Saturday, September 13, 2008

By air, boat and truck, search on for Ike victims

Go to Original

Rescuers in boats, helicopters and high-water trucks set out across the flood-stricken Texas coast Saturday in a monumental effort to reach tens of thousands of people who stubbornly ignored warnings of "certain death" and tried to ride out Hurricane Ike.

The storm roared ashore hours before daybreak with 110 mph winds and towering waves, smashing houses, flooding thousands of homes, blowing out windows in Houston's skyscrapers, and cutting off power to more than 3 million people, perhaps for weeks.

By evening, it appeared that Ike was not the single calamitous stroke that forecasters had feared. But the full extent of the damage — or even a rough sense of how many people may have perished — was still unclear, in part because many roads were impassable.

Some authorities feared that this could instead become a slow-motion disaster, with thousands of victims trapped in their homes, waiting for days to be rescued.

"We will be doing this probably for the next week or more. We hope it doesn't turn into a recovery," said Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Marlow in Orange County, where more than 300 people had to be rescued from flooded homes. He said that was only "a drop in the bucket" compared with the number still stranded.

By some estimates, more than 140,000 of the 1 million or so people who had been ordered to evacuate the coast as Ike drew near may have tried to tough it out. Many of them evidently realized the mistake too late, and pleaded with authorities in vain to save them overnight.

Since Ike made landfall, there have been 940 rescues statewide of people stranded in homes, vehicles and elsewhere, said Texas Gov. Rick Perry's spokeswoman Allison Castle. Louisiana officials said they had no immediate report late Saturday on the number of rescues.

Downgraded to a tropical storm Saturday, Ike was about 50 miles southwest of Texarkana at 8 p.m. EDT and expected to begin speeding to the northeast toward western Arkansas, taking the threat of tornadoes and heavy rains inland, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Maximum sustained winds dropped to near 40 mph but stretched about 100 miles from Ike's core.

Ronnie Sharp, 65, and his terrier-mix Princess, had to be rescued from his trailer in Orange County when water reached his knees. "I was getting too many snakes in the house, otherwise I would have stayed," Sharp said. He said he lost everything in the flood but his medicine and some cigarettes.

After the storm had passed, National Guardsmen, members of the Coast Guard, FEMA representatives and state and local law enforcement authorities mobilized for what Gov. Rick Perry pronounced "the largest search-and-rescue operation in the history of the state of Texas."

Some emergency officials were angry and frustrated that so many people ignored the warnings.

"When you stay behind in the face of a warning, not only do you jeopardize yourself, you put the first responders at risk as well," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "Now we're going to see this play out."

Steve LeBlanc, Galveston's city manager, said: "There was a mandatory evacuation, and people didn't leave, and that is very frustrating because now we are having to deal with everybody who did not heed the order. This is why we do it, and they had enough time to get out."

Because Ike was so huge — some 500 miles across, making it nearly as big as Texas itself — hurricane winds pounded the coast for hours before and after the storm's center came ashore. Ike soon weakened to a tropical storm as it made its way inland, but continued to pound the state with 60 mph winds and rain.

Officials were encouraged to learn that the storm surge topped out at only 15 feet — far lower than the catastrophic 20-to-25 foot wall of water forecasters had feared.

Preliminary industry estimates put the damage at at least $8 billion.

Damage to the nation's biggest complex of refineries and petrochemical plants appeared to be slight, but gasoline prices shot up for fear that the supply would be interrupted by power outages and the time necessary to restart a refinery. In some parts of the country, gas prices surged briefly to $5 a gallon.

As the day wore on, hundreds of people were rescued from their flooded-out homes, in many cases by emergency crews that had to make their way through high water and streets blocked by peeled-away roofs, wayward yachts and uprooted trees.

But the day was already half over before the winds died down enough for authorities to begin the rescue, and the search was almost certain to be suspended before dark because of the dangers posed by downed power lines and flooded roads. A portion of hard-hit Galveston had yet to be examined.

The storm, which killed more than 80 in the Caribbean before reaching the U.S., was blamed for at least two lives in Texas. A woman was killed in her sleep when a tree fell on her home near Pinehurst. A 19-year-old man slipped off a jetty near Corpus Christi and was apparently washed away. Louisiana officials said a 16-year-old boy drowned Saturday after falling out of a fishing boat in Ike-flooded Bayou Dularge.

Lisa Lee spent hours on the roof of her Bridge City home with her husband, John, her 16-year-old brother, William Robinson, and their two dogs. They dove into 8-foot floodwaters and swam to safety after a sheriff's deputy arrived in a truck and drove as close to their home as he could. Their dogs paddled to safety behind them.

"It was like a dream," said William Robinson, while his sister shivered in a blanket at a shelter set up at a Baptist church in Orange.

A convoy of search-and-rescue teams from Texas and California drove into Galveston — where the storm came ashore at 3:10 a.m. EDT — after bulldozers cleared away mountains of debris. Interstate 45, the only road onto the island, was littered with large overturned yachts, dead pelicans and twisted debris from homes and docks.

Homes and other buildings in Galveston and homes burned unattended during the height of Ike's fury; 17 collapsed because crews couldn't get to them to douse the flames. There was no water or electricity on the island, and the main hospital, the University of Texas Medical Branch, flew critically ill patients to other medical center.

Sedonia Owen, 75, and her son, Lindy McKissick, stayed to shoo off looters. She was armed with a shotgun, watching floodwaters recede from her front porch. "My neighbors told me, `You've got my permission. Anybody who goes into my house, you can shoot them,'" Owen said.

President Bush declared a major disaster in his home state of Texas and ordered immediate federal aid.

In downtown Houston, shattered glass rained down on the streets below the JPMorgan Chase Tower, the state's tallest building at 75 stories. Trees were uprooted in the streets, road signs mangled by wind.

"I think we're like at ground zero," said Mauricio Diaz, 36, as he walked along Texas Avenue across the street from the Chase building. Metal blinds from the tower dotted the street, along with red seat cushions, pieces of a wood desk and office documents marked "highly confidential."

Southwest Louisiana was spared a direct hit, but Ike's surge of water penetrated some 30 miles inland, flooding thousands of homes, breaching levees and soaking areas still recovering from Labor Day's Hurricane Gustav. Officials said the flooding was worse than it was during 2005's Hurricane Rita, which hit the Louisiana-Texas line.

But there was good news: A stranded freighter with 22 men aboard made it through the storm safely, and a tugboat was on the way to save them. And an evacuee from Calhoun County gave birth to a girl in the restroom of a shelter with the aid of an expert in geriatric psychiatry who delivered his first baby in two decades.

In Surfside Beach, retired carpenter and former Marine Ray Wilkinson became something of a celebrity for a day: He was the lone resident in the town of 805 to defy the order to leave. Authorities found him Saturday morning, drunk.

"I consider myself to be stupid," Wilkinson, 67, said through a thick, tobacco-stained beard. "I'm just tired of running from these things. If it's going to get you, it's going to get you."

He added: "I didn't say I had all my marbles, OK?"

Govt, Wall Street race to try to save Lehman

Go to Original

The field of possible buyers for Lehman Brothers narrowed Saturday, but the parties involved in the discussions over the wounded investment bank's future were at loggerheads over how to finance the rescue.

