Thursday, February 11, 2010

Greece under European Union diktat

Greece under European Union diktat

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For the first time since the introduction of its common currency, the European Union has made a country subject to its diktat. The European Commission intends to rigorously supervise the brutal austerity programme by which the Greek government plans to cut its budget deficit from 13 to 3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product within two years.

The basis for the virtual dictatorship of the EU bureaucracy is a plan submitted in January by the Greek government to the European Commission. The plan envisages an overall reduction in public expenditure of 10 percent, public service wage cuts and job cuts, a two-year increase in the retirement age, cuts in the health service, and higher taxes, including a tax surcharge on fuel.

The European Union spent three weeks examining the plan and intends to review its implementation every one to three months. If the Greek government deviates in any way from the plan, Brussels threatens to impose even more sweeping austerity measures.

EU Economics and Currency Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said last week, “We support and will supervise Greece with all the means at our disposal.” He added that the “reforms” of the health service, pension entitlements and the job market had “urgently” to be implemented. Any deviation would result in “immediate additional cost-cutting requirements.”

In practice, this means that the elected members of the Greek parliament and the Greek government can no longer freely decide on expenditures that affect the lives of millions of citizens. Sovereignty over the Greek budget lies with non-elected bureaucrats in Brussels, who lack any democratic legitimacy.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung commented that “the Greek parliament can no longer decide on expenditure without the Europeans casting their eyes on it. The deputies must nod through the government’s proposals for wage cuts in the public service, savings in pension entitlements, reforms of the tax and social security systems, as well as the overall cut in public expenditure of around 10 percent. They have the controllers from Brussels sitting on their shoulders.” These check “every figure, every vote.”

This development has a significance that extends far beyond Greece. The Mediterranean country is to serve as a test case for the entire European Union. It represents merely the tip of the iceberg.

Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Belgium all have similar high levels of debt, and Austria is in danger of being dragged into the abyss by its ongoing banking crisis. Even the allegedly “strong” eurozone countries such as Germany and France have piled up record deficits.

These debts have arisen from the hundreds of billions pumped into the banks by European governments in order to cover the banks’ speculative losses and enable them to make fresh profits. Now, these gaping budget holes are to be plugged at the expense of the working class, with the European Commission assuming the role of chief debt collector for the banks.

Greece provides an especially lucrative prospect for the financial predators. It must pay 3.5 percentage points more interest on its debt than Germany, although it shares the same currency. The banks, which can borrow money from the European Central Bank at near-zero interest rates, are able to make an enormous profit lending to Greece at extortionate rates, which they justify on the basis of the country’s risk of a state bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, the country is being propelled into the vortex of international speculation, which in turn intensifies its budget crisis. According to the Financial Times, hedge funds and speculators invested around $8 billion betting against the euro last Monday, the largest sum ever invested on the expectation of a currency’s decline. Many media outlets have drawn a parallel with the speculation against the British pound carried out by George Soros in 1992, which led the British Central Bank to devalue the pound, resulting in billions in profit for Soros.

The crisis in Greece is attracting the most parasitic representatives of finance capital, whose methods resemble those of the Mafia, with the European Commission serving as the consigliere to the godfathers of finance.

Such ends cannot be achieved through democratic means. While the PASOK government of Greece, led by George Papandreou, is quite prepared to cooperate with the European Union and prove its readiness to implement radical economic cuts, the Greek population has been robbed of any possibility of influencing policy through democratic means by the EU overlords.

It is only 36 years since the Greek military dictatorship was brought down following seven years of bloody rule. A return to a similar state of affairs is not excluded. The logic of the EU policy points in this direction.

At present, the EU and the financial interests behind it are relying on the social-democratic PASOK, which owes its election victory last October to mass opposition to the right-wing Karamanlis government. For its part, PASOK relies on the trade unions, which seek to keep growing popular opposition under control by organising disjointed, limited actions aimed merely at letting off steam.

The unions, in turn, rely on the opportunist, pseudo-left parties—the Stalinist Communist Party and the SYRIZA alliance—to provide them with political cover, bolster their efforts to channel popular anger along nationalist lines, and block the development of a socialist and internationalist perspective for the working class.

