Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire

Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire

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The Obama administration's plan to end production of the F-22 Raptor has received plenty of press coverage, but the Pentagon budget itself, even though it's again on the rise, hardly rates a bit of notice. In fact, amid the plethora of issues large and small -- from health care reform to Gates-gate, from energy policy to the culpability of Michael Jackson's doctor -- that make up the American debate in the media, in Washington, and possibly even in the country, what Chalmers Johnson has called "our empire of bases" goes essentially unmentioned. Not that we don't build them profligately. At one point, we had 106 of them -- mega to micro -- in Iraq alone; right now, we have at least 50 forward operating bases and command outposts in Afghanistan to go with a few giant bases (and the Pentagon is evidently now considering the possibility of creating a single, privatized, mercenary force to defend them, according to the Washington Post).

This is all staggering expensive. In an era when the need for funds at home is self-evident, on purely practical grounds -- and there are obviously others -- the maintenance of our global imperial stance, not to speak of the wars, conflicts, and dangers that go with it, should be at the forefront of national discussion. Instead, it has largely been left to oppositional websites to keep this crucial issue alive.

Our military empire, and the vast national security state and bureaucracy that go with it, have been perhaps the central focus of TomDispatch since it launched in late 2002. This site has concentrated on our military bases, the Pentagon's blue-sky thinking about future weaponry, air war as the American way of war, the defense budget, and the out-of-control nature of the Pentagon, among many other related issues. Nick Turse, associate editor at this site and an expert on the Pentagon, has even put its properties on "the auction block."

Since Chalmers Johnson first wrote of that empire of bases at this site back in 2004, no one has more cogently analyzed the dangers of militarism, military Keynesianism, and a Pentagon budget spun out of control. His trilogy of books on the subject, Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis are already classics, and assumedly on the shelves of all TomDispatch readers.

Today, he turns to the issue which should be, but isn't, central to our moment: dismantling the empire. Think of this as the American health care reform program that no one is discussing. Tom

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire

And Ten Steps to Take to Do So
By Chalmers Johnson

However ambitious President Barack Obama's domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there -- 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony -- that is, control or dominance -- over as many nations on the planet as possible.

We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past -- including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)

Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.

1. We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism

Shortly after his election as president, Barack Obama, in a speech announcing several members of his new cabinet, stated as fact that "[w]e have to maintain the strongest military on the planet." A few weeks later, on March 12, 2009, in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington DC, the president again insisted, "Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world." And in a commencement address to the cadets of the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22nd, Obama stressed that "[w]e will maintain America's military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen."

What he failed to note is that the United States no longer has the capability to remain a global hegemon, and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster.

According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism. The University of Chicago's Robert Pape, author of the important study Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), typically writes:

"America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today's world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony."

There is something absurd, even Kafkaesque, about our military empire. Jay Barr, a bankruptcy attorney, makes this point using an insightful analogy:

"Whether liquidating or reorganizing, a debtor who desires bankruptcy protection must provide a list of expenses, which, if considered reasonable, are offset against income to show that only limited funds are available to repay the bankrupted creditors. Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them… He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases."

In other words, the United States is not seriously contemplating its own bankruptcy. It is instead ignoring the meaning of its precipitate economic decline and flirting with insolvency.

Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades our Everyday Livescalculates that we could clear $2.6 billion if we would sell our base assets at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and earn another $2.2 billion if we did the same with Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. These are only two of our over 800 overblown military enclaves. (Metropolitan Books, 2008),

Our unwillingness to retrench, no less liquidate, represents a striking historical failure of the imagination. In his first official visit to China since becoming Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner assured an audience of students at Beijing University, "Chinese assets [invested in the United States] are very safe." According to press reports, the students responded with loud laughter. Well they might.

In May 2009, the Office of Management and Budget predicted that in 2010 the United States will be burdened with a budget deficit of at least $1.75 trillion. This includes neither a projected $640 billion budget for the Pentagon, nor the costs of waging two remarkably expensive wars. The sum is so immense that it will take several generations for American citizens to repay the costs of George W. Bush's imperial adventures -- if they ever can or will. It represents about 13% of our current gross domestic product (that is, the value of everything we produce). It is worth noting that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the Euro Zone is a deficit no greater than 3% of GDP.

Thus far, President Obama has announced measly cuts of only $8.8 billion in wasteful and worthless weapons spending, including his cancellation of the F-22 fighter aircraft. The actual Pentagon budget for next year will, in fact, be larger, not smaller, than the bloated final budget of the Bush era. Far bolder cuts in our military expenditures will obviously be required in the very near future if we intend to maintain any semblance of fiscal integrity.

2. We Are Going to Lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us

One of our major strategic blunders in Afghanistan was not to have recognized that both Great Britain and the Soviet Union attempted to pacify Afghanistan using the same military methods as ours and failed disastrously. We seem to have learned nothing from Afghanistan's modern history -- to the extent that we even know what it is. Between 1849 and 1947, Britain sent almost annual expeditions against the Pashtun tribes and sub-tribes living in what was then called the North-West Frontier Territories -- the area along either side of the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Durand Line. This frontier was created in 1893 by Britain's foreign secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand.

Neither Britain nor Pakistan has ever managed to establish effective control over the area. As the eminent historian Louis Dupree put it in his book Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 425): "Pashtun tribes, almost genetically expert at guerrilla warfare after resisting centuries of all comers and fighting among themselves when no comers were available, plagued attempts to extend the Pax Britannica into their mountain homeland." An estimated 41 million Pashtuns live in an undemarcated area along the Durand Line and profess no loyalties to the central governments of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The region known today as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is administered directly by Islamabad, which -- just as British imperial officials did -- has divided the territory into seven agencies, each with its own "political agent" who wields much the same powers as his colonial-era predecessor. Then as now, the part of FATA known as Waziristan and the home of Pashtun tribesmen offered the fiercest resistance.

According to Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, experienced Afghan hands and coauthors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story (City Lights, 2009, p. 317):

"If Washington's bureaucrats don't remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world's sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States."

In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated: "We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers" (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.

The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of "collateral damage," or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.

When in May 2009, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed as the commander in Afghanistan, he ordered new limits on air attacks, including those carried out by the CIA, except when needed to protect allied troops. Unfortunately, as if to illustrate the incompetence of our chain of command, only two days after this order, on June 23, 2009, the United States carried out a drone attack against a funeral procession that killed at least 80 people, the single deadliest U.S. attack on Pakistani soil so far. There was virtually no reporting of these developments by the mainstream American press or on the network television news. (At the time, the media were almost totally preoccupied by the sexual adventures of the governor of South Carolina and the death of pop star Michael Jackson.)

Our military operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been plagued by inadequate and inaccurate intelligence about both countries, ideological preconceptions about which parties we should support and which ones we should oppose, and myopic understandings of what we could possibly hope to achieve. Fitzgerald and Gould, for example, charge that, contrary to our own intelligence service's focus on Afghanistan, "Pakistan has always been the problem." They add:

"Pakistan's army and its Inter-Services Intelligence branch... from 1973 on, has played the key role in funding and directing first the mujahideen [anti-Soviet fighters during the 1980s]… and then the Taliban. It is Pakistan's army that controls its nuclear weapons, constrains the development of democratic institutions, trains Taliban fighters in suicide attacks and orders them to fight American and NATO soldiers protecting the Afghan government." (p. 322-324)

The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm are staffed, in part, by devout Muslims who fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan to meet the needs of their own agenda, though not necessarily to advance an Islamic jihad. Their purposes have always included: keeping Afghanistan free of Russian or Indian influence, providing a training and recruiting ground for mujahideen guerrillas to be used in places like Kashmir (fought over by both Pakistan and India), containing Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan (and so keeping it out of Pakistan), and extorting huge amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf emirates, and the United States to pay and train "freedom fighters" throughout the Islamic world. Pakistan's consistent policy has been to support the clandestine policies of the Inter-Services Intelligence and thwart the influence of its major enemy and competitor, India.

