Sunday, February 28, 2010

Favorable Ratings of Labor Unions Plummet in US.

Not surprisingly the US has a low rate of unionization compared to many other countries. It seems that media hype about big labor driving up costs and overly rich pensions and benefits works to turn those lack such benefits to blame unions and look at them unfavorably. This will make things even more difficult for the working class in a time period when capital can use the recession and financial problems in some corporations to roll back wages and benefits that it took years of hard fought battles for the unions to win. Of course in some cases fat cat union bosses seem more interested in lining their own nests or furthering their own power rather than fighting for better conditions for their members. Even so it would make more sense for workers to join unions and improve them and their own situation rather than leave themselves vulnerable to whatever their bosses want.

Favorability Ratings of Labor Unions Fall Sharply

Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions' purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.

The latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Feb. 3-9 among 1,383 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, finds that favorable opinions of unions have fallen across demographic and partisan groups. Still, far more Democrats have favorable views of unions (56%) than do independents (38%) or Republicans (29%).

Last year, a Pew Research survey found a decline in the proportion of the public saying labor unions are necessary to protect working people, while more expressed concern about the power of unions. In April 2009, 61% agreed with the statement "labor unions are necessary to protect the working person," down from 68% in 2007 and 74% in 2003. In the same survey, six-in-ten (61%) agreed that "labor unions have too much power," up from 52% in 1999.

The findings about eroding public support for unions are consistent with other recent surveys. In August 2009, Gallup found that fewer than half of Americans (48%) approve of labor unions, an all-time low for a question that has been asked since 1936. In August 2008, 59% said they approved of labor unions.

Declines in Labor Favorability Among Most Groups
In recent years, positive attitudes about labor unions have declined significantly across most demographic groups. The largest change has come among those 65 and older. Currently 29% of this group says they have a favorable opinion of unions, down 31 points from 60% in 2007. Notably, those younger than 30 are the only age group in which a majority (53%) expresses a favorable view of unions; even so, far more young people (66%) expressed a positive opinion two years ago.

Though ratings by whites and blacks are both down, a greater percentage of African Americans continues to have a favorable impression of unions -- just as they did in 2007. Currently, 59% of blacks say they have a positive view of unions, down from 75% three years ago. Just more than a third of whites (37%) express a favorable opinion, down from 54% in 2007.

Labor union favorability among Republicans has dropped from 47% to 29%, while unfavorable opinions have risen from 45% to 58%. Independents show a similar shift (54% favorable in 2007 to 38% now). Democrats remain the most positive about unions -- but in smaller numbers: 56% say they have a favorable opinion today, down from 70% in 2007; unfavorable opinions have increased from 19% to 26%.

One group that has shown virtually no change is union households. Today, 74% of those in union households say they have a favorable view of labor unions; 22% have an unfavorable view. Three years ago, 77% had a favorable view, while 19% had an unfavorable opinion.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 12.3% of wage and salary workers in the United States belonged to unions in 2009. That was comparable to 2008 (12.4%), but down from 20.1% in 1983, the first year when comparable data are available. BLS says that more public sector workers now belong to unions than private sector workers.

Fewer See Labor Unions as Necessary
Pew Research's April 2009 survey of the public's political and social values -- see "Independents Take Center Stage in Obama Era," May 21, 2009 -- found declines in the proportions of independents and Republicans saying labor unions are necessary to protect working people.

Just 53% of independents agreed that labor unions are necessary to protect working people, down from 67% in 2007 and 73% a decade earlier. Fewer than half of Republicans (44%) agreed with that statement in 2009, down nine points from 2007 (and 1999). Democrats, meanwhile, showed little change over the 10-year period, with at least 80% consistently saying that unions were needed to protect working people each time the question was asked.

In 2009, 82% of African Americans said unions were necessary to protect working people, little changed from 83% a decade earlier. By contrast, the proportion of whites agreeing with this statement fell to 54% in 2009 from 67% in 1999. Labor unions lost support among white men, in particular. Just 47% of white men agreed that labor unions were necessary to protect working people, down from 67% in 2003. Over that same period, the percentage of white women who saw unions as necessary declined by 11 points (from 72% to 61%).

That survey also found an increasing proportion saying labor unions are too powerful. Last year, 61% agreed that unions have too much power, while 33% disagreed. In 1999, the last time this question was asked, the divide was narrower: 52% agreed that unions had too much power; 40% disagreed.

Again, most of the change of opinion came among independents and Republicans. Among independents, 66% said unions had too much power, up from 53% in 1999. Three-quarters of Republicans (75%) last year said that unions had too much power, up from 65% 10 years earlier. By comparison, 46% of Democrats concurred, which was little changed from 1999 (42%).

Find survey methodology and topline results at

Wall Street Shifts Funding to Republicans

Many people who complain about how Wall Street is being bailed out by Obama and spending huge sums getting the financial system back in shape will now turn to the Republicans after Obama makes threatening noises about regulation which has thrown a scare into the Street. During the campaign Obama received lots of donations from Wall Street but now Wall Street is trying to take advantage of the backlash against Obama and will go back to feeding their traditional favorites the Republicans.

Wall Street shifting political contributions to Republicans

By Dan Eggen and Tomoeh Murakami Tse
Washington Post Staff Writer

Commercial banks and high-flying investment firms have shifted their political contributions toward Republicans in recent months amid harsh rhetoric from Democrats about fat bank profits, generous bonuses and stingy lending policies on Wall Street.

The wealthy securities and investment industry, for example, went from giving 2 to 1 to Democrats at the start of 2009 to providing almost half of its donations to Republicans by the end of the year, according to new data compiled for The Washington Post by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Commercial banks and their employees also returned to their traditional tilt in favor of the GOP after a brief dalliance with Democrats, giving nearly twice as much to Republicans during the last three months of 2009, the data show. At the same time, total political donations by the major banks and investment houses alike dropped in the waning months of that year.

The nascent shift came even before the White House announced proposals for a new tax on banks and a curb on some of their riskiest trading activities.

The proposals, offered last month, particularly alarmed Wall Street and have triggered renewed industry efforts to work with Democrats as well as Republicans on regulatory reform legislation that the bankers can live with, according to industry and government officials. Wall Street executives would prefer to engage with Democratic leaders now rather than face prolonged uncertainty about the rules to govern the industry, the sources said.

The new campaign contributions data underscore the political quandary facing Democrats, who want Wall Street donations to help fend off a GOP resurgence in congressional elections this fall but hope to distance themselves from an industry vilified by the public as greedy and ungrateful. President Obama has sought to strike a balance, calling outsize Wall Street bonuses "shameful" and "obscene" while also assuring business executives that he does not "begrudge people success or wealth."

Republicans, meanwhile, are soliciting Wall Street for donations with the argument that Democratic proposals would hurt the bottom lines of major financial institutions. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters this month that he was urging Wall Street executives to "help our team" oppose the "bizarre policies" coming out of the Obama administration.

One senior Republican staff member on Capitol Hill, who discussed contributions on the condition of anonymity, said: "Democrats in Washington are clearly trying to move legislation that would be very damaging to that industry. It was almost like there was a free ride time. But now they're starting to see the real negative impact of Democratic proposals."

Obama had unusually strong backing from Wall Street for a Democratic presidential candidate. He raised more than $18 million from bank and brokerage employees, for example, compared with rival John McCain's $10 million. (Obama did not accept money from PACs.) Prominent among Obama's bundlers -- individuals who raised at least $50,000 -- were private equity executives and hedge fund titans, including billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin of Citadel Investment Group, who had previously backed Republicans.

But Obama soon encountered stiff opposition from the financial industry -- and some fellow Democrats -- over proposals to curb executive pay, tighten rules on financial derivatives and create an agency to protect consumers of mortgages, credit cards and other financial products. Financial executives have also bristled at the president's increasingly populist tone over the past year, including his quip in December that he did not run for office to help "fat-cat bankers on Wall Street."

The industry has responded with its own change in attitude, according to contribution data and interviews. For some prominent executives, the final straw came in January, when Obama proposed a fee on big banks to recoup losses from the government's $700 billion program to bail out financial firms. When the president followed up a few days later with another plan to restrict the growth of large banks, some on Wall Street said they regretted their earlier support. "I'm not voting for him again," one said.

Still, others said they would not switch alliances just yet. "I understand people are not happy about this. Wall Street did pour a lot of money into the campaign, some of which I solicited," said one Wall Street executive and Democratic bundler, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. "Having said that, we're kind of responsible for a lot of what went down."

One Democratic-leaning firm that has signaled particular displeasure with the administration's direction is J.P. Morgan Chase, which is headed by Obama supporter James Dimon and features several other prominent Democrats in its upper ranks. The bank and its employees, who doled out nearly $500,000 in federal contributions last year, went from giving 76 percent of the money to Democrats in the first quarter to giving 73 percent to Republicans in the fourth.

