Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bases, Missiles, Wars: U.S. Consolidates Global Military Network

Bases, Missiles, Wars: U.S. Consolidates Global Military Network

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Afghanistan is occupying center stage at the moment, but in the wings are complementary maneuvers to expand a string of new military bases and missile shield facilities throughout Eurasia and the Middle East.

The advanced Patriot theater anti-ballistic missile batteries in place or soon to be in Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates describe an arc stretching from the Baltic Sea through Southeast Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Caucasus and beyond to East Asia. A semicircle that begins on Russia's northwest and ends on China's northeast.

Over the past decade the United States has steadily (though to much of the world imperceptibly) extended its military reach to most all parts of the world. From subordinating almost all of Europe to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization through the latter's expansion into Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union, to arbitrarily setting up a regional command that takes in the African continent (and all but one of its 53 nations). From invading and establishing military bases in the Middle East and Central and South Asia to operating a satellite surveillance base in Australia and taking charge of seven military installations in South America. In the vacuum left in much of the world by the demise of the Cold War and the former bipolar world, the U.S. rushed in to insert its military in various parts of the world that had been off limits to it before.

And this while Washington cannot even credibly pretend that it is threatened by any other nation on earth.

It has employed a series of tactics to accomplish its objective of unchallenged international armed superiority, using an expanding NATO to build military partnerships not only throughout Europe but in the Caucasus, the Middle East, North and West Africa, Asia and Oceania as well as employing numerous bilateral and regional arrangements.

The pattern that has emerged is that of the U.S. shifting larger concentrations of troops from post-World War II bases in Europe and Japan to smaller, more dispersed forward basing locations south and east of Europe and progressively closer to Russia, Iran and China.

The ever-growing number of nations throughout the world being pulled into Washington's military network serve three main purposes.

First, they provide air, troop and weapons transit and bases for wars like those against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, for naval operations that are in fact blockades by other names, and for regional surveillance.

Second, they supply troops and military equipment for deployments to war and post-conflict zones whenever and wherever required.

Last, allies and client states are incorporated into U.S. plans for an international missile shield that will put NATO nations and select allies under an impenetrable canopy of interceptors while other nations are susceptible to attack and deprived of the deterrent effect of being able to retaliate.

The degree to which these three components are being integrated is advancing rapidly. The war in Afghanistan is the major mechanism for forging a global U.S. military nexus and one which in turn provides the Pentagon the opportunity to obtain and operate bases from Southeast Europe to Central Asia.

One example that illustrates this global trend is Colombia. In early August the nation's vice president announced that the first contingent of Colombian troops were to be deployed to serve under NATO command in Afghanistan. Armed forces from South America will be assigned to the North Atlantic bloc to fight a war in Asia. The announcement of the Colombian deployment came shortly after another: That the Pentagon would acquire seven new military bases in Colombia.

When the U.S. deploys Patriot missile batteries to that nation - on its borders with Venezuela and Ecuador - the triad will be complete.

Afghanistan is occupying center stage at the moment, but in the wings are complementary maneuvers to expand a string of new military bases and missile shield facilities throughout Eurasia and the Middle East.

On January 28 the British government will host a conference in London on Afghanistan that, in the words of what is identified as the UK Government's Afghanistan website, will be co-hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Afghanistan's President Karzai and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and co-chaired by British Foreign Minister David Miliband, his outgoing Afghan counterpart Rangin Spanta, and UN Special Representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide.

The site announces that "The international community are [sic] coming together to fully align military and civilian resources behind an Afghan-led political strategy." [1]

The conference will also be attended by "foreign ministers from International Security Assistance Force partners, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours and key regional player [sic]."

Public relations requirements dictate that concerns about the well-being of the Afghan people, "a stable and secure Afghanistan" and "regional cooperation" be mentioned, but the meeting will in effect be a war council, one that will be attended by the foreign ministers of scores of NATO and NATO partner states.

In the two days preceding the conference NATO's Military Committee will meet at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. "Together with the Chiefs of Defence of all 28 NATO member states, 35 Chiefs of Defence of Partner countries and Troop Contributing Nations will also be present." [2]

That is, top military commanders from 63 nations - almost a third of the world's 192 countries - will gather at NATO Headquarters to discuss the next phase of the expanding war in South Asia and the bloc's new Strategic Concept. Among those who will attend the two-day Military Committee meeting are General Stanley McChrystal, in charge of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan; Admiral James Stavridis, chief U.S. military commander in Europe and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander; Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Israeli Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

Former American secretary of state Madeleine Albright has been invited to speak about the Strategic Concept on behalf of the twelve-member Group of Experts she heads, whose task it is to promote NATO's 21st century global doctrine.

The Brussels meeting and London conference highlight the centrality that the war in Afghanistan has for the West and for its international military enforcement mechanism, NATO.

During the past few months Washington has been assiduously recruiting troops from assorted NATO partnership program nations for the war in Afghanistan, including from Armenia, Bahrain, Bosnia, Colombia, Jordan, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Ukraine and other nations that had not previously provided contingents to serve under NATO in the South Asian war theater. Added to forces from all 28 NATO member states and from Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, Adriatic Charter and Contact Country programs, the Pentagon and NATO are assembling a coalition of over fifty nations for combat operations in Afghanistan.

Almost as many NATO partner nations as full member states have committed troops for the Afghanistan-Pakistan war: Afghanistan itself, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Jordan, Macedonia, Mongolia, Montenegro, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

The Afghan war zone is a colossal training ground for troops from around the world to gain wartime experience, to integrate armed forces from six continents under a unified command, and to test new weapons and weapons systems in real-life combat conditions.

Not only candidates for NATO membership but all nations in the world the U.S. has diplomatic and economic leverage over are being pressured to support the war in Afghanistan.

The American Forces Press Service featured a story last month about the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force's Regional Command East which revealed: "In addition to...French forces, Polish forces are in charge of battle space, and the Czech Republic, Turkey and New Zealand manage provincial reconstruction teams. In addition, servicemembers and civilians from Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates work with the command, and South Korea runs a hospital in the region."

With the acknowledgment that Egyptian forces are assigned to NATO's Afghan war, it is now known that troops from all six populated continents are subordinated to NATO in one war theater. [3]

How commitment to the Alliance's first ground war relates to the Pentagon securing bases and a military presence spreading out in all directions from Afghanistan and how worldwide interceptor missile plans are synchronized with both developments can be shown region by region.

Central And South Asia

After the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom attacks on and subjugation of Afghanistan began in October of 2001 Washington and its NATO allies acquired the indefinite use of air and other military bases in Afghanistan, including Soviet-built airfields. The West also moved into bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and with less fanfare in Pakistan and Turkmenistan. It has also gained transit rights from Kazakhstan and NATO conducted its first military exercise in that nation, Zhetysu 2009, last September.

The U.S. has lobbied the Kazakh government to supply troops for NATO in Afghanistan (as it had earlier in Iraq) under the bloc's Partnership for Peace provisions.

The Black Sea

The year after Romania was brought into NATO as a full member in 2004 the U.S. signed an agreement to gain control over four bases in Romania, including the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base. The next year a similar pact was signed with Bulgaria for the use of three military installations, two of them air bases. The Pentagon's Joint Task Force-East (which operates from the above-named base) conducted nearly three-month-long joint military exercises last summer in Bulgaria and Romania in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.

On January 24 eight Romanian and Bulgaria soldiers were wounded in a rocket attack on a NATO base in Southern Afghanistan. Three days earlier Romania announced that it would deploy 600 more troops to that nation, bringing its numbers to over 1,600. Bulgaria has also pledged to increase its troop strength there and is considering consolidating all its forces in the country in Kandahar, one of the deadliest provinces in the war zone.

Late last November Foreign Minister Rumyana Zheleva of Bulgaria was in Washington, D.C. to "hear the ideas of US President Barack Obama's administration on the strategy of the anti-missile defense in Europe." [4]

During the same month Bogdan Aurescu, State Secretary for Strategic Affairs in the Romanian Foreign Ministry, stated that "The new variant of the US anti-missile shield could cover Romania." [5] A local newspaper at the time commented on Washington's new "stronger, smarter, and swifter" missile shield plans that "A strong and modern surveillance system located in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey could monitor three hot areas at once: the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Caspian and relevant zones in the Middle East." [6]

Also last November a Russian news source wrote that "Anonymous sources in the Russian intelligence community say that the United States plans to supply weapons, including a Patriot-3 air defense system and shoulder-launched Stinger missiles, worth a total of $100 million, to Georgia." [7] In October the U.S. led the two-week Immediate Response 2009 war games to prepare the first of an estimated 1,000 Georgian troops for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, prompting neighboring Abkhazia - which knew who the military training was also aimed against - to stage its own exercises at the same time.

American Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missiles in Georgia would be deployed against Russia, as they will be 35 miles from its border in Poland.

Former head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency Lt. Gen. Henry Obering stated two years ago that Georgia and even Ukraine were potential locations for American missile shield deployments.

Middle East

Last October and November the U.S. and Israel held their largest-ever joint military exercise, Operation Juniper Cobra 10, which established another precedent in addition to the number of troops and warships involved: The simultaneous testing of five missile defense systems. An American military official present at the war games was one of several sources acknowledging that the exercises were in preparation for the Barack Obama administration's more extensive, NATO-wide and broader, missile interception system. Juniper Cobra was the initiation of the U.S. X-Band radar station opened in 2008 in Israel's Negev Desert. Over 100 American service members are based there for the foreseeable future, the first U.S. troops formally deployed in that nation.

In December the Jerusalem Post quoted an unnamed Israeli defense official as saying "The expansion of the war in Afghanistan opens a door for us."

The same source wrote "the NATO-U.S. plan to deploy a cross-continent missile shield in Europe also represents an opportunity for the Jewish state to market its military platforms...." [8]

"Meanwhile, recent months have seen several senior NATO officials travel to Israel for discussions that reportedly focused on, among other things, how
Israel could help NATO troops fight in Afghanistan." [9]

Last June Israeli President Shimon Peres led a 60-member delegation that included Defense Ministry Director-General Pinhas Buchris to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, on opposite ends of the Caspian Sea. A year ago "Kazakhstan's defense ministry had asked Israel to help it modernize its military and produce weapons that comply with NATO standards." [10]

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the first Arab country to provide troops to NATO for Afghanistan. It has a partnership arrangement with NATO under provisions of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members.

Early this month a local newspaper announced that "the UAE became the largest foreign purchaser of US defence equipment with sales of $7.9bn, ahead of Afghanistan ($5.4bn), Saudi Arabia ($3.3bn) and Taiwan ($3.2bn).

"The spending included orders for munitions for the UAE's F-16 fighter jets as well as a new Patriot defensive missile system and a fleet of corvettes for the navy." [11]

Nine days later the same newspaper reported on a visit by Lt. Gen. Michael Hostage, commander of the U.S. Air Force Central Command, to discuss "the possibility of setting up a shared early warning system and enhancing the
region's ballistic-missile deterrence."

Hostage was quoted as saying "I am attempting to organize a regional integrated air and missile defense capability with our GCC partners." [12]

An Emirati general added, "The GCC needs a national and multinational ballistic missile defence (BMD) to counter long-range proliferating regional ballistic missile threats." [13]

The missile shield is aimed against Iran.

Last September Pentagon chief Robert Gates said, "The reality is we are working both on a bilateral and a multilateral basis in the Gulf to establish the same kind of regional missile defense [as envisioned for Europe] that would protect our facilities out there as well as our friends and allies." [14]

"In a September 17 briefing, Gates said...the United States has already formed a Gulf missile defense network that consisted of PAC-3 and the Aegis sea-based systems." The exact system soon to be deployed in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean and afterwards the Black Sea.

In addition, the "UAE has ordered the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, designed to destroy nuclear missiles in the exoatmosphere.

"Over the last two years, the Pentagon has been meeting GCC military chiefs to discuss regional and national missile defense programs....At the same time, the U.S. military has been operating PAC-3 in Kuwait and Qatar. The U.S. Army has also been helping Saudi Arabia upgrade its PAC-2 fleet." [15]

Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News reported at the end of last year that "Turkey is set to make crucial defense decisions in 2010 as the U.S. offer to join a missile shield program and multibillion-dollar contracts are looming over the country's agenda.

"If a joint NATO missile shield is developed, such a move may force Ankara to join the mechanism despite the possible Iranian reaction....U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has invited Ankara to join a Western missile shield system...." [16]

An account of the broader strategy adds:

"U.S. officials are also urging Turkey to choose the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) against Russian and Chinese rivals competing for a Turkish contract for the purchase of high-altitude and long-range antimissile defense systems....[A] new plan calls for the creation of a regional system in southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean and part of the Middle East.

"In phase one of the new Obama plan, the U.S. will deploy SM-3 interceptor missiles and radar surveillance systems on sea-based Aegis weapons systems by 2011. In phase two and by 2015, a more capable version of the SM-3 interceptor and more advanced sensors will be used in both sea-and land-based configurations. In later phases three and four, intercepting and detecting capabilities further will be developed." [17]

One of Russia's main news agencies reported on U.S. plans to incorporate Turkey into its new missile designs, with Turkey as the only NATO state bordering Iran serving as the bridge between a continent-wide system in Europe and its extension into the Middle East: "According to the Milliyet daily, U.S. President Barack Obama last week proposed placing a 'missile shield' on Turkish soil....Both Russia and Iran will perceive that [deployment] as a threat,' a Turkish military source was quoted as saying." [18]

A broader description of the interceptor missile project in progress includes: "Obama's team has...sought to 'NATO-ise' the US plan by involving other allies more closely in its development and deployment. The idea is to create a NATO chain of command similar to that long used for allied air defences. That would involve a NATO 'backbone' for command-and-control jointly funded by the allies, into which the US sea-based defences and other national assets, such as short-range Patriot missile interceptors purchased by European nations including Germany, the Netherlands and Greece, could be 'plugged in' to the NATO system creating a multi-layered defence shield." [19]

The advanced Patriot theater anti-ballistic missile batteries in place or soon to be in Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates describe an arc stretching from the Baltic Sea through Southeast Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Caucasus and beyond to East Asia. A semicircle that begins on Russia's northwest and ends on China's northeast.

Baltic Sea

Poland's Defense Ministry revealed on January 20 that the U.S. will deploy a Patriot Advanced Capability anti-ballistic missile battery and 100 troops to a Baltic Sea location 35 miles from Russian territory.

The country's foreign minister - former investment adviser to Rupert Murdoch and resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. -Radek Sikorski, recently pledged to increase Polish troop numbers in Afghanistan from the current 1,955. "We will be at 2,600 by April and 400 additional troops on standby, which we will deploy if there is a need to strengthen security." [20]

Fellow Baltic littoral states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania combined have almost 500 troops in Afghanistan, a number likely to rise. The Lithuanian Siauliai Air Base was ceded to NATO in 2004 after the three Baltic states became full members. The Alliance has flown regular air patrols in the region, with U.S. warplanes participating in six-month rotations, ever since. Within a few minutes flight from Russia.

The three nations will be probable docking sites for U.S. Aegis-class warships and their Standard Missile-3 interceptors under new Pentagon-NATO missile shield deployments.

Far East Asia

South Korea pledged 350 troops for NATO's Afghan war last year and in late December Seoul announced that it would send a ranking officer for the first time "to attend a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference to seek ways to strengthen cooperation with other nations in dispatching troops to Afghanistan and coordinate military operations there," [21] likely a reference to the January 26-27 Military Committee meeting.

In the middle of January the U.S. conducted Beverly Bulldog 10-01 exercises in South Korea which "involved more than 7,200 U.S. airmen at Osan and Kunsan air bases and other points around the peninsula in an air war exercise" and "about 125 soldiers of the U.S. Army's Patriot missile unit in South Korea...." [22]

On January 14 the new government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ended Japan's naval refuelling mission carried out in support of the U.S. war in Afghanistan since 2001. However, pressure will be exerted on Tokyo at the January 28 conference in London, particularly by Hillary Clinton, to reengage in some capacity.

On last year's anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, the U.S. and Japan held joint war games, Yama Sakura (Mountain Cherry Blossom), on the island of Hokkaido in northernmost Japan, that part of the country nearest Russia on the Sea of Japan. North Korea was the probable alleged belligerent.

Over 5,000 troops participated in drills that included "battling a regional threat that includes missile defenses, air defense and ground-forces operations...."

"Japan's military has been actively developing its anti-missile defenses in cooperation with the United States. It currently has deployed Patriot PAC-3 missile defenses at several locations and also has two sea-based Aegis-equipped Kongo-class warships with anti-missile interceptors," [23] the latter having engaged in joint SM-3 missile interceptions with the U.S. off Hawaii.

