Sunday, January 31, 2010

Special Forces night attacks spur Afghan protests.

This is just one example of the type of horrendous secret attacks mounted by special forces in Afghanistan. It is not surprising that there are many Afghan complaints. No one seems to take responsibility for these attacks and the attackers seem to be not accountable to anyone. Gen. McChrystal formerly led such special forces i in Iraq.


This is from tomdispatch.com

One Dark Night in November

It was the 19th of November 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of U.S. soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they -- both children -- refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates, and forced open closets. Finally, they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. He had spent time in Kuwait, and the Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of al-Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin of his to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, U.S. forces released Rahman’s cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.

“We’ve called his phone, but it doesn’t answer,” says his cousin Qarar, the spokesman for the agriculture minister. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor, and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar’s family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were “enemy militants [that] demonstrated hostile intent

Kai Eide: Afghan Strategy Doomed

Eide does not mention the recent attempt to buy off the Taliban. This actually seems to be a policy that is at odds with the military strategy that Eide criticizes. It as if the new policy has many different features that includes more training of Afghans a policy Eide supports. However the question will be where the emphasis will be. The new reconciliation policy is unlikely to be very successful absent a clear withdrawal plan that will convince the Taliban that long term the foreign occupation will end.


Afghan strategy doomed: UN envoy
Tom Coghlan From: The Times

THE military strategy in Afghanistan is seriously flawed and is doomed to failure without major adjustments, the outgoing head of the UN there has warned.
Kai Eide, who will stand down as UN Special Representative in March, was withering in his assessment of the Afghan surge recently set in motion by US President Barack Obama.

He warned that the military focus was at the expense of a "meaningful, Afghan-led political strategy" and that Western troops and governments had left Afghans feeling they faced "cultural invasion".

Speaking before last night's conference on Afghanistan, being held in London, he said the international community must stop operating according to "strategies and decisions that are taken far away from Afghanistan".

"Very unfortunately, the political strategy has become an appendix to the military strategy," he said. "The strategy has to be demilitarised - a political strategy with a military component."

...Mr Eide said he supported the arrival of more US and NATO troops but they had to be used to train Afghan forces. He said the latter were better than international forces because Westerners still struggled to understand the sensitivities of the country.

He expressed deep concern at the tactical approach of British and other Western troops, which aimed to remove the Taliban from an area, hold it and then develop local infrastructure and security forces.

"The so-called clear, hold, build, military strategy has serious flaws," Mr Eide said.

"First of all, we are not able to `clear' when our opponents are insurgents one day and a normal inhabitant of a village the next day.

"We are not able to `hold' because it takes time to train and put in place police and sub-national governance.

"And we are not able to `build' because we cannot expect civilian development agencies to come into what they feel is a military campaign."

Mr Eide's tenure as Special Representative has been controversial. He was accused by his US deputy, Peter Galbraith, of effectively colluding with President Hamid Karzai during last year's elections, which were marred by allegations of vote-rigging on a massive scale. Mr Galbraith was dismissed but several senior political advisers to the UN mission in Kabul resigned over the episode.

However, his views on the West's tactics in Afghanistan will find support among many civilian agencies and NGOs working there. Eight aid agencies, including Oxfam, Afghanaid and Care International, issued a warning this week that military-led aid undermined long-term aid work and endangered aid workers and civilians.

Mr Eide said his criticism went beyond issues such as civilian casualties and night raids, both of which have sparked angry protests in Afghanistan.

And he expressed scepticism at the significance of a recent BBC poll, seized upon by Western political and military leaders, which suggested support for Western forces in Afghanistan was growing. "We must guard against an impression that what we have done up to now is the right recipe," he said. "I think serious adjustments are necessary."

Judge Advocate General: Indefinite detention defies common sense.

This article provides a thorough repudiation of the reasons given why the remaining 47 prisoners in Guantanamo cannot be released. Nevertheless I suspect that many will still think that keeping these prisoners who are regarded as dangerous indefinitely detained is itself just common sense. Obama is clearly just following in the footsteps of Bush but without acknowledging it. You would think that in the area of human rights and law Obama would be more progressive but in this case he is not--probably because he thinks it is probably not a good idea to appear soft on terrorism. He is already being criticized for that.


- Antiwar.com Original - http://original.antiwar.com -

JAG Officer: Indefinite Detention ‘Defies Common Sense’

Posted By William Fisher

U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to detain 47 of the just-under 200 remaining prisoners at Guantánamo without trial indefinitely is drawing scorn from legal experts and human rights advocates, who charge that the government simply does not have enough evidence to convict the detainees it says cannot be tried but are "too dangerous to release."

David Frakt is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps Reserve, associate professor, and director of the Criminal Law Practice Center at Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif.

He is a former lead counsel for the Office of Military Commissions Defense, who successfully represented Mohammed Jawad before the military commissions and won his release in habeas corpus litigation in 2009.

Frakt told IPS, "The administration’s suggestion that they can’t try 47 detainees, not because they don’t have evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but because a criminal trial would necessarily involve disclosure of classified information, defies common sense."

He gave three reasons.

"First, both under the Military Commissions Act of 2009 and under the Classified Information Protection Act [CIPA], in use in federal courts, there are elaborate mechanisms in place to protect classified information," Frakt said.

"Second, given that the remaining detainees at Guantanamo have been held, on average, for over seven years, the likelihood that there is an ongoing need to protect classified sources and methods in such cases is remote."

"Finally, it is hard to believe that there would be any greater risk of revealing important classified information than in the 9/11 trial, yet the administration is pressing forward with this and several other cases against high-value detainees who were kept in secret CIA ghost prisons and subjected to still classified methods of interrogation," he noted.

"The administration has acknowledged the right of all detainees to petition for habeas corpus in federal court. Why does the administration seem to believe classified information could be adequately protected in federal habeas litigation, but not in a criminal trial? It seems far more likely that there is simply inadequate admissible non-coerced evidence of criminality," Frakt said.

Other legal scholars have weighed in with similar views. For example, Brian J. Foley, visiting associate professor at the Boston University School of Law, told IPS, "Many of the executive’s claims about danger and terrorism have been shown to be incorrect over the years."

".."The executive’s claim that these people are ‘too difficult to prosecute’ really means that the executive knows that the only evidence it has is weak or was obtained by coercion and is therefore very likely false," Foley said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), always a major player in the Guantanamo detention issue, called the Obama policy "un-American."

Jonathan Hafetz, a senior ACLU lawyer, told IPS, "By committing to hold suspected criminals indefinitely without charge, the Obama has embraced one of the most lawless and un-American policies of the Bush administration, one that turns the most fundamental principles of the Constitution on their head."

"The notion that the government can simply hold those it believes ‘dangerous,’ without putting them on trial, will ultimately serve neither our liberty nor our security," he said.

And Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, asked, "How is this any better than Guantanamo itself and the spur such approaches give to al-Qaeda?"

He told IPS, "No legal system worthy of the name can possibly imprison people indefinitely on the shameful argument that they are, in the absence of evidence and a fair trial, ‘too dangerous to release.’"

He called the move a "significant calcification of the lawless Bush approach of holding (often tortured) detainees indefinitely – effectively, perhaps for life – until the conclusion of some endless ‘war on terror,’" but said it is "actually undermining vital cooperation from European and Muslim allies, support for the rule of law itself and our country’s national standing and historical legacy."

In a statement, Amnesty International USA, said, "There’s been talk about people who can’t be tried but who are too dangerous to release. This is absurd. People must either be charged with a crime and given a fair trial, or be released. End of story. That’s the way it works. Either there’s evidence against you or there isn’t."

And Virginia Sloan, president of the widely respected Constitution Project, said, "Even if the Obama administration continues to work to close Guantánamo, by pursuing a policy of indefinite detention without charge, the damaging policies that embody the prison will continue, as will the negative effects to American values, the rule of law, and our nation’s reputation abroad." She urged opposition to the use of military commissions.

The planned closing of the iconic prison facility on the island of Cuba has been, at the same time, one of the Obama administration’s signature issues and most serious embarrassments.

On his first day in office, the new president issued an executive order to close the prison by January 2010. That deadline has now been missed, as Congress refuses to accept detainees even for trial in U.S. civilian courts and countries remain reluctant to accept them for resettlement.

For the past year, Justice Department lawyer Matthew G. Olsen has been leading a task force of national security and law enforcement officials who have been reviewing the files for each Gitmo detainee.

