Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mosaic News - 5/5/08: World News from the Middle East

Let's Bank on Rebuilding America

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By Isaiah J. Poole

Instead of a silly argument over a "gas tax holiday," we desperately need a serious discussion about the nation's infrastructure. And there is a good legislative proposal that could be the basis for that discussion.

There are bills in the House (HR 3401) and the Senate (S 1926) that would create a national infrastructure bank. It could be one way to bring some common sense to the task of rebuilding America's roads, bridges, sewers and public buildings. The creation of this bank should be part of the effort progressives are making in Congress to enact a second stimulus bill this month.

Such a bank would allow the federal government to finance these projects in the same way that states do: by issuing long-term, tax-exempt bonds or by making loan guarantees.

Both Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have said they support the idea of an infrastructure bank, although it rarely comes up in their campaign speeches. And that's a shame, because they both need to spend their time reinforcing an emerging national mandate for repairing and improving our crumbling foundations.

Just last month, the blog Infrastructure Watch notes, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the nation's total water infrastructure needs would cost between $485 billion to $1.2 trillion. However, funding for the largest federal drinking water and wastewater infrastructure programs have been flat or declining.

Also, the Congressional Budget Office told Congress last year that the Highway Trust Fund, which is made up largely of the revenue from the gasoline tax, will run out of money in 2009. Spending is outpacing money flowing into the fund. (High gasoline prices, in fact, worsens that problem. When high prices force cutbacks in driving, less money flows into the fund; the federal gasoline tax is a per-gallon tax; it does not increase proportionately to the cost of a gallon of gasoline.) One key reason for the exhaustion of the fund is that prices for materials such as asphalt and concrete are exceeding the general rate of inflation.

In March, the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, David G. Mongan, reminded the House Banking Committee that in 2005 the organization gave a grade of "D" to the state of the nation's infrastructure and said that an investment of $1.6 trillion by 2010 would be needed to bring the fix these public resources. At the time, that bad grade got a fair amount of attention. Since then:

Nothing approaching that level of investment has been made. Indeed, little has changed in the three years since we handed out that dismal grade, and establishing a longterm plan to finance the development and maintenance of our infrastructure remains a pressing national priority.

This nation continues to under-invest in infrastructure at the national level. The total of all federal spending for infrastructure as a share of all federal spending has steadily declined over the last 30 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

One of the more shameful examples of what Robert Kuttner adroitly calls "the squandering of America" is the failure of America to take care of its basic public assets, especially after the Bush administration inherited a government with a budget surplus that gave it the leeway to tackle that challenge intelligently. Under the guise of controlling spending, the administration has shifted an increasing share of the national burden to state and local governments - where the same conservatives who say the federal government shouldn't tax to pay for these needs make the same argument at the state and local level - or encouraged turning public assets into private profit centers.

Now that the country is moving through a recession, there is an even more critical need to target government resources on projects that will produce jobs in the short run and leave the nation in the long run with the clean water, transportation, schools and other public facilities that a nation needs to be healthy and economically vibrant. As Congress considers a second economic stimulus package for short-term relief this month, it should authorize the creation of that infrastructure bank. Then let's have a serious debate about how to fund it and how to use it when the next president takes office.

The Financial Crisis: An Interview With George Soros

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By Judy Woodruff

The following is an edited and expanded version of an interview with George Soros, Chairman, Soros Fund Management, by Judy Woodruff on Bloomberg TV on April 4.

Judy Woodruff: You write in your new book, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets,[1] that "we are in the midst of a financial crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression." Was this crisis avoidable?

George Soros: I think it was, but it would have required recognition that the system, as it currently operates, is built on false premises. Unfortunately, we have an idea of market fundamentalism, which is now the dominant ideology, holding that markets are self-correcting; and this is false because it’s generally the intervention of the authorities that saves the markets when they get into trouble. Since 1980, we have had about five or six crises: the international banking crisis in 1982, the bankruptcy of Continental Illinois in 1984, and the failure of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, to name only three.

Each time, it’s the authorities that bail out the market, or organize companies to do so. So the regulators have precedents they should be aware of. But somehow this idea that markets tend to equilibrium and that deviations are random has gained acceptance and all of these fancy instruments for investment have been built on them.

There are now, for example, complex forms of investment such as credit-default swaps that make it possible for investors to bet on the possibility that companies will default on repaying loans. Such bets on credit defaults now make up a $45 trillion market that is entirely unregulated. It amounts to more than five times the total of the US government bond market. The large potential risks of such investments are not being acknowledged.

Woodruff: How can so many smart people not realize this?

Soros: In my new book I put forward a general theory of reflexivity, emphasizing how important misconceptions are in shaping history. So it’s not really unusual; it’s just that we don’t recognize the misconceptions.

Woodruff: Who could have? You said it would have been avoidable if people had understood what’s wrong with the current system. Who should have recognized that?

Soros: The authorities, the regulators—the Federal Reserve and the Treasury—really failed to see what was happening. One Fed governor, Edward Gramlich, warned of a coming crisis in subprime mortgages in a speech published in 2004 and a book published in 2007, among other statements. So a number of people could see it coming. And somehow, the authorities didn’t want to see it coming. So it came as a surprise.

Woodruff: The chairman of the Fed, Mr. Bernanke? His predecessor, Mr. Greenspan?

Soros: All of the above. But I don’t hold them personally responsible because you have a whole establishment involved. The economics profession has developed theories of "random walks" and "rational expectations" that are supposed to account for market movements. That’s what you learn in college. Now, when you come into the market, you tend to forget it because you realize that that’s not how the markets work. But nevertheless, it’s in some way the basis of your thinking.

Woodruff: How much worse do you anticipate things will get?

Soros: Well, you see, as my theory argues, you can’t make any unconditional predictions because it very much depends on how the authorities are going to respond now to the situation. But the situation is definitely much worse than is currently recognized. You have had a general disruption of the financial markets, much more pervasive than any we have had so far. And on top of it, you have the housing crisis, which is likely to get a lot worse than currently anticipated because markets do overshoot. They overshot on the upside and now they are going to overshoot on the downside.

Woodruff: You say the housing crisis is going to get much worse. Do you anticipate something like the government setting up an agency or a trust corporation to buy these mortgages?

Soros: I’m sure that it will be necessary to arrest the decline because the decline, I think, will be much faster and much deeper than currently anticipated. In February, the rate of decline in housing prices was 25 percent per annum, so it’s accelerating. Now, foreclosures are going to add to the supply of housing a very large number of properties because the annual rate of new houses built is about 600,000. There are about six million subprime mortgages outstanding, 40 percent of which will likely go into default in the next two years. And then you have the adjustable-rate mortgages and other flexible loans.

Problems with such adjustable-rate mortgages are going to be of about the same magnitude as with subprime mortgages. So you’ll have maybe five million more defaults facing you over the next several years. Now, it takes time before a foreclosure actually is completed. So right now you have perhaps no more than 10,000 to 20,000 houses coming into the supply on the market. But that’s going to build up. So the idea that somehow in the second half of this year the economy is going to improve I find totally unbelievable.

Woodruff: So how long will this last?

Soros: Well, it depends on when the authorities wake up, because you need to reduce the number of foreclosures. You need to keep as many people as possible in their houses so that they don’t come onto the market. You need to arrest the decline in house prices, but you also need to prevent human suffering and social disruption because it’s going to be very, very severe. Certain communities are already hurting and it’s going to get a lot worse. So action will have to be taken, but I don’t think it’s going to happen during this administration.

Woodruff: You said the Federal Reserve had to step in to engineer the buyout by J.P. Morgan of Bear Stearns to prevent a much bigger catastrophe. You’ve also said that to do this, the Fed had to take on considerable risk. Is this an unhealthy amount of risk that the Fed has taken on?

Soros: This is their job, whether unhealthy or not; I don’t think it’s actually so severe. But that is their job, to save the system when it is in danger. However, because that is their job, it ought to be their job also to prevent asset bubbles from developing. And that task has not been recognized. Greenspan once spoke about the "irrational exuberance" of the market. It had a bad echo and he stopped talking about it. And it’s generally accepted that the Fed tries to control core inflation, but not asset prices. I think that control of asset prices has to be an objective in order to prevent asset bubbles because they are so frequent.

Woodruff: And that’s more than what the Fed is doing.

Soros: It’s more than what it’s doing now. You have to recognize that just controlling money doesn’t control credit. You see, money and credit don’t go hand in hand. The monetarist doctrine doesn’t stand up. So you have to take into account the willingness to lend. And if it’s too great—if borrowers can obtain large loans on the basis of inadequate security—you really have to introduce margin requirements for such borrowing and try to discourage it.

