Tuesday, September 29, 2009

US Army abandons effort to court-martial Iraq war resister

US Army abandons effort to court-martial Iraq war resister

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The US Army, admitting defeat in its more than three-year effort to punish First Lt. Ehren Watada for refusing to deploy to Iraq, is allowing the Hawaiian-born soldier to resign from the military on October 2. He will be granted a discharge “under other-then-honorable conditions,” according to his lawyer. An Army spokesman said regulations allowed for “resignation for the good of the service in lieu of general court-martial.”

Watada, now 31, was the first officer to face court-martial charges for refusing to serve in the Iraq war. He did not ask for conscientious objector status, instead courageously attacking the US invasion as a war of aggression. He said he refused to be a party to war crimes, and was charged in July 2006 with three counts: one count of “missing movement” stemming from his refusal to deploy with his unit to Iraq in 2006, and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer in connection with public statements explaining his reasons for resisting the war. He faced up to six years in prison if convicted.

In one of the statements the Army considered “unbecoming an officer,” Watada said, “It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order. ... The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis is not only a terrible and moral injustice, but it’s a contradiction to the Army’s own law of land warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.”

The original court-martial, in February 2007, ended in a mistrial after a ruling by a military judge. A second court-martial was stopped by a federal court ruling in the state of Washington, near Watada’s base at Fort Lewis, later that year. The district court judge ruled that such a trial would amount to double jeopardy and would therefore be unconstitutional.

Watada enlisted in the Army in May 2003, later explaining, “I believed the [Bush] administration, like many Americans out there, when they guaranteed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, ties to Al Qaeda, and Saddam had ties to 9/11.”

Watada described how, in light of “the abuse and mistreatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib, the accounts of Iraqi civilians, the accounts of independent journalists, and the accounts of American soldiers coming back home, I began to look deeper into the legality of the war itself … any war that you are forced to participate in that is not a war of necessity is a war of aggression and is the worst crime against humanity and the worst crime against the peace.”

In another comment after he was first charged in 2006, Watada spoke of the economic and social conditions driving young people to enlist in the military. “It’s the 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds that really don’t know their rights, don’t know what they are getting into, so are at a really huge disadvantage. If they realize that they are opposed to the war, they have no way out. There is that socioeconomic disadvantage—it is a type of draft.” He said that “using these people for an unjust and illegal war … is tragic.”

The Army’s decision to abandon their case against Watada reflects a recognition and fear inside the political and military establishment of the enormous unpopularity of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Watada’s lawyer, Kenneth Kagan, explained that the Army had up to now refused to allow the soldier to resign. “This time, however, it was accepted, apparently only when the Army realized it could not defeat Lieutenant Watada in a courtroom.”

The Rights of Corporations

The Rights of Corporations

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The question at the heart of one of the biggest Supreme Court cases this year is simple: What constitutional rights should corporations have? To us, as well as many legal scholars, former justices and, indeed, drafters of the Constitution, the answer is that their rights should be quite limited — far less than those of people.

This Supreme Court, the John Roberts court, seems to be having trouble with that. It has been on a campaign to increase corporations’ legal rights — based on the conviction of some conservative justices that businesses are, at least legally, not much different than people.

Now the court is considering what should be a fairly narrow campaign finance case, involving whether Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, had the right to air a slashing movie about Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic primary season. There is a real danger that the case will expand corporations’ rights in ways that would undermine the election system.

The legal doctrine underlying this debate is known as “corporate personhood.”

The courts have long treated corporations as persons in limited ways for some legal purposes. They may own property and have limited rights to free speech. They can sue and be sued. They have the right to enter into contracts and advertise their products. But corporations cannot and should not be allowed to vote, run for office or bear arms. Since 1907, Congress has banned them from contributing to federal political campaigns — a ban the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld.

In an exchange this month with Chief Justice Roberts, the solicitor general, Elena Kagan, argued against expanding that narrowly defined personhood. “Few of us are only our economic interests,” she said. “We have beliefs. We have convictions.” Corporations, “engage the political process in an entirely different way, and this is what makes them so much more damaging,” she said.

Chief Justice Roberts disagreed: “A large corporation, just like an individual, has many diverse interests.” Justice Antonin Scalia said most corporations are “indistinguishable from the individual who owns them.”

The Constitution mentions the rights of the people frequently but does not cite corporations. Indeed, many of the founders were skeptical of corporate influence.

John Marshall, the nation’s greatest chief justice, saw a corporation as “an artificial being, invisible, intangible,” he wrote in 1819. “Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly, or as incidental to its very existence.”

That does not mean that corporations should have no rights. It is in society’s interest that they are allowed to speak about their products and policies and that they are able to go to court when another company steals their patents. It makes sense that they can be sued, as a person would be, when they pollute or violate labor laws.

The law also gives corporations special legal status: limited liability, special rules for the accumulation of assets and the ability to live forever. These rules put corporations in a privileged position in producing profits and aggregating wealth. Their influence would be overwhelming with the full array of rights that people have.

One of the main areas where corporations’ rights have long been limited is politics. Polls suggest that Americans are worried about the influence that corporations already have with elected officials. The drive to give corporations more rights is coming from the court’s conservative bloc — a curious position given their often-proclaimed devotion to the text of the Constitution.

The founders of this nation knew just what they were doing when they drew a line between legally created economic entities and living, breathing human beings. The court should stick to that line.

Army Prisoners Isolated,Denied Right to Legal Counsel

Army Prisoners Isolated, Denied Right to Legal Counsel

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Afghanistan war resister Travis Bishop has been held largely "incommunicado" in the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Bishop, who is being held by the military as a "prisoner of conscience," according to Amnesty International, was transported to Fort Lewis on September 9 to serve a 12-month sentence in the Regional Correctional Facility. He had refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan based on his religious beliefs, and had filed for Conscientious Objector (CO) status.

Bishop, who served a 13-month deployment to Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was court-martialed by the Army for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Given that he had already filed for CO status, many local observers called his sentencing a "politically driven prosecution."

By holding Bishop incommunicado, the military violated Bishop's legal right to counsel, a violation of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, according to his civil defense attorney James Branum.

The Sixth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that sets forth rights related to criminal prosecutions in federal courts, and reads, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

Attorney LeGrande Jones, who practices in Olympia and was designated by Branum as the local counsel for Bishop, was also denied access to Bishop, on the grounds that Jones was on an unnamed and unobtainable "watch-list," which constitutes deprivation of counsel.

Jones was denied entry to Fort Lewis and told he would never be allowed to enter the base. Fort Lewis authorities never gave him a reason for his being denied access to the base and his client. To this, Branum told Truthout, "Fort Lewis authorities have a duty to tell LeGrande the reasons why he is being barred from Fort Lewis, and therefore [barred] from communicating with his client in the Fort Lewis brig."

Until September 18, Bishop's condition was unclear due to his having been completely cut off from the public.

Branum, who is the legal adviser to the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, also represents Leo Church, another war resister being held at Fort Lewis.

Church, who was also stationed at Fort Hood, went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) to prevent his wife and children from becoming homeless. The fact that he was unable to financially support his family off his military pay alone dictated that Church seek other means to support them. With his pleas to the military for assistance going unheeded, he opted to go AWOL in order to support his dependents.

According to Branum, "Church received eight months jail time because he put the safety and welfare of his children over his obligation to the Army. Leo tried to get help from his unit, but was denied."