These organisations, however, are increasingly discredited and could well lose control over the working population. The likelihood of an open confrontation is growing. Workers must prepare for such an eventuality by drawing the necessary political conclusions.

The mere fact that all relevant decisions regarding Greek policy are made in Brussels demonstrates that there is no national solution to the crisis. Those forces—whether from the left or the right of the political spectrum—that seek to delude workers with talk of a national solution are leading them into a dead end. The globalisation of production and financial markets has long since stripped away the basis for all national programmes.

Greek workers must turn to the European and international working class and fight for a socialist programme based on expropriating the major financial institutions and corporations and placing them under democratic social control.

For their part, workers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the other EU countries must take up the cause of the Greek workers. If the European Commission succeeds in implementing its programme of drastic cuts in Greece, they will be next.

Five years ago, the French and Dutch electorate rejected the draft for a European constitution. Our editorial board opposed the constitution, writing: “Whoever votes ‘yes’ is not voting ‘for Europe,’ as the proponents of the constitution state. Such a vote legitimises the bourgeois state, capitalist private property, militarism and imperialist foreign policy. It legitimises a Europe in which the elementary interests of the population are subordinated to the profit interests of the major corporations and banks.”

Descent Into Barbarism: The US and NATO Wage War on the World

Descent Into Barbarism: The US and NATO Wage War on the World

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The argument is won: capitalism as an effective system to organise society and provide for human needs has expired. The evidence is conclusive. Trillions of dollars to kickstart the economy in the US and Europe may have given an ephemeral lease of life to the financial class to spin the casino wheel once again, but it is more apparent by the day that the tentative “recovery” has spluttered to a standstill. Gridlocked by unprecedented levels of personal and national debts, the engine of production – the real economy – is in a state of rigor mortis.

This collapse has been a long time in the making. Decades of easy credit was up to now a way for the ruling class – government, corporations, financial institutions – to let the majority of workers subsidise the chronic loss in their livelihoods, which have been drained since the mid-1970s by the oligarchy’s self-aggrandisement from wage cutting, regressive taxation and public spending cuts. The political class – whether liberal or conservative, right or left – have facilitated this giant wealth-siphoning process.

However, the point is that the economic system is now objectively shown to be moribound. And it is impossible for so-called mainstream politicians to think of any other way of doing business. They are ideologically blind. Recall former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s arrogant assertion: “There is no alternative”. Likewise, US President Barack Obama insists on throwing billions more dollars at the banks and financiers on Wall Street. But that won’t kickstart an economy in which millions of workers are without jobs and homes or who are on crumby wages and up to their necks in debt. The profit system has hit an historic dead-end and this gridlock is a result of deep trends to do with the decline in capitalism as a mode of social production (falling wages and profits and the concomitant explosion in financial speculation and debts).

Widespread poverty and human misery is now seen on a massive scale in the so-called developed world. Some 40 million Americans, for example, are subsisting on food stamps. The distinction between “developed” and “developing” economies (always a myth anyway) is blurred. The ranks of the world’s long-suffering poor are swelled with dispossessed blue and white-collar workers and their families from across the US and Europe. Together more than ever, they stand shut out from those gated havens of obscene wealth for a global minority.

Similar historic junctures have been witnessed before when capitalism floundered from its inexorable tendency to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Disturbingly, the release valve for the system and its bankruptcy has always been war. Death and destruction is the lender of last resort to an economic system that – despite itself – inevitably polarises wealth to an unworkable degree. The First and Second World Wars – claiming more than 70 million over a period of less than 10 years lives – were effectively the ultimate, grotesque bailouts.

In our time, war, it seems, has already begun. The US oligarchy and its NATO allies are waging a veritable war on the world: killing, disappearing and incarcerating millions of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – a war that is expanding into Yemen, Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa, with the militarisation of sea lanes and oceans (see Chossudovsky, www.Globalresearch.ca) and the setting up of “forward projecting” military and missile bases in every continent (see Rozoff, ditto). On top of ordinary poverty and misery, the world is truly seeing another historic descent into barbarism. Given this war-mongering dynamic, the growing US antagonism with Iran, Russia and China is far from an idle threat. It is the logical next step for a deeply illogical economic system.

