Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Protesters try to cuff Rove, drive him off stage

Exclusive: FEC commissioner helped RNC conceal role in 2004 vote suppression

FEC commissioner helped RNC conceal role in 2004 vote suppression

Caroline Hunter, a Bush-appointed Federal Election Commissioner who remains in office, provided misleading statements under oath in an effort to conceal Republican National Committee involvement in vote suppression activities during the 2004 presidential election, a Raw Story investigation has found.

Legal experts say Hunter's submission of such statements under oath is a serious ethical and professional breach which could warrant a bar review and potential disbarment. At the time, Hunter was serving as deputy counsel to the Republican National Committee.

How a young Republican lawyer became a central witness

In the final days of the 2004 presidential election, the Democratic National Committee files an injunction against the Republican National Committee in New Jersey federal court, alleging its involvement in using lists of returned mail to challenge 35,000 newly registered Ohio voters. This tactic, also known as voter caging, is historically employed to suppress votes from minority and low-income citizens who tend to vote Democratic.

At the time, Republican Party officials are busy stoking claims that voter fraud at the polls is a grave threat to the country.

On Oct. 20, 2004 in Columbus, Ohio, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett decry rampant voter fraud in the state.

"The reports of voter fraud in Ohio are some of the most alarming in the nation," Gillespie asserts.

Two days later, the Ohio Republican Party challenges 35,000 voters, most of whom live in urban, Democratic-leaning areas.

On Nov. 1, the showdown over the injunction plays out in Newark Federal District Court.

"Is the RNC discussing the political aspects of wide-scale voter fraud? Absolutely, your Honor," argues RNC counsel Bobby Burchfield. "They're talking about it every day, because it's a pervasive problem."

Federal Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise listens to arguments in the case. Debevoise is intimately aware of the laws against voter suppression.

In 1981, Judge Debevoise presided over a case in which the Democratic National Committee accused the RNC of violating the Voting Rights Act by using vote caging tactics in predominantly minority precincts in Newark and surrounding areas.

In 1982, the RNC agreed to settle the lawsuit by entering a consent decree that prohibited it from using "ballot security" measures, meaning any efforts to prevent allegedly unqualified voters from casting a ballot. The decree was revised in 1987 to include a provision that required the RNC to first gain prior approval from the court before engaging in such measures.

Thus, the pivotal focus for Judge Debevoise in 2004 rests on whether Republicans have violated the decree.

Sworn testimony from a young Republican lawyer plays a central role in the RNC's defense. That lawyer's name is Caroline Hunter.

In her affidavit (pdf), submitted under penalty of perjury, Hunter claims "the RNC is not initiating, controlling, directing, or funding any programs of 'voter challenges' … including the effort by the Ohio Republican Party to challenge voter registrations in Ohio."

"Although representatives of the RNC were involved in the emails discussing the possibility of the challenges described above," she continues, "the RNC has not initiated any challenges to the absentee ballots in Ohio or in any other state."

Burchfield tells the court that Hunter's affidavit is proof the RNC isn't violating the decree. Rather, he says, her statement demonstrates the party was diligent to avoid "initiating, controlling, directing or funding" any voter challenger programs.

Yet her affidavit is submitted along with email communications showing RNC members engaging in vote caging activities in Ohio. They also demonstrate that the RNC worked in concert with state Republican Party officials. Hunter is on a few of the emails but her involvement is unclear.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Debevoise rules that the RNC has violated the decree.

In granting the injunction, Debevoise specifically addresses Hunter's statement denying that the Party was involved in vote caging activities. He finds her sworn testimony -- made as a witness -- unsupported by the facts in the case.

"Miss Hunter," Judge Debevoise tells the court, "states in a conclusory way that, 'To the best of my knowledge, after due investigation, the RNC is not initiating, controlling, directing, or funding any programs of voter challenges as described above, including the effort by the Ohio Republican Party to challenge voter registration in Ohio as alleged.'"

"Miss Hunter's information and belief," he concludes, "is belied by the evidence developed during the brief period of discovery."

Experts raise questions of legal ethics

Provided with documents from the trial, legal experts interviewed by Raw Story characterized Hunter's statements to the court as a potential breach of legal ethics.

Gerry Hebert, an election law expert who spent over twenty years as a Justice Department attorney prosecuting voting rights cases, addressed Hunter's attempt to linguistically circumvent the dictates of the consent decree.

Hebert, currently the executive director at the Campaign Legal Center, pointed out that although Hunter said the RNC had not been involved in "initiating, controlling, directing, or funding" voter challenges, her statement was merely "very carefully worded."

"It doesn't mean they were not aware, it doesn't mean they did not participate, it doesn't mean that they didn't assist in the programs of voter challenges of the Ohio State Republican Party," he said.

"The judge makes findings of fact that directly contradict her statement," he added, after reviewing the court record. "At a minimum, it strikes me as misleading."

Raw Story located the corresponding passage in the 1987 Consent Decree, which supports Hebert's findings. It states:

"[T]he RNC shall not engage in, and shall not assist or participate in, any ballot security programs unless the program (including the method and timing of any challenges resulting from the program) has been determined by this Court to comply with the provisions of the Consent Order and applicable law."

While legal experts confirmed that Hunter's statements shield her from perjury charges, they argued that they still pose ethical problems that potentially could result in her disbarment.

They also made clear that this was not a statement by a lawyer in open court to the judge, but rather an affidavit signed under oath by a witness in the case for one of the parties.

"If a lawyer makes a misleading statement in sworn testimony to the court," said Hebert, "and then the court not only finds that the statement was misleading but it turns out to be 'belied' by the actual facts in the case, I think a state bar would be interested in that."

"It could be viewed as a serious ethical breach for an attorney, one that might warrant a review by the state bar in which she's accredited and may be grounds for disbarment," Hebert continued.

Deborah Rhode, a legal ethics professor at Stanford University, agreed.

"Absolutely," Rhode said, when asked if this would create ethical problems for Hunter. "It should be a basis for concern."

"In a perfect world," Rhode added, a state bar would review Hunter's actions, but she didn't think it was likely to occur.

Regardless, Hebert said, "It's very troubling that a lawyer who presently sits as a federal official at the FEC would submit a document under oath to a court that a court finds is contrary to fact."

Joe Rich, a former Voting Section chief at the Justice Department who spent nearly forty years at the agency, said he found it disturbing a sitting FEC commissioner provided misleading statements under oath.

"She was discredited by the judge," Rich told Raw Story, stressing the severity of her actions. "He didn't find her credible."

FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram declined to comment on Hunter’s behalf.

Emails show Hunter received caging email

Hunter was also named as a recipient on one of the most incriminating RNC emails discussing vote-caging activities in Ohio. The message included plans to roll out similar activities in Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Mexico.

Her name, along with others in the RNC hierarchy, appears on other emails as a scheduled participant in conference calls to discuss voter challenges. The subject lines on the emails are "Cuyahoga Returned List" and "Voter Reg Fraud Strategy conference calls."

Legal experts say that without further proof, Hunter can claim that as RNC deputy counsel, her inclusion in the email and conference calls was only to advise colleagues on how to stay within the legal bounds of the consent decree and other election laws. They agreed this is a separate matter from the misleading statements she provided under oath.

But while there is a five-year statute of limitations on perjury in federal courts, Hebert said he wasn't aware of any statute of limitations for a state bar review of Hunter's affidavit.

Media Disinformation regarding America’s Afghan War

Media Disinformation regarding America’s Afghan War

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Examining a microcosm can shed light on the larger reality. I have chosen to analyze a small mountain hamlet, Chagoti Ghar (Chergotah), located some forty kilometers east of Khost city in eastern Afghanistan in a time frame separated by eight and a third years – November 23rd 2001 and March 24th 2010. Both times, two Afghan civilians perished as a result of foreign occupation fire. In both instances, the U.S corporate media was silent. Both times, to pierce the veil of silence spun by the American military industrial media information complex (MIMIC) a person had to turn to independent, regional media; in November 2001 to the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency and in March 2010, to the Kabul-based Pajhwok Afghan News.[1] Those killed in 2001 perished during morning prayers and those obliterated in 2010 succumbed after sundown. A women and girl were martyred in November 2001 and a teenaged couple was killed in March 2010. A Bush air strike killed two in 2001 and an Obama ground attack did the same in 2010.