The review included an evaluation of any evidence against each man, how serious the threat would be if the detainee were released, and the government chances of prosecuting each prisoner successfully. The groups were then evaluated under the direction of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

But the process does not provide all the answers. For example, about 30 of the prisoners scheduled to be transferred to other countries are Yemenis. But transfers to Yemen have been halted following the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. It is believed that this plot was developed by a Yemeni affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Holder is also charged with deciding whether those to be prosecuted should face a civilian trial or a military commission. He has announced that five detainees would face a military commission and five others – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – would be tried in civilian court.

It is unclear what criteria the government uses to decide between military commissions and civilian courts.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

General McChrystal signals support for negotiated settlement with Taliban

It is not really clear how serious this is or whether it is just another version of bribing some Taliban to change sides. The whole policy just shows how ludicrous the claim was that there would be no negotiations with terrorists. It also makes a mockery of the defence of the surge that it was necessary to clear the Taliban from the most populous areas of Afghanistan and provide security from the Taliban. Now those same Taliban are to be part of the government!
What may happen is that some Taliban may support the government and lay down their arms but they may also be used as a legal wing of the Taliban and also infiltrate the armed forces and police. That such a policy is being considered must give hope to the Taliban. The new rationale for the surge is that it is necessary to put pressure on the Taliban to negotiate. I just wonder who it is that is anxious to negotiate the Taliban or NATO and the US!

Antiwar.com Original - http://original.antiwar.com -

Behind Cautious Signal, a Decision for Afghan Peace Talks

Posted By Gareth Porter
KABUL – Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s very cautiously-worded support for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban leadership in an interview published Monday is only the first public signal of a policy decision by the Barack Obama administration to support a political settlement between the Hamid Karzai regime and the Taliban, an official of McChrystal’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command has revealed in an interview with IPS.

Speaking to the Financial Times, McChrystal couched his position on negotiations in terms of an abstract support for negotiated settlements of wars, saying, "I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome." The ISAF commander avoided a direct answer to the question of whether the Taliban could play a role in a future Afghan government.

When pressed by the interviewer on the issue, McChrystal would only say that "any Afghan can play a role if they focus on the future and not the past."

The ISAF official, who spoke with IPS on condition that he would not be named, was much more candid about the centrality of peace negotiations with the Taliban leadership in the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan and about the understanding of the ISAF command that the Taliban leadership is independent of al-Qaeda and is already positioning itself for a political settlement.

The official said the objective of the troop surge and the ISAF strategy accompanying it is to support a negotiated political settlement. "The story of the next 18 months is the story of establishing the conditions under which reconciliation will take place," said the official.

"Reconciliation" is the term used within the U.S. military for an understanding between the Karzai regime and the leadership of the insurgency, whereas "reintegration" refers to a strategy for bringing mid-level Taliban commanders and their troops back into society.

The counterinsurgency strategy now being mounted in Afghanistan by ISAF "is aimed at providing time and space" for "reconciliation," according to the official, as well as governance reforms and increasing the capacity of the national army and police force during that 18-month period.

The ISAF official said there has been a debate among U.S. officials about "the terms on which the Taliban will become part of the political fabric." The debate is not on whether the Taliban movement will be participating in the Afghan political system, however, but on whether or not the administration could accept the participation of a specific individual – Mullah Omar, the leader of the organization and former chief of state of the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001 – in the political future of Afghanistan.

Some U.S. officials have argued that the Taliban leader should be barred from participation, because of his role in protecting Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 terror attacks and refusing to hand over the al-Qaeda leader in the weeks that followed the attacks.

The official suggested that the Obama administration and its NATO allies need to reach a consensus about the issue, and that recent events make the present moment "seem like a good time to deal with that."

Despite their interest in that issue, the ISAF official said, the United States won’t determine the outcome of the negotiations. "Reconciliation is considered to be in the purview of the Afghan government and international mediators," the official said.

Nevertheless, the official left no doubt that the United States will participate in the negotiations. "I don’t think anybody is under the misconception we are not going to negotiate," he said.

U.S. participation appears necessary to get the Taliban to agree to end its resistance and reach a political solution. The Taliban has insisted in published statements that it will not participate in peace talks that would not result in the withdrawal of foreign troops.

That demand raises the question of whether the administration would be willing to discuss the complete withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a settlement.

The last time a demand for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal was negotiated in an international agreement was the Iraqi security pact of 2008. The George W. Bush administration had insisted that the United States would only agree to a "condition-based" withdrawal plan, but in the end, it accepted a deadline for complete withdrawal.

The ISAF official said the decision on that issue would be made by the Obama administration and its NATO allies, but that the ISAF command would have "no problem" with the negotiation of a timetable in conjunction with a political settlement.

The official suggested that the argument used to justify the troop surge in Afghanistan – that the Taliban would allow al-Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan if it were allowed to consolidate power in large areas – has now been abandoned.

"There are certainly divisions between Taliban and al-Qaeda," said the official. He cited statements by Taliban officials that "the state was hijacked by al-Qaeda, and we’re not going to let that happen again."

The argument that the Taliban leadership would be unwilling to negotiate unless persuaded by increasing U.S. military pressures over the next 18 months that they are "losing" also appears to have been abandoned by the administration and the ISAF command.

The official cited a "growing trend" in intelligence analysis concluding that the Taliban "is positioning itself for a settlement."

Seeking a negotiated solution "is the smart thing for them to do," the ISAF official said. "They are probably at the zenith of their power," he explained, and may be anticipating serious challenges to their hold on some of the present Taliban territorial base in the south.

In addition, the Taliban see a "fairly strong international commitment" to a political settlement of the war, he said.

Although he acknowledged that the Taliban leadership wants a political settlement of the war, the ISAF official offered a new rationale for continuation of the war, suggesting that it is "necessary to continue to put pressure on the insurgent leaders to keep negotiations going."

The admission that negotiations with the Taliban leadership for a settlement would be at the expense of al-Qaeda influence in the country follows Taliban statements in recent months suggesting a new willingness to meet the central U.S. demand that the Taliban separate itself from al-Qaeda. In September, Mullah Omar declared the Taliban has no interest in a global jihadist campaign and in December a Taliban statement said the organization is ready to provide "legal guarantees" against "meddling" in foreign countries – an obvious reference to any al-Qaeda bases – as part of a settlement involving withdrawal of foreign forces.

(

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fidel Castro on Haitian Earthquake Aid

I did not realise that the US refused aid from Cuba during Katrina. As the article notes Cuba has been co-operating with the US aid allowing overflights of Cuba which shortens the flying time between Haiti and Miami by about 90 minutes. Castro admits that its own aid has been able to get through without being delayed. However as the article countries have noted US control of the airport seems to have caused them problems. There are also questions about the number of US troops being sent and whether they are all part of the humanitarian effort.



This is from motherjones.

Reflections by Comrade Fidel



WE SEND DOCTORS, NOT SOLDIERS.



In my Reflection of January 14, two days after the catastrophe in Haiti, which destroyed that neighboring sister nation, I wrote: “In the area of healthcare and others the Haitian people has received the cooperation of Cuba, even though this is a small and blockaded country. Approximately 400 doctors and healthcare workers are helping the Haitian people free of charge. Our doctors are working every day at 227 of the 237 communes of that country. On the other hand, no less than 400 young Haitians have been graduated as medical doctors in our country. They will now work alongside the reinforcement that traveled there yesterday to save lives in that critical situation. Thus, up to one thousand doctors and healthcare personnel can be mobilized without any special effort; and most are already there willing to cooperate with any other State that wishes to save Haitian lives and rehabilitate the injured.”

“The head of our medical brigade has informed that ‘the situation is difficult but we are already saving lives.’”

Hour after hour, day and night, the Cuban health professionals have started to work nonstop in the few facilities that were able to stand, in tents, and out in the parks or open-air spaces, since the population feared new aftershocks.

The situation was far more serious than was originally thought. Tens of thousands of injured were clamoring for help in the streets of Port-au-Prince; innumerable persons laid, dead or alive, under the rubbled clay or adobe used in the construction of the houses where the overwhelming majority of the population lived. Buildings, even the most solid, collapsed. Besides, it was necessary to look for the Haitian doctors who had graduated at the Latin American Medicine School throughout all the destroyed neighborhoods. Many of them were affected, either directly or indirectly, by the tragedy.

Some UN officials were trapped in their dormitories and tens of lives were lost, including the lives of several chiefs of MINUSTAH, a UN contingent. The fate of hundreds of other members of its staff was unknown.

