Friday, September 5, 2008

Turning Away From American State Terrorism

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By Peter Chamberlin

“The American people realize this election represents a turning point. In two months they will decide the future direction of our nation. It’s a decision to follow one path or another.” Rudy Giuliani

The choice we face in November is very clear. It is a choice to continue to support the US terror war, or to turn away from this path of unlimited destruction. This lie-based war is all about terrorism – whether America actually fights terrorism or promotes its use. To find the answer to this conundrum all we have to do is turn our gaze to Pakistan.
In Pakistan we find the complete history of the American “war on terrorism,” from its Cold War origins nearly thirty years ago to its present incarnation in the illegal American aggression in Pakistan’s Frontier region (FATA, Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and in American attempts to reignite the Cold War with Russia. The latest cross-border attack against Pakistan in South Waziristan, which involved American helicopters and ground troops, costing 15 villagers their lives, represents the first steps in American attempts to escalate its war into a reasonable facsimile of another world war.
Once again, America claims that its aggression against Pakistan is a legitimate act of self-defense against the “Pakistani Taliban” (TTP,Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), who, it is claimed, are responsible for America’s faltering war effort in Afghanistan. Wednesday’s aggression was another attempt to get TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud (branded “public enemy number one” by the US) or one of his top commanders. Mehsud is the key to understanding America’s true role in the terror war, that of state terrorism planner and facilitator, in order to later assume the role of defender against the terrorism it causes.
Baitullah Mehsud assumed control of the TTP from its founder, his infamous cousin Abdullah Mehsud. Abdullah was a prisoner at Guantanamo before being inexplicably released to return to Pakistan, where he founded the new Taliban splinter group. On his second day in S. Waziristan he instigated the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers from the building of the Gomal Zam Dam, beginning the TTP fight against America’s adversaries in the region.
Setting the pattern for all future American terror attacks, the American media reported that America’s secret allies, the TTP, were “al Qaida linked.” Whenever and wherever the Western media uses the expression “al Qaida linked,” to describe terrorist attacks, they are referring to American terrorism. This is also painfully true about those sinister forces that killed 3,000 American civilians on September 11, 2001. American/“al Qaida” terrorism always targets civilians, even American civilians. Next to the US military, al Qaida is the greatest killer of innocent Muslims in the world.
Now we have American covert forces busily killing Pakistani civilians by the hundreds, in order to justify the planned overwhelming American assault upon Pakistan, which is conveniently situated between the main target Iran and all that juicy fuel located in the “Stans,” the former Soviet satellites where America’s Georgian mercenaries are busily committing acts of genocide to restart the new Cold War.
The American destabilization of nuclear-armed Pakistan has been the key to the planned destruction of Iran and the seizure of the Caspian region oil and gas fields and the pipeline routes for marketing the stolen booty. Targeting American-backed militants, who are using the same terrorist training camps created by the CIA to launch a “jihad” against the Soviets, American interests are seeking to topple the Pakistani government and to seize their nuclear arsenal.
The corporate American government cannot survive the debt-based collapse of its own economy and the world economy without a massive military expansion of its power, gaining control of the world’s energy reserves. America cannot continue bullying the world to have its way without this key asset.
The Republican and Democratic co-conspirators understand the dilemma created by America’s greed and attempts to forge a global empire. This means that no matter who wins the November election will continue this policy of international piracy and terrorism. It is up to the American people to decide whether these policies of state terrorism continue. It is our decision to make, whether we allow America to destroy the world to save itself, or whether we suffer the economic consequences for our actions in the past. By our inaction, or by the wrong action, we allow the evil that our government continually sows. By participating in our farcical “free elections,” casting a vote for either man, we vote to destroy a large portion of the world and its people.
We can no longer give our assent to the crimes against humanity committed against the world by our government on a daily basis. Non-participation in the affairs of this government on any level, will deny it the cover of legitimacy and support it needs to continue on its terror rampage. We must become the “monkey wrench” in the works of government and in American life, in general. We begin by overwhelming the Congress with our righteous anger against governmental plans to unleash hell on earth.
All it will take to do this is a unified signal from the people that we will no longer silently abide its immoral actions. The Congressional parasites who feed at the public trough fear a non-complacent electorate, a united people committed to reclaiming our rightful positions as “watchdogs” of government.
All we have to do to sway a chicken hawk Congress is to convince them that we are now awake. We must focus our antiwar efforts to disrupt the aggression against Pakistan. It is time to join with the democratic antiwar resistance forces in Pakistan, to put an end to the American empire of terror.
Fight the evil that we have become!

How Will You and Your State Cast Ballots in November?

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By Kim Zetter

This year, as a result of a lot of changes in voting machines around the country, numerous voting districts across many states will be using new voting equipment that has either never been used in an election or has never been used in a national election involving millions of voters.

When new systems are used, problems often arise either with the equipment itself or with election officials and voters who are unfamiliar with it.

To see what equipment you and your state will be using in November and to familiarize yourself with it before the election,, an election integrity group that led the movement to get voter-verified paper audit trails added to touch-screen voting machines, has produced a comprehensive interactive map identifying the voting systems being used in election districts across the country. As far as I know, this is the most up-to-date list of voting equipment that exists.

The map offers several options for viewing. You can look at systems at a statewide macro level or click on a state to get a micro view of the various systems being used in each county or voting district, including the accessible equipment being offered for disabled voters. At the district level, you’ll also find information about the maker of the voting machines and contact information for the election office.

