Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mandatory Flu Shots Hit Resistance

Mandatory Flu Shots Hit Resistance

Many Health-Care Workers Required to Get Vaccines

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With the H1N1 pandemic spreading rapidly, hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, orderlies and other U.S. health-care workers for the first time are being required to get flu shots, drawing praise from many public-health authorities but condemnation from some employees, unions and other critics who object to mandatory vaccination.

One of the nation's most populous states, the country's largest hospital chain and the Washington area's biggest private health-care system are among those ordering influenza inoculation for health-care employees this year, along with a growing list of medical centers and clinics coast to coast.

The trend is being fueled by frustration at the stubbornly low proportion of health-care workers who get vaccinated each year despite years of coaxing, urging and incentives to do so voluntarily, combined with trepidation that the swine flu pandemic could overwhelm the health-care system, especially if many caregivers get sick, too.

Critics, however, say the decision to get vaccinated should remain individual, especially for the swine flu vaccine, which was rushed into production to try to blunt the pandemic's second wave.

"I don't want to be a guinea pig," said Orne Banks-Hopkins, 55, a clerical worker at Washington Hospital Center. "I don't think I should be forced to take something I don't want to take."

Some doctors and nurses in Britain have also expressed resistance to getting the swine flu vaccine. A survey of 1,500 British nurses conducted in August by the Nursing Times found that one-third would not get the vaccine because of safety concerns.

In the United States, the drive is fueling anti-government sentiment and rumors on the Internet and elsewhere that the vaccine may become compulsory for everyone.

"You start with health-care workers but then expand that umbrella to make it mandatory for everybody," said Lori Price of Citizens for Legitimate Government, a Bristol, Conn.-based group that opposes government expansion. "It's all part of an encroachment on our liberties."

While the federal government plans to buy enough swine flu vaccine for every American, it will remain strictly voluntary for the average citizen, according to federal, state and local officials.

"There continues to be information circulating that somehow this vaccination campaign is mandatory. It is not. It is voluntary," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday. "Our guidance is this is a voluntary vaccine."

William Schaffner, president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said the move "is motivated solely by the dismal number of health-care workers who get vaccinated each year, which frankly is appalling."

Only about half of health-care workers get flu shots during a typical flu season, even though their patients tend to be more vulnerable to infection and potentially life-threatening complications. Concern is spiking this year because of the new swine flu virus, known as H1N1.

"We want to do everything we can so we don't lose people when there may be a peak in demand," said Jonathan B. Perlin, chief medical officer for the Hospital Corp. of America, known as HCA, in Nashville, which is requiring about 120,000 employees in 163 hospitals, 112 outpatient clinics and other facilities in 20 states get vaccinated.

New York this year became the first state to require all health-care workers with direct patient contact at hospitals, health centers, hospices and private homes to get flu shots -- both the seasonal flu vaccine, which is already available, and the swine flu vaccine, which will start to arrive next month.

"The rationale begins with the health-care ethic, which is: The patient's well-being comes ahead of the personal preferences of health-care workers," New York State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines said.

Both vaccines are safe, and studies show that vaccinating health-care workers cuts their absenteeism, protects their co-workers and families, and prevents infections and complications among patients, proponents say.

"This is all about patient safety," said William L. Thomas, chief medical officer for MedStar Health of Columbia, Md.

MedStar is going further than New York and HCA at its facilities, which include Georgetown University Hospital, Washington Hospital Center and National Rehabilitation Hospital in the District; four hospitals in the Baltimore area; and 19 health-care-related companies with more than 100 locations throughout Maryland and Washington, including physicians' offices, hospices, rehabilitation centers and outpatient clinics.

MedStar is requiring vaccination of all 25,000 of its workers -- including nurses, orderlies, janitors and food-services employees -- as well as 5,000 affiliated doctors, every volunteer, and employees of suppliers who step inside any of its facilities, regardless of whether they routinely have direct patient contact.

While hospital administrators and several employees interviewed at MedStar facilities said most employees are eager to get vaccinated, some are angry.

"I'm scared," said Sandra Webb, 45, of the District, who has a clerical job at Washington Hospital Center and blames a flu shot she had several years ago for making her sick. "It's really freaking me out. I don't know what to do."

MedStar, the state of New York, HCA and other entities requiring vaccination are allowing exemptions for employees who have medical reasons for not getting vaccinated, such as egg allergies or risk factors for a rare complication known as Guilliame-Barre syndrome. MedStar and HCA and others also allow workers with religious objections to be exempted.

In New York, however, where the policy affects about 522,000 employees, no religious exemptions are allowed. Workers who refuse would be assigned to duties that do not involve patient contact, and they could face further disciplinary action.

"I have a problem with being mandated to put something in my body," said Sandra Morales, a labor and delivery nurse at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. HCA employees who do not get vaccinated will have to wear surgical masks during the flu season or be dismissed. MedStar workers who refuse would face disciplinary action, including possibly being fired.

"If somebody didn't want to wash their hands or scrub before going into surgery, you can imagine there wouldn't be a lot of tolerance for that," Thomas said, noting that MedStar was postponing a decision about requiring the H1N1 vaccine until more information was available about its availability. HCA is doing that too.

Similar mandates have been implemented by a few hospitals in previous years, including Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. This year, the number is increasing sharply to also include Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia, Loyola University Hospital outside Chicago, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. The University of Maryland Health System, which consists of 11 hospitals in Maryland, is making flu shots mandatory at three of its medical centers this year and asking employees at the other eight to either get shots or fill out a form explaining why they are declining.

But some question the decision.

"As a general rule, medicine should be a voluntary occupation," said George Annas, a Boston University bioethicist. "Once you start requiring doctors to get it, doctors are going to think it's reasonable to make patients get it. It starts you down that mandatory route, and I don't think we want to go there."

Some unions also object, saying mandatory vaccination diverts attention from other more effective infection-control methods, such as providing workers with state-of-the-art, well-fitting masks.

"These mandatory vaccination programs are really sucking the air out of the room to deal with infection control in a more comprehensive manner," said Bill Borwegen, occupational health and safety director of the Service Employees International Union. "This is the worst time to be demoralizing health-care workers: when we need them to be on the front line of this epidemic."

U.S., NATO Poised For Most Massive War In Afghanistan's History

U.S., NATO Poised For Most Massive War In Afghanistan's History

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Over the past week U.S. newspapers and television networks have been abuzz with reports that Washington and its NATO allies are planning an unprecedented increase of troops for the war in Afghanistan, even in addition to the 17,000 new American and several thousand NATO forces that have been committed to the war so far this year.

The number, based on as yet unsubstantiated reports of what U.S. and NATO commander Stanley McChrystal and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen have demanded of the White House, range from 10,000 to 45,000.

Fox News has cited figures as high as 45,000 more American soldiers and ABC News as many as 40,000. On September 15 the Christian Science Monitor wrote of "perhaps as many as 45,000."

