Wednesday, August 27, 2008

US Soldiers Executed Iraqis, Statements Say

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By Paul Von Zielbauer

In March or April 2007, three noncommissioned United States Army officers, including a first sergeant, a platoon sergeant and a senior medic, killed four Iraqi prisoners with pistol shots to the head as the men stood handcuffed and blindfolded beside a Baghdad canal, two of the soldiers said in sworn statements.

After the killings, the first sergeant - the senior noncommissioned officer of his Army company - told the other two to remove the men's bloody blindfolds and plastic handcuffs, according to the statements made to Army investigators, which were obtained by The New York Times.

The statements and other court documents were provided by a person close to one of the soldiers in the unit who insisted on anonymity and who has an interest in the outcome of the legal proceedings.

After removing the blindfolds and handcuffs, the three soldiers shoved the four bodies into the canal, rejoined other members of their unit waiting in nearby vehicles and drove back to their combat outpost in southwest Baghdad, the statements said.

The soldiers, all from Company D, First Battalion, Second Infantry, 172nd Infantry Brigade, have not been charged with a crime. However, lawyers representing other members of the platoon who said they witnessed or heard the shootings, which were said to have occurred on a combat patrol west of Baghdad, said all three would probably be charged with murder.

The accounts of and confessions to the killings, by Sgt. First Class Joseph P. Mayo, the platoon sergeant, and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., Company D's senior medic and an acting squad leader, were made in January in signed statements to Army investigators in Schweinfurt, Germany.

In their statements, Sergeants Mayo and Leahy each described killing at least one of the Iraqi detainees on instructions from First Sgt. John E. Hatley, who the soldiers said killed two of the detainees with pistol shots to the back of their heads. Sergeant Hatley's civilian lawyer in Germany, David Court, did not respond to phone calls and e-mail messages Tuesday.

Last month, four other soldiers from Sergeant Hatley's unit were charged with murder conspiracy for agreeing to go along with the plan to kill the four prisoners, in violation of military laws that forbid harming enemy combatants once they are disarmed and in custody.

In an Army evidentiary hearing on Tuesday in Vilseck, Germany, two of those soldiers - Specialists Steven A. Ribordy and Belmor G. Ramos - invoked their right against self-incrimination. Reached by telephone, James D. Culp, a civilian lawyer for one of the other two soldiers charged, Staff Sgt. Jess C. Cunningham, declined to comment. A lawyer for the fourth soldier, Sgt. Charles P. Quigley, could not be reached.

In their sworn statements, Sergeants Mayo and Leahy described the events that preceded the shooting of the Iraqi men, who apparently were Shiite fighters linked to the Mahdi Army militia, which controlled the West Rashid area of southwest Baghdad.

After taking small-arms fire, the patrol chased some men into a building, arresting them and finding several automatic weapons, grenades and a sniper rifle, they said. On the way to their combat outpost, Sergeant Hatley's convoy was informed by Army superiors that the evidence to detain the Iraqis was insufficient, Sergeant Leahy said in his statement. The unit was told to release the men, according to the statement.

"First Sergeant Hatley then made the call to take the detainees to a canal and kill them," Sergeant Leahy said, as retribution for the deaths of two soldiers from the unit: Staff Sgt. Karl O. Soto-Pinedo, who died from a sniper's bullet, and Specialist Marieo Guerrero, killed by a roadside bomb.

"So the patrol went to the canal, and First Sergeant, Sgt. First Class Mayo and I took the detainees out of the back of the Bradley, lined them up and shot them," Sergeant Leahy said, referring to a Bradley fighting vehicle. "We then pushed the bodies into the canal and left."

Sergeant Mayo, in his statement, attributed his decision to kill the men to "anger," apparently at the recent deaths of his two comrades.

Sergeant Leahy, in his statement, said, "I'm ashamed of what I've done," later adding: "When I did it, I thought I was doing it for my family. Now I realize that I'm hurting my family more now than if I wouldn't have done it."

Iraq Vets Bring Taste of War To Denver

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By George Watson

Two dozen Iraq war veterans brought Baghdad to Denver's sidewalks Tuesday, repeatedly staging guerrilla-style theater before a confused yet generally supportive audience of pedestrians.

For the veterans, who aggressively engaged with 50 volunteers acting as Iraqi civilians, this was their personal version of shock and awe.

The goal of Iraq Veterans Against the War was to educate people about the reality of occupying a foreign land and the rigors faced by the U.S. military and the Iraqi people. To do so, the veterans broke into two squads, invisible weapons at the ready as they marched from street to street, facing off with loud, angry packs of pretend Iraqis.

"It's not everything that happens in Iraq, but it's a piece of the reality," said Geoffrey Millard, an organizer who served in Iraq. "It scares people, and it should. You should be scared when your country is occupied."

The effort garnered support from two renowned members of the anti-war movement: U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic.

"Thank you very much for standing for peace," Kucinich told one of the squads that came across him outside a restaurant.

Kovic, who took a bullet through the spine that left him paralyzed four decades ago, met the veterans at the Veterans Memorial at Civic Center.

"The world is watching you today," Kovic said to the veterans. "You are the moral high ground . . . the truth that must be spoken."

Each time the veterans staged a scenario - whether it was pretending to take direct fire or detain a wanted person - scores of people looked on, unsure of what they were watching. Emotions at times were raw, such as when the veterans would grab a volunteer, taking him or her down, strapping their arms behind their backs and putting a white synthetic hood over their heads.

Some misunderstood the demonstrations, but volunteers floated along the outskirts, handing out fliers that explained the effort.

"It bothers me," said Kathy Johnson, 57, of Denver, whose 24- year-old son is soon heading with his Army unit to Iraq.

After someone explained what the veterans were doing, Johnson became supportive.

It was still hard to watch, she said, knowing these were the sorts of moments awaiting her son.

"I worry about how he's going to come back," she said.

Not everyone appreciated it, though.

One woman watched for a moment and then muttered, "No one told (Gen. Dwight) Eisenhower to bring the troops home. You guys would all be speaking German now."

But Ben Yoder, 31, of Denver, found it fascinating.

"You don't see this every day," Yoder said.

Why was Cheney's Guy in Georgia Before the War?

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By James Gerstenzang

Cheney aide was in Georgia before war began What was a top national security aide to Vice President Dick Cheney doing in Georgia shortly before Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's troops engaged in what became a disastrous fight with South Ossetian rebels -- and then Russian troops?

Not, according to the vice president's office, what you might think -- if your thinking takes you into the realm of Cheney giving his blessing to the Georgian's military operation.

To be sure, Cheney has been a leader of the hardliners in the administration when it comes to standing up to Russia -- to the point that the man who ran the Pentagon as the Cold War came to an end during the administration of the first President Bush has been seen as ready to renew that face-off with Moscow.

It was Cheney who visited the Georgian embassy in Washington last week to sign a remembrance book as a demonstration of the administration's support.

And yes, Joseph R. Wood, Cheney's deputy assistant for national security affairs, was in Georgia shortly before the war began.

But, the vice president's office says, he was there as part of a team setting up the vice president's just-announced visit to Georgia. (It is common for the White House to send security, policy, communications and press aides to each site the president and vice president will visit ahead of the trip, to begin making arrangements and planning the agenda.)

The White House disclosed on Monday that Cheney would hurry over to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Italy next week, almost immediately after addressing the Republican National Convention on Labor Day.

And so it was that a team from the vice president's office, U.S. security officials and others were in Georgia several days before the war began.

It had nothing to do, the vice president's office said, with a military operation that some have said suggests a renewal of the Cold War.

Maliki demands 'specifc deadline' for U.S. troop pullout

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By Leila Fadel

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said Monday there would be no security agreement between the United States and Iraq without an unconditional timetable for withdrawal — a direct challenge to the Bush administration, which insists that the timing for troop departure would be based on conditions on the ground.

"No pact or an agreement should be set without being based on full sovereignty, national common interests, and no foreign soldier should remain on Iraqi land, and there should be a specific deadline and it should not be open," Maliki told a meeting of tribal Sheikhs in Baghdad.

Maliki said that the United States and Iraq had agreed that all foreign troops would be off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011. "There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said.

But the White House disputed Maliki's statement and made clear the two countries are still at odds over the terms of a U.S. withdrawal.