The voting machine landscape has changed a lot since the 2000 presidential election when punch-card voting systems and dangling chads spawned a heated national debate and Supreme Court battle.

As a result of the 2000 debacle, the Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002 allocating federal funds to replace antiquated punch-card and lever machines with newer election technologies. Election officials quickly spent millions of dollars to buy paperless touch-screen voting machines -- also known as Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines -- that were touted by their makers as faster, more accurate and easier to use than punch-card machines.

But in 2003, technical reports began surfacing about serious security issues with the machines as well as reports about breakdowns and other problems. Public opinion has forced some voting districts to back away from the equipment since then. In some cases entire states -- such as California and Florida -- have outlawed DRE machines for use by anyone other than disabled voters and have recently replaced their touch-screen systems with new optical-scan machines.

In the last two years, 131 counties across 9 states -- California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia -- have abandoned their DRE machines in favor of paper ballot voting systems, according to statistics collected by VerifiedVoting.

While some states like Nevada and Utah have added paper trails to their DRE machines, the District of Columbia and six states -- Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina -- still use DRE’s without paper trails statewide. A handful of other states use mixed systems -- paperless DREs in some districts and paper-based voting systems in other districts.

Boatloads of Trouble: How We Are Importing Our Way to Destruction

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By Stan Cox

Nineteen hundred miles of railroad track separate Gardner, Kan., from the seaports of Southern California. But through the miracle of global trade, Gardner will soon be transformed into a Los Angeles suburb.

Over the next decade, an "intermodal and logistics park" will be built on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway at the southern edge of Gardner. It’s needed to handle goods imported from Asia via the Los Angeles and Long Beach seaports. Gardner could eventually find itself playing host to as many as 30 freight trains per day, each a mile and a half long, along with thousands of big-rig trucks.

The community of 16,000, just across the state line from Kansas City, Mo., will eventually be sandwiched between 7 million square feet of warehouses in the logistics park to the south and 4 million to 5 million square feet in an industrial park to the north. The total warehouse floor space easily exceeds that of all the housing in Gardner.

And Claud Hobby, who will be living about three-fourths of a mile from the new facility, can already feel the burn of diesel fumes in his nostrils. The pollution will be growing thicker over his neighborhood with each passing year, but he’s trying to keep his sense of humor. He says, "They talk about making Kansas a smoke-free state, but it looks like Gardner’s going to be the designated smoking section."

With environmentalists devoting most of their efforts in recent years to sounding the alarm on global climate change, local pollution isn’t always getting the attention it deserves. But if you share your neighborhood with the sprawling -- and growing -- infrastructure that moves imported goods from seaports to retailers, you can’t help but pay attention. You don’t need to be reminded that air pollutants, even when they’re not warming the planet, can threaten your health and even your life.

Along the cancer trail

Economists, bureaucrats and investors rejoiced late last month when the Commerce Department announced that U.S. exports in June were up sharply, $28.8 billion higher than in June 2007. The department made less noise about the rising tide of imports, which were up $26.4 billion.

Leaving aside that portion of the increased import bill that was due to rising oil prices, the nation’s seaports, airports, railways and highways were still faced with moving an additional $40 billion worth of stuff in and out across our borders, on top of the $330 billion worth of stuff that’s already going in and out each month.

Imports -- mostly consumer and industrial goods, not oil -- continue to dominate over exports in America’s trade equation. Hunger for imports keeps rising, and the nation’s capacity to manufacture those products keeps shrinking. So hauling, sorting and delivering foreign-made goods has evolved into a fast-growing, high-tech, high-profit industry.

The American Association of Port Authorities says the nation’s seaports are now handling 1.4 billion tons of goods annually and that waterborne container traffic will double by 2020. These days, as every shopper knows, a big share of that traffic is coming across the Pacific from Asia.

Seattle and Oakland handle some of those Asian goods, but most enter the United States through the twin seaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Together, they comprise the third-largest container-handling facility in the world, receiving 40 percent of all imports entering the country. Traffic through the two ports is expected to triple within 15 years.

At those cargo bottlenecks where ships, trains and trucks converge, the air can kill you. Oceangoing ships burn the lowest of low-quality diesel oil, and the fuel used by locomotives isn’t much better. Trucks burn a greater quantity of fuel per ton hauled, with correspondingly high emissions.

According to Los Angeles and Long Beach authorities, the movement of cargo through their ports was responsible in 2005 for emissions laden with 6,000 tons of particle matter -- soot, smoke, dust, organic matter and other microscopic flecks that can invade deep into the lungs -- and more than 46,000 tons of nitrogen and sulfur oxides.

In and near the world’s ports and coastal sea lanes, emissions from oceangoing vessels caused 60,000 premature deaths in 2002. With increasing trade, the number of such deaths is projected to rise 40 percent by 2012. Ships’ crews, dock workers, truckers, other port personnel and local residents are all vulnerable.

The particulate matter produced by burning diesel has been associated with lung cancer, asthma, chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, decreased lung function in children and infant mortality.

Currently, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a relatively small community of 50,000 people living on the fringes of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports suffers 25 new cases of cancer each year because of diesel pollution from ships, trucks and dock equipment. Similar cancer risks were found for people living near rail yards. Within a "several mile" radius of the ports, estimates CARB, the air pollutants kill about 75 people per year.