The similarity of the estimates indicate that a number has been agreed upon and America's obedient media is preparing domestic audiences for the possibility of the largest escalation of foreign armed forces in Afghanistan's history. Only seven years ago the United States had 5,000 troops in the country, but was scheduled to have 68,000 by December even before the reports of new deployments surfaced.

An additional 45,000 troops would bring the U.S. total to 113,000. There are also 35,000 troops from some 50 other nations serving under NATO's International Security Assistance Force in the nation, which would raise combined troop strength under McChrystal's command to 148,000 if the larger number of rumored increases materializes.

As the former Soviet Union withdrew its soldiers from Afghanistan twenty years ago the New York Times reported "At the height of the Soviet commitment, according to Western intelligence estimates, there were 115,000 troops deployed." [1]

Nearly 150,000 U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan would represent the largest foreign military presence ever in the land.

Rather than addressing this historic watershed, the American media is full of innuendos and "privileged" speculation on who has leaked the information and why, as to commercial news operations the tawdry world of Byzantine intrigues among and between American politicians, generals and the Fourth Estate is of more importance that the lengthiest and largest war in the world.

One that has been estimated by the chief of the British armed forces and other leading Western officials to last decades and that has already been extended into Pakistan, a nation with a population almost six times that of Afghanistan and in possession of nuclear weapons.

Two weeks ago the Dutch media reported that during a visit to the Netherlands "General Stanley McChrystal [said] he is considering the possibility of merging...Operation Enduring Freedom with NATO's ISAF force." [2] That is, not only would he continue to command all U.S. and NATO troops, but the two commands would be melded into one.

The call for up to 45,000 more American troops was first adumbrated in mid-September by U.S. armed forces chief Michael Mullen, with the Associated Press stating "The top U.S. military officer says that winning in Afghanistan will probably mean sending more troops." [3]

Four days later, September 19, Reuters reported that "The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has drawn up a long-awaited and detailed request for additional troops but has not yet sent it to Washington, a spokesman said on Saturday.

"He said General Stanley McChrystal completed the document this week, setting out exactly how many U.S. and NATO troops, Afghan security force members and civilians he thinks he needs." [4]

The Pentagon spokesman mentioned above, Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, said, "We're working with Washington as well as the other NATO participants about how it's best to submit this," refusing to divulge any details. [5]

Two days later the Washington Post published a 66-page "redacted" version of General McChrystal's Commander's Initial Assessment which began with this background information:

"On 26 June, 2009, the United States Secretary of Defense directed Commander, United States Central Command (CDRUSCENTCOM), to provide a multidisciplinary assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. On 02 July, 2009, Commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF) / U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), received direction from CDRUSCENTCOM to complete the overall review.

"On 01 July, 2009, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and NATO Secretary General also issued a similar directive.

"COMISAF [Commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force] subsequently issued an order to the ISAF staff and component commands to conduct a comprehensive review to assess the overall situation, review plans and ongoing efforts, and identify revisions to operational, tactical and strategic guidance."

The main focus of the report, not surprising given McChrystal's previous role as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, the Pentagon's preeminent special operations unit, in Iraq, is concentrated and intensified counterinsurgency war.

It includes the demand that "NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) requires a new strategy....This new strategy must also be properly resourced and executed through an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign....This is a different kind of fight. We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations in an environment that is uniquely complex....Success demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign."

McChrystal's evaluation also indicates that the war will not only escalate within Afghanistan but will also be stepped up inside Pakistan and may even target Iran.

"Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence].

"Iranian Qods Force [part of the nation's army] is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents. Iran's current policies and actions do not pose a short-term threat to the mission, but Iran has the capability to threaten the mission in the future."

That the ISI has had links to armed extremists is no revelation. The Pentagon and the CIA worked hand-in-glove with it from 1979 onward to subvert successive governments in Afghanistan. That Iran is "training fighters for certain Taliban groups" is a provocational fabrication.

As to who is responsible for the thirty-year disaster that is Afghanistan, McChrystal's assessment contains a sentence that may get past most readers. It is this:

"The major insurgent groups in order of their threat to the mission are: the Quetta Shura Taliban (05T), the Haqqani Network (HQN), and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG)."

The last-named is the guerrilla force of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the largest recipient of hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of U.S. dollars provided by the CIA to the Peshawar Seven Mujahideen bloc fighting the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan from 1978-1992.

While hosting Hekmatyar and his allies at the White House in 1985 then President Ronald Reagan referred to his guests as "the moral equivalents of America's founding fathers.”

Throughout the 1980s the CIA official in large part tasked to assist the Mujahideen with funds, arms and training was Robert Gates, now U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Last December BBC News reported:

"In his book, From the Shadows, published in 1996, Mr Gates defended the role of the CIA in undertaking covert action which, he argued, helped to win the Cold War.

"In a speech in 1999, Mr Gates said that its most important role was in Afghanistan.

"'CIA had important successes in covert action. Perhaps the most consequential of all was Afghanistan where CIA, with its management, funnelled billions of dollars in supplies and weapons to the mujahideen, and the resistance was thus able to fight the vaunted Soviet army to a standoff and eventually force a political decision to withdraw,' he said." [6]

Now according to McChrystal the same Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was cultivated and sponsored by McChrystal's current boss, Gates, is in charge of one of the three groups the Pentagon and NATO are waging ever-escalating counterinsurgency operations in South Asia against.

To make matters even more intriguing, former British foreign secretary Robin Cook - as loyal a pro-American Atlanticist as exists - conceded in the Guardian on July 8, 2005 that "Bin Laden was...a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally 'the database', was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians."

Russian analyst and vice president of the Center for Political Technologies Sergey Mikheev was quoted in early September as contending that "Afghanistan is a stage in the division of the world after the bipolar system failed. They [U.S. and NATO] wanted to consolidate their grip on Eurasia...and deployed a lot of troops there. The Taliban card was played, although nobody had been interested in the Taliban before." [7]

Pentagon chief Gates' 27 years in the CIA, including his tenure as director of the agency from 1991-1993, is being brought to bear on the Afghan war according to the Los Angeles Times of September 19, 2009, which revealed that "The CIA is deploying teams of spies, analysts and paramilitary operatives to Afghanistan, part of a broad intelligence 'surge' that will make its station there among the largest in the agency's history, U.S. officials say.

"When complete, the CIA's presence in the country is expected to rival the size of its massive stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. Precise numbers are classified, but one U.S. official said the agency already has nearly 700 employees in Afghanistan.

"The intelligence expansion goes beyond the CIA to involve every major spy service, officials said, including the National Security Agency, which intercepts calls and e-mails, as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency, which tracks military threats."

