Thursday, March 4, 2010

By John Feffer For a country with a pacifist constitution,

Pacific Pushback; Has the U.S. Empire of Bases Reached Its High-Water Mark?

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For a country with a pacifist constitution, Japan is bristling with weaponry. Indeed, that Asian land has long functioned as a huge aircraft carrier and naval base for U.S. military power. We couldn’t have fought the Korean and Vietnam Wars without the nearly 90 military bases scattered around the islands of our major Pacific ally. Even today, Japan remains the anchor of what’s left of America’s Cold War containment policy when it comes to China and North Korea. From the Yokota and Kadena air bases, the United States can dispatch troops and bombers across Asia, while the Yokosuka base near Tokyo is the largest American naval installation outside the United States.

You’d think that, with so many Japanese bases, the United States wouldn’t make a big fuss about closing one of them. Think again. The current battle over the Marine Corps air base at Futenma on Okinawa -- an island prefecture almost 1,000 miles south of Tokyo that hosts about three dozen U.S. bases and 75% of American forces in Japan -- is just revving up. In fact, Washington seems ready to stake its reputation and its relationship with a new Japanese government on the fate of that base alone, which reveals much about U.S. anxieties in the age of Obama.

What makes this so strange, on the surface, is that Futenma is an obsolete base. Under an agreement the Bush administration reached with the previous Japanese government, the U.S. was already planning to move most of the Marines now at Futenma to the island of Guam. Nonetheless, the Obama administration is insisting, over the protests of Okinawans and the objections of Tokyo, on completing that agreement by building a new partial replacement base in a less heavily populated part of Okinawa.

The current row between Tokyo and Washington is no mere “Pacific squall,” as Newsweek dismissively described it. After six decades of saying yes to everything the United States has demanded, Japan finally seems on the verge of saying no to something that matters greatly to Washington, and the relationship that Dwight D. Eisenhower once called an “indestructible alliance” is displaying ever more hairline fractures. Worse yet, from the Pentagon’s perspective, Japan’s resistance might prove infectious -- one major reason why the United States is putting its alliance on the line over the closing of a single antiquated military base and the building of another of dubious strategic value.

During the Cold War, the Pentagon worried that countries would fall like dominoes before a relentless Communist advance. Today, the Pentagon worries about a different kind of domino effect. In Europe, NATO countries are refusing to throw their full support behind the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In Africa, no country has stepped forward to host the headquarters of the Pentagon’s new Africa Command. In Latin America, little Ecuador has kicked the U.S. out of its air base in Manta.

All of these are undoubtedly symptoms of the decline in respect for American power that the U.S. military is experiencing globally. But the current pushback in Japan is the surest sign yet that the American empire of overseas military bases has reached its high-water mark and will soon recede.

Toady No More?

Until recently, Japan was virtually a one-party state, and that suited Washington just fine. The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had the coziest of bipartisan relations with that city’s policymakers and its “chrysanthemum club” of Japan-friendly pundits. A recent revelation that, in 1969, Japan buckled to President Richard Nixon’s demand that it secretly host U.S. ships carrying nuclear weapons -- despite Tokyo’s supposedly firm anti-nuclear principles -- has pulled back the curtain on only the tip of the toadyism.

During and after the Cold War, Japanese governments bent over backwards to give Washington whatever it wanted. When government restrictions on military exports got in the way of the alliance, Tokyo simply made an exception for the United States. When cooperation on missile defense contradicted Japan’s ban on militarizing space, Tokyo again waved a magic wand and made the restriction disappear.

Although Japan’s constitution renounces the “threat or the use of force as a means of settling international disputes,” Washington pushed Tokyo to offset the costs of the U.S. military adventure in the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1990-1991, and Tokyo did so. Then, from November 2001 until just recently, Washington persuaded the Japanese to provide refueling in the Indian Ocean for vessels and aircraft involved in the war in Afghanistan. In 2007, the Pentagon even tried to arm-twist Tokyo into raising its defense spending to pay for more of the costs of the alliance.

Of course, the LDP complied with such demands because they intersected so nicely with its own plans to bend that country’s peace constitution and beef up its military. Over the last two decades, in fact, Japan has acquired remarkably sophisticated hardware, including fighter jets, in-air refueling capability, and assault ships that can function like aircraft carriers. It also amended the 1954 Self-Defense Forces Law, which defines what the Japanese military can and cannot do, more than 50 times to give its forces the capacity to act with striking offensive strength. Despite its “peace constitution,” Japan now has one of the top militaries in the world.

Enter the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). In August 2009, that upstart political party dethroned the LDP, after more than a half-century in power, and swept into office with a broad mandate to shake things up. Given the country’s nose-diving economy, the party’s focus has been on domestic issues and cost-cutting. Not surprisingly, however, the quest to cut pork from the Japanese budget has led the party to scrutinize the alliance with the U.S. Unlike most other countries that host U.S. military bases, Japan shoulders most of the cost of maintaining them: more than $4 billion per year in direct or indirect support.

Under the circumstances, the new government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama proposed something modest indeed -- putting the U.S.-Japan alliance on, in the phrase of the moment, a “more equal” footing. It inaugurated this new approach in a largely symbolic way by ending Japan’s resupply mission in the Indian Ocean (though Tokyo typically sweetened the pill by offering a five-year package of $5 billion in development assistance to the Afghan government).

More substantively, the Hatoyama government also signaled that it wanted to reduce its base-support payments. Japan’s proposed belt-tightening comes at an inopportune moment for the Obama administration, as it tries to pay for two wars, its “overseas contingency operations,” and a worldwide network of more than 700 military bases. The burdens of U.S. overseas operations are increasing, and fewer countries are proving willing to share the costs.

Of Dugongs and Democracy

The immediate source of tension in the U.S.-Japanese relationship has been Tokyo’s desire to renegotiate that 2006 agreement to close Futenma, transfer those 8,000 Marines to Guam, and build a new base in Nago, a less densely populated area of the island. It’s a deal that threatens to make an already strapped government pay big. Back in 2006, Tokyo promised to shell out more than $6 billion just to help relocate the Marines to Guam.

The political cost to the new government of going along with the LDP’s folly may be even higher. After all, the DPJ received a healthy chunk of voter support from Okinawans, dissatisfied with the 2006 agreement and eager to see the American occupation of their island end. Over the last several decades, with U.S. bases built cheek-by-jowl in the most heavily populated parts of the island, Okinawans have endured air, water, and noise pollution, accidents like a 2004 U.S. helicopter crash at Okinawa International University, and crimes that range from trivial speeding violations all the way up to the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three Marines in 1995. According to a June 2009 opinion poll, 68% of Okinawans opposed relocating Futenma within the prefecture, while only 18% favored the plan. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party, a junior member of the ruling coalition, has threatened to pull out if Hatoyama backs away from his campaign pledge not to build a new base in Okinawa.

Then there’s the dugong, a sea mammal similar to the manatee that looks like a cross between a walrus and a dolphin and was the likely inspiration for the mermaid myth. Only 50 specimens of this endangered species are still living in the marine waters threatened by the proposed new base near less populated Nago. In a landmark case, Japanese lawyers and American environmentalists filed suit in U.S. federal court to block the base’s construction and save the dugong. Realistically speaking, even if the Pentagon were willing to appeal the case all the way up to the Supreme Court, lawyers and environmentalists could wrap the U.S. military in so much legal and bureaucratic red tape for so long that the new base might never leave the drawing board.

For environmental, political, and economic reasons, ditching the 2006 agreement is a no-brainer for Tokyo. Given Washington’s insistence on retaining a base of little strategic importance, however, the challenge for the DPJ has been to find a site other than Nago. The Japanese government floated the idea of merging the Futenma facility with existing facilities at Kadena, another U.S. base on the island. But that plan -- as well as possible relocation to other parts of Japan -- has met with stiff local resistance. A proposal to further expand facilities in Guam was nixed by the governor there.

The solution to all this is obvious: close down Futenma without opening another base. But so far, the United States is refusing to make it easy for the Japanese. In fact, Washington is doing all it can to box the new government in Tokyo into a corner.

Ratcheting Up the Pressure

The U.S. military presence in Okinawa is a residue of the Cold War and a U.S. commitment to containing the only military power on the horizon that could threaten American military supremacy. Back in the 1990s, the Clinton administration’s solution to a rising China was to “integrate, but hedge.” The hedge -- against the possibility of China developing a serious mean streak -- centered around a strengthened U.S.-Japan alliance and a credible Japanese military deterrent.

