Thursday, April 30, 2009

John Pilger: Obama's 100 days.

Pilger is nothing if not negative! This article makes me feel I should defend Obama but there is a great deal of truth in what he says. Obama's foreign policy follows Bush and even ups the ante to some extent. However, he has opened up a bit on Cuba and is less belligerent in his dealings with Iran and Venezuela than the Bush administration. Also, he is closing Guantanamo but when remains to be seen! He also has released torture memos whereas Bush kept everything under wraps. As Pilger shows Obama has absolutely zilch to do with any sort of leftist radicalism. Everyyone at Fox news should read Pilger!

Obama's 100 DaysThe Mad Men Did Well
By John PilgerApril 29, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- The BBC's American television soap Mad Men offers a rare glimpse of the power of corporate advertising. The promotion of smoking half a century ago by the “smart” people of Madison Avenue, who knew the truth, led to countless deaths. Advertising and its twin, public relations, became a way of deceiving dreamt up by those who had read Freud and applied mass psychology to anything from cigarettes to politics. Just as Marlboro Man was virility itself, so politicians could be branded, packaged and sold. It is more than 100 days since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The “Obama brand” has been named “Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008”, easily beating Apple computers. David Fenton of describes Obama’s election campaign as “an institutionalised mass-level automated technological community organising that has never existed before and is a very, very powerful force”. Deploying the internet and a slogan plagiarised from the Latino union organiser César Chávez – “Sí, se puede!” or “Yes, we can” – the mass-level automated technological community marketed its brand to victory in a country desperate to be rid of George W Bush. No one knew what the new brand actually stood for. So accomplished was the advertising (a record $75m was spent on television commercials alone) that many Americans actually believed Obama shared their opposition to Bush’s wars. In fact, he had repeatedly backed Bush’s warmongering and its congressional funding. Many Americans also believed he was the heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy of anti-colonialism. Yet if Obama had a theme at all, apart from the vacuous “Change you can believe in”, it was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully. “We will be the most powerful,” he often declared. Perhaps the Obama brand’s most effective advertising was supplied free of charge by those journalists who, as courtiers of a rapacious system, promote shining knights. They depoliticised him, spinning his platitudinous speeches as “adroit literary creations, rich, like those Doric columns, with allusion...” (Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian). The San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote: “Many spiritually advanced people I know... identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who... can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet.” In his first 100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus and demanded more secret government. He has kept Bush’s gulag intact and at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice. On 24 April, his lawyers won an appeal that ruled Guantanamo Bay prisoners were not “persons”, and therefore had no right not to be tortured. His national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, says he believes torture works. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, the US experienced a military coup under Bush, whose secretary of “defence”, Robert Gates, along with the same warmaking officials, has been retained by Obama. All over the world, America’s violent assault on innocent people, directly or by agents, has been stepped up. During the recent massacre in Gaza, reports Seymour Hersh, “the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ‘smart bombs’ and other hi-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel” and being used to slaughter mostly women and children. In Pakistan, the number of civilians killed by US missiles called drones has more than doubled since Obama took office. In Afghanistan, the US “strategy” of killing Pashtun tribespeople (the “Taliban”) has been extended by Obama to give the Pentagon time to build a series of permanent bases right across the devastated country where, says Secretary Gates, the US military will remain indefinitely. Obama’s policy, one unchanged since the Cold War, is to intimidate Russia and China, now an imperial rival. He is proceeding with Bush’s provocation of placing missiles on Russia’s western border, justifying it as a counter to Iran, which he accuses, absurdly, of posing “a real threat” to Europe and the US. On 5 April in Prague, he made a speech reported as “anti-nuclear”. It was nothing of the kind. Under the Pentagon’s Reliable Replacement Warhead programme, the US is building new “tactical” nuclear weapons designed to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war. Perhaps the biggest lie – the equivalent of smoking is good for you – is Obama’s announcement that the US is leaving Iraq, the country it has reduced to a river of blood. According to unabashed US army planners, as many as 70,000 troops will remain “for the next 15 to 20 years”. On 25 April, his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, alluded to this. It is not surprising that the polls are showing that a growing number of Americans believe they have been suckered – especially as the nation’s economy has been entrusted to the same fraudsters who destroyed it. Lawrence Summers, Obama’s principal economic adviser, is throwing $3trn at the same banks that paid him more than $8m last year, including $135,000 for one speech. Change you can believe in. Much of the American establishment loathed Bush and Cheney for exposing, and threatening, the onward march of America’s “grand design”, as Henry Kissinger, war criminal and now Obama adviser, calls it. In advertising terms, Bush was a “brand collapse” whereas Obama, with his toothpaste advertisement smile and righteous clichés, is a godsend. At a stroke, he has seen off serious domestic dissent to war, and he brings tears to the eyes, from Washington to Whitehall. He is the BBC’s man, and CNN’s man, and Murdoch’s man, and Wall Street’s man, and the CIA’s man. The Madmen did well.

30,000 flee army raid on NW Pakistan

This is from RawStory via AFP.

The Pakistani armed forces tend toward a very destructive scorched earth policy in attacking militants and the result is a huge internal refugee problem and humanitarian disaster. Often resentment against the central govt. simply increases providing recruiting opportunities for the Taliban and other militants.
The Pakistan govt. seems to be going along with the US policy of concentrating upon a military confrontation with Islamic militants, a policy that is not at all popular in Pakistan and may even result in local civil wars. There is a new offensive in Buner.
This new offensive is not going all that well as militants have captured troops and police stations but no doubt the Pakistani forces will prevail but at what cost remains to be seen.

30,000 flee army raid on NW Pakistan: local official
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Around 30,000 people in northwest Pakistan have been displaced by a military offensive to flush out Taliban militants, a provincial minister said Tuesday."Up to 30,000 people have left Maidan in Lower Dir district over the past few days," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in the government of North West Frontier Province, told a news conference."We are making arrangements for them in Peshawar, Nowshera and Timargarah districts."Residents said thousands of terrified people, mostly women and children, left the area with their belongings after Pakistan troops and helicopter gunships launched the operation over the weekend.One local charity said it had registered 2,241 displaced families so far.Around 50 insurgents were killed in the operation in Lower Dir, near the Taliban-held Swat valley, officials said.The military said eight paramilitary soldiers had also been killed since it launched Operation Black Thunder Sunday.Heavy shelling by the paramilitary Frontier Corps continued in the Maidan area of Lower Dir overnight, a senior military officer said Tuesday."We destroyed several militants hideouts in heavy artillery shelling of suspected bases in the area," the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.In an earlier statement the military said Lal Qila, a Taliban stronghold in Lower Dir, "has been fully secured after the successful operation.""Search and cordon operations are continuing in the area to flush out militants," it added."The military had to retaliate after militants blocked roads, attacked convoys and killed some government officials," the minister said.The Pakistan government in February agreed to allow the Islamic justice system of sharia to be imposed in Swat valley and its surrounding districts in the Malakand region, which have been troubled by two years of rebellion.But the agreement was followed by further militant encroachments, and the government has been in talks with the militants to try to restore peace there.The Taliban suspended peace talks with the government Monday after the military launched Operation Black Thunder following intense US pressure to stop the extremists' advance."My uncle was working in the fields when he was wounded in helicopter shelling," Hayat Khan 36, one of those who fled the fighting, told AFP."I came to Timargarah with my wife, children and a sister whose husband lives in Dubai. I cannot see them dying there," Khan said, adding that his uncle had been admitted to a hospital in Timargarah."I saw helicopters targeting hills in Maidan yesterday," said 40-year old Omar Zeb, who arrived in Timargarah with 16 other relatives including brother, nephews and nieces."There was intense artillery shelling last night, my children were scared, none of us could sleep the whole night. We left at dawn, fearing the fighting would escalate."Information minister Hussain said the government remained "determined to fully implement the deal but some outsiders who do not want peace have infiltrated in Buner and Dir districts to sabotage the accord."He invited Soofi Mohammad, leader of a sharia movement in the area, to resume talks to avoid any delay in the implementation of the deal.Taliban spokesman Amir Izzat Khan said the operation in Lower Dir could endanger the peace deal."There can be a reaction to the government action," he told AFP.However, President Asif Ali Zardari said Monday the peace deal with the Taliban remained valid until the North West Frontier Province government told him otherwise."There will be a reassessment of the situation by the provincial government and if needed we'll come back to parliament and the parliament will decide," he said in an interview with foreign journalists.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Washington, auto union to take control of GM, Chrysler.