U.S. and NATO Commander McChrystal will put the CIA to immediate use in his plans for an all-out counterinsurgency campaign. The Los Angeles Times article added:

"McChrystal is expected to expand the use of teams that combine CIA operatives with special operations soldiers. In Iraq, where he oversaw the special operations forces from 2003 to 2008, McChrystal used such teams to speed up the cycle of gathering intelligence and carrying out raids aimed at killing or capturing insurgents.

"The CIA is also carrying out an escalating campaign of unmanned Predator missile strikes on Al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Pakistan. The number of strikes so far this year, 37, already exceeds the 2008 total, according to data compiled by the Long War Journal website, which tracks Predator strikes in Pakistan."

Indeed, on September 13 it was reported that "Two NATO fighter jets reportedly flew inside Pakistan's airspace for nearly two hours on Saturday.

"The airspace violation took place in different parts of the Khyber Agency bordering the Afghan border." [8]

Two days later "NATO fighter jets in Afghanistan...violated Pakistani airspace and dropped bombs on the country's northwest region.

"NATO warplanes bombed the South Waziristan tribal region....Moreover, CIA operated spy drone planes continued low-altitude flights in several towns of the Waziristan region." [9]

The dramatic upsurge in CIA deployments in South Asia won't be limited to Afghanistan. Neighboring Pakistan will be further overrun by U.S. intelligence operatives also.

On September 12 a petition was filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan contesting the announced expansion of the U.S. embassy in the nation's capital.

"Pakistani media have been reporting that the United States plans to deploy a large number of marines with the plan to expand its embassy in Islamabad." [10]

The challenge was organized by Barrister Zafarullah Khan, who "said that Saudi Arabia was also trying to get 700,000 acres (283,400 hectares) of land in the country."

He was quoted on the day of the presentation of the petition as warning "Giving away Pakistani land to U.S. and Arab countries in this fashion is a threat for the stability and sovereignty of the country" and "further added that the purpose of giving the land to U.S. embassy was to establish an American military base...there.

"He maintained that such a big land was enough even to construct a military airport." [11]

Intelligence personnel and special forces are being matched by military equipment in the intensification of the West's war in South Asia.

On September 10 Reuters revealed in an article titled "U.S. eyes military equipment in Iraq for Pakistan" that "The Pentagon has proposed transferring U.S. military equipment from Iraq to Pakistani security forces to help Islamabad step up its offensive against the Taliban...."

A U.S. armed forces publication a few days afterward wrote that "U.S. hardware is moving out of Iraq by the ton, much of it going straight to the overstretched forces in increasingly volatile Afghanistan" and "The U.S. military has already started moving an estimated 1.5 million pieces of equipment - everything from batteries to tanks - by ground, rail and air either to Afghanistan for immediate use...." [12]

In the middle of this month "U.S. military leaders infused Gen. Stanley McChrystal's ideas of how to win the war in Afghanistan" by conducting a large-scale counterinsurgency exercise in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

"Dozens of Pashtun speakers joined more than 6,500 U.S. troops and civilians in an exercise for the Afghanistan-bound 173rd Airborne Brigade and Iraq-bound 12th Combat Aviation Brigade. It was the largest such exercise ever held by the U.S. military outside of the United States...." [13]

The Pentagon and NATO have their work cut out for them.

"A security map by the London-based International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) showed a deepening security crisis with substantial Taliban activity in at least 97 percent of the war-ravaged country.

"The Council added that the militants now have a permanent presence in 80 percent of the country." [14]

The United States is not alone in sinking deeper into the Afghan morass.

On September 14 U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, in celebrating the "resilience and deep-seated support from our allies for what is happening in Afghanistan," was equally enthusiastic in proclaiming "Over 40 percent of the body bags that leave Afghanistan do not go to the U.S. They go to other countries...." [15]

Daalder also gave the lie to earlier claims that NATO troop increases leading up to last month's presidential election were temporary in nature by acknowledging that "Many of the extra troops that NATO countries sent to Afghanistan for the August presidential elections would stay on." [16]

Leading up to the Washington Post's publication of the McChrystal assessment, NATO's Military Committee held a two-day conference in Lisbon, Portugal which was attended by McChrystal and NATO's two Strategic Commanders, Admiral Stavridis (Supreme Allied Commander, Operations) and General Abrial (Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation) which "focused mainly on the operation in Afghanistan and on the New Strategic Concept." [17]

The 28 NATO defense chiefs present laid a wreath to the Alliance's first war dead, those killed in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month the Washington Post reported that "The U.S. military and NATO are launching a major overhaul of the way they recruit, train and equip Afghanistan's security forces," an announcement that came "in advance of expected recommendations by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal." [18]

The article quoted Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"We're going to need many more trainers, hopefully including a much larger number of NATO trainers. We're going to need a surge of equipment that is coming out of Iraq and, instead of coming home, a great deal of it should be going to Afghanistan instead." [19]

According to the same report, this month NATO will "will establish a new command led by a three-star military officer to oversee recruiting and generating Afghan forces.

"The goal is to 'bring more coherence' to uncoordinated efforts by NATO contingents in Afghanistan while underscoring that the mission 'is not just America's challenge'..." [20]

Contributing to its quota of body bags, NATO has experienced losses in Afghanistan that have reached record levels. "According to the icasualties website, 363 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to 294 for all of 2008." [21]

This month Britain lost its 216th soldier in the nearly eight-year war. Canada lost its 131st. Denmark its 25th. Italy its 20th. Poland, where a recent poll showed 81 percent support for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, its 12th.

Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, who had been in the nation in the 1980s, was cited by Associated Press on September 12 as reflecting that in 2002 the U.S. had 5,000 troops in the nation and "Taliban controlled just a small corner of the country's southeast."

"Now we have Taliban fighting in the peaceful Kunduz and Baghlan (provinces) with your (NATO's) 100,000 troops. And if this trend is the rule, if you bring 200,000 soldiers here, all of Afghanistan will be under the Taliban."

Associated Press also cited Kabulov's concern that "the U.S. and its allies are competing with Russia for influence in the energy-rich region....Afghanistan remains a strategic prize because of its location near the gas and oil fields of Iran, the Caspian Sea, Central Asia and

the Persian Gulf."

He also said "Russia has questions about NATO's intentions in Afghanistan, which...lies outside of the alliance's 'political domain'" and "Moscow is concerned that NATO is building permanent bases in the region."

The concerns are legitimate in light of this month's latest quadrennial report by the Pentagon on security threats which "put emerging superpower China and former Cold War foe Russia alongside Iran and North Korea on a list of the four main nations challenging American interests." [22]

At the same time a U.S. military newspaper reported on statements by Pentagon chief Robert Gates:

"Gates said the roughly $6.5 billion he has proposed to upgrade the [Air Force] fleet assures U.S. domination of the skies for decades.

"By the time China produces its first - 5th generation - fighter, he said, the U.S. will have more than 1,000 F-22s and F-35s. And while the U.S. conducted 35,000 refueling missions last year, Russia performed about 30.