An investment banking official said Bank of America Corp. and Britain's Barclays Plc have emerged as the front runners for Lehman Brothers after a possible cash injection from its rival Wall Street banks and brokerages.

Top officials from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department and executives from several Wall Street banks met at the New York Fed's downtown Manhattan headquarters Saturday for the second day in a row try to hash out a deal to rescue Lehman Brothers.

The financial world was watching. Failure could prompt skittish investors to unload shares of financial companies, a contagion that might affect stock markets at home and abroad when they reopen Monday.

Discussions are expected to continue Sunday, said Andrew Williams, a spokesman for the New York Fed.

The investment banking official, who asked not to be named because the talks were ongoing, said the investment houses were balking at paying to polish up Lehman's balance sheet so Bank of America or Barclays could buy a financially clean firm.

He said the investment banks were angling for the government to provide some money, as it did when it helped JPMorgan Chase & Co. buy Bear Stearns in March, because they would get little to nothing in return for their help.

The government has drawn a line in the sand over using taxpayer money to help rescue Lehman Brothers, however.

The official said the talks were tense and neither side appeared willing to back down.

Besides selling the company whole or piecemeal, Lehman could be liquidated, perhaps with financial firms agreeing to still do business with the company as it wound down.

Or, a financial company or companies could buy Lehman's ''good'' assets. Its shunned or devalued real-estate assets could be placed in a ''bad bank'' financed by other banks.

Saturday's participants included Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Fed, and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox.

Citigroup Inc.'s Vikram Pandit, JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s Jamie Dimon, Morgan Stanley's John Mack, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s Lloyd Blankfein, and Merrill Lynch & Co.'s John Thain were among the chief executives at the meeting.

Representatives for Lehman Brothers were not present during the discussions.

They gathered on the heels of an emergency session convened Friday night by Geithner -- the Fed's point person on financial crises.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is actively engaged in the deliberations but wasn't in attendance.

Geithner convened the meeting Friday evening and told bankers gathered at the New York Fed to come up with a solution or risk being the next to go under, investment banking officials with direct knowledge of the talks said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.

A spokesman for Lehman declined to comment about the meeting.

Other potential buyers could include Japan's Nomura Securities, France's BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank AG. All have declined to comment.

Participants in Saturday's meeting were also trying to tackle a broader agenda that includes problems at American International Group Inc. and Washington Mutual Inc., said the investment bank officials, who were briefed on the talks.

AIG, the world's largest insurer, and WaMu, the nation's biggest savings bank, have taken steep losses during the past year from risky investments. Investors, worried they do not have enough cash on their balance sheets to withstand further hits, unloaded their shares on Friday.

AIG's shares dropped about 31 percent on Friday. WaMu's shares shed about 3.5 percent. Shares of investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. also lost 12.3 percent. Lehman's stock closed at $3.65 Friday -- an all-time low and down nearly 95 percent from its 52-week high of $67.73.

Lehman Brothers and AIG are the top priorities, said the investment banking officials. WaMu insisted Friday it has adequate capital to fund its operations even as it announced another multibillion dollar write-down on bad mortgage loans.

WaMu has 76 percent of its deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., an independent agency created by Congress to insure deposits in banks and thrifts up to at least $100,000. AIG has lost more than $18 billion over the last three quarters due to investments tied to subprime mortgages.

Global fears intensified Saturday that Lehman's collapse would stagger markets and undercut confidence in the U.S. financial system.

Germany's Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck urged that a resolution be found before Asian markets open, warning ominously, ''the news that is coming out of the U.S. is bad.''

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. put itself on the block earlier this week. Bad bets on real-estate holdings -- which have factored into bank failures and taken out other financial companies -- have thrust the 158-year-old firm in peril. It has been dogged by growing doubts about whether other financial institutions would continue to do business with it.

Richard S. Fuld, Lehman's longtime CEO, pitched a plan to shareholders Wednesday that would spin off Lehman's soured real estate holdings into a separately traded company. He would then raise cash by selling a majority stake in the company's unit that manages money for people and institutions. That division includes asset manager Neuberger Berman.

Government officials want to avoid a Bear Stearns-like bailout; the Fed in March agreed to provide a loan of nearly $29 billion as part of JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s takeover of the firm. Unlike Bear, Lehman can go directly to the Fed to draw emergency loans if it needs a quick source of ready cash. In recent weeks, though, there's been no indication that Lehman has done so.

Bear's sudden meltdown led the Fed to engage in its broadest use of lending powers since the 1930s. Fearful that other firms could be in jeopardy, the Fed temporarily opened its emergency lending program to investment firms, a privilege that for years was granted only to commercial banks, which are subject to tighter regulation.

Those actions -- along with the Bush administration's take over of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac just last week -- have spurred concerns that taxpayers could be on the hook for billions of dollars and companies will be encouraged to take on extra risks because they believe the government will come to their aid.

Paulson and Bernanke, however, have said they needed to help Bear Stearns and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to avert a financial calamity that would devastate the national economy.

Van Hollen's lawsuit will muck up election, voting officials say

Go to Original
By Steven Elbow

A lawsuit filed by the state attorney general Wednesday has the potential to slow down voting lines in what promises to be a staggering turnout for the Nov. 4 election, local voting officials said.

"It will disenfranchise voters. That's what we're concerned about," City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, filed the lawsuit Monday in Dane County Circuit Court to get ineligible voters off the rolls. It calls for a court order mandating the Government Accountability Board to cross-check voters who have registered since Jan. 1, 2006, when federal Help America Vote Act legislation required that states implement a voter database to cross-check voter registrations with Department of Transportation, criminal and death records.

"We're working on plans to make sure we don't have long lines at the polls, make sure that the lines can move smoothly and quickly," Witzel-Behl said. "If we throw this into the mix, then it is going to slow things down."

The GAB didn't have the voter registration system up and running until Aug. 6 of this year and has said it will cross-check from that date on. Van Hollen said that to comply with federal law, the state has to go back to the federal deadline.

Van Hollen spokesman Kevin St. John said Van Hollen wants the GAB to verify voters who registered by mail since Jan. 1, 2006, because they didn't have to show an ID.

In a written response, Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said the board is committed to preventing voter fraud, but Van Hollen's demands are too much, too soon.

"The board believes it would be counter-productive to rush this effort and to create a significant risk, at best of unnecessary hardship and confusion at the polls, and at worst the disenfranchisement of Wisconsin citizens with a clear and legitimate right to vote," he said.

If a judge rules in Van Hollen's favor, Witzel-Behl said city staffers would have to check 3,612 voters who registered by mail since the beginning of 2006. They have already processed 1,256 registrations that have been filed since the statewide database went online last month and have sent 100 letters to voters whose information didn't match and got 37 responses. The discrepancies typically come from names that are written differently on voter registration forms than on driver's licenses or driver's license numbers that are wrong or illegible.

"A lot of it is us trying to decipher their penmanship," she said.

Witzel-Behl said if Van Hollen's lawsuit prevails, the city will have to send letter to voters whose registrations are questioned, which the GAB has found to be more than 20 percent. The voters will have to clear up the discrepancies, and then the city has to run the information through another check.