The great indoors

Given the rate at which shiploads, trainloads, truckloads and planeloads of goods have been arriving from abroad in the past eight months, 2008 is on track to set an all-time record for imports, topping $2 trillion for the first time. (Not counting oil, imports will amount to more than $1.8 trillion, also a record). Clearly, recent economic pain and soaring diesel fuel prices have not diminished Americans’ appetite for imported merchandise.

That merchandise never sits in one place for long. It is moved out of the ports, sorted at sophisticated warehouse complexes known as "logistics facilities," and distributed throughout the country as quickly as possible. In recent years, California’s Inland Empire, lying east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, has already seen construction of logistics warehouses covering 330 million square feet.

To get a mental picture of the massive extent of roofing and concrete that requires, imagine 7,300 football fields paved and enclosed (or have a look at these images.) Similarly vast acreages surrounding the warehouses are paved as well. And remember, goods traffic in the area could triple in coming decades.

In a 2006 commentary, Andrea Hricko, associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, cited an example of a doll, made in an Asian sweatshop and destined to sell for $9.97 at one of Chicago’s big-box discount stores. By the time the doll reaches Chicago, notes Hricko, "she has traveled more than 8,000 miles -- on diesel-burning conveyances the whole way." And she will have left a dark trail of pollution in the ports and communities she passed through.

Hricko’s doll, more than likely, arrives at the Los Angeles or Long Beach port and rides the Burlington Northern railway to the Elwood, Ill., intermodal terminal outside Chicago, where it is transferred to a truck. Once the intermodal facility in Gardner, Kan., goes into operation, the doll may end its train journey there and, after a quick rest in a warehouse, take a truck ride past Hobby’s house on its way to Wal-Mart somewhere in the nation’s midsection. From there, it will land in a child’s bedroom for a while before going to the basement or garage and, eventually, a landfill.

Hobby visited Elwood last year to get a glimpse of his own future, and it wasn’t pleasant: "With so many trucks in the area, they had three police officers on the roads directing traffic, and it still took me 30 minutes to drive one mile."

With a rising tide of imports from China and other countries choking the ports of Southern California and the roads around Chicago, the goods-transport system is looking for alternate routes, and Mexico stands ready to help. In contrast to the mythical "NAFTA superhighway," the rail lines from Mexico are very real, and they’re humming. Month by month, more Asian goods are making landfall at the port of Lazaro Cardenas on southern Mexico’s Pacific coast and riding the Kansas City Southern railway northeast for 2,200 miles.

To unload merchandise at the other end, the railway and its corporate partners will be developing yet another intermodal hub, south of Kansas City and east of Gardner. It will have the potential for 23 million square feet of warehouse space on its 970 acres of land.

The Kansas City Star reported in March that the developments at the intermodal hub are "all part of the railroad’s strategy to encourage companies and ocean carriers to ship goods from Asia to Lazaro Cardenas and on into the United States." According to a transportation analyst quoted by the paper, "More than two-thirds of intermodal shipments are consumer goods. They (Kansas City Southern) have to convince the Wal-Marts, the J.C. Penneys and Home Depots to use the Mexico-U.S. corridor. ... The longer the haul, the better the margins and the greater the revenues (for the railway)."

Constitutional chicanery

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have announced a "Clean Air Action Plan," characterized as "the most comprehensive strategy to cut air pollution and reduce health risks ever produced for a global seaport complex." The goal is to reduce emissions of diesel pollutants by almost 50 percent in five years.

As part of the program, starting Oct. 1, trucks entering either of two big Southern California ports will have to comply with new rules on emissions and safety, and older trucks with poorer pollution controls will be banned. On top of that, the Los Angeles port has decreed that only drivers who are employees of trucking firms, not independent contractors, will be allowed to enter the port. American Trucking Associations (ATA), which represents most of the nation’s trucking companies, has sued to block the new rules.

The lever the ATA is employing in its effort to overturn the Clean Air Action Plan is the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. That clause, it is claimed, prohibits states and localities from interfering with interstate trade. Economist John Husing of Redlands, Calif., who has done analyses of the region’s goods-transport industry under contracts with the ports and the Southern California Association of Governments, believes that the industry’s constitutional argument will succeed.

Says Husing: "The trucking companies don’t want every Podunk city in America to be able to say, ’You can’t drive through our town,’ and the courts will agree."

The commerce clause is also having an impact in Gardner, Kan., where a city clean-air ordinance prohibits truck drivers from letting their engines idle for more than 10 minutes. "But that’s just window dressing," says Hobby. "We can’t do anything about trucks on railroad property (in the intermodal park)." There, the commerce clause rules, and Gardner residents will just have to live with the drifting smog.

Nevertheless, says Jane Anne Morris, author of "Gaveling Down the Rabble: How Free Trade is Stealing Our Democracy," it is important to challenge all attempts by corporations and the federal courts to use the clause as a weapon against environmentally essential laws. "We would not have the problems we have now if thousands of good, promising, strong laws had not been declared unconstitutional under the commerce clause since 1879," she says.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and an office in Los Angeles, has filed a "motion to intervene" in opposition to ATA’s lawsuit. Other groups, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, are part of a coalition with NRDC to support the new environmental regulations at the Southern California ports.