Colonel Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army (retired), an adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, summarizes our hopeless project in South Asia this way: "Nothing we do will compel 125 million Muslims in Pakistan to make common cause with a United States in league with the two states that are unambiguously anti-Muslim: Israel and India."

Obama's mid-2009 "surge" of troops into southern Afghanistan and particularly into Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, is fast becoming darkly reminiscent of General William Westmoreland's continuous requests in Vietnam for more troops and his promises that if we would ratchet up the violence just a little more and tolerate a few more casualties, we would certainly break the will of the Vietnamese insurgents. This was a total misreading of the nature of the conflict in Vietnam, just as it is in Afghanistan today.

Twenty years after the forces of the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, the last Russian general to command them, Gen. Boris Gromov, issued his own prediction: Disaster, he insisted, will come to the thousands of new forces Obama is sending there, just as it did to the Soviet Union's, which lost some 15,000 soldiers in its own Afghan war. We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives, and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.

3. We Need to End the Secret Shame of Our Empire of Bases

In March, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert noted, "Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing." He continued:

"New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults -- 2,923 -- and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan [over the past year]. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them."

The problem is exacerbated by having our troops garrisoned in overseas bases located cheek-by-jowl next to civilian populations and often preying on them like foreign conquerors. For example, sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been out of control in Okinawa, Japan's poorest prefecture, ever since it was permanently occupied by our soldiers, Marines, and airmen some 64 years ago.

That island was the scene of the largest anti-American demonstrations since the end of World War II after the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor. The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.

The military itself has done next to nothing to protect its own female soldiers or to defend the rights of innocent bystanders forced to live next to our often racially biased and predatory troops. "The military's record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it's atrocious," writes Herbert. In territories occupied by American military forces, the high command and the State Department make strenuous efforts to enact so-called "Status of Forces Agreements" (SOFAs) that will prevent host governments from gaining jurisdiction over our troops who commit crimes overseas. The SOFAs also make it easier for our military to spirit culprits out of a country before they can be apprehended by local authorities.

This issue was well illustrated by the case of an Australian teacher, a long-time resident of Japan, who in April 2002 was raped by a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, then based at the big naval base at Yokosuka. She identified her assailant and reported him to both Japanese and U.S. authorities. Instead of his being arrested and effectively prosecuted, the victim herself was harassed and humiliated by the local Japanese police. Meanwhile, the U.S. discharged the suspect from the Navy but allowed him to escape Japanese law by returning him to the U.S., where he lives today.

In the course of trying to obtain justice, the Australian teacher discovered that almost fifty years earlier, in October 1953, the Japanese and American governments signed a secret "understanding" as part of their SOFA in which Japan agreed to waive its jurisdiction if the crime was not of "national importance to Japan." The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.

Since that time the U.S. has negotiated similar wording in SOFAs with Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark. According to the Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces (2001), the Japanese practice has become the norm for SOFAs throughout the world, with predictable results. In Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. In Iraq, we have just signed a SOFA that bears a strong resemblance to the first postwar one we had with Japan: namely, military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes will remain in U.S. custody while Iraqis investigate. This is, of course, a perfect opportunity to spirit the culprits out of the country before they can be charged.

Within the military itself, the journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007), speaks of the "culture of unpunished sexual assaults" and the "shockingly low numbers of courts martial" for rapes and other forms of sexual attacks. Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009), quotes this figure in a 2009 Pentagon report on military sexual assaults: 90% of the rapes in the military are never reported at all and, when they are, the consequences for the perpetrator are negligible.

It is fair to say that the U.S. military has created a worldwide sexual playground for its personnel and protected them to a large extent from the consequences of their behavior. As a result a group of female veterans in 2006 created the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN). Its agenda is to spread the word that "no woman should join the military."

I believe a better solution would be to radically reduce the size of our standing army, and bring the troops home from countries where they do not understand their environments and have been taught to think of the inhabitants as inferior to themselves.

10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire

Dismantling the American empire would, of course, involve many steps. Here are ten key places to begin:

1. We need to put a halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.

2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the "opportunity costs" that go with them -- the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can't or won't.

3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.

4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters -- along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth -- that follow our military enclaves around the world.

5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.

6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world's largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army's infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)

7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.

8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.

9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.

10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006), and editor of Okinawa: Cold War Island (1999).

[Note on further reading on the matter of sexual violence in and around our overseas bases and rapes in the military: On the response to the 1995 Okinawa rape, see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, chapter 2. On related subjects, see David McNeil, "Justice for Some. Crime, Victims, and the US-Japan SOFA," Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 8-1-09, March 15, 2009; "Bilateral Secret Agreement Is Preventing U.S. Servicemen Committing Crimes in Japan from Being Prosecuted," Japan Press Weekly, May 23, 2009; Dieter Fleck, ed., The Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces, Oxford University Press, 2001; Minoru Matsutani, "'53 Secret Japan-US Deal Waived GI Prosecutions," Japan Times, October 24, 2008; "Crime Without Punishment in Japan," the Economist, December 10, 2008; "Japan: Declassified Document Reveals Agreement to Relinquish Jurisdiction Over U.S. Forces," Akahata, October 30, 2008; "Government's Decision First Case in Japan," Ryukyu Shimpo, May 20, 2008; Dahr Jamail, "Culture of Unpunished Sexual Assault in Military,", May 1, 2009; and Helen Benedict, "The Plight of Women Soldiers," the Nation, May 5, 2009.]

Obama's Homeland Security chief invokes "terror threat"

Obama’s Homeland Security chief invokes “terror threat”

By Bill Van Auken

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In a speech delivered in New York City Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano echoed the terror warnings of her Republican predecessors, while making it clear that little, aside from rhetoric, has changed in the department since its creation under the Bush administration.

In remarks addressed to the Council on Foreign Relations, Napolitano said that “President Obama has been forceful about seeing the threat of terrorism in all its complexity, and in bringing all our resources, not just the federal government, to bear against violent extremism.”

She insisted that it was “urgent” that Washington “refocus our counter-terror approach to make it a shared make it more layered, networked and resilient.”

Later in the afternoon, Napolitano visited “ground zero,” the site of the demolished Twin Towers, to, as she put it, “assess progress.” There is very little of it, with the site still a gaping hole without either new buildings or any memorial to the 2,700 people killed there. The developer, the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are at loggerheads, given the difficulty in securing bank financing, the dearth of demand for office space and the refusal of the crisis-ridden state governments to provide more public funding.

The main purpose of the visit was to once again link the Homeland Security Department and the wide range of repressive legislation enacted under the Bush administration to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington—events that have yet to be subjected to any genuinely independent investigation and for which no one in the US government has ever been held accountable.