And as the election approaches, the phones at clerks' offices get busier, so people calling back to resolve discrepancies will be less likely to get through.

"The closer we get to the election, the less time we have to clear things up," Witzel-Behl said.

Diane Hermann-Brown, Sun Prairie city clerk, said the court needs to act quickly if it wants counties and municipalities to comply.

"I don't think he's wrong on what he's doing," she said of Van Hollen. "It probably needs to get done. It just should have been done sooner."

A status conference on Van Hollen's lawsuit is set before Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi on Sept. 19.

"That only gives us 2 1/2 weeks before we run our poll books," Hermann-Brown said. "That's not enough time."

If the court sides with Van Hollen, clerks are concerned voters who do not resolve the discrepancies will have to re-register at the polling place, leaving those behind them to wait.

"I think we're expecting all eligible voters to appear on election day, and a lot of those have not yet registered," said Linda Cory, Fitchburg city clerk. "So in addition to that we would have to verify the ones prior. It's going to cause a lot of work. If that goes through, we'll have to staff extra people."

Witzel-Behl said the net effect of the lawsuit, if it is successful, will be to discourage people from voting.

"It's going to slow down the lines," she said. "And it will not only affect the people who have been flagged in the poll book, but the people who are standing behind that individual who have all come to the polls to vote."

She said people might avoid Election Day problems by checking their own registration status at

Election politics: Van Hollen's move has elicited howls from Democratic officials and progressive activists because many believe the people most likely to be flagged by the voter database will vote Democratic, in part because Democratic-aligned groups have done the lion's share of voter registration.

State Democratic Chairman Joe Wineke said Van Hollen is "trying to distract and deny voters with fear-mongering."

"This ploy by the Republican attorney general is nothing more than a waste of taxpayer dollars and a cynical attempt to disenfranchise eligible voters less than two months before the November election," he said in a press release.

The Progressive group One Wisconsin Now called on Van Hollen to recuse himself from any legal action connected to the general election because his role as GOP presidential candidate John McCain's statewide campaign co-chair constitutes a clear conflict of interest.

"McCain talks about country first," said Scot Ross, the group's executive director. "Van Hollen practices party first."

St. John, Van Hollen's spokesman, said Van Hollen sees no conflict.

"None of the critics had explained how or why compliance with federal and state election laws favors one party over another," he said. "Fair elections is not a partisan issue."

State Republicans -- harking back to August's investigation of several Milwaukee area voter registration workers caught falsifying registration cards while working for liberal groups -- praised Van Hollen's move.

"Van Hollen today lived up to an important campaign promise by standing up against the GAB to combat voter fraud," Reince Priebus, chairman of the state Republican Party, said in a press statement. "With voter fraud occurring earlier than ever this year, it was time to take real action and hold the GAB accountable."

Chickenhawk War Pundits Are Calmly Telling U.S. Allies to Commit National Suicide

Go to Original
By Gary Brecher

I’d hate to be Georgia right now. So many American pundits have plans for the Georgians, brilliant schemes designed to get Georgia into a big war with the Russians. "Here’s what you oughta do." It’s like listening in on bar talk -- some drunk trying to talk a 98-pound weakling into a rematch with the hulking thug who just put him on the floor. Funny thing, they never want to prove their theory themselves.

The backseat generals started early. On August 16, a week after the fighting between Russian and Georgian troops started, the neocon magazine Weekly Standard featured a chirpy, upbeat article listing all the hardware we could ship to the Georgians to help them fight a nice, long, bloody guerrilla war.

It was classic Tom Clancy stuff, all based on the idea you make war with stuff, not people. These guys just won’t face the fact that for the guerrilla, the key weapon, the only weapon that matters, is people -- and starting a guerrilla war means sentencing most of the people in your address book to a very nasty death.

Now we’ve got Sarah Palin, everybody’s favorite sniper-mom, volunteering to go to war with Russia over South Ossetia.

As far as I know, Palin isn’t volunteering to go there herself. She sticks to targets that don’t shoot back, like moose. But then that’s what all these eager volunteers have in common: none of them are actually going to go over and fight the Russians themselves, and as far as I know none of them even thought about asking the poor Georgians whether they’re up for the sheer Hell of a guerrilla war. All the Georgians wanted was to join NATO, make a little money and maybe get a used car. They’re like a guy who joins the Army for a college scholarship and finds himself on the front lines -- except they’re not even in NATO yet. We’re volunteering them to make the ultimate sacrifice and we haven’t even let them in the club yet.

The absolute craziest cheerleading came out of an article in DoD buzz by Greg Grant, quoting an anonymous Department of Defense source who wants Georgia to become the new Hezbollah.

Greg’s anonymous warmonger got a big, way-too-enthusiastic boost from Noah Schachtman who writes for this lame-named war site, "The Danger Room," in Wired magazine. His article, "Should Georgia Become A Black Sea Hezbollah?" seems to come up with a gung-ho answer, basically, "Sure! Do it!" Wrong question, and definitely wrong answer.

I’m pretty sure if you asked any Georgians, they’d screech, "Agh! No! We don’t want to live like Hezbollah, cowering in our huts under constant bombardment, raising kids with no prospects but martyrdom!" But then the neocons haven’t asked anybody in Georgia. Safe in their living rooms, they think it’d be a great idea for Georgia, a very unwarlike little middle-class country, to try to imitate the Lebanese Shia who make up Hezbollah’s suicide squads.

The strangest thing about these articles is that they just drip admiration for Hezbollah. It’s weird to find American defense pundits praising Hezbollah all of a sudden. I’ve been talking up Hezbollah’s military wing for years, and all I got was a lot of abuse

Back when Israel and Hezbollah fought in 2006, every mainstream military pundit was assuring America that Israel would soon drive Hezbollah out of South Lebanon. I said no chance, and eventually, without admitting they were wrong and I was right, the pundits have changed their minds. Now they just love Hezbollah and want our poor Georgian allies to imitate Hezbollah. But these armchair Rambos just don’t get it. You can’t take a peace-loving, middle-class Georgian and make him into a Hezbollah guerrilla. You have to start with the right kind of people, because guerrilla war -- I keep having to repeat this -- is about people. It’s not gadgets, it’s not clever strategies, it’s not a McGyver episodes. It’s being willing to accept a level of misery and death the average American can’t imagine. Won’t imagine. That’s what it takes.

That’s why I knew Hezbollah would win the 2006 war with Israel: because they have been through decades of misery, cluster bombs raining down on their miserable villages, raids by the proxy-force South Lebanon Army -- and through it all, Hezbollah has been doing the slow, boring work of organizing the dirt-poor Shia, providing basic services, suffering with them and preparing them for the big fight. That’s what makes a good guerrilla army: misery channeled into paramilitary organization. That’s what made it possible for the Shia to force the Israelis out of Lebanon, and then fight them to a stalemate when they tried to come back in 2006: because they’d been living rough, poor and hopeless for a long time, then had that misery turned into a coldblooded willingness to die. That’s the un-cool, no-fun side of guerrilla warfare: the guerrillas lose way, way more people than the armies fighting them.