NRDC spokesperson Jessica Lass makes the case this way: "We support the plan because more management oversight is needed at the ports, to improve efficiency. Trucks need to be fully loaded, to minimize the number of trips in and out. And we need to be sure they are fuel-efficient and well maintained."

Controlling pollution from oceangoing ships will be even more difficult than regulating trucks. Ninety percent of the bunker-fuel-burning, fume-belching vessels coming into the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are foreign-owned and -flagged. "Ships are under international control, and that’s the hardest problem to solve," laments Husing.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a voluntary program under which some ships will use better grades of fuel in their auxiliary engines (which they switch to when they’re in and around ports), reduce their speed near ports, and plug into shore-based power sources when at dock. NRDC hails the program as a step forward, but Husing doesn’t see it going very far: "We regard EPA as useless. What they are doing is lame at best."

The purchase-driven life

The sheer volume of imports, growing by the day, threatens to overwhelm all attempts to clean up the environment along trade routes. The value of goods being imported nationwide has risen 68 percent just in the past decade; that’s after adjustments for inflation, and it excludes oil imports.

Halting that growth or even making deep cuts in imports would not only help clear the air, it would make it easier to clean up the toxic water pollution that accumulates in sea lanes and ports; it would curb the noise pollution that can do serious damage to human health and interfere with communications among marine mammals; and it would stop the headlong rush to pave more land for logistics parks.

Slashing imports would address those and a host of other environmental and human-rights problems created by overproduction and overconsumption. But with an increasingly fragile economy that depends so heavily on consumer spending, politicians and economists continue to call for more trade, not less.

That’s certainly the case on the 2008 campaign trail. The presidential candidates express concern over imports only when urging "independence from foreign oil." Republican John McCain, a committed free-trader, saluted June’s strong trade report, saying that it "provided an important reminder of the role that exports play in our economy."

Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s campaign Web site says, "Obama believes that trade with foreign nations should strengthen the American economy and create more American jobs." In practice, he appears to vacillate between advocating mild trade regulations (for which critics repeatedly brand him as a "protectionist") and flirting with "strong dollar" policies that would bring in even higher volumes of imports.

Some of the flow through our ports seems almost circular -- trade for the sake of trade. In some of the categories that the U.S. Census Bureau uses to tally trade, such as "pleasure boats and motors," "toiletries and cosmetics" and "medicinal equipment," the dollar values of goods coming in and going out are strikingly similar.

All that activity, both inbound and outbound, generates profits along with pollution. As a consequence, no one on either side of the battle over pollution control around ports, roads and railways seems to be urging a rollback of imports.

Husing, in his economic analysis of goods traffic in California, urged aggressive expansion of the industry as the only viable job-creation strategy. He explains, "In this region, 44 percent of the population has a high school education or less. People need blue-collar jobs without barriers to entry. Manufacturing is in decline. Construction is in the toilet. But logistics and distribution is growing fast. With tracking technology, it’s an information-intensive sector and pays at least as well as manufacturing, better than construction."

Says Husing, "For a while there I was Public Enemy Number One in the environmental movement’s eyes. They are concerned about people’s health. I argued that poverty is a public health issue, and they didn’t like that. But they seem to be coming around."

On the issue of ports and distribution centers, environmentalists are focusing on pollution control, while assuming that consumption of imported goods will continue to grow. Asked if the root of the problem is simply that we’re importing too much stuff, NRDC’s Lass changed the subject back to efficiency: "We don’t want to stand in the way of progress. We need a way to expand our ports in an environmentally sustainable manner and create more jobs."

In Kansas, too, the debate is over how to deal with the surge of imported goods, not how to curtail it. Hobby says that the Burlington Northern facility should be built in an area 14 miles farther south of Gardner, where there’s plenty of open land: "We’ve had this thing thrown into our backyard. Instead, they should put it where growth can move toward it. Then any people or companies who don’t mind being near this thing can buy land and move in around it."

A deep recession or depression could disrupt the "purchase-driven life" that fuels the American economy. Until then, it appears, the quest for more efficient methods of importing ever-greater tonnages will continue.

A clean-running economy that can thrive on less production and less importation of consumer goods would look very different from today’s economy. It may be out there somewhere in the future, but it’s hard to see through the clouds of diesel exhaust.

US-Iraq Agreement Leaked

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By Maya Schenwar

A leaked version of last month’s draft of the proposed US-Iraq status of forces agreement (SOFA) suggests that the Iraqi parliament may not be consulted before it is signed, despite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s promises to do so. The pact would govern the future US presence in Iraq. The draft indicates no intent to set a deadline for withdrawal of "noncombat" troops from Iraq. It also grants immunity from Iraqi law to US military personnel, no matter where they are located.

The draft was translated and provided to Truthout by Raed Jarrar, Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee. It comes after months of assurances from Maliki that the agreement would be sent to parliament. However, the draft SOFA states, "This agreement goes into effect on the day that diplomatic memos confirming all constitutional procedures have been met in both countries are exchanged," and sets a December 31 deadline for this memo exchange.

Designating a memo exchange between executive branches as the go-ahead to put the plan into action opens up a gaping loophole, making it simple to bypass parliamentary ratification, according to Jarrar. Since the "constitutional procedures" that are to be followed aren’t specified - and Iraq’s laws are not yet set in stone - the Maliki administration’s lawyers could easily interpret a bilateral executive agreement as constitutional. Unlike parliament, the Iraqi executive branch operates out of the US green zone and is backed by the United States.