Like her Republican predecessors, Napolitano is continuing to subject the American people to a propaganda campaign portraying a supposedly omnipresent threat of terrorism—the key pretext for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and all of the related crimes of the past eight years, from torture to domestic spying.

The alleged terror threat, Napolitano said, is “persistent and evolving.”

She used this threat to justify the continuing government crackdown on undocumented immigrant workers. “Illegal immigration is not only a matter of sovereignty, but could pose a national security threat as well,” she said.

Napolitano’s visit sparked protests because of her expansion of programs deputizing local police agencies as arms of immigration enforcement in the hunting down of undocumented workers.

The department has secured a major funding increase for a program known as “Secure Communities,” in which officials overseeing local jails are empowered to check the fingerprints of all those detained against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement data base. Critics of the system point out that the vast majority of those turned over to immigration authorities as a result have been arrested on minor charges such as failure to produce identification or traffic violations.

A second program that is being expanded is known as “287(g),” which cements partnerships between the federal government and local police agencies, authorizing local cops to enforce federal immigration laws. The program has been employed—most infamously in the Phoenix area by Sheriff Joe Arpaio—to carry out dragnets for undocumented workers in Latino neighborhoods under the cover of anti-crime campaigns.

In her speech, Napolitano’s references to terrorism centered on what she called “home-grown threats.” She cited the arrest this week of seven men in North Carolina and earlier arrests in Minneapolis. In both cases, not even federal authorities have accused the defendants of planning terrorist actions inside the US. In the North Carolina case, the accused are alleged to have sought to join the Palestinian struggle in Gaza, while the Minneapolis arrests were of young Somali immigrants who had returned to their country, allegedly to fight against the US-backed Ethiopian occupation.

She also referred to the case of five men convicted late last year in connection with a “terrorist plot” to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey. As the evidence at trial demonstrated, the supposed plot would never have existed outside of the activities of an FBI agent provocateur who initiated it and worked over a protracted period to ensnare the defendants in it.

In referring to the Fort Dix case, Napolitano praised a Circuit City store clerk who called authorities after one of the men brought in a videotape of them doing target practice for transfer to a DVD.

She claimed that this action demonstrated the need for a “culture of collective responsibility” in which “every individual understands his or her role.” She continued, “You are the ones who know when something is not right in your community.”

In the question-and-answer session that followed Napolitano’s speech, a member of the audience asked her whether she was suggesting that US citizens be trained “from school days on” to “watch more carefully their schoolmates, their co-workers, their families and their neighbors and then more effectively report what they say to some authority.”

The Homeland Security secretary found no problem with this description of a police state, replying that her questioner was “getting the gist of what I’m saying” about the “culture of collective responsibility.”

What was most striking about Napolitano’s presentation was that, more than six months after the coming to office of the Obama administration, there have been no substantial proposals for either scrapping or revising policies initiated under the Bush White House at an agency deeply implicated in attacks on the democratic rights of the American people.

In this, as in its prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the use of military tribunals and its invocation of “state secrets” to quash court cases challenging domestic spying and extraordinary rendition, the Obama administration is continuing the essential policies of its predecessor, merely with a change in tone.

Pennsylvania state workers go without pay

Pennsylvania state workers go without pay

By Samuel Davidson

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More than half of Pennsylvania’s state employees—some 44,000 workers—received only two days pay last Friday for a pay period that normally covers two weeks. Many workers did not receive any pay at all, because deductions for healthcare, dental and other benefits were taken out in full.

State workers protesting outside the State office building in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

This Friday the other 33,000 state workers will receive no money in their paycheck. State employees have been working without pay since July 1 as a result of the inability of Pennsylvania State Legislature and Governor Ed Rendell to reach a budget agreement.

The US Labor Department has launched an investigation to determine if the state is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act after receiving calls from more than 1,500 angry state employees. The US Labor Department has stopped taking any more calls and added a message on their hotline that they are investigating the issue. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employees be paid in a timely manner for all hours worked.

Last week Governor Rendell stated that under state law he is prevented from paying workers when there is no budget, and that his only other option would be to implement mass furloughs until a budget agreement is reached. On Monday, Rendell backed away from this threat, saying he would seek an interim budget that would allow state employees to be paid this Friday. Rendell has not made any proposal yet on what that would be or how it would work.

Rendell has arrogantly said that state workers should take out personal loans to hold them over during the payless paydays, and that if workers credit rating prevented them from securing a loan it was their own fault. Some credit unions have offered interest free loans. However, these are only for a few months, and if workers are unable to repay them once they start being paid again, the interest rate can jump to as much as 9 percent and more.

In addition to state employees, vendors also have not been paid. Many vendors provide social services such as foster care, care for the elderly and disabled, as well as health care and other services. Many of these facilities have been forced to ask their workers to work without pay, lay off workers and cut back on services.

Pennsylvania finished the 2008-09 fiscal year June 30 with a $1.7 billion deficit. This was made up with service cuts, the elimination of 800 jobs, the use of reserve funds and loans. This year the state is facing a multi-billion dollar deficit with the governor and state lawmakers putting forward different versions of how to pay for it.

Rendell, a Democrat, has proposed a $28.8 billion dollar budget that cuts funds for state supported universities, libraries, museums, public broadcasting and other services, while providing a paltry $481 million increase for kindergarten through 12th grade education. The increase in education spending would mainly be used by local school districts to offset property tax increases. In addition, Rendell is calling for an increase in the state income tax rate from 3.07 to 3.57 percent. Democrats in the state house have proposed a slightly higher $29.1 billion budget.

Republicans control the State Senate and are opposed to any increase in the state income tax and instead are calling for a $27.1 billion budget, without the additional funding for public education and with even deeper cuts in social services. The Republican budget would cut spending by 3.6 percent and force the layoff of 3,000 state workers. The Democratic plan would lead to a layoff of at least 800 state workers.

While state workers are working without pay, state lawmakers and their aides are still getting paid. Lawmakers, while technically not receiving a salary, are receiving $158-a-day stipends and are able to claim expenses, while their aides are being paid from a fund set up for this purpose.

Both the Democrats and the Republicans blame each other for the budget impasse. Rendell claims his budget is necessary to fund public education, while the Republicans claim that the state government must cut unnecessary spending. The truth is both plans seek to make the working class pay for the budget deficit if in only slightly different manners. Neither party is proposing any increase in taxation on the wealthy or corporate profits. These taxes have steadily been cut during the past two decades. Both parties focus their cuts on social services that millions of Pennsylvanians rely on.

Both budgets are based on much larger projections of revenue than what is likely under the current economic crisis. It is all but assured that within months of a budget being passed, state officials will declare that the crisis was worse than anticipated and even deeper cuts are required.

Neither, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represent most state workers, have taken a stand against the payless paydays. Both unions are large backers of Rendell and the Democratic Party. In response to the payless paydays they have told their members to wear purple shirts on Fridays and have organized a few lunchtime rallies outside of work places and in the state capital of Harrisburg. But even these have been aimed at supporting Rendell’s version of the budget and to pressure state lawmakers into passing it.

California governor imposes new cuts in social programs

California governor imposes new cuts in social programs

By Alfonso Santana and Joe Kishore

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On Tuesday, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new budget for the state that includes $15 billion in cuts. The governor used his veto power to enforce an additional $489 million in cuts to programs that serve the most vulnerable sections of the state’s population.