And it’s not just the terrible deaths, it’s the sheer misery, years of it, that leads up to those deaths. Maybe these gung-ho guys who want the Georgians to start a guerrilla war could just stop a second and imagine what it’s actually like to live through that kind of Hell. We’ll start with the relatively light stuff. If you’re a family from an insurgent area, the first thing you notice is that you no longer have electric light or running water. It’s standard counterinsurgency practice to bomb insurgent communities’ water and power sources. We generally just flick past that part of the news stories to more "serious" things, like casualty figures. But it’s not so trivial if you’ve ever tried to live without water and power, especially when you’re trying to take care of kids. They don’t bomb the power plant by accident, or because they’re bad people. It’s standard counterinsurgency pratice to make life unbearable for the civilians who back the guerrillas. The enemy escalates your misery, day after day, from cutting off your medical supplies, power and water to random artillery strikes and air attacks on anybody who goes outside to get a loaf of bread.

Then come the kidnappings, the reprisal killings, the massacres. Again: not accidental "atrocities" but standard military practice. There’s a standard figure for guerrilla warfare that for every soldier the guerrillas kill, they can expect to lose ten people from their own community. But that’s a very conservative figure. It can go much, much higher. It’s a lot easier to kill the civilians who support the guerrillas than to catch the guerrillas themselves. That’s how the British brought the Boers to the negotiating table: couldn’t catch the Boer guerrillas so they put the whole Boer civilian population in concentration camps to die of every African plague they had going. Worked real well: 25% of the whole Boer population died and the Boer guerrillas out in the veldt went insane with grief, gave up the war -- which they were winning, militarily. Think of all the people you know, everybody in your family, and randomly cross out a quarter of their pictures from your little family album. That’s the price Georgia would pay if they were foolish enough to listen to Wired magazine.

It comes down to pure, grim arithmetic: the size of the civilian population backing the guerrillas, their birth rate, and the size and birth rate of the enemy army. And from that perspective things look very bad for Georgia. There are more than 140 million people in Russia and Moscow has had no problem recruiting mercenaries, "kontraktniki," to serve in Chechnya. They’ve done it so well in Chechnya that they’ve just about killed off all the Chechen males of military age. You can do that with small populations. It’s what we did by proxy in El Salvador, a nice small country, and it’s what the Russians would do in Georgia if the Georgians really were stupid enough to play Red Dawn with them.

Here’s what these American Hezbollah fans’ daydream would mean if you’re a Georgian civilian during an anti-Russian insurgency: the door gets kicked in at 3 am and a squad of mercenaries comes in firing from the hip. If your family doesn’t die in their beds it’s because the contraktniki have a use for some or all of you. The uses can be gang-rape if you’re a woman or girl, ransom if they think you or your relatives have money, or interrogation if you were unlucky enough to grow up with some of the local insurgents. It doesn’t matter to them if you’re a pacifist, if you’ve spent your life avoiding the local hotheads who run the insurgency. They’re going to torture you anyway, and whether you talk or not they’re going to kill you when they’re done, most likely in some way involving power drills or gasoline because that’s also standard counterinsurgency practice.

And even when you’re dead they’re not through with you. They’re going to drive an army truck up to your family’s shattered house next morning and dump your body in the mud outside so your mother and sister can see exactly what they did to you.

Hezbollah was able to endure the misery of guerrilla war for a lot of reasons -- none of which apply to Georgia at all. Hezbollah’s backers are impoverished Shia Muslims, who are in love with martyrdom, have no possessions to speak of, and have a very high birth rate. It may sound brutal, but high birthrates are basic to guerrilla war, for the simple reason that a lot of people are going to be massacred -- dozens of your people for every enemy soldier the guerrillas kill.

The Georgian bithrate is very low, 10.87 per thousand. That’s barely better than Germany (9.35) and about half of Lebanon’s -- and the Shia population has a much higher rate than the overall Lebanese rate. The Chechens are another people with a very high birth rate, the highest by far of any former Soviet people.

But the total size of the population matters too. the Chechen population is small enough that the Russians have simply killed most of the young men willing to fight them, because there are (or were) only about 1.5 million Chechens. Georgia is also a very small country, with a total population of 4.6 million.

The Georgians just aren’t the kind of desperate, poor community that can handle a guerrilla war. Georgians always have had a rep for smart businessmen. All they wanted was to join NATO and have decent lives; they didn’t sign up to go through what the Shia or the Chechens have suffered. They’re not desperate or young or crazy enough for a guerrilla war, luckily for them.

I’ve been wondering why so-called "experts" just don’t understand the sheer Hell involved in starting a guerrilla war. I think one reason is that we take the American Revolution as the classic example of guerrilla fighting. Well, it wasn’t typical. It was the cleanest-fought semi-guerrilla war in history. Except for "Bloody" Tarleton in the Carolinas, the Brits fought relatively cleanly against us, for the simple reason that the rebels were white English-speaking Protestants the redcoats had been going to dances with a few months earlier. That’s not how most counterinsurgency armies fight, and it sure isn’t typical of British counterinsurgency. Ask the Kikuyu, or the Boers, even the Scots, about that. In the English Civil War, both sides fought pretty clean while it was English-on-English, but when Cromwell’s army headed north to crush the Scots’ rebellion, they took mighty few prisoners. And when they crossed over to Ireland -- ugh, you don’t wanna know.

The Russians, the opponent these armchair guerrillas are setting little Georgia up to fight, aren’t even squeamish about massacring their own people, let alone foreign insurgent civilians. You’d think people would know that, after what’s happened in Chechnya over the last 14 years of war. The Chechens say they lost at least 100,000 dead in the First Chechen War alone.

Nobody’s sure how many have died in the Second Chechen War, but we know they died in really horrible ways, because this was a war between death squads, Russian and Chechen death squads looking for anybody who they thought supported the other side. Those people were snatched, died in sheer agony, and either didn’t get found or were dumped where their families could find them, just for the horror of it. And those who survived had sufferings of their own. Rape is basic strategy in this kind of war, and so is burning houses and driving civilian populations from their homes. At least one third of the total Chechen population had to flee their homes at least once.

After years of fighting the Russians, there are so few men of military age left in Chechnya that the insurgents have to drop their Islamic rules and let Chechen war widows volunteer for suicide missions, like the group that occupied a theatre in 2002.

By the time a "war widow" is ready to take over a Moscow theatre and plant bombs around the exits, she’s seen a lot more than her husband’s death. She’s lived through something that we can’t even imagine. In fact, guys like these so-called experts at Wired seem to be trying real hard not to imagine what would happen to the Georgians if they took this insane advice. It’s way more fun, I guess, if you don’t think too hard about what you’re asking these people to do.

Amid a Painful Economic Meltdown, Will Obama Be Bold Enough to Win?

Go to Original
By Joshua Holland

Voters may not follow every twist and turn of the election -- they may not brush up on each of the candidates’ policy proposals -- but they know when they’re hurting economically, and almost unprecedented numbers now say the country is on "the wrong track."

The Bush years have been bad. In fact, as economist Jared Bernstein noted, when one compares the economic peak of the past cycle, in 2000, with the high point of the business cycle that just ended in 2007, households in the middle actually lost ground, earning $300, adjusted for inflation, less than they did in 2000. The worst this group had done in previous business cycles occurred during the 1970s, when median income "only" increased by about $2,000. In comparison, the income for a family in the middle rose by almost four grand during the 1990s.