"I won’t be surprised if someone in the Iraqi executive branch decides that it is enough to read the agreement before the parliament, or ’consult’ with them, or pass it as a law with simple majority or whatever other tricks they might pull," Jarrar told Truthout, adding that the December 31 deadline makes the language even more suspect. "How can they make sure all ’constitutional procedures’ [are completed] before December 31? What will happen if they are not done?"

The prospect of an impending deadline certainly clashes with hopes of parliamentary approval, according to Dr. Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, head of the Iraqi parliament. In a rare interview with the news agency Al-Arabiya, Al-Mashhadani stressed that parliament could not even consider a SOFA right now, since a law governing procedures on international agreements has not been passed.

"The Iraqi constitution determines that the House of Representatives must first enact a law to ratify the Law of Treaties and Agreements, and must vote or pass this law through parliament by two-thirds majority," Al-Mashhadani said. "So, before discussing the treaty, we must enact this law by two-thirds."

Al-Mashhadani stated that the Law of Treaties and Agreements would "take a long time to pass," and would "not be enacted before the end of the year."

Therefore, the SOFA draft deadline would not allow the possibility of parliamentary approval before passage.

Iraq’s executive branch has a history of circumventing the legislature, according to Foreign Policy in Focus Fellow Erik Leaver: The administration did not consult parliament in 2007 when it agreed on the extension of the UN mandate allowing a continuing US presence in Iraq. However, says Leaver, because parliament has been so publicly vocal in its insistence on being involved in the SOFA process, ignoring the legislature may have heavier consequences this time around.

"I would expect a legal challenge in Iraq - and perhaps the US - if the accord moves forward in an exchange of memos," Leaver told Truthout. "Beyond legal challenges, enormous political pressure would be put upon him, perhaps causing a rise in instability and a certain delay in the scheduled [2008] fall elections in Iraq."

Jarrar suggested that bypassing parliament may even "lead to some groups quitting the political process."

Ahmed Ali, an Iraqi correspondent based in Diyala, told Truthout that the possible circumvention of parliamentary approval reveals the nature of the agreement itself: It runs contrary to the wishes of most Iraqi people and their representatives, who would rather all troops leave the country quickly.

"[The SOFA] is superficial," Ali said. "They are telling Iraqis, ’You have to accept it; you can say no word.’"

Meanwhile, the American people and their representatives are getting a similarly short end of the stick, according to Steve Fox, director of the American Freedom Campaign, a nonpartisan organization that works to combat executive power abuses. Fox notes that, although SOFAs are usually bilateral executive agreements, the US-Iraq pact goes far beyond the bounds of a traditional SOFA, since it grants US military personnel the authority to continue fighting. (Typical SOFA provisions include US military members’ banking and postal procedures, legal policies relating to military personnel and the transport of Americans’ property into and out of the country.)

"For the past seven years, the president has treated Congress like an inferior branch of government," Fox told Truthout. "This pending agreement with Iraq is just another example. It is clear that the agreement goes beyond the reach of a traditional SOFA and it should be approved by Congress before it goes into effect. But the president has no intention of seeking Congressional approval. In our opinion, Congress should issue a ’signing statement’ of its own, declaring the agreement unconstitutional and signaling that it will fund the activities outlined in the agreement at its own discretion."

Timetable for (Partial) Withdrawal

Over the past couple of months, Maliki has firmly advocated a quick, total withdrawal of US troops. Many in Iraq believe that his strong language is intended to sell the SOFA to parliament. However, if parliament is not consulted on the deal, it will likely contain very weak withdrawal guidelines, as outlined in the leaked draft.

The draft states that a deadline will be set to pull out "combat troops," though the exact date had not been filled in at the time of its release. No timeline is provided for the departure of noncombat troops. Those soldiers would be permitted to linger indefinitely on "installations and areas agreed upon" - the agreement’s lingo for "military bases."

The "noncombat" designation is notably vague, according to Leaver.

"It doesn’t define what role noncombatant troops would have, nor does it define the potential numbers left behind," Leaver said, adding that the agreement doesn’t specify what role remaining military contractors would play in a "post-withdrawal" Iraq.

Although its definitions might be murky, the way the agreement’s "withdrawal" plan will be received in Iraq is fairly clear, according to Ali.

"In a word, this arrangement is a new face for the occupation," Ali said.

Troop Immunity

The SOFA draft grants US troops full immunity from Iraqi law, stating, "The U.S. has exclusive legal jurisdiction over U.S. armed forces members and civilian members inside and outside installations and areas agreed upon."

Following that clause is a "suggestion" from the Iraqi negotiators, which proposes that US personnel be given immunity "except for intentional crimes and major mistakes."

"Intentional crimes and major mistakes" are not defined, and according to Jarrar, the "Iraqi suggestions" sprinkled throughout the draft do not hold much water.

"All the Iraqi suggestions show that the Iraqi team doesn’t have much leeway," Jarrar said.

The generous immunity clause is not standard for SOFAs, according to Joseph Gerson, author of "The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign Military Bases." In fact, in countries with more leverage, like Japan and western European nations, US soldiers who commit crimes may well be subject to native law. By seeking blanket immunity for troops in "post-withdrawal" Iraq, the Bush administration is following a treacherous historical pattern.