BBC Monitoring Central Asia Unit
Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring


November 23, 2001, Friday


“American aircraft bomb areas in eastern Afghanistan”



SOURCE: Afghan Islamic Press news agency, Peshawar, in Pashto 11:49 GMT 23 Nov 01

Text of report by Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency

Peshawar, 23 November: American aircraft bombed Khost this morning, and one woman and a girl were martyred as a result.

During the Morning Prayer, American war planes bombed the house of a tribal leader, Haji Mohammad Naim Kochi, 20 km to the south of the Khost bazaar in Khost Province. One bomb fell on another house, and as a result one woman and a girl were martyred. Haji Mohammad Naim Kochi helped the Taliban government. And in 1992 he also worked in the previous mujahidin government...


“Civilians die in Khost clash”

SOURCE: Pajhwok Afghan News, Saboor Mangal - Mar 25, 2010 - 17:38

KHOST CITY (PAN): At least two Afghan civilians were killed and four others wounded in crossfire between NATO-led forces and Taliban militants in southeastern Afghanistan, officials said.

The incident occurred late Wednesday night in the Ali Sher district of Khost province, bordering Pakistan.

Civilian casualties have become a source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and Western leaders as deaths of non-combatants are undermining public support for the government.

The clash started after sundown when Taliban insurgents attacked a foreign military base, resident Ali Madad told Pajhwok Afghan News on Thursday.

A mortar shell fired by NATO forces hit a house in the Chargoti village, killing a teenaged couple and injuring a man, his wife and two of their children, Madad added.

The deaths are the latest in a series of civilian casualties occurring after the top commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, banned night raids in a directive to all foreign troops based in the country.

NATO forces have confirmed the Taliban raid on their outpost inflicted casualties on foreign troops, avoiding providing any further details.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed the Western troops suffered heavy casualties in the attack.

The aerial attack on November 23, 2001, was part of the U.S. bombing offensive targeting fleeing Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters who sought refuge in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. The campaign also involved so-called decapitation strikes (the targeting of alleged enemy leaders). A prime target was veteran mujahedeen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani (he remains one still today). Haqqani was renowned as the architect of one of the most stunning military reverses suffered by the Najibullah government - the fall of Khost in 1991. He was named justice minister in the first mujahideen government formed in Kabul in 1992. In 1995, Haqqani defected and allied himself with the emerging Taliban and helped the Taliban secure control of Nangarhar Province in 1996. The defection was a key factor in securing territorial advantage for the emerging Taliban.2 At the time, Bin Laden was living there as a guest [and friend] of Haqqani. Haqqani possessed a valuable trove of apparently at least 70 U.S. Stinger missiles. Haqqani led the Taliban's brutal military campaign north of Kabul during the winter of 1996/7, sweeping through the towns of Estalif and Qarabagh, carrying out what his opponents described as ethnic cleansing of the Tajik minority there. In 1998, he switched posts, being appointed to the important position of Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs in the Taliban government. Haqqani is known to have had close ties with Pakistan's intelligence agency, the I.S.I., dating back to the 1980s. His relationship with Bin Laden led to the building of many training camps during the 1980’s in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Paktia (especially south of Khost). In late September 2001, Omar appointed Haqqani as commander-in-chief of the Taliban armed forces. He also served as governor of Paktia province.

In mid-October 2001, Jalaluddin commented to local reporters,

"We will retreat to the mountains and begin a long guerrilla war to reclaim our pure land from infidels and free our country like we did against the Soviets... We are eagerly awaiting the American troops to land on our soil, where we will deal with them in our own way... The Americans are creatures of comfort. They will not be able to sustain the harsh conditions that await them."

Three weeks later the U.S. began its bombing effort targeted specifically at killing Jalaluddin Haqqani. The bombing on November 23rd was part of this assassination campaign. During Morning Prayers, U.S war planes attacked the home in the mountainous village, Chagoti, of the tribal leader and former Taliban supporter, Haji Mohammad Naeem Kochi, but Kochi was absent. Another bomb obliterated a nearby home killing a woman and an 8-year old girl.





























Source: modified version of a map available at:
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/txu-oclc-308991615-afghan_pakistan_2008.jpg

But no mention was made in U.S. official press releases or in the U.S. media. A search of Lexis-Nexus for the month of November 2001 reveals not a single mention of Chagoti by the western press. Silence was deceit, part of a well-orchestrated official U.S. campaign to carefully manage reporting of America’s Afghan war.[2] The only references to the American bombing of Chagoti Ghar were to be found in the Afghan Islamic Press, Pakistan’s Jang newspaper and in Russia’s Pravda.[3] Accurate news was published in Moscow and Peshawar not in New York City. I immediately entered this incident into my web-based data base.[4]

My own efforts to report as accurately as possible upon the civilian casualty toll of the U.S. Afghan bombing campaign given the existing data limitations, was greeted with charges of being anti-American, unpatriotic, replete with double-counting, and opprobrium was caste upon using a source like the Afghan Islamic Press, etc.[5] Even the left-of-center in the United States went to pains to discredit my tally of Afghan civilians killed by the U.S.[6] The propagandistic cant was well-critiqued by Philip Hammond,

A number of reporters declared the killing of Afghan civilians to be inherently un-newsworthy, and CNN instructed its journalists to ‘balance’ reports of casualties with justifications for war. The study of casualty figures produced by US academic Marc Herold was often dismissed or attacked, and the much lower estimate of civilian deaths offered by a Project for Defence Alternatives report was presented as more credible. In fact, however, the latter is based on an eccentric method whose only rationale can be a desire to produce as low a figure as possible. The report, drawing on a variety of sources but favouring Western ones as the most reliable, used the following formula in cases where no precise numbers were available: ‘“some or a few” deaths was interpreted as 1, “a dozen or more” was interpreted as 3–4, “dozens” was interpreted as 8–10, “scores” was interpreted as 10–15, “hundreds” was interpreted as 40–60’ (quoted p. 50).[7]

And the left-of-center in the United States persists now in such practice by mindlessly quoting figures on Afghan civilian casualties put forth by the UNAMA.[8]

Two months later, in January 2002, the hamlet of Chagoti Ghar was again bombed by U.S war planes.[9] On January 1, 2003, the 62-year-old Haji Naeem Kochi, a tribal elder of the nomadic Kuchi tribe, who had been an object of a U.S manhunt since 2001, was finally seized by U.S occupation forces while on his way to meet Karzai to discuss a tribal dispute.[10] He was captured and whisked off to the American gulag in Guantanamo where he languished for close to two years. He was released in September 2004 when the Americans conceded he was “insignificant.”

In August 2009, the Karzai regime and its U.S. ally began construction of an Afghan border police post near the Tere Zayi district border crossing. The ostensible rationale was to prevent infiltration into Khost Province of enemy fighters from Pakistan. The local Kuchi tribes’ people vehemently opposed the base construction.[11] On a rugged mountaintop bordering Pakistan, less than two miles from Northern Waziristan, now sits Combat Outpost Chergotah in the easternmost part of Khost province.[12] Two U.S. occupation soldiers based in the new border post were killed while on patrol by RPG/small arms fire on March 9th.

In the evening of March 24th 2010, resistance fighters attacked the Afghan/U.S post, spurring a fire fight. At 11 PM, a mortar shell fired by “NATO forces” (really by the 4th Combat Brigade of the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division) hit a home in Chagoti (Chergotah), killing a teenaged couple and injuring a man, his wife and two of their children as reported by the independent, Pajhwok Afghan News.