It’s the first time since they started keeping records of family income after World War II that the economy has gone into a recession before the middle class, those iconic "American families" that dominate our political discourse, had rebounded fully from the previous downturn. That represents an immensely painful double-dip for those in the middle and at the bottom -- only those in the top fifth of the economic ladder have seen any gains whatsoever since the last recession (officially) ended in 2001. (The wages of the bottom fifth fell by 6 percent, while those in the top 1 percent saw their incomes rise by about 50 percent during what some conservative pundits have called the "Bush Boom").

But it’s important to understand that Bushenomics only represents an extreme iteration of the ideology that’s prevailed since the 1973 energy crisis and the dawn of the "Reagan Revolution." The pain that working America feels today is the culmination of a far longer trend. An analysis by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez offers perhaps the most compelling indictment of neoliberal economics. They sliced and diced the American economy, going back to the beginning of the last century, and they found that between 1973 and 2003, despite several periods of healthy growth, the average real income of all but the top 10 percent of the economic ladder -- 9 out of 10 American families -- actually fell by about 4 percent over those 30-plus years. Meanwhile, the incomes of the top 10 percent of American households increased by around two-thirds.

It’s a unique moment in history, with the country facing a deep, structural energy crisis, with a tattered reputation and dwindling influence abroad and a sputtering economy at home. But in moments of crisis, there is often opportunity. The public now appears to be uniquely receptive to a bold progressive agenda, more so than at any other point in recent memory.

The question that will be answered over the coming weeks is how aggressive the Obama campaign will be in articulating such an agenda -- whether a campaign that has moved to a steady but generic drumbeat of "change" can widen the discussion from the failures of the Bush administration to the disastrous consequences of the larger conservative project over the past 30 years and offer the voters some concrete proposals to restore Americans’ tattered sense of economic security.

What Kind of "Change" Are We Talking About?

The neoliberal project -- the idea that business, when largely unregulated, has some sort of magical virtue that renders the idea of a healthy social safety net a quaint but antiquated notion -- has failed, and done so spectacularly over a long period of time.

Noam Chomsky has said (and I’m paraphrasing) that for the adherents of neoliberalism, the answer to each and every one of its failures is more neoliberalism, and John McCain epitomizes that approach. His economic prescriptions are as simple as they are familiar: Cut taxes for top earners, privatize as many chunks of the public sphere as possible, and let "the market" deal with whatever dislocations result. To keep the masses from becoming unruly, throw some crumbs their way -- job retraining, trade "adjustment assistance," maybe a grudging increase in the minimum wage (actually, McCain has voted 19 times against raising the minimum).

McCain’s problem is that the American people aren’t so ideologically rigid. Over the past year or two, an extensive body of public opinion research has shown that Americans -- including those crucial white working-class voters who have been largely loyal to GOP candidates since their benevolent Saint Reagan told them that government was the problem -- are hungry for real, substantive change in our nation’s economic course.

That hunger runs deep. According to the American Dream Survey -- a study of the non-managerial workers who make up about 80 percent of the workforce -- released last month, Barack Obama, who’s already polling well among that group, "can capture even greater support amongst working voters, including ’Reagan Democrats,’ as well as the emerging Obama Republicans with a program of economic populism."

The study found that an overwhelming majority of working people -- about 8 in 10 -- think it’s becoming harder and harder to attain the "American Dream" -- defined as "jobs with pay that can support a family, access to quality health care, chances for your children to succeed, and a secure and dignified retirement." (Respondents were far more pessimistic this year than they were last year, when I wrote about the annual survey in some detail.)

What’s most striking about the results is the degree to which these working-class voters -- the subject of so much discussion on the TV gab shows during this election season -- explicitly reject the Reaganite economic principles that have held so much sway over both parties over the past three decades. They say, explicitly, that they want the government to take an active roll in protecting their interests; according to the study, "Working Americans believe government can help (them) achieve the America Dream but has failed to do so over the past 8 years." Eight out of 10 respondents said the best way to restore the American dream is for the government to "guarantee access to health care for all Americans"; a similar number says that "government (should) make sure employers keep their promises to employees, including protecting their pensions and health care."

One of the crucial takeaways from the survey is that so-called "Reagan Democrats" -- a constituency that has been easily swayed by conservative messages on social issues -- are up for grabs in this election. As the authors note, "A shift in voting behavior among Reagan Democrats could signal a transformation in U.S. politics and the end of the conservative era that Ronald Reagan began."

Those attitudes were confirmed by a poll of "middle-class families" released by the Drum Major Institute last month. It found broad support for key policies that might rebuild the working class, even among Republicans and even among those who say they plan to vote for the GOP ticket in November:

Despite media depictions of a sharp red and blue divide, the nation’s middle class displays broad consensus on a range of public policies aimed at easing their economic squeeze: They support a universal national health insurance plan, requiring employers to provide paid family and medical leave, making it easier for employees to join labor unions and allowing bankruptcy judges to change mortgage payments to keep homes out of foreclosure. A majority of middle-class adults -- whether they are Democrats, Republicans or independents and whether they are supporters of John McCain or Barack Obama for president -- believe that these policies represent good ideas for the country.

Looking at these trends, veteran Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg and Andrew Baumann released a memo in August that concluded that voters today see parallels with the 1930s, and they want bold proposals, reminiscent of FDR’s New Deal, to restore their sense of economic security. Greenberg and Baumann noted that the depth of dissatisfaction with our current economic course is almost unprecedented, and that the country is undergoing fundamental and historic changes. The key finding was that voters are unmoved by proposals that tinker around the edges of the problems America faces today. "This belief that the country is undergoing fundamental change," they argued, "combines with the depth of pessimism voters currently feel about the direction of the nation to create an opening for candidates who can offer major changes and a bold new direction for the country. Just 35 percent of voters say we can solve America’s problems with minor changes, while nearly two-thirds believe it will take ’major changes’ to bring about solutions."

According to their polling, bold economic proposals can compete head-to-head with McCain’s emphasis on his heroic resume, his full-throated defense of American power and his promise of protection in what he frequently calls a "dangerous world." Greenberg and Baumann found that voters see a clear and direct connection between restoring the economic strength of the country and its standing as a shining "city on the hill" -- a leader of the "free world."

A remarkable 82 percent find truth (nearly half finding a great deal of truth) in the idea that America’s greatness is waning because of the decline in the middle class and that a "dramatic change" in our economic policies is required to reverse the situation. Moreover, 85 percent find truth (43 percent a great deal of truth) in the idea that the decline of the middle class is "reducing our standing in the world (and) leaving our way of life under assault."

Can Obama Deliver?

Obama’s economic prescriptions are significantly more far-reaching, and more progressive, than those ultimately enacted during the Clinton administration.

He supports most of the key policy proposals cooked up in Democratic circles in recent years, including calls for a shift toward "fair trade," support of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would allow workers to join a union without fear of reprisal from their bosses, and the cornerstone the "green jobs" program that advocates say would create millions of new, well-paying jobs while weaning the United States off hydrocarbons.

