Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The End of International Law?

The End of International Law?

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By Robert Dreyfuss

A parallel new Bush doctrine is emerging, in the last days of the soon-to-be-ancien regime, and it needs to be strangled in its crib. Like the original Bush doctrine -- the one that Sarah Palin couldn’t name, which called for preventive military action against emerging threats -- this one also casts international law aside by insisting that the United States has an inherent right to cross international borders in "hot pursuit" of anyone it doesn’t like.

They’re already applying it to Pakistan, and this week Syria was the target. Is Iran next?

Let’s take Pakistan first. Though a nominal ally, Pakistan has been the subject of at least nineteen aerial attacks by CIA-controlled drone aircraft, killing scores of Pakistanis and some Afghans in tribal areas controlled by pro-Taliban forces. The New York Times listed, and mapped, all nineteen such attacks in a recent piece describing Predator attacks across the Afghan border, all since August. The Times notes that inside the government, the U.S.Special Operations command and other advocates are pushing for a more aggressive use of such units, including efforts to kidnap and interrogate suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. Though President Bush signed an order in July allowing U.S. commando teams to move into Pakistan itself, with or without Islamabad’s permission, such raids have occurred only once, on September 3.

The U.S. raid into Syria on October 26 similarly trampled on Syria’s sovereignty without so much as a fare-thee-well. Though the Pentagon initially denied that the raid involved helicopters and on-the-ground commando presence, that’s exactly what happened. The attack reportedly killed Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi facilitator who smuggled foreign fighters into Iraq through Syria. The Washington Post was ecstatic, writing in an editorial:

"If Sunday’s raid, which targeted a senior al-Qaeda operative, serves only to put Mr. Assad on notice that the United States, too, is no longer prepared to respect the sovereignty of a criminal regime, it will have been worthwhile."

Is it really that easy? To say: We declare your regime criminal, and so we will attack you anytime we care to? In its news report of the attack into Syria, the Post suggests, in a report by Ann Scott Tyson and Ellen Knickmeyer, that the attack is raising cross-border hot pursuit to the level of a doctrine:

"The military’s argument is that ’you can only claim sovereignty if you enforce it,’ said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ’When you are dealing with states that do not maintain their sovereignty and become a de facto sanctuary, the only way you have to deal with them is this kind of operation,’ he said."

The Times broadens the possible targets from Pakistan and Syria to Iran, writing (in a page one story by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker):

"Administration officials declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite ’special groups’ that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces."

That, of course, has been a live option, especially since the start of the surge in January, 2007, when President Bush promised to strike at Iranian supply lines in Iraq and other U.S. officials, including Vice President Cheney, pressed hard to attack sites within Iran, regardless of the consequences.

On October 24, I went to hear Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, speaking at the Washington Institiute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israeli thinktank in Washington. He spoke with pride about the vast and growing presence of these commando forces within the U.S. military, noting that their budget has doubled under the Bush administration and that, by the end of the decade, their will more than 60,000 U.S. forces in this shadowy effort. Here are some excerpts of Vickers’ remarks:

"If you look at the operational core of our Special Operations Forces, and focus on the ground operators, there are some 15,000 or so of those -- give or take how you count them -- these range from our Army Special Forces or our Green Berets, our Rangers, our Seals, some classified units we have, and we recently added a Marine Corps Special Operations Command to this arsenal as well. In addition to adding the Marine component, each of these elements since 2006 and out to about 2012 or 2013 has been increasing their capacity as well as their capabilities, but their capacity by a third. This is the largest growth in Special Operations Force history. By the time we’re done with that, there will be some things, some gaps we need to fix undoubtedly, but we will have the elements in place for what we believe is the Special Operations component of the global war on terrorism.

"Special Operations Forces, I think through this decade and into the next one, have been and will remain a decisive strategic instrument. ...

"There’s been a very significant -- about a 40 or 50 percent increase in operational tempo and of course more intense in terms of the action since the 9/11 attacks. On any given day that we wake up, our Special Operations Forces are in some sixty countries around the world. But more than 80 percent or so of those right now are concentrated in the greater Middle East or the United States Central Command area of responsibility -- the bulk of those of course in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Notice what he said: operating in 60 countries.

Of course, the very invasion of Iraq was illegal in 2003, and it flouted international law. So some may say, these cross-border raids are small potatoes. But they’re not. This is a big deal. If it becomes a standard part of U.S. military doctrine that any country can be declared "criminal" and thus lose its sovereignty, then there is no such thing as international law anymore.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked about this, here’s what he said, as quoted in the Post article cited earlier:

"’We will do what is necessary to protect our troops,’ Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in Senate testimony last month, when asked about the cross-border operations. Under questioning, Gates said that he was not an expert in international law but that he assumed the State Department had consulted such laws before the U.S. military was granted authority to make such strikes."

Not an expert in international law? He’ll leave it to the State Department? And this is the guy that Barack Obama’s advisers say ought to stay on at the Pentagon under an Obama administration?

Silence on War Crimes

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By Andy Worthington

Last week, Bill Kovach, former Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Times and the founding chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, blasted the U.S. media for its failure to ask tough questions of both presidential candidates regarding their opinions of the Bush administration’s unprecedented adherence to the controversial “unitary executive theory” of government.

The theory, which became prominent in the Reagan administration, but has peppered U.S. history, contends that, when he wishes, the president is entitled to act unilaterally, without interference from Congress or the judiciary. This is in direct contravention of the separation of powers on which the United States was founded, and critics have long contended that it is nothing less than an attempt by the executive to seize the dictatorial powers that the Constitution was designed to prevent.

Under the cover of the wartime powers granted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and with encouragement from lawyers including, in particular, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff (and former legal counsel) David Addington, President Bush has pursued the theory relentlessly, issuing a record number of “signing statements” to laws passed by Congress, designed to prevent the nation’s politicians from interfering in the executive’s quest for unchecked power.

He has also approved a number of secret memos, which, in conjunction with various “signing statements,” have authorized what numerous critics of the administration regard as war crimes. These include detaining prisoners seized in the “war on terror” as “illegal enemy combatants” and holding them without charge or trial, dismissing the protections of the Geneva Conventions, redefining torture and approving its use by the U.S. military and the CIA, and authorizing “extraordinary rendition” and the use of secret prisons.

As if to prove what he was saying, Bill Kovach’s speech to a meeting of international journalists in Washington, D.C., went unreported in the U.S. media (and I located it only on the website of a Jamaican newspaper). And yet in many ways Kovach could have gone further, and could also have asked why the presidential candidates themselves have been silent about the current administration’s crimes.

The answer, sadly, is that the executive’s thirst for unfettered executive power is not a priority for voters, even when it spills out of foreign wars and offshore prisons and onto the U.S. mainland. Too many Americans, it seems, are unconcerned or unaware that the president can even hold U.S. citizens and legal residents as “enemy combatants” and can imprison them indefinitely on the U.S. mainland without charge or trial, as the cases of Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri reveal in horrific detail.

As a result, gross abuses of power in the name of the “war on terror,” and the dictatorial theory that underpins them, have largely been ignored on the campaign trail.

Over the past two years, Senator Barack Obama repeatedly declared his support for habeas corpus, a cornerstone of American law, inherited from the English, which prohibits arbitrary imprisonment and grants all prisoners the right to know why they are being held. He defended habeas corpus while resisting the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a poisonous piece of legislation, which not only stripped the Guantánamo prisoners of their habeas rights, but also reinforced the president’s right to seize and detain indefinitely anyone he regarded as an “illegal enemy combatant,” and attempted to grant immunity to the president and his minions for any actions that might one day be regarded as war crimes.

Senator Obama has also stated that he will “reject torture without exception,” and last August delivered a speech in which, touching on all the administration’s law-shredding excesses, he declared,

As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists … The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.
In June this year, when the Supreme Court (which had granted the Guantánamo prisoners statutory habeas corpus rights in June 2004) rejected the habeas-stripping provisions of the Military Commissions Act and its predecessor, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and ruled that the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights were constitutional, Senator Obama was swift to congratulate the justices, calling the ruling “an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.”

Since then, however, the Obama campaign has gone silent on executive power and the administration’s war crimes, and Senator Obama has only spoken out publicly on one occasion in September, in response to an assertion by Sarah Palin, at the Republican conference, that “Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights.”