In a pointed break with recent practice, the company's political action committee also contributed $30,000 to GOP congressional campaign committees in 2009 while giving nothing to their Democratic equivalents. According to one source familiar with its donation strategy, the bank did not want to offer blanket support for the Democratic committees, which could then use the money to support anti-Wall Street hopefuls.

Yet the bank and its executives are still ready to support specific Democratic candidates considered friendly to the financial sector. Last Wednesday, Jes Staley, the head of J.P. Morgan's investment bank, held a 50-person fundraiser at his home for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who is trying to fend off a primary challenge by Harold E. Ford Jr., a former congressman who holds a senior position at Bank of America's investment bank. Ford has his own support in the financial sector.

The move toward the GOP is most evident among commercial banks, a buttoned-down sector that has historically favored Republicans to a greater degree than their swashbuckling counterparts in the investment banks. Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo all favored the GOP in combined individual and PAC contributions last year, according to the quarterly data compiled by CRP.

But analysts note that Democrats still came out ahead in gathering money from Wall Street in 2009 and said it is too early to tell whether the move toward the Republicans will continue. Many Democrats also declined contributions last year from banks that received federal bailout money, possibly accounting for some of the shift.

"There could be some changes at the margins," said Scott E. Talbott, chief lobbyist with the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the largest financial institutions. The anger toward Washington, he added, "doesn't always translate to changes in political giving. The environment changes quickly and constantly. No one issue drives political donations."

Steve Hildebrand, a Democratic strategist who served as Obama's deputy national campaign director, argues that the party needs to swear off Wall Street money altogether.

"I think Democrats ought to be leaders in renouncing all money from special-interest groups, whether it's banks or trial lawyers or unions," he said. "But let's not kid ourselves; they're all doing it. Democrats are still fighting for the same money as Republicans. They're just not crowing about it."

Democrats in Washington have seized on GOP fundraising efforts in an attempt to link the party to unpopular Wall Street financiers. "Republicans have sent a clear message to the American people that Wall Street matters more than middle-class families and small businesses that are hurting on Main Street," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a recent statement.

One GOP strategist said the party expects to face attacks on the issue no matter what. "We'd rather have the whacks and the money than the whacks and no money," he said.

Tse reported from New York. Staff writer David Cho contributed to this report.

House Abandons Intel Budget Vote over opposition to torture ban.

So let's get this straight. The Obama administration is opposed to torture and supposedly has outlawed it but it is not in favor of punishing anyone for using it! Maybe the US just opposes torture in principle but is not in favor of taking any measures that might actually discourage its use even if it is illegal.

News From - -

House Abandons Intel Budget Vote Over Opposition to Torture Ban

Posted By Jason Ditz
House Democrats stopped a vote last night over the $50 billion classified intelligence budget following growing opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats to a provision which would have criminalized the torture of detainees.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI)The “Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Interrogation Act of 2010” specifically banned a long list of forms of abuse and torture, and threatened interrogators with 15 years in prison for violating the bans. Interrogators would face up to life in prison if they tortured the detainee to death.

Several Republican Congressmen, led by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) termed the amendment “outrageous,” claiming it was an attack on the intelligence community. Centrist Democrats joined in, threatening to oppose the bill as well, and the House leadership abandoned the vote entirely.

President Obama had already threatened to veto the bill, saying it infringes on the rights of the executive branch. President Obama has already effectively banned torture with an executive order, and he reportedly objected to the bill on a number of other grounds.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ahmed Chalabi Rides Again in Iraq

Ryan Crocker may be correct about Chalabi's motivation that he is an opportunist and a nationalist--although his nationalism is pro-Shia and anti Sunni it would seem. However, he seems to be more interested in his own political advantage rather than anything else and he has been consistently anti Baath party. This made him a darling of the US before the US invasion and occupation. He was one of the foremost purveyors of false intelligence about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Rather than being no one's agent Chalabi is an agent for whichever group can advance his own agenda. When he was the darling of the US he was probably also working with Iran. Now he also may be working with Iran. However, should allying with Iran prove a hindrance he will drop the relationship in a moment. If there were a game of survivor among politicians Chalabi would probably win a gold medal!

Ahmed Chalabi's renewed influence in Iraq concerns U.S.
By Ernesto Londoño and Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD -- Ahmed Chalabi, the onetime U.S. ally, is in the limelight again, and his actions are proving no less controversial than they did years ago.

On the eve of Iraq's parliamentary elections, Chalabi is driving an effort aimed at weeding out candidates tied to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Chalabi is reprising a role he played after the U.S.-led invasion -- which many critics believe he helped facilitate with faulty intelligence -- and, in the process, is infuriating American officials and some Iraqis, who suspect his motive is to bolster his own political bloc.

Chalabi, a Shiite, has defended the work of the commission he is leading as legal and crucial during a period of transition to Iraq's first sovereign government. But his reemergence on the political scene has rankled U.S. officials and fueled concerns that Sunnis and other secular Iraqis will be marginalized.

Some Iraqi and U.S. officials think Chalabi might have his eyes on the ultimate prize, however unlikely he can attain it.

"Even if it kills him, he's going to stay in Iraq to try to become prime minister," said Ezzat Shahbandar, a Shiite lawmaker from a competing slate who has known Chalabi for more than 20 years. "This issue is the only tool he has, because he has nothing else going for him."

Chalabi fell out of favor with the Americans in 2004, after they accused him of spying for Iran. The year before, though, he had been appointed to head a U.S.-formed commission to rid the government of officials tied to Hussein's regime.

The hasty, wholesale purge that the commission conducted is now widely seen as a catalyst of the insurgency and Iraq's sectarian war. Today, however, Chalabi remains at the helm of a similar "de-Baathification" panel, the Justice and Accountability Commission, because parliament has not appointed new members.

When the commission recently announced the disqualification of nearly 500 candidates from the March 7 parliamentary elections, critics noted that candidates from Sunni-led and mixed secular coalitions were disproportionately targeted. Many of those ousted were rivals of Chalabi's bloc.

A court impaneled to review the cases carried out a cursory review behind closed doors. Candidates were allowed to submit written appeals but were never told the specific nature of the allegations against them. The court disqualified 145 candidates; most others dropped out or their parties replaced them.

Now the disqualifications are widening sectarian and religious divides in Iraq, even as it continues to reel from decades of authoritarian rule, occupation and bloodshed. This week, in an apparent attempt to allay some of the bitterness, the government said it would reinstate 20,000 former army officers ousted because of their ties to Hussein.

But the political disqualifications threaten to undermine the elections, overshadowing campaign issues such as security, unemployment and basic services.

At the center of it all is Chalabi.

In campaign posters, Chalabi, a onetime Iraqi exile, bills himself as "the Destroyer of the symbols of the Baath." Placards for other candidates on his political slate, the Iraqi National Alliance, are graced with the words "No space for the Baath," written in crimson letters that suggest blood.

The alliance is a Shiite coalition of parties whose most prominent figures are former Iraqi exiles in the current government. Those parties did poorly in provincial elections in January 2009.

"The provincial elections showed the limits of the appeal of sectarianism," a senior Western diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer candid analysis. By fanning fears of the return of the Baathists, the official added, "they may be hoping that Baathism will help them get past that limit."

Chalabi, 65, comes from an elite Baghdad family. He formed the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group, in the early 1990s with U.S. backing.

He has long had a strong relationship with Iran. But he became close to the CIA and the Pentagon in the run-up to the invasion, as U.S. officials used his group to muster opposition against Hussein. The U.S. government funneled millions to his group, which provided it with intelligence reports that later proved to be erroneous. In 2004, Chalabi was a guest of President George W. Bush at the State of the Union address.

Many Iraqi Shiite politicians have little regard for Chalabi because he left in the late 1950s, avoiding authoritarian rule. Many of his peers were imprisoned, tortured and forced into exile.

Despite his lack of popular support, Chalabi has remained relevant. Even his rivals allow that he has keen political instincts, a sharp mind and a knack for influencing powerful people. He also does not shy from controversy.

This week, his deputy on the commission, Ali Faisal al-Lami, said hundreds of officials in Iraq's intelligence, army and police agencies are subject to dismissal for links to the Baath Party.

"We believe there are thousands of others who will be found," he said in an interview. "These measures will seriously enhance security in Iraq by dismissing any bad elements that carry the Baath ideology."

If that effort gains traction in the weeks ahead, U.S. officials say, political violence could very well follow. U.S. commanders could also suddenly lose key Iraqi officers who they have trained and mentored over the years.

"They will try to get rid of pro-U.S. generals, but more importantly, they are stacking the deck with pro-Iranian officers, which will damage U.S. long-term interests in the long run," a senior U.S. military official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to talk to reporters. "This is why many neighboring Arab countries aren't so happy about us modernizing the Iraqi military with some of the latest equipment."