What the Clinton administration and its successors didn’t anticipate was how effectively and peacefully China would disarm this hedging strategy with careful statesmanship and a vigorous trade policy. A number of Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines and Indonesia, succumbed early to China’s version of checkbook diplomacy. Then, in the last decade, South Korea, like the Japanese today, started to talk about establishing “more equal” relations with the United States in an effort to avoid being drawn into any future military scrape between Washington and Beijing.

Now, with its arch-conservatives gone from government, Japan is visibly warming to China’s charms. In 2007, China had already surpassed the United States as the country’s leading trade partner. On becoming prime minister, Hatoyama sensibly proposed the future establishment of an East Asian community patterned on the European Union. As he saw it, that would leverage Japan’s position between a rising China and a United States in decline. In December, while Washington and Tokyo were haggling bitterly over the Okinawa base issue, DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa sent a signal to Washington as well as Beijing by shepherding a 143-member delegation of his party’s legislators on a four-day trip to China.

Not surprisingly, China’s bedazzlement policy has set off warning bells in Washington, where the People’s Republic is still a focus of primary concern for a cadre of strategic planners inside the Pentagon. The Futenma base -- and its potential replacement -- would be well situated, should Washington ever decide to send rapid response units to the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, or the Korean peninsula. Strategic planners in Washington like to speak of the “tyranny of distance,” of the difficulty of getting “boots on the ground” from Guam or Hawaii in case of an East Asian emergency.

Yet the actual strategic value of Futenma is, at best, questionable. The South Koreans are more than capable of dealing with any contingency on the peninsula. And the United States frankly has plenty of firepower by air (Kadena) and sea (Yokosuka) within hailing distance of China. A couple thousand Marines won’t make much of a difference (though the leathernecks strenuously disagree). However, in a political environment in which the Pentagon is finding itself making tough choices between funding counterinsurgency wars and old Cold War weapons systems, the “China threat” lobby doesn’t want to give an inch. Failure to relocate the Futenma base within Okinawa might be the first step down a slippery slope that could potentially put at risk billions of dollars in Cold War weapons still in the production line. It’s hard to justify buying all the fancy toys without a place to play with them.

And that’s one reason the Obama administration has gone to the mat to pressure Tokyo to adhere to the 2006 agreement. It even dispatched Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the Japanese capital last October in advance of President Obama’s own Asian tour. Like an impatient father admonishing an obstreperous teenager, Gates lectured the Japanese “to move on” and abide by the agreement -- to the irritation of both the new government and the public.

The punditocracy has predictably closed ranks behind a bipartisan Washington consensus that the new Japanese government should become as accustomed to its junior status as its predecessor and stop making a fuss. The Obama administration is frustrated with “Hatoyama's amateurish handling of the issue,” writes Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt. “What has resulted from Mr. Hatoyama's failure to enunciate a clear strategy or action plan is the biggest political vacuum in over 50 years,” adds Victor Cha, former director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council. Neither analyst acknowledges that Tokyo’s only “failure” or “amateurish” move was to stand up to Washington. “The dispute could undermine security in East Asia on the 50th anniversary of an alliance that has served the region well,” intoned The Economist more bluntly. “Tough as it is for Japan's new government, it needs to do most, though not all, of the caving in.”

The Hatoyama government is by no means radical, nor is it anti-American. It isn’t preparing to demand that all, or even many, U.S. bases close. It isn’t even preparing to close any of the other three dozen (or so) bases on Okinawa. Its modest pushback is confined to Futenma, where it finds itself between the rock of Japanese public opinion and the hard place of Pentagon pressure.

Those who prefer to achieve Washington’s objectives with Japan in a more roundabout fashion counsel patience. “If America undercuts the new Japanese government and creates resentment among the Japanese public, then a victory on Futenma could prove Pyrrhic,” writes Joseph Nye, the architect of U.S. Asia policy during the Clinton years. Japan hands are urging the United States to wait until the summer, when the DPJ has a shot at picking up enough additional seats in the next parliamentary elections to jettison its coalition partners, if it deems such a move necessary.

Even if the Social Democratic Party is no longer in the government constantly raising the Okinawa base issue, the DPJ still must deal with democracy on the ground. The Okinawans are dead set against a new base. The residents of Nago, where that base would be built, just elected a mayor who campaigned on a no-base platform. It won’t look good for the party that has finally brought real democracy to Tokyo to squelch it in Okinawa.

Reverse Island Hop

Wherever the U.S. military puts down its foot overseas, movements have sprung up to protest the military, social, and environmental consequences of its military bases. This anti-base movement has notched some successes, such as the shut-down of a U.S. navy facility in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in 2003. In the Pacific, too, the movement has made its mark. On the heels of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, democracy activists in the Philippines successfully closed down the ash-covered Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Station in 1991-1992. Later, South Korean activists managed to win closure of the huge Yongsan facility in downtown Seoul.

Of course, these were only partial victories. Washington subsequently negotiated a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines, whereby the U.S. military has redeployed troops and equipment to the island, and replaced Korea’s Yongsan base with a new one in nearby Pyeongtaek. But these not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) victories were significant enough to help edge the Pentagon toward the adoption of a military doctrine that emphasizes mobility over position. The U.S. military now relies on “strategic flexibility” and “rapid response” both to counter unexpected threats and to deal with allied fickleness.

The Hatoyama government may indeed learn to say no to Washington over the Okinawa bases. Evidently considering this a likelihood, former deputy secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Japan Richard Armitage has said that the United States “had better have a plan B.” But the victory for the anti-base movement will still be only partial. U.S. forces will remain in Japan, and especially Okinawa, and Tokyo will undoubtedly continue to pay for their maintenance.

Buoyed by even this partial victory, however, NIMBY movements are likely to grow in Japan and across the region, focusing on other Okinawa bases, bases on the Japanese mainland, and elsewhere in the Pacific, including Guam. Indeed, protests are already building in Guam against the projected expansion of Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam to accommodate those Marines from Okinawa. And this strikes terror in the hearts of Pentagon planners.

In World War II, the United States employed an island-hopping strategy to move ever closer to the Japanese mainland. Okinawa was the last island and last major battle of that campaign, and more people died during the fighting there than in the subsequent atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined: 12,000 U.S. troops, more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers, and perhaps 100,000 Okinawan civilians. This historical experience has stiffened the pacifist resolve of Okinawans.

The current battle over Okinawa again pits the United States against Japan, again with the Okinawans as victims. But there is a good chance that the Okinawans, like the Na’vi in that great NIMBY film Avatar, will win this time.

A victory in closing Futenma and preventing the construction of a new base might be the first step in a potential reverse island hop. NIMBY movements may someday finally push the U.S. military out of Japan and off Okinawa. It’s not likely to be a smooth process, nor is it likely to happen any time soon. But the kanji is on the wall. Even if the Yankees don’t know what the Japanese characters mean, they can at least tell in which direction the exit arrow is pointing.

Greek workers say: ‘Let the rich pay’

Greek workers say: ‘Let the rich pay’

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A second general strike in two weeks shows that Greek workers are standing up to the bosses’ and bankers’ attempt to force them to pay the costs of a problem the workers had no responsibility for creating: the capitalist economic crisis. This determined resistance is what’s behind the headlines on the financial pages about the euro’s stability and European Union negotiations with the Greek regime.

Salonika, Greece.. Salonika, Greece..

Two million Greek workers stayed away from their jobs on Feb. 24. Factories, offices, large retail stores, seaports and airports were closed. Workers and youths took to the streets in 70 cities throughout Greece. “Reject the government plan, the rich should pay for the crisis,” read the banner leading the demonstration in Athens.

The militant mood on the street contrasted with the discussions among bank boards of directors, government officials and the capitalist-controlled media throughout the European Union. The EU itself is an instrument of big business, a coalition of capitalists arrayed against the European working class and the nations in the former colonial world. Its ruling-class media try to portray the Greek people in general, especially the workers, as unwilling to work hard and make the necessary sacrifices — to save the capitalist economy.

Europe’s financial bosses are insisting that before they will “bail out” the Greek government with loans, it must impose an even harsher austerity on the workers than the taxes, wage cuts, hiring freezes, and increase in retirement age and social-service cutbacks already proposed. They aim to force the government to crack down on the workers — using the excuse that this is needed to overcome the financial crisis. They then want to impose cutbacks on workers throughout the EU, even in countries where the debt problems are less critical.