Among the additional cuts imposed are:

• $80 million in programs for abused and neglected children
• $50 million in Healthy Families, an insurance program for children
• $16 million in domestic violence programs
• $50 million in services for infants under the age of three with developmental problems
• $6.3 million from the Department of Aging, which serves elderly residents
• $6.2 million from state parks
• $2 million from the student aid commission

These draconian measures are in addition to the bills passed by the Democratic Party-controlled state legislature. Included in the budget signed by the governor is $8 billion in cuts to public education; $1.3 billion in Medi-Cal, the health care program for low-income families; $1.3 billion in state worker pay; and $2 billion from local governments.

This is only the latest and by no means the last stage in the destruction of the social safety net in California. The budget crisis in the state is being used by the corporate elite, with the backing of both political parties, to implement a long desired policy of rolling back state services for the working class.

Schwarzenegger made clear in signing the budget that more cuts were to come. He was ready, the governor said, “if our revenues drop further, to make the necessary cuts and live within our means.”

Schwarzenegger justified the further cuts by pointing to the fact that the legislature rejected two measures agreed in previous discussions between the Democratic Party leadership and the governor, and as a result the budget fell $156 million short. The governor also insisted that the state maintain an additional reserve fund.

Leading Democrats sought to denounce Schwarzenegger’s additional cuts, even after they agreed to the far larger cuts in the original budget. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said, “The cuts the governor made today have broken the lifeline of the state’s most vulnerable and under-served.” She said nothing about the agreement of the assembly to strip billions from workers in the form of education, Medi-Cal, public services and infrastructure.

The cynicism of the Democrats was underscored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg, who said, “We will fight to restore every dollar of additional cuts to health and human services”—i.e., the initial cuts would remain unopposed.

Schwarzenegger’s reference to “living within our means” echoes statements of the Obama administration, which has repeatedly refused emergency aid to California, insisting that the state resolve its budget problems by cutting social programs. Both the Obama administration and the California government have rejected any attempts to make the wealthy pay to resolve the budget deficit.

The budget cuts will contribute to an immense social crisis in California, where real unemployment (including those outside the labor market and those forced to work part time) is already over 20 percent.

The implications of the cuts—in terms of the growth of the unemployed, poor, and uninsured—is unknown. The cuts in the Healthy Families program alone will mean that an additional 900,000 children will be uninsured next year. How many of these will die because they will not be able to get needed care?

The several billion dollars in forced loans from local governments will translate into cuts in essential services throughout the state, layoffs of city and county workers, and cuts in pay.

As a result of the cuts in education, class sizes will increase, teachers will be forced to accept pay cuts or be laid off, tuition at community colleges and universities will increase sharply, and student aid will be cut back. California, which once boasted one of the best education systems in the country, will rank last in terms of per-pupil funding.

From the beginning of the budget negotiations, Schwarzenegger has taken a hard line, insisting on deep cuts in social programs. He has done so with the confidence that he has the backing of corporations and the wealthy in California, as well as the Obama administration, which represents the interests of the financial elite.

Schwarzenegger was also confident that the state Democrats would abandon their pretense of opposition (the Democrats were initially proposing “only” $11 billion in cuts) and agree to everything. This is what happened in the end.

In the midst of the budget crisis, the financial elite made clear its demands for massive cuts. The major banks—including those that have received hundreds of billions of dollars in government loans—announced that they would stop accepting IOUs issued by the government. The state’s credit rating was downgraded, making it much more difficult to finance loans.

The budget cuts have almost a vindictive quality to them. A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News captured something of the atmosphere in Sacramento with the headline, “Governor appeared to relish role of government slasher.”

The newspaper cited a comment the governor made to the New York Times earlier in the month, stating that he felt no remorse over the cuts he was demanding. Whatever happens, he said, “I will set down in my Jacuzzi tonight. I’m going to lay back with a stogie.”

Here, Schwarzenegger is merely expressing the outlook of the financial elite. Under the Obama administration, trillions have been handed out to the major banks, with the result that profit levels and bonuses are higher than ever. The very people who are responsible for the economic crisis have leveraged their control over the government to their advantage.

As for such things as care for children, the elderly, the poor—as well as such basic social needs as education and the maintenance of public infrastructure—these are considered unnecessary, a drain on profit, and hopelessly antiquated.

US-China talks: a fragile relationship

US-China talks: a fragile relationship

By John Chan

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The July 27-28 US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington highlighted the dependence of heavily-indebted US capitalism on China as a major source of financing. At the same time, the forum revealed the increasingly conflicting strategic and economic interests of the two countries.

First established by the Bush administration to discuss financial issues with the Beijing regime under former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the meeting was upgraded by the Obama administration to include the State Department and the strategic issues that are looming large in US-China relations.

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed on holding the dialogue during April’s G20 summit in London—amid the deepening global economic crisis. With a budget deficit to rise to $1.85 trillion this year, the Obama administration needs China, now its largest creditor nation (holding more than $800 billion in Treasury bills and several hundred billion in government agency bonds), to finance its massive bailouts of Wall Street. This week alone, the American government is issuing $200 billion worth of bonds.

The Beijing regime, which is struggling with rising unemployment, desperately wants American demand to pick up again, to provide markets for China’s ailing export sector. Last week, 30,000 rioting steel workers in the northwestern Jilin province killed their manager in a protest over privatisation and job losses, showing the deep social tensions created by the exploitation of the Chinese working class as cheap labour for global capital.

The US side was headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, along with Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke. Beijing sent its largest ever delegation to Washington, with 150 senior officials led by state councilor Dai Bingguo (in charge of foreign policy), vice premier Wang Qishan (who oversees the economy) and central bank chief, Zhou Xiaochuan.

While the US brought a high-powered US team to the talks, none of the Chinese delegates were members of the most powerful Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee.

President Obama inaugurated the event, declaring the US-China relationship will “shape the 21st century”. To try brush off suggestions that China will challenge the supremacy of the US, Obama declared: “Some in China think we will try to contain China’s ambitions; some in America think there is something to fear in a rising China. I take a different view. I believe in a future... when our nations are partners out of necessity, but also out of opportunity.”

Clinton and Geithner wrote a joint piece in the Wall Street Journal, declaring: “Simply put, few global problems can be solved by the US or China alone. And few can be solved without the US and China together. The strength of the global economy, the health of the global environment, the stability of fragile states and the solution to nonproliferation challenges turn in large measure on cooperation between the US and China.”

Clinton visited China in February, urging Beijing to keep buying US government bonds, an unprecedented action by a US secretary of state. In June, Geithner was in Beijing to assure the Chinese leaders that the Obama White House would protect the massive Chinese bond holdings by implementing savage austerity measures in order to slash budget deficits.

In his first official statement in January, Geithner had threatened that the new administration would name China as a “currency manipulator” for allegedly undervaluing the yuan to boost its exports and thus deepen the huge US trade deficit with China. At the meeting this week, Geithner remained silent on the subject. In the words of US Chamber of Commerce senior vice president Myron Brilliant: “This not an issue that the administration is banging the table on.”

For their part, Chinese officials remained silent on their previous calls for the US dollar to be displaced by a new global reserve currency. Chinese central bank head Zhou told reporters that at the meeting with Geithner there was no discussion about a new international reserve currency, while China’s managed currency exchange was only “touched upon”.