Woodruff: When you talk about currency you have more than a little expertise. You were described as the man who broke the Bank of England back in the 1990s. But what is your sense of where the dollar is going? We’ve seen it declining. Do you think the central banks are going to have to step in?

Soros: Well, we are close to a tipping point where, in my view, the willingness of banks and countries to hold dollars is definitely impaired. But there is no suitable alternative so central banks are diversifying into other currencies; but there is a general flight from these currencies. So the countries with big surpluses—Abu Dhabi, China, Norway, and Saudi Arabia, for example—have all set up sovereign wealth funds, state-owned investment funds held by central banks that aim to diversify their assets from monetary assets to real assets. That’s one of the major developments currently and those sovereign wealth funds are growing. They’re already equal in size to all of the hedge funds in the world combined. Of course, they don’t use their capital as intensively as hedge funds, but they are going to grow to about five times the size of hedge funds in the next twenty years.

Woodruff: How low do you think the dollar will go?

Soros: Well, that I don’t know. I can see the trend, but I don’t know its extent, and I don’t know when something might happen to turn it around. Once the economy stabilizes, probably the overshoot on the currencies would also be corrected.

Woodruff: Few people know more about hedge funds than you do. You’ve been enormously successful with your own hedge fund. Should hedge funds be more regulated by Washington?

Soros: I think hedge funds should be regulated like everything else. In other words, you have to control leverage—credit obtained for investment purposes—somewhere. Excessive use of leverage is at the bottom of this problem. And there have been hedge funds that have been using leverage excessively and some of those have gone broke. The amount of leverage that people are allowed to use has to be regulated. I think it’s best done through the banks. In other words, the banks’ reserve requirements—the amounts of money they are obliged to hold—should be tailored to the riskiness of their customers. So investment funds that use a lot of leverage ought to be seen as very risky; and therefore they would not get the amount of leverage they seek because the banks wouldn’t give it to them.

Woodruff: New regulation, though: Could that impede the ability of hedge funds to be the big players that they have been in these markets?

Soros: Yes, I think that there has been excessive use of credit and it does have to be limited. So we are now in a period of very rapid deleveraging and I think that in the future we ought not to allow leverage to be used to the extent that it has been in the past.

Woodruff: You write, "We are at the end of an era." When this current credit crisis ends, will the US still be, no doubt about it, the world superpower when it comes to the economy?

Soros: Not at all. This is now in question. And you now have entered a period of really considerable uncertainty and turmoil because of the general flight from currencies, which manifests itself in the commodities bubble that has developed. The price of gold hasn’t yet gone as high as it might. So what comes out of this turmoil is very open to question. I think that you will have to somehow reconstruct the global financial architecture because you have recognized that, in effect, the economic weight has changed considerably among the different countries. China has become much more important and also India, and so on. What kind of system will evolve from this is, I think, a very open question.

Woodruff: What about China? How much of an economic competitor could it end up being?

Soros: Well, China is rising. It’s been the main beneficiary of globalization. Their currency is significantly undervalued and for various reasons they have to allow it to appreciate, recently at a rate of 10 percent. And it’s been accelerating now to 15, 20 percent, which makes the situation more difficult for the Fed because you now have the prospect of core inflation in the US accelerating because if our imports coming from China go up in price by 15 percent, it will come through in core inflation. The price of goods at Wal-Mart is rising and will probably continue to rise and then accelerate.

Woodruff: So while people are thinking that goods are cheaper from China, you’re saying the prices go up. It affects so many things that we buy in this country. What of Russia and how its economy is doing?

Soros: Basically, the country is benefiting from the high price of oil, but, at the same time, it is reestablishing a very authoritarian regime where the rights of investors are not respected. Now it is British Petroleum that is being chased out. So you invest at your own risk. I’ve done it and I’m not going to do it again.

Woodruff: So what you see in Russia tells us that political freedom and economic freedom are separable after all?

Soros: Well, the lack of political freedom also impinges on the rights of shareholders. So it’s not a suitable area for investing exactly because you don’t have the rule of law. China is improving a great deal. The rule of law is getting stronger in China, even though you don’t have democracy.

Woodruff: The most attractive emerging market?

Soros: At this time, the outlook for India is also very good.

Woodruff: Let me mention two other points because they are so much on the minds of our leaders today. One is fighting the war on terror. Should the next president be prepared to sit down with the leaders of organizations like Hamas, like Hezbollah, countries like Iran?

Soros: Absolutely. I wrote another book arguing that the entire idea of a "war on terror" is a misleading concept that has got this country off on the wrong track.[2] It is responsible for our invading Iraq under the wrong pretenses and for a decline of our political influence and military power that has no precedent.

Woodruff: Where do you see the "war on terror" ten years down the road?

Soros: I hope that we will put it behind us. If you think in terms of human security and you say that the role of governments is to make the people secure, then it leads you to a completely different line of action. And even in Iraq, the surge, which was quite successful militarily, tried to provide protection for civilians, instead of just chasing terrorists whom we couldn’t find after breaking into houses and terrifying the people. Concern for human security, making us feel safe and making the people in other countries feel safe: I think that would get you to a totally different line of action.

Woodruff: Bringing us back to this country in the midst of this economic credit crisis that you write about and that you’ve been describing, we are also in the middle of a presidential election. You endorsed Barack Obama the day he announced. Why him rather than your home state senator, Senator Clinton?

Soros: Well, I have very high regard for Hillary Clinton, but I think Obama has the charisma and the vision to radically reorient America in the world. And that is what we need because I’m afraid we have gotten off the right track and we need to have a greater discontinuity than Hillary Clinton would bring.

Woodruff: You have no concern that he lacks the experience to lead in this dangerous time that we live in?

Soros: I think that he has shown himself to be a really unusual person. And I think this emphasis on experience is way overdone because he will have exactly the same advisers available as Hillary Clinton, and it will be a matter of judgment whom he chooses. And actually, he is more likely to bring in new blood, which is what we need.

Woodruff: Recently, Senator Obama has endorsed some of the things we’ve been talking about: greater financial regulation, having for example the Federal Housing Administration insure unaffordable mortgages against default. Do you think this goes far enough, what he’s talking about? Did he talk with you at all?

Soros: No, I’ve had absolutely no contact with him or any of the Democratic leadership on this issue. Now that my book is out, maybe I will in the future. But these are my ideas and they are not responsible for them.

Woodruff: From what you know about what he’s saying about the housing crisis, do you think he goes far enough?

Soros: No, nothing right now goes far enough and Representative Barney Frank, who really understands the issues, is not pushing that far because, in order to get bipartisan support, you can’t. So if you want something done, you have to set your sights lower. And that is what he has done and I think he is getting a few things through. But they are not enough.

Woodruff: A larger question on the campaign—you gave, I believe, something like $23 million in 2004 to various Democratic efforts: MoveOn.org and candidates. Far less than that so far this year—why the change?

Soros: Well, because I think that was a unique time when not having President Bush reelected would have made the situation of this country and of the world much better. I think now it’s less important. And, in any case, I don’t feel terribly comfortable being a partisan person because I look forward to being critical of the next Democratic administration.

Woodruff: What of your book and the philosophy that comes of it?

Soros: In human affairs, as distinguished from natural science, I argue that our understanding is imperfect. And our imperfect understanding introduces an element of uncertainty that’s not there in natural phenomena. So therefore you can’t predict human affairs in the same way as you can natural phenomena. And we have to come to terms with the implication of our own misunderstandings, that it’s very hard to make decisions when you know you may be wrong. You have to learn to recognize that we in fact may be wrong. And, even worse than that, it’s almost inevitable that all of our constructs will have some kind of a flaw in them. So when it comes to currencies, no currency system is perfect.

So you have to recognize that all of our constructions are imperfect. We have to improve them. But just because something is imperfect, the opposite is not perfect. So because of the failures of socialism, communism, we have come to believe in market fundamentalism, that markets are perfect; everything will be taken care of by markets. And markets are not perfect. And this time we have to recognize that, because we are facing a very serious economic disruption.

Now, we should not go back to a very highly regulated economy because the regulators are imperfect. They’re only human and what is worse, they are bureaucratic. So you have to find the right kind of balance between allowing the markets to do their work, while recognizing that they are imperfect. You need authorities that keep the market under scrutiny and some degree of control. That’s the message that I’m trying to get across.

Doing the Troops Wrong

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By Bob Herbert

At the top of the list of no-brainers in Washington should be Senator Jim Webb's proposed expansion of education benefits for the men and women who have served in the armed forces since Sept. 11, 2001.