Haiti’s Presidential Palace crumbled. Many public facilities, including several hospitals, were left in ruins.

The catastrophe shocked the whole world, which was able to see what was going on through the images aired by the main international TV networks. Governments from everywhere in the planet announced they would be sending rescue experts, food, medicines, equipment and other resources.

In conformity with the position publicly announced by Cuba, medical staff from different countries –namely Spain, Mexico, and Colombia, among others- worked very hard alongside our doctors at the facilities they had improvised. Organizations such as PAHO and other friendly countries like Venezuela and other nations supplied medicines and other resources. The impeccable behavior of Cuban professionals and their leaders was absolutely void of chauvinism and remained out of the limelight.

Cuba, just as it had done under similar circumstances, when Hurricane Katrina caused huge devastation in the city of New Orleans and the lives of thousands of American citizens were in danger, offered to send a full medical brigade to cooperate with the people of the United States, a country that, as is well known, has vast resources. But at that moment what was needed were trained and well- equipped doctors to save lives. Given New Orleans geographical location, more than one thousand doctors of the “Henry Reeve” contingent mobilized and readied to leave for that city at any time of the day or the night, carrying with them the necessary medicines and equipment. It never crossed our mind that the President of that nation would reject the offer and let a number of Americans that could have been saved to die. The mistake made by that government was perhaps the inability to understand that the people of Cuba do not see in the American people an enemy; it does not blame it for the aggressions our homeland has suffered.

Nor was that government capable of understanding that our country does not need to beg for favors or forgiveness of those who, for half a century now, have been trying, to no avail, to bring us to our knees.

Our country, also in the case of Haiti, immediately responded to the US authorities requests to fly over the eastern part of Cuba as well as other facilities they needed to deliver assistance, as quickly as possible, to the American and Haitian citizens who had been affected by the earthquake.

Such have been the principles characterizing the ethical behavior of our people. Together with its equanimity and firmness, these have been the ever-present features of our foreign policy. And this is known only too well by whoever have been our adversaries in the international arena.

Cuba will firmly stand by the opinion that the tragedy that has taken place in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, is a challenge to the richest and more powerful countries of the world.

Haiti is a net product of the colonial, capitalist and imperialist system imposed on the world. Haiti’s slavery and subsequent poverty were imposed from abroad. That terrible earthquake occurred after the Copenhagen Summit, where the most elemental rights of 192 UN member States were trampled upon.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a competition has unleashed in Haiti to hastily and illegally adopt boys and girls. UNICEF has been forced to adopt preventive measures against the uprooting of many children, which will deprive their close relatives from their rights.

There are more than one hundred thousand deadly victims. A high number of citizens have lost their arms or legs, or have suffered fractures requiring rehabilitation that would enable them to work or manage their own.

Eighty per cent of the country needs to be rebuilt. Haiti requires an economy that is developed enough to meet its needs according to its productive capacity. The reconstruction of Europe or Japan, which was based on the productive capacity and the technical level of the population, was a relatively simple task as compared to the effort that needs to be made in Haiti. There, as well as in most of Africa and elsewhere in the Third World, it is indispensable to create the conditions for a sustainable development. In only forty years time, humanity will be made of more than nine billion inhabitants, and right now is faced with the challenge of a climate change that scientists accept as an inescapable reality.

In the midst of the Haitian tragedy, without anybody knowing how and why, thousands of US marines, 82nd Airborne Division troops and other military forces have occupied Haiti. Worse still is the fact that neither the United Nations Organization nor the US government have offered an explanation to the world’s public opinion about this relocation of troops.

Several governments have complained that their aircraft have not been allowed to land in order to deliver the human and technical resources that have been sent to Haiti.

Some countries, for their part, have announced they would be sending an additional number of troops and military equipment. In my view, such events will complicate and create chaos in international cooperation, which is already in itself complex. It is necessary to seriously discuss this issue. The UN should be entrusted with the leading role it deserves in these so delicate matters.

Our country is accomplishing a strictly humanitarian mission. To the extent of its possibilities, it will contribute the human and material resources at its disposal. The will of our people, who takes pride in its medical doctors and cooperation workers who provide vital services, is huge, and will rise to the occasion.

Any significant cooperation that is offered to our country will not be rejected, but its acceptance will fully depend on the importance and transcendence of the assistance that is requested from the human resources of our homeland.

It is only fair to state that, up until this moment, our modest aircrafts and the important human resources that Cuba has made available to the Haitian people have arrived at their destination without any difficulty whatsoever.

We send doctors, not soldiers!



Fidel Castro Ruz

January 23, 2010

5:30 p.m.

Krugman: Obama Liquidates Himself

Obama has to throw a bone at those who are dogging him because he is spending too much and that is what this is. That it makes no economic sense is of no significance. It may make voter approval sense. However Obama has constantly irritated his supporters on the left. Soon only the most diehard left Democrats will be left. I have noticed on a list I subscribe to that almost all those who originally supported Obama and were thrilled when he was elected have now abandoned the Democratic cause altogether. Earlier this was because of his foreign policy moves but now after the health care compromises and disaster and this move it is domestic policy that is fueling the flight from Obama.


Obama Liquidates Himself
A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

Now, I still cling to a fantasy: maybe, just possibly, Obama is going to tie his spending freeze to something that would actually help the economy, like an employment tax credit. (No, trivial tax breaks don’t count). There has, however, been no hint of anything like that in the reports so far. Right now, this looks like pure disaster.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

U.S. may equip Pakistan with drones.

Note that the drones to be supplied are surveillance drones not those capable of making attacks. Gates seems to be acting as a cheerleader (and enforcer as well) to push Pakistan towards even further attacks on Islamic militants in the tribal territories.

CSMonitor.com.

US may equip Pakistan with drone aircraft, Gates says
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told leaders on his visit to Islamabad that all of South Asia faces instability if Al Qaeda goes unchecked in Pakistan.




By Ben Hancock Correspondent

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates landed Thursday in Islamabad with the goal of pressing Pakistan to stamp out Al Qaeda and other terrorist factions that he earlier warned could destabilize South Asia.

In his first visit to the country since the inauguration of the Obama White House, Mr. Gates said the US is considering supplying Pakistan with unarmed drone aircraft. While Pakistan has publicly called America's use of drones a violation of sovereignty, Islamabad has requested the technology for itself, Reuters reported.


"We are in partnership with the Pakistani military and we are working to give them their own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles, both aircraft and drones," Gates said.



Until now, the US has not been willing to share the technology, The Hindustan Times reports.


The Pakistan government, which has opposed US drone attacks in its tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, had been pressing the American administration to provide it unmanned aerial vehicle technology so that its armed forces could carry out attacks on Taliban fighters. Till now, the US had refused to provide drones or UAV technology to Pakistan, which has a small number of indigenously developed spy planes.

Gates arrived after a meeting in India with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders. He told reporters there that focusing antiterror efforts on a single group would be a grave error, reports The New York Times.


“It’s dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say, ‘If we could beat that group that would solve the problem,’ because they are in effect a syndicate of terrorist operators,” Gates said. In short, he said, “the success of any one of these groups leads to new capabilities and a new reputation for all.”

The secretary also warned that a Pakistani failure to keep domestic terror cells in check could escalate into an international incident, referring to the 2008 rampage in Mumbai, which was blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. “I think it is not unreasonable to assume Indian patience would be limited were there to be further attacks,” Gates said.

His visit comes amid increasing local concern about growing US involvement in Pakistan, reports the BBC. That compounds anger over civilian deaths in drone attacks along the country’s border with Afghanistan, where US officials believe many Taliban leaders are holding out.

But a recent US aid package that triples nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan, to the tune of $1.5 billion annually until 2015, has left Islamabad’s leadership somewhat bound to American antiterror efforts, says Reuters. Pakistan has lost about 2,000 troops fighting the Taliban so far and is expected to launch a new offensive close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border later this year, according to reports.

.

Earlier, Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said the military option is not the only way to fight terrorism, The News reported.


"Only 10 percent success can be achieved through operations while 90 percent success is possible through economic development,” Gilani said.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cuba and US Co-operate on Haiti Relief

This just shows that co-operation between the two countries is possible. Too bad it takes a horrible disaster to make this happen. From this site.

Cuba Aids Haiti Relief


The massive international relief effort in Haiti has received a boost from Cuba, which has more than 400 health workers, many of them doctors, working throughout the devastated country. The government in Havana has also aided United States relief efforts by opening restricted Cuban airspace to American planes flying medical evacuation missions.