U.S. Army mortar men from the Indiana National Guard provide 120 mm mortar-fire support to soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team at Combat Outpost Chergotah in the Terezayi district of Afghanistan’s Khost province, Dec. 4, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Otero (Source: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2414107/posts)

NATO issued a statement at 3:44 AM EST noting that a firefight had taken place in the night of March 24/25th near an ISAF base and that in the engagement six civilians received shrapnel wounds, two of whom later died.[13] Some ten minutes later, the Chinese news agency Xinhua General News Service published a report based upon an interview with a local tribal leader, Ramazan Kuchi, who said at 11 PM local time a NATO artillery shell hit a house killing two children and wounding four other persons (including two children, a lady and a man).[14] Shortly thereafter, Agence France Presse and the Deutsche Presse-Agentur picked up the story merely reproducing the original NATO release.[15] The independent Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) then provided a report noting the Taliban had attacked the NATO border post on the outskirts of the Alisher district and a missile fired by the NATO forces in retaliation struck a home causing six civilian casualties.[16] The AIP interviewed a resident of Babrak Tana who said the NATO projectile hit a house killing two people and wounding four others. Only the AIP, Xinhua and Pajhwok carried interviews with local residents. The left-of-center U.S media in the United States merely parroted the official NATO report even misrepresenting the incident as a “NATO attack” when in truth it was carried out by the 25th Infantry of the U.S. Army.[17]

For its part, the occupation forces’ ISAF Joint Command issued an “operational update” mentioning that on the night of March 24/25th its forces had searched a compound outside Zerah Ghar, Tere Zayi district of Khost Province and captured “two Taliban sub-commanders” as well as “several other insurgents,” lots of ammunition and money.[18] The official communiqué concluded with the usual, “no shots were fired, and no Afghan civilians were harmed during these operations.” But a day later, when the two civilian deaths in Chergotah could no longer be concealed, NATO published the usual promise of an investigation and the “our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this terrible accident and their families.”[19]

In the U.S. mainstream media, complete silence reigned once again. Chagoti Ghar (Chergotah) simply does not exist. The deaths of an Afghan woman, an 8-yr old Afghan girl and a teenaged couple are unworthy of mention in America. Another immaculate deception, or conception in which a teenaged couple was first transformed into two Taliban sub-commanders. That is, until a courageous, independent investigator challenges the official U.S/NATO lies.[20]


Notes

[1] “American aircraft bomb areas in eastern Afghanistan,” Afghan Islamic Press news agency (1149 GMT, November 23, 2001) and Saboor Mangal, “Civilians die in Khost Clash,” Pajhwok Afghan News (17:38, March 25, 2010)

[2] I have analyzed this issue on my “Truth about Afghan Civilian Casualties Comes Only Through American Lenses for the U.S. Corporate Media [our modern-day Didymus]," in Peter Phillips and Project Censored [eds], Censored 2003: the Year's Top 25 Stories [New York: Seven Seas Publishing, 2002], pp. 265-294 and in many other writings such as "Et Plus Ca Change... U.S. Reporters Transcribe the Colonel's Wisdom," Cursor.org (March 10, 2003) at http://cursor.org/stories/morethingschange.htm and in The Balochistan Post (Quetta, Pakistan) (February 24, 2003) .

[3] ”Safiullah Gul, “US Spy Planes, Copters Hover Pakistan Tribal Belt – Bacha Khan Settles Scores with Zakim Khan as US Jets Bomb Khost,” Pravda.Ru (January 25, 2001) at http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/01/25/26010.html

[4] See “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan, October 7, 2001 - May 31, 2003” (PDF Format - 620KB),” page 119 at http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold

[5] Examples of such frequently ad hominem, vitriolic, and unsubstantiated attacks include such fine exemplars as Dr. Frank, “Marc Herold. Master Analyst,” Dr. Frank’s What’s-It (December 21, 2001) at http://www.doktorfrank.com/archives/2001/12/marc_herold_master_analyst.html Lucinda Fleeson, “The Civilian Casualty Conundrum,” American Journalism Review (April 2002) at http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=2491, “The Case Against Marc Herold,” The Angry Cyclist (October 28, 2002) at http://angrycyclist.blogspot.com/2002_09_29_angrycyclist_archive.html, as well as various writings by Matt Welch, Ian Murray, Jeffrey Isaacs, and Joshua Muravchik.

[6] detailed in Edward S. Herman, “The Cruise Missile Left, pt.2,” The Anti-ANSWER Crusade and Z Magazine,
http://musictravel.free.fr/political/political37.htm

[7] Philip Hammond, “Do Mention the War: 9/11 and After,” Media Culture & Society 25 (2003): 559

[8] For a critique, see my “One Month of the Obama Killing Machine in Afghanistan: Data and a Lesson for the UNAMA and its Groupies. Sadly, ‘groupies’ like the western media, peace groups and even the World Socialist Web Site (wsws) uncritically go about citing spurious UNAMA figures, for example endlessly mentioning that Afghan civilian deaths caused by “coalition forces” have declined,” RAWA News (March 10, 2010),
http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2010/03/10/one-month-of-the-obama-killing-machine-in-afghanistan-data-and-a-lesson-for-the-unama-and-its-groupies.html

[9] “Aviacao dos EUA bombardeia suposta base de rede Al Qaeda,” UOL Ultimas Nocticias (17:00 January 24, 2002)

[10] Andy Worthington, “Expelled UN Official Criticizes Afghan Policy re: Taliban and Defends ex-Guantanamo Detainee,” Andyworthington.com (February 16, 2008),
http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/02/16/expelled-un-official-criticizes-afghan-policy-re-taliban-and-defends-ex-guantanamo-detainee/

[11] Saboor Mangal, “Kochis War of Boycotting Elections,” Pajhwok Afghan News (August 13, 2009)

[12] Described in “Soldiers Work with Afghan Border Poli9ce,” American Forces Press Service (December 23, 2009),
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2414107/posts

[13] ”Civilians killed in Khost,” Targeted News Service (3:44 AM EST, March 25, 2010)

[14] ”2 Children Killed as Gun Shell Hit a House in E. Afghanistan,” Xinhua General News Service (3:55 AM EST, March 25, 2010)

[15] “NATO Soldier, Two Civilians Killed in Afghan Unrest,” Agence France-Presse (1:49 PM GMT, March 25, 2010) and “Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO-Taliban Crossfire,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur (12:45 PM EST, March 25, 2010)

[16] “NATO Missile Kills Two Civilians in Afghan East,” Afghan Islamic Press (March 25, 2010)

[17] Jason Dietz, ”Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO Clash,” Antiwar.com (7:16 PM, March 25, 2010),
http://news.antiwar.com/2010/03/25/afghan-civilians-killed-in-nato-clash/

[18] “IJC operational Update, March 25,” ISAF Joint Command (03:37, March 25, 2010)

[19] “Civilians killed in Khost,” US State News (9:07 PM EST, March 26, 2010)

[20] as in the case of The London Times’ reporter Jerome Starkey’s fabulous reporting of an incident which completely destroyed another US/NATO immaculate deception, see his “U.S.-led Forces in Afghanistan are Committing Atrocities, Lying, and Getting Away with it,” Nieman Watchdog (Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University) (March 22, 2010),
http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?backgroundid=00440&fuseaction=background.view

US Congress allows jobless benefits to expire

US Congress allows jobless benefits to expire

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The US Senate left Washington on its two-week spring vacation last Friday without passing a $10 billion extension for jobless benefits, due to expire April 5. The Senate’s failure to approve the measure means that more than 200,000 people who have been out of work for more than six months will have their checks cut off beginning next week.

If no extension is eventually passed, some 1 million of the 11 million people now receiving benefits will see them run out by the end of the month. With the official jobless rate hovering just below 10 percent nationwide, the Senate’s inaction demonstrates the callous indifference in Washington to the plight of the millions of workers and their families who have been devastated by the loss of work and its attendant miseries.

Failure to pass the extension also means that COBRA benefits, which provide a 65 percent subsidy for health insurance for the unemployed, will expire this Wednesday. While the cut-off won’t affect people already on the COBRA program, people who lose their jobs in April would be ineligible for the subsidy.

