Thursday, April 10, 2008

Zionism Isn't Judaism?

Prothink discusses the difference between Zionism and Judaism.

Mosaic News - 4/9/08: World News from the Middle East

Inside Iraq Special - Iraq five years on

Inside Iraq goes to the heart of the Arab world to discuss the future of Iraq.

breaking the silence

A hard hitting special report into the "war on terror"
Award winning journalist John Pilger

IMF warns of US recession

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The International Monetary Fund has warned that the United States will tip into a "mild recession" later this year, with only a "gradual recovery" in 2009.

The organisation also said that there was a 25 per cent chance that global growth would also slump to below three per cent, which would be considered the equivalent of a world recession.

The IMF said global expansion over the last several years had rapidly dwindled due to financial turmoil created by the ongoing subprime mortgage crisis in the US.

On Tuesday, the IMF also estimated that the crisis could spawn total losses of $945 billion.

"The US economy will tip into mild recession in 2008 as the result of mutually reinforcing housing and financial market cycles, with only a gradual recovery in 2009," the organisation said.

The US economy has been brought to the brink of recession by the subprime crisis, in which lenders offered loans to higher-risk borrowers who were unable to pay their mortgages when interest rates went up.

Mixed global growth

The US is set to grow a paltry 0.5 per cent in 2008, the IMF said, despite the much vaunted billion-dollar government stimulus package launched earlier this year.

In 2009 US growth will improve to a mere 0.6 per cent, a "modest" recovery, as financial institutions recover from recent losses, with a "reasonable expectation" that US growth would move back to be above potential by 2010.

However in the short term, the risks to global growth remain "tilted to the downside," the IMF said in its report.

For the eurozone, the IMF cut its growth outlook to 1.4 per cent this year, down from a January forecast of 1.6 per cent and a sharp fall from last year's 2.6 per cent expansion.

For 2009, it expects eurozone growth of just 1.2 per cent.

China, meanwhile, is expected to continue to expand at a rate of 9.3 per cent in 2008 and 9.5 per cent in 2009.

Emerging and developing countries remain more resilient to the financial crisis because they are increasingly integrated into the global economy and a commodity price boom, with a slower but still robust combined growth of 6.7 per cent, the IMF said.

The IMF also said that recent steep interest rate cuts by the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, were justified while the European Central Bank "can afford some easing of the policy stance".

'Manageable chaos in Iraq suits Iran'

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By Mark Tran

By invading Iraq, the US has removed a Sunni bulwark against Shia Iran.

It may surprise George Bush and his top commanders to hear that the US military presence in Iraq suits Iran down to the ground.

According to the respected French Middle East expert Oliver Roy, whose new book - The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East - has just been translated into English, Iran is just fine with "managed chaos" over its western border.

Iran’s worst fear is civil war in Iraq and a fight to the death, Roy told an audience at the Chatham House thinktank in London last night.

"Iran has no interest in open war, but likes to see the Americans trapped in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is perfect for them," Roy said.

Roy has little time for the notion that the Bush administration invaded Iraq for oil. He thinks the Bush administration genuinely believed that it could bring democracy to the Middle East by invading Iraq and remove a source of radicalism in the region.

"The main aim of invading Iraq was democratisation not oil," said Roy, who thinks that the invasion may not prove to be a total failure in 10-15 years’ time. But for now, he argues, Iran is the big winner. Shia Iran is seeing the dismemberment of a Sunni state on its western border and it has seen the ousting of the Taliban to the east.

"This is a big victory for Iran without it doing anything," Roy said, although he sees problems for Tehran further down the line.

Once the Americans leave - something Roy considers inevitable - he does not see al-Qaida as the beneficiaries. He foresees instead a proxy war between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia for primacy in the region.

In this scenario, al-Qaida is largely irrelevant, it may exacerbate conflicts, but local, national, tribal or sectarian religious allegiances are more durable. While al-Qaida’s strategic irrelevance may come as a comfort to western policymakers, Roy’s vision of the Middle East after Iraq is grim nonetheless.

"What we are witnessing, at least for now, is an increased presence of western troops in the Muslim world (from Afghanistan to Lebanon and Iraq) conflicts which primarily pit Muslims against Muslims, and lastly a growing gulf between Shia and Sunnis depriving Iran of the privilege of appearing as the vanguard of the refusal front against Israel and the west, and profoundly altering the alliances and flashpoints in the Middle East, which is more divided and debilitated than ever."

Roy’s book is all the more pertinent given the current debate in the US over troop levels in Iraq. George Bush has stubbornly resisted pressure for any susbstantial cut, warning that such a move would mean a huge setback for the "war on terror".

Bush last week trotted out a canard all too reminiscent of Vietnam war rhetoric: America was fighting terrorists in Iraq so it would not have to fight them on US soil. Only this week, General David Petraeus announced a pause in troop reductions, ensuring that the next administration will have a force of 100,000-plus more than five years after Bush ordered the invasion.

U.S. Needs Taliban to Regain Afghanistan

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By Jalal Ghazi

The Taliban are back and stronger and more popular than ever. NATO and the United States will soon have no choice but to negotiate with them six years after driving them out of Kabul. That’s the impression one gets from reading Arab media on the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government, led by President Hamid Karzai and backed by the United States and NATO, does not even have full control of Kabul. Basdir Ghafuri, a former professor at Kabul University, told the London-based Arab News Broadcast (ANB) in February 2008, “NATO and the U.S. forces have even failed to establish security in Kabul.”

The Afghan people have lost confidence in NATO and the United States. Journalist and political writer Ahmad Asfahani told ANB, “There is a large segment of the Afghan people who will not accept the presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan and will not accept a government that is linked to the occupation.” Many Afghans do not see much difference between today’s occupation and that of the British in the 19th century or the Soviets from 1979 to 1989.

The Taliban has capitalized on this anti-occupation sentiment by establishing itself as the main resistance force against the occupation. Many Afghans are now willing to overlook the Taliban’s rigid interpretation of Islam. “The Taliban movement is no longer just a former regime. It rather represents a large segment of the Afghan population regardless of whether we agree [with its ideology] or not,” said Asfahani.

Some of the reasons may have to do with the evolution of the Taliban in the last several years. For example, Afghan writer Musbah Alah Abdel Baki wrote on Al Jazeera’s website, “The Taliban focus their attacks on NATO, and avoid attacking the government forces or institutions. They also do not interfere with schools or relief agencies. They usually ask the Afghan forces to stay away from NATO forces so they wouldn’t get hurt when NATO is attacked.”

Another commentator, Muhna al Habil, recently wrote for Islam Today’s website that the Taliban’s Mullah Omar has evolved as a leader. “The statements and speeches made by Mullah Omar prohibited attacks on civilians and condemned attacks on mosques,” wrote al Habil.

According to al Habil, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the commander for southern Afghanistan, was relieved of his command by Mullah Omar because of his willingness to take money from Arab fighters. This is an indication that the Taliban is trying to operate independently from Al Qaeda.

This could also allow the Western powers to negotiate with the Taliban as a way to attempt to restore stability to Afghanistan. Arab media experts say the war of attrition launched by the Taliban is really aimed at forcing the United States and NATO to the negotiating table.

Though the Taliban insist that they will not negotiate unless the occupation forces leave Afghanistan, Ahmad Asfahani believes that they are just playing tough. The Taliban know that they need NATO to return to power. At the same time, the West has reached the conclusion that they can’t win the war in Afghanistan militarily and will have to use political and economic venues to find a resolution.

NATO-led forces have risen from 33,000 troops in January 2007 to 47,000 in March to confront the increasing attacks by the Taliban. But this number is not enough to win the war. Only three of the 26 NATO countries are willing to send their troops to direct conflict areas in southern Afghanistan.

This means that NATO and U.S. forces have no choice but to negotiate with Taliban to end the fighting. The United States has already proposed the idea of negotiating with the Taliban according to Muhammad Aatif, head of the Afghan Association for Reform and Social Development. He told ANB in August 2007 that the Afghan and Pakistani presidents met for three days in Kabul and 50 members of the Loya Jirga tribal council were selected to negotiate with the Taliban and their supporters. The meeting, he said, had the support of the United States.