"Any decisions on troops will be based on conditions on the ground in Iraq," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in Crawford, Tex., where President Bush is vacationing. "That has always been our position. It continues to be our position."

Fratto denied Maliki's assertion that an agreement has been reached mandating that all foreign forces be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

"An agreement has not been signed," he said. "There is no agreement until there's an agreement signed. There are discussions that continue in Baghdad."

Maliki also said the dispute has not been resolved over immunity for U.S. troops and contractors when they are off their bases. He said this was one of the most divisive issues under negotiation.

"We can't neglect our sons by giving an open immunity for anyone whether he is Iraqi or a foreigner," he said

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad last week in an effort to push the process forward. Her long meeting with Maliki ended with no concrete solution, his advisor told McClatchy.

Rich countries once used gunboats to seize food. Now they use trade deals

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By George Monbiot

The world's hungriest are the losers as an old colonialism returns to govern relations between wealthy and poor nations

In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis tells the story of the famines that sucked the guts out of India in the 1870s. The hunger began when a drought, caused by El Niño, killed the crops on the Deccan plateau. As starvation bit, the viceroy, Lord Lytton, oversaw the export to England of a record 6.4m hundredweight of wheat. While Lytton lived in imperial splendour and commissioned, among other extravagances, "the most colossal and expensive meal in world history", between 12 million and 29 million people died. Only Stalin manufactured a comparable hunger.

Now a new Lord Lytton is seeking to engineer another brutal food grab. As Tony Blair's favoured courtier, Peter Mandelson often created the impression that he would do anything to please his master. Today he is the European trade commissioner. From his sumptuous offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, he hopes to impose a treaty that will permit Europe to snatch food from the mouths of some of the world's poorest people.

Seventy per cent of the protein eaten by the people of Senegal comes from fish. Traditionally cheaper than other animal products, it sustains a population that ranks close to the bottom of the human development index. One in six of the working population is employed in the fishing industry; about two-thirds of these workers are women. Over the past three decades, their means of subsistence has started to collapse as other nations have plundered Senegal's stocks.

The EU has two big fish problems. One is that, partly as a result of its failure to manage them properly, its own fisheries can no longer meet European demand. The other is that its governments won't confront their fishing lobbies and decommission all the surplus boats. The EU has tried to solve both problems by sending its fishermen to west Africa. Since 1979 it has struck agreements with the government of Senegal, granting our fleets access to its waters. As a result, Senegal's marine ecosystem has started to go the same way as ours. Between 1994 and 2005, the weight of fish taken from the country's waters fell from 95,000 tonnes to 45,000 tonnes. Muscled out by European trawlers, the indigenous fishery is crumpling: the number of boats run by local people has fallen by 48% since 1997.

In a recent report on this pillage, ActionAid shows that fishing families that once ate three times a day are now eating only once or twice. As the price of fish rises, their customers also go hungry. The same thing has happened in all the west African countries with which the EU has maintained fisheries agreements. In return for wretched amounts of foreign exchange, their primary source of protein has been looted.

The government of Senegal knows this, and in 2006 it refused to renew its fishing agreement with the EU. But European fishermen - mostly from Spain and France - have found ways round the ban. They have been registering their boats as Senegalese, buying up quotas from local fishermen and transferring catches at sea from local boats. These practices mean that they can continue to take the country's fish, and have no obligation to land them in Senegal. Their profits are kept on ice until the catch arrives in Europe.

Mandelson's office is trying to negotiate economic partnership agreements with African countries. They were supposed to have been concluded by the end of last year, but many countries, including Senegal, have refused to sign. The agreements insist that European companies have the right both to establish themselves freely on African soil, and to receive national treatment. This means that the host country is not allowed to discriminate between its own businesses and European companies. Senegal would be forbidden to ensure that its fish are used to sustain its own industry and to feed its own people. The dodges used by European trawlers would be legalised.

The UN's Economic Commission for Africa has described the EU's negotiations as "not sufficiently inclusive". They suffer from a "lack of transparency" and from the African countries' lack of capacity to handle the legal complexities. ActionAid shows that Mandelson's office has ignored these problems, raised the pressure on reluctant countries and "moved ahead in the negotiations at a pace much faster than the [African nations] could handle". If these agreements are forced on west Africa, Lord Mandelson will be responsible for another imperial famine.

This is one instance of the food colonialism that is again coming to govern the relations between rich and poor counties. As global food supplies tighten, rich consumers are pushed into competition with the hungry. Last week the environmental group WWF published a report on the UK's indirect consumption of water, purchased in the form of food. We buy much of our rice and cotton, for example, from the Indus valley, which contains most of Pakistan's best farmland. To meet the demand for exports, the valley's aquifers are being pumped out faster than they can be recharged. At the same time, rain and snow in the Himalayan headwaters have decreased, probably as a result of climate change. In some places, salt and other crop poisons are being drawn through the diminishing water table, knocking out farmland for good. The crops we buy are, for the most part, freely traded, but the unaccounted costs all accrue to Pakistan.

Now we learn that Middle Eastern countries, led by Saudi Arabia, are securing their future food supplies by trying to buy land in poorer nations. The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia wants to set up a series of farms abroad, each of which could exceed 100,000 hectares. Their produce would not be traded: it would be shipped directly to the owners. The FT, which usually agitates for the sale of everything, frets over "the nightmare scenario of crops being transported out of fortified farms as hungry locals look on". Through "secretive bilateral agreements", the paper reports, "the investors hope to be able to bypass any potential trade restriction that the host country might impose during a crisis".

Both Ethiopia and Sudan have offered the oil states hundreds of thousands of hectares. This is easy for the corrupt governments of these countries: in Ethiopia the state claims to own most of the land; in Sudan an envelope passed across the right desk magically transforms other people's property into foreign exchange. But 5.6 million Sudanese and 10 million Ethiopians are currently in need of food aid. The deals their governments propose can only exacerbate such famines.

None of this is to suggest that the poor nations should not sell food to the rich. To escape from famine, countries must enhance their purchasing power. This often means selling farm products, and increasing their value by processing them locally. But there is nothing fair about the deals I have described. Where once they used gunboats and sepoys, the rich nations now use chequebooks and lawyers to seize food from the hungry. The scramble for resources has begun, but - in the short term, at any rate - we will hardly notice. The rich world's governments will protect themselves from the political cost of shortages, even if it means that other people must starve.

US judge: No delay in White House subpoenas case

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A federal judge who ruled last month that top White House advisers must comply with congressional subpoenas refused to put that ruling on hold Tuesday while the Bush administration appeals.

The House Judiciary Committee wants to force White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to testify about the firing of federal prosecutors and the politicization of the Justice Department.

The White House contends that top aides are immune from such subpoenas.

U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected that argument last month but the Bush administration appealed. The White House said it should not have to comply with the subpoenas while the appeal plays out.

Bates, who was appointed by President Bush, said a delay would not be in the public interest.

If a delay is granted, he said, "There is a very strong possibility that the committee will be unable to complete its investigation before Congress expires. That may leave important public concerns regarding the nation's federal criminal justice system unaddressed."

Bates also rejected the core of the government's argument: that it was likely to prevail at the appeals court.

"Simply calling an issue important — primarily because it involves the relationship of the political branches — does not transform the executive's weak arguments into a likelihood of success," Bates wrote.

Bates' decision last month gave some teeth to Congress' power to investigate the executive branch, because earlier disputes had been settled through political compromise instead of the courts.

The judge said Miers can assert executive privilege — the principle that the executive branch must be independent from the legislative branch — and refuse to testify, but she must appear on Capitol Hill and do so in person.

Tuesday's ruling could reinvigorate negotiations between the two branches to settle the dispute, but the White House can still try to get the ruling put on hold if it asks an appeals court to do so.

US continues to ratchet up tensions with Russia

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By Barry Grey

The United States has continued to intensify its confrontation with Russia in the wake of Moscow’s withdrawal of troops from most of the Georgian territory it held following the five-day war provoked by the invasion of the breakaway province of South Ossetia by the US-backed government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

On Sunday, the US guided missile destroyer USS McFaul docked at the Georgian port of Batumi as part of what President Bush and the Pentagon have called a “military humanitarian mission” to aid the former Soviet republic in the southern Caucasus.