Chalabi did not respond to calls, e-mails and text messages seeking an interview. In a recent statement, he said his commission was "carrying out its legal, moral and nationalistic duty to protect the political process against infiltration by the Saddamist Baathists."

Ryan C. Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 until last year, said Chalabi is no one's "agent."

"He's an opportunist and he's a nationalist," Crocker said, "and he will use whatever vehicle or platform that presents itself to further his own agenda."

Special correspondent K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Who is afraid of Big Brother?

Very few it would seem at least if they are politicians. No doubt everyone will see this as directed against terrorists so it will be hunky dory. Apparently this is so routine that it does not even need debate. Authorities can demand to know what you read, and can keep you under surveillance even though there is nothing linking you to a terrorist organisation! All of this is just added in without any debate tacked on to a bill that has nothing to do with the Patriot Act. This is from

House Abandons Privacy Protections, Approves PATRIOT Act
Parts of Act Were Poised to Expire Sunday
by Jason Ditz,
The House of Representatives narrowly averted allowing the US Patriot Act to expire, abandoning all the proposed privacy provisions to the bill and approving it exactly as worded by the Senate in a vote earlier this week. Parts of Patriot Act would have expired Sunday, but passed through the Senate without debate.

The vote, incredibly enough titled the “Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act,” passed 315-97. The bill was so named because Senate Democrats inserted the Patriot Act’s extension into a Medicare reform bill.

Three sections of the Patriot Act were to “sunset” this year, including the roving wiretap provision, the library records seizure provision, and the “lone wolf” provision, which permitted surveillance against possible terrorists even if there was no evidence tying them to any terror organization.

The Obama Administration had expressed concern about the addition of civil rights protections to the bill, but said they would consider them so long as they didn’t weaken the president’s powers. In the end such consideration will be unneccesary, because the neither the House nor the Senate saw fit to include any protections at all.

Tea Party People are well educated and reasonably well off.

So maybe this is a re-incarnation of the new leftists of the sixties as the new right of the new millenium. Anyway, it would seem as the short clip shows neither average Americans as far as education is concerned and are reasonably well off.

This is from the latimes.

Most 'tea party' followers are baby boomers reliving the '60s
A poll debunks assumptions about the movement, showing that it's largely middle-class, college-educated, white and male.
|By Jim Spencer and Curtis Ellis
Oceans of ink, terabytes of blog space and an eternity of television time have been devoted to the latest object of media fascination, the "tea party" movement. Now (finally!), a poll conducted by CNN gives us some hard data on the Tea Party Nation.

Neither "average Americans," as they like to portray themselves, nor trailer-park "Deliverance" throwbacks, as their lefty detractors would have us believe, tea partyers are more highly educated and wealthier than the rest of America. Nearly 75% are college educated, and two-thirds earn more than $50,000.

Article by Michael Lebowitz on Socialism.

Lebowitz was in Venezuela for some time. In this article he discuses Vietnam as well which he visited recently. This is from the Socialistproject. Lebowitz is an emeritus professor of economics at Simon Fraser University in B.C. Canada.

The B u l l e t
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 315
February 20, 2010


Socialism: the Goal,
the Paths and the Compass
[Presentation of “El Socialismo no Cae del Cielo: Un Neuvo Comienzo” at the 2010 Havana Book Fair, 18 February 2010.]

Michael A. Lebowitz
There's an old saying that if you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there. As I've said on many occasions, this saying is mistaken. If you don’t know where you want to go, no road will take you there. In other words, you need an understanding of the goal. You need a vision for the future.

Marx had a very clear vision. It was a vision of a society which would permit the full development of human beings – a society which allowed everyone to develop their potential. And, that would occur not because of gifts from above but, rather, as a result of the activity of human beings. This was his concept of revolutionary practice – the simultaneous changing of circumstances and human activity or self change. Human development and practice – this “key link” in Marx reminds us that there are always two products as the result of our activity, the change in circumstances and the change in people themselves. It reminds us that what Marx called rich human beings, socialist human beings, produce themselves only through their own activity.

The Goal

Elementary triangle of socialism.
The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela incorporates this concept. It stresses that the goal of society must be the full development of every human being and that participation and protagonism is “the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective.” In 2007, President Chavez of Venezuela reinforced this vision by introducing what he called “the elementary triangle of socialism.” Social ownership of the means of production, social production organized by workers and production for social needs and purposes make up this triangle.

Firstly, social ownership of the means of production is the way to ensure that our communal, social productivity is directed to the free development of all rather than used to satisfy the private goals of capitalists, groups of producers, or state bureaucrats. Secondly, social production organized by workers permits workers to develop their capacities by combining thinking and doing in the workplace and, thus, to produce not only things but also themselves as self-conscious collective producers. Thirdly, satisfaction of social needs and purposes is the necessary goal of productive activity in the new society because it substitutes for the focus upon self-interest and selfishness an orientation to the needs of others and relations based upon solidarity.

The Paths
This is the vision of the society we want to build. This is where we want to go. And if we don’t know that, no road will take us there. However, knowing where you want to go is not enough. It’s not true that if you do know where you want to go, any road will take you there. Isn’t there a relationship between the goal, and the road you take to get there? Are these independent of each other? For example, can you get to the goal by going in the opposite direction? Do you build social ownership by relying upon capitalist ownership of the means of production and the capitalist monopoly of our social heritage and of the products of our labour? Do you build a society of associated producers and social production by preventing decision-making by workers and retaining the gap between thinking and doing? Do you build a society based upon solidarity, where production is for social needs, by stressing selfishness? In other words, do you go forward by going backwards?

Maybe. Maybe sometimes it is necessary. Socialism does not fall from the sky. It is necessarily rooted in particular societies. We all start from different places – in our development, in our histories. Therefore, there cannot be one single path. All paths will be different. Some will be longer than others. Some will be relatively straight, while others will require switchbacks because of the obstacles along the road. As we have learned, the biggest mistake is thinking that there is one road and one model.

The Compass
But there is a problem. When you are not going directly toward the goal, how do you avoid getting lost? How you avoid the problem of the growth of capital and capitalist interests, the alienation of workers in the process of production and thus an emphasis upon possessing things and consumerism, the growth of self-interest at the expense of solidarity? Some would say that there is no problem as long as we have a compass, as long as we have a directional finder. And that the party is that compass; the party can point in the direction of the goal when obstacles have temporarily forced you to go in the opposite direction.

I agree with that in principle. But I also believe that we need to learn from historical experience that the party is not itself immune, that it does not stand outside society and thus does not always point to the true North. This was certainly the case, for example, in Hungary, Yugoslavia and China. And, not only there. I have just returned from an intense month in Vietnam. There is no question in my mind that under the conditions facing Vietnam in the 1980s, it was essential for them to make a significant change in the path they were on.

The Example of Vietnam
By developing an economy which they describe as a market economy with a socialist orientation, they have succeeded in lifting their people from significant poverty. Whereas previously people were facing starvation, now Vietnam exports food. This is a very important achievement. They have also begun a process of industrialization.

However, there are serious problems. Young people are overwhelmingly oriented toward capitalism. They say openly that Vietnam needs more foreign investment, and they credit that foreign investment with ending poverty. They want capitalism, and they look upon Marxism as having no relevance to their lives. I stress this point because the students we met were not selected randomly. They came largely from the young communists.

And the dominant views increasingly are in fact no different from those in other countries in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Malaysia, and other nearby countries relying upon foreign investment and export oriented industrialization are the basis of constant comparison in Vietnam. In other words, capitalism is winning in Vietnam. There is growing inequality, there is the emergence of millionaires (not as many as in China so far) and there is a significant process of privatization of state-owned industry (which is called equitisation).

And then there is the party, “the socialist orientation.” It is my sense that a growing portion of the party is looking to Sweden and social democracy as the appropriate model. (In fact, this was openly advocated at the conference I attended at the Ho Chi Minh National Political Academy, the Party school.) In other words, an emerging goal is not the socialist vision but, rather, capitalism plus social policies which reduce inequality – a capitalist welfare state.

There is an infection in Vietnam, and the party is not immune to that infection. I suspect that the next Party Congress will involve a struggle over this direction. Some party leaders are very worried about these tendencies. Certainly, the direction of change in the party in recent congresses has been to strengthen capitalist tendencies – for example, they have removed the prohibition on membership in the party by capitalists.

Something has been missing in Vietnam. Missing so far has been a sufficient emphasis upon that participation and protagonism that is “the necessary way” to ensure the complete development of human beings, “both individually and collectively.” While there has been some focus upon grassroots democracy (for example, in Ho Chi Minh City), there has been very little decision-making by workers in workplaces (outside of annual congresses in state-owned industry), and there has been little emphasis upon conscious production for social needs. And, the results are predictable. In the absence of social production organized by workers and production for social needs, the third side of the socialist triangle, social ownership, is withering away. And, increasingly, the human product is people who embrace the logic of capital.