On the British side, Hani al-Sibai, director of the London-based al-Maqreze Center of Historical Studies, told ANB that he believes the British who have been doing much of the fighting have been simply making deals with the Taliban and handing some areas back to them. “An agreement was made between the British and the Taliban,” Al-Sibai said, “in which Musa Qala was handed over to the Taliban forces.”

The United States did the same thing in Iraq when they handed Fallujah over to a Ba’ath general after intensive fighting did not establish control of the city. Today former Ba’ath leaders are leading Awakening Councils, or Sahwa, against Al Qaeda. Could the Taliban do the same in Afghanistan for the Americans?

The Very Annoying Washington Post

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By Robert Parry

One of the many annoyances about living in George W. Bush’s Washington is to read the commentaries about the Iraq War on the editorial pages of the Washington Post. Possibly never in modern times has a major newspaper been more wrong, more consistently with more arrogance than has the Post on this vital issue.

Beyond getting almost nothing right – from the Post’s certitude over Iraq’s WMD to its reverence for Colin Powell’s U.N. testimony to its excitement over the purple-ink elections to its enthusiasm over whatever latest corner has been turned – the Post also has this obnoxious tendency to mock Americans who don’t share the paper’s wisdom.

One might have thought that editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt and the Graham family would have learned a few lessons in humility from their wretched record as cheerleader for what even many Republicans now acknowledge has been a disastrous war.

As Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, wrote in a column dated March 11, 2007:

“By now, nearly four years into the Iraq War and related controversies, one is tempted to simply disregard the Washington Post editorial page, and some of its regular columnists, on those matters: They have been so wrong on nearly everything for so long.” [See Mitchell’s new book, So Wrong for So Long.]

But self-criticism is not the Post’s way. Instead the editorial page is back again, mocking those who haven’t submitted to the new conventional wisdom about Bush’s courageous “surge” decision and its brilliant implementation by Gen. David Petraeus.

So, after Petraeus’s Senate testimony on April 8, Hiatt and his team were chortling about politicians – particularly Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – who had doubted that the surge would turn the war around.

In its April 9 lead editorial, the Post noted that when Petraeus last testified in September 2007, “the military results of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, though significant, were still so preliminary that much of the debate centered on whether they were real.”

When Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker returned this time, “the reduction of violence had been so great as to be undeniable. Sen. Barack Obama, who predicted that the surge would not slow the bloodshed, was among the Democrats who acknowledged yesterday that it had.”

The Post also was awed by the progress on Iraq’s political front.

“Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker have gotten more confident about calling the surge a success, and rightly so,” the Post exclaimed.

Surge in Violence

It was almost as if the editorial had been written before the latest upsurge in violence and the outbreak of new political disorder in Iraq, with Shiite factions now battling among themselves as well as against Sunnis – with rockets raining down on the heavily fortified Green Zone and with casualties, including American dead, spiking.

The greatest “success” of the surge seemingly was to buy time for President Bush to run out the clock so he could end his presidency with roughly the same number of troops in Iraq as were there when the voters overturned the Republican congressional majorities in 2006.

It’s also clear that other developments – such as Sunni tribes accepting U.S. money not to shoot at American soldiers, Moqtada al-Sadr declaring a unilateral cease-fire for his Shiite militia, and de facto ethnic cleansing – also contributed to the drop in the horrendous levels of violence in 2006. But little of lasting substance actually had occurred.

Still, what was perhaps most galling about the Post’s editorial was its smug attitude that only Iraq War supporters respect the facts while the war’s critics are lost in their destructive partisan fantasies.

This up-is-down hubris has been a hallmark of Washington neoconservatives for years, especially as they constructed the make-believe world that has left 4,000 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead. [For more on the neocons, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Neck Deep.]

Yet, as the Post presents it, the neocons recognize the reality of success in Iraq, while the war’s critics insist on seeking cheap political gain.

The Post continued: “What hasn’t changed is the partisan debate over Iraq, which as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) lamented, remains resistant even to established facts. … Democrats, including presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama, remain locked within the ‘this war is lost’ prism the party adopted a year ago.”

But what also hasn’t changed is the Post’s disrespect for Americans who have been right much more often than the Post.

The newspaper never acknowledges how thoroughly wrong its editorial writers have been for so many years, never admits that war critics have been much closer to the mark than the Post’s “best and brightest” columnists, never shows the proper respect for dissent, and always suggests that to object to Bush’s open-ended war in Iraq is somehow unpatriotic or deranged.

At the end of the latest editorial, the Post favorably cites Ambassador Crocker’s opinion – that “an early or unconditional withdrawal would ... invite disaster ‘with devastating consequences for the region and the world.’”

One might respond that the Post’s mindless enthusiasm for an aggressive, brutal war against a country that was not threatening the United States has, if nothing else, achieved exactly that – “devastating consequences for the region and the world,” not to mention the United States of America.

Yoo's on First?

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By Ray McGovern

Is it because John Yoo, the former Justice Department’s hired hand, is such an easy target? Is it because of the cheeky, in-your-face way in which Yoo argues that the president has the authority to have your eyes poked out and your sons’ testicles crushed, because we are "at war" and he is commander in chief?

Or is it because our press is STILL reluctant to go after Yoo’s guys – first and foremost his ultimate client – President George W. Bush? Oh, but that would be hard, you say.


Available on the Web, in its original format, is a 7 Feb. 2002 action memorandum that the president signed to implement the dubious advice he was getting from Yoo and those at Justice who hired Yoo – and from the vice president’s office which guided Yoo.

Yoo did their dirty work (and now he takes the rap).

Weren’t Yoo’s co-conspirators careful to keep their fingerprints off the more blatantly offensive memoranda? Sure they were.

But there was one problem. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-CIA Director George Tenet could not get their people to torture folks without written, signed authorization by the president.

And we have a copy of that authorization? Yes, it’s been available for years. You have to download it to believe it.

In his Feb. 7, 2002, memorandum, Bush wrote: "I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees." (Common Article 3 bans "torture [and] outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.")

Then, drawing on the lawyerly legerdemain, Bush did something really dumb. Using words drafted by Vice President Dick Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington, for a memo dated Jan. 25, 2002, signed by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, the president ordered that detainees be treated, "humanely ... to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity."

Tacked onto the end of that sentence is a classic circumlocution: "in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva." But that is not what Geneva says, and there is no way to square that circle.

This is the giant loophole through which Rumsfeld and Tenet drove the Mack truck of torture ... yes, signed by the president. The rotten apples were – demonstrably – at the very top of the barrel.

Typical of the timid treatment accorded this issue is what initially seemed to be a straightforward article by Don Eggen in Sunday’s Washington Post. It spotlighted scapegoat-of-the-hour Yoo, noting that he advised that in time of war the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief trumps laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators.

In focusing on Yoo’s legal advice, however, Eggen joined his "mainstream" journalist colleagues in omitting the smoking gun – Bush’s implementing memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002. That document already had cleared the way for waterboarding, stress positions, forced nudity and other abuse of detainees – as well as for further legal musings about the unlimited powers of a wartime president, like Yoo’s newly disclosed March 14, 2003, memo.

The omission was all the more conspicuous in that a listing of nine memoranda relevant to the story sits side by side with Eggen’s article. Guess which memo did not make it onto that list?

Again, I urge you to download the president’s Feb. 7 smoking gun from the Web and read it yourself. The Jan. 25, 2002, memo bearing Gonzales’s signature is also available – in its original form.

Supreme Court Has a Problem

On June 29, 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that Geneva DOES apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.

One senior Bush administration official is reported to have gone quite pale at the time, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy raised the ante, warning that "violations of Common Article 3 are considered ’war crimes,’ punishable as federal offenses."

That threw a real scare into Bush as well, who pressed Congress hard to give administration officials retroactive immunity from prosecution. That came just three months later when Congress passed the "Military Commissions Act."

Ironically, the fact that those violating Geneva have been granted immunity within the U.S. makes it easier for foreign courts to prosecute for torture.