A federal flood insurance program is also set to expire, and no action was taken on a measure that would have averted a 21 percent decrease in payments to doctors who see Medicare patients.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans engaged in mutual recriminations over failure to extend the benefits. Last week, the House approved a $9 billion measure containing one-month extensions of the jobless benefits, COBRA and federal flood insurance. When the bill came up in the Senate, Republicans complained that the funding for the bill was not offset with spending cuts elsewhere.

Led by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Republicans contended that by adding to the federal deficit, they would be “stealing future opportunity from our children.” Coburn put forward a bill with identical extensions to the Democrats’ measure, to be funded out of unused federal stimulus funds. Democrats rejected this proposal several times before voting to adjourn and jetting off to their home districts for their two-week holiday.

Jobless benefits and COBRA were temporarily cut off earlier this month when Republican Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky utilized a Senate rule requiring unanimous consent to bring the legislation to a vote before Congress adjourned for the weekend on Friday, February 26.

While the senators, the majority of whom are millionaires, debate the “fiscally responsible” approach to funding the extension of jobless benefits, working families across the country are struggling to deal with the impact of declining wages, benefit cuts and job losses. The National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy organization for employment rights, estimates the real jobless rate in the US at 14.9 million, some 6 million of whom are considered long-term jobless.

Unemployment increased in 27 of 50 US states in February. Despite claims by the Obama administration that unemployment is leveling off, figures released by the US Labor Department last Friday indicate that broad-based hiring is yet to develop, with some 8.4 million jobs lost since the recession began in December 2007. Florida, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina set records for job losses in February. Michigan, with a 14.1 percent official unemployment rate, continues to top the nation.

People living in some of the states hardest hit by unemployment currently receive up to 99 weeks in combined state and federal unemployment benefits. This is up from the 26 weeks that was typically provided by states before the onset of the recession.

Extensions of insurance voted by Congress currently average $334 a week nationwide for those unemployed more than six months. A one-week cutoff of these benefits could mean defaulting on a mortgage payment, losing medical coverage, or foregoing utility payments leading to the cutoff of gas or electricity.

California’s jobless rate held steady in February at 12.5 percent, and about 1.5 million Californians are currently claiming unemployment benefits. According to the state’s Employment Development Department, failure to pass the benefits extension will initially have a limited impact, but the effects would become increasingly distressing if Congress fails to approve it after the two-week recess.

However, this is not the concern of the two big-business parties in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada) could reconvene the Senate based on the “conditional adjournment” motion he used to close Senate proceedings last Friday. Senate aides have indicated this is highly unlikely, however.

Reid and Senate Democrats say they will move to pass the extension when they return from the Easter break, making the benefits retroactive. However, any legislation, if passed, is likely to be another stop-gap, one-month extension, setting the stage for another expiration of the benefits.

Fresh off passage of Obama’s health care bill, which the Congressional Budget Office claims will cut the budget deficit by $143 billion, the Democrats are as committed as the Republicans to reducing the federal budget deficit. In the service of the financial elite they represent, both parties are committed to cutting vital social programs in this effort.

Obama's visit underscores US crisis in Afghanistan

Obama’s visit underscores US crisis in Afghanistan

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Sneaking in and out of Kabul under the cover of darkness Sunday, President Barack Obama’s trip to Afghanistan only underscored the crisis confronting the US in the midst of the war’s current escalation.

Like similar trips to US-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan staged by former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Obama’s flight to Kabul was organized under conditions of extraordinary secrecy, with even Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, ostensibly the country’s sovereign ruler, kept in the dark about the visit until the last possible moment.

Reporters brought aboard the plane were not told where they were going until it had taken off and had their cell phones confiscated. Before taking off, Air Force One was boarded inside a closed hangar to prevent unauthorized US military personnel from learning of the President’s departure.

Once in Afghanistan, Obama’s six-hour visit—less than half the time it took him to fly there—was restricted to the heavily fortified US Bagram Air Base and the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, where he was flown by helicopter.

Underlying these precautions is the reality that after eight and a half years of war, neither the Karzai regime nor the 120,000 US-led occupation troops can guarantee security anywhere in the country, including its capital.

The US media largely treated the Afghanistan trip as a matter of Obama boosting the morale of US troops—with a selected audience of soldiers and Marines assembled to greet him—and laying down the law to Karzai on issues of official corruption and methods of governance.

The New York Times stated that the visit “capped a high-profile week for Mr. Obama in which he achieved a singular victory domestically—signing health care legislation…” It suggested that with this domestic legislation under his belt, the US President was now in a position to turn his attention to his principal foreign policy initiative: a military “surge” that is deploying an additional 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

The reality is that Obama’s rhetoric about the US intervention in Afghanistan is just as false as his claims about health care “reform.” Underlying both is the deepening crisis of US capitalism and the attempt to resolve it on the basis of aggressive war abroad and a wholesale assault on the working class at home.

In addressing the troops, Obama barked out a potted description of US aims in Afghanistan in a bizarrely incongruous “yes we can” cadence. “We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies,” he said. Obama continued: “That is our mission. And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear: We’re going to deny al Qaeda safe haven. We’re going to reverse the Taliban’s momentum. We’re going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people.”

He repeated virtually word-for-word the lying justifications given by his predecessor for the US war, claiming that 100,000 troops are being deployed in Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda, whose strength in the country has been estimated by US military commanders at barely 100.

The war, he claimed, is “absolutely necessary, absolutely essential to America’s safety and security,” adding that “Those folks back home are relying on you.”

Unlike his earlier speeches, including the one given at West Point last December in which he announced the Afghanistan “surge,” Obama made no mention of plans to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. On the contrary, he stressed that the US occupation in Afghanistan will continue indefinitely.

“The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something,” he told the troops. “You don’t quit, the American armed services does not quit, we keep at it, we persevere and together with our partners we will prevail.”

In his speech nearly four months ago, Obama insisted that the time frame for beginning a US withdrawal was essential in that it demonstrated that “America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.” His failure to mention it to the troops on the ground there strongly suggests that the American ruling elite has no intention of leaving the country.

The US President’s visit came as the American military is preparing another bloody offensive in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar Province, one that will bring US troops into urban combat in the crowded city of Kandahar, with its population of 900,000.

Quoting a “senior military official,” the Associated Press reported Monday that US-led forces will launch the offensive in June, with the aim of driving the Taliban out of Kandahar City, the former capital of the Taliban, before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August.

Even before this offensive, the casualty rate among occupation troops has risen sharply. The number of US troops killed in Afghanistan during the first two months of this year rose to 57, double the number killed in January and February of 2009, when 28 died.

The number of wounded has soared, reaching 381 in the first two months of 2010, compared to 85 during the same period last year, an increase of nearly 350 percent. Just in the first six days of this month, 44 US troops were wounded, an average of over seven a day. This compares to 50 US soldiers and Marines wounded in the entire month of March last year.

With both the coming Kandahar offensive and the traditional spike in fighting that takes place in the summer, these escalating casualty rates are expected to rise even more steeply.

While the US media, citing administration officials, has largely portrayed Obama’s meeting with Karzai as a sharp exchange based upon US impatience with long-standing corruption in the Kabul puppet regime, there are strong indications that there were more pressing and immediate concerns.

In particular, there is anger within Washington over Karzai’s recent trips to Iran and China, which are seen as a challenge to US dominance in Afghanistan.

“He’s slipping away from the West,” the New York Times quoted a senior European diplomat as saying.

The weekend before Obama landed in Afghanistan, Karzai was in Tehran celebrating the Persian New Year with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While there he also met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This follows Karzai’s welcoming Ahmadinejad on an official visit by the Iranian leader to Kabul early this month.

Under conditions in which Washington is pursuing an increasingly bellicose policy towards Iran, demanding increased sanctions and increasingly floating threats of military aggression, this rapprochement between its Afghan client regime and Tehran represents a slap in the face to the Obama administration.

During his own trip to Afghanistan earlier this month, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the unsubstantiated allegation that Iran is providing unspecified aid to Afghan forces resisting the US-led occupation and threatened US retaliation.