Nevertheless, vice premier Wang reiterated Beijing’s position of asking the US to protect the value of dollar, amid fears that growing US deficits will undermine China’s huge dollar-denominated assets. Two-thirds of China’s more than $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves are held in US dollars. Geithner responded: “As China will do, we in the United States will move to bring out fiscal deficits down over the medium term, and we will work to reverse the exceptional actions we had to take to stabilise the crisis.”

The multi-trillion bailouts of Wall Street by the Bush and then the Obama administrations were aimed at transferring astronomical financial losses onto the back of the American working class, which means destroying essential social services like healthcare and education as well as a further contraction of real wages. This constitutes the essence of Geithner’s pledge to Beijing to “bring down” the US deficits through austerity measures.

The declining consumption of American workers, however, will send not only China but other Asian economies into deep trouble. Geithner called on China to shift toward more domestic-led growth for a “balanced and sustained global growth” while the US shifted from debt-driven consumption to increased savings rates. In the so-called economic rebalancing, the cutting of US consumption will come into sharp conflict with Beijing’s urgent need to expand production to create millions of jobs in order to quell discontent.

Referring to China’s own gigantic stimulus packages, Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, warned in the Wall Street Journal: “As China pours new loans into the system at a rate of more than a quarter of last year’s GDP in just six months, it creates short-term employment but increases additional excess capacity and degrades the government’s balance sheet... If rising savings in the US clash with the government-induced production hikes in China, both countries could be forced into mutually destructive policies. The consequences, especially for China, could be brutal.”

Knowing that the Beijing regime is sitting on a social time bomb, the Obama administration has been largely silent on China’s military-police repression of the unrest in Xinjiang Uighur region. As dozens of Uighur activists chanted slogans of “Shame on China” outside the White House, Chinese vice foreign minister Wang Guangya expressed “our appreciation for the moderate attitude of the United States” over the unrest in Xinjiang. He told reporters that Washington had “unequivocally said that this incident is entirely a domestic affair of China”.

Not only is American capitalism dependent on the brutal exploitation of the Chinese working class as cheap labour, the Obama administration is well aware that it is only a matter of time before large-scale social unrest also erupts in the US, as a result of the savage social attacks on the working class.

The US-China dialogue signified the historic decline of US capitalism. The meeting was designed to make some concessions to China in order to bring it within the umbrella of a US-dominated world order. Such a strategy was first proposed in Beijing in January by former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who played a key role in forming Obama’s foreign policy. Brzezinski delivered a speech as part of the official celebration of the 30th anniversary of US-China diplomatic ties. He was part of the US delegation that included key figures like former US President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who were received by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Brzezinski’s speech was published in the Financial Times on January 13 under the headline: “The Group of Two that could change the world”. He noted that “a globally ascending China is a revisionist power in that it desires important changes in the international system but it seeks them in a patient, prudent and peaceful fashion.” Brzezinski called for a wider cooperation beyond the economic crisis, including Chinese participation in the US’s dealing with Iran, US-China consultation over India-Pakistan relations and a role for China in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East in general. He postulated a partnership with China “paralleling our relations with Europe and Japan”.

However, the G2 concept has caused concerns in Europe and Japan that China will take a greater role in the world’s affairs at their expense. In Obama’s speech for the US-China talks, he noticeably called the US-China relationship as “important as any bilateral relationship in the world”—a formulation calculated not to antagonise Japan—the key US ally in Asia since World War II.

Essentially, Brzezinski called for an accommodation with China in order to avoid a new world war: “In an era in which the risks of a massively destructive ‘clash of civilisations’ are rising, the deliberate promotion of a genuine conciliation of civilisations is urgently needed.”

However, the Washington gathering produced few substantive agreements. Far from suppressing the great-power tensions, the global financial crisis is exacerbating them. With less economic leverage over China than ever before, ultimately the only means by which US can assert hegemony is via its military superiority. That superiority is also coming into conflict with China’s own desire to become a major military power.

In March, the Obama administration sent a surveillance ship to the South China Sea to monitor Chinese submarines, leading to a confrontation with Chinese maritime patrol ships. Just days before that incident, a Financial Times editorial warned: “The biggest challenge the world confronts is coping with the rise of China. Relatively stable world orders do not easily adapt to the emergence of new powers. There are painful dislocations at best; catastrophic tragedies at worst. In so far as the current global financial and economic crisis partly originated in imbalances generated by China’s enormous trade surpluses—something Beijing disputes—the potential scale of such disruption is already clear. The same applies to China’s ambitions to project diplomatic and military power.”

Despite all the smiles and photo calls at the US-China “dialogue,” powerful economic contradictions are driving the two powers into potentially catastrophic conflicts.

The Long Term Effects of Genetically Modified Food on Humans

GMO Scandal: The Long Term Effects of Genetically Modified Food on Humans

Scientific Tests Must Be Approved by Industry First

One of the great mysteries surrounding the spread of GMO plants around the world since the first commercial crops were released in the early 1990’s in the USA and Argentina has been the absence of independent scientific studies of possible long-term effects of a diet of GMO plants on humans or even rats. Now it has come to light the real reason. The GMO agribusiness companies like Monsanto, BASF, Pioneer, Syngenta and others prohibit independent research.

An editorial in the respected American scientific monthly magazine, Scientific American, August 2009 reveals the shocking and alarming reality behind the proliferation of GMO products throughout the food chain of the planet since 1994. There are no independent scientific studies published in any reputed scientific journal in the world for one simple reason. It is impossible to independently verify that GMO crops such as Monsanto Roundup Ready Soybeans or MON8110 GMO maize perform as the company claims, or that, as the company also claims, that they have no harmful side effects because the GMO companies forbid such tests!

That’s right. As a precondition to buy seeds, either to plant for crops or to use in research study, Monsanto and the gene giant companies must first sign an End User Agreement with the company. For the past decade, the period when the greatest proliferation of GMO seeds in agriculture has taken place, Monsanto, Pioneer (DuPont) and Syngenta require anyone buying their GMO seeds to sign an agreement that explicitly forbids that the seeds be used for any independent research. Scientists are prohibited from testing a seed to explore under what conditions it flourishes or even fails. They cannot compare any characteristics of the GMO seed with any other GMO or non-GMO seeds from another company. Most alarming, they are prohibited from examining whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended side-effects either in the environment or in animals or humans.

The only research which is permitted to be published in reputable scientific peer-reviewed journals are studies which have been pre-approved by Monsanto and the other industry GMO firms.

The entire process by which GMO seeds have been approved in the United States, beginning with the proclamation by then President George H.W. Bush in 1992, on request of Monsanto, that no special Government tests of safety for GMO seeds would be conducted because they were deemed by the President to be “substantially equivalent” to non-GMO seeds, has been riddled with special interest corruption. Former attorneys for Monsanto were appointed responsible in EPA and FDA for rules governing GMO seeds as but one example and no Government tests of GMO seed safety to date have been carried out. All tests are provided to the US Government on GMO safety or performance by the companies themselves such as Monsanto. Little wonder that GMO sounds to positive and that Monsanto and others can falsely claim GMO is the “solution to world hunger.”

In the United States a group of twenty four leading university corn insect scientists have written to the US Government Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanding the EPA force a change to the company censorship practice. It is as if Chevrolet or Tata Motors or Fiat tried to censor comparative crash tests of their cars in Consumer Reports or a comparable consumer publication because they did not like the test results. Only this deals with the human and animal food chain. The scientists rightly argue to EPA that food safety and environment protection “depend on making plant products available to regular scientific scrutiny.” We should think twice before we eat that next box of American breakfast cereal if the corn used is GMO .