U.S. bankers are also part of the mix. Goldman Sachs arranged large parts of the Greek debt and expects the Greek government to squeeze its debt payments from the Greek workers.

Greece has a social democratic government led by Prime Minister George Papandreou of the PASOK party. Many workers voted for it precisely to avoid this vicious attack, but PASOK has instead led the offensive against them. Unlike its capitalist overlords in Berlin and Brussels, PASOK has to directly confront the Greek workers’ growing anger.

A half-million workers had struck on Feb. 10, called out by the PAME union federation, which is close to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). This time the GSEE union federation and other unions closer to the social democrats joined the strike, many walking out for the first time, and some joined the PAME-led marches. (

Their placards read: “Here is the money: the deposits of the enterprises in 2004 were 36 billion euros; in 2009, 136 billion euros. 250,000 workers receive a salary of 740 euros [approximately $1,000 per month]. At the same time, 700 billion euros are in the pockets of the big enterprises.” (

A refreshing aspect of the Greek protests is that the speakers and slogans reject the ruling-class argument that “joint sacrifice” is needed from the population. By “joint sacrifice,” the bankers mean that workers must give up pay, benefits and often their jobs, in order to rescue the profits and debt payments to the rulers.

They argue that these sacrifices will restore the capitalist economy. But, just as in the U.S., official unemployment in the EU has grown to just under 10 percent, and whatever capitalist recovery has taken place has also been jobless. The Greek workers say that if sacrifices are needed to save capitalism, then “Let the rich pay!”

This attitude is spreading. In Spain, where official unemployment is 19 percent, two of the union federations, the CCOO and the UGT, protested in Madrid on Feb. 23 against the government’s austerity plans. In Portugal a one-day general strike of the public sector rejecting an extension of the wage freeze is planned for March 4. Both countries have Socialist Party governments, but these social democrats are carrying out severe attacks on the workers.

French and German working-class resistance has been more sporadic, but it’s there. Lufthansa’s 4,500 pilots held a short strike in February. In France, workers at six French oil refineries and then air traffic controllers walked out.

In the U.S. the relative passivity of the unions has allowed the bosses to take the offensive, laying off, outsourcing and cutting benefits while paralyzing even the minimal efforts of the Barack Obama administration to pass modest reforms to health care or extend unemployment payments. Part of fighting back is realizing, as the Greek workers are saying, that the bosses created the crisis and should pay for it.

At a mass rally at Omonia Square, in Athens city center, union leader Yiannis Tolis said: “The forces of capital and its political representatives understand that the more they blackmail and intimidate the workers, the more they try to mislead them and place new burdens upon them, the more anger and indignation they cause. They dread the perspective of the general uprising of the workers. ...

“They are mistaken if they believe that they can manipulate the peoples’ will, once it is on the path of the class struggle. History has proved that when the river flows it cannot retrace its path.” (

Olympics protests slam poverty, injustice

Olympics protests slam poverty, injustice

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Despite extensive media coverage of the recent Winter Olympics games in Vancouver, British Columbia, most television viewers outside Canada did not hear about the resistance to the games and the many protests that took place in Vancouver and elsewhere.

More than 12,000 police and security personnel turned Vancouver into a police state during the games, and progressive activists from Indigenous and other communities were harassed prior to the Olympics. The intense security presence and repression were no doubt a national dress rehearsal for this summer’s G-8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, and the G-20 summit in Toronto.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), government and business leaders sought to show the world a postcard-perfect city complete with happy, cooperative Indians. To counter this, thousands of protesters took to the streets in an effort to rip the mask off the false image of Vancouver. Activists attempted to expose the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — and focus attention on poverty and injustice in Canada.

Before the games even began, the Olympic torch relay was disrupted in more than 30 cities and First Nation territories. On Feb. 12, the day of the opening ceremonies, thousands of people marched in a “Take Back Our City” demonstration that was led by Indigenous elders and included activists from many backgrounds.

On Feb. 13, the first full day of competition, Vancouver woke up to a “Heart Attack” demonstration that clogged the streets and disrupted business as usual. Some of the protesters targeted the Hudson Bay Co. store, the primary purveyor of Olympic souvenirs and a long-time symbol of the devastation of nature and expropriation of wealth from Canada’s land and Indigenous peoples.

The high cost of games

Hosting the Olympics is an expensive endeavor. Montreal, which hosted the 1976 Summer Games, incurred a $1 billion debt that took three decades to pay off. The debt for the Vancouver Olympics is expected to be much higher, around $6 billion. This comes at a time when social programs, housing and education are being drastically slashed. The province of British Columbia has immense natural resources and wealth, but it also has the highest child poverty rate in Canada.

Although VANOC claimed that the Vancouver games would be “green” and sustainable, the actual environmental impact was devastating. Tens of thousands of trees were cut down. Mountains were blasted for an Olympic venue in Whistler and for a highway expansion. Millions of salmon died in the Fraser River because of the huge amount of gravel mined there to make concrete needed for construction projects.

British Columbia consists largely of unceded Indigenous territories. A fraudulent treaty process is underway, but the government continues to sell, lease and develop Native lands to corporations, including mining, logging, oil and gas pipelines, and resorts. Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples suffer the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, imprisonment, police violence and disease in Canada.

VANOC and Olympics sponsors such as the Royal Bank of Canada spread a lot of money around to be able to ensure some degree of First Nations cooperation, and some members of First Nations communities — desperate for jobs and any level of economic development — hoped to benefit temporarily from the Olympics. Nonetheless, many Indigenous people opposed the games.

Harriet Nahanee inspires activists

Anti-Olympics organizing began well in advance of 2010. Early Indigenous resistance resulted in the 2007 death of elder Harriet Nahanee, a 71-year-old Pacheedaht activist, who was sent to jail for refusing to apologize to a court for protesting the expansion of the Sea-to-Sky Highway at Eagleridge Bluffs — construction that would lay the path for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Nahanee, ill with flu and asthma at the time she was imprisoned, was reportedly told, “You can see a psychiatrist,” when she asked for medical care. She died shortly after her release from prison.

A survivor of the program that once made Native children leave their communities and go to residential schools, Harriet Nahanee fought for the recognition of Aboriginal land rights and the protection of the environment. She also fought against discrimination and the marginalization of First Nations people in cities like Vancouver. Many Native youth have said that their anti-Olympics and other activism were inspired by this magnificent elder.

Nahanee was not the only grandmother to be jailed for opposing the Olympics. A white environmental activist in her 70s, Betty Krawczyk, was arrested at the same time as Nahanee. She served seven months in prison in 2007 for ignoring a court order that forbade her from further demonstrations at Eagleridge Bluffs.

Women, homeless fight back

Modern Olympics often cause the displacement of poor people in host cities, and Vancouver was no exception. Homelessness nearly tripled as a result of new construction and the destruction of low-income housing units. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) area was heavily impacted. Many of the homeless population in Vancouver are Indigenous; it’s a magnet city for people from impoverished reserves where there are few jobs.

Prior to the Olympics, Vancouver criminalized begging for money, sleeping outdoors and other activities commonly engaged in by homeless or economically marginalized people. New city benches were designed so people could not lie down on them.

On Feb. 15 hundreds marched through the streets of downtown Vancouver against militarization and the Olympics police state. That same day, homeless people, housing organizers and others set up a tent city in DTES. Organizer Harsha Walia said activists will stay there for an indefinite time, and she’s not worried that they are not permitted to do so.

At the start of the march Walia told the crowd the games have accelerated gentrification in the DTES and that police are harassing area residents. “Every day you walk down this block you see the police beat people down,” she said. “The 2010 Olympics is leading to the criminalization of homelessness.” She was speaking in front of a banner depicting fuzzy Olympic mascots surrounded by flames, skulls, $100 bills and swastikas. (

Large events such as the Olympics lead to increased exploitation of women. Although not part of the overall anti-Olympics protests, the annual Women’s Memorial March took place Feb. 14 during the games. This grassroots march honors murdered and missing women — a disproportionate number of them Indigenous — from across Canada. Vancouver’s march had about 5,000 participants, and there were sister marches in Calgary, Montreal and other cities. March organizers and families believe that authorities in Canada do not take seriously the murders of Indigenous women.