Remember how former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to sneak out of Paris last October? He was not about to wait until a Paris prosecutor decided how to handle a fresh criminal complaint against him.

That complaint cited the failure of U.S. authorities to investigate the role of Rumsfeld and other top officials in torture, despite a documented paper trail of official memos implicating them in direct as well as command responsibility.

The complaint argued that countries like France have a legal obligation to prosecute under the 1984 Convention Against Torture, approved by 145 nations, including the United States.

The Convention states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

It also provides for “universal jurisdiction,” meaning that every signing country has a duty to prosecute torturers who are found in their territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.

One of the Bush administration’s favorite slogans is that evildoers must be "brought to justice." It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out in the months and years to come.

[For more on Yoo’s memos and Bush’s powers, see’s “All Power to the President” and “Yoo’s Memo Hints at Bush’s Secrets.”]

Destroying Public Education in America

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By Stephen Lendman

Diogenes called education "the foundation of every state." Education reformer and "father of American education" Horace Mann went even further. He said: "The common school (meaning public ones) is the greatest discovery ever made by man." He called it the "great equalizer" that was "common" to all, and as Massachusetts Secretary of Education founded the first board of education and teacher training college in the state where the first (1635) public school was established. Throughout the country today, privatization schemes target them and threaten to end a 373 year tradition.

It’s part of Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 Turnaround strategy for 100 new "high-performing" elementary and high schools in the city by that date. Under five year contracts, they’ll "be held create innovative learning environments" under one of three "governance structures:"

-- charter schools under the 1996 Illinois Charter Schools Law; they’re called "public schools of choice, selected by students and take responsible risks and create new, innovative and more flexible ways of educating children within the public school system;" in 1997, the Illinois General Assembly approved 60 state charter schools; Chicago was authorized 30, the suburbs 15 more, and 15 others downstate. The city bends the rules by operating about 53 charter "campuses" and lots more are planned.

Charter schools aren’t magnet ones that require students in some cases to have special skills or pass admissions tests. However, they have specific organizing themes and educational philosophies and may target certain learning problems, development needs, or educational possibilities. In all states, they’re legislatively authorized; near-autonomous in their operations; free to choose their students and exclude unwanted ones; and up to now are quasi-public with no religious affiliation. Administration and corporate schemes assure they won’t stay that way because that’s the sinister plan. More on that below.

George Bush praised these schools last April when he declared April 29 through May 5 National Charter Schools Week. He said they provide more "choice," are a "valuable educational alternative," and he thanked "educational entrepreneurs for supporting" these schools around the country.

Here’s what the president praised. Lisa Delpit is executive director of the Center for Urban Education & Innovation. In her capacity, she studies charter school performance and cited evidence from a 2005 Department of Education report. Her conclusion: "charter schools....are less likely than public schools to meet state education goals." Case study examples in five states showed they underperform, and are "less likely than traditional public (ones) to employ teachers meeting state certification standards."

Other underperformance evidence came from an unexpected source - an October 1994 Money magazine report on 70 public and private schools. It concluded that "students who attend the best public schools outperform most private school students, that the best public schools offer a more challenging curriculum than most private schools, and that the private school advantage in test scores is due to their selective admission policies."

Clearly a failing grade on what’s spreading across the country en route to total privatization and the triumph of the market over educating the nation’s youths.

In 1991, Minnesota passed the first charter school law. California followed in 1992, and it’s been off to the races since. By 1995 19 states had them, and in 2007 there were over 4000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia with more than one million students in them and growing.

Chicago’s two other "governance structures" are:

-- contract (privatized) schools run by "independent nonprofit organizations;" they operate under a Performance Agreement between the "organization" and the Board of Education; and

-- performance schools under Chicago Public Schools (CPS) management "with freedom and flexibility on many district initiatives and policies;" unmentioned is the Democrat mayor’s close ties to the Bush administration and their preference for marketplace education; the idea isn’t new, but it accelerated rapidly in recent years.

Another part of the scheme is in play as well, in Chicago and throughout the country. Inner city schools are being closed, remaining ones are neglected and decrepit, classroom sizes are increasing, and children and parents are being sacrificed on the alter of marketplace triumphalism.

Consider recent events under Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. On February 27, the city’s Board of Education unanimously and without discussion voted to close, relocate or otherwise target 19 public schools, fire teachers, and leave students out in the cold. Thousands of parents protested, were ignored and denied access to the Board of Ed meeting where the decision came down pro forma and quick. And it wasn’t the first time. For years under the current mayor, Chicago has closed or privatized more schools than anywhere else in the country, and the trend is accelerating. Since July 2001, the city closed 59 elementary and secondary schools and replaced many of them with charter or contract ones.

Nationwide Education "Reform"

Throughout the country, various type schemes follow the administration’s "education reform" blueprint. It began with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) that became law on January 8, 2002. It succeeded the 1994 Goals 2000: Educate America Act that set eight outcomes-based goals for the year 2000 but failed on all counts to meet them. Goals 2000, in turn, goes back to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and specifically its Title I provisions for funding schools and districts with a high percentage of low-income family students.

NCLB is outrageous. It’s long on testing, school choice, and market-based "reforms" but short on real achievement. It’s built around rote learning, standardized tests, requiring teachers to "teach to the test," assessing results by Average Yearly Progress (AYP) scores, and punishing failure harshly - firing teachers and principals, closing schools and transforming them from public to charter or for-profit ones.

Critics denounce the plan as "an endless regimen of test-preparation drills" for poor children. Others call it underfunded and a thinly veiled scheme to privatize education and transfer its costs and responsibilities from the federal government to individuals and impoverished school districts. Mostly, it reflects current era thinking that anything government does business does better, so let it. And Democrats are as complicit as Republicans.

So far, NCLB renewal bills remain stalled in both Houses, election year politics have intervened, and final resolution may be for the 111th Congress to decide. For critics, that’s positive because the law failed to deliver as promised. Its sponsors claimed it would close the achievement gap between inner city and rural schools and more affluent suburban ones. It’s real aim, however, is to commodify education, end government responsibility for it, and make it another business profit center.

Last October, the New York Times cited Los Angeles as a vision of the future. It said "more than 1000 of California’s 9500 schools are branded chronic failures, and the numbers are growing." Under NCLB, "state officials predict that all 6063" poor district schools will fail and will have to be "restructured" by 2014, when the law requires universal proficiency in math and reading." It’s happening throughout the country, and The Times cited examples in New York, Florida and Maryland. Schools get five years to deliver or be declared irredeemable, in which case they must "restructure" with new teachers and principals.

In Los Angeles and around the country, "the promised land of universal high achievement seems more distant than ever," and one parent expressed her frustration. Weeks into the new school year, she said teachers focus solely on what’s likely to appear on exams. "Maybe the system is not designed for people like us," she complained. Indeed it’s not.

New Millennium Education

That’s the theme of Time magazine’s December 9, 2006 article on the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). It’s on NCEE’s New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Time called it "a high-powered, bipartisan assembly of Education Secretaries, business leaders and a former Governor" and the pre-K to 12 education blueprint they released. It’s called "Tough Choices or Tough Times," was funded by the (Bill) Gates Foundation, and below is its corporate wish list:

-- moving beyond charter schools to privatized contract ones; charter schools are just stalking horses for what business really wants - privatizing all public schools for their huge profit potential;

-- ending high school for many poor and minority students after the 10th grade - for those who score poorly on standardized tests intended for high school seniors; those who do well can finish high school and go on to college; others who barely pass can go to community colleges or technical schools after high school;

-- ending remediation and special education aid for low-performance students to cut costs;

-- ending teacher pensions and reducing their health and other benefits;

-- ending seniority and introducing merit pay and other teacher differentials based on student performance and questionable standards;

-- eliminating school board powers, all regulations, and empowering private companies;

-- effectively destroying teacher unions; and

-- ending public education and creating a nationwide profit center with every incentive to cut costs and cheat students for bottom line gains; this follows an earlier decades-long corporate - public higher education trend that one educator calls a "subtle yet significant change toward (university) privatization, meaning that private entities are gradually replacing taxpayers as the dominant funding source as state appropriations account for a lower and lower percentage of schools’ operating resources;" corporations now want elementary and secondary education control for the huge new market they represent.