Senator Obama responded by telling supporters in Michigan that habeas corpus was “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” which “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you've got the wrong person.’” He explained that it was an essential safeguard, “because we don't always have the right person. We may think it's Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it's Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president.” His conclusion drove the argument back to where it should have been, but it has sadly not been repeated since: “Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years.”

Another reason for disappointment is that, by refusing to raise these issues, Senator Obama has allowed John McCain to comfortably maintain the Republicans’ “traditional” role as protectors of national security, without having the basis of that assumption challenged, and has also failed to exploit Senator McCain’s shameful hypocrisy, as he has drifted to the right to appeal to the Republican base.

Even before the campaign became all-consuming, Senator McCain (an outspoken opponent of torture, as the result of his own experiences in Vietnam) had a spotty record on the abuse of executive power — and even on the prevention of torture by U.S. forces. Although he attempted to introduce a ban on torture by all U.S. personnel in the Detainee Treatment Act, he allowed himself to be bullied by Dick Cheney into excluding the CIA from the act’s provisions, and the following year he willingly endorsed the Military Commissions Act.

This year, however, Senator McCain’s flight from his own convictions has accelerated alarmingly. In February, he conveniently shelved his lifelong opposition to torture by voting against a bill banning the use of torture by the CIA, and after the Supreme Court’s habeas ruling in June, he declared that it was “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country,” even though, in 2005, he had told NBC’s Meet the Press that the problem with Guantánamo was that the prisoners continued to be held without “any adjudication of their cases.”

However, the main reasons for being disappointed that the crimes of a rogue administration have barely been mentioned as the election approaches are these: firstly, that I can only wonder, in spite of Senator Obama’s fine words, whether the Democrats in general, who famously ruled impeachment “off the table” when they gained a political majority two years ago, would in fact be unwilling to cede power if it was theirs to wield; and secondly (and most significantly), because it allows those responsible for the long list of egregious crimes that have soiled America’s name to leave office unchallenged. Donald Rumsfeld may be long gone, and George W. Bush nothing more than a shadow, but in the office of the vice president, Dick Cheney and David Addington, the architects of this unprecedented assault on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the UN Convention Against Torture, the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions have been allowed to maintain their dangerous delusions, nurtured through decades of support for executive overreach in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.

As law professor Scott Horton explained to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer for an in-depth analysis of Addington in 2006, the mission of the vice president’s closest adviser “and a small group of administration lawyers who share his views” has been to “overturn two centuries of jurisprudence defining the limits of the executive branch. They’ve made war a matter of dictatorial power.”

In conclusion, then, I can only note that it’s a sad indictment of a country’s state of mind when the ruling administration has been devoted to dictatorial powers and war crimes, but an election campaign comes and goes as though it had never happened.

ES&S Voting Machines in Michigan Flunk Tests, Don't Tally Votes Consistently

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By Kim Zetter

Optical-scan machines made by Election Systems & Software failed recent pre-election tests in a Michigan county, producing different tallies for the same ballots every time, the top election official in Oakland County revealed in a letter made public Monday.

The problems occurred during logic and accuracy tests in the run-up to this year's general election, Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson disclosed in a letter submitted October 24 (.pdf) to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The machines at issue are ES&S M-100 optical-scan machines, which read and tally election results from paper ballots.

Johnson worried that such problems -- linked tentatively to paper dust build-up in the machines -- could affect the integrity of the general election this week.

"The same ballots, run through the same machines, yielded different results each time," she wrote. "This begs the question -- on Election Day, will the record number of ballots going through the remaining tabulators leave even more build-up on the sensors, affecting machines that tested just fine initially? Could this additional build-up on voting tabulators that have not had any preventative maintenance skew vote totals? My understanding is that the problem could occur and election workers would have no inkling that ballots are being misread."

Tuesday's election is expected to be the busiest ever, and ES&S tabulators -- both touchscreen machines and optical-scan machines -- were responsible for counting 50 percent of the votes in the last four major U.S. elections, according to the company. The company's optical-scan machines are now deployed in 43 states.

Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, said that "four of our communities or eight percent" had reported inconsistent vote totals during the logic and accuracy tests with the ES&S machines. She also said that conflicting vote totals had surfaced in other areas of Michigan as well, though she didn't elaborate on this in her letter. "While problems with performance and design with the M-100s have been documented, this is the first time I have ever questioned the integrity of these machines," Johnson wrote in her letter.

According to news stories, a race in the August Republican primary in one Michigan township did have a discrepancy in tallies that were counted by hand and by ES&S optical-scan machines. The clerks race in Plymouth Township was recounted after the losing candidate requested it. The initial machine count had showed Joe Bridgman defeating Mary Ann Prchlik by 1,920 to 1,770. But the hand count narrowed the margin to 1,885 to 1,727. Officials attributed the discrepancy to "smears and marks" on the ballots, which skewed the results when they were run through the machines.

In Oakland county when officials there met with ES&S to discuss the errors encountered during logic and accuracy testing, ES&S maintained that the problem was dust and debris build-up on the sensors inside the machines.

"This has impacted the Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) settings for the two Contact Image Sensors (CIS)," Johnson wrote the EAC.

Johnson also revealed in the letter that county officials are prohibited from performing maintenance or cleaning on the machines or they risk voiding ES&S warranties. ES&S has not performed any preventative maintenance on the machines since they were delivered three years ago.

Johnson closed her letter by urging the Commission to investigate whether vote totals could be affected by the failure to perform regular cleaning and preventative maintenance on the machines. She requested a "federal directive or law" that would allow county clerks to conduct random audits to test machine accuracy using machines that have had preventative maintenance performed in the last year. She also urged officials to develop a plan for accurately canvassing election results.

"I believe this matter, which is not a partisan issue, but an issue of integrity, needs your immediate attention and I would urge you to investigate as so much is at stake," she wrote.

ES&S has not responded to a call for comment.

The Election Assistance Commission, which quietly posted the letter to its web site today, did not send an announcement about the issue to election officials but simply included a link to the letter in a routine newsletter that it distributed by e-mail to election officials shortly before 5 pm Eastern time, less than 24 hours before voters around the country arrive to the polls.

EAC spokeswoman Jeannie Layson said the Commission received Johnson's letter late in the afternoon on Wednesday after EAC chairwoman Rosemary Rodriguez, to whom the letter was addressed, had left to conduct an interview with ABC's 20/20 program. She said Rodriguez was out of the office Thursday and Friday and only saw the letter today when she returned.

John Gideon, co-executive director of Voters Unite, an election integrity group, said he was troubled by the Commission's lack of urgency over the matter.

"If they haven't done anything with it then how are they fulfilling their duties as a clearinghouse and passing on information?" he asked. "If they didn't do something with it, as far as I'm concerned it's misfeasance. They have a legal duty to warn election officials of problems."

Gideon said it was particularly troubling, because there was likely an easy fix to the problem if the issue was related to build-up in the machines.

He pointed to a problem that occurred in 2004 in Yakima County, Washington, with optical-scan machines made by Hart InterCivic. During a hand recount of the governor's race in the general election, election officials discovered that machines had failed to count votes on 24 ballots. An investigation later revealed that the machine had missed the votes (.pdf) due to "a small foreign object (dirt or paper debris) in the scanner."

An e-mail sent from Hart InterCivic to officials concluded that "periodic cleaning of scanners during periods of heavy use will reduce the risk" of losing votes and that a service representative could provide them with proper training and supplies to clean the machines.

The Election Assistance Commission was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to serve as a clearinghouse of election administration information and to oversee the federal testing and certification of voting machines, but it has yet to certify any voting system under its testing program, which was launched in early 2007.

The Commission has often been criticized by voting activists for failing to monitor problems with voting machines and share crucial information that election officials need to have.

Layson told Threat Level in September that since the Commission didn't oversee the certification of any voting systems that are currently being used in elections, it has no official role in monitoring the equipment and will only monitor voting equipment problems that occur with systems that become certified under its program.

Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, said the important thing with regard to the ES&S scanners is that voters get assurance that their votes will be counted accurately.

"When significant problems such as this one are discovered by diligent officials like the one who reported this case, remedies must be developed," she wrote Threat Level in an e-mail. "At the very least, the EAC could proactively alert other jurisdictions using this type of voting system that it may be an issue. That way, states that are willing to conduct post-election audits could do so, and check their vote counts."