The McFaul, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is outfitted with an array of weapons, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, and a sophisticated radar system. According to US Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman, the US Coast Guard cutter Dallas has also been dispatched to the Georgian coast, while a third vessel, the Navy command ship USS Mount Whitney, is being loaded in Italy.

Russian military officials on Monday denounced the US-led naval buildup, and hours later Russia’s flagship cruiser re-entered the Black Sea, ostensibly for weapons tests. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of the Russian military’s general staff, said, “The fact that there are nine Western warships in the Black Sea cannot but be cause for concern. They include two US warships, one each from Spain and Poland, and four from Turkey.”

Reuters cited unnamed sources in Russian military intelligence as saying the NATO ships in the Black Sea are carrying more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles, with more than 50 onboard the USS McFaul alone that could hit ground targets.

On the ground, the Georgian military has concentrated equipment and forces along the border with South Ossetia, near Russian troops that have set up checkpoints in a five-mile buffer zone around the pro-Russian enclave. The Georgian parliament voted on Saturday to prolong the official “state of war” with Russia until September 8.

Russian military officials this weekend vowed to boost their forces in the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in direct proportion to American military spending to rebuild the Georgian army.

In addition to its provocative military moves, Washington is stepping up its political and diplomatic offensive against Moscow. American officials continue to charge Russia with violating the terms of the cease-fire agreement brokered two weeks ago by French President Nokolas Sarkozy, acting in behalf of the European Union. Sarkozy currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member European alliance.

The Bush administration moreover announced that Vice President Dick Cheney would visit the Georgian capital of Tbilisi next week as part of a tour of former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact nations that are now allied to the US and ruled by virulently nationalistic and anti-Russian governments. Cheney heads a faction within the Bush administration that has long pushed for an even more belligerent and aggressive policy toward Russia than that carried out by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Early in the five-day Georgia-Russia war, while Bush was still attending the Olympics in Beijing and issuing relatively muted statements on the conflict, Cheney telephoned Saakashvili and placed the blame for the fighting squarely on Moscow. His office issued a statement saying that Russian “aggression ... must not go unpunished.” His visit to the -region indicates that his faction has gained the upper hand within the administration.

On Sunday, Sarkozy announced that he was calling an emergency EU summit for September 1 to consider the European Union’s relations with Russia and the provision of aid to Georgia. Sarkozy, who said he was calling the meeting at the request of “some EU governments,” last week threatened to call such a summit and warned of “serious consequences” if Russia failed to adhere to the cease-fire terms. He, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Foreign Minister David Milibank, are echoing US charges that Moscow continues to defy the agreement.

Russia on Friday withdrew almost all of the forces it had sent into Georgia to repel the attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, which, Moscow contends, killed over 2,000 civilians and leveled 70 percent of the buildings in the city. However, it is retaining over 500 troops within the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and has established military checkpoints in what it calls a “security zone” around the two provinces.

Moscow insists that it is in compliance with the cease-fire, which includes a point allowing Russia to take unspecified “additional security measures” besides keeping peacekeepers in the disputed territories. Russia has maintained peacekeeping troops in the provinces since they ended effective control by Tbilisi in fighting that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. A subsequent agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi sanctioned the presence of Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway republics.

In a telephone conversation with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev over the weekend, Sarkozy said the agreement allowed Russian peacekeepers to “patrol” areas near the borders of the two republics, but not to set up checkpoints. He also demanded that Russia remove military checkpoints near the Georgian port of Poti and the air base at Senaki, which are outside the five-mile buffer zone around Abkhazia.

From the moment the cease-fire agreement was announced, Washington began accusing Russia of violating its terms. Both Georgia and the US have refused, in practice, to acknowledge the point allowing Russia leeway to station some forces beyond the borders of the disputed provinces.

The Financial Times reported Monday that “US diplomats have voiced their frustration at the terms of the subsequent ceasefire deal brokered by Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, which they consider too vague and too favourable to the Kremlin.” In a separate article based on an interview it conducted over the weekend with Saakashvili, the newspaper reported that “Saakashvili put the blame on the ‘vague’ ceasefire agreement.”

Divisions within the EU over how closely to adhere to the extremely provocative line of the US and how far to take the confrontation with Russia were reflected in a statement by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who ruled out EU sanctions against Russia at the upcoming summit.

However, Sarkozy’s announcement of the meeting reiterated the US mantra of support for the “independence and territorial integrity” of Georgia, a formula for rejecting demands of separatists in the two breakaway provinces, broadly supported by the local populations in the wake of the Georgian assault on South Ossetia, for independence from Georgia.

The question of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia is becoming the flashpoint for further conflict. On Monday, both houses of the Russian parliament—the upper Federation Council and the lower State Duma—voted unanimously in favor of a non-binding resolution calling on Medvedev to recognize the independence of the provinces.

The Russian parliament and the governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have cited as precedent American and European recognition of Kosovo, which last February, over vehement objections from Russia, declared itself independent of Serbia, a traditional ally of Moscow.

Intensifying the conflict, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh called on Monday for a military cooperation agreement between an independent Abkhazia and Russia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in an interview with Spiegel Online on Sunday attacked the US for its “deceitful role” and pointed out: “American was arming Georgia for five years, and Georgia tripled its military budget.”

Of Washington’s intense lobbying for Georgian admission to NATO, he said, “That would be very dangerous ... It is a decision by all of NATO, a decision on what relations it wants with Russia in the future.”

The Russian government is incapable of responding to the aggressive and provocative policy of the US except by counterposing to Washington’s drive for hegemony in the Caucasus and the Eurasian continent its own Russian nationalism and militarism.

Resting as it does on the dominant factions of the new bourgeoisie that enriched itself from the plundering of the nationalized economy of the former Soviet Union, the Russian regime is incapable of making any appeal to the masses of former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine which are being lined up against it.

On Sunday, Ukraine held a large military parade in Kiev to mark the 17th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko gave a televised address in which he declared that only NATO membership and military rearmament could protect Ukraine from Russian domination.

Yushchenko published an op-ed column in Monday’s Washington Post in which he reiterated earlier threats to limit Russian naval access to the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. Russia and Ukraine agreed in 1997 to a 20-year renewable lease for the Russian naval base in the Crimean port.

Yushchenko went on to declare his support for the “territorial integrity” of Georgia and insist on Ukraine’s admission to NATO.

Indicative of the bipartisan support for the Bush administration’s reckless and belligerent policy toward Russia, with its ominous implications of a potential military clash between nuclear armed powers, is an interview with Saakashvili reported in Monday’s New York Times. The article notes that the Georgian president is convinced of unqualified US support for his drive to reassert control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, saying he “spoke by phone with the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain, as often as twice a day, and that he was in regular contact with Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has been picked to run for vice president on the Democratic ticket.”

Democrats convene in Denver amid police state security and a sea of corporate cash

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By Bill Van Auken

Nothing could more graphically expose the political fraud of the “change you can believe in” mantra promoted by the Democrats and their presidential candidate Barack Obama than the reactionary atmosphere surrounding the party’s national convention, which kicked off Monday in Denver, Colorado.

The more than 4,000 Democratic delegates—covered by an army of some 15,000 members of the press—are convening in what amounts to a political bubble surrounded by security measures consistent with those of a police state. The convention itself, not to mention the lavish parties being thrown for the delegates—many of them elected officials—is being paid for largely by major corporations looking to buy political influence.

The media has focused the bulk of its attention on the convention’s first day on speculating as to whether lingering “bitterness” on the part of Obama’s principal rival for the nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton, and her supporters will detract from the unity message that is meant to predominate. Most of this coverage is cast entirely in terms of personal frictions and identity politics, without a hint of any substantive political issues involved.

This is in keeping with the general tenor of the convention itself, which is packaged as a $60 million, four-day infomercial, with no question of a debate over policy breaking out on the floor of Denver’s Pepsi Center, where the delegates are assembled. The media, with very few exceptions, functions as an uncritical conduit for this process, accepting its narrow parameters as given.

It has been more than three decades since such a convention was an arena for any form of political debate, and where the outcome was not preordained. The ritualistic character of these events is a function of the widening gulf separating the official politics of the US two-party system—controlled lock, stock and barrel by the banks, corporations and a narrow financial elite—from the vast mass of the American people.