I think that Vietnam reinforces the lesson that every step to the market must be accompanied by two steps in the direction of building a socialist society: building worker decision-making in workplaces and building institutions based upon solidarity. If we recognize that people produce themselves through their activity, then their activity should unleash their potential rather than be left to an orientation to the market and self-interest. This is what I was stressing in Vietnam – that the party needs to create the conditions in which people can develop their capacities as protagonists within their workplaces and their communities, institutions such as the communal councils and workers councils being developed in Venezuela.

I suggest that through such a process of producing rich human beings with confidence and dignity, both the people and the party will be inoculated against the infection that can prevent us from reaching the socialist goal. That won’t be achieved, however, by a one-sided focus upon developing productive forces. In short, we should never forget the essential insight of Che Guevara – the necessity simultaneously to build productive forces and socialist human beings. •

Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of Beyond Capital: Marx's Political Economy of the Working Class (also available on Scribd) and Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. This article also published at

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( The B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Terrorism Law, the New McCarthyism

This law will have all sorts of repercussions. It is already creating difficulty for negotiations between the New People's Army the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Philippine government. The type of ridiculous outcomes of the law are obvious in the case of Retired Philippine General Raymundo Marque. He had visited the US several times but on one visit he was apprehended with his wife (who had actually come to the US for medical treatment) and eventually flown back to the Philippines. His crime was that he had associated with the New People's Army and even helped in negotiations for a peace agreement. Never mind he is a retired general in the Philippine armed forces or a business consultant for the Philippine National OIl company or that he had visited the US previously, he is on the list of people associated with terrorism.

Peninsula Peace and Justice Center

- Terrorism Law, the New McCarthyism

Stephen Rohde
The LA Daily Journal

Today, the US Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the first encounter with the free speech and association rights of American citizens in the context of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, and in the first test of the constitutionality of a provision of the USA Patriot Act.

The "Material Support" law takes a sweeping approach to its ban on aid to terrorist groups, prohibiting the provision of cash, weapons and the like, as well as four more ambiguous categories - "training," "personnel," "expert advice or assistance" and "service." Opponents of the law say that when it comes to providing lawful legal advice or training in nonviolence, the law is nothing more than "guilt by association," reminiscent of the witch hunts of McCarthyism.

These are no paranoid fears. "Congress wants these organizations to be radioactive," Douglas N. Letter, a Justice Department lawyer, said in a 2007 appeals court argument in the case, referring to the dozens of groups that have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department. Letter admitted that it would be a crime for a lawyer to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a designated organization or "to be assisting terrorist organizations in making presentations to the U.N., to television, [or] to a newspaper."

The Humanitarian Law Project, a nonprofit group that has a long history of mediating international conflicts and promoting human rights, brought the case in 1998. Two years earlier, passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) had made it a crime to provide "material support" to groups the State Department had designated as "foreign terrorist organizations." The definition of material support included "training" and "personnel." Later versions of the law, including amendments in the USA Patriot Act, added "expert advice or assistance" and "service."

In 2007, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the bans on training, service and certain types of expert advice were unconstitutionally vague, but upheld the bans on personnel and expert advice derived from scientific or technical knowledge. Both sides appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the consolidated cases in October. The cases are Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, No. 08-1498, and Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder, No. 09-89.

David D. Cole, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the challengers, is arguing that the case concerns speech protected by the First Amendment "promoting lawful, nonviolent activities," including "human rights advocacy and peacemaking."

A number of victims of McCarthy-era persecution filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to remember the lessons of history.

"I signed the brief," said Chandler Davis, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Toronto, "because I can testify to the way in which the dubious repression of dissent disrupted lives and disrupted political discourse." Professor Davis refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954, and was dismissed from his position at the University of Michigan. Unable to find work in the United States, he moved to Canada. In 1991, the University of Michigan established an annual lecture series on academic freedom in honor of Professor Davis and others it had mistreated in the McCarthy era.

The material support law authorizes the secretary of state to designate "foreign terrorist organizations," and makes it a crime to provide certain statutorily defined "material support" for even the nonviolent and humanitarian activities of such groups. Similar to the Smith Act and federal executive orders in the 1940s and '50s, the law grants the executive branch unreviewable discretion to designate groups as "terrorist" and creates vague bans on providing "expert advice or assistance," "training," "service" or "personnel" to designated groups. It threatens, once again unconstitutionally, to interfere with the rights of free speech and association.

The AEDPA's vague ban on "assistance" and "advice" is essentially no different from the McCarthy-era attempt to root out association with and advocacy for groups unpopular with the government. Starting in the 1930s, and through the 1960s, Congress and the executive branch identified organizations - the Communist Party and groups with ties to the Communist Party - as using illegal means, including terrorism, with the aim of overthrowing the US government by force and violence. The Smith Act and the Subversive Activities Control Act made it a crime to associate with these designated groups or to speak in support of these groups. These were crimes regardless of whether or not that speech or association supported or furthered the groups' unlawful activities.

Our society now recognizes that the McCarthy era was a shameful episode in American history, characterized by widespread abuses of executive and legislative power, fueled by demagoguery and overzealous government action, ultimately encompassing "loyalty" investigations of over four million American citizens. See, e.g., Ellen Schrecker, "Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America" (1998), at x (the McCarthy era is "the most widespread and longest lasting period of political repression in American history.").

While few individuals were ultimately prosecuted under the McCarthy-era laws, thousands were persecuted. Among the latter, larger group were Amici and their relatives, none of whom intended to or actually did engage in violence against this country. Nonetheless, they were investigated, libeled, terminated from and unable to secure employment, blacklisted, prosecuted and imprisoned. One of the key lessons from this era is that when the federal government fans the flames of public passion by enacting overreaching criminal statutes, staging Congressional hearings and investigating the loyalty of millions of American citizens, it implicitly condones and sanctions retributions against individuals, such as Amici. Eventually, our society and this court understood that these consequences were unacceptable. We should not make these mistakes again.

It is against this background that this court issued the decisions that are the controlling law that governs this case. In a series of landmark First Amendment decisions, this court struck down these statutes, restored freedom of speech and halted guilt by association. This court concluded that the Congressional and executive branch excesses were unconstitutional. The court held that punishing speech without showing incitement to crime and punishing association without showing specific intent to further illegal ends penalizes innocents and chills the political freedoms at the very core of our democracy.

These principles are equally applicable today, where the federal government (once again) has designated certain organizations as proscribed and purports to make it a crime to speak for or otherwise associate with such organizations. Now, when, once again, our safety and security have been threatened, this court should reaffirm the rights to free speech and association.

Stephen Rohde, a constitutional lawyer, was co-counsel with Arnold & Porter on the amicus brief filed by victims of McCarthyism in Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder.

© 2010 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jeff Huber: Marjah Madness

Huber is very critical of McChrystal's strategy and doubts that it will work. Certainly the Afghan forces did not really lead the Marjah assault but the US marines. Huber could have mentioned that the Afghan police are to take over security in time and they are even less battle ready or trustworthy than the Afghan armed forces. While there is no doubt that NATO forces will eventually gain control of Marjah they may face endless harassment. Marjah is just a prelude to trying to clear out Kandahar a far larger city and a much bigger job. There are quite a few US casualties already. The American people who are providing this cannon fodder may put political pressure on Obama to withdraw. Original - -

Marjah Madness

Posted By Jeff Huber

As journalist Gareth Porter said in a recent interview with Real News, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s offensive in Marjah, Afghanistan, is "more of an effort to shape public opinion in the United States than to shape the politics of the future of Afghanistan." Like so much of what we’ve seen in our woeful war on terrorism, the Marjah effort is short on substance and long on Newspeak, Doublethink, and other Orwellian deceptions.

The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and an unhealthy chunk of the rest of the news outlets are calling the Marjah madness a "test" of "Obama’s strategy" in Afghanistan. Amazingly, nobody is calling it a test of McChrystal’s strategy. Stan the Man is, after all, the maestro who orchestrated the big honking counterinsurgency (COIN) plan with its attendant troop escalation and who then, along with Gen. David Petraeus and the rest of the warmongery, boxed Obama into going along with the scheme through an expansive media campaign that included McChrystal’s September 2009 infomercial on 60 Minutes.