Economic uncertainty sends auto sales down nearly 32%

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By Sharon Silke Carty

DETROIT — Fearful consumers avoided auto dealerships in October, sending U.S. sales to their lowest levels in more than 25 years.

Industry sales plummeted 31.9 percent from a year ago, according to industry tracking firm Autodata. Automakers sold just 838,156 new vehicles in October, the second consecutive month below 1 million. Until then, monthly sales had been more than 1 million since February 1993.

Every major automaker saw significant declines last month. If new cars and trucks were sold all year at October's pace, sales would be just 10.6 million in a full year, according to a seasonally adjusted index the industry uses.

Last year, 16.1 million new cars and trucks were sold. Even in the deep auto recession of the early 1990s, automakers sold more than 12 million annually. For the year to date, Autodata shows sales down 14.6 percent.

October sales fell even as automakers boosted incentives. The deals continue this month, but unless confidence in the economy improves, rebates and loan deals won't have much impact, automakers and analysts agree.

"We had such a collapse of confidence in the month that anyone who could postpone the purchase of a car certainly tried to," says Dana Johnson, chief economist for Comerica.

Bankruptcy filings up 62.8% from a year ago

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By Curtis Lum

The number of bankruptcy filings in Hawai'i last month jumped to their second-highest increase this year as residents continue to struggle to make ends meet in the slowing economy.

There were 197 bankruptcy filings in October, a 62.8 percent increase from a year earlier, according to data from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Honolulu. Last month's filings were slightly lower than September, when the 209 filings were the highest number this year and the greatest monthly rise on a percentage basis, 100 percent, from a year earlier.

A vast majority of the October filings were for Chapter 7 bankruptcies and most of them were for personal bankruptcies. The 163 Chapter 7 filings were a 79 percent increase from a year earlier.

There were two Chapter 11 filings last month, with the most notable being that of kama'aina retailer Hilo Hattie. The company operates seven stores in Hawai'i and two in California and has 256 employees.

As the economy continues to slow and unemployment rises, the expectation is bankruptcies will continue to go up.

"I don't foresee it getting better," said Stuart Ing, an attorney who specializes in bankruptcies. "I'm pretty sure that this year's numbers will definitely be above last year's numbers."

Monthly filings have increased steadily over the year, peaking in September, and Ing believes the numbers may fall slightly over the next two months before climbing again early next year.

"Traditionally, Christmas time is the slow time for bankruptcies and early spring, when everyone gets their tax returns back, is traditionally the busy time," Ing said.

"But what happens is come February and March they see the (Christmas) charges and they look at how much money they're making and usually nothing changes. At some point they'll look at the charges and realize that even with the tax returns, they're not going to be able to make it."

He said many people will take care of their major bills, such as mortgage, rent and car loans, but won't be able to cover their credit card charges.

Nationally, bankruptcy filings in October topped 100,000 for the first time since more restrictive bankruptcy laws went into effect three years ago. There were 108,595 personal and business bankruptcy filings last month, up 13 percent from a year earlier.

Although the state's filings are on the rise, Hawai'i continues to have one of the lowest per capita bankruptcy rates in the nation. In the year ended June 30, Hawai'i had the second-lowest per capita rate of 1.24 filings per 1,000 residents, compared with the national rate of 3.15 filings per 1,000.

That same federal study, however, showed that bankruptcy filings here were increasing at a slightly faster pace than the national rate. During the same period, the number of filings in Hawai'i grew by 33 percent from a year earlier.

That compared with the national rate of about 29 percent.

City OK'd for next phase of rail system

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By Sean Hao

Approval a big step forward in obtaining federal funding

The Federal Transit Administration has given its approval for Honolulu to start the preliminary engineering phase of its planned $4.3 billion commuter rail project, the city said yesterday. Beginning the preliminary engineering phase of the transit project is a major step toward securing federal funding.

According to the Oct. 30 report by project management consultant Booz Allen Hamilton, the city has demonstrated that it is ready to enter into preliminary engineering. The report also says that Honolulu's schedule to begin service in November 2013 is "optimistic," and recommends the city ramp up its staff to handle added responsibilities.

The report also said that the project's cost estimates were "adequate and appropriate for a project in the pre-PE phase."

During preliminary engineering, the city will finalize management plans, refine the route's alignment and project costs, and identify benefits and impacts. After preliminary engineering is completed, which usually takes between 15 and 30 months, transit projects enter the final design phase, according to the Federal Transit Administration. If the project passes muster at that time, the FTA provides what's called a full-funding grant agreement.

The city expects to be awarded full federal funds in the spring of 2011.

The city plans to begin construction of a 20-mile rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana late next year, with full service starting by 2019.

Hawaiian Telcom postpones a $26 million interest payment

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By Rick Daysog

Move tantamount to default, analyst says; bond rating hits bottom

Hawaiian Telcom's financial troubles deepened yesterday as the company postponed a $26 million interest payment to bondholders and Standard & Poor's cut its rating.

The state's largest telephone company said yesterday that it "chose not to make the payments" due Sunday, opting for a 30-day grace period to give it time to restructure its debt.

The company said the move will "not impact normal business operations."

Gov. Linda Lingle said her administration, the state Public Utilities Commission and the state Consumer Advocate were closely monitoring the situation.

Standard & Poor's credit analyst Susan Madison said, "The nonpayment (of interest) is a function of the borrower being under financial stress."

Standard & Poor's lowered its rating on $500 million of Hawaiian Telcom's bonds to "D," its lowest rating. The rating agency said the nonpayment was tantamount to a default.

"We consider a default to have occurred when a payment related to an obligation is not made, even if a grace period exists ... unless we are confident that the payment will be made in full during the grace period," Madison said.

mounting troubles
The postponement of the interest payment and the subsequent downgrade is just the latest hurdle faced by the 125-year-old phone company.

Since its 2005 purchase by Washington, D.C.-based the Carlyle Group, Hawaiian Telcom has lost tens of millions of dollars and almost 100,000 telephone subscribers largely because of competition from wireless providers and Internet phone services.

When the Carlyle deal closed on March 30, 2006, Hawaiian Telcom had 400,434 residential customers. As of June 30, it had 307,394.

The company is also under investigation by the PUC for providing poor service.

Since the beginning of the year, Carlyle and the company's management have taken a number of steps to improve Hawaiian Telcom's business. The company recently named former Hawaiian Electric Co. executive Eric Yeaman as its CEO and longtime First Hawaiian Bank CEO Walter Dods as its chairman.

The company also has hired Wall Street investment banker Lazard Freres to raise new capital and reduce its debt.

In a filing with the Securities Exchange Commission yesterday, Hawaiian Telcom said it needs to restructure its debt to improve cash flow and liquidity. The company said it also is looking to raise new capital.

Hawaiian Telcom said it has $80 million in cash.

Failure to make the $26 million interest payment by the end of this month will allow major bondholders to ask for their money back.

That, in turn, could place Hawaiian Telcom's bank loans in default and allow lenders to call in more than $400 million in loans.

Steven Golden, vice president of external affairs for Hawaiian Telcom, said the company is in negotiations with its bondholder but would not characterize the status of those talks.

"The company is actively involved in discussions with its creditors, including holders of these notes, with plans to reach an agreement that ultimately supports the long-term success of the company," Hawaiian Telcom said in a news release.

Media Silent On Evidence Of Israeli Targeting Of Youngsters

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By Media Lens

On the afternoon of Thursday 28 February, 2008, a group of Palestinian boys were playing football on some open ground near their homes in the Gaza Strip. At around 3.20pm, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the boys, killing four of them instantly and seriously injuring another three. The four dead boys were Omar Hussein Dardouna, aged 14, Dardouna Deib Dardouna, aged 12, Mohammed Na’im Hammouda, aged 9, and Ali Munir Dardouna who was just 8.

Palestinian human rights fieldworkers investigated the circumstances of this attack by Israeli forces. They concluded there was no Palestinian resistance in the area at the time and that the boys "must have been clearly visible to the [Israeli] aircraft that fired the missile."