DoD Releases Records of Illegal Surveillance

DoD Releases Records of Illegal Surveillance

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Defense Department agencies improperly collected and disseminated intelligence on Planned Parenthood and a white supremacist group called the National Alliance, an Air Force briefing improperly included intelligence on an antiwar group called Alaskans for Peace and Justice, and Army Signals Intelligence in Louisiana unlawfully intercepted civilian cell phone conversations.

These are among the disclosures made this week in the release of more than 800 heavily-redacted pages of intelligence oversight reports, detailing activities that the Defense Department's (DoD) Inspector General has "reason to believe are unlawful."

The reports are the latest in an ongoing document release by more than a half-dozen intelligence agencies in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The reports, submitted to the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) by the Inspectors General of the various Department of Defense components, cover the period from 2001 through 2008. The IOB's role within the Executive Office of the President is to ensure that each component of the intelligence community works within the Constitution and all applicable laws.

The Inspector General of each intelligence agency is required to submit periodic reports to the IOB, which in turn is required to forward to the attorney general any report identifying an intelligence activity that violates the law. Intelligence oversight reporting is rarely disclosed to the public.

This new release comes from various DoD components, including the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Much of the improper activity consisted of intelligence gathering on so-called "US Persons," including citizens, permanent residents and US-based organizations.

While DoD agencies are generally prohibited from collecting such information (except as part of foreign intelligence or counter-intelligence activity), EFF says "it is apparent from the unredacted reports released to EFF that some DoD components have had chronic difficulty complying with that prohibition."

Specific disclosures include:

  • A report that the Joint Forces Command, working with the FBI, improperly collected and disseminated intelligence on Planned Parenthood and a white supremacist group called the National Alliance, as part of preparations for the 2002 Olympics.
  • A North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) briefing improperly included intelligence on an antiwar group called Alaskans for Peace and Justice in 2005.
  • A 2006 report that NORAD had procedural problems relating to collecting information on US Persons.
  • A report from 2003 of a closed investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq.
  • A report from 2006 of improper intelligence (in the TALON program) on an anti-recruiting group. The TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) program grew out of the Air Force neighborhood watch program known as Eagle Eyes. It was designed to record potential terrorist pre-attack activity.
  • A report from 2007 of an Army Reserve officer routinely collecting data on US Persons exercising their free speech rights.
  • A 2008 report that Army Signals Intelligence in Louisiana intercepted civilian cell phone conversations.
  • A 2008 report that Army Cyber Counterintelligence officers attended the Black Hat hacker conference without disclosing their Army affiliation and without prior authorization to do so.
  • A report that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) set up a "honey pot" computer system to identify foreign threats in May 2006. In October 2007, AFOSI realized that the honey pot system might have been in violation of a sealed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order that required a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant for such activity. AFOSI was not privy to the FISC order and only knew of it from public media reporting. The operation was suspended. When the Air Force asked the Justice Department to see the FISC order at issue, DOJ's National Security Division denied the Air Force's request.

Asked by Truthout to comment on the significance of the document release, Nate Cardozo, a Legal Fellow at EFF, said, "To get any response at all from the DoD is noteworthy. At DoD the unlawful gathering of intelligence is a widespread practice that we consider problematic."

He added that the disclosures are also important because they test the efficiency of the intelligence oversight mechanism - and "we find it seems to be working fairly well."

Finally, he said, "We are interested in how many of these violations of law are referred to the attorney general for possible criminal prosecution. Our experience is that that number is miniscule."

EFF's original FOIA request, dating back to February 2008, went unanswered, as did another request in June 2009. As a result, in July 2009, EFF filed suit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a half-dozen other federal agencies involved in intelligence gathering, demanding the immediate release of reports about potential misconduct. EFF's suit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requesting records of intelligence agencies' reporting of activities since 2001 that might have been unlawful or contrary to presidential order.

"By executive order, federal intelligence agencies must submit concerns about potentially illegal activity to the Intelligence Oversight Board and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," EFF's Cardozo said.

"Intelligence agencies are given a wide berth for national security reasons, but at a minimum they're required to act within the limits of the law. These records hold important details about how well the Executive Branch's internal checks operate," he said.

Members of the Intelligence Oversight Board are appointed by the president to advise on intelligence matters.

A storm of media coverage followed the previous disclosure that the CIA chose to keep Congress in the dark about a plan to train anti-terrorist assassin teams. That disclosure focused public attention on the lack of transparency in intelligence reporting. Lawmakers accused the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress and called for an investigation into officials' conduct.

EFF says the reports the agencies have provided to the Intelligence Oversight Board "undoubtedly contain information that will shed some light on incidents such as this - information that is necessary in order to provide appropriate oversight."

In addition to the CIA, EFF's lawsuit named the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the FBI), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Energy and the Department of State - all of which failed to comply with FOIA requests seeking records and reports of concerns about intelligence activity that might have stepped over the bounds of the law.

"The CIA is not the only agency that has faced questions about the legality of its intelligence programs," said EFF staff attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Electronic surveillance and other intelligence activities have come under increasing scrutiny during the past several years. We're seeking information that will shed light on incidents of intelligence misconduct, how often they happen and how effective oversight is for controversial programs. The agencies must follow the law and release these records to the public."

The first results of the EFF suit were delivered in December 2009. They included:

  • The Department of Homeland Security improperly investigated the US-based religious organization the Nation of Islam.
  • High-level Pentagon officials gave false information to Congress about al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
  • The Department of Homeland Security improperly collected intelligence about a nonviolent Muslim conference in Georgia, including details about conference speakers who were Americans.
  • The National Security Agency admitted that, as of late 2007, it lacked processes and procedures for timely reporting of intelligence oversight violations.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Government Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists, thinks the latest document release is significant but inconclusive. He told Truthout, "The latest release leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For example, what was the specific nature of the reported activities? And what was the official response?"

As to the importance of the released documents, Aftergood said, "It's really hard to say. But still, thanks to EFF and the Freedom of Information Act, we at least have a better idea of how much we don't know."

He added, "It's also somewhat encouraging that the DoD is complying with the requirement to report potentially unlawful activities. At least there is some kind of paper trail, even if much of it remains classified for the time being."

Mercenaries Circling Haiti

Mercenaries Circling Haiti

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On March 9 and 10, there will be a Haiti conference in Miami for private military and security companies to showcase their services to governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the earthquake-devastated country.

On their web site for the Haiti conference, the trade group IPOA (ironically called the International Peace Operations Association until recently) lists 11 companies advertising security services explicitly for Haiti. Even though guns are illegal to buy or sell in Haiti, many companies brag of their heavy-duty military experience.

Triple Canopy, a private military company with extensive security operations in Iraq and Israel, is advertising for business in Haiti. According to human rights activist and investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, Triple Canopy took over the Xe/Blackwater security contract in Iraq in 2009. Scahill reported on a number of bloody incidents involving Triple Canopy including one where a team leader told his group, "I want to kill somebody today ... because I am going on vacation tomorrow."

Another company seeking work is EODT Technology, which promises in its ad that its personnel are licensed to carry weapons in Haiti. EODT has worked in Afghanistan since 2004 and provides security for the Canadian Embassy in South Africa. On their web site, they promise a wide range of security services, including force protection, guard services, port security, surveillance, and counter-IED response services.

A retired CIA special operations officer founded another company, Overseas Security & Strategic Information, also advertising with IPOA for security business in Haiti. The company web site says they have a "cadre of US personnel" who served in Special Forces, Delta Force and SEALS and they state many of their security personnel are former South African military and police.

Patrick Elie, the former minister of defence in Haiti, told Anthony Fenton of Inter Press Service, "these guys are like vultures coming to grab the loot over this disaster, and probably money that might have been injected into the Haitian economy is just going to be grabbed by these companies and I'm sure they are not the only these mercenary companies but also other companies like Haliburton or these other ones that always come on the heels of the troops."

Naomi Klein, world renowned author of "The Shock Doctrine," has criticized the militarization of the response to the earthquake and the presence of "disaster capitalists" swooping into Haiti. The high priority placed on security by the US and NGOs is wrong, she told Newsweek. "Aid should be prioritized over security. Any aid agency that's afraid of Haitians should get out of Haiti."

Security is a necessity for the development of human rights. But outsourcing security to private military contractors has not proven beneficial in the US or any other country. Recently, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Illinois) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) introduced bills titled "Stop Outsourcing Security" to phase out private military contractors in response to the many reports of waste, fraud and human rights abuse.