No doubt some commentators on Fox News and other US media giants will claim that this is socialism. Quite the opposite, it is the rescue of capitalism on the backs of taxpayers and workers. Workers get a share in almost bankrupt auto makers and also the taxpayers get to invest in them as well! While it is true that investors such as bondholders and shareholders have also lost instead of following the free market ideology of letting the companies fail the govt. and workers rush in to bail the companies out. If and when the companies turn profitable the government and probably the unions too will sell their equity. Profit is for private capital not the public or workers the latter share only the risks!

Washington, auto union set to take control of GM, Chrysler
In Washington: Government to buy 50% of GM, UAW seeks 55% of Chrysler GREG KEENAN AND SHAWN MCCARTHY
With a report from AP
April 28, 2009
In a historic reshaping of American capitalism, the U.S. government and the auto workers union are on the verge of controlling both General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.
The latest proposal offered up by GM - now subsisting on loans provided by Washington - would see the U.S. government hold 50 per cent of the company if it accepts a debt-for-equity swap. The United Auto Workers union would hold another 39 per cent of GM, if it agrees to allow a new health-care trust fund to be financed with GM shares.
Ottawa is watching the GM deal closely and is also looking at taking an equity stake.
In a separate deal, the auto workers union would eventually own 55 per cent of a restructured Chrysler under an agreement reached by the union and the auto maker, according to a summary of the arrangement. The revised Chrysler-UAW contract says that Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA eventually will own 35 per cent of a restructured Chrysler, with the remaining 10 per cent stake divided between the U.S. government and secured lenders, mostly banks and hedge funds.
The landmark Chrysler deal was forged at the demands of the Obama administration, which required that equity fund at least half of Chrysler's $10.6-billion obligation to a union-run retiree health care trust. The deal will slash retiree benefits in the U.S., and hand control of the company over to the union, though perhaps only in the interim. Chrysler stock eventually will be traded publicly again, as there are mechanisms for the UAW to sell shares to fund the trust, the summary said.
Chrysler workers will vote to ratify the deal, a process the union hopes will be done by Wednesday, one day before Chrysler's government-imposed deadline to restructure.
The GM deal eliminates another one of its storied brands, vaporizes another 22,000 manufacturing jobs in Canada and the United States, and wipes out almost half its dealer network in both countries by the end of next year. The company's top executive cast it as a plan to remake the company in one fell swoop.
"We need to take this as an opportunity to restructure, and restructure General Motors once," Fritz Henderson, GM's chief executive officer, said yesterday as he outlined the demise of Pontiac and a bond exchange that offers reluctant debt holders shares in GM for their $27-billion (U.S.) in debt.
The plan needs to be approved by government and bondholders, who are likely to be unhappy about receiving just 225 shares of GM in return for every $1,000 worth of bonds.
A senior Canadian official said Ottawa is also looking at taking an ownership stake in GM, which yesterday promised to slash its Canadian production and cut work force by an additional 1,000 jobs. The plan would accelerate job losses in Canada, shrinking to about 5,500 employees by 2014 from more than 20,000 just 15 months ago.
"There's a menu of options we're looking at," the federal official said. "We know the United States is looking at that [equity-for-debt] option quite seriously and we have to see whether that might work for us."
Asked whether Ottawa would take an ownership stake in GM, Industry Minister Tony Clement said: "We've got another 30 days to go [before the GM deadline]. There's a lot of proposals on the table. We have not made any conclusions at this point."
The GM announcement kicked off what is likely to be the most significant week in the history of the Detroit auto makers with the guiding hand of the U.S. Treasury Department on the steering wheel.
GM officials indicated yesterday, for example, that the Treasury Department said it would not support the GM plan if debt holders ended up owning more than 10 per cent of the company after the debt-for-equity swap.
The Canadian and U.S. governments have intervened because a failure by GM would wipe out hundreds of thousands of jobs across the continent. "It would trigger a catastrophe in the economy, if that were to happen," noted David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"I have a hard time putting my finger on another [such critical time] unless it was 1941 when the industry just stopped making cars and made guns and planes," added Gerald Myers, a former chairman of American Motors Corp. and now a professor at the University of Michigan.
Some of the restructuring pain is being imposed by governments, which are seeking to ensure that the companies they bail out with long-term loans can survive. "It will take severe restructuring, there's no doubt about it and the job losses are terrible," Mr. Clement said outside the House of Commons. GM will slash its Canadian dealer network in half, to between 395 and 425 outlets by 2010 from 705 outlets now. That's a deeper and faster cut in its retail operations than was in a plan unveiled in February that called for a reduction to between 450 and 500 dealers by 2014.
GM Canada is negotiating with Ottawa to secure a $3-billion bridge loan to carry it until the end of May, and the company said the two sides are "close" to agreement. It is also looking for $7.5-billion in long-term loans from Ottawa and the province of Ontario to keep it alive until North American car sales pick up.
General Motors of Canada spokesman Stew Low said the company remains committed to Canada and that its plan here is largely unchanged, save for the elimination of a planned third shift in Oshawa next year to build the Impala. The company now has to begin negotiations with the Canadian Auto Workers union in an effort to extract the same concessions that the union provided to Chrysler in a deal ratified on the weekend.
GM said it expects to reduce its unionized work force to 4,400 by 2014, mostly through already announced closings at its truck plant in Oshawa next month and Windsor transmission plant in the summer of 2010.
"The landscape is going to shrink dramatically and it's going to have a negative impact right across our communities," said Chris Buckley, president of CAW Local 222 in Oshawa.
The loss of auto jobs is already devastating communities in Southern Ontario that rely on the assemblers and their parts suppliers for high-paying manufacturing jobs. Parts suppliers are warning of a cascading effect as the manufacturers cut back and parts makers face bankruptcy.
GM's survival plan includes slimming down to just four brands, compared with the eight it now offers. The lineup will consist of Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. The auto maker's Saturn, Saab and Hummer brands will be gone by the end of the year.
The plan calls for GM to break even financially in the worst vehicle markets such as that being experienced during the current U.S. downturn and to generate lots of profit when the market returns to healthier levels next decade.

Taliban derides 'worthless' truce

This is from the Guardian.

The Taliban are probably correct in that Pakistan is being forced by the Americans into a more aggressive stance. However, the Taliban did little to defuse the situation when they brazenly entered Buner to extend the territory under their control. Pakistan is now reacting vigorously even though the Taliban had already withdrawn their forces that were from outside the area.
Almost unnoticed in all this is the scorched earth policy often used by Pakistani forces and the humanitarian disaster being caused with thousands being displaced and now internal refugees.

Taliban derides 'worthless' truce with PakistanAP foreign, Monday April 27 2009 ZARAR KHAN

Associated Press Writer= ISLAMABAD (AP) ” Taliban militants declared their peace deal with the Pakistani government "worthless" on Monday after authorities deployed helicopters and artillery against hide-outs of Islamist guerrillas seeking to extend their grip along the Afghan border.

The regions that straddle that frontier form a "crucible of terrorism," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said during a visit to Afghanistan, where his country and the U.S. have thousands of troops trying to stamp out the militant threat. Brown arrived in Pakistan later Monday.

The Obama administration is pressing Islamabad hard for more robust action against those extremists, who are threatening Pakistan's stability and the security of troops across the border. A collapse of the peace pact would likely please American officials.