It's awfully hard to make the case that these young people who have sacrificed so much don't deserve a shot at a better future once their wartime service has ended.

Senator Webb, a Virginia Democrat, has been the guiding force behind this legislation, which has been dubbed the new G.I. bill. The measure is decidedly bipartisan. Mr. Webb's principal co-sponsors include Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia, and Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

(All four senators are veterans of wartime service - Senators Webb and Hagel in Vietnam, Warner in World War II and Korea and Lautenberg in World War II.)

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are on board, as are Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House.

Who wouldn't support an effort to pay for college for G.I.'s who have willingly suited up and put their lives on the line, who in many cases have served multiple tours in combat zones and in some cases have been wounded?

We did it for those who served in World War II. Why not now?

Well, you might be surprised at who is not supporting this effort. The Bush administration opposes it, and so does Senator John McCain.

Reinvigorating the G.I. bill is one of the best things this nation could do. The original G.I. Bill of Rights, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, paid the full load of a returning veteran's education at a college or technical school and provided a monthly stipend. It was an investment that paid astounding dividends. Millions of veterans benefited, and they helped transform the nation. College would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and those who crowned themselves the intellectual elite.

As The New York Times wrote on the 50th anniversary of the G.I. bill: "Few laws have done so much for so many."

"These veterans were able to get a first-class future," Senator Webb told me in an interview. "But not only that. For every dollar that was spent on the World War II G.I. bill, seven dollars came back in the form of tax remunerations from those who received benefits."

Senator Lautenberg went to Columbia on the G.I. bill, and Senator Warner to Washington and Lee University and then to law school.

The benefits have not kept pace over the decades with the real costs of attending college. Moreover, service members have to make an out-of-pocket contribution - something over $100 a month during their first year of service - to qualify for the watered-down benefits.

This is not exactly first-class treatment of the nation's warriors.

The Bush administration opposes the new G.I. bill primarily on the grounds that it is too generous, would be difficult to administer and would adversely affect retention.

This is bogus. The estimated $2.5 billion to $4 billion annual cost of the Webb proposal is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions being spent on the wars we're asking service members to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. What's important to keep in mind is that the money that goes to bolstering the education of returning veterans is an investment, in both the lives of the veterans themselves and the future of the nation.

The notion that expanding educational benefits will have a negative effect on retention seems silly. The Webb bill would cover tuition at a rate comparable to the highest tuition at a state school in the state in which the veteran would be enrolled. That kind of solid benefit would draw talented individuals into the military in large numbers.

Senator Webb, a former secretary of the Navy who specialized in manpower issues, said he has seen no evidence that G.I.'s would opt out of the service in significantly higher numbers because of such benefits.

Senator McCain's office said on Monday that it was following the Pentagon's lead on this matter, getting guidance from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Under pressure because of his unwillingness to support Senator Webb's effort, Senator McCain introduced legislation with substantially fewer co-sponsors last week that expands some educational benefits for G.I.'s, but far less robustly than Senator Webb's bill.

"It's not even close to the Webb bill," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group.

Politicians tend to talk very, very big about supporting our men and women in uniform. But time and again - whether it's about providing armor for their safety or an education for their future - we find that talk to be very, very cheap.

Iraqi Alleges Abu Ghraib Torture, Sues US Contractors

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By Greg Risling

Los Angeles - An Iraqi man sued two U.S. military contractors, claiming he was repeatedly tortured while being held at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison for more than 10 months.

Emad al-Janabi's federal lawsuit, filed Monday in Los Angeles, claims that employees of CACI International Inc. and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. punched him, slammed him into walls, hung him from a bed frame and kept him naked and handcuffed in his cell beginning in September 2003.

Also named as a defendant is CACI interrogator Steven Stefanowicz, known as "Big Steve." The suit claims he directed some of the torture tactics.

Phone messages left for Arlington, Va.-based CACI and New York City-based L-3 Communications, formerly Titan Corp., were not immediately returned Monday. There was no phone number listed for Stefanowicz at his Los Angeles address.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles because Stefanowicz lives there, seeks unspecified monetary damages.

The firms provided interrogators or interpreters to assist U.S. military guards at Abu Ghraib, which became notorious when photos made public in early 2004 showing U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating detainees. Military investigators later concluded that much of the abuse happened in late 2003 — when CACI and Titan's interrogators were at the prison.

CACI and L-3 were accused of abusing Abu Ghraib prisoners in earlier lawsuits. In November a federal judge in the District of Columbia dismissed the suit against L-3 but allowed the one against CACI to proceed.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday in Istanbul, Turkey, al-Janabi said he hopes the lawsuit sheds light on what happened to him and other detainees.

"God willing the righteousness will emerge and God willing the criminal will receive his punishment," al-Janabi said.

Al-Janabi, 43, said he was detained by U.S. troops during a late-night raid in which he and his family were beaten by their captors. He said he was taken to a military base where he was stripped naked, a hood was placed on his head and his hands and legs were chained.

"They (U.S. troops) did not tell me what was the reason behind my arrest ... during the interrogation, the American soldier told me I was a terrorist ... and I was preparing for an attack against the U.S. forces," said al-Janabi, who denied the accusation and claims he was forced to give confessions under "savage" intimidation.

The lawsuit also claims the contractors conspired in a cover-up by destroying documents and other information, hid prisoners during periodic checks by the International Red Cross and misled military and government officials about what was happening at Abu Ghraib.

Al-Janabi was released in July 2004 and wasn't charged with any crime, according to the lawsuit. He also was forced to form a human pyramid in the nude with other prisoners, according to the lawsuit, but his Philadelphia-based attorney Susan Burke said it wasn't known if he was in the infamous photo that became public.

"Most of this conduct was repeated on more than one occasion," Burke said.

At one point after passing out, al-Janabi said, he was told by an L-3 translator "welcome to Guantanamo." He said he even asked a cellmate whether he could see the ocean from a window.

"I lost the sense of time after the prolonged hours of abusive interrogation and thought that I was transported to Guantanamo," al-Janabi told the AP.

The Abu Ghraib photos drew international criticism about the way detainees were treated and damaged the U.S. military's image in Arab countries. Eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted of crimes at the prison, which was closed and transferred to Iraqi control.

Pentagon Targeted Iran for Regime Change after 9/11

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By Gareth Porter

Three weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld established an official military objective of not only removing the Saddam Hussein regime by force but overturning the regime in Iran, as well as in Syria and four other countries in the Middle East, according to a document quoted extensively in then Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith's recently published account of the Iraq war decisions.

Feith's account further indicates that this aggressive aim of remaking the map of the Middle East by military force and the threat of force was supported explicitly by the country's top military leaders.

Feith's book, 'War and Decision', released last month, provides excerpts of the paper Rumsfeld sent to President George W. Bush on Sep. 30, 2001 calling for the administration to focus not on taking down Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network but on the aim of establishing 'new regimes' in a series of states by 'aiding local peoples to rid themselves of terrorists and to free themselves of regimes that support terrorism.'

In quoting from that document, Feith deletes the names of all of the states to be targeted except Afghanistan, inserting the phrase 'some other states' in brackets. In a facsimile of a page from a related Pentagon 'campaign plan' document, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes are listed as 'state regimes' against which 'plans and operations' might be mounted, but the names of four other states are blacked out 'for security reasons'.

Gen. Wesley Clark, who commanded the NATO bombing campaign in the Kosovo War, recalls in his 2003 book 'Winning Modern Wars' being told by a friend in the Pentagon in November 2001 that the list of states that Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz wanted to take down included Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia.

Clark writes that the list also included Lebanon. Feith reveals that Rumsfeld's paper called for getting 'Syria out of Lebanon' as a major goal of U.S. policy.

When this writer asked Feith after a recent public appearance which countries' names were deleted from the documents, he cited security reasons for the deletion. But when he was asked which of the six regimes on the Clark list were included in the Rumsfeld paper, he replied, 'All of them.'

Rumsfeld's paper was given to the White House only two weeks after Bush had approved a U.S. military operation in Afghanistan directed against bin Laden and the Taliban regime. Despite that decision, Rumsfeld's proposal called explicitly for postponing indefinitely U.S. airstrikes and the use of ground forces in support of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in order to try to catch bin Laden.

Instead the Rumsfeld paper argued that the U.S. should target states which had supported anti-Israel forces such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It urged that the United States '[c]apitalize on our strong suit, which is not finding a few hundred terrorists in caves in Afghanistan, but in the vastness of our military and humanitarian resources, which can strengthen the opposition forces in terrorist-supporting states.'