Similar cases abound. A new study by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that 68 children died in Gaza between June 2007 - June 2008 (PCHR press release, October 21, 2008)


Media Silent On Evidence Of Israeli Targeting Of Youngsters

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted

vision of the corporate media

November 3, 2008

Over the same period, 12 children were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The report highlights the "deliberate targeting of civilians, including children". (Palestinian Council for Human Rights, ’Blood on their hands. Child killings by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the Gaza Strip. June 2007 - June 2008’, October 22, 2008, p. 4; http://www.electronicintifada.net/


Since the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, Israeli forces have killed 859 children in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The child death toll rose dramatically during the first six months of 2008, mostly as the result of a large-scale Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. The massive assault, code-named ’Operation Winter Heat’, was launched on February 27. The Israeli military killed more children (47) in the Gaza Strip during the first four months of 2008 than during the whole of 2007 (32 children). A total of 110 civilians were killed during ’Operation Winter Heat’ in February-March 2008. (See our earlier Media Alerts: ’Israel’s Illegal Assault On The Gaza "Prison"’, March 3, 2008, http://www.medialens.org/

alerts/08/080303_israels_illegal_assault.php; and ’Israeli Deaths Matter More’, March 11, 2008, http://www.medialens.org/


The website Remember These Children reports that 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians and 1,050 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis since September 29, 2000. (http://rememberthesechildren.org/about.html)

Most children killed in recent years in the Gaza Strip have died as a result of bombardment, surface-to-surface missiles, or missiles fired from aircraft. The Palestinian human rights investigation notes that Israel has "consistently bombed either inside or extremely close to densely populated residential areas, including schools and areas in close proximity to schools." It uses "disproportionate and excessive force across the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], without regard for civilian life, including the lives of children."

But the report is even more damning than that. It concludes that Israeli forces "deliberately target unarmed civilians, including children, as part of their policy of collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population."

The human rights investigation also concludes that:

  • "There is also strong and consistent evidence to suggest that [Israeli forces] deliberately kill Palestinian children in reprisal for the deaths of Israeli civilians or members of the [Israeli forces], which amounts to a war crime." (PCHR, op. cit., p. 46)

According to international humanitarian law, children are to be afforded special protection during international armed conflicts. This includes military occupation such as exists in the Palestinian territories under Israel. Legal protection is provided by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Israel signed the CRC in 1991.

Protection was strengthened by the (CRC) Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The Protocol reaffirms "that the rights of children require special protection" and condemns "the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected under international law, including places that generally have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals." Israel signed the Optional Protocol on 14 November 2001 (PCHR, op. cit., p. 14), but it endlessly tramples the legal agreements to which it is a signatory.

Finally, the PCHR report notes that Israel has consistently failed to investigate Israeli killings of unarmed civilians, including children. On the rare occasions that official investigations are launched, these have been conducted by the Israeli forces themselves. The persistent result is a whitewash, and a travesty of justice.

And while Israel continues to kill unarmed civilians with impunity, the international community has failed to intervene effectively to exert pressure on Israel to stop killing Palestinian civilians, including children. These killings ought to be publicly condemned by the international community who, as High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, are obliged to act immediately in order to protect all unarmed civilians from Israeli attacks.

As the PCHR observes:

  • "The lives of Palestinian children are as sacred as the lives of children from Israel, Europe or anywhere else in the world."

Minimal Response From A Protective Media

The report from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights was shocking. Guy Gabriel, an adviser to the London-based Arab Media Watch, told us that the group "is a credible organisation with a lot to commend it, and is better placed than many - in terms of location, resources and support - to inform the wider world about the situation in Gaza." (Email, October 31, 2008). Journalist John Pilger commented: "The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is, in my experience, a highly credible statistics gathering body." (Email, October 27, 2008)

This credible human rights group, then, had produced compelling evidence of a persistent pattern of deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians, +including children+, by the Israeli military. Surely this would have been headline news everywhere.

Sadly no. In the entire British press there was a giant, gaping hole in coverage.

The only exception we could find was a short, 400-word piece in the Guardian on the day of the report’s publication: Rory McCarthy, ’Palestinian group says Israel killed 68 children in Gaza in year’, The Guardian, October 21, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/


As McCarthy pointed out:

  • "A prominent Palestinian human rights group says it has found evidence that 68 children were killed in the Gaza Strip in the 12 months to June this year as a result of ’disproportionate and excessive lethal force’ by the Israeli military."

This was welcome coverage. But, crucially, there was no mention of the military policy of deliberately targeting civilians, including children. In his report, McCarthy said he was unable to obtain any response to the study from an Israeli official (it was a Jewish religious holiday). He then inserted the standard Israeli disclaimer:

  • "[Israel] has in the past repeatedly defended its military actions in Gaza, saying it does not intentionally target civilians, and noting that Palestinian militants frequently fire from civilian areas."

On October 27, 2008, we emailed McCarthy and praised him for reporting the publication of the study. We then pointed to the study’s central, repeated message - backed by multiple eye-witness testimony - that Israel deliberately targets civilians, including children. We asked why his Guardian article had omitted this core conclusion. McCarthy did not respond to our email, nor to a second sent on October 29.

As for the "balanced" and "impartial" BBC, the corporation appears to have performed its usual role of protecting the powerful. Judging by the PCHR report’s apparent absence from headline BBC news coverage and the BBC’s website, the corporation has buried the report’s findings. As far as we could determine, the same shameful silence characterised ITN and Channel 4 News.

By contrast, Al Jazeera aired a three-minute segment on the report that included a moving interview with a bereaved mother. There was also disturbing footage of injured and traumatised children, one of whom had seen his father killed by an Israeli missile (Al-Jazeera, October 22, 2008; http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=PTzQOsO32ro). In the Al Jazeera news piece, Hamdi Shokri of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights emphasised:

  • "We have clear evidence to suggest and to say that there were patterns of deliberate killing and deliberate targeting of children."

We emailed Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, on October 26, 2008. We asked him why the BBC had done so little, if anything, to bring this damning human rights report to the public’s attention. Why had the BBC failed to expose a deliberate Israeli practice of targeting children? In short, why can’t the BBC do better in its coverage of the occupied territories? Bowen did not respond.

Greg Philo, of the world-renowned Glasgow Media Group, recently commissioned YouGov to ask a sample of 2,086 UK adults whether they thought that more news coverage should be given to the Israeli point of view, or more to the Palestinians, or equal for both. Nearly twice as many people thought that the Palestinians should have the most as compared with the Israelis, but the bulk of the replies (72%) were that both should have the same. A staggering 95% of the population were unhappy with the main news output of the broadcasters. (Philo, ’More News, Less Views’, September 30, 2008; http://www.gla.ac.uk/centres/mediagroup/MoreNews.html)

Routine silences and omissions in coverage of the Middle East are symptoms of a deep-rooted bias that suppresses public awareness of the true gravity of Israel’s human rights abuses. Rarely, if ever, do we hear of the "indiscriminate beating, tear-gassing, and shooting of children", as documented in a thousand-page study from Save the Children. The average age of the victims was ten years old; the majority of those shot were not even participating in stone throwing. In 80 per cent of cases where children were shot, the Israeli army prevented the victims from receiving medical attention. The report concluded that more than 50,000 children required medical attention for injuries including gunshot wounds, tear gas inhalation and multiple fractures.

In 1989, a bulletin from the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, titled ’Deliberate Murder’, reported the targeting of Palestinian children in leadership roles. Israeli army and snipers from "special units" had "carefully chosen" the children who were shot in the head or heart and died instantaneously. Other evidence, from Israeli human rights groups and the Israeli press, point to extensive use of torture, such as severe beating and electric shocks, against detainees including children. (Mike Berry and Greg Philo, ’Israel and Palestine - Competing Histories’, Pluto Press, London, 2006, pp. 86-87)

Amnesty International has also reported that groups of Palestinian civilians, including children, appear, "on many occasions, to have been deliberately targeted". Israeli soldiers themselves have admitted that they have deliberately shot and killed unarmed civilians including children (Ibid., p. 116). Indeed, for many years, Amnesty has documented and condemned Israeli violations of human rights against Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Most of these violations are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are therefore war crimes. (Ibid., pp. 60-61).

Israeli Terror: Not Terror, By Definition

In his 2002 documentary, ’Palestine Is Still The Issue’, John Pilger interviewed Dori Gold, then Senior Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. Pilger asked why Israel fails to condemn its own leaders for their terrorist acts in the same way that they condemn terrorist acts against Israel:

John Pilger (JP): When those Israelis, who are now famous names [Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir and Ariel Sharon], committed acts of terrorism just before the birth of Israel, you could have said to them, nothing justifies what you’ve done, ripping apart all those lives. And they would say it did justify it. What’s the difference?