But history is not inevitable. We are not necessarily programmed to repeat its horrors. A combination of global communications among citizens and political and social consciousness may be enough to prevent a military conflagration and overthrow the misrule of the oligarchy. What is needed is a) a widening of the recognition that capitalism as a system of social production is finished; and b) the case has to be confidently made that an alternative is very possible. That alternative is socialism (the subject of a further article). To those who remain skeptical, they should bear in mind the stark choice that Rosa Luxemberg foresaw for humanity: that is, socialism or barbarism. And we already have the latter.

AIG-Gate: The World's Greatest Insurance Heist

AIG-Gate: The World's Greatest Insurance Heist

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Rumor has it that Timothy Geithner is on his way out as Treasury Secretary due to his involvement in the AIG scandal that is now unraveling in hearings before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Bob Chapman writes in The International Forecaster:

Each day brings more revelations of efforts of the NY Fed and Goldman Sachs to hide the details of the criminal conspiracy of the AIG bailout.... This is a real crisis on the scale of Watergate. Corruption at its finest.

But unlike the perpetrators of the Watergate scandal, who wound up looking at jail time, Geithner evidently has a golden parachute waiting at Goldman Sachs, not coincidentally the largest recipient of the AIG bailout. At least that is the rumor sparked by an article by Caroline Baum on Bloomberg News, titled "Goldman Parachute Awaits Geithner to Ease Fall." Hank Paulson, Geithner's predecessor, was CEO of Goldman Sachs before coming to the Treasury. Geithner, who has come up through the ranks of government, could be walking through the revolving door in the other direction.

Geithner has been under the House microscope for the decision of the New York Fed, made while he headed it, to buy out about $30 billion in credit default swaps (over-the-counter derivative insurance contracts) that AIG sold on toxic debt securities. The chief recipients of this payout were Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank. Goldman got $13 billion, roughly equivalent to its bonus pool for the first nine months of 2009. Critics are calling the New York Fed's decision a back-door bailout for the banks, which received 100 cents on the dollar for contracts that would have been worth far less had AIG been put through bankruptcy proceedings in the ordinary way. In a Bloomberg article provocatively titled "Secret Banking Cabal Emerges From AIG Shadows," David Reilly wrote:

[T]he New York Fed is a quasi-governmental institution that isn't subject to citizen intrusions such as freedom of information requests, unlike the Federal Reserve. This impenetrability comes in handy since the bank is the preferred vehicle for many of the Fed's bailout programs. It's as though the New York Fed was a black-ops outfit for the nation's central bank.

The beneficiaries of the New York Fed's largess got paid in full although they had agreed to take much less. In a November 2009 article titled "It's Time to Fire Tim Geithner," Dylan Ratigan wrote:

[L]ast November ... New York Federal Reserve Governor Tim Geithner decided to deliver 100 cents on the dollar, in secret no less, to pay off the counter parties to the world's largest (and still un-investigated) insurance fraud - AIG. This full payoff with taxpayer dollars was carried out by Geithner after AIG's bank customers, such as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale, had already previously agreed to taking as little as 40 cents on the dollar. Even after the GM autoworkers, bondholders and vendors all received a government-enforced haircut on their contracts, he still had the audacity to claim the "sanctity of contracts" in the dealings with these companies like AIG.

Geithner testified that the Fed's hands were tied and that the bank could not "selectively default on contractual obligations without courting collapse." But if it was all on the up and up, why all the secrecy? The contention that the Fed had no choice is also belied by a recent holding in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, in which New York Bankruptcy Judge James Peck set aside the same type of investment contracts that Secretaries Paulson and Geithner repeatedly swore under oath had to be paid in full in the case of AIG. The judge declared that clauses in those contracts subordinating other claims to the holders' claims were null and void in bankruptcy.