Feith describes the policy outlined in the paper as consisting of 'military action against some of the state sponsors and pressure -- short of war -- against others'.

The Rumsfeld plan represented a Pentagon consensus that included the uniformed military leadership, according to Feith's account. He writes that the process of drafting the paper involved consultations with the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton and the incoming Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.

Myers helped revise the initial draft, Feith writes, and Gen. John P. Abizaid, who was then director of the Joint Staff, enthusiastically endorsed it in draft form. 'This is an exceptionally important memo,' wrote Abizaid, 'which gives clear strategic vision.' In a message quoted by Feith, Abizaid recommended to Myers that 'you support this approach'.

After the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Abizaid was promoted to become chief of CENTCOM, with military responsibility for the entire Middle East.

Neither Myers nor Abizaid, both of whom are now retired from the military, responded to e-mails asking for their comments on Feith's account of their role in the process of producing the Rumsfeld strategy.

Rumsfeld's aides had also drafted a second version of the paper, as instructions to all military commanders in the development of 'campaign plans against terrorism'.

That instructions document was a joint effort by Feith's office and by the Strategic Plans and Policy directorate of Abizaid's Joint Staff. It followed the broad outlines of the paper for Bush, arguing that the enemy was a 'network' that included states that support terrorism and that the Defence Department should seek to 'convince or compel' those states to cut their ties to terrorism.

The Pentagon guidance document called for military commanders to assist other government agencies 'as directed' to 'encourage populations dominated by terrorist organizations or their supporters to overthrow that domination'.

That language was adopted because the campaign planning document was issued as 'Strategic Guidance for the Defense Department' on Oct. 3, 2001 -- just three days after the Rumsfeld strategy paper had gone to the president.

Bush had not approved the explicit aim of regime change in Iran, Syria and four other countries proposed by Rumsfeld. Thus Rumsfeld adopted the aggressive military plan targeting multiple regimes in the Middle East for regime change even though it was not White House policy.

The Defence Department guidance document made it clear that U.S. military aims in regard to those states would go well beyond any ties to terrorism. The document said that the Defence Department would also seek to isolate and weaken those states and to 'disrupt, damage or destroy' their military capacities -- not necessarily limited to WMD.

The document included as a 'strategic objective' a requirement to 'prevent further attacks against the U.S. or U.S. interests'. That language, which extended the principle of preemption far beyond the issue of WMD, was so broad as to justify plans to use force against virtually any state that was not a client of the United States.

The military leadership's strong preference for focusing on states as enemies rather than on the threat from al Qaeda after 9/11 continued a pattern of behaviour going back to the Bill Clinton administration (1993-2001).

After the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa by al Qaeda operatives, State Department counter-terrorism official Michael Sheehan proposed supporting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against bin Laden's sponsor, the Taliban regime. However, senior U.S. military leaders 'refused to consider it', according to a 2004 account by Richard H. Shultz, Jr., a military specialist at Tufts University.

A senior officer on the Joint Staff told State Department counter-terrorism director Sheehan he had heard terrorist strikes characterised more than once by colleagues as a 'small price to pay for being a superpower'.

*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. The paperback edition of his latest book, 'Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam', was published in 2006.

More Than 3.5 Million New Voters, AP Survey Finds

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By Mike Baker

Durham, North Carolina - Overall, the AP found that nearly one in 65 adult Americans signed up to vote in just the first three months of the year. And in the 21 states that were able to provide comparable data, new registrations have soared about 64 percent from the same three months in the 2004 campaign.

Voters are flocking to the most open election in half a century, inspired to support the first female president, the first black or the oldest ever elected.

Also, the bruising Democratic race has lasted longer than anyone expected, creating a burst of interest in states typically ignored in an election year.

Some Democratic Party leaders bemoan the long battle, with two strong candidates continuing to undercut each other. But there are clear signs that the registration boom is favoring their party, at least for now.

"This could change the face of American politics for decades to come," said Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, predicting permanent gains for her party. Republicans, concerned at least somewhat for 2008, say these surges come and go over the longer term.

While detailed data are available from only a handful of states, registration seems to be up particularly strongly for blacks and women.

Among the new voters in North Carolina is Shy Ector, 25, of Durham. She favored Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry while a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill four years ago, but never actually took the time to make sure she was registered to vote. Barack Obama's candidacy was enough to make sure she did this year, she said.

"I was like 'Oh, now this is a reason to vote. This is different,'" Ector said. "I was inspired and I was excited."

New voters are generally less reliable. So there's no guarantee this year's newcomers will stick around in years to come - or even cast ballots in November if their candidate doesn't make it.

"I will be very disappointed, and it will take me some time to recover," Ector said of an Obama loss to Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I'm not going to say I'm just going to write off politics for good, but it does make you feel like you're doing all this work for nothing, and nothing's coming to fruition."

Even if some discouraged new voters drop off, the numbers are striking.

Consider Pennsylvania and North Carolina - where the primary elections hadn't been expected to matter because they occurred so late in the nominating process.

New voter registrations favored Democrats in North Carolina, which holds its primary Tuesday. In the first three months of the year, the number of new Democratic registrants nearly tripled - to 74,590 - from those during the same period of 2004. New Republican registrations were up, too, but they only doubled.

More than 49,558 unaffiliated voters signed up in the Tar Heel state, compared with just 16,858 in the first three months of 2004. The Democratic primary was the obvious draw, with 85 percent of unaffiliated voters who cast early ballots doing so on that ticket.

Cherie Poucher, director of elections in Wake County, home of the state capital of Raleigh, said registrations among the parties have historically kept pace with each other - until this year. In the two weeks before the April 11 registration deadline, she said, the Democrats gained about 8,000 voters in Wake County while the GOP lost several hundred.

"We have never seen something like that before," Poucher said.

In Pennsylvania, where Clinton's victory in the April 22 primary kept her campaign alive, there were 40,000 more Republicans than Democrats in Bucks County in April 2004.

Among the new registrants in the first three months of this year, 6,537 signed up as Democrats while 2,200 did so as members of the GOP in the county north of Philadelphia. And 12,554 filed applications to switch to the Democratic Party. By the beginning of April, Bucks had become a Democratic county by a margin of nearly 4,000 registered voters.

"After January, they were just coming," said John Cordisco, the county's Democratic chairman.

Cordisco said party leaders had initially set a goal of turning the county blue by 2011. Then came the extended primary battle that gave Pennsylvania an important role. And while Clinton won Bucks County by a margin of 25 percentage points, accounts suggest that many of the new registrants are black voters inspired by Obama.

The overall figures on new registrations were compiled by the AP in a survey of election officials nationwide. Six states and the District of Columbia were unable to provide statistics, meaning the total number of voters who registered between roughly Jan. 1 and March 31 almost certainly exceeds 3.6 million. One of the six, North Dakota, does not require voters to register.

In the 21 states that were able to provide comparable figures from the first three months of 2004, only Iowa showed a decline. That state held its first-in-the-nation caucuses on Jan. 3.

The numbers even seem to be benefiting Democrats in states that generally lean Republican. In Wyoming, where registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats by more than 2-to-1, Democratic registrations in the first three months of the year surpassed those for the GOP. Ditto in West Virginia, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina - all states won by President Bush in 2004. There could be more: Only 10 states had figures on new voter registrations by party.

Four states provided information about the race of registrants in both 2004 and 2008: Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina. And in each, there was a surge in the registration of black voters. In North Carolina, more than 45,000 blacks signed up to vote in the first three months of 2008, compared with just over 11,000 in the first three months of 2004.

There was also a fourfold rise in black voter registrations in Alabama, while Louisiana and Tennessee saw increases of 64 and 17 percent.

Six states collected voter data by gender in 2008 and 2004, and the new-registration rate among women - who have largely backed Clinton - is up 89 percent in those states, compared with 74 percent for men.

Not all of the registrants are new to politics. A newly registered voter might be one who has moved to a new state. But the onslaught of registrations has overwhelmed election organizers, resulting in a mix of both excitement and anxiety as they prepare to count ballots cast by millions of new registrants.

North Carolina officials expect a turnout of around 50 percent in Tuesday's primary election - double the rate of past primaries. Almost half a million voters cast early ballots, more than half the number who voted in the state's 2004 primary overall.

In Indiana, which also votes Tuesday, a flood of recent voter applications slowed election systems to a crawl and forced some counties to keep staff working around-the-clock to process the backlog.

In April alone, Hoosier election staffs processed 130,000 new or updated voter registrations. Many more people cast ballots in early voting.