"The secretary also highlighted new efforts to support robust space and cyber commands, as well as the new Global Strike Command that oversees the nuclear arsenal." [23]

To add to Russian and Chinese apprehensions about NATO's role in South and Central Asia, ten days ago the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and China, "offered to Kazakhstan to take part in the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan."

At the opening ceremony of the NATO Steppe Eagle-2009 military exercises in that nation envoy Richard Hoagland said "Kazakhstan may again become part of the international NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan." [24]

Radio Free Europe reported on September 16 that NATO was to sign new agreements with Kyrgyzstan, which also borders China, for the use of the Manas Air Base that as many as 200,000 U.S. and NATO troops have passed through since the beginning of the Afghan war.

On the same day NATO' plans for expanding transit routes through the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region were described. "[T]he air corridor through Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is the most feasible.

"This route will be best suited if ISAF transport planes fly directly to Baku from Turkey or any other NATO member....Moreover, it [Azerbaijan] is not a CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] member, which allows Azerbaijan more freedom for maneuver in the region when dealing with NATO." [25]

Just as troops serving under NATO command in the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan now include those from almost fifty countries on five continents, so the broadening scope of the war is absorbing vaster tracts of Eurasia and the Middle East.

America's longest armed conflict since that in Indochina and NATO's first ground war threatens to not only remain the world's most dangerous conflagration but also one that plunges the 21st Century into a war without end.

Notes

1) New York Times, February 16, 1989

2) Radio Netherlands, September 12, 2009

3) Associated Press, September 15, 2009

4) Reuters, September 19, 2009

5) Ibid

6) BBC News, December 1, 2008

7) Russia Today, September 7, 2009

8) Asian News International, September 13, 2009

9) Press TV, September 15, 2009

10) Xinhua News, September 12, 2009

11) Ibid

12) Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009

13) Stars and Stripes, September 13, 2009

14) Trend News Agency, September 11, 2009

15) Reuters, September 14, 2009

16) Ibid

17) NATO, September 20, 2009

18) Washington Post, September 12, 2009

19) Ibid

20) Ibid

21) Agence France-Presse, September 22, 2009

22) Agence France-Presse, September 15, 2009

23) Stars and Stripes, September 16, 2009

24) Interfax, September 14, 2009

25) Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 16, 2009

Obama asserts power to detain suspects without trial

Obama asserts power to detain suspects without trial

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The Obama administration announced this week that it intends to continue the Bush administration policy of holding terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge or trial.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said that President Obama may continue to hold “terror suspects” indefinitely and without judicial review based on the congressional Authorization to Use Military Force that came in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington—the same rationale used by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

The move aims to institutionalize the previous administration’s assault on habeas corpus—the bedrock principle of democratic rights and the civil liberties laid down in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The announcement is a shift from a position Obama outlined in a May 22 speech at the National Archives. There he said he would go to Congress to obtain legislation to carry on the policy of indefinite detention, which he claimed was the only way of dispersing a section of the Guantánamo prison population too “dangerous” to try in civil courts.

In reality, the administration does not want to try these prisoners in normal civilian courts because such trials would expose the use of torture against the defendants, the evidence based on torture would be inadmissible, and civil trials might reveal embarrassing facts about the activities of US intelligence agencies.

“I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantánamo detainees,” Obama said three months ago. “[G]oing forward, my administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime.”

Obama’s new “legal regime,” sources said, would likely have included a special “National Security Court,” in which hearsay evidence and testimony extracted through torture would be admissible.

In Wednesday’s statement, the Justice Department declared the administration “is not currently seeking additional authorization,” but would “rely on authority already provided by Congress” under the Authorization to Use Military Force. That resolution was, in fact, proposed and passed as a measure only to provide congressional backing for the invasion of Afghanistan.

Obama has decided to rely on this subterfuge and go around Congress in order to avoid hearings and the public controversy that would be aroused by such legislation. By simply asserting executive power, the administration is carrying out a fundamental attack on democratic rights without any public debate.

According to one account, the administration’s decision to carry on indefinite detention would apply only to current Guantánamo detainees. However, there is nothing in the underlying legal rationale—that the Authorization of Force allows the president to arrest without charge or trial those he declares to be members or supporters of Al Qaeda or the Taliban—preventing Obama from applying indefinite detention to new detainees.

It is noteworthy that this rationalization was explicitly repudiated by the Supreme Court in its 2006 ruling against the Bush administration’s military commissions in the case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, declared that there was nothing in the Authorization to Use Military Force that “even hinted” at allowing the president to expand his war powers to override due process.

Some civil liberties spokesmen welcomed the announcement from the Obama administration on the grounds that legislation would be even more destructive of democratic rights than the bare assertion of executive power. In response, ACLU Lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, who represented Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed Jawad in his habeas case, said, “In fact, Obama is continuing to make the same core assertion Bush did: the right to seize individuals anywhere in the world and deny them a fair trial based on the notion of a global ‘war on terror.’”

Obama’s decision marks an intensification of the assault on habeas corpus, the “great writ,” which underlays all civil liberties and dates back to the Middle Ages. Habeas corpus stipulates that the state must produce an arrested individual in an independent court and show just cause for imprisonment. Failing this, the arrested individual has “the right to have his body,” and must be released.

Also on Wednesday, the Justice Department outlined what it presented as a democratic reinterpretation of the executive “state secrets” privilege, which allows the federal government to deny certain evidence from court proceedings based on the assertion that it may endanger national security.

Rather than using the privilege to block particular pieces of evidence, both the Bush and Obama administrations have invoked “state secrets” as a means of shutting down entire court cases launched by the victims of torture, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless wiretapping.

The new parameters do not restrict the use of the privilege to thwart court cases that challenge government abuse. Like the Bush administration, Obama has taken the position that US methods in the “war on terror” are beyond legal review.

“They don’t anywhere say, ‘we will not seek dismissal on state secrets grounds at the outset [of a case]’” said Ben Wizner, an ACLU attorney. “They say we’re going to make an effort to apply it as narrowly as possible. But that doesn’t change what they’ve been doing all along.”

Obama’s reassertion of indefinite detention and an expansive state secrets doctrine underscores the administration’s deeply reactionary character. These actions join a long list of antidemocratic policies carried over from the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has declared it has the right to carry on illegal domestic spying operations and the practice of rendition. It has rejected the habeas corpus rights of prisoners held at the notorious Bagram prison in Afghanistan. And Obama has declared his determination, in the name of “moving on,” to defend the Bush administration and CIA agents who oversaw a global regime of torture and murder.

These are not mistaken policies, as some liberal critics assert. The antidemocratic abuses of the “war on terror” emerge inexorably from the American ruling class’s turn toward aggressive war as the means of offsetting the erosion in its economic position.