A stark illustration of this same divide is to be found in the extraordinary security measures that have been put into place in Denver. The Democratic Party, the ostensible political opposition to the Bush administration, is meeting under what amounts to a state of siege, justified in the name of the “war on terror” and the assumed need to exert iron-fisted control over any expression of political dissent in the streets.

The actual scale of protest in Denver is decidedly limited. On Sunday, barely 1,200 people participated in an antiwar demonstration led by Ron Kovic, the paralyzed Vietnam War veteran and author of the book Born on the Fourth of July, and Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. The leaderships of the major antiwar protest groups are part of the effort to divert anger against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into support for a political party that has funded and will continue both US interventions.

Nonetheless, demonstrators have been confronted with overwhelming police force. The ranks of Denver’s police have been doubled by the influx of cops from throughout the surrounding area.

As Denver’s Rocky Mountain News reported, “Hundreds of heavily armed officers, some clad in riot gear or hanging off SUVs, are saturating Denver’s streets in unprecedented numbers, quickly isolating any hint of trouble that could tarnish the city’s reputation under the limelight of the Democratic National Convention.

“The officers—on foot, horseback, bicycles and motorcycles—are armed with black batons and pepperball guns that resemble assault rifles. And they were quick to move Sunday when hundreds of rowdy protesters took to the streets of downtown.”

Police have distributed pamphlets to would-be protesters warning them that they will be subject to arrest if they refuse orders to disperse, even if they have broken no laws. To deal with potential mass arrests, the city has opened a temporary detention center—a warehouse divided into chain-link cells. Critics of the security crackdown have dubbed the site “Gitmo on the Platte,” after Denver’s South Platte River.

The authorities have also attempted to restrict protesters to a so-called “free speech zone,” the Orwellian term they have given to an isolated patch of a parking lot ringed by two layers of black steel security fencing, giving it the appearance of a detention camp.

The force of 1,500 officers brought in from 52 police agencies in nearby areas does not include a huge federal contingent that has been mobilized for the event.

The Department of Homeland Security has declared the conventions of both the Democratic and Republican parties—the latter to be held next week in St. Paul, Minnesota—”National Special Security Events.” This designation places the department and the Secret Service in charge of overall security and brings in an array of national police, military and intelligence agencies.

Some $50 million in federal funding has been allotted for security measures at each of the conventions. In Denver, a portion of this money has gone to equip police with body armor and shields as well as to purchase an armored vehicle.

Federal and local police agents have established a secret headquarters, dubbed the Multi-Agency Command Center, or MACC, from which they are monitoring every movement in the city via hundreds of security cameras that are trained on the convention center, protest sites and the entire surrounding area.

In a chilling indication that the police surveillance is far wider and more intrusive than has been reported by the media, protest leader Cindy Sheehan reported returning to her Denver hotel room Monday to find a man in her room using a screwdriver on the telephone.

The US Customs and Border Protection agency has been brought in to inspect vehicles in the city, while agents of the Transportation Security Administration are being deployed to screen those entering the convention center.

The military has also been deployed in Denver for the convention. In addition to the activation of over 1,000 National Guard troops, elements of the US Coast Guard have been placed in charge of intelligence operations in designated areas, while the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Northern Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, are also participating. The Pentagon refused to supply any details on the precise role of these commands, but some of the media reported that they were providing the convention with “air cover.”

The convention’s business: bribery and influence-peddling

Behind these rings of steel and phalanxes of police, the real business of the convention is being conducted in a series of activities and events that amount to organized and officially sanctioned bribery and influence-peddling.

Speaking last Saturday in Springfield, Illinois, in his announcement of Delaware Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate, Obama claimed that his campaign was based on “a simple belief: that the American people were better than their government in Washington—a government that has fallen prey to special interests and policies that have left working people behind.”

Yet in Denver this week, he is presiding over a convention that is being paid for by these same special interests, with the clear understanding that their money will secure favors from Democratic politicians and, potentially, a Democratic administration headed by Obama himself.

While posturing as the party of “the people,” the Democrats have auctioned off access to US corporations, selling aptly named “presidential sponsor” packages for a million dollars each. The money buys companies private access to Obama’s advisors, tickets to exclusive parties attended by Democratic elected officials and luxury skybox seats to hear Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday in Denver’s Mile High Stadium.

The party had billed the stadium event as a sign of its openness and desire to include the people in its deliberations. But the auctioning off of skyboxes to the highest corporate bidders clearly expresses the Democrats’ real role as an essential prop of social inequality and the rule of big business.

An array of major corporations has sponsored parties, dinners and other events, using loopholes in new ethics rules touted by Obama and the Democrats, to stage lavish events for and contribute amply to Democratic politicians. While the rules limit individual donations to candidates to $2,300, and bar direct contributions from corporations and unions, their provisions do not extend to the party conventions.

AT&T, which has refused to disclose how much it has given to the convention, held such an event Sunday night from which it barred the media, calling the police against a few reporters who attempted to interview those attending. The bash was given for the Democratic Leadership Council.

AT&T was one of the principal beneficiaries of legislation passed by Congress last month—with Obama voting in favor—which vastly expanded government domestic surveillance powers while granting blanket retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms that collaborated in the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying program.

Another telecom, Qwest Communications, has donated $6 million to the convention—the largest known contribution.

As the Los Angeles Times pointed out Monday, “The largest donors frequently have some of the largest business issues pending before state and federal agencies at the time lawmakers ask them to donate.”

Qwest has a case pending before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would grant it regulatory relief. The newspaper reported that a member of the convention’s fundraising committee, Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, also sits on the congressional committee that oversees the FCC and wrote a letter to the agency on the company’s behalf.

Other major corporate convention donors with issues before Congress that have significant implications for their bottom line include Comcast Corp., Xcel Energy Inc., UnitedHealth Inc., Eli Lilly and other big pharmaceutical firms, and Kraft Foods.

One major donor worth noting is Lockheed Martin, the huge military contractor. “Lockheed Martin strongly supports our nation’s political process and candidates that support in general national defense, homeland security, high technology and educational initiatives,” a company spokesman said of the convention funding. Clearly, it is confident that the US war machine will provide it with profitable conditions under an Obama presidency.

Among the events scheduled at the convention is a poker night for delegates at Coors Field, sponsored by a business alliance that is lobbying Congress not to place restrictions on Internet gambling.

Even the government-backed mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been slated to host events and contribute to the convention’s cost, until the idea was scrapped out of fear that it would trigger outrage because of the recent government move to bail out the firms.

Behind the media glitz and meticulously staged spectacle, the Denver convention’s reality of corruption, elitism and repression is the real face of the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign.

No less than the Republicans and their candidate John McCain, the Democrats defend the interests of the corporate and financial ruling elite. The thoroughly anti-democratic two-party system excludes any expression of the genuine interests of working people.

Children Die in an Outsourcing Boom

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By J. Sri Raman

Stories of children's deaths do not shock India too much. Over 2.1 million kids die every year in the country before they reach the ripe age of five, according to a count by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in its State of the World's Children 2008 report. The fate of 49 babies, however, fell in a different category.

They died during clinical trials at New Delhi's All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which it is obligatory for the nation's media to describe as either "premier" or "prestigious," during the last two and a half years. The institute parted with this news in response to a query from a non-profit organization that sought it under a recently enacted law investing the citizen with a "right to information."

The AIIMS pediatrics department conducted 42 sets of trials on 4,142 babies - 2,728 of them below the age of one - since January 1, 2006. As if to soften the impact of the information, the institute added that the deaths amounted to a 1.18 percent mortality rate.

The belated announcement of the unmourned baby deaths has brought to light a major issue that sections of the media and the middle class - busy hailing India's "economic boom" - have preferred to ignore. Can they continue to evade the issue of the outsourcing of clinical trials of drugs and therapies by the US and other Western pharma giants and the outrageous health and human costs of such operations?

The man who has made it a public issue minces no words about the meaning of the cradle deaths - the guinea-pig role reserved for the country's poor in the scheme of things of the elite set on making India a glittering "economic power." Rahul Verma, founder of New Delhi-based Uday Foundation for Congenital Defects and Rare Blood Groups, reiterates that he and his foundation were mainly concerned about the "socioeconomic conditions" of the strata that provided the tender subjects of the clinical trials.