Dori Gold (DG): I think we have now, as an international community, come to a new understanding. I think after September 11th the world got a wake-up call. Because terrorism today is no longer the mad bomber, the anarchist who throws in an explosive device into a crowd to make a point. Terrorism is going to move from the present situation to non-conventional terrorism, to nuclear terrorism. And before we reach that point, we have to remove this scourge from the Earth. And therefore, whether you’re talking about the struggle here between Israelis and Palestinians, the struggle in Northern Ireland, the struggle in Sri Lanka, or any of the places where terrorism has been used, we must make a global commitment of all free democracies to eliminate this threat from the world. Period.

JP: Does that include state terrorism?

DG: No country has the right to deliberately target civilians, as no organisation has a right to deliberately target civilians.

JP: What about Israeli terrorism now?

DG: The language of terrorism, you have to be very careful with. Terrorism means deliberately targeting civilians, in a kind of warfare. That’s what the terrorism against Israeli schools, coffee shops, malls, has been all about. Israel specifically targets, to the best of its ability, Palestinian terrorist organisations.

JP: All right, when an Israeli sniper shoots an old lady with a cane, trying to get into a hospital for her chemotherapy treatment, in front of a lot of the world’s press for one, and frankly we’d be here all day with other examples, isn’t that terrorism?

DG: I don’t know the case you’re speaking about, but I can be convinced of one thing. An Israeli who takes aim - even an Israeli sniper - is taking aim at those engaged in terrorism. Unfortunately, in every kind of warfare, there are cases of civilians who are accidentally killed. Terrorism means putting the crosshairs of the sniper’s rifle on a civilian deliberately.

JP: Well that’s - that’s what I’ve just described.

DG: That is what - no. I can tell you that did not happen.

JP: It did happen. And - and I think that’s where some people have a problem with the argument that terrorism exists on - on one side. Your definition is absolutely correct, about civilians. And those suicide bombers are terrorists.

DG: If you mix terrorism and counter-terrorism, if you create some kind of moral obfuscation, you will bring about not just a problem for Israel, but you will bring ab - bring about a problem for the entire western alliance. Because we are all facing this threat.

As John Pilger concluded:

  • "It’s hard to see the difference between what the Israelis call ’counter-terrorism’ and terrorism. Whatever the target, both involve the killing of innocent people." (John Pilger, ’Israeli Terror’, http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=143; ’Palestine Is Still The Issue’ documentary can be viewed here: http://video.google.co.uk/

videoplay?docid=1259454859593416473; Dori Gold interview starts at around 34 mins:32 secs)

Today, Dori Gold "spends his time traveling around the world raising awareness about the situation going [sic] in Israel and the fight over Jerusalem [and] is available for speaking engagements, fundraisers and corporate events." (http://www.bookthebest.com/profile/dori_gold)

We asked John Pilger for his response to the new study from the Palestinian human rights group and the report’s effective burial by the corporate media. He told us:

  • "That this shocking report has been virtually ignored across the mainstream media, with the exception of the Guardian, is a striking example of the media’s two classes of humanity in Palestine. There is first class humanity, worthy of meticulous, often emotive coverage; these are the Israelis, including those guilty of great crimes, such as Ariel Sharon. And there is second class humanity, unworthy of even acknowledgment of their brutalising let alone the epic injustice done to them; these are the Palestinians. No, ’second class’ is too high. They are third and fourth class victims, for not even the suffering and murder of their children is considered human enough to warrant reporting." (Email, October 27, 2008)

We are reminded of British historian Mark Curtis’s term, "Unpeople", to describe those on the receiving end of the West’s policies, actions and massive firepower. For those unfortunate individuals in the crosshairs of Western violence, their human aspirations, hopes, dreams, loves and lives are simply of no value.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Rory McCarthy, Guardian reporter
Email: rory.mccarthy@guardian.co.uk

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Email: reader@guardian.co.uk

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor
Email: jeremy.bowen@bbc.co.uk

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Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

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Email: david.mannion@itn.co.uk

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Email: jim.gray@itn.co.uk

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Circuit City to close stores, lay off thousands in US

Go to Original
By Sandy English and Naomi Spencer

Citing the credit crunch and plummeting consumer spending, Circuit City, the second-largest retailer of electronics in the United States, will close 155 stores in the US and eliminate the jobs of nearly 7,000 workers.

Circuit City employs 43,000 workers in 721 stores and outlets in the US. Layoffs will amount to 17 percent of its workforce. The affected stores will begin closing today.

The company has indicated in letters to sacked employees that it will not provide severance pay or honor health care plans. As with the mass layoff of 3,400 better-paid Circuit City employees in March of last year, workers are simply being kicked to the curb in the name of “returning to profitability.” (See “US: Circuit City fires 3,400 better-paid store workers”.)

Battered by prospects of the worst Christmas shopping season in 15 years and increasing competition from its larger rival Best Buy, the chain will close outlets in a number of major metropolitan markets, including Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, and Phoenix.

Reflecting the dire financial situation for the company perceived by corporate management, Circuit City spokespersons told the press that plans for 10 new stores were also being scrapped, and the company would immediately press to renegotiate with local landlords to lower rents or allow early releases from leases at ostensibly more profitable store locations.

In an official press release, the company noted, “Due in part to its deteriorating liquidity position and the continued weak macroeconomic environment, the company has decided to take certain restructuring actions immediately.” Acting president and CEO James Marcum, said in a statement, “We are making a number of difficult, but necessary decisions to address the company’s financial situation as quickly as possible.”

The company has seen its access to credit restricted in recent months, and last month reported a second quarter loss of $162.7 million and a 13 percent decline in sales. Circuit City has seen its sales decline for 6 straight quarters. The company has said that was also unable to recoup $80 million in taxes that it claims the government owes it.

The company noted that an independent appraisal of its stock had found that the value of its inventory had to be downgraded because of the ailing economy. This reduced the amount of credit available to the company.

Further, some of the company’s suppliers are reportedly demanding payment for goods in advance because they cannot obtain credit insurance for Circuit City’s purchases. Circuit City said that some suppliers had not expanded their credit lines for holiday season purchasing as they usually did.

The mass layoffs sparked good news for company stock. By Monday morning, Circuit City’s shares jumped 9 cents, or 35 percent, to 35 cents on the New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Company stocks had dropped 96 percent in the past 12 months.

The NYSE warned Circuit City last week that its stock price was not high enough for continued listing. According to the Wall Street Journal, “shares of Circuit City had an average closing price of less than $1 over 30 consecutive trading days as of Oct. 22, falling short of the exchange’s requirement. Its shares have closed under a dollar in trading since Sept. 30, when they closed at 76 cents. Shares have traded between 17 cents and $8.24 in the last year.

“In order to regain compliance, Circuit City’s common stock share price and the average share price over a consecutive 30-trading-day period must both exceed $1 within six months after receipt of the notice.”

The company’s stock lost more than 90 percent of its value this year, particularly after Blockbuster Inc. withdrew an offer to buy the company for at least $6 per share in July, then even more after it removed chief executive Philip J. Schoonover in September.

The desperate situation of the US economy as a whole was underlined on Monday, when the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) announced that its crucial factory index dropped to 38.9. This figure is worse than anticipated by economists surveyed by Bloomberg and other news outlets, and marks the lowest level since September 1982.

The ISM index is widely regarded by economists to be an accurate measure and forecast of manufacturing output. Numbers less than 50 percent indicate that manufacturing is contracting. The immediate result of such a contraction will be further plant closings and layoffs.

In a press release yesterday, General Motors announced a 45 percent decline in last month’s vehicle deliveries to US dealers compared to last year. October figures amounted to only 170,585 vehicles, with truck sales down 51 percent and car sales down 34 percent.

Mark LaNeve, vice president of GM North America Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing, said, “The market has been shrinking for three years, but in October we saw a dramatic decline for the industry and GM” reflecting “an unprecedented credit crunch that is dramatically impacting the entire US economy—from the housing market to big and small companies to banks to family run businesses. The credit freeze has also had a very negative impact on consumers’ confidence and their purchase behavior across America.”

LaNeve observed, “If you adjust for population growth, this is probably the worst industry sales month in the post-WWII era.”