"Such indemnification is often sought by the Pentagon when new bases are established, and it is as close to a raw practice of imperialism as one can imagine," Gerson told Truthout.

Leaver notes that the wide-open immunity clause coincides with a high prevalence of US-inflicted civilian casualties in Iraq, leaving victims of those crimes with no recourse.

According to Ali, that’s an untenable loophole.

"The US troops should be tried by Iraqi law," Ali said. "Every day, they kill people by mistake. Let’s imagine that whole case in the United States, what the result would be - can you?"

Productivity rises as US workers see real income cut

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By Jerry White

Corporations continue to slash tens of thousands of positions while workers still on the job are working harder for less money, according to reports on the US economy released this week.

The job-displacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that businesses announced 88,736 job cuts in August, up 12 percent from last year. The total number of layoff announcements in the summer months of May to August rose to the highest level in six years, when the economy was recovering from the 2001 recession.

Friday’s Labor Department unemployment report is expected to show the loss of up to 75,000 jobs in August—the eighth consecutive month of losses. Reports on weekly jobless claims (up 15,000 to 444,000, the highest spike in five weeks) and a widely followed survey of private sector employers by Automatic Data Processing (ADP) bolstered expectations that Friday’s report would show an increase in the official unemployment rate, currently 5.7 percent nationally.

The ADP survey, which generally underestimates actual job losses, reported that private sector employment fell by a total of 33,000 jobs in August. The goods-producing sector cut 78,000 jobs, including 56,000 jobs in manufacturing, which saw its 24th consecutive monthly decline. The generally lower paying service sector added 45,000 positions in August, ADP reported.

Analysts anticipate a continued slowdown in the US economy as corporations confront higher fuel costs, tighter credit restrictions and signs that demand for exports is slowing due to the global character of the recession. In addition, the housing crisis, growth of unemployment and falling purchasing power are undermining consumer spending.

A report released by the US Federal Reserve Wednesday, based on a survey of its 12 district banks, noted that the service sector was “slowing” and the factory sector was “weak.” The real estate sector, it said further, showed no sign of bottoming out and lending activity was weak.

The worsening situation was underscored by reports that Ford Motor Company is having the slowest sales since World War II and Delphi Automotive may be forced to liquidate because the giant parts maker failed to find financial backers to help it out of bankruptcy. In addition, the International Air Transport Association said Wednesday that North American air carriers are expected to lose $5 billion this year, leading to a new wave of bankruptcies, consolidations and mass layoffs.

From the standpoint of corporate America and big Wall Street investors, the only “bright” side of the economic situation remains the fact that workers’ wages remain stagnant even as consumer prices continue to rise and output per worker has sharply increased.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that non-farm business productivity jumped at an annual rate of 4.3 percent in the second quarter, almost double the initial estimate of a 2.2 percent increase. Compared to the second quarter of 2007, productivity rose 3.4 percent, well above the average 2.5 percent rate between 2000 and 2007. This led unit labor costs to fall at an annual rate of 0.5 percent, also faster than expected.

The Wall Street Journal boasted, “Labor costs were up just 0.6 percent from one year ago, an indication that the economic slowdown and weakening jobs market is making it hard for workers to command higher wages.” This meant the Federal Reserve Board—which will meet September 16—“can be patient and hold interest rates steady as they assess economic and inflation risks, since high energy prices aren’t igniting the kind of wage-price spiral that plagued policymakers in the 1970s and early 1980s.”

There is an ongoing debate over whether to increase interest rates because such a move would lead to a further tightening of credit, worsen the position of the dollar and undermine any US economic recovery. Nevertheless the Fed is committed to move swiftly at the first sign of so-called wage inflation.

This has been its policy since the early 1980s, when then-Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker—appointed by the Democratic Carter administration—increased interest rates to 20 percent and deliberately provoked the deepest recession since the 1930s. Plant closings and mass unemployment were used as a battering ram to break the resistance of the working class and roll back wages and living standards.

In 1978, 6 out of 10 labor contracts included cost-of-living adjustments to protect workers from the ravages of inflation. By 1988 that figure fell to 4 out of 10. Today, the unions have abandoned any such demands and the labor bureaucracy has negotiated one contract after another—in auto, telecommunications and other industries—that slashes the real income of their own members.

Airplane manufacturer Boeing, for example, is currently demanding its 27,000 union machinists accept an 11 percent increase in wages over three years, even though the Consumer Price Index rose at a 6.2 percent annual rate in August.

Corporations are also continuing to shift the burden of health care costs and pensions onto the backs of their employees. A survey by the Mercer consulting firm released Thursday said 59 percent of companies intend to keep down rising health care costs in 2009 by raising workers’ deductibles, co-pays or out-of-pocket spending limits.

The corporate assault on workers’ living standards has enjoyed the active support of both big business parties and will continue whether a Democrat or Republican wins the presidential election in November. It is significant that Volcker—who engineered the frontal assault on the working class in the 1980s—is now a prominent adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

A recent report by the Congressional Research Service (“Globalization, Worker Insecurity, and Policy Approaches,” updated July 31, 2008) noted the results of the decades-long drive to increase the exploitation of American workers.

“While productivity growth or output per worker rose by 71% from 1980 to 2005, the real compensation of non-supervisory workers comprising 80% of the work force grew by 4%. The gap in the manufacturing sector was even greater: productivity rose 131%, while compensation of non-supervisors grew only 7%.”