The Skills Commission’s earlier 1990s work advanced the scheme and laid the groundwork for NCLB. It came out of its "America’s Choice: High Skills or Low Wages" report on non-college-bound students. It called them "ill-equipped to meet employer’s current needs and ill-prepared for the rapidly approaching, high-technology, service-oriented future." It recommended ending an "outmoded model" and adopting a standards-based learning and testing approach to enforce student - teacher accountability.

Both Commission reports reflect a corporate wish list to commodify education, benefit the well-off, and consign underprivileged kids to low-wage, no benefit service jobs. It’s a continuing trend to shift higher-paying ones abroad, downsize the nation, and end the American dream for millions. So why educate them.

School Vouchers

They didn’t make it into NCLB, but they’re very much on the table with a sinister added twist. First some background.

It’s an old idea dating back to the hard right’s favorite economist and man the UK Financial Times called "the last of the great (ones)" when he died in November 2006. Milton Friedman promoted school choice in 1955, then kick-started it in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. He opposed public education, supported school vouchers for privately-run ones, and believed marketplace competition improves performance even though voucher amounts are inadequate and mostly go to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment discussed below.

Here’s how the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice currently describes the voucher scheme: it’s the way to let "every parent send their child to the school of their choice regardless of where they live or income." In fact, it’s a thinly veiled plot to end public education and use lesser government funding amounts for well-off parents who can make up the difference and send their children to private-for-profit schools. Others are on their own under various programs with "additional restrictions" the Foundation lists without explanation:

-- Universal Voucher Programs for all children;

-- Means-Tested Voucher Programs for families below a defined income level;

-- Failing Schools, Failing Students Voucher Programs for poor students or "failed" schools;

-- Special Needs Voucher Programs for children with special educational needs;

-- Pre-kindergarten Voucher Programs; and

-- Town Tuitioning Programs for communities without operating public schools for some students’ grade levels.

What else is behind school choice and vouchers? Privatization mostly, but it’s also thinly-veiled aid for parochial schools, mainly Christian fundamentalist ones, and the frightening ideology they embrace - racial hatred, male gender dominance, white Christian supremacy, militarism, free market everything, and ending public education and replacing it with private Christian fundamentalist schools.

In March 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in Lemon v. Kurtzman against parochial funding in what became known as the "Lemon Test." In a unanimous 7 - 0 decision, the Court decided that government assistance for religious schools was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. It prohibits the federal government from declaring and financially supporting a national religion, and the First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;...."

That changed in June 2002 when the Court ruled 5 - 4 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that Cleveland’s religious school funding didn’t violate the Establishment Clause. The decision used convoluted reasoning that the city’s program was for secular, not religious purposes in spite of some glaring facts. In 1999 and 2000, 82% of funding went to religious schools, and 96% of students benefitting were enrolled in them.

The Court harmed democracy and the Constitution’s letter and spirit. It also contradicted Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 affirmation that there should be "a wall of separation between church and state." No longer for the nation’s schools.

Nationwide Efforts to Privatize Education

In recent years, privatization efforts have expanded beyond urban inner cities and are surfacing everywhere with large amounts of corporate funding and government support backing them. One effort among many is frightening. It’s called "Strong American Schools - ED in ’08" and states the following: it’s "a nonpartisan public awareness campaign aimed at elevating education to (the nation’s top priority)." It says "America’s students are losing out," and the "campaign seeks to unite all Americans around the crucial mission of improving our public schools (by using an election year to elevate) the discussion to a national stage."

Billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad put up $60 million for the effort for the big returns they expect. Former Colorado governor and (from 2001 - 2006) superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District Roy Romer is the chairman. The Rockefeller (family) Philanthropy Advisors are also involved as one of their efforts "to bring the entire world under their sway" in the words of one analyst. Other steering committee members include former IBM CEO and current Carlyle Group chairman Lou Gerstner; former Michigan governor and current National Association of Manufacturers president John Engler; and Gates Foundation head Allan Golston.

"Ed in ’08" has a three-point agenda:

-- ending seniority and substituting merit pay for teachers based on student test scores;

-- national education standards based on rote learning; standards are to be uniformly based on "what (business thinks) ought to be taught, grade by grade;" it’s to prepare some students for college and the majority for workplace low-skill, low-paid, no-benefit jobs; and

-- longer school days and school year; unmentioned but key is eliminating unions or making them weak and ineffective.

In addition, the plan involves putting big money behind transforming public and charter schools to private-for-profit ones. It’s spreading everywhere, and consider California’s "Program Improvement" initiative. Under it, "All schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) (must make) Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)" under NCLB provisions nearly impossible to achieve. Those that fail must divert public money from classrooms to private-for-profit remediating programs. It’s part of a continuing effort to defund inner city schools and place them in private hands, then on to the suburbs with other "innovative" schemes to transform them as well.

Under the governor’s proposed 2008 $4.8 billion education budget cut, transformation got easier. As of mid-March, 20,000 California teachers got layoff notices with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell saying this action puts student performance "in grave jeopardy." Likely by design.

Plundering New Orleans

Nowhere is planned makeover greater than in post-Katrina New Orleans, and last June 28 the Supreme Court made it easier. Its ruling in Meredith v. Jefferson County (KY) and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District effectively gutted the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that affirmed: segregated public schools deny "Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment."

In two troubling 5 - 4 decisions, the Roberts Court changed the law. They said public schools can’t seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures taking explicit account of a student’s race. They rewrote history, so cities henceforth may have separate and unequal education. Then it’s on to George Wallace-style racism with policies like: "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" with the High Court believing what was good for 1960s Alabama is now right for the country.

The Court also made it easy for New Orleans to become a corporate predator’s dream, and it didn’t take long to exploit it. Consider public schools alone. The storm destroyed over half their buildings and scattered tens of thousands of students and teachers across the country. Within days of the calamity, Governor Kathleen Blanco held a special legislative session. Subject - taking over New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) that serve about 63,000 mostly low-income almost entirely African-American children. Here’s what followed:

-- two weeks after the hurricane, US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings cited charter schools as "uniquely equipped" to serve Katrina-displaced students;

-- two weeks later, she announced the first of two $20 million grants to the state, solely for these schools;

-- then in October 2005, the governor issued an executive order waiving key portions of the state’s charter school law allowing public schools to be converted to charter ones with no debate, input or even knowledge of parents and teachers;

-- a month later in November, the state legislature voted to take over 107 (84%) of the city’s 128 public schools and place them under the state-controlled "Recovery School District (RSD);" and

-- in February 2006, all unionized city school employees were fired, then selectively rehired at less pay and fewer or no benefits; it affected 7500 teachers as well as custodians, cafeteria workers and others.

Within six months of Katrina, the city was largely ethnically cleansed, the public schools infrastructure mostly gutted, and a new framework was in place. It put NOPS into three categories - public, charter and the Recovery School District with the latter ones run by the state as charter or for-profit schools.

New Orleans Loyola University law professor Bill Quigley described the plunder and called it "a massive (new) experiment....on thousands of (mostly) African American children...." It’s in two halves.

The first half based on Recovery School District’s estimated 30,000 returning students in January 2007:

-- "Half of (these children were) enrolled (in) charter schools." They got "tens of millions of dollars" in federal money, but aren’t "open to every child....Some charter schools have special selective academic criteria (and can) exclude children in need of special academic help." Others "have special administrative policies (that) effectively screen out many children." This latter category has "accredited teachers in manageable size classes (in schools with) enrollment caps....These schools also educate far fewer students with academic or emotional disabilities (and) are in better facilities than the other half of the children...."

"The other half:"

These students were "assigned to a one-year-old experiment in public education run by the State of Louisiana called the ’Recovery School District (RSD)’ program." Their education "will be compared" to what first half children get in charter schools. "These children are effectively....called the ’control group’ of an experiment - those against whom the others will be evaluated."