According to Reuters, Labor Department data showed 479,000 new jobless claims in the week ending October 25, steady from the week before. Economists generally regard a figure above 400,000 as an indicator of recession. Reuters added, “Analysts estimated so-called continued claims would be 3.74 million. It was the 27th straight week that claims were above 3 million in a sign that the ailing economy is making it harder for US workers to find employment.”

Indian prime minister warns of “severe and prolonged” global downturn

Go to Original
By K. Ratnayake

Amid deep concerns about the growing international economic turmoil, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a meeting yesterday with the country’s top corporate leaders to assure them that his government would take measures to maintain economic growth.

Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, Singh declared: “The financial crisis has exacerbated a global downturn that was expected earlier but is now likely to be more severe and prolonged. A crisis of this magnitude was bound to affect our economy and it has.”

The meeting was attended by 15 CEOs and business leaders, including Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, India’s largest company by market capitalisation; Sunil Mittal, chairman of the Bharti Group, the largest mobile phone company; K.P. Singh, chairman of DLF Ltd., the largest real estate developer; and K.V. Kamath, CEO of ICICI Bank, the largest leading private lender.

Business groups have been pushing for lower interest rates and greater liquidity in the credit market, and further pro-market reforms from the Congress Party-led government. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry has sought a reduction of the cash reserve ratio—money that banks must deposit with the country’s central bank—from 5.5 percent to 4.5 percent and a cut in the key interest rate to 5 percent.

On October 29, the Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industries warned that Indian companies would be forced to undertake massive job shedding of between 25 to 30 percent in the period ahead. Three days later, under pressure from the government, the association revised its prediction but declared that it was still valid for real estate, brokerage and investment advisory industries.

With national elections due before next May, the government is acutely sensitive to the prospect of a jump in joblessness. Prime Minister Singh told the meeting yesterday: “While every effort needs to be made to cut costs and raise productivity, I hope there will be no knee-jerk reaction such as large-scale lay-offs which may lead to a negative spiral. Industry must bear in mind its societal obligations in coping with the effects of this global crisis.”

India’s growth rate for 2008 was predicted to be 9 percent at the beginning of the year but has been revised down by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to 7.5 percent. Other analysts forecast a growth rate of 7 percent. Singh sought to reassure business leaders that “the government will take all necessary monetary and fiscal measures on the domestic front to protect our growth rate.”

Last Saturday the Reserve Bank unexpectedly took several steps to ease the credit market, cutting the cash reserve ratio from 6.5 to 5.5 percent, lowering its key interest rate from 8 to 7.5 percent, and cutting the proportion of bank funds kept in government bonds. It was the first time since 1997 that the central bank has taken action in all three areas together.

The decision was taken after overnight interbank lending rates shot up to a crippling 21 percent on Friday. The Reserve Bank had already cut the cash reserve ration twice and interest rates once in October. The moves on Saturday were estimated to add 400 billion rupees ($US8.2 billion) to the credit market.

The Reserve Bank’s actions provided an immediate shot in the arm, bringing the overnight lending rate down to 7 percent. Bombay’s Sensex stock exchange shot up by 5.6 percent on Monday. The value of the rupee also improved marginally, reaching 48.80 to the US dollar on Monday, after hitting 50.29 rupees a week before.

Economic slowdown
The freeing up of credit, however, will do little to address the long-term impact of the global financial crisis and economic downturn on the Indian economy. Like other so-called emerging markets, India has been affected by huge outflows of foreign capital, which have driven down share and currency values. This year the Sensex index has fallen by about 50 percent, and the rupee by about 20 percent.

Foreign investors have sold $13 billion worth of Indian shares this year, compared to a record influx last year of $17.4 billion. The country’s foreign exchange reserves plunged by $15.4 billion last week from $274 billion to $258 billion—the largest fall in eight years.

The economy is slowing markedly as recession hits India’s major markets in the US and Europe, and demand for Indian exports falls. Export growth was 10.4 percent in September on an annualised basis, the lowest in 18 months. The trade deficit for the six months from April to September widened to $59.8 billion, from $39.1 billion for the same period last year.

According to the ABN AMRO Bank purchasing managers’ index (PMI), the activity of Indian factories has fallen sharply. The seasonally adjusted survey of 500 companies, released last weekend, showed the index slumped to 52.2 in October, its lowest since the survey began in April 2005. The output index fell from 61.7 in September to 54.1 and new orders dropped from 62.6 in September to 54.4, both the lowest ever recorded by the survey.

Export orders also shrank for the first time since the index began in 2005, hitting 49.7 in October compared to 53 in September. Employment levels fell to 50.1 in October compared with 51.3 in September. The survey reported that jobs were being cut due to lower international demand.

Last Friday, Finance Minister Palaniappa Chidambaram responded to warnings of job cuts by declaring that even an “economy growing at 7 percent is still a job creating economy, not a job destroying economy.” He claimed that India was not as vulnerable as China because the country was a “domestic driven consumption and investment driven market where the contribution of exports to the growth is not as big as China’s.”

Already, however, the slowdown of exports is having a serious impact. Textile Minister Shankersinh Vaghela told reporters on Saturday: “Big stores in US and Europe are cancelling purchases orders from Indian garment exporters, who are also facing the problem of payment defaults from international buyers.” The US and European markets account for 70 percent of India’s textile and garment exports.

Vaghela dismissed a suggestion by reporters that the government had any responsibility to prevent job cuts, saying, “this is an issue of private firms, government cannot do much about it.” According to Apparal Export Promotion Council chairman Rakesh Vaid: “Indian garment exporters are expecting a 10 percent decline due to global recession this year.”

After agriculture, the textile industry employs largest number of people in India. Panipat in Haryana and Tirpur in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have already been affected by the slowdown. In Tirpur alone, 16,000 workers have lost their jobs this year, with another 15,000 expected to be laid off.

India’s diamond industry is also feeling the heat. The US accounts for 40 percent of India’s exports of gems and jewelry and the trade is worth $US25 billion. In the past six months, the US market has slumped by 15 to 20 percent. In Surat in the western state of Gujarat, the 700,000 people employed in the diamond industry now face an uncertain future.

On Sunday, the Press Trust of India reported that the country’s largest car exporter, Hyundai Motor India, has had to shelve 25 percent of its orders. “Many dealers from our major markets like South Africa, Columbia and Iceland have asked us to put on hold shipments. They have not given us any time when they would like to pick up the orders,” the company’s managing director H.S. Lheem said.

India’s much-vaunted information technology (IT) industry is feeling the impact of the financial turmoil in the US where many major banks and financial institutions relied on Indian business process outsourcing (BPO) companies. Satyam IT company has already announced that 4,500 employees will be laid off. Other major IT firms, including TCS, Insofy and Wipro, have deferred promotions and cut their hiring of new recruits.

Despite the assurances of the Singh government, the looming global recession will have major ramifications for the Indian economy. The job cuts already taking place are just an indication of the devastating consequences for tens of millions of workers throughout the country.

US and India forge a strategic partnership with globally disruptive nuclear treaty

Go to Original
By Kranti Kumara and Keith Jones

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukerjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation treaty last month, concluding a three-year drive on the part of their countries’ respective elites to take Indo-US bilateral relations to “a new level.”

The treaty and associated changes in the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) grant India de facto recognition as a nuclear-weapons state and gut the four decade old international nuclear regulatory framework that the US was largely responsible for creating.

Only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—the US, Russia, Britain, France, and China—have hitherto been internationally recognized nuclear-weapons states; and only they and other states that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (pledging thereby not to develop nuclear weapons) have been allowed to engage in civilian nuclear trade.

Under the Indo-US nuclear treaty, India will be able to import civilian nuclear technology and fuel from the US as the IAEA and NSG removed their prohibitions on civilian nuclear trade with India in August and September under heavy pressure from Washington,.

India had been barred from nuclear commerce under a US-led global embargo that was imposed in 1974 in response to New Delhi’s exploding a nuclear device. In 1998 however, India staged a further series of explosions, formally proclaiming itself a nuclear-weapons state.

The Bush administration has sought to answer criticisms that it has fundamentally rewritten rules governing nuclear trade by claiming that allowing India to engage in such trade and having parts of India’s nuclear program subject to IAEA safeguards will actually strengthen nuclear non-proliferation.