Branum told Truthout that Church had been able to contact him while at Fort Lewis, but the call was monitored by a guard, violating his attorney-client privilege.

Gerry Condon, with Project Safe Haven (an advocacy group for GI resisters in Canada), and a veteran himself as a member of the Greater Seattle Veterans for Peace, told Truthout he believes Bishop and Church are being held in a way that is both "intolerable and unconstitutional."

Condon, who is working to try to support both Bishop and Church, told Truthout, "They are denied all visitors, except for immediate family, clergy and legal counsel [legal counsel is limited at this time]. No friends or fiancés. This is not the normal practice at other brigs."

Branum told Truthout he feels that how Bishop and Church are being treated at Fort Lewis is "part of a broader pattern the military has of just throwing people in jail and not letting them talk to their attorneys, not let visitors come, and this is outrageous. In the civilian world even murderers get visits from their friends."

Speaking further of the conditions in which the military is holding Bishop and Church, Condon added, "Fort Lewis authorities have made it virtually impossible for Bishop and Church to make phone calls. They must first get money on their calling account. This must be done by money order and according to several other similarly prohibitive procedures. And the money may not be credited to the account until a month after it is received. Plus, officials at the Fort Lewis brig must approve the names of people that can be called."

Condon told Truthout, "Travis Bishop is a leader in what has become an international GI resistance movement that is attempting to bring troops home from both occupations by following their consciences and international law. They deserve all the support we can give them, especially while they are in prison - they are owed their constitutional liberties."

Branum told Truthout that as far as he knows, he may well be the only person on Bishop's call list.

Both Bishop and Church have been prevented from adding any names to their respective "authorized contacts" lists (even for family members), which effectively cuts them off from almost all contact with the outside world. According to Branum, mail and commissary funds sent by friends and supporters will likely be "returned to sender" due to what he feels is "a cruel and inhumane policy."

In addition, there are no work programs at the Fort Lewis brig, nor any classes available for soldiers to take while they are incarcerated. Generally, work programs and/or classes are available for incarcerated soldiers.

"By participating in work programs and school classes, soldiers being held in brigs can get time cut off their sentences," Branum explained to Truthout, "But these don't exist at Fort Lewis, so that means Travis and Leo can't get time taken off their sentences. Travis will do a minimum of 10 months, and could have theoretically worked an additional month off his sentence if Fort Lewis had these programs."

Branum, who is the lead attorney for both Bishop and Church, told Truthout the actions of officials at Fort Lewis violate his clients' constitutional rights.

"Bishop and Church's defense team and supporters are in the process of negotiating with Fort Lewis officials to ensure transparency and that Bishop and Church's legal rights are being met," Branum stated in a press release on the matter that was published on September 17. "The unusual circumstances of isolation of these soldiers is unquestionably illegal. If Fort Lewis doesn't change its ways, we will be forced to go to court and demand justice."

On September 18, officials at Fort Lewis finally allowed Branum to speak with Bishop on the telephone, but not privately.

Bishop was accompanied by two guards, who monitored his conversation with Branum. In addition, Fort Lewis authorities claimed that the recently rebuilt/remodeled brig does not yet have proper facilities to facilitate a private telephone conversation.

Speaking further about the conversation he was finally allowed to have with Bishop, Branum added, "In the phone call we did get to do, they still refused to let Travis talk to me privately. He actually had two guards in the room with him the entire time, which obviously negates any compliance with attorney-client privilege. And presumably the phone call was taped (all of the other brigs have special rooms for attorney calls, that have phone lines to the outside that are not taped) which is completely unconstitutional. The brig of course will say, "well we won't listen to that tape" but that is bullshit, and it is illegal."

"The only reason they [Fort Lewis authorities] let me talk to Travis on Friday [September 18] was that he was finally "medically cleared," Branum told Truthout, "This took 10 days in this case, and it looks like this is their standard operating procedure, which is completely wrong."

When Truthout questioned the public affairs office at Fort Lewis about Bishop's situation, we were told all matters were being handled "legally, and according to standard operating procedure," and "any wrongdoing would be investigated."

Branum added, "They are giving the excuse that "we don't have the secure room for attorney phone calls set up yet," but can't tell me when they are going to have the room set up."

Branum and Jones are planning to file a lawsuit against Fort Lewis in the near future, specifically targeting the denial of attorney-client privilege.

Both soldiers are being supported by two GI resistance cafes: Under the Hood cafe (in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood) and Coffee Strong (in Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis).

Robocops Come to Pittsburgh

Robocops Come to Pittsburgh

…and bring the latest weaponry with them

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No longer the stuff of disturbing futuristic fantasies, an arsenal of “crowd control munitions,” including one that reportedly made its debut in the U.S., was deployed with a massive, overpowering police presence in Pittsburgh during last week’s G-20 protests.

Nearly 200 arrests were made and civil liberties groups charged the many thousands of police (most transported on Port Authority buses displaying “PITTSBURGH WELCOMES THE WORLD”), from as far away as Arizona and Florida with overreacting…and they had plenty of weaponry with which to do it.

Bean bags fired from shotguns, CS (tear) gas, OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) spray, flash-bang grenades, batons and, according to local news reports, for the first time on the streets of America, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD).

Mounted in the turret of an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), I saw the LRAD in action twice in the area of 25th, Penn and Liberty Streets of Lawrenceville, an old Pittsburgh neighborhood. Blasting a shrill, piercing noise like a high-pitched police siren on steroids, it quickly swept streets and sidewalks of pedestrians, merchants and journalists and drove residents into their homes, but in neither case were any demonstrators present. The APC, oversized and sinister for a city street, together with lines of police in full riot gear looking like darkly threatening Michelin Men, made for a scene out of a movie you didn’t want to be in.

As intimidating as this massive show of armed force and technology was, the good burghers of Pittsburgh and their fellow citizens in the Land of the Brave and Home of the Free ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Tear gas and pepper spray are nothing to sniff at and, indeed, have proven fatal a surprising number of times, but they have now become the old standbys compared to the list below that’s already at or coming soon to a police station or National Guard headquarters near you. Proving that “what goes around, comes around,” some of the new Property Protection Devices were developed by a network of federally-funded, university-based research institutes like one in Pittsburgh itself, Penn State’s Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies.

· Raytheon Corp.'s Active Denial System, designed for crowd control in combat zones, uses an energy beam to induce an intolerable heating sensation, like a hot iron placed on the skin. It is effective beyond the range of small arms, in excess of 400 meters. Company officials have been advised they could expand the market by selling a smaller, tripod-mounted version for police forces.

· M5 Modular Crowd Control Munition, with a range of 30 meters "is similar in operation to a claymore mine, but it delivers...a strong, nonpenetrating blow to the body with multiple sub-munitions (600 rubber balls)."

· Long Range Acoustic Device or "The Scream," is a powerful megaphone the size of a satellite dish that can emit sound "50 times greater than the human threshold for pain" at close range, causing permanent hearing damage. The L.A. Times wrote U.S. Marines in Iraq used it in 2004. It can deliver recorded warnings in Arabic and, on command, emit a piercing tone..."[For] most people, even if they plug their ears, [the device] will produce the equivalent of an instant migraine," says Woody Norris, chairman of American Technology Corp., the San Diego firm that produces the weapon. "It will knock [some people] on their knees." CBS News reported in 2005 that the Israeli Army first used the device in the field to break up a protest against Israel's separation wall. "Protesters covered their ears and grabbed their heads, overcome by dizziness and nausea, after the vehicle-mounted device began sending out bursts of audible, but not loud, sound at intervals of about 10 seconds...A military official said the device emits a special frequency that targets the inner ear."