The San Francisco 8 -- No More!

The San Francisco 8 -- No More!

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It's been 2 1/2 years since the San Francisco 8 -- eight former members of the Black Panther Party -- were cast into California jails and threatened with life sentences stemming from the 1971 shooting of a cop.

Perhaps the State figured the post - 9//11 paranoia and mania would make this an easy case. Perhaps the government thought that because many of the accused were men of advancing age, decades away from their prime organizing and activist days, it would be a cake walk.

The 8 men fought with dignity, principle and unity -- and several days ago -- charges for 4 of them were dismissed altogether: Ray Boudreaux, Richard Brown, Hank Jones and Harold Taylor.

New York's Jalil Muntaqim pled no contest to conspiracy -- and got time served in San Francisco County Jail -- almost 2 1/2 years -- with 3 years probation.

Herman Bell -- another New York former Panther -- took a similar deal earlier in July.

One ex-Panther, Francisco Torres, faces a hearing next month, where most observers expect all charges to be dropped. Another, John bowman, died before trial. The last, Richard O'Neal, was cleared pre-trial.

From the very beginning, back in the '70's -- several of the men were brutally tortured by police in Louisiana to elicit false confessions (thus we see that Abu Ghraib really was nothing new).

The cases were dismissed decades ago -- on that basis alone.

That the prosecutions were reinstated at all is due more to the politicized Justice Department under John Ashcroft and George Bush -- where torture was a tool of state --than anything else. Also implicated? The political ambitions of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, seeking the governorship.

No charges should've been brought in the first place -- or if contemplated, dismissed under double jeopardy principles.

As it is -- even the state admits -- dismissal is valid due to insufficient evidence.

These results are due, in large part, to the solidarity of the men themselves, and some excellent, aggressive lawyering by assorted defense counsel, among them J. Soffiyah Elijah of Harvard Law School.

Several years ago, in a statement calling for support for the San Francisco 8, I implored supporters to fight for them now -- before they fell into the clutches of the state containment system -- instead of after.

Many took up that fight -- leading to many of the most recent results.

The Day the President Turned Black

The Day the President Turned Black
(But has he turned back?)

By Greg Palast

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He's in hot water now. For a moment, on national television, the President of the United States turned black!

Last week, when his buddy "Skip" Gates got busted for being Black in Boston, Barack Obama forgot his official role: to soothe America's conscience with the happy fairy tale that his election marked the end of racism in the USA.

Instead, Obama, the excruciatingly middle-of-the-road President, was seized by Barack the militant State Senator from the South Side of Chicago, who reminded us that cops bust Black guys for no goddamn good reason all the goddamn time.

I'm reminded that it was not so long ago that we watched the vicious gang-beating by Los Angeles cops of a defenseless, handcuffed, Rodney King, an African-American. King's beating was unusual only in that it was caught on videotape.

Yeah, I know: we've come a hell of a long way. Obama won, Jessie cried, Beyoncé has her own line of perfume and Tiger Woods plays where 30 years ago he couldn't eat lunch.

Good on them.
But what about Robert Pratt, Mr. President?

Pratt, a United Auto Workers member, has five kids and a mortgage payment of $1,100 a month on a house in Detroit worth no more than $40,000. The payment's astronomical because he pays 11% on his mortgage balance, double the national average interest rate. Now, on those crazy terms, he's sure to lose his house.

How did that happen? Pratt, whose story we've been tracking, was "steered" into a sub-prime loan by Countrywide Financial. "Steering" is the polite term for forcing folk into crappy loan terms. And not just any folk: Black folk, like Pratt. Over 60% of African-American mortgage applicants were (and ARE) steered into "sub-prime" predatory loans.

According to exhaustive studies by the Federal Reserve Board and the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), African Americans are 250% more likely to get a loan with an "exploding interest" clause than white borrowers - and notably, the higher the income and the better the credit rating of a Black borrower, the more likely the discrimination.

As an economist, I can tell you it's not a stretch to say that Obama's failure to deal with endemic racism in the finance system is killing off hope of the nation's economic recovery. The "exploding rate" attack centered on Black and Hispanic communities has, according to the CLR, caused 40.2 million homes to lose value due to their proximity to foreclosed properties.

Yet, not a peep from the Obama Administration about ending this Ku Klux lending practice which has laid waste Black neighborhoods and taken a hunk of White America's housing values with it.

Instead, Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is the honored guest of the Board of Directors of JP Morgan, owner of one of the most outrageous of the financial predators, Washington Mutual. Morgan/WaMu, with its racially-poisoned mortgage trickery, makes the Cambridge Police Department look like the NAACP.

(Indeed, Emanuel's host JP Morgan was sued last week by the NAACP for "systematic, institutionalized racism in making home mortgage loans.")

The cold truth is, financial attacks on the Black community continue as freely under Obama as under Bush, despite Obama's power to halt it instantly by banning loan-sharking as a condition of continued bail-outs for these banks. Obama has directed the FDIC to guarantee JP Morgan loans, saving the bank $3.1 billion this year. Obama has directed the FDIC to guarantee Mr. Pratt, uh, "hope."
And what about Thomas Johnson, Mr. President?

Johnson's a minister in Florida who lost his vote in 2000, alongside at least 94,000 others falsely accused of being felons without the right to vote. Most of the innocents accused and abused were Black, the minister included. I know, because I saw those state records with the carefully recorded "BLA" next to the voters' names.

I had an editor on the story, won't say his name because he was so typical, who asked me why Johnson, an African-American, didn't pound the table and DEMAND his ballot. Johnson's no Harvard professor in Boston with the President's phone number on his speed dial.

My extremely white editor, a Yale graduate, sitting in San Francisco, could not imagine what would happen if a dark-skinned Rev. Johnson had started making a scene in Alachua County, in the Deep Deep South. The Reverend was smart not to pull a "Skippy Gates" and lip-off at authority: just a couple months ago, Alachua cops 'Tased' an angry, but unarmed, Black man, then shot him dead with seven bullets.

Johnson's vote loss, you might say, was "so 2000." This is post-racial 2009. Bullshit. In last year's election, Florida went right back into the racially biased block-and-purge of Black voters, barring thousands from the ballot through new ID laws that would have made Jim Crow segregationists of the Fifties proud. (See the investigative report, "Block the Vote," by myself and Bobby Kennedy, from the October 2008 Rolling Stone).

Yet, the Obama Administration appears quite squeamish about taking down the nouvelle ballot-box Bull Connors.

What I'm saying is that the venom of structural racism in America continues to sicken us all, in our economy, in our voting stations, in our schools (don't get me started), our health care system, our ... well, you name it.

Yes, I joined the Hope Parade and voted for Obama, expecting just this one change: a direct attack on the remaining areas of official sanction of racist policies and practices. I'm still waiting.
It was quite inspiring, last Thursday, to the see a Black man appear, if momentarily, behind the Presidential seal. Unfortunately, Obama's swift demand for equal justice under the law was provoked only when the whip came down on someone, like himself, whose professional and class status had, they presumed, made them exempt from the daily insults and assaults visited on their less privileged brothers.