If support for the war in Afghanistan is linked with deployment of tactical missile shield installations in Israel and Poland, in the first case aimed at Iran and in the second at Russia, the case of Taiwan is even more overt.

Almost immediately after announcements that the U.S. would provide it with over 200 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and double the amount of frigates it had earlier supplied, with Taiwan planning to use the warships for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System upgrades, the nation's China Times newspaper wrote that "Following a recent US-Taiwan military deal, the Obama administration has demanded that Taiwan provide non-military aid for troops in Afghanistan....The US wants Taiwan to provide medical or engineering assistance to US troops in Afghanistan that will be increased...." [24] Dispatching troops to Afghanistan would be too gratuitous an incitement against China (which shares a narrow border with the South Asian nation), but Taiwan will nevertheless be levied to support the war effort there.

Wars: Stepping Stones For New Bases, Future Conflicts

The 78-day U.S. and NATO air war against Yugoslavia in 1999, Operation Allied Force, allowed the Pentagon to construct the mammoth Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and within ten years to incorporate five Balkans nations into NATO. It also prepared the groundwork for U.S. Navy warships to dock at ports in Albania, Croatia and Montenegro.

Two years later the attack on Afghanistan led to the deployment of U.S. and NATO troops, armor and warplanes to five nations in Central and South Asia. The war in Afghanistan and Pakistan has also contributed to the Pentagon's penetration of the world's second most populous nation, India, which is being pulled into the American military orbit and integrated into global NATO. The U.S. and Israel are supplanting Russia as India's main arms supplier and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently returned from India where his mission included "lifting bilateral military relations from a policy-alignment plane to a commercial platform that will translate into larger contracts for American companies." [25]

With the quickly developing expansion of the Afghanistan-Pakistan war into an Afghanistan-Pakistan-Yemen-Somalia theater, NATO warships are in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and the U.S. has stationed Reaper drones, aircraft and troops in Seychelles. [On the same day as the London conference on Afghanistan a parallel meeting on Yemen will be held in the same city.]

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq the Pentagon gained air and other bases in that nation as well as what it euphemistically calls forward operating sites and base camps in Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

In less than a decade the Pentagon and NATO have acquired strategic air bases and ones that can be upgraded to that status in Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania and Romania.

Global NATO And Militarization Of The Planet

The January 26 Chief of Defense session of NATO's Military Committee with top military leaders of 63 countries attending - while the bloc is waging and escalating the world's largest and lengthiest war thousands of miles away from the Atlantic Ocean - is indicative of the pass that the post-Cold War world has arrived at. Never in any context other than meetings of NATO's Military Committee do the military chiefs of so many nations (including at least five of the world's eight nuclear powers), practically a third of the world's, gather together.

That the current meeting is dedicated to NATO operations on three continents and in particular to the world's only military bloc's new Strategic Concept for the 21st century - and for the planet - would have been deemed impossible twenty or even ten years ago. As would have been the U.S. and its NATO allies invading and occupying a Middle Eastern and a South Asian nation. And the elaboration of plans for an international interceptor missile system with land, air, sea and space components. In fact, though, all have occurred or are underway and all are integrated facets of a concerted drive for global military superiority.


2) NATO, Allied Command Transformation, January 22, 2010
4) Standart News, November 25, 2009
5) ACT Media, November 16, 2009
6) The Diplomat, November, 2009
7) RosBusinessConsulting/Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 10, 2009
8) Jerusalem Post, December 3, 2009
9) Xinhua News Agency, December 3, 2009
10) Agence France-Presse, January 22, 2009
11) The National, January 2, 2010
12) The National, January 11, 2010
13) Gulf News, January 12, 2010
14) World Tribune, September 30, 2009
15) Ibid
16) Hurriyet Daily News, December 30, 2009
17) Ibid
18) Russian Information Agency Novosti, December 16, 2009
19) Europolitics, January 20, 2010
20) Sunday Telegraph, January 17, 2010
21) Xinhua News Agency, December 22, 2009
22) Stars and Stripes, January 16, 2010
23) Washington Times, December 3, 2009
24) China Times, December 27, 2009
25) The Telegraph (Calcutta), January 2, 2009


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Senate Quietly Passes Iran Sanctions Bill

Senate Quietly Passes Iran Sanctions Bill

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The Senate quietly passed legislation Thursday implementing tough new sanctions against Iran that advocacy groups say will cause more pain for the citizens of the country than for the government it's intended to cripple.

The sanctions would target gasoline companies and Iranian imports of refined petroleum products. In addition, the bill includes provisions to ban imports to the US and exports to Iran, with the exception of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid goods. Assets of certain Iranian individuals could also be frozen.

Aside from these direct sanctions, the bill, passed in a voice vote after only five minutes of debate, would also force the US to ban trade with foreign companies which continue to do business with Iran that is subject to sanctions.

Thursday's passage came as a surprise to many, as Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) had implied Tuesday that the bill would not reemerge for weeks.

"We have all watched the Iranian regime oppress its own people on the streets of Iran and continue to defy the international community on nuclear issues," Sen. Reid said in a statement. "That is why it is so important that we move this legislation forward quickly."

Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, an advocacy group that has frequently weighed in on Middle East issues, speculated in a statement that Sen. Reid pushed the bill forward because he is facing a tough re-election campaign and believed he needed the backing of the bill's supporters.

Addressing the reasons why the Democrats stood firm with the bill rather than with President Obama, Friedman mentioned several factors such as "a sense of defeatism," "blind faith" that the bill would be improved later on and the belief that supporting the bill would cost them the least amount of political capital.

Passage of the bill was swift. With few senators in the chamber, the Senate didn't allow for amendments or a roll call vote, and the legislation passed in its original form.

It is unclear whether Obama intends to sign it into law. The administration has repeatedly stated that it opposes broad sanctions that would harm the Iranian people. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has particularly stressed the need for "smarter" sanctions which would target actual decision-makers in Iran.

The House passed sanctions legislation in December that resembles the House bill, but there are differences in the two bills which will have to be resolved before the new sanctions go into effect.

While broad sanctions can put large amounts of economic and political pressure on a country and compel it to change its behavior accordingly, they can also cause crippling problems for the populace while the decision-making elite can often adapt to the sanctions' demands. Though sanctions have succeeded with various countries, in some cases they can take awhile yield results - and even then it is difficult to know whether the sanctions were the impetus for changes. For example, sanctions on South Africa lasted about 30 years before apartheid ended.

The Iran sanctions are designed to help weaken the regime and raise public discontent in an effort to stop Tehran's nuclear program. However, experts worry that the sanctions, while crippling the economy, will hurt the Iranian people far more than the individuals at the top.

According to a statement released by the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), the bill will impose "indiscriminant, unilateral sanctions that will hurt the Iranian people ... and play into the hands of Iran's rulers, who continue to commit flagrant human rights violations."

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) admitted on the Senate floor that such unilateral sanctions typically "make little or no difference." However, he continued, this measure "is crafted in such a way that it could actually become effective, with America alone not having to depend on the cooperation of the other countries that tend to be less concerned about whether Iran ultimately becomes armed with nuclear weapons."

"If the Obama administration will not take action against this regime," he argued, "Then Congress must."

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a sponsor of the bill, noted himself during the discussion that "multilateral sanctions are likely to be more effective than those we impose unilaterally."

But though other multilateral efforts are still on the table, Dodd said in a statement, "It is our job to arm our President with a comprehensive set of tough sanctions designed to ratchet up pressure on the Iranian regime."

Those opposed to the bill, however, say that these policies would actually lock the administration into enforcing the sanctions without much room for flexibility. For example, if President Obama were to disagree with applying the sanctions in certain cases, under the rules of the bill, he would have to seek a waiver each and every time. This would also force the administration to unilaterally sanction countries who continue to trade goods that the bill prohibits, without consulting them.

The passage of this bill might also harm President Obama's efforts to take action with international support. Jamal Abdi, policy director of NIAC, said that the bill will especially harm attempts to get China and Russia's cooperation and support. "This will give them an excuse to say, 'Look, the US is going at it alone, it doesn't care about alienating its allies and partners and it's not going to cooperative with multilateral initiatives,'" he said.

Based on the number of votes the bill received in the House and the current atmosphere of the Senate, President Obama might not be able to veto the bill and avert an override, which would require less than three-fourths approval in the House and two-thirds approval in the Senate.

News of the legislation passing came following the Iranian government's hanging of two political dissidents convicted of trying to trying to topple the "Islamic establishment." This was the first known execution of political activists following the Iranian presidential elections in June and the ensuing political unrest.