The AIIMS did not answer his question on this count, but Verma points out that the poor of India alone could be tempted by the trials as they could not afford private medical care, while public heath care was in a pathetic state. The institute provided no information about the reasons for the babies' deaths, their ages or their gender, since he had not specifically asked for it.

Talking on the telephone to Truthout, Verma confided that he had named his foundation after his son Uday, suffering from congenital defects and undergoing surgical treatment since his birth just two an a half years ago. "You can watch your father die, but not your child die," said Verma. He cannot watch the children of the poor die, either, only to save research and development costs for some of the world's richest merchants in medicare.

Verma finds particularly "scary" the fact that such a big proportion of the babies were under one year old. It troubles many medical practitioners that the trials of at least two of the drugs involved should be conducted on even the age group of one to 16 years. The drugs - olmesartan and valsartan, meant for reducing blood pressure - have never been tried on patients below age 18, according to Chandra M. Gulhati, editor of the Monthly Index of Medical Specialties.

In a media interview, he asks: "Is hypertension in this age group a problem in India? If yes, what is the incidence and prevalence? If it is not a major problem, why conduct a trial in India and put children at risk without any benefit?"

The AIIMS tragedy has also raised questions afresh about the official moves afoot to make such clinical trials even easier and more common than ever - all as a part, of course, of an Indian economic miracle in the making. Powerful lobbies for local industry have long pleaded for steps to liberalize the trials, arguing that the country's earnings from them could increase tenfold if annoying obstacles were out of the way. The plea has not gone unheeded.

The plea is for revising present regulations of the trials, conducted in three phases. Phase I trials test a drug's safety on healthy volunteers. Phase II and III trials test larger numbers for the drug's efficacy, besides collecting information on its safety and effective doses. Phase IV trials are conducted once the drug is marketed to monitor for its safety in larger populations.

According to Schedule Y of India's Drugs and Cosmetics Act, permission is given for international clinical trials in India one phase behind the rest of the world. If a drug is going through Phase III trials elsewhere, for example, it can be tried only in Phase II trials here. Phase I trials of new drug substances discovered in other countries can be conducted in India if data of the Phase I trials in other countries are already available.

All this will change if the regulations undergo the planned revision. Trials may then be conducted in the same phase as elsewhere. According to the interim report of the expert government committee: "Comprehensive revision of Schedule Y, that prescribes requirements of clinical trials, has been undertaken in order to harness (the) country's potential to participate in global multi-centric clinical trials."

Concurrent-phase trials will open up the scope for multi-centric trials at all phases, currently not possible here. They, however, will also expose Indians to greater risks since Phase I trials will be permitted - and since the people have much less access to proper health care.

According to one report, meanwhile, the Confederation of Indian Industries is pushing for "automatic approvals" of all applications with the Drug Controller-General of India if not cleared within a stipulated time frame. The health of the poor is too petty a consideration for corporates in a hurry.

The first reaction of the government in New Delhi to disclosure of the babies' deaths was predictable: Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss announced the setting up of a committee to investigate the entire affair and submit a report soon. Only two days later, however, he told a newspaper: "The AIIMS is a renowned research institution. The children must have died because they were already very ill."

At a public function around the same time, while promising a review of the clinical trial process, the minister added: "We can have a broad discussion on the subject in the country, but at the same time, I would say that India has become the hub of a lot of research activities, which is the need of the hour."

How proud should a patriotic Indian wax in this case that is so very different from outsourcing in software or other areas? The pharma firms make no secret of what lures them to India. Sandhya Srinivasan, of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, cited an eloquent example in an article four years ago. Wrote she: "A huge population with a diversity of diseases that are untreated - yes, that is the 'India Advantage' identified by iGate Clinical Research International, commenting that India represents a largely untapped resource for clinical trials." That the ill in India are largely "drug naive" (meaning "untreated") is an added attraction.

iGate (with US headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) notes that India has "40 million asthmatic patients, about 34 million diabetic patients, eight to ten million people HIV positive, eight million epileptic patients, three million cancer patients" among other categories. What a mouth-watering prospect for pharma majors, especially considering the poverty of this pool! Add to that the bonus of illiteracy and semi-literacy of the subjects of the trials that make it so easy to obtain "informed consent."

Just a few figures suffice to explain the glee among the global pharma players and their local partners over the clinical-trial cooperation. The average cost of bringing a new drug to market is estimated at $1 billion. Human clinical trials are the most expensive phase of drug development. As much as 60 percent of the costs can be cut by holding the trials in a country such as India.

On the other side, Global consultancy McKinsey and Company estimates that, by 2010, global pharma majors will spend around $1 billion to $1.5 billion just for drug trials in India. As many as 139 new trials were outsourced to India last year, putting it well ahead of China, which had 98. The market value for clinical trials outsourced to India is estimated to stand at $300 million, having increased by 65 percent over last year.

What does India - as distinct from some of its industries, institutions and individuals in important positions - gain? The World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects lays down: "Medical research is only justified if there is a reasonable likelihood that the populations in which the research is carried out stand to benefit from the results of the research." Doctors in India, who have tried to translate this into practice, say that they got only verbal assurances from the multinationals in this regard and very little beyond. The prohibitively priced drugs under trial, in any case, are beyond the reach of the poor Indians.

The harm that can be done by the trials, however, is far from hypothetical. In 2002, a trial in India, along with 31 other countries, of Novo Nordisk's diabetes drug ragaglitazar had to be suspended after a pre-clinical trial in mice revealed that the compound caused urinary bladder tumors. In 2003, it was reported that researchers from India-based Sun Pharmaceuticals had given the anticancer drug letrozole to 430 young women to see if it would induce ovulation, despite the fact that the drug is known to be toxic to embryos.

The deaths in the AIIMS are just the latest in a long series of cases worldwide that raise serious questions over outsourcing in clinical trials. We can only watch with concern whether the fate of the child victims will make the rulers of a "rising India" (as they advertise it) act like responsible adults.

The Pentagon: Some-Things-Never-Change Department

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By Nick Turse

What a difference four and a half years makes. When I first penned "The Wild Weapons of DARPA," in March 2004, I was a new TomDispatch writer; the war in Iraq was not yet a year old; the war in Afghanistan had been bubbling for less than two and a half years, and I suggested that "what’s left of the USSR is a collapsed group of half-failed states, while the U.S. stands alone as the globe’s sole hyperpower." Today, I’m the long-time associate editor of; the United States, now far from a "hyperpower," continues to be bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight in either occupation; and a resurgent Russia, now an energy superpower, has only recently invaded the hardly-failed state of Georgia.

Similarly, at that time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s blue-skies research outfit, still looked young and vigorous. Today, DARPA is beginning to show the stresses of age. The agency turned 50 this year and, as Sharon Weinberger reported at Wired Magazine’s Danger Room last month, "its birthday present appears to be another $100 million in budget cuts, according to a Defense Department document…" -- and this was on top of a $32 million loss the month before.

Still, much remains the same. Despite current budget cuts, the agency is still "both intellectually and financially, a fabulous and alluring gravy train," and its funding for the life sciences still offers "a fertile area to further the science of death and destruction." For example, back in 2004, I wrote that "DARPA has been creating insect databases while increasing efforts to ’understand how to use endemic insects as collectors of environmental information,’" and I asked: "How long until they start thinking about weaponizing insects as well?" Earlier this year, I answered my own question. Not long was the reply. I reported that DARPA was now working to create cyborg insects for surveillance purposes, and -- an even more frightening prospect -- "that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with ’bio weapons.’"

I wish I could claim some special prescience, but that prediction was a total no-brainer. After all, this is just the way the Pentagon operates, whatever changes or budget cuts come down the pike. Four years later, plenty of people have written about various DARPA projects, but most still fail to ask the most salient question: Why does the U.S. government foster unfettered, blue-skies creativity only in the context of lethal technologies (or those that, indirectly, enhance lethality by aiding the functioning of the armed forces)? Some things never change. Nick Turse, August, 2008

The Wild Weapons of DARPA

By Nick Turse

When, in October 1957, the USSR launched the first man-made earth satellite, the basketball-sized Sputnik, it caught the United States off guard and sent the government into fits. Not only had the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb years before the Americans predicted they would, but now they were leading the "space race." In response, the Defense Department approved funding for a new U.S. satellite project, headed by former Nazi SS officer Wernher von Braun, and created, in 1958, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to make certain that the United States forever after maintained "a lead in applying state-of-the-art technology for military capabilities and to prevent technological surprise from her adversaries."