Of similar concern is a three-day trip that Karzai made to China last week. Washington has indicated resentment over Chinese investments in the exploitation of Afghan natural resources and other areas of the country’s economy, initiatives that it sees as somehow illegitimate because of Beijing’s refusal to support US military operations in the country.

In an editorial entitled “China’s role in Afghan dilemma,” published on March 25, on the eve of Karzai’s visit to Beijing, the official China Daily bitterly expressed a diametrically opposed position, accusing Washington of exploiting its military presence, and the pretense of fighting terrorism, to dominate the country and its economy and threaten Chinese interests.

“The US has a huge number of troops in Afghanistan that provide security for its assistance projects,” the paper stated. “America gets priority in project selection because it offers ‘protection’ to the Hamid Karzai government. Its economic input is aimed at paying for its military operations. In contrast, Chinese enterprises face great risk while working for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and encounter fierce international competition in getting a contract. Unlike the US, Chinese investments are mainly in roads, hospitals and schools, and come without any riders.”

The editorial continued: “The US has an offensive counterterrorism strategy, in which Afghanistan is being used as a pawn to help it maintain its global dominance and contain its competitors. China, on the other hand, pursues a defensive national defense policy and wants to have good relations as a neighbor of Afghanistan.”

In an unmistakable warning, the editorial stated: “China cannot stay oblivious to the Afghan issue. The chaos caused by the war in Afghanistan is threatening the security of China’s northwestern region.”

USA Today published a series of revealing interviews with Afghans on their response to Obama’s visit, indicating that they saw it within the prism of US geopolitical interests and conflicts with rival regional powers.

The paper quoted Majib Rahman, a civil engineer, who said that Obama “wanted to show that troops will be here for a longer time. He wanted to show their presence to Iran, to China, to Russia—to show them their dominance in the region.”

Similarly, Mohammad Khan, a member of the Afghan parliament, told USA Today that Obama had come “to scold Karzai for recent visits to Iran, Pakistan and China.”

“In the private talks, (Obama) must have pressed on these issues,” he said. “It’s not possible to maintain two strategies: to have friendship (with the Americans) and to make plots with America’s enemies.”

And Shamsuddin Fazeli, 50, who has sold fuel to US forces during the occupation, said that the US military was in Afghanistan not to fight terrorism but to assert US interests in the region.

“The Taliban are a small group. If Obama and the international community really wanted peace, they would have it in two months,” said Fazeli. “They found (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein in a basement in the desert, but why haven’t they found Osama bin Laden, (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar? That means they’re not serious about peace. They want to change Afghanistan into a battlefield to conduct attacks on other countries.”

Clearly the US war in Afghanistan, now in its ninth year, is stoking far wider geopolitical tensions and sowing the seeds for what could prove a far bloodier and wider conflict. Obama’s sudden visit to Kabul was driven in no small part by concern that despite his military “surge” and the continuing sacrifice of US troops, US imperialism could still face a steadily deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and, ultimately, loss of control to its rivals.

Is a US attack on Iran imminent?

Is a US attack on Iran imminent?

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In recent weeks there has been a series of press reports as well as statements by military experts that strongly indicate that either the Obama administration or the Israeli government, or both, may be moving toward an attack on Iran.

Some of the press reports have been so detailed and provocative that it is difficult to determine whether they are describing actual plans for military action or whether they are “merely” intended to ratchet up pressure on the clerical regime in Tehran. Even if the United States and Israel are primarily engaged at this point in a war of nerves, the political and military logic of their actions leads inexorably to war.

Yesterday the World Socialist Web Site reported on the Brookings Institution’s simulated war games in which Iran was the target (see: “Washington ratchets up war threats against Iran”). Teams of US officials—“playing” the US, Israel, Iran, and other regional powers—tried to determine the outcome of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear plants. The war game tried to present the conflict as initially remaining limited to exchanges of targeted strikes between Israel and Iran.

US policymakers let it be known, however, that they envisaged ultimately mounting a massive assault on Iran. The war game was halted a week into the war—which, by then, had spread to Iranian or pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon, Israel, the Occupied Territories, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Persian Gulf—with the US preparing strikes to annihilate large sections of the Iranian military.

This was the most prominent of a series of provocative announcements against Iran in the US press. Last week saw reports that the US was stocking bunker-busting bombs at airfields on Diego Garcia, to destroy Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities, and reports of Israeli plans to drop nuclear bombs on these same facilities.

There is an obvious connection between the intensification of preparations for military action and the apparent failure of the US-backed “Green Revolution” to gain the political momentum and social support necessary to topple the Tehran government.

The Green Revolution movement, which never developed support outside a limited middle-class base, became ever weaker in the final months of 2009. At the same time, Washington increased its pressure on Iran in negotiations over its nuclear program, calling for sanctions to be agreed upon by the UN Security Council. In December 2009 the New York Times carried an article, describing the rising power of broadly pro-Ahmadinejad factions of the Iranian military, titled “Hard-Line Rise Alters View of Iranian Nuclear Program.”

It is significant that the current press accounts of preparations for war emerged after the acknowledgment by top US personnel that the Green Revolution was a failure. Contradicting months of US-media propaganda, Richard Haass, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN on February 14 that the US had no facts to back up claims by Green Revolution spokesmen that its candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, had won last June’s election. Asked about a US poll showing a 57 percent Ahmadinejad vote versus 27 percent for Mousavi immediately before the elections, Haass replied, “I don’t know if the opposition is 25 percent, 50 percent, or more.”

For the time being, Washington’s Green Revolution proxies have been marginalized. The United States has reacted to this setback by leaking information to the press that suggests that a military operation is in the works.

One of the purposes of these threatening reports may well be to goad Tehran into some sort of defensive action that might be portrayed by the US government and the media as a hostile military act. This would provide the US with a casus belli that would be invoked to justify an attack on Iran. Another possibility is that the US (and Israel) expects that the escalation of pressure on Iran will produce new fractures within Tehran’s political elite. In one way or another, Washington is determined to restore the political and economic control over Iran that it enjoyed before the 1979 Revolution, back in the heady days when the Shah functioned as the CIA’s principal agent in Tehran.

The Iranian crisis illustrates the fundamental continuity of US imperialist policy, against claims that Obama would pursue policies fundamentally different from those of Bush. In fact, in a sinister throwback to Bush’s campaign of lies on Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction,” US officials are escalating threats even though they admit they have no “solid clues” suggesting the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

A US and/or Israeli attack on Iran would be a monstrous act of imperialist criminality. Countless thousands of Iranians would be killed in the first hours of a war. Moreover, a war against Iran would have incalculable international repercussions, and would bring the entire world closer to the day of a global nuclear conflagration.

Taking a Stand to Keep Sitting Legal

Taking a Stand to Keep Sitting Legal

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San Francisco is poised to become the latest in a string of cities to adopt a law making it a crime to sit on the sidewalk. While it is the case that some of these other cities are known as being among the more liberal in the nation (e.g., Portland, Seattle, Boulder, Austin), no city with such a deep progressive history has sought to impose anything like a citywide ban on sitting such as is being proposed for San Francisco. The fact that these draconian ordinances have generally withstood legal challenges due to the intricacies and inanities of the justice system is no small comfort to the homeless people who are the primary targets, nor to the activists and community members concerned about the social and ethical implications of such punitive laws. In San Francisco, many of these folks - activists and the homeless alike - are mobilizing against the proposed law in the name of justice and common decency.

First, a bit of disclosure and a statement of bias: I have spent over a decade investigating and analyzing anti-homeless legislation such as these "no sitting on the sidewalk" ordinances (also known as "sit-lie" laws because they prohibit sitting and lying down). In 1999, I led a challenge against the law in Tempe, Arizona, while I was a graduate student at Arizona State University. There, we went through all of the channels of dissent to take on a law that many in the community perceived as unnecessary, cruel, unusual and really just plain asinine. Community activists and homeless street people packed city council chambers, launched media campaigns and (once the law was passed) staged sit-ins in open defiance of and protest against the no-sitting law in particular and the criminalization of homelessness in general. Interestingly, the Tempe law actually took effect on Martin Luther King Day, a fact that we were able to use to highlight the argument that sitting is an important form of legitimate social protest.