Shortly after the horrific earthquake struck Haiti January 12, causing untold destruction and killing tens of thousands of people, the U.S. reached agreement with Havana for evacuation flights from the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay to pass through Cuba on their way to Florida.

An understanding had been in place allowing individual emergency flights to travel through the area, but the new agreement expands that authority to a standing basis. Now planes that are carrying badly injured people for medical treatment in the U.S. won't have to be pre-cleared by Cuban authorities.

With Cuba situated on a direct line between Haiti and Florida, about 200 miles northeast of Port au Prince, the agreement cuts the flight time to Miami by 90 minutes. That could be vital in life-or-death medical emergencies. It also allows the U.S. to set up a medical airlift, or airborne convoys, to ferry the injured to hospitals on the mainland to relieve the badly overburdened medical facilities in Haiti.

President Barack Obama has pledged $100 million in aid to the ruined island nation, part of one of the largest international relief efforts in history. The bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba reflects our overwhelming concern for the welfare of the Haitian people. We will continue to look for areas where cooperation between our 2 nations can support Haitian relief.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Obama to freeze discretionary spending for 3 years.

Obama will end up with few supporters except perhaps a few Republicans and hard core Democrats who will vote Democrat no matter what. Notice that Obama has exempted defence and homeland security. This is the war president for sure. Although he talks about jobs the only jobs will be to volunteer for cannon fodder in more and more wars unless even those jobs are replaced by drones. What will happen if robots do most of the work in making drones and fighting? This is from CNN.

Obama wants to freeze discretionary spending for 3 years By Ed Henry, CNN
January 25, 2010 11:01 p.m. EST
3-year spending freezeSTORY HIGHLIGHTS
Discretionary spending is about one-sixth of the entire federal budget
Agencies would be able to give some programs increases, cut money elsewhere
Exempted under plan: budgets of Defense, Homeland Security departments
Some Democrats saying cuts would be tough to swallow
Washington (CNN) -- President Obama will announce in Wednesday's State of the Union address that he's proposing to save $250 billion by freezing all nonsecurity federal discretionary spending for three years, according to two senior administration officials.

The proposed freeze, which could help position Obama in the political center by sharpening his credentials on fiscal discipline, would exempt the budgets of the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs, along with some international programs.

"We are at war, and we're going to make sure our troops are funded adequately," one of the senior officials said.

The officials would not reveal the details of which domestic programs would be cut, as they prepare to face major pushback from liberals in the president's own party because popular education and health spending could be on the chopping block. The details will be officially unveiled February 1, when the president publicly releases his next budget blueprint for fiscal year 2011 -- which starts October 1 -- and beyond.

"We've got to make some tough decisions," the second senior official said. "Everybody is not going to get what they want."

Under the proposal, which would need to be approved by both houses of Congress, all federal discretionary spending would be frozen at its current level of $447 billion per year. Within that parameter, however, individual federal agencies would have the power to give some programs increases, while cutting money elsewhere.

Besides burnishing his fiscal discipline credentials, the move could also help the president force Republicans' hand on whether they're serious about meeting Obama halfway on some of his policy proposals.

Immediate Republican reaction was split, with some senior GOP aides saying the freeze is something they could support, while others said it did not go nearly far enough.

"Given Washington Democrats' unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you're going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Will the budget still double the debt over five years and triple it over 10? That's the bottom line."

The senior administration officials acknowledged that discretionary spending is only about one-sixth of the entire federal budget, and that much larger savings would come from cutting entitlement programs like Medicare, but the White House believes that cuts need to start somewhere.

"We're not here to tell you we've solved the deficit," said one of the senior officials, adding that the federal government has to go through the "very same process that families" across America have had to go through in their personal budgets.

The move will also spark a major debate within the president's own party, with senior Democrats already saying the cuts would be tough to swallow. A senior Senate Democratic aide said it will prompt a major fight after the Bush administration "underfunded domestic programs for so long."

"Why would we want to play into the Republicans' hands like this?" the senior Senate Democratic aide asked.

But it could also help Obama break ranks with an unpopular Democratic Congress. "Do I expect this to win us a lot of kudos on Capitol Hill? No," one of the senior administration officials said.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Haaretz Editorial: Save the Peace: Jordan Israel Relations in Crisis

Articles such as this are simply missing from most of the western mainstream press. In the US no doubt such an article would be immediately jumped upon by the watchdogs of the Israel lobby. Criticism of Israel is left to Israeli media! Only in Israel, a pity!


Save the peace

By Haaretz Editorial








The diplomatic stalemate and the provocations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in East Jerusalem harm not only the chance for peace in the future but also past fruits of peace. Fifteen years after the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed, the two countries are now deep in a crisis the government is doing nothing to resolve.

As Barak Ravid reported yesterday in Haaretz, there is almost a complete lack of communication between Netanyahu and King Abdullah II. The situation is no better on the lower echelons: the Jordanians are boycotting Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and hold few meetings with senior Israeli officials. Joint economic projects between the two countries are also on hold. Ties, if they exist at all, are only related to sensitive security issues and water.

Jordan is more concerned than ever about increased Israeli pressure on the Palestinians in the West Bank, which could undermine internal stability in the Hashemite Kingdom. King Abdullah is therefore worried about the absence of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israeli activities aimed at increasing the number of Jews living in East Jerusalem - where Jordan was promised special status at Islamic holy sites according to the peace agreement.
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The Jordanians do not trust Netanyahu, and hold his conduct during his first term as prime minister against him, when he ordered the assassination of senior Hamas official Khaled Meshal on their soil.

As opposed to Turkey, whose prime minister openly attacked Israel, Jordan prefers to handle the crisis discretely and has made do with diplomatic protests. But quiet on the media front does not mean the seriousness of the situation may be dismissed or ignored.

Israel has always considered strong ties with Jordan as having supreme strategic importance. Sacrificing these ties for the sake of the Netanyahu government's harmful actions in East Jerusalem demonstrates a severe deficiency in the management of foreign and security policy.

The prime minister must realize the diplomatic price Israel is paying for his attempts to placate the right, stop provocations like the "planting of the university center in Ariel" of which he so proudly spoke yesterday, and place rehabilitating relations with Jordan at a higher priority level.

His bureau's comment - that Netanyahu would be happy to meet with the king "whenever the need arises" - shows dangerous indifference in light of the erosion of Israel's status in the region, and gratuitous arrogance toward a country whose friendship is essential.

Pakistan refusal to mount new offensive rankles US

The US seems to think that it can just force the Pakistan military to follow any policy the US wants because it provides so much military. However the Pakistani military is loyal to Pakistani objectives rather than those of the US. In particular when the US is very friendly with India and even helping out the Indian nuclear program, Pakistan is not about to take on further military campaigns against Taliban with whom they wish to retain connections. No doubt the Pakistan action or inaction will just cause the Obama administration to rely even more on drone attacks which in turn will cause even greater anti-American feeling in Pakistan.




This is from the NYTimes.


Pakistan’s Rebuff Over New Offensives Rankles U.S.
By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — The Pakistani Army’s announcement last week that it planned no new offensive against militants for as long as a year has deeply frustrated senior American military officers, and chipped away at one of the cornerstones of President Obama’s strategy to reverse the Taliban’s gains in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When Mr. Obama announced his decision in December to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he and his aides made clear that the chances of success hinged significantly on Pakistan’s willingness to eliminate militants’ havens in its territory, including in the tribal region of North Waziristan. United States officials described the American and NATO surge of troops as a hammer, but they said it required a Pakistani anvil on the other side of the border to prevent the Taliban from retreating to the mountains.

Now that strategy appears imperiled by Pakistan’s latest statement. On Thursday, soon after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived on a two-day trip to the country, the Pakistani Army’s chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, rebuffed American pressure to step up attacks in North Waziristan. That area is the main base of operations for the Haqqani network, which stages operations against American and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. It is believed to be responsible for many of the attacks on Kabul, including a devastating assault early last week near the presidential palace.

Fighters from Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have also been concentrated in North Waziristan, including many who were driven out of their positions in South Waziristan by recent Pakistani Army operations.

“This has become the center,” a senior administration official said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss American strategy publicly.

American officials said they had not been surprised by the Pakistani announcement. Since the last two years of the Bush administration, the United States has been arguing for a far more active Pakistani military presence in North Waziristan. But some said they had been surprised that the rebuff was issued while Mr. Gates was in the country, rather than after he left.