RSD "other half" schools got no federal funds. Its leadership is inexperienced. It’s critically understaffed. Many of its teachers are uncertified. There aren’t enough of them, and schools assigned students hadn’t been built for their scheduled fall 2007 opening. In addition, some schools reported a "prison atmosphere," and in others, children spent long hours in gymnasiums because teachers hadn’t arrived. In addition, there was little academic counseling; college-preparatory math; or science and languages; and class sizes are too large because returning students are assigned to too few of them.

Many RSD schools also have no "working kitchens or water fountains (and their) bathroom facilities are scandalous....Hardly any white children attend this half of the school experiment." RSD schools are for poor black students getting short-changed and denied a real education by an uncaring state and nation and corporations in it for profit.

Quigley described a system for "Haves (and) Have-Nots," and race defines it. He also exposed the lie that charter schools are public ones. Across the country, but especially in New Orleans, school officials are unaccountable, can pick and choose their students, and can decide who gets educated and who doesn’t.

Separate and Unequal

In his 2005 book "The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America," Jonathan Kozol explains a problem getting worse, not better. Using data from state and local education agencies, interviews with researchers and policy makers, and the Harvard Civil Rights Project, his account is disturbing at a time of NCLB and other destructive initiatives.

Harvard Civil Rights researchers captured the problem in their Brown v. Board of Education 50th anniversary assessment stating: "At the beginning of the twenty-first century, American public schools are now 12 years into the process of continuous resegregation." Desegregation from the 1950s through the late 1980s "has receded to levels not seen in three decades." The percent of black students in majority-white schools stands at "a level lower than in any year since 1968" with conditions worst of all in the nation’s four most segregated states - New York, Michigan, Illinois and California. "Martin Luther King’s dream is being celebrated in theory and dishonored in practice" by what’s happening in inner-city schools. King would be appalled "that the country would renege on its promises," and the Supreme Court would authorize it in their two above cited decisions and an earlier 1991 one:

-- Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell that ruled for resegregating neighborhood schools mostly in areas of the South where desegregation was most advanced.

According to recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data, blacks and Latinos now comprise about 95% of inner-city students in the nation’s 100 largest school systems - accounting for more than one-third of all public school students. Kozol writes about "hypersegregation" with "no more than five or 10 white children (in) a student population of as many as 3000," and this is the "norm, not the exception, in most northern urban areas today." It’s "fashionable," he says, to declare integration "failed" and settle for a new millennium version of "Plessey" and its "separate but equal" doctrine that "Brown" repudiated until now.

Despite high-minded political posturing and programs like NCLB, the truth is these youngsters are forgotten and abused. They’re warehoused in decrepit facilities, curricula offerings ignore their needs, testing is unrelated to learning, teachers don’t teach, the whole scheme is swept under the rug, and "educating" the unwanted is "standardized" to produce good workers with pretty low skill levels for the kinds of jobs awaiting them. Kozol refers to "school reform" as a "business enterprise with goals, action plans, implementation targets, and productivity measures," and above all what marketplace potential there is.

Separate and unequal is the current inner city school standard. Unless it’s exposed, denounced and reversed, (and there’s no sign of it), millions of poor and minority children will be denied what the "American dream" increasingly only offers the privileged. And no one in Washington cares or they’d be doing something about it.

Disturbing New Dropout Data

A new Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center report released April 1 is revealing, disturbing but not surprising. It states only 52% of public high school students in the nation’s 50 largest cities completed the full curriculum and graduated in 2003 - 2004. This compares to the national average of 70%. Below are some of the findings:

-- 1.2 million public high school students drop out each year;

-- 17 of the 50 troubled cities have graduation rates of 50% or lower; in Detroit it’s 24.9%; Indianapolis is 30.5%; Cleveland at 34.1%; Baltimore - 34.6%; Columbus - 40.9%; Minneapolis - 43.7%; Dallas - 44.4%; New York - 45.2%; Los Angeles - 45.3%; Oakland - 45.6%; Kansas City - 45.7%; Atlanta - 46%; Milwaukee - 46.1%; Denver - 46.3%; Oklahoma City - 47.5%; Miami - 49%; and Philadelphia - 49.6%;

-- Chicago barely came in at 51.5%;

-- the data show public education in the 50 largest cities’ principal school districts in a virtual state of collapse;

-- dropout rates for blacks and Latinos are significantly higher than for white students;

-- dropouts are eight times more likely to end up in prison; family income is the main problem; in cities most affected, it goes hand in hand with a lack of good jobs and a sub-standard social infrastructure;

-- key to understanding the overall problem nationwide is the gutting of social services, widening income gap between rich and poor, exporting manufacturing and other high-paying jobs abroad, and politicians and business exploiting the needs of the many to benefit the few;

-- NCLB "reform" is called the solution; Democrats and Republicans are complicit in promoting it, and no one in government explains the truth - the report reveals a sinister scheme to end public education, say it causes poor student performance, and privatize it so the "market" can provide it to well-off communities and merely exploit the rest for profit.

Why else would the (Bill) Gates Foundation have funded the study and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance have sponsored it. APA is partnered with business, faith-based (Christian fundamentalist) groups, wealthy funders, and organizations like the American Bankers Association, right wing Aspen Institute, Business Roundtable, Ford Motor, Fannie Mae, Marriott International, National Association of Manufacturers, US Chamber of Commerce and many other for-profit ones and NGOs.

Educational Maintenance Organizations

It’s a new term for an old idea that’s much like their failed HMO counterparts. They’re private-for-profit businesses that contract with local school districts or individual charter schools to "improve the quality of education without significantly raising current spending levels." They’re still rare, but watch out for them and what they’re up to.

An example is the Edison Project running Edison (for-profit) Schools. It calls itself "the nation’s leading public school partner, working with schools and districts to raise student achievement and help every child reach his or her full potential." In the 2006-2007 school year, Edison served over 285,000 "public school" students in 19 states, the District of Columbia and the UK through "management partnerships with districts and charter schools; summer, after-school, and Supplemental Educational Service programs; and achievement management solutions for school systems."

Edison Schools, and its controversial charter schools and EMO projects, hope to cash in on privatizing education and is bankrolled by Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen to do it. The company was founded in 1992, its performance record is spotty, and too often deceptive. It cooks the books on its assessments results that unsurprisingly show far more than they achieve. That’s clear when independent evaluations are made.

Kalamazoo’s Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center published one of them in December 2000. Miami-Dade County public schools did another in the late 1990s. Both studies agreed. They showed Edison School students didn’t outperform their public school counterparts, and they were kind in their assessment.

Even more disturbing was Edison’s performance in Texas. It took over two Sherman, Texas schools in 1995, then claimed it raised student performance by 5%. But an independent American Institutes for Research (AIR) study couldn’t confirm it because Edison threatened legal action if its results were revealed. It was later learned that AIR’s findings weren’t exactly glowing and were thus suppressed. However, Sherman schools knew them, and when Edison’s contract came up for renewal, the company withdrew before being embarrassed by expulsion.

The city’s school superintendent had this assessment. He said Edison arrived with promises to educate students at the same cost as public schools and would improve performance. In the end, the city spent an extra $4 million, and students test scores were lower than in other schools. The superintendent added: "They were more about money than teaching," and that’s the problem with privatized education in all its forms - charter, contract or EMOs that place profits over students.

Unless public action stops it, Edison is the future and so is New Orleans in its worst of all forms. It’s spreading fast, and without public knowledge or discussion. It’s the privatization of all public spaces and belief that marketplace everything works best. Indeed for business, but not people who always lose out to profits.

If Dems Talk About 'Winning' in Iraq, Everybody Loses

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By Ira Chernus

It was supposed to be a "cakewalk." General Petraeus would come to Congress, armed with his favorite charts showing that the "surge" had dramatically reduced violence in Iraq. He would earn universal acclaim for his plan to "pause" troop reductions from July until after the election -- the same plan that John McCain counts on to help him win that election.

When it comes to Iraq, though, the Bush administration’s cakewalks never seem to turn out as planned. The renewed violence of these last weeks, and the prospect of more to come, gave war critics ample ammunition for a powerful counterattack. Congressional Democrats did a fine job of pinning the general under their verbal fire, trapping him in his own rosy but increasingly unbelievable promises of "progress."