While these laws are aimed at homeless people, they diminish everyone's rights in the process. The regulation of public spaces and the restriction of forms of communication are serious First Amendment matters that should not be lightly swept aside in the rush to "clean up" our cities. These points in particular framed a lawsuit that I filed in federal district court against Tempe's sit-lie law; although I was not homeless, I was an activist engaged in "expressive sitting" on the downtown sidewalks and so was able to get legal "standing" to represent myself in challenging the law's application to protests. This was really just a principled way of getting into court to take on the entire law, which had previously been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case arising out of Seattle. Still, I managed to convince a federal judge that my case raised novel issues and, indeed, he wound up issuing an injunction against the Tempe law and thus wiping it off the books on First Amendment grounds.

This decision was later overturned on appeal by the Ninth Circuit, following a special hearing held at the ASU College of Law. The court's decision wasn't unexpected, but neither was it determinative of the larger issue. In the process of litigating the case and organizing in the streets, many crucial facts that ultimately tipped the balance were brought to light, including: the removal of benches in the downtown area, the privatization of some of the sidewalks, the lack of adequate alternatives such as shelters in the city, the elimination of public restroom facilities and the inordinate influence that the business community had on the city council. I wound up writing my doctoral dissertation on these and other related issues, resulting in two books on the subject, the most recent of which is "Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization and Urban Ecology of Homelessness" (LFB Scholarly, 2008). I mention all of this in no way to promote my own work, but merely to admit to a profound inclination against these laws derived from years of personal immersion and professional research alike.

Thus, we arrive in San Francisco, circa 2010. As is often the case, the ordinance has been proposed by a political figure - in this case Mayor Gavin Newsom - citing tried, true and trite "safety and civility" concerns. Supporting the mayor are the local police interjecting typically hyperbolic rhetoric such as references in the media to "bands of thugs blocking sidewalks and bullying merchants, pedestrians and neighborhood residents." The mayor himself claims to have decided to put forward the new law "after walking along Haight Street with his infant daughter and seeing someone smoking crack and blocking the entrance of a business." Not only are such allusions right out of the demonization playbook, but they are also completely disingenuous since the behaviors referenced - blocking sidewalks, harassing people, smoking crack and restricting access to businesses - are already illegal under existing laws. Proponents almost always will claim that it is "conduct, not status" being punished with these sit-lie laws, but the conduct that is often cited is already prohibited, begging the question of why relatively innocuous acts like sitting are being placed into the criminalization loop. And, please, don't buy the arguments that the police need more tools, and that existing laws are too cumbersome because they require complaining witnesses or the like - our criminal justice system easily seems to procure more than enough convictions every day, even operating within the limits of such tedious constraints.

The main reason for the preference toward criminalization of low-level behaviors is fairly straightforward. Under our legal system, "status crimes" are generally taboo, so the easiest way to attack a particular group is to isolate a behavior common (or even exclusive, if possible) to it and criminalize that conduct. Think of other public-place laws regarding skateboarding (targeting youth), "cruising" (youth of color) and even congregating (youth "gangs"); these are often sold as neutral prohibitions on conduct that apply equally to everyone even though it is widely understood that only certain demographics regularly engage in the behavior - recalling Anatole France's famous remark that "the law in its majesty draws no distinction, but forbids rich and poor alike from begging in the streets or sleeping in the public parks." By criminalizing sitting on the sidewalks, the law is singling out a group of people who generally lack better alternatives in terms of places to sit, such as sidewalk cafes or their own living room couches. Moreover, for many street people, sitting is understood as a passive posture that can convey need in a nonthreatening manner while doing so visibly and without shame.

In this regard, sitting is an expressive behavior. It has been utilized for purposes of political transformation on innumerable occasions, in places ranging from buses and lunch counters to university offices and, yes, sidewalks. With available spaces for public demonstration rapidly shrinking in the era of privatization, regulation and consumption, it is vitally important that we resist further colonization of the remaining public spaces of our cities. Sidewalks are part of that small class of "traditional public forums" where First Amendment rights of expression, assembly and petitioning for redress apply and, thus, sidewalks (like streets and parks, as the Supreme Court observed in the 1939 Hague case) "have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens and discussing public questions." The fact that these precious and eroding public forums are being lost in the name of commercialism and sanitization is all the more troubling.

Indeed, cities sometimes have found that when they attempt to "clean up and clear out" their public spaces to create more business-friendly environments, things can go awry and the very qualities that make for an interesting "destination point" can be lost in the process. This is particularly true of an area such as Haight-Ashbury, one of the primary tourist locales in San Francisco and also ground zero for the proposed no-sitting law. People likely to be found sitting on sidewalks there include poets, musicians and artists in addition to homeless people and youths. A recent USA Today article highlights many of these concerns and further notes that the law "would also make lounging near the entrance of Golden Gate park" illegal as well. Yet, while certain alleged behaviors and competing community values in the Haight are central to the public dialogue, the primary version of the ordinance being proposed (two versions were initially proffered) would enact the no-sitting ban on a citywide scale from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM, rendering it one of the nation's most restrictive sit-lie laws. Tellingly, the text of the proposed law notes that "the prohibition applies Citywide in order to prevent displacement of violators from one district or neighborhood to another," but it makes no mention of where people will in fact be displaced to if a citywide ban is imposed. Simply running them off to neighboring cities is shortsighted and counterproductive in the larger struggle to address the complex social issue of homelessness.

We are living in a time where drawn-out recession has caused a spike in homelessness, not just among the unemployable or substance-addled, but also among working class people, families, veterans and children. Many of the young people frequenting the public sidewalks are in fact refugees of a sort, oftentimes fleeing from abusive situations even as they express their defiance and autonomy in ways that can sometimes be seen as incompatible with social norms of civility. Rather than the punitive arm of the law being brought to bear - with violators potentially receiving fines of up to $500 and terms of imprisonment of up to 30 days just for sitting down! - We ought to be expending our collective energies and political capital on constructive and compassionate solutions that protect everyone's rights and interests rather than privileging those of one class against another. Time and again, cities opt for these patterns of criminalization and demonization, which do nothing whatsoever to address the underlying problem and, in fact, make it worse by stigmatizing certain groups and undermining community cohesion.

Predictably, despite such concerns, the public seems to support the ordinance, at least based on the initial stories and quotes featured in the media and likewise local news outlets, which have editorially endorsed the law as well. This is par for the course, especially in the early stages of the debate where primarily police and politicians have their views reflected in the popular consciousness. Yet, critical voices have begun to emerge in the community, including one local columnist who described the law as "an overly broad, complicated and expensive option for fixing a very specific problem.... It's like killing a housefly with a flamethrower." Another blogger has accused the mayor of "political opportunism" and notes that the Board of Supervisors ironically met to discuss the sit-lie issue on the same day that the US Interagency Council on Homelessness was meeting in the city to gather public input on a strategic plan to end homelessness, concluding with this cogent suggestion: "start with 'don't outlaw sitting.'" And a local television report included comments from a citizen member of the Police Commission Board calling it "a draconian law," and an ACLU representative observing that the law would be "criminalizing innocent conduct" and is a "backward step" in addressing the root issues.

In fact, community voices are only just beginning to be heard. Activists held an all-day "Sidewalks Are for People!" citywide event on March 27, with demonstrators occupying and celebrating their public spaces in as many as 50 locations around the city. A concomitant web site and Facebook page have been established around the theme of "Stand Against Sit-Lie," drawing myriad postings and testimonials against the ordinance. Concerned residents like Andy Blue, a local organizer, told me that the proposed law "doesn't represent what this city is about.... We want to show that San Francisco is unified in its celebration of public space, civil liberties and a tradition of compassion." Many organizations that work with homeless populations will be offering their views about how to address the matter in nonpunitive ways. One such group, the Coalition on Homelessness (COH), focuses in particular on empowerment-based strategies that strive to foster "the active participation of homeless and low-income San Francisco residents and front-line staff in the struggle for economic and social justice." In this manner, as civil rights organizer Bob Offer-Westort of the COH recently told me, local organizations have been "turning homeless youth from the Haight-Ashbury out for hearings" and striving to ensure that "homeless people were able to be part of the hearing process." This is crucial to not merely opposing a bad law, but to further articulating contrasting perspectives and inclusive alternatives in its stead.