Almost half a century later, what’s left of the USSR is a collapsed group of half-failed states, while the U.S. stands alone as the globe’s sole hyperpower. Yet DARPA, the agency for an arms-race world, seems only to be warming up to the chase. There may be no country left to take the lead from us, the nearest military competitor being China which reportedly had $65 billion in military expenditures in 2002 (compared to our $466 billion according to and which, only in 2003, put its first "Taikonaut" into outer space. Undaunted, DARPA continues to develop high-tech weapons systems for 2025-2050 and beyond -- some of them standard fare like your run-of-the-mill hypersonic bombers, others more exotic.

In an August 2003 article, Los Angeles Times reporter Charles Piller noted that DARPA has put forth some of the "most boneheaded ideas ever to spring from the government" -- including a "mechanical elephant" that never made it into the jungles of Vietnam and telepathy research that never quite afforded the U.S. the ability to engage in psychic spying.

As former DARPA Director Charles Herzfeld noted in 1975, "When we fail, we fail big." Little has changed. According to DARPA’s current chief, some 85%-90% of its projects fail to meet their full objectives. Still, Piller points out, DARPA "has been behind some of the world’s most revolutionary inventions" -- "the Internet, the global positioning system, stealth technology and the computer mouse."

DARPA’s spectacular failure rate and noteworthy successes stem from its high-risk ventures. For years DARPA has funded extremely unconventional, sometimes beyond-the-pale, avant-garde research in all realms of science and technology. It is, perhaps, the most creative place in our vast government for a scientist who wants to stretch his or her mind in adventurous directions and be well paid to do so. If you have a wild idea, DARPA’s the place to try it out. Said Harvard University pathologist Donald Ingber in a 2001 Los Angeles Times article, "DARPA [has] funded things that a lot of people thought were ridiculous, and some that people thought were impossible. They make things happen."

There’s only one caveat -- in one way or another most every project, however mind-stretching, invariably must end, directly or indirectly, in the incapacitation or death of future American enemies.

The projects are often some of the most lethal ever conceived. Over the years, DARPA research has led to a plethora of products designed to maim and kill, among them the M-16 rifle, Hellfire-missile-equipped Predator drones, stealth fighters and bombers, surface-to-surface artillery rocket systems, Tomahawk cruise missiles, B-52 bomber upgrades, Titan missiles, Javelin portable "fire and forget" guided missiles, and cannon-launched Copperhead guided projectiles, to name but a few.

A question seldom asked is why pie-in-the-sky creativity exists unfettered and fostered only in the context of lethal technologies? As the U.S. continues its mad dash into a post-Cold War, one-nation arms race, fears of a missile gap or the menace of a technologically advanced foreign foe drop away as explanations; nor can it just be a generalized fear of falling behind the rest of the world. Look at the state of education in America -- in 2002 the U.S. ranked 18th in UNICEF’s list of teenagers in 24 industrialized countries falling below international academic benchmarks. Despite the poor showing, no one is rushing to set up an Advanced Education Research Agency.

According to the CIA’s annually-published World Factbook, "the US is the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels," yet the Environmental Protection Agency’s "National Center for Environmental Innovation" is a far cry from a DARPA-like entity. It doled out a mere $737,500 in seven state-innovation grants in 2003. DARPA, by comparison, spent about $3 billion on some 200 projects that ranged from space weapons to unmanned aerial vehicles. But just because the government isn’t pouring money into the projects of scientists eager to attack environmental problems doesn’t mean environmental research is of no interest to it. Quite the opposite. DARPA has taken up the torch and is funding a rigorous research program aimed at finding novel ways to weaponize the natural world.

As evidenced by their Vietnam-era mechanical elephant project and a recent grant to researchers developing a robotic canine called "Big Dog" for the Army, DARPA might be said to have something of an animal fetish, reflected perhaps in various projects whose very names evoke the ethos of the wild kingdom. Among them:

WolfPack, a group (pack) of miniaturized, unattended ground sensors that are meant to work together in detecting, identifying and jamming enemy communications;

Piranha, a project to "enable submarines to engage elusive maneuvering land and sea targets"; and

Hummingbird Warrior, a program to produce a helicopter-like vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

The agency also embraces the imagery of the natural environment in its "Organic Air Vehicles in the Trees" project, which sounds downright "green," though it’s actually a tiny UAV that will fly in the forests, over hills and through cities searching for enemies.

Allusions to the natural world, however, are the least of it. While the military is well-versed in employing all sorts of creatures to do its bidding, from Army guard dogs to Navy dolphins used for locating sea mines, DARPA is keen on branching out from class Mammalia. One way is through its "Bio-Revolution" program which seeks to "harness the insights and power of biology to make U.S. warfighters and their equipment… more effective."

Willard and His Wild Pals

Killer Bees
After all those years of warnings about sinister African killer bees inexorably heading toward the U.S., DARPA decided to draft bees into military service. In 2002, projects examining the performance of honeybees trained to detect explosives and locate other "odors of interest" were launched. Since then, DARPA has been creating insect databases while increasing efforts to "understand how to use endemic insects as collectors of environmental information." DARPA says it has already tested "this endemic insect system in key operational demonstrations here and abroad." How long until they start thinking about weaponizing insects as well? Instead of your plain old, garden variety Stinger missiles, you could have a swarm of missile stingers.

Fly Boys
At the University of Florida, DARPA-sponsored researchers are working on biologically-inspired "eyes" patterned after those of flies. "We think we can use this concept to make smart weapons smarter," says professor of materials science and engineering Paul Holloway, the project’s lead researcher. It’s a safe bet that a new set of eyes would help, since the current crop of smart weapons couldn’t get much dumber! Despite the pronouncements of U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Timothy Keating who, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, bragged of a military "plan that… reduces to an absolute minimum, if not eliminates, noncombatant casualties," nothing proved further from the case. While 68% of munitions used in Operation Iraqi Freedom were precision-guided, as opposed to only 6.5% in the 1991 Gulf War, the ratio of civilian to military deaths turned out to be almost twice as high this time around, according to Carl Conetta of the Massachusetts-based think-tank, Project on Defense Alternatives. Are fly eyes the answer? Perhaps… at least until some rogue state develops a fly-paper missile defense shield.

Little Shop of Horrors
In July 2003, DARPA held a workshop to "help researchers in various disciplines self-assemble into teams capable of developing plant inspired actuation systems that will ultimately have application in military adaptive or morphing structures." What’s on the horizon then? Giant Venus flytrap-inspired fighting vehicles? A brigade of Swamp-Thing warriors?

(Octo)Pie in the sky camouflage
According to the agency’s 2003 strategic plan, "DARPA-supported researchers are studying how geckos climb walls and how an octopus hides to find new approaches to locomotion and highly adaptive camouflage. The idea is to let nature be a guide toward better engineering." Imagine the ink-squirting, suction-cup-covered frogman of the future!

Remote-Control Robo-Rats
In 2002, DARPA researchers demonstrated that they could remotely control the movements of a rat with electrodes implanted into its brain using a laptop computer. In 2003 and 2004, DARPA’s "Robolife" program researchers will turn their attention to the "performance of rats, birds and insects in performing missions of interest to DoD, such as exploration of caves or covert deposition of sensors." Militarizing the animal world, however, carries its own risks. Take World War II’s Project X-Ray in which bats with incendiary explosives strapped to their bodies turned on their military masters and set fire to a U.S. Army airfield. Just imagine what an army of Army rats might do! Anybody remember Willard?

The Wildest of Apes

When Captain America throws his mighty shield…
Perhaps the most frightening of DARPA’s weaponized science projects are those that deal with militarily enhancing that most violent of apes -- man. In its 2003 strategic plan, DARPA touted the "Enhanced Human Performance" component of its "Bio-Revolution" program whose aim is to prevent humans from "becoming the weakest link in the U.S. military." Lest rats, bees, and trees become the dominant warriors, Enhanced Human Performance will "exploit the life sciences to make the individual warfighter stronger, more alert, more endurant, and better able to heal." Yes, what now captivates DARPA researchers once captivated comic-book readers -- the dream of creating a real-life Captain America, that weakling-turned-Axis-smashing-super-patriot by way of "super soldier serum."