We don’t need to feel sorry for Obama, though. He asked for this during the 2008 presidential race when he decided to show the hawks his baby-makers by saying he’d pull us out of Iraq but he’d "get the job" done in Afghanistan. Pavlov’s dogs of war started frothing when he stepped on that land mine. Obama had a chance to get rid of the war dons – Petraeus, McChrystal, Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and the Pentagon’s bureaucratic survival savant, Robert Gates – when he took office. But no, President Obama kept them around, despite the fact that they all had publicly criticized Candidate Obama’s plan to establish an Iraq withdrawal timeline. Obama exacerbated things when he named retired Army Gen. James Jones as national security adviser; Jones had stated for the record in 2007 that an Iraq withdrawal deadline would be "against our national interest."

So, yes, Marjah is a referendum on Obama’s fitness as commander in chief, and it’s becoming clear that the guy is in over his pay grade.

A key component of McChrystal’s hallucinatory COIN plan is an initiative to build up Afghanistan’s security forces to an end-strength of 400,000. He’d be better off paying them all off to go home and keep out of the way.

When 60 Minutes reported on the status of Afghan security forces training in late January, the native troops were literally shooting themselves in the foot and their instructors in the leg. According to 60 Minutes – which means according to what Af-Pak propaganda czar Rear Adm. Gregory Smith told 60 minutes – the Afghan troops were commandos, Afghanistan’s best soldiers, and they were being trained by Green Berets, America’s "best soldiers."

The "specialized" Afghan troops had received three months of "advanced training" before coming under the tutelage of the Green Berets. When they displayed their tendency to shoot everybody but the bad guys, the Green Berets drilled them in the fundamentals of how to load their weapons and hold them safely. When the Afghan commandos couldn’t even perform those tasks correctly, the Green Berets started treating them like raw recruits and tried to instruct them by yelling at them.

Yet somehow Smith and his spin merchants and their dupes in the mainstream media expected us to believe that by late February, Afghan forces were ready to take charge of their country’s destiny. "In Marjah offensive, Afghan forces take the lead," claimed a Feb. 15 headline in the Christian Science Monitor. But by Feb. 20 even the New York Times, the journalistic home of McChrystal idolater Dexter Filkins, had to confess that "Marines Do Heavy Lifting as Afghan Army Lags in Battle."

Bravo to journalist C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, for reporting that the assertion by American and Afghan officials that portrays "the Afghan Army as the force out front in this important offensive against the Taliban" conflicts with "what is visible in the field." By all important measures, "from transporting troops, directing them in battle and coordinating fire support to arranging modern communications, logistics, aviation, and medical support – the mission in Marjah has been a Marine operation conducted in the presence of fledgling Afghan Army units, whose officers and soldiers follow behind the Americans and do what they are told."

I hope the owners of the Times don’t fire Chivers. It would be nice to think that the rag of record has at least one reporter capable of telling the truth.

Another Times contributor, Timothy Hsia, a West Point graduate who has served in Iraq, says in a Feb. 18 piece that success in Marjah will hinge on a "civilian surge." Hsia has, lamentably, bitten off on the jagged piece of crack-pottery that says in order to succeed in Afghanistan we need lots and lots of American civilians to go over there and be policemen and fire dudes and construction workers and so on as part of a Civilian Response Corps. The idea is so ludicrous that its proponents picked Dick Cheney protégé Doug Feith, the dumbest freaking guy on the planet, to shill it in a May 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed.

We already have a Civilian Response Corps; it’s called the Peace Corps, and it’s been around since before people joined it to get out of fighting in Vietnam. As you might have already inferred, the reason we call it a "Peace" Corps is that it only works in a peacetime scenario. Sending U.S. civilians into a hot war zone, especially one like we have in Afghanistan where there are no front lines, doesn’t accomplish a whole lot except get a whole lot of U.S. civilians killed. The only way to try to protect the civilians is to send more soldiers to the war zone or (aha!) hire mercenary outfits like Blackwater to do the job. Even then, the civilians have to stay holed up in areas where the soldiers or the hired thugs can protect them, so they can’t do what we supposedly sent them for.

But civilians provide a vital layer in the Pentagon’s lame-excuse stratagem. If our military can’t win a war, it’s because we don’t have enough military in the theater of operations. If we have enough military, we don’t have enough military from the country we’re fighting in to fight with us. If we have enough military from the country we’re fighting in but they turn out to be a pack of Gomer Pyles, then we don’t have enough civilians involved. Next, I suppose, come household pets.

Of course, civilians might be able to do one thing that our Green Berets can’t: teach Afghan soldiers how to load and carry their rifles.

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Juan Cole: Five questions for the Afghan Surge

As usual Juan Cole provides interesting and insightful commentary on events. He points out in his questions the great difficulties that the new Afghan policy poses. At the same time some of the important Taliban leaders have been captured in Pakistan. Cole thinks that NATO is doing better in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. However, this remains to be seen. Leaders can be replaced and there seems to be still plenty of violence in Pakistan, the Zardari government is weak and corrupt, and the Pakistanis are probably still more concerned about India than Islamic extremism. This is from juancole.

Monday, February 22, 2010
Five Questions for the Afghan Surge;
Or, Getting Past the Hype

Gen. David Petraeus, a straight shooter, admitted on Meet the Press Sunday that the Afghanistan War will take years and incur high casualties.. His implicit defense of President Obama from Dick Cheney on the issues of torture and closing Guantanamo will make bigger headlines, but sooner or later the American public will notice the admission. The country is now evenly divided between those who think the US can and should restore a modicum of stability before getting out, and those who want a quick withdrawal. The Marjah Campaign, the centerpiece of the new counter-insurgency strategy, is over a week old, and some assessment of this new, visible push by the US military in violent Helmand Province is in order.

There was never any doubt that the US and NATO would win militarily, fairly easily occupying Marjah and nearby Nad Ali. Marjah at 85,000 or so is a city smaller than Ann Arbor, Michigan. The campaign is only significant in a larger social and political context. The questions are:

1. Can the stategy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, of taking, clearing, holding and building be extended deep into the Pashtun regions? Marjah is only a stepping stone to the key southern city of Qandahar, which has a population of a million, more the size of Detroit.

This outcome has yet to be seen. But for rural Pashtuns to come to love foreign occupiers is an unlikely proposition. Even the WSJ admits that in Marjah, the Marines are not exactly feeling the love from the civilians they have supposedly just liberated. Since the Taliban are typically not as corrupt as the warlords, in fact, to any extent that the US and NATO re-install corrupt warlord types in power, they may alienate the locals. And keeping civilian casualties low so as to win hearts and minds is key here. That task will become more difficult as the US inserts itself more deeply into Pashtun territory, since insurgent villages will have to be defeated. The Soviet occupation produced 5 million externally displaced and 2 million internally displaced, along with hundreds of thousands dead. A campaign in Qandahar could easily displace half a million people, and they might mind. Meanwhile, on Monday, the governor of Dai Kundi asserted that a US airstrike killed 27 persons, mostly civilians. There is also the question, raised by Tom Englehardt, of whether the US is capable of good governance in Afghanistan when it is not in Washington, DC.

2. Can the demonstration of vitality and of a sense of progress mollify NATO publics long enough to fight a prolonged war and do intensive training of troops and police over several years?

No. Over the weekend, the center-right government of the Netherlands fell over whether to keep Dutch troops in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan war is universally unpopular in continental Europe, and governments have troops there mostly in the teeth of popular opposition, because NATO invoked article 5 of its charter, 'an attack on one is an attack on all' with regard to the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks. It may take months after the next elections this spring for the Dutch to form a new government, in part because of the surging popularity of the far-right populist anti-Muslim 'Freedom Party' of Islamophobe Geert Wilders-- a smelly party the others will probably not want in their coalition. Holland's 2000 troops are likely to be withdrawn by late summer. Canada's military is also departing Afghanistan. Are these one-off situations, or are they the beginning of a NATO withdrawal over-all, which will leave Obama in the lurch? Australia is already refusing to take up the Dutch slack, and its government is under public pressure to get out, itself. While it is entirely possible that scandal-plagued rightwing billionaire Silvio Berlusconi will survive the next elections in Italy, it is also possible that he will not, and his successor may well want out of the unpopular Afghanistan quagmire. Moreover, the Pashtun insurgents may smell blood in the water with the Dutch withdrawal from Uruzgan (the home province of Mullah Omar), and target the smaller NATO contingents (the deaths of 6 Italian troops last fall raised public ire against the war).

There are about 45,000 NATO and other allied troops in Afghanistan, and 74,000 American. Obama wanted to increase the European contingent by 10,000, but NATO generally declined that offer, and now the NATO contingent may begin to shrink just when more trainers in particular are desperatedly needed. The Afghanistan National Army is supposedly nearly 100,000 strong, but many critics say the true number is half that, and that even that half is mostly illiterate, poorly trained, and often suffers from uncertain loyalties, drug use, or other debilitating considerations.

3. Can an Afghan army be stood up in short order that has the capacity to patrol independently and keep order after the US and NATO troops withdraw?