This task has been undertaken from a number of fronts including, as Offer-Westort noted, "a group of students in a journalism program [who] interviewed merchants on Haight Street to get varying perspectives on the proposed law. Everyone they spoke to either opposed the law because it was mean-spirited and constitutionally [problematic], or because they thought that it was a dumb idea that wouldn't really make homeless kids go away. They were unable to locate a proponent." On the question of public polling showing support for the ordinance, he observed that the poll question was posed in a demonstrably loaded manner: "Would you support a law that prohibited people who were sitting or lying down from obstructing the sidewalk and harassing pedestrians?" (Note that the proposed law criminalizes any act of sitting and, thus, targets neither obstruction nor harassment.) Based on his experiences as a homeless rights advocate, Offer-Westort concluded, "because the hatred of homeless people is still so socially acceptable, [big business interests] see sit-lie as a good wedge issue to turn the electorate conservative," and likewise that due to the ongoing recession, "poor people get scapegoated [and] it's way easier, psychologically, for some merchants to think that they can do something about the situation by attacking homeless youth" than to address the issues in more direct and comprehensive ways.

The presence of individuals and organizations with sophisticated critiques and longstanding connections to the issues bodes well for a positive outcome for all residents - homeless and housed alike - in this potentially divisive matter. As one of the true jewels of America, San Francisco occupies a unique place in the cultural and political workings of the past half-century. The forward-thinking, transformative and eclectic perspectives embodied by the people that call the city their home have served as something of a beacon of hope for those of us scattered among the more reactionary environs of the country. The fact that a city as creative and dynamic as San Francisco would even consider replicating the failed strategies of less innovative locales is troubling. Fortunately, the contest is only just beginning and the tide is already starting to turn away from knee-jerk criminalization regimes and toward the longer-lasting promise of compassionate and constructive resolutions to pressing issues.

8 House Members to Mull 2nd Draft Bill on Science-Tech Probe of WTC Destruction Causes

8 House Members to Mull 2nd Draft Bill on Science/Tech Probe of WTC Destruction Causes

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A second draft bill setting up an independent science and technology investigation into the World Trade Center destruction was presented March 16-17 in Washington D.C. to science/technology aides of eight House members for action this year.

The bill continues to propose a 25-member committee with subpoena power, chosen from the national and international community of renown scientists of Nobel laureates, as well as structural engineers, architects, and other technological specialists—those in demolition, advanced weaponry, and 9/11 first-responders.

Text of Bill is posted here.

The bill’s aim is to investigate nearly a dozen major theories about the cause(s) of the WTC destruction that have been widely circulated nationally and internationally on the Internet, in films, on CDs, print mediums, and at public events since September 12, 2001.

Three points were emphasized in Alliance presentations:

•That the proposed bill will satisfy most of the continuous groundswell of national and international demands for a substantive science and technology investigation by an independent group of experts in those fields to determine the cause(s) of the WTC destruction.

•That previous investigations were significantly limited, unscientific, and/or controlled by the Bush Administration. They include the 9/11 Commission in 2002-04, the Federal Emergency Management agency (FEMA) in 2002, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2005 on WTC buildings 1/2 and 2008 on WTC 7.

•That growing national and international suspicions about the WTC portion of the 9/11 attack will finally be laid to rest by a substantive investigation by expertise from renown and trustworthy scientists and those in technology.

Aside from the most recent Scripps-Howard poll showing 51% of Americans demand Congress truly investigate the 9/11 attacks, legislative aides were reminded that demands for action toward that end has been sharply rising since January: At least 12 New Hampshire towns will vote in spring elections for a resolution demanding Congress institute a second investigation. The NYC CAN’s organizers got 80,000 New York City residents to sign petitions putting a NYC investigation on the November 2009 ballot. Blocked by city officials and a judge, the group is in midst of an intense campaign to get the 50 Council members “to take measures to open an investigation into the collapse of WTC 7.”

Further, nearly 1000 members of the Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth completed a petition in mid-February exhorting Congress to stage a second investigation focused on the possible use of explosives at WTC 1, 2, and 7. After all, former President George Bush did make a press- conference statement in mid-September 2006 that “explosives” might have been planted in the three buildings.

NIST’s chief of Fire Science Division, James Quintiere, Ph.D., resigned over the research quality in the agency’s 2005 report and joined 1,550 peers calling for a second “real” investigation. They ranged from the military, intelligence agencies and pilots to scientists, engineers, architects, scholars as well as first-responders and 9/11 victims’ families.

The “Jersey Girls,” whose powerful lobbying of Congress resulted in the 9/11 Commission, want a substantive investigation to do what that group was supposed to accomplish. They’ve been joined by a tsunami of other strong supporters: 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, writer Gore Vidal, actor Ed Asner, former Senators Lincoln Chafee and Mike Gravel, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (a demolition expert in the Navy Seals), Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader, anti-war luminary Cindy Sheehan, Daniel Ellsberg, MD (of Pentagon Papers fame), the Green party, and Arizona state senator Karen S. Johnson. President Barack Obama evenvowed during his 2008 campaign that he would take action “…if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront.”

Additionally, international critics also have agitated for a second investigation in the last three years. Italy’s former president Francesco Cossiga told a major Rome daily newspaper in late November 2007 that it was common knowledge among international intelligence agencies that the Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad, Israel’s counterpart, had designed and committed the WTC attacks to give Western powers control of Iraq and Afghanistan and their resources.

Japan’s minority party leader Yukihisa Fujita was televised nationally in the Diet in January 2008 insisting it conduct an investigation because 24 nationals who died in the Towers. In Canada, the New Democratic Party Deputy House Leader, Libby Davies, presented a petition from 500 Canadians to launch its own investigation on behalf of 24 dead nationals, and to “pursue the guilty parties in the international courts.” That was the view also of an Italian member of the European Union’s Parliament, Giulietta Chiesa, who proposed an international tribunal such as one now being used by Spain for alleged perpetrators of war crimes.

Moreover, new evidence that the Bush Administration’s official version about WTC’s destruction is questionable began to surface and undergird much of the speculation about the causal agent(s). These discoveries, accompanied by the rising tide of demands for a second, substantive, investigation, were largely responsible for the Alliance’s decision to research, revise, and lobby the new bill.

For example, the City of New York was forced by a FOI request from The New York Times to make public all statements of 503 First Responders about their 9/11 observations. Too many of these eyewitnesses substantiated indications of basement explosions and communication disruptions happening simultaneously with aircraft impacts to the Towers’ upper stories. They revealed signs of electro-magnetic pulsations and thermobaric bombs, fire temperatures never exceeding 1200ºF inside WTC 1, 2, and 7 while heat at Ground Zero clean-up for 99 days rose to nearly 3000ºF.

Videos of the eyewitness account of city official Barry Jennings’ immediate emergence from WTC 7 that morning revealed a major explosion had taken place in WTC 7’s basements and that its lobby was not only destroyed, but littered with bodies.

More recently, 3000 revealing aerial photographs of the WTC’s demise were forced from NIST vaults by ABC under the Freedom of Information Act. They were taken by a NYC police photographer in a department helicopter, the only aircraft permitted in the immediate airspace on 9/11.

Too, the American Civil Liberties Union has just released a leak of a secret memo of July 6, 2004 to the Commission from three key Bush officials—Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet. It warned the Commission not to probe too deeply, claiming such efforts might affect national security.