· In "Non-lethal Technologies: An Overview," Lewer and Davison describe a lengthy catalog of new weaponry including the "Directed Stick Radiator," a hand-held system based on the same technology as The Scream. "It fires high intensity ‘sonic bullets' or pulses of sound between 125-150db for a second or two. Such a weapon could, when fully developed, have the capacity to knock people off their feet."

· The Penn State facility is testing a "Distributed Sound and Light Array Debilitator" a.k.a. the "puke ray." The colors and rhythm of light are absorbed by the retina and disorient the brain, blinding the victim for several seconds. In conjunction with disturbing sounds it can make the person stumble or feel nauseated. Foreign Policy in Focus reports that the Department of Homeland Security, with $1 million invested for testing the device, hopes to see it "in the hands of thousands of policemen, border agents and National Guardsmen" by 2010.

· Spider silk is cited in the University of Bradford’s Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project, Report #4 (pg. 20) as an up-and-comer. “A research collaboration between the University of New Hampshire and the U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center is looking into the use of spider silk as a non-lethal ‘entanglement’ material for disabling people. They have developed a method for producing recombinant spider silk protein using E. coli and are trying to develop methods to produce large quantities of these fibres.”

· New Scientist reports that the (I'm not making this up) Inertial Capacitive Incapacitator (ICI), developed by the Physical Optics Corporation of Torrance, California, uses a thin-film storage device charged during manufacture that only discharges when it strikes the target. It can be incorporated into a ring-shaped aerofoil and fired from a standard grenade launcher at low velocity, while still maintaining a flat trajectory for maximum accuracy.

· Aiming beyond Tasers, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, (FY 2009 budget: $1B) the domestic equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), plans to develop wireless weapons effective over greater distances, such as in an auditorium or sports stadium, or on a city street. One such device, the Piezer, uses piezoelectric crystals that produce voltage when they are compressed. A 12-gauge shotgun fires the crystals, stunning the target with an electric shock on impact. Lynntech of College Station, Texas, is developing a projectile Taser that can be fired from a shotgun or 40-mm grenade launcher to increase greatly the weapon's current range of seven meters.

· "Off the Rocker and On the Floor: Continued Development of Biochemical Incapacitating Weapons," a report by the Bradford Disarmament Research Centre revealed that in 1992, the National Institute of Justice contracted with Lawrence Livermore National Lab to review clinical anesthetics for use by special ops military forces and police. LLNL concluded the best option was an opioid, like fentanyl, effective at very low doses compared to morphine. Combined with a patch soaked in DMSO (dimethylsufoxide, a solvent) and fired from an air rifle, fentanyl could be delivered to the skin even through light clothing. Another recommended application for the drug was mixed with fine powder and dispersed as smoke.

· After upgrades, the infamous "Puff the Magic Dragon" gunship from the Vietnam War is now the AC-130. "Non-Lethal Weaponry: Applications to AC-130 Gunships," observes that "With the increasing involvement of US military in operations other than war..." the AC-130 "would provide commanders a full range of non-lethal weaponry from an airborne platform which was not previously available to them." The paper concludes in part that "As the use of non-lethal weapons increases and it becomes valid and acceptable, more options will become available."

· Prozac and Zoloft are two of over 100 pharmaceuticals identified by the Penn State College of Medicine and the university's Applied Research Lab for further study as "non-lethal calmatives." These Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), noted the Penn State study, "...are found to be highly effective for numerous behavioral disturbances encountered in situations where a deployment of a non-lethal technique must be considered. This class of pharmaceutical agents also continues to be under intense development by the pharmaceutical industry...New compounds under development (WO 09500194) are being designed with a faster onset of action. Drug development is continuing at a rapid rate in this area due to the large market for the treatment of depression (15 million individuals in North America)...It is likely that an SSRI agent can be identified in the near future that will feature a rapid rate of onset."

In Pittsburgh last week, an enormously expensive show of police and weaponry, intended for “security” of the G20 delegates, simultaneously shut workers out of downtown jobs for two days, forced gasping students and residents back into their dormitories and homes, and turned journalists’ press passes into quaint, obsolete reminders of a bygone time.

Most significant of all, however, was what Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, told the Associated Press: “It's not just intimidation, it's disruption and in some cases outright prevention of peaceful protesters being able to get their message out.”

Police Use Painful New Weapon on G20 Protesters

Police Use Painful New Weapon on G20 Protesters


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Pittsburgh police demonstrated the latest in crowd control techniques on protesters when they used "sound cannons" to blast the ears of citizens near the G-20 meeting of world economic leaders. City officials said this was the first time such sound blasters, also known as "sound weapons," were used publicly.

Lavonnie Bickerstaff of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police uses benign language like "sound amplifiers," and "long-range acoustic device" to explain the new weapons in an attempt to sanitize what is essentially a painful weapon that leaves no visible marks on its victims. The mob utilized a similar tactic on snitches when they would beat everywhere except the face. If victims have no outward bruises to show, the world is less likely to believe their stories of assault and harassment.

Unlike aerosol hand-grenades, pepper spray, and rubber bullets (all traditional methods of protest suppression also used at the G-20 protests,) the damage from sound cannons is entirely internal, and can only be preserved on video, but even then, the deafening noise cannot be fully appreciated unless one hears it in person.

(Footage of the sound cannons in action can be seen/heard below. It’s clear from these videos that the extremely loud, high-pitched noise causes pain.)

The "long range acoustic device (LRAD)" is designed for long-range communication and acts as an "unmistakable warning," according to the American Technology Corporation (ATC,) which develops the instruments. "The LRAD basically is the ability to communicate clearly from 300 meters to 3 kilometers" (nearly 2 miles), said Robert Putnam of American Technology’s media and investor relations during an interview with MSNBC. "It’s a focused output. What distinguishes it from other communications tools out there is its ability to be heard clearly and intelligibly at a distance, unlike bullhorns."

Except, police aren’t trying to send a distress call to allies 2 miles away. They’re literally blasting this extreme decibel of noise directly into the ears of protesters (or any unwitting citizens) standing mere feet from the cannons. Depending on the mode of LRAD, it can blast a maximum sound of 145 to 151 decibels — equal to a gunshot — within a 3-foot (one meter) range, according to ATC. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that permanent hearing loss can result from sounds at about 110 to 120 decibels in short bursts or even just 75 decibels if exposure lasts for long periods.

But there is a volume knob, Putnam notes, so its output can be less than max, purportedly to give us comfort in the knowledge that deafening citizens is left to the discretion of power-hungry police. On the decibel scale, an increase of 10 (say, from 70 to 80) means that a sound is 10 times more intense. Normal traffic noise can reach 85 decibels, reports MSNBC, but these sound cannons cannot be compared to standing beside a busy New York City road.

The BBC reported 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."

This technology has been deployed in Iraq as an "anti-insurgent weapon," and the sonic weaponry is also being used on protesters in Honduras. Seattle Weekly reports that this weapon could easily be used as a torture tool if one doesn’t already think this is its only use.

