal being floated with members of Congress is another indication of President Barack Obama's struggles to establish his counter-terrorism policies, balancing security concerns against attempts to alter Bush-administration practices he has harshly criticized.

On Wednesday, the president reversed a recent administration decision to release photos showing purported abuse of prisoners at U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama cited concern that releasing the pictures could endanger U.S. troops. Mr. Obama ordered government lawyers to pull back an earlier court filing promising to release hundreds of photos by month's end as part a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The decision to block the detainee photos contrasts with the administration's release last month of Bush-era Justice Department memorandums outlining the interrogation tactics used on prisoners by the Central Intelligence Agency. The release of the memos set off a heated political fight, with supporters of the Bush administration accusing the Obama White House of endangering the country and some of the current president's supporters calling for criminal probes of those responsible for the interrogation policies.

The administration's internal deliberations on how to deal with Guantanamo detainees are continuing, as the White House wrestles with how to fulfill the president's promise to shutter the controversial prison. But some elements of the plans are emerging as the administration consults with key members of Congress, as well as with military officials, about what to do with Guantanamo detainees.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who met this week with White House Counsel Greg Craig to discuss the administration's plans, said among the proposals being studied is seeking authority for indefinite detentions, with the imprimatur of some type of national-security court.

Sen. Graham said he wants to work with the administration to pass legislation to increase judicial oversight of military commissions, but noted the legal difficulties that would arise.

"This is a difficult question. How do you hold someone in prison without a trial indefinitely?" Sen. Graham said.

The White House had no comment Wednesday about its detainee deliberations.

The idea of a new national security court has been discussed widely in legal circles, including by Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Neal Katyal, a former Georgetown law professor and now Obama Justice Department official.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, at a hearing last month, hinted at the administration's deliberations, saying that there were "50 to 100 [detainees] probably in that ballpark who we cannot release and cannot trust, either in Article 3 [civilian] courts or military commissions."

The administration's move to block the release of military detainee photos was welcomed by Republicans in Congress and by some military family groups but condemned by the ACLU and others.

Mr. Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had all raised concerns with the White House about releasing the detainee photos. Mr. Gates and the commanders worried that the pictures would spur new anti-American violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When PTSD Comes Marching Home

When PTSD Comes Marching Home

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There is disconnection between everything human and what has to be done in combat. Imagine being in an unimaginable situation and having to do the unthinkable. How can this be done? A detachment between everything human and having to do the inconceivable resounds in combat.

- PTSD: A Soldier's Perspective

Two men, ages 21 and 23, attempted to rob an Iowa farm. When two farmers, both 52, caught the two young men in the act, the farmers were savagely beaten and tied to a fence. The injuries incurred by the two farmers included skull fractures, facial fractures and a broken arm. The two men were arrested.

A 25-year-old man kidnapped his girlfriend at gunpoint in Tennessee. He forced her to drive to an ATM machine, took the money, drove her back to her home and then raped her. The man was later arrested.

A man in Massachusetts got into a fight with his wife and began drinking. Later that evening, he opened fire on a man and a woman outside a crowded nightclub. No injuries were reported. The man was later arrested.

A 35-year-old man in Colorado shot his wife five times in the head and neck and then shot himself. His wife was pregnant.

A 20-year-old man went on a beer run in Las Vegas at 1:00 AM, wearing a long black coat with an assault rifle tucked underneath. He was spotted by another man and a woman in an alley and told to leave. He opened fire on the man and woman, and returned to his apartment to get more ammunition. He was later arrested. The man and the woman were killed.

A 20-year-old man in Washington shot his 18-year-old girlfriend in the back of the head before turning the gun on himself.

A 19-year-old man in Washington stabbed his 18-year-old wife to death. He was later arrested.

A 37-year-old man in Virginia hanged himself with a bed sheet in his jail cell after being arrested for beating his wife.

A man from Portland, Oregon, was arrested after the body of his wife was found in a van. She had been shot through the throat.

A 31-year-old man in Washington was placed under a restraining order by his wife after he pushed her and threatened her. Two days later, the man drowned his wife in their bathtub.

A 36-year-old man in Colorado savagely beat his wife and threatened to kill her with a .357 Magnum. When police arrived on the scene, the man put the gun to his head and fired, killing himself.

A 25-year-old man in St. Louis hanged himself in his residence after he had been arrested for a domestic disturbance involving his wife.

There are thousands of stories just like this that have been taking place all over America.

Most people have not heard about them, but by now just about everyone has heard about this one: A 44-year-old man was arrested after killing five men inside a counseling center. This horrifying act happened at Camp Liberty, a massive US base in Iraq, and has been much in the news ever since.