Unlikely. The answer to the question about Afghan military preparedness-- after nearly a decade of training and an investment of $1 billion that Afghan troops are not ready for prime time. In the Marjah campaign, they showed no initiative, no ability to fight independently. They are poorly served by their junior field officers, and they are 90% illiterate. (The NYT reporter expected to see them with maps out planning approaches!) The ethnic make-up of the particular Afghanistan National Army units sent into Marjah is also not clear. Almost no ANA troops hail from Helmand Province, and Tajiks (native speakers of Dari Persian, often from towns and cities) are vastly over-represented in the army. There is often bad blood between Tajiks and Pashtuns, the group that predominates in Marjah. The same skill set of the ANA most prized by the US Marines during the assault-- the ability to sniff out which households are Taliban-- may be a liability in the holding and building phase, since it stems from a decade and a half of Tajik Northern Alliance battles against the Taliban.

4. Can the Afghan public, which includes many groups (Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks) deeply harmed by Taliban rule, accept reconciliation, as well?

Unlikely. Former Northern Alliance leader popular among Tajiks, Abdullah Abdullah, warned Karzai against reconciling with the Taliban this weekend. Abdullah dropped out of last fall's presidential contest in protest against alleged ballot fraud in Karzai's favor. There is general hostility toward reconciliation with the Taliban among the parties representing northern, non-Pashtun ethnic groups.

5. Can so much pressure be put on the Taliban that at least their middle and lower ranks will accept reconciliation with the Karzai government?

So far, there is no sign that the Taliban leadership still at large is interested in negotiations. A Taliban spokesman replied to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's call for reconciliation with Kabul over the weekend with a resounding 'No!'. Qari Muhammad Yusuf Ahmadi told the Afghan Islamic Press in Pashto that the Taliban would cease fighting when there were not further foreign troops in his country. He said, according to the translation in The News:

“The entire world knows that foreign forces have invaded Afghanistan and occupied this country. They have also started the fighting. Taliban will neither lay down weapons nor will hold talks with Karzai administration even in the presence of a single foreign soldier in Afghanistan. . .”

“The ongoing war in Afghanistan is between Afghans and foreigners. The responsibility of the war lies on the foreigners and their slaves. They continue fighting in the populated areas and have sent 15000 troops to small area like Marja; and are killing civilians and trying to impose infidels on Afghans.”

“Karzai himself has no power. The foreigners control everything and the nation is fighting against them.”

Commenting on the deaths of 12 civilians in Marjah, Qari Muhammad said: “Karzai should have said who martyred the people. In fact neither Taliban kill the people and nor destroy their houses. These are foreigners who are bombing the houses and killing civilians everywhere as they have brought miseries to the people of Marja.”

On the other hand, those members of the Taliban shadow government now in Pakistani custody may be less categorical. A third Taliban commander, Maulvi Kabir (the shadow governor of Nangarhar Province) has been captured by the Pakistani military, allegedly based on information provided by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Baradar, the military chief of staff for the Old Taliban of Mullah Omar, was picked up recently in Karachi in a joint operation of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and US intelligence, which picked up signals from Baradar. Serious inroads are being made by these arrests into the Taliban 'shadow government' of officials who plan out roadside bombings and other attacks in specific provinces of Afghanistan while hiding out in Pakistan.

Pakistan's Prime Minister, Riza Yusuf Gilani, and the military chief of state, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, appear to believe that capturing these high Afghan Taliban leaders will give Islamabad leverage in a negotiated settlement of the contest between the Karzai government and the Pashtun religious far right, which is in insurgency.

Obama's Afghanistan escalation among the sullen Pashtuns is a desperate policy, as dangerous as attempting to build a series of sand castles on the beach at high tide.

Ironically, his bigger success has come in Pakistan, where he appears to have convinced the Pakistani elite to intervene decisively against their own, Pakistani Taliban, and also now to begin arresting the Old Taliban shadow government that is hiding out on Pakistani soil. If he can go further and convince Islamabad that its support of the Afghan Taliban was all a long a key strategic error that has blown back on Pakistan proper, he will thereby come closer to victory than he could by any military measures inside Afghanistan itself.

End/ (Not Continued)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Current Offensive Just First Step in Afghanistan

It is taking quite a while just to occupy all of Marja let alone set up some stable local government. The idea that the Afghan police can keep order is surely fantasy. They are often corrupt and hated by the local population. The local population may want the Taliban back and NATO out as the lesser of two evils. This is how the Taliban took control in the first place not because they were liked but because they could provide some peace and security. We will have to see but I expect that there will be continued harassment of NATO or Afghan authorities and many civilian deaths.
As this article points out Marjah is just the first step. It will be just the first of many drives in which there will be significant casualties for the US and other NATO allies. As the fall of the Dutch government shows, in many countries the Afghan mission is a death knell for governments that support the mission.
Many commentators have pointed out that the Afghan forces are not first and foremost in this mission. It is the US marines who are basically running the show.
Current Offensive Just First Step in Afghanistan
Julian E. Barnes

Reporting from Washington

The current offensive in Marja is a critical stepping stone for what is likely the most important fight of the Afghan surge in the coming months: securing Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban and the most important city in southern Afghanistan, according to defense officials and analysts.

The military is using the Marja offensive to destroy an important Taliban safe haven, but also to test a strategy that emphasizes strong partnership with Afghan security forces and security for Afghan civilians. And some of the same techniques will be used in future offenses like securing Kandahar.

Defense officials are understandably reluctant to speak in much depth about their plans for follow-on offensives, but there is no doubt that Kandahar will be the military's primary objective this year.

"Kandahar remains the prize for the Taliban," said a senior military official. "So if we do anything in the future, clearly this southern capital has to be in our plans somewhere."

Military officials argue they need to wrest Kandahar from the influence of the Taliban—or more precisely help the Afghan government take control.

"We must turn Kandahar into a city that thrives economically and make it a place where the people of the city and the surrounding districts feel confident in their government and not afraid of the Taliban," said the senior military official.

Analysts say the U.S. is likely to begin stepping up operations around Kandahar in earnest by the spring or early summer. But before the military can make that push it must eliminate the safe havens in neighboring Helmand province including, most importantly, Marja.

Insurgents have operated relatively unchallenged for years in Marja, which has developed into a key command and control center for Taliban fighters. It also became a refuge for Taliban militants in Helmand province and other parts of southern Afghanistan.

"Kandahar city is eventually the key place you are going to want to control," said Jeffrey Dressler, a military analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, a non-partisan think tank in Washington. "But you can't do that having a sanctuary for the Taliban in Helmand."

Marja is a critical test for the commander of allied forces, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's, new strategy. The military is seeking to break militants' hold on Marja by making the population feel secure enough to stand up to the Taliban. Defense officials say what really must work with the Marja offensive—in large part because it will be even more important in Kandahar—is the partnership with the Afghan government.

Senior U.S. commanders have concluded that they have done a poor job in the past involving the Afghan government and forces in operations. That has resulted in half-hearted Afghan support for initiatives, or even actively opposing them. Although the Afghan forces on the ground in Marja have focused on searching houses, military officials insist the Afghan involvement is real and not window dressing. Defense officials have repeatedly highlighted the role of President Hamid Karzai, local officials and Afghan commanders in shaping the operations plans.

"This war is about getting the Afghans to buy-in to everything we believe needs to happen said the senior officer. "In fact, if they don't believe something should happen, we probably won't do it."

Some analysts believe the future offensive in Kandahar will look different than the battle underway in Marja. The two cities are very different. Marja is a relatively small agricultural center of 85,000 people, crisscrossed with agricultural canals. Kandahar is a city of more than 450,000 people, and the most important population center in southern Afghanistan.

And the Kandahar operation may not involve a large U.S. troop presence inside the city. Instead, the military is more likely to focus on controlling access routes to the city and establishing a robust presence in the "belts" around Kandahar. Such a strategy was developed and used successfully to help secure Baghdad during the Afghan surge.

Mark Moyar, a professor at the Marine Corps University, said because allied troops are already in Kandahar, an offensive there will lack the drama of the current attack on Marja.

"It won't get the hype," Moyar said. "But it is the spiritual home of the Taliban and we have to solidify our hold there."

The White House has scheduled a formal review of its Afghan strategy for the end of this year and military officials believe that they need to have begun to turn the tide of the war and show real progress by then.

Destroying the Taliban's control of the area around Kandahar and allowing the Afghan government to exert more control over the city is critical to that goal, according to defense officials and analysts.

Paired together, officers and analysts said, the success of two offensives could determine the success of the entire Afghanistan strategy.

"Kandahar and Helmand," Moyar said, "will be the two most important places for 2010."