President Asif Ali Zardari called for more foreign support for cash-strapped Pakistan to prevent any danger of its nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of al-Qaida and its allies.

Zardari also said Pakistani intelligence thought Osama bin Laden — recently offered sanctuary by militants in the area covered by the peace pact — might be dead, but said there was no evidence of the al-Qaida chief's demise.

"He may be dead. But that's been said before," Zardari told a group of reporters. "It's still between fiction and fact."

The government agreed in February to impose Islamic law in Swat and surrounding districts that make up Malakand Division if the Taliban there would end their violent campaign in the one-time tourist haven.

In recent days, Taliban forces from Swat began entering Buner, a neighboring district just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Pakistani capital.

American officials have described the pact as a capitulation and urged Pakistani leaders to switch their security focus from traditional foe India to violent extremists inside their borders.

Pressure on the creaking peace deal grew further Sunday when authorities sent troops backed by artillery and helicopter gunships to attack Taliban militants in Lower Dir, part of the region covered by the pact.

Paramilitary troops killed 20 suspected militants Monday, and a total of 46 have died since the operation began, an army statement said. Maulvi Umar, a spokesman for the umbrella group of Pakistan's Taliban, claimed that insurgents in Dir had killed nine troops and lost two of their own.

Some terrified residents have fled the area clutching no more than their children and a few belongings. At least one soldier was killed Sunday.

A spokesman for the Taliban in their Swat Valley stronghold denounced the operation as a violation of the pact and said their fighters were on alert and waiting to see if a hard-line cleric who mediated the deal pronounced it dead.

"The agreements with the Pakistan government are worthless because Pakistani rulers are acting to please Americans," Muslim Khan, spokesman for Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, told The Associated Press.

A spokesman for Sufi Muhammad said the cleric was trapped in his home in the same area of Lower Dir attacked by troops and that his supporters have been unable to contact him.

"We will not hold any talks until the operation ends," spokesman Amir Izzat Khan said.

Umar , the Pakistani Taliban spokesman, said the militants would agree to talks about the situation in Dir, but only if the military operation is halted.

"We were living peacefully in Dir," Umar said. "Nothing warranted the operation."

Dianne Feinstein, head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that the recent Taliban advance in Buner — and the lack of a robust military response — suggested Pakistan was "in very deep trouble."

"This thing has to get sorted out and sorted out quickly or you could lose the government of Pakistan, and Pakistan is a nuclear power and that concerns me deeply," Feinstein said on CNN television.

Brown also raised alarm Monday on a trip to tour British bases in southern Afghanistan. He told reporters that areas on both sides of Afghan-Pakistani border "are the breeding ground, the crucible of terrorism."

But Pakistan's foreign minister asked Western officials Monday to "not panic."

"We mean business, and if we have to use force we will use force. We will not hesitate," Shah Mahmood Qureshi told The Associated Press on the sidelines of meetings with his Afghan and Iranian counterparts. "We will not surrender, we will not capitulate, and we will not abdicate."

Zardari, who has termed Pakistan's dire situation as an opportunity to draw in economic and military assistance, insisted Pakistan's nuclear weapons were in "safe hands," but added: "If Pakistan fails, if democracy fails, if the world doesn't help democracy, then any eventuality is a possibility."

Elsewhere in the northwest Monday, a remote-controlled bomb exploded near a police patrol, killing an officer and a passer-by while wounding five other police, officials said. The blast occurred near a railway crossing in the Lakki Marwat area, said Amir Ahmed, a local police officer.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Iraqi Govt. Outraged After Deadly U.S. Raid

This is from

It seems that the U.S. paid no attention to the requirement that there be a court order authorising this operation. The official report seems even more surreal and less connected to reality than usual. It will be interesting to see what if anything the Iraqi govt. does or if there is any notice at all in the manistream media of this event. The Swine Flu seems to be infecting the media so that they cannot report much of anything else.

Iraqi Govt Outraged After Deadly US Raid
Posted By Jason Ditz On April 26, 2009 @ 7:34 pm
A pre-dawn US raid this morning in the Iraqi city of Kut left two civilians dead and several others captured. Hundreds of local residents took to the streets to condemn the raid, while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared the attack a violation of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraq. He ordered two Iraqi security officials arrested over it, demanded the release of the captives, and for the US to turn over those responsible for the raid to the courts.
As is so often the case the official press release from US forces remained far disconnected from reality. It alleged that those captured included a “financier” for a Shi’ite militant group and six other “associates.” It also perplexedly claimed they were captured without incident even while describing the killing of two people, one they determined was “hostile” while the other was a woman.
It wasn’t long, however, until provincial police declared that those captured were all innocent members of a single family, including an Iraqi police captain.
The press release from the US makes no mention of the Iraqi government’s objection, instead lauding the raid as “supporting Iraq in its effort to maintain security and stability.” In spite of this, the US had released the captives by late afternoon. The head of the household said “if the Americans had only knocked, we would have cooperated.” Another said the US had apologized and returned the property seized in the attack. The SOFA made no provisions for the US to conduct raids on homes without a search warrant from an Iraqi court, though there was no indication they had one.
The question then remains how far the Iraqi government is willing to go to prosecute the US troops involved in the incident. US officials claim Maliki’s position was “politically motivated,” but the SOFA does make provision for trying US soldiers in Iraqi courts.

Lieberman rules out attack against Iran

This is from

Of course if you read the article it is clear that Lieberman is ruling out an Israeli attack on Iran. He wants the US to do the job for Israel! At the same time Lieberman has announced the death of peace talks with the Palestinians. The US will probably come into considerable conflict with Israeli policies for the first time in some while. The Obama seems to be encouraging reconiciliation between Hamas and Fatah and is trying to make it possible for aid to flow through a unified Palestinian govt. that would include Fatah.

Lieberman Rules Out Israeli Attack on Iran
Posted By Jason Ditz On April 26, 2009 @ 6:54 pm In Uncategorized
Though only in office for a few weeks, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has dramatically redefined Israel’s official foreign policy on a number of fronts. His first major act was to declare the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians dead, sparking both international and domestic outrage. In his first media interview he announced that he was replacing Iran as Israel’s worst threat, bestowing that honor on Pakistan, and declared that the United States would accept any decision the Israeli government made on the peace process.
Now, having dispatched of Iran’s position as Israel’s gravest threat, Lieberman surprised even further by declaring that Israel would not attack Iran, even if international sanctions fail to convince Iran to abandon its civilian nuclear program.
Virtually the centerpiece of Israel’s foreign policy for the last several years has been its nearly weekly suggestions that they may attack Iran in the near future. Abandoning this policy would be a major change for Israel, and shocking coming from the hawkish Lieberman, whose previous cabinet position as Minister of Strategic Affairs was created specifically to coordinate military, intelligence and diplomatic initiatives against Iran.
Not that the foreign minister objects to the idea of attacking Iran. Instead, while he supports “severe sanctions, very severe sanctions,” and “harsher and more effective sanctions” at the moment, he said Israel should not be expected to “resolve militarily the entire world’s problem,” instead suggesting that “the United States, as the largest power in the world, take responsibility.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Torture used to try and establish Al Qaida Iraq connection

This is from the Guardian.

Cheney and Rumsfeld did more to corrupt and damage intelligence services than Obama can ever do. Instead of collecting intelligence the services were put to work trying to provide evidence for Rumsfeld Cheney theories that were most improbable but important for justifying their policies.

Shedding some light on why it could have possibly been necessary to waterboard someone 183 times – as was done to al-Qaida planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – McClatchy reported that, according to "a former senior US intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue," former vice-president Dick Cheney and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld "demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al-Qaida-Iraq collaboration".

According to McClatchy's source, for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld were "demanding proof of the links between al-Qaida and Iraq. … There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

CIA death squads killing with impunity in Afghanistan

From wsws.