All the other stories took place in America, but they all share one awful common factor: They were all acts of terrible brutality and violence committed by US soldiers, who had served either in Iraq or Afghanistan or both.

The soldier who shot five fellow troops in Iraq did so in a base clinic catering to service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He had served three tours in Iraq. As with the other soldiers who committed the above-described crimes, he suffered from PTSD, and in the end, his disorder became the catalyst for savagery.

"They didn't tell him they were there for his benefit," said the man's father to a Texas news station, "they were there as a friend to him to find out if he had any psychological problems as a result of his third tour of duty. They didn't want him to come back home and kill his wife or himself and this kind of stuff. That's the worst thing they could have done because they trained him to kill. He had a short fuse when they antagonized him. And I guess he couldn't help himself."

PTSD is defined by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as "A psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experiencing or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, abuse, and violent personal assaults like rape. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life."

Indeed. The military has stated that at least one in five American soldiers who were deployed overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from some degree of PTSD. According to a recent report by Truthout journalist Dahr Jamail, "The US military has been medicating soldiers before they are redeployed to Iraq, in order to keep enough boots on the ground. An anonymous survey of US troops taken during Fall 2007, used as part of the data in the Army's fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report, found that 12 percent of combat troops in Iraq and 17 percent in Afghanistan were on prescription drugs that were mostly antidepressants or sleeping pills."

"Studies that go back to World War II," continued Jamail, "have found that combat veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as people in the general population. Other lesser known distressing facts are that nine percent of all unemployment in the United States is attributed to combat exposure, as is 8 percent of all divorce or separation and 21 percent of all spousal or partner abuse. The impact of all this extends to behavioral problems in children, child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, incarceration and homelessness, all of which have implication that go well beyond the individual and reverberate across generations. As both occupations continue into the indefinite future, we should not be surprised when we hear of more atrocities like what happened Monday in Baghdad, whether they occur in Iraq or in the United States."

How long will Iraq be with us, even after we leave? Evidence strongly suggests that the physical and psychological toll taken upon our soldiers and service members from their extended, savage, deadly and ultimately fruitless deployments to the wars of the Bush administration is enormous, and growing. These soldiers volunteered to serve, and swore to give their lives in that service. In return, they have been torn apart, killed, maimed, and in far too many cases, driven to or past the edge of madness by what they saw and did Over There.

A wise person once said that any nation that cannot properly care for their veterans has no business making new ones. These, our newest generation of scarred soldiers, deserve far better than what they have received from the government and the nation they swore to defend. We sent them over there, and now they are marching home, some of them with Hell itself in their minds and hearts. They can, and must, be helped and healed.

We must get them out of Iraq, get them out of Afghanistan, get them home and get them well. They deserve nothing less from us, and it is the very least we can do for them.


Actual Bailout May Exceed $10 Trillion

Actual Bailout May Exceed $10 Trillion

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Washington, DC - A freshman congressman has elevated the stakes in an ongoing fight between Congress and the Federal Reserve over transparency in the massive bailout of the financial sector.

Ask most people on the street how much money taxpayers are using to save banks and you will probably hear the number $700 billion. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) passed by Congress at the urging of the Bush administration and then Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, allocated an unprecedented sum of taxpayer money for the sole purpose of propping up the financial sector in its darkest hour.

But the actual number is much bigger. The current block of taxpayer money that has been pledged by the US government and the Federal Reserve to prevent the system from collapsing, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News, is roughly $12.8 trillionhere. as of March 31. This money has been lent, spent or guaranteed to prevent a systemic collapse. The Bloomberg report and a chart showing broad categories of where the money has come from and the programs it funds can be found

Critics have pointed out that the Federal Reserve, the public-private partnership that controls the supply of dollars on the world stage and in the United States, controls the majority of this emergency money - $7.765 trillion - and is being secretive about where the money is going.

In an interview with Truthout, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida), said the Federal Reserve is practicing "Enron accounting," and has "socialized Wall Street's bad bets."

A lawyer with years of experience battling corruption on behalf of taxpayers and whistleblowers, Representative Grayson began a crusade to follow the bailout money after taking office in January 2009. As a member of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, Representative Grayson has been challenging bank executives and members of the Federal Reserve to disclose the terms of the massive hidden deals.

"The Federal Reserve likes to bill itself as an independent agency but what it really is is an agency that is entirely dependent on banks. When you look and see how it is structured, you see that Wall Street runs the show. This is something that people on the political right have been complaining about for decades. Everybody's worst nightmares are now taking place because we are seeing the transfer of literally trillions of dollars of wealth from the taxpayer to the bad banks," Grayson said.