To illustrate several of the bill’s theories, House aides were shown revealing points in the NYPD aerial photographs. Others included pictures of 20- 30-ton beams and cladding thrust from WTC 2 into upper floors of the Deutsche Bank building and the American Express building across from WTC 1; widespread vapors rising from street grates blocks away from the Center. Also, transformation of concrete into dust for two-thirds of the North Tower’s upper stories, the close similarities of basal-surge characteristics in Bikini Atoll atomic testing to dust-cloud formations pouring into surrounding streets from the Towers, and NOAA/U.S. Army aerial lidar photographs of the huge circular roof-to-basement holes in WTC 6, 5 plus the six-floor crater remaining of WTC 4’s cleanly sliced southern wing.

Documents shown included the Richter-scale records of underground explosions recorded by Columbia University’s seismic station across from the Center; the significantly elevated elements of strontium, barium, zinc, and uranium discovered in the U.S. Geological Survey’s WTC 35 grab-samples taken six days after 9/11; and the NIST exhibit showing fire alarms on 9/11 in WTC 7 were switched off at 6:47 a.m. and back on at 2:48 p.m. despite the agency’s explanation that fires caused the 6.5-second collapse of that 47-story, steel-framed building.

The bill’s 11 major theories about causal agents were divided into five categories for the proposed committee to rule in or out, as customary in scientific testing methods. The legislation is open to any theories the committee may discover. Those listed were:

•Aircraft Impact or Fires

•Missiles or Aerial Bombardment

•Chemicals or High-Yield Explosives

•Directed Energy Weapons or Laser Beams

•Nuclear-based Explosions

If this proposed bill—with a suggested $11 million appropriation—is accepted by one or several House members in concert with Senate colleagues for joint action, it will be revised for hoppering in the second Congressional session and presumably assigned to Science and Technology committees for hearings and a vote. If passed, it will move to both houses for floor votes and, from there, to President Obama’s signature. The committee will have a six-month deadline to issue a report on findings and recommendations to Congress.

The bill provides Congress and the Obama Administration with a second chance to rectify the heavily discredited, significantly flawed previous investigations and to explore the Bush Administration’s seemingly questionable and self-serving deeds to conceal most of the definitive data about the WTC’s destruction on the pretext of protecting national security. It also will stave off international investigations and tribunals from performing work that should be done in the United States.

But most important, such an substantive investigation will finally settle for most people here and abroad the truth about what happened on September 11, 2001 to cause the WTC’s destruction.

The bill’s text in pdf form is below the line.

The WTC Research Alliance is independent of other organizations. Its primary purpose is research, with its findings employed by the organization’s legislative division.

Algerian authorities arrest Mossad agent holding forged passport

Algerian authorities arrest Mossad agent holding forged passport

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Algerian newspaper revealed on Sunday that the authorities in Algeria arrested a secret agent working for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence apparatus, and holding a forged Spanish passport.

According to Al-Nahar newspaper, the Algerian security apparatuses arrested an Israeli spy called Alberto, 35, in the city of Hassi Messaoud near an Egyptian office providing service for oil companies.

It pointed out that the spy used a cloned Spanish passport to enter Algeria and obtained the visa through one of its embassies in Europe.

The newspaper also affirmed that as the Alegerian security apparatuses embarked on investigation into the issue of this spy, the US administration intervened and sent a high-ranking official to Algeria in this regard.

The newspaper said that assistant head of the FBI John Pistole visited last Thursday Algeria to convince the authorities to release Alberto, adding that the Mossad agent was fluent in Arabic and frequented popular neighborhoods in Hassi city either to pray in the mosque of Bilal or to sit in Arabian cafes and chat with citizens.

Report: Israel copied thousands of passports

Report: Israel copied thousands of passports

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Britain believes thousands of its passports have been copied by airline staff working for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, a UK tabloid reported Sunday.

News of the World reported that the British MI6 intelligence service believe Britons flying to Israel have been targeted for months and their documents cloned.

The British Foreign Office held top-level talks on whether to issue a warning against travelling with certain airlines, the report said.

Police officials reportedly believe documents were also copied during searches at a September terrorism conference in Israel.

"It was said to be routine but the searches did not apply to all nations," one of the participants was quoted as saying. "There is now a real concern that some of these high-ranking officers and officials have also had documents cloned."

On Tuesday, Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat believed to be Mossad's top agent operating in the country.

Blackwater Shows the Perils of Privatizing US Security

Blackwater shows the perils of privatizing U.S. security

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Privatization. It's a logical outgrowth of the belief that government can do little, if anything, right. That belief, as common in Alabama as football fans, is at the core of corporate conservative politics. It's probably a good mind-set to start with, but the world is a complicated, case-by-case place. There are some arenas where the government really should run the show.

Jeremy Scahill's award-winning "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" tackles one of those arenas: the conduct of war.

The book starts in Baghdad's Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, when by almost all accounts, a Blackwater convoy used heavy weapons on unarmed civilians in the middle of the day. Mothers, fathers, children, doctors, lawyers and others were killed, 17 in all, with 20 wounded. Scahill's account feels much "closer" than the equivocal, sanitized stuff we got in the mainstream media. It's easy to hear figures representing faraway deaths of people we don't know; it's harder to read about a father picking pieces of his son's skull from the back of his car. Five Blackwater guards eventually were indicted, but the case was dismissed, enraging Iraqis and prompting the U.S. Justice Department to announce a long-shot appeal. Blackwater changed its name to Xe Services after the bad publicity.

That example of contractor violence was one of few egregious enough to register here at home. I used to think I was "following" the Iraq war, but Scahill's encyclopedic book is a sharp jab of reality for me. Ditto for Afghanistan, the "War on Terror," the "War on Drugs," and the Hurricane Katrina response (yes, Blackwater/Xe has branched out). The book also sheds light on how our government awards contracts and spends money in general. "Sausage-making in the dark" is too pretty a description.

Scahill paints a picture of increasing reliance by the federal government on private, secretive security outfits. At home and abroad, there are heavily armed men -- paid with our tax dollars but not subject to military rules -- executing, creating and modifying U.S. policy on the ground, without accountability. In Iraq, Paul Bremer actually granted contractors total immunity from prosecution. Think "wild West" with fewer sheriffs, deadlier weapons and cultural misunderstandings.

At times, there were as many private contractors as military personnel in Iraq. Even without that many contractors, these arrangements allow our leaders to wage wars the people don't want. Decisions with enormous ramifications and costs are made under cover of state secrecy or a company's proprietary information. Killings of (or by) contractors aren't included in government statistics and are rarely reported, at least here. The situation is costly in terms of lives, America's image and dollars, but not commensurately costly to the politicians and players involved.

Speaking of costs, citizens concerned by wasteful, unaccountable or powerful government are ignoring the armed elephant in the room: Compared to the sum total of huge, secret security contracts, health care and cap-and-trade initiatives are benign potatoes. Even so, Blackwater has been caught allegedly defrauding the government (aka stealing millions of our tax dollars). Recently, former employees alleged Blackwater swindled the government through bogus receipts, double-billing for travel, and billing for prostitutes and strippers (file under "morale").

Speaking of costs and morale, security contractors offer salaries higher than military pay. This gives our men and women another reason to take their skills elsewhere and hurts morale. Actually, it hurts them: Locals who've been abused by gun-toting Americans don't differentiate between Armed American Group X and Armed American Group Y. The result is less trust and more incoming ammo for U.S. military and local forces, who stay after contractors leave. One would think in Alabama -- always in the top 10 for percentage of population serving -- that would trigger outrage.

Scahill's book pulls the covers off an increasingly ubiquitous system that benefits a few at the expense of accountability, military restraint, fiscal responsibility, and human lives. If you care about foreign policy, if you care about government spending, if you know anyone in the military or contractor force, read Blackwater and spread the word.

We Americans reach back to the Founding Fathers to support any argument. But those forward-thinking men undeniably created a government (they weren't anarchists), which implies they wanted a government to do something. They even spelled out the roles of its branches with regard to war to ensure wars weren't easily entered.

Our system of privatized warfighting bypasses that brake. And it's too ripe for abuse to accept just because we mistakenly believe its consequences are elsewhere.