Human rights organizations have long challenged the growth in private security contractors in part because governments have failed to establish effective systems for requiring them to be transparent and for holding them accountable.

It is challenging enough to hold government accountable. The privatization of a public service like security gives government protection to private corporations, which are also difficult to hold accountable. The combination is doubly difficult to regulate

The US has prosecuted hardly any of the human rights abuses reported against private military contractors. Amnesty International has reviewed the code of conduct adopted by the IPOA and found it inadequate in that compliance with international human rights standards are not adequately addressed.

This is yet another example of what the world saw after Katrina. Private security forces, including Blackwater, also descended on the US gulf coast after Katrina grabbing millions of dollars in contracts.

Contractors like these soak up much needed money which could instead go for job creation or humanitarian and rebuilding assistance. Haiti certainly does not need this kind of US business.

In a final bit of irony, the IPOA, according to the Institute for Southern Studies, promises that all profits from the event will be donated to the Clinton-Bush Haiti relief fund.

Deficit Fear Mongering

Deficit Fear Mongering

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IMF-Style Austerity Measures Come to America: What "Fiscal Responsibility" Means to You.

In addition to mandatory private health insurance premiums, we may soon be hit with a "mandatory savings" tax and other belt-tightening measures urged by the president's new budget task force. These radical austerity measures are not only unnecessary, but will actually make matters worse. The push for "fiscal responsibility" is based on bad economics.

When billionaires pledge a billion dollars to educate people to the evils of something, it is always good to peer closely at what they are up to. Hedge fund magnate Peter G. Peterson was formerly chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and head of the New York Federal Reserve. He is now senior chairman of Blackstone Group, which is in charge of dispersing government funds in the controversial AIG bailout, widely criticized as a government giveaway to banks. Peterson is also founder of the Peter Peterson Foundation, which has adopted the cause of imposing "fiscal responsibility" on Congress. He hired David M. Walker, former head of the Government Accounting Office, to spearhead a massive campaign to reduce the runaway federal debt, which the Peterson/Walker team blames on reckless government and consumer spending. The Foundation funded the movie "I.O.USA." to amass popular support for their cause, which largely revolves around dismantling Social Security and Medicare benefits as a way to cut costs and return to "fiscal responsibility."

The Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform has pushed heavily for action to stem the federal debt. Bills for a budget task force were sponsored in both houses of Congress. The Senate bill was narrowly defeated, and the House bill was tabled; but that was not the end of it. In Obama's State of the Union speech on January 27, he said he would be creating a presidential budget task force by executive order to address the federal government's deficit and debt crisis, and that the task force would be modeled on the bills Congress had failed to pass. If Congress would not impose "fiscal responsibility" on the nation, the president would. "It keeps me awake at night, looking at all that red ink," he said. The executive order was signed on February 17.

What the president seems to have missed is that all of our money except coins now comes into the world as "red ink," or debt. It is all created on the books of private banks and lent into the economy. If there is no debt, there is no money; and private debt has collapsed. This year to date, US lending has been contracting at the fastest rate in recorded history. A credit freeze has struck globally; and when credit shrinks, the money supply shrinks with it. That means there is insufficient money to buy goods, so workers get laid off and factories get shut down, perpetuating a vicious spiral of economic collapse and depression. To reverse that cycle, credit needs to be restored; and when the banks can't do it, the government needs to step in and start "monetizing" debt itself, or turning debt into dollars.

Although lending remains far below earlier levels, banks say they are making as many loans as they are allowed to make under existing banking rules. The real bottleneck is with the "shadow lenders" - those investors who, until late 2007, bought massive amounts of bank loans bundled up as "securities," taking those loans off the banks' books, making room for yet more loans to be originated out of the banks' capital and deposit bases. Because of the surging defaults on subprime mortgages, investors have now shied away from buying the loans, forcing banks and Wall Street firms to hold them on their books and take the losses. In the boom years, the shadow lending market was estimated at $10 trillion. That market has now collapsed, leaving a massive crater in the money supply. That hole needs to be filled and only the government is in a position to do it. Paying down the federal debt when money is already scarce just makes matters worse. When the deficit has been reduced historically, the money supply has been reduced along with it, throwing the economy into recession.

Another Look at the Budget Reform Agenda

That raises the question: are the advocates of "fiscal responsibility" merely misguided? Or are they up to something more devious? The president's executive order is vague about the sorts of budget decisions being entertained, but we can get a sense of what is on the table by looking at the earlier agenda of Peterson's Commission on Budget Reform. The Peterson/Walker plan would have slashed social security entitlements at a time when Wall Street has destroyed the home equity and private retirement accounts of potential retirees. Worse, it would have increased the Social Security tax, disguised as a "mandatory savings tax." This added tax would be automatically withdrawn from your paycheck and deposited to a "Guaranteed Retirement Account" managed by the Social Security Administration. Since the savings would be "mandatory," you could not withdraw your money without stiff penalties; and rather than enjoying an earlier retirement paid out of your increased savings, a later retirement date was being called for. In the meantime, your "mandatory savings" would just be fattening the investment pool of the Wall Street bankers managing the funds.

And that may be what really underlies the big push to educate the public to the dangers of the federal debt. Political analyst Jim Capo discusses a slide show presentation given by Walker after the "I.O.USA." premier, in which a mandatory savings plan was proposed that would be modeled on the Federal Thrift Savings Plan (FSP). Capo comments:

"The FSP, available for federal employees like congressional staff workers, has over $200 billion of assets (on paper anyway). About half these assets are in special non-negotiable US Treasury notes issued especially for the FSP scheme. The other half are invested in stocks, bonds and other securities.... The nearly $100 billion in [this] half of the plan is managed by Blackrock Financial. And, yes, shock, Blackrock Financial is a creation of Mr. Peterson's Blackstone Group. In fact, the FSP and Blackstone were birthed almost as a matched set. It's tough to fail when you form an investment management company at the same time you can gain the contract that directs a percentage of the Federal government payroll into your hands."

What "Fiscal Responsibility" Really Means

All of this puts "fiscal responsibility" in a different light. Rather than saving the future for our grandchildren, as the president himself seems to think it means, it appears to be a code word for delivering public monies into private hands and raising taxes on the already-squeezed middle class. In the parlance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), these are called "austerity measures," and they are the sorts of things that people are taking to the streets in Greece, Iceland and Latvia to protest. Americans are not taking to the streets only because nobody has told us that is what is being planned.

We have been deluded into thinking that "fiscal responsibility" (read "austerity") is something for our benefit, something we actually need in order to save the country from bankruptcy. In the massive campaign to educate us to the perils of the federal debt, we have been repeatedly warned that the debt is disastrously large; that when foreign lenders decide to pull the plug on it, the US will have to declare bankruptcy; and that all this is the fault of the citizenry for borrowing and spending too much. We are admonished to tighten our belts and save more; and since we can't seem to impose that discipline on ourselves, the government will have to do it for us with a "mandatory savings" plan. The American people, who are already suffering massive unemployment and cutbacks in government services, will have to sacrifice more and pay the piper more, just as in those debt-strapped countries forced into austerity measures by the IMF.

Fortunately for us, however, there is a major difference between our debt and the debts of Greece, Latvia and Iceland. Our debt is owed in our own currency - US dollars. Our government has the power to fix its solvency problems itself, by simply issuing the money it needs to pay off or refinance its debt. That time-tested solution goes back to the colonial scrip of the American colonists and the "Greenbacks" issued by Abraham Lincoln to avoid paying 24-36 percent interest rates.

Economic Fear Mongering

What invariably kills any discussion of this sensible solution is another myth long perpetrated by the financial elite - that allowing the government to increase the money supply would lead to hyperinflation. Rather than exercising its sovereign right to create the liquidity the nation needs, the government is told that it must borrow from private lenders. And where does their money come from? Ultimately from banks, which create it on their books just as the government would have done. The difference is that when bankers create it, it comes with a hefty fee attached in the form of interest.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has been trying to increase the money supply; and rather than producing hyperinflation, we continue to suffer from deflation. Frantically pushing money at the banks has not gotten money into the real economy. Rather than lending it to businesses and individuals, the larger banks have been speculating with it or buying up smaller banks, land, farms and productive capacity, while the credit freeze continues on Main Street. Only the government can reverse this vicious syndrome, by spending money directly on projects that will create jobs, provide services and stimulate productivity. Increasing the money supply is not inflationary if the money is used to increase goods and services. Inflation results when "demand" (money) exceeds "supply" (goods and services). When supply and demand increase together, prices remain stable.