Sonic weaponry is now being deployed domestically to put a chill on free speech. We’re told this is the "humane" way to deal with protesters, but it’s really just a convenient way to suppress citizens without the messy aftereffects of having to explain bullet holes to reporters. A bunch of protesters complaining about ruptured ear drums doesn’t make for dramatic news.

Footage of the sound cannons in action:

U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Openings by Record Ratio

U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Openings by Record Ratio


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Despite signs that the economy has resumed growing, unemployed Americans now confront a job market that is bleaker than ever in the current recession, and employment prospects are still getting worse.

Job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000. According to the Labor Department’s latest numbers, from July, only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed.

And even though the pace of layoffs is slowing, many companies remain anxious about growth prospects in the months ahead, making them reluctant to add to their payrolls.

“There’s too much uncertainty out there,” said Thomas A. Kochan, a labor economist at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. “There’s not going to be an upsurge in job openings for quite a while, not until employers feel confident the economy is really growing.”

The dearth of jobs reflects the caution of many American businesses when no one knows what will emerge to propel the economy. With unemployment at 9.7 percent nationwide, the shortage of paychecks is both a cause and an effect of weak hiring.

In Milwaukee, Debbie Kransky has been without work since February, when she was laid off from a medical billing position — her second job loss in two years. She has exhausted her unemployment benefits, because her last job lasted for only a month.

Indeed, in a perverse quirk of the unemployment system, she would have qualified for continued benefits had she stayed jobless the whole two years, rather than taking a new position this year. But since her latest unemployment claim stemmed from a job that lasted mere weeks, she recently drew her final check of $340.

Ms. Kransky, 51, has run through her life savings of roughly $10,000. Her job search has garnered little besides anxiety.

“I’ve worked my entire life,” said Ms. Kransky, who lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. “I’ve got October rent. After that, I don’t know. I’ve never lived month to month my entire life. I’m just so scared, I can’t even put it into words.”

Last week, Ms. Kransky was invited to an interview for a clerical job with a health insurance company. She drove her Jeep truck downtown and waited in the lobby of an office building for nearly an hour, but no one showed. Despondent, she drove home, down $10 in gasoline.

For years, the economy has been powered by consumers, who borrowed exuberantly against real estate and tapped burgeoning stock portfolios to spend in excess of their incomes. Those sources of easy money have mostly dried up. Consumption is now tempered by saving; optimism has been eclipsed by worry.

Meanwhile, some businesses are in a holding pattern as they await the financial consequences of the health care reforms being debated in Washington.

Even after companies regain an inclination to expand, they will probably not hire aggressively anytime soon. Experts say that so many businesses have pared back working hours for people on their payrolls, while eliminating temporary workers, that many can increase output simply by increasing the workload on existing employees.

“They have tons of room to increase work without hiring a single person,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute Economist. “For people who are out of work, we do not see signs of light at the end of the tunnel.”

Even typically hard-charging companies are showing caution.

During the technology bubble of the late 1990s and again this decade, Cisco Systems — which makes Internet equipment — expanded rapidly. As the sense takes hold that the recession has passed, Cisco is again envisioning double-digit rates of sales growth, with plans to move aggressively into new markets, like the business of operating large scale computer data servers.

Yet even as Cisco pursues such designs, the company’s chief executive, John T. Chambers, said in an interview Friday that he anticipated “slow hiring,” given concerns about the vigor of growth ahead. “We’ll be doing it selectively,” he said.

Two recent surveys of newspaper help-wanted advertisements and of employers’ inclinations to add workers were at their lowest levels on record, noted Andrew Tilton, a Goldman Sachs economist.

Job placement companies say their customers are not yet wiling to hire large numbers of temporary workers, usually a precursor to hiring full-timers.

“It’s going to take quite some time before we see robust job growth,” said Tig Gilliam, chief executive of Adecco North America, a major job placement and staffing company.

During the last recession, in 2001, the number of jobless people reached little more than double the number of full-time job openings, according to the Labor Department data. By the beginning of this year, job seekers outnumbered jobs four-to-one, with the ratio growing ever more lopsided in recent months.

Though layoffs have been both severe and prominent, the greatest source of distress is a predilection against hiring by many American businesses. From the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through July of this year, job openings declined 45 percent in the West and the South, 36 percent in the Midwest and 23 percent in the Northeast.

Shrinking job opportunities have assailed virtually every industry this year. Since the end of 2008, job openings have diminished 47 percent in manufacturing, 37 percent in construction and 22 percent in retail. Even in education and health services — faster-growing areas in which many unemployed people have trained for new careers — job openings have dropped 21 percent this year. Despite the passage of a stimulus spending package aimed at shoring up state and local coffers, government job openings have diminished 17 percent this year.

In the suburbs of Chicago, Vicki Redican, 52, has been unemployed for almost two years, since she lost her $75,000-a-year job as a sales and marketing manager at a plastics company. College-educated, Ms. Redican first sought another management job. More recently, she has tried and failed to land a cashier’s position at a local grocery store, and a barista slot at a Starbucks coffee shop.

Substitute teaching assignments once helped her pay the bills. “Now, there are so many people substitute teaching that I can no longer get assignments,” she said.

“I’ve learned that I can’t look to tomorrow,” she said. “Every day, I try to do the best I can. I say to myself, ‘I don’t control this process.’ That’s the only way you can look at it. Otherwise, you’d have to go up on the roof and crack your head open.”

Arundhati Roy, Is Democracy Melting?

Arundhati Roy, Is Democracy Melting?

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So you, as a citizen, want to run for a seat in the House of Representatives? Well, you may be too late. Back in 1990, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website of the Center for Responsive Politics, the average cost of a winning campaign for the House was $407,556. Pocket change for your average citizen. But that was so twentieth century. The average cost for winning a House seat in 2008: almost $1.4 million. Keep in mind, as well, that most of those House seats don't change hands, because in the American democratic system of the twenty-first century, incumbents basically don't lose, they retire or die.

In 2008, 403 incumbents ran for seats in the House and 380 of them won. Just to run a losing race last year would have cost you, on average, $492,928, almost $100,000 more than it cost to win in 1990. As for becoming a Senator? Not in your wildest dreams, unless you have some really good pals in pharmaceuticals and health care ($236,022,031 in lobbying paid out in 2008), insurance ($153,694,224), or oil and gas ($131,978,521). A winning senatorial seat came in at a nifty $8,531,267 and a losing seat at $4,130,078 in 2008. In other words, you don't have a hope in hell of being a loser in the American Congressional system, and what does that make you?

Of course, if you're a young, red-blooded American, you may have set your sights a little higher. So you want to be president? In that case, just to be safe for 2012, you probably should consider raising somewhere in the range of one billion dollars. After all, the 2008 campaign cost Barack Obama's team approximately $730 million and the price of a place at the table just keeps going up. Of course, it helps to know the right people. Last year, the total lobbying bill, including money that went out for electoral campaigns and for lobbying Congress and federal agencies, came to $3.3 billion and almost 9 months into 2009, another $1.63 billion has already gone out without an election in sight.

Let's face it. At the national level, this is what American democracy comes down to today, and this is what George W. Bush & Co. were so infernally proud to export by force of arms to Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why we need to think about the questions that Arundhati Roy -- to my mind, a heroic figure in a rather unheroic age -- raises about democracy globally in an essay adapted from the introduction to her latest book. That book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, has just been published (with one essay included that originally appeared at TomDispatch). Let's face it, she's just one of those authors -- I count Eduardo Galeano as another -- who must be read. Need I say more? Tom

What Have We Done to Democracy?