The Obama administration’s main target is not terrorism. Instead, the framework of a police state—being prepared under conditions of mass unemployment and deepening social misery—is to be used against political and social opposition within the US.

Banks fight to kill proposed consumer protection agency

Banks fight to kill proposed consumer protection agency

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If you doubt that U.S. banks long to return to the days of impotent regulation, you need only look at one of the financial sector's top legislative priorities: killing a proposed new agency that would be dedicated solely to protecting consumers' financial interests.

The Obama administration is asking Congress to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to regulate consumer financial products ranging from credit cards to mortgages, and to simplify disclosure about them all.

Though virtually every cause of the nation's recent financial crisis was rooted in weak consumer protection, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is leading the fight against the proposed agency on grounds that it would make credit less available and more costly. The American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America, and the Financial Services Roundtable also oppose the measure.

"We have no argument that regulation failed. Consumer protection is just one of the many areas where it fell down," said David Hirschmann, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets, which opposes the panel. "It just simply adds a new layer of regulation without fixing . . . our outdated, broken regulatory structure that was a contributing factor in our crisis."

The Chamber said it's spending about $2 million on ads, educational efforts and a grassroots campaign to kill the agency. It said that the grassroots effort has led to more than 23,000 letters sent to Congress to date.

The Center for Responsive Politics said that for the 2010 election cycle, commercial banks have donated almost $3.7 million to lawmakers — 54 percent of it to Republicans. Companies that provide credit have given about $1.4 million, 59 percent to Democrats. Mortgage bankers and brokers have given $581,423.

"Maybe instead of making government BIGGER, we should focus on making government BETTER," reads one Chamber ad.

The Chamber warns that the agency could morph into a monster regulator.

"If you look at this actual bill, the powers are so broad and so ill-defined that the scope of who is covered is incredible. They've managed to create a proposed new regulator for anyone who directly or indirectly provides credit to consumers," Hirschmann said. "If you allow people to give gift cards for your store . . . you've got a new regulator. It's amazingly broad in scope, scale and power."

The administration scoffs at those charges.

"Contrary to some advertisements you may have seen, we have no desire to interfere with Main Street retailers' ability to provide credit to their customers. That argument is to the financial regulation debate what the Death Panel argument is to the health insurance debate," Lawrence Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Barack Obama, said in a recent speech. "We have become convinced that it is essential that consumer financial regulation be carried on by an independent body whose mandate is uniquely and exclusively consumer and investor protection."

Until the current crisis, responsibility for these consumer protections fell to several separate regulators, who made consumer protection subservient to their core mission of regulating institutions for safety and soundness.

Predatory lending and no-documentation loans helped spawn the housing crisis. Weak oversight by federal regulators allowed mortgage bonds to be sold to investors as the safest of investments when they were far from it.

When economic times got tough last year, banks began padding their balance sheets by socking surprised consumers with new credit card fees that were hidden in contractual fine print.

"In practice, nobody really took it seriously. . . . I think clearly you have had a lot of abuses, and whatever was on the books wasn't being enforced," said Morris Goldstein, a former top official at the International Monetary Fund and a researcher for the Peterson Institute of International Economics. "I think it makes sense to try to wrap it together and give someone the responsibility to deal with the great bulk of it."

Opponents have suggested that the new agency could impede the way businesses operate, but that concern is rejected by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard University law professor who's long championed creation of such a regulator. Separately, Warren leads a congressional panel that monitors the Treasury Department's bank bailout program.

"The CFPA will provide real oversight over financial institutions and create some basic safety standards. This will make it safer for your local butcher to take out a mortgage or a credit card, but the CFPA is not going to regulate the way he carries out his business," she told McClatchy, referring to a Chamber ad that suggests even local butcher shops would be regulated.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House of Representatives' Financial Services Committee, said Tuesday that he intends to exempt most non-financial businesses from oversight by the new agency. At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, the Chamber's Hirschmann said that while he appreciated Frank's modifications, the Chamber still opposes the bill.

Some leading Republicans are siding with the banks.

"Is the proper role of the government to limit consumer choice?" Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, the senior Republican on the Financial Services panel, asked Assistant Treasury Secretary Michel Barr during a hearing this month.

Barr, who as a former professor helped create the concept of a consumer financial protection agency, responded that by requiring clear and simple information for consumers, the agency would help them make better informed choices.

"It doesn't limit choice," Barr said.

Some Democrats, such as New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who heads the House committee on small business, are concerned about the bill's potentially broad sweep. In a statement to McClatchy, she warned that, "if these proposals are not crafted correctly, they could ensnare small businesses we don't think of as financial institutions. In addition, we need to consider how new regulations will impact small firms in the financial sector, like community banks and credit unions."

The proposed agency appears to have broad Democratic support in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, which has been slower to deal with financial regulation, support is harder to gauge.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the chairman of the Banking Committee, has voiced support for the idea, but he's breaking with the administration and the House by proposing to consolidate half a dozen bank regulators into a single unified agency. A consumer protection agency could be folded into it, or it could be separate.

Advocacy groups say that the financial sector's opposition underscores the need to act.

"I don't see why people don't understand that this should be a measure of why to pass it," said Barbara Roper, the director of investor relations for the Consumer Federation of America. "If you assume, as I do, that they fear anything that threatens the way they do their business, their ability to profit through the abuse of their customers, then this (legislation) should be taken seriously."

In this environment, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America announced this week that they'd modify their overdraft fee policies.

G-20 opponents, police clash on Pittsburgh streets

G-20 opponents, police clash on Pittsburgh streets

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Police fired canisters of pepper spray and smoke at marchers protesting the Group of 20 summit Thursday after anarchists responded to calls to disperse by rolling trash bins and throwing rocks.

The afternoon march turned chaotic at just about the time that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived for a meeting with leaders of the world's major economies.

The clashes began after hundreds of protesters, many advocating against capitalism, tried to march from an outlying neighborhood toward the convention center where the summit is being held.

The protesters banged on drums and chanted "Ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people don't stop."

The marchers included small groups of self-described anarchists, some wearing dark clothes and bandanas and carrying black flags. Others wore helmets and safety goggles.

One banner read, "No borders, no banks," another, "No hope in capitalism." A few minutes into the march, protesters unfurled a large banner reading "NO BAILOUT NO CAPITALISM" with an encircled "A," a recognized sign of anarchists.

The marchers did not have a permit and, after a few blocks, police declared it an unlawful assembly. They played an announcement over a loudspeaker ordering people to leave and then police in riot gear moved in to break it up. Authorities also used a crowd-control device that emits a deafening siren-like noise, making it uncomfortable for protesters to remain in the area.

Protesters split into smaller groups. Some rolled large metal trash bins toward police, and a man in a black hooded sweat shirt threw rocks at a police car, breaking the front windshield. Protesters broke windows in a few businesses, including a bank branch, a Boston Market restaurant and a BMW dealership.