General Abbas told reporters it could be 6 to 12 months before the army consolidated its current operations and began any new offensive. Some American officials think it could be longer.

The critical question is how much the Pakistani decision will undercut Mr. Obama’s strategy. During a speech at West Point on Dec. 1, he said his administration would reassess the plan at the end of 2010, after all the troops deployed as part of the increase were in place. But if the Pakistani position does not change, the operations on Pakistan’s side of the border will not have begun by the time Mr. Obama has made his assessment.

Mr. Obama made no public demands on Islamabad when he announced the troop increase at West Point, but he said he was acting “with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.” He quickly added: “We need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.”

Mr. Obama praised the Pakistani Army for waging an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan, where the Pakistani Taliban were taking aim at the country’s fragile government. He promised to work with the Pakistanis to strengthen their ability to combat the militants, but he said the United States had “made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear.”

Pakistani officials have not refused to go after Qaeda or Taliban fighters in North Waziristan. But they have made it clear that their forces are too tied up now to conduct new, larger operations on Washington’s schedule.

As a practical matter, American officials said, Pakistan’s inability or reluctance to open a new front in North Waziristan will increase the reliance on missile strikes from drones operated by the C.I.A. to disrupt attacks aimed at Afghanistan.

American officials said that Pakistani military leaders had never promised a specific timetable for beginning a new offensive, but that announcing a delay of as much as 12 months could aid the militants’ planning and morale on both sides of the border.

“It’s disappointing, but not entirely surprising,” said a senior Defense Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his ties with Pakistani counterparts.

Mr. Gates and other American officials sought to put the best face on the situation last week, saying that the Pakistani Army was stretched thin from its previous offensives against militants.

“Pakistani leadership will make its own decisions about what the best timing for their military operations is, about when they are ready to do something or whether they are going to do it at all,” Mr. Gates told Pakistani journalists on Friday, the day after General Abbas’s comments.

“The way I like to express it is, we’re in this car together, but the Pakistanis are in the driver’s seat and have their foot on the accelerator,” Mr. Gates said. “And that’s just fine with me.”

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the military’s Central Command, said at a conference in Washington on Friday that American officials must be mindful of the limitations facing Pakistan’s military.

General Petraeus said that the Pakistani leaders would need to negotiate agreements with local tribal leaders to hold the gains that the Pakistani military has achieved in places like Swat and South Waziristan. But he emphasized that any deals must be more resilient than previous pacts in the tribal areas, which fell apart and allowed the militants to regain control.

Senior American officers in the region said that cooperation with their Pakistani counterparts had improved in recent months.

NATO military leaders, for instance, recently provided a detailed briefing on the campaign in Afghanistan to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani army chief of staff, a senior American officer said. Pakistani officers reciprocated last week with a briefing for NATO officers on their campaign plans, the American officer said.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Howard Zinn: Obama at One.

As Zinn says it is Obama's rhetoric rather than his policies that stand out. In spite of his change of tone with respect to the Muslim world in practice in areas such as the Palestine Israel peace process nothing has happened and he has not been able even to restart peace negotiations. Zinn does not mention Honduras but there his rhetoric again was no match for reality. The coup leaders in effect won and Micheletti snubbed negotiatiors and then simply refused to follow through and presidential elections went on as if nothing had happened. The US will nevertheless recognise the results. Zelaya was never returned to the presidencyand Micheletti never resigned!


The Nation
Obama at One: Little Surprising in Absence of Progressive Social Movement
by Howard Zinn

Looking back at President Obama's first year in office, The Nation asked members of its community to give their assesment of his performance. You can share your take on Obama's highest and lowest moments in the form provided here. Here is historian Howard Zinn's response:

I've been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.
As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican--as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people--and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.

I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pakistan Supreme Court Threatens to Call in Army!

No doubt the US is scrambling to make contacts with opposition members and within the governing party to prepare for what will happen if Zardari is forced to resign, a situation that seems to be more likely as the days go by. Pakistan US relations seem destined to be unsettled during 2010.





- News From Antiwar.com - http://news.antiwar.com -

Pakistan’s Supreme Court Threatens to Call in Army Over Zardari Immunity

Posted By Jason Ditz

In a move that could greatly up the ante in the clash between the Zardari government and the Pakistani judiciary, A top lawyer of the Pakistani Supreme Court warned that they could call in the army to enforce their rulings in the administration declined to do so.

Last month the Supreme Court declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) unconstitutional, stripping several key members of the ruling party of legal immunity from a littany of corruption charges stemming from their roles in the previous administrations.

Though President Zardari hypothetically retains immunity through his office, it has also been argued that Zardari’s election was itself illegal because he would have been unable to run without the NRO in place.

Zardari’s ruling Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) has unsuccessfully petitioned to have Zardari’s immunity retroactively restored, and the court said they could issue another appeal to the decision.

At the same time, Zardari is said to be under growing pressure to resign, with media outlets reporting that he has been sent “umpteen” messages from government institutions, including the military, which have been working with Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani, one of the few top PPP members not currently under charges.

Friday, January 22, 2010

FBI illegally collected phone records

There is little in the mainstream news about this. Imagine the FBI just made up stories about terror investigations to justify their fishing expeditions. If this had been done by the old Soviet intelligence operatives in the USSR it would be spread wide and far as an example of Bad Big Brother at work. The article also shows how terror legislation can be misused by intelligence authorities. No doubt no one will be held accountable for these breaches of the law.

- News From Antiwar.com - http://news.antiwar.com/2010/01/20/justice-department-report-details-egregious-fbi-crimes/print/ -

Justice Department Report Details ‘Egregious’ FBI Crimes

Posted By Jason Ditz On January 20, 2010 @ 8:46 pm In Uncategorized 1 Comment

The Justice Department Inspector General today issued a highly anticipated report on the FBI’s illegal collection of phone records, declaring the crimes an “egregious breakdown” of the system involving “startling” methods of violating privacy laws and established policy.

The 289-page report detailed hundreds of FBI demands for phone records between 2002 and 2006, in which agents sent letters claiming phony “terrorism emergencies” so as to circumvent the need for subpoenas.

In many cases, the FBI entirely made up the claims of an ongoing investigation, and the report suggests that in several cases they explicitly lied to courts about where the data obtained from illegal searches came from.

The problem was compounded by the fact that employees for three major telecom companies had offices at the FBI’s communications analysis unit, and there was virtually no oversight over actions between them and the FBI officials.

The report says that over 3,500 phone numbers may have been involved in the illegal searches, but the full extent will never be known, according to the report, because of “sketchy record-keeping” by the FBI.

The powers abused by the FBI stem from a provision in the Patriot Act, and several members of Congress suggested the report would add momentum to efforts to revise the law, set to expire in February, President Obama has demanded that the law be extended, but officials have said he would consider limited civil rights protections “as long as they don’t weaken” the president’s power.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Yushchenko Orang Revolution figurehead concedes defeat in Ukraine

Interesting that this is covered in Pakistan but there is not much coverage in the mainstream western press. The two remaining front runners who will face a runoff election are both more pro-Russian. This is in effect the end of the Orange Revolution although as Yuschenko points out there is now a more democratic system in the Ukraine. However whoever wins the tilt of Ukrainian politics will now be more toward Russia than the West.

This is from thenews (Pakistan)

Yushchenko concedes defeat



Thursday, January 21, 2010
KIEV: President Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday said he accepted defeat in Ukraine’s presidential elections but defiantly vowed to remain in politics as the next stage of the campaign heated up.

Yushchenko, the figurehead of the 2004 Orange Revolution, won just 5.45 per cent of the vote in the first round elections on Sunday amid widespread disappointment with his presidency.

But in a characteristically defiant statement, Yushchenko said that the holding of free elections, warmly praised by international observers, was in itself proof of the victory of the Orange Revolution. “As head of state, I accept the will of the people in the January 17 elections. The main thing is the elections were free, democratic and legal,” he told reporters in his first public comment after the vote.

“But national and state circumstances do not give me the moral right to leave political life,” he added.

Yushchenko had vowed to turn Ukraine into a prosperous nation anchored in the European Union and NATO but his ambitions were undermined by political infighting and a dire economic crisis.

Analysts also critisised the president — a passionate defender of Ukraine’s cultural heritage — for focusing on grandiose historical projects at the expense of concrete reform.