Yet who was the trapper, and who really got trapped? The political fallout from events like this week’s Petraus-Crocker hearings can be a long time coming. It’s far too soon to draw any conclusion.

Though Petraeus appeared to be trapped, the debate about military success or failure in Iraq, which the Dems engaged in with such relish, also caught them in a trap, with the general’s testimony as the bait. Because the debate is not literally about the level of violence in Iraq. "Has the ’surge’ worked?" is really a symbolic way of asking: "Would you rather believe that America is a winner or a loser?" And in any battle over patriotic symbolism, the Republicans always seem to have the bigger guns.

So the Democrats would have been smarter to refuse the bait, to insist that this is not an old-fashioned World War II- style conflict, where force can produce a clear-cut winner. There’s still time to make that strategic switch. Then they could refocus the debate on the crucial truths: We have no right to be in Iraq. The sooner we get out the sooner we can begin to heal the terrible damage the war has done to us here at home.

It should have been obvious all along that the Republicans do not mean it literally when they say reducing violence in Iraq is their highest priority. It’s not likely that too many of them care a whole lot about the killing and maiming of Iraqis. So when they speak so urgently about lower levels of violence, it’s a coded way of saying something else; in fact, a lot of things.

For starters, "reduced violence" is a way to conjure up an image of American "success" in a war in which no real success (forget about "victory") is possible. The level of violence is the only concrete yardstick the administration has to gauge the success of the "surge"-- no small matter when a successful "surge" has become the prime symbol of achievement for U.S. troops and so for the President’s (and McCain’s) war policies. The Bush administration, of course, still hopes to sell its failing war to the public by turning it into a gripping story of winners and losers. "Violence" has been its currency, the coin of the realm.

Since that story took hold, supporters of the Bush policy have insisted that violence in Iraq really has been subsiding, hence the President’s "surge" strategy has worked. When Democrats and other war critics rejected that claim (no matter how convincing their arguments), they sparked a battle over who has the right, and the proper criteria, to evaluate the "surge." So violence-lowering success in Iraq also became a symbolic measure of Bush’s political success here at home.

In fact the home front is the key, as it has been for years. Bush came into office as the hero of the right, not because he had sworn to defeat terrorism (that didn’t start until 9/11), but because he had sworn to defeat 1960s-style liberalism and "secular humanism." For conservatives the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, and the political wars at home have all been symbols of the same struggle against trends they see undermining the fabric of American society.

By choosing John McCain to lead their troops in presidential battle, Republicans have voted with their feet. In effect, they have decided to make all their cherished battles hinge on the battle over Iraq policy and the "surge."

When McCain talks about Iraq, his words always point up the symbolic nature of the battle there. He offers no reasonable idea of who we are fighting or why. In fact, on the occasions when he brings the matter up, he seems remarkably confused on the cast of characters. As a result, he can offer no sensible outline of what "victory" in Iraq might mean.

Since McCain’s talk about the war is really a code, it makes perfect sense to feature that Bush-era bogeyman, al-Qaeda, as our main enemy in Iraq. Al-Qaeda, after all, is "the terrorists," and we are always fighting "the terrorists." It makes no less sense in his symbolic universe to insist that al-Qaeda terrorists are being trained in Iran, a country whose leadership is deeply hostile to the organization. All enemies are interchangeable, because all are merely symbols of a vaguely defined sense of uncontrolled evil, which is said to threaten America’s moral virtue at home and abroad. George W. Bush was supposed to defeat that evil. He has obviously failed. Now, conservatives pin their hopes on a new champion whose mantra is "No Surrender."

’Stability as a Symbol

In addition to "reduced violence," the "surge," and "no surrender," the Republicans wield another symbol of America as a righteous winner: achieving "stability" in Iraq. It’s the most seductive image of all, because it exerts a strong appeal the political spectrum.

Five years ago, when American forces quickly dismantled Iraqi society, liberal as well as conservative pundits announced that it was up to our forces to restore "stability" -- as if the Iraqis themselves had wrought the chaos. Though American armies did most of the destabilizing in Iraq, this historical fact was set aside in favor of the hoary myth that white America is always a force for good, uniquely dedicated and qualified to bring order out of chaos around the world.

War -- righteous, courageous, and ultimately victorious -- has always been a central theme in the American myth of stability. Pollsters still take that myth for granted, and reinforce it, when they ask Americans questions like: "How would you say things are going for the U.S. in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq?"; "Should the U.S. maintain its current troop level in Iraq to help secure peace and stability, or reduce its number of troops?"

Vietnam dealt this mythology a near-fatal blow. At a time when conservatives, moderates, and even many liberals worry about all sorts of forces that seem to threaten the nation’s cohesion and moral fiber, reviving a cherished national myth holds broad appeal across the political spectrum. Millions debate the question of military success because they want to know whether they should, or can, still believe that America is the champion of order and stability in a dangerously unstable world. Asking "Did the ’surge’ work?" is a symbolic way of asking not only "Can America be a winner?" but "Can the stories of the America we once knew and loved still work?"

When the charismatic general, know to colleagues as < href="">"King David" Petraeus, came before the cameras with his charts and statistics to "prove" that violence levels are lower, and thus the "surge" has worked, he dangled the sweet smell of success before Congress. Whenever the pundits and the public get a whiff of such bait, it’s not just conservatives who are sorely tempted to swallow it, regardless of what they know is happening in Iraq. Regardless of how flimsy Petraeus’ evidence of "progress toward stability" was, simply by offering it he triggered a whole web of myth and symbolism that automatically (though largely unconsciously) kicked in, weaving its spell.

As Democrats and war critics stay on the counterattack, they will keep that mythic drama on center stage in the theater of political battle. No matter how logically persuasive their arguments may be, they will ensnare themselves in the general’s -- and so the President’s -- trap, because they will make America and its cherished myths look like losers. And that may very well end up making the Democrats losers.

Just check the latest polls on the presidential race. McCain is basing his campaign on unstinting support for Bush’s war and economic policies, both of which are resounding failures, especially among moderate and independent voters. Yet he is running even with both Clinton and Obama, and some polls even show him ahead.

How could this be? The polls show that most voters do indeed oppose the war and think that the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake. Yet they also reveal that more Americans trust McCain than either Clinton or Obama to make the right choices on Iraq (and on national security in general). McCain scores particularly well on this issues among independents.

As the media have touted "reduced violence" in Iraq, the level of support for McCain’s "no surrender" policy has risen steadily. McCain’s campaign survives, and thrives, only by its mastery of a language of American identity centered on the myth and symbolism of war. Any debate about military success in Iraq keeps his strong suit in the spotlight.

Escaping the trap

Yes, the Democrats might win by making military success or failure in Iraq the central issue if Iraqi violence continues to rise. But the violence would have to go on rising until Election Day. That’s a big gamble. It depends on factors beyond their control, and it threatens to leave them trapped in a narrow corner.

Of course Petraeus has trapped himself in a corner too -- and Bush and McCain are there with them. They, too, must wait for events largely beyond their control to unfold, helplessly bobbing like corks on the tides of Iraqi violence.

The Democrats can turn General Entrap-Us into General Entrapped by refusing to treat the issue of military success or failure as the central question of the moment. The competing sides in Iraq have always been ill-defined and constantly shifting. Once the Sunni insurgency started there in 2003, no one has ever been able to say what an American victory might really mean. It’s no small truth that "success," in an Iraq where even General Petraeus can’t imagine "victory," would prove as damaging as any failure.

Wise Dems would heed the words of media critic Norman Solomon: "Arguments over whether U.S. forces can prevail in Iraq bypass a truth that no amount of media spin can change: The U.S. war effort in Iraq has always been illegitimate and fundamentally wrong." The longer we stay, the longer we perpetuate the wrongs we have done, regardless of whether we achieve military success by anyone’s measure.

We are uninvited intruders in Iraq. We invaded the country on false pretenses. It’s long past time for us to admit that truth and leave. The longer we stay in Iraq, the longer we tell the world that invasion and occupation are okay with us. And that much longer do we leave America’s moral reputation around the world in tatters. When our troops leave, we will set a good example for countries that have occupied, or might be tempted to occupy, other lands. And we can begin to heal from our moral bankruptcy -- not to mention our financial bankruptcy.