"We think that the Iranian people are rising up," said Abdi, in regards to the political protests taking place since the election. "The US should stop the sanctions that hurt the people and do nothing to hurt the government.

The Battle of the Titans: JPMorgan vs. Goldman Sachs or Why the Market Was Down for Seven Days in a Row

The Battle of the Titans: JPMorgan vs. Goldman Sachs or Why the Market Was Down for Seven Days in a Row

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We are witnessing an epic battle between two banking giants, JPMorgan Chase (Paul Volcker) and Goldman Sachs (Geithner/Rubin). Left strewn on the battleground could be your pension fund and 401K.

The late Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard wrote that US politics since 1900, when William Jennings Bryan narrowly lost the presidency, has been a struggle between two competing banking giants, the Morgans and the Rockefellers. The parties would sometimes change hands, but the puppeteers pulling the strings were always one of these two big-money players. No popular third party candidate had a real chance at winning, because the bankers had the exclusive power to create the national money supply and therefore held the winning cards.

In 2000, the Rockefellers and the Morgans joined forces, when JPMorgan and Chase Manhattan merged to become JPMorgan Chase Co. Today the battling banking titans are JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, an investment bank that gained notoriety for its speculative practices in the 1920's. In 1928, it launched the Goldman Sachs Trading Corp., a closed-end fund similar to a Ponzi scheme. The fund failed in the stock market crash of 1929, marring the firm's reputation for years afterwards. "Former Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin came from Goldman, and current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner rose through the ranks as a Rubin protégé."

Goldman's superpower status comes from something more than just access to the money spigots of the banking system. It actually has the ability to manipulate markets. Formerly just an investment bank, in 2008 Goldman magically transformed into a bank holding company. That gave it access to the Federal Reserve's lending window; but at the same time it remained an investment bank, aggressively speculating in the markets. The upshot was that it can now borrow massive amounts of money at virtually 0 percent interest, and it can use this money not only to speculate for its own account but to bend markets to its will.

But Goldman Sachs has been caught in this blatant market manipulation so often that the JPMorgan faction of the banking empire has finally had enough. The voters too have evidently had enough, as demonstrated in the recent upset in Massachusetts that threw the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's Democratic seat to a Republican. That pivotal loss gave Paul Volcker, chairman of President Obama's newly formed Economic Recovery Advisory Board, an opportunity to step up to the plate with some proposals for serious banking reform. Unlike the team of Geithner et al., who came to the government through the revolving door of Goldman Sachs, former Federal Reserve Chairman Volcker came up through Chase Manhattan Bank, where he was vice president before joining the Treasury. On January 27, market commentator Bob Chapman wrote in his weekly investment newsletter, The International Forecaster:

"A split has occurred between the paper forces of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. Mr. Volcker represents Morgan interests. Both sides are Illuminists, but the Morgan side is tired of Goldman's greed and arrogance.... Not that JP Morgan Chase was blameless, they did their looting and damage to the system as well, but not in the high-handed arrogant way the others did. The recall of Volcker is an attempt to reverse the damage as much as possible. That means the influence of Geithner, Summers, Rubin, et al will be put on the back shelf at least for now, as will be the Goldman influence. It will be slowly and subtly phased out.... Washington needs a new face on Wall Street, not that of a criminal syndicate."

Goldman's crimes, says Chapman, were that it "got caught stealing. First in naked shorts, then front-running the market, both of which they are still doing, as the SEC looks the other way, and then selling MBS-CDOs to their best clients and simultaneously shorting them."

Volcker's proposal would rein in these abuses, either by ending the risky "proprietary trading" (trading for their own accounts) engaged in by the too-big-to-fail banks, or by forcing them to downsize by selling off those portions of their businesses engaging in it. Until recently, President Obama has declined to support Volcker's plan, but on January 21 he finally endorsed it.

The immediate reaction of the market was to drop - and drop, day after day. At least, that appeared to be the reaction of "the market." Financial analyst Max Keiser suggests a more sinister possibility. Goldman, which has the power to manipulate markets with its high-speed program trades, may be engaging in a Mexican standoff. The veiled threat is, "Back off on the banking reforms, or stand by and watch us continue to crash your markets." The same manipulations were evident in the bank bailout forced on Congress by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in September 2008.

In Keiser's January 23 broadcast with co-host Stacy Herbert, he explains how Goldman's manipulations are done. Keiser is a fast talker, so this transcription is not verbatim, but it is close. He says:

"High frequency trading accounts for 70 percent of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Ordinarily, a buyer and a seller show up on the floor, and a specialist determines the price of a trade that would satisfy buyer and seller, and that's the market price. If there are too many sellers and not enough buyers, the specialist lowers the price. High frequency trading as conducted by Goldman means that before the specialist buys and sells and makes that market, Goldman will electronically flood the specialist with thousands and thousands of trades to totally disrupt that process and essentially commandeer that process, for the benefit of siphoning off nickels and dimes for themselves. Not only are they siphoning cash from the New York Stock Exchange, but they are also manipulating prices. What I see as a possibility is that next week, if the bankers on Wall Street decide they don't want to be reformed in any way, they simply set the high frequency trading algorithm to sell, creating a huge negative bias for the direction of stocks. And they'll basically crash the market, and it will be a standoff. The market was down three days in a row, which it hasn't been since last summer. It's a game of chicken, till Obama says, 'Okay, maybe we need to rethink this.'"

But the president hasn't knuckled under yet. In his State of the Union address on January 27, he did not dwell long on the issue of bank reform, but he held to his position. He said:

"We can't allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy. The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back."

What this "real reform" would look like was left to conjecture, but Bob Chapman fills in some blanks and suggests what might be needed for an effective overhaul:

"The attempt will be to bring the financial system back to brass tacks.... That would include little or no MBS and CDOs, the regulation of derivatives and hedge funds and the end of massive market manipulation, both by Treasury, Fed and Wall Street players. Congress has to end the 'President's Working Group on Financial Markets,' or at least limit its use to real emergencies.... The Glass-Steagall Act should be reintroduced into the system and lobbying and campaign contributions should end.... No more politics in lending and banks should be limited to a lending ratio of 10 to 1.... It is bad enough they have the leverage that they have. State banks such as North Dakota's are a better idea."

On January 28, the predictable reaction of "the market" was to fall for the seventh straight day. The battle of the Titans was on.

Justice Department Clears Torture Memo Authors John Yoo, Jay Bybee of Misconduct

Justice Department Clears Torture Memo Authors John Yoo, Jay Bybee of Misconduct

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A long-awaited Department of Justice watchdog report that probed whether John Yoo and his former boss Jay Bybee violated professional standards when they provided the Bush White House with legal advice on torture has cleared both men of misconduct, according to Newsweek, citing unnamed sources who have seen the document.

An earlier version of the report, prepared by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and completed in December 2008, actually concluded that Yoo, a Berkeley law professor, and Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge on the 9th Circuit, violated professional standards when they drafted an August 2002 legal opinion that authorized CIA officers to use brutal methods when interrogating suspected terrorist detainees.

But as I reported last April, those previous conclusions were watered down after OPR received responses on the report's conclusions from Yoo and Bybee, who both worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC):

Legal sources familiar with the internal debate about the draft report say OPR is in the process of "watering"- down the criticism of legal opinions by [OLC] lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee in 2002 and 2003 and by [OLC acting head Steven Bradbury], who in 2005 reinstated some of the Yoo-Bybee opinions after they had been withdrawn by Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith when he headed the OLC in 2003 and 2004.

David Margolis, the 34-year career prosecutor at the DOJ charged with reviewing the final version of the report, was responsible for "softening" OPR's earlier finding of professional misconduct and instead determined that Yoo and Bybee "showed poor judgment" when they drafted an August 1, 2002 legal opinion authorizing the CIA to employ methods such as waterboarding against detainees during interrogations, according to Newsweek.

That means neither Yoo nor Bybee will be referred to state bar associations where they could have faced disciplinary action since poor judgment does not constitute professional misconduct, according to OPR's post-investigation procedures. For Bybee, such a referral could have also led to an impeachment inquiry before Congress.

Yoo and Bybee, however, are still under scrutiny. Legal advocacy groups have filed complaints against them, and others who worked on the Bush administration's so-called "enhanced interrogation" program, with state bar associations in hopes that their law licenses will be revoked.

When the report is released and if its conclusions match Newsweek's story, particularly the key finding that Yoo and Bybee did not violate professional standards and won't face disciplinary action, the Obama administration will face a swift backlash from those who say the president and his appointees have gone above and beyond to cover-up war crimes committed by the Bush administration.