Of Nearsighted Progress, Feral Howls, Consensus, Chaos, and a New Cold War in Kashmir
By Arundhati Roy

While we're still arguing about whether there's life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By "democracy" I don't mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.

So, is there life after democracy?

Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It's flawed, we say. It isn't perfect, but it's better than everything else that's on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: "Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia... is that what you would prefer?"

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all "developing" societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn't meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It's meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy -- too much representation, too little democracy -- needs some structural adjustment.

The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?

Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? What we need today, for the sake of the survival of this planet, is long-term vision. Can governments whose very survival depends on immediate, extractive, short-term gain provide this? Could it be that democracy, the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers, the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams, will turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly -- our nearsightedness?

Our inability to live entirely in the present (like most animals do), combined with our inability to see very far into the future, makes us strange in-between creatures, neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost. It would be conceit to pretend I have the answers to any of these questions. But it does look as if the beacon could be failing and democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver the justice and stability we once dreamed it would.

A Clerk of Resistance

As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.

Something about the cunning, Brahmanical, intricate, bureaucratic, file-bound, "apply-through-proper-channels" nature of governance and subjugation in India seems to have made a clerk out of me. My only excuse is to say that it takes odd tools to uncover the maze of subterfuge and hypocrisy that cloaks the callousness and the cold, calculated violence of the world's favorite new superpower. Repression "through proper channels" sometimes engenders resistance "through proper channels." As resistance goes this isn't enough, I know. But for now, it's all I have. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl.

Today, words like "progress" and "development" have become interchangeable with economic "reforms," "deregulation," and "privatization." Freedom has come to mean choice. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant. Market no longer means a place where you buy provisions. The "market" is a de-territorialized space where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling "futures." Justice has come to mean human rights (and of those, as they say, "a few will do").

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the tsars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being "anti-progress," "anti-development," "anti-reform," and of course "anti-national" -- negativists of the worst sort.

Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and they say, "Don't you believe in progress?" To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs, and whose homes are being bulldozed, they say, "Do you have an alternative development model?" To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education, health care, and social security, they say, "You're against the market." And who except a cretin could be against markets?

To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.

Two decades of "Progress" in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it -- and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass. Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts, and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines, and Special Economic Zones. All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.

The hoary institutions of Indian democracy -- the judiciary, the police, the "free" press, and, of course, elections -- far from working as a system of checks and balances, quite often do the opposite. They provide each other cover to promote the larger interests of Union and Progress. In the process, they generate such confusion, such a cacophony, that voices raised in warning just become part of the noise. And that only helps to enhance the image of the tolerant, lumbering, colorful, somewhat chaotic democracy. The chaos is real. But so is the consensus.

A New Cold War in Kashmir

Speaking of consensus, there's the small and ever-present matter of Kashmir. When it comes to Kashmir the consensus in India is hard core. It cuts across every section of the establishment -- including the media, the bureaucracy, the intelligentsia, and even Bollywood.

The war in the Kashmir valley is almost 20 years old now, and has claimed about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have "disappeared," women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian Army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir. Perhaps that's true. But does military domination mean victory?

How does a government that claims to be a democracy justify a military occupation? By holding regular elections, of course. Elections in Kashmir have had a long and fascinating past. The blatantly rigged state election of 1987 was the immediate provocation for the armed uprising that began in 1990. Since then elections have become a finely honed instrument of the military occupation, a sinister playground for India's deep state. Intelligence agencies have created political parties and decoy politicians, they have constructed and destroyed political careers at will. It is they more than anyone else who decide what the outcome of each election will be. After every election, the Indian establishment declares that India has won a popular mandate from the people of Kashmir.

In the summer of 2008, a dispute over land being allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board coalesced into a massive, nonviolent uprising. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people defied soldiers and policemen -- who fired straight into the crowds, killing scores of people -- and thronged the streets. From early morning to late in the night, the city reverberated to chants of "Azadi! Azadi!" (Freedom! Freedom!). Fruit sellers weighed fruit chanting "Azadi! Azadi!" Shopkeepers, doctors, houseboat owners, guides, weavers, carpet sellers -- everybody was out with placards, everybody shouted "Azadi! Azadi!" The protests went on for several days.

The protests were massive. They were democratic, and they were nonviolent. For the first time in decades fissures appeared in mainstream public opinion in India. The Indian state panicked. Unsure of how to deal with this mass civil disobedience, it ordered a crackdown. It enforced the harshest curfew in recent memory with shoot-on-sight orders. In effect, for days on end, it virtually caged millions of people. The major pro-freedom leaders were placed under house arrest, several others were jailed. House-to-house searches culminated in the arrests of hundreds of people.

Once the rebellion was brought under control, the government did something extraordinary -- it announced elections in the state. Pro-independence leaders called for a boycott. They were rearrested. Almost everybody believed the elections would become a huge embarrassment for the Indian government. The security establishment was convulsed with paranoia. Its elaborate network of spies, renegades, and embedded journalists began to buzz with renewed energy. No chances were taken. (Even I, who had nothing to do with any of what was going on, was put under house arrest in Srinagar for two days.)

Calling for elections was a huge risk. But the gamble paid off. People turned out to vote in droves. It was the biggest voter turnout since the armed struggle began. It helped that the polls were scheduled so that the first districts to vote were the most militarized districts even within the Kashmir valley.

None of India's analysts, journalists, and psephologists cared to ask why people who had only weeks ago risked everything, including bullets and shoot-on-sight orders, should have suddenly changed their minds. None of the high-profile scholars of the great festival of democracy -- who practically live in TV studios when there are elections in mainland India, picking apart every forecast and exit poll and every minor percentile swing in the vote count -- talked about what elections mean in the presence of such a massive, year-round troop deployment (an armed soldier for every 20 civilians).

No one speculated about the mystery of hundreds of unknown candidates who materialized out of nowhere to represent political parties that had no previous presence in the Kashmir valley. Where had they come from? Who was financing them? No one was curious. No one spoke about the curfew, the mass arrests, the lockdown of constituencies that were going to the polls.

Not many talked about the fact that campaigning politicians went out of their way to de-link Azadi and the Kashmir dispute from elections, which they insisted were only about municipal issues -- roads, water, electricity. No one talked about why people who have lived under a military occupation for decades -- where soldiers could barge into homes and whisk away people at any time of the day or night -- might need someone to listen to them, to take up their cases, to represent them.

The minute elections were over, the establishment and the mainstream press declared victory (for India) once again. The most worrying fallout was that in Kashmir, people began to parrot their colonizers' view of themselves as a somewhat pathetic people who deserved what they got. "Never trust a Kashmiri," several Kashmiris said to me. "We're fickle and unreliable." Psychological warfare, technically known as psy-ops, has been an instrument of official policy in Kashmir. Its depredations over decades -- its attempt to destroy people's self-esteem -- are arguably the worst aspect of the occupation. It's enough to make you wonder whether there is any connection at all between elections and democracy.