Just Say "No" to No Doze, but "Yes" to Endless Combat
The U.S. military has long plied its fighting men with uppers. In Vietnam, medics sated soldiers’ need for speed by doling out government-issue amphetamines. In 2002, U.S. pilots under the influence of Air Force "go-pills" (which Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Jennifer Ferrau calls a "fatigue management tool") killed four Canadian soldiers and injured eight others when they dropped a laser-guided bomb on a Canadian military training exercise in Afghanistan. Today, DARPA’s Continuous Assisted Performance (CAP) program is aimed at creating a 24/7 trooper by "investigating ways to prevent fatigue and enable soldiers to stay awake, alert, and effective for up to seven days straight without suffering any deleterious mental or physical effects and without using any of the current generation of stimulants."

This is your brain on DARPA… any questions?
DARPA researchers are also at work on the "Brain Machine Interface" ("neuromics") project, designed as a mind/machine interface, allowing mechanical devices to be controlled via thought-power. Thus far, researchers have taught a monkey to move a computer mouse and a telerobotic arm simply by thinking about it. With arrays of up to 96 electrodes implanted in their brains, the animals are able to reach for food with a robotic arm. Researchers even transmitted the signals over the internet, allowing remote control of a robotic arm 600 miles away. In the future they hope to develop a "non-invasive interface" for human use. Says DARPA, "The long-term Defense implications of finding ways to turn thoughts into acts, if it can be developed, are enormous: imagine U.S. warfighters that only need use the power of their thoughts to do things at great distances." For years, the U.S. military has been improving its ability to reach out and kill someone. What’s the mantra of the future? Maybe, if you think it, they will die.

Life (and Death) Sciences

Leonard J. Buckley, a program manager in materials chemistry at DARPA’s Defense Science Office, has said, in regard to insect-inspired optics research, "Inspiration from nature… will allow more life-like qualities in the system." And, says DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker, "We’re interested in investigating biological organisms because they have evolved over many, many years to be particularly good at surviving in the environment… and we hope to learn from some of those strategies that Mother Nature has developed."

Poor Mother Nature! What hope has she when faced with an over $400 billion dollar defense budget? What can she do when the most powerful impetus for free-thinking scientists to consider her lies in the urge to weaponize her offspring? Under DARPA, the life sciences have become a fertile area to further the science of death and destruction in an effort, in the words of the DARPA Defense Sciences Office, to overcome the "Frailties of Life" to achieve "Super Physiological Performance." How wonderfully Nietzschean!

Such is the state of government-sponsored innovation in our land. If you’re a researcher in crucial fields and want the time, funding, and latitude to be creative, your work must benefit the Pentagon in its race to make sure that the next Saddam can be, in the words of Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, "caught like a rat" by Capt. Ben Willard of the Army’s rat patrol.

Other than finding new ways of circumventing international law (e.g. bypassing violations of national airspace with space-launched weapons), which the U.S. already does quite well with current technology, or the mountain climber’s mantra "because it’s there," it’s hard to fathom why the government is still locked in a Cold War-style arms race in a single hyperpower world. The only explanation available lies in the driving will of the ever-expanding military-industrial complex, first named by President Eisenhower back in 1961. This would certainly help explain why we have no educational or environmental DARPAs. For today’s researchers, DARPA is, both intellectually and financially, a fabulous and alluring gravy train, the only agency that puts real money into and rewards creative and maverick thinking. The freedom to dream and create, DARPA’s mandate, is seductive and exceptional and, as such, so dangerous that we have to ask ourselves whether war-making isn’t now America’s most advanced product.

Katrina Pain Index: New Orleans Three Years Later

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By Bill Quigley

Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast three years ago this week. The president promised to do whatever it took to rebuild. But the nation is trying to fight wars in several countries and is dealing with economic crisis. The attention of the president wandered away. As a result, this is what New Orleans looks like today.

0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant - compared to 116,708 homeowners.

0. Number of apartments currently being built to replace the 963 public housing apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the St. Bernard Housing Development.

0. Amount of data available to evaluate performance of publicly financed, privately run charter schools in New Orleans in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years.

.008. Percentage of rental homes that were supposed to be repaired and occupied by August 2008 which were actually completed and occupied - a total of 82 finished out of 10,000 projected.

1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in percentage of housing vacant or ruined.

1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in murders per capita for 2006 and 2007.

4. Number of the 13 City of New Orleans Planning Districts that are at the same risk of flooding as they were before Katrina.

10. Number of apartments being rehabbed so far to replace the 896 apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the Lafitte Housing Development.

11. Percent of families who have returned to live in Lower Ninth Ward.

17. Percentage increase in wages in the hotel and food industry since before Katrina.

20-25. Years that experts estimate it will take to rebuild the City of New Orleans at current pace.

25. Percent fewer hospitals in metro New Orleans than before Katrina.

32. Percent of the city's neighborhoods that have less than half as many households as before Katrina.

36. Percent fewer tons of cargo that move through Port of New Orleans since Katrina.

38. Percent fewer hospital beds in New Orleans since Katrina.

40. Percentage fewer special education students attending publicly funded, privately run charter schools than traditional public schools.

41. Number of publicly funded, privately run public charter schools in New Orleans out of total of 79 public schools in the city.

43. Percentage of child care available in New Orleans compared to before Katrina.

46. Percentage increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina.

56. Percentage fewer inpatient psychiatric beds compared to before Katrina.

80. Percentage fewer public transportation buses now than pre-Katrina.

81. Percentage of homeowners in New Orleans who received insufficient funds to cover the complete costs to repair their homes.

300. Number of National Guard troops still in City of New Orleans.

1,080. Days National Guard troops have remained in City of New Orleans.

1,250. Number of publicly financed vouchers for children to attend private schools in New Orleans in program's first year.

6,982. Number of families still living in FEMA trailers in metro New Orleans area.

8,000. Fewer publicly assisted rental apartments planned for New Orleans by federal government.

10,000. Houses demolished in New Orleans since Katrina.

12,000. Number of homeless in New Orleans even after camps of people living under the bridges have been resettled - double the pre-Katrina number.

14,000. Number of displaced families in New Orleans area whose hurricane rental assistance expires in March 2009.

32,000. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans, leaving the public school population less than half what it was pre-Katrina.

39,000. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding who still have not received any money.

45,000. Fewer children enrolled in Medicaid public healthcare in New Orleans than pre-Katrina.

46,000. Fewer African-American voters in New Orleans in 2007 gubernatorial election than in 2003 gubernatorial election.

55,000. Fewer houses receiving mail than before Katrina.

62,000. Fewer people in New Orleans enrolled in Medicaid public healthcare than pre-Katrina.

71,657. Vacant, ruined, unoccupied houses in New Orleans today.

124,000. Fewer people working in metropolitan New Orleans than pre-Katrina.

132,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the City of New Orleans current population estimate of 321,000 in New Orleans.

214,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the US Census Bureau current population estimate of 239,000 in New Orleans.

453,726. Population of New Orleans before Katrina.

320 million. Number of trees destroyed in Louisiana and Mississippi by Katrina.

368 million. Dollar losses of five major metro New Orleans hospitals from Katrina through 2007. In 2008, these hospitals expect another $103 million in losses.

1.9 billion. FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to metro New Orleans for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.

2.6 billion. FEMA dollars scheduled to be available to State of Louisiana for Katrina damages that have not yet been delivered.

Bill is a human rights lawyer, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and author of the forthcoming book, "STORMS STILL RAGING: Katrina, New Orleans and Social Justice." A version with all sources included is available. Bill's email is For more information see the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and Policy Link.

War With Russia Is On The Agenda

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By Paul Craig Roberts

Thinking about the massive failure of the US media to report truthfully is sobering. The United States, bristling with nuclear weapons and pursuing a policy of world hegemony, has a population that is kept in the dark--indeed brainwashed--about the most important and most dangerous events of our time.