"Those numbers completely obliterate any numbers from 2004," said Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita. For the primary, he said, "I've been pulling my staff in for war-game meetings, playing out every scenario. They're almost paramilitary tactics in terms of strategy."

David Woodard, a professor of political science at Clemson University who has advised Republican candidates, acknowledged the GOP is concerned about what appears to be a movement to voters to the Democratic Party attracted by Obama. But he noted that Ronald Reagan was supposed to lead the GOP to long-term political dominance but was never able to do so.

"These tides come in and wash in a personality," Woodard said. "But the tides of American politics are still pretty much the same, and the excitement of one candidate or one personality is not really long lasting."

It works both ways. In 1980, four years after Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter swept the South on his way to the White House, the Democratic Party slipped and Republicans returned, largely dominating the region.

"People have had big impacts," said veteran Democratic strategist Bill Carrick. "But you also see that some things don't last that long."

And then there is the reality that registration numbers don't always add up to high turnout in November.

Historically, only a little more than 50 percent of voting-age adults cast ballots in U.S. presidential elections. By comparison, more than 70 percent of those in France and the United Kingdom go to the polls.

Justice System for Detainees Is Moving at a Crawl

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By Josh White

No 9/11 trials likely before Bush leaves office, officials say.

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - At the end of a tattered, sunbaked runway dotted with large green tents here is a building aptly called the Expeditionary Legal Complex Courtroom, surrounded by coils of concertina wire, where the most notorious alleged terrorists in U.S. custody are supposed to face charges related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Nearly seven years later, however, not one of the approximately 775 terrorism suspects who have been held on this island has faced a jury trial inside the new complex, and U.S. officials think it is highly unlikely that any of the Sept. 11 suspects will before the Bush administration ends.

Though men such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, are expected to be arraigned in coming months - appearing publicly for the first time after years of secret detention and harsh interrogations - officials say it could be a year or longer before worldwide audiences will see even the first piece of evidence or testimony against them.

"I think it's a near-impossibility that these cases will be in court before the end of the administration," said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, who has observed numerous court hearings on the island.

"Some of the detainees haven't even seen their lawyers yet, there's incredibly complicated issues about access to evidence and discovery, and as we've seen with every single case to date, it's incredibly hard to move through a system that lacks established rules and precedent," she said. "Every little detail ends up being contested, because it's an entirely new system of justice."

That new system, set up by Congress's Military Commissions Act of 2006, so far has been entangled by numerous motions that challenge its fairness and constitutionality. Military officers presiding over the cases have had to make critical decisions on the fly, including some appealed to another new court created by the same legislation.

Although defense officials have said they want to start the Sept. 11 trials before the Bush administration ends - and one high-ranking Pentagon officer has been quoted talking about the "strategic political value" of doing so before the November elections - those involved privately agree that opening statements could be a year or more away.

Lawyers for some of the detainees jointly charged in the 2001 attacks say they are going to have to navigate an unprecedented volume of classified evidence and complex legal issues, and to mount a defense against the death penalty - all matters that have not been adjudicated in earlier detainee cases.

Susan Crawford, who supervises the military commissions process, has not yet even formally referred the Sept. 11 cases to trial, although arraignments could occur a month or so later.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the top legal authority in the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions, said: "Assuming it's referred, I expect there to be vigorous litigation by the defense community and the prosecution community." He declined to speculate how long it might take but said: "It will be helpful to the process for there to be a litigated case."

Since the U.S. detention facility on this southeastern corner of Cuba opened in January 2002, only one military commission has reached a verdict, when Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in March 2007. It was part of a politically orchestrated deal that returned Hicks to his home country to serve out his sentence. He was released Dec. 29.

None of the other 14 Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with crimes, including the six alleged Sept. 11 co-conspirators, has seen a courtroom for anything other than arraignments or legal motions.

The comparable figures in traditional U.S. criminal courts are less clear-cut, because the Justice Department has come under wide criticism for claiming terrorism-related convictions in cases that actually turn on immigration or other violations. But the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law has identified Justice Department charges against 202 people in connection with terrorism offenses since Sept. 11, 2001, and finished trials for 116. Of those, 80 were convicted, the center said.

Notably, Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted in a U.S. District Court in Alexandria in May 2006 for links to the Sept. 11 plot and is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado supermax prison, a case that defense lawyers and human rights activists say is proof that such cases can, and should, be tried in U.S. criminal courts rather than by military commissions. They decry the military rules that allow coerced statements and hearsay into evidence and say there is no way the cases can be opened to the scrutiny they deserve.

"This is a self-inflicted wound," said Michael Berrigan, deputy chief defense counsel for the military commissions and a former longtime Army lawyer. "It's a sad day in the history of this republic when we have abandoned the rule of law."

Col. Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor for military commissions, said to the contrary that different rules are required for "enemy fighters" captured on a battlefield - where evidence is collected under different procedures - than ordinary criminal defendants. Even the interrogations of such detainees are focused more on gathering "wartime intelligence, not ... criminal prosecution," he said.

Authorities here had hoped that the first full military commission case, against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was an alleged driver for Osama bin Laden, would proceed smoothly. It is now scheduled to begin June 2. But last week Hamdan became the latest detainee to boycott the process, arguing that he wants no part in the military commissions because they do not reflect American justice.

In a 40-minute exchange with Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, who is presiding over the case, Hamdan said that he would do anything to get into a regular American courtroom and that the military commissions process is a sham designed to trap him at Guantanamo Bay. He said his victory in a 2006 Supreme Court case, which forced the government to rewrite the rules for military commissions, was hollow because he has been incarcerated for seven years without any change in his conditions.

"I would like the law, I would like justice. Nothing else," Hamdan said.

Hartmann, who colleagues say has been trying to accelerate the process, responded that "the trials are not going to be held up because an accused exercises his right not to be present." He said that defendants have the right to waive their presence at the hearings and that it is up to them to choose. He also said the military commissions system affords defendants "astounding" rights that in some cases exceed the rights received by members of the U.S. military who are tried at courts-martial.

But Daskal of Human Rights Watch said trials without defendants present "would be a disaster" and the "last thing America needs" because of existing perceptions of unfairness in the process.

Hamdan's motions hearings have highlighted concerns that are likely to arise before all the military commissions, including whether rules allow defense attorneys to adequately represent their clients and gain access to government evidence. Even the interpreting at last week's hearing was fraught with technical difficulties, delaying the proceedings.

Berrigan testified last week that military defense teams do not yet have an appropriate secure facility to use in representing clients such as Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, whose conversations are classified at the highest level of secrecy. The installation of secure computers at the teams' Virginia office is still underway, and defense attorneys must carefully isolate their classified conversations about different clients because of potential legal conflicts.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, who represents Hamdan and alleged Sept. 11 co-conspirator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, said he thinks Ali's case will take a long time to get to court.

"The arraignment was a year ago in Hamdan, and there is very little classified information," he said. "Ali's case is going to involve dozens of wire transfers, witnesses from various locations around the world, and you add that the death penalty may be sought. I realistically do not think these cases can be rushed to trial."

When they do start, the trials will be only partially open.

Hamdan's hearings partly involved transcripts of conversations that two prosecutors had with investigators for the Defense Department's Office of Inspector General, but military defense attorneys were allowed only to read the documents and were barred from copying them. News reporters who asked the court for copies of the unclassified documents were denied access.

A plexiglass wall and a delayed audio transmission in the new high-security courtroom will keep reporters and observers separated from the proceedings, a measure meant to allow officials to censor classified information. Mizer said it is possible that observers will not hear much of what the high-value detainees say, if they choose to speak.

Hartmann said that within the military commissions process, "the principal obligation is not to the press," and that the cases are full, fair and open because of the rights afforded to the defendants. "That's what we do in the American system of justice," he said.

The Pentagon vs. America

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By Scott Ritter

I recently heard from an anti-war student I met while I was speaking at a college in northern Vermont. The e-mail included the following query:

"I told you about how I wanted to build a career around social activism and making a difference. You told me that one of the most important things was to make myself reputable and give people a reason to listen to you. I think this is some of the best advice I've received. My issue however is that you mentioned joining the military as a way to do this and mentioned how that is how you fell into it.... We talked extensively about all of our criticisms of the military currently and our foreign policy.... What I don't understand is, how can you [advise] someone who wants to make a difference with the flawed system, to join that flawed system?"

The question is a valid one. Throughout my travels in the United States, where I interact with people from progressive anti-war groups, I am often confronted with the seeming contradiction of my position. I rail against the war in Iraq (and the potential of war with Iran) and yet embrace, at times enthusiastically, the notion of military service. It gets even more difficult to absorb, at least on the surface, when I simultaneously advocate counter-recruitment as well as support for those who seek to join the armed services.