This type of reporting is virtually absent from the mainstream media. At most there are reports of collateral damage caused by air raids but these special forces raids are for the most part not reported at all or at most very rarely and almost never with any followup. As this article points out followup is almost impossible anyway since everyone clams up and is not interested.

CIA death squads killing with “impunity” in Afghanistan
By Joe Kay19 May 2008
A United Nations investigator released a preliminary report last week citing widespread civilian deaths in Afghanistan, often at the hands of unaccountable units led by the CIA or other foreign intelligence agencies.
The investigator is Philip Alston, a New York University professor serving as the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution. His report provides a partial glimpse into the illegal actions of intelligence agencies, occupying forces, and Afghan police, as they seek to repress opposition to the US-led occupation and US-backed government.
A more detailed final report will be released later this year.
Alston focused on civilian killings by US and other international military forces, citing 200 reported deaths in the first four months of 2008. This figure, however, was based on tabulations by the United Nations and other international organizations, and is undoubtedly a serious underestimation.
In addition to civilians killed in air raids—often targeted indiscriminately at civilian dwellings—Alston reported on “a number of raids for which no state or military command appears ready to acknowledge responsibility.”
In a press conference on Thursday, Alston elaborated, saying, “I have spoken with a large number of people in relation to the operation of foreign intelligence units. I don’t want to name them but they are the most senior level of the relevant places. These forces operate with what appears to be impunity.” The location of the incidents cited in the report indicate that the intelligence agencies in question include the CIA or US Special Operations Forces.
The report cited a few incidents as examples of extra-judicial killings. In January 2008, two brothers were killed in Kandahar province in a raid led by “international personnel.” Alston found that the victims “are widely acknowledged, even by well-informed Government officials, to have had no connection to the Taliban, and the circumstances of their deaths are suspicious. However, not only was I unable to get any international military commander to provide their version of what took place, but I was unable to get any international military commander to even admit that their soldiers were involved.”
Other incidents involved raids by Afghans led by unnamed “international intelligence services” out of bases in both Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily-armed internationals accompanied by heavily-armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them,” the report stated.
The British Independent newspaper provided some additional information. It noted, “A Western official close to the investigation said the secret units are still known as Campaign Forces, from the time when American Special Forces and CIA spies recruited Afghan troops to help overthrow the Taliban during the US-led invasion in 2001. ‘The brightest, smartest guys in these militias were kept on,’ the official said. ‘They were trained and rearmed and they are still being used.’”
The Independent went on to cite one incident involving British forces. “In Helmand, where most of Britain’s 7,800 troops are based, Special Forces were accused of slitting a man’s throat in a botched night raid last year. Security sources now claim the operation was mounted by a secret spy unit.”
Alston also reported on the actions of Afghan police. “They function not as enforcers of law and order, but as promoters of the interests of a specific tribe or commander,” he reported. He cited one incident in which Afghan police massacred a group from a rival tribe. There was no investigation by the government or the occupying forces. In another incident, police killed nine and wounded 42 unarmed protestors in Sheberghan in May 2007.
In general, he found little to no interest among US or Afghan officials in monitoring or following up on civilian deaths. “The level of complacency in response to these killings is staggeringly high,” he said.
At the press conference, he noted, “When I asked for the number of reported civilian casualties over the past year or so, I was told that those figures are either not available in Afghanistan—which I was told by several senior military people—or that they are secret and cannot be provided to me. When I asked for the results of certain cases, to ascertain whether those involved have been punished, I was told that no such information is available here in Afghanistan and that perhaps I should read the newspapers of the countries concerned.”
The fact that the CIA is involved in covert operations in Afghanistan is neither new nor surprising. Already by the 1970s, the CIA had developed ties to sections of the Afghan population, and in particular Islamic fundamentalist elements, in an effort to undermine the Soviet-backed government. Later, the CIA was heavily involved in developing ties to anti-Taliban warlords prior to the US invasion and occupation in 2001.
Following the invasion, Afghanistan—and in particular the Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul—became a transit point for prisoners captured by the United States and destined for Guantánamo Bay, secret CIA prisons, or US-allied countries that practice torture. US intelligence agencies were reportedly also involved in the interrogation of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In 2005, US media reported on the operations of US-backed deaths squads in Iraq, deployed to kill suspected opponents of the US occupation. Yasser Salihee, a special correspondent for news agency Knight Ridder who was investigating the death squads, was killed with a bullet to the head in June of that year. Separate reports related how the US military had modeled Iraqi units on the death squads deployed in Central America during the 1980s to eliminate left-wing opposition to US policies.
While most of the CIA’s actions remain shrouded in secrecy, one CIA contractor was prosecuted for torturing an Afghan prisoner to death in 2003. The contractor, David Passaro, interrogated and beat the prisoner, Abdul Wali, for two days, injuring him so severely that he died two days later.
In a separate development, the New York Times reported on Saturday that the Pentagon is moving forward with the construction of a 40-acre prison complex at the Bagram military base. The current prison, as well as separate prisons run by the Afghans and by the US, are reportedly insufficient to hold the massive number of individuals swept up by the occupying forces.
The facility may also be used for prisoners currently detained in Guantánamo Bay. It will be designed to hold as many as 1,100 people.
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Obama rejects Truth Panel.

Obama is already facing criticism for releasing the torture memos. Most Americans are probably more interested in where the money is coming from to pay living expenses rather than whether the US tortured terror suspects. There is little domestic political advantage in having this commission and the right wing and others would be sounding alarms about Obama being soft on terrorism etc. etc. Obama probably feels he has done more than enough for his human rights constituency by simply releasing the memos but then it is not clear how much choice he had.

Obama Rejects Truth Panel

Commission Would Have Investigated Abuses in Terrorism Fight
By Shailagh Murray and Paul KaneWashington Post Staff WritersApril 24, 2009 "Washington Post" -- President Obama rebuffed calls for a commission to investigate alleged abuses under the Bush administration in fighting terrorism, telling congressional leaders at a White House meeting yesterday that he wants to look forward instead of litigating the past.In a lengthy exchange with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Obama appeared to back away from a statement earlier this week that suggested he could support an independent commission to examine possible abuses, according to several attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss the private meeting freely. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, also seeking to clarify the president's position, told reporters that "the president determined the concept didn't seem altogether workable in this case" because of the intense partisan atmosphere built around the issue."The last few days might be evidence of why something like this might just become a political back and forth," Gibbs said.The push for a "truth commission," which grew from the efforts of a few human rights groups, gained fresh momentum with last week's release of the memos from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that provided the basis for the enhanced interrogation techniques, including the practice of simulated drowning known as waterboarding. Obama has said he is opposed to holding CIA interrogators legally accountable, but in a statement last week, he left open the possibility of legal jeopardy for those who formulated the policy.On Tuesday, Obama explicitly raised the prospect of legal consequences for Bush administration officials who authorized the techniques applied to "high value" terrorism suspects, and said if Congress is intent on investigating the tactics, an independent commission might provide a less partisan forum than a congressional panel.Some key lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), pounced on his remarks to push for a commission with subpoena power and the ability to grant immunity to some witnesses.As Republicans rejected the idea, Democrats were deeply divided.Yesterday in a briefing before the White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) instead said that the Senate intelligence committee would conduct its own review, a process that could stretch through December.At almost the same time at another briefing across the Capitol, Pelosi told reporters that she has "always been for a truth commission," a position she reiterated at the White House meeting, one participant in the session said.But a White House official present at the meeting said Obama told lawmakers that a commission would "open the door to a protracted, backward-looking discussion."Boehner also urged Obama to release further classified memos detailing the questionable interrogation techniques. Former vice president Richard B. Cheney has argued that the memos will make clear that aggressive tactics yielded valuable intelligence information that prevented further terrorist attacks.Obama responded that Cheney had done "a good job at telling his side of the story," according to Democrats and Republicans in the room. "Obama said the memos weren't as clear-cut," one attendee said.Earlier yesterday, Boehner criticized Pelosi and leading congressional Democrats who are pushing for the panel by noting that they had been briefed on interrogation tactics as far back as September 2002."All of this information was downloaded to congressional leaders of both parties with no objections being raised," Boehner told reporters. "Not a word was raised at the time, not one word."But Pelosi said leaders were never briefed about the actual use of waterboarding, saying top lawmakers were told only about the existence of legal opinions supporting its rationale."We were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us is that they had . . . the Office of Legal Counsel opinions [and] that they could be used, but not that they would," she said.In late 2002, Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, so she was part of the "Gang of Four" briefings given to the top members of the intelligence panels in the House and Senate. Pelosi continued receiving highly classified briefings when she became Democratic leader in 2003, as it is customary to brief the top Democrat and Republican from the House and Senate.The select few lawmakers who were briefed about the handling of detainees were then forbidden from discussing with their colleagues what they had learned, she said."They don't come in to consult," Pelosi said of administration officials. "They come in to notify. They come in to notify. And you can't -- you can't change what they're doing unless you can act as a committee or as a class. You can't change what they're doing."Staff writers Perry Bacon Jr. and Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Krugman: Reclaiming America's Soul