The trouble is that Kashmir sits on the fault lines of a region that is awash in weapons and sliding into chaos. The Kashmiri freedom struggle, with its crystal clear sentiment but fuzzy outlines, is caught in the vortex of several dangerous and conflicting ideologies -- Indian nationalism (corporate as well as "Hindu," shading into imperialism), Pakistani nationalism (breaking down under the burden of its own contradictions), U.S. imperialism (made impatient by a tanking economy), and a resurgent medieval-Islamist Taliban (fast gaining legitimacy, despite its insane brutality, because it is seen to be resisting an occupation). Each of these ideologies is capable of a ruthlessness that can range from genocide to nuclear war. Add Chinese imperial ambitions, an aggressive, reincarnated Russia, and the huge reserves of natural gas in the Caspian region and persistent whispers about natural gas, oil, and uranium reserves in Kashmir and Ladakh, and you have the recipe for a new Cold War (which, like the last one, is cold for some and hot for others).

In the midst of all this, Kashmir is set to become the conduit through which the mayhem unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan spills into India, where it will find purchase in the anger of the young among India's 150 million Muslims who have been brutalized, humiliated, and marginalized. Notice has been given by the series of terrorist strikes that culminated in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

There is no doubt that the Kashmir dispute ranks right up there, along with Palestine, as one of the oldest, most intractable disputes in the world. That does not mean that it cannot be resolved. Only that the solution will not be completely to the satisfaction of any one party, one country, or one ideology. Negotiators will have to be prepared to deviate from the "party line."

Of course, we haven't yet reached the stage where the government of India is even prepared to admit that there's a problem, let alone negotiate a solution. Right now it has no reason to. Internationally, its stocks are soaring. And while its neighbors deal with bloodshed, civil war, concentration camps, refugees, and army mutinies, India has just concluded a beautiful election. However, "demon-crazy" can't fool all the people all the time. India's temporary, shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the pun), have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it is poisoning the aquifers.

Is Democracy Melting?

Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there, enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Of the hundreds who have died there, many have died just from the elements.

The glacier has become a garbage dump now, littered with the detritus of war -- thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents, and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact, perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to human folly.

While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars on weapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare, the battlefield has begun to melt. Right now, it has shrunk to about half its size. The melting has less to do with the military standoff than with people far away, on the other side of the world, living the good life. They're good people who believe in peace, free speech, and in human rights. They live in thriving democracies whose governments sit on the U.N. Security Council and whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. (And Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, the Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan… it's a long list.)

The glacial melt will cause severe floods on the subcontinent, and eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of people. That will give us even more reasons to fight. We'll need more weapons. Who knows? That sort of consumer confidence may be just what the world needs to get over the current recession. Then everyone in the thriving democracies will have an even better life -- and the glaciers will melt even faster.

"Fusion Centers" Part of US Domestic Intelligence and Surveillance Apparatus

Big Brother "Fusion Centers" Part of US Domestic Intelligence and Surveillance Apparatus

Mammoth Budget: $75 Billion, 200,000 Operatives

Fusion Centers Will Have Access to Classified Military Intelligence


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Speaking at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club September 15, Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis C. Blair, disclosed that the current annual budget for the 16 agency U.S. "Intelligence Community" (IC) clocks-in at $75 billion and employs some 200,000 operatives world-wide, including private contractors.

In unveiling an unclassified version of the National Intelligence Strategy (NIS), Blair asserts he is seeking to break down "this old distinction between military and nonmilitary intelligence," stating that the "traditional fault line" separating secretive military programs from overall intelligence activities "is no longer relevant."

As if to emphasize the sweeping nature of Blair's remarks, Federal Computer Week reported September 17 that "some non-federal officials with the necessary clearances who work at intelligence fusion centers around the country will soon have limited access to classified terrorism-related information that resides in the Defense Department's classified network." According to the publication:

Under the program, authorized state, local or tribal officials will be able to access pre-approved data on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. However, they won't have the ability to upload data or edit existing content, officials said. They also will not have access to all classified information, only the information that federal officials make available to them.

The non-federal officials will get access via the Homeland Security department's secret-level Homeland Security Data Network. That network is currently deployed at 27 of the more than 70 fusion centers located around the country, according to DHS. Officials from different levels of government share homeland security-related information through the fusion centers. (Ben Bain, "DOD opens some classified information to non-federal officials," Federal Computer Week, September 17, 2009)

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government has encouraged the explosive growth of fusion centers. As envisaged by securocrats, these hybrid institutions have expanded information collection and sharing practices from a wide variety of sources, including commercial databases, among state and local law enforcement agencies, the private sector and federal security agencies, including military intelligence.

But early on, fusion centers like the notorious "red squads" of the 1960s and '70s, morphed into national security shopping malls where officials monitor not only alleged terrorists but also left-wing and environmental activists deemed threats to the existing corporate order.

It is currently unknown how many military intelligence analysts are stationed at fusion centers, what their roles are and whether or not they are engaged in domestic surveillance.

If past practices are an indication of where current moves by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will lead, in breaking down the "traditional fault line" that prohibits the military from engaging in civilian policing, then another troubling step along the dark road of militarizing American society will have been taken.

U.S. Northern Command: Feeding the Domestic Surveillance Beast

Since its 2002 stand-up, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and associated military intelligence outfits such as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the now-defunct Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) have participated in widespread surveillance of antiwar and other activist groups, tapping into Pentagon and commercial databases in a quixotic search for "suspicious patterns."

As they currently exist, fusion centers are largely unaccountable entities that function without proper oversight and have been involved in egregious civil rights violations such as the compilation of national security dossiers that have landed activists on various terrorist watch-lists.

Antifascist Calling reported last year on the strange case of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Gary Maziarz and Col. Larry Richards, Marine reservists stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. Maziarz, Richards, and a group of fellow Marines, including the cofounder of the Los Angeles County Terrorist Early Warning Center (LACTEW), stole secret files from the Strategic Technical Operations Center (STOC).

When they worked at STOC, the private spy ring absconded with hundreds of classified files, including those marked "Top Secret, Special Compartmentalized Information," the highest U.S. Government classification. The files included surveillance dossiers on the Muslim community and antiwar activists in Southern California.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune which broke the story in 2007, before being run to ground Maziarz, Richards and reserve Navy Commander Lauren Martin, a civilian intelligence contractor at USNORTHCOM, acquired information illegally obtained from the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). This is the same classified system which fusion centers will have access to under the DoD's new proposal.

Claiming they were acting out of "patriotic motives," the Marine spies shared this classified counterterrorism information with private contractors in the hope of obtaining future employment. Although they failed to land plush private sector counterterrorism jobs, one cannot rule out that less than scrupulous security firms might be willing to take in the bait in the future in order to have a leg up on the competition.

So far, only lower level conspirators have been charged. According to the Union-Tribune "Marine Cols. Larry Richards and David Litaker, Marine Maj. Mark Lowe and Navy Cmdr. Lauren Martin also have been mentioned in connection with the case, but none has been charged." One codefendant's attorney, Kevin McDermott, told the paper, "This is the classic situation that if you have more rank, the better your chance of not getting charged."

Sound familiar? Call it standard operating procedure in post-constitutional America where high-level officials and senior officers walk away scott-free while grunts bear the burden, and do hard time, for the crimes of their superiors.

Fusion Centers and Military Intelligence: Best Friends Forever!

Another case which is emblematic of the close cooperation among fusion centers and military intelligence is the case of John J. Towery, a Ft. Lewis, Washington civilian contractor who worked for the Army's Fort Lewis Force Protection Unit.