If Democrats take that approach they will shift the terms of the debate. Then they can speak truths about the war that the American people are prepared to understand. They can pose hard questions -- and not questions of military strategy -- that the administration simply cannot answer. That would push war supporters deeper into their own trap: the irrelevance of their quest for military success.

But neither Democratic candidate for president is likely to take such an approach. They both argue that the U.S. should remove some substantial number of troops from Iraq (though not all), and cut back military expenditures in Iraq, so that we can spend more and fight more on other fronts. Their arguments are all about the most "effective" ways to protect what are always termed "American interests" around the world. Some dare call it empire, though in any presidential campaign that word is politely avoided.

Criticism of the U.S. military is politely avoided, too. The candidates compete with each other to see who can offer the most fulsome praise of "our troops," while heaping all the blame on the feeble Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As long as the Democrats are committed to sustaining the neoliberal imperial project, they have to try as hard as the Republicans to revive the myth of American troops as a force for global stability. The bipartisan guardians of empire need that myth to mask the bottom line of their economic and political motives. It’s the only way they can keep the public paying the exorbitant bills.

The Democrats have already demonstrated that they value a myth of American stability above winning the presidency. That was in Florida in the weeks following Election Day, 2000. In the months preceding Election Day, 2008, they may very well make the same choice once again.

Which would be tragic. With the polls showing that many Americans may vote for the war as symbol while opposing it in reality, this year’s election offers a rare opportunity to confront the difference between symbol and reality, to insist that war should be seen not through the lens of myth and symbol, but as the brutal, self-defeating reality it is.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin.

Top Bush Advisers Approved "Enhanced Interrogation"

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By Jan Crawford Greenburg, Howard L. Rosenberg and Ariane de Bogue

Detailed discussions were held about techniques to use on al Qaeda suspects.

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques - using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time - on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects - whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed - down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

Contacted by ABC News today, spokesmen for Tenet, Rumsfeld and Powell declined to comment about the interrogation program or their private discussions in Principals Meetings. Powell said through an assistant there were "hundreds of [Principals] meetings" on a wide variety of topics and that he was "not at liberty to discuss private meetings."

The White House also declined comment on behalf of Rice and Cheney. Ashcroft could not be reached for comment today.

Critics at home and abroad have harshly criticized the interrogation program, which pushed the limits of international law and, they say, condoned torture. Bush and his top aides have consistently defended the program. They say it is legal and did not constitute torture.

"I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us the information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks here in the United States and across the world," Bush said in a speech in September 2006.

In interview with ABC's Charles Gibson last year, Tenet said: "It was authorized. It was legal, according to the Attorney General of the United States."

But this is the first time sources have disclosed that a handful of the most senior advisers in the White House explicitly approved the details of the program. According to multiple sources, it was members of the Principals Committee that not only discussed specific plans and specific interrogation methods, but approved them.

The discussions and meetings occurred in an atmosphere of great concern that another terror attack on the nation was imminent. Sources said the extraordinary involvement of the senior advisers in the grim details of exactly how individual interrogations would be conducted showed how seriously officials took the al Qaeda threat.

It started after the CIA captured top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in spring 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan. When his safe house was raided by Pakistani security forces along with FBI and CIA agents, Zubaydah was shot three times during the gun battle.

At a time when virtually all counterterrorist professionals viewed another attack as imminent - and with information on al Qaeda scarce - the detention of Zubaydah was seen as a potentially critical breakthrough.

Zubaydah was taken to the local hospital, where CIA agent John Kiriakou, who helped coordinate Zubaydah's capture, was ordered to remain at the wounded captive's side at all times. "I ripped up a sheet and tied him to the bed," Kiriakou said.

But after Zubaydah recovered from his wounds at a secret CIA prison in Thailand, he was uncooperative.

"I told him I had heard he was being a jerk," Kiriakou recalled. "I said, 'These guys can make it easy on you or they can make it hard.' It was after that he became defiant."

The CIA wanted to use more aggressive - and physical - methods to get information.

The agency briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee, led by then-National Security Advisor Rice and including then-Attorney General Ashcroft, which then signed off on the plan, sources said. It is unclear whether anyone on the committee objected to the CIA's plans for Zubaydah.

The CIA has confirmed Zubaydah was one of three al Qaeda suspects subjected to waterboarding.

After he was waterboarded, officials say Zubaydah gave up valuable information that led to the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and fellow 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh.

Mohammad was also subjected to waterboarding by the CIA. At a hearing before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay on March 10, 2007, KSM, as he is known, said he broke under the harsh interrogation.

COURT: Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?
KSM: Statement for whom?

COURT: To any of these interrogators.

KSM: CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me ...

Lawyers in the Justice Department had written a classified memo, which was extensively reviewed, that gave formal legal authority to government interrogators to use the "enhanced" questioning tactics on suspected terrorist prisoners. The August 2002 memo, signed by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, was referred to as the so-called "Golden Shield" for CIA agents, who worried they would be held liable if the harsh interrogations became public.

Old hands in the intelligence community remembered vividly how past covert operations, from the Vietnam War-era "Phoenix Program" of assassinations of Viet Cong to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were painted as the work of a "rogue agency" out of control.

But even after the "Golden Shield" was in place, briefings and meetings in the White House to discuss individual interrogations continued, sources said. Tenet, seeking to protect his agents, regularly sought confirmation from the NSC principals that specific interrogation plans were legal.

According to a former CIA official involved in the process, CIA headquarters would receive cables from operatives in the field asking for authorization for specific techniques. Agents, worried about overstepping their boundaries, would await guidance in particularly complicated cases dealing with high-value detainees, two CIA sources said.

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas.

"It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time," said one high-ranking official who asked not to be identified. "They'd say, 'We've got so and so. This is the plan.'"

Sources said that at each discussion, all the Principals present approved.

"These discussions weren't adding value," a source said. "Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it's legal, (you should) just tell them to implement it."

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

The Principals also approved interrogations that combined different methods, pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department's own legal approval in the 2002 memo, sources told ABC News.

At one meeting in the summer of 2003 - attended by Vice President Cheney, among others - Tenet made an elaborate presentation for approval to combine several different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time, according to a highly placed administration source.

A year later, amidst the outcry over unrelated abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the controversial 2002 legal memo, which gave formal legal authorization for the CIA interrogation program of the top al Qaeda suspects, leaked to the press. A new senior official in the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew the legal memo - the Golden Shield - that authorized the program.

But the CIA had captured a new al Qaeda suspect in Asia. Sources said CIA officials that summer returned to the Principals Committee for approval to continue using certain "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Then-National Security Advisor Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns - shared by Powell - that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: "This is your baby. Go do it."

Afghans Hold Secret Trials for Men That US Detained

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By Tim Golden and David Rohde

Kabul, Afghanistan - Dozens of Afghan men who were previously held by the United States at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are now being tried here in secretive Afghan criminal proceedings based mainly on allegations forwarded by the American military.

The prisoners are being convicted and sentenced to as much as 20 years' confinement in trials that typically run between half an hour and an hour, said human rights investigators who have observed them. One early trial was reported to have lasted barely 10 minutes, an investigator said.

The prosecutions are based in part on a security law promulgated in 1987, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Witnesses do not appear in court and cannot be cross-examined. There are no sworn statements of their testimony.

Instead, the trials appear to be based almost entirely on terse summaries of allegations that are forwarded to the Afghan authorities by the United States military. Afghan security agents add what evidence they can, but the cases generally center on events that sometimes occurred years ago in war zones that the authorities may now be unable to reach.

"These are no-witness paper trials that deny the defendants a fundamental fair-trial right to challenge the evidence and mount a defense," said Sahr MuhammedAlly, a lawyer for the advocacy group Human Rights First who has studied the proceedings. "So any convictions you get are fundamentally flawed."

The head of Afghanistan's national intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, said his investigators did their best to develop their own evidence. But he added that the Afghan judicial system remained crippled by problems more than six years after the fall of the Taliban.