"And notice," commented bank analyst Chris Whalen, "that the world has not ended when the holders of [derivative] contracts are treated like everyone else." He called the AIG bailout "a hideous political contrivance that ranks with the great acts of political corruption and thievery in the history of the United States."

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, said Joseph Goebbels, people will eventually come to believe it. The bailout of Wall Street, initiated in September 2008, was premised on the dire prediction that if major counterparties in the massive edifice of derivative contracts were allowed to fall, the whole interlocking house of cards would collapse and take the economy with it. A hijacked Congress dutifully protected the derivatives game with taxpayer money while the real economy proceeded to collapse, the financial sector choosing to put their money into this protected form of speculative betting rather than into the more mundane and risky business of making loans to struggling businesses and homeowners. In the end, $170 billion of federal funds went to AIG and the banks feeding at its trough. Meanwhile, a survey of state finances by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank found that state governments face a collective $168 billion budget shortfall for fiscal 2010. If the money used to bail out AIG and the banks had been used to bail out the states instead, the states would not be facing insolvency today.

There is no law against gambling, but there is a law against fraud. In Watergate, a special prosecutor was appointed to bring criminal charges; but times seem to have changed.

Jerusalem mayor to raze 200 Palestinian homes

High price tag for settlers' eviction Jerusalem mayor to raze 200 Palestinian homes