Yushchenko’s result left him in a lowly fifth place, behind frontrunners Viktor Yanukovich and Yulia Tymoshenko, who will now contest the run-off vote on February 7. Both are seen as more pro-Moscow than the incumbent president.

But after observers led by the OSCE praised the elections as of “high quality,” Yushchenko said the vote had set an “example” for the entire former Soviet Union.

The apparent success of the elections contrasted with the last polls in 2004 where mass rigging blamed on Yanukovich’s supporters prompted the peaceful protests of the Orange Revolution that swept the old order from power.

“The fact that the elections were free means that the Orange Revolution actually won and did not only win in word but also in deed,” Yushchenko said.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Drone protests

There seems to have been little coverage of this process in the mainstream media but that is hardly surprising. A nice touch to mark off the protest area with crime scene tape. Perhaps the protesters should have removed it when they left and strung it around the border of the headquarters of the CIA.
The author is correct that the drone attacks are a type of net-centric warfare which is no doubt a wave of the future for many corporate contractors. The civilians killed are not Americans so collateral damage will be of little concern even when it is counterproductive it would seem.


This is from dandelionsalad.

I was invited by activist Cindy Sheehan to speak at the CIA drone protest held on Saturday afternoon (January 16) outside their Langley, Virginia headquarters. As we arrived we saw big orange barricades all along the road with yellow “crime scene” plastic tape stretched all along the highway and also draped from tree to tree in the narrow spit of woods separating the four-lane road and the CIA fortress. A 50-yard open area was our protest “zone” and was totally encircled by the yellow tape. The clear message to the many cars blasting by us was: “Don’t go near those inside the yellow tape. A crime is now being committed by them.” A massive number of CIA cops and Fairfax County police had us surrounded, even from inside the patch of woods.

Cindy had worked hard in recent weeks to promote the event, primarily by Facebook and regular emails. She told us that her Facebook page was “mysteriously” taken down in the last week creating the impression amongst some that the event had been cancelled. As it turned out just over 100 people showed up for the event. A good percentage of the folks there were the Catholic Worker activists (Witness Against Torture) who have been valiantly continuing their daily “no torture” protests in front of the White House. Dressed in their orange prison garb with black hoods over their heads they were a strong reminder of the CIA directed detentions and interrogations at Guantanamo and other such hell-holes run by the U.S. around the world

When I spoke at the protest I said how glad I was to be there for the first time in my life. The CIA, and their drone attacks, is the symbol of the corporatization and privatization of U.S. war policy. The running of wars has essentially been taken away from a neutered Congress and put into the hands of the secret cabal that now runs our government. We need to shine a light on this.

I also of course talked about how U.S. space technology controls the drones as it does most Pentagon “net centric” war fighting these days. Robotic warfare might be “hands off” and “out of sight-out of mind” but it is still dirty and is killing legions of civilians.

I reminded folks that drone and other robotic devices were ultimately just manifestations of a larger war and domination policy. We need to keep putting in front of the public the big picture and I went on to talk about “security export”, the U.S. role under corporation globalization of the world economy. Endless war is America’s future and social collapse at home will be the end result unless a movement springs up

Expert Jonathan Gruber and health care reform.

It seems that Jonathan Gruber an economist specialising in health care has been helping out and has a contract with Health and Human Services. Gruber has given advice to both Democrats and Republicans but is closely associated with Democrats now. He wrote an op ed for the Washington Post without disclosing the contract he held. As Perelman points out Gruber thinks everything has been tried but of course this excludes a single payer system. This oversight no doubt qualifies him to be a career expert in health economics in the United States. Health Care in the US is really Health Insurance Company care.


This is from Michael Perelman's blog.

Off the Table or Under the Table: Economics vs. Health Care


Apparently, the Obama folks are following the Bush precedent, paying Johathan Gruber, a health care economist, under the table — at least he seems to have done nothing to let it be known — to influence the health care debate

.
http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2010/01/08/gruber-did-not-disclose-conflict-to-the-wapo/

I posted two brief mentions about Jonathan Gruber and health care, without realizing that he had a $392,600 contract with Health and Human Services that had not yet been made public.

First, last November, I posted the following comment in response to a New York Times article about Health Care, alluding to single payer being “off the table.”:

Jonathan Gruber is a health economist from MIT — an expert, no doubt. David Leonhardt quotes his favorable comment on the Senate health care bill: “I can’t think of a thing to try that they didn’t try.”
Leonhardt, apparently, never bothered to ask him about single payer, which was off the table.

A year before, prior to the contract, I posted:

I’m just looking over the August NBER digest. It covers five NBER articles, of which three may be mildly interesting. The first has the scary title, Public Insurance Expansions Crowd Out Private Health Insurance by Jonathan Gruber and Kosali Simon. We learn that: For every 100 children who are enrolled in public insurance, 60 children lose private insurance.” Thank God that George Bush had the courage to stand up to the radicals and threatened to veto an expansion of child health coverage. Otherwise, they might lose their private insurance.

http://www.nber.org/digest/aug07/w12858.html

Jane Hamsher has a piece showing how effectively the White House and the Democrats use Gruber’s expertise to support their own mangling of health care reform.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-hamsher/how-the-white-house-used_b_421549.html

Glenn Greenwald has a piece, the second part of which compares this arrangement to what Bush did with Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher and the CNN generals.

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/01/15/sunstein/index.html

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Protest at Civilian Killing in Afghanistan produces more casualties

It is amazing that the US Lt. Col. simply shrugs off the civilian casualties. The earlier deaths as it usual are "'under investigation". This means that they have not been able to sweep things under the table so they will wait a while and see if press interest declines not that there is that much interest in the first place.

News From Antiwar.com -
NATO: US Troops Shot Civilian Protesters in Afghanistan’s Garmsir District

Posted By Jason Ditz

In the second NATO shooting incident in a little over 24 hours in the Garmsir District of Afghanistan’s restive Helmand Province, US troops opened fire on a crowd of civilian protesters on Wednesday, wounding five.

NATO explained that US Marines went out to direct an anti-NATO protest in Garmsir and when the “civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions,” the troops opened fire on the crowd. US Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale shrugged off the civilian casualties, insisting “things like this happen.”

Ironically the civilians at the Wednesday rally, estimated at between 200 and 400 strong by the NATO forces, were protesting against a Tuesday incident, in which NATO forces opened fire on civilians at a Tuesday protest, killing 13 people and wounding several others.

NATO has denied the Tuesday incident, but confirmed the Wednesday incident. It insists the Tuesday shootings are “under investigation” while the Wednesday shootings involved appropriate escalation against unarmed civilians.

Though both NATO and the United Nations insist the Taliban actually killed somewhat more civilians in 2009 than NATO did, the high profile NATO shootings continue to do considerable damage to the alliance’s reputation.


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Monday, January 18, 2010

Pakistan anger growing as Drone Strikes increase in Pakistan

I am really aghast at the lack of discussion of the moral and legal issues that drone strikes raise. These attacks make the operators of the drones police, judge, and often executioner. Intelligence upon which the attacks are based is often faulty and killing of innocents inevitable. As the article mentions no one is held accountable for the attacks. In fact the US does not even admit to them officially most of the time even though it is an open secret. Instead of questioning the morality and legality of the attacks most critics appeal to US self interest by noting that the attacks are counterproductive. But nothing seems to penetrate Obama's thick skull. Obama is absolutely as bad if not worse than Bush when it comes to warlike US foreign policy.


News From Antiwar.com -
Pakistan Anger Grows as Obama Steps Up Drone Strikes

Posted By Jason Ditz On January 14, 2010 @ 6:17 pm In Uncategorized 6 Comments

Long something quietly tolerated by the Pakistani government and ignored by the international community, the Obama Administration’s repeated escalation of drone strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas has gotten too big to ignore, with six separate strikes in the first 14 days of the new year killing scores of people.

The attacks and perhaps worse, the ever present drones flying overheard across North Waziristan threatening further attacks are sewing increasing resentment among tribesmen, even as the massive civilian toll of the strikes is sparking outcry across Pakistan and increasingly, abroad.

Even the United Nations seems willing to get involved, with UN human rights investigator Philip Alston that the US needed to show more transparency with the strikes, particularly as the intensity of the strikes increases.

“When we were dealing with isolated cases I raised it with the United States,” Alston noted, “not that it is systematically using drones, it is becoming increasingly important to get that clarification.”