Copyright © 2010, Tribune Interactive

Monday, February 22, 2010

Nothing is coming up Roses in Georgia

It seems that the revolutions fostered by the US around the Russian periphery are going awry. The Ukraine has already turned back towards Russia mainly because the Orange movement government was not able to improve economic conditions in the Ukraine significantly. Saakashvili in Georgia faces basically the same problem plus the fact that he lost out in his attempts to regain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Now it seems unlikely that they will ever rejoin Georgia however much Georgia complains about the situation. NATO may not be at all anxious to grant Georgia membership especially with Saakashvili at the helm. He himself faces mounting opposition which he is trying his best to crush. Original - -

Georgia: Nothing Is Coming Up Roses

Posted By Justin Raimondo

The Russo-Georgian war of 2008 provides the clearest current example of how war propaganda works – and how counter-propaganda can negate it and turn the tables on the War Party.

You’ll recall that as news of the conflict broke in the West, the war was reported as stemming from a Russian "invasion," i.e. the Russians had fired the first shots in the process of occupying a disputed region of Georgia known as South Ossetia. The headlines blared that the Russian aggressors were on the march, and all the tattered paraphernalia of the cold war was hauled out of the closet and dusted off by mainstream analysts, who divined the meaning of the Russian action ("resurgent Russia"), and proffered the proper Western response ("We’re all Georgians now," enthused John McCain). McCain leapt out ahead of the pack at the starting gun, and quickly endorsed his buddy Mikhail Saakashvili’s fanciful version of events, declaring that the US must give unconditional support to Georgia: Russia, he declared, was the aggressor, and we cannot let aggression stand.

Barack Obama initially came out with a statement urging both sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire, and for this was excoriated by McCain and the neocons, who yelped that Obama had committed the cardinal sin of "moral equivalence."

Obama and his family were on vacation at the time, in Hawaii, I believe, and hadn’t been quick enough on the draw: another example, his critics said, of how unprepared he is to take power, echoing Hillary Clinton’s infamous "Will he be ready for that 3 a.m. phone call?" ad. Properly chastised, Obama quickly corrected his error and issued another statement explicitly attributing the origins of the war to Russian "aggression."

As it turned out, Obama’s first instincts were correct, as the world learned a few weeks later and the truth came out about what events sparked the war between Georgia and Russia. As the smoke cleared and the evidence came in, the knee-jerk pro-Georgian reaction of the media was proved utterly wrong: it was Georgian forces that not only fired first, but assaulted and nearly demolished the "rebel" capital city of Tskhinvali, in which hundreds of civilians were slaughtered by US-funded, US-trained Georgian army units.

It’s a feather in the cap of Georgia’s lobby in America that they managed to obscure the truth for so long behind a barrage of overheated rhetoric and well-rehearsed dramatics worthy of a third-rate Hollywood scriptwriter. The heroic "democrat" Saakashvili vs. the neo-Stalin in the Kremlin is the narrative the Western media was pushing, but as it turns out the hero of this cold war revival is a lot closer to Stalin in temperament as well as nationality, than Putin ever dreamed.

Saakashvili has lately gone all out in his paranoia and desire for revenge, the two attributes of Stalin’s personality that have gone most remarked. To begin with, he relentlessly pushes a paranoid theory that Georgia’s democratic opposition parties are a conspiracy mounted by Russia to take over the country. And he continually vows that Georgia will retake South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway provinces his forces attacked in 2008. Toward this revanchist end he has begun a campaign to completely militarize Georgian society.

The best place to do that is in the schools, where the Saakashvili regime has instituted mandatory "military-patriotic education" courses, the announced purpose of which is to instill a "soldierly spirit" among the nation’s youth. According to Saakashvili, Georgia is still at war, and so these "civil defense" and political indoctrination courses are necessary to defend the country against an imminent attack. A fanatic nationalism is the first recourse of tyrants, as we’ve seen in the American experience, and this is Saakashvili’s bludgeon with which he continuously beats down the opposition – even as his police are beating demonstrators in the streets.

Here is Saakashvili defending his "military-patriotic" indoctrination courses:

"We decided to introduce military-patriotic education [in schools] – although it may be called civil defense courses. So called liberals stirred noise about it, saying: ‘what a disaster it is; it’s a bad tone’. By the way, Soviet-time military courses at schools were not really good."

Yes, those Soviets sure were amateurs when it came to instilling the values of militarism and fanatic nationalism, not to mention suppressing national minorities. We Georgians will show them how it’s done. "Our country faces real challenges," Saakashvili intoned at a recent televised meeting with Tbilisi teachers and schoolchildren. He likened Georgia to Israel, a nation surrounded on all sides by enemies and thoroughly militarized. In Israel, they "are prepared when there are missile attacks."

Unfortunately for Saakashvili, the main danger to his continued rule doesn’t come from the slim-to-nonexistent threat of Russian missile attacks. His real worry is the political attacks emanating from his own impoverished, war-weary, disillusioned and increasingly desperate countrymen, who are chafing under his increasingly repressive regime.

"Unfortunately, we do not live in Switzerland and Holland," Saakashvili avers, continuing his tirade against the hated "liberals," "and there is one unfriendly country in our neighborhood. So, Georgia needs all these [civil defense or military-patriotic courses] and there is nothing militaristic in it… Georgia needs to defend itself. We do not attack anyone. But 20% of our territory is occupied."

But of course Georgia did attack the South Ossetian capital city of Tskhinvali, directly firing on civilian quarters and killing and wounding thousands. Four Russian peacekeepers, posted there under the terms of a UN agreement, were also killed. No doubt Saakashvili’s "military patriotic" courses, which are supposed to cover Georgian military history, will omit this little detail.

The rabid nationalist Saakashvili, whose virulent militarism is crippling Georgia economically, has decided to turn his country into a launching pad for NATO’s military operations, recently offering to host resupply bases for the NATO effort in Afghanistan. The Georgians have long campaigned for NATO membership – a cause championed by McCain and by the ever-energetic Georgian lobby in Washington. The same gang that championed NATO expansion in the immediate post-Soviet era – and won – are now poised to extend the long hand of the West deep into the steppes of Central Asia.

The selling of the Afghan war as a multilateral effort is intimately tied up with the momentum for NATO expansion, and Saakashvili’s offer of bases could gain him entry over the opposition of some NATO members – or, at the very least, some sort of preliminary status short of full membership. And then one could always make the argument that if Albania can join, well then why not Georgia – or Azerbaijan, or any of the other post-Soviet Central Asian kleptocracies that have sprung up around the Russian periphery?

Of the so-called colored revolutions that the US government actively encouraged and supported with overt funding and covert aid, Georgia’s was the exemplar cited as a model for the others. In the end, however, this US-supported "revolution" turned into the dictatorship of a near megalomaniac, the would-be Napoleon of the Caucasus, who represses his own people while posing as a great liberator. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Joseph Palermo, A Hundred Years of War.

This is a very hard hitting article showing how in part actions by the US itself helped foster Islamic extremism. He might have mentioned the US support for jihad against the Evil Empire in Afghanistan as well! There is a lot of blowback involved in what is happening. As Palermo points out a lot of the actions of the US such as drone attacks are themselves a form of terrorism. Of course acts of states or at least of the good states are never terrorist by definition. This is from the Huffington Post.

Joseph A. PalermoAuthor/Associate Professor of History

A Hundred Years of War

Are we really supposed to get excited and rejoice in the targeted assassination of enemy leaders? President Obama might end up making things worse for the opposite reasons Liz and Dick Cheney tell us. He's so unsure of himself in military matters he's leaving the big decisions to shortsighted generals.

Drone attacks are terrorism too. Killing entire families, including women and children, in the "border" areas of the "AF-PAK" theater to hit one "militant" or "extremist," without charge or trial, repeated countless times. This kind of thing is a recipe for a hundred years of war.

Al Qaeda didn't exist inside Iraq until the United States invaded. The U.S. toppled the apple cart away from the traditional Sunni (mostly secular) elites toward untested (mostly religious) Shia elements (tied, ironically, to Iran). In the 1980s, blind Cold War logic led the secular U.S. in Afghanistan to aid some of the most backward Sharia-law practicing fundamentalists.

Imperialism choked off many Islamic countries' secular resistance movements leaving only the mosques where political activity could survive. Power reinforces certain religious brands over others, like right-wing Christian evangelism in the United States or right-wing Shia fundamentalism in Iran. But powerlessness can also reinforce religious brands. (It's no surprise that the Iranian revolution of 1979 became Islamicized given that the Shah wiped out any viable secular movements for social betterment).

Since 1945, the U.S. has supported a fundamentalist theocracy in Saudi Arabia. If the problem with Al Qaeda is that they hate the West for "religious" reasons then why do they also hate the government in Riyadh? A U.S.-supported theocratic dictatorship hoarding oil wealth for a tiny elite. Here is where Osama bin Laden gets to appear honorable because he renounced his elite station in life to fight jihad. He even released a video recently citing global climate change, and the United States' disproportionate contribution of greenhouse gases, as yet another reason to hate the infidels.