The notion that the federal debt is too large to be repaid and that we are imposing that monster burden on our grandchildren is another red herring. The federal debt has not been paid off since the days of Andrew Jackson and it does not need to be paid off. It is just rolled over from year to year, providing the "full faith and credit" that alone backs the money supply of the nation. The only real danger posed by a growing federal debt is an exponentially growing interest burden; but so far, that danger has not materialized either. Interest on the federal debt has actually gone down since 2006 - from $406 billion to $383 billion - because interest rates have been lowered by the Fed to very low levels.

They can't be lowered much further, however, so the interest burden will increase if the federal debt continues to grow. But there is a solution to that too. The government can just mandate that the Federal Reserve buy the government's debt and that the Fed not sell the bonds to private lenders. The Federal Reserve states on its web site that it rebates its profits to the government after deducting its costs, making the money nearly interest-free.

All the fear mongering about the economy collapsing when the Chinese and other investors stop buying our debt is yet another red herring. The Fed can buy the debt itself - as it has been stealthily doing. That is actually a better alternative than selling the debt to foreigners, since it means we really will owe the debt only to ourselves, as Roosevelt was assured by his advisers when he agreed to the deficit approach in the 1930s; and this debt-turned-into-dollars will be nearly interest-free.

Better yet would be to either nationalize or abolish the Fed and fund the government directly with Greenbacks as President Lincoln did. What the Fed does the Treasury Department can do, for the cost of administration. There would be no shareholders or bondholders to siphon earnings, which could be recycled into public accounts to fund national, state and local budgets at zero or near-zero interest rates. Eliminating debt service payments would allow state and federal income taxes to be slashed; and the public managers of this money, rather than hiding behind a veil of secrecy, would be opening their books for all to see.

A final red herring is the threatened bankruptcy of Social Security. Social Security cannot actually go bankrupt, because it is a pay-as-you-go system. Today's social security taxes pay today's recipients; and if necessary, the tax can be raised. As Washington economist Dean Baker wrote when President Bush unleashed the campaign to privatize Social Security in 2005:

"The most recent projections show that the program, with no changes whatsoever, can pay all benefits through the year 2042. Even after 2042, Social Security would always be able to pay a higher benefit (adjusted for inflation) than what current retirees receive, although the payment would only be about 73 percent of scheduled benefits."

Today, incomes over $97,000 escape the tax, disproportionately imposing it on lower income brackets. Projections over the next 75 years show that just removing that cap could eliminate the forecasted deficit. When the Democratic presidential candidates were debating in the fall of 2007, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were the only candidates willing to seriously consider this reasonable alternative. President Obama just needs to follow through with the solutions he espoused when campaigning.

The Mass Education Campaign We Really Need

What is really going on behind the scenes may have been revealed by Prof. Carroll Quigley, Bill Clinton's mentor at Georgetown University. An insider groomed by the international bankers, Dr. Quigley wrote in Tragedy and Hope in 1966:

"[T]he powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences."

If that is indeed the plan, it is virtually complete. Unless we wake up to what is going on and take action, the "powers of financial capitalism" will have their way. Rather than taking to the streets, we need to take to the courts, bring voter initiatives and wake up our legislators to the urgent need to take the power to create money back from the private banking elite that has hijacked it from the American people. And that includes waking up the president, who has been losing sleep over the wrong threat.

Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama

Ralph Nader Was Right About Barack Obama

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We owe Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney an apology. They were right about Barack Obama. They were right about the corporate state. They had the courage of their convictions and they stood fast despite wholesale defections and ridicule by liberals and progressives.

Obama lies as cravenly, if not as crudely, as George W. Bush. He promised us that the transfer of $12.8 trillion in taxpayer money to Wall Street would open up credit and lending to the average consumer. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), however, admitted last week that banks have reduced lending at the sharpest pace since 1942. As a senator, Obama promised he would filibuster amendments to the FISA Reform Act that retroactively made legal the wiretapping and monitoring of millions of American citizens without warrant; instead he supported passage of the loathsome legislation. He told us he would withdraw American troops from Iraq, close the detention facility at Guantánamo, end torture, restore civil liberties such as habeas corpus and create new jobs. None of this has happened.

He is shoving a health care bill down our throats that would give hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the private health insurance industry in the form of subsidies, and force millions of uninsured Americans to buy insurers’ defective products. These policies would come with ever-rising co-pays, deductibles and premiums and see most of the seriously ill left bankrupt and unable to afford medical care. Obama did nothing to halt the collapse of the Copenhagen climate conference, after promising meaningful environmental reform, and has left us at the mercy of corporations such as ExxonMobil. He empowers Israel’s brutal apartheid state. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where hundreds of civilians, including entire families, have been slaughtered by sophisticated weapons systems such as the Hellfire missile, which sucks the air out of victims’ lungs. And he is delivering war and death to Yemen, Somalia and perhaps Iran.

The illegal wars and occupations, the largest transference of wealth upward in American history and the egregious assault on civil liberties, all begun under George W. Bush, raise only a flicker of tepid protest from liberals when propagated by the Democrats. Liberals, unlike the right wing, are emotionally disabled. They appear not to feel. The tea-party protesters, the myopic supporters of Sarah Palin, the veterans signing up for Oath Keepers and the myriad of armed patriot groups have swept into their ranks legions of disenfranchised workers, angry libertarians, John Birchers and many who, until now, were never politically active. They articulate a legitimate rage. Yet liberals continue to speak in the bloodless language of issues and policies, and leave emotion and anger to the protofascists. Take a look at the 3,000-word suicide note left by Joe Stack, who flew his Piper Cherokee last month into an IRS office in Austin, Texas, murdering an IRS worker and injuring dozens. He was not alone in his rage.

“Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?” Stack wrote. “Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political ‘representatives’ (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the ‘terrible health care problem’. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.”

The timidity of the left exposes its cowardice, lack of a moral compass and mounting political impotence. The left stands for nothing. The damage Obama and the Democrats have done is immense. But the damage liberals do the longer they beg Obama and the Democrats for a few scraps is worse. It is time to walk out on the Democrats. It is time to back alternative third-party candidates and grass-roots movements, no matter how marginal such support may be. If we do not take a stand soon we must prepare for the rise of a frightening protofascist movement, one that is already gaining huge ground among the permanently unemployed, a frightened middle class and frustrated low-wage workers. We are, even more than Glenn Beck or tea-party protesters, responsible for the gusts fanning the flames of right-wing revolt because we have failed to articulate a credible alternative.

A shift to the Green Party, McKinney and Nader, along with genuine grass-roots movements, will not be a quick fix. It will require years in the wilderness. We will again be told by the Democrats that the least-worse candidate they select for office is better than the Republican troll trotted out as an alternative. We will be bombarded with slick commercials about hope and change and spoken to in a cloying feel-your-pain language. We will be made afraid. But if we again acquiesce we will be reduced to sad and pathetic footnotes in our accelerating transformation from a democracy to a totalitarian corporate state. Isolation and ridicule—ask Nader or McKinney—is the cost of defying power, speaking truth and building movements. Anger at injustice, as Martin Luther King wrote, is the political expression of love. And it is vital that this anger become our own. We have historical precedents to fall back upon.

“Here in the United States, at the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name,” the late historian and activist Howard Zinn said in a lecture a year ago at Binghamton University. “Millions of people in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know, there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean, you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism had a good name. It needs to be restored.”

Social change does not come through voting. It is delivered through activism, organizing and mobilization that empower groups to confront the hegemony of the corporate state and the power elite. The longer socialism is identified with the corporatist policies of the Democratic Party, the longer we allow the right wing to tag Obama as a socialist, the more absurd and ineffectual we become. The right-wing mantra of “Obama the socialist,” repeated a few days ago to a room full of Georgia Republicans, by Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. speaker of the House, is discrediting socialism itself. Gingrich, who looks set to run for president, called Obama the “most radical president” the country had seen in decades. “By any standard of government control of the economy, he is a socialist,” Gingrich said. If only the critique were true.

The hypocrisy and ineptitude of the Democrats become, in the eyes of the wider public, the hypocrisy and ineptitude of the liberal class. We can continue to tie our own hands and bind our own feet or we can break free, endure the inevitable opprobrium, and fight back. This means refusing to support the Democrats. It means undertaking the laborious work of building a viable socialist movement. It is the only alternative left to save our embattled open society. We can begin by sending a message to the Green Party, McKinney and Nader. Let them know they are no longer alone.