Newsweek noted that the OPR report is "sharply critical" of the "legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding" and other methods of torture CIA interrogators used against detainees after 9/11 and that only, a critical conclusion that raises questions about the Obama Justice Department's reasons for not holding Yoo and Bybee accountable.

Moreover, the report, which is still under a declassification review "will provide many new details about how waterboarding was adopted and the role that top White House officials played in the process, say two sources who have read the report but asked for anonymity to describe a sensitive document," Newsweek reported.

Two of the most controversial sections of the 2002 memo—including one contending that the president, as commander in chief, can override a federal law banning torture—were not in the original draft of the memo, say the sources. But when Michael Chertoff, then-chief of Justice’s criminal division, refused the CIA’s request for a blanket pledge not to prosecute its officers for torture, Yoo met at the White House with David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief counsel, and then–White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. After that, Yoo inserted a section about the commander in chief’s wartime powers and another saying that agency officers accused of torturing Qaeda suspects could claim they were acting in “self-defense” to prevent future terror attacks, the sources say. Both legal claims have long since been rejected by Justice officials as overly broad and unsupported by legal precedent.

The OPR probe was launched in mid-2004 after a meeting in which Jack Goldsmith, then head of the OLC, got into a tense debate with White House lawyers, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal counsel David Addington.

That back-and-forth over the OLC’s judgments regarding President Bush’s powers rest at the heart of the Bush administration’s defense of its “enhanced interrogation” techniques that have been widely denounced as torture, such as waterboarding which subjects a person to the panicked gag reflex of drowning and which was used on at least three “high-value” detainees.

Bush officials insist that they were acting under the guidance of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which advises Presidents on the scope of their constitutional powers. For the OPR report to conclude that Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury violated their professional duties as lawyers and, in effect, gave Bush pre-cooked legal opinions to do what he already wanted to do would have shattered that line of defense.

Goldsmith ended up withdrawing some of the Yoo-Bybee opinions because he felt they were “legally flawed” and “sloppily written.”

He resigned shortly thereafter and was subsequently replaced on an acting basis by Bradbury, who restored some of the controversial Yoo-Bybee opinions in May 2005, again granting George W. Bush broad powers to inflict painful interrogations on detainees.

Last March, the Justice Department revealed that the OPR report underwent revisions after the initial draft was rejected by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, both of who insisted that Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury be given an opportunity to respond to its conclusions.

“Attorney General Mukasey, Deputy Attorney General Filip and OLC provided comments [after the first draft was completed in December], and OPR revised the draft report to the extent it deemed appropriate based on those comments,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Faith Burton in a March 25, 2009 letter to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Burton also said at the time that the final OPR would likely undergo more revisions based on responses from the former OLC lawyers. Several months later, Durbin and Whitehouse received a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich who disclosed the post investigation process.

Weich’s letter noted that if the appeals filed by Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury resulted in a rejection of OPR’s findings by the "career official" reviewing the document then no such referral would occur.

"Department policy usually requires referral of OPR's misconduct findings to the subject's state bar disciplinary authority, but if the appeal resulted in a rejection of OPR's misconduct findings, then no referral was made," said Weich’s May 4, 2008 letter to Durbin and Whitehouse. "This process afforded former employees roughly the same opportunity to contest OPR's findings that current employees were afforded through the disciplinary process."

Weich added that the initial draft of the report was also shared with the CIA for a "classification review," and the agency, having reviewed the findings, "requested an opportunity to provide substantive comment on the report."

Durbin and Whitehouse, in a statement last May, said they "will be interested in the scope of the ‘substantive comment' the CIA is providing, and the reasons why an outside agency would have such comment on an internal disciplinary matter."

As Truthout previously reported, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before Congress last year that the OPR report was expected be released by end of November. In interviews over the past month, two senior aides to Democratic lawmakers claimed the report was being held up in lieu of the passage of a health care bill.

But Tracy Schmaler, a DOJ spokeswoman, disputed the allegations.

"That is absolutely untrue," Schmaler said. "One thing has nothing to do with another."

Schmaler said the review "process is ongoing and we hope to have [the report] complete and released soon."

Two DOJ officials familiar with details of the report said a delay in releasing it in the time frame Holder had promised was due, in part, to the fact that Margolis was hospitalized in December for pneumonia.

In his testimony last November, Holder said the report had not been released sooner due to "the amount of time we gave to the lawyers who represented the people who are the subject of the report an opportunity to respond. And then [OPR] had to react to those responses."

AWOL From the State of the Union: Peace, Reconciliation and Debt

AWOL From the State of the Union: Peace, Reconciliation and Debt

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On foreign policy, while the president said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed key opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about US domestic politics, the president is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy.

The president renewed his promise to end the war in Iraq, including his promise to have all US combat troops out by August, and to bring all of our troops home from Iraq. He also said we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and partner with Iraqis to promote peace and prosperity. But there was a key omission here: the word "reconciliation." Hundreds of candidates have been disqualified from running in the March Parliamentary election; Sunni and secular candidates have been particularly targeted. If this move is allowed to stand, reconciliation in Iraq will be imperiled, the civil war could be reignited and Iraq's relationship with its predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors would be further strained. The US is working to overturn the exclusion; by referring more explicitly to those efforts, the president could have promoted Iraqi reconciliation.

The president also renewed his promise to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. But here, again, the president missed an opportunity to say the word "reconciliation." It is virtually certain that there is no way for the president to meaningfully begin ending the war in Afghanistan by July 2011 unless there is a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, and the administration has begun to take the first meaningful steps in that direction.

This week - at the prodding of the US - a UN Security Council committee announced it had lifted sanctions against five former Taliban official, bolstering efforts to pursue peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. Administration officials say they are considering outreach to leaders of the Taliban; Vice President Biden is said to be supportive. If the president had referred in his speech to the all-important issue of "reconciliation," it would have sent a signal to people in Afghanistan that the US has opened the door to a political settlement, thereby bringing such a settlement closer.

To Iran, his message was that Iran is "more isolated" and that Iran's leaders would face "growing consequences" as they "continue to ignore their obligations." That, of course, refers to more sanctions, which the administration knows very well have not resolved issues between Iran and the United States in the past and are very unlikely to resolve them in the future. Missing from the president's speech was any reference to his promise of diplomatic engagement with Iran. The administration knows that, at best, sanctions will facilitate a negotiated political agreement with Iran, and such an agreement will be more likely if he continues to emphasize US diplomatic engagement.

To the Palestinians, President Obama said nothing. This was a spectacular omission. With the possible exception of Israel, there's no country in the world more responsible than the United States for the Palestinians' current plight. This week Israel's defense minister said the failure to achieve a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians was a more serious threat to Israel than Iran. Recently, 54 members of Congress wrote to President Obama, urging the lifting of restrictions on the movement of people, access to clean water, food, medicine construction materials for repairs and rebuilding and fuel. Could not our president spare one word of empathy for the Palestinians? The failure of the president's efforts so far to promote a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is also a failure to promote reconciliation - not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Fatah and Hamas, without which any meaningful agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will not be possible.

On Haiti, President Obama invoked the response of Americans to the earthquake to underscore America's commitment to development and reconstruction. But here President Obama could have pledged to prioritize the speedy delivery of medical and other urgently needed aid to Haiti over the deployment of troops, as Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte have called on him to do. He also missed the opportunity to talk about canceling Haiti's $1 billion external debt - half of which is claimed by the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank - which, as the president knows, is a precondition of a meaningful plan to reconstruct Haiti. The president embraced debt cancellation in his speech - in talking about student loans. These worthy principles should be applied internationally.

The president's proposal to freeze domestic spending while leaving military spending intact is more evidence that failure to downsize the empire will undermine efforts at domestic reform. Hopefully, in the year to come, those demanding domestic reform will increasingly raise their voices against our endless wars.

Homeless Often Hidden in Tennessee

Homeless Often Hidden in Tennessee

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"Tent City" is a place hidden out of sight and historically out of mind. It sprawls over a mud-rutted, brush-tangled acre of landscape nestled under a network of highway bridges along the Cumberland River on the outskirts of downtown Nashville, Tennessee. It is impossible to find unless one is directed or taken there. The camp is surrounded by a variety of chain-link fencing placed in different configurations that appear to have been installed in stages over many years.