In July, The Olympian and Democracy Now! broke the story of how Towery had infiltrated and spied on the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance (OlyPMR), an antiwar group, and shared this information with police.

Since 2006, the group has staged protests at Washington ports and has sought to block military cargo from being shipped to Iraq. According to The Olympian:

OlyPMR member Brendan Maslauskas Dunn said in an interview Monday that he received a copy of the e-mail from the city of Olympia in response to a public records request asking for any information the city had about "anarchists, anarchy, anarchism, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), or Industrial Workers of the World." (Jeremy Pawloski, "Fort Lewis investigates claims employee infiltrated Olympia peace group," The Olympian, July 27, 2009)

What Dunn discovered was highly disturbing to say the least. Towery, who posed as an anarchist under the name "John Jacob," had infiltrated OlyPMR and was one of several listserv administrators that had control over the group's electronic communications.

The civilian intelligence agent admitted to Dunn that he had spied on the group but claimed that no one paid him and that he didn't report to the military; a statement that turned out to be false.

Joseph Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesperson confirmed to The Olympian that Towery was a contract employee and that the infiltrator "performs sensitive work within the installation law enforcement community," but "it would not be appropriate for him to discuss his duties with the media."

In September, The Olympian obtained thousands of pages of emails from the City of Olympia in response to that publication's public-records requests. The newspaper revealed that the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WJAC), a fusion center, had copied messages to Towery on the activities of OlyPMR in the run-up to the group's November 2007 port protests. According to the paper,

The WJAC is a clearinghouse of sorts of anti-terrorism information and sensitive intelligence that is gathered and disseminated to law enforcement agencies across the state. The WJAC receives money from the federal government.

The substance of nearly all of the WJAC's e-mails to Olympia police officials had been blacked out in the copies provided to The Olympian. (Jeremy Pawloski, "Army e-mail sent to police and accused spy," The Olympian, September 12, 2009)

Also in July, the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks published a 1525 page file on WJAC's activities.

Housed at the Seattle Field Office of the FBI, one document described WJAC as an agency that "builds on existing intelligence efforts by local, regional, and federal agencies by organizing and disseminating threat information and other intelligence efforts to law enforcement agencies, first responders, and key decision makers throughout the state."

Fusion centers are also lucrative cash cows for enterprising security grifters. Wikileaks investigations editor Julian Assange described the revolving-door that exists among Pentagon spy agencies and the private security firms who reap millions by placing interrogators and analysts inside outfits such as WJAC. Assange wrote,

There has been extensive political debate in the United States on how safe it would be to move Guantánamo's detainees to US soil--but what about their interrogators?

One intelligence officer, Kia Grapham, is hawked by her contracting company to the Washington State Patrol. Grapham's confidential resume boasts of assisting in over 100 interrogations of "high value human intelligence targets" at Guantánamo. She goes on, saying how she is trained and certified to employ Restricted Interrogation Technique: Separation as specified by FM 2-22.3 Appendix M.

Others, like, Neoma Syke, managed to repeatedly flip between the military and contractor intelligence work--without even leaving the building.

The file details the placement of six intelligence contractors inside the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WAJAC) on behalf of the Washington State Patrol at a cost of around $110,000 per year each.

Such intelligence "fusion" centers, which combine the military, the FBI, state police, and others, have been internally promoted by the US Army as means to avoid restrictions preventing the military from spying on the domestic population. (Julian Assange, "The spy who billed me twice," Wikileaks, July 29, 2009)

The Wikileaks documents provide startling details on how firms such as Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), The Sytex Group and Operational Applications Inc. routinely place operatives within military intelligence and civilian fusion centers at a premium price.

Assange wonders whether these job placements are not simply evidence of corruption but rather, are "designed to evade a raft of hard won oversight laws which apply to the military and the police but not to contractors? Is it to keep selected personnel out of the Inspector General's eye?" The available evidence strongly suggests that it is.

As the American Civil Liberties Union documented in their 2007 and 2008 reports on fusion center abuses, one motivation is precisely to subvert oversight laws which do not apply to private mercenary contractors.

The civil liberties' watchdog characterized the rapid expansion of fusion centers as a threat to our constitutional rights and cited specific areas of concern: "their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and their excessive secrecy."

And speaking of private security contractors outsourced to a gaggle on intelligence agencies, investigative journalist Tim Shorrock revealed in his essential book Spies For Hire, that since 9/11 "the Central Intelligence Agency has been spending 50 to 60 percent of its budget on for-profit contractors, or about $2.5 billion a year, and its number of contract employees now exceeds the agency's full-time workforce of 17,500."

Indeed, Shorrock learned that "no less than 70 percent of the nation's intelligence budget was being spent on contracts." However, the sharp spike in intelligence outsourcing to well-heeled security corporations comes with very little in the way of effective oversight.

The House Intelligence Committee reported in 2007 that the Bush, and now, the Obama administrations have failed to develop a "clear definition of what functions are 'inherently governmental';" meaning in practice, that much in the way of systematic abuses can be concealed behind veils of "proprietary commercial information."

As we have seen when the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke in 2004, and The New York Times belatedly blew the whistle on widespread illegal surveillance of the private electronic communications of Americans in 2005, cosy government relationships with security contractors, including those embedded within secretive fusion centers, will continue to serve as a "safe harbor" for concealing and facilitating state crimes against the American people.

After all, $75 billion buys a lot of silence.

Your electronic vote in the 2010 election has just been bought

Your electronic vote in the 2010 election has just been bought

by Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis

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The ES&S purchase of Diebold's voting machine operation is merely the tip of a toxic iceberg...

Unless U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder intervenes, your electronic vote in 2010 will probably be owned by the Republican-connected ES&S Corporation. With 80% ownership of America's electronic voting machines, ES&S could have the power to shape America's future with a few proprietary keystrokes.

ES&S has just purchased the voting machine division of the Ohio-based Diebold, whose role in fixing the 2004 presidential election for George W. Bush is infamous.

Critics of the merger hope Holder will rescind the purchase on anti-trust grounds.

But only a transparent system totally based on hand-counted paper ballots, with universal automatic voter registration, can get us even remotely close to a reliable vote count in the future.

For even if Holder does void this purchase, ES&S and Diebold in tandem will still control four of every five votes cast on touchscreen machines. As the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to open the floodgates on corporate campaign spending, the only difference could be that those who would buy our elections will have to write two checks instead of one.

And in fact, it's even worse than that. ES&S, Diebold and a tiny handful of sibling Republican voting equipment and computing companies control not only the touchscreen machines, but also the electronic tabulators that count millions of scantron ballots, AND the electronic polling books that decide who gets to vote and who doesn't.