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Jerusalem’s mayor threatened last week to demolish 200 homes in Palestinian neighbourhoods of the city in an act even he conceded would probably bring long-simmering tensions over housing in East Jerusalem to a boil.
His uncompromising stance is the latest stage in a protracted legal battle over a single building towering above the jumble of modest homes of Silwan, a deprived and overcrowded Palestinian community lying just outside the Old City walls, in the shadow of the silver-topped al Aqsa mosque.
Beit Yehonatan, or Jonathan’s House, is distinctive not only for its height -- at seven storeys, it is at least three floors taller than its neighbours -- but also for the Israeli flag draped from the roof to the street.
The settlement outpost, named for Jonathan Pollard, serving a life sentence in the US for spying on Israel’s behalf in the 1980s, has been home to eight Jewish families since 2004, when it was built without a licence by an extremist settler organisation known as Ateret Cohanim.
Beit Yehonatan is one of dozens of settler-occupied homes springing up in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, most of them takeovers of Palestinian homes.
Critics say the intent of these “outposts”, together with the large settlements of East Jerusalem built by the state and home to nearly 200,000 Jews, is to foil any peace agreement that might one day offer the Palestinians a meaningful state with Jerusalem as its capital.
But exceptionally for the settlers, who are used to a mix of overt and covert assistance from officials, the inhabitants of Beit Yehonatan are at risk of being evicted from their home, two years after an “urgent” enforcement order was issued by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Last week Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor, finally agreed “under protest” to seal Beit Yehonatan amid mounting pressure from an array of legal officials. Mr Barkat had been fighting strenuously against implementing the court order, aided by senior members of the parliament, the police, and even Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who opposed his own attorney general’s advice by declaring Beit Yehonatan’s future “a purely municipal matter”.
But the mayor has not simply capitulated. He warned that Beit Yehonatan would be evacuated only on condition that more than 200 demolition orders on Palestinian homes, most of them in Silwan, were carried out at the same time. He argued that he had to avoid any impression that the law was being enforced in a “discriminatory” manner against Jews.
Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, said Mr Barkat’s idea of fairness was “ridiculous”.
“In the past 15 years there have been more than a thousand Palestinian homes demolished in East Jerusalem versus absolutely no settler homes,” he said. “In fact, no settlers have ever lost their home in East Jerusalem.”
In making his announcement, Mr Barkat admitted that the 200 demolitions would trigger “a strong possibility for conflict”. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are already seething over decades of planning restrictions that have forced many of them to build or extend homes illegally because it is all but impossible to get permits from the Israeli authorities.
Mr Halper said the municipality had classified 22,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as illegal, even as it also assessed a shortage of 25,000 homes for the city’s 250,000-strong Palestinian population.
The homes targeted for demolition include Palestinian houses around Beit Yehonatan that violate planning restrictions that allow families to build only two floors; despite the restriction, many houses have four storeys and owners pay fines.
In addition, the city council wants to demolish 88 homes in a small area called Bustan that the municipality claims is in danger of flooding.
Zeinab Jaber lives next to Beit Yehonatan in the home she was born in 61 years ago. The building was declared illegal 20 years ago, after it was extended to four storeys to accommodate her growing family. Today she and her six grown-up sons pay monthly fines of more than $1,000 (Dh 3,672) in the hope of warding off destruction.
Her son Amjad, 32, married with two young sons, said he did not dare miss a payment. “It’s simple: if you don’t pay, you’ll end up in prison.”
“What is there for the settlers here?” Mrs Jaber asked. “They are only here because they want to take this place from us. They won’t be happy till we leave.”
On the opposite slope across the valley from Beit Yehonatan, Mohammed Jalajil, 48, said he did not doubt that the municipality would demolish the 200 homes. He, his wife and five children have been crammed into a room in a relative’s apartment since their own house was demolished seven years ago.
Mr Jalajil, 48, said: “It was only months after they took our house from us that I saw the settlers building theirs nearby. My lawyer tells me that, even though my house is gone, I won’t have paid off my fines for another 10 years.”
If Mr Barkat follows through with his threat, the demolitions will prompt a rebuke from the international community. Last month, France and the United States joined the UN in denouncing more than 100 demolitions in East Jerusalem over the past three months.
The mayor’s decision, warned Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem city councillor, was comparable to the “price tag” policy of the settlers in the West Bank, who have attacked Palestinian villages in retaliation against official attempts to dismantle a few of the settlement outposts dotting Palestinian territory.
“But the difference here is that the price tag is being levied not by the settlers themselves but by the municipality and the government on their behalf,” he said.
Yesterday the municipality was due to issue a seven-day evacuation notice to the inhabitants of Beit Yehonatan, but the operation was cancelled at the last minute when police refused to co-operate.
Frictions have been growing in Silwan for several years over the activities of another settler organisation, Elad, which, with official backing, has been building an archaeological park known as the City of David in the midst of the Palestinian neighbourhood. As Palestinians have been pushed out, at least 80 Jewish families have moved into homes nearby.
As Elad entrenches itself in Silwan, Beit Yehonatan has proved more difficult to secure. “Usually the settlers present a façade of legality to what they do,” Mr Halper said. “The problem here is that they built in an overtly illegal manner, without a permit and way over the building height restrictions.”
Mr Barkat’s resistance to evicting Beit Yehonatan’s inhabitants was highlighted last month when he tried to stave off legal pressure by proposing a new planning policy to legalise unlicensed buildings in Silwan. The mayor proposed that the rules limiting homes to two storeys be revised to four.
The reform would have applied to Beit Yehonatan first, sealing its top three storeys but allowing the Jewish families to inhabit the rest of the building.
Although Mr Barkat promised that illegal Palestinian buildings would also be saved, Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights groups, dismissed the mayor’s claim.
The overwhelming majority of Palestinian homes would fail to qualify because land registry documents are missing for the area and a range of requirements on car parking, access roads and sewerage connections are “impossible” to meet, Orly Noy, a spokeswoman, wrote in the Haaretz newspaper last month.
She added that Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem lacked 70km of sewage pipes and that not a single new road had been paved in their neighbourhoods since Israel’s occupation in 1967.
A planning map of East Jerusalem drawn up recently by the Jerusalem municipality came to light last month, as Mr Barkat was promising to legalise buildings, showing that more than 300 homes -- most of them in Silwan -- were facing imminent demolition.

'Green' jobs go to China, too

'Green' jobs go to China, too

American stimulus funds may well boost employment, but where?

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The political tsunami in Massachusetts has concentrated the Democratic mind on the economy and employment. President Obama had thought he could turn his attention to health care while banking on the trinity of finance, retail, and housing for jobs and revenue. Massachusetts was proof that the old recipe is bankrupt.