People resisting occupation whether they believe in God, Jehovah, Allah, or the Great Spaghetti Monster in the Sky will resist with what's readily available. In the current context that means I.E.D.s, suicide bombs, and car bombs, the newly improved and perfected instruments of urban guerrilla warfare we can thank certain U.S. and U.K. leaders for making a permanent fixture of 21st Century life.

The invasion of Iraq was the greatest terrorist recruitment program ever. It destabilized one of the most important big cities in the Arab world. It fueled pan-Arab nationalism as well as jihad against the West. It caused a sectarian bloodbath because of the jolt given to power relations by external military force.

People are brutalized for decades and then we're "shocked" -- "shocked" -- that the brutalized people turn around and behave brutally themselves. Bitter, long-term power struggles have been unleashed in the heart of the Middle East and in South Asia. They certainly will not be resolved because of some drone attacks and targeted assassinations. The only thing these desperate actions accomplish is to further radicalize and Islamicize people who would otherwise much rather peacefully coexist. How long can the U.S. go on ignoring the underlying social and political causes of "terrorism?" Nobody wants to acknowledge that there might be grievances on the other side that need to be looked at. We couldn't hear it nine years ago after 9-11, and we still can't hear it now. Ostrich-like we bury our heads and push forward.

Books & More From Joseph A. Palermo

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jeffrey Sachs: Obama in Chains

As Sachs points out there are many features of the present situation in the US that make it difficult if not impossible for Obama to pass policies that are necessary to help the US recover from its present malaise. Many of these roadblocks are of Obama's own making such as his continued promises not to raise taxes. He may consider this as political necessity but then these promises will be of no avail if the economic situation gets worse and the social safety net and infracture is in tatters.

This is from project-syndicate.

Obama in Chains
Jeffrey D. Sachs

NEW YORK – It is hard for international observers of the United States to grasp the political paralysis that grips the country, and that seriously threatens America’s ability to solve its domestic problems and contribute to international problem solving. America’s governance crisis is the worst in modern history. Moreover, it is likely to worsen in the years ahead.

The difficulties that President Barack Obama is having in passing his basic program, whether in health care, climate change, or financial reform, are hard to understand at first glance. After all, he is personally popular, and his Democratic Party holds commanding majorities in both houses of Congress. Yet his agenda is stalled and the country’s ideological divisions grow deeper.

Among Democrats, Obama’s approval rating in early November was 84%, compared with just 18% among Republicans. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats thought the country was headed in the right direction, compared with 9% of Republicans. Only 18 % of Democrats supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while 57% of Republicans supported a troop buildup. In fact, a significant majority of Democrats, 60%, favored a reduction of troops in Afghanistan, compared with just 26% of Republicans. On all of these questions, a middle ground of independents (neither Democrats nor Republicans) was more evenly divided.

Part of the cause for these huge divergences in views is that America is an increasingly polarized society. Political divisions have widened between the rich and poor, among ethnic groups (non-Hispanic whites versus African Americans and Hispanics), across religious affiliations, between native-born and immigrants, and along other social fault lines. American politics has become venomous as the belief has grown, especially on the vocal far right, that government policy is a “zero-sum” struggle between different social groups and politics.

Moreover, the political process itself is broken. The Senate now operates on an informal rule that opponents will try to kill a legislative proposal through a “filibuster” – a procedural attempt to prevent the proposal from coming to a vote. To overcome a filibuster, the proposal’s supporters must muster 60 of 100 votes, rather than a simple majority. This has proven impossible on controversial policies – such as binding reductions on carbon emissions – even when a simple majority supports the legislation.

An equally deep crisis stems from the role of big money in politics. Backroom lobbying by powerful corporations now dominates policymaking negotiations, from which the public is excluded. The biggest players, including Wall Street, the automobile companies, the health-care industry, the armaments industry, and the real-estate sector, have done great damage to the US and world economy over the past decade. Many observers regard the lobbying process as a kind of legalized corruption, in which huge amounts of money change hands, often in the form of campaign financing, in return for specific policies and votes.

Finally, policy paralysis around the US federal budget may be playing the biggest role of all in America’s incipient governance crisis. The US public is rabidly opposed to paying higher taxes, yet the trend level of taxation (at around 18% of national income) is not sufficient to pay for the core functions of government. As a result, the US government now fails to provide adequately for basic public services such as modern infrastructure (fast rail, improved waste treatment, broadband), renewable energy to fight climate change, decent schools, and health-care financing for those who cannot afford it.

Powerful resistance to higher taxes, coupled with a growing list of urgent unmet needs, has led to chronic under-performance by the US government and an increasingly dangerous level of budget deficits and government debt. This year, the budget deficit stands at a peacetime record of around 10% of GNP, much higher than in other high-income countries.

Obama so far seems unable to break this fiscal logjam. To win the 2008 election, he promised that he would not raise taxes on any household with income of less than $250,000 per year. That no-tax pledge, and the public attitudes that led Obama to make it, block reasonable policies.

There is little “waste” to cut from domestic spending, and many areas where increases in public spending are needed. Higher taxes on the rich, while justified, don’t come close to solving the deficit crisis. America, in fact, needs a value-added tax, which is widely used in Europe, but Obama himself staunchly ruled out that kind of tax increase during his election campaign.

These paralyzing factors could intensify in the years ahead. The budget deficits could continue to prevent any meaningful action in areas of critical need. The divisions over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could continue to block a decisive change in policy, such as a withdrawal of forces. The desire of Republicans to defeat the Democrats could lead them to use every maneuver to block votes and slow legislative reforms.

A breakthrough will require a major change in direction. The US must leave Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby saving $150 billion per year for other purposes and reducing the tensions caused by military occupation. The US will have to raise taxes in order to pay for new spending initiatives, especially in the areas of sustainable energy, climate change, education, and relief for the poor.

To avoid further polarization and paralysis of American politics, Obama must do more to ensure that Americans understand better the urgency of the changes that he promised. Only such changes – including lobbying reforms – can restore effective governance.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Malalai Joya condemns ridiculous Afghan military strategy by NATO.

Joya was kicked out of the Afghan parliament for stating the obvious that it contained war lords that were guily of many human rights abuses. She usually covers her head and face entirely when she goes out in public to avoid assassination. She is critical both of the Taliban and of NATO and the Karzai government. As she rightly points out the Afghan police are notorious for corruption so that they will not likely impress the citizens of Marjah when they take over! Joya's comments on the London Conference on Afghanistan seem appropritate.

Joya condemns 'ridiculous' military strategy

By Glyn Strong


Afghanistan's "most famous woman" has voiced deep scepticism about Operation Moshtarak's aims and its impact on Afghan civilians.

"It is ridiculous," said Malalai Joya, an elected member of the Afghan parliament. "On the one hand they call on Mullah Omar to join the puppet regime. On another hand they launch this attack in which defenceless and poor people will be the prime victims. Like before, they will be killed in the Nato bombings and used as human shields by the Taliban. Helmand's people have suffered for years and thousands of innocent people have been killed so far." Her fears were confirmed when Nato reported yesterday that a rocket that missed its target had killed 12 civilians at a house in Marjah.

Dismissing Allied claims that Nato forces won't abandon Afghan civilians after the surge, she said: "They have launched such offensives a number of times in the past, but each time after clearing the area, they leave it and [the] Taliban retake it. This is just a military manoeuvre and removal of Taliban is not the prime objective."

Ms Joya believes that corruption is endemic, citing uranium deposits and opium as incentives for Nato and Afghan officials to retain a presence in Helmand. Operation Moshtarak is described as an inclusive offensive, depending for its longer-term success on involvement of Afghan forces. But Ms Joya said: "The Afghan police force is the most corrupt institution in Afghanistan. Bribery is common and if you have money, by bribing police from top to bottom you can do almost anything. In many parts of Afghanistan, people hate the police more than the Taliban. In Helmand, for instance, people are afraid of police who commit violence against people and make trouble. The majority of the police force in this province are addicted to opium and cannabis."

The suspended MP was not invited to the recent London Conference that discussed her country's future, but she is pessimistic about its outcome. Politicians regard Joya as a loose cannon: quick to criticise but slow to suggest solutions.

Her uncompromising position has, however, earned her legions of supporters. It has also gained her enemies and, after allegedly insulting her fellow parliamentarians in 2007, she was suspended from operating as an MP.

Reflecting on the London Conference, Joya said: "Ordinary Afghan people say it was like a meeting of vultures coming together to discuss how to deal with the prey which is Afghanistan." Joya sees moves towards any reconciliation with the Taliban – an exclusively male and cruelly anti-female group – as a betrayal.

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