Krugman might also mention that America would not only be reclaiming its soul by following through with investigations and possible trials but also this would vastly improve the reputation of the US among many other countries and among human rights organisations around the globe. However, the Obama administation has supported denial of any rights for Gitmo detainees and is carrying on policies such as rendition and attacks by drones and special operation forces that clearly violate human rights so that it should not be unexpected if his administration simply tries to move on. Besides the resistance even to releasing the memo's was fierce and Obama no doubt has had enough.

Reclaiming America’s Soul
By Paul Krugman
April 24, 2009 "New York Times" -- -
"Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." So declared President Obama, after his commendable decision to release the legal memos that his predecessor used to justify torture. Some people in the political and media establishments have echoed his position. We need to look forward, not backward, they say. No prosecutions, please; no investigations; we're just too busy.And there are indeed immense challenges out there: an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis. Isn't revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can't afford?No, it isn't, because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. "This government does not torture people," declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration's abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true - even if truth and justice came at a high price - that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren't supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let's be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn't be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn't be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn't be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn't, and indeed shouldn't, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job - which he's supposed to do in any case - and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.I don't know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.Still, you might argue - and many do - that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama's attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.That said, there are a lot of people in Washington who weren't allied with the torturers but would nonetheless rather not revisit what happened in the Bush years.Some of them probably just don't want an ugly scene; my guess is that the president, who clearly prefers visions of uplift to confrontation, is in that group. But the ugliness is already there, and pretending it isn't won't make it go away.Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they don't want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract "confessions" that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.It's hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn't, now declare that we should forget the whole era - for the sake of the country, of course.Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions - not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn't about looking backward, it's about looking forward - because it's about reclaiming America's soul.Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, and his most recent, The Return of Depression Economics. © 2009 The New York Times

Appeals court rules Gitmo detainees are not ''persons''

This is from Raw Story.

So the Obama administration is behind this appeal to the court. The great new hope of America's own Justice Dept claims the court should find that the detainees have no constitutional nor statutory rights nor are they persons. The court did as it was told and went directly against the logic of the Supreme Court decision cited in the article.

Appeals court rules Gitmo detainees are not 'persons'
04/24/2009 @ 3:58 pmFiled by RAW STORY
A Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit ruled Friday that detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are not "persons" according to it's interpretation of a statute involving religious freedom.The ruling sprang from an appeal of Rasul v. Rumsfeld, which was thrown out in Jan. 2008. "The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the constitutional and international law claims, and reversed the district court's decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) applied to Guantanamo detainees, dismissing those claims as well," the Center for Constitutional Rights said.After the Supreme Court recognized, over objections from the Bush administration, that terror war prisoners have the right to habeas corpus petitions, it also directed the D.C. court of appeals to reexamine the case. The suit, Rasul v. Rumsfeld, charges numerous Bush administration officials with "violations of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)," CCR said."In its first filing on detention and torture under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice filed briefs in March urging the Court of Appeals to reject any constitutional or statutory rights for detainees," says a release. "The Obama Justice Department further argued that even if such rights were recognized, the Court should rule that the previous administration’s officials who ordered and approved torture and abuse of the plaintiffs should be immune from liability for their actions.""[The] Court reaffirmed its decision from last year that detainees are not 'persons' for the purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was enacted in 1993 to protect against government actions that unreasonably interfere with religious practices," the release continued. "Last year, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a member of the Court of Appeals panel who issued the decision today, referred to the Court’s holding that detainees are not 'persons' as 'a most regrettable holding in a case where plaintiffs have alleged high-level U.S. government officials treated them as less than human.'"The full press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights follows.####
Court Of Appeals Rules Detainees Are Not “Persons” in Guantбnamo Torture SuitCourt Agrees with Obama Administration that Detainees Still Have No Constitutional Right Not to Be TorturedApril 24, 2009 Washington, D.C. – In a suit brought by British men imprisoned for two years at Guantanamo, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today reaffirmed its previous ruling that Guantanamo detainees lack the fundamental constitutional right not to be tortured and are not “persons” under a U.S. statute protecting religious freedom. Last summer, the Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeals to reconsider its previous decision in Rasul v. Rumsfeld, in light of the High Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which recognized the constitutional right of habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. The plaintiffs urged the Court of Appeals to follow the clear logic of the Boumediene decision and to recognize both the constitutional rights of the detainees to humane and just treatment and the fact that, under any definition of the word, they are “persons” entitled to religious freedom and dignity as required by law. “We’re not surprised by the Court’s ruling, but we are disappointed. The Court failed to follow the Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene and ignored its own prior decisions holding that habeas corpus is not analytically distinct from other fundamental constitutional rights,” said Eric L. Lewis, of the Washington, DC law firm of Baach Robinson & Lewis, which is lead counsel for the four men in their lawsuit. “If you get habeas, you should get the other fundamental rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution."In its first filing on detention and torture under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice filed briefs in March urging the Court of Appeals to reject any constitutional or statutory rights for detainees. The Obama Justice Department further argued that even if such rights were recognized, the Court should rule that the previous administration’s officials who ordered and approved torture and abuse of the plaintiffs should be immune from liability for their actions."This is a question about accountability for torture and abuse. It’s a disgrace to have a U.S. court stating that Guantбnamo detainees are not persons. It would be a shame to have our new President supporting such a position in the Supreme Court. It was bad enough for the Obama Administration to take this position at this stage. We hope that they reconsider," stated Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “Boumediene acknowledged that the fundamental rights we take for granted apply to persons in U.S. custody at Guantanamo. This decision runs directly counter to that principle." In its decision today, the Court rejected the detainees’ argument that the Boumediene decision compelled the recognition of fundamental constitutional rights for detainees. Instead, the Court of Appeals held that the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision applied only to the right of habeas corpus, and that no additional constitutional rights could be extended to detainees unless the Supreme Court specifically authorized and approved such rights. In addition, the Court reaffirmed its decision from last year that detainees are not “persons” for the purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was enacted in 1993 to protect against government actions that unreasonably interfere with religious practices. Last year, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a member of the Court of Appeals panel who issued the decision today, referred to the Court’s holding that detainees are not “persons” as “a most regrettable holding in a case where plaintiffs have alleged high-level U.S. government officials treated them as less than human.” This statement is noticeably absent from Judge Brown’s substantively identical concurring opinion issued today. For more information on Rasul v. Rumsfeld, click here.The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fudging figures in the Philippines

This is from Asia Times. No doubt the Arroyo govt. can be credited with greater sins than spinning economic data but this article at least gives a less rosy picture of the Philippine economy so that we can have a more balanced view of the situation.