Obama's State of the Union proposals to ease some of the anxieties of retirement, education, and child care will help at the margins, but they skirt the job question. And although his deficit reduction measures will do nothing to address long-term red ink, they will surely reduce employment in the short run.

Where are the jobs?

Democrats initially defended their poor jobs record with the refrain that employment is a lagging indicator. As unemployment continued to rise, they promised "green" jobs, which have the political benefit of marrying the desires of the working class with those of environmentally sensitive professionals.

Green jobs are surely needed. But green Democrats simply echo the Atari Democrats of the 1980s, who concluded that traditional manufacturing was disposable and high technology was the wave of the future. During this era, the young Barack Obama attempted - and failed - to find jobs for displaced steelworkers in Chicago.

China's approach

As it turned out, high-tech industries prospered or faltered on a nation's trade and industrial policy, just as autos and steel did. And the United States came up short in the new as well as the old industries. By 2004, China was exporting more information and communications technology than this country.

Whether a company was state-owned or private, domestic or foreign, the Chinese government offered a wide variety of financial incentives, subsidies, low-interest loans, manipulated currency - as well as its fabled low wages - to get results. China put green jobs in the same incubator, contrasting sharply with the American approach.

The U.S. government has invested millions in photovoltaics research, yet the country accounted for only 5.6 percent of global production in 2008, down from 30 percent in 1999. Despite the government's investment, the only leading American company in the field does its manufacturing abroad.

Chinese production in the sector during the same period grew from 1 percent to 32 percent of the global total. China has built the world's largest solar-panel manufacturing industry, requiring at least 80 percent of the equipment to be made in China.

East wind

The Chinese government also rigged the bids for large contracts to supply wind turbines by creating technical requirements that disqualified multinational companies. By contrast, when American stimulus funds subsidized a joint U.S.-China wind-power farm in West Texas, it turned out that Texas stood to get 30 permanent jobs to China's 3,000. After Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) protested, the Chinese agreed to build a wind-turbine factory in Texas.

That story had a happy ending, but Washington's default position was to award the contract without thinking about American jobs. This explains why the country's wind-power capacity increased in 2009, but its wind-power equipment manufacturing fell.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government offers huge subsidies to encourage green-technology manufacturers in the United States to move their production to China. And when manufacturing leaves, research and development operations follow. That's how China attracted battery and fuel-cell research formerly conducted in America.

For too long, outsourcing has been accepted policy in the United States. The government has sent a message that it does not care if jobs are created here or abroad.

The Obama administration needs to do more than simply throw money at research or offer tax credits. If it wants green jobs not simply to please environmentalists, but to provide work for Americans, it will have to make aid contingent upon domestic job creation. This means altering decades-old policies built on free trade, financial deregulation, and tax cuts.

Court-Martial for Soldier Who Wrote Angry Song about Stop-Loss

Court-Martial for Soldier Who Wrote Angry Song about Stop-Loss

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Army Specialist and Iraq war veteran Marc Hall was incarcerated by the U.S. Army in Georgia for recording a song that expresses his anger over the Army's stop-loss policy. Now he waits to be shipped to Iraq to face a court martial.Stop-loss is a policy that allows the Army to keep soldiers active beyond the end of their signed contracts. According to the Pentagon, more than 120,000 soldiers have been affected by stop-loss since 2001, and currently 13,000 soldiers are serving under stop-loss orders, despite public pledges by President Barack Obama to phase out the policy.

Attorney David Gespass, a member of the National Lawyers Guild and founding member of the Military Law Task Force, has been consulting on the case and will possibly represent Hall.

"It's not clear to me if he'll be tried in Kuwait or Iraq," Gaspass told IPS. "It may be a matter for the military judge to decide, once there is one."

Gespass explained he believes the Army is handling the case this way for two reasons.

"One, it will make it much more difficult to defend because it's impossible to get witnesses over to a war zone, and two, it denies Hall's right to a public trial. I think the fundamental reason is to make it more difficult for his supporters and witnesses to be there," he said. Gaspass believes the Army's position "is that that's where all the alleged victims are [Iraq], and they wanted to have the trial where their witnesses are going to be. For me, it's a lot easier for the Army to get witnesses back to the states than it is for Marc to get his witnesses to a war zone."