In 2009 the CIA launched 44 strikes into North and South Waziristan, but managed to kill no more than a handful of notable militants. And while the Pakistani government initially labeled virtually everyone slain as a “suspect,” they are increasingly conceding that there is no evidence to back up that suspicion, and that around 700 people, the vast, vast majority of the victims, were likely innocent civilians.

The extralegal killings of hundreds of people without any accountability or in many cases even admission of responsibility is not only harming American credibility with the Pakistani people, it is even straining relations with the Pakistani government, which was willing to quietly support the strikes before the tolls started to soar. Now even they are growing alarmed at the rate with which American missiles are flying into their territory.


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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ukrainian election will oust western backed president.

This seems to be a little covered victory for Russia over the West. No matter who wins it will be someone who wants better relations with Russia even if it is not the main Russian backed candidate. The western backed Yuschenko and hero of the Orange Revolution is polling at a disastrous 3 per cent. This is from the Globe and Mail (canada)


The Orange Revolution fades to black as Russia rises again in Ukraine .
DOUG SAUNDERS

KIEV —
.dsaunders@globeandmail.com

***

It was the handshake that sealed the end of a revolution.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the charismatic Ukrainian Prime Minister and a key figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution that set the country on a pro-European, anti-Russian course, sat down late last year with Vladimir Putin, who offered her a generous deal for sending Russia's natural gas through Ukraine's pipelines, paying 30 per cent more than previously.

She appeared on television warmly shaking hands with the Russian Prime Minister, in what is widely seen as Moscow's endorsement - some would say purchase - of her candidacy.

The image of the handshake is everywhere this week, as Ukrainians prepare to go to the polls Sunday in an election that seems poised to bring the Orange Revolution to a close.

It marks, for Ukraine, the return of Russia.

Viktor Yushchenko, the current President and hero of the 2004 democracy movement, is polling at about 3 per cent, abandoned by almost all voters. Under his watch, the country stagnated, its economy collapsed by 15 per cent, its balance sheet had to be bailed out with a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund, and corruption flourished.

Voters seem poised to give the greatest share of first-round votes either to Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed leader who was driven from office in the 2004 protests against his fraudulent election, or to Ms. Tymoshenko. Both have pledged to build relations with Moscow and to abandon plans to bring Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"We are witnessing a mass disappointment and irritation with the results of the Orange Revolution," says Fesenko Volodymyr, director of Kiev's Center for Political Studies. "Voters are more willing to ask questions now. They are more pragmatic, because they have been humbled, and it is no longer a simple decision between the East and the West."

The courtship of Moscow's largesse is no longer, for many mainstream Ukrainians, a sign of capitulation to a menacing former imperial master, a country that owned and controlled Ukraine for a century.

Almost immediately after the Orange Revolution protests brought Mr. Yushchenko to office in early 2005 amid promises to reform the economy and join NATO and the European Union, Moscow began to punish Ukraine.

Europe was terrified by Ukraine-Russia "gas wars" in 2006 and early 2009. Ukraine's pipelines carry much of Europe's natural gas supply from Russia, and in both those years, Russia refused to pay Ukraine the price it wanted for carriage. In the winter of 2006, a chunk of Europe went without heat for days.

Mr. Putin's deal with Ms. Tymoshenko was an apparent signal that the gas wars would end under her leadership.

Mr. Yushchenko, sidelined by the deal, issued dark warnings that his two opponents are part of a Kremlin plot. "Tymoshenko and Yanukovich are the finest representatives of a single Kremlin coalition," he told voters in Lviv, in Ukraine's European-minded west.

Ms. Tymoshenko explained her apparent abandonment of Orange Revolution polarities as a matter of pragmatism. "We are destined to have Russia as a neighbour," she wrote in a magazine article. "So it is up to us, as well as Russia's leaders, to create mutually beneficial relations between our nations."

Voters certainly seemed to embrace this, giving her a sharp increase in support after the deal. But her handling of the economy as Prime Minister, during which the international credit crisis devastated Ukraine and effectively bankrupted the government, have punished her, giving Mr. Yanukovich a slightly stronger lead.

It might seem that Ukrainians are shifting their loyalties back eastward after a disillusioning five-year experiment in Europeanism. Attempts at NATO membership brought only fury from Russia. Investment, when it did materialize, was short lived.

The European Union has essentially abandoned Ukraine, building tough border defences on its Polish flank and failing to allow Ukraine onto the bottom rungs of the membership process - even though this accession process has brought political and economic stability to Croatia and Serbia under similar circumstances.

As much as this appears to be a shift of loyalties, the reality is far more complex: Ukraine can no longer be described as a bifurcated country, and politics is no longer a stark east-or-west decision.

While eastern Ukrainians, who speak Russian, still tend to sympathize with Moscow and western Ukrainians are far more European-minded, central Ukrainians, who make up the largest population bloc, are increasingly willing to accept a closer relationship with Moscow, in part because the experience of Western co-operation has offered them so little.

But they aren't willing to give up the nationalist reforms of 2004, which outlawed the Russian language from schools and television. And none of the candidates, even Mr. Yanukovich, has dared touch these changes in campaigns.

Nor do they seem likely to interfere with the impressive media freedoms and protest movement rights that have developed during the past five years, making Ukraine one of the most free and open places among former Soviet states.

And Ms. Tymoshenko, while moving closer to Moscow, has vowed to push harder for an EU position and to fight for improved trade relations with the West. Western diplomats believe that she is sincere in this, and that, paradoxically, the pro-Moscow candidates may be the ones with the political leverage and negotiating skills to give Ukraine an opening to Europe.

"For the past five years, we have seen Ukraine butting its head up against a wall," one seasoned European diplomat said. "If the more Russian-minded candidates win, they seem able to execute something more like a judo move that will use Moscow to push Ukraine to the West."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

African Union attacks kill children and civilians

This appears to be a deliberate type of collective punishment by the African Union forces. Where is the outrage from the US and UN about this sort of action. No doubt these actions simply result in cries for revenge by families of those killed. This is from antiwar.com.


AU Forces Shell Playground in Somalia, Kill Seven Children
Somali Govt Declares Attack 'Retaliation' for Attack on AU Base
by Jason Ditz,
In the second high profile killing of civilians by the ostensible “peacekeeping” body in less than a week, African Union forces shelled a playground in the Somali capital city of Mogadishu, killing 10 people including seven children who were playing soccer.


Members of the AU forces in SomaliaA spokesman from the self-proclaimed Somali government shrugged off the latest killings, saying the shelling was “retaliation” for an attack by Islamists on AU bases earlier in the week. No Islamists appear to have been anywhere near the playground at the time of the attack.

On Thursday of last week, AU forces responded to an attack on the presidential palace by shelling a pair of residential neighborhoods, killing at least 20 civilians and wounding dozens of others.

AU troops have faced rising criticism for killing an undue number of civilians in shellings. Though the AU only targets neighborhoods controlled by Islamist factions, the fact that the Somali “transitional” government only controls a few city blocks around the presidential palace means that virtually the entire Somali population falls into this category.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Geithnergate: Why Geithner should go.

This is a sad story that is kept off the mainstream news. Where is Fox news on issues such as this? The last part of the article summarises five reason why Geithner should get the boot but discussion of these issues in the media is limited if not nonexistent. This is from alternet.

GeithnerGate: Obama's Treasury Sec. Should Get the Boot and Let's Take Our Money Back Too
By Les Leopold and Dylan Ratigan, AlterNet

Editor's Note: Published below Les Leopold's article is Dylan Ratigan's 5-point takedown of Geithner and why it's time for him to go.

"An arm of the Federal Reserve, then led by now-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, told bailed-out insurance giant AIG to withhold key details from the public about overpayments that put billions of extra tax dollars in the coffers of major Wall Street firms, most notably Goldman Sachs." Huffington Post
Cover-up revelations keep coming about Timothy Geithner's secret assistance to AIG. The latest show that he urged AIG not to disclose how it would be shoveling money to Goldman Sachs and other large financial institutions by paying off its credit default swaps at par value instead of much less.

More than $60 billion changed hands that shouldn't have if Geithner had played hard ball. Therefore, the charge is that Geithner should be bounced because he was protecting the banks' interests ahead of the public interest. He may also have protecting himself during his confirmation hearings.

Ok, string him up. But what about recapturing the loot?

Before we pull the rope, let's take a closer look at this outrageous scam. During the bubble years, AIG conducted an extremely lucrative business guaranteeing all kinds of derivatives based on risky debt. They couldn't call it insurance because insurance products are regulated --- meaning you need to have reserves to back them up, which they didn't. So these toxic assets insurance polices instead got the fancy name "credit default swaps," which were not and still are not regulated. (Take a bow Phil Gramm, Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan.)