Southeast Asia
Apr 25, 2009

Fudging figures in the Philippines
By Joel D Adriano
MANILA - The Philippine Labor Department has said that unemployment concerns are easing and that the government is now more vigorously tracking job gains rather than losses. This despite the fact the Philippine economy has slowed amid the global economic crisis, with export, foreign investment and corporate profit statistics all down. The Labor Department reported broadly that only 121,000 workers lost their jobs, suffered pay cuts or had their working hours reduced between October last year to mid-March this year. Officials have presented those numbers as positive news, considering they had earlier projected between 180,000 to 300,000 workers would lose their jobs by the end of the first quarter. The electronics and semiconductor sectors, which account for

nearly half of the country's export revenues, were expected to hemorrhage the most jobs. Some argue the government is obscuring the hard unemployment reality by dispensing vague measures. An April 2007 labor survey showed the manufacturing sector had lost 105,000 jobs from the same month the previous year, as global orders for computers and electronics started to collapse. Buoyed by the better-than-projected official statistics, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has now predicted that unemployment will not breach the double-digit threshold this year. Recent government figures show that the unemployment rate hit 7.7% in January, equivalent to around 2.9 million jobless workers, and up from the 6.8% recorded in October of last year. The official optimism comes despite growing private economist concerns of an inrush home of overseas foreign workers (OFWs) who have lost their jobs amid the global recession. The government predicts gross domestic product (GDP) growth will slow to between 3.1%-4.1% this year, down from last year's 4.6% and well off the 7.3% recorded in 2007. The International Monetary Fund is much more pessimistic, predicting Philippine growth will be flat this year, down from its previous 2.25% prediction. Critics say the government's official measures purposefully understate what is a mounting economic problem and potentially volatile political one. That's particularly true of unemployment statistics due to Arroyo's controversial decision to change the official definition over four years ago when unemployment was hovering near double digits. The old definition of "those not working and at the same time looking for work" was changed in favor of a vague "availability of work" concept, which excluded frustrated jobseekers or those who had given up hope of finding employment after searching unsuccessfully for a certain time period. The new definition also added unpaid family labor to the number of employed as part of the distortion, said Elmer Labog of the activist labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno. According to the Social Weather Station (SWS), a private survey research firm, if the old definition were still applied, the actual unemployment rate could be as high as one-third of the total labor force. The SWS estimated that the real unemployment rate was 27.9%, representing over 10 million jobless Filipinos. The Ibon Foundation think-tank put the end-of-year figure at 4.1 million unemployed Filipinos, which was still almost 50% higher than the official rate. Both those higher figures correspond with anecdotal evidence of mounting job losses in depressed urban areas and the rural countryside, where the majority of Filipino workers still live. Even with the government's more optimistic figures, the Philippines' unemployment rate is the second-highest among core Association of Southeast Asian Nation member countries, trailing only Indonesia's 8.4%. The end of year unemployment rates in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia were 1.4%, 2.6% and 3.3% respectively. The Philippines is also known to have a stubbornly high underemployment rate. According to a recent World Bank study, more than 60% of Filipino workers are employed in low-paid agriculture, fishing, domestic and service work sectors, many of whom are family laborers or non-wage earners. The industrial sector, where job losses are mounting as foreign investors shutter their Philippine operations, accounts for just 15% of the work force and most laborers work on a contractual basis, offering little job security or social safety net benefits, according to the World Bank. The lack of job security, some say, explains why mounting job losses have so far not resulted in more social unrest - although government concerns of unrest could explain its alleged understatement of unemployment figures. Stop-gap measuresArroyo's government has reacted to the economic slowdown by intensifying official efforts to place more Filipino workers overseas, despite the diminishing opportunities amid the rising global economic crisis. With the US and much of Europe in recession, the government is hoping to land more jobs in the Middle East. In that direction, Arroyo is also looking into lifting her government's five-year-old ban on sending workers to Iraq. The Philippines is already a top global source of skilled and unskilled migrant workers, with estimates as high as 12 million, including undocumented Filipino workers employed in over 200 foreign countries. That represents nearly 15% of the total Philippine population and their foreign currency-denominated remittances have been crucial to keeping the local economy afloat. Overseas workers sent home some US$16.4 billion last year, representing nearly one-fifth of GDP and a crucial driver of domestic consumption. Foreign remittances slipped slightly from 1.4 billion pesos in December to 1.26 billion in January, according to most recent official statistics. The World Bank has conservatively predicted a 4% decline in remittances this year, in line with expected migrant job losses overseas. Administration officials contend they have taken big steps to boost local employment and economic activity, including measures in a $2 billion fiscal stimulus package. That included a $2 million earmark for the temporary hiring of 180,000 workers, though the program is scheduled to wind down later this year. Arroyo has also called on local governments to set aside 1.5% of their budgets to create jobs. Critics argue that many of those schemes have been poorly planned, including instructions from the Department of Trade and Industry to one local government to hire people in its municipality to gather scrub plants and convert them into useful products without indicating how to structure or market the grassroots enterprises. "The government is missing on a great deal of opportunity to come up with something and make the best of the crisis," said one local official who declined to be named. "Instead, funds are wasted on activities and job placements that are hardly productive and are simply meant to justify their salaries." Economists note that ramped up spending is putting extraordinary pressures on the national budget and bond yields. The government turned in a $1 billion deficit in March, its largest-ever one-month shortfall. The overall first quarter deficit was nearly $2.4 billion, a full $2 million over target, and has raised concerns the government will need international capital markets to finance the shortfall. The government raised $1.5 billion in a sovereign bond issue in January. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto has predicted that the country's budget deficit could reach $5.3 billion if tax collections fell short of target and the government failed to raise revenues through asset sales. Privatization proceeds last year, including from the sale of the government's remaining 40% share in oil giant Petron Corp, helped raise non-tax revenue by 35%. This year, officials hope to raise some $1 billion from the sale of government shares in power distribution firm Meralco to the local San Miguel Corp, the biggest food conglomerate in Southeast Asia. The company's chairman, Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, has pledged to help with the government's job-generation drive by hiring more local workers. But it's not clear to most that will have any meaningful impact on the Philippines' rising and largely understated unemployment problem. Joel D Adriano is an independent consultant and award-winning freelance journalist. He was a sub-editor for the business section of The Manila Times and writes for ASEAN BizTimes, Safe Democracy and People's Tonight.

Frontier (Pakistan) wisdom by Syed Shahzad

This is from asiatimes.

This is just one page of a detailed analysis of what is happening in SWAT and adjacent areas that is in stark contrast to the fear mongering simplistic rhetoric supporting US policy decisions that passes as commentary in the mainstream US press. The situation is not straightforward but extremely complex and it is no easy task for the Pakistanis to accomodate themselves to the simple minded simplistic US view that they should be concentrating on fighting terrorism. This emphasis has already helped the Taliban and emboldened them and is likely to continue to do so. Already the ability to supply Afghan occupiers from Pakistan is being threatened so that more costly routes through Russia and neighbouring states are being set up.