Officers fired pepper spray and smoke at the protesters and set off a flash-bang grenade. Some of those exposed to the pepper spray coughed and complained that their eyes were watering and stinging.

Police were planning a news conference to discuss their response. Officers were seen taking away a handful of protesters in cuffs.

About an hour after the clashes started, the police and protesters were at a standoff. Police sealed off main thoroughfares to downtown.

Twenty-one-year-old Stephon Boatwright, of Syracuse, N.Y., wore a mask of English anarchist Guy Fawkes and yelled at a line of riot police. He then sat cross-legged near the officers, telling them to let the protesters through and to join their cause.

"You're actively suppressing us. I know you want to move," Boatwright yelled, to applause from the protesters gathered around him.

Protesters complained that the march had been peaceful and that police were trampling on their right to assemble.

"We were barely even protesting," said T.J. Amick, 22, of Pittsburgh. "Then all of a sudden, they come up and tell us we're gathered illegally and start using force, start banging their shields, start telling us we're going to be arrested and tear gassed. ... We haven't broken any laws."

Bret Hatch, 26, of Green Bay, Wis., was carrying an American flag and a "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

"This is ridiculous. We have constitutional rights to free speech," he said.

The National Lawyer's Guild, a liberal legal-aid group, said one of its observers, a second year law student, was among those arrested. Its representatives were stationed among the protesters, wearing green hats.

"I think he was totally acting according to the law. I don't think he was provoking anyone at all," said Joel Kupferman, a member of the guild. "It's really upsetting because he's here to serve, to make sure everyone else can be protected. ... It's a sign that they are out of control."

The march had begun at a city park, where an activist from New York City, dressed in a white suit with a preacher's collar, started it off with a speech through a bullhorn.

"They are not operating on Earth time. ... They are accommodating the devil," he said. "To love democracy and to love the earth is to be a radical now."

The activist, Billy Talen, travels the country preaching against consumerism. He initially identified himself as "the Rev. Billy from the Church of Life After Shopping."

Later Thursday, hundreds of protesters, including a handful of anarchists, massed near the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden where the G-20 summit was beginning with a welcome ceremony.

"Tell me what a police state looks like. This is what a police state looks like!" the protesters chanted as several hundred riot police blocked them from getting any closer.

Dignitaries arrived in waves throughout the day, entering a city under heavy security. Police and National Guard troops guarded many downtown intersections, and a maze of tall metal fences and concrete barriers shunted cars and pedestrians.

The G-20 ends late Friday afternoon after a day of meetings at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

A Military That Wants Its Way

How to Trap a President in a Losing War

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Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")

On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.

He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.

Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.

On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.

As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.

Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.

There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.

Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President

In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")

Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.

So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.

If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)

Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.

As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.

It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."

Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.

A Petraeus Moment?

In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")

Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.

Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.

It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.

But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.

We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.

Struggle for jobs comes to G-20

Struggle for jobs comes to G-20

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More than 1,000 protesters marched through the streets here on Sept. 20 demanding a real jobs program, like the public works program the Roosevelt administration enacted during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It was the first demonstration related to the G-20 summit, a gathering of Treasury officials and central bankers from 20 countries that is to take place in the city later in the week. The goal of the G-20 is to protect bank profits. The goal of the March for Jobs is to revive Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for the right of all to a job. The march was organized by the Bail Out the People Movement and the Rev. Thomas E. Smith, pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church, and endorsed by the United Steelworkers union and the United Electrical Workers.

The march garnered coverage and interest from major big-business media, both nationally and locally, including the Associated Press, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the French Press Agency and others. Organizers of the march attributed the media interest to the fact that the march addressed the crisis of joblessness and its devastating impact on the Black community.

People came from cities throughout the country to join a significant number of Pittsburgh area residents for the march. The cities represented included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Cleveland, Akron, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Miami, New York, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Providence, the North Carolina Triangle area and Boston. Many have been laid off or lost their homes to foreclosures. Despite the crisis, people were spirited, drawing strength from being together and from building a movement.

“In honor of Martin Luther King we are continuing what he started in uniting people together in a poor people’s campaign,” the Rev. Tom Smith, pastor of Monumental Baptist Church and one of the organizers of the march, told the rally. “The G-20 is structuring deals to protect the corporations and not the workers. It’s time for the workers to come together and make a difference.”

People gathered in the morning at Monumental Baptist Church located in the historic African-American Hill district of Pittsburgh. A tent city dedicated to the unemployed had been set up next to the church the day before. Many of the protesters will stay at the tent city throughout the week with more people expected to join as the G-20 summit opens.

An opening rally was held before the march stepped off at about 2:30. People marched carrying hundreds of placards with the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and chanting, “We got the right! We got the right to a job!” The march ended at Freedom Corner, where in 1963 people got on buses to go to the historic civil rights march in Washington, D.C.

Larry Holmes, an organizer of the Bail Out the People Movement, said the government claims a jobless recovery is on the horizon. He emphasized that this is unacceptable. “A jobless recovery is like a dead patient after a successful operation,” he said.

Monica Moorehead of the organization Millions for Mumia recognized the more than two million people in prison who couldn’t be at the demonstration. She introduced a taped message from political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

At the closing rally, Fred Redmond, United Steelworkers vice president, noted the need for universal health care and affordable education as well as jobs for all. “Enough of our kids are going to school where the rats outnumber the computers,” he said. “We have to assure that every child receives an education to equip them for the 21st century.”

Other speakers at the two rallies included Oscar Hernandez, a participant in the 11-month Stella D’Oro bakery strike in New York City; Clarence Thomas, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 and Million Worker March Movement; Brenda Stokely and Jennifer Jones, NYC Coalition in Solidarity with Katrina/Rita Survivors; Rob Robinson, Picture the Homeless; Rosemary Williams, Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign; Mick Kelly, Coalition for a Peoples Bailout; Nellie Bailey, Harlem Tenants Council; John Parker, Bail Out the People Movement organizer in Los Angeles; Sandra Hines, Michigan Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs; Rokhee Devastali, Feminist Students United, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart; Larry Hales, FIST (Fight Imperialism Stand Together); Larry Adams, People’s Organization for Progress; Pam Africa, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Victor Toro, an immigrant facing deportation and member of the May 1st Coalition for Worker & Immigrant Rights; Berna Ellorin, BAYAN-USA; Father Luis Barrios, Pastors for Peace; Kali Akuno, U.S. Human Rights Network; and Pennsylvania state Sen. Jim Ferlo.

Why people came to Pittsburgh

The march was a powerful draw for people, many of whom traveled long distances to be part of the event. Strikers from TRW Automotive, a seatbelt-making plant in Mexico, had been in Detroit speaking out about their struggle when they heard about the protest in Pittsburgh and joined the bus from Detroit. One member of the TRW group, Israel Mouroig of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, said it was necessary to forge alliances at the international level. “Corporations that generate billions of dollars a year produced the crisis in our country,” he said. “There is a lack of jobs because they see the working class as robots, as numbers. We have to appropriate the means of production and be the actors of our own history.”