This community of homeless men and women, constantly fluctuating in size, has been, to date, largely flying under the city's municipal radar. It appears that the camp has provided an unspoken service for the city as an alternative to municipal shelters, historically catering to a population of homeless, fringe people who might be battling drug and alcohol addiction or suffering from untreated mental illness, or the occasional sex offender avoiding mainstream society.

Recently, there has been a change at Tent City; the population is growing at a staggering rate. One consequence is that more attention is being given to this group of nearly 100 residents and their makeshift dwellings by both the media and advocacy groups.

Wendell Segroves, the unofficial leader of the homeless community  Tent City in Nashville, TN, is like a father or chief leading his tribe.  Photo: John Mottern

Wendell Segroves, the unofficial leader of the homeless community Tent City in Nashville, Tennessee, is like a father or chief leading his tribe.

Wendell Segroves, 52, who is the leader of the encampment, much like a father, says that the numbers are growing with the addition of new people who find themselves with no other place to live due to the harsh economy. Segroves lives in a small wooden dwelling in a back corner of the camp. He has three little, but tough looking, dogs, and has somehow managed both electricity and an Internet connection. He is wired into, and is on top of, the homeless scene both in Nashville and around the country. He contributes to homeless blogs and is working to build a network on the web to enable homeless people to engage and discuss issues.

Nashville Surge

Residents  of Nashville's Tent City collect fire wood from a load of scraps from a  local construction site, dumped by a friendly driver. Photo: John  Mottern

Residents of Nashville's Tent City collect fire wood from a load of scraps from a local construction site, dumped by a friendly driver.

The problem in Nashville now, Segroves said, is that the rapid growth of homelessness and poverty will soon overwhelm the Nashville social services' ability to provide shelter and food. He explained that there are now about 13,000 homeless people in Nashville and 5,000 on the streets.

Segroves works with a feeding program for homeless and impoverished people, and, he said, "every time its new people" adding to the ranks using the program. "I don't see it getting better any time soon," he said.

There are over 30 homeless camps in the Nashville area according to Segroves; each may hold five to 20 people. The city government tries to find these encampments and remove them, he said, so the encampment dwellers keep quiet about where they live. The only reason that his Tent City has escaped city removal, he said, is because of media attention and the public support it has generated.

Cheryl  Woodard works on a crossword puzzle. She suffers from seizures and keeps  getting thrown out of the shelters because of the affliction. Photo:  John Mottern

Cheryl Woodard works on a crossword puzzle. She suffers from seizures and keeps getting thrown out of the shelters because of the affliction.

A large dump truck pulls up to the front gate of the camp as we are talking. It's loaded high with wood scraps from a local construction site. A voice from somewhere unseen and deep within the settlement barks out "All In ... all in." Slowly, bodies emerge from all corners of the camp moving at a pace consistent with the cold air and the heavy downpour of rain. The truck dumps the wood at the gate and slowly, without any discussion, the wood is carted off in different directions by the people of Tent City. Columns of white smoke drift out of many of the tents as people try to stay dry and warm. The donated wood is a benefit of the increased awareness of the camp as public opinion has softened toward the homeless in general.

As the Tent City residents move about the camp, the rain and mud intensify the environmental harshness facing them. Young and old, men and women, sit by their fires trying to stay comfortable.

J.T.,  left, from Cleveland, OH, tends a fire outside a communal tent in  Nashville's Tent City. Tent City currently has about 70 homeless people  living in tents and makeshift wooden structures. Photo: John Mottern

J.T. (left) from Cleveland, Ohio, tends a fire outside a communal tent in Nashville's Tent City. Tent City currently has about 70 homeless people living in tents and makeshift wooden structures.

Cheryl Woodard is working on a crossword puzzle and explains to me that she suffers from seizures and keeps getting thrown out of the shelters. She has lived in the camp for a month and a half. "They don't understand me and keep accusing me of doing things like peeing in a bucket. After a seizure I'm really out of it for awhile." Woodard is sitting in front of a huge, black plastic structure, which she says sleeps six people. To her left is a strong looking African-American man in his late thirties. He calls me a racist because I haven't interviewed him yet. I tell him it's the first time I've been called a racist, and he said he was kidding, but now we are talking. J.T. is from Cleveland, Ohio, and he declares loudly, that "there ain't no work." This is his forth time in Nashville as a homeless man.

There is a teenage boy sitting at the fire as well. He doesn't move or say anything, just sits looking depressed and beaten. It's the saddest moment of the day - youth in such despair. My teenagers at home often feel that momentary despair, but it is followed by a fight or an argument known to all parents of teenagers. Yet, our kids somehow find their way safely back to a place of balanced teenage joy. Not true for this young man. He sits and waits for something, anything, that just isn't going to happen, and he knows it.

A teenage  boy sits outside a communal structure in Tent City. The numbers of  homeless teenagers is growing rapidly in the United States. Photo: John  Mottern

A teenage boy sits outside a communal structure in Tent City. The numbers of homeless teenagers is growing rapidly in the United States.

My next visit is to a tent made from wood and plastic. I look inside and find two men in tattered, filthy clothing. It's like a scene from a movie showing the quintessential hobos of the Depression. They won't talk to me or let me photograph them, so I move on.

There are dogs everywhere, tied to ropes or inside structures. One structure had a "No Trespassing" sign hanging on a chain across the entrance. Another makeshift hut was covered with an old billboard canvas with a huge image of a man smoking a cigar and looking very dapper. This was the icing on the surreal cake of Tent City.

Segroves said, "We just want to be left alone and get the services we need. Some guy was going to bring little huts down for us, but the city stopped it. I was going to make one of them a shower."

There are dogs everywhere tied to ropes or locked inside structures  at Tent City. Photo: John Mottern

There are dogs everywhere tied to ropes or locked inside structures at Tent City.

Segroves used to put wood chips on all the paths, but it was clearly a losing battle against the mud. I dropped him off at a local church where he could take a shower. On the way back, he picked up a 12-pack and some tobacco: "My little vice."


My guide to Tent City and to understanding the homeless world of Nashville is Madge Johnson, who greeted me with a huge hug. She is a woman on a mission of compassion, and it's clear that her empathy comes from a place of knowing harsh realities on a personal level. She is the perfect advocate for the homeless in Nashville, having been on the streets for over a decade herself.

"One cold night," she said, "I found myself in a house with some older men." Tears are streaming down her face at this point in the story, and she needs a moment to breath back to her voice. "It wasn't about the sex, you know, tricking, or about the drugs or some beer. They were nice to me, and I had something to eat and I was warm. That's when it hit me, I mean how low I had gone." Hitting bottom, where only the very basics for survival like food and shelter were what mattered, this was the moment that shocked Johnson to her core and started her back in the direction of real recovery.

Madge  Johnson, far right, Outreach Navigator for Nashville Homeless Power  Project, NHPP. Photo: John Mottern

Madge Johnson (far right), outreach navigator for Nashville Homeless Power Project (NHPP).

Today she is clean and a pivotal staff member at Nashville Homeless Power Project (NHPP). Her co-worker and the executive director of the nonprofit organization, Jay Mazon, said, "There are no mistakes. Our experiences shape us to who we are. There is a reason for everything ... this is why Madge is so good at what she does now. People can relate to her in a very real way and why she can ground the staff here"

The NHPP, with a small staff of paid workers and volunteers, is doing grassroots organizing to bring change in the municipal attitude and general public opinion about the issue of homelessness. Giving the homeless a voice and helping them find the services needed to get them back on their feet is the main objective. They have also set up an annual event that honors and remembers the homeless who have perished on the streets over the past year.

Homeless advocate Madge Johnson, left, gets a welcoming hug from a  homeless man living in Tent City in Nashville as Wendell Segroves,  right, looks on. Photo: John Mottern

Homeless advocate Madge Johnson (left) gets a welcoming hug from a homeless man living in Tent City in Nashville as Wendell Segroves (right) looks on.

The organization is working with the courts and the Nashville Bar Association to help homeless people resolve legal problems instead of overwhelming the jails. Mazon explained, "It a program to help those unable to move forward because of their legal history. Those that are looking to sincerely improve their situation can have their records cleaned allowing them to get back to work and move forward."

"We need money and I mean like yesterday," Mazon said. "I was never homeless but I come from the working poor. I always wanted to give back."

Sweeping Up in Memphis

Just a three-hour drive from Nashville, the cold winter is also impacting the homeless and the political fabric of Memphis.

A homeless  man in Memphis, Tennessee slowly and with great care folds plastic  sheeting he uses to stay warm. Photo: John Mottern

A homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee, slowly and with great care folds plastic sheeting he uses to stay warm.