Regarded by many as the most powerful institution in the world, the Federal Reserve operates in concert with the US government, but is not under public control. Set up to be free from political influence, the seven-member Federal Reserve board of governors are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for a single 14-year term. Because the Federal Reserve system is a collaboration between public and private entities, the actions the 12 regional banks take can be hidden from public view.

The Federal Reserve has stepped in as the "lender of last resort," bailing out financial firms by lending them billions of dollars, directly purchasing their so-called "toxic assets" and guaranteeing or insuring some of the piles of risky assets. These actions have absorbed much of the risk for banks and financial institutions on behalf of the US taxpayer. Institutions such as American International Group (A.I.G.), Citigroup, Bear Sterns, Bank of America, and others have been thrown a lifeline by the Federal Reserve.

The balance sheet of the Federal Reserve has more than doubled as a result of its emergency lending and buying, and currently stands at $2.06 trillion as of May 6. But the transactions which do not appear on the Federal Reserve's balance sheet are deeply concerning to Representative Grayson.

In a February 11 hearing, Representative Grayson grilled Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, and took the Federal Reserve to task for what he called a "heads I win, tails you loose" deal, under which the Federal Reserve agreed to absorb most of the possible losses on a $300 billion pile of the Citi's "toxic" mortgaged-backed securities. Citi's Pandit called the deal "insurance."

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"In the [Citigroup deal] there are billions upon billions of dollars of income on these assets even after they go bad because they [the underlying mortgages] don't all go bad. So these assets produce billions of dollars of income every year and Citigroup gets to keep the income as well as the appreciation on the assets and the government just takes the losses," Representative Grayson told Truthout.

The Citigroup deal was made public because it involved other government agencies including the US Treasury. According to Bloomberg and Representative Grayson, the Federal Reserve has been engaging in transactions which it has kept off of its publicly available balance sheet.

"The strange thing about this is that only two trillion of this activity has turned up on the Federal Reserve's balance sheet. In the case of the Citibank deal, it is on Citibank's balance sheet and off the Federal Reserve's balance sheet, which makes no sense whatsoever," Grayson said, adding "The Federal Reserve has adopted Enron book-keeping procedures at this point."

The off-balance sheet activities of the Federal Reserve may have helped sick banks clear out their books and pass the so-called bank "stress test," according to Grayson.

"Essentially what the Fed has done is to change Uncle Sam into Uncle Sap. We have become the saps for Wall Street," Grayson said.

Representative Grayson told Truthout that the Federal Reserve has not been responsive to requests for information from his office. He suggested that Congress may need to use its subpoena power to pry loose more information about where the money is going and what the Federal Reserve is taking as collateral to back up their loans.

Bloomberg News is suing the Federal Reserve for this and other information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In a May 6 hearing, Representative Grayson asked Elizabeth Coleman, the Federal Reserve inspector general - the institution's internal watchdog - if she was monitoring the institution's bailout activities. In her response, Coleman made clear that she does not believe she has oversight authority over the actions of the individual Federal Reserve banks, instead she only has authority to inspect the activities of the Federal Reserve board of governors.

Under questioning, Coleman said that the Federal Reserve office of the inspector general was not aware of the Federal Reserve's specific bailout activities.

Representative Grayson: "Do you know who received that $1 trillion plus that the Fed extended and put on its balance sheet since last September [2008]?"

Elizabeth Coleman: "I do not know, we have not looked at that specific area."

Later ...

Representative Grayson: "Have you done any investigation or auditing of off-balance sheet transactions conducted by the Federal Reserve?"

Elizabeth Coleman: "At this point, we are conducting our lending facilities project at a fairly high level and have not gotten to a specific level of detail to be in a position to respond to your question."

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Federal Reserve officials have said that releasing the names of the companies which have borrowed billions of dollars would signal weakness to the market and could cause a run on the banks.

Famed former Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee investigator and international finance expert Jack Blum told Truthout that this fear has some merit.

"The Federal Reserve takes the attitude that their job is to protect the banking system. You can't step out and start telling people which banks are troubled and where the crisis is because the consequence of that will be to have everybody desert the bank. That is the thorny problem that has led the Federal Reserve to keep quiet what they are doing. That has a degree of legitimacy," Blum said.

But this situation cannot last forever, according to Blum.

"The question is how far do you let them carry it. At what point, when everybody now knows how screwed up things are, once you've gotten past the point where you've guaranteed everything, how much longer do you have to maintain secrecy to protect the institution?"