Several people drove from Los Angeles, including Guy Anthony, who lost his job as an organizer with the Service Employees union in June. Now living in his car, he has traveled around the country writing a blog about his experiences (thedistantdrummer.com). “You can’t talk about joblessness without talking about homelessness,” Anthony said. He met people in Seattle who had set up “a fabulous tent city” on church property. He also stayed with people who set up a homeless community at a roadside stop off of Route 280 south of San Francisco. “You couldn’t want better neighbors,” he said. “Nobody went hungry. It was a beautiful socialist community.” The county recently shut the group down.

A large contingent from the Boston School Bus Drivers union, USW Local 8751, including Gary Murchison, former three-term president of the local, and Frantz Mendes, current president, showed up three days before the march to help organize and build the tent city.

Detroit activists, who organized a hugely successful tent city in June, brought a busload of people to Pittsburgh. “We had to be here,” said Sandra Hines of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition. “We have to mobilize, organize before they take every right we have away from us.” Latonya Lloyd, who was part of the Detroit delegation, recently battled the shut-off of utilities at the Highland Towers apartment building.

Mary Kay Harris came with about 40 other people on a bus from Rhode Island. A member of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), Harris said that as soon as they heard about the March for Jobs they decided they had to be there. Rhode Island, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, has a tent city of the homeless. “We feel that solidarity is the most important thing,” she said.

Activists in Cleveland also brought a busload of people, including a large contingent from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. And a group of 18 youth came from North Carolina, including Tracy Gill, a member of FIST who said this was the first big protest she had ever been to.

Members of the Minnesota People’s Bailout Coalition also came to the march. Angel Buechner said the organization had fought for legislation last year that would have provided immediate jobs or income and a moratorium on foreclosures and on the state’s five-year limit on receiving welfare. But Gov. Tim Pawlenty defeated the measure. Despite the setback, Buechner is ready to continue the battle.

At the ending rally at Freedom Corner, Holmes announced—to the approval of the crowd—that the next step is to build a national march for jobs in Washington next April to continue Dr. King’s dream.

"Non-Lethal Weapons": An Instrument of Social Control

"Non-Lethal Weapons": An Instrument of Social Control

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Although so-called non-lethal weapons (NLWs) have been around for decades and range from CS gas to pepper spray and from the low-tech water cannon to the Taser, their use by military and police agencies world-wide are designed to ensure compliance from hostile "natives."

And with ever-more devilish torture tools being dreamed up by the likes of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP), it's a safe bet that migration from the military to civilian law enforcement agencies will continue at its current break-neck pace.

In this context, San Diego's East County Magazine and progressive Liberty One Radio reported, ironically enough on September 11, that the San Diego Sheriff's Department stationed a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) during recent town hall forums.

Manufactured by American Technology Corporation (ATC), the firm's LRAD 500-x is a dual-purpose device: a powerful hailer and a non-lethal weapon capable of producing ear-shattering sounds highly-damaging to their human targets.

ATC's technology has been deployed in Iraq as an "anti-insurgent weapon" and off the coast of Somalia to fight off desperate "pirates," that is, former Somali fishermen whose livelihood has been destroyed by over-fishing by foreign factory fleets and toxic dumping, including nuclear waste, by Western polluters.

No matter, time to break out the sonic blasters!

Developed for the U.S. Navy in the wake of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, cruise ship Captain Michael Groves "successfully repelled pirates off the Somali coast using non-lethal weapons including an LRAD. Groves has since filed suit against Carnival Cruise Line, claiming he suffered permanent hearing loss as a result," East County Magazine reports.

The BBC noted in 2005 that the "shrill sound of an LRAD at its loudest sounds something like a domestic smoke alarm, ATC says, but at 150 decibels, it is the aural equivalent to standing 30m away from a roaring jet engine and can cause major hearing damage if misused."

According to ATC's web site, "LRAD resolves uncertain situations and potentially saves lives on both sides of the device by combining powerful voice commands and deterrent tones with focused acoustic output to clearly transmit highly intelligible instructions and warnings well beyond 500 meters."

While the defense establishment and their civilian counterparts dismiss concerns that acoustic weapons pose a danger to their targets, the Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project noted in 2006:

Juergen Altmann, who is conducting an independent scientific assessment of acoustic weapons, has warned that there is risk of hearing damage to people exposed to the beam at ranges of up to 100m. ... An added difficulty with ensuring no permanent damage is that some people are more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss than others and hearing damage can occur at levels below the threshold for ear pain. A report from the US Army's 361st Psychological Operations Company gives an idea of the powerful effects of the LRAD: 'During distance tests at 100 meters, the sound was painful to listeners, even with hands held over the ears and ear plugs in'." (Neil Davison, Nick Lewer, Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project, Research Report No. 8, March 2006, pp. 33-34)

Far from being employed as a means to "reduce casualties," its actual use lends itself to the opposite effect. In Iraq, for example the U.S. Army's 361st Psychological Operations Company noted that "The LRAD has proven useful for clearing streets and rooftops during cordon and search, for disseminating command information, and for drawing out enemy snipers who are subsequently destroyed by our own snipers."

In a civilian setting, one can easily envisage groups of "rioters" being sonically blasted prior to street clearing operations by heavily-armed SWAT teams. Kevin Keenan, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union told East County Magazine:

"It's very concerning. It is fine for the Sheriff's Department to have new less-than-lethal weapons, but for their interactions with individuals these still-dangerous weapons need to be used only as substitutes for firearms. They can't be used as just another tool on the tool belt. As we've seen with tasers and pepper spray, these types of weapons are being used to subdue people even though they pose the risk of serious physical harm."

He added, "Even more concerning is having these weapons for public order policing. I can imagine no situation, or am not aware of any situation that's ever happened in San Diego County or is likely to happen that would justify using these weapons for public order policing to control a crowd. The main effect of having those weapons at public events is to chill people and chill free speech and free association." (Miriam Raftery, "Sonic Weapons Used in Iraq Positioned at Congressional Town Hall Meetings in San Diego County," East County Magazine, September 11, 2009)

I would add however, the purpose of these weapons is precisely to "chill free speech and free association," thus ensuring compliance to the whims of our capitalist masters.

Research into more "effective" low-cost acoustic NLWs are gathering steam. Wired reported September 1 that a "Tennessee lab primarily responsible for building components for nuclear weapons is branching off into the nonlethal weapons business."