Memphis does not have a city-run, free shelter for men, and staying at the Memphis Union Mission shelter costs $6 a night after the first four nights free. There is also a fee for other privately-run shelters, and a picture ID is required. This is in a city where panhandling is a crime.

The Memphis police began enforcing a new policy on December 9, 2009, of rounding up and processing homeless people living on the streets. The plan initially was billed as a crackdown and sweep of the streets, but the police action soon mellowed into a community service action after Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. was hammered by advocates for the homeless. You had nothing to worry about unless you were wanted on outstanding warrants, promised the chastened mayor.

"A Nudge"

It was not surprising, though, that on the first day of the new order, police found very few homeless milling around in their usual hangout locations. "If you stay out here they're gonna take you to jail," said Karl Nolan, who has been homeless in Memphis for the "last four months, this time."

"I'm shining hubcaps trying to get enough money to pay for the shelter for a few nights," said the theatrical Nolan. He relaxed after a few minutes of conversation and spoke of the growing numbers of homeless and how the city just doesn't understand the problems faced by those on the street. I got a big hug as I left, and I gave him $20.

Karl Nolan, a homeless man living in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo:  John Mottern

Karl Nolan, a homeless man living in Memphis, Tennessee.

An  official gathering, documented by the press, around one of the few  homeless people who had not vacated Memphis city center for a police  sweep in December, 2009. Photo: John Mottern

An official gathering, documented by the press, around one of the few homeless people who had not vacated Memphis city center for a police sweep in December 2009.

Later in the morning, I found a gathering of police, media, city sanitation workers and a few homeless men in the city center. All the players clearly know their role in this scene. The police acting with civil restraint as members of the media watch at arms length, as if afraid to get too close. These few cornered homeless men, seen in their uniforms of layered dirty and tattered clothing, seem bewildered and confused at the attention.

Lt. Sandra Marshall of the Memphis Police Department explained that the homeless man who is the center of the group's attention was found sleeping next to a trash can across from the Memphis Courthouse, but is "known" to be in that area most days. She said "he did not fit the criteria" mandated for the new city policy, which I found odd. She followed with, "I don't think people should live like this in unsanitary conditions, and they need a nudge to find services."

A homeless  man in Memphis, Tennessee who was moved along by police during a  citywide sweep of the city center. The police said he is always there  and so he doesn't fit the criteria of the target group for the sweep.  Photo: John Mottern

A homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee, who was moved along by police during a citywide sweep of the city center. The police said he is always there and so he "doesn't fit the criteria" of the target group for the sweep.

"I'm tired and ashamed of who I am," said Robert Warren, another street person sitting nearby, who was also caught in the sweep. He reads on from an unseen script, as from a play, about finding Jesus and wanting to finally change. He is surrounded by three, calm police officers, a social worker, a few photographers and one lone reporter.

The police on the scene were nonthreatening and working very hard to appear empathetic in their efforts to assist Warren, who has been homeless for ten years and is battling drug and alcohol addiction. Lt. Felix Calvi of the Memphis police department, who was standing stiffly by Warren, said they were "waiting for the Friendship Church to come and pick him up and take him to a shelter." Warren is the stereotypical homeless person normally overlooked by the average person walking around in the famous Beale Street area.

Lt. Sandra  Marshall, center of the Memphis Police Department talks to Robert  Warren, seated, a homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee as Lt Felix Calvi  looks on during the first day of a citywide sweep of the homeless  population in the city in December 2009. Photo: John Mottern

Lt. Sandra Marshall (center) of the Memphis Police Department talks to Robert Warren (seated), a homeless man in Memphis, Tennessee, as Lt. Felix Calvi looks on during the first day of a citywide sweep of the homeless population in the city in December 2009.

Brad Watkins, organizing coordinator for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, said that city government keeps trying to find ways of pushing homeless people out of Memphis' business district. For example, a proposal now being considered would prevent sales of single cans of beer within the city's Business Improvement District, but Watkins said this will only push people with alcohol addiction into surrounding neighborhoods, increase the sale of cheap liquor instead of beer and benefit chain stores just across the boundary line that is being considered as opposed to the mom and pop stores inside the zone.

He said that the city is taking a few positive steps for the homeless, such as trying to get a more accurate count of homeless people. At the same time, he said, police continue surveillance, using cameras, in front of Manna House, where homeless people can get food.

Lt Felix  Calvi of the Memphis Police Department stands next to Robert Warren, a  homeless man. They are waiting for a local shelter to come and pick  Warren up during the first day of a city-wide sweep of the homeless  population ordered by the Mayor's office. Photo: John Mottern

Lt. Felix Calvi of the Memphis Police Department stands next to Robert Warren, a homeless man. They are waiting for a local shelter to come and pick Warren up during the first day of a citywide sweep of the homeless population ordered by the mayor's office.

He said further that many homeless people are not seen camped on the streets because they have taken up occupancy in abandoned homes that abound in the Memphis. A major problem contributing to homelessness, he said, is that, because of inadequate funding, the Federal Section 8 housing subsidy program in Memphis has a four-year long waiting list. "It is very shameful," he said, and "it is a national problem."


Arresting or moving homeless people to shelters would quickly overwhelm the private nonprofit facilities and the jails. Most homeless people would find themselves back on the streets within a few days. June Averyt with the nonprofit group Door of Hope explained that sweeps won't fix the problem. "Are they supposed to disappear? Fall off the face of the earth? What they need are the services," Averyt said in a recent interview with the local paper.

There appears to be no clear, comprehensive plan in Memphis other than pressuring homeless people to creep deeper into the background of the city's fabric until it's safe to creep back out. The status quo of Memphis' "homeless problem" has been a nuisance issue, but the dark cloud approaching on the horizon, the tsunami of need of the new homeless, is really what Memphis should be reacting too, particularly as the cold of winter settles in.

Politics as usual keeps many of these people in check, often stuck in family shelter situations that are just getting more and more crowded. The mayor's office pushes hard when under pressure from the public or business owners to do something and then retreats when painted as heartless and militant in the media.

The career homeless in cities like Nashville and Memphis are also feeling the growing pressure of more people entering their ranks and vying for services. There are now families, teens and the unemployed, who have run out of options, entering the ranks of no place to call home. Tent cities and alternative communities are seeing incredible growth that also brings in a spotlight that is focusing attention on people that otherwise preferred to survive in the shadows of social blindness and disregard.

Legislation to Counter Supreme Court's Campaign Finance Ruling Gaining Support

Legislation to Counter Supreme Court's Campaign Finance Ruling Gaining Support

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In the wake of last week's sweeping 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, which struck down several longstanding prohibitions on corporate political contributions, Democratic lawmakers are proposing legislation to counter some of its effects.

Perhaps the most politically promising proposal is the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill introduced which aims to blend small-donor fundraising with public funding as a means of reducing the pressure of fundraising from large contributors.

Proponents say the bill, introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Connecticut), will make it easier for politicians to run campaigns without money from corporations and lobbyists, and also decrease time spent fundraising.

"The Supreme Court gave the deepest-pocketed special interests in Washington, D.C. even more power in Congress," said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, a nonprofit organization dedicated to campaign reform. "The most comprehensive response to fight back against this immoral, activist decision is the Fair Elections Now Act."

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama also took aim at the high court's decision in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which he said "reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”

"I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities," Obama said. "They should be decided by the American people, and I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems."

Reacting to Obama's comments, Justice Samuel Alito "shook his head and appeared to mouth the words, 'not true.'"

To be eligible for public funding, candidates would have to raise small donations from a large number of citizens in the community in which they are running for office. For instance, in the current version of the bill, a candidate for the US House of Representatives would have to gather at least 1,500 donations and raise at least $50,000. The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826) currently has five co-sponsors in the Senate, including Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) and Barbara Boxer (D-California), and 128 co-sponsors in the House.

Qualifying candidates would be given $900,000 - split 40/60 between the primary and the general election. In 2008, the median cost of the campaign by winning members in the House was $1.1 million, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan campaign finance research organization.

Other legislative efforts would target corporations directly. Rep. John Hall (D-New York) has introduced a bill that would prevent corporations with more than five percent of foreign shareholders from airing political advertisements. The bill, he said, "will prevent foreign-influenced companies from buying U.S elections."

Another proposal would attempt to change political contribution disclosure laws relating to publicly traded companies. Modeled on British campaign finance law, it would require companies to report any past political spending, as well as allow shareholders to vote on proposed future spending.