The notion that the military and citizens of conscience should be at odds is a critical problem for our nation. That confrontation only exacerbates the problems of the soldier and the citizen, and must be properly understood if it is to be defeated. Let us start by constructing a framework in which my positions can be better assessed.

First and foremost, I do not view military service as an obligation of citizenship. I do view military service as an act of good citizenship, but it can under no circumstance be used as a litmus test for patriotism. There are many ways in which one can serve his or her nation; the military is but one. I am a big believer in the all-volunteer military. For one thing, the professional fighting force is far more effective and efficient than any conscript force could ever be.

There are those who argue that a draft would level the playing field, spreading the burdens and responsibilities associated with a standing military force more evenly among the population. Those citizens whose lives would be impacted through war (namely those of draft age and their immediate relatives) would presumably be less inclined to support war.

Conversely, the argument goes, with an all-volunteer professional force, the burden of sacrifice is limited to that segment of society which is engaged in the fighting, real or potential. Two points emerge: First, the majority of society not immediately impacted by the sacrifices of conflict will remain distant from the reality of war. Second, even when the costs of conflict become discernable to the withdrawn population, the fact that the sacrifice is being absorbed by those who willingly volunteered somehow lessens any moral outcry.

I will submit that these are valid observations, and indeed have been borne out in America's response to the Iraq war tragedy. However, simply because something exists doesn't make it right. The collective response to the Iraq war on the part of the American people is not a result of there not being a draft, but rather poor citizenship. An engaged citizenry would not only find sufficient qualified volunteers to fill the ranks of our military, but would also personally identify with all those who served so that the loss of one was felt by all. The fact that many Americans today view the all-volunteer force not so much as an extension of themselves, but more along the lines of a "legion" of professionals removed from society, illustrates the yawning gap that exists between we the people and those we ask to defend us.

Narrowing this gap is not something that can be accomplished simply through legislation. Reinstating the draft is illusory in this regard. There is a more fundamental obstacle to the reunion of our society and those who take an oath in the military to uphold and defend the Constitution. Void of this bond, the inherent differences of civilian and military life will serve to drive a wedge between the two, regardless of whether the military force is drafted or volunteer.

Lacking a common understanding of the foundational principles upon which the nation was built, a citizenry will grow to view military service as an imposition, as opposed to an obligation. Simply put, one cannot willingly defend that which one does not know and understand. The fundamental ignorance that exists in America today about the Constitution creates the conditions which foster the divide between citizen and soldier that permeates society today. America must take ownership of its military, not simply by footing the bill, but by assuming a moral responsibility for every aspect of military service. The vehicle for doing this has been well established through the Constitution: the legislative branch of government, the Congress, which serves to represent the will of the people.

Congress, especially the House of Representatives, was never conceived of as separate and distinct from the people, but rather as one with the people, directly derived from their collective will via the electoral process. Unfortunately today, few Americans identify with Congress. An "us versus them" mentality pervades. This mentality creates the crack in the moral and social contract which exists regarding a citizenry and its military. Congress is responsible for maintaining the military. Congress is the branch of government mandated with the responsibility for declaring war. When the bond is strained between the people and Congress, the bond between citizen and soldier is broken. Congress, left to its own devices, will begin to view the military not as an extension of its constituents, but rather as a commodity to be traded and used in a highly politicized fashion.

This is the reality we find ourselves in today (and indeed which has existed for some time). The 2006 midterm elections highlight this reality, where a strong anti-war sentiment upon the part of the voters resulted in a Democratic majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Having assumed the mantle of legislative power, however, those who were elected on the coattails of anti-war sentiment were able to shun their anti-war constituents. They did so by taking full advantage of the reality that the anti-war movement was in fact not a movement at all, but rather a concept pushed forward by a disparate mass without much political viability.

Where anti-war sentiment did in fact cross over from the ranks of the progressive left and into the mainstream of American society, it was quickly quashed through the dishonest logic that if one truly supported the troops (as most red-blooded Americans swear they do), then one must by extension support the mission. This flawed connectivity empowered Congress to sidestep the issue of withdrawing American forces from Iraq, and enabled it to continue rubber-stamping funding for a war which long ago lost any connection, perceived or otherwise, to the general security of the American people.

And so U.S. service members continue to fight and die in Iraq, a conflict which grows more unpopular with the American people each passing day. The question thus emerges: What is the appropriate response on the part of the American citizenry? While we insulate ourselves from political duplicity, the soldiers ultimately pay the price for the cowardice of those whom we elect to represent us in higher office. This seems to be the path taken by most Americans, who have grown numbly indifferent to the incessant stream of disappointment over the continued failure of Congress to truly represent the will of the people. We have therefore built a wall which separates we the people from the one aspect of republican governance which is, by design, supposed to give us voice.

In doing so, we likewise create a buffer between citizen and soldier, as those who are constitutionally mandated to fund the care, equipping and utilization of the military now operate in ambiguity created by the vacuum of citizen apathy. Thus liberated from the moral compass provided by the people, Congress has lost its ability to defend its own role in governance, and over time has demeaned its constitutional mandate by transferring powers inherent to the legislative branch to an executive branch which has assumed the role of caretaker of the military. By vesting absolute power in the hands of the executive, Congress has all but assured that America has become a nation no longer governed by the rule of law, but rather the rule of man. This sort of tyranny is what Americans fought a revolution to free themselves from 233 years ago.

An executive that operates in accordance with a unitary theory of governance is one that views the capacity to defend the state as being in fact the capacity to defend the realm. As such, one sees a gravitation of emphasis: Rather than focusing on external threats to the collective, the realm becomes obsessed with internal threats to its ability to retain power. The Patriot Act is a clear-cut example of how a unitary executive has undermined and corrupted the legitimate law enforcement mechanisms of the land by vesting the executive with powers normally associated solely with the legislative branch. In this regard, we see the armed forces similarly abused, with the creation of military command structures (namely U.S. Northern Command) which exist not to protect the people, but rather protect the realm from the people. This is not a stated objective, but rather one inferred from the fact that, for the first time since the imposition of posse comitatus in 1876, the United States has positioned its armed forces so that they can participate in normal state law enforcement. In short, instead of serving as a force of protection for the American people from external threats, the military views the American people as the threat, "targets" which need to be investigated as potential threats to the military.

An example of just how far off track the executive branch, facilitated by an all too complicit legislative branch, has strayed when it comes to the common defense is the Pentagon's controversial Counterintelligence Field Activity, ostensibly created in a post-9/11 world to "protect the [Defense] department by supporting the detection and neutralization of foreign espionage." The CFA operates under the umbrella of U.S. Northern Command, created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to ostensibly safeguard the American homeland. A major aspect of the CFA's work is something known as the Joint Protection Enterprise Network, or JPEN.

The JPEN network enables the Defense Department to share unverified information with civilian police departments, the FBI and other government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). Originally dubbed Project Protect America, the JPEN system came into being in July 2003 with the full support of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The heart and soul of the JPEN system is the "Threat and Local Observation Notice," or TALON report, the brainchild of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In the conduct of its work, the CFA created and distributed thousands of TALON reports via the JPEN system on the activities of private U.S. citizens, with a particular focus of those engaged in anti-war protests.

The CFA is slated in the near future to be morphed into a larger Defense Intelligence Agency-run Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence activity. Far from limiting the scope and scale of the activities currently undertaken by the CFA, this new organization will simply increase the level of illegal and unconstitutional activities currently undertaken by the CFA against the American "target." The fact that the U.S. military now views the American citizenry as its target, as opposed to the object of its defense, shows just how broken the circle of trust is between citizen and soldier. Additional TALON reports are being assembled on anyone deemed to be a potential threat to the U.S. military, including all who are involved in "counter-recruitment" activities designed to provide alternatives to military service for today's youths. This myopic approach toward installation and facility security undertaken by the Pentagon is not only intellectually weak but constitutionally prohibited. The legislative branch, operating amid constituent apathy, continues to fail in its mission of upholding the rule of law.

In similarly deplorable fashion, the Pentagon has allowed itself to be hijacked by the radical right wing of the Republican Party. The fact that Fox News has become the channel of choice for the U.S. military speaks volumes about the mind-set which has gripped those who lead it. The military has always been a conservative institution. Yet when wearing the uniform of the United States serves more as a front for defending a political ideology (a rabid one at that) rather than upholding and defending the Constitution, the military does itself a disservice. The disconnect between those who serve in the military and those whom they are sworn to protect can be fatal when one realizes the recruiting pool no longer identifies with the military as a legitimate expression of patriotism and citizenship.