The reality is that the Indo-US nuclear treaty is driven by the predatory strategic ambitions of Washington and New Delhi, undermines the world nuclear regulatory regime, and dangerously disrupts the balance of power on the Indian subcontinent and across Asia.

The pivotal importance that the US elite attach to the treaty is underscored by the manner in which the US Congress adopted it. The legislation was rushed through congress while in the midst of the Wall Street meltdown and the former’s frantic and tension-filled deliberations on the $700 billion bank bailout.

The US Senate ratified the nuclear treaty by a vote of 86 to 13, with the leadership of both parties giving it strong support. Those voting in favor included Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate and current Senate foreign relations committee chairman.

India’s ruling elite were no less determined to conclude the treaty. To rapturous applause from India’s corporate media, the United Progressive Alliance government virtually staked its existence on the treaty’s implementation. Last July, the UPA broke with the Left Front, which had sustained it in office for four years, and narrowly won a parliamentary confidence vote on proceeding with the treaty. The Stalinist-led Left Front has opposed the nuclear deal on the grounds that Washington intends to use it to chain India to its global strategy.

Harnessing India to US ambitions
Elements in and around the Bush administration have described the Indo-US nuclear treaty as the most important foreign policy initiative of the president’s second term. Some have gone so far as to compare it to Richard Nixon’s playing of the “China card,” which ultimately led to a US-Chinese diplomatic alliance against the USSR and the opening up of China to foreign capital.

Rice and other US officials have touted the civilian nuclear deal as a means for the US to “help” India become a “world power.” They have also spoken of it as cementing a “global” strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi.

In short, the US geo-political establishment recognizes the Indian bourgeoisie’s rising ambitions and also its obvious vulnerability as a result of India’s technological weaknesses and dependence on foreign oil, which the US seeks to use to its advantage. Its aim is to bring India increasingly into the US’s strategic orbit, through burgeoning economic, scientific-technical and military ties, and thereby make India a US ally in countering China and furthering US interests in Central Asia and the Middle East.

This strategy involves the offer of material and geo-political benefits to India, accompanied by quid pro quos that will both enrich US big business and make India more dependent on the US.

The lifting of the US embargo on civilian nuclear trade also involves the lifting of associated bans on the export of technologically advanced military equipment. US military contractors hope to make tens of billions of dollars in arms sales over the next decade, as a result of India’s aggressive expansion and modernization of its armed forces. Furthermore the Pentagon, which has organized several dozen joint-missions with the Indian military over the past decade, is intent on promoting inter-force operability between the two militaries.

Washington has further whetted New Delhi’s ambitions by indicating that it wants to partner with India in overseas missions with promises to allow India to play a major role in policing the Indian Ocean. India is currently constructing a “blue-water” navy, on the grounds that a large navy is needed to defend its burgeoning trade ties, including oil imports, which would allow the country to play a major role in world affairs.

The US’s wooing of India has gone alongside demands that it heed Washington’s wishes. US officials and Congressman repeatedly tied the nuclear treaty to New Delhi’s support for the US stance against Iran in the IAEA. The Henry Hyde Act, which amended the 1954 US Atomic Energy Act such that the Bush administration could conclude the nuclear treaty with India, specifies that the president must certify on an annual basis that India is supporting US nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

(The Indo-US nuclear treaty underscores the utter hypocrisy of Washington’s attitude toward nuclear non-proliferation and to such a degree that some voices in the US establishment opposed it on the grounds that it would weaken the US’s efforts to rally international support for action against Iran. Whereas the US has just amended the rules of world nuclear trade to give India a unique, privileged status—although India developed nuclear weapons in opposition to a US-led embargo and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—Washington is seeking to prevent Iran from exercising its rights, as an NPT signatory, to develop a civilian nuclear program.)

The bellicose thinking that underlies the Indo-US nuclear treaty is encapsulated in a 2005 report written by Andrew Tellis for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Tellis is among a group of high-level US strategists who rotate between top governmental positions at the State Department and the National Security Council and various Washington think-tanks. An American of Indian descent, he went on to play a leading role in the negotiation of the Indo-US nuclear treaty.

In his 2005 report, titled India as a New Global Power: An Action Agenda for the United States, Tellis explained the motives behind the Bush administration’s “new thinking” regarding India and its nuclear program:

“First, the administration had come to realize that India would not give up its nuclear weapons so long as various regional adversaries continued to possess comparable capabilities. The fact that the administration initially viewed both of India’s antagonists—Pakistan and China—with considerable suspicion only made senior US officials more sympathetic to New Delhi’s predicament.”

“Second, the administration was now of the understanding that India’s nuclear weapons did not pose a threat to US security and the United States’ larger geopolitical interests, and could in certain circumstances actually advance American strategic objectives in Asia and beyond. The administration’s own antipathy to nuclear arms control agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (which happened to dovetail with Indian interests on these issues), coupled with its strong expectation of an eventual renewal of great-power competition, allowed both realist and neoconservative factions within the administration to take a more relaxed view of New Delhi’s emerging nuclear capabilities.”

India’s dangerous gambit
The Indian elite view its de facto admittance to the “nuclear club” as a major step toward achieving its world-power ambitions. At the very least, the nuclear treaty puts paid to the US’s Cold War practice of treating India and Pakistan as equivalent powers.

“This agreement,” declared Foreign Minister Mukherjee at the Oct. 10 signing ceremony, “is one more visible sign of the transformed partnership and relationship our two countries are building together.”

The Indian military is--as alluded to previously--anxious to procure advanced US military equipment. Indian big business, meanwhile, hopes the lifting of prohibitions on advanced technology trade will enable it to benefit from new partnerships with US firms and also that the involvement of foreign firms in India’s civilian nuclear industry, including privately-owned US nuclear companies, will lead to further privatization of India’s energy sector.

But New Delhi’s push to secure the treaty has been driven above all by its determination to be rid of the 34 year-old nuclear embargo. The embargo has seriously hobbled Indian’s ambitious nuclear program, including its “strategic,” i.e. nuclear weapons, component.

In spite of spending extraordinary sums of money and effort, India’s civilian nuclear program is hampered by frequent breakdowns due to the use of inferior domestically-made parts, a poor safety record, and a shortage of fuel. (India’s domestic uranium reserves are small.)

With India now permitted to purchase uranium on the world market for the 14 nuclear reactors it has placed under IAEA supervision, it will be able to divert its domestic uranium reserves to enhance its nuclear arsenal. Similarly, the technical aspects of the weapons program will get a boost for two reasons. First, India will be able to concentrate its nuclear program on military applications. And secondly, civilian nuclear trade will provide India’s nuclear establishment with the opportunity, albeit in violation of the IAEA safeguard regime, to reverse engineer imported advanced dual-use technology.

The Congress Party-led UPA government has angrily denied claims that India’s burgeoning alliance with the US is directed against China or any other power. In this respect it has been quick to point to France and Russia’s enthusiasm for lifting the nuclear embargo and their eagerness to sell nuclear reactors to New Delhi.

India has good reason not to seek confrontation with China, with which it fought a brief border war in 1962 and which continues to be a strong ally of Pakistan. In keeping with this geo-political posture, New Delhi has been seeking closer ties with Beijing, while seeking to revive India’s decades-long close partnership with Russia.

With the Indo-US nuclear deal, India’s government and geo-political leadership have tilted closer to the US so as to take advantage of Washington’s offers of support. But they do so hoping to navigate the growing fissures in world geo-politics—and not because they have accepted that the US should have a say in, let alone determine, India’s relations with China—a very high risk strategy indeed.

While India’s geo-political establishment no doubt considers itself much wiser in the ways of the world than its ham-fisted US counterpart, the weight of economic, military and geo-political power rests overwhelming with the US, notwithstanding its historic and quickening decline.

Thus when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came to Washington in late September, it was he who grovelled before Bush--thanking the president for his purported leading role in freeing India from “nuclear apartheid.”

“The people of India love you,” Singh told Bush.

In their rush to conclude the nuclear treaty before the current president leaves office, Washington and New Delhi have left a number of important issues unclarified. These include whether the US would automatically suspend civilian nuclear cooperation with India should New Delhi stage another weapons test and if and when India will gain access to advanced US fuel-reprocessing technology.

But it is quite certain that Washington, having demonstrably supported India’s great-power ambitions, views New Delhi to be greatly in its debt. It expects and will demand repayment. Should India balk, Indo-US relations will, at the very least, go into a tailspin.