This was the mother of all profit making businesses for AIG because in many of these deals AIG didn't have to put up any collateral as long as AIG was AAA-rated. The counter-parties (i.e. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase...) figured AIG was good for it. So AIG raked in fees for insuring toxic assets and didn't have to put up anything in return. Free money!

AIG figured the best hedge and the most money could be made by insuring more and more of this risky stuff. This was thought to disperse the risk broadly since all of the junk debt couldn't possibly fail at the same time, could it? They "insured" over $450 billion worth. (For the sordid details and comic relief, please see The Looting of America )

Then, the unthinkable happened. The assets tanked and AIG had to pay up on its policies, but couldn't. It was about to fold. Had AIG gone under it may have pulled with it hundreds of other financial institutions around the world that were relying on its insurance. The government stepped in to bail them all out. (AIG now spreads the fiction that this was just one rogue operation over in England in an otherwise safe and sound empire. But the big boys at the top of AIG all knew the credit default swap operation was a delectable source of enormous profits and shared in the booty... and they're not giving back any of the ill-gotten gains.)

We can argue some other time about whether or not some kind of bailout was necessary or what we should have gotten in return. The point here is that big fat financial houses like Goldman Sachs would have received pennies on the dollar for their AIG-backed credit default swaps had AIG gone into bankruptcy court. Instead, Goldman and others received par value and that money is now funding their mammoth profits and bonuses. (Spewing more corporate fiction, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase say they had been carefully hedged and would not have suffered from an AIG bankruptcy. Baloney. If AIG had gone under without a Federal rescue, those big banks would have gone down too or teetered on the edge.)

Here is precisely where free-market capitalism metastasizes into the billionaire bailout society. Goldman Sachs believed they had adequately covered $12.9 billion of its toxic assets by purchasing insurance from AIG. In fact, they believed those toxic assets plus the insurance made them as good as gold and part of their capital base.

In effect Goldman had placed two kinds of bets. First they bet on the toxic assets which were extremely lucrative, but risky. Then they bet that AIG could successfully insure them against losses on that first bet. They lost both bets. Too bad. That's capitalism....or used to be.

For losing their bet with AIG, Goldman Sachs should have only received about 20 cents on a dollar in a bankruptcy court. Instead, we bailed out AIG to prevent bankruptcy and Geithner et al pressured AIG to give Goldman Sachs 100 cents on the dollar. As a result, Goldman Sachs suffered no negative consequences at all from betting and losing. That's not capitalism. That's our new billionaire bailout society, where we, the taxpayers, pay off the bad bets. And the super-wealthy get more wealthy even when they lose their bets.

Think about it. Goldman Sachs alone got $12.9 billion - found money. Ka-Ching--right into its bonus pool. (OK, let's be fair. In bankruptcy they may have received $2.58 billion so the net windfall was $10.32 billion, which is about what it would cost to hire 172,000 teachers for one year.)

By all means, let's fire Geithner, and Summers too while we're at it. But if we really want to see some semblance of justice, we should slap a 90 percent windfall profits tax on all Wall Street firms. No matter how you cut it, they're all on welfare and their profits stem directly from our largesse. (Even those banks that have paid back TARP are, right this very minute, at the federal trough sucking up trillions of dollars of federal liquidity programs and asset guarantees.)

If the surging Tea Party really believed in its anti-bailout rhetoric, they'd be screaming for a windfall profits tax. But instead they so hate government and taxes that they'd rather let the biggest bankers in the world take our money and laugh all the way to the bank....in the Cayman Islands.

***


The Case Against Geithner -- by MSNBC Host Dylan Ratigan



As we sit here today, Wall Street continues to exploit a policy of government-sponsored giveaways and secrecy to pay themselves billions.

Record-setting bonuses due to banks like Goldman Sachs as early next week.

Yet instead of acting as our cop, Secretary Tim Geithner has become central to what may be a cover-up of the greatest theft in U.S. history.

Here is the evidence.


COUNT 1: The AIG Emails:

Recently-released emails show Geithner's New York Federal Reserve Bank directing AIG to keep details of the 100-cents-on-the-dollar bailout secret in 2008 -- A reversal of the traditional role of government, which is to force companies to become more transparent, not less.

A Treasury Spokeswoman says: "Secretary Geithner played no role in these decisions and indeed, by November 24, he was recused from working on issues involving specific companies, including AIG."

Friday, the White House also defended the Treasury Secretary:

Gibbs: These decisions did not rise to his level at the fed.

CNN's Ed Henry: How do you know that he wasn't involved? He was the leader of the New York Fed.

Gibbs: Right, but he wasn't on the emails that have been talked about and wasn't party to the decision that was being made.

He wasn't party to a decision to hide $62 billion dollar payouts to firms that became insolvent during his 5-year watch at the New York Fed?

Congressman Darrell Issa speculates that maybe Geithner wasn't on the emails in question because his people felt so strongly they already knew their boss's intentions, they didn't feel the need to bother him with the details.


COUNT 2: He wasn't even a regulator!

In Geithner's own words during confirmation hearings in March:

"First of all, I've never been a regulator...I'm not a regulator."

According to the New York fed bank's website, that was your job!! And I quote from the Fed's website: "As part of our core mission, we supervise and regulate financial institutions in the Second District."

That district of course is the epicenter for bailed out banks and billion dollar bonuses.


Count 3: "The Christmas Eve Taxpayer Massacre."

As you were wrapping those last presents, Geithner's Treasury Department lifted the 400-billion dollar cap on taxpayer responsibility for potential losses for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The new cap? Unlimited taxpayer funds! Interesting timing... Christmas eve, Tim?

Still no word on recovering the hundreds of millions paid to the CEOs who created this mess.


COUNT 4: He's too cozy with certain banks.

Remember those call logs when he first started... 80 contacts with Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and CitiGroup CEOs in just 7 months!

But Bank of America's CEO only got three calls. Apparently Bank of America is not one of Geithner's favorites, especially when you consider that there are still many unanswered questions about Tim Geithner's role in threatening to fire Bank of America management if they didn't go through with a deal to buy Merrill lynch.


COUNT 5: TARP Special Investigator Neil Barofsky's report says Geithner's New York Fed overpaid the big banks through AIG by billions of dollars.

Geithner says it had to be done. Maybe so, maybe not, but this takes us to our final point.

Since then, the Treasury Secretary has yet to really prove whose side he's on -- the Wall Street big wigs or the American taxpayer? Here's the litmus test: Mr. Geithner, show us the past ten years of AIG emails or step down so that we can get somebody who will. A crime has been committed against the American taxpayer and right now you are standing at the door of the crime scene refusing to let anyone in.

Show us you're not involved Mr. Geithner, prove the white house correct in defending you. All we are asking for is the transparency promised by the President you serve.


Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/145110/

Afghan Villagers: NATO forces opened fire on protesters, killing 13.

As usual there are contradictory accounts of the same event. In this case NATO authorities themselves have given contradictory accounts. The more official accounts I see the more it becomes clear that official accounts are meant to generate the most favorable public perception rather than report on what happened. The public should understand that war includes psychological warfare and this makes truthful reporting irrlevant. Only when other reports eventually force a change to the official story does the official account change but even then as little as possible.


- News From Antiwar.com -

Afghan Villagers: NATO Forces Opened Fire on Protesters, Killing 13

Posted By Jason Ditz

In what is just the latest in a growing string of recent allegations of NATO forces killing civilians, local villagers in the Garmsir District, Helmand Province said they came out to protest against a reported raid in a nearby town when a NATO patrol arrived on the scene. The villagers say NATO forces opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 13 civilians and wounding dozens.

NATO officials denied the incident, but issued a perplexing statement that simultaneously insisted the forces didn’t fire a single shot while lauding them for opening fire on a sniper on the scene. The local police confirmed the killings, but speculated that the apparently unarmed protesters might have secretly been Taliban.

“The Taliban were provoking the people,” noted Helmand’s deputy police chief, insisting that protesters had overturned cars and raided a building belonging to an Afghan spy agency. The police insisted that it was actually Afghan forces that were with NATO who initially opened fire and that they were still looking into the identities of the slain.

The incident came just hours after US General Richard Mills insisted that the United States has claimed victory in the Helmand Province, and that the Taliban are “defeated.”


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