The scope of this ideological hijacking is broad, yet barely recognized. One can glimpse just how deep and nefarious this ideological shift is when one considers the extent to which evangelical Christians have infiltrated the U.S. Air Force Academy, proselytizing their heavily politicized religion to the future officers and leaders of that service. The past comments of Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a decorated Army Special Operations veteran who described America's post-9/11 "war on terror" as a conflict between "Christian" America and "radical Islam," are widely embraced within the U.S. military. President Bush has echoed Boykin in his speeches and statements, and the military's favorite presidential candidate, Republican Sen. John McCain, has become the embodiment of Boykin's philosophy. The Constitution prohibits the notion that America be defined as a Christian nation. To allow the military, sworn as it is to uphold and defend that document, to posture itself as Christian, becoming in effect the "sword of God," is unthinkable and unforgivable.

The implications of such posturing are far-reaching, especially from the military recruitment standpoint. The all-volunteer military succeeds when it attracts to its ranks those who have a sincere desire to serve their nation. It succeeds greatly when those it attracts come from the broadest possible cross section of the American demographic. There has always been an economic aspect to the all-volunteer force; service is not slavery, and the military has always promised the security of a middle-class lifestyle to those who choose to enlist. But military service, properly motivated, has never been solely about the money. It is about defending a greater good, the people of the United States of America and their values and ideals as defined by the Constitution.

It has become increasingly difficult to motivate enough of today's youths to serve in the armed services based upon the call of duty alone. One of the primary reasons for this shortfall is the unfortunate perception, not improperly derived, that military service is not in keeping with the concept of "doing the right thing." This perception, born of an unpopular war and the dishonest foreign policies of successive administrations, is further exaggerated by the reality that the military not only operates as a separate and distinct part of American society (this has always been the case) but, due in large part to post-9/11 hysteria, has been positioned to view the American people as a threat. The inherent problems of the military trying to recruit from a population base which is under attack from the military are self-evident. Genuine patriotism was once a viable recruitment pitch. Now, economic incentives, false promises and pseudo-patriotism are used as the bait to lure the youths of today into America's legions. Like the legions of the past, these new warriors march not on behalf of the citizens they are sworn to protect, but rather the emperor who commands them. This may be viewed as an overly harsh statement, but there is no other way to describe the abuses of a unitary executive who positions himself above the Constitution and Congress in a time of war.

Having described the current state of the military and military service in this manner, why would I ever encourage a citizen of military age to consider service in the armed forces? First and foremost, one needs to understand that the entire military system has not been corrupted. There are still men and women of honor who serve with dedication and pride. They are, in fact, in the majority. It takes only a few bad apples to spoil the lot, however, and our military today, thanks to a nebulous mission and lower recruiting standards, is full of bad apples. Likewise, to quote a Russian general, "a fish stinks from its head," and nothing smells worse today than the "head" of the United States. Our commander in chief has disgraced the office he was entrusted with, and in doing so has severely damaged the foundation of American civil society as well as the institutions sworn to uphold and defend it.

The solution, however, cannot be "cut and run." Simply identifying the problem and pointing a finger at the perpetrators will do nothing to resolve these critical issues. Our military cannot change unless we the people re-establish the link between ourselves and the legislative branch of government and rebuild the bond of trust between citizen and soldier. This cannot happen in stages, but rather must occur simultaneously. While the vast majority of America struggles to regain its moral and ethical compass through the re-establishment of the rule of law as set forth by the Constitution, we need to continue to maintain a military which is capable of defending us.

This requires good people to serve, even if the conditions of their service are not ideal. Do I want to have an intelligent, morally grounded soldier on the front line in Iraq, making the decisions about the use of force in the framework of an illegal and unjust occupation, or do I want to relinquish that job to a former felon lacking even a high school diploma? Do I want the troops of today led by Bible-wielding zealots or Constitution-wielding patriots? While we struggle to re-establish the bond between citizen and soldier, we have an absolute requirement to ensure we continue to field a military composed of citizen soldiers. The only way to prevent our military from becoming the new Roman Legion is to staff it with citizens of principle who reject such an abominable label. We are a nation at war, not just abroad, but with ourselves. Now, more than ever, we need citizens of standing to answer the call to service, not in the name of a criminal president or an illegal war, but rather in defense of the Constitution and all that it stands for, against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Racial Disparities Persist in Drug Arrests

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Washington - The U.S. "war on drugs" disproportionately targets urban minority neighborhoods with African Americans being arrested and imprisoned on drug charges at much higher rates, according to a pair of reports released on Monday by rights groups.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said a review of new statistics across 34 states found persistent racial disparities among drug offenders sent to prison.

The 67-page report concludes that a black man is 11.8 times more likely than a white man to be sent to prison on drug charges, and a black woman is 4.8 times more likely than a white woman.

In 16 states, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at rates between 10 and 42 times greater than the rate for whites, the report said.

"Most drug offenders are white, but most of the drug offenders sent to prison are black," said Jamie Fellner, a Human Rights Watch official and author of the report.

"The solution is not to imprison more whites but to radically rethink how to deal with drug abuse and low-level drug offenders."

Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Colorado, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan were listed as the 10 states with the greatest racial disparities in prison admissions for drug offenders.

In a separate study, the Washington-based Sentencing Project examined data from 43 of the largest American cities between 1980 and 2003.

The study found that, since 1980, the rate of drug arrests for African Americans increased by 225 percent, compared to 70 percent among whites.

In nearly half of the cities, the odds of arrest for a drug offense among African Americans relative to whites more than doubled, the report said.

Among other findings, the report said African-American drug arrests increased at 3.4 times the rate of whites despite similar rates of drug use.

"These trends come not as the result of higher rates of drug use among African Americans, but, instead, the decisions by local officials about where to pursue drug enforcement," said Ryan King, a policy analyst for The Sentencing Project.

The project and Human Rights Watch recommended the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and a return to judicial discretion in the sentencing of drug offenders.

Democrats Set to Defy Bush on War Bill

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By Carl Hulse

Washington - Defying President Bush, House Democrats are preparing to forge ahead with a war spending measure that would include extended unemployment assistance and new educational benefits for returning veterans.

After a meeting Monday evening of House Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped to bring a $178 billion measure to the floor this week. What could be a contentious debate on the matter is likely to be held on Thursday, aides said.

Ms. Pelosi, of California, did not disclose details of the proposed bill, which will be presented to rank-and-file Democrats at a closed party session on Tuesday. But Democratic officials, who did not want to be identified since the bill was still being put into final form, said the legislative package would include provisions requiring a significant withdrawal of troops from Iraq by December 2009 and measures that would force Iraq to share more costs of its reconstruction.

Democrats also intend to make veterans eligible for new educational assistance if they have served from three months to three years or more on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The aid would be equivalent to a four-year scholarship at a public university for those with three years or more service, with payments prorated for those with less time.

Mr. Bush has steadily insisted he would not approve any legislation that exceeds his spending request for the war, sets any withdrawal deadlines or adds domestic money he opposes like the unemployment benefits. And House Republicans, angry that the measure is not going through formal committee consideration, began on Monday to open procedural attacks on the House floor in protest, forcing extra votes on noncontroversial measures.

"The Democrat leaders of the House and Senate are attempting to jam a 200-plus-billion-dollar spending bill through the Congress with absolutely no oversight or scrutiny by a vast majority of members, senators or their constituents," Representative Jerry Lewis of California, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement on Monday. "Never in my 30 years in Congress has there been such an abuse of the processes and rules of the House."

Democrats said privately that they expected the provisions setting a withdrawal deadline and putting other conditions on the war money to be eliminated by the Senate before a final House vote later this spring.

The Democratic strategy is to try to hold the underlying measure close to Mr. Bush's bottom line number - $108 billion in Pentagon money for the current year, $70 billion through the first months of 2009 - and essentially dare him to veto it over added veterans spending and the unemployment aid.

Democrats say that they believe Republicans will be reluctant to oppose the expanded veterans money in an election year and that the cost is relatively small in the first year, though it would expand quickly and significantly in subsequent years. Republicans in both the House and Senate have been assembling alternatives to the Democratic veterans plan, which has some bipartisan support.

Mr. Bush said last week that he was willing to consider more help for veterans but wanted to do it separately from the war financing measure.

The House provisions calling for a withdrawal from Iraq would also include a ban on torture of terrorism detainees, a prohibition on permanent bases in Iraq and new readiness requirements for troops, including more time at home between deployments.