And should India comply, as it already has with respect to Iran, it will find itself serving Washington’s aggressive global agenda and risk being sucked into its military adventures.

An Asian arms race?
The US’s courting of India and support for its nuclear weapons program is already seriously destabilizing Asia.

China had long hoped that the Indo-US nuclear deal would unravel, either from domestic opposition in the two countries or from other states fearing the treaty and its attendant changes to the rules of the IAEA and NSG. When the deal ultimately came before the NGA in September, China mounted a furious campaign to prevent its actualization. Only the threat of a grave rift in its relations with India, that is the prospect that its opposition would drive India into the US’s embrace, caused China to pull back. (See “Nuclear Supplier Group gives India unique ‘waiver,’ but only after row between Delhi and Beijing”)

Pakistan, whose sovereignty the US now routinely violates, has repeatedly protested against the Indo-US nuclear deal, warning it seriously undermines the balance of power on the Indian subcontinent and could trigger an arms race. Following the conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear treaty Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani declared: “Now Pakistan also has the right to demand a civilian nuclear agreement with America. We want there to be no discrimination. Pakistan will also strive for a nuclear deal and we think they will have to accommodate us.”

Iran, which has been hounded and threatened with war by the US over its nuclear program, has criticized the special treatment accorded to India. Mohammad Seedi, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization warned such double standards “endanger” the NPT and “will create new crises for the international community.”

The strong bi-partisan US support for the reactionary Indo-US civilian nuclear treaty is yet further evidence that regardless of who is elected president on November 4th, the incoming administration will pursue the same basic aggressive and incendiary world strategy in defense of the interests of American big business.

GM-Chrysler merger: United Auto Workers union prepares another betrayal

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By Tom Eley

Recent reports reveal that the United Auto Workers bureaucracy is preparing to further integrate itself within the business framework of the US auto industry at the expense of the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of autoworkers it nominally represents.

Industrial analysts believe that the Big Three US auto companies—General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler Corp.—may all face bankruptcy within the next year. The financial crisis has been most acute for GM and Chrysler, and the largest and third-largest US automakers are now carrying on urgent merger negotiations that, if carried through, would lead to the rapid purging of 50,000 jobs.

According to insiders, the deal being pushed forward by GM and Cerberus Capital Management, the giant private equity firm that controls Chrysler, would result in the transfer to GM of Chrysler in exchange for turning over to Cerberus a larger share of GMAC, the financial wing of GM. Cerberus already owns 51 percent of GMAC. Chrysler has reportedly backed out of merger talks with the Franco-Japanese combination Renault-Nissan.

The Big Three, who have suffered through decades of declining market share, are now beset by a shortage of cash that may soon impinge upon day-to-day operations. Due to low incomes and layoffs, large numbers of Americans have stopped buying new cars, especially big and inefficient Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) and trucks that have in recent years provided the main source of profit for the Big Three.

In October, auto sales plunged by 31 percent from a year ago, reaching their lowest level in 15 years. Michael DiGiovanni, sale analyst for GM, said that relative to the size of the US population, October was “the worst month in the post-World War II era. This is clearly a severe, severe recession.”

A GM-Chrysler merger will require the UAW to suppress rank-and-file opposition and to inflict a new round of concessions on autoworkers. An article published in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, “UAW Vies to be Central Player in GM-Chrysler Deal,” reveals that UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has been holding meetings with GM Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson on a potential merger. “Mr. Gettelfinger’s approval,” the article states, “could sway banks and lawmakers considering pitching into the deal.”

In a related development, the New York Times reported Monday that the Treasury Department has turned down GM’s request for an additional $10 billion to assist the merger with Chrysler. The money would have come from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout pushed through in October. Treasury officials were said to fear being directly identified with mass layoffs in the auto industry as a result of the merger, and they opposed extending to industrial firms money from the vast allocation intended for financial concerns.

The $10 billion is needed “to cover the cost of jobs cuts and plant closures that would result from a merger,” according to the Journal. If the federal government does not come through with the funds, the UAW may be asked to allow GM and Chrysler to get out of as much as $14 billion in promised payments into the union-managed “Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association” (VEBA), the retiree health care system now run by the UAW. Without cash, the two corporations could rapidly wind up in bankruptcy.

This threat to the business interests of the UAW will likely propel Gettelfinger and the UAW bureaucracy to pressure the next administration to give handouts to the auto industry as part of a merger agreement. Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama has indicated he is favorably disposed toward handouts, although such utterances must be taken in the context of the current election cycle, where both candidates have sought advantage in Midwest “battleground” states such as Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, and Wisconsin, where much of the US auto industry is located.

The UAW no doubt will publicly lament the mass layoffs that will inevitably result from the merger. Behind the scenes, however, they will work energetically to see that the merger goes through and that the federal government foots the bill, so as to protect the multibillion-dollar VEBA fund the union oversees.

The setting up of the VEBA was the latest stage in the decades-long transformation of the UAW from a union into an out-and-out business. In exchange for tens of thousands of jobs cuts, billions of dollars in benefits reductions, and the suppression of rank-and-file resistance, the Big Three handed over to the UAW control of the auto industry’s retiree health care system.

The VEBA fund was dependent for its survival on the continued profitability of the American auto industry, which put the UAW into an openly adversarial relationship with its own workers. But now that the very survival of the US auto industry has been thrown into doubt, so too has the UAW’s VEBA scheme.

In an indication of its enthusiasm for the consolidation of the auto industry, the UAW has recently hired, as a personal adviser to Gettelfinger, business executive and industry analyst Stephen Girsky. Girsky was a former managing partner at the now defunct Wall Street investment bank Morgan Stanley. In 2006, GM head Richard Wagoner brought on Girsky where, according to the Wall Street Journal, he played a “pivotal” role in launching GM’s buyout program, whereby experienced workers were encouraged to retire and were replaced by low-wage workers. The Journal concluded that Girsky “is expected to help … Gettelfinger evaluate the deal and shape the union’s strategy.”

That the UAW feels no shame in bringing such an open opponent of the interests of its workers into a position of power within the union suggests not only that it is preparing to support the merger of GM and Chrysler. It also shows just how openly the UAW now presents itself as a business hostile to the workers it purports to represent.

The Journal notes that the UAW “has so far said relatively little” about the proposed merger. The union’s web site makes no mention of it, although it is replete with postings extolling the importance of electing Barack Obama. One would not gather from the UAW’s web site that the US auto industry is on the verge of an historic collapse.

So far in 2008 there have been thousands of layoffs in the auto industry the world over. In the US, Chrysler recently announced that it would lay off one quarter of its white-collar employees. On October 16, GM announced that it would lay off 1,600 employees at three assembly plants in Michigan and Delaware by year’s end. GM, Ford, and Chrysler have already scheduled major plant closings for 2009 in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

Even prior to the eruption of the financial crisis on Wall Street in September, the position of the Big Three was considered dire. Talks had been under way for several months about the provision of a loan to the auto industry so it could “retool” its plants. Both major party presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, supported the bailout. A $25 billion aid package to be administered through the Energy Department was eventually approved, although largely overshadowed by the gargantuan bailout of the financial industry. But in the face of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the aid package has been quickly proven insufficient.

In the event of a GM-Chrysler merger, the UAW will ritualistically claim that it will not necessarily result in the loss of many jobs, and that it is the only way to “save the industry.” These are the same lies that the UAW deploys every time the auto industry calls it to heel, demanding it exact another pound of flesh from the working class.

Last year, the UAW overcame rank-and-file opposition to “save the industry” through massive layoffs and cuts to benefits. One year later, the auto industry is on the verge of total collapse. This story has repeated itself since the late 1970s, when the federal government bailed out Chrysler Corporation on the condition that the UAW would force major concessions on its workers. Since 1978, some three quarters of a million jobs have been lost in the auto industry.

While the number of autoworkers has declined precipitously, devastating whole states and regions, the salaries and expense accounts of the same UAW bureaucrats who have failed to defend their union members have continued to grow. This culminated with the launching of the VEBA program last year.

To defend their jobs and living standards, autoworkers must break out of the straitjacket of the UAW and build, in conjunction with workers employed in the auto industry around the world, a mass party of the working class that fights for political power and has as its aim the reorganization of the world economy to meet pressing social needs, not the profit drive of the big financiers.