Page 1 of 4INTERVIEW
Frontier wisdom
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
PESHAWAR - A year ago, the United States brokered a deal in Pakistan between then-Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf and opposition parties to bring Pakistan back onto the path of real democracy, at the same time returning the military to the "war on terror" front. The goal was to empower the political parties to defeat domestic militancy through consensus and broad-based government
, with a civilian president. This happened to some extent following elections in February 2008 and the subsequent formation of a civilian administration under President Asif Ali Zardari
. However, on the first anniversary of those polls, Pakistan has changed horses in midstream by striking deals with militants and
stopping all military operations against militants. In other words, Pakistan is refusing to fight the American war in the region, as was the grand plan. On the front line Pashtun-dominated North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), although the smallest of the four provinces of Pakistan, is center-stage in the struggle against militancy as it borders Afghanistan to the north and the troubled tribal areas to its west. The man who presides over the province, sitting in Governor's House in the capital Peshawar, is Owais Ahmad Ghani, previously a successful governor of southwestern Balochistan province and a former trusted lieutenant of Musharraf. He took over in January 2008 after four-and-a-half years in his previous position. Governor's House reflects some of the rich history of the Pashtuns; its walls have murals of Alexander the Great's army in battle as some Pashtuns believe they are descendents of the leader's Greeks. There is also Koranic calligraphy showing their Muslim legacy. With his background and given his present position, Ghani is intimately informed of the intricacies of Pakistan's evolving policy with regard to militants. In an extensive interview with Asia Times Online, he says that the move towards peace deals with militants was not the result of any blackmail or pressure from the side of militants. Rather, it grew from the realization that the seven-year-long strategy of military operations only aggravated the situation. Now, with peace deals, Pakistan is returning to the pre-1979 setup when, under the aegis of the state, tribes decided their terms of peace through their riwaj (customary laws). Ghani admits that the situation can at best only be contained as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. The Taliban and other groups consider this a reason for jihad, and Pakistan territory is used to fuel this cause. Probably the most important peace deal in NWFP is the one concluded in February with militants in the Swat area after two years of fighting. Asia Times Online: There is a perception of you that you initiate political negotiations, and then follow with military operations. That's what you did when you were governor of Balochistan, and some say that is why you were brought to NWFP. Owais Ahmad Ghani: This is a perception that you have from the outside. But let me explain to you in detail. The situation we face has always revolved around this question: Is this a law-and-order issue, or is it an insurgency? This is the first question I raised when I came here [NWFP]. Law and order is not a protracted activity. It is temporary and there are some immediate issues. It can be criminal issues and it can also be issues of public agitation. For example, against [power] loadshedding, against inflation or political issues. After some debate we came to the conclusion that this is an insurgency in which there is an attempt to dislodge the state of Pakistan and create space for another state. So we started from this premise. I can today state with a degree of confidence that insurgency has now been downgraded to militancy. But certainly last year in January and February our conclusion was that we were facing an insurgency, and we designed a strategy accordingly. Now in such a situation there are two concurring battles being fought. One is the battle of ideas. The other is the battle of arms. The battle of ideas is always a lead battle and the battle of arms is always subservient to the battle of ideas. Please understand this. Here [NWFP] I found a very strange situation in which the battle of arms had been joined, but there was no battle of ideas. The battle of ideas is a political approach. It is the same approach which I have been telling the Americans to adopt in Afghanistan. In 2003-04, I predicted to various American personalities, like ambassadors Ryan Crocker, Nancy Powell, their senators etc, that they were going to fail in Afghanistan because there was an over-emphasis on a military strategy, and I did not see any robust parallel political strategy at work. I said [to the Americans] that what you are doing is that you are trying to find a military solution to an issue which is essentially political in nature. So that is the mistake happening there that I felt was also happening here [in Pakistan]. That's why the Americans have fought in Afghanistan for six or seven years, and I keep on asking them whether they have improved law and order - no. Has security improved? No. Has political stability been achieved? No. Has socio-economic development taken off? No. So obviously they were doing something wrong. We need to step back and review as exactly the same questions can be asked of Pakistan. For three or four years, we [Pakistan] have been fighting in the tribal areas. Have we reduced violence? Have we brought in political stability? Have we brought in security and law and order? Is social economic development taking place? No ... no .... no. So let's step back and let's review. Where are we going wrong? And according to our analysis - you need to understand this analysis, only then will you be able to understand the strategy - that it is not 9/11, it is 1979, which was the trigger which brought instability to this region. Before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a two-power environment in the tribal areas. One was the tribes themselves, the other one was the government of Pakistan. The entire administrative system and the law-enforcement system were designed according to this two-power environment. [In the Pakistani tribal areas] you had the maliks [tribal chiefs], you had the political administration, which I will explain later. However, post the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we were supported by the West and the United States and we used the tribal areas ... Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] ... as the launching pad for the Afghan jihad against the Soviet army. Whatever happened after that is the fallout of an unintended consequence of that conflict. Those jihadi organizations morphed into militant organizations [at the end of the Afghan jihad in 1989] and therefore a third power emerged and the old equilibrium was disturbed. Our administrative systems and law-enforcing agencies were not designed to cope with this three-power environment. A steady decline was there, but it was the shock of 9/11 which brought out the total inadequacy and the weakness of the system. And therefore as a temporary measure to bring about some control and stability, the army had to be inducted. But the main challenge is to reform our administrative and law-enforcing systems to cater for this new environment, which is going to remain for some time. This is our reading because everything is dependent on Afghanistan. If a certain degree of normalcy returns to Afghanistan, normalcy according to Afghan standards, only then can the issues the tribal areas and our provinces and Pakistan face subside. To correct the situation and to bring about stability and control, we fell back on old traditional systems. We had the original power-based tribes, but they had become weakened. Why? For three or four reasons. The militant organizations, they are highly organized because of their background, they are battle-hardened and heavily armed and very well funded. And very importantly, while tribal influence is limited to its own area, its own people, the militant organizations have cross-tribal linkages, cross-border linkages, international linkages. And while tribes are bound by their tribal traditions and customary laws [riwaj], the militant organizations are not. So they have out-gunned, out-funded and out-organized the tribal malik and his tribe, and that's why that system could not respond. So our strategy was very simple, we needed to prop up the tribes because the real strength is the people. No government, whether a civilian government or a military government, can really function or succeed until it has brought public support behind it ... sentiment behind it. For us to prop up the tribal system again, this could only be done by weakening the militants, militarily, so that at a certain point we could make the tribes strong enough. This is the basic approach - the state of Pakistan owes its first loyalty to its own citizens, and its own citizens are the tribes. There were previous agreements, previous to my tenure, but they were flawed. I was sitting in Quetta [as governor of Balochistan] and I said these were flawed and could not succeed because they were between the military and the militants [for example, one signed in September 2006]. The agreements should have been between the government of Pakistan and the tribes. Our approach has been that it is the government of Pakistan dealing with the tribes and making agreements with the tribes. For example, we have conducted only one written agreement, and that is in North Waziristan [tribal area]. There is no other agreement in my period [as governor of NWFP]. On February 17, 2008, we signed an agreement in North Waziristan. Over 380 tribal maliks and tribal elders signed that agreement. ATol: Do the tribal elders matter? OAG: They do. Obviously, we understand that 20-25 of those tribal leaders are very closely aligned with militant elements. I would not call them the Taliban because that has a different connotation altogether. They were with these militants because they were in that society. But we are talking to them on the basis of them being tribal leaders, and they have a certain relationship. Let me explain that relationship.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Escobar: Torture whitewash from the Dark Side.

This is from asiatimes.