Given the looming election and the stalemate last year over federal spending, many lawmakers see the must-pass war spending bill as the lone spending measure likely to become law this year, increasing the incentive to add money and policy measures to it. Senators of both parties have indicated that they might use the war legislation as a vehicle to push their own priorities.

Services sector growth slumps to 5- year low

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By Grainne Gilmore

The credit crunch began to impact the wider economy last month as growth in Britain's services sector, which includes hotels, restaurants and banks, fell to a five-year low.

Figures out today from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI) show that growth in what accounts for about two thirds of the whole economy, slowed from 52.1 in March to 50.4 in April.

Any figure over 50 indicates expansion.

Price pressures on firms rose to a record high, with 67.3 per cent of purchasing managers reporting that prices rose rather than fell in April, up from 66.2 in March and the highest figure since records began in 1996.

Expectations of businesses also plummeted, to the lowest level since the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Hotels and restaurants were particularly pessimistic, reporting that customers were reducing their spending.

However there was some good news for consumers as the balance of companies reporting increases to their own prices rose at the slowest rate so far this year. A balance of 55.2 companies reported that they were increasing their prices in April, down from 56.2 in March.

Roy Ayliffe, the director of professional practice at CIPS, said: “Purchasing managers in the UK services sector really struggled to protect their firms’ margins in April, as growth in the sector hit its lowest in over five years. New orders fell; energy, fuel and food costs soared and pricing power was restricted amid further deteriorating economic conditions.

"These factors led to a depression in business confidence, particularly amongst hotels and restaurants, which were hit by customers' reduced spend, as well as financial services companies, who have obviously been most directly affected by the credit crunch.”

There was some consolation for the MPC in the employment data from the index. Karen Ward of HSBC said: "Looking on the bright side there is some good news. Firms may not be expanding employment but are not yet shedding labour."

Some experts say that the new data will add pressure on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee to cut rates on Thursday.

Howard Archer, of Global Insight, the economic consultancy, said: "Following on from recent weaker data and surveys relating to consumer confidence, retail sales, the housing market and manufacturing activity, essentially stagnant service sector activity in April puts serious pressure on the Bank of England to cut interest rates again on Thursday despite current elevated inflation concerns."

UBS axes jobs after plunging £5.5bn in the red

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By Robin Pagnamenta

UBS is to cut 7 per cent of its workforce, or 5,500 jobs, as it struggles to deal with the impact of the global credit crunch.

The Swiss banking giant said this morning that conditions in financial markets “remain difficult” as it unveiled an SwFr11.55 billion (£5.55 billion) first quarter loss, compared with a net profit of just over SwFr3 billion (£1.44 billion) in the first quarter of 2007.

UBS also confirmed that it is to sell $20 billion worth of sub-prime debt to the fund manager Blackrock.

The mortgage debt, which is being sold for $15 billion or a 25 per cent discount, will be placed in a new BlackRock fund and marketed to investors.
Analysts have interpreted the sale as an encouraging sign that the troubled market for US sub-prime debt is starting to improve.

UBS, which has suffered more than any other European bank from the meltdown in the US sub-prime mortgage market after reporting $37 billion (£18.8 billion) in writedowns, said that the cuts would include compulsory redundancies and natural attrition and would be complete by mid-2009.

It said that 2,600 of the job cuts would be in its investment banking unit, which employs 19,000 people but which has been hit by a “40 per cent contraction in global deal volume” during the first quarter.

Today’s announcement represents the most ambitious effort to date made by UBS to face up to the downturn and rebuild its balance sheet.

Marcel Rohner, the chief executive, claimed that the bank’s actions at rebuilding the group’s capital base were proving effective.

“We can see tangible effects as a result of our initial responses to the losses,” he said.

Mr Rohner told journalists: “We see clearly that there are sophisticated investors coming into this market, and this itself we view as strong support.”

However, the bank cautioned that conditions were likely to remain tough.

The bank said in a statement: “UBS expects financial industry conditions to remain difficult with a continuing unfavourable global economic climate, deleveraging by institutional and private investors, slower wealth creation and lower trading and capital markets activity. This will require UBS to manage costs, resources and capacity very effectively.”

The bank also reported net inflows into its two wealth management businesses of SwFr5.6 billion (£2.7 billion).

Soldier suicides could trump war tolls: US health official

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Suicides and "psychological mortality" among US soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan could exceed battlefield deaths if their mental scars are left untreated, the head of the US Institute of Mental Health warned Monday.

Of the 1.6 million US soldiers who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 18-20 percent -- or around 300,000 -- show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or both, said Thomas Insel, head of the National Institute of Mental Health.

An estimated 70 percent of those at-risk soldiers do not seek help from the Department of Defense or the Veterans Administration, he told a news conference launching the American Psychiatric Association's 161st annual meeting here.

If "one just does the math", then allowing PTSD or depression to go untreated in such numbers could result in "suicides and psychological mortality trumping combat deaths" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Insel warned.

More than 4,000 US soldiers have died in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003, and more than 400 in Afghanistan since the US led attacks there in 2001, of which some 290 were killed in action and the rest in on-combat deaths.

"It's predicted that most soldiers -- 70 percent -- will not seek treatment through the DoD or VA," Insel said at the meeting, at which the psychological impact of war is expected to top the agenda over the next four days.

Left untreated, PTSD and depression can lead to substance abuse, alcoholism or other life-threatening behaviors.

"It's a gathering storm for the civilian and public health care sectors," Insel said.

He urged public-sector mental health caregivers to recognize the symptoms of psychological troubles resulting from deployment to a war zone and be ready to provide adequate care for both soldiers and their families.

Other items on the agenda at the meeting, set to be attended by some 19,000 psychiatrists and mental health practitioners from around the world, include violence in schools, the psychology of extremism, and more light-hearted topics such as how music affects mood.

What's Up with the Secret Cybersecurity Plans, Senators Ask DHS

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By Ryan Singel

Jilportraitclr_sm The government’s new cyber-security "Manhattan Project" is so secretive that a key Senate oversight panel has been reduced to writing a letter to beg for answers to the most basic questions, such as what’s going on, what’s the point and what about privacy laws.

The Senate Homeland Security committee wants to know, for example, what is the goal of Homeland Security’s new National Cyber Security Center. They also want to know why it is that in March, DHS announced that Silicon Valley evangelist and security novice Rod Beckstrom would direct the center, when up to that point DHS said the mere existence of the center was classified.

Those are just two sub-questions out of a list of 17 multi-part questions centrist Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent to DHS in a letter Friday.

In fact, although the two say they asked for a briefing five months ago on what the center does, DHS has yet to explain its latest acronym.

The panel, noted it was pleased with the new focus on cyber security, but questioned Homeland Security’s request to triple the center’s cyber-security budget to about $200 million.

They cited concerns about the secrecy around the project, its reliance on contractors for the operation of the center and lack of dialogue with private companies that specialize in internet security.

That center is just one small part of the government’s new found interest in computer security, a project dubbed the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which has been rumored to eventually get some $30 billion in funding.

Little is known about the initiative since it was created via a secret presidential order in January, though the Washington Post reports that portions of it may be made public soon.

We are also concerned that the lack of information about the CNCI being provided to the public, other agencies, and private entities that conduct business with the government might be creating confusion and concern about the initiative. Given the broad nature and goals of this initiative, agencies may be less likely to plan for their future information technology needs, fearing that systems they purchase might not comply with the initiative. Similarly, industry will be less likely to do business with the government given the uncertainty about future technical requirements. Additionally, the public, of course, must be reassured that efforts to secure cyber networks will be appropriately balanced with respect for privacy and civil liberties.

Why might citizens be worried about privacy and civil liberties? Consider that the whole initiative appears to have been launched after the Director of National Intelligence told the President Bush that a cyber attack might wreak as much economic havoc as 9/11 did.

Consider that the NSA, which currently protects classified networks, wants to expand into protecting all non-classified federal government networks. Consider that Congress is set to legalize the NSA’s monitoring rooms in the nation’s phone and internet infrastructure.

For its part, the FBI says it also needs access to the internet’s backbone, while the Air Force is hyping its own efforts at cyber defense and offense. Meanwhile, THREAT LEVEL’s sister blog Danger Room reports that DARPA is getting in on the hot cyber-action, with a project to make a fake internet to develop new cyber attacks and defenses.

It’s been said many times that if the government knew what the internet was going to become when it grew up, they would had never let it out of the lab.

Now it seems the only question is whether the government will be able to turn the net into a controllable, monitorable and trackable pre-internet AOL-type service or whether the chaotic net will live on as just another frontier for the military-industrial complex to start an arm’s race and rake in billions of government dollars.