So much was made of Gates' Harvard post that the issue seemed to be "It's not right to cuff a dark-skinned man who's a HARVARD PROFESSOR." The race-neutral rules of class privilege had been violated.

What's missing in America - and in the Oval Office – is any hint of outrage at the systemic cruelties visited on Black Americans, like Pratt and Johnson, who lack a key to the Harvard Alumni Club.

Policy Would Allow Chicago Cops to Shoot At Fleeing Cars

Policy Would Allow Cops To Shoot At Fleeing Cars

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The Chicago Police Department is considering a major change in policy regarding the use of deadly force.

The department is looking at allowing police officers to fire their guns under circumstances where they previously could not.

The new policy, from police Supt. Jody Weis and confirmed by WBBM Newsradio 780 Wednesday morning, would allow police officers to shoot at fleeing vehicles if the driver or passengers are suspected of committing a felony.

Earlier today, a police spokesman told Newsradio 780 that the policy would take effect on Monday.

"Now officers will be able to fire upon the driver or passenger in a vehicle if that person is a forcible fleeing felon, someone who has committed a very serious offense resulting in bodily harm or has threatened to commit great bodily harm," Drew told Newsradio 780.

The old policy allowed officers only to shoot at vehicles that pose a threat to them or others, such as if the driver were trying to run down the officer.

Later Wednesday, the department issued a statement saying the plan was under review.

The department is "currently reviewing the existing order [to] provide officers with more clear direction. The review process is ongoing and will not be rushed."

Top-secret Obama safe-house leaked on LimeWire

Top-secret Obama safe house leaked on LimeWire

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The US is pondering a crackdown on peer-to-peer file sharing programs after details of a Secret Service safe-house location for President Barack Obama and his family were found being traded on LimeWire.

A senior US lawmaker has said that it may be time for the Government to regulate companies that provide online file-sharing services after several people managed to access confidential information.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Edolphus Towns said during a hearing on the safety of peer-to-peer software that he was astonished at privacy breaches involving LimeWire, operated by the Lime Group.

LimeWire is used by internet users to find and share media files, which for the most part consists of illegally copied movies, music and games. However, sometimes personal documents were shared inadvertently.

Using LimeWire, people have been able to access FBI files, medical records, Social Security numbers and even a file containing information about a safe-house location for Mr Obama and his family, Mr Towns said.

"As far as I am concerned, the days of self-regulation should be over for the file-sharing industry," Mr Towns said. "In the last administration, the Federal Trade Commission took a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach to the file sharing software industry. I hope the new administration is revisiting that approach."

Mr Towns, a New York Democrat, said he planned to introduce legislation that would ban unsecure, open network, peer-to-peer software from all government and contractor computers and networks.

"For our sensitive Government information, the risk is simply too great to ignore," he said.

Mr Towns said he also planned to meet the new Federal Trade Commission chairman to request that the agency investigate whether inadequate safeguards on file-sharing software such as LimeWire constituted an unfair trade practice. An FTC spokesman did not have an immediate comment.

He added that the Federal Communications Commission should examine the peer-to-peer industry. An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment.

LimeWire founder and chairman Mark Gorton defended his company, saying any inadvertent file-sharing had been fixed in the newest version of the software and steps had been installed to put the user more in control.

"Are we perfect? No," Mr Gorton told the committee. "We have made enormous strides in the last few years.

"In order for a LimeWire user to change their default settings to enable document sharing, they have to click nine times and disregard three warnings," Mr Gorton said.

Public interest groups such as Public Knowledge said the attack on peer-to-peer programs was phoney and misdirected.

Robb Topolski, chief technology consultant for Public Knowledge, said that the update to the software was a change from previous behaviour motivated by criticisms that the LimeWire application shared more than the user knew or intended.

"Now, it shares nothing until sharing is specifically enabled," he said. "LimeWire is perfectly safe."

Robert Boback, the head of Tiversa, a private online security and intelligence firm, criticised the LimeWire software, saying corporate and government documents, as well as child pornography, could be downloaded.

Mr Boback said that documents revealing every US nuclear facility were downloaded by computers in France. He said peer-to-peer software had made it dangerously easy for snoopers to unearth extremely private information - easier than rifling through someone's trash.

"Why go dumpster diving?" Mr Boback said.

Obama Homeland Security Plans to Expand Bush Initiatives

Napolitano Unveils New Antiterror Plans

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano outlined Wednesday the Obama administration's domestic approach to preventing terrorist attacks -- a strategy that will rely in large measure on refining and expanding initiatives launched under President George W. Bush.

Janet Napolitano's strategy to prevent terrorism incorporates officials at every level of government nationwide, the first major statement on counterterrorism strategy from the Obama administration. Joseph White discusses.

Ms. Napolitano said the U.S. hasn't done everything it can to educate and engage the public in preventing terrorism. Ms. Napolitano spoke Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations before heading to ground zero in lower Manhattan.

She said the public has been treated as a "liability to be protected," instead of an asset in maintaining the nation's security. Americans, she said, have a role along with local law enforcement, the federal government and the international community. She urged people to prepare their families, volunteer, get free training and join local emergency response teams.

In an interview this week, Ms. Napolitano signaled that the Obama administration isn't contemplating a wholesale revision of the agencies or programs created under Mr. Bush to further antiterrorism efforts.

One element of Ms. Napolitano's approach, for example, will be the expansion of a pilot program started during the Bush administration to train police to report such suspicious behavior as the theft of keys from a facility that keeps radiological waste.

It is part of a much broader effort to significantly increase cooperation between her agency and state and local governments across the nation. Her aides say this is one area where her efforts will significantly exceed those of her predecessors in the Bush administration.

"We live in a world now where no one department of government can be held to be the sole repository of protecting security," Ms. Napolitano said in an interview Monday night. "There is a role to be played at every level."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano plans to expand some Bush-era initiatives.

Ms. Napolitano's ideas aren't revolutionary, nor do they represent a sharp break from policies of the past. She isn't seeking another reorganization of the government, or even another reorganization of her department, which is the nation's third-largest with more than 200,000 employees.

Instead, she emphasized the need to fill the sometimes large and critical information-sharing gaps that still exist among bureaucracies -- from those within her own department, to others on the federal level, down to states and local governments and the private sector. "There is a system out there," she said in an interview. "It needs to be perfected."

A key component of the integration efforts is a national network of roughly 70 so-called intelligence-fusion centers. They bring federal, state and local officials under the same roof to "fuse" terrorism-related intelligence.

Ms. Napolitano also meets Wednesday with counterterrorism experts and law enforcers at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. A transportation security announcement is planned at Grand Central Terminal.

Military Poised to Help FEMA Battle Swine Flu Outbreak

Military Poised to Help FEMA Battle Swine Flu Outbreak

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to set vaccination priorities for certain groups Wednesday during a meeting in Atlanta as the Pentagon prepares to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency tackle a potential outbreak of the H1N1 virus this fall.

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The Pentagon is preparing to make troops available if necessary to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency tackle a potential outbreak of the H1N1 virus this fall, FOX News has confirmed.

This comes as a government panel recommends certain groups be placed at the front of the line for swine flu vaccinations this fall, including pregnant women, health care workers and children six months and older.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel also said those first vaccinated should include parents and other caregivers of infants; non-elderly adults who have high-risk medical conditions, and young adults ages 19 to 24. The panel, whose recommendations typically are adopted by federal health officials, voted to set vaccination priorities for those groups Wednesday during a meeting in Atlanta.