Let's do a quick review:
  1. ES&S, Diebold and other companies tied to election hardware and software are owned and operated by a handful of very wealthy conservatives, or right-to-life ideologues, with long-standing direct ties to the Republican Party;

  2. As votes will be increasingly cast on optiscans, touchscreens or computer voting machines in the United States in 2010, the scant few so-called paper trail mechanisms that are in place will offer little security against electronic vote theft;

  3. The source code on all U.S. touchscreen machines now used for the casting and counting of ballots is proprietary, meaning the companies that own and operate the machines -- including ES&S -- are not required to share with the public the details of how those machines actually work;

  4. Although there are official mechanisms for monitoring and recounts, none carry any real weight in the face of the public's inability to gain control or even access to this electronic source code, whose proprietary standing has been upheld by the courts;

  5. With the newly merged ES&S/Diebold now apparently controlling 80% of the national vote through hardware and software, this GOP-connected corporation will have the power to alter virtually every election in the U.S. with a few keystrokes. Unless there is a massive, successful grassroots campaign between now and 2012, the same will hold true for the next US presidential election;

  6. Aside from its control of touchscreen machines, the merged Diebold/ES&S also controls a significant percent of the electronic optiscan tabulators to count cards on which voters use pencils to fill in circles, indicating their vote. Accounts of fraud, rigging, theft and abuse of these optiscan systems arewell-documented and innumerable. Any corporation that prints these ballots and runs the machines designated to count them can control yet another major piece of the US vote count;

  7. The merged ES&S/Diebold now also controls the electronic voter registration systems in many counties and states. With that control comes the ability to remove registered voters without significant public accountability. In the 2004 election, nearly 25% of all the registered voters in the Democratic-rich city of Cleveland were purged, including 10,000 voters erased "accidentally" by a Diebold electronic pollbook system. So in addition to controlling the vote counts on touchscreen and optiscan voting machines, the merged Diebold/ES&S and sympathetic hardware and software companies that service computerized voting equipment will control who actually gets to cast a vote in the first place.
Lest we forget: in 2000, long before this ES&S/Diebold purchase was proposed, Choicepoint, a GOP-controlled data management firm, hired by Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, removed up to 150,000 Florida citizens from voter rolls on the pretense that they were ex-felons. The vast majority of them were not.

Computer software "disappeared" 16,000 votes from Al Gore's column at a critical moment on election night, allowing George W. Bush’s first cousin John Ellis, a Fox News analyst, to proclaim him the winner. The election was officially decided by less than 700 votes and a 5-4 Supreme Court vote preventing a full recount. An independent audit later showed Gore was the rightful winner.

In 2004, more than 300,000 Ohio citizens were removed from voter rolls by GOP-controlled county election boards (more than one million have been removed since).

Various dirty tricks prevented still tens of thousands more Ohioans from voting. The vote count was marred by a wide range of official manipulations coordinated by then-Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.

Diebold was a major player in the 2004 Ohio elections, but was joined by numerous other computer voting firms and their technicians in "recounting the vote" which confirmed the Bush "victory," despite exit poll results and other evidence to the contrary. In defiance of a federal court order, 56 of 88 Ohio counties destroyed some or all of their ballots or election records. No one has been prosecuted.

In short, the ES&S purchase of Diebold's voting machine operation is merely the tip of a toxic iceberg. Voiding the merger will do nothing to solve the REAL problem, which is an electronic-based system of voter registration and ballot counting that is potentially controlled by private corporations and contractors whose agenda is to make large profits and protect the system that guarantees them.

Although elections based on universal automatic registration and hand-counted paper ballots are not foolproof, they constitute a start. Stealing an election by stuffing paper ballot boxes at the "retail" level is far more difficult than stealing votes at the "wholesale" level with an electronic flip of a switch.

As it's done in numerous other countries throughout the world, the only realistic means by which the U.S. can establish a democratic system of ballot casting and counting is to do it the old-fashioned way. With human-scale checks and balances we might even be secure in the knowledge that our elections and vote counts will truly reflect the will of the people. What a concept!

Pentagon Taking Over U.S. Foreign Policy

Pentagon Taking Over U.S. Foreign Policy

by Sherwood Ross

Go To Original

The Pentagon has virtually replaced the State Department in making U.S. foreign policy, The Nation magazine charges.

“Quietly, gradually - and inevitably, given the weight of its colossal budget and imperial writ - the Pentagon has all but eclipsed the State Department at the center of US foreign policy-making,” reporter Stephen Glain writes in the Sept. 28 issue.

In addition to new weapons and war fighters, the Pentagon’s budget “now underwrites a cluster of special funds from which it can train and equip foreign armies - often in the service of repressive regimes - as well as engage in aid development projects in pursuit of its own tactical ends.”

Although these programs technically require State Department approval and are subject to Congressional review, Glain writes, “legislative oversight and interagency coordination is spotty at best.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon “is pushing for full discretionary control” over large sums that Glain points out “would render meaningless the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, which concentrated responsibility for civilian and military aid programs within the State Department.”

Some idea of Pentagon dominance over diplomatic approaches may be gleaned from the Pentagon’s $664 billion annual budget compared with State’s $52 billion. “Washington employs more military band members than it does foreign service officers,” Glain notes.

It was President George W. Bush and Defense Secy. Donald Rumsfeld - “with the collusion of (Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice - who expanded and entrenched the Pentagon’s franchise over foreign policy,” Glain asserts. In the run-up to the Iraq aggression, Rumsfeld bulldozed “the constitutional prerogatives” of Secretary of State Colin Powell and “subverted the nation’s civilian leaders abroad.”

Before the U.S. invasion, Rumsfeld sent a three-man team to gather intelligence in several Middle Eastern countries without informing their U.S. ambassadors, likely a direct violation of the guidelines established by President Kennedy giving ambassadors in their host countries “full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all Department of Defense personnel on official duty.”

What’s more, the Pentagon increasingly is taking over the U.S. budget for foreign assistance, controlling nearly 25 percent, up from zero a decade ago, while US AID’s share has declined to 40 percent from 65 percent during the same period, Glain writes.

The Pentagon’s mission statement, Directive 3000.5 in November, 2005, tasks it to develop, among other things, “a viable market economy, rule of law, democratic institutions, and a robust civil society,” including “various types of security forces, correctional facilities, and judicial systems,” The Nation article says.

“Any mission conducted ‘from peace to conflict…in States and regions’ is by definition everlasting and all-encompassing, and D3000.5 chills the foreign aid and diplomatic community,” Glain points out.

According to a finding by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, 2006: “As a result of inadequate funding for civilian programs, U.S. defense agencies are increasingly being granted authority and funding to fill perceived gaps. Such bleeding of civilian responsibilities overseas from civilian to military agencies risks weakening the Secretary of State’s primacy in setting the agenda for U.S. relations.”

Moreover, the Pentagon has been spending funds authorized by the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act to train foreign militaries and has invested the money “in countries with highly autocratic governments,” Glain reports. Among these are Chad, which State says engages in “extra-judicial killing, arbitrary detention and torture,” as well as Algeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Tunisia, “all of which have abysmal human rights records,” Glain says.

Although President Obama says he seeks to devise non-military approaches in Afghanistan, Glain points out that last April “the White House backed away from a pledge to staff hundreds of posts in Afghanistan with civilians for lack of funding and said it would instead turn to the Pentagon.”

The author reminds that “America is a republic, a nation not of men but of laws, and the laws say foreign policy must be charted by civilians. Complacent politicians have neglected this trust, however, and the military now defines U.S. interests abroad as much as it defends them. That is the bill for a leviathan. It is the wages of empire.”

Besides its aggressive positioning of about 1,000 bases around the world for “defense,” expanding its control of outer space, “improving” nuclear weapons and developing germ warfare weapons as well, the Pentagon has been stealthily taking over U.S. foreign policy as it pressures Congress to finance one war after another. Besides spilling innocent blood abroad, the Pentagon today is bleeding American taxpayerswhite. The Warfare State is here.