Hall, who is in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, was placed in Liberty County Jail for the song, in which he angrily denounces the continuing policy that has barred him from exiting the military.

On Dec. 12, Hall was thrown in jail by his command, on the pretext that the song he had written is considered a threat, and he is facing charges under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which covers communication threats.

"The charges are connected to song lyrics allegedly written by Spc. Hall that allege deadly threats against his chain of command and fellow Soldiers, specifically shooting them," reads a statement released the by the Fort Stewart Public Affairs Office.

"I explained to [my first sergeant] that the hardcore rap song was a free expression of how people feel about the Army and its stop-loss policy," explained Hall, in response to the charges. "I explained that the song was neither a physical threat nor any threat whatsoever. I told him it was just hip-hop."

Military service members do not completely give up their rights to free speech, particularly not when they are doing so artistically while off duty, as was the case with Hall.

The military is claiming that he "communicated a threat" with his song. Hall mailed a copy of the song to the Pentagon after the Army unilaterally extended his contract for a second Iraq deployment.

The Army's latest decision to deploy Hall to Kuwait is an unusual twist in a case that has already attracted widespread criticism from GI rights lawyers. Once in Kuwait, Hall will be driven into Iraq to meet up with his is old unit, and placed in confinement and court martialed there.

Kevin Larson of the Fort Stewart Public Affairs Office says the trial will be held in Iraq because that is where important witnesses are.

"It makes sense from the standpoint of witnesses. Most of the witnesses are deployed," he said.

Jim Klimanski, a civilian military lawyer and member of the National Lawyers Guild and the Military Law Task Force, told IPS that he feels the military is overreacting to the case, and that it is simply a matter of free speech and that the Army's actions violate Hall's First Amendment right to free speech.

"It's a political case, and the military should know that," Klimanski explained. "I think they are overreaching and overreacting because of Maj. Hassan (who went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood on Nov. 5), and I can understand that to some degree, but cooler heads should prevail and they should deal with stop-loss, and maybe we'll get the case thrown out."

IPS obtained a redacted copy of the Army's Charge Sheet against Hall, filed by Marcus Seiser, which includes five charges. On the sheet, Hall is accused of telling someone he would "go on a rampage," that "the song makes threats of acts of violence," and that Hall is accused "of planning on shooting the brigade or battalion commanders."

Jeff Paterson, the director of the soldier advocacy group Courage to Resist, which is assisting Hall, told IPS, "Marc's case is unique in that the military hasn't shown a propensity to go after these political speech cases for several years. We think this is an important case because it could set precedent for free speech rights for those in the military."

Klimanski, along with underscoring the importance of the case for the First Amendment, thinks the case highlights the military's ongoing use of stop-loss, which also contributes to how they have responded to Hall's song.

"It's a song, and he puts it out to the public," Klimanski told IPS. "We're not talking about a Major Hassan who is quietly plotting violence ... this is political hyperbole. This is his rant on stop-loss. It's political speech."

"He's over there saying I have no control over my life," Klimanski added, "I could be in here forever. We're talking about a war that could go on forever. So poor old Marc Hall could possibility be in the military forever. I see this as an issue of political speech. The military may not like what they're hearing, but that's what it is. There are people in the military saying their being in it is/was wrong, and they want out."

"They are sending him to Iraq just to punish him," Klimaski believes. "Not that they need to do that to conduct a court martial. They are trying to find any which way to inflict punishment on Marc."

Hall's supporters also say that it is highly unlikely that his current military lawyer will be available to deploy at a moment's notice.

"He will get a new military lawyer who is probably very busy and won't have time to build a proper defence," said Klimaski, "They are trying to stack the deck. It is illegal to ship him to Iraq or Kuwait, but who is going to contest it? You would have to go to Iraq to contest it. They know that they are not going to have a civilian lawyer out there. They are just trying to punish him without due process."

At the time of this writing, Hall was awaiting his being shipped to the Middle East, which could happen any time.