It would be wrong to dismiss those proposals as just so much centrist tinkering -- they’re not -- but it’s also true that with very few exceptions, progressive thinkers outside the orbit of the Democratic Party have criticized them as coming up short, either because of their fundamental design or due to insufficient funding (and, in some instances, their vagueness).

But in a political climate in which perception often outweighs policy, the question remains whether Obama, who is a genuine mediator at heart and firmly believes in bringing all sides of an issue to the table to work out a compromise, can articulate the kind of new approach for which Americans hunger right now.

There have been some positive signs -- signs that the campaign gets it -- in recent weeks. During his nomination acceptance speech, Obama referred to "that old, discredited Republican philosophy -- give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is: You’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps -- even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own. Well it’s time for them to own their failure."

It remains to be seen whether the campaign keeps hitting that message consistently, and hard, and, if so, how that will play with Obama’s image as a "post-partisan" candidate. But it’s clear that given the choice between culture war and class war, there are a lot of low-hanging votes out there that can be won over by unapologetically opting for the latter.

Marijuana Could Be a Gusher of Cash If We Treated It Like a Crop, Not a Crime

Go to Original
By Steven Wishnia

If marijuana were legal but taxed like alcohol and tobacco, how much money could it bring in to cash-strapped state governments?

One 2006 study called cannabis the top cash crop in the nation, worth more than corn and wheat combined. It was the leading crop in 12 states, outstripping grapes in California and tobacco in North Carolina, and one of the top three in 18 others, coming in just behind apples in Washington and cotton in Georgia. So with states facing massive deficits, could reefer revenues help?

The answer is unclear, but it could be lucrative for governments, especially when combined with the savings from ending prohibition. As the U.S. marijuana market is illegal, there are no sales figures. Estimates of its size range from $10.5 billion a year to $113 billion. But three studies done by economists and policy analysts say ganja taxes could bring in anywhere from $2.4 billion to $31.1 billion in revenue, depending on how big the sales really are. About one-third of that would go to the states.

"There’s not enough really good data on it, so it’s probably best to look at it in ballpark figures," says Jon Gettman, a Virginia policy analyst who has worked with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Marijuana Policy Project. "But there’s a consensus that there’s an awful lot of marijuana out there and that it’s very valuable."

"The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition," a 2005 study by Harvard economics professor Jeffrey A. Miron, makes the most conservative projections of the three studies. It calculates possible pot tax revenues at $2.4 billion. That’s assuming that prices would drop about 25 percent under legalization, that pot-related economic activities were taxed at the national average of 30 percent, and that the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy’s estimate that the domestic cannabis market is worth $10.5 billion is accurate. If herb were taxed more heavily, as alcohol and cigarettes are, that could bring in as much as $9.5 billion -- although excessive "sin taxes" could cause pot smokers to cut down or grow their own, diminishing revenues.

States with higher rates of marijuana use, such as California and New York, would collect a somewhat higher proportion of taxes than states with lower rates, such as Pennsylvania and Texas. Miron estimates that California would take in $105 million at ordinary levels of taxation.

However, others in the field believe that the government’s $10.5 billion figure is absurdly low. Dan Hamburg, a former congressman from Northern California’s sinsemilla belt, says the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors estimates bud production in that county alone at between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, worth far more than timber and grapes. California’s medical marijuana dispensary owners claim they pay $100 million a year in state sales taxes.

The methods used to estimate the size of the marijuana market involve a great deal of speculation. Determining the supply involves taking the amount of domestic and imported marijuana seized by law enforcement, guessing what percentage of the total amount of homegrown and smuggled weed that represents, and extrapolating from there. Additional variables include how much a single plant can yield -- anywhere from less than an ounce to more than a pound -- and the retail price, which can be loosely sensed from the reader-contributed snippets in High Times magazine’s monthly market quotations ("Chicago, Purple Kush, $450/oz") and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s STRIDE index, which narcotics agents use to figure out how much to pay for the drugs they try to buy. Demand can be estimated from government and academic household surveys of drug use -- but these are far from specific, especially when you use the limited data on frequency of use to try to figure out how much people spend on pot.

"It’s hard to match the supply-and-demand data," says Gettman. "Sometimes you don’t know what it is, but you know what it’s not." He estimates the value of the U.S. weed market at $113 billion, based on a supply of more than 14 million kilos, an average retail price of about $220 an ounce, and between 25 million and 40 million pot smokers.

That number seems high. It would require 40 million people to spend an average of $55 a week on weed. But Gettman cites United Nations data that has estimated U.S. cannabis cultivation at 10 million to 14 million kilos for the past several years. The federal government has reduced its estimate of domestic production from 10 million kilos in 2002 to between 2.8 million and 6.6 million kilos in 2006, but those figures, he says, are "complete politics." They’re based on the assumption that law enforcement eradicates 30 to 50 percent of all the pot plants grown in the United States, and that plants average a pound each.

As for demand, "there is a small amount of people who go through an incredible amount of pot." On the other hand, many of the heaviest ganja users are growers and dealers who go into the business in part so they can essentially get free pot and don’t have to pay retail prices for the amounts they smoke.

Gettman’s 2006 study "Marijuana Production in the United States" estimated the domestic crop at 10 million kilos, worth a total of $35.8 billion.

California NORML’s estimates are in that ballpark. In 2003, the group figured that if 600,000 to 700,000 people in the state smoke two cigarette-size joints every day and 1 million smoke one joint every 10 days, then the total market in the state would be $3 billion to $5 billion under legalization -- at the lower end if prices dropped to the Dutch average of about $170 an ounce, at the higher end if consumption increased. State sales taxes would generate $240 million to $400 million, and a $56-an-ounce excise tax could bring in another $1 billion. If pot were taxed at the same 50 percent rate as cigarettes, total revenues would be $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. Nationally, California NORML claims, a $56-an-ounce tax would bring in $6 billion to $13 billion.

Miron dislikes the concept of such "sin taxes," saying it’s a bad idea to tax what’s "politically unpopular." But he says they’re generally effective if consistent throughout a federal system, where people can’t go to a state with lower costs. If the tax is too high, however, people might try to evade it by growing their own. Miron thinks that won’t be significant. "Some people are going to buy tomatoes in a supermarket, and some are going to grow their own," he says. "Most people will opt for convenience."

On the other hand, given that home growing has become widespread and well-entrenched in the last 30 years, potheads fetishize strains like White Widow and Bubbleberry, and herb costs significantly more than tomatoes, it’s likely that many people would do their own gardening if the danger of prison and forfeiture were lifted.

Legislators active on cannabis issues have not investigated the revenue possibilities much. "I don’t think I could even begin to put a number on it, because there are so many variables," says a staffer for New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who has sponsored several unsuccessful medical marijuana bills recently. Instead, they focus on the money that would be saved by not prosecuting marijuana users or that could be gained by farming industrial hemp.

Massachusetts state Sen. Patricia Jehlen, sponsor of a bill to reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce to a $250 fine, calls trying to project pot tax revenues "speculative," but she says decriminalization would save the state $24 million a year.

Miron’s study estimates that "legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government enforcement of prohibition," with $2.4 billion of that going to the states. Gettman’s 2007 report says "marijuana arrests cost taxpayers $10.7 billion annually."