Obama administration officials told Congress that H1N1 vaccinations won't be available for several months.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to sign an order authorizing the military to set up five regional teams to deal with the potential outbreak of H1N1 influenza if FEMA requests help.

A senior U.S. defense official told FOX News that the plan calls for military task forces to work in conjunction with the FEMA. No final decision has been reached on how the military effort would be manned, but one source said it likely would include personnel from all branches of the military.

It is not known how many troops would be needed and whether they would come from the active duty or the National Guard and Reserve forces.

In the event of a major outbreak, civilian authorities would lead any relief efforts, the official said. The military, as it would for a natural disaster or other significant emergency situation, could provide support and fulfill any tasks that civilian authorities could not, such as air transport or testing of large numbers of viral samples from infected patients.

As a first step, military leaders have asked Gates to authorize planning for the potential assistance.

Orders to deploy actual forces would be reviewed later, depending on how much of a health threat the flu poses this fall, the officials said.

The Debtor's Dance: the U.S.-China Exchange

The Debtor's Dance: the U.S.-China Exchange

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Obama's opening speech set the stakes: "The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world." (emphasis added) The U.S., the world's largest debtor, met this week with the confident leaders of its largest creditor, the communist government of China.

What took place over the last two days was hailed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as "unprecedented," the "largest gathering ever of top leaders from our two countries," addressing an "unparalleled" range of issues.

The American press, of course, was more focused on Sarah Palin's departure than the Chinese arrival. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post managed a report on the discussions in the Wednesday paper.

This isn't surprising since any conversations that were candid were private, and there was little of substance to announce.

But the exchange was revealing in its own way. President Obama, exercising his remarkable gift for presenting a sea change as a gentle current, laid out the fundamental challenge almost in passing:

Going forward, we can deepen this cooperation. ....And as Americans save more and Chinese are able to spend more, we can put growth on a more sustainable foundation -- because just as China has benefited from substantial investment and profitable exports, China can also be an enormous market for American goods.

This has been Obama's revolutionary message to the leaders of the world. The U.S. cannot go back to the old economy where we borrowed $2 billion a day, largely from the Chinese, to be the consumer of the world by living far beyond our means. We must consume less, produce more, and sell more abroad and balance our trade.

Therefore, the nations that have pursued export led growth -- notably the Chinese, Japan, the Asian tigers, as well as Germany and others, will have to develop new strategies. The Chinese, the administration argues, will have to save less, consume more at home, and rely less on exports to generate jobs and growth.

This represents a staggering transformation that will require stark changes in policy across the world. The U.S. will need an industrial policy, a more aggressive trade strategy, higher top end taxes to reduce private consumption and balance our fiscal budgets, a smaller financial sector, and a dramatic change in our consumer driven and debt laden economy. The Chinese will need to develop a new social contract -- health care, pensions, higher wages, paid vacations -- for its workers, transform its domestic banking system, dismantle its mercantilist trade practices, invest massively in domestic infrastructure.

This is the right moment to undertake this necessary transformation. Trade has collapsed in the Great Recession. U.S. trade deficits have declined as exports and imports plummeted. U.S. consumers have gone from spending more than they earned to saving, as families struggle to recover from the trillions of wealth lost in the decline of home values and retirement savings. The Chinese have joined the U.S. in a major domestic stimulus plan, investing hundreds of billions in infrastructure and other projects to keep their economy moving and people working.

But these are elements of the crisis or responses to it. The obvious question is what are the policies that will drive this transformation as the economy recovers?

Here the Chinese were, even in the midst of diplomatic niceties, brutally clear. They plan to increase domestic demand, to move aggressively on energy efficiency. They believe the industrial countries should bear the burden of dealing with global warming, but are happy to capture the industries and technologies involved. They also want the U.S. to keep the dollar strong (read -- will continue to undervalue their currency), and will sustain the mercantilist practices -- from controlling access to their market, to formal and informal buy China policies, to buying or stealing technology -- that have been central to their remarkable economic growth.

What is the U.S. strategy? President Obama suggested in his speech that "We can pursue trade that is free and fair, and seek to conclude an ambitious and balanced Doha Round agreement." And we can cooperate to transform our energy economies: "We can expand joint efforts at research and development to promote the clean and efficient use of energy; ...And the best way to foster the innovation that can increase our security and prosperity is to keep our markets open to new ideas, new exchanges, and new sources of energy."

But this isn't a new course -- it is a return to the pieties and shibboleths of the old policies that helped make us the world's largest debtor. The Doha Round offers nothing but a symbolic curtsy to the old trade dialogue. "Joint efforts at research and development" are fine, as long as we realize that the Chinese will use the technology, limit access to their market, and aggressively try to capture the export markets in solar, wind and next generation to come. Keeping "our markets open to new ideas, new exchanges, and new sources of energy" sounds good, but ignores the extent to which the Chinese seek to control access to their markets and ours.

This is not a serious policy agenda; it is the noblesse oblige of a wealthy nation unwilling or unable to understand how deep a hole it is in, and how much it has to change.

If Obama's agenda seemed musty, Treasury Secretary Geithner's seemed oblivious. What are the "structural policies" to lay the foundation for "a more sustainable and balanced trajectory of growth"" According to Geithner, they've largely already happened. "We've already seen a pretty substantial increase in private savings. Our current account and balance has fallen sharply." And we'll move to reduce our public deficits once the economy gets going.

But we ran budget surpluses under Clinton and still racked up rising trade deficits and foreign debt. Recession isn't really a sustainable answer, we hope. Perhaps the shock of the Great Depression will make affluent Americans -- those who make over $100,000 a year and account for over half of all consumption -- buy less. But if the economy does come back, will personal austerity be sustained? (And if it is, how will the economy come back?). The tarnished icons of the Wall Street -- Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan -- reveal the lure of the old ways. Although still dependent on public subsidies, they are already back to high leveraged, computer driven gambling, and pocketing millions in bonuses from trading profits.

As for China, Geithner's summary remarks at the end of the discussions recycled the boilerplate of the old era:

We reaffirmed our very important commitment to an open, rules-based, multilateral regime for trade and investment. We reiterated our commitment to avoid protectionist measures to bring about a success -- and to bring about a successful conclusion to the Doha round. China and the United States committed to treating firms with foreign ownership operating in our markets exactly as we do domestically owned firms when it comes to government procurement.

Nonsense. China has progressed largely by ignoring the rules that got in its way. It has developed -- as the U.S. did as a rising power -- by skillful use of mercantilist trade policies. Ask European manufacturers of wind turbines with plants in China how committed China is to treating "firms with foreign ownership operating in our markets exactly as we do domestically owned firms."

No one expects public remarks to be candid. But papering over differences is a far remove from suggesting that black is white.

So what do we make of these "unprecedented" talks with the "most important bilateral relationship in the world?" The private discussions with the Chinese leaders no doubt were far more candid and far tougher than the public statements. We can be thankful that Obama has put before the Chinese and the world the reality that the U.S. cannot go back to being the consumer of the world on borrowed money.

But what is most apparent is that the Chinese have a policy that has worked well for them thus far. They will evolve according to their own interests. What isn't apparent is whether this administration has a policy to get us where it sensibly says we must go. Embrace of Doha and platitudes about "open, rules-based" trade, ritual denial of reality surely won't get us there.