The power of the Israel Lobby is an important component of keeping Americans in the dark. Recently I watched a documentary that demonstrates the control that the Israel Lobby exercises over Americans’ view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The documentary is available here:

As a result of the US media’s one-sided coverage, few Americans are aware that for decades Israel has been ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their homes and lands under protection of America’s veto in the United Nations. Instead, the dispossessed Palestinians are portrayed as mindless terrorists who attack innocent Israel.

If one reads Israeli newspapers, such as Haaretz, or publications from Israeli organizations, such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, one gets a radically different view of the situation than the propagandistic version delivered by US media and evangelical pulpits.

Most Americans know of the 2000 attack by Muslim terrorists on the USS Cole in Aden harbor that resulted in 17 dead and 39 wounded American sailors. But few have heard of Israel’s 1967 attack on the USS Liberty that left 34 American sailors dead and 174 wounded. Pressured by the Israel Lobby, President Johnson ordered Admiral McCain, father of the Republican presidential nominee, to cover up the attack. To this day there never has been a congressional investigation.

The failure of the American media is again evident in the coverage of the Georgian-Russian conflict. The US media presented the conflict as a Russian invasion of Georgia, whereas in actual fact the American and Israeli trained and equipped Georgian military launched a sneak attack to kill and to drive the Russian population out of South Ossetia, a separatist province.

Russian peacekeepers, together with Georgian ones, had been stationed in South Ossetia since the early 1990s. On orders from Mikheil Saakashvili, the American puppet “president” of Georgia, the Georgian peacekeepers turned their weapons on the unsuspecting Russian peacekeepers and murdered them.

This action by Saakashvili, elected with money from the neoconservative National Endowment for Democracy, an election-rigging tool of US hegemony, was a war crime. In truth, the Russians should have hung Saakashvili, as he is far more guilty than was Saddam Hussein. But it is Russia, not Saakashvili, that the US media has demonized.

Americans have become perfect subjects for George Orwell’s Big Brother. They sit stupidly in front of the TV news or the New York Times or Washington Post and absorb the lies fed to them. What is wrong with Americans? Why do they put up with it? Are Americans the nation of sheep that Judge Andrew P. Napolitano says they are? Americans flaunt “freedom and democracy” and live under a Ministry of Propaganda.

Two decades ago, President Reagan reached agreement with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to end the dangerous cold war. But every one of Reagan’s successors has sought to pick a new fight with Russia. In violation of the agreement, NATO has been taken to Russia’s borders, and the US is determined to put former constituent parts of Russia herself into NATO. In an effort to neutralize Russia’s nuclear deterrent and compromise her independence, the US is putting anti-ballistic missile bases on Russia’s borders.

The gratuitously aggressive US military policy toward Russia will lead to nuclear war. I am confident that if Americans elect John McCain, or the Republicans steal another presidential election, there will be nuclear war in the second decade of the 21st century. The neocon lies, propaganda, macho flag-waving, and use of US foreign policy in the interests of a few military-security firms, oil companies, and Israel are all leading in that direction.

The November election is perhaps the last chance to avoid nuclear war. But the opportunity might already have been missed. The Republicans have chosen as their candidate one of the most ignorant warmongers alive. The Democrats’ choice was between one of the most divisive women in America and a man of mixed race with a funny name. Considering American’s taste for war, the Democratic candidate could fail to defeat the GOP war candidate.

Many Americans will vote against Obama because he is black. Why does mixed ancestry confer the black label? If America’s population was predominantly black, would Obama be considered white?

Race and propaganda are more likely to determine the outcome of the November election than any awareness or consideration of real issues by voters.

The real issues are suffocated by the media. The American middle class is being destroyed by jobs offshoring and work visas for foreigners, while the incomes of the super rich are soaring. The US dollar’s reserve currency status is eroded. The US is massively in debt at home and abroad. Health insurance is unaffordable for the vast majority of the population. Injured veterans are being nickeled and dimed, while Halliburton’s profits escalate. Americans are losing their homes, while the US government bails out banks. Wars with Iran, Russia, and China are being planned in order to secure US hegemony.

Americans no longer have a government that is for the people and by the people. They have a government for and by special interests and an insane ideology.

But Americans have war, which lets them take out all their frustrations, resentments, and disappointments on “Muslim terrorists” and “Russian aggressors.” Few Americans are disturbed that 1.25 million Iraqis and an unknown number of Afghans have died as a result of American invasions based on Bush regime lies and deceptions. Even Americans, like Senator Biden, Obama’s selection for vice president, who understand that the wars are based on lies, still want the US to win. So, it was all a mistake and a deception, but let’s win anyway and keep on killing.

I know people who still complain that the US did not nuke North Vietnam. When I ask why Vietnam should have been nuked, they reply, “if we had nuked them we would have won.”

What would America have won? The answer is world loathing and the loss of the cold war.

For many Americans, war is like a sports contest in which they take vicarious pleasure and cheer on their side to victory. Millions of Americans are still bitter that “the liberal media” and war protesters caused America to lose the Vietnam war, and they are determined that this won’t happen again. These Americans have no realization that there was no more reason for the US to be fighting in Vietnam 40 years ago than to be fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan or tomorrow in Iran.

Obama, if elected, is no guarantee against nuclear war. Obama has shown that he is as much under the Israel Lobby’s thumb as McCain. Obama’s foreign affairs advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, is not a neocon, but he was born in Warsaw, Poland, and has the Pole’s animosity toward Russia. The Bush administration has already changed US war doctrine to permit preemptive nuclear attack. With the US government determined to ring Russia with puppet states and military bases, war is inevitable.

Presidential appointees face confirmation in the Senate. Any of Obama’s appointees who might be out of step with plans for US and Israeli hegemony could expect opposition from large corporations and the Israel Lobby. There is no assurance that an Obama administration would not be positioned on “the issues” by the same special interests that have positioned the Bush administration.

Americans are filled with hubris, not with knowledge. They have no awareness of the calamity that their government’s pursuit of hegemony is bringing to themselves and to life on earth.

Maliki the Nationalist?

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By Robert Dreyfuss

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to make headlines by posing as an Iraqi nationalist. Don’t buy it.

Unfortunately, much of the media has swallowed Maliki’s posturing without questioning it. The usually astute Leila Fadel, writing for McClatchy, has an article today headlined: "Maliki Demands ’Specific Deadline’ for US Troop Pullout," which says:

Maliki said that the United States and Iraq had agreed that all foreign troops would be off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011. "There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said.

Other newspapers and electronic media pick up Maliki’s statement that Iraq wants all US forces out, not just combat troops. The Times headlines its story: "Maliki Pushes for Troop Withdrawal Date," and it barely questions Maliki’s sincerity, though it does glancingly take note of the nationalist pressure on the Iraqi leader, reporting that "graffiti can be seen on the walls in Shiite districts of Baghdad saying, ’Iraq for sale: See Maliki.’" The Post headline ("Maliki Demands All U.S. Troops Pull Out by 2011") says as much, too, portraying Maliki as resolute and unyielding in talks with the United States over a security accord.

But underneath the radar, the Iraqi government and Maliki are sending another signal. The Post makes a greater effort to report the real story, making clear that the tough stand by Maliki is political showmanship designed to play to a nationalist Iraqi public that is tired of the US occupation:

Underlying Maliki’s remarks is the political reality that he must sell the accord to a fractious political establishment and the Iraqi public, which to a large extent views the U.S. military presence as an occupation that should end as soon as possible.

"The agreement will be met with significant public discomfort," said an aide to Maliki. "So Iraqi officials will resort to using the dates mentioned in the agreement to sell it to the public, even though they might be intended to be used in a guidance way."

Note the reference to Maliki’s need to "sell it to the public," even though the 2011 date will be used only as "guidance."

The reality is that there isn’t much daylight between the Bush administration’s position, which says that US forces will stay in Iraq until "conditions" allow a withdrawal, and Maliki’s proposed 2011 date. Iraqi officials are making it clear that even the 2011 date is flexible and subject to conditions-based reevaluation. The Post quotes an Iraqi official: "If you ask the prime minister, ’What happens if the situation on the ground changes before 2011?’ then he would obviously say that the dates might need to be changed."

Of course, that’s equally true of Barack Obama’s Iraq policy, though Obama (like Maliki) would suffer enormously from the domestic political reaction if he wavered on his commitment to withdraw US forces.