I was rather shocked by the treatment of these issues by mainstream media such as CNN. On the Lou Dobbs show there was considerable criticism of the Obama decision to release the memos.
This article does not mention that Obama has seemingly changed his tune or at least qualified his view that no one should be charged over the torture. While he claims that those who acted within the parameters of what was at the time declared legal should be immune, those who provided the legal framework might be charged. I doubt that much if anything will come of this.
Dobbs stressed reports that the torture worked as if that should settle the matter. That this uses the principle that the means justifies the end doesn't come up or that it violates basic human rights. Dobbs is at times so stupid and superficial that it boggles my mind. The show also ignored the fact that many experts believe that torture rarely if ever provides much useful information. Dobbs takes self-serving reports by officials as gospel. What a fraud he is at times.
Once or twice a show he gets something right. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Torture whitewash from The Dark Side
By Pepe Escobar
It's a script worthy of Freddie Krueger, the fictional character from the A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Nearly five years after the irruption of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, here's another chamber of horrors, another glimpse of how The Dark Side really works. But the George W Bush torture memos released by the Barack Obama administration
last week, written in legalese by Jay Bybee and Stephen Bradbury, are just a preview. Many will relish the newspeak. ("We conclude that - although sleep deprivation and use of the waterboard present more substantial questions in certain aspects under the statute and the use of tile waterboard raises the most substantial issue - none of these specific
techniques, considered individually, would violate the prohibition in sections 134:0•2340A.") As for the whole movie - a 21st century remix of a D W Griffith epic - it could be called Death of a Nation. The US Senate report, also just released, reads like deja vu all over again: the US establishment under Bush was a replay of the Spanish Inquisition. And it all started even before a single "high-profile al-Qaeda detainee" was captured. What Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and assorted little inquisitors wanted was above all to prove the non-existent link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al-Qaeda, the better to justify a pre-emptive, illegal war planned by the now-defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in the late 1990s. The torture memos were just a cog in the imperial machine. The New York Times, in a fit of decency, at least has already demanded that Congress impeach the lawyerly Bybee, who got his lifetime seat in a federal appeals court from ... Bush. Everyone knew about the torture. Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who along with Karl "Machiavelli" Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby was one of the leakers of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Valerie Plame in the infamous Niger yellowcake affair, admitted to al-Jazeera that "in hindsight", "maybe" he should have resigned. Former executive director of the 9/11 Commission Philip Zelikow, very close to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, also has joined the swelling crowd of "I was against it, too, but in the end I did not resign". More crucially, Armitage also told al-Jazeera why this may well end up being ... just another whitewash. "I don't think the members of the Senate particularly want to look into these things because they will have to look at themselves in the mirror. Where were they? ... They were AWOL, absent without leave." Nobody should expect madam speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate herself. In Washington, torture seems to be a bipartisan sport. Armitage also told al-Jazeera how he and his then-boss, secretary of state Colin Powell, "lost" the battle to respect the Geneva Conventions during Bush's first term. Japanese officers were tried for war crimes after World War II - by the United States - because they, among other practices, used ... waterboarding. That does not seem to apply to Bush administration officials. Welcome to another instance of American exceptionalism. WhitewashThe question is not that the torture memos should have been kept secret - as the CIA and Dick "Angler" Cheney wanted. The question is how to apply justice and uphold the rule of law. Austrian law professor Manfred Nowak, the Geneva-based United Nations
Human Rights Council's top torture investigator, is adamant: "President Barack Obama's decision not to prosecute CIA operatives who used questionable interrogation practices violates international law." As with the lies that led to the war on Iraq, nobody should expect from US corporate media anything other than ... whitewash. Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, carping about the role of a "great nation" but sounding like a Johnny Walker commercial, said "sometimes in life you just wanna keep walking". Law-abiding citizens walking all across the world, for their part, were hoping that the so-called "Bush Six" - former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, former under secretary of defense Douglas Feith, Cheney's former chief of staff David Addington, John Yoo and Bybee from the Justice Department, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes - would one day catch a flight to Europe for some deluxe rest and recreation and be arrested on the spot by judges claiming universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, just as it happened in England to that notorious, now deceased, torturer/dictator Augusto Pinochet from Chile. But it won't happen. Spanish prosecutors literally put the ball back in the US court. And what about Bush telling Fox News last year "they gave me a list of tools and I said, 'Are these tools deemed to be legal?' and so we got legal opinions, before any decision was made, and I think when people study the history of this particular episode they'll find out that we gained good information". Well, if The Great Decider had "studied the history" he would have learned he didn't protect anything, as even US interrogators have dismissed torture as useless in extracting crucial intelligence. And apparently legal counsel also told The Great Decider it was OK to torture alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's children with ... swarms of bugs. Unfazed, the CIA still insists waterboarding works. But with 183 waterboarding sessions, 15 seconds a session, spread over one month, who did Khalid Shayk Mohammed think he was, Iron Man? Moreover, an analyst told Vanity Fair 90% of what he revealed was "bullshit". As for Cheney, he will never deviate from his own "mission accomplished" script. As he recently told CNN, "My general sense ... is that we accomplished nearly everything we set out to do." Paraphrasing Tacitus, that's quite an accomplishment - to destroy the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia and call it ... victory. Obama has emitted his own muted version of "Never Again!" Well, not really. Under Obama's executive orders passed in January, the CIA is still engaged in extraordinary renditions and shipping suspects to ... overseas contractors, torture-friendly US allies in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Pressure, anyway, kept mounting from all quarters. The White House was forced to back down. Obama now has left the door open to prosecution of the lawyerly minions. Cheney, of course, is not backing down. Still convinced that torture is swell, he wants other memos - which allegedly demonstrate torture's effectiveness - declassified. So ideally the Obama administration should come up with a special prosecutor or better yet, a truth commission - and call Cheney's bluff. And all this is happening while an even more damning Dark Side memo has not even been declassified. Next train to The HagueThis whole drama is shaping up as a case of American exceptionalism one cannot believe in. Without accepting full responsibility for torture - and illegal, pre-emptive wars - and without accountability, there can be no catharsis in America. Obama is enough of a smart operator to know that if his "going forward" is perceived like "look the other way", this whole thing will come back to haunt and even destroy his presidency. And if it walks and talks like a whitewash, that's because it must be ... a whitewash. Supposing the Obama Justice Department appoints a special prosecutor and we end up with the "Bush Six" or even Bush-era top dogs in the slammer, and not only a few minions and go-betweens, the whole Washington establishment would literally collapse - a Tower of Babel of scum and corruption. Would Obama ever muster the balls to carry it out? That's unlikely. That would mean in practice burying the American empire - and as Obama has provided plenty of proof in his nearly 100 days in power (from the Afghan surge to his CIA coddling) he doesn't want to go down in history as the man who unraveled the American empire. Seize the moment? No, he won't. All that's left for the rest of walking humanity is just the dream of shipping Cheney to a really accomplished destination - The Hague, so he can be duly tried for treason and crimes against humanity. Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Philippine Recession 'bottoming out''

This is from the Manila Standard.

The concept of a recession is obviously relative. The Philippines has experienced a slowdown rather than a recession in the sense of negative growth in the economy. Even so, with the global decline the Philippines will be experiencing a decline in foreign remittances which is very important for the economy.

Recession’ bottoming out
By Roderick T. dela Cruz
The economic slowdown in the Philippines has started to bottom out and growth will pick up in the third quarter of the year as the impact of the world financial crisis on the country subsides, Economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said yesterday.
“We are seeing a bottoming out of the crisis,” said Recto, who is also director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority.
He said the first quarter growth would be the poorest this year and that higher numbers were expected by the third quarter.
Neda said the economy likely grew 2.1 percent to 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2009, the period that bore the brunt of the global economic downturn.
Recto, speaking at the sidelines of the launch of the Millennium Development Goals Fund Joint Program on Democratic Economic Governance at Dusit Thani Manila Hotel in Makati City, said growth was expected to pick up in the coming quarters. The National Statistical Coordination Board will release the official growth figures for the first quarter in the third week of May.
Recto said the preliminary growth estimate in the first quarter was based on the poor performance of exports and job losses reported during the period.
Merchandise exports fell 40 percent in January and 39 percent in February, as global demand for electronics and garments tumbled amid the lingering financial crisis.
Recto said some 100,000 Filipino workers were also affected by the crisis in the first quarter, with about half losing their jobs because of company closures or retrenchment.
But Recto said the Philippine economy was one of the only few countries that were expected to grow positively, along with China, Indonesia and Brazil.
He said growth would be supported by consumer spending, which rose by an average of 4.5 percent over the past decades. Personal consumption expenditures account for about two-thirds of the GDP in the Philippines.
Recto said he was optimistic the Philippines would achieve its growth target this year as long as remittances continued to grow at the present pace and inflation remained manageable.
He added interest rates had been easing in support of economic expansion.
The Development Budget Coordination Committee earlier said the GDP was expected to grow within a range of 3.1 percent to 4.1 percent in 2009, from a 4.6 percent actual expansion in 2008.
Fitch Ratings, meanwhile, lowered its economic growth forecast for the Philippines this year, saying the global recession would lead to a decline in exports and remittances from Filipino workers overseas.

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