US Supreme Court stalls Guantánamo appeal, upholds lethal injections

US Supreme Court stalls Guantánamo appeal, upholds lethal injections

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Recent decisions by the Supreme Court highlight the ongoing erosion of democratic rights in the United States.

The Supreme Court has been shifting steadily to the right for decades, but that shift has accelerated sharply in recent years. The appointments of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito and the rightward shift of “swing” Justice Anthony Kennedy (author of the Citizens United decision giving corporations a constitutional right to spend money on elections) have led to the consolidation of a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court hostile to long-held democratic and legal principles.

Over the past two weeks, the Supreme Court has acted to stall the appeal of Guantánamo prisoners, uphold the death penalty, and undermine the so-called “Miranda” rights of people taken into police custody.

Kiyemba, et al., v. Obama

The case of Kiyemba, et al., v. Obama, decided Monday, was the only opportunity for the Supreme Court to address the legality of the conditions facing so-called “enemy combatants” during the court’s present term. The unanimous decision, which evades addressing the real question on the basis of a technicality, recalls the arcane antics of the English Court of Chancery in the endless fictional case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.

Thirteen innocent Chinese Muslim Uighurs were detained as “illegal enemy combatants” by the United States in 2002. Seven of the thirteen are currently detained in the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison camp. The Uighurs have been cleared of any wrongdoing, and the only question is to which country they will be released.

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals earlier ruled in a sweeping decision that the Uighurs could not be released into the US because federal judges lack the authority to make the relevant immigration decision. The authority to make the immigration decision, according to the DC Circuit Court, rests exclusively with President Obama and Congress. The DC Circuit Court, notoriously stacked with right-wing judges, is the only court in which Guantánamo detainees are permitted to challenge their captivity.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to review the DC Circuit Court decision in the case. Instead, it sent the case back to the DC Circuit Court for a consideration of “new developments.” The “new developments” are invitations to the Uighurs by Switzerland, Palau, and Maldives to settle there.

William Quigley, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “The impact of the delay will be to prolong the indefinite imprisonment of people who have been cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Harbison v. Little

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to Tennessee’s brutal lethal injection procedure. The court’s decision, delivered without comment or dissent, makes challenging the death penalty more difficult and clears the way for Edward Jerome Harbison’s execution by lethal injection.

Harbison, a death row inmate, successfully challenged Tennessee’s lethal injection procedure in federal district court in 2007 on the grounds that the combination of three chemicals employed in the procedure causes excruciating pain and constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The Tennessee District Court held that Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol violated the Eighth Amendment because the State knowingly disregarded the procedure’s “substantial risk of inflicting unnecessary pain.”

“It is undisputed,” wrote the Tennessee District Court, “that, without proper anesthesia, the administration of pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, either separately or in combination, would result in a terrifying, excruciating death. The basic mechanics are that the inmate would first be paralyzed and suffocated (because the paralysis would make him unable to draw breath), then feel a burning pain throughout his body, and then suffer a heart attack while remaining unable to breathe.”

The Supreme Court decided the separate case of Baze v. Rees in 2008, rejecting the challenge that the Kentucky lethal injection procedure causes extreme pain and constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” upholding Kentucky’s method of lethal injection. (See “US Supreme Court upholds lethal injection, opening way to resumed executions..”)

Following the Baze v. Rees decision, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Tennessee District Court decision in its ruling against Harbison. Harbison’s petition reveals that the circuit courts have used the Baze v. Rees decision to reject challenges to the death penalty in other states. On Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit decision.

In 2009, 52 people were executed in the United States, 15 more than in 2008. Of these, 51 were killed by lethal injection and one by the electric chair. Since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, nearly 1,200 people have been executed.

Maryland v. Shatzer

The Supreme Court on February 24 carved out yet another exception to the so-called Miranda rights of arrested persons. The ruling, with only two justices dissenting, weakens the framework of rights designed to protect an arrested person from self-incrimination and from police bullying. The court held that, even after a person asserts his right to remain silent, the police may return and interrogate that person after 14 days without reading him his rights.

In the United States, police have historically been required to advise individuals in custody of their rights before interrogating them. This advice has come to be known as the Miranda warning after the case Miranda v. Arizona (1966) imposing the requirement on state police. The Miranda warning is designed to protect an arrested person against police intimidation before that person has a chance to speak to a lawyer, and in particular against the production by police departments of dubious signed confessions.

The Miranda warning, which varies slightly from state to state, is short and familiar to most viewers of American police dramas: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.” The Fifth Amendment protects defendants against self-incrimination.

Since the original decision, the Supreme Court has created various exceptions to the Miranda requirement, of which Maryland v. Shatzer is the latest.

In 2003, prisoner Michael B. Shatzer was being investigated for a different crime than the one for which he was imprisoned. He invoked his Miranda right to remain silent and refused to answer questions. Two-and-a-half years later, the police returned to Shatzer’s cell, did not give the Miranda warning, and wrung incriminating statements from him. In theory, when a person invokes the right to remain silent, police questioning is supposed to stop.

The Supreme Court decided that police could resume questioning after 14 days without giving the Miranda warning, so long as there had been a break in custody. The court found, incredibly, that serving a sentence in state prison is not “custody,” and so constituted a break. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a seven-justice majority. The new 14-day rule has no basis in the Supreme Court’s prior rulings; it was created out of whole cloth by Scalia and the majority.

This decision will open the door to harassment of prisoners on a bi-weekly basis. There is an emerging pattern of cases in which an inmate is awakened in the middle of the night by group of police officers entering his cell and demanding that he waive his Miranda rights.

Ongoing cases

Oral arguments in the case of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling (Skilling v. US) were heard Monday. Skilling, convicted for fraud in 2006, played a leading role in bankrupting Enron and wiping out tens of thousands of jobs and the retirement savings of thousands of Enron employees. Skilling’s lawyers are arguing that the jury was biased against him and that it is unconstitutional to prosecute employees at private companies for fraud where no “private gain” is proven. (See “Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal of Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling”)

The court has agreed to hear the multi-millionaire Skilling’s appeal of lower court rulings upholding his conviction, while it has refused to hear the appeals of numerous death row inmates facing execution. It heard oral arguments—likely the prelude to overturning Skilling’s conviction—on the same day that it refused to free the Uighurs being held at Guantánamo.

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, to determine whether to strike down Chicago’s handgun ban. In June of 2008, the Supreme Court decided District of Columbia v. Heller, declaring that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution provides an individual right to gun ownership which the federal government may not violate. (See “The reactionary politics of the Supreme Court’s ‘gun rights’ decision” ). In McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court will decide whether to impose that decision to state, county, and city governments across the country. The oral arguments indicated a majority on the court in favor of overriding state and local laws banning private ownership of handguns.

On February 23, the court heard oral arguments in the case Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which involves a post-9/11 anti-terror law prohibiting “service, training or expert advice” to organizations designated as “terrorist.” The Humanitarian Law Project had offered humanitarian assistance to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Both groups are on a US government list of proscribed organizations. The Humanitarian Law Project argued that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and can be used to sweep-up speech or conduct the government wishes to illegalize.

Military occupation of earthquake-ravaged region expands in Chile

Military occupation of earthquake-ravaged region expands in Chile

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So far some 800 bodies have been recovered of those killed by the initial earthquake and tsunamis in Chile. In Concepción, which on Wednesday was shaken by a major aftershock—it measured 5.8 on the Richter scale—and so far has been hit by three tsunamis. Officially, there are only 19 missing in Concepción, but the unofficial estimate is 500.

Ten hospitals have been destroyed in the affected regions. Potable water is scarce and electric service is erratic even in parts of Santiago. Incessant aftershocks have damaged highways and bridges beyond the initial quake. Highway crews report that new cracks appear as soon as old ones are fixed.

The most seriously affected zone was that of Maule, with 587 dead. Bío Bío had 92 dead, with 48 in O’Higgins, 38 in the Santiago area, 20 in Valparaiso and 14 in Araucania.

A photograph on the front page of Wednesday’s New York Times speaks volumes. It shows two Chilean soldiers standing over two working-class youth with their rifles on their back. The caption ominously reads “establishing order and looking ahead in Chile.” The message that the government of social-democratic President Michelle Bachelet delivers in this way to Chile’s workers and poor is that the government intends to preemptively repress any possibility of a popular rebellion.