The House and Senate are scheduled to hold hearings on the effects of the ruling and possible legislative solutions next week.

The Coal Ash Industry Manipulated EPA Data

The Coal Ash Industry Manipulated EPA Data

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The coal ash industry manipulated reports and publications about the dangers of coal combustion waste, reports Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group stated that the Environmental Protection Agency allowed the multibillon-dollar coal ash industry to have virtually unfettered access to the EPA during the Bush administration and now under President Obama.

As a result of the industry's formal relationship with the EPA, insiders were allowed to edit and ghostwrite publications and official reports on the effects of coal waste. The documents obtained by PEER indicate that the coal ash industry "watered down official reports, brochures and fact-sheets to remove references to potential dangers" of coal ash waste. Additionally, the so-called "environmental benefits" of coal ash were repeatedly aggrandized.

"For most of the past decade, it appears that every EPA publication on the subject was ghostwritten by the American Coal Ash Association," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose group examined thousands of coal industry and EPA communications. "In this partnership it is clear that industry is EPA's senior partner."

There is little debate that coal ash is toxic, despite what the wavering EPA and steadfast coal industry purport.

Coal ash is the sludgy muck that is left over after coal is burned to produce electricity and is often laden with heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead and selenium. These harmful substances can produce cancer, kidney problems and nervous-system disease. The amount of heavy metals in coal-ash depends largely on the type of coal burned. However, all coal produces this waste, even though the toxicity may vary slightly depending on the type of coal being incinerated.

While the EPA continues to discuss whether or not it should classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, the environmental and health effects of a coal slurry impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Kingston coal-fired power plant in Harriman, Tennessee, are still not known. The December 2008 catastrophe caused more than 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash to enter the Tennessee River.

The spill was over 40 times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Approximately 525 million gallons of black coal ash flowed into tributaries of the Tennessee River - the water supply for Chattanooga and millions of people living downstream in Alabama and Kentucky. The true adverse effects of the spill are still not known.

An immediate crackdown on TVA and other coal-slurry impoundments by the EPA was likely sidelined as a result of the American Coal Ash Association's formal partnership with the EPA during the Bush administration. If coal ash were deemed a hazardous waste, coal companies could potentially lose billions of dollars in revenue, as they would not be able to promote their toxic coal ash substances for agricultural, consumer and industrial use.

It seems as if the efforts of coal industry representatives have paid off handsomely. Back in 2002, the EPA released a report that indicated the agency had information on the risks of coal ash, yet requests for the data under the Freedom of Information Act were either denied or the documents that were released, with the estimates of cancer risks, were largely blacked out.

Then in 2007, an EPA study found that people living near coal ash sites had as high as a 1-in-50 chance of developing cancer from drinking arsenic-contaminated water. The report also showed that living near such storage sites raised an individual's risk of damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and other organs exposed to toxic metals in the ash. But the report, according to the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, only made available some of the data, while covering up the true extent of the health risks associated with coal ash.

Recent documents obtained by PEER indicate that the coal industry had access to these health reports and was successful in manipulating the information presented to the public about coal ash's negative effects on humans and the environment.

References indicating the "high-risk" potential of coal combustion waste were deleted from PowerPoint presentations. Cautionary language about coal waste uses in agricultural practices was altered in order to remove negative connotations. In 2007, the coal ash industry inserted language in an EPA report to Congress about how "industry and EPA [need to] work together" in order to block or water down "state regulations [that] are hindering progress" in the use of coal ash waste.

"It is no joke - the terms of the coal ash partnership tuck EPA snugly into bed with industry for the purpose of marketing coal combustion wastes as a product," Ruch of PEER added, noting that the partnership has now crossed over into the Obama administration. "EPA is supposed to be an objective regulatory agency dedicated to protecting the public instead of protecting a gigantic subsidy for a powerful industry."

Honduran Coup d'Etat a "Win" for the US?

Honduran Coup d'Etat a "Win" for the US?

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Graffiti calling Pepe Lobo and Elvin Santos "golpistas," which means pro-coup. (Photo: jlduron)

Today, Pepe Lobo will be inaugurated as the new president of Honduras in what many consider to be an institutionalization of the coup d'état, which took place seven months ago. Lobo comes to the presidency as a result of a highly disputed election process carried out by the coup regime. The elections, which have been widely condemned as illegitimate, were boycotted by a large percentage of the Honduran population.

US Undersecretary Thomas Shannon, in a maneuver that totally subverted an extended negotiation process, announced that the US would recognize the election, even if there was not a return to constitutional order. The US celebrates today's inauguration as the "way forward" for Honduras and has aggressively pressured other Latin American countries to recognize Lobo's government.

While the United States is eager to normalize the situation and to get on with business as usual, the June 28 coup d'état has yielded unexpected consequences for Washington, both inside and outside of Honduras. Unforeseen by the coup plotters and the United States, the military takeover of Honduras unleashed a broad based, sustained resistance movement inside the country. A spirit long dormant in Honduras was awakened, transforming the country into a hub of political activity previously unimaginable.

The resistance movement has brought together people from many sectors of Honduran society, including large numbers of disaffected Liberal Party members. The unifying theme is that they no longer accept the status quo for their country. Events of the last seven months have accelerated and deepened a process demanding deep structural change. Organizations such as "Los Necios," a small, left-wing organization of students and young people struggled to maintain a membership of around 100. In these few months, their membership has swelled to over 1,000.

Currently, 57 local expressions of the national resistance organization operate in cities and towns around Honduras. Confounding the coup leader's strategy, the movement is gaining strength despite brutal repression, state terror and the attempt to institutionalize the coup via elections. The resistance movement held large protest marches Wednesday and is working to implement a four-year plan for movement building in preparation for the next national elections.

In Latin America, the coup in Honduras is widely understood to be a test case for US policy toward Latin America. By attacking the weakest and most vulnerable of the ALBA countries, the US hoped to strike a blow to this alternative economic block, which the US counts as enemy. However, in the wake of the coup, the US found itself in a historically unprecedented position at the OAS. Viewed by Latin American governments from both the right and the left as a potential direct threat to each of them, the OAS took a unanimous position denouncing the coup and ejecting Honduras from the OAS. The US was forced to accept this decision. Most countries in Latin America continue to refuse to recognize the results of the coup regime-sponsored "elections" on November 29, despite heavy pressure and arm twisting on the part of the Unites States to do so.

Disappointment stemming from the contradiction between statements of a recently inaugurated President Obama to Latin American heads of state at the Summit of the Americas in April of 2009, and a virtually unchanged US policy has been articulated by leaders throughout Latin America. Three recent "moments" have contributed to a rapid readjustment of expectations. First was the coup in Honduras and refusal of the US to take proactive policy measures against it. Second was the announcement of seven new US military bases in Colombia. And the third was Secretary of State Clinton's declaration that Latin America countries should "think twice about flirting with Iran."

The willingness of Latin American countries to challenge US positions indicates a slowly changing balance of power in the hemisphere. Soon after Arturo Valenzuela was confirmed as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, he paid a visit to the Mercosur countries. Far from the diplomatic protocol to which the US is accustomed, in Brazil and Argentina, the first two countries which he visited, Mr. Valenzuela was not received by the president or the foreign minister in either country. In a press statement near the time of Valenzuela's visit, Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim criticized the US for being "extremely tolerant" of the coup and the de facto regime.

What seems most clear is that the US State Department remains mired in an outdated cold war mentality, failing to recognize and adapt to the profound and complex changes that have occurred in Latin America during the last decade. Unfortunately, there seems to be few signs that this will change anytime soon.

Today's inauguration in Honduras is happening in a context in which the old ghosts from the worst decades of US policy toward Latin America have been conjured in an attempt to silence opposition. The sharp escalation of human rights violations and use of state terror in an attempt to destroy the resistance movement have now entered a phase which human rights defenders describe as "silent, selective and systematic." Death squads and paramilitaries relentlessly pursue those resisting the coup. Many have been executed, and others have fled in order to save their lives.

The repression continues in the context of a people who are empowered, determined and who are not afraid. The resistance movement has declared that it will not recognize Porfirio Lobo as president, but rather consider him to be the continuation of the dictatorship imposed though the June 28 military coup. Their nonviolent struggle for deep structural change via a constituent assembly will continue. What has happened in Honduras serves as a marker for change in Latin America. It signals that attempts by the United States to rule the hemisphere through coercion and force will be met with new and unexpected challenges and forms of resistance.