This has produced a vast transfer of wealth from working people to the richest layers of the population. The report continues, “The share of national income accounted for by the top 1% of earners (as reported on tax returns) reached 21.8% in 2005—a level not seen since 1928. In addition to high labor earnings, income growth at the top is being driven by corporate profits which accrue mainly to those with high labor earnings. In 2006, corporate profits totaled 12.4% of national income, a level not reached in 50 years.”

Cheney in Georgia: Gunboat diplomacy in pursuit of oil

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By Tom Eley

The US is continuing to ratchet up tensions with Russia in the aftermath of last month’s war in the Caucasus.

On Thursday, US Vice President Dick Cheney appeared in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Cheney reiterated US support for Georgia’s incorporation into NATO, while making bellicose denunciations of Russia.

Only a day earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed the staggering sum of $1 billion in aid to the impoverished Black Sea nation.

During his visit, Cheney made statements tantamount to declaring Georgia an American military protectorate. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Cheney said, “can count on continued support and assistance from the United States. I assured the president as well of my country’s strong commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

“Georgia will be in our alliance,” Cheney promised. “NATO is a defensive alliance. It is a threat to no one.”

Georgia has yet to be included in the NATO alliance, with the major continental powers, especially Germany, so far objecting in spite of the Bush administration’s fervent efforts. This may change as a result of the recent war.

The $1 billion aid package the Bush administration is proposing is an enormous increase over last year’s funding, which amounted to $63 million, and would make Georgia the third largest recipient of US foreign aid, trailing only behind Israel and Egypt. About half of the money would be approved by this year’s Congress, while the other half would be approved at the start of the next congressional session.

Rice claimed that the money was not earmarked for rebuilding Georgia’s military, which disintegrated under Russian attack during the war. However, there is little reason to believe the money will not be used for precisely that purpose once in Georgian coffers. A Guardian report stated that Cheney would “discuss Georgia’s long shopping list of military hardware” during the visit.

In a Wednesday editorial headlined “Help for Georgia,” the New York Times, although allowing that it felt “nervous” about Cheney’s trip, nonetheless hailed the proposed appropriation for Georgia and the hard anti-Russian stance assumed by the Bush administration. According to the Times, “Moscow needs to understand that the West will not be intimidated into abandoning a struggling democracy.”

US machinations in the Black Sea have nothing to do with democracy. Instead, two closely related aims animated Rice’s proposal for massive financial assistance to Georgia and Cheney’s nearly simultaneous visit. First, Washington is preparing for war against Russia. Second, it is seeking to secure oil and natural gas pipelines outside of Russia’s orbit.

Cheney’s visit to Georgia came a day before a planned visit to Ukraine, another state hostile to Russia, and only two weeks after Poland agreed to put in place a US missile system designed to shoot down nuclear missiles, clearly directed against Russia.

The same day Cheney arrived in Georgia the US sent yet another warship, the flagship of the Mediterranean fleet, the USS Whitney, into the Black Sea to Georgia, ostensibly on a humanitarian mission.

This is classic gunboat diplomacy. But Washington is also making advanced preparations for war against Russia. This would include a nuclear first strike, which the US political and military elite believe the missile shield will allow them to carry out.

A day before visiting Georgia, Cheney was in Azerbaijan, home to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipelines, the only non-Russian-dominated routes for Caspian oil and gas bound for the European market. Georgian national security chief Alexander Lomaia said the visits, taken together, are “a very clear sign that alternative energy routes and sources will be secured.”

Azerbaijan, under President Ilham Aliyev, has recently attempted to chart something of a middle course between Washington and Moscow. It has remained largely neutral in its public pronouncements regarding Russia’s standoff with the West over Georgia, and Moscow has been attempting to court the Aliyev government. Azerbaijan has even begun to route some of its oil through a Russian pipeline, citing the instability in Georgia as a reason. Analysts believe that Cheney’s visit was an attempt to cajole Baku back into line.

Cheney also took time during his brief stop in Azerbaijan to hold private talks with the local heads of the BP and Chevron oil companies.

While in Azerbaijan Cheney all but declared that he is seeking to form a military and oil/gas axis in the region. Cheney pointed to the importance for US interests that “energy export routes are diverse and reliable” and that “additional routes for energy exports that ensure the free flow of resources” would be needed, promising to enlist the aid of Turkey in protecting and increasing the number of energy pipelines. The effort is calculated to undermine the basis of Russia’s economic resurgence, its oil exports.

A second purpose for such a coalition would be for preparation of war against Iran. Turkey and Azerbaijan border Iran, while Georgia could be used as a staging ground and base for air operations.

US attack inside Pakistan threatens dangerous new war

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By Peter Symonds

A ground assault by US Special Forces troops on a Pakistani village on Wednesday threatens to expand the escalating Afghanistan war into its neighbour. Pakistan is already confronting a virtual civil war in its tribal border regions as the country’s military, under pressure from Washington, seeks to crush Islamist militias supporting the anti-occupation insurgency inside Afghanistan.

The attack, which left up to 20 civilians dead, marks a definite escalation of US operations inside Pakistan. While US Predator drones and war planes have been used previously to bomb targets, Wednesday’s raid was the first clear case of an assault by American ground troops inside Pakistani territory. The White House and Pentagon have refused to comment on the incident but various unnamed US officials have acknowledged to the media that the raid took place and indicated that there could be more to come.