Northern California’s Humboldt and Mendocino counties, where marijuana is a crucial part of the economy, have been frustrated in their efforts to get direct revenues from it, according to Hamburg. Schemes proposed in Mendocino included having the county sell permits for $25 a plant and setting up a growers’ cooperative that would inspect, certify and market medical herb crops as organically and locally grown. But "anything we came up with along those lines, our lawyers said was impossible."

Miron says potential tax income is "the least important reason to legalize" cannabis when compared with the "horrific" precedents prohibition sets for government power and the damage criminalization does to users. And even at the highest estimates, reefer revenues would not be enough to cover budget deficits the size of California’s estimated $15 billion, New York’s $6.4 billion, Florida’s $1.5 billion, or Massachusetts’ $1.3 billion. Still, the combination of reducing expenditures on enforcement and collecting taxes on legal sales could help save the states from having to lay off workers or cut health care payments.

NORML head Allen St. Pierre says that when he was lobbying in Texas last year for a bill that would let local governments decriminalize marijuana possession, one legislator told him that prohibition "is no longer a luxury we can afford." The Austinist, noting that marijuana possession accounts for about 7 percent of arrests in the state at a cost of $2,000 each, called the bill "a money-saving effort more than anything else."

Declassified grand jury transcripts confirm frame-up of Ethel Rosenberg

Go to Original
By Tom Eley

The recent release of previously secret grand jury transcripts has revealed that crucial testimony was perjured in the conviction and 1953 execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

The Rosenbergs were accused of planning to provide the Soviet Union with intelligence that would assist in the development of its atomic bomb project. They were tried and convicted in 1951, and executed in 1953 at the height of the post-World War II Red Scare, orphaning two young children. The execution was a savage act by the US government calculated to terrorize the population.

The transcripts, which had been sealed for 55 years, became available through the National Archives and Records Administration after a lawsuit by historians and an independent archive. A New York court ordered that the testimony of all but four of 45 grand jury witnesses be released. This included both the testimony of Ethel Rosenberg herself and that of Ruth Greenglass, the wife of David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother.

It is the testimony of Ruth Greenglass that strongly suggests that at least Ethel Rosenberg was convicted based on perjured testimony.

During the Rosenberg trial, Ruth Greenglass claimed that Ethel Rosenberg typed up secrets stolen by David Greenglass, who was a machinist at Los Alamos in New Mexico, the center of the US atomic bomb project. The Greenglasses claimed that Ethel then passed the typed sheets via Julius Rosenberg to Soviet intelligence. The assertion was instrumental in the conviction and execution of Ethel.

The newly released grand jury testimony completely contradicts the version of events Ruth Greenglass presented at the subsequent trial. After stating to the grand jury that she had assisted Julius Rosenberg with espionage, prosecutors asked Greenglass, “Didn’t you write [the atomic bomb information] down on a piece of paper?” “Yes,” she answered, “I wrote [the atomic bomb information] down on a piece of paper and [Julius Rosenberg] took it with him.”

This grand jury testimony confirmed the account given by former Soviet intelligence officials, who said that the information they received was written in longhand.

According to the anticommunist historian Ronald Radosh, “The grand jury documents cast significant doubt on the key prosecution charge used to convict Ethel Rosenberg at the trial and sentence her to death.”

In 2001, David Greenglass, who spent 10 years in prison for espionage, disavowed his own testimony. He said the government blackmailed him by threatening to execute his wife. Ruth Greenglass was never tried, and died this past April at the age of 84.

Historical context

There is little doubt that Julius Rosenberg conveyed intelligence to the Soviet Union. It is likely that Ethel Rosenberg was aware of this, but did not participate actively. Both were members of the Stalinist Communist Party USA (CPUSA).

The charges of atomic espionage against the Rosenbergs, however, were sensationalized. There is no evidence to suggest that information gathered by Rosenberg through Greenglass at Los Alamos played any role in the successful completion of the Russian atomic bomb. According to Morton Sobell, who was convicted along with the Rosenbergs and who recently confessed to carrying on espionage for the Soviet Union, the intelligence that Julius gathered “was junk.” Alexander Feklisov, the Soviet agent who was Rosenberg’s contact, said that Julius “didn’t understand anything about the atomic bomb and he couldn’t help us.”

The Rosenbergs were victims of a sharp ideological shift on the part of the US ruling elite that was initiated in the late 1940s. This turn is associated with red-baiters such as Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, who carried out intensely publicized hearings about supposed communist infiltration of the government in the early 1950s. It was shaped as well, however, by the transformation of US liberalism, acting through the Democratic Party.

From 1935, when Joseph Stalin adopted the “Popular Front” in response to the catastrophe of the Nazi seizure of power in Germany—a defeat that had resulted from the Comintern’s own counterrevolutionary and short-sighted calculations—the CPUSA supported the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Party. This uncritical support became especially enthusiastic after Germany repudiated Stalin’s disastrous Nazi-Soviet Pact and invaded the Soviet Union.

Julius Rosenberg began providing information to the Soviets in this WWII context, when the US and the Soviet Union were officially allied in war against Nazi Germany. The US, beginning after the Nazi invasion, extended significant material support to the Soviet Union through the Lend Lease Act, which made available US tanks, planes and munitions to the Soviet Union as it suffered the brunt of the Wehrmacht’s military might.

Even during the war, there were sharp divisions within the ruling elite over policy toward the Soviet Union. A section favored extending the Soviet Union little or no assistance in its life-and-death struggle with Nazi Germany (Harry Truman, then a US senator, said in 1941, “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if we see Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”) Another element favored opening up a western front in Europe as soon as possible in order to join forces with the Red Army in crushing Nazi Germany.

The Roosevelt administration charted a middle course, providing the Soviets with extensive material assistance, but rejecting Stalin’s desperate pleas for the western front as long as possible, while attempting to prevent the Soviets from gaining access to advanced military technology—including the developing Manhattan project at Los Alamos. Yet, given the context of the US-Soviet alliance, the small-scale espionage attributed to Rosenberg, which primarily related to radar technology, hardly constituted a major threat and may, in fact, have been tolerated.

In their military calculations the Roosevelt administration and the dominant sections of the ruling elite were already looking forward to the postwar period and an anticipated assertion of American hegemony, in which the Soviet Union would be the central rival.

Stalin did not see as far. The Moscow bureaucracy fervently hoped that “peaceful coexistence” and cooperation would continue. The effort to acquire atomic weapons was aimed primarily at providing bargaining room with the US in such an environment.

The Red Scare

Because of this outlook, faithfully parroted by the American Stalinists, the CPUSA had ill prepared its members and sympathizers for the coming postwar reaction.

The shift toward an anti-Soviet posture was anticipated by Truman’s replacement of Henry Wallace in the number-two spot on the Democratic Party ticket in 1944. Wallace, who had been become Roosevelt’s vice president in 1941, favored a conciliatory approach toward the Soviet Union. It was also announced by the atomic incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August of 1945, which Truman calculated would place the Soviet Union in a weak position in ongoing negotiations about the postwar order.