Called the Banshee II, the weapon emits a piercing 144-decibel sound that is designed to be more than just annoying. "It also has a frequency-switching system that pumps your ear drums, so it sounds like there's a drum beating there," the inventor tells Knoxnews.com. "You physically feel it in your ear drum." (Sharon Weinberger, "Nuke Lab Builds 'Beating Drum' Sonic Blaster, Wired, September 1, 2009)

While such devices never caught on with the military its inventor, so-called nuke "gadget guru" Fariborz Bzorgi who works at the Y-12 nuclear plant in Tennessee "hopes the Banshee II could have broader applications for law enforcement."

No doubt they will. As Neil Davison, the author of the recently published "Non-Lethal" Weapons points out, military and police moves towards "effects-based" NLWs are consistent with requirements "for weapons with greater range, more precise delivery, and rheostatic effects from 'non-lethal' to 'lethal'."

Davison cites the LRAD and other acoustic devices as "the only new technologies that have emerged" in the last several years and pointedly notes that "all these weapons have emerged from the private sector."

That they have should hardly come as a surprise.

After all as Homeland Security Weekly reported in 2007, "homeland security spending is a massive and highly lucrative new market." With an expected growth rate between "eight and ten percent annually over the next five years" the publication claims that "the addressable U.S. market over the next five years will be in the range of approximately $140 billion, a 21 percent increase over our five-year estimate made in 2004."

As the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed, heimat grifting and massive waste go hand in hand:

• Cities and agencies bought things with grant money that would not make California a safer place. One county tried to use anti-terrorism funds for a lawnmower but it was blocked at the last minute. Another county succeeded in buying a big-screen television.

• Dozens of cities and agencies failed to keep adequate records on how they spent the money. In some cases, the poor record keeping resulted in thousands of dollars worth of overpayments to local agencies. In other cases, agencies were unable to find where they stored their own equipment.

• Communities repeatedly bought large and small-ticket items without seeking competitive bids. Federal procurement rules designed to protect the taxpayer weren't used on millions of dollars in new communications systems, night-vision goggles and bomb-disposal robots. (G.W. Schulz, "Homeland Security Marked by Waste, Lack of Oversight," Center for Investigative Reporting, September 11, 2009)

While schools go unfunded, infrastructure collapses and affordable health care for all is an unattainable pipe dream, police and intelligence agencies are having a field day--at our expense. Call it part of the "counterterrorism stimulus" package that our corporate security masters are hell-bent on shoving down our throats.

However you slice it, there's a lot of boodle to be had by enterprising defense and security grifters. Alongside current multibillion dollar outlays for "biodefense" and counterterrorism initiatives by a multitude of state and federal agencies, the development of ever more dubious "non-lethal" weapons, implements for compliance and control during the capitalist meltdown, will enjoy a steady growth curve long into the future.

Trading Places: From Ex-Lobbyist to Top Financial Regulator?

Will Senate Grill Obama's CFTC Nominee About His Lobbying Past?

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During his first confirmation hearing, Scott O'Malia got off easy. The nominee to the nation's commodities watchdog agency was never asked about his role, years earlier, as a top lobbyist for a firm accused of Enron-style abuses, including manipulating California's energy market and contributing to a statewide electricity crisis. That is, the very same type of market misconduct that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is charged with policing, if not preventing.

O'Malia, a Senate staffer who spent nearly a decade working for Mitch McConnell, was originally selected to serve as a CFTC commissioner by George W. Bush. But, after clearing the Senate agriculture committee, his nomination stalled. President Obama recently nominated him again, and O'Malia will soon face another confirmation hearing. This time around, though, he may face some tough questions about his two-year stint as the director of federal legislative affairs for Atlanta-based Mirant. Following a story by Mother Jones on his lobbying past, a spokeswoman for new agriculture committee chair Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) says O'Malia will be questioned about his history working for a company that pushed for deregulation and was the subject of a litany of lawsuits alleging unscrupulous business practices. "The confirmation process exists to fully vet nominees," Katie Laning Niebaum, Lincoln's communications director, told me. "Chairman Lincoln will address this matter in the hearing and looks forward to complete, transparent answers from Mr. O'Malia and all nominees." (The hearing, which will include testimony from two other CFTC nominees, has yet to be scheduled.)

O'Malia's nomination comes as the Obama administration is laying out a sweeping financial reform agenda—or, as the president himself put it last week, "the most ambitious overhaul of the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression." In the past, the CFTC has often been seen as a feckless regulator, and strengthening its oversight of the futures and derivatives markets features prominently in the Obama administration's agenda. That's why some consumer advocates question why an ex-lobbyist for a company that gamed energy markets—Mirant eventually settled a spate of California lawsuits to the tune of a half billion dollars—has been chosen to fill this important seat. "This does not send a signal that wrongdoers are going to be held accountable," say Tyson Slocum, the director of Public Citizen's Energy Program and a member of the CFTC's Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee.

A White House official explained that Obama's nomination of O'Malia had to do with protocol more than anything else. When a Democrat is in the White House, the top Senate Republican—in this instance, O'Malia's former boss, McConnell—traditionally selects candidates for certain seats on independent government agencies. It's "the sort of precedent we defer to," the official said. But to CFTC observers like Slocum and Michael Greenberger, who directed the commission's division of trading and markets in the late 1990s, this explanation doesn't wash. Both said the president could easily request another candidate—one with a less controversial past and at least some commitment to the type of reforms the administration has in mind. "If the top Senate Republican nominated Charles Manson, is the president blindly going to nominate him?" asks Slocum. "Absolutely not. The president can say, 'No, I'm sorry, with all due respect your nominee is unacceptable; please submit another one.'"

Meanwhile, some Democrats who have advocated strongly in the past to bolster the CFTC, arguing that it wasn't doing enough to crack down on speculative trading and market manipulation, are holding their fire on O'Malia.

In the summer of 2008, after receiving the blessing of the agriculture commission, all that stood in the way of O'Malia and a seat on the commission was Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Before his nomination could come to a vote, she put a hold on it (and those of two CFTC commissioners who'd been renominated by President Bush) as a form of protest. She said the commission had failed to wield its "authority to police the oil and gas markets from possible manipulation" and refused to allow the nominees to move forward until the CFTC made progress on that front. Since then, she has continued to push for the commission to step up its enforcement. Last week she introduced legislation to give the CFTC more power to crack down on market manipulation. Remarking on the bill, she invoked Enron: "When bad-actors like Enron...manipulate commodities prices, Americans end up footing the bill, paying more for commodities like oil, gasoline, heating oil, food, and natural gas." Indeed, such was the case with Mirant, one of Enron's trading partners. But Cantwell's spokeswoman says the senator has no plans to block O'Malia's nomination. "She does not currently have any concerns with Mr. O'Malia being on the commission."

Slocum, however, finds O'Malia's nomination troubling. "It is definitely a serious problem that a former lobbyist for a company that had to pay a settlement to resolve allegations of criminal misconduct...is now being nominated to be a regulator," he says. "The Obama administration should have done more due diligence. What they didn't do, now it's the job of the Senate."