The attack was unprovoked. US troops landed by helicopter in the village of Jalal Khei in South Waziristan at around 3 a.m. and immediately targetted three houses. The engagement lasted for about 30 minutes and left between 15 and 20 people dead, including women and children.

A US official acknowledged to CNN that there may have been women and children in the immediate vicinity but when the mission began “everyone came out firing from the compound”. Even this flimsy justification for a naked act of aggression is probably a lie. “It was very terrible as all of the residents were killed while asleep,” a villager Din Mohammad told the Pakistan-based International News.

The newspaper provided details of the dead and injured: nine family members of Faujan Wazir, including four women, two children and three men; Faiz Mohammad Wazir, his wife and two other family members; and Nazar Jan and his mother. Two other members of Nazar Jan’s family were seriously wounded.

The US and international media have described the Angoor Adda area around the village as “a known stronghold of the Taliban and Al Qaeda” but offered no evidence to support the claim. A villager, Jabbar Wazir, told the International News: “All of those killed were poor farmers and had nothing to do with the Taliban.”

In comments to the International Herald Tribune, a senior Pakistani official branded the raid a “cowboy action” that had failed to capture or kill any senior Al Qaeda or Taliban leader. “If they had gotten anyone big, they would be bragging about it,” he commented.

The attack has provoked outrage in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement branding the attack as “a gross violation of Pakistan territory” and summoned US ambassador Anne Patterson to provide an explanation. North West Frontier Province (NWFP) governor Owais Ahmed Ghani declared that “the people expect that the armed forces of Pakistan would rise to defend the sovereignty of the country”. He put the number killed at 20.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the raid was “completely counterproductive” and risked provoking an uprising even among those tribesmen who have previously supported the army’s operations in the border areas.

The International News reported: “Angry villagers later blocked the main road between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Angoor Adda by placing the bodies of their slain tribesmen on the road. They chanted slogans against the US and NATO military authorities for crossing the border without any provocation and killing innocent people.”

The US raid has compounded the political crisis inside Pakistan, where the selection of a new president is due to take place tomorrow. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been engaged in a delicate balancing act—continuing to support US demands for a crackdown by the Pakistani military along the border with Afghanistan, while trying to defuse widespread anger and fend off accusations that it is a US puppet.

Reaffirming his support for the Bush administration’s bogus “war on terror”, PPP presidential candidate Asif Ali Zardari declared in a column in yesterday’s Washington Post: “We stand with the United States, Britain, Spain and others who have been attacked.” Zardari went on to promise that he would ensure that Pakistani territory would not be used to launch raids on US and NATO forces inside Afghanistan.

However, as PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar explained, the US attack was politically compromising. “We have been very clear that any action on this side of the border must be taken by Pakistani forces themselves,” he told the Associated Press. “It is very embarrassing for the government. The people will start blaming the government of Pakistan.”

An expanded war

The decision to launch Wednesday’s attack was undoubtedly taken at the top levels of the White House and Pentagon. As the New York Times reported in articles earlier this year, a high-level debate has been taking place in Washington over the use of US Special Forces inside Pakistan as well as the intensification of existing CIA operations, which include Predator missile strikes.

A meeting in early January involved Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and top national security and intelligence officials advisers. According to the New York Times on January 6, options discussed included “loosening restrictions on the CIA to strike selected targets in Pakistan” and operations involving US Special Operations forces, such as the Navy Seals.

The Times reported on January 27 that then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf rejected proposals put by US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden for an expanded American combat presence in Pakistan, either through covert CIA missions or joint operations with Pakistani security forces. While apparently accepting the refusal, the US intensified pressure on Pakistan to bring its border areas under control.

As the anti-occupation insurgency has expanded in Afghanistan, claiming a growing number of US and NATO casualties, Pakistan has become a convenient scapegoat. Washington has repeatedly accused the Pakistani military of failing to suppress Islamist militia and alleged that Pakistani military intelligence is actively supporting anti-US guerrillas inside Afghanistan.

Admiral Mullen has held five meetings since February with his Pakistani counterpart, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to press for tougher action. The most recent took place last weekend aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, stationed in the Arabian Sea. In comments to CNN, a US official “declined to say” whether there were any new agreements for US troops to operate inside Pakistani airspace or on the ground to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Whether the Pakistani military quietly approved Wednesday’s attack or not, the Bush administration is making clear that it intends to extend the war into Pakistan. Citing top American officials, the New York Times reported on Wednesday that the raid “could be the opening salvo in a much broader campaign by Special Operations forces against the Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, a secret plan that Defence Secretary Robert Gates has been advocating for months within President George W. Bush’s war council”.

This utterly reckless policy, which risks the eruption of a US war against Pakistan, is bipartisan in character. In fact, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has repeatedly declared his support for broadening the “war on terror” through unilateral US attacks on insurgents based inside Pakistan. His candidacy has been strongly backed by sections of the US establishment that have been critical of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq for undermining US interests. Far from opposing aggressive US military action, Obama has become the political vehicle for shifting its focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan as the means of advancing US strategic interests in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

The US attack on the village of Jalal Khei is another demonstration that the shift in policy, with all its potentially catastrophic consequences, is already underway.