"This is Afghanistan," he said. Referring to the Afghan trials, he added, "I am equally critical of that procedure, but who is supposed to fix it?"

Since 2002 the Bush administration has pressed foreign governments to prosecute the Guantánamo prisoners from their countries as a condition of the men's repatriation. But many of those governments - including such close American allies as Britain - have objected, saying the American evidence would not hold up in their courts.

Afghanistan represents perhaps the most notable exception.

Although President Hamid Karzai refused to sign a decree law drafted with American help that would have allowed Afghanistan to hold the former detainees indefinitely as "enemy combatants," the Afghan authorities have now tried 82 of the former prisoners since last October and referred more than 120 other cases for prosecution.

Of the prisoners who have been through the makeshift Afghan court, 65 have been convicted and 17 acquitted, according to a report on the prosecutions by Human Rights First that is to be made public on Thursday. A draft copy of the report was provided to The New York Times.

United States officials defended their role in providing information for the Afghan trials as a legitimate way to try to contain the threats that some of the more dangerous detainees would pose if they were released outright.

"These are not prosecutions that are being done at the request or behest of the United States government," said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detention policy. "These are prosecutions that are being done by Afghans for crimes committed on their territory by their nationals."

Ms. Hodgkinson said the United States had pressed the Afghan authorities "to conduct the trials in a fair manner," and had insisted that lawyers be provided for the prisoners after the first 10 of them were convicted without legal representation. But she did not directly reject the criticisms raised in the Human Rights First report, adding, "These trials are much more consistent with the traditional Afghan justice process than they are with ours."

The new court is located on the ground floor of a new high-security Afghan prison that was built by the United States at Pul-i-Charki, on the outskirts of Kabul.

Although Afghan officials say the trials there are not officially secret, they have allowed only three outside observers - two human rights investigators and a representative of a local United Nations office. The human rights investigators were permitted to see two trials in February, review some trial documents and interview judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers for the court.

Gen. Safiullah Safi, the Afghan Army officer who runs the prison where the trials are being held, told a reporter that permission to view the trials could be granted only by Mr. Karzai's office. But that office referred the request to Abdul Jabar Sabit, the Afghan attorney general. Mr. Sabit's office finally said he was too busy to meet with a journalist.

The human rights investigators who observed the operations of the new court described them as a perversion of the efforts by Afghanistan and the United States to rebuild and reform the Afghan judicial system after years of war, corruption and neglect.

They said that the defense lawyers, who work for a legal aid organization based in New York, typically meet their clients five days before their trials begin and have few resources to investigate the distant events on which they turn. At least some of the Afghan judges also appear to accept the American allegations at face value, they said, and routinely admit allegations that would not pass the evidentiary standards of special military tribunals at Guantánamo, much less the federal courts of the United States.

"The files provided by U.S. authorities and the information in them would never have been admissible in a U.S. court or even a military commission in Guantánamo," said Jonathan Horowitz, an investigator for One World Research, a public-interest investigations firm in New York that also monitored the Afghan trials.

In an interview, one of the justices of the Afghan Supreme Court argued that while the trials might have some flaws, they represented a fair process.

"All of these trials have been prepared by our friends from the United States," said the justice, who uses the single name Rashid. "They have seen it themselves. We don't have any doubts about the trial not being fair."

Justice Rashid added that he had complete confidence in the accuracy of the information that was being provided to Afghan investigators by the American military.

"I'm 100 percent sure that what was done by the United States was done according to the legal system of the United States," he said. "And I am familiar with the legal system of the United States."

But one case file that was partly reproduced in the Human Rights First report underscores questions that have been raised about the procedures of the Afghan trials and the American evidence with which they begin.

In a single paragraph, the United States "Report of Investigation" recounts that the Afghan prisoner Rais Mohammed Khan was detained by the police as he and a friend tried to cross the Afghan border in the eastern department of Khost on May 1, 2006. The report, which misidentifies Mr. Khan by a name his father used, Matelky, notes that he and his injured friend were suspected of having planned a suicide bombing that went awry.

"Their stories are conflicting, and the Khost Police Force believe they are directly tied to suicide attacks that were taking place during the Independence Day Parade in Khost," the report reads. It notes that Mr. Khan appeared to lie on a polygraph examination when he denied involvement in suicide bombing. But it adds:

"Confessions/Admissions/Incriminating Statements: None"
"Witnesses: None"

"Physical Evidence: None"

"Photographs: None"

Also in his Afghan court file was a one-page summary of the recommendation from the United States military panel that reviewed his case at Bagram. It describes him as a low threat to American and coalition forces and him as "low prosecution value."

He was convicted under the 1987 Afghan security law and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Oil prices rise to record $110 a barrel

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By Ronald D. White

A drop in U.S. crude supplies fuels the surge.

A surprise decline in U.S. crude supplies pushed oil futures to $112.21 a barrel Wednesday before settling at $110.87, both records that could doom drivers to even higher pump prices.

Predictions of $4 gasoline have already come true at a smattering of service stations around California, including a Chevron in downtown Los Angeles where self-serve regular began the day at $4.139 a gallon before rising to $4.199.

Wednesday's $2.37 price jump for the May crude contract probably won't be the end of the surge, with some traders and analysts predicting oil as high as $120 a barrel in the coming days. Gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel also set records in futures trading and some spot markets. Retail gasoline and diesel prices are at or near records across most of the country, according to AAA's daily survey of fuel prices.

"These are apocalyptic numbers," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey. "These increases are just tremendous."

Runaway energy prices are being felt throughout the U.S. economy.

Atlanta-based UPS Inc. and Memphis-based FedEx Corp., the two giants of overnight package delivery, this week lowered their quarterly earnings outlook. Both cited high fuel costs as one of the main reasons. Smaller businesses are also taking a hit, and some consumers are making tough choices.

"Fuel prices are killing our business," said Bruce Fishman, a 51-year-old Tarzana resident who runs a printing company.

"I have salesmen on the street who have to drive. Our freight bills for deliveries are going through the roof, and we know this is more than just a temporary bump. It is having a severe impact," Fishman said, adding that he would have to raise prices to compensate.

Fishman's 53-year-old wife, Michele, is a real estate agent and a self-professed performance car aficionado. Her previous vehicles were big, comfortable and luxurious: a BMW 750il and a VW Phaeton. But they also forced her to buy gasoline every four days.

"I just could not stand having those stupid gas bills," said Michele Fishman, who now owns a car she never would have given a second glance a year ago: a Toyota Camry hybrid. But it's a car that she fills up just once every two weeks.

"It's amazing. It feels so good," she said.

Three Democratic Congressmen wrote in a letter to President Bush on Wednesday that more had to be done. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Peter Welch of Vermont urged the president to stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which they said was at 96% of its capacity, and to release some of its oil.

"Americans are pleading for help at the pump, and the Bush administration refuses to answer the call," said Markey, who is chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Oil jumped Wednesday after the Energy Department reported an unexpected decline in U.S. crude inventories of 3.1 million barrels from the previous Wednesday.

Supplies of gasoline and distillates also fell.

Some analysts questioned the significance of the numbers.

Calling the drop "smoke and mirrors," Phil Flynn, vice president and senior market analyst for Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago, said that the decline stemmed partly from a temporary shutdown of Gulf Coast seaports because of heavy fog last week, reducing imports.

"It's not like we're having a problem getting crude out of some foreign source, but the market has such a bullish attitude that it's still driving up the price," Flynn said.

Another reason for the surge was the flight of investors out of stocks and into oil and other commodities at a rate that "is unprecedented in terms of anything I have seen in 15 years on Wall Street," said John Kilduff, vice president of risk management at MF Global Ltd. in New York.

Not every expert is convinced that oil will stay in the stratosphere. Some cited warning signs that prices could quickly fall below $100 again.

"I keep hearing from professional traders who are getting out of the oil market because it is just too volatile," said Sean Brodrick, a Florida-based natural resource analyst for the e-mail investment newsletter Money and Markets.

"When you scare away the pros," Brodrick said, "you know you're looking at a real roller coaster ahead."