Concepción, with more than half a million inhabitants, after Santiago the second largest city in Chile, is now occupied by over 14,000 troops. On March 2nd the state of siege imposed on Concepción and other cities was extended to two other coastal cities, Curicó and Talca.

As a result of the government imposed 18-hour curfew, people are only allowed out six hours per day. Concepción Mayor Jacqueline Van Ryssenberghe declared that the distribution of supplies would “prioritize those neighborhoods that did not participate in the looting,” in effect imposing a collective punishment on the more rebellious working class areas of the city.

Despite extensive evidence to the contrary, desperate citizens, short of food, water and basic necessities are branded as “looters and vandals” by government officials, a lie that is being zealously promoted by the mass media.

One salient example is CNN Latinoamérica, an agency that provided a platform for Van Ryssenberghe, a supporter of the right-wing nationalist Independent Democratic Union, who continuously called on Bachelet to send in more troops and encouraged the formation of vigilante groups. CNN repeatedly broadcast her message to the exclusion of many other reports, without mentioning Van Ryssenberghe’s reactionary politics.

In reality the so-called looters are confronting an extreme situation and, in many cases have run out of options. While supplies are gradually arriving to big cities like Concepción, a correspondent indicated in a letter to the World Socialist Web Site that cities such as Talcahuano have not received supplies at all.

However, she points out that the Chilean military has no problem moving thousands of troops about: “Supermarkets are open, but this does not help, when there is no cash, no system for credit cards. People have to pay for supplies in this extraordinary disaster…the earthquake took place on the last Saturday of February, so people are additionally short of cash money.”

Many coastal towns have been destroyed and require immediate supplies. Large markets and pharmacies in Concepción survived but were closed by their capitalist owners, who, unable to process credit and debit cards, simply refused to distribute foodstuffs and resorted to hoarding. An occupying army is now protecting these establishments from so-called looters.

One periodical reported, “people waited 48 hours” in Concepción for these establishments to open before taking matters in their own hands. The report refers to the obvious, that once inside, some people made off with shoes, electric appliances and TV sets. In the context of Chile’s social and economic inequality, such actions were inevitable.

The failure of infrastructures, roads, water supply, electricity and the collapse of many newer buildings are a direct result of the free-market policies imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, policies that have continued to this day. Strict building codes that had been imposed in the wake of the earthquake of May 1960 were relaxed, in line with the ideology that markets are efficient and that the profit motive is sufficient enforcement of building standards.

Many of these newer structures have not yet fallen, but they are at risk of collapsing; in Bío Bío alone that includes at least 17 apartment buildings. The Chilean government estimates that 1.5 million homes have collapsed or are severely damaged.

Obama’s assault on public education

Obama’s assault on public education

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President Obama’s public support for the mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island high school is a declaration of war on all teachers and on the working class as a whole.

No US president has so openly supported the mass victimization of workers since Ronald Reagan fired the PATCO air traffic controllers in 1981. Obama’s intervention against the teachers at Central Falls High School is motivated by similarly reactionary aims.

Speaking before an audience of business executives at the US Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Obama hailed the decision to fire the entire teaching and support staff at Central Falls High after they rejected demands to work extra hours without pay.

He defended such measures as critical to implementing the national strategy of Education Secretary Arne Duncan to deal with 5,000 of the nation’s “lowest performing” schools, overwhelmingly located in the most impoverished areas of the country. In order to qualify for federal funding, school districts have the option of closing a school outright, handing it over to a charter school or school management company, imposing a longer school day and other attacks on teachers, or firing the staff and rehiring only half back.

Pointing to the 74 teachers and 19 other school employees in Central Falls, Obama insisted that teachers had to be held “accountable.”

The White House made no similar demands of the Wall Street bankers who brought the US and world economy to the brink of collapse. None of them were fired. Instead, they were handed the keys of the US Treasury to reward themselves with record bonuses.

The Rhode Island firings are meant to serve as an object lesson and warning to any teachers who dare oppose the destruction of their working conditions and wages and the government’s efforts to undermine and privatize the schools.

Obama’s hostility to the teachers reveals his real attitude toward working class students. Teachers, who already make countless sacrifices for their students each day, are not responsible for the collapse of public education in poverty-stricken cities like Central Falls.

They are being used as scapegoats for the inevitable outcome of decades of government policies aimed at starving the public schools and encouraging the growth of privately run charter schools and for-profit schools. Teachers are not to blame for shutting schools, eliminating programs and increasing class sizes.

This anti-education agenda is being expanded by Obama. His administration is dedicated to carrying through the long sought program of the Republican right to gut the public schools and make decent education a privilege of the wealthy, rather than a right of all.

In order to pay for the Wall Street bailout, the administration is presiding over massive cuts in public school systems across the country, along with reductions in other vitally needed social services. In recent days, school boards have announced the following measures:

• The Los Angeles Unified School District voted Tuesday to send out layoff notices to 5,200 teachers and other school employees.

• San Francisco officials announced 900 teachers and staff would receive pink slips.

• Detroit’s emergency financial director Robert Bobb said he would close 40 schools, on top of 29 targeted last year and privatize student transportation. Earlier, district teachers were forced to take a $10,000 pay cut over two years.

• The Kansas City, Missouri school district announced this week the closing of 26 of the city’s 61 schools and the firing of nearly one-fourth of its employees.

The administrators who are witch-hunting the teachers are, for the most part, making salaries well into the six figures. Detroit’s Robert Bobb just received an $81,000 raise, bringing his salary to $425,000.

The administration’s agenda was summed up in the comments of Education Secretary Duncan, who last month said Hurricane Katrina had been the “best thing that happened” to the New Orleans school system. Nearly 60 percent of the city’s public school students now attend charter schools—the highest percentage of any American city—and school officials hope to raise that to 75 percent in coming years.

Public education was a conquest of the working class, achieved through decades of mass struggles. The right of all youth, regardless of economic status, national origin or race, to a decent public education was seen as a central component of democracy.

It is precisely the egalitarian aspect of public education that has long been the target of the most right-wing political forces, including free market economist Milton Friedman, who denounced the public schools as a “socialist enterprise” run by the teachers’ unions. Their repeated efforts to introduce a class-based education system, however, were rebuffed time and again by the population, which Friedman denounced for its “collectivist outlook.”

The Obama administration is implementing the agenda previously associated with the Republican right. This is highlighted by the national speaking tour to promote school “reform” carried out jointly by Duncan and the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich.

Obama’s election was supported by large sections of the ruling class because, in part, they believed a Democratic administration could better enlist the support of the unions in carrying through historic attacks on the working class.

The American Federation of Teachers and other unions have signed on to the anti-education and anti-democratic agenda of the administration, in return for guarantees for the union officials’ own positions and bloated incomes. They have become partners in the destruction of public education and the jobs and living standards of teachers, just as the United Auto Workers has become the business partner of the auto companies in imposing near-poverty wages and mass layoffs on the auto workers.

There is growing popular opposition to these attacks. Thousands of parents have packed school board meetings and organized protests in New York, Michigan, Missouri and other states to oppose school cuts. Today, thousands of college and high school students, along with school employees, will participate in protests across California to oppose a 32 percent tuition increase at the state university system and other cuts in education.

Quality education for all can be secured only by allocating trillions of dollars to hire teachers and staff at decent wages and benefits, reduce class sizes, repair older schools and build new ones, and equip all schools with the most up-to-date learning tools.

Such measures will never be carried out by the Democratic Party, which, no less than the Republican Party, is a political instrument of the financial elite. Obama’s election campaign, based on his claim to represent “change” and “hope,” was a fraud. He was handpicked by powerful corporate interests in part because they calculated they could use his African American background to dupe workers and youth into thinking he would be more sympathetic to the needs of working people.

Hardly a year after its inauguration, the Obama administration has, in terms of its policies, proven to be the most right-wing government in modern American history. The defense of education requires a direct struggle against Obama, as well as the two parties of big business and the profit system which they defend.

This can be carried out only through the building of a mass independent party of the working class.

Access to high-quality and free schooling, like every other democratic right, is incompatible with the vast social inequality produced by capitalism. A fundamental and revolutionary transformation of society is needed to break the grip of the financial aristocracy and reorganize economic life to meet human needs, not private profit.