US imperialism took shape as the most powerful counterrevolutionary force in the world in the immediate aftermath of the world war, emboldened by the demise of the old European colonial empires—British, French, Dutch and Belgian—but challenged by third world liberation movements that were invariably dubbed “communist.”

By 1949, however, hopes for unrivaled hegemony took a series of blows. That year, the US-backed nationalist regime in China fell before the peasant armies of Mao Zedong, and the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb. A year later, North Korea invaded South Korea. It was in this immediate context that the Truman administration accelerated the Cold War—outlined in the infamous “NSC-68” document and “Truman Doctrine” which pledged the US to the defense of “the free world” against “communism”—and launched the Red Scare to suppress any domestic opposition to this program of militarism.

Indeed, the Red Scare was based at least as much on domestic considerations as foreign policy ones. In 1945-46, the US experienced its largest strike wave in the 20th century. Many of these were wildcat strikes in opposition to the official union leaderships, which hoped to carry on the labor-management cooperation that had prevailed during the war. A deeply felt democratic and egalitarian spirit also pervaded the ranks of the massive conscript army. There was a mood in the working class that things could not be allowed to go back to what they had been during the Great Depression. And there was a certain radicalization among layers of intellectuals and in American culture that had emerged in the Great Depression and threatened to resume at a higher level in the war’s aftermath.

The Red Scare was the ruling class’s antidote to all of these threats. It was first and foremost used as a bludgeon against the working class. Militant workers, who had played the vital role in building up the industrial union movement in the 1930s, were purged from the CIO and the AFL. The state terrorized artists and intellectuals through dozens of inquisitional hearings organized by the House Un-American Activities Committee, in which leading figures of US culture were forced to recant their previous political affiliations and finger their associates, or else face charges of contempt and possible imprisonment.

The Rosenbergs were tried at the very height of this period of hysteria and state-promoted ignorance. The US has never recovered from the attack on cultural, intellectual and political life that was unleashed under the mantle of the Red Scare.

The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were working class people, the children of Eastern European Jewish immigrant workers on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Julius earned a degree as an electrical engineer at City College during the Great Depression; Ethel was an aspiring singer and actress who settled down as a secretary. It was Julius’s work on radar equipment in the Army Signal Corps that would give him access to information on military technology that he passed along to Soviet agents.

What the state wanted of Julius Rosenberg—as with the artists of the “Hollywood Ten”—was a confession and a denunciation of communism. Unlike so many members and supporters of the CPUSA, however, Julius Rosenberg was not compliant. The state hoped that by gaining a guilty conviction and a possible death sentence for Ethel Rosenberg, it could force to Julius cooperate.

However, as a testament to their personal courage, the Rosenbergs chose not to buckle, though they knew that it could cost them their lives. “She called our bluff,” recalled William P. Rogers, then deputy attorney general. The released grand jury testimony shows Ethel Rosenberg again and again taking the Fifth Amendment in response to prosecutor’s questions, “on the grounds that this might tend to incriminate me.”

The CPUSA, still taken aback by the sharp rightward shift of the US government, failed to mount a public defense of the Rosenbergs during the trial. After the guilty verdicts, a public defense campaign was supported by prominent international intellectuals and artists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. But there was never a class defense of the Rosenbergs like those mounted in an earlier period on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti and Tom Mooney.

Even without the perjured testimony of the Greenglasses, the level of the evidence marshaled against the Rosenbergs was limited. The claims made at the time that he had somehow stolen the “secret of the atomic bomb” and handed it to Moscow were contrived and false. No such secret existed, and the information provided by Rosenberg appears to have played no role in accelerating Soviet atomic weapons development.

Most historians now agree that Ethel was not involved in providing information to the Soviet Union, although she may have been aware of her husband’s activities. The recently released grand jury testimony points in this direction and suggests that the prosecution had determined to gain a conviction against Ethel regardless of the evidence. In any case, the Rosenbergs were charged and convicted of “conspiracy,” a dubious crime that allows the state to exact punishment based on intent.

The latest exposure of the criminal methods used by the US government in the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs holds vital lessons for the working class.

These methods remain the stock and trade of the US government as it prosecutes its “global war on terror.” No doubt, similar documents will eventually surface exposing the same kind of coerced and perjured testimony used to railroad scores of people to jail on trumped-up charges of “terrorist conspiracy.”

Then as now, these actions were meant to terrorize the population and create a climate of fear in which America’s ruling establishment could carry forward its imperialist policies, both domestic and international.

Bolivia province under martial law

Go to Original

The Bolivian government says it has declared martial law in an eastern province where at least eight people have been killed in clashes between pro- and anti-government activists.

On Friday, troops took control of the airport in the capital of Pando province and fired shots to disperse protesters, according to an Associated Press report.

Earlier, Evo Morales, the president, said he had ruled out the use of force to clampdown on pro-autonomy protests that have raged across the country for several days.

The move came as Morales began talks with a commission of opposition leaders from the four eastern provinces that have led the protests against his rule.

The Bolivian government banned protests and meetings in Pando and said anyone carrying weapons would be arrested.

The government also said more bodies had been found following a clash on Thursday in which at least eight people were killed although it did not give a new death toll.

Opposition activists had allegedly shot dead farmers in Pando, an incident described by government officials as a massacre.

Protests had diminished elsewhere in Bolivia on Friday, although activists demanding greater autonomy continued to block roads across much of the east of the country.

Diplomatic row

Morales had said that despite pressure to show a "firm hand," he was the "first to ban the army and police from using firearms against the population."

"We're open to dialogue not only with the governors, but also with the participation of mayors and different social sectors," Morales said.

Protesters demanding greater regional autonomy and a bigger share of energy resources have taken to the streets in continuing protests across the country.

The protests have sparked a regional diplomatic row after Bolivia expelled the US ambassador, accusing him of inciting violent demonstrations, with the US responding by expelling the Bolivian envoy to Washington.

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader, then expelled the US ambassador to his country, in what he said was solidarity with the Morales government, with the US again responding by saying it would expel the Venezuelan envoy.

Dozens of Morales supporters gathered outside the US Embassy in La Paz, chanting anti-US slogans.

Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Santa Cruz, said the decision to expel the US ambassador came amid Bolivian accusations of US interference into the country's affairs.

"The Bolivian government says that it has evidence that the US, and particularly the USAID aid agency, had been consorting with opposition leaders in Bolivia - and even funding them to bring about instability," she said.

"No concrete eveidence has been presented but these allegations have been around for a long time, The expulsion of the US ambassador at this time is the icing on the cake, and was something that many people here had been expecting."

Continuing unrest

An employee of the opposition-led regional government was also killed in the clashes and at least two people were killed and a dozen wounded in clashes in the northeastern town of Cobija, officials said.

The Bolivian government has blamed the unrest on the leaders of four states who demand greater autonomy and energy revenue and oppose his plans to change the constitution and distribute land to the poor.

South America's poorest nation has been in the grip of political turmoil for months.

Last month, Morales convincingly won a referendum on his rule but in the rebel states, voters also returned most of the governors forming the opposition coalition.

After failed negotiations to find a compromise solution, Morales announced a new referendum, to take place in December, to vote on his rewritten constitution, which would redistribute land and national revenues to give more to the indigenous population.